Liddington Castle, Wiltshire
In this blog piece -
I discussed the dating of the Battle of Badon as found in the pages of Gildas's DE EXCIDIO. In this briefer article, I wish to summarize those findings and try to arrive at a reasonably acceptable revised chronology.
As I see it, there are principally four different ways to look at Badon. First, as a sort of qualifying statement, let me say that I am here settling on Liddington Castle as the Badon, based upon reasons I have provided in earlier essays (e.g. http://mistshadows.blogspot.com/2018/05/the-second-battle-of-badon.html). And this is so despite that fact that linguistically, Badon can only stand for Bath. So that there may be no confusion on this point, I will again quote from Dr. Richard Coates' "Middle English badde and Related Puzzles" (NOWELLE, Vol. 11, February 1988):
"We must conclude that whilst one of the Badburys may be the historical site of Badon, this may not be safely inferred from the linguistic evidence within English (pace Jackson 1953b). The inference requires the rather casual association of a form [baðón] with the recurrent name-type Baddanburh; there can be no direct etymological connection."
1) The battle should be properly dated c. 500 A.D. +/- 20 years. This is the traditional dating for Badon, and is pretty much impossible to dislodge from the combined consciousness of amateur and professional Arthurian scholars. The problem with this view is this: at the time in question, we have no evidence whatsoever that the English and/or their Gewissei allies had penetrated far enough into England to have accessed either Bath in Somerset or Badbury/Liddington in Wiltshire.
This fact has made pinning down the location and significance of a Badon battle impossible, and all kinds of wild theories have been proposed to account for it happening c. 500 A.D.
2) There is a slight chance the torturous Latin in the Gildas passage on Badon has been mistranslated. While the majority of scholars render it in the traditional fashion, some have offered other interpretations. At least one top Latinist I consulted (Professor Michael Herren) claims the Latin states Badon was fought in Gildas's 44th year - not on the day of his birth. However, even he resorts to the c. 500 date for the battle itself, thus putting Gildas's day of birth around 470. He does this because the Welsh Annals insist the battle was fought in 516 or thereabouts. Thus even if we alter the meaning of the Latin, we are still stuck with a Badon fought c. 500 - when it would seem no such decisive battle at the locations in question was possible.
3) Badon was actually not an important battle at all. It was merely "glorified" because it happened to fall on the day of the birth of St. Gildas. Over time its rather insignificant nature was exaggerated until it became the most famous battle of sub-Roman Britain. I have suggested that the battle is, in fact, to be found in the ANGLO-SAXON CHRONICLE under the year entry for 501 A.D. This battle, fought at Portsmouth in Hampshire, had a combatant named Bieda, whose name in different Saxon dialects could be spelled Beda or Baeda. His name is the eponym for Bedenham on Portsmouth Harbour. It is entirely conceivable that it was this battle that became, through the usual process of legend-building, the famous Battle of Badon. The spelling Badon would be due to confusion with that of Bathum/Bath, a battle-site between the Britons and Gewissei in 577 A.D.
4) However, there is another, better possibility - and one that takes into account the identification of the Second Battle of Badon with Liddington Castle. We begin by assuming that Badon is Liddington, and that it was actually a battle that was fought shortly after 556 (the indecisive action at Barbury/the Bear's Fort). An interpolator inserted into the Gildas text the famous battle, but in an effort to apply a nice hagiographical touch to the DE EXCIDIO, chose to place the saint's birth on the day of Badon. Unfortunately, he wrongly identified a battle at Liddington Castle after 556 with the Bieda battle of 501. Once the incorrect date for the Badon battle was established in this early text, it soon became sacrosanct and thus later appeared in the Welsh Annals centuries later for c. 516. The date for Camlann (c. 537) had to be adjusted to fit with that of Badon. The result? An Arthur "out of time" whose military campaigns could not be understood within the historical or archaeological contexts.
To quote from my article http://mistshadows.blogspot.com/2018/05/arthur-and-beranburhbarbury-critical.html:
Let us start with the early battles in Wiltshire. I've already mentioned the defeat of the British by Cynric at Old Sarum. Four years later a battle is fought at Barbury Castle further north. However, this battle is, significantly, not said to be a victory. We are merely told there was a battle there. In 560, Ceawlin succeeds Cynric (see my earlier work for the reversal of the genealogical links for the Gewissei in the ASC). After Barbury Castle there are no more battles against the Britons until 571 - 15 years later. And the theater of action has changed: the Gewissei are now coming up the Thames Valley. In 577, the war theater changes again - this time to the west and north of Wiltshire (including the capturing of Bath). In 584, there is a battle in Oxfordshire, well to the NE of Wiltshire. We do not return to Wiltshire until 592, when a great slaughter occurs at Adam's Grave near Alton Priors resulting in the expulsion of Ceawlin. In the next year, Ceawlin perishes.
From the Battle of Beranburh to that of Adam's Grave, 36 years had passed. Adam's Grave is roughly 15 kilometers south of Barbury Castle.
The question I would put forth is simply this: who was in Wiltshire for all this time keeping the Gewissei and the English out? And is it a coincidence that only several kilometers NE of Barbury Castle along the ancient Ridge Way is the Liddington Badbury fort?
I suppose there is really only one question that must be asked at this point: do we stubbornly adhere to the dating of Arthur based upon the questionable testimony of Gildas, and therefore cast Arthur perpetually adrift in a time during which Badon could not have been fought, or do we instead allow for him to be the war-leader of the Bear's Fort who successfully resisted enemy penetration into his territory for just under 40 years?
Granted, even if we accept this very attractive possibility, problems remain. The worst of these is the reversal of the Gewissei generations as found in the Welsh and English sources. I treated of this problem here: http://mistshadows.blogspot.com/2018/05/the-gewissei-and-cuneddas-sons-why-are.html. Needless to say, I'm not particularly happy with the resolution I proposed there. Truth is, we cannot know which ethnic group - the Welsh or the English - has the order of generations correct. I would like to believe the Welsh tradition is the most sound, but many scholars believe the early Welsh genealogies (like those preserved in the Harleian MS. of Nennius) are, in the main, fabrications. I cannot stress how disconcerting this reversal of generations is for the historian. Are the battles in the ASC in the right order? Or should they somehow be reversed to fit the Welsh ordering of the Gewissei generations? Or do we leave the order of the battles of the ASC intact and instead seek to reverse only the order the the Gewissei who fight in them (something that could only be done in the most arbitrary fashion)?
This problem may well be unsolvable. About the only thing we can really say is that according to the ASC, a British king or war-leader centered in Wiltshire staved off Saxon conquest for almost 40 years. The best time for the Badon battle - not mentioned in the ASC precisely because it was the worst defeat meted out to the Gewissei - is right after the Battle of Barbury Castle in 556.
If Arthur was not the man defending this region, if he was not the commander at the Bear's Fort, then, sadly, I simply do not know where or when to put him.