The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle and Arthur’s death

Under the year 501 the ASC A has the entry:

“Her cuom Port on Bretene 7 his .ii. suna Bieda 7 Mægla mid .ii. scipum on þære stowe þe is gecueden Portesmuþa 7 ofslogon anne giongne brettiscmonnan, swiþe ęþelne monnan.”
“Here Port and his 2 sons, Bieda and Mægla, came with 2 ships to Britain at the place which is called Portsmouth, and killed a certain young British man – a very noble man.”[1]

It is not usual for the ASC to mention the death of an enemy and if the individual was a nobleman we may be able to identify him. It will be argued that the dating for this event is incorrect. Moreover, the previous entry, for the year 495, and the following entry, for 508, are also suspect of being wrongly dated as they are very similar to the entries for the years 514 and 527 respectively except that some of the names have been altered. The reason why the authors would wish to make duplicate entries for the start of the 6th C is because Arthur’s victories occurred in that time frame and they needed to fill that period.

Æthelweard’s Chronicle has a comment under the year 500 which must have been originally part of the ASC 519 entry as it speaks of the six year gap between arrival and conquest:
“Sexto etiam anno aduentus eorum occidentalem circumierunt Brittanniæ partem, quae nunc Vuestsexe nuncupatur.”
“In the sixth year from their arrival they encircled that western area of Britain now known as Wessex.”[2]

Sims-Williams notes:
“That Æthelweard meant A.D. 500 is confirmed by his comment on Ecgberht’s accession in A.D. 800: ‘From the reign of Cerdic, who was King Ecgberht’s tenth ancestor, 300 years elapsed (reckoned from when he conquered the western area of Britain).’ “[3]

The question arises what is the correct dating for the 501 event. The clue to answering this question is the fact that the entries for the years 514 and 527 have been essentially repeated one Metonic cycle, that is 19 years, earlier. The 519 event could not be repeated wholesale under the year 500 as it would have meant giving two dates for the origin of Wessex with the coronation of Cerdic. The solution was to do a part transfer as indicated by the above quote from the Æthelweard’s Chronicle. The 501 entry has no parallel under the year 520. Instead, it was a transfer from two Metonic cycles, that is from the year 539. This is the date of Camlan and the very noble man is none other than Arthur.

The next question is who were the two individuals, Bieda and Mægla, who brought about Arthur’s demise. They appear in CO as Maelwys son of Baeddan, indicating their probably correct father to son relationship. The identification of Maelwys with Meleagant was made by Chambers.[4] As Meleagant was the name given by Chrétien de Troyes for Melwas we may conclude Mægla was Melwas, the abductor of Gwenhwyfar as indicated by a number of sources including the V. Gildae by Caradoc of Llancarfan.

Bieda appears as Baudemagus in the 13th C French poem Sone de Nansai and as Burmaltus in the pre-Galfridian Modena archivolt which is a representation of Camlan. Mægla appears on the archivolt as Mardoc, a name that eventually evolved into Mordred in the French Romances. Cerdic of Wessex, too, can be identified there as Carrado. The appearance of the name Port in the 501 entry, however, was probably an attempt to give the location an eponymous origin and is not likely to be historical.

August Hunt independently came to the same conclusion that Camlan occurred in the Portsmouth area, see WHY ARTHUR’S CAMLANN IS PROBABLY ‘THE CAMS’ ON PORTSMOUTH HARBOUR, although his thesis is quite different. The Modena archivolt seems to indicate Arthur was attacking a fortress which would have been Portchester Castle.

The HRB states that Arthur was taken to Avalon for healing. The V. Merlini indicates he was transported by water. This may have been a journey along the coast followed by largely travelling up the river Avon and down the river Brue to Glastonbury. However, Arthur was not buried there.

It needs to be noted that the 501 description of the murdered Briton as “young”, although present in mss. A and E, is absent from mss. B and C. It, therefore, may have been an insertion into the A text. If it was common knowledge that the victim was Arthur, this word could have been inserted to justify the early date being given for his death.The E recension may have recieved this insertion from the Canterbury manuscript it was copied from.

ASC versions and related texts

Instances of when the ASC mentions the death of enemy combatants include:
465. … and there killed 12 Welsh chieftains …
508. … killed a certain British king, whose name was Natanleod, and 5 thousand men with him …
577. … and they killed 3 kings, Coinmail and Condidan and Farinmail …
It would seem that the authors were happy to name opponents the Saxons had killed when there was a handful of names to provide. However, the individual who was slain in 501 went unnamed, despite his acknowledged nobility, which might indicate that to have mentioned who he was would have been taboo. The only individual we know who could just possibly have been a nonperson for the Saxons is Arthur as the fictitious ASC entries were purely designed to deny the existence of a period of British successes under his leadership.

The entries in the ASC from 514 to 544 are one Metonic cycle too early and the repetitions from 495 to 508 have been pre-dated by two cycles. So, for example, Cerdic’s arrival in 495 occurred in 533 and his coronation in 538, a date also suggested by Dumville for the event. This date can be arrived at by subtracting the total for the regnal years given in the 9th C West Saxon Genealogical Regnal List from Alfred’s accession in the year 871.[5]

In order to obscure the generation of military defeats that may be called the Arthurian age the ASC made the adventus saxonum one Metonic cycle later than the actual date of 428, as indicated by the Historia Brittonum.

[1] Swanton, M., 2000, 14.
[2] Campbell, A., 1962, 11.
[3] Sims-Williams, P., 2007, (ed.) Clemeos, P. et al., Anglo-Saxon England vol. 12, 38.
[4] Chambers, E. K.,1927, 213.
[5] Dumville, D. N., 1985

 

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Cawrnur

The name Cawrnur occurs in the Kadeir Teyrnon, The Chair of the Prince, which speaks of pale horses under saddle being led from him. In the Marwnat vthyr pen, Uthr Pen[dragon]’s Elegy, there is a reference to an attack on the sons of someone named Cawrnur. Sims-Williams wrote:

“Presumably the fact that Cawrnur and Arthur rhyme partly explains their collocation, but both poems may allude to some lost Arthurian story.”[1]

If we speculate that for the sake of rhyming Cawrnur is a variant of the individuals actual name than a reasonable candidate would be Cawrdaf ap Caradog Freichfras who was of gen 0, see St. Collen. According to triad 13 he was one of the Chief Officers of the Island of Britain. He appears as one of Arthur’s counselors in Breuddwyd Rhonabwy when Osla Gyllellfawr asked for a limited truce.

Gen. ByS 51 ByS J 51 ByS Y(S) 88 ByS Y(S) 89
2 St. Dyfnog St. Dyfnog
1 Medrod Medrod Gwenhwyach Iddew Corn Brydain St. Cathen
0 Cawrdaf Cawrdaf Gocuran Gawr Cawrdaf Cawrdaf
-1 Caradog Freichfras Caradog Freichfras Caradog Freichfras Caradog Freichfras
-2 Llŷr Marini Llŷr Marini

Gwenhwyach was the wife of Medrod. TYP 53 indicates a dispute between her and  Gwenhwyfar led to Camlan. Iddog Cordd Prydain, the Embroiler of Britain, appears in Rhonabwy‘s Dream as one of the messengers between Arthur and Medrod. However, he twisted Arthur’s words when reporting them as he was keen for the battle to occur. These hostilities may be what is alluded to in the references to Cawrnur. The Pen. 51 version of triad 51 tells us that Idawc ap Nyniaw was called  Idawc Korn Prydyn from which we can conclude Iddog Cordd Prydain is the same person as Iddew Corn Brydain.

However, as Gwenhwyfar would have belonged to gen. 0, the Gwenhwyach of ByS J 51 could not have been her sister. Furthermore, Medrod ap Llew has been conflated with Medrod ap Cawrdaf. The existence of two Medrods would explain why different personalities have been ascribed to the name Medrod.

[1] Bromwich, R., Jarman, A.O.H., Roberts, B. F., 1991, 53.

 

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.