Friday, 24 February 2017

Was King Arthur a Glaswegian?

The title is straight out of the Daily Mail, but bear with me.

Arthur is mentioned just four times in ancient Welsh literature:
  1. Arthur's twelve battles are mentioned in Nennius' Historium Brittaniae.
  2. The Battle of Badon is also mentioned in the Annales Cambriae
  3. Taliesin's The Spoils of Annwn mention Arthur in passing.
  4. And "he was no Arthur," is the entirety of the fourth mention, in Y Gododdin, a book about warriors from Edinburgh.
The real cult of King Arthur took off with Geoffrey of Monmouths 12th century Historia regum Britanniae. Other writers enthusiastically embroidered this story by borrowing further from ancient mythology, particularly Malory's epic Le Mort d'Arthur. Suddenly a lesser-known historical figure became the most famous king between the Romans and Alfred of Wessex. Yet what were his achievements? In these stories, they were largely appropriated from other characters:

Defeated the Saxons: Credit must go to a historical figure, Emrys Wledig - a.k.a. Ambrosius Auerlianus, 'last of the Romans' who according to Gildas won the Battle of Mount Badon c490. This victory reversed all Saxon gains for a couple of generations. Many other historical figures fought the Angles, such as Urien, Rhydderch, Morcaunt, Gwaulloc, Mynndog Mynfawr, but only Emrys was successful in his lifetime at turning the tide.

Had a magical sword: Rhydderch Hael (Roderick the Generous) had a sword called Dyrnwyn which burst into flame when wielded by a worthy man. Rhydderch was known as 'the Generous' because he was willing to lend the sword to anyone - but no man was brave enough to try and so Dyrnwyn stayed in its sheath. Excalibur, anyone?

Had a round table: Charlemagne had one decorated with a map of Rome, and in Celtic tradition warriors would sit in circle around lead warrior.

Was cheated on by his wife: Rhydderch again - Queen Langoureth had to call in the services of St Kentigern to clear her name.

Had a friendly magician: Myrrdin (Merlin) was a wise man cum madman who was contemporary with Rhydderch, but who fought on the other, losing side in the Battle of the Lark's Nest, one of the 'Three Futile Battles of Britain'. He then retired to Cat Coil Celydon (Ettrick Forest) and made a number of prophecies.

Merlin, a magical sword, fought the Angles and had a cheating Queen? All Rhydderch.

The medieaval tale of King Arthur took scraps of legend from many different characters and weaved them together into one incredible story using the name of a Dark Age warrior. Amongst these characters was Rhydderch, a real life King of Strathclyde in the latter half of the 6th century, a man with a cathedral at Glasgow and a court at Al Clut (Dumbarton).  And no other single figure contributed so many key features of the Arthurian legend. So in conclusion...

King Arthur was a Weegie.

A Weegie called Roderick.

2 comments:

Mike@Bit About Britain said...

Wonderful! I've not come across that possibility before. And, naturally, he had to have a seat somewhere convenient, to keep an eye on the Burgers.

Robert Craig said...

Hi Mike just a bit of fun! There are a lot of real-life characters who could claim to be the 'real' Arthur. Emrys / Ambrosius probably has the strongest claim.