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Arthurian ebook update

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

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

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

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

Until the next time,

Mak

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

 

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

BATTLING WITH THE BATTLES … AGAIN! (Part One)

As I mentioned in earlier parts of this blog, the same ‘all or nothing’ argument goes for the battles listed in the H.B. as far as Dumville, Higham and Green are concerned (although Green concedes some may have happened but have been fought by someone else). For Higham the H.B. uses Arthur purely as a ‘Joshua figure’ to St Patrick’s ‘Moses’ type, and the 12 battles are simply a Biblical providential number. (The number is certainly not based on Joshua, who fought 31 of them!). I think the H.B. may very well be using Arthur in this way, (although Gidlow points out how unlike his supposed Biblical counterpart Arthur is made) but that doesn’t mean he or the battles were made up (entirely?) for the purpose. Arthur, like Patrick (who is mythologized in the H.B.), could have been chosen because he fitted the bill … or was adjusted to fit the bill. Had someone else fitted this bill, it might be them we would be writing about. But what was it about him that made him the choice?

Higham argues that the format of the battles was merely taken from a known battle poem of Gwynedd: Canu Cadwallon ap Cadfan. Cadwallon has 16 battles to Arthur’s 12 (2007, pp.145-147). Nick Higham says:

QUOTE TO COME LATER

Christopher Gidlow counters:

QUOTE TO COME LATER

The Anglo-Saxon poem Widsith is sometimes brought in as an example here. In this 9th century poem about him, the fictitious 7th century poet (scop) is given travels all over the known world (over 50 places!) or knows of them. Arthur isn’t; he’s given nine locations, twelve battles, and all in Britain … as far as we know. (You can read the Widsith poem here: http://www.southampton.ac.uk/~enm/widsith.htm ). So he’s hardly a comparison at all.

If we look at the point of this section in the H.B. and why Arthur was used, it raises questions that, to me, Dumville et al do not address: whoever was placed at this point in the H.B. would have to be known as a ‘Saxon’ fighter, and possibly the victor at Badon. Unless we’ve lost the stories that included this information, the Arthur of the Welsh pre-Galfridian tradition did neither (unless we can count Llongborth). Nor is he anywhere in this tradition depicted as the leader of battle for kings of the Britons or the victor at Badon. If he was never seen as doing any of these things in Welsh tradition, what would be the point in using him or listing some mythical battles that his Welsh audience would have known were not against ‘Saxons’?

Let’s look at the battles in more detail and what was/is known about them. First the Harleian version of the H.B.:

“Then Arthur along with the kings of Britain fought against them in those days, but Arthur himself was the leader in battle [dux bellorum]. His first battle was at the mouth of the river which is called Glein. His second, third, fourth, and fifth battles were above another river which is called Dubglas and is in the region of Linnuis. The sixth battle was above the river which is called Bassas. The seventh battle was in the forest of Celidon, that is Cat Coit Celidon. The eighth battle was at the fortress of Guinnion, in which Arthur carried the image of holy Mary ever virgin on his shoulders [or shield]; and the pagans were put to flight on that day. And through the power of our Lord Jesus Christ and through the power of the blessed Virgin Mary his mother there was great slaughter among them. The ninth battle was waged in the City of the Legion. The tenth battle was waged on the banks of a river which is called Tribruit. The eleventh battle was fought on the mountain which is called Agnet [Agned]. The twelfth battle was on Mount Badon in which there fell in one day 960 men from one charge by Arthur; and no one struck them down except Arthur himself, and in all the wars he emerged as victor. And while they were being defeated in all the battles, they were seeking assistance from Germany and their numbers were being augmented many times over without interruption. And they brought over kings from Germany that they might reign over them in Britain, right down to the time in which Ida reigned, who was son of Eobba. He was the first king in Bernicia, i.e., in Berneich.”

The later Vatican recension of the H.B.:

“Then it was, that the magnanimous Arthur, with all the kings and military force of Britain, fought against the Saxons. And though there were many more noble than himself, yet he was twelve times chosen their commander, and was as often conqueror. The first battle in which he was engaged, was at the mouth of the river Gleni. The second, third, fourth, and fifth, were on another river, by the Britons called Duglas, in the region Linuis. The sixth, on the river Bassas. The seventh in the wood Celidon, which the Britons call Cat Coit Celidon. The eighth was near Gurnion castle, where Arthur bore the image of the Holy Virgin, mother of God, upon his shoulders [shield?], and through the power of our Lord Jesus Christ, and the holy Mary, put the Saxons to flight, and pursued them the whole day with great slaughter. The ninth was at the City of Legion, which is called Cair Lion. The tenth was on the banks of the river Trat Treuroit. The eleventh was on the mountain Breguoin, which we call Cat Bregion. The twelfth was a most severe contest, when Arthur penetrated to the hill of Badon. In this engagement, nine hundred and forty fell by his hand alone, no one but the Lord affording him assistance. In all these engagements the Britons were successful. For no strength can avail against the will of the Almighty.”

Let’s take them one at a time, and rather than thinking about where these battles might have been, I want to consider where the H.B.’s North Walian readers might have thought these battles to be:

  1. At the mouth of (or a confluence of) the River Glein/Gleni. (Nothing known. Could be in Northumbria, Lincolnshire or Sussex … or other locations. Enemy unknown, but if the Welsh audience took this to mean Northumbria, then the enemy would be Northumbrian (Bernician) Angles - Angles would still be called ‘Saxons’).
  2. Four battles above the River Dubglas/Duglas in the region of Linnuis (Linnuis is generally taken to be Lindsey=Lincolnshire, but not all agree. However, this is where the H.B’s readers would most likely think them to have been. Enemy may have been taken to be Northumbrian (Deiran) Angles or East Angles).
  3. Above the River Bassas. (Several locations given. Said to be taken from Eglwysseu Bassa (Churches of Bassa) in the Canu Heledd poems. Apart from the difference between Bassa and Bassas, there is no River Bassas mentioned in these poems, only the Tren, Trydonwy, Twrch, Marchnwy, Geirw, Alwen and Hafren (Severn). In both poetic cases Bassa and Bassas are odd, none British names. The battles in Canu Heledd were against Northumbrian Angles. The H.B.’s audience may have taken this to have been against Northumbrian or Mercian Angles)
  4. At Coit Celidon (Wood of Celidon). (Thought to mean a woodland in the Scottish borders, but not by all. Green identifies this with the mythical battle of Coit Godue, although why it wouldn’t be called Coit Godue is anyone’s guess if this was the case. Enemy unknown, but if the H.B’s audience equated Celidon with the north they would have taken the enemy to be Northumbrian (Bernician) Angles).
  5. At Castello Guinnion/Gurnion. (Many identify this with the Roman fort of Vinuium (Binchester), although it is argued that this doesn’t work etymologically speaking by Jackson,(Once Again Arthur’s Battles, Modern Philology, 1945), but Rivet thinks it shouldn’t be reject out of hand (The Place-Names of Roman Britain, 1992). There is a Cerrig Gwynion in Wales, which is an old Iron Age hillfort between Llandudno and Bangor … not to mention the not far away hillfort of Bwrdd Arthur. Would the North Walian reader take it to be this location or Binchester? Enemy unknown, but may have been taken to be Northumbrian (Deiran) Angles if in the north or against Irish raider if in Wales).
  6. Urbe Ligionis (City of Legions). (Generally thought to be either Chester or Caerleon. Said to be a borrowing of the Battle of Chester of c. 613; a battle the Britons lost to the Northumbrians. This battle is mentioned in Geoffrey of Monmouth’s work as Legecester (the Anglo-Saxon version of Fort of the Legion) and in the Welsh version, the Brut y Brenhinedd, the battle is called Perllan Fangor (Bangor Orchard). Bede calls Chester civitas legionum and Gildas calls somewhere urbs legionum (possibly Caerleon?). If Chester was known as Urbe Ligionis, this naming wasn’t used in any of these other works so Nennius didn’t get it directly from Gildas or Bede. In the Vatican recension of the H.B. it is glossed as meaning Cair Lion in Welsh. This is interesting because perhaps that should come from Castra Ligionis? There is some argument as to the difference between urbe (or urbs as used by Gildas) and cair/caer, and whether this could actually mean somewhere else, such as York, which was a civil colonia as well as a fortress and an administrative ‘city’. But most favour Chester or Caerleon even though the two mentions in the H.B. should mean Cair ligion/lion=Fortress of the Legion and Urbe Ligionis=City of the Legion (see P.J.C Filed’s article at http://www.heroicage.org/issues/1/hagcl.htm ). If the readers thought this was Chester it would have been taken to be Mercian or Northumbrian Angles; if they thought it Caerleon they may have thought Mercians).
  7. On the banks of the Tribruit/Treuroit. (Various locations given. Argued to be a mythical battle because of its mention in the poem Pa Gur yv y Porthaur? and the story of Culhwch ac Olwen. Not ‘Saxon’?).
  8. At the mountain of Breguoin/Agned. (Argued to be a battle Urien Rheged  fought, called “cellawr Brewyn” or ‘cells of Brewyn’. Some identify the location with the Roman fort of Bremetennacum (Ribchester, Lancashire), but, once again, the etymology doesn’t work. (Rivet & Smith 1979, p.277). A better candidate might be Bremenium (High Rochester, Northumbria). Urien’s enemy in this battle is unknown although the “Angles” (‘Saxons’) are mentioned later in the poem, but other British and Gael enemies are also inferred. The battle merely appears in a list of seven in a Taliesin poem, but isn’t singled out. (See: http://www.maryjones.us/ctexts/t36.html ). It would most likely to have been taken to be Northumbrian Angles).
  9. At Mount Badon: (Generally located in the south around Bath/Badbury, but also Lincolnshire (Green) and other locations. Known battle against ‘Saxons’, as mentioned by Gildas in the 6th century. Dated between 483 and 516. The H.B.’s readers would most likely take the enemy to have been Wessex (West Saxons), unless they knew (or thought) otherwise).

NB: These English kingdoms (Mercian, Northumbria, etc.) wouldn’t have existed in the late 5th century, but the H.B.’s audience in general wouldn’t have known this and would think of the known kingdoms of the time. It is interesting to note that, to the H.B.’s readers at least, many of these battles may have been seen to be against Mercian or Northumbrian Angles. These were who the North Walians had had run-ins with, especially the latter in earlier times, whilst the south had problems with Saxon Wessex. Was this the reason why Arthur and/or these battles were chosen? If so, then Badon (if it was in the south) may not have been as important to them as his other battles. (Of course, I’m referring to who the H.B.’s readers might take the battles to have been against, not who they actually might have been against). It would mean the H.B. did three things: 1) showed Arthur defeated the Northumbrian’s (and Mercian’s) ancestors, 2) showed Cadwallon (died 634) of Gwynedd later defeated the Northumbrians, 3) refuted the Northumbrian monk Beds’s view of the Britons. Was this the point of Arthur? A call to unity as of old against the same old foe, whilst the Mercian were busy with the Danes?

(Alex Woolf, wonders if the genealogists have inserted Bede’s Cadwallon into the pedigree of the Kings of Gwynedd? He forwards that Bede’s Cadwallon might be Catguallaun liu, son of Guitcun, grandson of Sawyl Penuchel who were rulers in the north. Woolf, 2004).

The second part of this section will continue looking at the battles.

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

Mak

 

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

ARTHUR THE GIANT OR ‘GIANT KILLER’ (Part Two)

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

A giant step for mankind?

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

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

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

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

If in doubt, blame the English!

Peoples of Britain circa 600

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

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

What’s in a name?

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

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

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

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

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

Mak

 

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

ARTHUR THE GIANT OR ‘GIANT KILLER’? (Part One)

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

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

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

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

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

The peasants?

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

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

It’s a miracle!

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

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

For more information on Carn Cabal, go to the Clas Merdin webiste: http://clasmerdin.blogspot.com/2012/01/carn-cabal.html

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mak

See the interesting comments by David Hillman below

 

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All Quiet On The Eastern Front? – Part Eight

These blogs are going through a rethink and rework as of 09.12.11. New material or changes will be in bold type.

UPDATED 3.1.12

QUESTIONS & ANSWERS SECTION

So, here are my questions with my answers, which, I’m sure will differ from others:

Q: Is it possible that the Battle of Mount Badon caused a two or more generational peace?

A: It’s always possible, but my reading of the (meagre) evidence would suggest improbable. It could have started it, but there would have to be other factors that kept it going or created it in eastern regions if it was in the south.

Q: Would eastern warriors from the Humber to the Solent have fought at Badon?

A: Again, it’s possible, but it would take special pleading as to why? Ælle is always a possible reason, but there’s neither absolute proof of his floruit or that he was Bretwalda of the Humber to the Solent, we only have Bede’s word on that. A more likely answer would be that he was Bretwalda of the ‘Southern Saxons’, maybe including Kent and even Essex who had close ties with them.

Q: What circumstance might cause an extended peace that would stop the descendants of those ‘Anglo-Saxons’ killed at Badon and other battles wanting revenge or just (re)gaining territory?

A: There are several reasons, none of which can be proven of course, but here are some of my suggestions … some more tentative than others:

  1. The Britons won back significant territory, which included lines of communication. This made it difficult for later confederacies to grow. Any small uprisings or raids could be quashed. This theoretical territory gained may explain why Gildas comments that even though they had won the ‘war’, cities were still in ruin. These would be cities retaken, but, much to Gildas’ disgust, not rebuilt or refurbished. (He obviously wasn’t an accountant!) It doesn’t make sense that just the winning of the war should make him say as much, if they still lay in ‘Saxon’ territory.
  2. Some ‘Saxon’ regions or enclaves could have been demilitarized, just as the Romans did to the Britons. Keeping of weapons could have been banned. This could only have been in areas they could ‘police’. This is the reverse situation to what Nick Higham argues. However, I’m not sure if the archæology can support this?
  3. Some ‘Saxon’ regions or enclaves could have had their leaders replaced.
  4. Badon and other victories caused a resurgence of British confidence and a trend away from Anglo-Saxon culture by those Britons who might have been going over to it or closest to the defeated regions.
  5. Britons of the north and west were actually relatively united, or at least cooperative and coordinated, for a while, something the easterners may not have been after Badon, or even before it.
  6. If there was an Anglo-Saxon-British alliance that fought at Badon led by someone like Ælle (a Bretwalda) and he died there, this might result in infighting and jostling for power amongst said peoples. They, like those in the west, might have spent more time in ‘civil war’.
  7. There were not as many Saxons in the south in the first place. A defeat of an élite would very quickly have those Britons that were on their side, swapping sides.
  8. Many of those in the northeast Midlands were either happy to stay within their borders or were hemmed in by a more powerful British force or forces so didn’t get involved in the first place and couldn’t afterwards because of British territory (or rule) gained.
  9. The ‘peace’ was extended, not by man, but by natural disasters, such as the 535 comet and the Justinian plague of the late 540s. (See THIS blog).
  10. The warrior élite in some ‘Saxon’ areas could not get the populous behind them after Badon.
  11. (Added 1.11.11) The ‘Anglo-Saxons’ were generally never united enough before 550 to expand any further or be a major threat to the west.
  12. (Added 09.12.11) Nick Higham is right, and Badon was only the ‘last victory’ of the Britons, not a decisive one, and the ‘Anglo-Saxons’ won the ‘war’.
  13. (Added 03.01.12) Badon wasn’t the great victory we perceive it to be and the so called ‘peace’ was interspersed with many battles. For this to work we might have to go for  D. O. Croinin’s 84 year ‘paschal cycle’ with Badon being in 483 and Keith Fitzpatrick-Matthews’ theory that Gildas may not have written DEB that long after Badon and that the ‘Anglo-Saxons’ did  continue to expand, just not as visibly so.

None of these answers are totally satisfactory and I realise we may never be able to come up with an answer or answers. Where Badon was could play a big part. I favour a southern location for no other reason than Gildas makes so much of it and it would be close to where he was thought to have resided. The next point is just how important a battle was Badon? Was it as big a victory as we think or does it just appear important because it happened to be the year of Gildas’s birth and he used it as a marker? Higham takes the latter view (which is one of the reason he thinks there was no historical Arthur).

I apologise that this has been so long, but it has been helpful to me if no one else. It’s made me see other alternatives to what might have happened in the time after Badon (as well as before)  but I also know that my reading or perception of the evidence could be wrong as I just don’t have the knowledge, ability or the vast range of contemporary academic material, unavailable to the layman, to come to a fully informed conclusion. Even then, I realise that any conclusion would be that there simply isn’t enough evidence, or the evidence can be interpreted in too many different ways, to be able to arrive at one. However, the two conclusions I think I have arrived at are that a victory at Badon alone could not have caused a more than two generation ‘peace’ (if, indeed, there was one!) and Gildas could only have been partially aware of the whole political situation.

I look forward to any final thoughts and comments.

Thanks for taking the time and having the patience to read this.

Mak

(There is now a Post Script to this blog, which you can read by clicking HERE).

 

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All Quiet On The Eastern Front? – Part Six

These blogs are going through a rethink and rework as of 09.12.11. New material or changes will be in bold type.

A rough placing of the 'Anglo-Saxon' regions

MIDDLE SAXONS

It’s hard to know how far the ‘Middle Saxons’ (thought later to be aligned to the ‘East Saxons’) territory extended west. They are generally associated with what is now Middlesex, obviously, and the Thames Valley in general, but also further north.

(Here we should keep in mind the paper by Wade in Part Three as the still unknown reasons for lack of settlement in some of its hinterland and how generally fragmented they were).

If that ‘bulge’ hypothesis, also in Part Three, is correct, then they may have felt the after effects of a victory of a southern Badon. The question remains as to why a push and taking of territory would happen in this region, if Badon happened in the southwest, and not towards the south and/or north from there? (Unless my hypothesis is correct and they did push in these directions, as well as outwards from enclaves). It could be that these pushes actually joined up British enclaves that had smaller amounts of the ‘Middle Saxon’ (think ‘Middle Saxo-British?) enemy between, so these were easier to take. It could be they weren’t ‘Middle Saxon’ at all at this point, but still British.

But always keep in mind Nick Higham’s theory that Badon was not the resounding victory that it is made out to be, but the last victory by the Britons, and that it was the ‘Anglo-Saxons’ who came off best when the ‘wars’ were over and the peace began. If this was the case, all these British enclaves may have been under tribute to ‘Anglo-Saxon’ overlords.

‘SOUTH MIDDLE SAXONS’ (SURREY) 

(NOT SHOWN ON ABOVE MAP)

These are thought to be the southern territory of the ‘Middle Saxons’, residing on the other, southern side of the Thames in what is now Surrey. A southern Battle of Badon with someone like Ælle in charge could have seen them involved and the resulting defeat (or defeats) could have meant they ended up with British neighbours to the west and north keeping them in check.

EAST (JUTISH) & WEST (SAXON) KENT

Going further east to the one area, which, at this time, may have been the closest to a kingdom, as well as one of the most materially wealthy; would these Jutish/Frankish/Saxon regions get involved at Badon? Well, if they did they may have been led by Æsc (or Oisc), if his dating is correct. Maybe the Kents only would join in if Ælle had some power over them or there was something to be gained by doing so. Perhaps there were some old scores they’d want to settle? It’s even possible that the more ‘Saxon’ West Kent were involved and not the Jutish/Frankish East.

This region could have been, along with the coast of East Anglia, one of the most richest and cohesive areas in eastern Britain, and with the the social norm of expanding to prove your power and greatness, they could indeed have been a regional threat. This, along with their Continental Frankish connection, may have made them a force to be reckoned with.

If they were at a southwestern Badon, then they may have been far enough away from the ‘front’ to avoid much damage or further raids after a defeat … although the Thames would have been a great route for reprisal raids. This is if they didn’t end up be a tributary state to someone. However, if Badon was the crushing defeat it is thought to have been (this and other battles) would there have been anyone left to go home? I doubt if any distant region that may have been involved at Badon would commit all their warriors. Again, if Higham’s theory is correct, it could have been the Britons that were paying tribute to them!

There seems to have been later connections between those of Kent and the ‘East Saxons’ (Essex) to their north across the Thames Estuary. They may have be more interested in expansion that way, leaving the Brits of the west alone, but then again …

To quote a comment that Jonathan Jarret (A Corner of the Tenth-Century Europe blogger) has made below:

In Steven Bassett’s The Origins of Anglo-Saxon Kingdoms, now getting old but still irrepleaceable IMO, there is a paper on Middlesex by Keith Bailey, and he notes among other things that those ‘-ingas’ names can be seen as forming a ring of fairly small sites, none of which really rise to later significance, around London. Ever since I read that I’ve been inclined to pair it with the ASC annal for 457 that talks about defeated Britons retreating to London and wonder if there was a legacy sub-Roman authority there that was settling these groups as a defensive perimeter round the old capital. That would, perhaps, explain, why the settlements there are perhaps more culturally assimilated than outside, as you remark. What then happened inside London so that by 597 Æthelberht and his Essex subordinate both have land there, and that it has somehow become part of Essex anyway (and its ‘Suth ge‘Surrey not… or is that Æthelberht’s recent work…), though, really is the domain of the novelist because there’s just no way to know.

Of course, if Higham is right, those of Kent may have held great power in what were the two eastern provinces.

EAST SAXONS

What about the area that is now Essex (East Saxons), which almost encompassed London? Here’s a (lengthy) quote from the BBC’s H2G2 website, which I think sums it up well:

“One thing that is apparent from archæology is that in the fifth and sixth centuries there was not a great influx of people into Essex unlike the large numbers which arrived in Kent and East Anglia, for example.

Here is evidence for this peaceful integration rather than bloody warfare; it would appear that the Roman countryside survived intact for some considerable time and changed only on a gradual basis as and when the political and economic circumstances altered and this may also represent a gradual transmutation from the late Roman civitas of the Trinovantes into the East Saxon kingdom.

Another factor to be considered is that there is a remarkable absence of cremation cemeteries in Essex, and where they are found cremation is always a small part of a cemetery containing inhumation burials which would seem to illustrate the early English settlers taking on Romano-British customs and indeed many English settlers shared the cemeteries with the British population. Another thing which has been noted with the cemetery problem is the ratio between the number of known cemeteries and the number of -ingas place names, i.e. there are many surviving -ingas place names but relatively few cemeteries associated with them. The high survival rate of these -ingas names would seem to indicate that the settlements, whether the first wave or secondary wave (which is the prevailing view) were permanently occupied by the English settlers unlike those of say, for arguments sake, Hampshire of the same period where there was a lot of heavy fighting between the English and the British and any settlements in the warzone would have been destroyed in all likelihood by one side or another. But this seems to be not the case in Essex which again would point to a peaceful integration of the two peoples.”

So, perhaps, the East Saxons weren’t even involved in a conflict, although Ælle or Æsc may have ‘persuaded’ them to join in. There were certainly later connections between this region and Kent.

Of course, just because they may have been a ‘peaceful’ coexistence between British and ‘East Saxons’ of that region doesn’t mean that they wouldn’t make enemies of other British, ‘Angles’, ‘Saxons’ or ‘Jutes’! However, their possible connection with the ‘Middle Saxons’ may have been enough to involve them at a southwestern Badon or its aftermath.

EAST  ANGLES

Moving to East Anglia, here is the largest concentration of cremation (and other) cemeteries in the country – with rich material finds on the coast – and, one could assume from this, one of the most powerful. Ken Dark wonders, judging by them sticking to cremation, if these ‘Angles’ didn’t mix as much with the Britons, or, indeed if they displaced them. (An alternative being that a plague and famine meant those arriving after the 460s entered a relatively empty landscape). But it didn’t ‘border’ the British Zone at this time, unless it had a British enclave next door, it was the ‘Middle Angles’ that lay across this cultural divide. This doesn’t mean they could have inflicted some influence on them however.

Some scholars have wondered if it was this region that first saw the Germanic feoderati, being based here to repel the Pictish and/or northern British raids. Both here and further north to Deira seem the logical place to put them.

What would become the North Folk (Norfolk) and South Folk (Suffolk) of the region, again, may have been away from this particular conflict, yet could have have been affected by a migration from the west by their defeated neighbours, and to their north as the sea level rose and the water’s of The Wash expanded even further inland.

As I suggested earlier, there’d have to be a very good reason for them to be involved at a southern Badon. If they were the enemy, then they could have supplied a great many men, although how united they were themselves is a moot point. If Badon was at the Lincolnshire proposed site, then it may been a different matter, although it still lay some miles to the north.

MIDDLE/SOUTH ANGLES

The ‘Middle Angles’ would have come into direct contact with the Britons of the west and eastern enclaves, either to the north or west. (Unless Ken Dark is right and this region, at the time, was still predominantly British). Whilst it has become synonymous with the later South Mercians, Wendy Davies argues against it ever being a kingdom, even in the later 6th century. (MIDDLE ANGLIA AND THE MIDDLE ANGLES, Midland History, vol. 2, pp. 18-20(3), 1973).

Its fragmented state – along with many others – may be shown by the Tribal Hidage, although some scholars (including Guy Halsall) warn against this document being used to show fragmentation. Even so, they had been pushing from The Wash westwards, unless, again, Ken Dark’s theory about this also remaining British, is correct. This means they may, along with the ‘North Angles’ and ‘South Angles’, come into conflict with men of the Cornovii if they’d reached far enough west (or raided). However, the cemeteries don’t seem to come much further west than the East Midlands at this stage and it could very well be because of the expanse of heavy clay that lay between them and the Cornovii, or it was, indeed, a British enclave/kingdom. They may have even raided other ‘Anglians’ to their north and south. They did have a very straight run down the Fosse Way, however, and it may have been from this region that those of the Avon settlements came.

Again, they could have been involved at a southern Badon, but there’d have to be a very good reason. They’d also not have to have been in conflict themselves in their own region. They could have sent a contingent I suppose. It comes down to that Ælle question again. There would be more chance of them being at a Lincolnshire Badon or even at the Arthurian River Dubglas battle (if it happened), thought by some to be the River Witham, if it was also in Lindsey (Lincolnshire) as suggested by most … but not all. The Dubglas has also been suggested to be the River Humber. (See comments below).

What would keep this lot ‘peaceful’ … if they were, and it wasn’t that they just were a region Gildas wouldn’t hear news from? Tribute? Threat of attack from west and north? Containment? What if they had geographically expanded as fas as they could at the time, lacking the technology to farm heavy clay? If this had been the case, they may not have been a threat to the western Brits, unless they were endemic raiders.

NORTH ANGLES

The ‘North Angles’ were in what was once the northern end of the Corieltavi civitas (and may still have been) and bordered onto Lindsey (later Lindeswara) in the east as well as the Britons to the north and west. Its later name, ‘Mercia’, is still perhaps a perfect name for them as it means ‘boundary’ or ‘borderland‘.

There is one very interesting fact about the northwestern border of this region – and that’s exactly what it appears to be – in that the ‘Anglian’ settlement/burials on the south side of the River Trent stop there. There are none from this period on the other side in what is thought to have been British Brigantian territory (or a sept thereof) or possibly Elmet or the Peaks, all thought to be in the province of Britannia Secunda (or possibly Valentia). The only ‘Anglo-Saxon’ settlement worth noting north of the Mersey/Humber divide is Deira. Either the ‘Anglians’ weren’t interested in expanding north, there culture wasn’t wanted or there was something very scary on the other side of the water! Christopher Gidlow thinks he knows what it was and I believe Keith Matthews (aka Bad Archaeology blogger) has come to a similar conclusion. Besides ‘someone’ stopping them, there was also the massive extent of Sherwood Forrest towards the south and marshland in the north, near the River Humber. Not to mention the Pennines further west. A natural military and cultural boundary? However, there’s a good old Roman road crossing the Trent between these.

If this area was to be involved in a southern Badon it would mostly likely have to zig-zag their way down the old Roman roads. Even if they weren’t there, there’s the possibility that if ‘Saxons’ (as opposed to Irish) were involved at the possible Arthurian City of Legions battle, and this was Chester (Deva), these could be who were doing the raiding. Keith also wonders if the Arthurian battle of the River Bassas is what is now the River Perry (near my home) below Baschurch, 10 miles northwest of Wroxeter (Viriconium Cornoviorum/Caer Guricon); so in the same general area. If Badon was in Lincolnshire, however, they could very well have been involved. (This all has to be tempered by that fact these battles may never have happened).

Why they might remain at peace if they hadn’t been involved at Badon could be because of defeats elsewhere or their British neighbours to the west – the Cornovii – like those to the north, were just too powerful for them … or, once again, they just weren’t united enough.

If the Arthurian battles at the Dubglas were indeed in Lindsey (see next blog), and that river was the Witham, which runs through Lincoln going south, then it could be this lot (or the ‘Middle Angles’) that were causing the trouble at their boundary.

In the next blog I’ll look at Lindsey, Deira and Bernicia.

I look forward to any comments.

Thanks for reading,

Mak.

 

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All Quiet On The Eastern Front? – Part One

INTRODUCTION

(Updated 2.1.12)

This blog is going through a rethink and rework as of 12.11.11. New material or changes will be in bold type.

This article (now an eight part blog) was mainly in response to a question I posted on Arthurnet about what could have caused the supposed two or three generational peace after the Battle of Badon (and other battles) between the Britons and the ‘Anglo-Saxons’. I was asking if this subject had been debated by any group of academics, such as was done for the papers and discussions that went into the book ‘After Empire-Towards an Ethnology of Europe’s Barbarians’ (‘Studies in Archaeoethnology, Volume 1’, 1995). and discovered that no one was aware that it had. There have, of course, been numerous individual books and papers on the subject.

One Arthurnet member’s argument was that it was the great victory at Badon that caused the ensuing ‘peace’ and slow down of ‘Anglo-Saxon’ military and/or cultural expansion visible in the archaeology. This article was mainly in response to this, but it took on a life of its own and went on much further from there. However, keep in mind that this was its starting point.

My question was, again, motivated by the Arthurian screenplay I’m contemplating, which I wanted to make post-Badon.  However, it has ended up going much deeper than this and is relevant whether you think there was a historical Arthur of Badon fame or not.

I will concede that my knowledge is not great enough to do this subject much justice. Having said that, my (lengthy) layman/novice meagre stab at it will follow. Since the scholars on the subject can’t be here, I’ll have to bring some of their thoughts to bear instead. One of those is Nick Higham, who, regardless of his negative views on a historical Arthur, should be listened to. Some quotes that follow are from a paper by him entitled ‘Debating The Insular Dark Ages’, 2004. I will also pay heed to his theories from ‘The English Conquest: Gildas and Britain in the Fifth Century’ (1994). In this in-depth work, he concludes that the battle of Mons Badonicus was the Britons’ last victory against the ‘Saxons‘ but not the decisive one, and the ‘Saxons’ were the ones who won the ‘war‘.

I realise this all has to be tempered by the archaeological evidence, which, whilst seemingly supporting a ‘peace’ or slow down of expansion, cannot, as archaeologist Keith Matthews (aka Bad Archaeology blogger) has mentioned through Arthurnet, be dated accurately enough or interpreted clearly enough. He also pointed out recently that we may be relying too much on burial practices and that evidence of other kinds, being greatly helped by metalwork reported under the Portable Antiquities Scheme, show the creation of new ‘Anglo-Saxon’ sites during the period 475-550. However, if Gildas says there had been an extended ‘external’ (relative) peace for possibly 40-odd years, who are we to disagree … unless we’ve misinterpreted him, which some, including Keith and Nick Higham, think we have, as well as Ken Dark, although in a completely different way, not to mention archaeologist Francis Pryor.

I will use the terms ‘Anglo-Saxon’, ‘Saxon’ and ‘Anglian’ to mean not only those of Germanic stock but any Britons who might have supported them (either willingly or unwillingly!) or taken up the culture, which is how many scholars now see the situation at the time. What, in my opinion, they should probably be called are ‘Anglo-Briton (or British) ’ or ‘Saxo-Britons (or British)’ etc.  After all, most of the generation we’re talking about were not only born in Britain but probably had British blood within them. Indeed, some of them may have had 100% British blood coursing through their veins. We call those of Hibernian (Irish) descent ‘Cambro-Irish’ (whilst I tend to call them Hiberno-Britannians), so why doesn’t this apply to those of Germanic stock? Probably because it helps keep them as the bad guys?!

WE WON … DIDN’T WE?!

So, the Battle of Mount Badon (dated anywhere between 483 and 518 – or 430 to 440 by Higham) is a massive defeat for the ‘Saxons'; other victories in other regions happen for some time afterwards and seal the deal.  If Ælle was their Bretwalda, as the Anglo-Saxon Chronicles (ASC) tells uswho they faced (meaning Badon would have to be of the earlier dates – if the ASC dates are right, which they’re probably not!) and he died at the battle – or one of the other battles – that would make things worse for the enemy. For Ælle to be in such an ‘overlord’ position – if that’s what a Bretwalda was, as there’s no agreement – it must have meant he could personally bring the greatest military force to bear, as well as having many groups either as tribute payers to him or allied through fear. So if he was defeated at Badon then, perhaps, the greatest threat was removed, along with many enemy warriors and a break-up of any coalition. (More on this later).

Higham:

“Barbarian kingdoms or ‘over-kingships’ often came into existence very suddenly, following military victory, and might disintegrate just as dramatically, as a consequence of defeat or changing political circumstances. The familiar examples of the rise and fall of individual dynasts in the late-sixth and seventh centuries, which Bede provides, should be sufficient to warn us off the simple, developmental approach.”

However, the question I posed on Arthurnet still stood: ‘what was stopping the second generation ‘Saxons’ from wanting revenge over the deaths of their fathers’ if so many of them had been slaughtered?’ As the late and great Sir Frank Stenton tells us:

“Much that is characteristic in the oldest Germanic literature turns on the relationship between the companions and the lord. The sanctity of the bond between lord and man, the duty of defending and avenging the lord, the disgracing of surviving him, give rise to situations in which English listeners were always interested until new literary fashions of Romance origin had displaced the ancient stories. There was no doubt that this literature represented real life. It was the personal reputation of the king which attracted retainers to his court, and it was the king’s military household around which all of the fighting centred. The inclusion of foreign warriors among the king’s companions and the presence of hostages from other countries in his court went far to cement the great dramatic confederations of early times. The migration to Britain produce no change in the relation of the king to his retinue. There is no essential difference between the king’s companions of the heathen age and the nobles who attest the earliest English royal charters.” (‘Anglo-Saxon England’, Stenton, 1989, p302)

Here’s a society that should (supposedly) fight to the death should their lord fall and avenge his death. This is not to mention the general tradition of the blood feud. So what was stopping them? I’ll explore the possibilities below.

If we also keep in mind that the 6th century cleric/monk Gildas (St. Gildas) tells us in the De Excidio Britanniae (DEB) that the Britons were often at civil war, then something must have been very wrong in the east, or something extremely right in the western ‘borderlands’, to not be able to take advantage of that too. Could be a bit of both, could be a completely different reason such as Higham’s theory on the ‘Saxons’ being in charge of eastern Britain and holding the eastern part of Britannia Prima to tribute payment.

Higham:

“Gildas’s remarks elsewhere reflect his continuing concern as to the vulnerability of his countrymen to their neighbours, which seems inconsistent with a triumphant conclusion of the war, so renewed divine protection: for example, ‘it was always true of this people (as it is now) that it was weak in beating off the weapons of the enemy but strong in putting up with civil war and the burden of sin.’”

What a strange thing for GIldas to say if the Britons had power over the enemy and they were at peace with them! So, what was true of the past with the ‘Saxons’ seems true even in Gildas’s day; unless he’s referring to other enemies, such as the Hibernians/Scotti, but he hasn’t mentioned them in regards to recent history.

Could Gildas just be trying to make a point, whether it was a ‘true’ one or not? Or, was it just in his view that they couldn’t beat the enemy off, maybe because they couldn’t win every battle? It could also be that it was only recently things had become uncertain again, and not for the whole of those 43 years since Badon (if it was this period – see below). However, it could also be that they still fought … or, indeed, because the ‘Saxons’ held more power than we think. (More on this below).

Higham again:

“In the present, Britain was divided by ‘an unhappy divorce of [?caused by] the barbarians’, the term divortio apparently referring back to the metaphor of ‘a chosen bride’ for the island of Britain, which was, therefore, no longer the single patria and promised land of Gildas’s ‘latter-day Israel’. Control had been ceded to the Saxons even of access to such shrines as St Albans. The church was now ‘tributary’, her sons had ‘embraced dung’ and the nobility had lost its all.” [Higham’s brackets, not mine]

So, for Higham at least …

“The war between Britons and Saxons, therefore, seems to have ended in some sort of compromise, which conceded a very considerable sphere of influence within Britain to the incomers. This was highly unsatisfactory from Gildas’s perspective and he was both extremely hostile towards, and fearful of, the Saxons.”

Higham’s not the only one to come to the conclusion that the ‘peace’ wasn’t necessarily satisfactory for both/all sides. The much maligned John Morris (1975) came to the same conclusion as did Stenton (1943-1989). However, Higham seems alone in how far he takes this.

What Higham mentions is what I was trying to get at in one of my posts: they’ve won a decisive victory, and yet they still can’t go where they want!  Seems odd if the British ‘defeated’ the Saxons. Are there any alternative answers to Higham’s? Here are three I can think of:

1) the Britons had defeated ‘Saxons’ to the west/north/south of these ‘no go’ areas, but not these areas themselves.

2) The ‘Saxons’ had made some small gains in the intervening time, cutting off these areas.

3) The Britons had won back far more territory than we think, but not these areas.

(I’m sure there are more).

Of course, Ken Dark see things differently and Higham explains it as follows:

“His thesis, in brief, is to postulate not just survival but continuing cultural, political and military power for the sub-Roman elite, both in the far west (where this view is comparatively uncontroversial) but also in the east, where it has to be imagined alongside incoming settlements. He postulates the sub-Roman community to have been the dominant force in insular affairs right up to c.570. Then, over a sixty year period, but for no very obvious reason, Anglo-Saxon kingship begins to emerge, the English conversion began and, in this scenario, Anglo-Saxon leaders overthrew British power and set about establishing their own kingdoms [...] Dark’s principal argument for continuing British military and political power in the east rests on the very uneven distribution of Anglo-Saxon cemeteries and the proposition that large gaps in that distribution necessarily represent strong British polities which excluded Anglo-Saxon settlers by force.”

This theory does answer certain questions, although Higham himself disagrees with Dark’s conclusions, mainly because of what Gildas says. It’s a theory John Morris seemed to have been working with as he believed the majority of those in the east to still be under some kind of British rule. There may be another alternative reason, which I’ll look at in later blogs. Whatever the reason, ‘Anglo-Saxon’ expansion and kingdom foundation doesn’t appear to have started until after 550. If Badon was the earlier of the dates, at 483, then there was a peace for almost 70 years … unless Keith is right.

Just a note on the earlier dating of Badon. There is a theory that places the battle of Mount Badon, not just to a possible decade but to something far more specific: February, 483! This solution, by D. O. Croinin, is based on the 84 year ‘paschal cycle’. (The ‘lost’ irish 84-year easter table rediscovered, Peritia (6-7), 1987-1988, p. 238). Why is this date (if it’s correct) so different from the one given in the Annales Cambriae at 518? I’ll explore this in more detail in the coming blogs.

In the next blog I want to explore just what kind of Britannia Gildas saw, and how clouded that view might have been.

I look forward to any comments.

Thanks for reading,

Mak

 

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