The Quest for the Holy Grail (part 4)

4 – ARTHUR’S FIRST BATTLES

I know we’re supposed to be looking for the Holy Grail, but seeing as its Christmas, I thought a wee waltz through the world of Arthur’s 12 battle would be fun. In general, no-one has a clue as to where they were fought, as long ago as the 12th century; Henry of Huntingdon was declaring, ‘In our times the places are unknown, the Providence of God, we consider, having so ordered it that popular applause and flattery, and transitory glory, might be of no account,‘ while Collingwood & Myers, in their Roman Britain 1937, declared; ‘That the names are genuine is obvious. Not only are they part of the oldest tradition, but there is hardly one whose site is established beyond controversy.’ Still, there’s nothing wrong in trying to find them, is there?

 

The piratical invasion of the Saxons under Hengist and Horsa

 

During my investigations, I have identified five major campaigns in which he fought his wars; one in south England, one in Ireland one in Wales & two in Scotland. Such a wide theater of action is down to Arthur belonging to the native Britons that stretched from Strathclyde & Edinburgh in the north to Cornwall in the south, collectively known as the Kymry. For several centuries they had lived peacefully under the Roman yolk, but when the legions departed they were attacked relentlessly by the Pictish war-bands of Northern Britain that Hadrian’s Wall had been holding back. To counter this threat the British leader Vortigern invited the first Saxons to Britain, & with their help halted the invasions. However, lack of money was a problem, & on not being paid their promised fees, these German mercenaries, led by Henghist & Horsa, finding the island very much to their taste, decided to stay. By the year 500 AD they had taken Kent, Sussex, East Anglia & scattered pockets of territory all up the east coast.

If we are to identify the locations of Arthur’s battles, it is among the literatures of Arthur’s enemies that we will hopefully find a clue two. Thus, returning to the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, we find the following entry;

501 A.D. This year Porta and his two sons, Beda and Mela, came into Britain, with two ships, at a place called Portsmouth. They soon landed, and slew on the spot a young Briton of very high rank.

 

The very events of the above campaign seem to be echoed in an ancient Welsh elegy entitled ‘Geraint Son of Erbin.’ The poem is a very pleasant read, & worth being given in its not-too-long entirety.

Geraint, son of Erbin

Before Geraint, the enemy of oppression,
I saw white horses jaded and gory,
And after the shout, a terrible resistance.

Before Geraint, the unflinching foe,
I saw horses jaded and gory from the battle,
And after the shout, a terrible impulsion.

Before Geraint, the enemy of tyranny,
I saw horses white with foam,
And after the shout, a terrible torrent.

In Llongborth I saw the rage of slaughter,
And biers beyond all number,
And red-stained men from the assault of Geraint.

In Llongborth I saw the edges of blades in contact,
Men in terror, and blood on the pate,
Before Geraint, the great son of his father.

In Llongborth I saw the spurs
Of men who would not flinch from the dread of the spears,
And the drinking of wine out of the bright glass.

In Llongborth I saw the weapons
Of men, and blood fast dropping,
And after the shout, a fearful return.

In Llongborth I saw Arthur,
And brave men who hewed down with steel,
Imperator, and conductor of the toll.

In Llongborth Geraint was slain,
A brave man from the region of Dyvnaint,
And before he was overpowered, he committed slaughter.

Under the thigh of Geraint were swift racers,
Long-legged, with wheat for their corn,
Ruddy ones, with. the assault of spotted eagles.

Under the thigh of Geraint were swift racers,
Long their legs, grain was given them,
Ruddy ones, with the assault of black eagles.

Under the thigh of Geraint were swift racers,
Long-legged, restless over their grain,
Ruddy ones, with the assault of red eagles.

Under the thigh of Geraint were swift racers,
Long-legged, grain-scattering,
Ruddy ones, with the assault of white eagles.

Under the thigh of Geraint were swift racers,
Long-legged, with the pace of the stag,
With a nose like that of the consuming fire on a wild mountain.

Under the thigh of Geraint were swift racers,
Long-legged, satiated with grain,
Grey ones, with their manes tipped with silver.

Under the thigh of Geraint were swift racers,
Long-legged, well deserving of grain,
Ruddy ones, with the assault of grey eagles.

Under the thigh of Geraint were swift racers,
Long-legged, having corn for food,
Ruddy ones, with the assault of brown eagles.

When Geraint was born, open were the gates of heaven,
Christ granted what was asked,
Beautiful the appearance of glorious Prydain.

 

Geraint, son of Erbin
Geraint, son of Erbin

The crucial passage tells us, ‘Geraint was slain / A brave man from the region of Dyvnaint.‘ This was the old name for Brythonic Devon, & with ‘Llongborth’ meaning ‘ship–harbour‘ in Welsh (from the Latin ‘Longa Navis’ – port of warships) we have a perfect match for the ASC’s death of a, ‘Young Briton of very high rank,‘ in ‘Portsmouth.’ The poem also describes ‘Arthur,‘ as fighting in the battle as the, ‘Imperator, and conductor of the toll.’ Having already learnt of his Dumnonian connections, it makes sense that he would be riding to battle alongside Prince Geraint of Devon. To the medieval Welsh, Prince Geraint was classed as one of the three prime ‘Seafarers on the island of Britain,’ & to place him in the defence of a port makes perfect sense. Thus, according to the Jesus College genealogies, it was after Geraint’s death at Claunio that Arthur’s half-brother Cador became the king of Dumnonia, as in the lineage; ‘Erbin – Gereint – Cado.

The location, & the presence of Arthur, lead us neatly to the HB’s first battle, ‘at the mouth of the river which is called Glein.‘ The name Glein is a great match for a southern Roman fort called Claunio in the Ravenna Cosmography, & Clausentum by Ptolemy. Scholars have identified Claunio as a Roman Fortress at Bitterne, a suburb of Southampton, stood at the mouth of the River Itchen where she meets the Solent. Its ruins were described by William Camden in 1610 as the, ‘Old broken wals, and trenches of an antient castle, which carried halfe a mile in compasse, & at every tide is compassed for three parts of it with water a great breadth. The Romane Emperors ancient coines now and then there digged up, doe so evidently prove the antiquitie thereof.’

220px-River_Itchen,_Bitterne_Manor_-_geograph.org.uk_-_26956

 

If the Claunio fort at Bitterne once lent its name to the River Itchen – i.e. the River of Claunio – then this battle of 501 should be the one fought at the ‘mouth of the River Glein. ‘  Though not absolutely vital to our Quest, I hope to have shown that Arthur’s first battle was also  recorded in the ASC as the Battle of ‘Portesmūða,‘ giving us a date of 501 for the commencement of his military career – fitting into the picture of Arthur I have painted so far. I also believe that the HB’s next four battles, which were fought, ‘above another river which is called Dubglas and is in the region of Linnuis,’ occurred near Bitterne as well. Dubglas means Blackwater, & there is a river of that name which from its source at north Charford, flows into the Solent near a place called Netley Marsh. This river then connects beautifully with the 508 entry in the ASC.

A.D. 508.  This year Cerdic and Cynric slew a British king, whose name was Natanleod, and five thousand men with him.  After this was the land named Netley, from him, as far as Charford.

 

Geoffrey of Monmouth
Geoffrey of Monmouth

This is not the only account of the battle we have. In his HKB, Geoffrey of Monmouth’s HKB describes the battle, but this this time as a victory for the the Britons.

Arthur, therefore, in obedience to the counsel of his retainers, retired him into the city of London. Hither he summoned all the clergy and chief men of his allegiance and bade them declare their counsel as to what were best and safest for him to do against this inroad of the Paynim. At last, by common consent of them all, messengers are sent unto King Hoel in Armorica with tidings of the calamitous estate of Britain. For Hoel was sister’s son unto Arthur, born unto Dubric, King of the Armorican Britons. Wherefore, so soon as he heard of the invasion wherewith his uncle was threatened, he bade fit out his fleet, and mustering fifteen thousand men-at-arms, made for Hamo’s port  with the first fair wind. Arthur received him with all honour due, and the twain embraced the one the other over and over again.

A few days later they set forth for the city of Kaerlindcoit, then besieged by the Paynim already mentioned, the which city lieth upon a hill betwixt two rivers. Accordingly, when they had come thither with their whole host, they did battle with the Saxons and routed them with no common slaughter, for upon that day fell six thousand of them, some part drowned in the rivers and some part smitten of deadly weapons. The residue, in dismay, forsook the siege and fled.

The similarities between this account with both the ASC & the HB are tangible. Whereas the ASC numbers 5,000 British dead, Monmouth declares 6,000 Saxon dead. Hamo’s Port is Southampton, on the other side of the River Test, where Arthur met his nephew Hoel, before moving to Kaerlindcoit. This translates as the ‘Fortress of Lind Wood,’ & should be Tatchbury Mount, a hillfort which dominates Netley Marsh. Around it are a number of barrows & tumuli, the tell-tale relics of Dark-Age battlefields, while five miles away to the west, through the gorgeous New Forest, is the town of Lyndhurst (Welsh = Lindcoit), which means Lime Wood in Anglo-Saxon. In the Domesday Book the town was known as Linhest, which is extremely similar to the ‘region of Linnuis,‘ given, & most probably latinized, by Nennius.

 

Tatchbury Mount
Tatchbury Mount

 

It seems very much that the four battles on the River Dublas given by Nennius have revolved around the key conflict at Netley Marsh in 508. Just as in the Battle of the River Glein, several sources interconnect to paint a logical picture of the battle. Still. The evidence also supports a Dumnonian Arthur, who would have been active upon the de facto border zone between the southern British & the southern Saxons, which was roughly in a line north between Portsmouth & Winchester.

 

Talking of heading  north, though, pack a jumper folks, cos its time that Arthur took on the Picts…

 

 

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