For some time now I have been working on the “problem” of Uther Pendragon.
What is the nature of this problem, exactly? Simply this: 1) is Uther Pendragon, as it would appear to be, a name + epithet, or is it merely a title for another chieftain? And 2) how do we prove Uther actually was Arthur’s father prior to Geoffrey of Monmouth?
No. 1 cannot really be answered with any certainty. There are other early British and Welsh names like Uther, “Terrible or Wondrous”, i.e. names that have a distinctive adjectival quality. The formation itself, therefore, is not at all unique. Yet the combined effect of this supposed name + epithet IS unique, so far as I am aware. Other legitimate name + epithet pairings do not exhibit a linkage of meaning between the name and epithet. In other words, they cannot be read as a single title, as is the case with Uther Pendragon, the ‘Terrible/Wondrous Chief-warrior’. Instead, the epithets are clearly separate descriptive modifiers of the names. This fact alone leads me to suspect that in Uther Pendragon we do have a title alone and not a name + epithet.
In the earliest sources, we have merely Arthur (see Nennius and the Welsh Annals). The Saints’ Lives featuring Arthur also fail to name his father. There are a few references to Uther which have the appearance of being ‘pre-Galfridian’, i.e. before Geoffrey of Monmouth, but I will show here that we cannot always trust these references. Nor can we point to other Uthers in Welsh or Irish sources, as has sometimes been claimed.*
As an example of a poem which, on first glance, would appear to be pre-Galfridian, we may cite the Book of Taliesin’s ‘Kadeir Teyrnon’. Recently, Thomas Green tackled this poem, making some classic mistakes, precisely because he does approach the subject with the preconception that the material being treated of is pre-Galfridian (“A Note of Aladur, Alator and Arthur”, STUDIA CELTICA, 41, 2007, 237-41).
Green identifies the aladwr of whom the ‘Teyrnon’ of the poem is said to be ‘from the lineage of’ with the obscure British god Alator, found in only two inscriptions. Although teyrnon by the 12th century had become a common noun meaning ‘prince’ and no longer was restricted to the divine personage Teyrnon of the Mabinogion, it is difficult to tell if the word here designates Arthur, who does appear with some prominence in the poem:
“The third profound [song] of the sage [is] to bless Arthur, Arthur the blest, with harmonious art; the defender of battle, the trampler on nine [enemies].”
There is a much more prosaic explanation for Arthur as ‘echen aladwr’, “of the family of Aladwr”. Arthur was of the family of the Breton Aldroenus, according to Geoffrey of Monmouth. In the Welsh genealogies, this Aldroenus becomes Aldwr. Uther’s father Constantine/Custennin was the brother of this Aldwr. ‘Aladwr’ is thus merely a slight misspelling or corruption of Aldwr. Arthur is ‘of the family of Al(a)dwr’ and not of the god Alator.
The poem is thus immediately shown to NOT be pre-Galfridian. We must, therefore, be extremely cautious in how we approach this material. Especially as components from earlier Welsh tradition and from Geoffrey can be mixed in the same composition. In both the 'Uther Pen' and 'Chair of Teyrnon' poems there may be evidence of the inclusion of material from legendary saga. In one we learn of Cawrnur and in the other Gawr Nur, obviously the same personage. Cawr is Welsh for giant, while nur (from the GPC) appears to be a variant of nar or ner, 'lord, chief, leader', a word perhaps cognate with Irish nar/nair. This is likely the 'Bencawr' or Chief Giant Ysbyddaden ("Hawthorne"), who plays a pivotal role in the Welsh Arthurian story CULHWCH AND OLWEN. It should be noted that CULHWCH AND OLWEN does not appear to owe anything to Geoffrey.
Often cited by those who support the notion of a pre-Galfridian Uther is
1) The early Welsh poem ‘Who is the porter?’ In this poem we are told Mabon son of Modron (the Celtic god Maponos son of Matrona, identified by the Romans with their sun god Apollo) is the guas or “servant” of Uthr Bendragon (see Chapter 6). No hint in the poem that this personage is Arthur’s father.
2) Uthr Bendragon is mentioned in an early Triad (no. 28) as a great enchanter. Again, no mention is made of him being Arthur’s father.
3) In two MSS. of Nennius a gloss after ‘dux bellorum’, used to describe Arthur, reads “In British Mab Uter,that is in Latin terrible son, because from his youth he was cruel.” Here Arthur is not the son of Uther, but merely the ‘Terrible Son’.
4) Madog son of Uthr is mentioned in the Book of Taliesin, and this same family connection is found in a didactic poem featuring Eliwlad son of Madog son of Uthr, were Arthur is specifically described as the uncle of Eliwlad. The poem is believed to have been composed in the middle of the 12th century, but survives only in a 15th century MS. A late Triad mentions this same Eliwlad son of Madog son of Uthr.
5) A Book of Taliesin poem entitled ‘Marwnat Uthyr Pen’ or 'Mar. Uthyr Dragon' mentions Arthur (although not as Uther’s son).
Putting aside Nos. 3 and 4 for a moment, we need to look very carefully at No. 5. The attempt has been made (see, for example, most recently Thomas Green’s “Concepts of Arthur”; I find the idea first broached in John Rhys’s “Studies in the Arthurian Legend”) to associate the Terrible (or Wondrous) Head of the ‘Marwnat Uther Pen’ with the head of Bran the Blessed. However, an epithet used in this poem – gorlassar, the origin of Geoffrey of Monmouth’s Gorlois – is found used in only two other places in the early heroic poetry (see “The Poems of Taliesin”, V.28, VIII.17). In both instances, THE WORD IS USED IN HONOR OF URIEN RHEGED.
In the poems of Llywarch Hen, we learn that upon Urien’s death his head was cut off by Llywarch and born away in order to prevent it from coming into the possession of his enemies. This is quite remarkable, as the “Uthyr Pen” of the Taliesin poem can mean either “Terrible/Wondrous Head” OR (see the Geiriadur Prifysgol Cymru listing for pen) Terrible/Wondrous ‘chief(tain), leader, lord, master, ruler’. Could it be that ‘Uther Pen’ is NOT Uther Pendragon, but is instead the head of the slain Urien Rheged?
We need to look more closely at the gloss of the ‘Uther Pen’ poem. After receiving false or conflicting or just plain confusing information on this gloss from several sources, I finally asked Dr. Maredudd ap Huw, Manuscripts Librarian, Department of Collection Services at the National Library of Wales, to look at the MS. itself and let me know about the precise nature of this addition. The page in question can be viewed at: http://digidol.llgc.org.uk/METS/LLT00001/frames?div=78&subdiv=0&local...
Dr. Huw’s response, in full:
“Firstly, I confirm that there is no ellipsis indicated in the manuscript, and that the gloss (or more correctly guide-title) reads 'mar. vthyr dragon.'
Secondly, on looking at the manuscript, it appears that the guide-title is written by the main scribe to inform the rubricator, who subsequently added the abbreviated title. The red ink of ‘n’ in ‘pen’ appears to cover the letter ‘d’ of ‘dragon’.
I regret that I am not in a position to speculate as to why the rubricator did not follow the exact wording offered by the scribe in the guide-title.”
This last is an important observation. The rubricator (called such because he used red ink) wrote ‘marvnat vthyr pen.’ for the main scribe’s ‘mar. vthyr dragon.’ Why? The only explanation I can think of is that the rubricator supplied ‘pen’, with its meaning of chieftain, leader, lord, master, ruler, to explain the meaning of dragon in this context. In other words, he was aware that dragon could have two meanings. The first defined the mythological, reptilian monster of medieval legend. The second recorded its metaphorical use in heroic poetry.
We are not justified, therefore, is seeing a combined form epithet of Pendragon. Instead, the main scribe had only the ‘Terrible/Wondrous Dragon’, but with the meaning – as proven by the rubricator’s addition to the MS. – of ‘Terrible/Wondrous Chieftain’. The later construction ‘Pendragon’ would be a creation of Geoffrey of Monmouth or his reputed source. The original form of this name, if such it is, was merely ‘Uther Dragon’.
This conclusion regarding the epithet Uther Pen/Dragon would also seem to conclusively negate the possibility that the poem’s object is the decapitated head of Urien Rheged.
No. 3 above, where Arthur is called ‘mab Uter’ or terrible son by a glossator in the 12th and 13th century Nennius MSS., is dispensed with as inconsequential.
If ‘mab Uter’ is being used this way with Arthur, then we are dealing with the only known usage of a mab + adjective phrase. If we could find examples of such usage in genuine early sources, we would have a precedent to go by. However, a 'mab X' formation always means "son of so-and-so", as far as we can tell. Yet support for such a reading as ‘terrible son’ – and for the notion that Uther Pendragon is merely a title for Arthur himself – seems to be found in Triad 1 and in 'Culhwch and Olwen", where Arthur referred to as 'Pen Teyrned', Chief Lord/Prince. It is not unreasonable to see in such a title a variant of Pen+ dragon.
But why would the glossator have added: "Mab Uter Britannice, id est filius horribilis Latine, quoniam a puritia sua crudelis fuit" or "In British Mab Uter, that is in Latin terrible son, because from his youth he was cruel"? We would expect instead for someone knowledgeable of the Galfridian tradition to tell us 'whose father is wrongly called Uter, mab Uter actually meaning that Arthur was a terrible son.' The reason is doubtless because the glossator is here attacking the Arthurian tradition. To this we may compare how poor Arthur is mercilessly beat up on in the Saints' Lives.
What the gloss plainly suggests is that the copyist had the name 'Arthur son of Uther', and knowing Uther was also an adjective meaning "horrible" or "terrible" (but also "wondrous"), he chose to interpret this as meaning Arthur was cruel from his youth. This is a fairly typical moralistic judgment applied by a Churchman to a civil ruler. It is meant to disparage the qualities of Arthur. To quote from THE NEW ARTHURIAN ENCYCLOPEDIA on the Saints’ Lives in which Arthur appears:
“These stories disclose a discrepancy in Welsh clerical views of Arthur.... most of the Llancarfan matter presents him unfavorably. He is not an outright heathen, much less is he (as some have imagined) a demon in disguise... but he is a most unsatisfactory son of the Church and a troubler of the saints... Arthur is cast in the role of the Recalcitrant King, a stock character in this class of literature, who is brought in so that the saint can teach him a lesson through supernatural powers or superior virtue. His rapacity may be an echo of clashes between abbots and warrior chiefs... but nothing can be inferred about a real Arthur's real behavior."
In conclusion, such a gloss by a Churchman cannot be trusted to be an accurate reflection on the true nature of Uther.
And now for No. 4. The best source for the discussion of Madog or Madawg son of Uther is Patrick Sims-Williams’ “The Early Welsh Arthurian Poems” (in THE ARTHUR OF THE WELSH, 1991). Here the fragment of the Book of Taliesin poem is rendered:
Madog, the rampart of rejoicing.
Madog, before he was in the grave,
He was a fortress of generosity
[consisting] of feat(s) and play.
The son of Uthr, before death [or ‘before he was slain’],
He handed over pledges.
The author of the study readily admits that:
“Mab vthyr could mean ‘terrible son/lad’, but ‘son of Uthr’ is more likely, since Arthur’s nephew is called the ‘son of Madog son of Uthr’ (mab madawc uab uthyr) in the “Dialogue of Arthur and the Eagle.”
I agree with this assessment. It is true that the Madog stanza separates his name from the ‘son of Uthr’ by a few lines. We do not have here “Madog son of Uther”. However, as I’ve said with the Nennius gloss ‘mab uter’, we have no precedent in the ancient poetry for a ‘mab + adjective’ formation. And the context of this poem presents Madog in a very favorable light, so that to refer to him as the ‘terrible son’ does not match the tone of the composition. In fact, such a description would be in direct opposition to everything else that is said in the poem about Madog! There is absolutely nothing Galfridian about this poem fragment; Geoffrey does not know of a Madog son of Uther.
Sims-Williams states that “The Dialogue of Arthur and the Eagle” is extant only in fourteenth-century or later MSS., and that while it cannot be dated exactly, it may be as early as the twelfth century. That in and of itself is a problem, of course, as Geoffrey of Monmouth wrote his "History” in the 12th century. Its content may well have been influenced by Geoffrey of Monmouth. However, we must ask in what way it may have been thus influenced. As the poem fragment listing Madog son of Uther would appear to be genuine and in no way is dependent on Geoffrey, we can only say that the writer of the ‘Dialogue’, who knew of an Eliwlad son Madog son of Uther, may have been aware of the Galfridian tradition which made Arthur, too, a son of Uther.
The ‘Dialogue’ places Arthur in Cornwall, as was the Welsh belief at the time. As Sims-Williams indicates, the ‘glyncoet Kernyw’ of the poem is likely the large, wooded Glynn valley near Bodmin. I note here on maps a Cutmadoc Farm and Cutmadoc Newton. Cutmadoc does get a mention in Craig Weatherhill’s “Place Names in Cornwall and Scilly” as Madoc’s Wood (the prefix cut or cos appears all the time in Cornish place names and means small woodland). He also mentions an early 1320 form Coysmadok, but unfortunately doesn’t give the source.
Gover’s unpublished 1948 work on Cornish place names gives the following early forms: Codmadok and Cudmadek in 1302, Coysmadoc in 1314, Coysmadok in 1320, Cutmadok in 1327, Cosmadeck in 1547, and also says ‘Cuit’ is a Cornish language word for wood while ‘Madoc’ is a personal name.
Having covered the sources dealing with a supposed pre-Galfridian Uther, we must now treat of the epithet itself. In Geoffrey of Monmouth’s account of the comet that appears on the death of Aurelius Ambrosius (the Ambrosius Aurelianus of Gildas), Merlin tells Uther that the dragon star signifies himself. This is NOT in accord with the prevailing medieval view. Simply expressed, a comet heralded the death of the king – something that Geoffrey does start out saying in his account. But such a star DID NOT represent, in any way, the dead king’s successor.
Uther had nothing to do with the dragons of Dinas Emrys (a relocation of the Vespasian’s Fort at Amesbury and nearby Stonehenge; see my book “The Mysteries of Avalon”). Beginning with the account of Emrys Guletic (Ambrosius the Prince) in Nennius, it is ONLY Aurelius who has to do with the dragons. In Geoffrey’s History, Merlin is intruded and here wrongly identified with Ambrosius. Uther is placed in charge of obtaining the stones from Ireland with Merlin Ambrosius’s help, but all this is done by order by Aurelius. In the original Dinas Emrys story it was Emrys/Ambrosius who revealed the dragons under the fort and who was then given the site to rule from by Vortigern. In fact, we are told Vortigern “gave him [Emrys] the fortress, with all the kingdoms of the western part of Britain.” This is omitted, of course, when Geoffrey divides the Dinas Emrys episode from the Amesbury/Stonehenge one.
One more point is important here. According to Nennius (Chapter 31), Vortigern was in FEAR or DREAD (timore in the Latin text) of Ambrosius, who is called the “great king” (rex magnus) “among all the kings of the British nation”. This title is a Latin rendering for his Welsh rank of guletic. In Welsh, uthr is an adjective and has the meanings of ‘FEARFUL, DREADFUL’ (see the Geiriadur Prifysgol Cymru). Thus the great king who was the terror of Vortigern could have become, quite naturally, the Terrible Dragon/Pen. Uther Dragon/Pen would then merely be a doublet for Ambrosius. This possibility may gain support from the fact that the late French Vulgate refers to Ambrosius as Pendragon.
Before anyone gets too excited about the notion that Uther Dragon, Arthur’s father, is actually Ambrosius Aurelianus, I would remind everyone of the fact that Ambrosius himself has been anachronistically placed in the 5th century when he actually belongs in the 4th. He is the Roman governor of Gaul of this name; this explains why in Chapter 66 of Nennius, we are told that Ambrosius fights the GRANDFATHER of Vortigern at Wallop. A further confusion occurred when the historical meeting of St. Ambrose with Magnus Maximus/ (Welsh Macsen Guletic) at Aquileia was situated in story in Eryri (“abode of eagles”) with Emrys Guletic (not here the historical Ambrosius, but the “Divine/Immortal One” Lleu, ruler of Gwynedd) and Vortigern
Various Arthurian researchers have sought to correct this anachronism by proposing the existence of a second Ambrosius Aurelianus, but unfortunately there is no justification for doing so. We would have to accept a descendent of the Gallic governor who was serving as leader of the Britons, or someone who had merely taken the name of the more famous Gallic leader. There is no evidence in support of either contention.
This gross anachronism, which took the 4th century Ambrosius Aurelianus and stuck him into the 5th century, is easy to explain. Gildas informs us that this hero’s parents had “worn the purple”. We know the Praetorian Prefect’s exalted position was marked by his purple robe (see J.B. Bury’s “History of the Later Roman Empire”). According to N. B. McLynn’s “Ambrose of Milan: Church and Court in a Christian Capital” (1994):
“… [St.] Ambrose’s homonymous father was praetorian prefect at the court of Constantine II, who ruled the western provinces from 337 until 340… the elder Ambrose died prematurely; the timing suggests a connexion with Constantine’s disastrous invasion of the Italian territory of his brother Constans in 340 [the battle at which Constantine II died was fought at Aquileia].”
This Flavius Claudius Constantinus II and his brother Constans I are echoed by Flavius Claudius Constantinus III of 407-411 and his son, Constans II. Geoffrey of Monmouth makes both Ambrosius and Uther brothers of Constans II, son of Constantine III.
It has rightfully been objected to that a Praetorian Prefect of Gaul, who held a civil post, would not be fighting a battle anywhere – and certainly not in Britain. So how do we account for Ambrosius’s placement at Wallop in Hampshire? Rather easily, as it happens. Ambrosius is placed at Wallop because of the latter’s proximity to Amesbury, the earlier Ambresbyrig, only 10 or so miles to the WNW. Through the usual aetiological process, Amesbury was associated with Ambrosius’s name. The great Danebury Hill fort overlooks the Wallop Brook. An even shorter distance separates Fittleton just to the north of Amesbury. This is Viteletone or “Fitela’s tun” in the Domesday Book (and also a nearby Fitelan slad in 934). I have little doubt this place-name was wrongly brought into connection with the Latin Vitalinus.
In passing, I would mention the reference in the early Welsh poem “Gwarchan Maeldderw” (recently edited and translated by G. R. Isaac) to ‘Pharaoh’s Red Dragon’. This is a reference to the battle standard of the ‘Fiery Pharaoh’ (Welsh Ffaraon Ddande), a nickname for Vortigern derived from a passage in Gildas. We might be tempted to consider the possibility that Uther Dragon should instead be identified with Vortigern. But in truth, since Ambrosius supposedly took over the leadership of the Britons after Vortigern, and the Red Dragon is the genius of the British people, he would have inherited or wrested away the battle standard from his predecessor. We are here going by the traditional chronology, of course, which has Ambrosius follow Vortigern. The fort of Vortigern atop Dinas Emrys, with its red dragon, was “given” to Emrys by Vortigern.
The Uther Dragon/Uther Ben poem says “I have shared my refuge, a ninth share in Arthur’s valour”. If we assume the speaker is Arthur’s presumed predecessor Ambrosius, then the statement is meant to imply that Ambrosius paved the way for his more glorious successor.
None of this, of course, actually pertains to Arthur’s father, who must have been a different man. I will return to the quest for a real father for Arthur at the end of this chapter.
Two False Uthers
The Welsh Uther father of Cadolan found in Walter Map is not a legitimate Uther name, as is sometimes claimed (see p. 514, Rachel Bromwich’s Trioedd Ynys Prydein: The Triads of the Island of Britain, 2014). It is instead a corruption of Ifor (Ibor) We know this because Cadolan is associated with a Gesligair, i.e. Gelligaer, so this is certainly Cadwallon son of Ifor who held the castle next to Gelligaer in the 12th century. Ibor is cognate with the Gaelic Iobhor/Iubor found as Arthur’s father in the Scottish Campbell genealogy (although Ambros is also found as Arthur’s father in the Killbride version NLS MS 72). Curiously, the names Ibor/Iobhor/Iubor mean ‘Yew’.
The Uthir/Uithir/Uithidir father of the Irish poet Adnae is merely an error for Uidhir (see under odor in the eDIL), a name meaning “of a dark or sallow complexion”. It is unrelated to Welsh Uthr. In Irish, the cognate word for “terrible” is uath.
Geoffrey of Monmouth’s Life of Uther
Geoffrey of Monmouth fleshed out the life of Uther, primarily by making use of episodes in the life of a 10th century Viking.
While this claim may seem outlandish, we need only go to the year entry 915 in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle. There we are told of the Jarls Ohtor and Hroald or Hraold, who come from Brittany to raid the Welsh coast along the Severn Estuary. They concentrate their initial attacks on Archenfield, the Ercing where Aurelius and Uther are first placed when they come to England from Brittany. Hroald is slain by the men of Hereford and Gloucester, but Ohtor goes on to land ‘east of Watchet’. The Willet or ‘Guellit’ River, adjacent to Carhampton, the ancient Carrum, is east of Watchet. Both the Willet and Carhampton feature in the tale of Arthur and the terrible dragon (‘serpentem ualidissimum, ingentem, terribilem’) in the 11th century Life of St. Carannog or Carantog. I would propose that this terrible dragon owes its existence to the dragon-ship of Ohtor, i.e. a typical Viking ship with a dragon’s head at its prow and a dragon’s tail at its stern, and that Geoffrey of Monmouth made use of the terrible dragon’s presence at Carrum to associate Uther with Ohtor. After an unpleasant stay on an island (Steepholme or Flatholme), Ohtor and what remains of his host go to Dyfed, where Uther is said to fight Pascent and the Irish king Gillomanius. Ohtor then proceeds to Ireland, where Uther had previously fought Gillomanius over the stones of Uisneach/Mount Killaraus.
We have, then, the following startling correspondences:
Uther in Brittany Ohtor in Brittany
Carrum (terrible dragon) East of Watchet
Menevia in Dyfed Dyfed
This Viking jarl is found in the Welsh Annals under the year 913, where the concise entry reads ‘Otter came’. This reference to Ottar is also found in the Welsh Brut t tywysogion (Chronicle of the Princes).
Mount Damen: The Lost Battle of Uther Pendragon
In Geoffrey of Monmouth’s “History of the Kings of Britain”, we are told that when Uther Pendragon is defeated by the Saxons at York, he and his army retreat to a Mount [or hill of] Damen. Here they take refuge, attacking and destroying the Saxon camp in a bold night-time attack that is the brain-child of Gorlois. Following this victory, Uther travels to Alclud in Scotland to pacify that region.
Various candidates have been sought for Mount Damen, an otherwise unlocated place-name. Rather early on Damems near Bradford in West Yorkshire was proposed. Unfortunately, as Dr. Paul Cavill of the English Place-Name Society has assured me, Damems is from ON dammr + ME ende, attested first in 1620. This site is also not on any of the main roads of the time. I once thought to connect Damen with either the Dauen- of Daventry (Dauen- being the genitive of the personl name Dafi) or even with the name of the Dane stream (Dauen) on the other side of the Pennines from York. But these places are too far away, as Uther supposedly retreated to Damen in less than a day.
We have a number of important clues in Geoffrey’s account that help us pinpoint Mount Damen. First, he tells us that Uther appointed as bishop of Alclud one Eledenius. As P.C. Bartrum noted, this is the St. Elidan that is known from churches in the Vale of Clwyd. Therefore, Geoffrey’s Alclud is an error for Clwyd. The most direct route from York to Chester and thence to Clwyd ran through Huddersfield (with its Roman camp of Cambodunum at Slack), up and over Standedge ridge on the Pennines pass, down to Castleshaw (with its Roman camp of Rigodunum), to Manchester, etc.
The name Huddersfield – once one comes to know how Geoffrey operates – is vitally important in our quest for Damen. As I’ve shown in my book THE SECRETS OF AVALON, much of Uther’s career was “padded out” by associating him with a Viking chieftain named Jarl Ohtor. The same process may have been at work on a folkloristic level at Pendragon Castle in Cumbria, where Outgill (from a Scandinavian audr + gill) may have falsely suggested Uther’s presence. So, a perceived similarity in names was important to Geoffrey when he was composing his tale. The early forms (Domesday Book) of Huddersfield (see Ekwall and Mills) are Odresfelt or Oderesfeld, from either a man named *Hudraed or OE "huder, ‘a shelter’ (both unattested, postulated names/words). These forms set off alarm bells and I begin to delve into the history and topography of Huddersfield more closely.
Armitage Goodall ("Place-Names of South-west Yorkshire, 1914), has:
"In DB we find Oderesfelt, Pdersfelt, Odresfeld, but later spellings are of a different character and should ge compared with those of Hothersall near Preston... The DB forms of Huddersfield are obvisouly at fault: they omit the aspirate as in Arduuic of Hardwick, and they give o for u as in Podechesaie for Pudsey, defects both due to Norman scribes... on the lips of the man in the street Huddersfield is sometimes 'Uthersfield'; compare SM 1610 Huthersfield, RE 1634 Hothersfield."
The "Publications of the University of Manchester" (1922) comments on the place-name Hothersall thusly:
"The first el. of the name is no doubtr a pers. n., identical with that in Huddersfield... But it is not easy to explain such a name. The O.E. Huthhere (~Hythhere) does not account well for the regular d of the early forms."
According to 'A Castle Well Guarded': the Archaeology and History of Castle Hill, Almondbury' by John Rumsby, in E A Hilary Haigh (ed), Huddersfield: A Most Handome Town (Huddersfield, 1992),
"Medieval documents mention a piece of land near or on the hill, call 'Wormcliffe'. This name probably derives from the Anglo-Saxon 'wyrm', meaning a dragon."
George Redmonds' "Place-Names of Almonbury" adds more on this Wormcliff designation for Castle Hill:
"... it does seem likely that the hill retained a sinister reputation among the English, who called it Wormeclyff. This was first recorded in the rental of 1425 as the name of certain demesne lands on the "hill where the castle used to stand": later, in the Minster's Accounts of 1487, it was more precisely indentified as "the castle of Wormecliff"... The word 'cliff' was formerly used for any steep bank, not just a precipice, and it clearly refers to Castle Hill itself, or some portion of it. More signifiant is the word 'worm' which for the English meant a serpent or even a dragon, a fearful creature haunting old ruins or guarding lost treasure."
Thus there may once have been a story of a dragon at Almondbury.
The Roman camp at Slack took its name from the nearby Brigantian hill-fort, now called Almondbury or Castle Hill. However, at some point in the 12th century (bear in mind Geoffrey completed his “History” in 1136), the de Lacy family, who had owned Almondbury since prior to the death of Ilbert de Lacy in 1089, built a castle there. Lacy is from Lassy in Calvados.
The Lassy name set off another alarm. Why was it that Gorlois (from the epithet gorlassar found used of Uther Pendragon in ‘Marwnat Vthyr Pen[dragon]’) is first mentioned at the Mount Damen battle? I could not help but see Geoffrey assuming that Gor- was the usual Welsh intensive prefix, leaving –lois to imaginatively relate to Lassy/Lacy.
Or was all of this merely fanciful on my part? Everything depended on how we derive the place-name Damen.
Best bet? Damen is for the common Welsh word tomen or domen, meaning ‘hillock, mound’, but also ‘[castle] motte’. If I am right with this etymology, then the ‘hill of the motte’ would simply be a designation for Almondbury’s de Lacy motte at ‘Odresfelt’.
The geography, the presence of the Roman road, etc., all point to this being a reasonable identification for Mount Damen. Uther is to be imagined as retreating from York along the main Roman road that ran to Chester. He reaches Huddersfield/Odresfelt, where his army takes refuge atop the motte or tomen/domen/’Damen’ of Almondbury. There Gorlois, because the motte was Lassy/Lacy, first makes his appearance and promotes the idea of the nocturnal attack on the Saxons. Once the Saxons have been defeated, Uther proceeds to Clwyd, where he subjugates this part of Wales, placing over it ‘Bishop’/Saint Elidan.
So Who Is Arthur’s Real Father?
We have seen above that it is possible Uther Dragon or Uther Pendragon may be a title for the chronologically and geographically misplaced Ambrosius Aurelianus.
Given this possibility, as well as Uther’s life having been based upon the career of a Viking and the aetiological use of place-names, we are left with no obvious father for the 5th-6th century Arthur. Or is this necessarily true?
Already considered as a candidate was the chieftain Urien of Rheged. Uther Pen may refer to the head of Urien, carried about by Llyward Hen after his death. The use of the epithet gorlassar for Uther Pen also pointed to Urien. Unfortunately, the date for Urien is too late for him to be Arthur’s father. But could he still be related to Arthur somehow?
In the traditional genealogies for Arthur, Cynfawr (= Cunomorus) or Cynfarch is made the father of Custenin/Constantine the father of Uther. Urien is son of Cynfarch son of Meirchiaun.
In the Welsh genealogies we encounter a chieftain of the North named Eliffer Gosgorddfawr (Eleutherius of the Great Retinue). Eliffer’s epithet is significant. This ‘great retinue’ may be a memory either of the Sixth Legion, which was stationed at York, or of a comitatensis.
Eliffer’s real father is thought to have been one ARTHWYS (although see Chapter 5 and Appendix II for this personal name as a possible territorial designation) and he had a son named Peredur, the Welsh form of the Roman rank of Praetor (hence the later Peredur son of Ebrauc, the latter being an eponym for the city of Eboracum/York, headquarters of the Roman praetor).
During the Roman period, the governor of Northern Britain at York was a Praetor, or to be more specific, a Praetorian Prefect. I do not hold to the idea that Peredur is instead from *Pritorix, the handsome king, fair-shaped king (see Rachel Bromwich’s Triads of the Island of Britain, p. 561).
Eleutherius is a Greek name, and these were popular in northern Europe in the 5th century. It means "Liberator", and this is certainly significant.
Why? Because York is famous for its association with Constantine the Great, who not only declared himself emperor while at the city, but went out of his way to present himself as the Liberator of Rome and, indeed, of the world (see
laweb.usc.edu/centers/clhc/events/feature/documents/Lenski_ConstantineUSC.pdf). Greek writers, of course, when speaking of him as the Liberator used words derived from eleutheros/ eleutheria.
I would surmise that a sort of "cult" of Constantine the Great might have existed in 5th century York and that Eleutherius as a name was actually originally derived from Constantine's Liberator title. [The ‘The Twenty-Four Mightiest Kings’, Custennin Fendigaid, i.e. the Welsh version of Geoffrey of Monmouth’s Constantine III, is called Waredwr, ‘the Deliverer’. This suggests that Constantine III was here confused with the earlier Constantine the Liberator.]
Eliffer's sons Peredur and Gwrgi are recorded as fighting at a place called Caer Greu (‘Fort Greu’) and at Arfderydd/Arthuret just NW of Carlisle. Greu has been tentatively related to W. creu, ‘blood’. I would propose that Caer Greu/Creu is
Carrawburgh, i.e. the Roman fort of Brocolitia, on Hadrian’s Wall. English 'Carrawburgh' could easily reflect something like very early Old Welsh *'Cair Carrou'. The extant form of 'Caer Greu' could be the regular Middle Welsh reflex of this. Carrawburgh is not far from Corbridge, where Arthur's Dubglas River battles were fought (see Chapter 3).
Their presence at Arthuret shows that they were active in the same area as Arthur, who died in battle at Castlesteads/Camboglanna on the Wall not far to the east (see again Chapter 3).
Eliffer’s wife Efrddyl, daughter of Cynfarch son of Merchiaun, is said to have had three children: Gwrgi, Peredur and either Ceindrech or Arddun Benasgell (sometimes called 'Wing-head'; however, as asgell can also mean 'spear' or even 'wing of an army', her epithet may mean instead either 'Spear-head', a reference to her weapon, or 'Spear-chieftain', or even 'Chieftain of the Army Wing'). Arddun is elsewhere said to be the daughter of Pabo Post Prydyn. But in the slightly corrupt Jesus College MS. 20, Arddun’s name is replaced by ARTHUR PENUCHEL.
Rachel Bromwich discussed this supposed corruption in her revised edition of ‘The Triads of the Island of Britain”, and I am quoting her here in full:
“Ardun Pen Askell is probably the correct form of the name of the sister of Gwrgi and Peredur… But if is likely that it is this name which has been corrupted to arthur penuchel in Jes. Gens. 20… The manuscript is of the turn of the 14th/15th century, but with indications of having been copied from an earlier exemplar… These points suggest that the triad may be as old as any that hav been preserved in the earlier collections… And in fact the context in which the triad is cited in Jes. Gens. 20 points to the probable source which inspired its composition This is the allusion to the progeny of Nefyn daughter of Brychan which is contained in the tract De Situ Brecheniauc, preserved in a thirteenth century manuscript, which has been copied from one of perhaps the eleventh century.”
We should pay a bit more attention to this alteration.
Why? Firstly, although it has been customary to view the alteration as a corruption, we cannot be sure that this is so in this particular context. It could represent, in fact, a CORRECTION or even a SUBSTITUTION.
Or an ADDITION: in 'The Dialogue of Myrddin and Taliesin", we are told of the "seven sons of Eliffer.” While this may be mere poetic rhetoric, the possibility that Eliffer had sons in addition to Peredur and Gwrgi leaves for an Arthur among them.
The truly remarkable thing about this “corruption” of Arthur Penuchel is that it is found attached to the royal house of York – the one place we know of that had seen a Roman period camp prefect named Artorius, and the one place where the name may have been remembered by Britons claiming Romano-British descent. This is simply too big of a coincidence, in this author’s opinion. Of all the other lines of descent for the Men of the North the name could have been attached to, it was attached only to the family of Eliffer/Eleutherius.
What we may have then, is this: a southern pedigree running Cynfarch-Constantine-Uther- Arthur and a northern one that is very similar, but relies upon the maternal line, i.e. Cynfarch, brother of Urien/Uther Pen- Efrddyl daughter of
Cynfarch, brother of Urien and wife of Eleutherius/”Constantine”-Arthur.
The Arthwys preferred as the father of Eliffer displays the Celtic arth, 'bear', component and the Welsh interpreted the Arth- of Arthur in the same way. Recently, the Roman name Artorius as been etymologized as deriving ultimately from the Celtic, meaning "Bear-king" (see Stefan Zimmer’s “The Name of Arthur – A New Etymology”, Journal of Celtic Linguistics, 13, 2009, 131- 6; there, Artorius is shown to be from Celtic *Arto-rig-ios, ‘Bear-king’). If the arth/’bear’ component was already in Arthwys’s family, then it is not unreasonable to suppose that his grandson also bore this component as part of his own name. The name Arthur is indisputably from the Roman Artorius.
Penuchel, the epithet assigned to this Arthur, is given a couple different meanings. Patrick K. Ford of Harvard, translator of the Mabinogion, rendered Penuchel (in the context of Sawyl Penuchel of Samlesbury hard by Ribchester) as ‘Overlord’. The GPC dictionary, on the other hand, reading it as ‘high-head’, gives it a transferred sense of ‘haughty, arrogant’. 'Overlord' would fit the context better, as this would be a good description of the role Arthur is said to have played in the 'Historia Brittonum' of Nennius. When I wrote to Professor Ford and asked him why he had chosen the rendering 'Overlord', he replied:
"The answer is a choice based on context and the semantic fields of penn and uchel."
It should be stressed that Penuchel as an epithet for Sawyl of Ribchester is a later replacement for an earlier Penisel, 'low-head' or 'the humble' – perhaps better, 'under-lord'.
Granted, the established chronology for the Eliffer dynasty does not exactly support my contention that Arthur of the North was a son of Eliffer. Obviously, Arthur was not a contemporary of Urien! But Arthur may have been born to
Eliffer and Efrddyl very early on, while their sons
Gwrci and Peredur were produced years later.
Finally, the chronologies that have been worked out for these early Men of the North are rough approximations and thus cannot be relied upon for any kind of precise dating. I will discuss below the very real possibility that Arthur was not a son of Eliffer, but his brother.
The Dalriadan Connection
At this point in our exploration of Arthur’s real parentage, we must pause to consider the implications of the intrusion of the founder of the Scottish Dalriadan dynasty into the early British pedigrees. For sources on the following details, please see P.C. Bartram’s relevant works.
I’ve already mentioned that Arthwys was the father of Eliffer – but this is so only in the PREFERRED genealogy. Preferred primarily for the purposes of establishing a reasonable chronology, that is. But an early version of Eliffer’s pedigree lists Gwrwst Ledlwm as his father. Because this Gwrwst is said to have had a son name Dyfnarth, P. K. Johnstone long ago suggested that Dyfnarth was, in fact, Domangart, son of Fergus Mor of Dalriada. I agree with his assessment, and for good reason: Arthwys’s father is said to be one Mar, whose name is spelled Mor in later versions of the pedigree.
In other words, Mar/Mor = Fergus Mor = Gwrwst
Ledlwm. [Mor is ‘great’ in Irish, but the cognate word in Welsh was mawr. Mor in Welsh means ‘sea’.]
Mar is also made the father of Lleenog, father of Gwallog of Elmet. But a conflicting genealogy claims that Lleenog’s father was one Maeswig. Mar (and his son Arthwys) are also thrust into the pedigree of Pabo Post Prydyn, otherwise the
son of Ceneu.
Arthur of Dalriada is made variously the son of Aedan or of his son, Conaing (the latter name being a borrowing of English cyning, ‘king’, and so merely a confused reference to Aedan himself as King of Dalriada?). This Dalriadan Arthur was named after his more famous predecessor, who according to a corrupt source may have been a son of Eliffer of York (although see below for Arthur as a brother of Eliffer).
Why Was Arthur’s Parentage Forgotten?
It was only natural for Arthur to become attached to Ambrosius as Uther Pendragon, for other than Arthur, Ambrosius – though a fiction transplanted from Gaul - was the most famous commander of the period. The process was undoubtedly made easier by the supposed Constantine connection, something that became attached to Dumnonia in the southwest of England precisely because the royal house there had as its semi-legendary progenitor Geraint, himself patterned after Gerontius, the British magister militum of Constantine III. York, too, had its “cult of Constantine (the Great).” Thus it was not difficult to transfer Arthur from the region of York to that of Dumnonia.
But none of this explains why Arthur’s real father’s name was forgotten. As it turns out, I believe this may have happened precisely because Arthur himself went by another name.
The personage we will be considering was not a son of Eliffer of York, but actually his brother.
Sardonyx cameo of a bear found
at the Roman fort of Arbeia, South
Shields, Tyne and Wear
1st-2nd century AD Roman discoid jasper
plaque with chamfered rear edge, intaglio image
of an advancing bear with tree behind.
Arthur Dux Bellorum and Ceidio son of Arthwys
There has always been a problem with the ‘dux bellorum’ title applied to the legendary Arthur.
To begin, there is a misconception that the socalled title actually appears this way in the text of Nennius’s Latin HISTORIA BRITTONUM. In fact, it does not. The text actually reads ‘sed ipse dux erat bellorum’, ‘but he himself was leader of battles’. As has been discussed before by experts in early Medieval Latin who have studied Nennius, this is NOT a title. It cannot be equated, therefore, with the dux legionum rank of the third century Roman Lucius Artorius Castus, who led a single campaign against the Armenians. It certainly can’t be compared with the same man’s rank of praefectus (castrorum) of the Sixth Legion at York. For a good discussion of the ranks held by LAC, see http://www.christophergwinn.com/celticstudies
This description applied to Arthur in the HB seems to have led to him being referred to in subsequent sources as simply a miles or ‘soldier.’ The idea has often been floated that this means Arthur was not a king and, in fact, may not even have been of royal blood. Truth is, Arthur may not have been king – if he predeceased his father, for instance. We do not have to resort to the 2nd-3rd century Roman soldier Lucius
Artorius Castus to account for the 5th-6th century chieftain being considered only a ‘leader of battles.’
But if not a title, could this Latin phrase have designated a secondary, purely British name belonging to Arthur?
Myself and others have pointed out that attested early names such as Cadwaladr, (“Catu-walatros) ‘Battle-leader’, Caderyn (Catu-tigernos), ‘Battle-lord’, Cadfael (Catu-maglos), ‘Battle-prince’, Caturix (a Gaulish god), ‘Battle-king’, could have yielded a description such as ‘dux erat bellorum’. No names of this nature appear to have been known in the North (where I’ve shown Arthur to belong) during the Arthurian period.
However, it has recently occurred to me that my tentative genealogical trace of Arthur to Arthwys, the latter being a name or a regional designation of the valley of the River Irthing on the western part of Hadrian’s Wall, may hold the clue to unraveling the dux bellorum mystery. Arthur died at Camboglanna/Castlesteads on the Cambeck, a tributary of the Irthing.
The son of Arthwys in the genealogies is given as Ceidio, born c. 490 (according to P.C. Bartram), quite possibly the same chieftain whose son is mentioned in the ancient Gododdin poem as ‘mab Keidyaw’. John Koch and others have discussed Ceidio as a by-form of a longer two element name beginning with *Catu-/Cad-, ‘Battle’.
Dr. Simon Rodway was kind enough to write the following to me on Ceidio:
“Ceidiaw is a 'pet' form of a name in *katu- 'ba tle' with the common hypocoristic ending -iaw (> Mod. Welsh -(i)o) found in Teilo (Old Welsh Teliau) etc., and still productive today (Jaco, Ianto etc.). And yes, it's not possible to say what the second element would have been. But the forms you suggest [Cadwaladr, Cateryn] are among the candidates, especially as this man was a chieftain of Y Gogledd [the North] at the head of some of the royal genealogies. ”
In other words, this Ceidio would originally have had a full-name of the type Cadwaladr or Cateryrn. Unfortunately, we can never know what the second “dropped” element of his name might originally have been. However, if Roman naming practices had been preserved in the North during Arthur’s time, we would reasonably expect a form such as X Artorius Z, where X, the praenomen, was the given name, Artorius was the nomen, i.e. gens or clan name, and Z was the cognomen, i.e. the name of the family line within the gens. A Cad- name, shortened to Ceidio, might well have been one of Arthur’s other names.
Of course, by the time of the 5th-6th centuries, the Roman gens name Artorius may well have been given to a prince as his praenomen. If the name had retained its status as a gens name, then that would mean someone in the Irthing River region actually traced his descent from Lucius Artorius Castus. While this could be either a genuine or fabricated trace, it is also possible the name was remembered as belonging to a famous figure of legend and passed on to a favorite son for that reason alone.
In the contents description of the Harleian recension of Nennius, we find the phrase ‘Arturo rege belligero’, something usually translated as “King Arthur the warrior”. More accurately, this is ‘Arthur the warlike or martial king’. Suppose we allow for rege belligero as an attempt at a literal Latin rendering of something like Cadwaladr or Cateryn?
The fifth century St. Patrick, who I’ve shown came from the Banna fort on Hadrian’s Wall at modern Birdoswald on the Irthing, is known to have had a typical Roman style ‘three-part’ name: Patricius Magonus Sucatus. Patricius is believed to have been his Christian name, assumed after his conversion, but it is just as possible he bore a classic Roman-structured name from birth.
If I’m right about Arthur being a son of Arthwys – or being FROM Arthwys – and we can allow for Ceidio son of Arthwys having originally born a name like Cadwaladr or Cateryn, then it is not inconceivable that Arthur DOES appear in the Northern genealogies after all.
Arthur and Ceidio would be one and the same man.