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.

Advertisements

Why Bartrum’s dating of the Demetian Arthur is wrong

To understand why there is a problem with the birthdate of Arthur ap Pedr given by Bartrum, i.e. 560, we need to look at a manuscript that mentions this individual. The names in the tables below are in the same order as they occur in HG 2a, namely progressing from the most recent to later individuals. My allocation of the generation numbers are in the first column and they are based on the principle that the generation number of an offspring should be one greater than that of the parent. The generation number in the fourth column are those given by Bartrum. The first table shows the first part of the Demetian pedigree. The obits shown in the 3rd column are those stated by Bartrum and originate from the Annales Cambriae.

Gen. HG 2a Obit acc. Bartrum Gen. acc. Bartrum Birthdate acc. Bartrum
13 Owain 18 900
12 Elen 929 18
11 Llywarch 904 17
10 Hyfaidd 893 16
9 Tangwystl 15? 790
8 Owain 811 14?
7 Maredudd 796 13
6 Tewdws 12 700
5 Rhain 11 675
4 Cadwgon 11 650
3 Cathen 10 625
2 Gwlyddien 9 600
1 Nowy 9 580
0 Arthur 8 560
-1 Pedr 7 535
-2 Cyngar 6 510

Using my generation numbers, regression analysis of the five obits in the above table give a generation step-size of 28 years. On the basis of this statistical technique and on the assumption that the average life expectancy was 65 years, it follows that an estimate of Arthur’s birthdate is 531, not 560.

Using a much larger database of obits the step-size is 32 years. Indeed, Bartrum states a male generation (the period between the birth of a father and that of his child) is about 33 years whereas a female generation (the period between the birth of a mother and that of her child) is about 20 years. The vast majority of generations in my database are male ones.

The larger database gives Arthur’s birth as occuring c. 487, this being the mid-value in the range for gen. 0. The Demetian Arthur’s birthdate is in the period that one would expect for the individual around whom the Arthurian cycle was built.

Using my generation numbering, Bartum’s estimates for the birthdates from Owain to Cyngar in the above table has an average step-size of 26 years, which is far too small. To achieve a more realistic step-size, he has given a number of parents and offsprings the same generation number, viz. Elen/Owain, Cadwgon/Rhain and Nowy/Gwlyddien. This results in a more satisfactory step-size of 33 years, but at the cost of artificially giving parents and offsprings the same generation number.

The reason why Bartrum’s analysis went astray may have been because he believed that HG 2 was a single pedigree list, whereas in reality it consists of three seperate segments. That the manuscript compilers did not always know when one list ended and the next one began can be seen in, for example, JC 20 10 to 11 where the ending of the first list is repeated in the start of the following one. In the second segment, shown below, he made use of two dateable events, namely the birth of Gwerthefyr and that of Macsen Wledig. In the Harleian document itself there names take the form Guortepir and Maxim gulecic respectively.

Gen. HG 2b Obit acc. Bartrum Gen. acc. Bartrum Birthdate acc. Bartrum
-1 Gwerthefyr 6 480
-2 Aergol Lawhir 5 460
-3 Tryffin 4 430
-4 Clodri 4? 440?
-5 Clydwyn 3 410
-6 Nyfed 2 380
-7 Annun Dyfed 2 355
-8 Macsen Wledig 388 1 330
-9 Prwtech
-10 Protector

Gildas writing in the 540s in the DE describes Gwerthefyr, whose name takes the form Vortipor, with the words

“… though thy head is now becoming grey … though the end of life is gradually drawing near …”.

So, Bartrum’s birthdate for him of 480 cannot be too wrong. He errs when he identifies the Macsen Wledig with the Roman emperor Magnus Maximus who died in 388. This forces him to use an average generational step-size for the second segment of 21 years, which is not credible. Again, he circumvents this problem by giving Clodri/Tryffin and Annun Dyfed/Nyfed the same generation number, resulting in a step-size of 30 years.

In this instance the name Macsen Wledig was a reference to the emperor Constantius Chlorus who died in 306, which is in line with him being in gen -8. His wife was Helena. This tallies with the first part of the Mabinogion tale entitled the Dream of Macsen Wledig  in which  Macsen came to Britain and married Elen Luyddog, the daughter of Eudaf.

It will be noted that there is an anomaly in that Bartrum’s tentative birthdate given to Clodri is 10 years after that of Tryffin who Bartrum believed was his nephew.

The third and last segment, HG 2c, is shown below. Note, the missing names that have been inserted, i.e. Custennin and Macsen Wledig, can be seen in JC 20 13b.

Gen. HG 2c JC 13b
2 Cyndeyrn Fendigaid
1 Owain
0 Eifudd Cyngar
-1 Eiludd Prwtech
-2 Stater Owain
-3 Pincr misser Miser
-4 [Custennin] Custennin
-5 [Macsen Wledig] Macsen Wledig
-6 Constans Maximianus
-7 Constantinus magnus Constantinus magnus
-8 Constantius Elen Luyddog Constantius Elen

This segment confirms the identification of the Macsen who appears in gen -8 of HG 2b with Constantius Chlorus, as his wife St. Helena has been given the cognomen of Eudaf’s daughter, namely Luyddog. Note, the Macsen of gen. -5 in HG 2c is Magnus Maximus.

Arthur and Urien

The evidence for Arthur being a genuine historical figure is very similar to that for Urien. Both appear in the Welsh pedigree lists, Arthur in HG 2 and Urien in HG 8.

Gen. HG 2 HG 8
1 Nowy Urien Rheged
0 Arthur Cynfarch Oer
-1 Pedr Meirchion Gul

That Urien became incorporated into the Arthurian cycle is not necessarily a creation of the High Medieval writers since Urien belonged to gen. 1. Taliesin was a contemporary of Arthur and Urien. It is, consequently, not suprising that he wrote praise poetry about both, in The Chair of the Sovereign and Urien of Yrechwydd respectively.

St. Kentigern, who died in 614 according to the AC, was incorrectly identified with Cyndeyrn Garthwys, a grandson of Urien. I believe Kentigern was Cyndeyrn Fendigaid of gen. 1. This assertion is given support by the V. Kentigerni 24 which describes how a king called Melconde Golganu attempted to stop Kentigern from constructing a monastery. The king is identified as Maelgwn Gwynedd who belonged to gen. 0 and so could well have interacted with Kentigern.

The year of Kentigern’s birth can be determined with reasonable certainty. He is said to have died in 612 or 603. The latter date is more likely as his death occurred on 13 January on a Sunday. He is said to have lived 185 years which is likely to be an error for 85 years, giving a birthdate of 518.

Gen. ABT 18a ByS G 18
3 Cyndeyrn Garthwys
2 Owain
1 Cyndeyrn Fendigaid Urien Rheged
0 Owain Cynfarch Oer
-1 Cyngar Meirchion Gul

This confusion can be seen in triad 1 which describes Cyndeyrn as Chief of Bishops in the North but gives him the wrong cognomen, i.e. Garthwys.[1] The error may have resulted in further misidentifications as indicated in the above table below.

Gen. Corrupted list
ByS G 18
3  Cyndeyrn Fendigaid Cyndeyrn Garthwys
2 Owain Owain
1 Urien Rheged
0 Cyngar Cynfarch Oer

However, Cyngar (Hound love) and Cynfarch (Hound horse), the name of Urien’s father, are not the same.

I believe that doubt has been created concerning Arthur’s existence because of the supernatural stories built around him by later writers. This sort of phenomenon has similarly cast doubt, in the minds of some, on the historicity of Jesus.

[1] Bromwich, R., 2006, 1