The time has come to put something to bed once & for all.
In recent decades the historicity of King Arthur has been put into question by an academic community eager to destroy one of the great stories of the British isles – the life & times of King Arthur. The most recent scholarship places him in the same bracket as UFOs & the continent of Atlantis, with Guy Halsall stating, ‘I wish that Arthur had existed but that I must admit there is no evidence – at any rate none admissible in any serious court of history.’ I see Guy’s statement as the last word on Arthur in the pre-chispological era. The ‘court of history’ mentioned by Guy is actually a rigid system of academic thinking which tends to attack historical sources rather than use them. The thing is, one of the two chief Arthurian sources these scholars have attacked has been denied validity on account of an erroneous piece of scholarship which has been perpetuated for generations.
The chronicle of Welsh history known as the Annales Cambraie is a dead cool historical source spanning the years 447-954. It is full of brief entries which record the most memorable moments in the Dark-Age history of the Britons, with a few non-welsh bits chucked in for good measure. What concerns us are the following entries;
516 - The Battle of Badon, in which Arthur carried the Cross of our Lord Jesus Christ for three days and three nights on his shoulders and the Britons were the victors.
537 – The battle of Camlann, in which Arthur and Medraut fell: and there was plague in Britain and Ireland.
547 – The great death [plague] in which Maelgwn, king of Gwynedd died. Thus they say ‘The long sleep of Maelgwn in the court of Rhos’. Then was the yellow plague.
Arthur is mentioned twice in two separate entries, both of which place him at a battlefield. The first is at Badon – the twelfth of Arthur’s battles as given by the Historia Brittonum – while the other is at Camlann, in which Arthur & Mordred met their blood-soaked ends. It is by looking at the works of the oldest historian of Britain that we gain credible support for the dates of the AC.
We begin with a passage by the earliest British historian whose works are still extant, St Gildas. His seminal text, the De Excidio Britanniae (On the Ruin of Britain) mentions the ‘siege of Badon Hill’(obsessio montis Badonicus), as in;
From that time on now the citizens, now the enemy, were victorious … right up until the year of the siege of Badon Hill, almost the last, not the least, slaughter of the villains, and this the forty-fourth year begins (as I know) with one month already elapsed, which is also that of my birth.
In recent times, scholars have thought to ascertain Badon’s date by cross-referencing other clues in the De Excidio. A fertile bed for investigation is the admonishment by Gildas of five British kings, one of whom is a certain Maglocunus. Gildas writes;
And likewise, O thou dragon of the island, who hast deprived many tyrants, as well of their kingdoms as of their lives, and though the last-mentioned in my writing, the first in mischief, exceeding many in power, and also in malice, more liberal than others in giving, more licentiousin sinning, strong in arms, but stronger in working thine own soul’s destruction, Maglocune
Scholars then searched through the 6th century for a man who sounded like Maglocunus, & opted for the AC’s Maelwgyn, King of Gwynedd, who died in 547. The same scholars then declared that Badon must have been fought before 503 (547-44 = 503), & by association confined the AC to the academic dust heap. Luckily, they were all barking up the wrong tree completely, & I am happy to reveal that that AC is in fact a thoroughly viable text. Instead of dismissing unique & valuable pieces of historical evidence, I have always believed that we broad-minded moderns should respect everything we inherit, & proclaim, ‘This is what we have got, this is what has been left to us.’ Our sources have come from the minds of intelligent people, the intellectual elite of an age, & we must remember that each of these clue-givers represents the tip of an iceberg, for beneath the surface they would have conducted their own research on the matter from now lost & long-forgotten sources. A great amount of these ice-berg tips have reached modernity – but even so, they are but a scanty sample leaving great gaps in the Dark Age canvas like the spaces in a rather difficult suduko square. However, in the case of Badon we have enough Suduko numbers to confirm the AC’s date of 516.
So laying complete trust in our ancient sources let us begin to look for the Maglocunos described by Gildas 44 years after the 516 battle of Badon, which would be c.560. Happily, this date fits in with what we know about Gildas. His 9th century ‘Life,’ written by an anonymous the Monk of Rhuys, shows how he took up Holy Orders at the age of fifteen, which would have been c.531 AD, six years before Arthur’s death at Camlann;
From the fifteenth year of his age through the whole period of the present life which he lived in this world, up to the very last day on which he was called by the Lord, it was only three times in the week, as we have learnt from a trustworthy source, that he took a most scanty food for his body.
Gildas can be seen as an active contemporary with King Arthur, which fits in with Giraldus Cambrensis’ claim that he threw ‘a number of outstanding books‘ praising Arthur into the sea. The Rhuys life also describes how Ainmericus, the High King of Ireland (r.566-569), asked Gildas to restore church order, confirming the AC entries for Gildas;
565 The voyage of Gildas to Ireland
570 Gildas wisest of Britons died.
As for the composition period of the De Exidio, The Rhuys life connects it to the existence of a Breton leader named Conomerus, as in; ‘Once more: the holy man, at the request of brother monks who had come to him from Britain, ten years after he had departed from the country, wrote a short epistolary book, in which he reproved five of the kings of that island who had been ensnared by various crimes and sins. Now there lived in these days, in the upper parts of that country, a certain tyrant whose name was Conomerus, a man allured by a perverse credulity and a diabolical crime.‘
The death of Conomorus soon follows in the text, which connects him to a Count Conomor of Poher, whom according to the French historian Gregory of Tours, died about 560, the very year that Gildas launched his literary diatribe against Maglocune. Chispologically, the two names match, for the name Conomorus is a simple inversion of Maglocune, both of which translate as ‘Majestic Hound.’ There is also a very significant factual match, for both Conomorus & Maglocune are said to have comitted what appears to be an identical crime. According to the ‘Life of St Samson of Dol,’ Conomorus killed his own wife & then murdered a certain King Jonas in order to marry Jonas’ widow – an exact sequence of events attributed to Maglocune by Gildas;
For contempt is thrown upon thy first marriage, though after thy violated vow as a monk it was illicit, yet was to be assumed as the marriage of thine own proper wife; another marriage is sought after, not with anybody’s widow, but with the beloved wife of a living man; and he not a stranger, but thy brother’s son. On this account, that stiff neck, already weighted with many burdens of sins (to wit, a double daring murder, the killing of the husband above named, and the wife that was for a time regarded by thee as thine), is bent down through the extreme excess of thy sacrilegious deed, from lowest crimes to still lower.
Cunomoros is clearly an excellent fit for Maglocunos, so let us restore the Annales Cambrae to their former reputation, which I am sure the chronicle’s original compilers would be rather happy about. Alerting an anti-arthurian scholar to my discovery, he replied, ‘looks like they were given similar back-stories at some point but this could be because writers were using a common stock of tales and pasting them all over the place.‘ That is one way to look at, I suppose, but it hardly makes a convincing counter-argument, does it.
Let us now look at Gildas’ description of Maglocunos as being the ‘dragon of the island, who hast deprived many tyrants, as well of their kingdoms as of their lives.’ Brittany is definitely not an island, & we must assume that Britain is intended. Luckily, another text places Cunomerus across the English Channel at Cornwall. The Breton monk Wromnoc, in his ‘Life of Paul Aurelian (884), describes a King Mark of Cornwall, otherwise known as ‘Quonomorius,’ who ruled over peoples speaking four different languages, which would be;
Gallo- The Latinized language of Brittany in the sixth century. Geoff called Cunomorus ‘Chinmarchocus,’ & had him ruling Treguier, near Lannion in Brittany. In the vicinity stands a hill-fort called Ruvarq, which translates as ‘Mark’s Hill.’
Brythonic – A Celtic language spoken by the native Britons of Cornwall. Excellent support comes from the discovery of a 6th century memorial stone at Fowey in Cornwall, near Castle Dore, said to be the fortress of King Mark. Castle Dore is said to be sited on the lands of Lancien by the Prose Tristan, a match to the medieval manor of Lantyan on which the stone was found. The stone is inscribed ‘Drustanus son of Conomori,’ a relationship confirmed by the Welsh Triads, which consider a ‘Drystan son of March’ as one of the ‘Three Peers of Arthur’s Court’.
Old Norwegian – The Dream of Rhonabwy tells us that Prince Mark led a group of men from Llychlyn – i.e. Scandinavia – at the Battle of Badon, as in; ‘The men of Norway, led by March, son of Meirchyawn, Arthur’s first cousin.’ Our Geoff also places him among the Nordic lands (& Ireland), as in;
Malgo, one of the comeliest men in the whole of Britain, the driver-out of many tyrants, redoubted in arms, more bountiful than others and renowned for prowess beyond compare, yet hateful in the sight of God for his secret vices. He obtained the sovereignty of the whole island, and after many exceeding deadly battles did add unto his dominions the six neighbour islands of the Ocean, to wit, Ireland, Iceland, Gothland, the Orkneys, Norway and Denmark.
Geoff here names Maglo as, well, plain old Maglo, but a little earlier on, while rattling on about Maegwyn Gywnedd, he writes;
At that time… died David, that most holy Archbishop of Caerleon, in the city of Menevia, within his own abbey, which he loved above all the other monasteries of his diocese, for that it was founded by the blessed Patrick who had foretold his nativity. For whilst he was there sojourning for a while with his fellow-brethren he was smitten of a sudden lethargy and died there, being buried in the same church by command of Malgo, King of Venedotia.
You get the feeling from Geoff that the two Maglos were different men, & differentiates them by naming one as ‘King of Venedotia’ – North Wales – i.e. Maelgwynn Gwynedd.
PICTISH- The last of the four languages should be Pictish, for we can see the name Maglocunus in Mailchon, the father of the great Pictish King Bridei as given by the Pictish Chronicle. Elsewhere, the Annals of Tigernach record, ‘558 -The flight of the Scots before Bruide son of Máelchú.’ ‘ With the Pictish regal succession being of a matrilineal nature, we can assume that Mark/Cunomorus/Maelchon/Maglocunos married a Pict. His powerful status in the north is reflected through his daughter, Domlech, who married Aedan, King of Dalriada. There are also Pictish symbol stones found at Trusty’s Hill in Dumfries & Galloway, whose could well be the Drustanus of the Fowey stone, for only a few miles away stands the Dark-Age hillfort called The Mote of Mark. He also appears in the northern genealogies as Cynfarch son of Meirchiawn;
The conquest of these widely scattered regions neatly connects to Gildas’ descripton of Maglocune of him being the ‘dragon of the island,’ who dispossessed ‘tyrants’ of their kingdoms, & to Lifris, who wrote, ‘Maelgon the Great was king of the Britons, and governed all Britain.’ All evidence suggests that Maglocunus was never Maelgwyn Gwynned, but was instead the famous King Mark of Cornwall. Otherwise known as Cunomorus, he would have ruled a pan-ocean empire from Norway to Brittany, which fits perfectly with his being named alongside Prince Geraint as one of the three great seafarers of the Welsh Triads.
So anyway, I thought I’d contact Guy Halsall & explain to him how Arthur was there all along, it was just a case of ignoring the academic community, ripping up all the source criticism appertaining to Arthur, & just having a look at the evidence. He replied
Your ‘chispology’ is nonsense, it breaks all the rules of serious scholarly practice, so no one, other than you and whoever else has been smoking whatever you have been, will take it seriously. I doubt there is any chance of me, or anyone else who actually knows what they are talking about, being able to convince you as, from your writing, you are – clearly – insane but still, if it makes you happy keep on with your fiction-writing. Far be it from me to keep you from your fun, but if you are thinking of conning people out of their hard-earned cash on the basis of your pseudo-studies, that I do object to.
Sounds like panic to me…
Dismissing Guy’s anti-arthurian stance, & starting from scratch again, I hope this wee piece of rectifying scholarship helps any future Arthurian scholar. The geezer evidently existed – two of our oldest historical sources- Gildas & the AC – coalesce on a date of c.516 for Badon, at which battle the AC itself & other texts such as the Dream of Rhonabwy clearly place King Arthur. That’s not all, for the Annales Cambrae are one of the four solid pillars upon which Arthur’s existence rests. One of these is the Pictish Chronicle (see my last post), while the other two I shall save for a future blog.