Monday, July 10, 2017

Introduction to THE BEAR KING: ARTHUR AND THE IRISH IN WALES AND SOUTHERN ENGLAND



DEDICATION: To Our Cat, Bartholomew, for his Purrfect Editing Skills

 A NOTE TO THE READER: 

My previous books on Arthuriana have all been overly academic.  This was necessary for me, but did the casual reader no favor at all.  While I'm not particularly interested in producing a popular title, I also do not wish to present merely a rehash of all my previous blog posts, pastiched together in an unabsorbable and unpalatable form. I've decided, therefore, on a very different kind of approach, where I "tell" the story of Arthur as I've come to understand it.  Many proofs will be lacking, and most source citations omitted (although the Appendices will contain some "denser" material). Anyone who needs to access additional details such can find them in my previous blog posts. This kind of account may seem odd to those expecting either more or less in terms of scholarly explication or creative expression.  It is not my goal to be entertaining, but neither do I want to continue being dreadfully dull or, worse, impenetrable.

Sometimes I think that we Arthurian researchers and writers are little better off than Sir Thomas Malory, who supposedly penned the great and ponderous (and occasionally tiresome) Le Morte D'Arthur while in prison.  Whatever scant sources he had at hand - like his 'French books' - he cobbled together as best he could, producing a rather amazing synthesis of a series of adventures which themselves often lacked cohesion and even coherence, or were even contradictory. 

So, too, we modern writers are circumscribed by our limited extant materials, our scientific or spiritual biases, our nationalistic tendencies, our egos.  We all write from prisons of our own making, or that have been made for us others.  My next book is to be an attempt to escape from such a prison.  Whether or not doing so will actually free me in any important sense remains to be seen.  But if it does, a new and more vibrant Arthur may emerge from behind the bars and walls that have for so long kept him moribund.

INTRODUCTION: EVERYTHING IS COMING UP IRISH

By August Hunt

Several years ago I wrote and published my book THE ARTHUR OF HISTORY: A REINTERPRETATION OF THE EVIDENCE.  While I remain proud of the work – the end result of many years of intensive research - do not regret producing it, and still believe there is much of value to be found therein, I was from the outset dissatisfied with the conclusions I had reached.  Why? Because I had failed to solve two nagging mysteries: 1) who was Arthur’s father, Uther Pendragon, really and 2) why were all the Dark Age Arthurs who were subsequent to the more famous man of that name from Irish-descended dynasties in Britain?

Uther has been a problem for everyone for a very long time.  It was clear to most that he had been wrongly inserted into a fictitious and chronologically flawed pedigree of the Dumnonian kings in southwest England. Besides this, no sound decision could be made on whether “Terrible Chief-dragon” is a genuine name plus epithet or merely a poetic title.  The term ‘dragon’ is used in early Welsh poetry for a great warrior or chieftain, so its generic use could not so easily be dispensed with.  Yet there were also very strong indications that the dragon or serpent was firmly linked in Welsh tradition with Gwynedd in Wales.  We know that the Roman unit stationed at Caernarfon had a standard of two crossed serpents, and these snakes found their way into the story of the dragons of Dinas Emrys.  

Gwynedd was a region that had been partitioned in the fifth century by Cunedda and his sons.  These sons may have only become attached in a familial sense to Cunedda through tradition; it is distinctly possible they were instead members of his warband, whether related in some way or not.  

In the MARWNAD CYNDDYLAN or 'Death-Song of Cynddylan', an unnamed ruler of Gwynedd is said to be the 'terror' (ffraw) of the Cadellings, the dynasty of North Powys. Even better, in the MARWNAD CUNEDDA or 'Death-song of Cunedda', that great chieftain is said to be the cause of dread/fear/horror (ergrynawr).  We thus have Cunedda, the founder of the kingdom of the dragons, being the fear of those he opposes or attacks.  Cunedda took on the Welsh title of Wledig, 'prince, ruler', and as Ceawlin in the ASC was a 'Bretwalda', or 'ruler of Britain.'  Such would be sufficient, then, to propose that Uther Pendragon was actually a poetic title for Cunedda himself.

The History of the Britons, a 9th century work ascribed to the monk Nennius, says that Ambrosius Aurelianus was likewise the terror of the high-king Vortigern.  Ambrosius as Emrys is associated directly in story with the two dragons of Dinas Emrys.   But I had been able to convincingly show that Ambrosius did not even belong in Britain.  He was a folkloristic “import” who properly belonged in Gaul.  In addition, Ambrosius was an anachronism, as he belonged firmly in the 4th century, not in the 5th.  Hence he could not possibly have been Arthur’s father.  

Once I settled on Cunedda as a reasonable candidate for the Terrible Chief-Dragon everything began to fall into place.  I had already determined that Cunedda, contrary to Welsh tradition, had not come down from remote Manau Gododdin at the head of the Firth of Forth in Scotland, but instead was just another in a long series of Irish conquerors in sub-Roman Britain.  The Irish had established kingdoms from Dalriada in Scotland all the way south to Cornwall.  Wales had been particularly hard hit.  We know of several kingdoms in Wales founded by the Irish.  

Cunedda hailed from the territory of the Menapii (or Menavii) around Lusk and Drumanagh in north Co. Dublin, right across the Irish Sea from Gwynedd.  In fact, it was a simple matter to identify him with the attested Irishman Chuinnedha, also called Mac Cuilinn, whose ancestry belonged to the Ciannachta tribe.  

I finally had my answer to the vexing problem of the Irish-descended Arthurs.  In the past, scholars had opted for three possible solutions to this conundrum.  First, they opted to simply ignore it.  They did not address it at all.  Second, they would choose one of the later Arthurs – usually Arthur of Dalriada or Arthur of Dyfed – and claim one of these men as THE ARTHUR, who had been temporally and geographically relocated and thus converted into a national hero.  Or, third, they proposed any number of nonsensical explanations as to why the British name Arthur (indisputably from the Roman/Latin Artorius) would have been adapted by the Irish in Britain, but not by the British themselves.  

If I were right, and Uther = Cunedda, then there was no need to fall back on any of these invalid methods used to account for the name Arthur among the Hiberno-Irish.

Now came a more difficult question, however: if Cunedda were Uther Pendragon, why is no son named Arthur listed in the various Gwynedd genealogies that trace his line of descent? 

To figure that out, I had to take a much closer look at Cunedda himself.  When I did so, the extent of Irish military activity in Britain proved to be much greater than I had ever supposed – and the way was prepared for the discovery of the real Arthur.  

Next:  CHAPTER ONE – THE CUNORIX STONE

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