Tuesday, May 22, 2018


The Welsh tradition, as I've thoroughly demonstrated before in posts and in my book THE BEAR KING, places Arthur's last and fatal battle on the Afon Gamlan in Gwynedd.

However, I have also looked at another, perhaps more exciting potential site: the Uley Bury hillfort in Gloucestershire.


After extensive searching, I've not found additional suitable places in southern England.

In this blog post, I will try to decide if Uley Bury is the more viable candidate of the two widely separated locations.

To begin, it is fairly obvious that if Arthur fought at Badon, and Badon is (as linguistics demand) Bath in Somerset, then we must invoke a new chronology, one that it very difficult to establish, as it would be based solely on the misordering of the Gewissei genealogy - something evinced in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle.  See


Furthermore, as Camlann was Arthur's last battle, it plainly followed Badon.  When we look at the taking of Bath in the ASC, an action which Cerdic's/Ceredig's father Ceawlin/Maquicoline/Cunedda supposedly spear-headed, and then place on the map the other battles and sites mentioned in the year 577, as well as battles subsequent to Dyrham in 584 at Fethanleag and in 592 at Adam''s Grave - with Ceawlin dying at an undisclosed location* in 593 - the resulting map is rather telling.  For Uley Bury and the River Cam are right in the middle of the grouping. 

Uley Bury and Anglo-Saxon Chronicle Battles

Does this mean Arthur died at Uley Bury?  Well, we have a choice, as I see it.  Either Ceredig/Cerdig/Arthur went home from his southern battles and died fighting a neighboring dynast in Merionethshire at the Afon Gamlan - something certainly possible, as Ceredigion and Merionethshire bordered upon each other - or Camlann as *Cambolanda, the Crooked Enclosure or Enclosure of the Cam [River], was part of a continuing Gewissei campaign in Gloucestershire. 

My problem with the Afon Gamlan in NW Wales is that it is a rather unremarkable site for a battle.  The Roman road does not even cross it.  On the other hand, there is no denying the impressive nature of the Uley Bury hillfort, and hillforts were targeted by the Gewissei.  Uley Bury is also smack-dab in the middle of the Gewissei military theater. For these reasons alone I would prefer Uley Bury as Arthur's Camlann.

*Crida perishes along with Ceawlin.  If we may allow for this to be a form of Creoda/Creda, Ekwall mentions a 'Creodan hyll' in Wiltshire.  So far as I know, the hill has not been identified.  But it could be that Ceawlin/Cunedda died at this place. 


Monday, May 21, 2018


Uley Bury Hillfort, Gloucestershire

The Welsh tradition, as I've discussed before in posts and in my book THE BEAR KING, places Arthur's last and fatal battle on the Afon Gamlan in Gwynedd.

However, I have also looked at another, perhaps more exciting potential site: the Uley Bury hillfort in Gloucestershire.


After extensive searching, I've not found additional suitable places in southern England.

In the next blog post, I will try to decide between my two favorite candidates - the Afon Gamlan and Uley Bury.


Cerdic of the Gewissei

Ever since I was able to identify the the leaders of the Gewissei with Cunedda and his son, I was aware of the strange and somewhat unaccountable fact that the line of descent for these Irish or Hiberno-British "federates" was reversed in the ANGLO-SAXON CHRONICLE.  Until now, however, I'd not really had the chance to consider what this reversal might actually mean.  Obviously, it creates a major chronological problem for the list of ASC battles featuring the Gewissei.  

Precedence must be given to the order established in the early British sources.  It is impossible, as far as I'm concerned, for the Welsh to have gotten the order of the Cunedda dynasty backwards.  That they did not is supported by the inscription of the Cunorix Stone at Wroxeter, where Cunorix/Cynric is the son of Cunedda/Maquicoline/Ceawlin (for my identification of Ceawlin with Cunedda Maquicoline, see my book THE BEAR KING and related blog posts).  In the ASC, it is implied that Ceawlin is the son of Cynric.

 Here is the order of the princes of the Gewissei, from both the Welsh and English sources:

Welsh:  Hyddwyn (from hydd, stag, hart) son of Cerdic   son of Cunedda Maquicoline

             Iusay (= Gewis/sei/sae)                son of Cerdic   son of Cunedda M.

                                                                             Cunorix son of Cunedda M.

English: Ceawlin (=Cunedda) son of (?) Cynric son of Cerdic son of Elesa/Esla (conflated with Aluca/Aloc from the Bernician pedigree), also Elafius, 'stag, hart', son of Gewis (eponym for the Gewissei)

The question that faces us, given this reversal of the Gewissei peidgree, is quite simply (and profoundly!) this: if Cunedda and his sons appear in reverse order in the ASC, are we to rearrange them in accordance with the order of the battles set down in that source or, even more radically, should the battle order itself be flipped on its head? In other words, do we maintain the battles as they are presented to us, and suggest only that the wrong leaders are assigned to them? Do we assume Cunedda and his sons all fought together and that some were present at various battles, even if their names are not to be found in this or that year entry? Or do we go even further and propose that some or all of the battles from 495 (the advent of Cerdic) to 593 (the death of Ceawlin) should be considered an incorrect and possibly artificial arrangement? 

Let us take the 577 ASC entry, for example.  This is when Ceawlin supposedly took Bath.  Over the years, I've taken great pains to show (by utilizing the expertise of top Celticists around the world) that Badon, as found in Gildas, and Caer Faddon/Vaddon of the later Welsh sources, linguistically has to be Bath.  That is, Badon is the regular British spelling for English Bathum.  However, we could not demonstrate that the generally accepted date for the Battle of Badon in the Welsh Annals, c. 516 (or c. 500 +/- 10-20 years) made any sense at all.  From what we know through archaeology and sources such as the ASC, a battle at Bath (even if we allow this to be the other bathum/batham in the North at Buxton) against the English this early was not possible.  The English had not gotten anywhere near as far west at Bath by this early date.

Yet we must bear in mind that it is Ceawlin/Maquicoline/Cunedda who took Bath, according to the ASC.  P.C. Bartram places the "migration" of Cunedda and his sons to NW Wales at c. 430. More recently, John Koch has suggested c. 400 as the migration date, or a "heyday" for Cunedda in the later 5th century. Other dates have been proposed, but the consensus is that Cunedda's floruit was the 5th century NOT, AS THE ASC WOULD HAVE US BELIEVE, THE 6TH CENTURY. The Cunorix Stone was dated by Wright and Jackson between 460-475 A.D., although they also added that it could belong anywhere between the beginning of the 5th century and the middle of the 6th. 

I suspect, therefore, that the Welsh Annals date of c. 516 A.D. is correct, and this was the Battle of Bath in Somerset.  That Ceawlin/Maquicoline/Cunedda was present, as was his son Cerdic, whom I've identified as Arthur in THE BEAR KING.  Of course, this means that Cerdic/Arthur was not fighting the English at all, but rather was allied with the English against the British at Bath.  And these Britons were enemies of the High King of Wales, for whom the Gewissei were acting as federates or mercenaries.  

While this solution to the 'Badon Problem" seems elegant enough, it does throw into total disarray the other battles of the ASC.  We must also accept the fact that Cerdic's death in 537, according to the ASC, matches very closely Arthur's death at Camlan in 537.  We are not told where Cerdic dies.  

Saturday, May 19, 2018


Uther Pendragon in John Boorman's "Excalibur"

Although I am confident of my identification of Uther Pendragon with St. Illtud, the question remains: was he really Arthur's father?

Information on Uther prior to Geoffrey of Monmouth's fictional HISTORY OF THE KINGS OF BRITAIN is scarce.  To quote from the entry on Uther in P.C. Bartram's A CLASSICAL WELSH DICTIONARY:

UTHR BENDRAGON, father of Arthur. (445) ‘U. Chief Warleader’. Evidence that Uthr Bendragon was known to the Welsh before the time of Geoffrey of Monmouth is plentiful, but it does not tell us much about the pre-Geoffrey legend. He is mentioned in the poem ‘Who is the porter’ in the Black Book of Carmarthen, a dialogue between Arthur, Cai and Glewlwyd Gafaelfawr. Mabon ap Modron, one of the companions of Arthur, was guas Uthir Pendragon, ‘Servant of Uthr Bendragon’ (BBC 94, ll.6-7). An early triad (TYP no.28) tells of the Enchantment of Uthr Bendragon as being one of the ‘Three Great Enchantments’ of Ynys Prydain, and says that he taught the enchantment to Menw ap Teirgwaedd. In the Book of Taliesin (BT 71) there is a poem entitled Marwnat Vthyr Pen to which Dragon has been added in the margin in a later hand. This expansion is probably justified, since, among much that is obscure, the poem contains a reference to Arthur: ‘I have shared my refuge, a ninth share in Arthur's valour’ (BT 71, 15-16). See AoW 53. All these references bring Uthr into the Arthurian orbit (TYP p.521). Madog ab Uthr is mentioned in the Book of Taliesin (BT 66) and Eliwlod ap Madog ab Uthr is described as nephew of Arthur in a poem which shows no dependence on Geoffrey of Monmouth. See s.nn. Eliwlod, Madog. This is evidence that Uthr was regarded as father of Arthur in pre-Geoffrey legend. In two manuscripts of the Historia Brittonum (Mommsen's C, L, 12th and 13th centuries), §56, which lists Arthur's battles, contains a gloss after the words ipse dux erat bellorum: Mab Uter Britannice, id est filius horribilis Latine, quoniam a pueritia sua crudelis fuit, ‘In British Mab Uter, that is in Latin terrible son, because from his youth he was cruel’. According to Professor Jarman there is here a deliberate pun on the word uthr, which can be either an adjective (‘terrible’) or a proper name. The author of the gloss could have been familiar with Geoffrey of Monmouth's ‘Historia’.  See A.O.H.Jarman in Llên Cymru, II (1952) p.128; J.J.Parry in Speculum, 13 (1938) pp.276 f. See further TYP pp.520-3.

The most important phrase in this entry is "This is evidence that Uthr was regarded as father of Arthur in pre-Geoffrey legend." The context is the 'Dialogue' poem.  Unfortunately, as Professor Patrick Sims-Williams discusses in his "The Early Welsh Arthurian Poems" (in THE ARTHUR OF THE WELSH), the 'Dialogue' is preserved only in fourteenth century or later MSS., but may be as early as the twelfth century.  Geoffrey of Monmouth wrote his HISTORY c. 1138, i.e. in the first half of the 12th century.  Thus there is no way we can know whether the 'Dialogue' poem was influenced by Geoffrey's claim that Arthur's father was Uther Pendragon.

The reference to Arthur in the Uther elegy is, like many lines of this poem, difficult and obscure.  Here are the relevant lines and accompanying note from Marged Haycock's recent translation:

13. Neu vi a rannwys vy echlessur:
It was I who shared my stronghold:

14. nawuetran yg gwrhyt Arthur.
Arthur has a [mere] ninth of my valour.

Note to Line14

nawuetran yg gwrhyt Arthur

Nawuetran ‘ninth part’ with yg gwrhyt understood as ‘of my valour’ (gwryt ~ gwrhyt). Arthur has a ninth part of the speaker’s valour. This seems to have more point than ‘I have shared my refuge, a ninth share in Arthur’s valour’, TYP3 513, AW 53. Gwrhyt ‘measure’ is not wholly impossible — ‘one of the nine divisions [done] according to the Arthurian measure/fathom’, etc., or ‘a ninth part is in [a place] called Arthur’s Measure or Span’, the latter like Gwrhyt Kei discussed TYP3 311, and other Gwryd names discussed G 709-10. The phrase is exactly the same as in §18.30 (Preideu Annwfyn) tra Chaer Wydyr ny welsynt wrhyt Arthur.

This is no way implies Arthur is Uther's son.  As I've mentioned before, Arthur here may be the usual paragon of military virtue to whom Uther is being compared, much as the warrior Gwawrddur is compared (unfavorably) to Arthur in Line  972 of the "Goddodin."  Yet someone like Geoffrey of Monmouth may have come across this 'death-song' and decided to use it as the exceedingly slender basis for making Uther Arthur's father. 

Nothing in the VITA of St. Illtud suggests that he was Arthur's father.  In fact, it is pointedly stated in that hagiographical work that Illtud is Arthur's cousin.  So if Illtud were Arthur's father, the fact was later altered in the tradition which preferred to make of this terrible warrior a Christian saint.

All in all, the evidence in support of Uther as Arthur's father is quite poor. Yet if we dispense with him, we are left with no father at all for Arthur. We must admit that either his father was unknown or that the identify of his real father was, for some reason, concealed.

Thursday, May 17, 2018

Illtud, Father of Arthur, and the Llydaw/"Brittany" of Brycheiniog

Brecon Gaer Roman Fort, Photo Courtesy COFLEIN

Readers of my past blogs will know that I've proposed several "Llydaws" as the home of Illtud/Uther Pendragon, the reputed father of Arthur.

As any father of Arthur has to have proven Irish heritage, I had dispensed with those theories that did not fulfill this condition.

Two possibilities remained.  1) Illtud was not from Llydaw/"Brittany", but was of the Ui Liathain of SE Ireland.  I showed how Llydaw could have been mistakenly substituted for Liathain.  However, the idea is made difficult by two facts.  First, we would have to account for the change in the terminal letter from /n/ to /w/ (or perhaps /u/ or /f/).  This happens, under certain circumstances.  And while we have several instances of Liathain being written in a form that could more easily allow it to be mistaken for something like Welsh llydan, there is no doubt that the two words are NOT related.

From Professor Jurgen Uhlich at the Department of Irish and Celtic languages, Trinity College, Dublin, Ireland:

"These are actually two different words that cannot be confused: líath, gen. sg. m. léith, etc., has an original long ē, while the -e- of lethan is short, < *i and corresponding to Gaul. litano- etc. Ui Liathain is thus for Ui Líatháin, with the common suffix -án, and the Primitive Irish equivalent would be, written in Ogam, *LETAGNI, i.e. nothing to do with ‘broad’, which would have given *Ui Lethain < *LETANI lowered from *LITANI. The reported reading in CIIC no. 273 is actually ‘LIT[ENI]’, which could not be ‘broad’ either, and Macalister’s sketch appears to read LITOVI instead (though perhaps meant to be damaged, i.e. two dots might be intended to be missing for an E, and one stroke for an N). So in short, the ía strictly rules out your proposed equation."

Because of these problems, I looked again to the prevailing view (as evinced, for example, in P.C. Bartram's A CLASSICAL WELSH DICTIONARY) that this particular Llydaw was to be found in Wales - and, in particular, somewhere in the vicinity of the Brycheiniog where we find two supposed graves for Illtud. The saint was said to have been buried in Letavia/Llydaw, so the fact that we find two prehistoric tombs bearing his name to the west and east of Brecon is surely significant.

One grave is near Defynnog and Mynydd Illtud, the Bedd Gwyl Illtud or Grave of Illtud's Festival, and the other is Ty Illtud or House of Illtud north of Llanhamlach.

I decided to see how Llydaw (from a Celtic root meaning 'broad' or 'wide') could possibly refer to this region.  What I found, rather surprisingly, were many references to the BROAD valley of the River Usk at Brecon.  While I could cite all of these, I hope the following will suffice.  It is drawn from Charles Thomas's AND SHALL THESE MUTE STONES SPEAK?, which discusses the Irish-founded kingdom of Brycheiniog in some detail.

"The centre [of the Kingdom of Brycheiniog] is modern Brecon, at the south end of the broad corridor between mountains running north-north-east up to the river Wye at Glasbury."

In other words, the Usk Valley was unusually wide or broad at this point, and the Welsh word llydaw (from a well-attested Celtic root meaning wide or broad or extensive) may well have been applied to it as a descriptive term, which in time came to be confused for an actual place-name.

Having read these many references to the wide valley of the Usk at Brecon, and having viewed photos and studied topographical maps, I'm now convinced that this location is, in fact, the "Llydaw" of Illtud.  And, having reached this conclusion, I can now say that as a man of Brycheiniog, he most likely had Irish blood in his veins.  If he were, in actuality, the father of Arthur - as tradition insists - then we can account for the fact that the name Arthur was later used only for royal sons of Irish-descended dynasties in Britain.