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King Arthur
The Beginning of the End
by Steve Haas

We are now at 435 A.D., and are getting closer and closer to Arthur. Unfortunately, the closer we get to Arthur, the further we get from facts. In fact, I shall probably not be able to finish this story to anyone’s satisfaction because any answer would be as good a speculation as any other. I’ll give several lines of speculation, but that is probably the best I can do.

Vortigern’s policies had proven successful. He had neutralized the Picts and the Irish, and his treaty Anglo-Saxon troops were successful in keeping the foreign Anglo-Saxons at bay. There were internal problems, however, and these had to do with another player in the field, the Ambrosii.

The Ambrosii were an old, Roman family who had holdings in Wales, probably in Devon and Cornwall. I know this contradicts, in some ways, my previous assertion that Vortigern defeated the Irish in Devon and Wales, and I accept that. One can’t go through this without contradicting oneself…

The Ambrosii led the faction that wanted a return to Roman rule; they believed that if they held out long enough, Rome would return and Britain would be returned to the Roman fold. They were in distinct opposition to Vortigern, who was establishing Britain as a power in and of itself. They held aloof from Vortigern’s wars, probably refused to send troops to help him and opposed his introduction of Anglo-Saxon treaty troops into Britain. The leading member of the family, Aurelianus Ambrosii counciled that the introduction of these troops would inevitably be fatal to the British cause. They waited patiently for Vortigern’s policy to fail.

In 449, Vortigern expanded the lands that the Anglo-Saxons were allowed to include most of the province of Kent. For the first time, the Anglo-Saxons were being given land to settle on the mainland of Britain. Why Vortigern did this is open to speculation; perhaps he was feeling comfortable with his foreign allies, and wanted to cement the relationship with them. More likely, his earlier promises of providing food and weapons to them were becoming burdensome, and he wanted to pay them in other ways.

However, as part of the deal, Vortigern married the daughter of the Saxon leader, Hengist, Reweina. To me, this is a far more compelling reason. Vortigern might have been in his 40’s by this time. His former wife was dead, and she had been ten years older than him when they married, It is not at all unforeseeable that Vortigern became smitten with a beautiful young woman and, as a result, sold out Britain in the hopes of becoming part of his family. This is the idea that I like, best, as it gives a hint of romance and passion to the story, though there is absolutely no evidence for this in literature or history.

Nevertheless, Ambrosius reacted strongly to this move, which would have blown red flags in front of his eye from East to West. There is record of a battle between Vortigern’s troops and Ambrosius,’ which Ambrosius lost. In retrospect, Ambrosius was right.

The demands of the Anglo-Saxons became more and more insistent, and finally Vortigern could not meet them. In 455 there is a record of a battle between in ‘a place that is called Aylesford.” The son of the Anglo-Saxon leader, Horsa, was killed there, and so was Vortigern’s son, Vortimer. Ayelesford can be found on the Medway river, and it is the place the Anglo-Saxons would have to cross to break out from Kent. No one knows who won the battle, but it is known in the British language as Saessenaeg Habail, “The Slaughter of the Saxons,:” so maybe Vortigern won this one.

Two years later the Anglo-Saxons inflicted a crushing defeat on the Britons at Crayford, where they claimed to have killed 4000 men. The Britons, says the Anglo Saxon Chronicle, fled to London. The defenses of London were strong, and the Anglo-Saxons had to pass London to break out from Kent, but it was a matter of time.

In 473 that breakout occurred. The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle has a laconic and terrible entry: “This year, Hengist and Esc (his son) fought with the Britons and took immense booty. And the Britons fled from the English like fire.’ The reference to immense booty must mean either that the Saxons so completely broke the army of Britain, or they captured a great city. Both probably happened; Vortigern’s army was destroyed and London taken and sacked. There was nothing holding the English (for this is how they are now called) back from sacking and taking the rest of Britain.

With Vortigern’s policy of treaty troops discredited, the people of Britain looked to Ambrosius, who had always opposed this policy, for help. Ambrosius now became the acknowledged leader of Britain. His first campaign was not against the Saxons, but against Vortigern. Vortigern, his army in disarray, his political support gone, took refuge in a fortified town, someplace, and there Ambrosius besieged him. Ambrosius used sieged engines against the walls, reminding us that he was a Roman with a Roman equipped army, and that he was still fighting a classical war. But, he was using Roman methods against a Roman fortified town, and his methods failed. Finally, he set fire to the town and Vortigern perished in the flames. Thus we see the last of Vortigern.

Ambrosius was able to hold the English back for 17 years, from 473 to about 490. The people who had rallied to Ambrosius in utter dispair must have gleaned some hope for final victory over the Saxons…but Ambrosius was not able to defeat them, only prevent their further breakout from their strongholds. Hengist was defeated and beheaded in 488, and his place taken over by other Saxon kings. In 490, the English took their revenge, for Aelle and his sons landed in Sussex, capturing the Roman fort of Pevensey. It is said that Ambrosius died here, but he would have been over 80 at the time, and this is doubtful. Nevertheless, the Saxons were triumphant, and Britain was in need of a new leader.

Now we are at the point of searching for Arthur, for he was the new leader. I shall give various lines of speculation of who he was but, to me, the most likely was that he was connected with the Ambrosii, somehow, more than likely a son.

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King Arthur written by Steve Haas.
Copyright © 2001 Steve Haas
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