Tag Archives: Artur

‘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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King Arthur – Man, Myth … or Both? – Part Twelve


English: Scanned from frontispiece of Ab Ithel...

Annales Cambriae

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.

Page from the Book of Aneurin , MS c. 1275. Fr...

Y Gododdin

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).

Hywel Dda

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.



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!


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

Before I get to the final part and the conclusion to all of this, I’d like to first look at one piece of evidence, which, as far as I’m aware, hasn’t been discussed before (but that doesn’t mean it hasn’t been!).

Bran’s good for you!

Español: Obra del escultor Ivor Roberts-Jones,...

Bran statue at Harlech Castle.

It is interesting that Artúr mac Áedán had a brother called Bran – Welsh Brân - earlier also *Vran and *Uran – (‘Raven’ or ‘Crow’). There is an argument to be had by those who see Arthur as an historicized mythical figure that the fact his brother was named Bran (also the name of an ancient giant and king of British and Irish mythology – Brân fab Llŷr (son of Llŷr) or Bendigeidfran (‘Bran the Blessed’) – with the Irish equivalent Bran mac Febail), might indicate that both siblings were named after mythical figures. (Not to mention that one of Finn’s magical dogs was called Bran).

Source: Village of Llangollen in North Wales/U...

Dinas Brân

Branodonum (Photo by Nigel Stickells)

However, Bran Hen (the Old) was the name of a king of Bryneich (now Northumbria), and the supposed name of the father of Caractacus (Caradoc or Caradawg), the British famous enemy of Rome. (Although the latter may have been made up in the 18th century!). Ireland had Bran Becc mac Murchado (died 738) and Bran Ardchenn mac Muiredaig (died 795), both kings of Leinster, as well as a Lough Bran in County Leitrim. Wales has Dinas Brân in Denbighshire, Aber-Brân in Powys, Llyn (Lake) Brân in Denbighshire and Cwmbrân in Gwent. Scotland has a River Bran in the Highlands and a Loch Bran. John Koch wonders if there is an association between this character and the Roman fort of Brancaster (Branodunum) in Norfolk, England. (Proceedings of the Harvard Celtic Colloquium Vol. 9, (1989), pp. 1-10 – article available at JSTOR). Geoffrey of Monmouth’s History of the King’s of Britain included an Arthurian Brennius (Book III, Ch.1). This may be Brân in another name, although this name could also be from the 3rd and 4th century BC Brennus. In the Mostyn MS 117 Genealogies, known as the Bonedd yr Arwyr (Decent of the Heroes), Brân map Llŷr (son of Llŷr) is made an ancestor of Arthur, in true royal genealogical style. It’s hard to know why Arthur was given descent from Brân but it could have been through association with the stories that circulated. Having said that, Triad 37 tells of Arthur digging up the head of Brân, which was supposedly protecting Britain, from where the Tower of London now stands, saying he was the only one who could do so. That’s not a way to treat your supposed ancestor! Could it be that this was a different tradition to the Bonedd yr Arwyr?

All these historical or topographical Brans/Brâns could have been named after the mythical figure; or, it was also simply a name the British (and Irish) liked to use. Sound familiar? For all we know, a 5th century Arthur, if he existed, could also have had a brother (or father?) named Brân, hence why Áedán named his sons thusly. The duel British/Irish nature of Bran can be used both for the mythical argument and for a historical name being given to princes from these cultural or ethnic unions (as with Áedán supposedly marrying a British woman), and this might have been the case with the name Arthur/Artúr. The difference between them is that Brân/Bran is a well attested ‘Celtic’ name, and Artúr /Arturius/Arthur isn’t.


If all these historical Arthurs, or the first one (whoever he was), was/were named after a figure of ancient legend or folklore and both stories of a historical and a mythical superhuman/giant/Messianic hero came down in parallel, then were later merged, were later badly separated, then just took on a life of their own … then it’s no wonder we’re all confused! Perhaps both camps (not all members of them I admit) are trying to make each very different figure fit something that only the name ‘Arthur’ itself matches? So people try to find the historical Arthur in the stories, poems and Triads of the Welsh, Cornish and Scots and the onomastic and topographic sites of Britain, when a historical Arthur could (initially) have had nothing to do with them, just as it is argued these 6th to 8th century Arthurs didn’t. Thomas Green finds this explanation “too complicated” (as does Christopher Gidlow), but sometimes history is. I’m not saying this was the case, but it can’t be ruled out just because we don’t like its complexity. Occam’s Razor can get blunted over the centuries.

Politically motivated

There’s also the political aspect of Arthur, which cannot be overstressed. Since Geoffrey of Monmouth (and I would say even before) claiming Arthur (as a king) was from your territory was claiming descent from who they thought were the first Britons, the Trojans, and therefore suzerainty over the whole of Britain, especially if he ruled from London. The more you could point to where he was from, or had been, the better your case. So onomastic and topographical sites could have been named for more than just folkloric reasons.

In the final part of this blog we’ll see if any conclusions can be drawn form all this and whether or not we can give any answers to the question posed in Part One.

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



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

To be or not to be?

No one argues that the 6th and 7th century Hiberno-Britannians with the name Arthur didn’t exist, and this is because they either have genealogies (Arthur ap Pedr) or are attested to in trusted historical documents (Artúr mac Áedán, Artúr mac Coaning, Arthur ap Bicoir). Yet Arthur of Badon is attested to in two historical documents (and some dubious genealogies), but we are told these cannot be given as evidence, because they are not contemporary (Dumville) or the Arthur they contain isn’t historical (Higham et al). Adomnán‘s Vita Columba (Life of Columbac.690), which mentions Artúr mac Áedán, isn’t contemporary either, having been written sixty or so years after Artúr mac Áedán’s death. The difference is in the time between their lives and when they were written about, with Arthur of Badon being 300 years after the (possible) events and the others being much nearer in time; not to mention all the mythical stories and sites that are argued to belong to this same ‘Arthur of Badon’.

Yet those who have concluded Arthur of Badon didn’t exist do not relate the fantastical stories and the onomastic and topographical sites to these other historical Arthurs as proof that they also didn’t exist. Why not? Because they are not in the H.B.? Because they don’t claim to have killed 960/940 men? Because they didn’t have legends written about them (although some argue Artúr mac Áedán (Barber) or even Arthur ap Pedr (Dark) are the bases for all the above)? Because they don’t have onomastic and topographical sites named after them … as far as we know? Or is it because they didn’t have Triads written about them (even though some of the triads mention Arthur but not Badon, and many are later additions)?

Well, in Artúr mac Áedán’s case it’s because of a ‘reliable’ source and Arthur ap Pedr two sources, (Arthur ap Bicoir is still open for debate – see THIS blog), and it’s mainly down to lack of reliable genealogy and all the other ‘stuff’ attached to him in Arthur of Badon’s case.

What if we didn’t have Arthur ap Pedr’s genealogies (British and Irish) or other historical sources telling us of these other Arthurs? What if they too had been lost? Would they too then be deemed mythical or folkloric, because Arthur of the fantastical stories was? Would they be seen as mere insertions into stories of the same mythical Arthur? Or would it have the opposite affect and Arthur of the H.B. and A.C. would be looked on in a more favourable light? It’s hard to answer of course.

If the theories that Arthur of Badon didn’t exist were correct, then how does this affect these other Arthurs, historical and mythical? Well, it doesn’t, because if he didn’t exist they are all still there … obviously. What changes with regards to these others if Arthur of Badon did exist? If he were then inserted into history? In theory nothing. If the other historical Arthurs can exist without affecting the fantastical stories one jot, which is what is suggested, and they were named after the mythical/folkloric figure, then saying Arthur of Badon existed would have no affect either, if you take out of the equation that it was he who spawned the early folkloric material or that these others were named after the Badon man.

Of course, if those other historical Arthurs were named after Arthur of Badon and he didn’t exist, then neither would they … or not with those names. Or if the early Welsh stories came from him, they would cease to exist also, (unless the hero was originally another name). But if the early Welsh stories aren’t about a historical Arthur of Badon, as Padel, Higham and Green argue, just as they’re not about Arthur ap Pedr or Artúr mac Áedán as far as we know, but only use or have the same name, then, if Arthur of Badon was named by the same process, why couldn’t he also exist?

Not a striking resemblance!

Merlin reads his prohecies to King Vortigern. ...

Even Geoffrey of Monmouth’s work doesn’t bear much resemblance to the Welsh fantastical Arthur, and he seems to only use some associated names, such as Gwenhwyfar, Cai and Bedwyr and others from other eras that the Welsh tales attached to Arthur willy-nilly, as well as Badon and Camlann (Camblan). If he used anything else that he says came from a “very ancient book” from Britannia, and Britannia was Wales (as opposed to the argument that it was Brittany), then it’s been lost. (As a side note, Britannia could indeed be Wales as there are a few medieval document that call it such – see Blake and Lloyd, 2003). Did this ‘ancient book’ show a more historical figure? We’ll never know, but it should be noted that Geoffrey specifically refers to this ‘ancient book’ when he gets to the conflict between Mordred and Arthur in Winchester and the Battle of Camblan. (History of the Kings of Britain, Book XI, Ch.1, Ch.2). This could have been his only use of it? We also have no indication of just how ancient it might have been. However, if this was the use of it, it means his ‘ancient’ source showed Arthur fighting in civil war, not against the Anglo-Saxons.

The Welsh tales only relate to Arthur being at Badon in one instance, created after Geoffrey of Monmouth’s work. Apart from this story (The Dream of Rhonabwy – Late-12th/Early-13th centuries) he has nothing to do with Saxons in the pre-Galfridian tradition. In fact, he bears no resemblance to any historical Arthur that we know of, including the soldier in the H.B.. It means, if he is mythological, or by the 9th century an historicized mythical figure, Nennius inserted him without making any reference or giving any similarities to the known Arthur figure of the stories and did it in a bardic, battle poetry way. A style he uses no where else. If this is the case, he was a) being extremely clever b) his sources had already made this figure into a ‘real’ person with accompanying poetry c) he had more realistic folkloric stories we no longer posses d) it’s about a real Arthur of Badon, e) it’s about some other Arthur replaced in time. f) it’s a mixture of some of the above.

Weight of evidence v popular evidence

There is the argument that the weight of the evidence is in favour of a mythical or folkloric Arthur. It is, and if the Y Gododdin, H.B. and A.C. are discounted as evidence, then the scales tip completely that way, and there isn’t really anything left for an Arthur of Badon.  But it depends on what weight ‘popular’ belief has against actual evidence (evidence that is interpreted differently by different people), if these three documents are not discounted. Is amount of evidence equal to its ‘weight’? This could be like saying that a pound of feathers weighs more than a pound of gold, because there’s a lot more of it. Perhaps a better analogy might be a pound of gold foil wrapped feathers, and, as we know, all that glitters isn’t gold. Once you have concluded (or believe) that the H.B. Arthurian section to be either made-up or that Nennius (and his audience) believed the Arthur in question was historical when he wasn’t, and that the A.C. simply followed in the steps of the H.B.; or that Nennius took another Arthur and deliberately (or accidentally) placed him earlier than he was, then that is that for Arthur being at Badon … unless there was a third battle of Badon no one’s aware of. (Complicated, ain’t it!?)

On the point of the mention of Arthur in Y Gododdin, there isn’t agreement on its dating, which is why I’ve been reluctant to include it  here. John Koch’s (The Gododdin of Aneirin, 1997), gives a 6th/7th century date – which would make it the first mention of an Arthur – but not all scholars agree.  Some believe it could be a later interpolation (Charles-Edwards et al) possibly not being attached until the 8th or 9th centuries with Graham Isaac going for the 10th century. Thomas Green sees the killing of a vast amount of men as described in the H.B. battle list as proof of Arthur’s mythical status and why he was named in it. Taken out of context, it does seem like that. Within the H.B. it is one of the least fantastical things. Even if Koch is wrong and it is a later interpolation, this only works if you believe the H.B. to be about a mythical figure. It’s a circular argument. If the H.B. is about a real person, and the comparison in Y Gododdin refers to this, then it is, in the interpolator’s mind, still comparing Gwawrddur to a real figure. What it does mean is that what Koch sees as a near contemporary source mentioning him, isn’t. (For more on this see THIS blog).


I find that the 6th and 7th century Arthurs’ name giving to Gael descended people and not Britons is explained away too readily, by both camps. By elements of the ‘historical Arthur’ camp it is a name the British wouldn’t use out of awe or respect for Arthur of Badon, but the Gaels would use the name because they didn’t have the same reverence for it. This ‘historic’ argument doesn’t make much sense, to me at least, because Artúr mac Áedán supposedly came from the union of a Gael and Briton, which, most likely was for political reasons; would he name a son Arthur knowing it wouldn’t go down well with the wife or her family? Maybe, I suppose. But in Demetia (Dyfed), Arthur ap Pedr may have been more Briton than Gael, for all we know, living in a Gaelic dominated (or cultural) area (as could have Arthur ap Bicoir if he’s a historical figure) and still the name was given. (Besides, the Britons would name their sons after famous military leaders as demonstrated earlier). But no Briton or even later Welshman would use the name for their princes and the first to give his son it would be an English king with a Welsh family name, Henry (Tudor) VII in the 15th century. The Welsh said Henry was  the ‘Son of Prophesy’, so perhaps he thought naming his son Arthur would help that prophesy along? It didn’t, and Arthur died young.

For the ‘mythical or folkloric Arthur’ camp these Arthurs were named after a mythical or folkloric figure, and the British wouldn’t do this for the same reasons of awe and respect (Batram).  This could make sense, to some degree, except the British would use mythical names if Bran is anything to go by, as well as Belin (Apollo Belinus), Mabon (Apollo Maponos), Conmail (Apollo Cunomaglus), Mael (Deus Maglus), and Nudd (Mars Nodens). (My thanks to Chris Gwinn who pointed these out). But, as I’ve already said, if they were named after some mythical or folkloric figure (maybe one that covered both cultures?), then why couldn’t an earlier Arthur (of Badon fame) be named for the same reason, with him also been of Gael descent and having nothing to do with his mythical/folkloric counterpart apart from his name? The argument doesn’t follow for the name giving.

There is another point here: if it is thought a mythical/folkloric Arthur by the Early-9th century had become historicized, then the Britons weren’t naming their sons Arthur because he was mythical or folkloric by this stage. Either way – be he historical or mythical/folkloric – he was, to them, a real man. They liked naming their sons after famous leaders, and, as shown above, they had no problem naming their sons after mythical figures. So what was the problem with Arthur or his name?

Etymologically speaking …

Most etymologists would argue that the Gaels would have to get the name Artúr via the Britons using the Insular Latin Arturius (from Classical Latin Artorius), as it wouldn’t be a name they would use directly because it was Latin. However, Arthur of Demetia’s father was called Pedr (Peter), from Latin PETRVS, so they would use Latin names, it’s just that Artorius/Arturius doesn’t appear to be a common name in Britain … but neither does Pedr. If it wasn’t via Latin, the problem, as it is with Brittonic, is creating this name from two Goidelic words that would produce Artúr. Whilst there are many ‘Art’ names in Irish, there are none, apart from Artúr, ending with ‘úr’.  Old Irishúr’, can mean ‘noble’:- (c) of persons (a) noble, generous, (b) fair, active. It can also mean `evil’. However, there are no attested names anywhere that use úr as the second element, so it would have to be unique. That’s not out of the question, but it makes it harder to argue.

You see many websites putting forward ‘Arth+gwr’ – Brittonic *arto+guiros (‘Bear Man’) as the meaning of the name, but that should produce Arthwr. You also see ‘Arth+rix’ – Brittonic *arto+rigos (‘Bear King’) but that should make *Arthir/*Erthir or *Arthric. At present, until Chris Gwinn shows us his new theory, the name is more likely to be derived from Arturius, with Arturus (from the star Arcturus) being another possibility. (More later).

In another blog I explored the possibility that the Britons didn’t use the name because it was seen as an Hiberno-British (not Irish) name, but even this isn’t satisfactory. Whatever the reasons for the Brittonic speaking Britons not using the name, it may have been for different reasons at different points in history. Could it initially have been because it was seen as a name used by Goidelic speakers, then it gained a superstition around it? I’ve recently wondered if it could be because it seemed like a hybrid name to the British that didn’t make total sense to them? To the Gaels it could have made some kind of sense even if they wouldn’t normally use úr as the second part of a name. To the Britons (and later Welsh) it might have sounded like ‘Bear-ur’. (That letter u is a long vowel in Brittonic and Old Welsh. In Middle and Modern Welsh the u becomes similar to a long vowel e, which is why Cymru (Wales) is pronounced something like Kumry). It would need further investigation by someone who knows a lot more than I (Chris Gwinn?) as to whether there were other compound names coming from either Insular Latin or older Brittonic that, as they mutated, didn’t make total sense, so were only used once. Names that mutated completely to make no sense may not have been a problem?

In the penultimate part of this blog I will look at one other piece of evidence I have not seen explored (but that doesn’t mean it hasn’t been!) that could be used by both the historical and mythical/folkloric camps.

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



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King Arthur – Man, Myth … or Both? – Part One (Introduction)

I actually can’t believe I’m tackling this subject, but here goes …


Whether the figure of Arthur was a historicized mythical or folkloric figure or a mythologized or folkloric man has been debated and written about numerous times, some might say ‘to death’. There’s not much point writing about the subject again unless something new can be brought to the discussion, and that’s what I hope to do at points in this twelve part blog. If I am, accidentally, reiterating what others have said I apologise in advance. I also apologise for not covering everything, but if I did, this would turn into a book! It’s already 20,000 words!

In these blogs the legends I will mainly be referring to are those of the Welsh, which predate those began by the Anglo-(Breton)-Norman Geoffrey of Monmouth (early 12th c) who first made Arthur famous outside Wales and Cornwall, by at least two hundred years. The King Arthur and his famous knights of the roundtable, the Holy Grail and his battles around Europe all came to light between the 12th to 15th centuries, and it will be these stories most will be aware of. The earlier, Welsh tales and poems are, in general, about a very different superhero, who fights – or battles through his men – witches, giants and the Otherworld, but there does appear to be ‘Arthur the Soldier’ in amongst them.

Personally, I have waxed and wained over the years between the one possibility and the other as I have read the various arguments. When I joined the group Arthurnet, I was firmly in the mythical or folkloric camp. I was firmly in the mythical or folkloric camp. Before embarking on this ebook I was about 65% (if a percentage could ever be given!) in favour of the likelihood that the original Arthur was a 5th and 6th century figure of some description … but, who knows, that could swing the other way at some point. It will be interesting to see if that percentage has changed by the end of this. The slight leaning to a historical Arthur may give me a bias in that direction, but I will endeavour to stay as objective as possible.

. It will be interesting to see if that percentage has changed by the end of these blogs. The slight leaning to a historical Arthur may give me a bias in that direction, but I will endeavour to stay as objective as possible.

What may help a little is that I’m agnostic. It doesn’t really matter to me whether Arthur really existed or not. I have no nationalistic tendency to want him to have been from what are now England, Scotland, Wales or even Ireland. None of these existed at the time. What I do want is a fair ‘hearing’, so to speak. I will try and do what Christopher Snyder does when he says

My own contributions on the scholarship of Arthurian origins have been attempts to establish a middle ground between academic skepticism and unbridled lay enthusiasm”. (A history of Arthurian scholarship,  Lacy, 2006, p.13).

Although I am in the “lay” camp, of course! There is another quote from Mr. Snyder to keep in mind:

 “ [...] academic historians, playing by the rules of our disciplines, can say little of value about Arthur.” (The Britons,   Snyder, 2003, p.94)

I can go further than a professional historian, but I will endeavour to keep the rules of their disciplines in mind.

Hit of Myth?

First a few ‘for and against’ quotes:

 “Drawing on the postmodern theory of Jean Baudrillard, it is possible to interpret Arthur as a simulacrum – that is, as a copy which has no original. The textual Arthurs that survive are reformatted copies of earlier ideas of Arthur, referring always to each other but never to an originary Arthur, since such a person cannot be identified or retrieved.” (A Companion to Arthurian Literature, Helen Fulton, 2009, p.16)

“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. (Christopher Gidlow in his book ‘Revealing King Arthur’, 2010, p.193)

“This is not the stuff of which history can be made. The fact of the matter is that there is no historical evidence about Arthur; we must reject him from our histories and, above all, from the titles of our books” (David Dumville, 1977, p.188).

“I disagree, however, with those skeptics who believe there is proof that Arthur is pure fabrication. Theories that trace his origins to mythology or folklore are as unconvincing as those that ‘prove’ his historicity.” (Christopher Snyder, ‘The Britons’, 2003, p.94)

Thomas Charles-Edwards conclusions about the Historia Brittonum were:

At this stage of the enquiry, one can only say there may well have been an historical Arthur [...] but “[...] the historian can as yet say nothing of value about him” (1991. p.29).

[Arthur is] above all else [...] a defender of his country against every kind of danger, both internal and external: a slayer of giants and witches, a hunter of monstrous animals — giant boars, a savage cat monster, a winged serpent (or dragon) — and also, as it appears from Culhwch and Preiddeu Annwn, a releaser of prisoners. This concept is substantiated from all the early sources: the poems Pa Gur and Prieddeu Annwn, the Triads, the Saint’s Lives, and the Miribilia attached to the Historia Brittonum [...] in early literature he belongs, like Fionn, to the realm of mythology rather than to that of history.” (R. Bromwich and D. Simon Evans (edd.), ‘Culhwch and Olwen. An edition and study of the oldest Arthurian tale’ (Cardiff, 1992), pp. xxviii-xxix)

That is the question?

First we have to define what the correct question is. To ask, “Did Arthur exist?” will illicit the response, “Which Arthur? King Arthur of Malory, of Wace, of Chrétien, of Layamon, of Geoffrey of Monmouth, or ‘William’ the author of the Breton Legend of St. Geoznovius. Or Arthur of the 9th century Historia Brittonum (H.B.), or of the 10th century Annales Cambriae (A.C.); or do we mean Arthur of the early Welsh stories or the early Welsh poetry?” So, the question I will pose is: “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?”

That’s just your opinion!

Opinion as to whether the figure that became the legend of King Arthur was based on a historical person or not, or whether he was one of the other slightly later known historical Arthurs, has vacillated over the decades and centuries between ‘yes’, ‘no’ and ‘maybe’. Today, some of those scholars firmly in the ‘mythical or folkloric Arthur’ camp are David Dumville (1977), Oliver Padel (2000), Nick Higham (1994, 2002) and Thomas Green (2001-2007), following Padel. Those in the ‘historical’ camp (to varying degrees) who look to a possible 5th century Arthur would be Christopher Snyder (2003, 2006), Christopher Gidlow (2004, 2010) and Francis Pryor (2004) … with many a lay historian added to that list. The original as the 6th century prince Artúr mac Áedán of Dal Riata (Dalriada) is put forward by Richard Barber (1972) following suggestions by Norma Chadwick, but also the lay historian David F. Caroll (1996) with 6th century king of Demetia (Dyfed), Arthur ap Pedr, only forwarded by Dr. Ken Dark (2000). Both the Early-7th century Arthur ap Bicoir and Arthur ap Pedr have been explored by August Hunt, but he has since rejected them in favour of the Late-6th century Arthur Penuchel (2011). (Many of you may be unaware of these other Arthurs, and if you’d like to know more about them before reading further, see THIS blog; although they will be discussed here).

It could be argued that some lay historians (and professional historians!) haven’t helped a historical Arthur’s case much either by the way they’ve argued for him, and it is mainly the academic scholars who argue against his existence that put the best cases. (In this respect I hope not to make things worse!). The academic who, to me at least, has made the best case for the possible existence of a historical figure called Arthur (as opposed to someone else who became known as Arthur, such as Riothamus or Ambrosius Aurelianus) is Christopher Gidlow, but even he hasn’t explored the folkloric aspects in detail.

It should be noted from the start that both Nick Higham and Thomas Green had concluded that Arthur didn’t exist before beginning their books on the subject. Higham had concluded this in his book on Gildas’s 6th century polemic De Excidio Britanniae (DEB): ‘The English Conquest- Gildas and Britain of the fifth century’ (1994). This is because he sees the evidence showing that the ‘Anglo-Saxons’ where the ones in charge after Badon, and not the Britons, so there was no place for an Arthur character. Green, in Concept of Arthur (2007), follows Padel’s folkloric Arthur theory and had been writing about this online for a number of years, long before the publication of his book. If you start from those assumptions, or rather conclusions, in a book then you are approaching the subject in the same way as those who start from the assumption that he did exist. The book is there to prove your point. That doesn’t mean what is explore in their books is worthless! Far from it, they are excellent in their ways. It also doesn’t mean they’re wrong, and I bow to their superior knowledge, it does mean this should be kept in mind.

If one looked at the early Welsh material alone, one might have to conclude that Arthur was either mythical or folkloric and Padel does make a very important point in his book, ‘Arthur Of Welsh Literature’ (2000): many (not all) who accepted Arthur as a historical figure (or that he shouldn’t be dispelled as one) do so without considering this Welsh, Cornish and Scottish mythical or folkloric Arthur and the questions these stories and poems throw up with regards to his historicity. I hope not to be one of those and will face these full on in these next (shortish) ten blogs.

So, that’s the introduction. In Part Two we’ll look at Arthur in the landscape of Britain and the possible mythical or folkloric origins, as well as some possible later historical comparisons.

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


PS: Just in case there are folk out there thinking, “he’s writing ‘a historical’ instead of ‘an historical’, the former is correct. The only time to use ‘an’ is before a word with a silent ‘h’, like ‘honour’. In the past when I’ve used ‘an’, it’s out of habit.


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In Search Of The ‘Original’ King Arthur – Post Script

I am Arthur, king of the Britons … or is that Artheer … or Arthoor?

First of all, let me say I am neither a Welsh or Irish speaker or an expert of the development of either language, so I would be very grateful for any corrections on what I say below.

This blog is a Post Script to a earlier post, which, if you’d like to read first, click HERE. In this post I went on a journey to see if I could discover the ‘original’ – or close to – pronunciation of Arthur. We are so used to the name now it’s hard to image it sounding like anything else other than ‘Arthur’ (In some parts of England, more like ‘ARthuh’, ‘AHtha’, ‘ARRthurr’ or ‘AHffa’). But to the Welsh speaking Welsh or Gaelic Irish or Scots (who don’t pronounce it the English way) it is pronounced very differently. This said, we should probably keep in mind the regional variation in Britain in the Late 5th/Early 6th centuries, and, indeed, later. Whilst the dialects/accents may not have been as diverse as they are now, they must still have been present.

Many people will also be unaware of the great difference (as well as similarities) between Brittonic and Modern Welsh, or even Old or Middle Welsh. Here are some examples taken form the paper ‘Old and Middle Welsh’ by David Willis (although Dr Graham Isaac has a slightly different take on this development – see below).

“Brythonic *esjās tegos > ModW. /i θɨ/ ei thŷ ‘her house’ (‘house’) via the change /-s t/ > /θ/;

Brythonic *sweks tabarnās > MW. /xwe θavarn/ chwe thafarn ‘six taverns’ (tafarn ‘tavern’) via the change /-s t/ > /θ/;

Brythonic *ak tortā > ModW. /a θorθ/ a thorth ‘and a loaf’ (torth ‘loaf’) via the change /-k t/ > /θ/.”

θ= a voiceless dental fricative … or a th to you and me!

For what’s about to be written you need to know the following:

  • Long a (ā) sound as in apesnailacheexplain, and reindeer
  • Long e (ē) sound as in eatagonyneedlepianist, and electricity
  • Long i (ī) sound as in eyecrytightropetile, and violin
  • Long o (ō) sound as in ohdominoghostpillow, and stethoscope
  • Long u (ū) sound as in yousalutetoothbrushgooseboot, and costume

Modern Welsh should pronounce Arthur as ‘Arthērrr’ (the ‘u’ being an ‘ē’ sound as in Cymru=Kumrē) with rolling rrrs. This made me wonder how this could be if the ancient Gaels got the name from the British, as some argue they did? Artúr in Irish is pronounced ‘Artūr ‘ (genitive Artúir= ‘Artūir’ , with the ‘i’ either hardly pronounce or not at all). If this came from British, it should come from Arthgwr/Arthwr (or the Brittonic equivalent such as *Artos(Artu)-wiros=>Arthouros … I think … or Arthouros if I’ve got Dr Graham Isaac’s theory right). The ‘w’ in Welsh giving a long vowel ū.

However, I discovered that the Welsh vowel ‘u’ is the only one to have significantly changed from Middle to Modern Welsh (Middle Welsh=approx 12th to 14th centuries – dates vary). This vowel, which now has an ‘ē’ sound (or something close to it) then was an ‘ū’ sound. So, whilst Arthur might be pronounced Arthēr today, it could, indeed, have been ‘Arthūr’ in the past. But, this only applies with a written name, not an orally transmitted one. If Arthur was ‘Arthūr’, one would think when the vowel changed, they’d spell it Arthwr. Not necessarily, apparently. The spelling can be ‘frozen’.

There is the spelling of Arthur in the ‘Brut Tysilio’ (c. 15th century), which is rendered as Arthyr. I thought this could be an older version of the name making ‘Arthēr’ again. However, the vowel ‘y’ had replaced ‘i’ by the 15th century, which has an short vowel ‘u’ (‘uh’) sound if used in a single syllabic word or final syllable of a multi syllabic word; so Arthur being written Arthyr would, in Modern Welsh/Early Modern Welsh (scholars differ on dates), almost render the English version of the name ‘Arthur’ (but with a rolling rrrs of course). So this may not be an ‘Arthēr’ but a sound close to what the name had become to the English (Anglo-Normans) through these later legends.

Arthur (‘Arthēr’) should be Erthir/Arthir in Old Welsh. But this would render Goidelic (Irish) Artír and not Artúr or Artur.

Should the Irish version of the name tell us how this name was transmitted? It might, if it came via the Britons as some argue. If it was from a British ‘Arthūr’ it then shows an early transmission when the ‘u’ was still an ‘ū’. It also allows for a transmission in the opposite direction. However, I discovered that the spelling in Irish also changes from document to document. Some are Artur (Artuir) not Artúr (Artúir). This would mean it sounded like ‘Artuhr’ (and Artuhir). I thought I’d better check the documents again.

Adamnan simply gives Áedáin’s (possible) son the name Arturius, with no Gael equivalent, though it would most likely be Artur. However, the ‘Annals of Tigernach’ (AT) tells us.

“Iugulacio filiorum Aedan .i. Bran & Domungort & Eochaid Fínd & Artur, i cath Chirchind in quo uictus est Aedhan, & cath Coraind.”

… and for Conaing:

“Hii sunt filii Conaing meic Áedáin .i. Rígallán Ferchar. Artán. Artúr. Dondc[h]ad. Domungart. Nec[h]tan. Ném. Crumíne”

Here we have one as Artur and one as Artúr. Was this just bad copying, could each sound as a long vowel ‘ū’, or were they, in fact, two different names?

Arthur ap Pedr in the ‘Expulsion of the Desi’ is ‘Artuir maic Retheoir’ .

Again in the AT Arthur son of Bicoir is …

Artuir filio Bicoir Britone

Annals of the Four Masters‘ has …

h-Artur, mac Bicair, do Bretnaibh

Subsequent Gaelic Arthurs are given a mixture of both spellings.

So, actually, only one document uses the spelling Artúr (‘Artūr’), the rest use Artur (‘Artuhr’) it seemed to me. To come from British, the latter would have to come from Old Welsh Arthir/Erthir (Arthur/Erthur). The latter name is attested to in the poem about the sons of Llywarch Hen.

However, I then found a phonetic pronunciation of a line from an Old Irish poem:

ina churchán tar muir nglan

ih-na KHOOR-khawn tahr MOOR NGLAHN

This gave the short vowel ‘u’ a long vowel sound ú. I was confused! I needed an expert and so went to the Listserv discussion group site, OLD-IRISH-L. I had a reply from Dennis King telling me that the scribes weren’t always careful about adding the long marks that would denote a long vowel, but it would most likely be pronounced with the long vowel. I had a similar reply from Dr. Mícheál O Mainnín, Director of Research, Irish & Celtic Studies at Belfast University adding that sometimes the long vowel marks were hard to discern on some manuscripts but the meter of the text also gives it away as a long vowel. So, even Artur, would be ‘Artūr’. (I hope you’re following this!).

Nennius in the 9th century uses the spelling Arthur, which, in his time, would have produced ‘Arthūr’ and not ‘Arthēr’. But what would someone purely reading this in Latin make of it?  In Vulgar Latin ‘u’ was an ‘o’, so it should read as ‘Arthor’. BUT, it could also have been read as a a short vowel ‘u’ or long vowel ‘ū’, as far as I can see because at the time they didn’t attach accentuation marks to them. (Help!) Either way, it wouldn’t be ‘Arthēr’. (They would try and denote long vowels on grave inscriptions, using ‘VV‘. So Arthur should be rendered as ‘ARTVVRIVS‘. Hence why the Welsh use the long vowel ū for a ‘w’).

So, it looks like the pronunciation of Arthur would be Arthūr (Arthoor) (with rolling rrrrs), regional variations not withstanding. What it was in Brittonic/Brythonic (before 550 – although dates differ) or Primitive Welsh is still debatable. It may have had over 200 years of oral transmission with the language changing before it was written down and a lot could have happened in that time. If there was an Arthur around in 500 AD he almost certainly got his name via Vulgar Latin Artūrius or Latin Artūrus; but one thing’s for certain, it wouldn’t have sounded anything like the English ‘Arthur’.

I look forward to corrections and comments.

Thanks for reading,



I have to thank the power of Twitter for getting me in touch with  Dr. Mícheál O Mainnín, Director of Research, Irish & Celtic Studies at Belfast University via Ciaran Bradley and SLDP member Dominic Bradley MLA.


Old-Irish Spelling and Pronunciation by Dennis King

Reading Old Irish, The Values of the Letters

Index of Names in Irish Annals: Artúr by Kathleen M. O’Brien

The Chronology of the Development of Brittonic Stops and the Spirant Mutation by G. R. Isaac.

‘Old and Middle Welsh’ by David Willis

Middle Welsh Vowels and Diphthongs by Elizabeth J. Pyatt

The Wales-Catalonia Website


Posted by on July 28, 2011 in King Arthur


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In Search of the ‘Original’ King Arthur – Part Five

The Pennines in northern England

UPDATED 1.6.12

Arthur Penuchel c. 570s (?)

Said to be one of the sons of the northern British ruler Eliffer (of the Pennines/York), along with Gwrgi and Peredur. He, perhaps, shouldn’t be included here because of his mention in the Jesus College MS 20 genealogies is thought by most to be a scribal error for their sister Arddun, who appears in the incomplete Peniarth MS 47. The scribal error is understandable, but the epithet penuchel (‘arrogant’/‘high head’/‘overlord’) is a little harder to understand, unless Arddun herself had it. There was one other ‘penuchel’: Sawyl penuchel (ben uchel), the son of Pabo Post Prydein and a descendent of Coel Hen. To confuse matters even further, this ruler was also called Samuil Penisel (‘low-head’/ ‘humble’).

In yet another MS (Peniarth MS 50) it gives Gwrgi and Peredur a brother called Ceindrech pen asgell (‘Wing-head’) and it can be argued that there may have been a confusion between Ceindrech and Arddun and a corruption of pen asgell. The main problem is it’s hard to trust these genealogies.

August Hunt makes a case for this Arthur in his (little read) ebook ‘The Arthur of History – A Reinterpretation Of The Evidence’ (2011). August also gives a another possible interpretation of the epithet as deriving from VXELLODVNVM, the Roman fort of Stanwix on Hadrian’s Wall. The name of the fort means uxello=‘high + dunum=fort’. (Hunt, 2011, pp.77-78). So, he argues, the epithet penuchel could have meant ‘chief of the high (fort)’. This is not how most interpret it.

The thing against this Arthur existing is he is not mentioned with Gwrgi and Peredur as being involved at the Battle of Armterid in 574. But, if he wasn’t born until 570 he would only have been a child at the time. But that date is a guess anyway and he makes no appearance anywhere else.

If this Arthur did exist, he may not have been an Hiberno-Britannian (as far as we know), but he was northern, and he appeared at the same time as the others … that is, unless, this was just another name for one of the other Arthurs.

Feradach hoa Artúr (c. 697)

This mean ‘Feradach grandson of Artúr’. Of course, it isn’t Feradach who has the name, but his grandfather, and we need to ask who this might be.

Jaski’s paper again:

“At this stage we have to take Adomnán’s law to protect clerics, women and children from warfare into account. Cáin Adomnáin, which was promulgated in Ireland in 697, includes a Feradach hoa Artúr, among the clerical guarantors. That he was from Scotland seems likely, especially since other Scottish clerics, as well as Bruide, king of the Picts, are included in the guarantor list. As his name indicates, he was a grandson or descendant of Artúr, possibly (one of the) the Artúr(s) we have considered above. If so, we may be certain that he was on familiar terms with Adomnán, who thus would have been aware of Artúr’s true descent. But since there are a number of uncertainties, the name of Artúr’s father remains a matter of debate.” (p. 93)

I’ll return to this character later when discussing the Campbell’s and MacArthur’s (spurious to say the least) genealogies as he appears in them and may give a clue as to which Artúr he was the grandson of.

Artharus rig Cruthni (date uncertain)

This is one I only recently discovered through Jaski’s paper, although I should have seen it earlier as he appears in The Expulsion of the Dési.

“It is found in a list of the forshluinte ‘subject peoples’ of Dál Fiachach Suidge, the ruling dynasty of the Dési of Munster, which is appended to the text in Rawlinson B 502. It includes the Bruirige o Bruru mac Artharu rig Cruthni ‘Bruirige from Bruru son of Artharu, king of the Picts’. The independent version in Dublin, Trinity College, MS 1298 (olim H. 2.7) of the fourteenth century has Brurige nó Briunu mac Partharo regis Pictorum. If Artharu refers to the name Arthur, its spelling is distinctively odd. Irish texts normally have Artúir as the genitive. The form Partharo may be related to Partholón (from Latin Bartholomaeus), who appears as the ancestor of the Picts in Lebor Bretnach, the Gaelic translation and redaction of the ‘Nennian’ recension of Historia Brittonum [He also appears in the Book of Invasions]. This is a highly uncertain example, but there is a possibility that the form Artharu was inspired by the northern British name Artúr Irish scholars were familiar with.” (p.102)

Vanora’s Stone. Meigle

T’would indeed be interesting if the Hiberno-Picts (Gwydyl-Fichti) or Picts were using the name also … or a variation of it. Scottish tradition does have Arthur’s supposed wife, Gwenhwyfar (cognate with Irish Findabair), as a Pict (though I doubt she’d be dressed like Keira Knightly was in the last Arthurian movie). She (supposedly) appears in a Pictish stone sculpture in Meigle, North Ayrshire being torn apart by animals on the orders of Arthur because of being accused of infidelity after she’d been abducted by Mordred. Here she’s called Vanora. The stone is thought to actually show Daniel and the Lions from the Bible.

The pre-Galfridian, Early-12th century French Benedictine monk Lambert of St. Omer did write that Arthur’s palace was in Pictland in his Liber Floridus … after having crossed out ‘Britain’ first.  (Liber Floridus, Early-12th century. See His work may have been based on a version of the H.B. that no longer exists. (Dumville, “The Liber Floridus of Lambert of Saint-Omer and the Historia Brittonum,” Bulletin of the Board of Celtic Studies 26.2 (May 1975): pp.103-122). Why he changed his ethnicity, if he did, we do not know, unless his information said Arthur was from the North and he assumed this to mean Pictland? (Lambert also only calls Arthur a “dux”, “miles,”, “leader” and “soldier”, but not a king).

As I have put forward, those names reused tended to be the names of great men – Caroticus and Constantine to name but two – and these names were obviously passed down through centuries in some cases. It is possible that this is how the name Arthur came to be used, via Vulgate Latin Artūrius, and epigraphic evidence shows that it was a name used throughout the Roman empire, although not in Britain. If this was the reason the Hiberno-British were giving their sons the name, then one of these Artorii before them had greatness, and logic dictates that he was the first one.

Other Arts & Arths

I’m not going to further discuss the other ‘Art‘ and ‘Arth’ based names that are put forward as the historical Arthur because, as far as I can see, Arthur’s name was ‘Arthur’.

For those interested to know what these other British and Irish Arth or Erth based names are, here’s some of them:

Art, Artchorp, Arthrwys, Arthmael/Arthfael, Arthgen, Erthir, Arthfoddw, Arthgal (may derive from Ardgal), Arthlwys, Arthen, Arthnou (from ‘Artognov‘ of the stone from Tintagel)

Thanks for reading,



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In Search of the ‘Original’ King Arthur – Part Four

Argyll – Kintyre

* UPDATED 1.6.12

Arthur son of Bicoir (born c. 580-600?)

Arthur son of Bicoir the Briton (ab Artuir filio Bicoir Pretene) is an interesting character as he isn’t given mac or maic for ‘son’, but the Latin filio of the word and is said to be a Briton or from Britain (Pretene). Even the spelling of Pretene is odd as the Irish didn’t use the letter p, and it would normally be spelled Cruthene or the like. It is generally accepted that this is derived from *Qritani or *Qriteni from Pretani, and it can be confusing at times as to whether ‘Britons’ with ‘Picts’ (also called Cruthni) are meant.

It appears that this Arthur was from Kintyre, which was part of Hibernian Dál Riata (Dalriada). This would seem to confirm it was a mixed ethnic area, unless he was brought in from ‘outside’. However, we also don’t know the ethnicity of his mother and, therefore, him … not to mention he could be completely fictional or even another Arthur entirely (see below).

Why was it needed to be said he was a Briton? Possibly because anyone reading the name Arthur would think they were of Hibernian stock … or was it because of what he (supposedly) ended up doing, so they had a Briton to blame?

This Arthur was supposedly involved in some assassination (or execution or invasion) work on either Islay or in what is now Ulster; possibly as an aire echta (‘noble of death-deed’/’nobleman of slaughter’). This is if he wasn’t purely a poetic devise as explored by J F Nagy in A Companion to Arthurian Literature (2009).

This Arthur appears in the 11th century Irish compilation The Annals of Tigernach. The annals gives a fragment of a poem by Bec Boirche, a 7th/8th century Ulster king and, presumably, bard.

 “625 Mongan, son of Fiachna of Lurga was struck with a stone by Arthur son of Bicoir the Briton, and was crushed. About this, Bec Boirche said:

‘Cold is the wind across Islay,

There are warriors in Kintyre,

They shall commit a cruel deed in retribution,

They shall kill Mongan, son of Fiachna.

Where the Church of Cluan Airthir is today,

Renowned were the four there executed;

Cormac Caem, with screaming

And Illann, son of Fiachra;

And the other two, — To whom many territories paid tribute,– Mongan, son of Fiachna of Lurgan and Ronan, son of Tuathal.”

If he was acting as an aire echta, he seems to have gone beyond what this ‘job’ entailed.  Here’s what the Irish Brehon Laws say an aire echta did:

IV 324.-109. The aire echta, why is he so called? Because he is a leader of five who is left to do feats of arms in [a neighbouring territory under] treaty-law for the space of a month, to avenge an offence against the honour of the tuath, one of whose men has been lately slain. If they do not (avenge this) within a month, they come upon treaty-law, so that their beds do not follow him from without. If they kill men within treaty-law, the same five, the aire echta must pay on their behalf, provided that land or bronze of a cauldron be not paid for it, but vessels to the value of a cow. He brings them out then to be …… till the expiration of treaty-law, (taking them) on the number of his protection and (that) of his friends, His retinue and his sick-maintenance are due as (those) of anaire desso.  (MacNeill, 1923, pp.297/298)

Perhaps Arthur got carried away with his work!

There are some, including Arthurian author August Hunt, who wonder if Bicoir is a corruption of Petuir, as B and P can be interchanged, and c an t could be mistaken in these early manuscripts. This would make it possible that Arthur ap Pedr (Petuir) and Arthur son of Bicoir, might be one and the same … although their dating is somewhat different.  He argues that Kintyre in Argyle could instead be Pembroke (Penbrog/Pen broc) in Dyfed. Both names do mean the same: ‘Headland’. But a look at the Domnall Brecc poem from Y Gododdin tells us they called Kintyre, ‘Bentir ‘(Pentir) in British, not ‘Benbroc’.

(The name Bicoir – Latin Beccurus -  is said by Patrick Sims-Williams to come from British *Bikkorix or “Little King”.  (The Celtic Inscriptions of Britain: Phonology and Chronology, c. 400-1200).

Personally I’m not so sure about August’s argument. Apart from the dating discrepancy, it’s easy to imagine someone on a dynastic feuding mission from Kintyre to Islay or Ulster, but a little harder from Pembroke … though it’s not impossible, especially if we consider Nagy’s theory, which I’ll get to in a moment.

The odd thing about the poem is it mentions both the Dalriadian territories of Áedán’s (Cenél nGabráin) of Kintyre and Oengus’ (Cenél nOengusa) of Islay. It could mean that he was in Kintyre and would have to pass through Islay on his way to Ulster (Airthir=Armagh). It could also mean they were acting together or that he was from Kintyre and the ‘cold wind’ was blowing from Ulster via Islay, as the version of the poem in the Chronicon Scotorum has depicts:

Cold is the wind across Ile

Which blows against the youth of Cenn-tire;

They will commit a cruel deed in consequence;

They will kill Mongan, son of Fiachna.

Cormac caem and Illand son of Fiachu die.

Ronan, son of Tuathal died:—

Wherever it was this avenging took place it had to be in an area that was under treaty to his. The alternative is he wasn’t an aire echta at all, but the leader of a larger fianna (warband) as a ri fianna (leader of the warband). However, there is also this entry from the Annals of Clacmacnoise for 624 (Quoted by O’Donovan, FM, vol. i. p.243, note z):

“Mangan mac Fiaghna, a well spoken man, and much given to the wooing of woman, was killed by one ??? [Arthur ap] Bicoir, a Welshman, with a stone.” (The Voyage of Bran, Son of Febal: To the Land of the Living, Kuno Meyer, 1895/2008, p.76).

Irish and Scottish Dalriada

This one doesn’t even mention Arthur, only Bicoir, whom it calls a Welshman, which may indicates a later dating.  An interesting point here is how there is more than one version of the poem. This just shows that there wasn’t always a respect for accurate oral transmission, and how any poetry about an Arthur of Badon (if he and it existed) could have suffered the same consequences.

This Arthur doesn’t appear to have been a prince, although we’ll never know. (An aire echta could be anyone of this class, from nobleman to prince). He very well could have been considered a Briton rather than a Dalriadan Hibernian, unless even a Dalriadan who was from the British Isles would be termed as being from Britain. He would be contemporary with Artúr mac Conaing, if I’ve got my dating right, and could even have fought along side him. The problem is we don’t know how old he was in 625. Nor do we know the politcal situation between Britons and Gaels around this date. We also don’t know how accurate that poem about him is … and here’s the possible fly in the ointment!

Joseph Falaky Nagy thinks this Arthur could have been used because he was actually the ‘the famous one’. This is because, as mentioned earlier, this Mongán is semi-mythical. Here’s what Nagy says:

 “In light of the fact that Mongán’s conception tale (preserved in a text as early as the seventh or eighth century) stands as the closest Celtic analogue to the account of Arthur’s deception-laden origins given by Geoffrey of Monmouth centuries later (Mac Cana 1972: 128–9), it is tempting to speculate that an Irish author familiar with both narrative traditions thought it would be fitting to have Mongán’s life come to an end at the hands of a figure that he construed as his British counterpart – or that the tradition the author was following was linking together figures who in other respects as well appear to be cognate reflections of a Celtic mythological type.” (2009, pp.117-118)

… and he goes on to remind us …

“In the same early cycle of stories about the mysterious Mongán cited above, in one of the most extraordinary references to reincarnation to be found anywhere in Celtic literatures (Nagy 1997: 303–7), we learn that he was a rebirth of the Irish hero Finn mac Cumaill, around whom is centered the so-called Fenian or Ossianic tradition of story and song, and whose long-lived fame was still attested in the repertoires of Irish and Scottish storytellers of the last century. The connection between Mongán and Arthur would be even stronger, then, if we accept the Dutch Celticist A. G. van Hamel’s unjustly overlooked thesis (anticipated in Nutt & Meyer 1895: 2.22–5) that Arthur the dux bellorum and Finn the leader of Ireland’s premier fian, “hunting and warring band,” are matching cognate manifestations of what he dubbed the Celtic “exemplary hero” (1934: 219–33).”  (p.118)

On the point of Mongán being the rebirth of Finn in one of the stories and Mongán’s semi-mythical status, R. J. MacCulloch noted:

“This twofold account of Mongan’s birth is curious. Perhaps the idea that he was a rebirth of Fionn may have been suggested by the fact that his father was called Fiachna Finn, while it is probable that some old myth of a son of Manannan’s called Mongan was attached to the personality of the historic Mongan.” (The Religion of the Ancient Celts, 1911, p.351)

However, I have two thoughts on the above: firstly, Nagy isn’t correct in saying Arthur the “dux bellorum” (of the H.B.) and Finn are “ … matching cognate manifestations of what [Meyer] dubbed the Celtic “exemplary hero”. Finn and the Arthur of Welsh mythology may be similar, but Arthur of the H.B isn’t. Secondly, we don’t know how old the story of the conception of Arthur is. It could be a Geoffrey of Monmouth invention in the Early-12th century. There’s no mention of it in the early tradition that has survived.

Was this Mongán semi-mythical or just purely-mythical? This is important for knowing how to treat Arthur ap Bicoir. Was Mongán, indeed, merged with the  supposed historical leader of the Dál n-Araidhe (south of Ulster Dál Riata) said to be from Ráth Mór (Rathmore) near Lough Neagh in Co. Antrim, Ulster? Or was he only this figure who was himself a complete fabrication? (A similar question to Arthur’s existence). It may be telling that he is missing from the Rawlinson genealogy for the Dál n-Araidhe, which only gives a Echach Iarlathi as the son and heir of Fiachnae mac Báetáin. Of course, if Mongán was only ever a prince and never made it to a king because of being bopped on the head by Arthur, then he wouldn’t be there.

If Bec Boirche’s poem is purely a story, or a semi-legendary one, then this changes things somewhat. The question that could be raised is: were both Mongán and this Arthur semi-mythical figures? There are a couple of interesting things to come out of this: if this Arthur is the one of fame he could not only be the one of Badon but also his father’s name is given as Bicoir (or the name it was thought to be at the time) and this would answers the age-old question about whether Uthur actually was his da or not.

But why would the poet need to say that they were Britons? Nagy interoperates it as “Artú(i)r son of Bicóir” from Britain” and that could be the case, whether they were Gael or not. Kuno Meyer of the 19th century, in Nutt’s Voyage of Bran, points to the same entry in the Bodleian MS., Rawlinson, B. 488, fo. 9b, 2, where it reads …

Mongan mac Fíachna Lurgan ab Artuir filio Bicoir Pretene lapite percussus interit, – Mongan mc Fiachna Lurgan dies struck with a stone by Arthur, son of Bicoir of Preten.”

… and he translates Preten(e) as Pictland. However, no one else does, although a Pict doing the job wouldn’t be out of the question.

There were on and off relations with Alt Clut at the time and, I suppose, it could be possible that the hired a Briton from here to do their dirty work. The downside to this hypothesis is that it would bring the might of the Dál n-Araidhe down on Alt Clut!

Unfortunately, Nagy doesn’t comment on why this Arthur, if he was ‘the famous one’, was said to have killed Cormac, Illand and Ronan. Were these also semi-mythical? Either way, he is still an intriguing character and Nagy’s theory should be given more consideration.

If this poem is an accurate or semi-accurate depiction of events and this Arthur is of the early 7th century, and not ‘the famous one’, then the news of his deeds may have travelled far and wide. He’s the kind of warrior others may have wanted on their side. Is he the one mentioned in Y Gododdin? Once again it comes down to if he was the enemy or not when Y Gododdin was composed, or if this Arthur was a mercenary. Even if the one mentioned in Y Gododdin wasn’t this Arthur, could his exploits have been attached to the legend at a later date? If so, that would most likely have to come via Stathclyde if they did.

In the next blog we’ll be staying in the region to look at two unusual figures. One who was the grandfather of an Arthur – Feradach hoa Artúr (ca 697) – and one who may or may not have had an Arthur name and who was either a Pict or Hiberno-Pict: Artharus rig Cruthni (date uncertain).

Thanks for reading,



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In Search of the ‘Original’ King Arthur – Part Two

UPDATED 5.6.12

Artúr (Arturius) mac Áedán and Artúr mac Conaing  (born c.560s-590s)

Artúr (Arturius) mac Áedán of Scottish Dalriada (Kintyre, Western Isles) is not well documented, although his father is. It should also be stressed that it isn’t certain whether he was the son or grandson of Áedán, or both … two different Artúrs of course. This other Arthur would be Artúr mac Conaing, whom I’ll deal with below.

Artúr’s date of birth his hard to ascertain as it’s hard to know when his father was born. Whilst the Annals of Tigernach date Áedán’s birth to c.532, no where else confirms this. If this is the case, and Artúr was born c.570, he didn’t conceive Artúr until his early 40s, hence why an earlier date is sometimes given.

Bart Jaski’s paper:

“In the Vita Sancti Columbae [1], written by Adomnán of Iona († 704), we find the name Arturius [...] He figures as one of the four sons of Áedán mac Gabráin († 604), and St Columba foretells that three of them will not succeed their father in the kingship of Dál Riata in Scotland, as they would fall in battle. This came to pass, for Arturius and his brother Eochaid Find were slain in a battle against the Miathi, while Domangart was killed in a battle in England. The Annals of Ulster only record the slaying of Áedán’s sons Domangart and Bran in 594, but the so-called Annals of Tigernach add that Eochaid Find and Artúr also fell in that battle, which is located at Circhend (i cath Chirchind). Circhend may have been in the territory of the Miathi, and be located around Stirling. If so, the addition to the Annals of Tigernach may have been wrongfully attached to the record of the slaying of Bran and Domangart, since Adomnán says that the latter was slain in England in a different battle than Eochaid Find and Artúr.” (p. 92, 93)

[1] Thought to incorporate elements from a lost earlier life of Columba, De virtutibus sancti Columbae by Cumméne Find.

This Artúr has been championed by some as the ‘original’, especially Richard Barber (1972) following suggestions by Norma Chadwick, but also the lay historian David F. Caroll (Arturius – A Quest for Camelot, 1996) and this Arthur has his merits. Caroll partly argues on the bases of the later legends’ similarities to some elements of Adomnán work and partly because he says that Áedán had a daughter call Morgana (Caroll, 1996, pp.68-69). However, Michelle Ziegler has proven otherwise in the case of the daughter question:

“The Martyrology of Oengus the Culdee lists a Muirgein (“birth of the sea”) on January 27, which D. F. Carroll has suggested provided inspiration for the linkage of Morgana (Morgan le Fay) and King Arthur as siblings. This assertion is based on Whitley Stokes’s (1905:53) suggested identification of Muirgein as “Muirgein, daughter of Aedan, in Belach Gabrain.” The suggestions for the location of Belach Gabráin are not Dalriadan at all. Belach Gabráin has been identified as a passage between Leinster and Ossory and therefore on the border between Leinster and Munster in Ireland. It is unlikely that Muirgein nic Aedan of Belach Gabráin was related to the family of Aedan mac Gabran of Scottish Dalriada.” (1999 – Source:

Y Gododdin

The other bases of the argument is that Artúr, alongside his father, fought in the area where some place the Arthurian battles: between Hadrian’s Wall and the Antonine Wall. Áedán also took Orkney, something the legendary Arthur is said to have done by Geoffrey of Monmouth. If he was the ‘original’, and others took the name from him, then he may have had to have been an exceptional warrior (and born well before Arthur ap Pedr). If he was, then Adomnán didn’t make anything of it, all his praises were for Áedán. Artúr did die in battle, like the Arthur of legend (although not at a battle called Camlann), and he was in the same region as the source of the (possible) first mention of Arthur in earliest stratum of the British collection of poems, Y Gododdin (‘The Gododdin’) about the doomed Battle of Catraeth; this section of the poem being dated between the end of the 6th and the beginning of the 7th centuries by John Koch, (The Gododdin of Aneirin, 1997) but not all scholars agree. Some believe it could be a later interpolation (Charles-Edwards et al) possibly not being attached until the 8th to 10th centuries and merely based on the H.B.. (I will deal with the Y Gododdin and the verse in question in more detail in a later blogs).

If it is the Dalriadan Arthur Y Gododdin refers to, and not an Arthur of Badon fame, (or a mythical Arthur as argued by Green) then the Dalriadans and British had to have been ‘friends’ at the time of compilation and not, as they later became, enemies. Without knowing the exact date of composition it is difficult to argue either way.

There is a verse in Y Gododdin used to add weight to his claim. Within it is the following:

Peredur of the steel weapons,

Gwawrddur and Aedden

Attackers in the flight with broken shields.

And though they were slain, they slew;

No one returned to his homeland.

(Jarman translation)

Here, the warrior who is compared to Arthur in Y Gododdin, Gwawrddur, is mentioned with an ‘Aedden’, who happens to have the same name as the father of Artúr mac Áedán.  It is quite a coincidence, if that’s what it is. The thing against using this as evidence as this Áedán being father of Artúr mac Áedán are the lines: “And though they were slain, they slew; No one returned to his homeland”. Unless this is poetic license, then this can’t be Áedán of Dalriada as we know he was not slain at the Battle of Catraeth.

Koch has this to say:

 “The presence of the name [Aedden] in this list is consistent with the interpretation that the heroes named here (and the list in A.30) were assembled as a sort of ‘grab bag’ of northern tradition put together by a poet in Wales from the older strata of Y Gododdin itself and from other sources that were available by the later OW period.” (Koch, 1997, p.206)

Koch also points out that it became a common enough name, even amongst the British. Never-the-less, it is interesting that later interpolators put Gwawrddur and this Aedden together. Another thing about this verse is the mention of Peredur. If this is Peredur, son of Eliffer (from ‘somewhere’ in the North, usually taken to be York), then he’s dying at the wrong battle! Peredur (possibly the same Perudur to later be attached to the Arthurian romances) supposedly died c. 573.  (In one genealogy Perudur is said to have had a brother called Arthur Penuchel, and I’ll look at this later). Another point to be made is that this Aedden is not mentioned anywhere else in Y Gododdin. All those from outside of Gododdin are described as such: an unknown ‘lord of Dumbarton’, Llyfrddlew from the ‘land of Pobdelw’, Cynon of Aeron, ‘Cynddylig of Aeron’, ‘Gorthyn of Rhufoniog’ and ‘Madawg of Elmet. No Aedden of Bentir. This could be because a verse is missing. It could also be because he simply wasn’t involved. There is also the line in Y Gododdin that says:

“ [...] ar gynt a Gwydyl a Phryden”

[...] against the heathen tribes of both Scot and Pict” (Koch, B1.6)

This is not saying they fought them at Catraeth, but that the warrior it describes had fought them. (Strange it should call the Scots (Hiberno-Britannians) ‘heathen’ as they are generally thought to have been Christian, but this could just be propaganda).

Dumbarton Rock & Castle

The matter gets even more confusing when we factor in the relationship between Áedán and Rhydderch of Alt Clut (Dumbarton Rock). Adomnán tells us that St Columba was a emissary between the two kingdoms. At times they cooperated and there was a peace but at some point, according to the Triads, Áedán laid waist to Alt Clut, gaining the epithet “The Wily” or “The Treacherous” (‘Aeddan Fradawg’). (Clarkson, Men the North, 2010, pp.80-81). If the Y Gododdin verse in question was composed, not in Gododdin but in Strat Clut and during a time of peace, is it possible they would have compared Gwawrddur with Áedán’s son? Unfortunately, the poem is not thought to have travelled to Alt Clut until after the fall of Gododdin c. 638.

Added to this, the genealogy, Bonedd Gwŷr y Gogledd (‘The Descent of the Men of the North’) shows Áedán’s connection to the British king Dumnagual Hen of Alt Clut, via marrying one of his daughters … not that we can trust this text that also makes Dumnagual the grandson of the usurping emperor Magnus Maximus and seems a bit confused!

Áedán was not only meant married a British woman but to be half British himself, supposedly having a mother called called Lluan verch Brychan (Lluan daughter of Brychan). In the De Situ Brecheniauc (The Situation of Brecheniauc);

“Luan filia Brachan, mater Haidani bradouc

Luan daughter of Brychan, mother of Aeden the Treacherous”

In the Cognatio Brychan (The Family of Brecheniauc):

“Lluan, mater Aidan grutauc et uxir Gafran vradavc

Lluan, mother of Aiden ‘the Grit-lke’ and mother of Gafran ‘the Treacherous’”

Brychiniog (The Brecons, Wales)

She is said to be one of the (many) daughters of Brychan of Brycheiniog in central Wales. However, this mentions another son, Gafran; a son not mentioned anywhere else. It looks like a Welsh version of Gabrain, Áedán’s father’s name, which is why many scholars think this more the case, or that the pedigree can’t be trusted at all. This the later Plant Brychan made clearer:

 “Lleian Brychan gwraic Gawron mam Aeddan Vradoc”

“Lluan ferch Brychan was the wife of Gawron [Gabrain] and mother of Aeddan Fradog”

You will also see it stated on the internet that Brychan was from Manau Gododdin (southwest Fife, Scotland). How can this be? It’s because the De Situ Brecheniauc says his grave was at Ynysbrychan (Brychan Island) near Mannia, which has been taken to be Manau. It also says he had a daughter called: ‘Befchan daughter of Brachan in Mannia‘. Lundy Island has also been put forward as Ynys Brychan. Whether this is Manau or another Mannia we may never know but Bartram in his Welsh Classical Dictionary puts forward two Brycheiniogs (or Brychans), one in Wales, the other in Manau Gododdin.

But, another Irish legend tells us Áedán was the son of Federlm Derg, the daughter of one Feidlimid mac Amalgaid a king of Moy (Co. Tyrone). (A Middle-Irish Poem on the Birth of Āedān Mac Gabrāin and Brandub Mac Echach, M. A. O’Brien Ériu Vol. 16, Contributions in Memory of Osborn Bergin (1952), pp. 157).  Yet this too is thought suspect.

Once again, the Scottish sources don’t relate any of the British connection, only the Welsh ones. They either made it up or there was another Brychan. If it isn’t the case that there was a British connection either via Lluan or Dumnagual, then it may take the Hiberno-British element out of the argument and make the question of why he chose the name Artúr an even bigger one. Could he have used it in spite of the British? Possibly. However, it then would be a case of giving your son the name of a famous enemy hero, and that would be unusual.

Tall Tales

Áedán also appears in a tale called Gein Branduib maic Echach ocus Aedáin maic Gabráin (‘The Birth of Brandub son of Eochu and of Áedán son of Gabrán’ -  c. 1130) and a lost Irish tale called Echtra Áedáin mac Gabráin (‘The Adventures of Áedán son of Gabrán’ – MacQuarrie, ‘Echtra Áedáin mac Gabráin’ listed in “Scéla: Catalogue of medieval Irish narratives & literary enumerations”. 2006, p. 109.).  He was also made a character in the epic story Scéla Cano meic Gartnáin (‘The Story of Cano mac Gartnáin’ – Anderson, ‘Early Sources of Scottish History A.D 500–1286’, volume 1, pp.154-155) as well as in the Compert Mongáin (‘The conception and birth of Mongán’ – Wiley, “The Cycles of the Kings: Compert Mongáin“, 2004).

The story of Compert Mongáin is related both to Áedán and another Arthur we will look at later, Arthur son of Bicoir. The semi-mythical Mongán in question was said to be conceived by the sea-god Manannán mac Lir whilst Fiachnae (Mongán’s father) was campaigning with Áedán mac Gabráin. (Various version give various reasons why Manannán spent the night with Cáintigern, Fiachnae’s wife – one of three mentioned).

There’s a version of the story in the earlier Immram Brain (‘The Voyage of Bran’) that tells how Manannán prophecies Mongán’s birth and likeness to the god Bran. Bran was also a name of one of Artúr mac Áedán’s brothers. (More on this later).

In yet another tale the story ends telling us that Mongán was the reincarnation of Finn mac Cumaill (Finn McCool) (Scél asa mberar co mbad hé Find mac Cumaill Mongán ocus aní día fil aided Fothaid Airgdig; MacKillop, pp. 333–334)

(However, this could be because Mongán’s father was also known as Fiachna Finn). What the above demonstrates is how known historical figure were attached to mythical figures and happenings.

There is no doubt this Artúr’s father was considered a great man, even by his enemies. As I mention earlier, the Welsh (or the North) included him in their Triads … although they did give him the epithet of “The Wily” or “The Treacherous”. He took great swathes of Pictish, British and even English territory. So, it can be argued that if the British included Áedán in their Triads though he was the enemy, why not his son, Artúr?

Below are the pertinent dates for Áedán’s battles from the Annals of Ulster. Those from the Annals of Tigernach are in brackets.

582 Áedán mac Gabrán won the Battle of Manann.

583 Áedán mac Gabrán won the Battle of Manand.

590 Áedán mac Gabrán won the Battle of Leithreid.

595 The Battle of Ráith in Druad and the Battle of Ard Sechain. The slaughter of the sons of Áedán, that is, Brán and Domangart [and Eochaid Find and Artur, in the battle of Circhenn, in which Áedán is defeated, and] the battle of Corann.

600 Áedán fought the Battle of the Saxons[, where there fell Eanfrith brother of Æthelfrith King of the Saxons], in which Áedán was defeated.

606 Áedán mac Gabráin died [in the 38th year of his reign in the 74th year of his life].

(Quoted from a paper done for a Masters degree by the now historian Jonathan Jarret. The paper can be found at

There are questions here: where were the battles of Manann/Manand? The Isle of Man or Manau Gododdin? It could be either, or both, in different years. I’d like to quote again from this Jonathan’s paper:

“In 577 the Ulaid attacked Manau, and this at least must have been the island (AU s.a. 576). However, for 578, the Annals of Ulster record, “The retreat of the Ulaid from Man” (s.a. 577, trans. Mac Niociall). No hint of a battle is given, but in a record so bald as that of the Chronicles argument e silentio is risky. It is best to say that we simply cannot tell what occurred. Then, in 581 and 582, it is recorded that Áedán won this “Battle of Manau” (AU s.aa. 580, 581; cf. AI s.a. 583). It is noticeable that AT uses different languages for the Ulaid’s attacks on Man, and Áedán’s fight or fights at Manau. The former are recorded in Latin and the latter in Irish, suggesting the use of two different sources (cf. Dumville 1982, 1984a p. 119). “It was by him that Manu was cleared; and in the second year after his death the Irish abandoned Manu” (LL 330ab 45, trans. O’Rahilly 1946 p. 504; see also Dobbs 1921 pp. 324, 328).”

Adomnán also mentions them fighting the Miathi (thought to be Sterling=possible Gododdin territory), and this is where Brán and Artúr are killed. So they could either still be seen as the enemy, or they could be seen as their overlords if the Gododdin were defeated.

On the Battle of Miathi, Michelle Ziegler has this to say:

“While Aedan’s motives and objectives can never be fully understood, we can grasp several facets of the situation in which Artúr mac Aedan died. The battle of Miathi was fought near the River Forth in Manau. Adomnan (1.8; Anderson and Anderson 1991:119) indicated that the battle was very costly—”from Aedan’s army, three hundred and three were killed as the saint had also prophesied”—but Aedan was victorious. Adomnan refers to the Miathi as barbarians, perhaps indicating that they were not associated with either the ruling branches of the Picts or the British (Sharpe 1995:269). This might well have been the case if they were caught in a tug–of–war between the Picts, the British, and, in this case, the Dalriada Scots. Considering Aedan and Cenél nGabráin’s ties with the Picts, it seems clear that Aedan and therefore his son Artúr were not fighting as allies of the British.” (Artúr mac Aedan of Dalriada, The Heroic Age, Issue 1, Spring/Summer 1999)

If Michelle’s right, then it is a little odd that the Gododdin should praise this Arthur who may have died fighting against them … unless this praising was done prior to the later battle. Would such a verse be removed once the Dalriadans became the enemy? We’ll never know. However, it seems to me that if there was anyone who was going to be praised it would be Áedán. He is the one that ranged from Eastern Ulster, to Stirlingshire, Angus and the Orkneys. If anyone is to be emulated it is him … and the British did start using the name. However, the British may have gone for Arthur because he was, well, more British? Or simply because his name rhymed with Gwawrddur.

Jarman dates the Battle of Catraeth of Y Gododdin to c. 600, whereas Koch puts it earlier to c. 570 (actually 565×585). However, we don’t know for certain when the earliest parts of the work were composed. The earlier date of the battle, of course, could make a huge problem for the Arthur mentioned in Y Gododdin being Artúr mac Áedán, who must have been extremely young then, or perhaps not even born. But, again, this has to be tempered with the problem of a composition date. Neirin/Aneirin may have ‘sung’ some of it to the court of Din Eidin soon after the battle, but some would have been done in his name by another bard or bards, after his death, probably in Strat Clut (Strathclyde), as argued by Koch and Jarman.

This Artúr as Arthur question isn’t a problem for those who have deduced that the verse that mentions Arthur is a later interpolation (Charles-Edwards et al), possibly of the 8th to 10th centuries, and the Arthur it mentions is the one from the Historia Britonnum. Koch’s reasoning on that subject is thus:

“I see no stylistic, linguistic, or thematic reason to exclude B2.38 [the verse that includes Arthur] from the Ur-Text. From the point of view of style, the use of enjambment in the second half of the awdl (in which the name Arthur occurs) is consistent with the usage and other Arch. segments. Similarly, the occurrence of the hero’s name in syntactic isolation in the last line is not unusual for the Ur-Text.” (Y Gododdin, 1997, pp 147-148)

Isaac thinks the poem may not have been composed until the 10th century. If he’s right, however, this would have massive implications.

If this Arthur was Artúr mac Áedán that does not prove that there wasn’t another, earlier Arthur of Badon fame. It weakens the argument but still does not account for or explain the name being given to a prince of what is now southwest Wales at almost the same time. All that can be said is what is usually said about Arthurian material: no one can be certain about anything.

Artúr mac Conaing (born c. 580-600)

Once again Jaski’s paper:

“Neither Artúr nor Domangart appears among the seven sons of Áedán recorded in the genealogical tract Senchus fer nAlban ‘History of the men of Scotland’, but both names occur among the sons of Conaing († 622) son of Áedán. The original version of this tract has been dated to the middle of the seventh century. It is possible that Artúr and Domangart were omitted from the sons of Áedán by mistake, so that there was an Artúr son of Áedán and an Artúr son of Conaing, or that they were wrongfully placed among the sons of Conaing. Adomnán may also have erred in naming both as sons of Áedán, and the story that they were considered for the succession in the kingship a mistake or even a fabrication. If they were indeed sons of Conaing, they would of course not have been entitled to the succession whilst their father and older kinsmen were still alive.” (p. 93)

However, if Artúr was the son of Coaning and not Áedán he could hardly have died at a battle in 595. If Artúr wasn’t a son but a grandson of Áedán (or there were two of this name), what does this mean for the mention in Y Gododdin, if Koch’s dating is correct? Well, it could help or it could make things worse.

Domnall Brecc was another leader of Dalriada (and Áedán’s grandson) who died in the battle of Strathcarron (c. 642) and he would have been contemporary with an Artúr mac Conaing. There is a verse about Domnall in a later poem attached to Y Gododdin, which tells us he came down from Bentir (Pentir/Kintyre) to be killed in a battle against Eugein (Owein) I of Strat Clut (Strathclyde). This is after the kingdom of Gododdin is thought to have fallen to the Northumbrians at the battle of Din Eidin (Edinburgh) c. 638 and, argued by Koch and Jarman, to have been composed by a Stat Clut bard soon after. This is one of the reasons why Koch argues for Y Gododdin traveling to this area first before arriving in Wales. The difference is when it travelled to Wales: the 7th, 8th, 9th or 10th centuries.

Others think the Strat Clut section a 9th century Welsh interpolation, like the Arthurian one, simply because it doesn’t relate to Gododdin. Regardless of this, what it does show is that the Dalriadans where the enemy at this point. So, could this (or these) Artúrs be the ‘original’? I’ll give my thoughts on that and all the others in the final blog.

(There is a slight irony to Scotland championing a Gaelic (or half-Gaelic) Arthur. This is the culture, said to originate from Ireland, that defeated and dominated the Pictish and British peoples and cultures of what is now Scotland. It’s a little like the Welsh championing an Anglo-Saxon Arthur!).

In the next blog we’ll look at Arthur map Pedr of Demetia (Dyfed, Wales), born ca 570.

Thanks for reading,



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In Search of the ‘Original’ King Arthur – Part One

(Updated: 31.5.12)


In these blogs I’d like to share my thoughts on my approach to looking for an ‘original’ historical Arthur.  This I have mainly been doing for an idea for a screenplay I’m working on.  I have written three already but haven’t been totally happy with any of them, so I’m going back to basics and doing more research.  This has certainly come out as a much longer piece than I intended, which is why it’s another multi-part blog.

King Arthur was Irish!?

No, I don’t think he was Irish, but I wanted to start, not with his mention in the 9th century Historia Britonnum, but with the known Arthurs (yes, plural) of the 6th and 7th centuries (all Hiberno-British (British/Gael mix) or in Hiberno-Brittanian or Cambro-Irish areas) and try to work forward and back from them.

What, I questioned myself, might have given rise to the kings of these areas giving their sons the name,whilst the Britons and even later Welsh wouldn’t. as well as the mention of Arthur in the northern British 7th century (plus later additions) collection of poems, Y Gododdin? I realise there can only be possibilities and probabilities in the argument, but I‘m attempting, though I may not succeed, to find an hypothesis that is a probable one, or certainly a believable one.  Of course, just because something is more probable and believable, doesn’t make it the truth.

Assuming, just for the moment, that one of these Arthurs/Artúrs wasn’t the ‘original’, which some argue one was, I’m starting with Occam’s Razor, whilst keeping in mind that such a device might well be blunted by the stubble of time.  This ‘razor’ would probably first say that he has to be one of these known figures, but it could also say (if it was a double bladed affair) that they were given the name because, if there was an ‘original’ Arthur before them, they were of the same ethnic origins as he, or there was some identification with him by them.  This is not to say he was Irish (Hibernian/Scotti) per se, but possibly of mixed race in an Hiberno-British region, or a region of such descent.  Such a person, of course, could have been born at one of several locations on the western seaboard from Cornwall to Clydesdale or Kintyre.  We know through inscribed stones that there were Hibernians or Hiberno-Britons on the islands of Britain, especially in what is now southwest Wales, and there are two 5th and 6th century ‘Irishmen’ known as far east as Roman Wroxeter (Viriconium Cornoviorum) in modern day Shropshire, and Silchester (Calleva Atrebatum) in Wiltshire:

  • Wroxeter: CVNORIX | MACVSM/A | QVICO[L]I[N]E, ‘Cunorix son of Maqui Coline’ (c.460-475, Wright/Jackson/1968)
  • Silchester – EBICATO[S]/[MAQ]I MUCO[I--], ‘of Ebicatus, son of the tribe of … ‘ (c. 500-700, Fulford/Clarke/1999 or 350-425, Fulford et al 2000).

We’ve no idea who these gentlemen were or what they were doing there, but they were there.  They could be warriors, they could be monks.

There is very little to go on when searching for Arthur before the Historia Brittonum – ‘History of the Britons’ (H.B.) ca 828. and the Annales Cambriae – ‘Annals of Wales (A.C.) ca 970, but there are some clues.  Let’s start with a reminder of (or an introduction to) who these ‘other’ HIberno-British Arthur’s were and, firstly, where the Hiberno-Britannian/Cambro-Irish regions lay.

Arthur (Artur/Artúr/Artuir) names of the Hiberno-British regions

The main regions where early Hiberno-Britannians, Hiberno-Britons or Cambro-Irish were resident were:

The Western Isles and western Scotland.

Northwest Wales

Southwest Wales

South central Wales

Southwest Devon

Northwest Cornwall

Only one of these regions would see their language remain: those of western Scotland. Those in Wales left the most traces through inscribed stones (especially in the southwest) and some place names. Cornwall has a number of Irish saints. Cumbria and Lancashire seem to be Hibernian free and this could simply be because the Isle of Man lay between, which they did colonise, or because of the strength of the kingdoms there. The same could be true for what is now Dumfries and Galloway in southwest Scotland.

The map right shows only roughly where these Gaels might have been in the Late-5th/Early-6th centuries. They may not have extended so far we in the north at the time. The difference in pink to red it the extend of settlement or, in the case of southwest Wales, the extent of Latin/ogham inscribed stones.The map also shows where the old British provinces might have been.

There are, of course, different theories to the existence of Goidelic (Early Gaelic)  [1]speakers in Britain and these range from settlers/raiders from Ireland to there having ‘always’ been Goidelic speakers in these regions. The jury’s still out, but most favour an influx.

Why the Hiberno-Britannians (descendants thereof or inhabitants of these areas) of the 6th and 7th centuries might give their princes the (generally accepted) Insular Latin derived British name Arthur (Gaelic Artur/Artúr/Artuir) two or three generations after Arthur of Badon’s supposed death, whilst the British/Welsh did not until the 15th century (Henry (Tudor) VII’s son) has been debated many times. I am of the opinion, based on the evidence as I see it, which I’ll show in the coming chapters, that if they were named after an ‘original’ Arthur, who wasn’t one of these, it was for a very good reason and a reason that was more than just taking a fashionable name or that of a mythical god [2] or folkloric figure [3], or because the Brittonic/Brythonic speaking Britons wouldn’t take the name out of respect or awe for Arthur of Badon. It didn’t stop them using the names Constantine or Caradoc (or variants thereof) on numerous occasions as well as mythical names such as Brân.

However, why those who were once his (or elements of the Britons’)  supposed enemy would take the name is the main question, whether Arthur was also an Hiberno-Briton or Hiberno-Britannian himself or not. But we don’t think with a 6th century warrior’s mind and perhaps his unsurpassed martial prowess was enough; or, they were not his enemy at the time, or not all the time, but allies against other Scotti or the Picts. After all, we actually have no evidence that those of the west of Scotland were the enemy in the late 5th century, or, at least, not to the Britannians below the Wall. (Bede says they didn’t arrive in western Scotland until 500 AD, but the archæological evidence disagrees).

It may be odd for all the Hiberno-Britannias to have been the enemy at the time with regards to Arthur, considering they may have named their princes after him, yet those of the Cambro-Irish regions of southwest and northwest Wales seem to have been the enemy, or some of them, if the stories of (St.) Tewdric (c.Early-6th century) expelling Irish from southwest Wales and Cornwall are true[4] and if Cunedda (c.Early-5th century) from Manau Gododdin (southwest Fife, Scotland) did indeed fight against those of northwest and southwest Wales[5]. Even if he didn’t, a later ‘Welsh’ king called Catguolaun Lauhir (Cadwallon Long Hand) of Venedos/Venedota/Venedotia (Gwynedd) supposedly did[6] … not that Venedotia existed in the 5th century.[7]

But there were Hibernians and there were Hibernians: raiders and settlers … and, possibly, Goidelic speaking Britannians. What we are not told is if these figures fought against Scotti raiders with the aid of settled Cambro-Irish, who were either laeti (warriors with family, settled in the area) or feoderati (federates fighting under their own leaders, not necessarily here to stay).

The Hibernian Dalriadians (of Dál Riataof the Western Isles of Scotland did become the enemy of their British ‘cousins’ yet they still continued to take the name … and still the ‘royal’ Britons weren’t using it as far as we can tell.

A simple answer, and one Richard Barber (The Figure of Arthur, 1972) came to, is that the legendary Arthur is based on one of these. (Barber obviously had a very sharp Occam’s Razor!)This certainly makes more sense than Arthur being Ambrosius Aurelianus (Reno, 1994), Riothamus (Alcock, 1975), Vortigern, or even Catellus = Cattigern = Vortigern = Riothamus=Arthur (Pace, 2009). However, he can only be one of these other Arthurs, who we are exploring, if he was not of the 5th century but of the 6th or 7th and did not fight at Badon.

(I doubt the above alternatives for many reasons but mainly because there is neither evidence that the name ‘Arthur’ was an epithet[8], or that Riothamus[9] or Vortigern[10]weren’t personal names).

Why the name Arthur?

First a cautionary note from Juliette Wood:

 “Too often a priori [11] considerations of the importance of Arthur distort such considerations [of why other princes were given the name] (Bromwich 1963, 1975/6: 178–9; Padel 1994: 24; Green 2007) but the quest for a historical Arthur surfaces still in popular writing.” (A companion to Arthurian literature, 2009, p.123)

There may indeed be a priori elements when it comes to this, but I’ll try not to do so.

The use of the name Arthur by the Hiberno-Britannians/Cambro-Irish is explained as follows in Bart Jaski’s paper, ‘‘Early Irish examples of the name ‘Arthur’ (Journal of Celtic Philology, 2008):

 “That a British name is found among members of an originally Irish dynasty can be explained by ties of marriage. The sources suggest that Áedán had a British grandmother, mother and wife, and such connections may have been common among other members of the ruling families of Dál Riata. In this way, British names could be adopted by dynasties with Irish roots.” (p.94)

This may, of course, explain the giving of the name, but not why the Britons don’t appear to have used it. (It may also not be a British name per se, but a British version of a Latin name). However, there could be other reasons behind the name being used, which I’ll explore in the coming blogs, starting with Artúr (Arturius) mac Áedán of Dál Riata (Argyle, Scotland). Born ca 570.

(There is a Post Script to all these blogs about the pronunciation of the name Arthur, but it’s worth reading it first. Click HERE).

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



[1] There was much less of a difference between Goidelic and Brittonic in the Late-5th century to what there is now between Gaelic and Welsh.

[2] Green, 2007. Thomas Green doesn’t just argue for a mythical god figure in his book ‘Concepts of Arthur’.

[3] Higham, 2002

[4] They may not be since they seem to come form the famous 18th century forger Iolo Morganwg.

[5] If this isn’t an origin myth

[6] Cadwallon supposedly defeated the Irish on the Isle of Anglesey in 517AD.

[7] No one’s certain when Venedota came into being but an inscribed stone at Penbryn still refers to it being the land off the Ordovices in the 6th century. Later it is called Venedos in a stone from Penmachno. The change may have happened when its focus changed from the mainland to Anglesey. (Dark, 2000, p.178)

[8] As you’ll see later, there’s no known etymology in Brittonic or Goidelic to make the name Arthur or any evidence the used animals as epithets.

[9] We know there was the very similar personal name Riocatus.

[10] The Goidelic version of the name Vortigern is well attested in Ireland.

[11] A priori: Latin for “from the former” or “from before”, and in this instance refers to knowledge that is justified by arguments of a certain kind.


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