5 – SCOTLAND 509 A.D.
It is now time to analyze a great war of conquest & intimidation undertaken by Arthur a year or two after the Dubglas battles in Hampshire. His foes were the Scots & Picts of Scotland, with a few Saxons thrown in for good measure, plus the Irish of, well Ireland. It is interesting to note that in the 509 AD, three of Arthur’s enemy kings were to die. The Annals of Clonmacnoise tell us that both Bruide, king of the Picts, & Domnagort king of the Dalriadan Scots, died in the year 509.
Brwidy m c Milcon K. of Pictland, & Dawangort
mNissie, K. of Scotland, Dyed-fcede hiec erratum est.
Elsewhere, for the same year, the Annals of Tigernach tell us of the death of the king of the Scots in Ulster in the same year, as in;
509 Eochaid mac Muiredaigh died.
That three kings of two nations in alliance against Arthur died in the same year reflects their deaths in battle against our ravaging warlord. All three kings would have contributed forces to a co-alition army, & they would have shared the role of overall commander, riding side-by-side at the army’s head. I feel that Arthur’s campaign would have been a strike against both their power bases – a simple case of letting them know who was boss. By all accounts he was mega-glorious in the campaign, which began with three battles in Scotland, with Big Geoff telling us;
He next led his army into Moray, where the Scots and Picts were beleaguered, for after they had thrice been defeated in battle by Arthur and his nephew they had fled into that province.
The first of these battles would be the sixth battle described by the HB, which was fought ‘above the river which is called Lussas.’ This river would be the one that flows through Glen Lussa in teh Kintyre Peninsular, the 6th century heartlands of the Dalriadan Scots. The second battle – the HB’s 7th – was fought, ‘in the forest of Celidon,’ a great forested area between Hadrian’s Wall & the Forth, a vast remnant of which remains today in the forest parks of Kielder & Ettrick. That this great ancient forest was known as the Caledonian Wood is confirmed by an entry in the AC, which reads;
573 The battle of Arfderydd between the sons of Eliffer and Gwenddolau son of Ceidio; in which battle Gwenddolau fell; Merlin went mad.
According to the eminent 19th century historian, William Skene, this battle took pace at Arthuret, just a few miles north of Carlisle, beyond which the Caledonian wood must have stretched as far as Drumelzier, near Peebles, for it is there that a tree-hugging, schizophrenic wizard – named Lailoken in the Vita Kentigerni – was said to have died.
It seems the Battle of Caledon Wood had the nature of a siege. Let us imagine Arthur & his mounted men trotting slowly through a thick forest surrounded by hills. At one point the trees clear, revealing an army of wild warriors, beaming a brilliant blue from their woad-painted faces. With chilling cries of valour they rush upon the Gosgordd, a host of yelling Picts defending their precious homeland at the Battle of Caledon Wood, where the Picts, according to Big Geoff;
Arthur stinted not in pursuit until they had reached the forest of Caledon, wherein they assembled again after the fight and did their best to make a stand against him. When the battle began, they wrought sore havoc amongst the Britons, defending themselves like men, and avoiding the arrows of the Britons in the shelter afforded by the trees. When Arthur espied this he bade the trees about that part of the forest be felled, and the trunks set in a compass around them in such wise as that all ways of issuing forth were shut against them, for he was minded to beleaguer them therein until they should be starven to death of hunger. This done, he bade his companies patrol the forest, and abode in that same place three days. Whereupon the Saxons, lacking all victual and famishing to death, besought leave to issue forth upon covenant that they would leave all their gold and silver behind them so they might return unto Germany with nought but their ships only.
In Medieval French, the word ‘siege’ was actually ‘seat,’ & there are indeed two Arthur’s Seats in the Border regions, situated at;
1 A mountain in the Hart Fell area, Dumfrieshire, between Langholm & Lockerbie
2 A hill near the Liddesdale, the Scottish Borders
Of the two Arthur’s Seats found in the Caledon Wood, the one at Hart Fell has as yet turned nothing up interest. The Liddesdale version shows much more promise, however, for just along a ridge from the Seat stands the impressive remains of a fort on Cairby Hill. According to the Rev John Maughan, it seems a battle was fought there in the distant past, as in, ‘On the slope of the hill, at the distance of about 400 yards, is a green flat eminence called the “battle-knowe,” where, it is said, a severe battle was fought in former times, but of which I can learn no particulars.’
Saying all that, going about saying that Liddesdale was the site of the Battle of Caledon Wood lies on far too sketchy a ground – after all the wood was absolutely humungous. Still, it feels like we are getting closer here, & our next port of call – the HB’s eighth – seems to have been fought 35 miles to the north of Liddesdale, at a place called Stow-on-Wedale. Beginning with the HB account, we read;
The eighth battle was at the fortress of Guinnion, in which Arthur carried the image of holy Mary ever virgin on his shoulders; and the pagans were put to flight on that day. And through the power of our Lord Jesus Christ and through the power of the blessed Virgin Mary his mother there was great slaughter among them.
In the tenth century, a scribe called Marc the Anchorite added the following piece of scholia to a recension of the HB (Vatican Reg. 1964.);
For Arthur proceeded to Jerusalem, and there made a cross to the size of the Saviour’s cross, and there it was consecrated, and for three successive days he fasted, watched, and prayed, before the Lord’s cross, that the Lord would give him the victory, by this sign, over the heathen; which also took place, and he took with him the image of St. Mary, the fragments of which are still preserved in great veneration at Wedale, in English Wodale, in Latin Vallis- doloris. Wodale is a village in the province of Lodonesia, but now of the jurisdiction of the bishop of St. Andrew’s, of Scotland, six miles on the west of that heretofore noble and eminent monastery of Meilros.
Astonishing stuff! We have been here given a pin-point location; a literary arrow aiming aiming right at Stow-in-Wedale. The fortress of Guinnion should be Craigend Fort, which once sat on an impressive 900-foot high hill only two thirds of a mile to the north of Stow.
There is one more Arthurian battle in Scotland, recorded by our Geoff, fought after the Battle at Guinnion. Big Geoffe tells us;
He next led his army into Moray, where the Scots and Picts were beleaguered, for after they had thrice been defeated in battle by Arthur and his nephew they had fled into that province. When they had reached Loch Lomond, they occupied the islands that be therein, thinking to find safe refuge; for this lake doth contain sixty islands and receiveth sixty rivers, albeit that but a single stream doth flow from thence unto the sea. Upon these islands are sixty rocks plain to be seen, whereof each one doth bear an eyrie of eagles that there congregating year by year do notify any prodigy that is to come to pass in the kingdom by uttering a shrill scream all together in concert. Unto these islands accordingly the enemy had fled in order to avail them of the protection of the lake. But small profit reaped they thereby, for Arthur collected a fleet and went round about the inlets of the rivers for fifteen days together, and did so beleaguer them as that they were famished to death of hunger by thousands.
Loch Lomond, Britain’s largest inland waterway, is a glory of nature. Arthuriana-wise it was said to be the site of a magic joust between Merlin & Kentigern, while Ben Arthur (the Cobbler) & the Clach nam Breatann (Rock of the Britains), lie near its northern shores. Upon Ben Arthur at Arrochar, one of the crags has been known since time immemorial as Arthur’s Seat, presenting a bona fide Arthurian siege in the vicinity of an Arthur’s Seat, which supports the notion of Scotland’s Arthur’s Seats as being the site of Arthur’s Scottish sieges.
In the southern parts of Loch Lomond there are a number of islands, which Monmouth tells us the Picts & Scots had retreated to for safety. Some of these are the artificial Crannogs, built from timber & stone & connected to each other by secret underwater causeways. Archeology has surveyed thirty possible sites, which added to the natural islands of Loch Lomond bring us close to the 60 islands of the HKB, which continues;
And whilst that he was serving them out on this wise arrived Guillamur, King of Ireland, with a mighty host of barbarians in a fleet, to bring succor unto the wretched islanders. Whereupon Arthur left off the leaguer and began to turn his arms against the Irish, whom he forced to return unto their own country, cut to pieces without mercy. When he had won the victory, he again gave all his thoughts to doing away utterly the race of the Scots and Picts, and yielded him to treating them with a cruelty beyond compare. Not a single one that he could lay hands on did he spare, insomuch as that at last all the bishops of the miserable country assembled together with all the clergy of their obedience, and came unto him barefoot, bearing relics of the saints and the sacraments of the church, imploring the King’s mercy for the safety of their people. As soon as they came into his presence, they prayed him on their bended knees to have pity on the down-trodden folk, for that he had visited them with pains and penalties enow, nor was any need to cut off the scanty few that still survived to the last man. Some petty portion of the country he might allot unto them whereon they might be allowed to bear the yoke of perpetual bondage, for this were they willing to do. And when they had besought the King on this wise, he was moved unto tears for very pity, and, agreeing unto the petition of the holy men, granted them his pardon.
One of these penitent priests was evidently St Kessog, who predated Colomba by fifty years, & was Scotland’s first martyr. In medieval times his fame was widely spread & his name was used as a rallying cry to the Scots by Robert the Bruce at Bannockburn, whose holy crozier & relics were placed at the front of the army. He was said to have founded a monastery on the island of Inchtavannoch (the island of the Monk’s house), Loch Lomond, in 510, the year after Arthur won his battle.
So that was pretty much Scotland conquered, which may help to explain why Arthur’s name is scattered throughout the country, swelling among folk memories & clinging hardily to topographical features. There is a Loch Arthur near Dumfries, while Stirling enjoys its Round Table & a curious construction known as Arthur’s Oven. He was definitely there at some point , & by combing Big Geoff with the HB, we have gained a great insight into both where & when.