Sunday, July 12, 2015

MacCamelot: Stealing King Arthur, or Musing on Pseudo Histories

Oops! I made a grave mistake of responding to a link posted on someone's Facebook page. It was a poorly written pseudo-history article on King Arthur. I noted that it was an argument full of holes, and posted a comment (below), expecting a lively exchange. Instead I was unfriended for my candor. So very sad for the loss of friendship, I clearly misjudged her. I'm also flummoxed. Was I barking up the wrong tree? Perhaps I should have checked my allegory at the door.

Maybe it's because I've read so much pre-medieval and medieval scholarship, that I can't engage in reading pop-culture articles without a response. I thought the article was very poorly thought out, and said so. But it got me interested in researching the so-called "Scottish connection posed by Edinburgh author Adam Ardrey, (apparently he has an axe to grind with the English and Christianity). I was also curious to see if there were any interesting rebuttals posted on the internet.

I couldn't access the original link to the article in question as my friend had unfriended me. Then I remembered my browser's History menu. Yes! So here it is:

Was King Arthur actually Scottish? New research assesses the evidence

(More to come once I process it... or you can take a gander over to the Celebrate Scotland site. What follows below are roughshod notes—as I try and sort out my thoughts on the page. Or try and write my way out of a paper bag. So consider this a draft in progress.)

What I wrote on my former friend's Facebook page: 
"Augh, these dim-witted articles drive me crazy. Wasn't a myth of English-speaking people, as no one was really speaking much by way of English yet. Briton, maybe, Cumbric. Welsh was still differentiating itself from Cumbric at the time.
Nennius was a bit of a fabulator. Geoffrey of Monmouth was much worse. If so, Arthur would have to be king of the Dalriadic Scotti, not the modern Scots. And it would be spelled Artio(s) or Artiaus (the bear). The entire west of Britain was Cumbric-speaking after the 5th c., with pockets of Erse speakers, significantly in Eboricum, along the Clyde, the Hebrides, and to north.
The place-names mentioned in the article are, in essence, Welsh words. it's really hard to get Avalon/ Welsh Afallon; Breton Avallenn from Hinba, or Iona.
Then there's the problem that both the Bretons and the Irish also have Arthurian tale, not to mention that the oldest Arthurian tale, Culhwch and Olwen is in Welsh.
Must be some sort of sugar rush from swilling too much Irn Bru affecting their brains."
So, was that above post harsh enough to merit my banishment from the kingdom of Facebook Friendships?

OK, so what little we do know is that King Arthur of myth and legend, was busy fighting against the Anglo-Saxon foe, so he couldn't be English as the Angles become Anglish. The Kingdom of Scotland wasn't founded until ca. 839, or 850 AD, so Arthur also couldn't be Scottish, as there was no such thing as Scotland yet. Caledonia was populated with Pictish natives and Irish settlers.

The Irish Scotti of Ulster migrated en masse to the edge of the Pictish lands (in what is now western Scotland), and founded the Kingdom of Dalriada (Dál Riata) in Caledonia at the end of the 5th c., so, if King Arthur was Scottish, as the article claimed, by this same insane reasoning, wouldn't that make Arthur Irish, and not Scottish?? LOL.

Pictland eventually fell to the Irish Scotti in 839 AD., Certainly Arthur was a Celtic, maybe Cumbrian, or proto-Welsh, or Cornish, or possibly a Romano-British, war leader, but Scottish? But not Anglish. What would Bede say?

This article, from the Scotsman, offers a more balanced rendition (if only they didn't use the word "Scottish"; my goat dander is all up in a fluff:

Author Adam Ardrey claims that Arthur was actually Arthur Mac Aedan, the sixth-century son of an ancient King of Scotland. Ardrey claims that instead of the romantic English king of legend who lived at Camelot – which is often said to be Tintagel in Cornwall or in Wales – Arthur was actually Arthur Mac Aedan, the sixth-century son of an ancient King of Scotland, whose Camelot was a marsh in Argyll. Ardrey, an amateur historian who works as an advocate in Edinburgh and previously wrote a book claiming Merlin the wizard was actually a politician from Glasgow, spent years investigating his theories and says that they can be proved “beyond reasonable doubt”. The assertions in his book Finding Arthur: The True Origins Of The Once And Future King are strengthened by the discovery in 2011—what some experts believe is King Arthur’s round table at Stirling Castle. Read more here: The Scotsman

Arthur was an English king? Where did that memo come from? In the 6th c, there was no Scotland. Certainly not a Scottish king. Pictish, maybe. And Merlin was a Weegie politician? 'Splains a lot. Must've been a Tory. Ardrey's theories can be proved “beyond reasonable doubt”? Amateur historian, indeed.


The only other logical option for this out of Scotland theory, as it were, is to link Arthur to Dumbarton Castle (Dùn Breatainn), an Iron Age British stronghold atop Dumbatron Rock, a massive volcanic basalt plug on the banks of the River Clyde.

Dumbarton may have been Nennius's Cair Brithon ("Fort of the Britons"). Dumbarton was later referred to as Alt Clut (Alt Chluaidh,) or Rock of the Clyde. "The king of Dumbarton ca. AD 570 was [a Briton] Riderch Hael, who features in Welsh and Latin works."  Dumbarton was part of the independent Cumbric Kingdom of Strathclyde (Ystrad Clud or Alclud) in the Brittonic-speaking Hen Ogledd region of southern Scotland and northern England. Pitched battles were waged over possession of the strategically placed rock by the Picts, and Scotti.

As I troll sites, I find no mention of Arthur. That fact that Dumbarton was a British stronghold also doesn't make Arthur Scottish or English.... As there wasn't yet a Scotland or England. If anything, it would make Arthur even more British. But there were probably other Arthurs to boot. Will the real mythical Arthur please stand up? 

However, Celtic scholar Dara Hellmann assures me that there are virtually no other Arthurs waiting in the wings to claim the crown of the once and future king. But the Dumbarton connection is not unlikely... OK, then. Back to the drawing board.

I've circled the base of Dumbarton Rock, but have never hiked to the top of the rock as it was closed.                      —Wiki


Some background on placenames (because the term, England (the land of the Angles, first used in 897 AD) is a radically different historical concept than, say, using the word Albion, or Britain). The term Britain (or Prettanikēwas coined by Pytheas of Massalia, 4th c. BC); it would've also been referred to as Albion (a Graeco-Roman name). 

The Roman province of Britannia, (43 AD to ca. 410 AD), a Romano-Greek moniker, extended to Hadrian's Wall (Vallum Aelium). The land to the north of Hadrian's Wall was called Pictavia, or Caledonia (a Latin name), not Scotland, which is a fairly modern political construct, like Wales, and Britain. So Adam Ardrey's reference to Arthur as English, is an anachronism.

BTW, Scotia was the Roman name for Ireland, not Scotland.
 Isidore of Seville in 58O AD recorded that "Scotia and Hibernia are the same country."  Scotland is derived from the Latin Scoti, a 4th c. term applied to the Irish, and later to all the Gaels. No Gaelic groups that we know if, ever called themselves Scoti or Scotii. It's an exonym, a moniker derived from outside the culture.

During the late Middle Ages (ca. 11th c.)., there were so many Scotti in Britain and in Caledonia, not to mention, Ireland, that a distinction needed to be made. Ireland was dubbed Scotia Maior (Major), and nascent Scotland was called Scotia Minor  "The use of the words Scots and Scotland to encompass all of what is now Scotland became common in the Late Middle Ages." —Wiki Long after Arthur's event horizon had risen and fallen, Ireland was still called Scotia Major, the Land of the Scots.


King Arthur is a mythical, and/or legendary British leader who reigned during the late 5th and early 6th cs. AD. He led the defence of Britain against invading Saxon foe. What little we know of Arthur is gleaned from medieval romances, comprised of "folklore and literary invention, and Arthur's historical existence is debated and disputed by modern historians." —King Arthur


Arthur isn't mentioned at all in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle or named in any manuscript written between 400 and 820. He is also not mentioned in Bede's early-8th-century Ecclesiastical History of the English People. For someone who fought off the Anglo-Saxon foe, this is a very curious omission.

The earliest literary references to Arthur come from Welsh and Breton sources. One source are the heroic death-songs, or elegies in the Middle Welsh  Y Gododdin, composed ca. 7th to 11th cs., with the majority of it composed, or redacted in the 10th c.

Ninth c. Welsh monk, Nennius's Historia Brittonum, (c.830 AD) is a major contributor to the Arthurian legend. Some scholars think that his Historia Brittonum may have been based on GildasDe Excidio et Conquestu Britanniae (scribed during the 6th c., in living memory of when King Arthur was supposed to have lived). NOTE: The idea of historical accuracy is a modern construct. I won't mention the victor thing. Note the date: Arthur wasn't around during the 8th c.

The Annales Cambriae (Welsh Annals), record Arthur as a historical Romano-British leader who fought against the invading Anglo-Saxons ca. late 5th to early 6th century. The Annales Cambriae may have been based on a late 8th c. Welsh chronicle. But some scholars think the Arthurian material was added later, during the 10th century. (That's four centuries later, folks.)

Then there are Arthurian references in the Welsh tale, Culwhuch and Olwen, that survive in two manuscripts: a fragment in the White Book of Rhydderch, ca. 1325, and in the Red Book of Hergest, ca. 1400. The tale includes an embedded list of King Arthur's retainers recited by Culwhych, similar to the rhetorical ship and king lists in the Iliad and the Táin Bó Cúailnge. Lady Charlotte Guest included the older tale, Culwhuch and Olwen in her version of the MabinogionCulwhuch and Olwen: 
Certain linguistic evidence indicates it took its present form by the 11th century, making it the earliest Arthurian tale. —Wiki
Geoffrey of Monmouth's bread-and-butter stories in Historia Regum Britanniae (1136 AD), supported the ascendancy of the ruling Norman elite. He was a one-horse Norman town. His Historia is not without bias. Note the date. Arthur may be mentioned, but he sure wasn't around, no matter how once and future a king he might have been.

So where does this idea that Arthur was Scottish come from? According to Nennius's Historia Brittonum the site of the seventh battle of Arthur was in a forest, Coit Celidon (a Welsh name) in what is now Scotland. It "explains" the name of the volcanic massif, Arthur's Seat, outside Edinburgh.Some speculate it's a reference from the Medieval Welsh collection of elegies ascribed to Aneirin, in Y Gododdin. (See Dumbarton reference above.)

But others speculate that Arthur's Seat is a corruption of Àrd-na-Said, the "Height of Arrows." There are not enough Arthurian battles to go around for all the peaks named after Arthur in Cumbria and Scotland, including Ben Arthur/The Cobbler.

Google, my BFF, offered up several silly website reprints, the usual suspects that I tend to avoid, but then I found this blog and link. Finally a fresh breath of reason.

Where medieval history and radical politics bumble into each other and have an existential crisis.
Monday, 18 November 2013

For your Amusement (Twisting tails! - and Twisting Tales...) "Check out this blog for top-quality pseudo-historical Arthurian craziness, and a bit of an obsession with Worlds of Arthur, the point of which the blogger, a Mr Adam Ardrey, seems to miss entirely (as he similarly fails to understand any of the basic rules of how to construct a historical argument)."

Ardrey's fondness for the word "Truth" behind the legend, in his titles, should tip your hand. Also is Ardrey his real name? I cannot find a bio on him. Ard + rey, or rí. could be transcribed as high king, surely delusions of grandeur might ensue.


OK, I get the concept of nationalism, and all that. To offer you a parallel, I am reminded of the story of James Macpherson. Scotland has repeatedly claimed mythical tales, and heroes as being Scottish, not Irish, or in this case, Welsh. 

During the rise of Scottish Nationalism, Inverness poet Jaimie Macpherson (1736-96) did some serious literary damage claiming the folktales he had collected in the Scottish Highlands, were solely Scottish prima materia. He supposedly "translated" collected lore from the Gaelic, claiming that the Ossian cycle, was, therefore, purely Scottish. He published the Fragments of Ancient Poetry collected in the Highlands of Scotland, to favorable attention, in 1760. So...

In 1761 he announced the discovery of an epic on the subject of Fingal (related to the Irish mythologicalcharacter Fionn mac Cumhaill/Finn McCool) written by Ossian (based on Fionn's son Oisín)...He published Fingal, an Ancient Epic Poem in Six Books, together with Several Other Poems composed by Ossian, the Son of Fingal, translated from the Gaelic Language..., and a collected edition, The Works of Ossian, in 1765. —Wiki

The Oisin stories, originally from Ireland, was part of a shared Irish cultural heritage in the Scottish Highlands, not Made in Scotland. But Jamie "backdated" the poems, claiming they were written during the 3rd century. (Written, mind you!)

Dr. Samuel Johnson was onto Jamie, the literary outlaw. In A Journey to the Western Islands of Scotland, 1775, Johnson wrote that Macpherson had collected fragments of poems and stories, and wove them into a romance of his own composition. (Which was pretty good stuff, if only Jamie had 'fessed up to it. It was a weird twist of reverse literary plagiarism.)

After Macpherson's death, Malcolm Laing, in an appendix to his History of Scotland (1800), concluded that the so-called Ossianic poems were altogether modern in origin, and that Macpherson's authorities were non-existent. —Wiki

But unfortunately, this literary cannibalism trend continues to this very day. And the latest literary thief is Adam Ardrey absconding with the likes of King Arthur, making him Scottish, for all the wrong reasons.

Certainly King Arthur was a Celtic, or a Romano-British, war leader. Most likely he was Cumbric, but Scottish? Like Macphearson, Ardrey cannot provide any original sources, not prove evidence, nor does he offer solid argument for any of his conclusions. Curious in that he is an advocate, presenting cases before the Scottish court. He is clearly an author with an agenda: call it Scottish Nationalism.

Some reader comments from The Scotsman article:

FlintJohnson -Questions for Mr. Ardrey:
-If Arthur was Scottish, then why are ALL the individuals associated with him British or English?
-Why are the Arthurian tales nowhere located in Scottish histories or legends?
-As Professor Jackson (possibly the greatest Celtic linguist ever) long ago concluded, the twelve battles of Arthur are nothing more than a random collection the author managed to get his hands on, many of them cannot be located in Scotland. How does that effect the Scottish theory? 

DR JAMES WILKIE Geoffrey of Monmouth's "Historia" was a very successful historical novel (a best-seller in modern terms) that was probably based on orally-transmitted folk memories containing more than a grain of truth. There is, however, nothing fanciful about the effect it had on the English historical consciousness and imperialist policies for centuries afterwards, right into modern times.
It not only put the stories of Arthur, Merlin, King Lear and all the rest into print for the first time, but also traced the descent of the "British" rulers from Brutus, descendant of the Trojan hero Aeneas (Brutus = British). As late as 1542 the English King Henry VIII issued a Declaration that rolled out the entire "genealogy" of the Trojan-English rulers to demonstrate "...the trew & right title that the kinges most royall majesty hath to the soverayntie of Scotland." 
The same had been done by almost every English ruler from Edward I onwards, and traces of the legend can be detected to this day. The corresponding defensive Scottish legend declared that the Scots were descended from Gathelus, a Greek prince (the Greeks had wiped the floor with the Trojans) and princess Scota, who had emigrated to Scotland through the Pillars of Hercules and via Ireland. 
One must understand that the expressions "Britain" and British (at that time referring to the south of modern England and Wales), have changed their meanings several times over the years. The entire island was known in ancient times as Albion (as in "Albion perfide"). The Roman province of Britannia extended only to Hadrian's Wall, north of which was Caledonia. The attempt to extend the name Britain, and in the late 1540s Great Britain, to the entire island, was politically motivated by Henry VIII's expansionist policy.
It is all wonderful skullduggery, but somehow or other it is something to which the Scots 

John Kenyon"Amateur historian" just about says it all. And the spin placed on it tells you a great deal about why amateur historians are so rarely taken seriously by professional scholars: they come to it with poor knowledge and little expertise but extreme commitment and enthusiasm, invariably for a particular viewpoint or interpretation, and, unsurprisingly, manage to end up claiming vindication for their pre-conceived opinions.
As it happens the fact that the legend of Arthur may have distant and hazy origins in Dark Age northern Britain has been much discussed in the academic literature. But of one thing we can be sure: he was not "Scottish", since in this period there was no such entity as Scotland and the population of northern Britain comprised Brythonic-speaking communities, ranging from the Picts to the people of Cumbria, who were definitely not "Scots". The current British population most closely related to those peoples are, of course, the Welsh, and it's therefore no accident that Arthur crops up in early mediaeval Welsh literature much more than in the literature of what is now Scotland.
As for Avalon, Excalibur and the rest, these are much later inventions for which there are no early sources at all and which only appeared in Arthurian tales as necessary additions to the legend many centuries later in the age of chivalry. That Mr Ardrey takes them as accurate historical descriptions requiring archaeological investigation renders his work 
utterly absurd.

Note bene: I think this last comment is from THE John R. Kenyon, Head Librarian of Amgueddfa Cymru, the National Museum of Wales; considered to be one of the UK's leading authorities on castles, and has edited and authored (Arthured?) numerous books and academic papers.

SOME Wiki-wiki links.

And some not so Wiki-wiki, but equally fantabulous Google links:

Finding Merlin - The Truth Behind The Legend (2008)
Goodreads  FWIW, I noticed in several of the reviews, that because Ardrey is an advocate, people erroneously assume that he is a lawyer, and then they check their suspension of disbelief at the door. An advocate is not a lawyer or an attorney who offers legal advice. An advocate, or proctor, is like a glorified para-legal, sometimes referred to as a solicitor or barrister; he presents cases to the court, but cannot give legal advice. It just means he can offer a compelling argument. 

Gaelic Kingdoms: Kingdoms of Caledonia (great timeline to keep it all in place)


Hugh McArthur, a Scottish clan "historian" from Glasgow, is responsible for the latest Arthur displacement. The latest Arthur movie places Arthu's birth in the Ukraine!His name is British, what later morphs into Welsh, not Pictish. From Medieval Latin Arthurus/Arturus, from Welsh arth "bear," cognate with Greek arktos, Latin ursus. Possibly from the Celtic artos "bear" and rigos "king." The problem with making Arthur Scottish, is that the Scots were Irish! there was a British stoinghold on the RIver Clyde, Dumbarton (dun of the Britons). But that's not Pictish. (Gaelic art, Welsh arth; Irish Gaelic Arnthor means stone.) Then there's Latin Artorius (no bears).
Hugh MacArthur thinks it could provide the catalyst for a King Arthur tourist trail in Scotland. (See, money's involved.)

Hugh said: 'There's more evidence Arthur is from what is now Scotland than that he's from Cornwall, where most people place him.
'He was related to St Columba and St Kentigern and was the son of Aeden MacGabhrain, a sixth-century King of Dalriada (Argyle and Ulster) whose mother was from the British Kingdom of Strathclyde.
'Artur MacAeden became a king of the Britons. He had a fortress at Dumbarton and was buried in Govan.'
Hugh believes the great king is buried at Govan Old Parish Church. Many people believe an ancient stone coffin holds the body of St Constantine, founder of Govan and one of the first to introduce Christianity to Scotland.

Now if he was ANY kind of historian he'd know that St Columba was from Northern Ireland. Suddenly, he's Dalriadic Irish? I think not. The Medieval Welsh stories support Arthur' being a Briton; the Irish mythologies do not.


King Arthur's round table may have been found by archaeologists in Scotland
Archaeologists searching for King Arthur's round table have found a "circular feature" beneath the historic King's Knot in Stirling.

OK, I'm not so sure about this one. Seems as if Arthur was a tad later than the Iron Age event horizon. An Iron Age earthworks does not a round table make. Unless, of course, the Insular Iron Age extended to the 6th c. AD? Post-Classical age, maybe.

Also, there seems to be a bit of a strange landgrab going on, with Scotland wanting to "claim" Arthur as their own native son, or warlord. (See my links below). Not sure what that's all about (other than the fact there was no such thing as Scotland in the 6th c.). But can you say the name James Macpherson, the Great PlagiarWriter? is it a case of misplaced nationalism? Potential Tourist Trail revenue? Either that, or the Telegraph is desperate to drum up more readers, which may be the case, as the photo from the latest King Arthur movie, is a non-sequitor. Knightly may get around, but she's not a round table. Ya gotta laugh, she's portrayed as Pictish (tho her name be Welsh!) And so it grows.


Glenn Ingersoll said...

It doesn't sound like the person who unfriended you was worth friending in the first place.

On the other hand, you had an excuse for crafting a King Arthur post for your blog.

So it's all good.

Maureen Hurley said...

Thanks Glenn! Yeah, that smarted, but o bhuell. Yes, it gave me an excuse to dive on in. And I do need an excuse because I'm an inherently lazy writer, so writing something like this, a strange hybrid opinion piece meets quasi historical academic paper, a far cry form poetry, but it's all fodder.

Hello fodder
Hello mutter, welcome headache
Drown my sorrows