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

ARTHUR IN STORY AND THE LANDSCAPE

Arthur's Seat

If Arthur was, indeed, a 5th/6th century figure, subsequence stories, folktales, poems and especially topographic and onomastic sites named after him haven’t helped his historical case much. (Neither have Geoffrey of Monmouth, the Saints Lives, the Welsh Triads or the other Romantic Arthurian medieval writers). It is the earliest stories and poems (of the Welsh) and geographical sites (over 50 spread across Britain with the name association alone – ‘A Guidebook to Arthurian Britain’, Ashe, 1980,) that are used as part of the evidence against a historic Arthur … that and the lack of any contemporary or even near contemporary writer naming him.  But we should keep in mind that many of these sites are little understood … or even datable. It can very often be assumed that all these are extremely ancient when, in fact, we know many not to be. Scott Lloyd, in posts via Arthurnet, has explained how many of these sites may certainly post-date Geoffrey of Monmouth and his Historia Regum Britanniae (‘History of the Kings of Britain) of the early 12th century and may be inspired by his work; he related how Arthur appears to have gone out of fashion in Wales during later Medieval times – apart fro being fleetingly referred to in a few poems – as well as the 17th/18th century (especially during the Civil War) and many an onomastic or topographical Arthurian site may date to even after this when Welsh nationalism and antiquarianism began to flourish. But it also cannot be denied that even by the 9th century, and possibly before, a mythical or folkloric Arthur existed. (For an excellent PDF gazetteer on these sites, by Thomas Green, go to, http://www.arthuriana.co.uk/concepts/arthur_folk.pdf . This also gives a brief outline of Green’s arguments).

To quote Padel:

“What interests us, and is so impressive, is not the antiquity of any individual name, but the vitality and consistency of the tradition in the various Brittonic areas … The folklore may in some cases have been boosted by the literary developments … [but] it remained largely unaffected by the literary Arthurian cycle, and retained its character throughout the period.” (‘Nature of Arthur’, pp. 27 and 29-30. – from Green’s ‘A Gazetteer of Arthurian Onomastic and Topographic Folklore’.)

But it is also Arthur’s uniqueness in the amount of sites named after him and their dispersal that gives rise to questions, but he is not entirely alone. The only other ancient British figure to come close in the British Isles is the 6th century saint, Illtud (Illtyd), and even he pales into insignificance (Gidlow, 2010). But this may not be surprising given both Arthur’s later fame, especially in Wales and Cornwall and to a lesser degree Scotland, with everyone wanting to claim him, and the use of the name in the 6th to 8th centuries in what is now western Scotland and southwest Wales. It has become almost impossible to tell just which (or what kind of) Arthur these sites were named after.

From Man to Myth

There is a later historical figure who we might be able to compare him with (if Arthur was historical) and that is Oliver Cromwell. His named sites include: two Cromwell Hills (Bedfordshire and Essex), Cromwell’s Cutting (Devonshire), Oliver’s Battery (Hampshire), Cromwell’s Stone (Lancashire), Cromwell Tower (London), Cromwell Bridge (Lancashire), Oliver’s Mount (Yorkshire), Oliver’s Point (Shropshire). This from a man whom a great deal of the country hated and who fell out of favour after his death; yet still these sites remained. There’s even a Cromwell Street in Northampton that still believes in ‘Cromwell’s Curse’, almost 400 years after the event ( http://cromwellscurse.tripod.com/ ). There are some who think the Cerne Abbas Giant is a parody of Cromwell, and not an ancient site. (Medieval writings making no reference to it – http://www.sacred-destinations.com/england/cerne-abbas-giant.htm).

So, imagine if there were only these sites and only a poem about Cromwell’s battles (7 major ones in all … a Biblical number). Then imagine what would be the case if he was seen in a more favourable light by all, or if his misdemeanours had been forgotten? Or if he had been a Dark Age figure? Would he too have been seen as a mythical giant who won battles in Britain and Ireland?

We also shouldn’t forget just how easy it used to be (and in some ways still is) to mythologize someone … and how quickly. Look what happened to William Wallace, Scottish hero and star of the film Braveheart. He was made into someone else by his very first writer, Blind Harry the Minstrel (although he wasn’t blind!) 172 years after Wallace’s death. He turned him, knowingly or not, from the son of a lord into the son of a farmer – from the son or Lord Alan Wallace to the son of a Malcolm Wallace, a much more Scottish name – missing out Bill’s spell as a thief. (Had an ancient document not recently have been found, we’d never have known this). Then, a couple of centuries later and he’s given a wife (no record of him having one) who is killed by the English, so he needs his revenge. Then they miss out his fellow commander at Falkirk (who died form his wounds) and turn Bill into the only hero, and a huge sword turns up to show he was a giant of a man … even though the sword was a 15th century one, made from three or four swords. Scotland needed a hero, and they chose Wallace to hang the legends off. Had he not been captured (by other Scot lords who saw him as a bit of an lowly upstart and not needed after he lost a battle) and killed the way he was by the English, he may never have become what he did. This doesn’t mean he wasn’t a great brave commander and charismatic man, but he wasn’t what he was made in to. (See, The Myth of William Wallace. A Study of the National Hero’s Impact on Scottish History, Literature and Modern Politics, Wallner, 2003).

The Welsh of the 9th century needed a hero too and chose the Briton, Arthur; who, like William Wallace, may not have been as great as he was turned in to … if he existed. It is interesting that he was chosen here, yet not for the 10th century poem Armes Prydein (more on that later). It could have been because they needed a far ranging hero (real or not) who was known not just as a Welsh warrior hero but a British one, that would appeal to those of the north and the south. A call to arms to unite, as they once (supposedly) had been in order to defeat the ‘Saxons’.

Back at the sites …

Even if these Arthurian onomastic and topographical sites are all based on a mythical or folkloric Arthur, this in itself is unique. For example, you don’t get the same thing happening with Fionn mac Cumhaill (Finn McCool) of Ireland, who some say is Arthur’s Irish mythical equivalent. Even the Giant’s Causeway in Ulster, which the giant Finn is said to be partially responsible for, doesn’t bear his name in Gaelic and is called Clochán na bhFórmorach: ‘stepping stones of the Fomorians’. His only named site (that I could find) is Cath Fionntragha (Battle of Fionn’s Strand), which is in Ventry, Co. Kerry. There are the mountains of Scurr a’ Fionn Choir on the Isle of Skye and Fionn Bheinn in the Highlands of Scotland but whether these relate to the mythical character or just mean ‘fair’ I couldn’t say. (More on Finn later). In fact, you don’t get any other mythical or historical figure having this effect on the landscape. (The nearest mythical figure to him would be the god Woden, and even he doesn’t appear to have as many! - my thanks to historian Jonathan Jarret for pointing Woden out in the comments below). The one other (adopted) British god figure whose name is found in a few places in Scotland (Lochmaben), Wales (Llanfabon, Rhiwabon) and his namesake in Cornwall (St Mabyn) is Mabon (‘Divine Son’), son of Modron (Divine Mother). She is the Gallo-Brittonic goddess Matrona and he Maponos; but at least he is known from two Roman inscriptions as Apollo Maponus from the Roman fort of CORSTOPITVM (Corbridge, Northumberland).

Yet even Mabon doesn’t get around as much as Arthur; but for all Arthur’s diverse locations, from Scotland to Cornwall and all points in between, no one has found an Arthur cult or inscription, of any kind. How can this be if he was the most famous mythical figure even when the Romans were in Britannia (as some argue)?  They could, of course, just not have been found yet, or he was folkloric and not mythical. If he was an ancient folk hero, as envisaged by Padel and Higham, then he’s not going to leave this kind of dedication. But his diverse geographical locations could be less (or not just) to do with a mythical/folkloric status and more to do with popularity.

If anyone does find a MARS ARTURVS (or the like) dedication it would answer a lot of questions. But would it necessarily follow that it would mean an Arthur of Badon didn’t exits? (More later).

In Part Three we’ll look in more detail at giants, giant killers and these Arthurian sites, and who might have been naming them? as well as a look at the ancient tale of a boar hunt.

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

Mak

 

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The World Of Geoffrey of Monmouth

Henry I

This (rather rushed) blog is a little off-period and is very much about the Arthur that became legend. It’s about the 12th century political climate, and intrigue, in which Geoffrey of Monmouth wrote his opus, Historia Regum Britanniae. (History of the Kings of Britain), which started the medieval Arthurian literature craze. I’m not going to get into the whole ‘what was this ancient book that he based his book on?’ question here, or the ‘how much did he make up?’ debate either. This is about what influences were on him when he wrote.

Geoffrey of Monmouth (Galfridus Monemutensis, Galfridus Arturus, Galfridus Artur, Gruffudd ap Arthur, Sieffre o Fynwy) who lived c. 1100  to  c. 1155, was a cleric from the Welsh Marches – not only the border region between England and Wales at the time from Flintshire southwards as it is today, but most of south and southwest Wales to Pembrokeshire too. The Welsh Marches, or Marchia Wallia, as opposed to Pura Wallia (Principality of Wales), were county palatines. Marcher lords ruled their lands by their own law: sicut regal – “like unto a king” (Gilbert, Earl of Gloucester), but at times would use a Norman version of Welsh Law in legal dealings. They were more like the Welsh Princes in the power they had.

“They could establish forests and forest laws declare and wage war, establish boroughs, and grant extensive charters of liberties. They could confiscate the estates of traitors and felons, and regrant these at will. They could establish and preside over their own petty parliaments and county courts. Finally, they could claim any and every feudal due, aid, grant, and relief” (Nelson 1966)

It was an area populated and colonized by English, Bretons, Flemish, Normans and Welsh, and the barons had

King Stephen

the right to build castles without royal permission; something unheard of in the rest of England. So perhaps Geoffrey’s work should be seen less as an Anglo-Norman or even Cambro-Norman production and more as Cambro-Marchian one, or even Cambro-Breton-Marchian? However, he was probably educated on the continent, where he received the title magister, and spent most of his life in Oxford.

It’s thought that he started writing his History around 1135 and he had several very important patrons, namely King Stephen, Waleran de Beaumont and, most notably, Robert, Earl of Gloucester; the illegitimate son of Henry I.

Here are some of the major political and social points and events of the period, with a few comments. (Not in any particular oder):

* Geoffrey may have began his work when Henry I was still alive, and Henry could very well have been compared to Arthur. Whilst the English king Athelstan has been forwarded as the model for Geoffrey’s Arthur (Collingwood 1926, Sarah Foot 2011) there is just as much chance, and more political gain for Geoffrey, that he used Henry I as inspiration.

* Geoffrey of Monmouth’s main patron was the Marcher lord, Earl Robert of Gloucester.

* Robert of Gloucester appears to have been more than just a patron, but an editor for Geoffrey.

* In Robert, Geoffrey say’s Britain “possesses another Henry”.

* Robert’s brother was the Earl of Cornwall. Geoffrey was to make strong Arthurian connections to Cornwall.

* Henry I died whilst Geoffrey was probably still writing, or before he started writing, on 1 December 1135 and Stephen de Blois, Henry’s nephew, grabbed the throne from Robert’s half-sister, the Empress Matilda whilst she was in Normandy.

* Matilida’s first husband, the Holy Roman Emperor Henry V, had been in conflict with Rome and the Pope, something Geoffrey would have Arthur do.

* Matilda’s mother was a queen of Scotland, from an English royal line and her uncle was King David I of Scotland, who tried to come to her aid in the civil war but was repelled by the northern barons.

* Robert, now also lord of Glamorgan, at first supported Stephen, but after a quarrel in 1137 in Normandy and having his English and Welsh estates seized, his support moved to Matilda.

* In general, the west of England supported Matilda.

* Robert didn’t arrive back in England until 1138, when the civil war, known as The Anarchy, started, in which he commanded Matilda’s forces.

* Geoffrey’s first patron, however, was Waleran de Beaumont, a supporter of King Stephen.

* Another edition of Geoffrey’s work has Robert and Stephen as joint patrons. One would think this would have to be in or before 1137, if it isn’t a scribal error.

* Stephen’s Norman settlers came under attack in 1136 from the Welsh, so, perhaps, his patronage of Geoffrey didn’t last long.

* One of the first military attacks Robert made was on Waleran at Worcester.

* It was thought that Robert’s mother was Nesta, daughter of Rhys ap Tudor, but that is now believed to be an Iolo Morganwg fabrication.

* At the time Geoffrey was writing, Matilda had not yet crossed to England but was fighting Stephen’s forces in Normandy.

* Much to the dislike of the Anglo-Norman knights, Robert used Welsh warriors in the civil war to support Empress Matilda against King Stephen.

* One supplier of these Welsh warriors to Robert was Madog ap Maredudd, the last prince of a united Powys.

* It is one of Madog’s retainers who is made famous in the Mabinogion:  Rhonabwy.

* This same story places Badon, which it calls Mynydd Vaddon (Mount Baddon) near the River Severn, whether it actually was or not.

* The hill of Mynydd Baedan lies in Glamorgan; Robert’s territory and another supplier of warriors. Did Glamorgan tradition believe this hill to be Badon?

* At the time, Glamorgan would also have encompassed Caerleon, which Geoffrey made as Arthur’s seat of power.

* In 1136 the Welsh rose against the Marcher lords in south and west Wales.

* Hywel ap Maredudd, lord of Brycheiniog defeated the Norman and English colonists at the Gower.

* Deheubarth joined in the resistance.

* Iorwerth ab Owain, leader of Gwent, displaced by the Norman invasions, ambushed and killed Richard de Clare.

* Owain and Cadwaladr of Gwynedd invaded Norman controlled Ceredigion.

* In September 1136 the combined forces of Gwynedd, Deheubarth, and Powys met the Norman army at the Battle of Crug Mawr at Cardigan Castle, defeating the Normans.

* In 1141 Cadwaladr of Gwynedd and Madog ap Maredudd of Powys were said to be allies of the Earl of Chester in the Battle of Lincoln, and joined in the battle that made King Stephen prisoner of Empress Matilda for a year. (Paul Martin Remfry believes they were Maredudd and Cadwgan, both sons of Madog ab Idnerth of Maelienydd).

Robert of Gloucester

Since, in general, the Welsh were the enemy, it has always seemed strange to me that Geoffrey should write such a lengthy piece about their history and especially one of their national heroes, considering who his patrons and audience were. But perhaps his (possible) Breton ancestry made him identify more with the Welsh than the Normans and his being from the Marches, and his patron being Robert, gave him a certain amount of security to write it. His Anglo-Norman patron certainly went along with it. Of course, other Cambro and Anglo-Normans like William of Newburgh and Gerald of Wales certainly didn’t; although Gerald seems to have criticized him when it suited. J.C. Crick (The British and the Welsh Future: Gerald of Wales, Geoffrey of Monmouth and Arthur of Britain) believes William of Newburgh’s response and work were as much a political answer to the Welsh revolt, changing the emphasis back to Bede and an English history.

The general take of Geoffrey’s History, it seems to me, is that whilst Geoffrey praises the Britons he also chastises them in the same way Gildas does, but, unlike Gildas, he gives them hope. Davies in his book The History of Wales believes that Geoffrey’s telling his audience that because the supposed founder of Britain, Brutus’s eldest son Locrinus ruled what became England, whilst his two younger brothers took Wales and Scotland, then whoever ruled England ruled Britain. Later Tudor and Stuart monarchs cited Geoffrey’s History to support their dynastic successions; but did King Stephen want to use it for something more?

It has been argued that Arthur was the Anglo-Norman answer to Charlemagne. There was simply no one else in their’s, British or English history to compare to his continental counterpart, and Arthur fitted the bill … with a few fictional addition for good measure. But perhaps King Stephen thought, like Robert, that he needed the Welsh (and Bretons) to help him win his civil war? After all, the Bretons were the ones who held great sways of the Marches, especially Monmouth, along with the Flemish. But did all this backfire on them? As I mentioned, Geoffrey at the end of his History said there was hope for the Britons to rise again, in comparison to Gerald who said there wasn’t.

The political situation changed greatly during the period in which Geoffrey wrote his History and, who knows, he may have to had to change or adapt the story as he went along. We don’t know which side Geoffrey was backing but when Robert went over to Matilda was Geoffrey later encouraged by Robert to get it translated in to Welsh to flatter the Britons and try and get a few more of them on his side … and maybe more Bretons? After all, Geoffrey certainly makes the Bretons out to be good guys, which is why it’s thought he may have been of Breton stock himself. It may have been seen as a risky thing to do as the History included the story of Arthur, a story about a Briton who tried to unite his people. Wales was far from united in 1135 and certainly later Anglo-Normans saw the story of Arthur as encouraging the Welsh/Britons to unite and rise again? (There is evidence that the Cornish of the 12th century believed Arthur himself would rise again, but there’s no actual evidence as to whether the Welsh thought the same). And unite they were doing after Henry’s death as explained earlier. Was Geoffrey hedging his bets as he saw the Welsh trying to gain independence and defeating the Normans? Either that, or he totally underestimated what response he would get from the Welsh. After all, the three chapters about Locrinus and the supremacy of England would be forgotten in comparison with the very long Arthurian section. Even placing the capital of Arthur’s Britain in London didn’t seems to bother the Welsh.

It was King Stephen’s lack of response to the Welsh revolt that turned many of the barons over to Matilda’s

The Empress Matilda

side. Whatever happened between 1136 and 1140, and whether it was the inspiration of a story of Arthur (even though Geoffrey’s work may not have appeared yet) or purely political maneuvering – or both – the kingdoms of Gwynedd, Deheubarth, and Powys joined to fight in Ceredigion in 1136 and Gwynedd and Powys came together with the Earl of Chester in 1141 to fight Stephen at Lincoln. Things didn’t improve for the Anglo-Normans until Stephen’s death in 1154 and the crowning of Henry II.

There have been others who have wondered if Henry and Robert inspired Geoffrey to write about Arthur; not that he based Arthur on them but that he saw something of the British hero in them. I am beginning to feel the same. But I’m also wondering if Robert might have been seeing himself as Arthur too, or started modeling himself after him. He’s the only Anglo-Norman to use the Welsh in The Anarchy and I wonder what his motives were beyond just needing more troops? Did Robert patronize Geoffrey’s work because it contained a story about a bastard son going on to be the king of the Britons?  (Did Geoffrey deliberately make Arthur illegitimate?) Robert was unable to take the throne after his father’s demise because of his illegitimate status, even though that didn’t stop William the (Bastard) Conqueror from taking the throne of England in 1066. If Arthur could be king, why not Robert? Although he was a staunch supporter of Matilda, who knows what his true aspirations were?

The fact that Geoffrey was writing at a time when the Welsh were uprising makes it even more interesting to me. Coincidence? Maybe. Fascinating? Definitely.

Thanks for reading,

Mak

 
4 Comments

Posted by on June 8, 2011 in King Arthur

 

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