Who was Arthur
by Steve Haas
King of the Britons
Arthur, it seems, is claimed as the King of nearly every Celtic Kingdom known.
The 6th century certainly saw many men named Arthur born into the Celtic Royal
families of Britain but, despite attempts to identify the great man himself
amongst them, there can be little doubt that most of these people were only
named in his honour. Princes with other names are also sometimes identified with
"Arthwyr" which is thought by some to be a title similar to Vortigern.
Geoffrey of Monmouth recorded Arthur as a High-King of Britain. He was the son
of his predecessor, Uther Pendragon and nephew of King Ambrosius. As a
descendant of High-King Eudaf Hen's nephew, Conan Meriadoc, Arthur's
grandfather, had crossed the Channel from Brittany and established the dynasty
at the beginning of the 5th century. The Breton King Aldrien had been asked to
rescue Britain from the turmoil in which it found itself after the Roman
administration had departed. He sent his brother, Constantine, to help.
Constantine appears to have been the historical self-proclaimed British Emperor
who took the last Roman troops from Britain in a vain attempt to assert his
claims on the Continent in 407. Chronologically speaking, it is just possible he
was King Arthur's grandfather. Arthur's Breton Ancestry was recorded by Gallet.
Geoffrey Ashe argues that King Arthur was an historical King in Brittany known
to history as Riothamus, a title meaning "Greatest-King". His army is
recorded as having crossed the channel to fight the Visigoths in the Loire
Valley in 468. Betrayed by the Prefect of Gaul, he later disappeared from
history. Ashe does not discuss Riothamus' ancestry. He, in fact, appears quite
prominently in the pedigree of the Kings of Domnonée, dispite attempts to
equate him with a Prince of Cornouaille named Iaun Reith. Riothamus was probably
exiled to Britain during one of the many civil wars that plagued Brittany. He
later returned in triumph to reclaim his inheritance, but was later killed in an
attempt to expel Germanic invaders. The main trouble with this Arthurian
identification is that it pushes King Arthur back fifty years from his
traditional period at the beginning of the sixth century (See Ashe 1985).
Welsh tradition also sees Arthur as High-King of Britain but tends to follow the
genealogies laid down in the Mostyn MS117 and the Bonedd yr Arwr. These show
Arthur as grandson of Constantine but, this time, he is Constantine Corneu, the
King of Dumnonia. Traditional Arthurian legend records three Kings of Dumnonia
during Arthur's reign: Constantine's son, Erbin; grandson, Gereint and great
grandson, Cado. Nowhere is there any indication that these three were closely
related to Arthur, nor that he had any claim on the Dumnonian Kingdom. Nor is
their any explanation as to why a Dumnonian prince would have been raised to the
High-Kingship of Britain. Arthur's connection with this area of Britain is
purely due to his supposedly being conceived at Tintagel, the residence of his
mother's first husband, and buried at Glastonbury, the most ancient Christian
site in the country.
The Clan Campbell trace their tribal pedigree back to one Arthur ic Uibar: the
Arthur son of Uther of tradition. Norma Lorre Goodrich uses this fact to argue
that Arthur was a "Man of the North". This idea was first proposed by
the Victorian Antiquary, W.F.Skene, and there is some evidence to recommend it,
especially the possible northern location of Nennius' twelve battles. Goodrich
places Arthur's Court at Carlisle. As the capital of the Northern British
Kingdom of Rheged, this seems an unlikely home for Arthur, who was not of this
dynasty. Prof. Goodrich relies heavily on late medieval literary sources and
draws imaginative conclusions. (See Goodrich 1986 & Skene 1868).
There was a Northern British King named Arthwys who lived in the previous
generation to the traditional Arthur. He was of the line of Coel Hen (the Old)
and probably ruled over a large Kingdom in the Pennines. Many of Nennius'
Arthurian Battles are often said to have taken place in the Northern Britain.
These and other northern stories associated with the King Arthur may, in
reality, have been relating the achievements of this near contemporary monarch.
Another Northern British Arthwys was the son of Masgwid Gloff, probably a King
of the Elmet region of modern West Yorkshire. Nothing is known of this Prince
who was exactly contemporary with the real King's traditional period. Though it
is unlikely that he held his own kingdom, his exploits may have contributed to
King Arthur's story.
There is also the possibility, proposed by August Hunt in his downloadable book
"The Road from Avalon", that Arthur developed from King Cerdic,
founder of the Saxon dynasty of Wessex. The name Cerdic is Celtic, not Germanic,
and he may well have been Ceredig son of Cunedda Wledig. Arthur's battles as
recorded in Nennius may be identified with Cerdic's battles in the Anglo-Saxon
August Hunt, as a second alternative, suggests that King Arthur was really King
Cadwaladr of Meirionydd. His name translates as "Battle-Leader",
exactly identical to Nennius' description of Arthur as Dux Bellorum; while one
probable location for Arthur's death at the Battle of Camlann is the Camlan
Valley on the border of Meirionydd and Powys.
The Scots, though fresh from Ireland, also used the name Arthur for a Royal
Prince. Artur, the son of King Aidan of Dalriada, was probably born in the 550s.
David F. Carroll has recently argued that this man was the real Arthur, ruling
Manau Gododdin from Camelon (alias Camelot) in Stirlingshire. Details can be
found on the author's web site. (Carroll 1996)
Graham Phillips and Martin Keatman identify Arthur as Owain Ddantwyn
(White-Tooth), a late 5th century Prince of the House of Cunedda (more
specifically of Gwynedd). Their arguments, however, are wholly unconvincing, and
contain many unresolved discrepancies. Owain's son, Cuneglasus (known from Welsh
pedigrees as Cynlas) was among the five Celtic Kings condemned in the writings
of Gildas. Through a misinterpretation of this account, Keatman & Phillips
imply that Cuneglasus was the son of one Arth, ie. Arthur. They further claim
that he, and therefore his father, Owain, before him, must have ruled Powys, as
this is the only Kingdom un-reconciled with Gildas' Kings. However, Cynlas lived
at Din Arth in Rhos. He was not the son of Arth. In traditional Welsh manner the
Kingdom of Gwynedd had been divided between his father, Owain, who received
Eastern Gwynedd (ie. Rhos) and his uncle, Cadwallon Lawhir (Long-Hand) who took
the major Western portion. During this period, Cyngen Glodrydd (the Renowned)
was ruling Powys. He was probably the Aurelius Caninus mentioned by Gildas. (See
Phillips & Keatman 1992).
A much simpler and thoroughly more convincing thesis from Mark Devere Davies
suggests that Arthur may have been Cuneglasus himself. I can do no better than
recommend you to the author's website.
A King Arthwyr ruled in Dyfed in the late 6th century. He was the son of King
Pedr ap Cyngar, but little else is known of him. Though he was probably merely
named after the great man, it is possible that some of his accomplishments may
have become attached to the traditional legend.
Baram Blackett & Alan Wilson have theorised that the legendary King Arthur
was an amalgam of two historical characters: Anwn (alias Arthun), the British
King who conquered Greece and Athrwys (alias Arthwys) the King of Glywyssing and
Gwent. Arthun was a son of the British Emperor Magnus Maximus, who lived in the
late 4th century. He is better known as Anwn (alias Dynod) and his title of King
of Greece is generally thought to be a misreading of his Latin name, Antonius
Gregorius. He actually ruled much of South Wales. Arthwys of Glwyssing &
Gwent is widely accepted as a seventh century King who lived in South-East
Wales. His home in the traditional Arthurian region around Caerleon is part of
this man's attraction. Blackett & Wilson argue, not unconvincingly, that he
really lived in the early 6th century and that his father, King Meurig was
called "Uther Pendragon", a title meaning Wonderful Commander. They
also make the important assertion that Arthur lived, not in Cerniw (ie.
Cornwall), but in Cernyw (ie. Glywyssing). (See Blackett & Wilson 1980).
Arthmael the King
Like Blackett & Wilson, Chris Barber & David Pykitt identify the King
Arthur with King Athrwys of Glywyssing & Gwent. However, here the similarity
stops, for there are important differences in the identification of people,
places and events. Their major addition is the supposition that after Camlann,
Arthur/Athrwys abdicated and retired to Brittany where he became an important
evangeliser. He was known as St. Armel (or Arthmael) and his shrine can still be
seen at St.Armel-des-Boschaux. Their ideas have much to commend them and make
compelling reading. (See Barber & Pykitt 1993).
It has been suggested, many times over the years, that King Arthur may have been
a descendant of one Lucius Artorius Castus: a theme most recently taken up by
P.J.F. Turner. Castus was an historical 2nd century Dalmatian general stationed
in Britain who commanded the Roman auxiliary troops, known as Sarmations, on an
expedition to crush an uprising in Armorica. It is highly unlikely that the two
had any connection with each other. (See Turner 1993).
King Arthur written by
Copyright © 2001 Steve Haas