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
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Gwyddno Garanhir

Maes Gwyddno (The plain of Gwyddno) was a lowland area protected by a number of dykes which were managed by a individual named Seithennin, possibly its king. However, one night he failed in his duty through being too drunk and the land was drowned. This area, also known as Cantre’r Gwaelod, is said to be in Cardigan Bay near Aberdyfi.[1]

The region was named after Gwyddno Garanhir (Gwyddno Long-shank). Although Bartrum maintained that he was a legendary character, I believe we can identify him as a historical figure. The following table is a composite one.

Gen. BGG 10, 11
1 Elffin
0 Gwyddno
-1 Cawrdaf
-2 Garmonion
-3 Dyfnwal Hen
-4 Ednyfed
-5 Macsen Wledig

Gen. 1 to -3 are from BGG 10, gen. -4 to -5 are from a fragment of BGG 11. Gwyddno Garanhir appears in gen. 0 and his supposedly legendary son, Elffin, in gen. 1. As explained by Wolcott the Dyfnwal Hen in this pedigree was a different individual to that in the pedigree of the kings of Strathclyde.[2]

The prose Hanes Taliesin describes how Elffin discovered the child Taliesin. Elffin and Maelgwn, the king of Gwynedd, are contemporaries in this story and this is consistent with the fact that former belonged to gen. 1 and the latter to gen. 0. Maelgwn’s son, Rhun, plays a role in the tale which suggests he and Elffin belonged to the same generation, and this is in line with the above chronology.

When the bard Taliesin was 13 years of age he visited Maelgwn Gwynedd, who we are told was Elffin’s uncle, and correctly predicted Maelgwn’s imminent death. The AC tells us Maelgwn died of the plague in 547 and so we may conclude Taliesin was born c. 534.

[1] Rhys, J., 1901, 382
[2] Ancient Wales Studies > Anwn Dynod ap Maxen Wledig