Tuesday, June 20, 2017
What it All Means or the Arthur-Ceredig Paradigm
I've been asked a simple question that is not at all simple to answer: if Arthur's (= Cerdic's/Ceredig's) battles are all those of the Gewissei and are to be found in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, what do we make of Chapter 56 in the Historia Brittonum?
The work ascribed to the monk Nennius claims that Arthur fought against the English with the kings of the Britons, 'but he was their leader in battle,' 'He was victorious in all his campaigns.' There is the implication in the first paragraph of the chapter that Arthur's English foes were specifically the Kentishmen.
This account, which spawned the heroic myth of Arthur, is directly at odds with what we are told in the ASC. There Cerdic, properly the son of Ceawlin (= Maquicoline/Cunedda) or a member of Ceawlin's teulu, is Irish or, possibly, Hiberno-British. He is fighting for or with the English against other Britons in southern and central England. At the same time, he had established himself at the Afon Arth in Ceredigion on the west coast of Wales, probably as a sort of de facto federate of whoever was the over-king in Wales at the time. We know this kind of relationship existed because we have the stone of Cunorix son of Maquicoline/Cunedda, the Cynric of the ASC, at Wroxeter/Viroconium. Vortigern himself, as I've shown elsewhere, was of mixed Irish and British descent.
Clearly, what was happening in Britain during the Age of Arthur was a great deal more complicated than what the storytellers would have us believe! This is the way real history plays out, as opposed to the traditional history we often choose to embrace.
Vortigern was reviled for bringing in Saxons to use as mercenaries against his various enemies. But, in reality, the famous Arthur was merely an example of the extension of Vortigern's policy. For not only were Saxon federates employed, in typical Roman fashion. So, too, were Irish warriors. The Irish had come to dominate the political landscape in much of Wales, forming kingdoms all along the coastal districts. Eventually, although they were thoroughly assimilated by the native population, they came to control central Wales and made themselves into the most powerful of the Welsh princes.
What Arthur/Cerdic did, then, perhaps inadvertently, during the push to extend Welsh influence or control to the east and south, was help form the nascent kingdom of Wessex. His foes were not Englishmen, but Britons, enemies of those who ruled in Wales. The Gewessei seem to have targeted frontier zones to the south, north and west of what came to be the nucleus of Wessex. We do not see them fighting in the east. Why? We must presume that the Saxons themselves already held that quarter, i.e. the services of Cunedda's mercenaries were not required there.
So effective proved the Gewessei that they came to be seen as the founders of Wessex.
Now, granted, there is another possibility and I cannot conclude this post without bringing it up. That is simply that the author of the Historia Brittonum completely made up Arthur and stole battles from the ASC to invent his British hero. I must admit to being somewhat agnostic on this point. Like most people, I want to believe in Arthur, even if he is not the Arthur we have come to know and love through countless works of fiction from the earliest period to the present day.
Yet what I can say is this: there is no reason to doubt that the name (or title) Arthur was applied to Cerdic of Wessex, or that Cerdic of Wessex was Ceredig son of Cunedda. What my instinct tells me is that the greatest hero of early Wessex, known to be from Wales, was "converted" into a purely British hero and pitted against the very Englishmen he had fought alongside of. I tend to trust the ASC more than I do that of the HB, in other words. However, the ASC account is not without its problems, most notably being its literal reversal of chronology, involving as it does the improper ordering of the genealogy of the Gewessei.
Some might ask, "Why not propose that the ASC account is fraudulent, and that Cerdic and the Gewessei were fighting against the English?" The notion is attractive. But if Cerdic/Arthur was co-opted by the English, we cannot help but wonder why they would have done so. Did they not have warrior heroes of their own? Why go to the considerable trouble of concocting such tradition? Why would you even want to make your enemy into the founders of your kingdom?
It is far more likely that so much time had passed from the era of the Gewessei to that of the writing of the ASC that the Celtic origin of Cerdic and his folk had been forgotten by the English. Allies became members of the fold and ended up at the head of the Wessex royal pedigree. The implication, clearly, is not that the English "borrowed" a Celtic hero and made him their own, but rather that the Celtic hero had come to be seen as one of their own precisely because both parties were on the same side during the formative stage of the founding of Wessex. The designation Gewessei conveys an opposite meaning to that of 'wealas' or foreigners, strangers (and thus those who are potentially dangerous, i.e. enemies). Does not seem reasonable that the term would have been retained had it not been in actual usage. Inventing it at a later date in order to explain the Celtic nature of the Gewissei would seem supremely counter-productive.