Vortigern to Badon in the Red Book of Hergest

The Red Book of Hergest claims there were 128 years from the start of Vortigern’s reign to the battle of Badon. As Vortigern’s reign started in the year 425 and Badon was in 518, this is clearly incorrect. The question is how was the figure of 128 arrived at. It is likely to have been as a result of the following:

1. The Incarnation and Passion was generally taken to be separated by 28 years. However, the source of the RBH, took 35 years as the time gap on the basis of HB 4, which states “From the Passion of Christ 796 years have passed; from the Incarnation 831 years.”.
2. The start of Vortigern’s reign was 425 AD. However, in the earlier dating method it would have been 390 AP (anno passionis) using the 35 year interval.
3. By the time of the RBH, the figure 390 had been interpreted by the later dating method as 390 AD (anno domini).
4. The RBH statement “From the age of Vortigern to the Battle of Badon, which Arthur and his nobles fought with the Saxons, when Arthur and his nobles were victorious, 128 years.” used the fallacious calculation 518 – 390 = 128.


Was Arthur a king?

This question is raised from time to time. That Arthur was not a king during the period of his twelve battles is confirmed by the Historia Brittonum which gives him the title “dux bellorum” in the following passage:

“Then it was, that the magnanimous Arthur, with all the kings and military force of Britain, fought against the Saxons. And though there were many more noble than himself, yet he was twelve times chosen their commander, and was as often conqueror.”

This is not surprising since during these campaigns he may well have been in his early to mid-twenties. That he eventually became king of Dyfed is shown by his entry in HG 2.

The Annals of Ulster has the following statement under the year 467:

“Death of Uter Pendragon, king of England, to whom succeeded his son, King Arthur, who instituted the Round Table.”

Hennessy pointed out that this comes from only version B of the annals and was done in a later hand.[1] This explains the anachronistic reference to an English king and a Round Table. The date for Arthur’s coronation is, clearly, incorrect and may have been the result of a copyist mistaking the date cccccxuii to be cccclxuii. This is close to that given by the Annales Cambriae for Badon as opposed to being much earlier providing evidence that Arthur attained kingship towards the end or soon after his twelve battles.

It has been pointed out that Arthur is not given the title “rex” in the AC. However, if the royals in version A are listed it shows this is not surprising.

Royals without their title:
516 arthur, 537 arthur, 537 medraut, 558 Gabran filius dungart, 580 Guurci, 580 peretur, 589 con stantini, 607 Aidan map gabran, 613 selim filíí cinan, 613 iacob filíí beli, 616 Ceretic, 616 Et guin, 626 Etguin, 626 run filius urbgen, 627 Belin, 629 cat guol laun, 630 Guidgar, 630 guin, 630 Catguo llaun, 631 catguollaan, 632 iudris, 657 Pantha, 658 Osguid, 662 broc mail, 665 morcant, 682 catgualart filius catguolaum, 722 Beli filius elfin, 750 teudubr filius beli, 760 dunnagual filíí teudubr, 775 Fernmail filius iudhail, 811 Eugem filius margetiud, 813 higuel, 814 Trifun filius regin, 814 grip huid filius cincen, 814 elized, 814 Higuel, 814 cinan, 816 Higuel, 825 Higuel, 842 Iudguoll, 844 mermin, 849 Mouric, 850 Cinnen, 864 duta, 873 mouric, 877 Rotri , 877 guriat, 878 Aed map neill, 880 rotri, 882 Cat guethen, 885 Higuel, 892 Himeyd, 894 Anaraut, 902 Igmunt, 903 Loumarch filius hiemid, 904 Rostri, 913 Otter, 939 Himeid filius clitauc, 939 mouric, 940 Ædelstan, 943 Catel filius artmail, 943 iudgual, 943 elized, 946 Cincenn filius elized, 951 cat guocaun filius ouein, 954 Rotri filius higuel.

Royals with their title:
547 mailcun rex genedotae, 595 Dunaut rex, 644 osuuald rex nordorum, 644 eoba rex merciorum, 669 Osguid rex saxonum, 704 Alch frit rex saxonum, 714 pipínus maior rex francorum, 716 Osbrit rex saxonum, 736 Ougen rex pictorum, 750 rex … talargan, 754 Rotri rex brittonum, 757 Edpald rex saxo, 776 Cenioyd rex pictorum, 796 Offa rex merciorum, 796 morgetiud rex demetorum, 798 Caratauc rex guenedote, 807 Arthgen rex cereticiaun, 808 regin rex demetorum, 808 catell [rex] pouis, 816 Cinan rex, 848 iudhail rex guent, 854 Cinnen rex pouis, 854 ionathan princeps opergelei, 856 Cemoyth rex pictorum, 871 Guoccaun … rex cereticiaum, 875 Dungarth rex cerniu, 900 Albrit rex giuoys, 909 Catell rex, 915 Anaraut rex, 917 Ælfled regina, 919 Clitauc rex, 928 Higuel rex, 942 Abloyc rex, 947 Eadmund rex saxonum, 950 Higuel rex brittonum.

There are 66 instances of royals not being given their title and 35 cases where they are. For the early period, say before the year 700, it is even more likely the title would not have been registered.

The poem Gereint fil[ius] Erbin refers to Arthur as:

“Amherawdyr, llywyawdyr llauur.”

Sims-Williams wrote:

“The description of him as ’emperor’ (ameraudur/amherawdur < Latin imperator) could reflect Geoffrey’s Arthur but not necessarily so.”[2]

Nerys Ann Jones wrote of the poem:

“Most scholars believe that they [versions of the poem] probably belonged to a lost collection of poems about Geraint similar to the Llywarch Hen cycle, with possibly a prose element, and composed sometime between c.800 and 1100.”

“The use of the term amherawydyr (from Latin imperator) for Arthur is not likely to indicate the influence of the emperor figure of Geoffrey of Monmouth, as it was originally a military term for a commander-in-chief, and is used in the work of the Poets of the Princes, often in combination with llywyawdyr, for powerful leaders like the Lord Rhys, a ruler of Deuheubarth in the twelfth century, and Llywelyn ap Gruffudd, the last native prince of Wales.”[3]

The two rulers listed by Jones tells us that the title does not preclude Arthur being a king.

The poem Kadeir Teyrnon refers to Cawrnur. He was one of Arthur’s counselors, see Cawrnur. The placename ‘Reon’ appears in the poem. Triad 1 tells us that ‘Penn Ryonyd yn y Gogled’ was one of Arthur’s tribal thrones.[4]

The title of the poem could be translated either with a proper name as ‘The Chair of Teyrnon’ or as ‘The Chair of a Prince’. It would seem that the second interpretation is more likely, particularly since the following lines indicate the eulogy was directed to him:

“Arthur has been blessed
In harmonious song-
[As] a defence in battle,
Trampling nine [at a time].”[5]

[1] Hennessy, W. M., 1887.
[2] Bromwich, R., Jarman, A.O.H., Roberts, B.F. (eds.), 2008, 48.
[3] Lloyd-Morgan, C., Poppe E., (eds.), 2019, 19.
[4] Bromwich, R., 2006, 1.
[5] Lloyd-Morgan, C., Poppe E., (eds.), 2019, 24.

The Adventus Saxonum

The manuscript BL Cotton Tiberius A. iii states:

“Then succeeded Alfred, their brother, to the government. And then had elapsed of his age three and twenty winters, and three hundred and ninety-six winters from the time when his kindred first gained the land of Wessex from the Welsh.”[1]

396 years prior to the start of Alfred’s reign, in the year 871, suggests an Adventus Saxonum in the year 475. This, of course, was not the first arrival of Germanic peoples to Britain. However, there was an influx of Saxon invaders around this time as indicated by the chronicle entry for the year 477:

“This year Ælla, and his three sons, Cymen, and Wlencing, and Cissa, came to the land of Britain with three ships, at a place which is named Cymenesora, …”[2]

It would thus seem that the West Saxons and the South Saxons arrived at around the same time. They also appear to have landed in areas that are in close proximity, namely Cerdicesora (Southampton area) and Cymenesora (Selsey area) and then went on to expand their kingdoms westwards and eastwards respectively. Alternatively, it may be that there was no seperate South Saxon invasion and that the 477 entry refers to the West Saxon invasion. A discrepancy of two years in the Chronicles is nothing unusual. An explanation of this idea will be given in a later article entitled “The emergence of Wessex”.

I suggest that when Bede wrote:

“From that day, sometimes the natives, and sometimes their enemies, prevailed, till the year of the siege of Badon hill, when they made no small slaughter of those invaders, about forty-four years after their arrival in Britain.”[3]

his source for this information, the DEB, was referring to this later Adventus, not the one traditionally dated to the year 449. Bede’s version of the DEB is likely to have been closer to Gildas’s original text than any of our later surviving copies. Gildas was a little more precise than Bede with regards to the time interval between the Adventus and Badon when he stated:

“And this commences, a fact I know, as the forty-fourth year, with one month now elapsed; it is also the year of my birth.”[4]

The first year being 475 implies the forty-fourth year is 518, the traditional date for Badon. The battle occurred one month into that year. He states that year is when he was born. The AC tells us that Gildas died in the year 572, giving a plausible life-span of 54 years.

Gildas may have started formulating his ideas concerning the DEB around the age of 20, that is c. 538. Camlan occurred in 539 and could well have been as a result of an internecine feud amongst the Britons, since triad 84 tells us it was one of the Futile Battles of the Island of Britain[5]. Indeed, it may have been one of the triggers that set Gildas on the path to writing the DEB 10 years later, around the year 548.

The Chronicon Britannicum derived Gildas’s birthdate incorrectly by adding 43 years to the Adventus Anglorum:

CCCCXLVII. Angli in majorem Britanniam venerunt, & Britones inde ejecerunt
CCCCXC. Natus est S. Gildas. Hiis diebus fuit Arturus fortis.

[1] Adapted from Ingram, J., 1823, 20.
[2] Adapted from Giles, J.A., 1914, 8.
[3] Adapted from Giles, J.A., 1859, 26.
[4] Adapted from Williams, H., 1899, 63.
[5] Bromwich, R., 2006, 217.

Locating Arthur

The Demetian pedigree according to Bartrum.

The Demetian pedigree according to Bartrum. Cadair Early series (Aberystwyth University)

After fixing Arthur in time to the late 5th/ early 6th century we need to locate him geographically. That so much folklore attached to him suggests it is certain he was regarded as an exceptional leader and if he was the ruler of one of the British kingdoms he is likely to appear in one of the surviving king lists. This narrows the search down to just two individuals: Artur mac Aedan of Dalriada and Arthur map Pedr of Dyfed. However, neither men supposedly lived in the right time frame. According to the AT the former individual died in battle in 596 and, therefore, could not have been also fighting at Badon. Bartrum, the genealogist of the Welsh medieval period, dated the latter ruler to around 560. It would seem this individual too may need to be eliminated from our search. Unless, of course, this dating can be shown to be incorrect, see Why Bartrum’s dating … .

Dating the Arthurian age

If we are to place Arthur in a historical context the first task needs be to identify the period in which he lived. This is given in the AC by the dates of his two most significant battles: the victory at Badon in the year 518 and the defeat at Camlan in 539.

Is it possible to verify this time period? The chronicle of his enemy, the ASC, makes no mention of these battles. This is not surprising as far as Badon is concerned since the Saxons would have preferred their defeats to be forgotten but it is surprising that Camlan is not mentioned, unless this was an internecine battle between the Britons.

Nennius, in his HB provides a clue for the dating of Badon:

“Hengist having died, however, his son Octha crossed from the northern part of Britain to the kingdom of Kent and from him are descended the kings of Kent. Then Arthur along with the kings of Britain fought against them in those days, but Arthur himself was the military commander [“dux bellorum”].”[1]

After the above quote Nennius lists Arthur’s 12 battles, culminating in Badon, and following that the reign of Ida. The ASC states Aesc succeeded Hengist in 488 and so Arthur’s battles occurred sometime after that date. Gildas speaks of a period of relative peace after Badon and says that the interval was of such length that the generation that had known the turmoils had passed away. The ASC indicates after 547, the start of Ida’s reign, there was no state of peace. If we now deduct 30 years, an approximate length of one generation, from the start of Ida’s reign we arrive at a date close to that given by the AC for Badon, namely 518.

Bede in his HE when giving Ethelbert’s genealogy indicates Octa was a son of Oisc and a grandson of Hengist. This contradiction with the HB may be explained by an earlier reference in that document which says that Hengist sends for his son Octa and Octa’s brother Ebissa. I believe the latter person may have been Oisc who was in reality, as Bede states, Octa’s father.

The GRA gives additional information concerning Oisc that he reigned for 24 years. We may, therefore, conclude Octa succeeded him in the year 512. It follows that Arthur’s 12 battles occurred between the years 512 and 518. The Saxons’ catastrophic defeat in the latter year may explain Octa’s absence from the ASC.

[1] Halsall, P., 1998.