Saturday, January 6, 2018


Arthurian Sites 

I'd spent many a year trying to "pin down" the very elusive Arthur.  While I made progress on several fronts, I was constantly stymied by my inability to get past the false genealogy thrust upon him by Geoffrey of Monmouth or his source. I had determined that the birth story of Tintagel was manifestly fraudulent.  Eigr (Geoffrey's Ygerna) was a Welsh form of the Greek name for the headland itself or for its goddess, and as Arthur's birth story copied that of Herakles (as well as that of the Irish Mongan, in whose story a mil uathmar or terrible warrior appeared), I identified Tintagel with the Promontory (akron) of Herakles found in Ptolemy.  No matter what I did, I could not properly place Arthur (who has, literally, been placed pretty much everywhere!) on the map.

It was, in fact, my failure to link Arthur to a verifiable pedigree that, eventually, forced me to abandon a Northern candidate.  I continued to try and find convincing ways to put him in the North, but no matter how hard I tried, no matter how compelling or clever my arguments, he simply wasn't present in any of the lines of descent for the Men of the North.  As I did not believe (and still don't) that the only viable historical personage who could have been the 5th-6th century Arthur was the Roman period Lucius Artorius Castus, and as the vast majority of the Welsh traditions insist Arthur was actually in the South, for the sake of intellectual honesty and personal - and very obsessive curiosity - I had to forsake my preconceptions and start afresh in my quest for the enigmatic hero.

In my book THE BEAR KING (still available on under my author's name August Hunt), I came to realize that the Arthurian battles found in the HISTORIA BRITTONUM were Welsh versions of the battles assigned to the Gewessei in the ANGLO-SAXON CHRONICLE.  Approximately half belonged to Cerdic of Wessex (= Ceredig son of Cunedda), while the remainder belonged to other members of his family.  There were some arth ("bear") names in Ceredig's pedigree, and an Arth River in his Welsh kingdom of Ceredigion.  I proposed that the Roman name Arthur was a decknamen substituted for an earlier Irish or British title or name meaning "Bear-king."  This seemed satisfactory, although I was still unable to account for his father's name or title, Uther Pendragon.  Sure, Cunedda could have been the Terrible Chief-warrior, but nowhere in the extant tradition was he called such. I was merely assigning him the title, as I had done for other prospective fathers of Arthur.  And there was no justification for doing so!

Then one day, while discussing Arthurian matters with fellow enthusiast Simon Keegan, it was suggested to me that Arthur may have been the opponent of the Gewessei.  This made a great deal of sense, for if the English claimed Ceredig/Cerdic as their ally in the formation of early Wessex, why would the Welsh also try to claim him as a great hero who fought against the English?  Clearly, the Welsh - despite Ceredig's origin in western Wales - would not have chosen as their champion a man who had fought as a mercenary with the English against Britons!

I decided to run with Simon Keegan's idea, just to see where it might carry me.  To begin, I had to once again tackle the nagging problem of Uther Pendragon.

My first task was to critically examine the Book of Taliesin poem on Uther.  This process entailed actually re-translating the poem, which is of a very cryptic nature.  Most importantly, I learned from a MS. expert at the Welsh library holding the earliest extant version of the poem that the title had originally read "The Death-Song of Uther Dragon." Pen- was only added later by the rubricator.  The Welsh expert was unable to account for this change.  While interesting, this did not really mean anything to me - yet.

Next I took another look at the 'Pa gur' poem.  There we are told that the god Mabon son of Modron was the servant (guas) of Uther Pendragon.  More importantly, in this context Mabon is one of the predatory birds of Elei, this being the River Ely in southern Wales.  I asked myself the following question: if Mabon is of the River Ely, and he is the servant of Uther, might Uther himself be from or of Elei? I filed this bit of information away and went forward with more research.

I knew that Dark Age occupation of the Dinas Powys fort near the Ely had been proven archaeologically.  Could it be, I wondered, that Uther belonged to this fort?  Just a crazy notion, yet one I decided to pursue, as I really had nothing to lose at that point.

I discovered that a ruler of the right time and place was mentioned in the Welsh sources - a certain Pawl Penychen son of Glywys.  This chieftain may well have ruled from Dinas Powys.  Could he have been Uther Pendragon?

Alas, no.  No evidence of that, whatsoever.  Still, a glimmer of hope appeared at this juncture.  For another very famous early Welshman served Pawl as a leader of the household troops before (supposedly) going on to become a saint.  This was none other than Illtud, reputedly a cousin of Arthur.  Illtud was the son of a king of Llydaw named Bicanus.  I had earlier shown that this Llydaw was not Brittany, but a designation for the Vale of Leadon northeast of Gloucester that bordered on Ercing (where we find many Arthurian connections).  Not coincidentally, Uther is said to come from Brittany.  The Vale of Leadon had once been a part of the territory of the Dobunni tribe, and later of the Hwicce.

When I read the Life of St. Illtud in both Latin and English translation, I made a remarkable discovery.  This man was referred to as "terribilis miles", a descriptor which perfectly matched that of Uther [Pen]Dragon!  

I knew immediately that after only a couple decades of searching (!!!) I had, at last, found Arthur's true father.

Once I had figured this out, the rest all fell into place rather easily.  My treatment of the Arthurian battles in THE BEAR KING could be retained - with the exception of Camlan, which clearly could no longer be situated in NW Wales.  An examination of all the extant Cam- place-names in southern England revealed only one that could have a bearing on Camlan, in this case as being derived from *Cambolanda, not *Camboglanna: the great Uley Bury hillfort in Gloucestershire (see the blue pushpin in the map posted at the top of the page). 

Two exciting details emerged from my tentative identification of the Uley fort with Camlan.  First, the Uley shrine on West Hill hard by the fort was an ancient religious place that continued as a Christian center from the Arthurian period onward.  Second, the Lydney shrine just across the Severn from Uley would appear to be *Nemetaballa, the "Sacred Grove of the Apple-trees", i.e. Avalon.  While Arthur's burial at West Hill seemed most likely, his conveyance to Lydney after death was not an impossibility.  [I have marked both shrines with red pushpins on the map.]

If Arthur, like his father, were a war-leader, and was fighting from the old region of the Dobunni, then the arrangement of the Arthurian battles made a great deal of sense.  In the map posted at the top of this page, the yellow push pins represent these sites.  Both Bath and the Liddington Castle Badbury are marked for Badon, although I now strongly favor the latter as the correct location for Arthur's most famous victory.  I've also long held that Barbury Castle (green pushpin on the map) near Liddington, the 'Bear's fort', may well be an English reference to Arthur having been at that hillfort, as arth in Welsh means "bear."  Lastly, as the Dinas Powys fort of Uther bears a name identical with that of the Powys kingdom, the earlier tribal territory of the Cornovii (cf. Kernyw/Cornwall, with which Arthur is constantly associated in Welsh tradition), so do we find a Durocornovium or  'Fort of the Cornovii' near Wanborough, which itself is hard by Liddington Castle.  

That's pretty much it in a nutshell.  As I've not been able to find anything wrong with this theoretical reconstruction of the life and death of Arthur, I don't feel obliged to expand my investigatory methods in another direction.  Of course, should someone be able to dismantle any particular detail of the case I've built, the whole thing may come tumbling down like the proverbial house of cards.  And though I would be disappointed by such a painful disproof, I doubtless would once again venture forth on a new quest for a new Arthur.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.