I’ve uploaded the first 35 pages of the latest un-proofread, un-edited work, which you can read here: The Arthur of Badon Taster3. It is significantly different from the blogs now, so worth a look.
Thanks for reading,
I’ve uploaded the first 35 pages of the latest un-proofread, un-edited work, which you can read here: The Arthur of Badon Taster3. It is significantly different from the blogs now, so worth a look.
Thanks for reading,
Everyone’s conclusions to this are going to be different, depending on many different factors: how long you’ve been studying the Arthurian subject, how much you’ve read, your culture, your beliefs, your personality. My conclusions, in a sense, don’t matter, it’s how these blogs have affected your views on the subject.
The original question I posed was:
“Can it be deduced with any certainty or probability that the Arthur depicted in the Historia Brittonum and the Annales Cambriae, said to have fought at the first battle of Mount Badon, was based on a historical character of the Late-5th/Early-6th centuries or an earlier mythical or folkloric figure? or that he could have been both?”
Can there be any certainty that he was a historic figure that fought at Badon? As long as there’s disagreement on the validity of the H.B and the A.C., no. (Perhaps some individuals can be certain, but it’s hard to see there ever being a consensus, unless there’s some miraculous find to prove he existed). Could he have been purely mythical or folkloric? Yes, but I cannot see how there can be any certainty of it. Could he have been both? Yes, but there can be no certainty about that either. Yet many people are certain of one or the other.
Probability is another matter. If the probability question where to do with the weight of evidence and the odds of existence to none-existence, then the odds would (probably) be against his existence. But this depends on the interpretation of the evidence in the first place. For example, if you think the Welsh material probably came from a mythical figure you will have a different outcome to if you think the material probably came from Arthur of Badon, or his name replaced a mythical figure. The same goes for the information in Y Gododdin, the Historia Britonnum and the Annales Cambriae. If you think these sources valid you have a totally different outcome to if you don’t. If you think they’re valid, historical documents, then he existed. Even if it’s only the H.B. that can be taken as valid (if not accurate) then he existed. But if you don’t … So, we probably can’t use probability!
For me, there is no firm conclusion to be had, but I hope I’ve, at least, added something to this debate. It cannot be proven that there was a historical, 5th century Arthur, that’s impossible to do, but I hope these blogs have shown that, if there was one, there’s no reason his name couldn’t have come about by the same means argued for the 6th and 7th century Arthur/Artúrs by Higham et al; or that, if his name (and some stories) did derive from folkloric or mythical sources, or there was also a mythical (or historical) character(s) of similar or the same name, why later confusion, even by the 9th century or before, would arise. In essence, Higham’s and Green’s argument for the naming of the other Arthurs can be applied to an early Arthur. Why? Because it appears (to me) that this Arthur of Welsh folklore or myth bears little or no resemblance to the Arthur in the H.B.. One’s a Saxon fighter, the other isn’t. One fights giants and the Otherworld, the other one doesn’t appear to. One supposedly was a leader of battles for kings of Britain, the other one wasn’t. One fought at Badon, the one of the early tradition didn’t. However, this doesn’t mean he couldn’t have been a Saxon fighting Briton who got turned into this fantastical character, just as Vortigern, Ambrosius Aurelianus and Urien were used in stories that had nothing to do with their actual lives. These stories alone prove that this happened and this is too often ignored.
From how I interpret the evidence, we cannot rule out a historical figure who fought at Badon being the ‘original’ and the later legends and topographical and onomastic sites merely being a distortion in response to folk culture and internal and external political events. That’s probably the simplest answer, but the simplest answer isn’t always the right one. Nor can we rule out that there was no ‘Arthur of Badon’ … but it is also possible that there were two totally independent mythical and historical characters that were merged and confused, or even a mythical figure whose name was changed to Arthur, be that earlier than the 6th century or after. The problem arises as to why a purely British folkloric or mythical figure would be given a Latin name (rather than a Latinized name), be that Arturius or Arturus. It would have to be yet another unique case. But that also doen’t mean it couldn’t have happened. (‘Arthur’s Wain‘ – The Plough – could be an indication that Arcturus became Arturus).
What it means, to me at least, is that it cannot be stated categorically that Arthur of the 5th century was historical, but neither can it be stated categorically he was purely mythical or folkloric. But it’s possible that the name was all of these things. However, if Arthur cannot be categorically stated to have been real from the evidence we have, then other Early Medieval figures who are considered historical without question should be treated in the same way.
(I’ve italicized ‘possible’ twice above as that is, in the end, all we can use).
Whichever historical Arthur you go for, whether that be one who was at Badon, Artur ap Pedr or Artúr mac Áedán, you have to come up with theories that explain the anomalies between them and the sources. You either have to come up with reasons why Arthur of Badon doesn’t appear in genealogies or near contemporary sources or why one of these other Arthur’s were said to be at Badon; and how, if their respective royal houses knew they were THE Arthur, they didn’t make political mileage from it. Neither Demetia/Dyfed or Dalriada appear to have done so … although the MacArthur/Campbells tried to do so later (See THIS blog). Adomnán makes nothing of Artúr, only his father Áedán. Hywel Dda of Dyfed could, perhaps, have slipped it into to his Laws somewhere that they were the descendants of the great Arthur, but he didn’t. If any of them did try and do so, it’s been suppressed or lost.
So, has my 65% leaning towards a historical Arthur changed? Yes. It may have gone to up 67% now. Why? Because of re-looking at the H.B. battle list and the use of Arthur here. Unless there was something in the Welsh tradition about a Saxon fighting Arthur it doesn’t make sense, to me at least, that he would be used if he was the same as the Welsh folkloric figure we know of today. Of course, stories of a mythical Arthur who fought Saxons might have been around and they’ve been lost, but we can only look at the evidence as it is.
What I may consider now more than before I started these blogs is the possibility of an independent mythical figure alongside the historic one(s). A figure that was, at some point in history, given the name Arturius/Arthur/Arturus, but who may have started life under another guise.
Having said all the above, I want to finish by quoting Christopher Gidlow from his book ‘Revealing King Arthur’ (2010):
“It is worrying just how convoluted, how complex, the arguments against Arthur are. Faced with the mass of evidence, opponents are forced to imagine an unknown British god called Arthur (with a convenient taboo against naming him), or landscape features named after other Arthurs of earlier history or mythology whose importance to the inhabitants is nowhere attested. These chimerical Arthurs have left legends which have, for inscrutable reasons, been attached to a military figure of the fifth or sixth century who, if he existed, cannot possibly have borne the name Arthur. Whatever name he had must, despite his importance, have become irretrievably lost. The author of the Historia Brittonum has for his own purpose for the Britons, uniquely put this composite figure in a narrative which otherwise only features major figures already placed in this time period. All other references to Arthur as a historical figure derive from this single source. The counter-argument, that Arthur was a real person who fought the Saxons at the Battle of Mount Badon, who later attracted legendary tall tales, has the advantage of simplicity and requires fewer unknown steps and sources.” (p.193)
Thanks for reading, and, as always, I look forward to your thoughts, comments and corrections.
IF YOU CAME HERE VIA THE BLOG ‘IN SEARCH OF THE ORIGINAL KING ARTHUR‘, CLICK HERE TO RETURN TO IT.
Arthurian Probability Test
King Arthur, Merlin, Sir Lancelot, Sir Gawain, and Guinevere decide to go to their favorite restaurant to share some mead and grilled meats. They sit down at a round table for five, and as soon as they do, Lancelot notes, “We sat down around the table in age order! What are the odds of that?”
Merlin smiles broadly. “This is easily solved without any magic.” He then shared the answer. What did he say the odds were?
I’ll give the answer soon!
There appears to be three (or even four) different Arthurs going on here: the giant who has a giant dog and giant son (although who is never himself called a giant!), who throws boulders around for a hobby; the superhuman, superhero giant slayer of the tales like Culhwch ac Olwen from the 10th century, and the soldier of the Historia Brittonum … if he was. We could add the Messianic Arthur if he wasn’t the same as one of the other mythical Arthurs. Culhwch ac Olwen also shows us another thing: whilst undoubtedly it came from an earlier period than the 10th century when it is believed to have been written, it contains no elements of the Arthur of the H.B.. In fact, in none of the Arthurian tales contained within what has become known as The Mabinogion has this soldier figure been added, when he could have been in its later development. This soldier doesn’t appear in the stories until the early 12th century with Geoffrey of Monmouth, unless the dating of the Breton Legend of St. Geoznovius to the early 11th century is correct, which depicts a similar (King) Arthur and says it is based on an earlier work called the Ystoria Britanica, is correct.
So, the question is: are these stories, poems and sites from a legendary historical figure, or the historicized mythical or folkloric figure?
ALL OR NOTHING – EITHER/OR
As with many things Arthurian, the answers to these questions tend to get polarized into the ‘all or nothing’ or ‘either/or’ arguments that are applied to the subject. Here are two example:
Here’s another example: if the princes who were given the name Arthur/Artúr in the 6th and 7th centuries were, as argued by the ‘mythical or folkloric Arthur’ camp, named after a famous mythical or folkloric figure and not a slightly earlier historical character, then, by the same argument, why couldn’t a 5th century Arthur have been named after this same hypothetical figure of legend or myth? (An Arthur who may have fought at the famous battle of Mount Badon a century before the births of at least two of these other Arthurs). After all, they are indeed arguing that there was a mythical Arthur alongside these other historical Arthurs.
As to the name: ‘it was either mythical/folkloric or historical, but not both.’ In fact, it had to be two of those things by this argument. To argue it came from a mythical source is to admit it also became historical as well, when it was given to the various 6th and 7th century princes (if there was no earlier Arthur of Badon). They certainly aren’t historicized mythical figures. If it was folkloric, then it may have first been historic (say from Lucius Artorius Castus - as put forward by Higham), then folkloric, then historic (when given to the first Arthur) … before becoming folkloric again. (Hope you’re following this?!). This is what Higham and Green are suggesting, but in slightly different ways with Green leaning towards a mythical figure, not folkloric or legendary. However, whilst they don’t deny the 6th century King Arthur of Demetia, for example, possibly being named after a mythical or legendary figure, there is no consideration that Arthur of Badon could have been too, because they equate the mythical stories and onomastic and topographic sites with him.
On the issue of the name, Nick Higham in his book ‘King Arthur Myth-Making & History’ (2002), suggests that …
“The great strength of this position lies in the field of philological development. Given the known sound changes occurring over a period, the development of ‘Arthur from Artorius is ‘phonologically perfect’ (Professor Richard Coates, personal communication). p.74
“Arthur therefore seems to have originated as a Roman name Artorius but then was developed orally as an agent of legendary power [...]” p.95
If the name is from Latin Artorius (Insular Latin Arturius), via Lucius Artorius Castus as Higham suggests, then how did a British folkloric figure come to have a Roman name? Higham wonders at a possible bear cult or character, even though the name Artorius may have nothing to do with bears (*artos/arth), it not deriving from a Celtic language, or there being no bear cult attested to in Britain (although a jade bear has been found). He points out that this naming could have been of an existing British folkloric figure renamed during Roman occupation, after someone, such as Lucius Artorius Castus, (only named after him, but not him) because his name was close enough to an existing British character – for example Artos – or, that it was a Latin decknamen that substituted the Artos name. This could possible, but this may have to be a folkloric character (as argued by Higham) rather than a mythical deity (as argued by Green). For the latter we’d have to find a bear cult. But none of the other Romanized British deities have had their names dramatically changed, as far as I know. Here are others: Apollo Belinus, Apollo Maponos), Apollo Cunomaglus, Deus Maglus, and Mars Nodens. We might expect Mars or Mercury Artos, but why Artorius if he wasn’t associated with bears in the first place? Mars Arcturus (Arturus) if it came via Arcturus might be a better option, but we still have to find him. (See below).
On the point of it coming from a bear cult, whilst this is not impossible, no one suggests that all the various ‘dog/hound’ derived names of the period – and there were a lot – means there was a dog cult! As Gidlow points out, if one of the kings that Gildas berated, Maglocunus, had not been mentioned by him in the DEB but had come down through tradition, we might also be thinking he was simply the historicization (and corruption) of the known Romano-British god Apollo Cunomaglos.
A LAC of evidence?
With regards to the much discussed Lucius Artorius Castus; the 3rd century historical figure who is championed by Malcor and Littleton as being the bases for the King Arthur legend. (And was shoehorned into the 5th century for the film King Arthur!), Christopher Gwinn, at the King Arthur Group on Facebook has pointed out, and goes into in depth at his web page http://www.christophergwinn.com/celticstudies/lac/lac.html, that Castus was a Praefectus Legionis (ranking below a tribuni or general) with for the VI Victrix at York by the time he was in Britain, and an aging one at that. This rank went to men aged 50-60 and their duties were in the camp itself, not on campaigns. However, he is later said to have commanded the Britanicimiae, which might be a corruption for *Britanniciniae, (a British originated unit or units) in Vindobona and Pannonia. Could these exploits, or earlier ones when he was a centurio with various legions or as Praepositus of a fleet in Italy have got back to Britain? I think this might be stretching things a little. But, who knows?
The Sarmatians are also tied-in with this Artorius along with some of their legends being the bases for the Arthurian ones. It is possible, but a universal similarity in some legends could also explain it. The main argument I would level against this is why we don’t see these Ossetian (the region from which the Sarmatian are said to have come) stories appearing in the earliest Welsh Arthurian tale of Culhwch and Olwen? The similarities don’t seem to appear until much later.
YOU’RE A STAR!
The other argument, which is suggested by Green, (after his suggestion that the name could come from Art – gur – ‘Bear Man’ – although this should produce Arthwr) is that the name could have come from Latin Arcturus, which originated in Greek mythology: Arktouros: ‘Guardian of the Bear’, which was both a star and constellation in the northern skies, said to guard both Ursa Major and Ursa Minor. ‘The Plough’, (Ursa Major), known in Germanicus Caesar’s day as the ‘Bear-like wagon’ (Germanicus Caesar, 1976, p.55), was once known as Arthur’s Wain (Wagon) in Britain, which may, indeed, have come via Ar(c)turus’ Wagon. The name deriving from Arcturus is a possibility, as it could mutate to Neo-Brittonic or even Goidelic as Arturus. After all, Arthur of Badon, it is argued, is never written Arthurius (the Welsh form of Artorius) but he is called Arthurus.
Let’s look at the arguments for the name coming from Ar(c)turus in a little more depth. There are several observations arising from this argument:
An alternative, of course, could be that the mythical Arthur (of the Welsh and Cornish stories) derives from Arturus (or some other mythical figure) and the historical Arthur (from the H.B. and A.C.) is from the name Artorius/Arturius, and these were later to be merged. The name’s origin does not dictate that the original carrier of the name was the Arthur! My real name is Malcolm, but I’m not one of the original followers of St Columba!
So, it would seem that it’s alright to suggest mythical or folkloric derived Arthurs that Higham and Green forward as the source of the name and the legends, even though there’s no actual evidence to back them up, but to suggest some guy may have simply been called Arturius or have even been named after the same folkloric or mythical figure, isn’t founded, because it has no evidence. That doesn’t seem like a level playing field.
In the next part we’ll look at how poetry may have been the source of the first information on Arthur and how a historic figure might have given rise to the fantastical stories.
Thanks for reading, and I look forward to your thoughts, comments and corrections.
OH SOLDIER, SOLDIER …
In the quote I used at the end of the last part was “[...] he seems to have been a hero of legend without a clear genealogy or location [...]”. This is what those of the ‘mythical or folkloric Arthur’ camp use as another piece of evidence. It very well could be an indication, but the reason could also be because a historic Arthur was either from a part of Britain whose genealogies didn’t survive because of early ‘Anglo-Saxon’ dominance (and that’s a large area) or he was of a military position and not a royal one (see THIS blog) so wasn’t part of a surviving royal court. It could also be that his bloodline ran dry. There’s no known surviving genealogy for Ambrosius Aurelianus (Welsh Emrys Guledig), or certainty about his area of ‘residence’, and we know he and his offspring existed. However, if Gildas had not mentioned him, and had more sites than Dinas Emrys been named after him, we would think otherwise.
The other possibility is the ‘original’ Arthur as was one of the other historical Arthurs of the 6th and 7th centuries: Arthur ap Pedr of Demetia (Dyfed), Artúr mac Áedán of Dál Riata/Dalraida (Western Isles), Artúr mac Coaning of Dalraida (same area, but could be the same person as Artúr mac Áedán) or Arthur ap Bicoir of Kintyre(?). If it was one of these, such as Arthur ap Pedr; we have to discount the H.B. and A.C. that tell us Arthur fought at Badon … unless the Badon referred to is not the one mentioned by Gildas. However, there is no known battle of Badon during his lifetime, only one before and one after, and the Annales Cambriae (A.C.) puts the first one at least 70 years earlier (more later). You also have to move the date of Battle of Camlann where Arthur died … or didn’t, as the case may be. The Demetian Arthur fighting and dying at the known Afon Gamlan in North Wales isn’t inconceivable … although, generally agreed, not at that date. One of Arthur’s ‘tribal thrones’ was said to be at Menevia (St. Davids) … right in his territory (Triad 1). Were some of his exploits, knowingly or not, attached to the Arthur of Badon?
None of these other Arthurs can be totally discounted as the bases for the legends, and if it were one of them it would mean, whilst you didn’t have an Arthur of Badon, you still had a historical Arthur, who may have done great things, for all we know. Artúr mac Áedán may have done something famous enough for his grandson to call himself Feradach hoa Artúr (‘Feradach grandson of Artúr’). (See THIS blog). However, as I have discussed in other blogs, it would be odd for the Britons to knowingly use this Gael (who was the enemy after all) as the bases of their national hero.
These other Arthur’s are very important to the arguments in these current blogs, and are often skirted over or ignored completely. For example, Oliver Padel in his excellent work Arthur of Welsh Literature, makes no mention of Arthur ap Pedr at all. Anyone new to the subject reading this (hard to get a copy of) book would very easily conclude that Arthur was either mythical or folkloric. They would think there was only the one Arthur, not four or five. Yet if there was no Arthur of Badon, then these become a very important part of the equation. (More on this later).
Why oh why?
But, how would a possible 5th/6th century famous military leader, or even if he was, in fact, one of the Arthurs mentioned above, end up with all these strange legends attached to him as explored in the previous blogs? Legends that bear no resemblance to a 5th/6th century – or any other century – commander or king, except in a few poems. Legends that have parallels in Ireland. Those of the ‘mythical or folkloric Arthur’ camp say it’s because he never existed; that the soldier figure was purely a creation out of the folkloric or mythical one and these others Arthur’s may have been named after him. (Higham et al).
What are the alternatives? Well, apart from these Arthurs being named after an original of Badon (see THIS blog), there is a theory that it could be the folkloric of mythical stories existed with the main character having another name (see below) and the name Arthur was applied to him (or them) later, just as could have happened with the onomastic and topographical sites to begin with; or that there was both a mythical/folkloric Arthur and a historic one of Badon, just as there were historic ones in the 6th and 7th centuries; or, because there was so little information on Arthur it meant any storyteller could go to town on him, making up what they wanted. The latter certainly happened with the other historical characters mentioned before Arthur in the H.B.. Even when there was more known about a historical figure, it didn’t stop them being drastically changed by storytellers; Ambrosius Aurelianus, St. Germanus, Urien Rheged and his son Owain being cases in point.
In the MS Peniarth 147 a story tells us that Urien of Rheged went to Rhyd y Gyfarthfa in North Wales, where he met the goddess Modron, daughter of the god Afallach, and Owain and his sister Morfudd were conceived, as it was supposedly prophesied. We also find this in Triad 70. Thomas Green argues that this is because Urien too may have been mythical and not, as most assume, historical (Green, 2007). This historicity is based on a number of poems ascribed to a 6th century bard called Taliesin. There are many poems said to be by Taliesin, but Ifor Williams identifies only twelve as being of the period (The Poems of Taliesin, 1975). Green doesn’t relate this information and just suggests Urien could also have been mythical. Well, it’s certainly an easy way out of having to admit Urien was historical (although Green does say he could have been) and, once again it can be pointed out (and it is by Gidlow) that if none of Taliesin’s work survived about Urien and only the mythical story above, he too would be deemed ‘unreal’. (By the way, I’ve communicated with him on a couple of occasions and he seems a very nice man … that’s Thomas Green, not Urien)
The H.B. battle list is most definitely about a soldier, calling him the dux bellorum (‘leader (or military leader) of battles’) – see THIS blog for more on that – and victor of 12 battles. But was he a mythical or folkloric soldier? and where did this list come from; and why didn’t Nennius (said to be the compiler of the H.B., but some doubt it) use any of the other Welsh Arthurian stories or poems? Padel, Higham and Green say it is because the battle list was either made up for the H.B. or the battles were mythical or fictional ones, or those of others ascribed to Arthur. Many would disagree, (and Christopher Gidlow gives the best argument against them) and I would certainly say these are only possible explanations. Firstly we have to note that nowhere in existing Welsh Arthurian stories is he called a ‘battle leader’. Higham says this comes from Nennius associating him with the Biblical Joshua who was called a dux belli. (More later on that).
The nearest thing to the title ‘dux bellorum‘ (although it isn’t actually a title but a description) pre-Galfridian (before Geoffrey of Monmouth) is ‘pen tyrned’ (leader/chief/head of lords/princes/kings/sovereigns). This is from Culhwch ac Olwen, and it’s the one reference I point to when it is said the Welsh, pre-Galfridian, didn’t call him a king. This may not be king per se, but it sound even more than a king and could mean ‘high king’. The poem Elegy for Geraint ab Erbin (from a c. 14th C document but probably earlier) calls Arthur an ‘amherawdyr’, which literally translates as ‘emperor’ or ‘imperator’, and appears to be talking about Arthur’s ‘men’ and not Arthur himself. (The term ‘emperor’ is also a later one; ‘Caesar’ or ‘Augustus’ being the titles used). Here’s the verse:
In Llongborth I saw Arthur’s
Heroes who cut with steel.
The Emperor, ruler of our labour.
The use of the term ‘amherawdyr’ shouldn’t be taken literally and doesn’t mean Arthur was seen as one, but just given this superlative by the bard. Once again, it seems to be in the tradition of his men doing the work for him and not Arthur himself, just like in Culhwch ac Olwen. Another interpretation I would forward is ‘Arthur’s Heroes’ was just name given for those who fought against the ‘Saxon’s like Arthur did.
The nearest we get to him being seen as a soldier/military leader is in the, generally overlooked, poem, ‘The Chair of the Sovereign/Prince‘ or ‘The Chair of Teyrnon’ (‘Kadeir Teyrnon’). Ascribed to Taliesin, but almost certainly a later work, it maybe calling Arthur a Gwledig/Wledig/Guledig/Gwledic … if it’s him the lines refer to:
the venerable Teyrnon,
the fattener, Heilyn,
[and] the third profound song of the sage,
[was sung] in order to bless Arthur.
Arthur the blessed,
in harmonious song -,
as defender in battle
the trampler of nine [at a time]
… later …
There shall arise a ruler [Gwledic],
for the fierce wealthy ones.
(Marged Haycock translation, very kindly supplied by Christopher Gwinn).
No one knows for certain what this title means, but it showed greatness and was also bestowed on Ambrosius (Emrys Guledig) and the usurping emperor Magnus Maximus (Macsun Guledig) and could have some military meaning. (see THIS blog for more on this).
Thomas Green has argued that this poem, once again, shows Arthur as a mythical figure because it relates him to the divine person of Teyrnon (from the Mabinogion) and of the god Alator: ‘echen aladwr’, (“of the family of Aladwr”). (“A Note of Aladur, Alator and Arthur”, STUDIA CELTICA, 41, 2007, 237-41. http://www.arthuriana.co.uk/papers/Aladur.pdf ). He also treats it as pre-Galfridian. However, as August Hunt points out in one of his blogs:
“Arthur was of the family of the Breton Aldroenus, according to Geoffrey of Monmouth. In the Welsh genealogies, this Aldroenus becomes Aldwr. Uther’s father Constantine/Custennin was the brother of this Aldwr. ‘Aladwr’ is thus merely a slight misspelling or corruption of Aldwr. Arthur is ‘of the family of Al(a)dwr’ and not of the god Alator [...] The poem is thus immediately shown to NOT be pre-Galfridian. We must, therefore, be extremely cautious in how we approach this material. Especially as components from earlier Welsh tradition and from Geoffrey can be mixed in the same composition.
He also points out that the word ‘teyrnon’ had later become to mean ‘prince’. However, I would add that it is possible that Geoffrey got this from an older tradition and even the poem itself, but August’s point should be taken.
The thing to note here, and I think it’s an important note, is these kinds of poems are exactly where we might expect the warrior leader to be found. No supernatural occurrences in these poems, it’s about war. But if ‘Kadeir Teyrnon’ is post-Galfridian it is then relating to the Arthur of Geoffrey of Monmouth, or has had him attached to it. If it’s pre-Galridian it could be relating to Arthur of the H.B., although there’s no direct reference to it. The most interesting thing about this poem, for me, is that it is the only one to call him a Guledig.
In the next part we’ll look at how poetry may have been the source of the first information on Arthur and how a historic figure might have given rise to the fantastical stories.
Thanks for reading, and I look forward to your thoughts, comments and corrections.
FROM GENERAL TO GOVERNOR OR KING?
Many great military leaders have gone on to political position, either by force or being elevated to them. If Britain’s provinces did survive and tried to keep some form of Roman structure (even if not law), it is not inconceivable that someone who was once a general of some kind went on to be, or was given, the position as a rectores (governor) or even king. As noted, the tribuni of the province of Egypt also held a military position. If the chronological gap between the subduing of the ‘Anglo-Saxons’ (unless Nick Higham’s theory is right and they subdued the Britons) and Arthur’s supposed death at Camlan, twenty-one years after Badon, have any bases in truth (and it may not) then it could have been that he fulfilled this position for at least some of this time. Or, he could have been elevated to a king … and not necessarily an over-king. Or, perhaps Camlan could have been him trying to rise to a military position again, and failing? We’ll never know. (I’m I’m going to explore this question of the supposed gap between Badon and Camlan at a later date).
Gildas seems to indicate that the five kings he chastises were led by a ‘Pharaoh’, and some have wondered if he is referring to a provincial governor or military commander. Here’s what Gildas says:
“I will briefly set down the threatenings which are denounced against these five aforesaid lascivious horses, the frantic followers of Pharaoh […]” (DEB §37)
He is obviously being metaphorical but how literal? He has already compared the Proud Tyrant * to the Pharaoh of Isaiah 19. The above is a bit of a strange sentence, as the ‘five aforesaid lascivious horses’ should, perhaps, be leading the Pharaoh as metaphorical horses, not the other way around. If it were this way around it might mean they were leading their governor (or over-king) down the wrong path, and he couldn’t do anything about it; but this appears to mean they were following his lead … if he was a ‘he’. Gildas, unfortunately, says nothing more on the matter. Was there someone above these kings even Gildas wouldn’t dare to chastise? Possibly. The alternative is Gildas simply meant that they where led by the example of the Proud Tyrant; that is, they were carrying on in his manner. Nick Higham takes this to mean that they behaved in exactly the same way as the council that ill advised (in his eyes) the Proud Tyrant to bring in ‘Saxon’ federates.
*The Proud Tyrant is generally thought to have been (the over-king or equivalent?) Vortigern, and Bede certainly names him as this figure, (as does a later version of the DEB) but there are some scholars who believe it could be referring to either of the usurping emperors from Britannia, Magnus Maximus or Constantine III. If it were one of these, I’d say the latter.
There is one more character worth looking at and that is the one Gildas says is the kings’ “father the devil” (pater diabolus). This Higham takes to be the over-king of the ’Anglo-Saxon’ (Aelle?) but he translates it as ‘father-devil“. It’s an excellent observation given that Gildas refers to the ‘Saxons’ as devils. (It’s not one David Dumville agrees on). Gildas also calls Constantine of Dumnonia an “instrument of the devil” and he appears to mean the devil in the Biblical sense. So, as far as my none-academic, none Latin literate mind can tell, Gildas could simply mean … well, “their father the devil“. Unless this ‘father-devil’ could be an over-king/over-lord of Britannia Prima? I will have to bow to those of superior knowledge in all things Gildasian and Latin.
There are two questions to be answered here:
1. Could there have been provincial duces, comes and/or tribunus?
2. If Arthur existed, could he have been one of these?
If my reading of the evidence is right (and it may not be!) there where duces (military leaders) even in Gildas’s time (early to mid 6th century), but there’s no mention (unless that ‘Pharaoh‘ is he) of an overal dux (but see below). Gildas doesn’t appear to mention the north, however, so we can’t say for this region., (Although there are arguers for Maglocunus being of the north and not (just?) North Wales).
Gildas is more than a generation away from Badon, so things could have been different then. In the west and those regions that had kings, they too could be the duces, and Gildas seems to say as much. Only areas that still retain some semblance of a division of civil and military rule may have had duces who weren’t kings (per se). Those kings in the west and north who weren’t perhaps so war-like, or had visions of old Imperial grandeur, could also have used duces to lead their warbands. It might be more correct to say these war leaders were tribunus: generals, but given the name duces in later (Gildasian) times? Christopher Gidlow in his book The Reign of King Arthur (2004) also points out that the term duces could be used in all manner of ways in Late Antiquity (pp.41-44).
The Dux of Britannia Prima?
There’s a very good conclusion to Gildas’s use of these five kings of Britannia Prima (?) made by Professor Higham, and that is that Gildas is berating them not just because of their lapsed moral ways, but because he knows they are the province’s (or Britannia’s) only military hope and is trying to scare them into doing something about the ‘Saxon’ problem. Higham also points out that Gildas spends more time on Maglocunus than on all the other kings put together, and this was because, in Gildas’s eyes at least, he was the most powerful amongst them or, perhaps, held some kind of sway over them, or some of them. Gildas says this king is “higher than almost all duces of Britannia in both royalty and physique“. Not “all” but “almost all”, so there was another. In Higham’s eyes this is the ‘Anglo-Saxon’ over-king, in GIdlow’s it’s Outigern. Whether Higham is right is another matter, and his conclusions fits with his ‘Anglo-Saxon’ dominance of even eastern Britannia Prima, so it might be coloured by this. (But who am I to argue?).
Could this mean Maglocunus was the Dux Britannia Prima at the time of Gildas, and so he as an over-king held this ‘military’ position? If Higham is wrong, then who is the dux who is higher than him? Someone of the north, if Maglocunus wasn’t from there or held power over it? It doesn’t seems to be one of the other kings mentioned. Gidlow wonders if this figure was Outigern.
If there were other positions active before Gildas’s time he wasn’t aware of them, or didn’t mention them, but it would seem that the LIfe of St Germanus mentions a tribuni, but this was over a hundred years before Gildas. However, we have got a ‘protector‘ in western Britannia. I’ve mentioned this title before, but here’s a quote, again from Robert Vermaat’s Fectio website, to tell you what one was:
The protector (title) was originally a member of the select corps that Gallienus created as a group of loyal men around him. This group changed into a kind of school for officers, making men who were promoted from the ranks to become a protector before they were posted to their new ranks and duties. Some of these protectores were posted to the staff of field commanders (deputati) to gain experience, and performed a great number of duties. They could be sent to round up recruits and vagrants, or act as border guards controlling exported goods. Their more military duties could include the arrest of important persons, as related by Ammianus Marcellinus, who himself was a member of the ten protectores domestici in the staff of the general Ursicinus.This group was named domestici (men serving in the entourage of the Emperor, although also dispersed over the lower army staffs) to distinguish them from ordinary protectores, who succeeded to a command of a unit after serving for a number of years as protector. Other military tasks included special missions, such as preparing temporary forts on campaign, or the arrest of officers.
When a soldier reached this stage of cadet officer, it finally meant a break from his original unit, because only the Emperor could decide to transfer men from one unit to another. Promotion was therefore very slow and it is not surprising that higher officers used their influence to get instant commissions for their sons. Bribery was rife in the Roman army, but men appointed thus instead of rising through the ranks had to pay certain fees and charges. When during the fifth century the flexibility of the promotion system decreased, the domestici and protectores became a static body.
I doubt very much that this is what Vortiporix (the gentleman who held this title in Demetia) was, but old Imperial ranks and titles (such as rectores, magister and speculatores) were being used, even if their role wasn’t the same. Counter to Collingwood’s theory, a comes (companion or count) with a field army may be the one position that didn’t survive, but a dux of the time may have fulfilled that role also.
With all this in mind, it seems that it it is entirely possible that an historical Arthur (if he existed) fulfilled some kind of none-royal military position … someone did! This could have been any of the three ranks, but with more likely that of tribuni or dux. If there was a a military provincial dux I would favour there being one of the north, as Ken Dark suggests, because of its Roman military past and the forts that were reused, but other regions having one (or several) is not out of the question. In fact, if we are reading Gildas right, they did have several, we just don’t know their exact military function. It’s something we may never be able to answer as we may never know the political situation and structure of late 5th century Britannia, unless there is some miraculous literary find.
Arthur in such a position could make sense of two things: why the name was only used by later Hiberno-Britannians (or regions) or Hiberno-Britons (see THIS blog) and why he, like Ambrosius Aurelianus, left no (reliable) lineage. The first reason could have been because he was, indeed, from one of the several British regions of a Gaelic speaking/British mix (and this could even include what is now part of Cornwall) and was chosen as a military leader because of his past military deeds, because it was felt he was someone they could trust … or because of his wealth. He could have been from within a province or brought in from another one … or, even from outside of the diocese.
The second reason for an Arthur of Badon not appearing in any (reliable) regional genealogies would be because he wouldn’t be of a kingdom’s royal line, or an over-king, so no genealogy would survive. But that only may apply to the west and north. If he was from the east he may not leave any genealogy even if he was a great king because of the ‘Saxon’ conquest. (Yet Wales preserved even northern kings’ lineages). Whatever he was and wherever he was from, (if he existed!) he would, however, had to have still been a ‘wealthy’ and powerful man.
This blog has explored only one possibility for what Arthur might have been, and it certainly helps makes sense of him being in charge of kings and their warbands in battle as per the H.B., but not being a king (or major king) himself if he was in a military position. However, there are always other options, which I’ll explore at a later date.
Thanks for taking the time to read the lengthy ramblings of a layman, and, once again I look forward to your comments, thoughts and corrections,
If these military positions, or one of them, did exist, in some form, in mid to late 5th century Britannia, the question arises as to who exactly these individuals would command: the province’s various warbands or his own provincial army … or both? Generals of the late empire would very often be in command of feoderati (federates) and/or bucellarii (literally meaning ‘biscuit eaters’), but, of course, they could afford them! The former would come in federate ethnic groups, the latter as individual mercenaries, and, perhaps, some ethnic groups. Bucellarii where his personal household troop and could add up to a considerable number when needed. The magister militum Aegidius had 12,000 at one time.
Here is an interesting quote from a paper with the very long title of ARMIES, WAR, AND SOCIETY IN THE WEST, ca.300-ca.600:LATE ROMAN AND BARBARIAN MILITARY ORGANIZATIONS AND THE ‘FALL OF THE ROMAN EMPIRE’ by Richard Abels:
Generals used federates and bucellarii
Dick Whittaker observes that the “twin process of soldiers becoming landlords and landlords becoming soldiers” in the late empire facilitated 1) the collapse of the frontiers, 2) the integration/fusion of German ‘barbarian’ and Roman culture, 3) the breakdown of law and the growth of a new culture of private power in which ‘the poor became increasingly dependent on the arbitrary will of the landed rich” (Rich 281). As soldiers became landlords and landlords became the masters of soldiers, private individuals became the heads of military retinues of bucellarii. Though by law bucellarii were required to take an oath not only to their employers (a private contract), but one as well to the emperor (public). Surviving Roman administrative records show that bucellarii performed public duties (under the direction of their civilian masters) and were liable for military service if called upon by government authorities. The wealthy Apion family of early sixth-century Egypt received tax breaks for hiring bucellarii, whom they used to collect taxes and maintain order during games in the hippodrome. (Lee 165, citing Liebeschuetz, Barbarians and Bishops 45-6. But, as Whittaker points out, “the public oath was of limited relevance if the patron rebelled or if imperial rule was not recognized: the loyalty of the soldiers than became private obsequium [a personal following]” (295).
Archaeologically, one of the key developments of the fifth century was the increasing ‘nucleation of rural sites. … Small farms disappeared, many vici (villages) were abandoned or removed to old Iron Age hilltop sites, while larger villas … survived, expanded and were often fortified. … [There is evidence] of concentration of property holdings, the increased isolation and inaccessibility of estates and the compulsion on peasants to seek the refuge of the rich’ (292).
Increasingly in the fifth century, the “remnants of the Roman army operated in towns,” and bands of bucellarii in the service of local great men, their patrons, controlled the countryside. The Roman sources term these bands as ‘robbers,’ but it seems probable that they were actually the private forces of local magnates maintaining order and control outside of Roman public authority.
This process was not restricted to ‘Roman’ landlords. It was true also of German chiefs, many of whom were ‘Roman’ generals or federate chieftains. The distinction between ‘Roman’ and ‘German’ itself was disappearing as the cultures merged.
Germanic bodyguards were used by Emperors and it could be as much that they were there, not just for their violent tendency, but because they were (usually) neutral and exotic. (They looked different and talked differently).* This could have been as much the reason some British elites used them as any other … although the fact Constantine III may have taken all the best units (not all) with him to the Continent in his bid for the western Empire may have something to do with it. However, just as happened in the Empire, your bodyguard could turn against you. (Interesting that the emperor Augustus didn’t dismiss his bodyguard, but put them on an island out of harms way* just as the Britons are supposed to have done with the ‘Saxons’ on the Isle of Thanet. (But see THIS blog).
The question comes as to how a provincial force would (or could) operate in Sub Roman Britain, especially if the likes of Higham and Dark are right and we had both ‘tribal’ (‘Celtic’) king based kingdoms (in the west and north) and more civil and military civitates in the Midlands and east, at the same time? How do you get powerful kings and their warbands to work under an ‘outside’ commander? The other question is, how would they be ‘paid’? (Higham’s theory not withstanding that this civil zone was under ‘Anglo-Saxon’ suzerainty or Chris Wickham‘s theory on a greatly fragmented Britain).
The answer to the first question could be that they would probably need to function, in some way at least, modeled on the Late Roman army system. (This, of course, being complicated by the Late Roman Empire’s use of barbarian federates who fought in the own ways). Whether they followed what militarily changes had been going on on the Continent is another matter, and their system may have been an old fashioned one, or a mixture of British and Roman. It may also depend on the part of the old diocese that was in question. If we take northern Britannia first, this could have seen an overall commander in charge of the various forces/warbands that occupied/re-occupied the still existing forts there when they were needed to come together as a combined force. This dux could have either been some over-king (or the equivalent) or a general in the employ of an over-king (as envisaged by Ken Dark). If this over-king had illusions of old imperial Roman grandeur he just might have done the latter. However, if this was the case he may have had to come from a ‘wealthier’ region of the north where surplus grain could be grown, such as the Yorkshire Plain. The old legions of the north had to rely on the southern grain regions to feed the amount of men that were there, though that number would be greatly reduced by this time.
We must also keep in mind, as discussed by Alex Woolf in ‘Regna and gentes: the relationship between late antique and early medieval’ (2003, p360), that kings of Gildas’s time – generally thought to be writing in the first half of the 6th century by all but Higham – in the De Excidio Britanniae (DEB) and before may not have functioned in the same way as later, Late 6th century and onward kings did and Gildas’s berated five kings of western Britannia may not be representative of those further east or in the north. Nor should the poetry of the 6th century bards Aneirin and Taliesin of the ‘Heroic Age’ be seen as showing how earlier or more Romanised ‘armies’ functioned. Woolf wonders if the other leaders Gildas isn’t happy with (but doesn’t mention by name) in these Romanised regions are the iudex mentioned by him:
Reges habet Britannia, sed tyrannos; judices habet, sed impios —“kings Britain has, but tyrants; judges she has, but wicked ones” (DEB, §27)
… if they are not one and the same as Gildas later says the kings also act as judges. Higham thinks these leaders were the rectores, speculatores and duces (more on this later).
The question often arises as to why use feoderati and bucellarii when you could use your own indigenous people? There are two answers: 1) Using, what has been termed the Gurkha Syndrome by military sociologist C.H. Enloe, you chose the most feared warriors to deal with the feared enemy, just as the British used the Gurkhas, and ‘Saxons’ were certainly feared. 2) Contrary to public perception, mercenaries are actually more likely to fight because that is their chosen profession, unlike some ‘levyman’ plucked from the fields. It also means you can keep them active for longer as they don’t have to farm. This is not to mention that mercenaries were very often put at the front, to save a kingdom’s own warriors.*
The more attractive alternative (and one perhaps borne out by the archaeology) might be that the various civitates and/or kingdoms that made up a province had to supply the men when needed for a combined force. Or, they were there to support a provincial army by only having to supplement a smaller group of feoderati and/or bucellarii that were the dux’s personal troop. This latter scenario might have been more acceptable, as any general with a large army could have become a threat himself. This would see him with his own smaller unit, or field army, for deal with raiding and the like, and supplemented by a combined large force for set battles. If this is how a historical Arthur did function it would be somewhat of an irony, especially if we add the possibility that he was of mix Hibernian (Gaelic) and British blood (More on this below or see THIS blog). Imagine: an Hiberno-British Arthur fighting with Germanic/Scandinavian/British/Hibernian mercenaries! Sacrilege! Yet perfectly normal for the time.
To need a provincial army, of course, would require there being a large enough enemy or enemies to warrant it, with a large enough border to protect, perhaps covering more than one civitas/kingdom. Or, maybe, it could be used to bring more force to bear at a particular point along that border than could be supplied by a single civitas/kingdom army? Is this restructuring what Ambrosius Aurelianus started and what enable the Britons to fight back?
How would they be paid? Well, they would be paid in kind, in some way; certainly not with money, except old coinage to melt down. They could also have been given food, metals or a share of any booty. They may have been promised land, either during service or after it.
LEADING FROM THE FRONT?
Most Roman emperors didn’t lead from the front (although, of course, some did) unlike the Hellenistic kings, like Alexander, who did fight at the front.* How did the British kings in the 5th century see themselves? like their ancient British forefathers or like mini Roman emperors who used generals or what the later Welsh would call the pen teulu (captain of the kings retinue)? Could have been a mixture of course.
The Late Roman army had to change its tactics in the 5th century and learned that large pitched battles were not always the answer and smaller guerrilla type operations were the way to go against the northern barbarians. A type of warfare that had been used against them for centuries. It’s this kind of warfare that Collingwood envisaged Arthur undertaking as a comes with a field army against his enemies, who very often may not have been united themselves. It’s always possible that a commander of a provincial force would fight this way at times, as set battles with one large army against another is not always the answer. There would have to be offensive tactics used with surprise attacks on strategic points. Arthur’s supposed battles, many at rivers, may have been just this. Cutting off supply routes or attacking places such as salt production sites or mineral mines could also have been a method used.
(* My thanks to the Ancient Warfare podcast: War as a livelihood – Mercenaries in the Ancient world - of 04/03/09 for this information.)
In Part Three we’ll look at what Gildas called rectores. These could be provincial governors and I’ll explore if this is what Gildas meant by the term, as well as looking at the five provinces that made up the old Roman diocese of Britannia and the various theories as to some of them still existing in Gildas’s time.
Thanks for reading and I look forward to comments, thoughts … and corrections,
The title really should be ‘Arthur: King, Commander, both, or neither’, but it’s not quite as catchy.
Those not au fait with the Arthurian subject and the search for an historical 5th or 6th century figure will just assume Arthur was a king. The first you might have been aware of an alternative view would be the last King Arthur film, if you saw it.
The flip side of the coin is those who do study the subject and believe he wasn’t a king because the 9th century document, the Historia Brittonum (in all its various versions), doesn’t make it sound as if he was a monarch but only a “leader of battles”. Some will also say that the early Welsh stories of Arthur never call him a king, but as we will see, they do far more than that.
For the sake of this discussion we will assume there was a late 5th century figure called Arthur who fought at the Siege of Badon.
The main problem, as I discussed in the Arthurian poetry blog, is knowing where the battle list in Historia Brittonum originated from. If it was from a poem, whether oral or written, it may not have been made explicit within it that Arthur was a king, whether he was or not. There are examples in later mediaeval Welsh poetry where the bard extolled the virtues of his king in verse but does not say he was a king, because he knows his audience is already aware of this fact. If we didn’t have the relevant genealogies we wouldn’t know they were kings either, and could come to the conclusion that they may just have been military leaders of some kind. The same could have happened to Arthur.
As for the early Welsh stories of Arthur not saying he was a king, we only have to look to the story of Culhwch and Olwen (c. 10th century) to see that he was called a pen tyrned: a leader/chief/head of rulers/princes/kings. They seem to be making him out to be is some overlord or High King. It is certainly not making him out to be just a leader of battles. The Welsh poem, ‘The Elegy of Geraint’ (c. 9th to 11th centuries), even calls him an “ameraudur”. This could literally be translated as “emperor” but it is also possible it means “commander” or “general”.
Of course, it can be argued that this was only down to the later storytellers wanting to make him into a character closer to the rulers of their own day. This is a very valid point. However, whoever gave Arthur the above title chose an unusual one. For example, they didn’t call him a Gwledig; which seems to have been the highest accolade for someone in the 5th, 6th and 7th centuries: Emrys Wledig, Macsen Wledig, Urien Rheged (Wledig) and many more. There was only one poem – attributed to Taliesin but most likely a later bard – that calls Arthur by this appellation. (See THIS blog.)
The other reason why Arthur is assumed not to have been a king is because there are no (reliable) royal genealogies that name him. Those that do are either derived from the stories or could very well just be made up. (See THIS blog)
There were, of course, great swathes of eastern and central Britain that were lost to the Anglo-Saxons where any ‘King Arthur’ could have resided. The downside to this argument is the fact that all subsequent princes given the name are in the west, nearly all in Hiberno-British held areas or those of Hiberno-British descent. (See THIS blog)
At the time Arthur is supposed to have flourished there may have been a very blurred distinction between a powerful commander and a king. There’s also no certainty that the British would use a commander to lead their battles, even though this is what was happening in Europe This may depend on the state of the ex-Roman diocese of Britannia at this time. It is possible from both archaeological evidence and that given by the 6th century saint, Gildas, that some of the old provinces of Britannia still existed. If they, one one, did, having an overall military commander might have been the answer to stop any of the rulers that made up the province from taking the lead and using this power to their own advantage.
Nor can we determine what kind of commander he might have been; if he was one. By that I mean the general jumping to the conclusion that he had to have been a cavalry leader. He does not have to have been this. At the head of mounted warriors, yes, but they need infantry too, and many mounted warriors would fight on foot. It is thought that cavalry, of the Early Medieval style, were of use only in certain circumstances and were probably mainly used as weapons platforms – that is, high speed javelin throwers – or to cut down a retreating foe. We should keep in mind that, unlike in the glory days of the empire, horses were a little harder to come by and you were going to do whatever you could to safeguard your mount. There is also no British Early Medieval evidence of heavy cavalry.
Of course, a military leader could also be a dangerous figure and there’s no reason why such a person could have tried to make himself the overall ruler. Many powerful military leaders throughout history have gone on to assume political power. If Arthur was or went on to be some kind over over-king, it’s very doubtful that he would be given such a position. He would have won it through military power. That is unless there was a similar system to Ireland, which we have no existing evidence of.
Gildas tells us that Britain had rectores; this was the Roman term for a provincial governor, but it doesn’t mean that that’s what they were by the early 6th century. It could have been a bishop by Gildas’s time. He also tells us, through Biblical comparisons, that the five kings he verbally attacks in his polemic were steering their ‘pharaoh’ to destruction.
“I will briefly set down the threatenings which are denounced against these five aforesaid lascivious horses, the frantic followers of Pharaoh …” (DEB Ch. 37)
This ‘pharaoh’ could have been the rectore, he could have been a military commander or even over-king. Of course, he could be the devil.
Can any conclusions as to what Arthur was be drawn form this? I don’t think so. The period, the evidence from Gildas and what was happening on the continent could mean that Arthur fulfilled any of these position, or even all at various points in his life.
This blog is not as in-depth as I normally make them but my work load has made this impossible. I’m hoping that through time, and comments from others, we’ll add to this debate.
Thanks for reading,
SINCE WRITING THIS I HAVE DONE ANOTHER RELATED BLOG, WHICH COVERS THE SUBJECT IN EVEN MORE DETAIL. CLICK HERE TO READ IT.
There will be a lot of people out there asking “What on Earth is a Wledig!” The answer is … no one really knows. Here’s some background.
There appear to be many figures in Arthurian and Welsh literature who are given the title Wledig (various spellings: Gwledig/Guletic/Guledic), by either being referred to as one or having it attached to their name.
Here are some, in no particular order:
Mascen Wledig (Magnus Maximus)
Emrys Wledig (Ambrosius Aurelianus)
Urien Wledig (Urien of Rheged)
Ywain Wledig (could be Owain, Urien’s son)
Ceritic Wledig (thought to be St Patrick’s Coroticus)
Amlawdd Wledig (supposedly Arthur maternal grandfather)
Fflewdur Flam Wledig
… but Arthur is only called Wledig in one poem (possibly two – see below), but the title didn’t stick. The poem, ‘The Throne of the Sovereign’, is attributed to the 6th century bard Taliesin, but it’s thought to be by some later bard.
There they are sought, the bold,
The lost men of battle.
I compare the fierce ranks
Of the late Penduic,
Of the death-dealing ranks,
Of the breastplated legion,
The Wledig raised
On the old-renowned border,
To a broken grass-stalk
Arthur’s supposed maternal grandfather, Amlawdd Wledig, bore the title but not him. He is called a pen teyrned, ‘leader/chief of kings/princes/rulers, which is impressive, but he wasn’t made to keep up with the Joneses … in this case, Ambrosius Aurelianus (Emrys Wledig) and Magnus Maximus (Macsen Wledig).
Whilst in Modern Welsh the meaning of gwledig is ‘rural, countrified, country, agrarian‘, there are differing explanations as to what exactly an Early Medieval Wledig was. These ranges from ‘land holder’, to ‘(hereditary) sovereign lord’ and ‘lord over other’s country through victory’. The Indo-European data base gives:
Proto-Celtic: *wlati- ‘sovereignty’ [Noun]
Old Irish: flaith [i f, later m] ‘sovereignty, ruler’
Middle Welsh: gulat [f] (OW), MW gwlad ‘country’
Middle Breton: guletic (OBret.)
Cornish: gulat gl. patria
The GPC defines Gwledig as:
“lord, king, prince, ruler, term applied to a number of early British rulers and princes who were prominent in the defense of Britain about the time of the Roman withdrawal; (possibly) commander of the native militia (in a Romano-British province).
Their definition of teyrn is:
“monarch, sovereign, king, prince, lord, ruler, leader, dictator, tyrant; (figuratively) sovereign (adj.), royal.
Patrick Sims-Williams notes in “The Early Welsh Arthurian Poems” from The Arthur of the Welsh (p. 52) that Arthur might be the otherwise unnamed Prydein Wledig - ‘Lord of Britain’ – referred to in the poem Kat Godeu (which refers to Arthur later on).
‘Lord over other’s country through victory’, put forward by Fabio P. Barbieri in an article at the Faces of Arthur section at Robert Vermaat’s Vortigern Studies website ( http://www.facesofarthur.org.uk/ ), does seem to have some logic to it. Here is part of it:
“Now, Taliesin seems to me to draw a marked distinction between two words for “king”, Teyrn and Gwledig. (He never uses Brenhin, which is significant, but if I make out the original Welsh right, he does sometimes use the very archaic Rieu for “kings in the mass, the whole class of kings, both gwledig and teyrn”.) When Urien’s bard praises his lord in the most emphatic and ringing terms, he calls him gwledig. Urien is the gwledig of cattle-lifters at his great battle at Gwenystrad, in the sense that nobody in the world is better at taking wealth away from enemies. Gwenystrad must have been a tremendous triumph for Urien: speaking of it, Taliesin describes this single northern lord as the scourge of the men of all the island, gathered in battle-lines (gwyr Prydein adwythein yn lluyd). Clearly a large coalition had been gathered to teach the impudent cateran a lesson – and had ended up learning one instead. It is by virtue of this great victory over men from many parts of the island that Taliesin awards his lord the title of gwledig, qualifying it, even then, as gwledig only in that he takes cattle away from so many enemies. He still is not said to rule over them, even though he defeated them. It seems clear that the sovereignty of Rheged, alone, does not make a gwledig. Gwledig is a term of praise, specifically for victory, and in particular for the kind of victory that proves supremacy over a large number of competitors.” ( http://www.facesofarthur.org.uk/fabio/book1.7.htm)
There is only one Guletic mentioned in the 7th to 9th century collection of poems Y Gododdin, that being a character called Ywain/Ewein/Owein (who could be Owain Rheged) and John Koch interprets the meaning differently to that above:
“Ewein [Owein] is twice referred to as of particularly high status, called *couri(g)entin penn – ‘rightful privileged chief’ and guletic ‘(hereditary) sovereign lord’. The latter title is not lightly accorded in Early Welsh sources.” (‘The Gododdin of Aneirin’, Koch, p. 225
Whether Arthur was historical or not, and whether an historical Arthur was a Wledig or not, it is odd that he wasn’t later given this prestigious title for literary effect. Why wasn’t it used in his stories to bolster his standing, or was pen teyrned enough? Did someone come up with pen teyrned purely because of how they interpreted the battle list in the Historia Britonnum and because Arthur had no Wledig title? There is only one other person I know of given the title pen teyrned and that is Gwenddoleu, who in the Myrddin poem Oianau is called “pen teyrnedd Gogledd” (“Pen teernet goglet“); translated as, “chief of lords of the Old North”.
Arthur does jump to being an imperator and, unless someone was particularly well read in the ways of the Roman Republic, they meant emperor and not military commander! This could have been a translation of Wledig to imperator, seeing as Macsen went from imperator to Wledig. It’s unlikely that Macsen, who was the emperor Magnus Maximus, was actually a Wledig, but he was given the title anyway, probably to Brittonicize this Spaniard.
Ambrosius (Emrys) received it for his greatness and even Cunedda, the supposed ridder of the Irish from what are now north and southwestern Wales has it, but not Arthur, the supposed ridder of the Saxons.
Of course it wasn’t just Arthur who wasn’t a Wledig. Vortigern isn’t called a one either and even the powerful Maelgwn (Gildas’s Maglocunus) doesn’t seem to be, and, according to Gildas, a taker of other people’s country was exactly what he was, IF that’s its meaning. Maybe Vortigern wasn’t known as a taker of other’s county, more of a loser of his own through the bad press he received. As for Maelgwn, it may simply be because we don’t have any surviving bardic poetry, unlike Urien, calling him such … and he may not have been liked much either!
But there’s a fly in the ointment to all this.
MS. HENGWRT 536.
TEIOED ARTHUE AE WYE
Teir Lleithicltiyth Ynys Prydein. Arthur yii pen teyrned
ym Mynytf a Dewi yn pen ysgyb a MaelgCn Gtfyned yn pen
hyneif. Arthur yn pen teyrned yg Kelliwic yg Kernetf a
Betwini esgob yn pen esgyb a Charadatfc ureichuras yn pen
hyneif. Arthur yn pen teyrned ym Pen Eionyd yny gogled
a Chyndeyrn Garthwys yn peri esgyb a Gtfrthmwl Wledic yn
TRIADS OF ARTHUR AND HIS WARRIORS.
Three tribe thrones of the Island of Prydain. Arthur the chief lord at Menevia, and David the chief bishop, and Maelgwyn Gwyned the chief elder. Arthur the chief lord at Kelliwic in Cornwall, and Bishop Betwini the chief bishop, and Caradawc Vreichvras the chief elder. Arthur the chief lord at Penrionyd in the north, and Cyndeyrn Garthwys the chief bishop, and Gurthmwl Guledic the chief elder.
So here we have a pen teyrned and Wledig mentioned together.
The translation makes teyrned a ‘lord’ and not king. I believe it should be plural in both cases, but I could be mistaken. The same goes for Arthur’s mention in ‘Culhwch and Olwen, where I’ve seen pen teyned translated as ‘sovereign lord’. No wonder everyone’s confused and say Arthur wasn’t originally called a king. However, if teyrn is only a ‘lord’ and a brehin only a king, then it seems to me we have an awful lot more lords and Wledigs compared to kings in the Early Medieval period … but I may just may not be aware of them!
So what’s the difference between a pen teyrned and a Wledig? Once again I’d like to quote Fabio P. Barbieri (Chapter 1.7: Resurgent Celticism: Function and power of Gildas’ kings):
“Teyrned, therefore, are those of the lord class who either cannot fight or are defeated in battle, an inferior kind of lordship. Gwledig are the kings who assert their right to rule by victory, who take cattle and do not have cattle taken away from them (surely a poetic version of the claiming and refusal of tribute). But this is not merely a contingent fact depending on the changing fortunes of arms: these ranks are at least to some extent permanent.”
Not sure about this. That would make a pen teyrned the ruler of teyrns, which seems to make the title almost the same as Wledig! However, Christopher Snyder in a post at Arthurnet said:
“Tigernos” is a common Celtic term (variants include teryn, theryn, tiern, and thigern) for a ruler, usually a local ruler)”
So calling Arthur a pen teyrned could mean several things. A pen teyrned who is just the ‘chief/leader of local rulers’ is very different from one who is a ‘leader of kings’ (‘sovereign lord’?). If it is the former, it could have given rise to the ‘not a king but a leader of kings in battle’, whilst the latter translation could have led Geoffrey of Monmouth (and others) to interpreted him as being a ‘king of kings’ or even ‘emperor’? Maybe this is what confused the hell out of the Historia Britonnum and Annales Cambriae compilers.
Thanks for reading,
First, a disclaimer: these genealogies drive me nuts and I very often have trouble deciphering the various version. If anyone sees any glaring mistakes – and I’m sure there are some – please leave a comment, or send an email, to correct me!
I wondered if any of the (very dubious) Arthurian genealogies might help in search of an Hiberno-British Arthur? Well, there are the Campbell (more accurately MacArthur) genealogies, which, surprisingly don’t follow the Artúr mac Áedán line – or pretend not to - as I would first have imagined. They do indeed believe descent form our Arthur … or ‘Oor Arthur’ as they say. The oldest of all the clans apparently, the saying goes …
Cruic ‘is uillt ‘is Ailpainich, Ach cuin a thainig Artairich?
The hills and streams and MacAlpine, But whence came forth MacArthur?
The Clan Arthur website gives you:
“Although there may be controversy as to precise lineage, two schools of thought about MacArthur of Tirevadich are listed as such:
King Malcolm Canmore — Malcomb — Dubni mac Mal-colaim — Arthur Armdhearg — Arthur Andarian — MacArthurs of Darleith & Inistrynich (Tirevadich)
Norma Lorre Goodrich, an authority on the subject of King Arthur describes MacArthur lineage as:
King Arthur — Smerevie — Ferrither — Duibne Mor — Arthur Og — Ferrither — Duibne “Falt Dhearg” — Ferrither — Duibne Dearg — Duibne Donn — Diarmid O’Duibne — Arthur — Arthur Andarian — MacArthurs of Darleith & Inistrynich (Tirevadich).”
This last lineage is from the Campbell genealogies, which I’ll get to below.
This is how the Oor Arthur website opens:
“A sixth century red sandstone sarcophagus stands on display in Govan Old Parish Church, near Glasgow. It is claimed to have held the remains of St. Constantine, King of Cornwall, Christian martyr and founder of Govan in 565AD. Carved on the side of the sarcophagus is a sixth century Celtic-Romano warrior bearing the capital letter A branded cavalry style on the horse’s flank. God in Govan! Could this be a carving of “King” Arthur? Probably – At least, it is very probably a representation of OOR ARTHUR.”
It should first be pointed out that it isn’t certain this Constantine was from Cornwall, or, more correctly, Dumnonia. In the Life of Saint Kentigern, this St. Constantine is named as the son and successor to Riderch (Rhydderch) Hael, king of Strat Clut (Strathclyde). However, modern scholars now think this an insertion in Rhydderch’s genealogy.
To quote Tim Clarkson:
“If he is not an obscure Cornish namesake allegedly martyred in Kintyre, he might have been a North Briton, perhaps even a native of the Clyde. His association with Kentigern [...] is almost certainly a fiction devised later in Glasgow.” (Men of the North, 2010, p.62)
The confusion could be because this region was also once called Damnonia/Dumnonia. The Cornish saint may have been the emperor Constantine The Great. (More below).
It is interesting that some modern Scots make claim to Arthur (although they mainly claim Artúr mac Áedán) when their 14th and 15th century ancestors went to pains to paint him as an illegitimate tyrant and ‘whore’s son’. Of course, they had political reasons for doing so because the English throne used Geoffrey of Monmouth’s History and Arthur to claim sovereignty over Scotland.
To quote Juliette Woods:
“Equally interesting is The Roit or Quheill of Tyme, which denies Arthur’s claim to the throne, but retains his character as heroic leader. It notes “fabillis” (“fables”) written about him, but claims that these gave him “no domination of Scotland” (Alexander 1975: 21–2).” – Woods, 2009, p.104
Getting back to the MacArthur/Campbell genealogies, they are interesting. There are three, dating between ca 1467 and 1650. It is the earliest and latest versions that show a marked difference form Geoffrey of Monmouth. Both have Uthyr (Irish Iubhar/Iobhar/Iobhair) as the father of Arthur. The later Leabhar Geinealach/Book of Genealogies – Dubhaltach mac Fhirbhisigh, shows Arthur coming from the Coelings (Old King Coel), if Coiel is the same person. The earliest, NLS MS 72, only gives four names in total. Both versions have Iubhar or Iobhar as the father. The middle Killbride version NLS MS 72 has his line via Ambros (Ambrosius Aurelianus). What they give is an Artúr mac Iobhair.
(Many thanks for Chris Gwinn’s (of Arthurnet) amazing work on these genealogies to be found at http://christophergwinn.com/celticstudies/arthur/arthur_pedigree.html )
The Leabhar Geinealach and Killbride version NLS MS 72 have his grandson as Feradogh/Feradog and this must be Feradach hoa Artúr (discussed in Part Five) from the Cáin Adomnáin, which was written in Ireland in 697. However, if it is, then this Arthur would have to have lived in the first quartre of the 7th century. This may mean it could be Artúr mac Áedán (or Conaing) or even Arthur son Bicoir … or some other Arthur. If it is, then it could be showing us that, whether one of these was the ‘original’ or not, they had some fame themselves for Feradach to not call himself the ‘son of’ someone, but the grandson of Artúr. One thing’s for certain though, it wasn’t an Arthur of Badon fame.
As explained in the excellent paper ‘The ‘British’ Genealogy of the Campbells’ (W. Gillies, Celtica 23, 1999 – http://www.celt.dias.ie/publications/celtica/c23/c23-82.pdf), this clan did all they could to make their lineage more respectable, and British, in the 15th and 16th century, not only having Arthur but adding Ambrosius and Constantine to them for good measure. To quote the paper:
“[...] a genealogy like this must in effect be presumed bogus unless it can be proved genuine”.
It doesn’t mean there isn’t an element of ‘truth’ to them, it’s just almost impossible finding what that is.
I looked a little deeper into the Gaelicized version of Uthyr: Iobhar/Iuhbar/Iobhair (pronounced something like, *Ubr – http://www.hearnames.com/name-categories/irish-names/irish-maleboy-names/iobhar-m.html ) … if it is Gaelicized, and Uthyr isn’t a Brittonicized version of Iobhar/Iuhbar/Iobhair. ‘Iuhbar’ in modern Scottish Gaelic means ‘yew tree’, so they certainly don’t have the same meaning; British Uthyr/Uthr means ‘terrible‘ or ‘marvelous’. I also found Beinn Iobhair; a mountain on the Isle of Lewis, Craeg Iobhair near Loch Borrom and Stob an Iubhair north of Kinlochleven. There are many others, all probably relating to yew trees and not a person. In ogham script Iubhar can also be ‘ivy’. (It’s also worth throwing in that Ur is ‘heath’ or ‘heather’).
It does mean an Hiberno-British father isn’t out of the question. Is the name used elsewhere, I wondered? Yes. Cú Chulainn’s charioteer is called Iobhar, so it could take us back to that mythical aspect again. I’m not sure if these are the same Iobhars (or how accurate the information is) but there’s an Iobhar in the Finnian stories, who was father of the trí Fhían mBreatan (which sounds like the ‘leader of the warband of the Britons’) – which could just be Uthyr inserted – and an Iobhar whose sons were killed by the Clan Mhorna. Help!?
This one is a mine field and I’m not trained in bomb disposal, so I will mostly tread very carefully in the footsteps of others (as usual).
There are a number of genealogies who have Arthur’s grandfather as Kustenin, Kunstenhin, Custenin Gornev, Kwysdenin Gornev, Kustennin vendigeit , Kwstenin, Kusteni, Kwysdenin, Cwstenin, Kustein. As you can see, there are many different spelling variations.
Custennin Vendigeit (Fendigeid), who appears to be also Custennin Corneu (Gornev), is thought to be of Cornue/Cornow/Cernyw of Dumnonia … if this Corneu is indeed Cornwall and not Cornue/Cornow/Cernyw of the Midlands (from the Cornovii tribe) before it became Powys/Pengwern and later Powys and Shropshire. As discussed earlier, Cernyw (Cornwall) doesn’t appear until the Early-8th century.
These genealogies are thought suspect, mainly by association to Geoffrey of Monmouth, although those that mention Amlawd Guledig (see below) as Arthur’s maternal grandfather come from the Welsh version of his work, Brut Y Brenhinedd. Geoffrey, in his Historia Regum Britanniae (‘History of the Kings of Britain’) makes a Constantine Arthur’s grandfather. Geoffrey was just trying to make a narrative history so he changed things to suite his story. This Constantine appears to be the usurper emperor Constantine III, who met his demise in 411. If Arthur fought at Badon at one of the earlier dates put forward, say, 490, and he died 21 years later in 511 at the Battle of Camlann, possibly the earliest he could have been born is 455-460? This alone could make it very difficult for Constantine to be his grandfather … not that many people take Geoffrey’s Arthurian lineage seriously, although he may not have been the one who came up with it as Susan Pearce has observed …
“For Arthur’s paternal descent, MS Mostyn 11 simply pre-fixes the genealogy used by Geoffrey to the Dumnonian pedigree, and so arrives at ‘Arthur map Uthyr map Constantine map Kynvaur map Tutual map Morwaur map Eudaf map Kadur map Kynan map Karadauc‘. (Kynan has been mis-placed – he should be the son of Eudaf. Kadur looks like either a confusion with Cadwy, or a slip for Adeon, Cynan’s brother.) This paternal genealogy allows Cadwy son of Gereint to be Arthur’s cousin, as he is made to be in the Life of St Carantoc which was written before Geoffrey’s Historia Regum Britanniae, and so strengthens the supposition that Arthur’s descent on the Dumnonian line was known in Wales before Geoffrey wrote.” (Pearce, 1974, p.152)
(Of course, Geoffrey Ashe in his book ‘The Discovery of King Arthur‘ (1985) comes up with a much earlier floruit for Arthur … as well as saying he is Riothamus/Rigotamus)
The genealogical Constantine appears to be the one admonished by Gildas as one of the five 6th century ‘moral laxed’ kings of Britain (or Britannia Prima) in his polemic De excidio Britanniae. If, of course, this is the same man as Custennin Corneu, then Arthur could hardly be his grandson either, unless Constantine was an extremely old man (possibly over 100!) when Gildas was writing.
However, in the book, ‘The De excidio of Gildas: its authenticity and date’ by O’Sullivan, he writes:
“A. O. Anderson wrote that “probably two or three Constantines have been confused,” and it’s difficult to disagree with this judgement […]”
And, referring back to the St. Constantine mentioned earlier as well as the saint of the same name in Cornwall …
“[…] or with that [judgment] of Canon Doble: “… there is not the smallest evidence that Constantine of Gildas is the St. Constantine whom we find honoured in the five parishes of Devon and Cornwall, as some persons, forgetful of the fact that Constantine was a very common name at the time, have rashly assumed.” (p. 95)
O’Sullivan puts a floruit on Custennin Corneu of 520-23, which, as I mentioned above, gives a problem if Arthur was the victor of Badon c. 490. Which do we believe? There’s aways the options that Custennin Corneu is not Gildas’ or Geoffrey’s Constantine but someone else entirely and they’ve had their genealogies grafted together. (If it was the same person he, perhaps, should have been titled Custennin Dyfnient (Devon). It was certainly a popular name amongst the British, unlike the name Arthur.
I thought it might be worth looking deeper at the Cornue/Cernyw/Cornow/Cornovii/Cornwall question. I’ve always thought there could have been confusion in later years with two (or possibly more) areas having the same name, but the others being totally forgotten about, probably even by the 9th century. I discovered someone else having the same questions at the History Files website, and Edwin Hustwitt points out something that I hadn’t discovered myself:
A ‘Cornwall’ of the north?
“However, as the Medieval period developed and the name Cernyw [Corneu/Cornow] was finally forgotten, the tales began to be located in Cornwall as this was the only area known by that name. This memory of Cernyw lingers on in the collection known as the Thirteen Treasures of Britain. All of the treasures are thought to have belonged to leaders of North Britain.
In this list is ‘The Mantle of Arthur in Cornwall‘. Clearly modern Cornwall cannot be considered to be, in any way shape or form, in the north of Britain. This is circumstantially backed-up by genealogical evidence in old Welsh genealogical tracts where a certain leader, Tudfwlch Corneu [Constantine’s grandfather?], is described as one of the ‘Men of the North’ whilst also belonging to Cernyw. This mistaken belief in the location of Cornwall has then dramatically altered perceptions on the true origins of Arthur’s Cornish connections.
Why, however, did Geoffrey and Welsh tradition assert these Cornish links? Furthermore, if we are to reject their associations with the south-west where should we seek the true origins of the ‘Cornish’ Arthur?
… by the ninth century Cornovii had been adapted to Cernyw. The use of Cernyw appears in the poem in praise to Cynan Garwyn, a sixth century ruler of Powys where ‘Let Cernyw Greet‘ occurs.”
To deal first with Tudfwlch, here is his genealogy in the Bonedd Gwŷr y Gogledd (‘Descent of the Men of the North’).
Huallu m Tutuwlch Coreu tywyssavc o Kernyv. A Dywanw merch Amlavt Wledic y uam
This makes him Arthur’s uncle if Amlawd (Amlavt) is his maternal father, but this Amlawd gets inserted into all kinds of royal lines. It seems very odd for a Man of the North to be associated with Cornwall. However, it’s probably just as odd to be associated with the English western Midlands. In the end, it’s very hard to trust these genealogies.
Cynan Garwyn (ca 575-620) was the eldest son of Brochmail (Brochwael), a king of 6th century Powys (which, as this argument goes, was then called Cernyw). In the poem he defeats Gwynedd (on Anglesey), Dyfed and Brycheiniog and, because of the mention of Cernyw, it is thought Cornwall also. It’s not impossible, but the Taliesin poem doesn’t make it sound as if this is one of the conquests:
The Gwentians were slain,
With the gore-drenched blade.
A battle in Mona, great, fair,
Hovering over, and praised
Over the Menei, there went
Horses and confident ones.
A battle on the hill of Dyved.
Slaughter stings in motion.
Nor were seen
The kine before the countenance of any one.
Let the son of Brochwael boast,
He will declare his wish.
Let Cornwall [Cernyw] greet,
The younger will not praise fate.
The incomprehensible will depress
In the day that is praised by me,
My patron of Cynan.
If Arthur was from Cornish Corneu/Cornow/Cernyw, there are Hibernians attested there, mainly in what is now northeast Cornwall and southwest Devon. If he was of the Midland’s Cornue, well, this is were Cunorix was found. What this would mean, wherever he was from, is that Uthyr//Vthyr/Iobhar would have to have brought the Hibernian blood … IF he was his father. Whilst the genealogies might say Uthyr’s father was Custennin it could very well be that Uthyr followed him as ruler, and not because he was his son. If later 10th century Welsh laws are anything to go by, a nephew or cousin could be made heir. There could also have been a coup. It could also be bogus!
Judging by the archaeology of the area, Dumnonia appears to have been a very wealthy region … or parts of it at least. That wealth may have come through its local minerals, especially tin, but it also could have come from the slave trade to the Empire. Stuart Laycock points out something interesting when discussing Riothamus (not a connection with Arthur I might add) in his book Warlords (2010). Its hard to distill what he says, but he points to the connections of Dumnonia not only to Amorica but to the Empire; both Eastern and Western. Many of the amphorae found in the region come from the Emperor Anthemius who asked (or rather his general Aegidius asked) for British help in Gaul and got it in the form of Riothamus and, supposedly, 12,000 men in the late 460s/early 470s. What part of Britain were they likely to seek that help from but their trade partners of southwest Britain who may have also held kingdoms in Amorica too? This would be a good place for Riothamus to have originated from and it certainly points to a powerful region. If any region were to spawn a man with wealth and power to back him up – whether this be Riothamus or Arthur - then Dumnonia is it. However, if the southwest lost a great many men in Gaul during Riothamus’ defeat, it could have weakened them for a generation or so.
There may have been other Cernyws. In fact we know of one that briefly existed in mid-South Wales that gave us St. Glywys Cernyw. There is also the town of DVROCORNOVIVM (Wanborough, Wiltshire), which wasn’t in the Cornovii territory, but the Dobunni’s. I would also forward a (very tentative) hypothesis that the men of here or of what was the Cohorts Prima Cornoviorum based at Pons Aelius (Newcastle-Upon-Tyne) might have styled themselves with that name … if they all hadn’t gone ‘home’ to Cornovia, whichever one it was, after the fall of the empire. Keep in mind many of these had married local lasses, so they probably saw this region as their home now.
I was never a fan of the Cornish Arthur, simply because of the Geoffrey of Monmouth connection, but having look at this, it has its merits. This has nothing to do with the famous Tintagel stone describing one ‘Artognov’ (Arthnou/Arthnow). Even Gidlow wonders if this mentions Arthur. The meaning of the name has been put forward as ‘known as bear’, but I believe it could just likely be ‘bear renowned’. Even if it did mean ‘known as bear’ and therefore an epithet to another name, Arthur wasn’t known as ‘bear’, otherwise his name would simply be ‘Arth’.
Then there’s the line via Cunedda Wledig (Cunedag) and Anblaud/Amlawd Wledig according to Welsh tradition. Cunedda is said to have been brought down from Manau Gododdin (southeast Scotland) in the late 4th/early 5th century to fight off the Irish raiders of northwest and southwest Wales and later to set up the kingdom of Venedota (Gwynedd) in the north with his sons. Many read the evidence as a foundation myth but the jury is still out.
Amlawd Gwledig supposedly married Cunedda’s daughter Gwen, the mother of Eigr the mother of Arthur. However, in the Welsh version of Geoffrey’s work, Brut Y Brenhinedd, it only goes as far back as Amlawd.
It could be telling why the father is not mentioned in the Welsh tradition. Of course, it could simply be because it is purely a maternal line and everyone ‘knew’ his da was Uthyr? This could also be Gwynedd trying to find itself a piece of the Arthurian pie, and it knew it couldn’t do it through the male line?
Coming from the female line wouldn’t put Arthur in line for the Gwynedd ‘throne’. Cunedda’s daughter Gwen (who supposedly marries Amlawd), or their daughter Eigr, could have gone anywhere to be married to gain alliances. Amlawd my have been a great Gwledig, but it’s hard to tie him down geographically. Some online genealogies have him coming via a Cynwal, but I have not been able to find this anywhere else. (I’m hoping Dane or Chris can help me here!). None of this helps with the HIberno-British element however. It would still have to come from the mother or the father. The only father we have (and even he is disputed) is Uthyr.
This is the region of Wales where Steve Blake and Scott Lloyd in their book, Pendragon – The Origins of Arthur (2002) place their Arthur, with his court of Kelliwig (traditionally said to be in Cornue/Cornow/Cornwall) at the still existing Gelliwig (a farm and a manor) on the Llŷn Peninsular, and his final battle of Camlan at the not far away Afon Gamlan (River Camlan). Those could be two very good reason alone why to consider this theory. Two medieval Welsh bards certainly thought Celliwig/Gelliwig was here:
“Losing a hero of Gwynedd,
Wise and bold, swift his sword,
Lord of Cellan, terrible loss,
Poet’s chamber, court of Celliwig.
A prominent court below the land of Llŷn,
Wine cellar, fresh Celliwig”
(elegy by Iolo Goch to two sons of Tudur Fychan, 1382)
“We find Gelliweg in Gwynedd”
(poem by Gutun Owain to Huw Conwy of Bryn Euryn, ca 1480)
These are very late and possibly inadmissible as evidence. The poets could have known of this Gelliweg and simply thought it must be Arthur’s court. Steve and Scott also tell us:
“A charter from 1209 for the Cistercian abbey of Cummer near Dolgellau, founded in 1199, names several sites in or bordering the cantref of Neigwl on the Lleyn Peninsula, in which Gelliwig now stands. The name given to the site in the charter is ‘ynyskellywyc’ (‘ynys’ here being used to denote an isolated property). The charter is a reconfirmation of the lands given to the abbey, meaning that the name ‘ynyskellywyc’ existed before 1209. These references show that the bards of North Wales knew of Gelliwig as an important court on the Lleyn Peninsula: nowhere in the Welsh material is there any evidence to link the name to Cornwall, or anywhere else.”
They go on to forward the idea that the name ‘Cernyw’ could once of been applied to the Lleyn as the word ‘cern’ or ‘corn’ means ‘horn’ and can describe a peninsula. Steve and Scott believe their Arthur to have stayed in the area and probably not to have fought a Badon. They also argue that many characters of the Welsh Arthurian tradition are based in North Wales. What they don’t consider is that if he is associated with the area it could be because he either began or ended his ‘career’ here, or simply because of the Cunedda connection, whether that is true or not. It could also purely be through the developing storytelling, which would try and localise the figures it described.
It’s through this book that I got to know Steve and we eventually set up a company called Pastscapes together with my long time friend Peter Hurst, which, unfortunately no longer exists. (It’s this that created the CGI image of Arthur I use in these blogs, which Peter modeled and I textured and lit). Steve knows I don’t agree with many of his and Scott’s findings and theories but they do bring up some pertinent points.
The downside with Arthur being from this area is that one would think Gwynedd would try and capitalize on this and try and shoe-horn him into their genealogy. Having said that, maybe that’s what they did try and do with Cunedda and the other figures of the Arthurian stories. The same objections could also be made to him being from Powys/Pengwern as they too would have made the most of such an association. If there was a connection it would have to be on the eastern Pengwern side as Powys makes no claim to Arthur on the 9th century Pillar of Eliseg near Llangollen in Denbighshire, Wales. They claim their line from Magnus Maximus and Vortigern.
The Cornish connection may be the only one remaining, unless there’s some ‘truth’ held within the Campbell genealogies … or my crazy idea of the Cornovians on Hadrian’s Wall stands? (No, I thought not!).
What all this may have left us with is the possibility, at least, of an Artúr mac Iobhar, although personally I doubt it and think Uthyr only later connected to Arthur. What would be a mistake is to think such a person had to be from the Western Isles of Scotland; he could be from any of the Hiberno-British regions or even British regions .
It’s probable that all these genealogies are suspect for the various different reasons outlined above. All inclusions of Arthur were for political or prestigious reasons. If Geoffrey of Monmouth didn’t created the Dumnonia line, then we need to ask who did and why? Was there an actual Arthur or is this just the product of earlier storytelling? Does the poem mentioning Arthur’s men fighting alongside Gereint fab Erbin of Dyfnient (Devon) have anything to do with it? Lot’s more questions, no more answers.
In the next blog I’m going to look at the argued first mention of Arthur in the Late 6th/Early 7th century collection of poems, Y Gododdin.
Thanks for reading this very long blog,