The Quest for the Holy Grail (part 8)

8 – FRISIANS

While we’re up by the Firth of Forth, I thought we might as well unearth a few more nuggets of Dark-Age history which have been missed by the scholars. Its all quite Socratic really, for as that philosopher urged we humans to question his reality, so the modern litologist has to dig through reams of often daft scholarship in order to ascertain the truth about history. In this spirit, then, let us return to the L-G for a moment;

They spent their days in travel until they came to Arestel & found the king laying siege to the Rock, just as the maiden had said, & the rock was so strong that those in it feared nothing except being starved. It had been secretly fortified at the time Vortigern married the daughter of Hengist the Saxon

 

This sequence of events refers to the time when, in the wake of the Roman retreat c.450 AD, the British King Vortigern invited a group of hardy Saxon mercenaries led by Hengist to Britain. The plan was they would help the Britons fend off the brutal invasions of Picts & Scots – a plan which worked at first, but then drastically backfired when the Saxons basically turned on Vortigern & decided to stay in Britain. The HB tells us;

Hengist, in whom united craft and penetration, perceiving he had to act with an ignorant king, and a fluctuating people, incapable of opposing much resistance, replied to Vortigern, “We are, indeed, few in number; but, if you will give us leave, we will send to our country for an additional number of forces, with whom we will fight for you and your subjects.” Vortigern assenting to this proposal, messengers were despatched to Scythia, where selecting a number of warlike troops, they returned with sixteen vessels, bringing with them the beautiful daughter of Hengist. And now the Saxon chief prepared an entertainment, to which he invited the king, his officers, and Ceretic, his interpreter, having previously enjoined his daughter to serve them so profusely with wine and ale, that they might soon become intoxicated. This plan succeeded; and Vortigern, at the instigation of the devil, and enamoured with the beauty of the damsel, demanded her, through the medium of his interpreter, of the father, promising to givefor her whatever he should ask. Then Hengist, who had already consulted with the elders who attended him of the Oghgul race, demanded for his daughter the province, called in English Centland, in British, Ceint, (Kent.). This cession was made without the knowledge of the king, Guoyrancgonus who then reigned in Kent, and who experienced no inconsiderable share of grief, from seeing his kingdom thus clandestinely, fraudulently, and imprudently resigned to foreigners. Thus the maid was delivered up to the king, who slept with her, and loved her exceedingly.

 

National Trust; (c) Saltram; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation

 

Hengist, after this, said to Vortigern, “I will be to you both a father and an adviser; despise not my counsels, and you shall have no reason to fear being conquered by any man or any nation whatever; for the people of my country are strong, warlike, and robust: if you approve, I will send for my son and his brother, both valiant men who at my invitation will fight against the Scots, and you can give them the countries in the north, near the wall called “Gual.” The incautious sovereign having assented to this, Octa and Ebusa arrived with forty ships. In these they sailed round the country of the Picts, laid waste the Orkneys, and took possession of many regions, islands beyond the Fresic sea, that is, that which is between the Scots, as far as to the confines of the Picts

Big Geoff’s version gives us a bit more gloss, as in, ‘When the damsel was given unto the King as hath been told, Hengist said unto him: ‘Behold, I am now thy father, and meet is it that I be thy counsellor; nor do thou slight my counsel, for by the valour of my folk shalt thou subdue all thine enemies unto thyself. Let us invite also hither my son Octa with his brother Ebissa, for gallant warriors they be; and give unto them the lands that lie in the northern parts of Britain nigh the wall betwixt Deira and Scotland, for there will they bear the brunt of the barbarians’ assaults in such sort that thou upon the hither side of Humber shalt abide in peace.’

 

Bainbridge Fort Map



This essentially brings a contingent of Saxons to southern Scotland, dwelling in the area between Hadrian’s Wall & the the Antonine Wall, the latter linking the firths of Clyde & Forth, forming a fine defensive barrier. The HB shows the Saxons taking possession of regions right at the Pictish borders, by the ‘Fresic Sea’, which in those days was the Firth of Forth. The lands beside this gorgeous waterway were once known, in antiquity as ‘The Frisian Shore,’  the ‘Frisicum litus‘ of Joceline’s Vita of Saint Kentigern. This name connects the Forth to the Frisii, a tribe of Saxons who dwelt on the shores of what is today’s Holland. That Hengist & his family were Frisian was suggested by John Kemble, who wrote of, ‘Hengist, who cannot have been a Dane, is a Frisian, appears as such in the genealogy of the Kings of Kent, and is the fabled conqueror of Britain.‘ The last bit of the sentence refers to Hengist & his surly crew basically running rampant over Vortigern, inviting loads of their drunken German mates over on the booze-cruise which basically created England. Octa and Ebusa’s presence in the Firth of Forth shows that by Arthur’s time, Anglo-Saxon territory would have covered the entire eastern coast, from Kent to Stonehaven, as suggested by Skene;

The first and principal seat of them {The Frisians} appears to have been the northern shore of the Firth of Forth, and extending along the shore of Forfarshire, and perhaps Kincardine, as far as Stonehaven… This region hears the indications of a Saxon population in the peculiar term applied to the hills which is here so frequent, viz. Laws ; and the frontier range itself hears the name of the Sidlaw Hills…. The second locality in which I think we can trace them is that part of the coast of East-Lothian where it projects into the Firth, a great promontory consisting of the parishes of Dirleton and North Berwick, and where there was anciently a ferry to the opposite coast of Fife, which is here not more than eight miles distance.

That Hengist was a Frisian can also be discerned by matching his genealogy with a stone memorial found near Edinburgh. When Bede tells us Hengist was the ‘son of Vitgilsus, whose father was Vecta, son of Woden‘ we have a direct match up to an inscribed 6th century memorial called the Cat Stane, which stands in the precincts of Edinburgh Airport. It reads;

 In this tomb lies Vetta son of Victus

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In an Anglo-Saxon poem known as  ‘The Fight at Finnesburh,’ Henghist & his men are described as being ‘Eotanas,‘ or ‘sons of Eotan.’ This really does suggest that Eotan was an earlier version of Woden, & that the etymology of Edinburgh – known as Etain in 638 – is actually ‘Eotan burh.‘ This of course also supports its being the ‘Saxon Rock’ of the L-G. A little extra confirmation comes through the academic concensus that Eotan was an early version of the name Jute, & the same name was applied to the Teutonic tribe which occupied Kent , which now explains how a Scotland-based Ochta should, according to the HB; ‘ after the death of his father Hengist, came from the sinistral part of the island to the kingdom of Kent, and from him have proceeded all the kings of that province, to the present period.’

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The Frisians also connect to the reference of there being Cynocephali (dogheads) at Edinburgh in the Pa Gur poem. In an Old English manuscript on the Marvels of the East, the Cynocephali are glossed as ‘healf hundingas.‘ According to Scandinavian sagas, the Hundings had a feud with another tribe called the the Wulfings. Saxo Grammaticus describes how the Wulfing king, Helgo, slew Hundingus, king of Saxony, as in; “He conquered in battle Hundingus the son of Syricus, king of Saxony, at the city of Stadium (stade) and challenging him to a single combat overthrew him. For this reason he was called ‘the slayer of Hundingus,’ deriving a glorious surname from his victory.’ This places the Hundings in the region of Stade, at the mouth of the Rhine, &close enough to the Frisians to be counted among the latter’s number.

Note the proximity between Stade & East Frisia
Note the proximity between Stade & East Frisia

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In light of all this information, we can see how the proto-English tribes of Angles, Saxons & Jutes controlled much more territory than historians think.  According to Skene their territory also stretched south into Galloway. It in that county’s most ancient & principle town, Dumfries, that we encounter the appropriate semantics. Skene writes; ‘It is clear the population of Dumfriesshire must have been one of the Saxon tribes. Among the cities of Britain enumerated by Nennius, there are two, Caer Breatan and Gaer Pheris; and as the first is certainly Dumbarton, and meant the city of the Britains, so, I think, the latter was Dumfries, or the city of the Frisians.’ Support comes from William of Malmesbury, who mentioned the discovery of the grave of Walwin (Gawain) in the year 1087: ‘He reigned a most renowned knight in that part of Britain which is still named Walweitha, but was driven from his kingdom by the brother and nephew of Hengist.’

With Walweitha becoming Galweithia, & then Galloway, we have deeper evidence of the arrival in Scotland of a Frisian contingent led by Octa and Ebissa, the son & nephew of Hengist. The thing is, the memory of their time in Scotland has almost been wiped from the map – & who, may we ask, did that. It was bloody King Arthur, werenit, & in doing so seems to have saved Scotland from becoming a part of England, & god bless that he did. I mean, can you imagine being a Calley Thistle fan & having to travel to Torquay for a Tuesday night game of football!

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