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Old September 28th, 2016, 08:09 PM   #41
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Originally Posted by Peter Graham View Post
I'd be careful with that assertion. This account is basically the account from the Historia Brittonum (or 'Nennius', as most people wrongly call it). It was written down between 815-829 and, as such, is about 300 years later than the events it describes - roughly the same gap in time between us and the first Jacobite uprising and three times longer than the gap between us and the Battle of the Somme.

As such, any historical Arthur which might once have existed has already had three centuries for legends and stories to gather around him. Some of those legendary stories actually crop up in the Historia, but they are generally ignored by those hunting the 'real' Arthur as they are (inconveniently) obviously not historical. The famous battle list has no greater claim to be a reliable historical account than the other Arthurian material in the same volume and we are better, in my view, seeing the Historia as one point along the line of the development of a legend rather than as the historically accurate start point for that legend.
I think that I read today somewhere on Historum that there is one person still alive born before 1900. Does anyone ever think this way about history?


Even if that person died since, there should be one or two people born in 1902 or something still alive. Think of all the historical myths and legends about 20th century events like World War I and World War II that have sprung up during their lifetimes. There are even historical myths and legends about 21st century events like the 1 September 2001 attacks. But there are plenty of sources to research the facts about most of them and to sort the myths and legends into proven, possible, very unlikely, and false categories.

Some Britons were literate in 5th and 6th century Britain. The Ruin of Britain shows that at least a few were highly literate. And there is some indication that the kingdom of Gwynedd retained a high standard of Latin literacy for centuries. Thus it is perfectly possible that the "British Historian" and the "Cambrian Annalist" found some sort of written historical evidence of the Arthurian Wars. Possibly the "British Historian"was not contributing to and helping originate the legend of Arthur but reacting to a popular oral legend of Arthur by giving a brief summery of the historical facts.

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Originally Posted by Peter Graham View Post
Some of those legendary stories actually crop up in the Historia, but they are generally ignored by those hunting the 'real' Arthur as they are (inconveniently) obviously not historical.
I suppose you mean:

Quote:
There is another wonderful thing in the region which is called Bucit. There is there a mound of stones and one stone placed on top has a footprint of a dog on it. When hunting the porker Troynt, stamped Cabal (who was the dog of the soldier Arthur) the step in the stone, and afterward Arthur gathered together stones under the stone on which was the track of his dog, and it is called Carn Cabal. And men come, and they take the stone in their hands through the space of the day and night, even so, in the daylight of the following day it is come upon on top of his collection."1,2
and:

Quote:
here is another miracle in the region which is called Ercing. A sepulcra is shown near a spring which is given the name Licat Amr, and the name of the hero who's grave is in the tumulus, it follows, was called Amr. He was the son of Arthur the soldier, and he himself has killed him in that very place and done the burying. And men come to measure the tumulus in length: sometimes it is six feet; sometimes nine; sometimes twelve; sometimes fifteen. For whatever the measurement you will measure it in such a succession, again you will not find it with the same measurement; and even I have made confirmation on my own." 1,2
Nennius' Wonders of Britain

I believe it has been suggested that the Wonders of Britain was written by someone else and attached to the Historia Brittonum.

in any case Bede was a great scholar and considered to have been the most careful historian writing in Dark Age Britain. Yet his works mention many miracles happening much closer to his era than Arthur was to the era of the Historia Brittonum and the Annales Cambriae that have nothing supernatural in their Arthurian parts except the common ascribing of victory to God and a couple of tall tales in a separate section of wonders.

So if contamination by supernatural legends casts doubt on historicity, claiming that Saint Oswald, for example, was historical and someone like Arthur was imaginary seems like throwing out the baby and keeping the bathwater.

Last edited by MAGolding; September 28th, 2016 at 08:13 PM.
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Old September 28th, 2016, 09:47 PM   #42
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I have no idea what the ratio of `mentioned` to `named` is and I`ve never counted those mentioned or named either. As I am uneducated in Latin, I rely on various translations of the text and I have in fact sat down with pen and paper and translated word for word those passages relating to the fourth, fifth and sixth centuries using `google translate`. It`s surprising what some translations leave out. The Giles version which is freely available on the excellent `Mary Jones` site , fails to provide us with some imagery which is important in helping us understand what Gildas may be actually saying.
I have never calculated the ratio either, but Gildas is famed for not naming names, and when he does it is usually to accuse of crimes. Gildas names St. Alban and possibly a few other martyrs favorably, and praises Ambrosius Aurelianus. And I think that is about it. There should have been at least 24 church dioceses in Britain, one for each civitates, and some for other areas, and Gildas condemns the clergy, but doesn't name any priests or bishops. Gildas condemns Magnus Maximus and five contemporary kings by name, and I think those are all the names he gives.

He doesn't name the tyrants who were raised up and then killed almost immediately, or the members of the council and the proud tyrant, or the parents of Ambrosius Aurelianus, or the maternal uncle, the nephew, and the wives of Maglocunnos. And so on and so on.

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Originally Posted by concan View Post
The Arthur of Nennius is a Christian who leads an army of British kings to twelve consecutive victories in what can only have been a glorious campaign against the Saxons, culminating in a final victory at Badon. Badon is usually considered to be Gildas`s `monti badonici`. Gildas`s account of the period leading up to Badon is far less enthusiastic... `sometimes we were victorious , sometimes our enemy was` or words to that effect. Our only potentially contemporary British source for Arthur doesn`t mention him at all and given the description provided by Nennius, I find this extraordinary. There are two possible explanations for this....(a) There was no Arthur, at least not in the later fifth early sixth century. Nennius may have taken an existing legend of unknown provenance and conveniently dropped it into the time period between Ambrosio Aureliano and monti badonici .....(b) Ambrosio was alternatively known as Arthur. Nennius clearly did not consider this to be the case. There is also the issue of Gildas not naming the victorious leader at Badon and I suspect that given his admiration for Ambrosio he would have given him the credit if it was due.
A cynical person would suppose that Nennius selected the 12 victories of Arthur in his list from the 18 or whatever Battles of Arthur recorded in a more objective list and that he might have selected some minor skirmishes to make a round 12 battles.

Note that if Arthur was the Dux Bellorum in all the 12 battles and was not a hereditary monarch or warlord of all Britain he had to earn his right to command in many previous battles over years and possibly decades, but was still young enough to command in the last battle. Thus the possible time span for the 12 battles was probably less than 20 years and the 12 battles could have been fought in one campaigning season.

Nobody knows how long the war or series of wars with the Saxons listed from the first battle of Ambrosius Aurelianus to Badon and the final end of the war. Thus it is perfectly possible that there were alternating victories and defeats for years or decades until Arthur took command and won a swift final series of 12 battles.

Note that Nennius is far more pessimistic about the results of Badon (if it is the same Badon) than Gildas who lived in the post Badonic era. Gildas clearly wrote that foreign wars ceased after Badon but civil wars began as a new generation of leaders took power in Britain. Nennius wrote that after every British victory, including Arthur's, the Saxons invited more warriors and kings from Germany to Britain. This seems to imply that the Saxon wars continued after Badon for years or decades.

As for why Gildas didn't mention Arthur if he won the great battle of Badon, maybe Gildas didn't consider Badon the great victory that saved the Britons. Maybe Gildas considered that Ambrosius Aurelianus saved the Britons by winning his first great victory against the Saxons and then leading in a long war full of alternating victory and defeat until he turned the tide and started winning a constant series of victories, and then Arthur took command of the offensive against the already defeated Saxons and beat them until they finally admitted defeat and gave up.

The writer of a life of St. Gildas in the 12th century told a story that Arthur killed Gildas' brother and then Gildas removed Arthur's name from his writings.

Another theory is that Gildas mentions that the grandsons and descendants of Ambrosius Aurelianus had degenerated from his greatness. And Gildas mentions a king Aurelius Caninus who fought many civil wars, possibly trying to usurp the throne from his relatives. Suppose that Arthur actually was related to Ambrosius Aurelianus and his Roman name was something like Aurelius Artorius. Gildas says that the father and brothers of Aurelius Caninius had been killed in their civil wars leaving him all alone, so that branch seems like the black sheep of the Aurelii. And if Arthur was Aurelius Artorius and the uncle of Aurelius Caninus Gildas might not want to accuse the victor of Badon of wrong doing on one hand or dilute his message by saying anything good about a member of that black sheep branch on the other hand.

If the poem "Dialog of Arthur and the eagle" was based on the opinions of Arthur's contemporaries such as Gildas, Gildas would not want to praise Arthur by naming him as the victor of Baden anymore than he would want to mention the good deeds done by other sometimes evil men. If Arthur's family had both Roman and British names, Arthur in this poem could have been Aurelius Artorius, hie brother could have been Aurelius Madocus, and his nephew Aurelius Eliwlodus, the older brother of Aurelius Caninus.

http://www.ancienttexts.org/library/...xts/eagle.html


It is easy to think of many reasons why Gildas might not want to favor the victor of Badon with an exception to his practice of not naming people.

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Originally Posted by concan View Post
With regard to my credentials, I have none. All of my public contributions on these issues are contained within the boundaries of this forum. Technically I am a relatively uneducated farmer whose formal education ended at 17. If you consider my contributions unworthy so be it . You can always ignore me.
I don't consider your contributions unworthy.

Last edited by MAGolding; September 28th, 2016 at 10:23 PM.
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Old September 29th, 2016, 01:01 AM   #43
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But there are plenty of sources to research the facts about most of them and to sort the myths and legends into proven, possible, very unlikely, and false categories.
There are, but you are making an assumption that people in the early medieval period were interested in carrying out a forensic exercise of the sort you describe in order to winnow fact from fiction. And, as I have argued in the past, we know that they weren't. In Welsh literature, the point was to convey a message ('ystyr' - the same root as 'history') and it was perfectly proper to mix up myth legend and fact the better to make that point. So, the various arguments employed by modern commentators to attempt to rehabilitate the reliability of early medieval texts (including 'they wouldn't have written it down if they knew it wasn't true', and 'Bede/Gildas/whoever was a meticulous historian' and the classic 'they got it from oral memory') all fall at the first hurdle.

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Some Britons were literate in 5th and 6th century Britain. The Ruin of Britain shows that at least a few were highly literate.
Agreed. Probably more than a few.

Quote:
Thus it is perfectly possible that the "British Historian" and the "Cambrian Annalist" found some sort of written historical evidence of the Arthurian Wars.
This is the 'lost sources' argument. That's fine if you can prove there must be a lost source (as with the Northern Chronicle and the life of St Alban), but otherwise it's just an unevidenced hypothesis. And if you have no evidence to support a hypothesis, the hypothesis is in trouble.

As it is, we know that our Cambrian Annalist did have access to a now lost document from where he took his early northern entries (see Kathleen Hughes' work on this). However, this is unlikely to have included the earlier Arthur entries and it is more likely that the annalist was just doing his best to slot Arthur into his chronological framework.


Quote:
Possibly the "British Historian"was not contributing to and helping originate the legend of Arthur but reacting to a popular oral legend of Arthur by giving a brief summery of the historical facts.
I'd agree that stories of Arthur were clearly in circulation by the ninth-century, but 'historical facts' are much less clear. It used to be thought that the battle list was drawn from an earlier source and was therefore broadly reliable, but that is no longer the dominant position. A number of the battles (including Celidon, Bregoiun, Badon, Urbs Legionis and Tribruit) may well have been lifted from other sources (both literary and historical) and given to Arthur. Such 'recycling' of battles is extremely commonplace and also happens in relation to figures such as Urien and Gwallawg.


Quote:
I believe it has been suggested that the Wonders of Britain was written by someone else and attached to the Historia Brittonum.
Possibly, but that still doesn't take away from the fact that legendary and potentially historical stories about the same figure were swirling around at the same time. It therefore becomes very difficult to answer the question "was Arthur a real person who became legendary or a legendary person who became historicised?"

Quote:
in any case Bede was a great scholar and considered to have been the most careful historian writing in Dark Age Britain.
Wrongly considered, many would say. Bede was not a historian. He was openly setting out to write an account of why it was that the English were God's chosen people. His account is heavily influenced by Biblical precedent and imagery and although he clearly did include real facts and had taken care to research some of those facts, he should not be considered a historian in the way we use the term in the 21st century. He's using (and moulding) the facts that support the key message, just as Gildas and pretty much every other early medieval writer did.


Quote:
So if contamination by supernatural legends casts doubt on historicity, claiming that Saint Oswald, for example, was historical and someone like Arthur was imaginary seems like throwing out the baby and keeping the bathwater.
Such contamination does indeed cast doubt, although it doesn't necessarily render an account worthless. The problem we have here is that you are not comparing like with like. By Oswald's time, we are just about struggling into view of what Dumville called the 'horizon of history'. Arthur lies beyond that horizon, so a better comparison might be Ninian of Whithorn or Cadwallon.

Last edited by Peter Graham; September 29th, 2016 at 01:03 AM.
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Old September 29th, 2016, 06:12 AM   #44
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In the preface of Historia Brittonum (and I accept that the preface may not have been part of the original text), the author lays out the difficulties he encountered when preparing his history. He tells us how he made `a heap of all I could find` and admits how had he problems understanding `the sayings of other men`. He also laments about how much historical evidence has been lost to the `hostile reapers of foreign nations`. There is a suggestion that he had been set an almost impossible task and that others before him had tried and failed to complete it.

He was essentially gathering both written history and oral legends and attempting to produce a resulting product which made some sense. He was however doing this under the significant misapprehension that Hadrian`s Wall was built in the early fifth century based on the mistaken assertion propagated by Gildas. There is nothing in Historia, nor Bede, nor indeed Geoffrey of Monmouth which suggests that any of them understood the true provenance of Hadrian`s Wall. This has implications for the dating of when Arthur might have lived. Certainly if there were legends or poetry which associated Arthur with the stone wall and if Nennius (or whoever was responsible for Historia Brittonum) was aware of them, then he could only have concluded that Arthur must have lived in the fifth century even though he might have lived as early as 130 AD.

The following poem is attributed to Taliesin and might have a sixth century origin...
`The declaration of a clear song,
Of unbounded awen ,
About a warrior of two authors,
Of the race of the steel Ala.
With his staff and his wisdom,And his swift irruptions,
And his sovereign prince,
And his scriptural number,
And his red purple,
And his assault over the wall,
And his appropriate chair,
Amongst the retinue of the wall.
Did he not lead from Cawrnur
Horses pale supporting burdens?
The sovereign elder,
The generous feeder,
The third deep wise one,
To bless Arthur,
Arthur the blessed,
In a compact song.`

To all intents and purposes this poem describes an Arthur who is a Roman general (red purple), leading a legion(scriptural number). If Nennius had access to this type of material, he could only have concluded that because of the reference to the wall, Arthur must have lived no earlier than the early fifth century and after the Romans had abandoned Britain. A strict reading of the poem however suggests that he might have lived some time between 130 and 410.
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Old September 29th, 2016, 07:55 AM   #45
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@concan

Nennius and Geoffrey of Monmouth both attribute Hadrian's Wall to Septimius Severus, in the early third century, not the early fifth, so I don't think that works.
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Old September 29th, 2016, 08:32 AM   #46
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He was essentially gathering both written history and oral legends and attempting to produce a resulting product which made some sense.
I agree. It has been plausibly argued by David Dumville that the Historia is a synchronising history of the sort that was popular in early medieval Ireland. It is, as you suggest, basically a lash-up, with all that entails.
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Old September 29th, 2016, 09:26 AM   #47
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Originally Posted by concan View Post
In the preface of Historia Brittonum (and I accept that the preface may not have been part of the original text), the author lays out the difficulties he encountered when preparing his history. He tells us how he made `a heap of all I could find` and admits how had he problems understanding `the sayings of other men`. He also laments about how much historical evidence has been lost to the `hostile reapers of foreign nations`. There is a suggestion that he had been set an almost impossible task and that others before him had tried and failed to complete it.

He was essentially gathering both written history and oral legends and attempting to produce a resulting product which made some sense. He was however doing this under the significant misapprehension that Hadrian`s Wall was built in the early fifth century based on the mistaken assertion propagated by Gildas. There is nothing in Historia, nor Bede, nor indeed Geoffrey of Monmouth which suggests that any of them understood the true provenance of Hadrian`s Wall. This has implications for the dating of when Arthur might have lived. Certainly if there were legends or poetry which associated Arthur with the stone wall and if Nennius (or whoever was responsible for Historia Brittonum) was aware of them, then he could only have concluded that Arthur must have lived in the fifth century even though he might have lived as early as 130 AD.

The following poem is attributed to Taliesin and might have a sixth century origin...
`The declaration of a clear song,
Of unbounded awen ,
About a warrior of two authors,
Of the race of the steel Ala.
With his staff and his wisdom,And his swift irruptions,
And his sovereign prince,
And his scriptural number,
And his red purple,
And his assault over the wall,
And his appropriate chair,
Amongst the retinue of the wall.
Did he not lead from Cawrnur
Horses pale supporting burdens?
The sovereign elder,
The generous feeder,
The third deep wise one,
To bless Arthur,
Arthur the blessed,
In a compact song.`

To all intents and purposes this poem describes an Arthur who is a Roman general (red purple), leading a legion(scriptural number). If Nennius had access to this type of material, he could only have concluded that because of the reference to the wall, Arthur must have lived no earlier than the early fifth century and after the Romans had abandoned Britain. A strict reading of the poem however suggests that he might have lived some time between 130 and 410.
It is also possible that the writer of the preface was just being formally modest about his achievement.

I have never read that alleged Taliesin poem before or heard it mentioned as an early reference to Arthur, thus I suspect it must be thought to be somewhat later than Taliesin's era - possibly considered to even be later than the British History. I see it is # XV, "the Chair of the Sovereign" from The Book of Taliesin .

"the Chair of the Sovereign" could have been composed after the Historia Brittonum was written, though possibly the ideas in it were floating around before then.

So because Hadrian's Wall was built around 130 and someone (like Arthur) could have crossed the wall anytime between 130 and 830, but the writer of the Historia Brittonum though it was built after 410, he might have mistakenly dated a wall-crossing Arthur to after 410 instead of between 130 to 410.

There are 280 years between 130 and 410, and 280 years between 410 and 690. If the wall crossing Arthur of the poem could have lived any time between 130 and 690 the writer of the Historia Brittonum would have a fifty percent chance of being correct if he put the wall crossing Arthur of the poem after 410.

I don't think that the poem describes an Arthur who is a Roman general, It describes an Arthur who is either a Roman general or a post Roman war leader who continues some Roman military traditions and thus somewhat resembles a Roman general.

If this is your original contribution, I congratulate you on your original idea. you have thought of another argument to use against those who claim that the Arthur of the Historia Brittonum and the Annales Cambriae must have been real, by showing another reason why he might not have been real.

But I am not one of those who claim that the Arthur of the Historia Brittonum and the Annales Cambriae must have been real, I admit that he might not have been real.

Instead I say that the Arthur of the Historia Brittonum and the Annales Cambriae is historical. Not totally historical but certainly at least partially historical.

Various sources written centuries later mention hundreds of people in Dark Age Britain. And it is certainly possible that some of them never lived and that some things written about some of them are incorrect. But most of them seem historical to me. Not totally historical but certainly at least partially historical.

And most persons alleged to have lived in Dark Age Britain are usually treated as historical. In most cases I don't see any reason for any debate about whether they were historical. And I don't see any reason why the Arthur of the Historia Brittonum and the Annales Cambriae should be considered so suspicious and doubtful as to be singled out for the most debates about how real he was.

I say that like most persons alleged, but not absolutely proven, to have lived in Dark Age Britain, but who could possibly have been imaginary, the Arthur of the Historia Brittonum and the Annales Cambriae should be considered historical until and unless some reason turns up in the future to consider him more doubtful than most persons in dark age Britain.

Last edited by MAGolding; September 29th, 2016 at 09:30 AM.
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Old September 29th, 2016, 09:41 AM   #48

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This is the 'lost sources' argument. That's fine if you can prove there must be a lost source (as with the Northern Chronicle and the life of St Alban)
What lost source for the life of St Alban are you referring to, Peter? From what I have read and studied, St Alban is almost as legendary as King Arthur. The earliest reference to a martyr is in the "Praise of Saints", a book written by Victricius about the year 396. However, Victricius gives no name to this Christian martyr. Everything else about St Alban can be dismissed as legendary accretion or religious fiction.
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Old September 29th, 2016, 12:57 PM   #49
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@concan

Nennius and Geoffrey of Monmouth both attribute Hadrian's Wall to Septimius Severus, in the early third century, not the early fifth, so I don't think that works.
That`s not necessarily correct. But first I`ll quote Bede.....
Severus...` was drawn to Britain by a revolt of almost all the confederate tribes and after many great and dangerous battles, he thought fit to divide that part of the island which he had recovered from the other unconquered nations not with a wall as some imagine, but with a rampart. For a wall is made of stone, but a rampart is made of sods.....cut from the earth.`
It`s clear that Bede mistakenly credits Severus with the construction of the Antonine Wall.
It seems likely that Nennius follows Bede. He describes a wall and a rampart on a single route which separates the Britons from the Scots and the Picts. A gloss in one recension actually places one end of this wall at the mouth of the Clyde and associates it with the Roman monument known as Arthur`s O`on . So here too, Nennius mistakenly credits Severus with the turf wall.
I`m unsure whether Gildas was misinterpreted in some way or whether he really believed that the Romans returned in the early fifth century to build a wall. If the latter is true and the true provenance of Hadrians Wall had been wiped from the collective memory within a century of the Roman exit, it might suggest that events in the fifth century might have been more cataclysmic than is usually proposed. I think it`s fair to assume that as the turf wall was associated with Severus, then the stone wall was considered to be more recent (even though the opposite is the case)and so was considered to be the wall built in the fifth century.
As for Geoffrey, well Geoffrey is Geoffrey. He describes how Severus built a wall between Deira and Alban and I would concede that that would follow the route of Hadrian`s Wall. However he later follows Gildas and describes the Romans building a wall in the fifth century again between Deira and Alban. Make of that what you will. But he must have been aware that there were two walls in the north.

Last edited by concan; September 29th, 2016 at 02:49 PM.
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Old September 29th, 2016, 01:07 PM   #50
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The sobering reality about all of this is that Gildas never mentioned Arthur at all. It is inconceivable that the Arthur described by Nennius would not have been recognised in some way by him.
There are reasons for it...

1. Arthur was a bastard. Therefore, he was not a legitimate ruler.

2. Arthur killed Huiel, son of Caw. Huiel is Gildas's biological brother. After the death of Huiel, Gildas burned his books containing every reference to Arthur.

3. Arthur's "son" Mordred married Cywyllog, daughter of Caw. This would mean that Gildas would be brother-in-law to Mordred - no sane person in the mid evil period would admit to be the brother-in-law of Mordred.

and


4. the rumors of bestiality...

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