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A ‘Trial’ of Two Clerics

Mak_Wilson_Two_Clerics

(I apologise for typos here and now!)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thanks for reading and I look forward to your comments.

Mak

 

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

To be or not to be?

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

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

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

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

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

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

Not a striking resemblance!

Merlin reads his prohecies to King Vortigern. ...

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

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

Weight of evidence v popular evidence

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

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

THOSE OTHER ARTHURS

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

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

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

Etymologically speaking …

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

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

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

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

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

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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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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