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Monday, 22 December 2014

The Core Battles of Arthur Dux Bellorum in Flavia Caesariensis

The Core Battles of Arthur Dux Bellorum in Flavia Caesariensis
by Dane Pestano

In this essay I will continue the work of Keith Fitzpatrick-Matthews and explore the battles of Arthur against the Saxons as detailed in the Historia Brittonum, written in around 829AD and suggest that the author of the original battle list was placing most of the battles in the late Roman province of Flavia Caesariensis. This encompassed an area north of the river Thames to south of the river Humber. The placement of late Roman provinces is debated so differing opinions exist as to the validity of the maps shown, but this does not effect the placement of the battles predominantly in the midlands. The main references for this work will be Jackson's seminal piece Once Again Arthur's Battles (1945) and more fully Keith J Fitzpatrick-Matthews' more up to date summary of the scholarly input over the last 100 years or so – The Arthurian Battle Listof the Historia Brittonum (unpublished) in which he suggests a similar grouping of seven of Arthur's battles.

I will use maps to show the placement of Saxon settlements, rebellions and movement of the battles along the Roman road systems, something that has been lacking in most studies of the battles but was attempted by Matthews who created a basic map of Arthur's battles in the context of Flavia Caesariensi and the north. 
An attempt to place Arthur's battles into a context of fifth and sixth century Britain should be attempted although we must understand that whoever compiled the list in the eighth to ninth centuries would have described the battles in the orthography of the time.

The Saxons had arrived in Britain as federates in around 465 according to Gildas and had broken out of their settlements in the east to pillage the towns along the Roman road systems in the early 470's. We know from Gildas that St Albans (Verulamium) was one of these towns in Flavia Caesariensis and the other Chester at opposite ends of the of the territory (It was thought this may have been Caerleon, Newport, South Wales, in Secunda, but see later below) . Gildas in effect was telling us where the extent of the troubles was. Ambrosius had begun the fightback in the mid 470's and must have managed to pacify south eastern Flavia Caesariensis in his campaigns as none of Arthur's battles are in this part, ie north east of the Thames to the Ouse in East Anglia. Britannia Prima, the whole region south of the Thames may have escaped any major troubles, perhaps only Kent being problematical although this area may in fact have been more Frankish, rather than Saxon in our period as the archaeology indicates. The following map shows the early perceived Saxon cemeteries in Britain reflecting where they lived and you can see from this that they were mainly billeted in Flavia Caesariensis and I have added the probable rebellion routes.

The campaigns of Ambrosius may have taken a few years from the 470's onwards. During this time Britons and Saxons fought many battles, sometimes the Britons winning, sometimes the Saxons, until the decisive British victory at Badon. Arthur's battles then must have taken place between the 490's to around 516-518, when the battle of Badon is said to have taken place in the Weslh annals, although this late a date is contested.

To summarise then, Gildas tells us where the major troubles took place, defining the extent between St Albans and Chester. The majority of Arthur’s battles, as we shall shortly see, also took place between these places and further to this the battles look tactically sound when compared to the Anglo Saxon settlements of the time and their expansion during the rebellion as they followed the Roman roads.

Here is Mathews' reconstruction of the text of the HB which I will follow. His change of Agned to Breguoin and addition of traith being of no consequence to the battle campaigns:

in illo tempore saxones inualescebant in multitudine et crescebant in britannia. mortuo autem hengisto, octha filius eius transiuit de sinistrali parte britanniae ad regnum cantuariorum et de ipso orti sunt reges cantuariorum. tunc arthur pugnabat contra illos in illis diebus cum regibus brittonum, sed ipse erat dux bellorum. primum bellum fuit in ostium fluminis quod dicitur glein. secundum et tertium et quartum et quintum super aliud flumen quod dicitur dubglas et est in regione linnuis. sextum bellum super flumen quod uocatur bassas. septimum fuit bellum in silua celidonis, id est cat coit celidon. octauum fuit bellum in castello guinnion, in quo arthur portauit imaginem sanctae mariae semper uirginis super humeros suos et pagani uersi sunt in fugam in illo die et caedes magna fuit super illos per uirtutem domini nostri iesu christi et per uirtutem sanctae mariae genetricis eius. nonum bellum gestum est in urbe legionis. decimum gessit bellum in litore fluminis quod uocatur *traith tribruit. undecimum bellum in monte qui dicitur breguoin, *id est cat bregion. duodecimum fuit bellum in monte badonis, in quo corruerunt in uno die dccccxl uiri de uno impetu arthur; et nemo prostrauit eos nisi ipse solus, et in omnibus bellis uictor extitit.

At that time the Saxons grew strong from their increased numbers in Britain. On the death of Hengist, his son Octa travelled from the north of Britain to Kent and from him are the kings of Kent descended. Then Arthur, with the kings of the Britons, fought against them in those days and he was the leader of battles.
* His first battle was at the mouth of the river called Glein.
* The second, third, fourth and fifth battles were on/beside another river called Dubglas and is in the region Linnuis.
* The sixth battle was on/beside the river which is called Bassas.
The seventh battle was in the wood called Celidon, that is Cat Coit Celidon.
The eighth battle was at the fort called Guinnion and in it Arthur carried the image of the holy Mary, the everlasting Virgin, on his shield, and the heathen were put to flight on that day, and there was great slaughter upon them, through the power of Jesus Christ and the power of the holy Virgin Mary, his mother.
* The ninth battle was fought in the city of the Legion
The tenth battle was fought on the shore of the river called traith Tribruit
The eleventh battle was at the mount/ain called Breguoin, that is cat Bregion.
* The twelfth battle was on Mount Badon in which there fell in one charge by Arthur 940 men and no one laid them low save he alone and he was victorious in all his battles.

* From the above we can see that the first six of the battles could certainly be placed in Flavia Caesariensis according to current consensus. Lets examine them briefly.

His first battle was at the mouth of the river called Glein.

Glein is derivative of Brittonic *glano-, 'pure, clear‘, with a suffix -io- or - (Jackson 1945, 46). Names deriving from Old Welsh *glinn, 'valley‘, or its Old Irish cognate *glenn, 'valley‘ cannot be derivatives and so places such as the Great Glen near Leicester can be dismissed. The consensus is that the Northumberland or Lincolnshire river Glen's are indicated. Obviously a choice of the Lincolnshire Glen would appear correct when the placement of the other battles are considered.

The second, third, fourth and fifth battles were on/beside another river called Dubglas and in the region Linnuis.

Dubglas is derived from Brittonic *duboglasso-, 'blue-black‘ (Jackson 1945, 46) and the region Linnuis has been safely identified as Lindsey by Thomas Green and others. Lindsey would have mainly incorporated the area east of Lincoln city and some territory around Lincoln a few miles to the west and southwest. The river Dubglas has not been identified but a possibility may be the river Devon, a southern tributary of the Trent or the river Witham. The idea of Arthur attacking them first at the Glen, pushing remnants of the Saxons northwards and then in Lindsey once the remnants had joined with these would seem to explain the number of battles that took place here.

The sixth battle was on/beside the river which is called Bassas.

The river Bassas has not been identified securely enough but Matthews suggests Baschurch in Shropshire as a good possibility :

Most writers have found this site to be unlocatable. However, Crawford suggested Baschurch, Shropshire, as the site intended; the place is probably named in Canu Heledd as Eglwysseu Bassa, the site of Cynddylan‘s stafell or hall. It is unclear whether an Old English place name Baschurch was translated into Old Welsh by the poet of Canu Heledd or whether the Old English form is a translation from an Old Welsh original: either way, it is possible to accept either Jackson‘s or Isaac‘s different etymologies......Whilst the name has proved problematical for other writers, the identification with the Eglwysau Bassa of Canu Heledd is attractive; the cultural milieu of the author of the Historia Brittonum was the same as that in which the Canu Heledd were composed or (if a seventh-century origin for the cycle be preferred) modernised and the name would probably have been familiar to the author.”

There is a Bassingham eight miles south of Lincoln but as four of the battles are already said to be in Lindsey Bassingham may not be relevant. Baschurch though is not ideal if Bassas was part of the same campaign as the previous five battles as Arthur would have to traverse most of Flavia Caesariensis to get there and would certainly encounter Saxon foes along the way. Perhaps the order of battle list has been changed for poetic license. We could though envisage a separate western Campaign. This would explain some of the anomalies such as the following battle

The seventh battle was in the wood called Celidon, that is Cat Coit Celidon.

This has always been taken to mean the Caledon wood in the southern Scotland uplands and it's difficult to move away from this consensus. Ptolemy had placed it even further north among the highland Picts. The great wood in the midlands appears to have been called just that 'woods' which could indicate it's British name was of the same degree. So we must either envisage a separate northern campaign or accept that it must have been the wood of the midlands. In a ninth century view we would have to side with the northern Caledonian Forest. We should not forget though that Calleva Atrebatum (Silchester) in the south means inhabitants of the woods, so dismissing the rest of Britain in favour of the northern Caledonia may well be fallacious. In support of a great Midlands forest possibly extending all the way to Shropshire, Frank Reno suggests the `men of Argoed' are the men of the Celidon wood, a forest now called Clun but it could just as well be the forest of Galtres north of York which might make some sense if the Caledonian battle was original to the list, and possibly the same as Geoffrey of Monmouth's forest Calaterium (Ashley 2010).

This battle is also compared to mythical Welsh tales and a battle of the woods and so in effect may have been accrued by Arthur. As we shall see, all the problematical battles outside of Flavia Caesariensis have been culled from Welsh myth. Matthews comments :

Given the fact that Coed Celyddon is so well known and well located around the headwaters of the Rivers Clyde and Tweed in Welsh literature, it is difficult to see why some commentators have struggled to find locations outside the southern uplands of Scotland; certainly most agree on this identification. Coed Celyddon is particularly associated with Myrddin, the Merlin of legend, and appears in poems such as Yr Afallennau, Ymddiddan, Geoffrey of Monmouth‘s Vita Merlini and Ystorya Trystan. As such, there can be little doubt of its location..”

The eighth battle was at the fort called Guinnion

The location of Guinnion has eluded all researchers to this point with no satisfactory candidate being found to satisfy etymological arguments. In this regard Venonae / Vennonae/Vennonis has been overlooked. Standing at an important strategic Roman crossroads twelve miles south of Ratae (Leicester) it would make sense for the Saxons to hold this fort or small town at the crossroads of Watling street and the Fosse Way. In the context of Arthur's battles so far (other than Caledonian) it would also make sense as Arthur would be heading along the Fosse Way south, passing through Ratae and the forest and then onto Vennonis. Vennonis itself appears to mean the settlement in the woods, having the same root as Venedotia, a name which became Guinet and then Gwynedd. In a similar way Vennonis could become Guinnion negating any need for the name to derive from Brittonic *uindion-, 'white'. Christopher Gwinn on the Facebook king Arthur group has suggsted the etymology might work in this way: 

"Assuming that the name is rendered correctly in the sources, Uenonis would give Old Welsh *Guenon, while Uēnonis (with a long -e-) would give OW *Guoinon or *Guuinon. Whether or not this could be corrupted into Guinnion is a matter of conjecture, but I would lean towards no; however, *Guuinon, with all its minims, would be the most susceptible to corruption into Guinnion (so, it's not impossible).."

Occupation of Vennonae is known all the way up to the beginning of the fifth century due to archaeological coin evidence of the emperor Honorius, suggesting there was continued fifth century occupation. This would add a seventh battle to the region of Flavia Caesariensis. 

 ..and in it Arthur carried the image of the holy Mary, the everlasting Virgin, on his shield, and the heathen were put to flight on that day, and there was great slaughter upon them, through the power of Jesus Christ and the power of the holy Virgin Mary, his mother..

The addition of the religious aspects of Arthur carrying an image of the virgin Mary in this battle dates these additional words to a period after the beginning of the seventh century as the cult of Mary was not evident in Britain or Ireland before this time. The addition of the word 'Pagani' here also suggests a later date as this word was used of the Vikings, so a late eighth to early ninth century date for this addition may be more applicable. In fact it may have been added therefore when the HB was written. 

The ninth battle was fought in the city of the Legion.

Matthews sums up the evidence :

The name is pure Latin and means 'city of the legion‘, from which it has been identified with the legionum urbis/ciuitatem legionum and carlegion of Gildas and Bede (de Excidio Britanniae 10; Historia Ecclesiastica II.2), the cair legion of Historia Brittonum §66a and the urbis legion/cair legion of the Annales Cambrię. The possibility that the text originally contained an Old Welsh version, *cair legion, should not be dismissed automatically, although it is found only in the Vatican recension....Once again, a relatively high level of confidence can be expressed in an identification with Chester.”

This place can be no other than Chester and in the context of the eighth to ninth century even more so. This ads then an eighth battle to the region of Flavia Caesariensis and we can now map them as described. From this map you can see the extent of Arthur's core battles. Matthews' asserts that the carlegion of Gildas is indeed Chester and not Caerleon.

Arthurs core battles in Caesariensis. Red areas are the Saxon cemeteries /Settlements

The tenth battle was fought on the shore of the river called traith Tribruit.

The name comes from Middle Welsh, tryfrwyd, meaning 'pierced through', and consists of *tri- 'through, very, excessive‘, compounded with Old Welsh *bruit, 'pierced, broken' (Jackson 1945,51). Unfortunately the location of this battle has eluded everyone but a northern location was favoured until Koch's input. Matthews comments:

John Koch (1997, 178) has identified the vanawyt of Y Gododdin line 35 with the manawid of Pa Gur, yv y Porthaur? who brought back the broken spear from Traith Tribruit, and suggests that his kingdom lay in the east, in what is now England. If this be accepted, there is no longer any reason to insist that traith tribruit lay in Y Gogledd. This leaves the identification of the battle site completely open, although it is clear that the name was well known in early Welsh saga..”

So interestingly Tribruit may lie in Eastern England and again this battle is associated with Welsh myth. Placing it in Flavia Caesariensis though has proven to be difficult. Perhaps the Trent is indicated but there is not enough evidence to locate this battle. It may be another battle that Arthur acquired when the poem or battle list was being formed.

The eleventh battle was at the mount/ain called Breguoin, that is cat Bregion.

The usual place of this battle is said to be Agned and Agned would be a good suggestion for the rhyming scheme. Agned is usally placed in the north but Matthews suggests a corruption from 'breguoin, id' to Agned which has some merit. Whether this holds up is not as yet known but either way the battle is said to be in the north at Bremenium. Matthews comments :

the name is clearly the same as that of the Roman auxiliary fort of Bremenium at High Rochester, Northumberland (Jackson 1959, 4). This was also the scene of a battle, known as kat gellawr brewyn, 'the battle of the cells of *Bremenio-‘, attributed to Urien of Rheged by the poet of Ardwyre Reget, ryssed rieu”

This battle then by consensus must be outside of Flavia Caesariensis and in the north and again may have been accrued by Arthur. It's clear then that the three battles that cannot be placed within Flavia Caesariensis all have associations with battles not originally attributed to Arthur in Welsh myth – Caledonia with Merlin, Tribruit with Manawid and Agned/Bregion with Urien. Bassas might also be added to this list with its previous association with Cynddylan  This leaves the final Battle which can also be placed within Flavia Caesariensis.

The twelfth battle was on Mount Badon in which there fell in one charge by Arthur 940 men and no one laid them low save he alone and he was victorious in all his battles.

Where Badon took place has eluded all comers but placing it into the context of Flavia Caesariensis would appear sensible and Green, favouring a Lincolnshire basis for the battles, places Badon at Baumber but I think this is untenable as four of the battles are already placed around Lincolnshire if not five. The Saxons of the upper Thames valley (later known as the Gewisse) rebelling and taking Cirencester would tactically be a sound acquisition, giving access as it does to Wales and the south west. There were many hill forts in this region. It was originally part of the territory of the Dobunni otherwise known as the Bodunni. One hillfort was in the area of Baunton near Cirencester, deriving from 'Baudintune' mentioned in the Doomsday book. 'tune' is the Anglo Saxon termination, later 'ton' for town. 'Baun' then derives from 'Baudin'. Some suggest this may derive from an Anglo Saxon person called Badd or even Bald for some obscure reasoning that eludes me but an original possibility from Britonnic 'Baud-din' , 'victorius hill' may be acceptable. This location may agree with the general medieval beliefs that the battle took place towards Bath, which is only a fairly short distance southwards. This then would be the ninth battle placed in the region of Flavia Caesariensis.


Matthews is correct in placing the context of Arthur's battles in Flavia Caesariensis. When looked at with the placement of Anglo Saxon settlements and the Roman road system it all becomes evident that whosoever wrote the battle list was certainly locating the battles in the region that Gildas defined. Only half that region though, the rest appears to have already been secured by Ambrosius if we naturally follow the data the battle list is telling us. Gildas though wasn't thinking in terms of Roman Provinces, probably long forgotten by his time. 

When the Superbus Tyrannus was appointed in the 460's there was still a council in place to decide his appointment and Britain was Roman enough to send an army under Riothamus to help the Romans against Euric in around 469. Does this suggest that Britain still had some provincial system in place at that time? It is not essential to this thesis that they did as the rebellion region appears defined by Gildas and they just happen to fall into the old province of Flavia Caesariensis as defined in these maps.

So where was Arthur based? If the first battle at the Glen in southern Lincolnshire is correct then Arthur's base may have been in Camulodunum, Colchester. Some have suggested Wroxeter at the opposite end of Flavia Caesariensis , a possibility as well if the battles are not in the correct order. Wroxeter and Chester were in the tribal territory of the Cornovi. If the association of Arthur with Cornwall is a dim remembering of this association with the Cornovi of Shropshire we may have his area of origin. All of the battles then that can be located are in Flavia Caesariensis apart from the three or four that appear to be battles acquired by Arthur from Welsh myth and were added to the core of the battle list to give it a rhyming scheme. 

If we follow the order of the battle list with the core battles we can see that Arthur first attacked the Saxons on the Glein as he moved north up Ermine Street towards Lincoln. Saxons fleeing this advance would have approached Lindsey and joined with their compatriots there, necessitating another four battles around Lindsey to finally defeat the combined Saxon forces and push them back beyond Lincoln. As indicated above there may have been separate campaigns over a number of years. One easterly around Lincolnshire. Then the following one towards the midlands and westerly.

Arthur then headed down the Foss way passing through Ratae and the great midlands forest, a possible location for the battle of the Caledonian wood, and then onto the battle at Guinnion Fort at Vennonis. From here he took the north west Watling Street towards Wroxeter and probably picking up reinforcements then attacked the Saxons who guarded the approaches to Chester at Bassas and then onto Chester itself to dislodge the Saxons there. Wintering in the west and in third campaign Arthur heads South.  

With Chester defeated most of what was Flavia Caesariensis was now in British hands and so finally Arthur headed back down the Watling street and onto the Fosse way south to approach the final battle at the Badonic mount near Cirencester. According to Gildas this brought a lasting peace to southern and central Britain until the second half of the sixth century when the plague reduced the Britons to such a state that the Saxons were once more able to expand their influence. These campaigns must have taken place over a few years with other minor battles not mentioned.

In the context of late fifth and early sixth century Britain Arthur's eight or nine core battles look surprisingly authentic, tactically well placed and logically viable. Are we then looking at a genuine core battle list remembered from the sixth to seventh centuries and ultimately derived from battles in the fifth to early sixth century?  My work on Mac Erca has shown that battles were easily accrued and their number even doubled when legend and pseudo-history takes over. That Arthur may have therefore acquired battles from Welsh legend should not be surprising. If four of the battles were obtained from Welsh legend to help the rhyming and increase the list of battles then Bassas was brought in to rhyme with Dubglas/Linnuis, Celidon with Guinnion, Agned with Tribruit?. The rhyming scheme then should like this this...


Only Agned and Tribruit appear to be a difficult rhyme showing perhaps that they were both added to the battle list with the others to bring the number to twelve. If Agned were originally Bregion it would spoil the rhyming even more (although Bregion would rhyme well with Guinnion). It's not unusual for the first line of a Welsh poem not to rhyme. This may also indicate that Linnuis may have been an additional gloss as such on the battles of the river Dubglas. Legionis is now in its correct place before Badonis, suggesting again that both Agned and Tribruit were not original to the scheme. 

The original Latin rhyming Scheme

Having at least 4-7 of the battle names ending in 'is' could though lead us onto the original Latin rhyming scheme. These are Linnuis, Celedonis, Legionis and Badonis. We could suggest an earlier Glenis for Glein. Bassas stands out then as a sore thumb and certain addition. Guinnion could originally be Guinonis from Venonis. For 'Tribruit' we might be able to suggest Tribrutis and for 'Bregion' Bremenis but these are problematical so again were probably 'Nennian' additions. The battle of Silva Celidonis though does fit the rhyming scheme and so may have been an original early accrued battle or it was in the midlands. We are again then left with a core of nine original battles. In an earlier Latinised orthography the names and rhyming scheme could be thus : 

1..... fluminis quod dicitur glenis

2-5..... et est in regione linnuis. 
6...... fuit bellum in silua celidonis
7......fuit bellum in castello guinnonis,
8......est in urbe legionis
9......fuit bellum in monte badonis,

Brief references and reading

Dark K. R. A Sub-Roman Re-Defence of Hadrian's Wall? Britannia, Vol. 23 (1992), pp. 111-120

Dumville, David. Histories and Pseudo Histories of the Insular Middle Ages (Variorum Collected Studies), 1990

Fitzpatrick-Matthews, Keith . The ‘Arthurian battle list’ of the Historia Brittonum, 2014?

Green, T. Concepts of Arthur. Stroud: Tempus, 2013.
                Britons and the Anglo-Saxons Lincolnshire AD 400-600, The History of Lincolnshire  Committee 2012.

Halsall, Guy. Worlds of Arthur: Facts and Fictions of the Dark Ages, OUP Oxford, 2013.

Jackson, K H. Once again Arthur‘s battles. Modern Philology 93, 44-57, 1945

Lane, Alan. Wroxeter and the end of Roman Britain, Antiquity Publications, 2103.

Ashley, Mike, A Brief History of King Arthur. Constable and Robinson 2010.

Mommsen, T Historia Brittonum cum additamentis Nennii. In: Mommsen, T ed.
Monumenta Germaniae Historia Auctorum Antiquissimum XIII Chronicorum Minorum III. Berlin:
Weidmann, 111-222 1898

Wiseman, H M The derivation of the date of the Badon entry in the Annales Cambriae
from Bede and Gildas
. Parergon 17, 1-10,


Copyright Dane Pestano 2014.

Sunday, 7 September 2014

Of The Miracles of Cairnech Here

Here is a chapter from my book on the early story of Mac Erca's triumphs over the Saxons, Britons, Franks and Irish etc. Following this story is the original tale from the Lebhor Bretnach - The Irish HB.

Of The Miracles of Cairnech Here.

The Lebhor Bretnach is the Irish version of the Historia Brittonum compiled in the eleventh century where Mac Erca's story forms part of the tale: Of the Miracles of Cairnech Here. The story tells the tale of Mac Erca’s victories over the British king Luirig/Lugaid/Lug/Lew and his further victories over the Franks, Saxons, Picts, Britons and Irish.

This tale of St. Cairnech, Mac Erca and Luirig appears to be of eleventh to fourteenth century hagiographical origin derived from an earlier lost life of St Cairnech compiled with other earlier material on Mac Erca that has been added to the Ballymote version of the Lebhor Bretnach and placed into the chronology of that work after the year 422 when the Romans had left Britain. Therefore, it was intended to cover the period from the Roman withdrawal to the mid sixth century. The earlier date for some of the material stems from the fact that the slaying of Lugaide by Mac Erca is mentioned in the Baile Chuin MS of the seventh to ninth centuries – “Fierce Lugaid of noble great drinking shall be approached: ordeal of battle. A glorious man upon him, Mac Ercéne.The details about some of Mac Erca’s triumphs may have come from a now lost story of his journeys.

This story of St Cairnech appears to be a composition utilising various sources. The first being genealogical, possibly of the tenth century or later, explaining the ancestry of the various characters; the second an earlier source detailing some of Mac Erca’s adventures and the third being material about St Cairnech himself. It is an interesting tale that does not appear to know of Mac Erca's connection with the fairy woman Sheen or of his mythical death at Cleitech, suggesting some essence of the tale may have pre-dated the later myth making of the tenth century onwards. It would seem inconceivable that a writer of a Vita about St. Cairnech would leave out the story of his involvement with Mac Erca’s death had it been known. In this story, Mac Erca’s sin is that he has taken the wife of Luirig, the British king whom he had defeated earlier, whereas in the story of his death his sin is that he takes on the concubine Sheen (Sin) and throws out his wife Duinsech. In this story there is no mention of the Danes or Vikings, instead it features the Franks, Britons, Picts, Irish and Saxons suggesting an early date for the parts about Mac Erca, possibly eighth century as discussed below.

In their 1848 publication of the Irish version of the Historia Brittonum, Todd and Herbert suggested this tale must be later than the year 1079 as this was when Pope Gregory the VII officially granted the primacy of the See of Lyons in writing. In the story, Cairnech makes a pilgrimage possibly to Lyon (Lien in story). However in reading Gregory’s letter confirming the primacy he states that it was already seen as such and also decreed by those who came before him:

“….by its appointment and authority, the church of Lyons is acknowledged for long to have held the primacy over the four provinces of Lyons, Rouen, Tours and Sens. Therefore we…wishing to follow the examples of the holy fathers and relying on their power, desire at due time to confirm the primacyof Lyons that they established and sanctioned by their decrees”

It is clear then that Lyons was considered the primary see of the area long before 1079, even if it was on pseudo decretals of Anecletus in the ninth century that Gregory based his decision. Therefore, some of this story of St Cairnech could indeed date from the ninth century and some of its sources to as early as the seventh and eighth centuries.

The story contains various clues as to the political situations prevalent when parts of it were written reflecting its pseudo-historical nature. Firstly Loarn is said to be king of Alba. Alba did not become a term for all of Scotland until the tenth century under Constantine II but the Irish had used the term since the ninth century, examples being in the Felire Oengusso, a list of Saints days. But here Loarn is not claimed to be a king of all Pictland, as it’s well known enough that he ruled only in Dal Riada. Therefore we can assume here that Alba here just means the Gaelic western parts of Scotland. So a post tenth century date is not required for this part of the tale.

The political situation that the story reflects concerning Loarn and that of a Pictish king called Saran/Taran and the Cenél Loarn being shown as taking a lead in Argyle affairs dates the composition of this material to the late seventh to the early eighth century when Taran was a Pictish King (692-696) and the Cenél Loarn were dominating Argyll under their king Selbach (698-723). By the mid eighth century the Picts were the dominant party in Argyll under their all conquering King Onuist (Oengus I 732-761). The reality of the sixth century was of Cenél Gabran dominating affairs in Argyle under Aedan Mac Gabran and his sons.

As discussed briefly above, the tale does not include the Vikings or Danes as enemies, placing it before these peoples attacked Ireland from 795 onwards. However the descendents of Loarn were once again powerful as the kings of Moray in the eleventh century when they took on the title King of Alba and so this is the time suggested by some scholars for the compilation of the story. This was the time of the Moray king Mac Bethad or Macbeth (1040-1057) as he is better known!

This story of Mac Erca’s triumphs interwoven within a vita of St Cairnech is an interesting problem. The tale includes two separate genealogical traditions. The first one, indicating the genealogy of Mac Erca descending from a mother called Erc is a late invention of the tenth to eleventh century when his name was re-interpreted as a matronymic, although some parts of the genealogy are original to the seventh century. In this genealogy Muiredach, Mac Erca’s father is made a son of Eoghan, son of Niall, which is an eighth century onwards innovation:

Sarran assumed the sovereignty of Britain after this, and established his power over the Saxons and Cruithnians. And he took to wife the daughter of the king of Alban, viz., Babona, daughter of Loarn, son of Erc. And it was not she that was married to him, but her sister, viz., Erc, daughter of Loarn, until she eloped with Muiredhach, son of Eoghan, son of Niall, to Eri,and she bore him four sons, viz. Muircheartach Mac Erca, and Fearadhach, and Tighearnach, and Maian. And Sarran had issue by Babona; and there were begotten by them five sons, viz., Luirig, and Cairnech, and Bishop Dallain, and Caemlach; and he i.e. Sarran died after victory and after triumph in the house of Martin.

This starts with Sarran a king Of Britain in the fifth century, father of St Carranog/Cairnech and Luirig/Lugaide - the next King of Britain (medieval Welsh Lew). Sarran seems to have ruled in north western Britain and Southern Scotland around Galloway as he was buried in Whitehorn according to this story.

The second is probably an earlier tradition and could be original to the eighth century:

and Mac Erca then committed an additional sin, that is, he took to himself the wife of Luirig, after many battles and conflicts with the king of France, to take his daughter from him, until at last the daughter fell into Mac Erca's hands, and she bare him four sons, viz. Constantine, and Gaedhal-Ficht (from whom descend the kings of Britain, and the kings of Britain-Cornn); Nellenn (a quo gens Nellan), and Scannal, the other son, a quo gens Scannail; it is in Eri the descendants of the two last are…

The first part of this tradition appears confusing. Mac Erca takes Luirig’s wife who appears to be the daughter of the king of France, ie of the Franks after defeating the Frankish king who can be no other than Clovis at this time. In this Mac Erca is made the progenitor through his marriage to Clovis’s daughter of all the major kings of all parts of Britain. The first son is Constantine, who is stated to be the progenitor of the British Kings. He appears to be the same as the Constantine mentioned by Gildas, the sixth century British historian. This is an interesting tradition to discover as it appears to be unique in its suggestion that Constantine had descendents who continued to rule parts of Britain in the early eighth century and indeed that his father was Mac Erca, the Irish Arthur. In twelfth century British tradition by Geoffrey of Monmouth, Constantine followed Arthur as King of Britain!

The second son is Gaedhil Ficht, basically Irish Picts, who are said to be the rulers of an independent Cornwall. This is not out of the question as early medieval Irish links to the area are well known. The Saxons didn’t make any headway into Cornwall until the early ninth century when Ecgbert, the Wessex king invaded and made it a dukedom, placing again then, this part of the tale to no later than the late eighth century as it wouldn’t make sense any later than this as there were no Kings of Cornwall.

Another indicator of early origins comes from the term used for the Anglo Saxon parts of Britain in this story, i.e. 'Saxonland' instead of 'Angliam'. It wasn't until the late eighth century onwards that words such as Angliam, Anglie and Anglorum were used by the Irish to describe it. Hence the date in the Irish annals of Ulster for the arrival of the Saxons in Britain to AD 464 is a ninth century onwards interpolation as is the entry for 589 regarding Augustine.

The third son is Nellan, hence the progenitor of the Ui’Neill’s of northern Ireland and the fourth Scannal, progenitor of the Eogonachta of southern Ireland. The Eogonachta were powerful in southern Ireland between the seventh to tenth centuries but Scannell was a sept of some significance in the eleventh century as it is recorded that in 1014, Eocha, son of Dunadbach, Chief of Clann Scannail, and Scannail son of Cathal, Lord of Eóganacht Locha Léin, were killed at the Battle of Clontarf. Whether this is significant in dating this part is debatable. All these links then must be considered legendary. As both genealogies are dubious we are no closer to finding out exactly who Mac Erca was descended from except for what Adamnan tells us writing in the late seventh century; that Mac Erca’s father was called Muiredach and he had three sons, Baitan, Domnall and Forcus. Whether this Muiredach was the son of Eoghan son of Niall and hence of the Ui'Neill’s is unknown but it is what the Ui Neill’s promoted when they merged their ancestor Muircertach mac Muiredach with Mac Erca sometime in the late eighth to ninth century.

Of The Miracles of Cairnech Here then as discussed above appears to be a work composed of differing sources over different centuries pieced together to form the tale that has come down to us from the book of Ballymote. The earliest sources from the seventh century are the mention of Mac Erca’s father and children and his defeat of Lugaide / Luirig. The next oldest sources are the battles with the Franks, Saxons, Britons and those of the Orkneys. So the eighth to ninth century. Possibly here the mention of Alba could fall into this period as well as the genealogical material concerning the defeat of the Frankish king and the subsequent children – Nellan, Scannel, Constantine and Gaedel Ficht.

This tale was written up from these sources sometime after the tenth century when the name Mac Erca was reinterpreted as a metronymic and when Alba was synonymous with all of Pictland Scotland and Argyll. Much of the material concerning Mac Erc’s battles and conquests and mythical offspring appears to be of eighth century origin, before the Vikings had invaded and whilst Cornwall was still an independent polity; when the Eogonachta were still important in southern Ireland and when the Ui’Neill’s had become powerful in northern Ireland, i.e. the eighth century onwards.

Of The Miracles of Cairnech Here.

SARRAN assumed the sovereignty of Britain after this, and established his power over the Saxons and Cruithnians. And he took to wife the daughter of the king of Alban, viz., Babona, daughter of Loarn, son of Erc. And it was not she that was married to him, but her sister, viz., Erc, daughter of Loarn, until she eloped with Muiredhach, son of Eoghan, son of Niall, to Eri, and she bore him four sons, viz. Muircheartach Mac Erca, and Fearadhach, and Tighearnach, and Maian. And Sarran had issue by Babona; and there were begotten by them five sons, viz., Luirig, and Cairnech, and Bishop Dallain, and Caemlach; and he i.e. Sarran died after victory and after triumph in the house of Martin.
Luirig then succeeded to the throne, and he extended his power over the Saxons, and he forcibly built a fort within the precincts of the monastery of Cairnech his brother. Muircheartach Mac Erca happened to be at that time with the king of Britain, learning military science, after he was expelled from Ireland for having killed the Crossans, and after having been subsequently expelled from Alba, for having killed his grandfather, Loarn, king of Alba.

It happened that he was at that time getting his arms consecrated by Cairnech, the son of his mother's sister; then Cairnech said to him, ‘Thou shalt be king of Eri and of Britain for ever, and shalt go to heaven after, provided thou canst but prevent Luirig from exercising his power against the Church.’ Then Mac Erca went to the king, and after he came he told his message, viz.: ‘Build not thy city’ (said he) ‘in the precincts of Cairnech the bishop.’ ‘As God is my judge,’ says Luirig, ‘I think more of the power of the pet wild fawn he has, than of his own power, or of the power of the Lord God whom he adores.’ Mac Erca returned to Cairnech, and told him the result. Great wrath suddenly seized Cairnech, et dixit, ‘My prayer to my Lord, to my God, is, that that very fawn may be the cause of his death, and by thy hand, O Mac Erca!’

Cairnech then commanded Mac Erca to go forth and destroy his brother, and he Mac Erca immediately took upon himself to fight him; and he went forth at the command of Cairnech to destroy the king. And God worked a great miracle there for Cairnech, viz. he sent a wild fawn out of the mountain into the king's assembly, and the host all went in pursuit of it except the king himself and his women. Et dixit Mac Erca, ‘If you had been just, my Lord, towards your cleric, it is certain that it would give increased happiness to have the royal robe on Luirig.’ Then Mac Erca thrust his battle staff into the king's side, so that it was balanced: and he returned to his cleric, and the head of the king with him, as a token; et dixit, ‘Lo, here is thy brother's head for thee, O Cairnech.’ Et dixit Cairnech, ‘Leave me the bone, and eat thou the marrow, and every third coarb shall be thine for ever, here and in Eri.’

Then he (Mac Erca) took the hostages and the power of the district into his own hands, conjointly with Cairnech, for seven years, as also the supreme sovereignty of Britain, and Cat, and Orc, and Saxonland. And Mac Erca then committed an additional sin, that is, he took to himself the wife of Luirig, after many battles and conflicts with the king of France, to take his daughter from him, until at last the daughter fell into Mac Erca's hands, and she bare him four sons, viz. Constantine, and Gaedhal-Ficht (from whom descend the kings of Britain, and the kings of Britain-Cornn); Nellenn (a quo gens Nellan), and Scannal, the other son, a quo gens Scannail; i. e. it is in Eri the descendants of the two last are. 

Now a great synod of the clergy of Europe was made at Tours of Martin, viz., three hundred and thirty-seven bishops, with the coarb of Peter, to meet Cairnech, Bishop of Tours and Britain-Cornn, and of all the British, to cast out every heresy, and to reduce every country to the discipline of the Church. And the chieftainship of the martyrs of the world was given to Cairnech, because martyrdom was his own choice. And Cairnech found thrice fifty bishops who made it also their choice to accompany Cairnech in pilgrimage, and that number went to Lien in pilgrimage for the sake of Mac Erca and Muiredhach. Cairnech then set out to the Britons of Cornn or Carnticeon, and a city was built by him under ground, in order that he might not see the earth, nor the country, nor the sky; and he increased the strength and sovereignty of Mac Erca for a year, and he (i.e. Cairnech) came to Eri before him, so that he was the first bishop of the Clann-Niall and of Temhar (Tara), and he was the first martyr and the first monk of Eri, and the first Brehon of the men of Eri also.

Now, after this the Franks and the Saxons made war against Mac Erca, and he destroyed their country and their cities after a long contest; and the country and the power of the territories adjacent to him were also destroyed by the greatness of his power and of his strength; and after this he came with a large fleet to take the sovereignty of Eri. He landed at Fan-na-long on the Boyne, where he burned his ships, from which circumstance comes the name of Fan-na-long; and he killed the provincial kings of Ireland afterwards, and took their sovereignty by right for ever, for himself and for his descendants. And then the power and strength of Britain was destroyed after him.

Sunday, 24 August 2014

King Arthur in Irish Pseudo-Historical Tradition -Full book

.and the power and strength of Britain was destroyed after him
I have made my book available to all now as a downloadable PDF. Enjoy the story of the Irish Arthur in all his glory, at the correct time in history and in all the right places!

Download the full book here.

Here is the Preface, without the References.

The story of Arthur

The great King Arthur, defeater of Saxons, Picts and Scots, conqueror of Britain, Ireland, Scotland, Denmark, Gaul and the Orkneys needs no introduction being probably the most famous ancient Briton of all time, but as we will be comparing his life with that of certain Irish legends a brief summary of what is known of his life and their sources would be useful.
     Arthur first appears through the mists of time in the early ninth century work the Historia Brittonum (HB) – the History of the Britons - composed around 829AD. This work was an accumulation of various sources bundled together and rewritten to form a whole narrative history. The work incorporates material concerning a chronology of ancient British events; material on Vortigern, Ambrosius Aurelianus, St.Germanus and St.Patrick, Arthur’s battles, Northern British events, the mirablilia and Saxon genealogies.
      In this work then, Arthur’s twelve battles are mentioned for the first time, where he is said to have defeated the Anglo Saxons and won every battle including the famous battle of Badon hill. We also get a glimpse of the mythology that has begun to surround him as he became associated with the landscape due to the similarity of his name to various rock formations. Therefore, he is associated with a Neolithic tomb in Ercing in Wales and to another stone associated with a giant mythical dog of his called Cabal.
     In the HB Arthur is merely called in Latin a dux bellorum or miles, the former meaning a ‘general or leader of battle’ and the latter a ‘soldier’ or ‘mounted warrior’. From this, it has been deduced that he may have been of lower rank than the kings of the Britons he fought for, but this may not be the case. Medieval scribes in copying ancient manuscripts often changed the title of Rex (king) to that of Dux (General) or Comes (Count) as they didn’t recognise the status of the petty king. This was due to the time in which they wrote, not understanding that in the fifth and sixth centuries the whole country would have been full of petty kings and their kingdoms, with several kings occupying small areas that were later amalgamated under one sovereignty. The poetic epithet of dux bellorum (leader of battles) itself was a common enough one in Welsh poetry, suggesting, as many scholars have done, that the Arthur battle list derived from a Welsh poem of the seventh or eighth centuries. The HB was appended to over many years, with some more information on Arthur included, such as glosses to the main work. These made more of his Christian links and offered some puzzling comments concerning his wayward youth. The Irish then wrote their own vernacular version of the HB in the mid eleventh century.
      The next we hear of Arthur is in the tenth century poem The Gododdin[. This poem concerning events of Britons living in what is now southern Scotland around Edinburgh compared one of their heroes Gwawrddur to Arthur, implying that he was not as great as Arthur even though he could kill 300 men. This comparison is based on the battle list in the HB as Arthur was said to be able to kill 960 men in one assault. The poem also shows many more borrowings from the HB so can be dated in its Arthurian form sometime after the HB became widely read. Therefore, for this part a tenth century date seems appropriate even though the manuscript we have now only dates from the thirteenth century. The poem refers to a battle that took place in Scotland in the late sixth century called Catraeth, which is mentioned in the Irish annals as having taken place in 596AD against Saxons incursions into far northern Britain.  Also in the tenth century, we find Arthur mentioned in the Welsh Annals as having fought at Badon in the year 516 and having died in 537 in battle, at the same time as one Medraut (Mordred) but it is possible these are later interpolations to the annals.
       Arthur then reappears next in possibly an early eleventh century text called Vita Goeznovius (circa 1016 but could be later) which has taken material from a continental version of the HB, which detailed his twelve battles against the Saxons and then mentions for the first time his conquest of Gaul and his kingship.
     In around 1120 a Flemish cleric called Lambert of St Omer, in a work entitled Liber Floridus mentions a palace of Arthur situated in Pictland, “built with marvelous art and variety, in which the history of all his exploits and wars are to be seen in sculpture”. These sculptures are most likely those at the Pictish capital Forteviot as opposed to the medieval belief that Arthurs Oven near the river Carron is meant. Soon after this in 1125, William of Malmesbury in the Gesta Regum Anglorum mentions Arthur where he says that Arthur was the subject of “fantastic tales told by the Bretons”. This is then followed by the most famous or infamous work to mention Arthur, the History of the Kings of Britain written by Geoffrey of Monmouth in about 1139. This expands on the legends of Arthur and Geoffrey uses him as a figurehead to appease the British and English who had recently been conquered by the Normans with Breton help. He does this by linking Arthur to Breton descent and envisages the Bretons playing a major role in the conquest of the Saxons as they did in helping the Normans of William the Conqueror defeat Harold.
     Also in this century are other works from the Welsh such as Culhwch and Olwen and other fairy tales that mention Arthur from a group of works now called the Mabinogian.  It was Geoffrey’s work though which was to inspire the later romance tales of Arthur, including as it does mention of Merlin and Mordred and others that became linked with Arthurian legend. It is in this work that Arthur was given a father ‘Uther, whose deeds are merely a mirror of Arthur’s. It is here we find his wife for the first time, Guinevere, his famous sword Caliburnus, later Excalibur, his extended battles against the Saxons ( in various places Geoffrey assumes they took place) an expanded version of Arthur’s conquest of Gaul, southern Scotland and Ireland, his non death as he sails away to Avalon to heal his wounds and much more.
     From here on in Geoffrey’s work found its way to the continent and the French Romance writers picked up the story and incorporated their own localised legends of Arthur mixed with Greek mythology to create a chivalric Arthur and his knights, born to uphold late medieval moral values and take part in the search for the Holy Grail. Other later writers then incorporated the Round Table to accommodate Arthurs many knights in equal sitting and the legend of Arthur was complete.
     Arthur then, after the death of Uther , as a lad of fifteen, was chosen to lead the Britons after pulling a sword from a stone, signifying his right to rule. He moved against the Saxons, Irish and Picts fighting twelve battles with the help of his Breton allies culminating in the great battle of Badon where the Saxons were finally defeated and peace brought to Britain. He is given Excalibur from the Lady of the Lake to help in his wars. He was then threatened by the king of Gaul who called for the Britons to give tribute to the Romans as they had done in the past. This Arthur refused and set out to conquer Gaul instead, as many Romano British emperors had done in the past. He was successful in this and then married Guinevere and thought all was well but in a second campaign to Gaul he left his foster son Mordred in control of Britain. Mordred wanted the crown for himself so traitorously enrolled the help of the Saxons to usurp power. At this Arthur returned from his campaigns and fought against Mordred, which culminated in the great battle of Camlann in 537 where Arthur killed Mordred; but Arthur, mortally wounded, was carried off to the isle of Avalon. Arthur was now said to sleep in a cave waiting to return to save the Britons once more in their hour of need. Unfortunately, to stop this idea that the Britons had for salvation from the Norman conquest, the Norman King of England decided to orchestrate the finding of ‘Arthurs’ bones buried under Glastonbury Tor, complete with fake inscription. Arthur was now never to return but this did not stop his legends growing to even greater heights over the centuries.
     The biggest question for those seeking Arthur now is did he actually exist? From a scholarly viewpoint the evidence is scant to say the least, his name a puzzle to etymologists and contemporary evidence for his very existence is missing. Many have sought to find the original Arthur on whom these legends have grown but no one has been able to place their person in the right time frame. Instead we have the Roman - Lucius Artorius Castus from the second century AD who actually fought against the Britons as a suggestion; or Riothamus a fifth century British leader who fought in 470AD against the Goths in Gaul and lost ; or Artuir Mac Aedan an insignificant Arthur of Irish descent who died in the late sixth or early seventh century, as well as others such as Arthur Ap Pedr, again of the seventh century.
     What no one has been able to do is find legends concerning an Arthur like person that fits him into his correct time frame of the late fifth to the mid sixth century; that has him fight the Saxons, Irish and Picts and assume power over them all including the Danes and the Orkneys. That has him conquer the Gauls twice, has a wife Guinevere, has him raised by a druid, has special weapons and is not initially a king of the Britons. Not only this, but no one has been able to link such a person to an historical king living in the sixth century whose name could represent the name Arthur. What this current work sets out to do is present exactly those requirements in the form of annals and legends hidden for hundreds of years, some still awaiting translation. This material is brand new to the subject of Arthuriana and has never been presented before. This work therefore is an introduction to Arthuriana of this fascinating and rather brutal character of Irish history, pseudo-history and mythology. I will start first with an introduction to the character and to the sources in which he appears. I will then discuss his name, family and background and then move onto his battles. After this the main story of his life and deeds will then be presented as a narrative work.

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