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King Arthur


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Professor Barlow unwittingly touched on a classic gaffe about Arthur when he cited Tristan p 139. “When King Arthur visited King Mark in Cornwall the knightly guests went jousting or pursued stags in the meadows, beasts which seem to have been corralled for their sport.” (William Rufus, Frank Barlow, 1990 page 131)


Jousting? A fifth century Romano-British war leader fighting the Saxons would know nothing of jousting. He, and other warlords, may have used Roman chain mail but this is far from certain.


All available documentary evidence states that fifth century Britain was still administered along Roman lines.


Peter James mentions other Arthurian myths when citing Hakluyt, 1907, pages 53-55.


“Elizabethan scholars not only promulgated the idea that the Tudor monarchy descended directly from King Arthur, but also that he subdued Greenland, so providing a ‘legitimate’ counterweight to the claims of Spain and Portugal to the New World as a whole”. (Peter James, Centuries of Darkness, 1991, p 291)


OK. So legends about King Arthur were also created for political reasons!


Philip Dixon mentions the Anglo-Saxons were initially too few to make great headway. The battle at Mount Badon circa 500CE led to an extended peace and a partition of the land between Britons and Saxons. Many disgruntled Saxons settled in Northeastern France with the Franks. (Philip Dixon, Barbarian Europe, 1976, p53)


The collapse of British power between 550 and 580 CE is explained by the internecine strife between the various British rulers. The many petty monarchs could not unite against the Anglo-Saxon invaders. (Dixon p56)


This certainly corroborates the claim that the British victory at Badon Hill kept the peace for 50 years.


Dixon assures us that archaeological evidence has not demonstrated the actual existence of Arthur. (p36)


He is disparaging about Geoffrey of Monmouth’s “History of the Kings of Britain.” (Circa 1135). It is a compilation of Arthurian legends embellished by Geoffrey’s imagination. However, circumstantial detail and some genuine material lent credence to the book (p35)


Dixon mentions the poem Gododdin circa 600 CE. “A man is called a hero ‘though he is no Arthur’”. (p36)


I am speculating here because I suspect that there was a Celtic hero who may have fought against the Angles of Northumbria.


The Ritchies tell us that the Votadini were also known as the kingdom of the Gododdin. Their presumed strongholds were Edinburgh and Stirling. (Graham and Anna Ritchie, Scotland, 1981, p143) The Ritchies are both archaeological academics. Graham was a Professor of Archaeology.


Bear in mind that Arthur’s seat is at Edinburgh.


The Ritchies tell us the kingdom of Strathclyde was on Castle Rock, Dumbarton. (p143)


We also learn that the Angles from Northumbria eventually gained control of the British kingdom of Rheged (region of modern Carlisle) by marrying into the royal family. (p143)


Here we have a British kingdom and two Celtic kingdoms fighting the encroaching Angles.


I find it intriguing that the dictator Vortigern arranged for the Votadini (aka Gododdin) from Lothian to settle in North Wales! King Cunedda and his Votadini fought off the Scots from Ireland. (Michael Wood, In Search of the Dark Ages, BBC, 1981, page 143)


It is not impossible that the poem Gododdin (circa 600 CE) contains folk memories of Rheged and Votadini leaders who distinguished themselves fighting the Angles.


This supposition is lent some credence because scholars are generally agreed that some of Arthur’s supposed battles took place in Cumbria (? Rheged area) and Southern Scotland (? Gododdin/Votadini area). Wood, p59.


Wood adds: “All we can say is that they are not the battles of a fifth-century leader fighting the Anglo-Saxons.”


Gildas points out that the Romano-British under Ambrosius defeated the Anglo-Saxons and secured peace for some fifty years. (? Just before 500CE)


This clearly refers to Mount Badon. Gildas makes no mention of Arthur!


Wood sums up. There is no “convincing evidence that King Arthur’s wars actually took place.” (p59)


He adds: “yet, reluctantly we must conclude that there is no definite evidence that Arthur ever existed.” (p59)


Philip Dixon also has doubts about the historical Arthur. He points out that most of the stories about King Arthur belong to the 12th century and later, and even his existence is disputed.


Wood believes that most speculations about King Arthur are no more than an attempt to construct a golden age retrospectively. (p39)


I also incline to this view, but before I elaborate an attempted fraud should be noted.


The monks of Glastonbury needed funds to restore their abbey which had been ravaged by fire.


Six years after the destruction of their abbey the monks discovered the body of a man buried in a tree trunk. A forged inscription was produced which claimed that the body was that of King Arthur. (Wood p39)


These lucky monks then found the sword Excalibur, and contrived to locate the burial place of Joseph of Arimathea. (p39)


Wood tells us that reports also circulated that Guinevere had been exhumed despite initial eyewitness accounts that only the body of a man was found (p39).


The Irish had settled in South Wales and Cornwall in 406 CE. Many of the dispossessed Britons fled to Brittany.


The beleaguered Votadini settled in North Wales. The Celtic warriors had been driven to the Atlantic coast by the Franks.


I suspect that “King Arthur” may have been a composite of various British and Celtic war leaders who defended their people against invaders.


The Celts exulted in their military prowess. Nothing is more natural than that the British and the Continental Celts (to say nothing of the Irish in South Wales) would want to cultivate a popular image of a magnificent hero, who exemplified the military glory which the Britons and Celts had lost forever.


Unfortunately, a supposed Romano-British war leader has been reinvented as the epitome of twelfth century French chivalry.


Michael Wood points out that the very name “Camelot” was invented by a French poet in the twelfth century! (p49)

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Thank you, Seed.


To be strictly impartial I must mention the two key texts for the Arthurian myth: the Annals of Wales, and Nennius’ History of the Britons.


Michael Wood claims that evidence for an historical Arthur stands or falls on these two works, which are now incorporated in the Welsh Historical manuscript, Harlein 3859. This book was only written in the twelfth century! (Wood p53)


The annals are unreliable as evidence for fifth century history. The spelling in the earlier sections is that of the 8th or 9th century. It is generally agreed that “the annals were only kept as a contemporary record from around the year 800.” (Wood p58)


Thomas Jones, a highly respected Arthurian scholar, argued that originally the annal read: “Battle of Badon in which the Britons were victorious.”


He was naturally dubious that the annal entry for 490-516, respecting the Battle of Badon, claimed “Arthur carried the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ on his shoulders for three days and nights….”


The normal annal consisted of only one terse sentence. It is apparent that some monk in the 9th century interpolated pious reasons for the British victory. (Wood 53)


The other famous entry (circa 511-537) states: “The Battle of Camlann in which Arthur and Merdraut died.”


This is the first reference to a “Merdraut”. Could he have been the role model for the “Mordred” who features in the Arthurian saga?


This reminds me of another name “coincidence”. (?)


Dennis Harding points out an extraordinary origin of Stonehenge. “Camden, for instance, reports the tradition that Stonehenge was built by Aurelius Ambrosius or his brother Uther, who allegedly erected it as a monument to a treacherous defeat of the Britons by the Saxons.” (Denning Harding, Prehistoric Europe, 1978, page 27)


This claim intrigues me. Could Camden have meant Ambrosius Aurelianus, the acknowledged principal British leader opposing the Saxons in the late fifth century?


I am not an Arthurian scholar, and don’t profess to be. I do not know if Uther was Ambrosius’ brother.


If there was a familial relationship between Ambrosius and an Uther then the plot thickens. Some Arthurian tales name Uther Pendragon as the father of King Arthur.


It is not impossible that Ambrosius and Uther are two of the British warlords who are woven into the composite figure of King Arthur.


We can safely assume that Arthur did not win the Battle of Badon almost single handedly as Nennius alleges.


Gildas makes no mention of Arthur at the Battle of Badon!


Nennius claims “960 men fell in one day (this is at the Battle of Badon) at a single onset of Arthur; and no one killed them but he alone, and in all the battles he came out victorious.” (Wood p59)


The British monks have cast “Arthur” in the mould of an Old Testament Judge. Samson comes to mind “Arthur” was a leader appointed by Gods to save his people.


Nennius’ History of the Britons was written circa 830 CE. Wood points out that there is no evidence of any authentic fifth century material. (Wood p59)


Wood explains that King Arthur was already a folk hero by the 9th century. Nennius’list of Arthur’s 12 battles is based on a Welsh battle poems. Wood does not elaborate, but dismisses poems of this genre as frequently glorifying a popular hero who won non-existent battles.


I wonder if the cited poem was Gododdin. It is possible that the exploits of Rheged and Votadini war leaders were unwittingly featured in Nennius’ history?

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