Liber Floridus

The Liber Floridus tells us of Arthur as leader of Picts:

“Tunc arthur dux Pictorum re[[ ]]abat”[1]

LF LVI Ghent uni.

This is compatible with triad 1 which tells us Arthur was Chief of Princes in Pen Rhionydd. Watson identified this site with Ptolemy’s Rerigonion which means ‘very royal palace’.[2] This was the capital of the Novantae, a tribe who may have included people of Bede’s ‘australes Picti’. It is also significant that the word “regnabat” indicates the title dux does not preclude its holder from ruling a kingdom.

Another entry points to the fact that Arthur, who was the leader of the Picts, had some authority, as opposed to ruling, over kingdoms in the interior of Britain:

“Tunc Arthur dux Pictorum interioris Britanniȩ re/gens regna”[3]

LF LVII Ghent uni.

We know, from the Historia Brittonum, this to be the case during the 12 battles. The refernce to the interior suggests Arthur himself was from a peripheral region. This is consistent with triad 1 since Arthur ruled in the North, as has already been stated, but also in Cornwall and Dyfed. The only known Demetian Arthur was a son of Pedr.

[1] Derolez, A., 1968, 137.
[2] Watson, W.J., 1926, 34.
[3] Derolez, A., 1968, 146.

Arthur’s adversaries and ally

The HB is correct in claiming Ochta was the son of Hengest. This is supported by Bede. Although the ASC names Aesc as the son, if it is accepted that the 488 date is correct for Hengest’s obit then it would seem that Ochta was the name of Arthur’s opponent in some of the 12 battles.

As far as Esla of the Gewisse is concerned, as Sisam pointed out, Esla/Elesa formed an alliterative pair as did Wig/Giwis. Chronology would, therefore, suggest he was a contemporary of Arthur and identification with Osla Gyllellfawr is reasonable. The Culhwch ac Olwen, where we are told his dagger, Bronllafn Ferllydan, is used as a bridge and also that he was involved in the chase of the Twrch Trwyth, describes him as an ally of Arthur. However, in the Breuddwyd Rhonabwy he is an opponent at Badon, but asked Arthur for a truce. Perhaps, he defected to Arthur. If Esla was, indeed, an ally it may explain why DEB 26 states:

“tam desperati insulae excidii insperatique mentio auxilii”

“… ‘so desperate a destruction of the island’ – the Saxon revolt – ‘and unhoped-for mention of assistance’ …”[1]

This unforseen help referred to may have been Saxons fighting with the Britons against Kentish forces. That may also explain the reason why the West Saxons claimed their dynasty started with Cerdic, rather than with the arrival of Giwis, possibly in 475. Although the ASC claims Cerdic’s obit in 534, Dumville dates it to 554. It is, therefore, likely that Cerdic was one of Arthur’s opponents at Camlan.

[1] Higham, N.J., 2018, 162.


Cadwaladr Fendigaid

There is an entry in Hengwrt 33 V, NLW Cwrtmawr 453 (c.1615×1630) that states:

“The age of the Lord when Cadwaladr Vendigaid went to Rome: 653.”[1]

There are two possible chronologies for Cadwaladr Fendigaid:

1. HRB XII 14 tells us his mother was a sister of Penda. This is confirmed by ByA 28a:

“Mam Gatwaladyr vendigait, merch Pyt, chwaer y Banna ap Pyt.”[2]

where Panna ap Pyd is the Welsh for Penda son of Pybba. The Annales Cambriae tells us his father died at ‘bellum cantscaul’ c.632 to 634. Bartrum estimated her marriage to Cadwallon c. 632.[3]  Thus, AC dating Cadwaladr’s death in 682, during a plague, is plausible. That there was indeed a plague around this time is confirmed by entries in a number of Irish annals.

2. Bartrum argued that the plague in which Cadwaladr died actually occurred in 664. Reference to it is given by Bede:

“In the same year of our Lord 664, there happened an eclipse of the sun, on the third day of May, about the tenth hour of the day. In the same year, a sudden pestilence …”[4]

The timing of the eclipse is accurate to within days, as the following reconstruction of the eclipse path shows:


The earlier date is supported by HB 64 which talks of his death during the reign of Oswy. HRB states Cadwaladr reigned for 12 years which would give a start to his reign close to the time of his Rome visit. Charles Oman argued that HRB dating his death in Rome to 689 is a conflation with the Wessex Ceadwalla.[5]

The second of the two chronologies appears to carry more weight.

[1] Guy, B., 2016, 23.
[2] Bartrum, P.C., 1966, 91.
[3] Bartrum, P.C., 1993, 90.
[4] Sellar, A.M., 1907.
[5] Oman, C., 1921.

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.

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.