Tag Archives: Dumnonia

King Arthur – A Provincial Dux, Comes or Tribunus? – Part Five

To do the subject justice, I’m afraid this has become a seven part blog!

Provinces based on Anne Dornier's theory with my own thoughts (kindly created for me by Steffon Worthington)

The (wonderful!) map above isn’t quite correct in its placement of some of the northern tribes and will be updated soon, but I wanted to get this blog out this weekend.


What if Arthur were dux (or one of the other ranks) of Britannia Prima (II of the map)? This province (which, unlike in this version of provincial placements, could have got up to the Mersey and included North Wales) could have existed in its immediate post Roman form, or, it could have shrunk by fragmentation. Most scholars see this province of the Late Roman period with the more Romanised Britons to the east (in the Lowland or Civil Zone) and the less Romanised to the west (in the Highland and Military Zones), as based on the archaeology. However, they appear to have taken to Roman material goods and Latin inscribed stones after the Empire had departed, possibly through the influence of Roman Christianity, but possibly for other reasons too, which I’ll explore below.

Most argue that it is kings of this province who Gildas refers to in DEB. Ken Dark puts forward the possibility of three eastern civitates of this province surviving in a more ‘Roman’ form, under some kind of administration (DobunniCornovii and Silures as Gwent) whilst the rest were ruled by kings (petty kingdoms with an over-king) and Nick Higham and David Dumville, in general, agree. It could have been only these three civitates that made up the province, one of which Gildas was in. Or, conversely, if Higham’s theory is right, the more westerly kingdoms could have made up the province, as he certainly sees the Dobunni and Cornovii as tribute payers to the ‘Anglo-Saxons’. But, they all could still have been part of it even if the two or three of its civitates were having to do so. (The provinces could also have been only in name with no real political power).

(There are two very opposing views with regard Dobunni and Cornovii given by Christopher Gidlow (Revealing King Arthur, 2010), who sees the archaeology pointing to these two being a major force against the east, and Nick Higham, who sees the Cornovians as being weak and both civitates being tribute payers. Right there is a perfect example of the problems on agreement with this period in general. Not to mention that one sees the evidence pointing to Arthur existing and one not.)

The sum of all parts?

With a province made up of so many parts (if it still was), and that would be around 8 (major ones) that we know of, it’s hard to know how they would agree to a provincial army and its dux without the Empire there to enforce it. (Unless it did have an over-king, such as the later king Maglocunus/Mailcun/Maelgwn, to enforce this?). Each civitates and kingdom could have been obliged to supply men, as explored earlier, or, the dux could have had bucellarii (of Hibernians?) as his personal force making him slightly independent of them but able to be supplemented by them. Or, the most powerful and dominant civitas or kingdom chose the dux or general … or it was done on a rotational basis. All these points go for the northern provinces too.

With either Irish feoderati, laeti, settlers or Goidelic speaking Britons in many western parts of this province (northern Dumnonia, Demetia and northwest Venedota), it could be they who were used to supplement the Britons. If Arthur was a general of mixed race (or a Goidelic speaking Briton) it might go some way towards explaining why it was one of these regions (Demetae/Demetia) that may first have reused the name, followed by others in the north, as I explored in THIS blog … if, indeed, that is was reused and Arthur ap Petr (King Arthur of Demetia) wasn’t the ‘original’ himself.

There are suggestion by Dark (2003) and Stuart Laycock (2010) that it was this province that was courted by the Western and later Byzantine Empire in a reversal of fortunes – which is why ‘Roman’ material goods are found within it, especially at Tintagel – and it was Dumnonia and perhaps other Britannia Prima elements that supplied the king, Riothamus and his supposed 12,000 men to fight for the failing western Empire in Gaul in the 470s. If the figure of 12,000 men is anywhere near the truth (and it may not be) this is a huge force. Whether they were all Britons (or just Britons from Britannia) is another question, but, either way, he was commanding (or in charge of with a commander?) a large force, and an army of this size, or even part of it, couldn’t have come form one kingdom or civitas. (David Dumville (2003) thinks southern Britain may have been his base).

If there was this coordination (or cooperation) in the 460s/470s, (again, possibly instigated by Ambrosius Aurelianus) enabling a single king to command this many Britons, there’s the possibility that it could have still been there in the 490s where most place the Siege of Badon … although the fact that Riothamus was defeated could have had a major impact on the following decades, depending on how many of those 12,000 were lost, or simply didn’t return to Britannia. We can only guess as to what this defeat (yet another one after Magnus Maximus and Constantine III) did to the morale of the British.

(There’s always the haunting question of how a British king could afford to take this many men abroad (if he did) during a time when we were supposed to be suffering attacks from the ‘Saxons’. Of course, there could have been a peace at the time, but it’s not out of the question that some of his men were Saxo-Britons or other Germanic elements).

As an aside: imagine if we’d never heard of Riothamus via the Continental sources and only from a legend that told us how a British king (who left no British genealogy) fought alongside Romans in the 470s with 12,000 men? We’d probably think he was only a myth. The same would go for Ambrosius Aurelianus had Gildas not mentioned him. (I’m not a supporter of Riothamus=Arthur or Ambrosius=Arthur, by-the-way, but I always keep an open mind).


Looking at where those Arthurian battles are placed by those who champion a Britannia Prima Arthur (North Wales, South Wales East Wales, Somerset, Cornwall, Devon), they range from being localised as civil war battles or against Hibernians (Blake and Lloyd) to having him fighting deep within ‘Anglo-Saxon’ territory. (Rodney Castledon, 2000/2003). There is, of course, a Camlan in northwetern Wales (Afon Gamlan); there’s a Camelford in Cornwall, a Killbury (Celliwig, Celliwic, Kelliwic, KelliwigKelli Wig?) in Cornwall, a Gelliweg (Celliwig, Celliwic, Kelliwic, KelliwigKelli Wig?) on the Llŷn Peninsular, as well as a Guinnion (Cerrig Gwynion), which is an old Iron Age hillfort between Llandudno and Bangor … not to mention the not far away hillfort of Bwrdd Arthur. Chester or Caerleon (City of Legions?) and Badon (if it is where some suggest) lie within or in the border region of this province. But we shouldn’t be surprised to find such names like Camlann or Gwynion here. Not because Cornwall and Wales have a huge Arthurian tradition (which, of course, they do) but because their languages derived from Brittonic and these names may not be that uncommon.


There’s the poem ‘The Elergy of Gereint son of Erbin’, said to be fought at Llongborth and, whichever location you go with, it would most likely be in this province. Here are a couple of verses:

In Llongborth I saw Arthur’s Heroes [men] who cut with steel.

The Emperor [ammherawdyr] ruler of our labour.

In Llongborth Geraint was slain,

A brave man from the region of Dyvnaint [Devon],

And before they were overpowered, they committed slaughter.

(There are arguments that, if this really happened, this may have involved Arthur’s men only, or a unit named after him, and not necessarily Arthur. (Gidlow, 2010).

No other surviving early poetry (if, indeed these poems are early) gives Arthur a (possible) geographical location … this is excluding the Triads, which do.


It is most likely either a Geoffrey of Monmouth invention, or a Cornish one, but he, of course, places Arthur’s conception at Tintagel (Din Tagel), and calls him ‘The Boar of Kernyw‘. However, there may have been a number of Kernyw/Cornows in this province in the 5th century, including Cornovii (Cornow) and one in central Wales, beside the one that gave its name to Cornwall (Kernow), and it may not have come from an ancient source at all.

In Part Six we’ll look at the eastern provinces and conclusion on all this will appear in Part Seven.

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



PS: HUGE thanks to the map maker Steffon Worthington for creating the Anne Dornier based map free of charge! There are lovely people at the Facebook King Arthur Group page!


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King Arthur – A Provincial Dux, Comes or Tribunus? – Part Three

Provinces based on Anne Dornier's theory with my own thoughts (kindly created for me by Steffon Worthington)

UPDATED 20.1.12 Updates in bold type


Gildas tells us that Britain had rectores. This has been taken by many to mean it had governors – which it can mean along with ‘rulers’ and ‘administrators’ – (Higham, 1994, p178) although, in strict terms, the governors would be the praeses, but no one (apart from Nick Higham?) can be certain of what rectores were by Gildas’s time. (More below).

Gildas says:

Britain has rulers [rectores], and she has watchmen/bishops [speculatores]: why dost thou incline thyself thus uselessly to prate [to talk idly and at length] ?” She has such, I say, not too many, perhaps, but surely not too few: but because they are bent down and pressed beneath so heavy a burden, they have not time allowed them to take breath. (DEB, §26)

Whilst Gildas has used rectores in the DEB when talking about Roman governors, it seems a little odd in this instance to says “She has such, I say, not too many, perhaps, but surely not too few”, if talking about governors and these were provincial governors and there were only two or three provinces left. This is something Professor Higham doesn’t tackle and he sees these rectores as being from London, Cirencester and Lincoln. But Britannia could hardly have “but surely not too few”? So is he referring to another function of these rectores or did some civitates (and kingdoms?) have their own at this time? Higham believes these governors based mainly in ‘Saxon’ controlled or tribute paying areas and under great burden, as Gildas tells us they were. Gildas certainly had some respect for the rectores, at least more than he had for the five kings, in his own time.

I recently noticed, whilst rereading Christopher Gidlow’s excellent book The Reign of Arthur (2004), that he questioned the same thing as mentioned about. He notes that the 5th century writer Ammianus calls emperors, provincial governors, military officials and even barbarian client kings “rectores”, whilst a certain Tutvwlch in the poem Y Gododdin is even called one. (p.120) He also points out something about the Historia Brittonum and its use of dux (or the plural duces) and that is that in every instance before its connection with Arthur when using this term it either means a general or a governor subordinate to the Emperor. (p.44). This could mean when the H.B. says Arthur was a dux, it meant something very specific.

Speculatores used to be one of two things: in Roman military terms they were scouts or spies, but in earlier times they were public attendants. Nick Higham forwards two possibilities: that the rectores/speculatores partnership was civil governor and military captain, or a civil and ecclesiastical one. (Higham,1994, p158). David Dumville simply says the latter were bishops. (After Empire-Towards an Ethnology of Europe’s Barbarians’ (‘Studies in Archaeoethnology, Volume 1’, 1995)).


So, what were these provinces that made up the old Roman diocese of ‘The Britains’? There’s no complete agreement about which ones were where or where their boundaries were, but I’ll use the three maps (below) as a guide. The provinces were:

Maxima Caesariensis

Flavia Caesariensis

Britannia Prima

Britannia Secunda


The following three maps show different possibilities to their locations … and there are more.  (For further discussion on Valentia see THIS blog).

Provinces based on various theories.

Provinces based on J C Mann's theory

Provinces based on Anne Dornier's theory with my own thoughts (kindly created for me by Steffon Worthington)

The map above isn’t quite correct in its placement of some of the northern tribes and will be updated soon.

These provinces (wherever they were) made up the imperial diocese of Britanniae (The Britains). It is all but the two southeastern ones that are argued to still have existed in some form in Gildas’s time, although a few scholars think even these could have still functioned, either under British (Dark) or ‘Saxon’ (Higham) rule. If it’s the latter, then these two eastern provinces were either under a certain degree of, or complete, Germanic control and/or the Germanic culture had taken hold there. For Nick Higham, the region between the two eastern provinces and the eastern portion of Britannia Prima were also under ‘Anglo-Saxon’ suzerainty. (For further discussion on the extent of ‘Anglo-Saxon’ control, see THIS blog). He appears the only scholar to have forwarded this possibility.

The provinces were generally divided along tribal boundaries, but not always … although it’s almost impossible to know where some of the tribal boundaries were. There are various discussion and theories as to whether these tribal civitates and kingdoms made it into the period we are talking about, or whether they had changed. Some regions still retained their civitas (tribal) name, such as Demetia (Dyfed) or Dumnonia (Devon and Cornwall), but this doesn’t mean it reflects the pre-Roman political situation and it could be that they simply used the name. Others didn’t; the Ordovices became Venedota (Gwynedd) and possibly part of Powys, with the Cornovii becoming part of Powys and Pengwern, although later Mercians would call them Wreocensæte, Pencersaete etc. No one knows when exactly these changes started to happen or as to what the political tensions were between the various British civitates after Roman rule had ceased. The various competing theories (by scholars and laymen alike) are what make it hard to judge whether the provinces remained intact, disappeared by the Late 5th century or simply changed size and shape. History being a complex affair means it could be a mixture of the above or something completely different.

Several scholars who have studied Gildas’s DEB in depth (but most notably David Dumville and Nick Higham) point to both him, and Continental sources, indicating that provinces did still exist in his day. If they all did, then two of them may have been under complete ‘Anglo-Saxon’ control … and the Gallic Chronicles for 441AD seems to tell us they were. But some scholars argue otherwise. If they are right, then the question is, how much control did they have, and were they united in by someone? Most would say no, but Higham says yes and that it is an ‘Anglo-Saxon’ over-king that Gildas refers to in the name of the ‘father-devil‘. Who’s right makes a difference to the subject of this blog, but since there is no consensus, we’ll continue with the hypothesis that the western and northern provinces could fight back and Badon was a decisive victory for the Britons … although the Britons not being the overall victors still makes these military positions possible at the time.

(Please keep in mind that when I say “Anglo-Saxon’ we’re still talking about Britons being in these regions. Some may have fought against these ‘masters’, other will have sided with with. Some Britons would be slaves, others would be in alliance or inter-marrying).


Gildas tells us that (in his opinion at least) things were a little different at the time of Badon …

[...] and in regard thereof, kings, public magistrates, and private persons, with priests and clergymen, did all and every one of them live orderly according to their several vocations. (DEB, §26)

So we cannot assume that the political and military situation in Gildas’s time was the same as at the time of Badon … unless you’re one of those of the opinion that Gildas meant that Badon only happened one month previous to him writing and not 43 years and 1 month. This argument is based on Gildas’s Latin, and this is beyond me I’m afraid. Most take the view that it was the latter, but there is also 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). Another theory sees Gildas meaning it happened 43 years and 1 month after Ambrosius’ first victory and another that is was this duration after the Saxon Advent.

All the above considered, Gildas’s duces could have been the major military leaders at that time of Badon and before and in the east and Midlands they may have be purely military rather than kings. However, it could be argued that Gildas simply means ‘leaders‘, which is another translation of duces, but Higham points out that Gildas always uses this and similar terms when referring to ‘military leaders‘. (Higham, 1994, p182 & p189). But in Gildas’s time king and duces, in some regions, had merged … in Gildas’s view.

So Britain may have still had provinces and some of those (and perhaps some civitates) appear to have had governors (if this is what rectores were). There also appears to be military leaders (duces?). Sometimes (in the west?) these were also the kings, but further east it may have been a different story, with rectores and duces (and possibly iudices) fulfilling the separate military and civil roles that the kings made into one. We have no idea of the situation in the north as Gildas doesn’t seem to mention it. (Unless those who theorise that Maglocunus was in the north are right). Once again, there can be no certainty, but these seem to be strong possibilities.

In the next blog we’ll look at what it may have meant if the existing provinces did have commanders.

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


PS: HUGE thanks to the map maker Steffon Worthington for creating the Anne Dornier based map free of charge! There are lovely people at the Facebook King Arthur Group page!


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


First, a disclaimer: these genealogies drive me nuts and I very often have trouble deciphering the various version. If anyone sees any glaring mistakes – and I’m sure there  are some – please leave a comment, or send an email, to correct me!

McArthur/MacArthur/Campbell descent

I wondered if any of the (very dubious) Arthurian genealogies might help in search of an Hiberno-British Arthur? Well, there are the Campbell (more accurately MacArthur) genealogies, which, surprisingly don’t follow the Artúr mac Áedán line – or pretend not to -  as I would first have imagined.  They do indeed believe descent form our Arthur … or ‘Oor Arthur’ as they say.  The oldest of all the clans apparently, the saying goes …

Cruic ‘is uillt ‘is Ailpainich, Ach cuin a thainig Artairich?

The hills and streams and MacAlpine, But whence came forth MacArthur?

The Clan Arthur website gives you:

“Although there may be controversy as to precise lineage, two schools of thought about MacArthur of Tirevadich are listed as such:

King Malcolm Canmore — Malcomb — Dubni mac Mal-colaim — Arthur Armdhearg — Arthur Andarian — MacArthurs of Darleith & Inistrynich (Tirevadich)

Norma Lorre Goodrich, an authority on the subject of King Arthur describes MacArthur lineage as:

King Arthur — Smerevie — Ferrither — Duibne Mor — Arthur Og — Ferrither — Duibne “Falt Dhearg” — Ferrither — Duibne Dearg — Duibne Donn — Diarmid O’Duibne — Arthur — Arthur Andarian — MacArthurs of Darleith & Inistrynich (Tirevadich).”

This last lineage is from the Campbell genealogies, which I’ll get to below.

This is how the Oor Arthur website opens:

“A sixth century red sandstone sarcophagus stands on display in Govan Old Parish Church, near Glasgow. It is claimed to have held the remains of St. Constantine, King of Cornwall, Christian martyr and founder of Govan in 565AD. Carved on the side of the sarcophagus is a sixth century Celtic-Romano warrior bearing the capital letter A branded cavalry style on the horse’s flank. God in Govan! Could this be a carving of “King” Arthur? Probably – At least, it is very probably a representation of OOR ARTHUR.”

This was the first I’d heard of the A branded horse. (Pictured right). There is, indeed, an A there, but it could represent anything … no pun intended.

It should first be pointed out that it isn’t certain this Constantine was from Cornwall, or, more correctly, Dumnonia. In the Life of Saint Kentigern, this St. Constantine is named as the son and successor to Riderch (Rhydderch) Hael, king of Strat Clut (Strathclyde). However, modern scholars now think this an insertion in Rhydderch’s genealogy.

To quote Tim Clarkson:

 “If he is not an obscure Cornish namesake allegedly martyred in Kintyre, he might have been a North Briton, perhaps even a native of the Clyde. His association with Kentigern [...] is almost certainly a fiction devised later in Glasgow.” (Men of the North, 2010, p.62)

The confusion could be because this region was also once called Damnonia/Dumnonia. The Cornish saint may have been the emperor Constantine The Great. (More below).

It is interesting that some modern Scots make claim to Arthur (although they mainly claim Artúr mac Áedán) when their 14th and 15th century ancestors went to pains to paint him as an illegitimate tyrant and ‘whore’s son’. Of course, they had political reasons for doing so because the English throne used Geoffrey of Monmouth’s History and Arthur to claim sovereignty over Scotland.

To quote Juliette Woods:

 “Equally interesting is The Roit or Quheill of Tyme, which denies Arthur’s claim to the throne, but retains his character as heroic leader. It notes “fabillis” (“fables”) written about him, but claims that these gave him “no domination of Scotland” (Alexander 1975: 21–2).” – Woods, 2009, p.104

MacArthur tartan, as published in the Vestiari...

Getting back to the MacArthur/Campbell genealogies, they are interesting.  There are three, dating between ca 1467 and 1650.  It is the earliest and latest versions that show a marked difference form Geoffrey of Monmouth.  Both have Uthyr (Irish Iubhar/Iobhar/Iobhair) as the father of Arthur.  The later Leabhar Geinealach/Book of Genealogies – Dubhaltach mac Fhirbhisigh, shows Arthur coming from the Coelings (Old King Coel), if Coiel is the same person.  The earliest, NLS MS 72, only gives four names in total.  Both versions have Iubhar or Iobhar as the father.  The middle Killbride version NLS MS 72 has his line via Ambros (Ambrosius Aurelianus).  What they give is an  Artúr mac Iobhair.

(Many thanks for Chris Gwinn’s (of Arthurnet) amazing work on these genealogies to be found at )

The Leabhar Geinealach and Killbride version NLS MS 72 have his grandson as Feradogh/Feradog and this must be Feradach hoa Artúr (discussed in Part Five) from the Cáin Adomnáin, which was written in Ireland in 697.  However, if it is, then this Arthur would have to have lived in the first quartre of the 7th century.  This may mean it could be Artúr mac Áedán (or Conaing) or even Arthur son Bicoir … or some other Arthur. If it is, then it could be showing us that, whether one of these was the ‘original’ or not, they had some fame themselves for Feradach to not call himself the ‘son of’ someone, but the grandson of Artúr. One thing’s for certain though, it wasn’t an Arthur of Badon fame.

As explained in the excellent paper ‘The ‘British’ Genealogy of the Campbells’ (W. Gillies, Celtica 23, 1999 –, this clan did all they could to make their lineage more respectable, and British, in the 15th and 16th century, not only having Arthur but adding Ambrosius and Constantine to them for good measure.  To quote the paper:

“[...] a genealogy like this must in effect be presumed bogus unless it can be proved genuine”.

It doesn’t mean there isn’t an element of ‘truth’ to them, it’s just almost impossible finding what that is.

I looked a little deeper into the Gaelicized version of Uthyr: Iobhar/Iuhbar/Iobhair (pronounced something like, *Ubr – ) … if it is Gaelicized, and Uthyr isn’t a Brittonicized version of Iobhar/Iuhbar/Iobhair.  ‘Iuhbar’ in modern Scottish Gaelic means ‘yew tree’, so they certainly don’t have the same meaning; British Uthyr/Uthr means ‘terrible‘ or ‘marvelous’.  I also found Beinn Iobhair; a mountain on the Isle of Lewis, Craeg Iobhair near Loch Borrom and Stob an Iubhair north of Kinlochleven. There are many others, all probably relating to yew trees and not a person.  In ogham script Iubhar can also be ‘ivy’.  (It’s also worth throwing in that Ur is ‘heath’ or ‘heather’).

It does mean an Hiberno-British father isn’t out of the question. Is the name used elsewhere, I wondered? Yes. Cú Chulainn’s charioteer is called Iobhar, so it could take us back to that mythical aspect again.  I’m not sure if these are the same Iobhars (or how accurate the information is) but there’s an Iobhar in the Finnian stories, who was father of the trí Fhían mBreatan (which sounds like the ‘leader of the warband of the Britons’) – which could just be Uthyr inserted – and an Iobhar whose sons were killed by the Clan Mhorna. Help!?

Constantine descent

This one is a mine field and I’m not trained in bomb disposal, so I will mostly tread very carefully in the footsteps of others (as usual).

There are a number of genealogies who have Arthur’s grandfather as Kustenin, Kunstenhin, Custenin Gornev, Kwysdenin Gornev, Kustennin vendigeit , Kwstenin, Kusteni, Kwysdenin, Cwstenin, Kustein. As you can see, there are many different spelling variations.

Custennin Vendigeit (Fendigeid), who appears to be also Custennin Corneu (Gornev), is thought to be of Cornue/Cornow/Cernyw of Dumnonia … if this Corneu is indeed Cornwall and not Cornue/Cornow/Cernyw of the Midlands (from the Cornovii tribe) before it became Powys/Pengwern and later Powys and Shropshire. As discussed earlier, Cernyw (Cornwall) doesn’t appear until the Early-8th century.

These genealogies are thought suspect, mainly by association to Geoffrey of Monmouth, although those that mention Amlawd Guledig (see below) as Arthur’s maternal grandfather come from the Welsh version of his work, Brut Y Brenhinedd. Geoffrey, in his Historia Regum Britanniae (‘History of the Kings of Britain’) makes a Constantine Arthur’s grandfather. Geoffrey was just trying to make a narrative history so he changed things to suite his story. This Constantine appears to be the usurper emperor Constantine III, who met his demise in 411. If Arthur fought at Badon at one of the earlier dates put forward, say, 490, and he died 21 years later in 511 at the Battle of Camlann, possibly the earliest he could have been born is 455-460? This alone could make it very difficult for Constantine to be his grandfather … not that many people take Geoffrey’s Arthurian lineage seriously, although he may not have been the one who came up with it as Susan Pearce has observed …

“For Arthur’s paternal descent, MS Mostyn 11 simply pre-fixes the genealogy used by Geoffrey to the Dumnonian pedigree, and so arrives at ‘Arthur map Uthyr map Constantine map Kynvaur map Tutual map Morwaur map Eudaf map Kadur map Kynan map Karadauc‘. (Kynan has been mis-placed – he should be the son of Eudaf. Kadur looks like either a confusion with Cadwy, or a slip for Adeon, Cynan’s brother.) This paternal genealogy allows Cadwy son of Gereint to be Arthur’s cousin, as he is made to be in the Life of St Carantoc which was written before Geoffrey’s Historia Regum Britanniae, and so strengthens the supposition that Arthur’s descent on the Dumnonian line was known in Wales before Geoffrey wrote.” (Pearce, 1974, p.152)

(Of course, Geoffrey Ashe in his book ‘The Discovery of King Arthur‘ (1985) comes up with a much earlier floruit for Arthur … as well as saying he is Riothamus/Rigotamus)

The genealogical Constantine appears to be the one admonished by Gildas as one of the five 6th century ‘moral laxed’ kings of Britain (or Britannia Prima) in his polemic De excidio Britanniae. If, of course, this is the same man as Custennin Corneu, then Arthur could hardly be his grandson either, unless Constantine was an extremely old man (possibly over 100!) when Gildas was writing.

However, in the book, ‘The De excidio of Gildas: its authenticity and date’ by O’Sullivan, he writes:

 “A. O. Anderson wrote that “probably two or three Constantines have been confused,” and it’s difficult to disagree with this judgement […]”

And, referring back to the St. Constantine mentioned earlier as well as the saint of the same name in Cornwall …

“[…] or with that [judgment] of Canon Doble: “… there is not the smallest evidence that Constantine of Gildas is the St. Constantine whom we find honoured in the five parishes of Devon and Cornwall, as some persons, forgetful of the fact that Constantine was a very common name at the time, have rashly assumed.” (p. 95)

O’Sullivan puts a floruit on Custennin Corneu of 520-23, which, as I mentioned above, gives a problem if Arthur was the victor of Badon c. 490. Which do we believe? There’s aways the options that Custennin Corneu is not Gildas’ or Geoffrey’s Constantine but someone else entirely and they’ve had their genealogies grafted together. (If it was the same person he, perhaps, should have been titled Custennin Dyfnient  (Devon). It was certainly a popular name amongst the British, unlike the name Arthur.

I thought it might be worth looking deeper at the Cornue/Cernyw/Cornow/Cornovii/Cornwall question.  I’ve always thought there could have been confusion in later years with two (or possibly more) areas having the same name, but the others being totally forgotten about, probably even by the 9th century.  I discovered someone else having the same questions at the History Files website, and Edwin Hustwitt points out something that I hadn’t discovered myself:

A ‘Cornwall’ of the north?

“However, as the Medieval period developed and the name Cernyw [Corneu/Cornow] was finally forgotten, the tales began to be located in Cornwall as this was the only area known by that name. This memory of Cernyw lingers on in the collection known as the Thirteen Treasures of Britain. All of the treasures are thought to have belonged to leaders of North Britain.

In this list is ‘The Mantle of Arthur in Cornwall‘. Clearly modern Cornwall cannot be considered to be, in any way shape or form, in the north of Britain. This is circumstantially backed-up by genealogical evidence in old Welsh genealogical tracts where a certain leader, Tudfwlch Corneu [Constantine’s grandfather?], is described as one of the ‘Men of the North’ whilst also belonging to Cernyw. This mistaken belief in the location of Cornwall has then dramatically altered perceptions on the true origins of Arthur’s Cornish connections.

Why, however, did Geoffrey and Welsh tradition assert these Cornish links? Furthermore, if we are to reject their associations with the south-west where should we seek the true origins of the ‘Cornish’ Arthur?

… by the ninth century Cornovii had been adapted to Cernyw. The use of Cernyw appears in the poem in praise to Cynan Garwyn, a sixth century ruler of Powys where ‘Let Cernyw Greet‘ occurs.”

To deal first with Tudfwlch, here is his genealogy in the Bonedd Gwŷr y Gogledd (‘Descent of the Men of the North’).

Huallu m Tutuwlch Coreu tywyssavc o Kernyv. A Dywanw merch Amlavt Wledic y uam

This makes him Arthur’s uncle if Amlawd (Amlavt) is his maternal father, but this Amlawd gets inserted into all kinds of royal lines.  It seems very odd for a Man of the North to be associated with Cornwall.  However, it’s probably just as odd to be associated with the English western Midlands.  In the end, it’s very hard to trust these genealogies.

Cynan Garwyn (ca 575-620) was the eldest son of Brochmail (Brochwael), a king of 6th century Powys (which, as this argument goes, was then called Cernyw).  In the poem he defeats Gwynedd (on Anglesey), Dyfed and Brycheiniog and, because of the mention of Cernyw, it is thought Cornwall also.  It’s not impossible, but the Taliesin poem doesn’t make it sound as if this is one of the conquests:

The Gwentians were slain,

With the gore-drenched blade.

A battle in Mona, great, fair,

Hovering over, and praised

Over the Menei, there went

Horses and confident ones.

A battle on the hill of Dyved.

Slaughter stings in motion.

Nor were seen

The kine before the countenance of any one.

Let the son of Brochwael boast,

He will declare his wish.

Let Cornwall [Cernyw] greet,

The younger will not praise fate.

The incomprehensible will depress

In the day that is praised by me,

My patron of Cynan.

If Arthur was from Cornish Corneu/Cornow/Cernyw, there are Hibernians attested there, mainly in what is now northeast Cornwall and southwest Devon.  If he was of the Midland’s Cornue, well, this is were Cunorix was found. What this would mean, wherever he was from, is that Uthyr//Vthyr/Iobhar would have to have brought the Hibernian blood … IF he was his father.  Whilst the genealogies might say Uthyr’s father was Custennin it could very well be that Uthyr followed him as ruler, and not because he was his son.  If later 10th century Welsh laws are anything to go by, a nephew or cousin could be made heir.  There could also have been a coup.  It could also be bogus!

Judging by the archaeology of the area, Dumnonia appears to have been a very wealthy region … or parts of it at least.  That wealth may have come through its local minerals, especially tin, but it also could have come from the slave trade to the Empire.  Stuart Laycock points out something interesting when discussing Riothamus (not a connection with Arthur I might add) in his book Warlords (2010). Its hard to distill what he says, but he points to the connections of Dumnonia not only to Amorica but to the Empire; both Eastern and Western.  Many of the amphorae found in the region come from the Emperor Anthemius who asked (or rather his general Aegidius asked) for British help in Gaul and got it in the form of Riothamus and, supposedly, 12,000 men in the late 460s/early 470s.  What part of Britain were they likely to seek that help from but their trade partners of southwest Britain who may have also held kingdoms in Amorica too?  This would be a good place for Riothamus to have originated from and it certainly points to a powerful region.  If any region were to spawn a man with wealth and power to back him up – whether this be Riothamus or Arthur -  then Dumnonia is it.  However, if the southwest lost a great many men in Gaul during Riothamus’ defeat, it could have weakened them for a generation or so.

There may have been other Cernyws.  In fact we know of one that briefly existed in mid-South Wales that gave us St. Glywys Cernyw. There is also the town of DVROCORNOVIVM (Wanborough, Wiltshire), which wasn’t in the Cornovii territory, but the Dobunni’s.  I would also forward a (very tentative) hypothesis that the men of here or of what was the Cohorts Prima Cornoviorum based at Pons Aelius (Newcastle-Upon-Tyne) might have styled themselves with that name … if they all hadn’t gone ‘home’ to Cornovia, whichever one it was, after the fall of the empire.  Keep in mind many of these had married local lasses, so they probably saw this region as their home now.

I was never a fan of the Cornish Arthur, simply because of the Geoffrey of Monmouth connection, but having look at this, it has its merits.  This has nothing to do with the famous Tintagel stone describing one ‘Artognov’ (Arthnou/Arthnow). Even Gidlow wonders if this mentions Arthur.  The meaning of the name has been put forward as ‘known as bear’, but I believe it could just likely be ‘bear renowned’.  Even if it did mean ‘known as bear’ and therefore an epithet to another name, Arthur wasn’t known as ‘bear’, otherwise his name would simply be ‘Arth’.

Cunedda/Amlawd descent

Then there’s the line via Cunedda Wledig (Cunedag) and Anblaud/Amlawd Wledig according to Welsh tradition.  Cunedda is said to have been brought down from Manau Gododdin (southeast Scotland) in the late 4th/early 5th century to fight off the Irish raiders of northwest and southwest Wales and later to set up the kingdom of Venedota (Gwynedd) in the north with his sons.  Many read the evidence as a foundation myth but the jury is still out.

Amlawd Gwledig supposedly married Cunedda’s daughter Gwen, the mother of Eigr the mother of Arthur. However, in the Welsh version of Geoffrey’s work, Brut Y Brenhinedd, it only goes as far back as Amlawd.

It could be telling why the father is not mentioned in the Welsh tradition. Of course, it could simply be because it is purely a maternal line and everyone ‘knew’ his da was Uthyr?  This could also be Gwynedd trying to find itself a piece of the Arthurian pie, and it knew it couldn’t do it through the male line?

Coming from the female line wouldn’t put Arthur in line for the Gwynedd ‘throne’. Cunedda’s daughter Gwen (who supposedly marries Amlawd), or their daughter Eigr, could have gone anywhere to be married to gain alliances.  Amlawd my have been a great Gwledig, but it’s hard to tie him down geographically. Some online genealogies have him coming via a Cynwal, but I have not been able to find this anywhere else. (I’m hoping Dane or Chris can help me here!). None of this helps with the HIberno-British element however. It would still have to come from the mother or the father.  The only father we have (and even he is disputed) is Uthyr.

This is the region of Wales where Steve Blake and Scott Lloyd in their book, Pendragon – The Origins of Arthur (2002) place their Arthur, with his court of Kelliwig (traditionally said to be in Cornue/Cornow/Cornwall) at the still existing Gelliwig (a farm and a manor) on the Llŷn Peninsular, and his final battle of Camlan at the not far away Afon Gamlan (River Camlan).  Those could be two very good reason alone why to consider this theory.   Two medieval Welsh bards certainly thought Celliwig/Gelliwig was here:

“Losing a hero of Gwynedd,

Wise and bold, swift his sword,

Lord of Cellan, terrible loss,

Poet’s chamber, court of Celliwig.

A prominent court below the land of Llŷn,

Wine cellar, fresh Celliwig”

(elegy by Iolo Goch to two sons of Tudur Fychan, 1382)

“We find Gelliweg in Gwynedd”

(poem by Gutun Owain to Huw Conwy of Bryn Euryn, ca 1480)

These are very late and possibly inadmissible as evidence.  The poets could have known of this Gelliweg and simply thought it must be Arthur’s court.   Steve and Scott also tell us:

A charter from 1209 for the Cistercian abbey of Cummer near Dolgellau, founded in 1199, names several sites in or bordering the cantref of Neigwl on the Lleyn Peninsula, in which Gelliwig now stands. The name given to the site in the charter is ‘ynyskellywyc’ (‘ynys’ here being used to denote an isolated property). The charter is a reconfirmation of the lands given to the abbey, meaning that the name ‘ynyskellywyc’ existed before 1209. These references show that the bards of North Wales knew of Gelliwig as an important court on the Lleyn Peninsula: nowhere in the Welsh material is there any evidence to link the name to Cornwall, or anywhere else.”

They go on to forward the idea that the name ‘Cernyw’ could once of been applied to the Lleyn as the word ‘cern’ or ‘corn’ means ‘horn’ and can describe a peninsula. Steve and Scott believe their Arthur to have stayed in the area and probably not to have fought a Badon. They also argue that many characters of the Welsh Arthurian tradition are based in North Wales.  What they don’t consider is that if he is associated with the area it could be because he either began or ended his ‘career’ here, or simply because of the Cunedda connection, whether that is true or not.  It could also purely be through the developing storytelling, which would try and localise the figures it described.

It’s through this book that I got to know Steve and we eventually set up a company called Pastscapes together with my long time friend Peter Hurst, which, unfortunately no longer exists.  (It’s this that created the CGI image of Arthur I use in these blogs, which Peter modeled and I textured and lit).  Steve knows I don’t agree with many of his and Scott’s findings and theories but they do bring up some pertinent points.

The downside with Arthur being from this area is that one would think Gwynedd would try and capitalize on this and try and shoe-horn him into their genealogy. Having said that, maybe that’s what they did try and do with Cunedda and the other figures of the Arthurian stories. The same objections could also be made to him being from Powys/Pengwern as they too would have made the most of such an association. If there was a connection it would have to be on the eastern Pengwern side as Powys makes no claim to Arthur on the 9th century Pillar of Eliseg near Llangollen in Denbighshire, Wales. They claim their line from Magnus Maximus and Vortigern.

The Cornish connection may be the only one remaining, unless there’s some ‘truth’ held within the Campbell genealogies … or my crazy idea of the Cornovians on Hadrian’s Wall stands? (No, I thought not!).

What all this may have left us with is the possibility, at least, of an Artúr mac Iobhar, although personally I doubt it and think Uthyr only later connected to Arthur. What would be a mistake is to think such a person had to be from the Western Isles of Scotland; he could be from any of the Hiberno-British regions or even British regions .

It’s probable that all these genealogies are suspect for the various different reasons outlined above. All inclusions of Arthur were for political or prestigious reasons. If Geoffrey of Monmouth didn’t created the Dumnonia line, then we need to ask who did and why? Was there an actual Arthur or is this just the product of earlier storytelling? Does the poem mentioning Arthur’s men fighting alongside Gereint fab Erbin of Dyfnient (Devon) have anything to do with it? Lot’s more questions, no more answers.

In the next blog I’m going to look at the argued first mention of Arthur in the Late 6th/Early 7th century collection of poems, Y Gododdin.

Thanks for reading this very long blog,



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