Tag Archives: Arthurian


A ‘Trial’ of Two Clerics


(I apologise for typos here and now!)

Once again I find myself apologising for not having posted for a while. This has been due to the time and effort my day job required on a new CBeebies/Sesame Street co-production (70 hour weeks!). I had tried to work sporadically on the ebook during that time but now the project is complete I have returned to what is now an e-tome and hope start to serialise BOOK I here sometime in August or September. (More on this in a moment).

In some ways I am glad I haven’t completed it sooner as a couple of new books have made me rethink a few points. The first is the new work by Professor John Koch with the catchy tile ofCunedda, Cynan, Cadwallon, Cynddylan: Four Welsh Poems and Britain 383-655‘. It is, indeed, an excellent book and I would recommend anyone interested in the period to feast their eyes on it. The other is a new Arthurian work by author and blogger Flint F. Johnson called ‘Evidence of Arthur – Fixing the Legendary King in Place and Time ‘. It was so nice to read a well thought out book by an academic on the subject, and one who favours the existence of Arthur. I may not agree with all his arguments and conclusions, but I would still recommend it also. The ebook has changes somewhat, as those who have followed it will tell by the title. It treats the whole matter as if it were a ‘Trial’, a trial against ‘Nennius’ and Geoffrey of Monmouth, with the reader being one of the ‘Jury’. We will be looking for one of three ‘verdicts’ to the ‘charges’ against or two ‘Defendants’: Guilty, Not Proven or Innocent. Unlike Scottish law, however, the Not Proven verdict is not one that means “we think you’re guilty but we can’t prove it”, but more of an academic one meaning: “there isn’t the evidence to judge either way”. At the end of the ‘Trail’ in BOOK III, the ‘Jury’ then has the chance to actually vote on the cases against the two ‘Defendants’ via a link found there. This link will take the ‘Juror’ to a Facebook page where they can vote. Of course, it’s not a trial in any normal sense as no one will be appearing in person and there can be no cross-examination of witnesses, no interjection of barristers, or probing of the ‘Defendants’ or ‘Expert witnesses’. The ‘Expert witnesses’s testimonies have to be taken from books, papers and online articles, as do those of the evidence from the ‘Plaintiffs’. I will, of course, be the ‘Prosecution’, ‘Defence’ and ‘Judge’, but my rôle as the ‘Judge’ is of one more as an arbitrator and finder of the middle ground for members of the ‘Jury’. This ‘Judge’ will also present supplementary ‘information’ for the ‘Jury’, as he wishes it also to be an ancient British history lesson! I will, in effect, be writing and commenting on the evidence by saying “if this was a trial” or “the ‘Defence’ would argue” or “the ‘Plaintiffs’ do/would claim” etc. Being an actor by profession will help me argue all sides of the argument, hopefully without bias, even though I may lean toward a historical Arthur of the 5th/6th centuries who fought at the Siege of Mount Badon.

So, just who are these ‘Defendants’ that are being accused of such a crime? and have been for decades one might add! The first, who may or may not have actually been a cleric, will be known to us as ‘Nennius’ who wrote about an Arthur, leader of battles. His name is in inverted commas because no one can be certain if that was his name or not? Nemnuuis/Nennius/Ninnius/Nemnius/‘Nennius’, was once simply accepted to be the original compiler of the Welsh pseudo-history, ‘Historia Brittonum’ (‘History of the Britons’ – c.AD829) in which the short Arthurian section appears, but Professor David Dumville tells us the preface that includes his name dates to the 12th century and is, therefor, a forgery, as ‘Nennius’ doesn’t appear in three much earlier MMS. However, not all agree that this means a man called Nennius (or Ninnius) wasn’t the first compiler. There are other editors and compliers of the ‘Historia Brittonum’ mentioned also in the various recensions, with even the 6th century saint, Gildas being one of them! But why mention a ‘Nennius’ if they (or someone) didn’t think him to be the original, even if the preface was forged in his name? There was a ‘Nennius’ of the Late-8th century as attested a 9th century Welsh MS.This Nemnuuis was a Welsh ecclesiastic who, when supposedly challenged by an English scholar about the lack of a British (Welsh) alphabet, supposedly designed one on the spot. It is possible that this Nemnuuis was Nennius. However, because of all this, Nennius is usually written with inverted commas, ‘Nennius’, and I will be following this convention.

In the version of the ‘Historia Brittonum’ where the preface is ascribed to ‘Nennius’, he says that all he has done is made “a heap of thing”; taking what information he has and merely putting it together as a narrative. This is possible but many scholars think it not only a synthetic (made up) history and a synchronistic history (tying together of material to make sense) but one that has both political and ecclesiastical axes to grind. As to why it was compiled, there is a general consensus that it was written, in its Harleian recension form, in answer to the Northumbrian monk and saint Bede and his anti-British (Welsh), Early-8th century ‘Historia ecclesiastica gentis Anglorum’ (‘The Ecclesiastical History of the English People’), and at the same time being anti-Mercian and, surprisingly, even at times pro-Northumbrian.

But what is at stake in our ‘Trial’ is whether ‘Nennius’ deliberately created Arthur from a known mythical figure for the short section he appears in, which describes 12 battles Arthur fought against the ‘Saxons’ culminating in the Siege of Mount Badon? Some would argue he did, many would argue he didn’t and some would argue he may have only slightly added to a historical figure’s battle list with a few mythical ones.

When it comes to our second ‘Defendant’, the 12th century cleric and later bishop, Galfridus Arturus (aka Geoffrey of Monmouth, Galfridus Monemutensis, Galfridus Artur, Gruffudd ap Arthur, Sieffre o Fynwy) who lived c.AD1100 to c.AD1155, there are far more who would say he was completely guilty of fraud! He is, some say, the one who made Arthur a king in his ‘Historia Regum Brittania’ (‘History of the Kings of Britain’ – c.1139) and sent him fighting around Europe and was the first to put he and Merlin together. But this is not an accurate assessment, and there are cautionary voices who argue that Geoffrey was mainly using material, both written and oral, from Wales, Cornwall and Brittany and only elements of it were from his imagination. So, does this make him guilty of fraud for creating an emperor-like King Arthur, or was he already there? Are, in fact, the biggest ‘criminals’ those who followed him and are not on trial, such as Wace, Layamon, Robert de Baron, Chrétien de Troyes? Those who added Camelot, the Round Table, the Grail, the Sword in the Stone, the Lady of the Lake and a Merlin who fostered Arthur? It is argued by some that even these came from much older myths that may date back to the Greeks and Scythians. If so, why did neither the Welsh material (that has survived) or Geoffrey of Monmouth make use them?

I will ask the ‘Jury’ to try and judge both ‘Nennius’ and Geoffrey of Monmouth not only by the times they lived in but also only from evidence that is given up until their deaths or just after. So, for ‘Nennius’ we will say this is c.AD850 and Geoffrey of Monmouth, c.AD1155. However, the ‘Jury’ are going to be different from those of the ‘Defendant’s times in that they will know far more than many of their contemporaries did on some things, and nothing of what they knew on others. Whilst I will try and give the ‘Jury’ as much ‘back story’ as possible, it can never be the whole story. These were not call the Dark Ages for nothing. This is particularly important in ‘Nennius’ case as the ‘Jury’ will know nothing of the stories that may have abounded about Arthur at the time, or the nature (or natures) of that Arthur.

As the representative of the ‘Prosecution’ and ‘Defence’ I will being doing two things: presenting the evidence as given by the various ‘Plaintiffs’ and ‘Expert witnesses’ and presenting some of my own arguments and views with them. The reader will know when it is my view that is being expressed as I will say something like, “We would argue” or “We would suggest”.

Having been the a juror in a major fraud case I am all too aware of just how much the outcome depends on several things: 1) The quality of the evidence. 2) How good, or not so good, the prosecution is. 3) How good, or not so good, the defence is. 4) The personality of the defendant. 5) The judge. 6) The make up of the personalities of the jury. For example, the case I was involved with hinged around whether or not the defendant was guilty of fraud or whether or not he had been lied to by two other defendants in another case, so was no wiser of what he was doing? The evidence was well presented, the prosecution were great, the defence were … not so good, the defendant was arrogant, the judge was excellent and the jury was a right old mixture. Many of them could not see past the personality of the defendant or the selective use of evidence by the prosecution. The defendant was arrogant, so the guy was guilty! You can see how hard my job is going to be!

The even bigger problem for the book’s ‘Jury’ is that they are dealing with material that is not only ancient, but with a evidence that cannot be agreed on even by experts! There will be polemic views on many texts and archaeological evidence. They will be entering a ‘foreign land’: the past. Even if they live in Britain or the UK they are entering worlds completely different to theirs. The world of ‘Nennius’ of the Early-9th century is a one full of wars – against, ‘English’, Hiberno-Viking and fellow Welsh – a world where people believe, not only in God and heaven and hell, but in the supernatural world around them. They believed that giants of the past existed; believed in dragons and both evil and good faerie. Believed what clerics told them! Their world was violent and full of early death through diseases and infections whose cures we now take for granted. Child mortality was high, as was death from childbirth. The poor were, indeed, poor, and many of the rich – or any class above them – probably didn’t give a damn. This is all not too different from the world in which a historical Arthur would have lived, if he existed.

Unlike many books on the subject it will not simply be asked if there was a historical figure called Arthur who fought against the ‘Saxons’ in the 5th and 6th centuries. It will, of course, explore this question through the charges of the various ‘Plaintiffs’ and the cases of the ‘Defence’, but there will also be an exploration of the name itself, why the Britons wouldn’t use it, the origin of the myths, and a look at the history and archaeology of the periods covered. In fact, the book will cover 750BC to AD1350. The earlier date reflects the evidence of one of our ‘Expert witnesses’ (Anderson) that Arthur can be found in ancient Greeks through the myths of Arkas/Arktouros/Ikarios/Arcturus and Ardus of Lydia. The later dates sees the explosion of the Arthurian Romances.

I still have no idea when the ebooks (three in all) may appear, but I am working hard on them to make it sooner rather than later. They will be made available as PDFs at Scribd and the first ebook will be free in a hope to encourage readers to buy the other two. I will try and keep you informed as to their progress.

Thanks for reading and I look forward to your comments.



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In The Name Of ‘Arthur’

Concept for ebook cover

Concept for ebook cover

Firstly, apologies for any subscriber who received that last rouge post. I was trying out a new piece of software and it published the image without me realising I wasn’t going to be asked if I was sure I wanted it published!

Secondly, apologies for the massive gaps between these blogs, but this has been due to work, ill health and working on the eBook whilst recovering from an operation. That has been the one positive side to all this and it is a lot further on.

However, as you can see from the image, the title of the book has changed. Not only the title, but the whole theme of it. Rather than just dealing with whether there was a historical Arthur of the 5th and 6th centuries I decided to expand it to include, not only the various candidates for the derivation of the name and the myths, but all the known ‘Arthurs’ from 8th century BC Greece to a Duke of Brittany in the Late-12th century. In fact, the eBook, or, rather, eTome, now goes from 800BC to AD1200. It not only covers all the known ‘Arthurs’ but the history of Britannia at the time they are said to have existed, whether that be in physical or story form. This has, of course, expanded it somewhat and also created a great deal more work for myself, but it has been worth it as the whole point of this exercise was as a detailed research document to help with a screen- or radio play. It has worked, and I am also (finally) currently developing the latter.

Below is part of the Introduction:

When it comes to Arthurian scholarship there are two main schools of thought with regards to the Arthur who allegedly fought as the Siege of Mount Badon in the Late-5th or Early 6th centuries (an Arthur that will become known in this work as ‘Arthur’ III): the first school argues that he was a mythological figure (an Arthur who will become known to us as ‘Arthur’ X) from the early Welsh tradition who was historicised (an ‘Arthur’ X who was made into an ‘Arthur’ III) . The second school says that he was a historical figure who was later mythologised (an ‘Arthur’ III who became an ‘Arthur’ X). Both arguments have sub-groups within them. The historicised mythical school gives the original, if not of the myth then the name, as a Greek and Roman demi-god (Arktouros/Arcturus – who I will call ‘Arthur’ I); or a Roman general (Lucius Artorius Castus – ‘Arthur’ II), or some unknown British deity or folk hero. The mythologised historical Arthur school are divided between when an ‘Arthur’ III lived? where he lived? this not being his name but an epithet for another name, such as Ambrosius Aurelianus; Arthur was his name but he was known by an epithet, such as Riothamus; or him actually being a later Arthur, such as Artúr mac Áedán (‘Arthur’ IV) of what is now Argyle in the Western Isles of Scotland or Arthur map Pedr (‘Arthur’ VII) from what is now Dyfed in southwest Wales; and they are also broken up into the various arguments given as to how this Arthur was mythologised. We can add to this lot a third school, who see Arthur as mainly a literary figure. This is the strange world you have just entered in to!

Those who follow the Arthurian question either fall in to one school or the other. You will be very hard pressed to find someone who thinks he could have been both – that is a completely separate ‘Arthur’ III and an ‘Arthur’ X, related only in name - but this is what this present work will also explore: could there have been a mythical character and historical figure, who fought at Badon, whose commonality was only their name? However, it is about far more than that. It is about the history of the isles of Britannia during the periods covered but especially from the 4th century to the 12th century AD. (In brief form of course!). To understand an ‘Arthur’ III, if he existed, we must understand the Britain in which he is said to have lived and the Britain in which his fame developed and would fashion him into a medieval king in shining armour.

So, besides covering the usual questions around if there was a historical figure of the Late-5th to Early-6th centuries, this work covers all the aspects of the Arthurian mythologies from 800BC up to AD1200 as well, including one of the candidates for not only his name, but, in at least one scholars eyes [1], the inspiration for some of earliest Welsh stories: Zeus’ bastard offspring-come-star and constellation, Arktouros/Arcturus. The constellation is now known as Boötes, ‘The Ploughman‘, but the star Arcturus (the Latin version of the name) is still called such, forming his knee and being the fourth brightest in the Northern Hemisphere. Not only may this have been the origin of the name (one of several others possibilities) but in medieval times one of the constellations associated with him, The Plough (Ursa Major), had the name Arthur’s Wain (Arthur’s Wagon). So this is why we start our story in  ancient Greece. But this is only one small aspect of the mythological Arthur and we will look at the early Welsh tradition that showed an Arthur not only different from his later Anglo-Norman guise but from the one in the Welsh, 9th century ‘Historia Brittonum’ (‘History of the Britons’). Not a Saxon fighter but a killer of giants, witches and magical boars.

We will, of course, explore all of Arcturus’ Earthly counterparts. That is in the plural because, as you now know, there were several historical figures named Arthur, or variants thereof, such as the Gaelic equivalents of Artúr/Artur/Artuir, some of whom with this name have been argued to be the ‘original’. It is an odd fact that it was Gaelic speaking or cultural influenced areas of Britain that used the name (as well as Ireland) when no royal British or later Welshmen would give their sons this name. Even the British descended Bretons would christen their sons Arthur. Why not the Britons?

We will also look to the earth and examine the archaeology of the periods covered; a science from which we have gained a great deal of our information about the so called ‘Dark Ages'; better known to archaeologist as Sub- or Post-Roman and Early Medieval Britain. Archaeology’s view of Early Medieval Britannia seems to be a little different to that portrayed by the (very limited) texts we have. Which are right? Is our interpretation wrong?

Every text examined is in the chronological order in which it is thought to have appeared and not in the order of the events and the peoples’ lives it describes. This is important because we need to be aware of how long after the events a work was written, how this affected what was reported and how these authors influenced future works? I will, now and again come out of this chronology where it’s necessary, especially in the case of forwarding modern scholarly and archaeological discoveries and opinions.

The ebook is designed so those with more knowledge of either ancient British history or Arthuriana can jump to any relevant sections by clicking on them in the Contents. Those about or related to an Arthur are in purple, whilst those about Britannia or its archaeology are in black. I have also given the most relevant Arthurian related sections an asterix  (*) listing next to them, with *** being the most relevant or of interest, in my opinion. So, to break the four parts down:

… and I will break the four parts down in another post.

Thanks for reading and any comments,


[1]: Professor Graham Anderson, ‘King Arthur of Antiquity’ (2004)


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‘King’ Arthur – Folklore, Fact & Fiction

eBook_CoverA European and Scandinavian arena tour, movie and TV series since my last blog, and I’m finally able to get down to trying and finish the ebook. If only I could stop finding more books, articles and papers on all the related subjects it would be finished by now!

The information it will contain, whilst based on these blogs, has expanded and morphed somewhat in the intervening months. Some of my opinions and conclusions have changed whilst others have been confirmed even more. It has been an incredible and ever educating journey, not only into all aspects of the figure that became known as King Arthur, but the period in general. I have read far more extensively on the subjects of the Anglo-Saxons as well as being helped by two of Guy Halsall’s books: Warfare and Society in the Barbarian West 450-900 and his latest, Worlds of Arthur: Facts and Fictions of the Dark Ages. There have been many other works, too numerous to mention, that have helped me shape my ideas and come to an even more informed opinion … well, as informed as you can get about the Early Middle Ages.

The whole reason for these blogs, and then the book, were as an extremely detailed research document to assist me with a screen- or teleplay idea. In some ways it hasn’t helped at all as it’s given me even more options! However, there is no rush on that front as I don’t think it’s the right climate for yet another Arthurian TV production. When it is, I hope to be poised.

I am still planning to put online the chapter that looks at the Historia Brittonum and the infamous Arthurian battle list as a pdf document for a limited time. I’ve taken a slightly different approach to this subject and rather than trying to locate where any of the Arthurian battles may have occurred (if he existed and they happened,) I’m concentrating on where those in the different regions of Britain of the Early-9th century, when this worked appeared, may have thought them to have been?

It’s not all ‘history’ though, and Part One looks at the mythical or folkloric Arthur and whether or not he was inspired by an Arthur who fought at Badon; was a historicized mythical figure who became attached to Badon; , or if these two characters were related only in name, just as those Arthurs of the 6th and 7th centuries were: Artúr (Arturius) mac Áedán, Artúr mac Coaning, Arthur ap PedrArtúr filio Bicoir and, possibly, Arthur Penuchel. (I actually look at all the known ‘Arthurs’ from the 2nd to the 15th century).

Well, I can’t stay here all day blogging, I have a book to finish!

Thanks for reading,

Mak Wilson


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Arthurian ebook update

Yes, still working on it. I’d hoped to have had it out by now but decided to change the format, which, of course, had a knock-on effect. A video editing deadline has also prevented me from doing as much as I would have liked to have done, but I have three weeks holiday coming up, in which time out hope to complete it … ‘hope’ being the operative word!

I’m also still playing around with the title, and, as you can see by the image, it’s currently called ‘King’ Arthur – Folklore, Fact and Fiction, with the subtitle of ‘An exploration of the Arthurs of early history, folklore & mythology‘. (Arthurs, plural, referring to not only an Arthur of Badon, but the one of mythology, topography and fiction, Arcturus (Arktouros), Lucius Artorius CastusArtúr mac Áedán, Artúr mac Coaning, Arthur ap Pedr, Artuir filio Bicoir, Artharus rig Cruthni, Artur mac Bruide, Arthur Penuchel and other Breton Arthurs). If there are any better suggestions out there for a title, I’m very willing to hear them.

I have been expanding the section on the Historia Brittonum (H.B.) and the 12 supposed battles of Arthur after coming across several papers and books that I hadn’t read before. These don’t so much go into where the battles might have been but cover more about the political and ecclesiastical situation at the time the book was compiled and how they affected the work’s outcome. In my ebook I’m actually more interested in where the H.B.’s readers, both British and English, may have thought the battles to have been at the time. They probably had as many arguments about them as we do! I also discuss what rumblings there might have been to the Arthurian section of the H.B. if, as suggested by the likes of Nicholas HIgham and Thomas Green, they were made up for the purpose? If these battles were mostly news to its readers, there must have been some kind of reaction. I may post this chapter either as a multipart  blog, or as a link to the PDF version of it in the near future. This will depend on time.

I am most grateful to historian and author Tim Clarkson* for mentioning the ebook over at his Senchus blogsite. I am indeed honoured.

Until the next time,


*Not wanting to appear like a creep, but I would thoroughly recommend all three of Tim’s books: ‘Men of the North: the Britons of Southern Scotland’, ‘The Picts: a history and ‘The Makers of Scotland: Picts, Romans, Gaels and Vikings’.


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King Arthur – Man, Myth … or Both? – Part Four


English: "Jack the Giant-Killer" by ...

A giant step for mankind?

So, Arthur was seen as having a giant son and a giant dog by the 9th/10th centuries, but just how many of these sites existed before the this time we may never know. (If there had have been more in the northern half of Wales one would think they too would have been included in the Mirabilia). These two, and other later mentioned sites, certainly fit the superhuman or ‘giant’ of folk legend and not Arthur the soldier, apart from, perhaps the hillfort Moel Arthur (‘bare hill of Arthur’), but this Bronze Age hillfort’s Arthurian naming date is unknown. It was recorded before the 17th century as Moel Arthur so it wasn’t made up by the Victorians. (A record of the antiquities of Wales and its marches (vol 1)’, Cambrian Archaeological Assoc., 1850 pp.181-2). However, it also gets no mention in the H.B., so it’s likely to be after the 12th century.

What I have not seen expressed by Padel et al, is, as I explored in Part One, that the amount of sites named after this ‘giant’/superhuman Arthur are unique even for giants. Giants are very often a local character giving their names to local features. There were certainly plenty of giants in Wales. A look at The Giants of Wales and Their Dwellings by Sion Dafydd Rhys (c. 1600) can show you just how many. (Read it at the Mary Jones’ website: ).

The one important point to make about the giants of Wales, as can be seen by the above mentioned work, is that they are nearly always named ‘gawr’, meaning, funnily enough, ‘giant’. Here are some (in no particular order): Gogyrfan Gawr (Gwenhwyfar’s da), Idris Gawr, Itta Gawr, Rica/Rhitta Gawr (whom, supposedly, Arthur killed), Cribwr Gawr (whom, supposedly, Arthur killed and the place was renamed as Cribarth), Oyle Gawr (whom, supposedly, Arthur killed), Cedwyn Gawr (whom, supposedly, Arthur killed), Ceimiad Gawr (whom, supposedly, Arthur killed), Ophrom Gawr, Ysbryn Gawr, Iwni Gawr, Gwedros Gawr, Howel Gawr, Llyphan Gawr, Pyscoc Gawr, Hedoc Gawr, Diddanel Gawr … and there are many more. (What we don’t know about these is if they had always been mythical or if some of them they were based on ancient figures of history). Yet there is not one instance of Arthur Gawr, only an Arthur seen as a giant slayer. So, did they think of him as a giant at all, or mainly a larger-than-life superhuman?

Him being seen in the landscape as a folkloric giant-killer could have been in response to the later Arthurian stories, or visa versa; yet, even after Arthur the soldier and king took root, post Geoffrey of Monmouth, still onomastic sites were been named in honour of this superhuman Arthur. Padel notes that sites were still being given his name in the 18th century following the ‘giant’ or superhuman Arthur lines (Padel, 2000, p.106). This is very interesting, considering that the later stories had gone away from this more mythical portrayal; he was now an all too human king … even if he did still fight giants. It seems it had simply become a tradition’ or was a separate tradition. Is this what happened very early on? Were there, even in the 7th and 8th centuries, two (or more) very different Arthurs in circulation?

If in doubt, blame the English!

Peoples of Britain circa 600

We also must not forget that the 7th to 10th centuries were a time when the kingdoms that were developing into Wales and Scotland were threatened (and in some areas dominated) by the ‘English’, notably the kingdoms of Wessex, Mercia and Northumbria.  Were the common folk (as opposed to the warriors) of the British areas of the period no different to a modern audience in times of crisis? Did they too like a good ‘fantasy’ (not that they saw it as a fantasy in the way we do) to take their minds off things, not a story about an all-too-mortal-human-sized soldier? (The oldest Arthurian Welsh stories that have survived make no mention of the ‘Saxons’, another reason given for Arthur not being historical). Was it a time when you’d want a supernatural or giant slaying hero on your side? A slayer of the ‘giant’ English? Make him Messianic and you even got a giant slaying hero who can come back and slay the Anglo-Saxons again … maybe.

These Arthurian sites (and local stories) could be argued to be as much in response to the threats from Wessex, Mercia and Northumbria, and later Anglo-Normans, as well as later Welsh nationalism, than just because they were a good yarn about a possible ancient mythical or folkloric figure who was everywhere in Britain right from the get-go. The uncertain times could have spawned the amount of them in the areas once inhabited by the Britons, across the Isles. Once Geoffrey of Monmouth’s History was out and grew into the Arthurian Romances, so too the number of sites grew. Just because he was seen as being in all these places later in history, doesn’t necessarily mean he was in all these places in the 6th and 7th centuries, whether he was mythical or not.

What’s in a name?

If Arthur was mythical or folkloric we still have to account for a British figure being given what seems to be a none British name, as most etymologist agree that Artorius is the best candidate with no British or Irish etymology working (so far) to make ‘Arthur’. (See THIS blog). In fact, not only a none-British name but not even a Romanized version of a British name, which is what was given to the known British deities. (Unless Higham is right about it being a decknamen). If, for example, he was named *Arto(s) (Bear), he should become something like Mars Artos to the Romano-British or the Roman soldiers who adopted him. The other possibility is from the star and Greek mythical figure, who was called Arcturus in Latin. However, we’d still be looking at the British taking a Latin named mythical figure for one of their own. But this is a subject all of its own and we’ll look in more depth at these later.

I’ll finish this part with a quote from Juliette Wood in the book A Companion to Arthurian Literature:

“The use of folklore in works such as chronicles reveals a great deal about cultural attitudes and about the interpretations writers wish to convey (Wood 1998). Insofar as it is possible to talk about an original Arthur, he seems to have been a hero of legend without a clear genealogy or location (Padel 1994; Green 2007). One of the many contentious aspects of sources such as Geoffrey of Monmouth’s work or the Arthurian romances is the degree to which popular beliefs and oral tradition about a legendary hero contributed to the creation of a symbol of medieval kingship and courtly virtue. Geoffrey seems to have favored elements that allowed him to present Arthur as historical and realistic. He did, however, incorporate traditions about giants, such as the giant of Mont-Saint-Michel, whom Arthur has to defeat. Encounters between heroes and giants are frequently localized at unusual landscape features, and heroes themselves are often depicted as gigantic, larger than life figures (Padel 1991; Grooms 1993: 79–110). The location of the narratives and the confrontations between giant and hero follow a traditional legendary pattern, but the relation between traditional and learned lore is never simple.”

In Part Five I want to look at Arthur the soldier and explore the various arguments as to whether he was a historical or mythical soldier.

Thanks for reading, and I look forward to your thoughts, comments and corrections.



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King Arthur – Man, Myth … or Both? – Part Three


"King Arthur and the Giant", Book I,...

All the topographical and onomastic sites around Britain point to Arthur being seen as either a giant or someone larger than life with superhuman strength. These are either names given to megalithic monuments in order to explain them, natural features or, in the past, Roman buildings (‘Arthur’s Oven‘ for example). Giants were, at times, invented to explain these Roman building, and even the Dane Saxo Grammaticus (c. 1150-1220) for example, argued that giants had to exist to explain them.

It’s interesting that in mythology giants are usually (but not always) the bad guys, or stupid, so how did Arthur become to be seen as a giant (if that is, indeed, how he was seen), if he wasn’t mythological?

In answer to the first point, there is another famous ‘good’ giant, and that’s Brân fab Llŷr (son of Llŷr) or Bendigeidfran (‘Bran the Blessed or ‘Blessed Raven’) – with the Irish equivalent Bran mac Febail). It was said he couldn’t fit into a house so a tent had to be arrange for him to meet King Matholwch of Ireland. Arthur has a couple of associations with Brân, which I’ll explore in later parts.

The answer to the second question could be because some topographical and onomastic sites were named by it being passed down that Arthur was a ‘giant of a man’, just as it was with William Wallace. (If the bones that were found at the alleged ‘grave of Arthur’ at Glastonbury Abbey in the 12th century are anything to go by, then he was, indeed, a giant! This is seen as a complete hoax of course … but not by all). Could this have mutated to him being seen as a giant? Or, could it have been the mention in the battle list in the 9th century Historia Brittonum (H.B) of him single handedly – with the aide of God – killing 960/940 Saxons at the battle of Mount Badon? (The number varies in recensions). “No ordinary human could have done that!” they may have thought. If this is something that had been added to his legend at an early stage, then what better way for them to make sense of it? However, it seems more likely – if he wasn’t mythological or folkloric – that it is because many of these great men in the Britons’ (and other cultures’) distant past couldn’t just be men, but had to have some fantastical element to them that gave them their greatness, or be larger than life-size – as attested to in the H.B. - and the people of the time would have believed it too! (Just as they thought ordinary men couldn’t have built Stonehenge, it had to have been giants or superhumans). This is a time when the supernatural and natural were psychologically interwoven. After its initial relating of Arthur being a giant or superhuman it would take on a life of its own down the centuries. (More later).

The peasants?

Who was doing the naming of these sites that made Arthur out to be a giant, or, if not a giant, then superhuman? Bards? storytellers? or the local peasantry? I wonder if it was the latter. Did they have their own stories of Arthur, stories that were different to those of the storyteller’s superhero?  After all, the superhero Arthur either has to get two of his men – Cai and Bedwyr – to fight a giant, or go to Ireland to kill one himself (and many others in Wales!), but there’s no mention in the stories that Arthur was one, unlike his Irish ‘cousin’ Finn. 

Even the 12th century Historia Regum Britanniae, from whence the Romantic Arthurian tales sprang, tells us in its origin myth that Albion (Britain) was inhabited “by a few giants” when Brutus and his Trojans set foot on these shores. (The Britons weren’t the only ones to think they were descendants of Trojans, the Franks did too). It goes on to say that Corineus was given Cornwall, where there were more giants than in any other province. Among these giants was the famous Gogmagog. If Arthur was mythological or folkloric was he one of these originally?

It’s a miracle!

The Arthurian sites that have received the most scrutiny are those found in the Mirabilia (‘Miracles’ or ‘Marvels’) section of the Historia Brittonum  – dated to later than the main body of work, probably to the 10th century (Jackson) – which tell us of two miraculous, giant related sites; one, of Arthur’s giant dog, Cabal’s (‘Horse’s’) paw print, created whilst on a hunt for the giant boar Twrch Trwyth (a tale told within Culhwch ac Olwen). The other is of the giant, size-changing grave of his son Amr, whom Arthur is said to have killed.

There is another wonder in the region called Buelt. There is a heap of stones, and one stone laid on the heap having upon it the footmark of a dog. When he hunted boar Troynt (Trwyth and Latinised as Troit) across Wales. Cabal, which was a dog of the warrior Arthur, impressed the stone with the print of his foot, and Arthur afterwards collected a heap of stones beneath the stone in which was the print of his dog’s foot, and it is called Carn Cabal. And people come and take away the stone in their hands for the space of a day and a night, and on the next day it is found on its heap.” (H.B.)

For more information on Carn Cabal, go to the Clas Merdin webiste:

There’s discussion about the ‘borrowing’ of Irish legends and the changing of them to British (Welsh) themes and heroes, and, if this did happen, it must have especially been the case in the west of Britannia. (In fact, areas of the west were Hibernian (Irish) inhabited or descended). After the fall of the empire this may have been increased along with the contacts with Ireland. The tale of the Twrch Trwyth mention earlier may have been a borrowing from the Irish. (The tale starts in Ireland and then moves to an Hibernian part of Britain – Demetia/Dyfed). In Ireland they had the boar Orc Triath, owned by the goddess Brigit. Killing of this boar could have been seen as the killing of paganism.

As mentioned above, Ireland is where the Arthurian hunt begins. If it was indeed a tale originally from Hibernia/Scotia, then it was given a British hero in the form of Arthur. The question would be, when did it arrive and when was the character (or the name) Arthur attached to it and why? Was he a folkloric or mythical Arthur or Arthur of Badon … or another Arthur entirely?

As mentioned earlier, this nasty swine is also spoken of elsewhere in poetry and legend, and much earlier in one case. The dating of the poem Gwarchan Cynvelyn that was attached to the corpus of Y Gododdin is put to the 7th century by Jarman – or rather the gwarchan are in general. The dating of this particular gwearchan could be doubted because it claims Gwynedd fought at the Battle of Catraeth (the subject of Y Gododdin) and some doubt that they did. It would also mean the battle would have to be later than John Koch thinks for Cynvelyn to have been there. This poem Thomas Green (and others) use as strong evidence that the mythical Arthur was around even in the mid 7th century, arguing that a historical figure couldn’t have been attached to this in the hundred or so years since his supposed death. This may indeed be the case.

(What can be a little confusing about all the above is, on the one hand, the argument that the whole Gwynedd/Gododdin connection (via Cunedda) is just an origin myth and that they weren’t present at Catraeth, with all the references to them being at the battle later additions to the poems, yet this gwearchan is argued to be 7th century, which lays claim to a Gwynedd warrior at Catraeth!)

The first thing that went through my mind when seeing this evidence for an early mythical Arthurian mention (and remember I saw this when I was also concluding that Arthur was mythical at the time) was that it no where actually mentions Arthur in reference to the Twrch Trwyth. In fact, you might wonder why it didn’t mention Arthur if he was present. This particular part of the gwarchan says …

Were I to praise,
Were I to sing,
The Gwarchan would cause high shoots to spring,
Stalks like the collar of Twrch Trwyth,
Monstrously savage, bursting and thrusting through,
When he was attacked in the river
Before his precious things.  (Skene translation)

It’s comparing Cynvelyn (Cynfelyn) with a ravaging boar (as opposed to a raging bore!), just as many warriors were compared with wild beasts. It could have compared Cynvelyn to Arthur too if he was there, but, if he was, the bard chose not to. A mythical Arthur could indeed have been present in the 7th century, but this cannot be seen from this poem, it is only inferred that Arthur was present in the earlier version because he is in a later work. A court of law could not take this as damning evidence, and nor should we. We should see it as a possibility. Arthur himself could have later been made the hero of the boar hunt.

There is something else to consider here, and that is the question if there’s any relationship between this famous tale and Arthur ap Pedr of Demetia? The hunt is supposed to have continued from Ireland to his region, and one also has to wonder if the route the swine took reflects the spread of the tale from Demetia, what is now southwest Wales, firstly east through Wales and then to Cornwall (another Irish inhabited area)? Then we have to ask if this prince was named because of the location of the tale and its mythical pursuer, or after an Arthur of Badon. If it wasn’t for the one (and possibly two) other Arthurs being named around the same time it might be a straight forward answer that it was to do with the boar hunt, but these other Arthur’s throw a Dark Age spanner in the works. Of course, the alternative is that the tale had Arthur ap Pedr made as the hero.

In the next part we’ll look more at giants and why, if Arthur was seen as one, he wasn’t called one before moving on to Part Four and our first look at Arthur the Soldier and the arguments for his historical existence.

Thanks for reading, and I look forward to your thoughts, comments and corrections.


See the interesting comments by David Hillman below


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Latest News

King Arthur (Illustration to Tennyson's Idylls...

This is just to inform followers of my blogs that I am working on a couple of new ones (honest) but they’re taking a while to produce. The first one will be titled Arthur: Provincial Dux, Comes or Tribunus? and will look at the possibility of an historical Arthur (if he existed) being an Early Medieval British equivelent of one of these Late Roman military positions.

In the meantime I have been doing more research and updating some of the existing blogs, namely All Quiet On The Eastern Front? and In Search Of The Original King Arthur, if you feel like checking them out.




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A Different Look At An Arthurian Battle Poem – Part Two – Update

This is simply a notification that I have updated this blog with a quote from Alex Woolf. To read this blog, click HERE.

There will be a new blog coming very soon entitled: Arthur – A Provincial Dux, Comes or Tribunus?




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Image via Wikipedia

I would advise anyone interested in anything Arthurian to join Arthurnet (name has link attached); an online mailing-list for scholars and laymen alike. Even if you don’t partake in the discussions you can learn a great deal just by studying the searchable archives, which go back to 1993 (which you don’t actually have to be a member to access) or the posts you’ll receive from members. Within these discussion you’ll even find Arthurian scholars and authors debating their theories or asking questions in preparation for their next paper or book. (Recently Arthurian author Geoffrey Ashe posted a question).

Its members are a mixture of those who are interested in or studying the literary Arthur, those searching for the historical Arthur, those who don’t think there was an historical Arthur, those that do and those who are agnostic … a great mix, which leads to some great debates.

The list moderator, Judith Shoaf Ph.D, has a website that explains the process of being with Arthurnet, and you can click HERE to go there.

I have learned just as much from being a member as I have from reading Arthurian books, if not more at times. So if you have the same passion, or even just an interest, get over there now and start digging.

Thanks for reading,



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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,




Posted by on June 2, 2011 in King Arthur


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