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




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.


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.