King Arthur: a Lombard King!

Peter Graham

Ad Honorem
Jan 2014
2,725
Westmorland
Without further evidence then it seems the "person" around whom these legends coalesced must remain unknowable. He may have existed or may not have done so, and we cannot really say more.
I think that's got to be right, although one line of argument seeks to view all of the pre-Geoffrey material together. If things like the battle list or the reference in Y Gododdin are seen as part of the wider corpus of earlier material rather than being made to stand on their own terms as potentially historical nuggets, devoid of wider context, they start to look rather more folkloric.

I'm inclined to see it as more likely than not that he never existed, but that said, I don't think his historicity is the most interesting thing about him. In the context of this thread, what is interesting is how totemic he has become and how important it is for so many people to find him. Arthur's elusiveness appears to exert a powerful draw, much like the Grail, Atlantis, grey aliens with almond shaped-eyes or (perhaps more appropriately in the context of Arthuriana) the Questing Beast.
 

AlpinLuke

Forum Staff
Oct 2011
27,740
Italy, Lago Maggiore
Probably we could enter a bit the field of the myth. To analyze how a supposed historical figure has acquired such an importance in a culture means actually to project the mechanism which generates myths on historiography.

A myth is an invented entity [with or without a real base; in case a real base exists the myth disengages itself from it, partially or totally] which settles in a tradition. The process of creation of a myth can be voluntary, contextual or partially both. In ancient times authors of chronicles indulged in adding little myths about great personages and those were typical example of voluntary myths. It was even possible to reach the deification of a ruler or of a hero...

A contextual myth is something "suggested" or "allowed" by the context. Usually the process starts from important local [or not] events partially hidden in historical uncertainty. Gildas told us that at Badon the Britons won a decisive battle after a period of victories and defeats, but he doesn't link, in a clear and direct way, one or more leaders to those battles [and overall he doesn't give certainty that the previously mentioned Ambrosius was at Badon]. That context left room for a great hero. Historically no one can say that only one commander and always the same commander leaded the Britons in all those battles [and I doubt this was the case].

It was "Nennius" to enrich the deeds of the myth under construction. And the process went on passing through Geoffrey [who can even have read Diaconus and his chronicle of the Lombard kingdom for real, one never knows ..., but we cannot sustain this], Malory and the others ...
 

Peter Graham

Ad Honorem
Jan 2014
2,725
Westmorland
Gildas told us that at Badon the Britons won a decisive battle after a period of victories and defeats, but he doesn't link, in a clear and direct way, one or more leaders to those battles [and overall he doesn't give certainty that the previously mentioned Ambrosius was at Badon]. That context left room for a great hero. Historically no one can say that only one commander and always the same commander leaded the Britons in all those battles [and I doubt this was the case].
I don't think it would necessarily have mattered even if Gildas had unambiguously named Ambrosius as the victor of Badon. As we've discussed before, the modern way of looking at these things is very different to the medieval way. To our minds, it seems obvious that, for example, medieval writers wouldn't have presented as true things which their readers knew were not true, or that people then (as now) saw history, myth and story as distinct phenomena.

They didn't. As such, no matter how hard it might be for us to see it from a medieval perspective, there was absolutely no issue in crediting Badon to Arthur, even if people knew Badon had nothing to do with Arthur. As it is, they probably didn't know that, but that isn't the point. The point was to underline the key message which the writer wished to convey, not to present what we might think of as historical truth. By way of a possibly bad modern analogy, let's assume that my message is that British schools are the best. If I wished to underline that with examples, I could quite properly use not only Eton or Harrow, but also Hogwarts and Malory Towers. We can't get our heads round that, but medieval audiences could.

As such, all that was required for Badon to be regarded as a suitable battle to be attributed to Arthur is that Badon still had some resonance as a known battle. When it was fought, whether it was fought at all, who fought it and who actually won was all pretty much irrelevant.

Accordingly, the desire of many modern commentators to find a gap in Gildas which can conveniently be filled by Arthur (which is usually done by assuming a temporal gap between Ambrosius and Badon, assuming that Ambrosius was Arthur or arguing that as everyone knew Arthur won at Badon, Gildas just didn't need to mention it) is to start from the wrong point. And if you've started from the wrong point, its unlikely you'll end up in the right place.

Worse still, the synthetic approach positively requires early sources such as Gildas or the Historia to be factually true. If they aren't, there is no solid basis on which to erect the foundations of the 'real Arthur'. This is the point that the likes of Phillips, Hunt et al either don't understand or won't accept.

It was "Nennius" to enrich the deeds of the myth under construction. And the process went on passing through Geoffrey [who can even have read Diaconus and his chronicle of the Lombard kingdom for real, one never knows ..., but we cannot sustain this], Malory and the others ...
Agreed.
 
Nov 2008
1,445
England
In the context of this thread, what is interesting is how totemic he has become and how important it is for so many people to find him. Arthur's elusiveness appears to exert a powerful draw, much like the Grail, Atlantis, grey aliens with almond shaped-eyes or (perhaps more appropriately in the context of Arthuriana) the Questing Beast.
I find it rather curious that Shakespeare did not write a play about him. The ingredients are all there for a tragedy, and furthermore the ruling dynasty during Shakespeare`s life were the Welsh Tudors.
 

MAGolding

Ad Honorem
Aug 2015
3,071
Chalfont, Pennsylvania
I find it rather curious that Shakespeare did not write a play about him. The ingredients are all there for a tragedy, and furthermore the ruling dynasty during Shakespeare`s life were the Welsh Tudors.
King Henry VII produced a pedigree tracing the Tudor ancestry back through Ednyfed Fychan (c. 1170-1246) to King Arthur even though earlier pedigrees traced the family that later became the Tudors back through Ednyfed Fychan (c. 1170-1246) to Coel Hen and eventually to Beli Mawr. It is quoted in posts 112 & 127 on pages 12 & 13 of the thread: Propaganda explanation for King Arthur

Note that the MacArthur clan traced their ancestry to someone named Arthur centuries earlier, who they naturally claimed was King Arthur. So if both the MacArthur claim and Henry VII's claim were correct, the Tudors and the MacArthurs would have the same agnatic (male lineage only) ancestry and the same genes on their Y chromosomes. So if a present day family descended in the agnatic line from the Tudor ancestor Ednyfed Fychan could be found so that their Y chromosome could be compared to the MacArthur Y chromosome, there would be a very slight possibility that that the two families would have the same Y chromosome, which would be quite a shock if it happened.