|.and the power and strength of Britain was destroyed after him|
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.