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Howard WisemanVisit Howard Wiseman's website: The Quest for Arthur's Grave

Dr. H.M. Wiseman is a Senior Research Fellow in Physics (ARC QEII Fellow) at the Physics Group, School of Science, Griffith University, Queensland.
Apart from his research in Quantum mechanics, Howard Wiseman has published articles about wide-ranging subjects such as Population as an Ecological Issue and History.
The latter includes his attempt to reconstruct the history of the 5th and 6th centuries in Britain in
The Ruin and Conquest of Britain, as well as his studies int the Roman Empire, culminating in a website about the ups and downs of the Roman Empire over its entire (but especially its later) history: Eighteen Centuries of Roman Empire.

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The derivation of the date of the Arthurian entries in the Annales Cambriae from Bede and Gildas

Howard Wiseman


on
Vortigern Studies


1.  Introduction

The earliest record of Arthur that places him in a precise (to within a few years) chronological context is that found in the Annales Cambriae (AC), the annals of Wales. The first year of these annals corresponds to circa A.D. 447, and, in the oldest extant versions, the last entries are for the 950s[1]. Thus the annals were almost certainly compiled as a single document at least as early as the mid tenth century. Two entries mention Arthur. The first is entered under year 72, which corresponds to A.D. 518[2], and reads:

The battle of Badon [Bellum Badonis], in which Arthur carried the Cross of our Lord Jesus Christ for three days and three nights on his shoulders and the Britons were victorious.[3]

This is not the earliest document to mention the victory of the Britons at Badon, nor the first to attribute it to Arthur. However, it is the first to give a precise date and duration for the battle and the first to mention Arthur’s carrying the Cross[4]. The second entry records under year 93 (A.D. 539)

The battle [gueith] of Camlann, in which Arthur and Medraut fell.

This entry has no known antecedent, and, unlike later tradition, it does not state that Medraut was Arthur’s adversary.

This article is devoted to the obvious question: how were the dates of these entries derived? In answering this question, a crucial issue is when the entries were first written. The currently accepted position is that argued by Dumville[5], drawing on the work of Hughes[6], that the Arthurian entries were made in the late eighth century at the earliest, the mid tenth century at the latest. A late date of composition is supported by the fact that the year of another entry from the first half of the sixth century, the death of Maelgwn, must have been calculated after 911, according to Dumville (ibid.).

Adopting this accepted position, the question under consideration can be refined as follows. How would a Welsh scholar, probably of the tenth century (but maybe of the ninth or late eighth), have determined the date for the Arthurian entries? In this article I will argue that they were calculated using the historical works of Bede from around 730 and those of the British cleric, Gildas, probably from the first half of the sixth century.

Before turning to Gildas and Bede, it is worth pointing out that there are no other extant sources for either of the Arthurian dates. There are a few fleeting poetic references to Arthur that may predate the AC, but they shed no light on his perceived historical context[7]. This leaves only the Historia Brittonum (HB), dated to c.829[8]. It contains a comparative wealth of Arthurian material including a list of twelve victories attributed to him, culminating in the ‘battle of Badon Hill’ (bellum in monte Badonis)[9]. The only common element with the text of the AC is that Arthur was the leader of the Britons at this battle; Camlann is not mentioned in the HB. However, the AC may show the influence of the HB in mentioning an icon carried on Arthur’s shoulder: in the HB, he carries an image of the Holy Virgin on his shoulders during the eighth battle, in Guinnion fort.

The time frame in the HB is generally loose, and no more so than for Arthur. His battles are inserted between the death of Hengest, Saxon king of Kent, and the rise of Ida, king of the Bernicians. From the earlier sections of the HB we can reasonably suppose that the first event was thought by the author to have occurred in the second half of the fifth century. For example, Hengest is said (Sec.31) to have been received by Vortigern forty years after the end of the Roman empire in Britain. A century before the HB was written, Bede had dated the beginning of Ida’s reign as 547[10]. Even accepting these debatable limits, the text of HB barely secures Arthur’s supposed floruit to within a century.

2.         Gildas: forty-four years before Badon or after Badon?

Since early references to Arthur do not reveal the origin of the AC dates, we must instead look for early material on the battles of Badon or Camlann. There is no such material on Camlann but for Badon we are very fortunate in having the almost contemporary letter by the British cleric Gildas. It assigns great significance to the ‘siege of Badon Hill’ (obsessio montis Badonicus) as the ‘final victory of our Country which has been granted to our time by the will of God.’[11] It is certain that Gildas’ polemic, known as De Excidio Britanniae (DEB), ‘On the Ruin of Britain’, was well read in the early Middle Ages[12]. There is every reason to believe that a compiler of the AC would have had a copy before him.

Gildas gives no dates and very few exact time-spans in his summary of the history of Britain. On the positive side, one of them is in conjunction with the siege of Badon Hill. Unfortunately Gildas’ style is so convoluted that the meaning of the text (Sec.26) is unclear:

Ex eo tempore nunc cives, nunc hostes, vincebant ... usque ad annum obsessionis Badonici montis, novissimaeque ferme de furciferis non minimae stragis, quique quadragesimus quartus (ut novi) orditur annus mense iam uno emenso, qui et meae nativitatis est.

A fairly literal translation[13] of this seems to be

From that time on now the citizens, now the enemy, were victorious ... right up until the year of the siege of Badon Hill, almost the last, not the least, slaughter of the villains, and this the forty-fourth year begins (as I know) with one month already elapsed, which is also [that] of my birth.

To establish the DEB as a source for the AC date, it is crucial to understand how a compiler of the AC would have understood Gildas.

To begin, it seems obvious that Gildas is saying is that he was born in the same year as the siege of Badon Hill[14]. What is not obvious is the meaning of the ‘forty-fourth year’[15]. One influential school of thought[16]holds that Gildas was saying that he was writing forty-three years and one month after Badon. I will call this the ‘after Badon’ interpretation. A somewhat less popular opinion[17]is that Gildas was saying that the battle of Badon took place forty-three years and one month after some other event not named by him in this sentence. I will call this the ‘before Badon’ interpretation.

In this section I will establish that the ‘before Badon’ interpretation was the one likely to have been used by the AC compiler. The only independent evidence for how Gildas was interpreted in the early Middle Ages is in the works of Bede. Thus it is essential to examine how Bede understood the above passage from Gildas.

In the Historia Ecclesiastica Gens Anglorum (HE) Bede closely follows Gildas in describing the fluctuating fortunes of the Britons, and the battle of Badon:

From that time on, now the citizens, now the enemy were victorious right up until the year of the siege of mount Badon, when there was no small slaughter of the enemy about forty-four years after their arrival in Britain.[18]

Here Bede seems to be adopting the ‘before Badon’ interpretation, in taking Gildas to mean that Badon was in the forty-fourth year of English settlement in Britain[19]. Gildas’ DEB says nothing to support Bede’s use of the ‘English advent’ as marking the beginning of a new era. It may be that Bede’s own chronological framework based around the English advent[20] influenced his interpretation of Gildas. Alternatively, Bede’s copy of the DEB, which antedates the earliest extant manuscript by three centuries[21], may have read differently from later versions. Regardless of these speculations, it is clear that Bede interpreted Gildas’ forty-fourth year as being the year of his birth (and Badon Hill), not the year of his writing.

Bede’s reading of Gildas in the ‘before Badon’ way suggests that the Welsh annalists would have done likewise. There is further evidence for this, in that the AC would be glaringly inconsistent if the annalists had read Gildas the other (‘after Badon’) way. If Gildas was writing in the forty-fourth year after Badon, that would have been about 561 according to the AC. But Gildas uses a considerable portion of his letter chastising a certain tyrant Maglocunus (Sec.33.1-2), who is universally identified as Maelgwn, the renowned king of Gwynedd. His death is noted in the AC under 549. Thus to remain consistent, the annalists must have understood the forty-three or forty-four years to be counted backwards from Badon, not forward.

3. Gildas: what was forty-four years before Badon?

Although the compilers of the AC would have been familiar with Bede[22], and agreed with his ‘before Badon’ reading of Gildas, they appear not to have agreed with his interpretation of the era to which the forty-fourth year belongs. If they had followed Bede and used any of Bede’s dates for the English advent they would have calculated a date for Badon in the fifth century, not the sixth. Therefore they must have understood Badon to have been in the forty-fourth year of some other era.

As a number of authors have realized[23], this other era can be found in the DEB itself. Immediately preceding the ‘Badon’ sentence quoted in Section 2 of this article is the following (Sec.25.2)

After a time, when the cruel plunderers [the Saxons] had gone home, God gave strength to the survivors. Wretched people fled to them from all directions …. Their leader was Ambrosius Aurelianus, a gentleman who, perhaps alone of the Romans, had survived the shock of this notable storm. Certainly his parents, who had worn the purple, were slain in it. His descendants in our day have become greatly inferior to their grandfather’s excellence. Under him our people regained their strength, and challenged the victors to battle. The Lord assented, and the battle went their way.

Assuming the ‘before Badon’ interpretation, it becomes obvious what era Gildas meant. When he says (see Section 2 above) ‘From that time on’, he means from the first victorious battle under Ambrosius. Thus when he subsequently says ‘the forty-fourth year’ he must mean the forty-fourth year from that victory.

4. Bede’s Chronica Majora and the AC Badon date.

Gildas does not date Ambrosius’ victory, so he alone cannot explain the 518 date in the AC. The only other early text that mentions Ambrosius’ victory is Bede. Although clearly drawing his text from Gildas’, he goes beyond his source by bracketing it within definite dates. This is done not in the HE, but in the less well known Chronica Majora of c. 725[24]. Under the reign of Zeno (474-91)[25] he enters the following:

The Britons, under the leadership of Ambrosius Aurelianus (a gentleman who, alone of the Romans, had survived the disaster of the Saxons in which his parents, who had worn the purple, had been killed) challenged the victors to battle and defeated them.

In the Chronica Majora we have finally arrived at a potential source for the AC date for Badon. Like the HE, it would presumably have been available to Welsh scholars from the late eighth century[26]. Adding forty-three years to the regnal period of Zeno gives the bracket 517x34 for the battle of Badon. If Gildas was to have written a learned letter before the recorded death of Maelgwn in 549, he cannot have been thought to have been born as late as 534. Moreover, Gildas writes in the DEB (Sec.1.2) that

I had decided to speak of the dangers run ... by the lazy. And it was, I confess, with unmeasured grief at heart that I kept silent ... as the space of ten years or more passed by. Then, as now, my inexperience and my worthlessness restrained me from writing any warning, however modest.

To incorporate this extra decade or more of silence an early date for Badon would be required. On this basis, it is not difficult to see how the date of 518 was chosen from the bracket 517x34. A discrepancy of one year requires no special pleading – as noted in footnote 2, all of the AC dates of this period are imprecise.

This computation would make Gildas at most thirty-one at the time of writing the DEB, which is not contradicted by textual evidence in the DEB or elsewhere[27]. Taking the birth of Gildas to be 518 also presents no difficulty with the recorded year of his death (572) in the AC. Finally, a period of up to seventy-four years from Ambrosius’ victory to Gildas’ present is entirely compatible with Gildas’ criticism of Ambrosius’ living grandchildren. Indeed, a period somewhat greater than two generations would be expected given that Ambrosius’ parents died (presumably prematurely) at the hands of the Saxons in the ‘storm’ that immediately preceded the Ambrosian recovery.

One could take the current inquiry one stage further by asking how Bede obtained his approximate date for Ambrosius’ victory. Since Bede appears to rely only upon the DEB for these events, the only answer would seem to be by estimation based on Gildas’ account. Gildas indicates the passage of some time twice in this part of the narrative. First, he says (Sec.22.5) that the first granting of supplies ‘shut the dog’s mouth’ (that is, satisfied the Saxons) ‘for a long time’ (multo tempore). Second, he says (Sec.25.2) that ‘After a time [Tempore igitur interveniente aliquanto], when the cruel plunderers had gone home, God gave strength to the survivors.’ The HE has a long narrative between the English advent and Ambrosius’ victory, including a Saxon expedition against the Picts plus all of Gildas’ story. This could easily cover the required time span, say 450-74.

5. Gildas and the AC Camlann date.

Having given a likely explanation for the 518 date of the first Arthurian entry in the AC, I turn next to the second entry, reporting the battle at Camlann in 539. Here there is no direct help from Bede or Gildas, as neither mention Camlann. It is conceivable that a thrice-seven year period between Arthur’s greatest victory and his downfall was part of the early Welsh bardic tradition about Athur[28]. Alternatively, this tradition may have merely associated Arthur with an extended period of peace and order following Badon. Gildas gives contemporary evidence for such a period in history, saying (Sec.26.2-3) that

The remembrance of so desperate a blow to the island [the Saxon revolt] and of such unlooked for recovery [under Ambrosius] stuck in the minds of those who witnessed both wonders. That was why kings, public and private persons, priests and churchmen, kept to their own stations. But they died and an age succeeded them that is ignorant of that storm and has experienced only the calm of the present.

Evidently those who witnessed the Saxons’ revolt and the Britons’ turning of the tables lived into the post-Badon ‘calm of the present’, and then died. This does not fit poorly with Badon’s being some forty-four years after those events. So for a while after the battle of Badon, there was civil order, but this did not last into the succeeding age, as Gildas continues

All the controls of truth and justice have been shaken and overthrown, leaving no trace, not even a memory among the orders I have mentioned, with the exception of a few, a very few.

Certainly the Arthur of the Romances is associated with a long period of peace and good government in Britain after the victory of Badon Hill. This association is directly attributable to the famous pseudo-history by Geoffrey of Monmouth, the Historia Regum Britanniae. In this work, written in the 1130s, Geoffrey may have been following an earlier Welsh tradition. If so, then the end of that period would traditionally have coincided with the death of Arthur. But the period must have ended at least ten years before Gildas wrote the DEB, because that is how long Gildas says he has been silently bemoaning the morals of his countrymen (See section 4 above). To make the period of Arthur’s peace as long (and hence as glorious) as possible, the annalist would have placed Gildas’ writing of the DEB as late as possible, just before Maelgwn’s death. Subtracting ten years from 549 gives a date for the battle of Camlann of 539, as we find in the AC.

6. Potential counter-arguments.

There are two obvious counter-arguments that could be made to the case I have presented here. The first would be founded on the denial that Bede interpreted Gildas’ forty-four years as being before Badon. This was the stand taken by Plummer[29]. He claimed that the coincidence of the figure of forty-four years in Gildas and Bede is just that, a ‘mere coincidence’. As Myres[30]argued, this is hard to believe. Everything Bede knew about Badon came directly from Gildas. It seems just too unlikely that, when writing about Badon, he would also use the figure of forty-four years, but with a completely different and independent meaning.

Recently Sims-Williams[31] has resurrected Plummer’s argument by suggesting that Bede, drawing on Gildas, had estimated that the battle of Badon took place in about 500. With this nice round figure in mind, Bede (according to Sims-Williams) then calculated this to be ‘about forty-four years after’ the English advent in 456. This date for the English advent is the latest possible date in Bede’s bracket of 449x456.

There are a number of problems with Sims-Williams’ argument. The first is that nowhere else in the HE does Bede use 456 as a date for the English advent; as noted in footnote 20, if anything he tends to favour a date prior to 449. Sims-Williams explains this by hypothesizing that in transcribing Gildas’ history (Bk.1, cc.XIII-XVI), Bede must have had in mind a date for the English advent around 456, but revised this backwards by a decade after having written his account (Bk.I, cc.XVII-XXI) of St. Germanus’ visits to Britain. However, there is no evidence that Bede ever favoured a date around 456. To the contrary, in the Chronica Majora, written about five years before the HE, he already dates the English advent, as in the later sections of the HE (Bk.2, c.XIV), to about 447[32].

Secondly, although it is true that Bede often dates events from the English advent approximately (circiter), nowhere else in the HE does he quote the number of intervening years in anything other than multiples of five. The forty-four years is an anomaly unless it was derived from Gildas.

Finally, Bede was usually a cautious historian, as Sims-Williams himself notes[33]. Even modern historians, with the benefit of other (especially continental) material, have found it impossible to construct an absolute chronology from Gildas’ narrative. It is therefore hard to see why Bede would think it worth attempting to date the battle of Badon to the nearest year (even if only approximately), unless he was influenced by Gildas’ forty-four years. As discussed in Section 4, when Bede dated Ambrosius’ victory (another event known only from the DEB) he showed his usual caution by bracketing it within a long imperial reign.

The second potential counter-argument to my suggestion that Bede and Gildas inspired the AC compilers’ dating of Badon is an old claim, recently restated by Padel, that in the DEB (and presumably also in the HE), ‘Mount Badon reads naturally as the victory which crowned the career of Ambrosius Aurelianus.’[34] If this were the only natural reading, then it might make it unlikely for a Welsh chronicler to have used Gildas and Bede to date the battle while contradicting them by crediting the victory to Arthur.

To rebut this criticism it is necessary only to point the reader to the text of Gildas and Bede as quoted above to see that neither associate Ambrosius with this battle at all. They associate him with the victory that began the period of fluctuating conflict, but are simply silent as to the leader at Badon Hill. Furthermore, if we accept, following the AC chronicler, the ‘before Badon’ reading of Gildas, then it would be rather unlikely for Ambrosius still to be the British commander forty-three years after his initial victory. Finally, there is no particular reason to expect Gildas to have identified the victorious leader at Badon at all. In all of the history which follows the death of Magnus Maximus[35], Gildas mentions as individuals only two persons from Britain, and names only one of them (Ambrosius)[36]. There would thus have been no reason derivable from Bede or Gildas for a compiler of the AC not to allow Arthur the victory at Badon Hill.

7. Discussion: the significance of the AC dates.

To conclude, this study has suggested a likely derivation of the earliest Arthurian dates on record, those in the Annales Cambriae, from the earlier works of Gildas and Bede. For the next dated record of Arthur we have to jump to Geoffrey of Monmouth. One of only three dates which he supplies in his Historia Regum Britanniae is that for the death of Arthur: 542[37]. The other two dates, the death of King Lucius in 156 and the death of Cadwalladr in 689, are probably both derived from the HE (although they both involve a significant misreading of it[38]). An inventive hypothesis by Ashe not withstanding[39], it is safe to say that the only plausible written source for the date of the battle of Camlann is the AC. The three-year discrepancy is not a significant problem. As noted above, the intended AC dates at this time are all uncertain by a few years[40].

Geoffrey’s enormous popularity ensured that the AC chronology for Arthur became the accepted one for many centuries. This occurred through the works of chroniclers such as Roger of Wendover[41]. It is possible that Roger was also influenced directly by the AC. He places the battle of Camlann in 541 (but Arthur’s ‘doubtful death’ in 542, as in Geoffrey), and the battle of Badon in 520. That is, he follows the AC in putting Badon exactly twenty-one years before Camlann. This is in contrast to Geoffrey who puts Badon an uncertain number of years (but certainly more than twenty-one) before Camlann[42].

The general acceptance of the approximate AC chronology in Mediaeval and Early Modern times says nothing, of course, for its veracity. If my above arguments are correct, it was derived principally from Gildas, Bede’s guesswork based upon Gildas, and the 549 AC date for the death of Maelgwn[43]. The battle of Badon Hill was certainly a real and significant event (whether the leader of the Britons was named Arthur or not), and it is possible that there was an historical battle of Camlann also. But unless startling new evidence is uncovered[44], we can only guess at the true dates of these battles, and hope not to be wrong by not too many generations[45].


* I gratefully acknowledge correspondence with Thomas Green of Exeter College, Oxford, and Oliver Padel, Cambridge. The greater part of this article appeared previously as ‘The derivation of the date of the Badon entry in the Annales Cambriae from Bede and Gildas’, Parergon 17, 1 (2000), available from my site: http://www.cit.gu.edu.au/~s285238/DECB/ParergonArticle.pdf
[1] J. Morris (editor and translator), British History and the Welsh Annals, (London: Phillimore, 1980).
[2] The dates intended for the earlier AC entries can be determined only approximately. The annals are organized in decades, but occasionally there are too few, occasionally too many, years per decade (Morris, ibid.). Moreover, where they can be checked against more reliable external sources, the number of years between entries can be in error by up to five years, such as where the AC count thirteen years from the death of Cadwallon (634) to the death of Oswald (642). For the sixth century dates I quote here I am following the reckoning of L. Alcock, Arthur's Britain (London: Penguin, 1971), pp.39,49. This appears to give the best agreement between the AC and other sources, from the birth of St. Columba in 523 to the (beginning of the) conversion of the English in 597. Other reckonings (Morris, ibid.) date these entries some two years earlier, but this has no substantive effect on the arguments I present below.
[3] This quotation of, and subsequent references to, the AC use the version in J. Morris, ibid.
[4] There need be nothing miraculous about this deed. As discussed below, it may refer merely to the carrying of an image of the Cross.
[5] D.N. Dumville, ‘Sub-Roman Britain: history and legend’, History, N.S., 62 (London, 1977), 345-354 (p.176).
[6] K.W. Hughes, ‘The Annales Cambriae and Related Texts’, Proc. British Academy, 59 (1973), 233-58.
[7] P. Sims-Williams, ‘The Early Welsh Poems’, The Arthur of the Welsh, edited by R. Bromwich, A.O.H. Jarman and B.F. Roberts (Cardiff: University of Wales, 1991), 33-72.
[8] D.N. Dumville, ‘Some aspects of the chronology of the Historia Brittonum', Bulletin of the Board of Celtic Studies, 25 (Cardiff, 1972-74), 439-445 (pp.439-440).
[9] J. Morris, ibid. Sec.56.
[10] Historia Ecclesiastica Gens Anglorum Bk. 5, c. XXIV.
[11] Sec.2 of the translation by M. Winterbottom, Gildas: The Ruin of Britain and other documents (London: Phillimore, 1978). Except where indicated, all subsequent quotations will be taken from this edition.
[12] This is true even outside Wales: as will be discussed, Bede relied upon it heavily.
[13] Partly following Winterbottom ibid. and partly following T.D. O’Sullivan, The De Excidio of Gildas: its Authenticity and Date (Leiden: Brill, 1978), p.134.
[14] For a contrary view see I. Wood, ‘The End of Roman Britain: Continental evidence and parallels’ Gildas: New Approaches (Boydell: Suffolk, 1984), 1-25 (p.23).
[15] For a review of arguments to the mid-1970s, see chapter VII of T.D. O’Sullivan, ibid.
[16] including D.N. Dumville, ‘The chronology of De Excidio, book I’, Gildas: New Approaches, 61-84 (pp.76-77); and P. Sims-Williams, ‘Gildas and the Anglo-Saxons’, Cambridge Medieval Celtic Studies, 6 (1983), 1-30 (pp.1,4).
[17] held, for example by T.D. O’Sullivan, ibid. and I. Wood, ibid.
[18] Bk.1, c. XVI, following M. Winterbottom’s (ibid.) translation of the corresponding passage in the DEB.
[19] T.D. O’Sullivan, ibid., p.156 and I. Wood, ibid have argued that Bede actually interpreted Gildas as placing Badon in the forty-fourth year after Ambroisus’ victory (see Section 3), but that he thought that this victory was close in time to the English arrival. However, Bede actually dated these two events some decades apart in his earlier work the Chronica Majora and also includes a long narrative in the HE between these events (see Section 4 of this article).
[20] When Bede relates the first arrival of the English (Bk.1, c.XV) he places it during the seven year joint imperium of Marcian and Valentinian, which he dates as 449-456 (actually 450-457). Elsewhere, when he gives the passage of time from the English advent to other events, he implies a date of c.445 (Bk.1, c.XXIII), c.447 (Bk.2, c.XIV) or c.446 (Bk.5, c.XXIII).
[21] M. Winterbottom, ibid., p.12.
[22] He is described in the Welsh triads (number 49 from the Red book of Hergest) as being one of the three men who received the wisdom of Adam. Acceptance of Bede would have been likely only after 768, the year that the Welsh church was reconciled to the Catholic placement of Easter. As discussed, it is unlikely that the Arthurian entries in the AC were made before then.
[23] See T.D. O’Sullivan, ibid. (pp. 141, 155).
[24] This work, along with the HE, is translated and edited by J. McClure and R. Collins in Bede (Oxford: Oxford University, 1994).
[25] This translation follows M. Winterbottom’s (ibid.) translation of the corresponding passage in the DEB.
[26] Although there is no record of its early circulation in England, let alone Wales, according to J. McClure and R. Collins ibid., p.xxvii.
[27] T.D. O’Sullivan, ibid., pp.146-155.
[28] See Sims-Williams in R. Bromwich, A.O.H. Jarman and B.F. Roberts, ibid.
[29] C. Plummer, Venerabilis Baedae Opera Historica II (Oxford: Clarendon, 1896.), p.31.
[30] R.G. Collingwood and J.N.L. Myres, Roman Britain and The English settlements (Oxford: Clarendon, 1937), n.1 on p.461.
[31] P. Sims-Williams, ‘The settlement of England in Bede and the Chronicle’, Anglo-Saxon England, 12 (1983), 1-41 (pp.20-21).
[32] Bede, Chronica Majora, under the reign of Heraclius (4591-).
[33] P. Sims-Williams, ‘The settlement of England in Bede and the Chronicle’ (p.19).
[34] O.J. Padel, ‘The Nature of Arthur’, Cambrian Medieval Celtic Studies, 27 (1994), 1-31 (p.17).
[35] That is, a period of perhaps a century and a half from 388.
[36] The other is the ‘proud tyrant’ identified by Bede as Vortigern.
[37] Geoffrey of Monmouth, The History of the Kings of Britain, translated by L. Thorpe (Middlesex: Penguin, 1966), last line of Part 7 (p.261).
[38] In the first case, Bede actually says that Lucius wrote to Pope Eleutherius during the reign of Marcus Antoninus Verus, which began in 156. In the second, Bede records the death of Caedwalla, King of the West Saxons, not Cadwalladr, King of the Britons, in 688.
[39] G. Ashe, ‘ “A certain very ancient book”: Traces of an Arthurian Source in Geoffrey of Monmouth’s History’, Speculum 56 (1981), 301-23 (pp.316-8). He claims that the original of Geoffrey’s Arthur was Riothamus, an undoubtably historical king of the Britons who campaigned in Gaul on behalf of the dying Western Empire but was defeated by the Visigoths in c.470. Ashe suggests that the obit of Riothamus/Arthur was recorded in some lost chronicle as 442 (invoking a confusion of the Nativity and Passion of Christ), and that Geoffrey amended this to 542 as he knew 442 to be too early. The scholarly consensus is that there is little to recommend any of Ashe’s theory; see for example R.W. Hanning, ‘Inventio Arthuri: a comment on the essays of Geoffrey Ashe and D. R. Howlett’ in Arthuriana 5.3 (1995), pp.96-100.
[40] Moreover, Geoffrey might have been influenced to adjust the AC Camlann date forwards by his identification of the death of Caedwalla, in 688 or 689 with the death of Cadwalladr, which was recorded in the AC for the year circa 683.
[41] Roger of Wendover, Flowers of History, translated by J.A. Giles (New York: AMS Press, 1968), Vol.1, pp.34-43.
[42] Roger saves a number of years by telescoping Geoffrey’s two Arthurian expeditions to Gaul into one.
[43] As noted above, Dumville argues that this was derived in the 10th century, and more specifically by an annalist who assumed that Maelgwn died in the great plague of c. 549 recorded in the Annals of Ulster.
[44] Such evidence, dating Badon to 496, is claimed in D.R. Howlett, Cambro-Latin compositions: their competence and craftsmanship (Dublin: Four Courts Press, 1998). I have argued elsewhere (H. Wiseman, ‘Book Review: The Dates for Gildas and Badon in Cambro-Latin Compositions: Their Competence and Craftsmanship by David Howlett’, to appear in The Heroic Age http://www.mun.ca/mst/heroicage/) that this claim has no basis.
[45] At least one recent historian must be wrong by more than a generation regarding the date of the battle of Badon. N. Higham, The English Conquest: Gildas and Britain in the fifth century (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 1994), p.137 dates it to 436x41. This is about eighty years prior to the date of 519 suggested (on a basis independent from the AC) by V.I. Evison, The Fifth-Century Invasions South of the Thames (London: Athlone Press, 1965), pp.18-21. Higham’s guess is exceptionally early, so a date “around 500”, as often used in general history texts, is probably reasonable, if interpreted as 480x520.

The derivation of the date of the Arthurian entries in the Annales Cambriae from Bede and Gildas is Copyright 2002, Howard Wiseman. All rights reserved. Used with permission.

Comments to: Howard Wiseman, Centre for Quantum Dynamics, Griffith University, Brisbane Queensland 4111.


VortigernStudies is copyright Robert Vermaat 1999-2008. All rights reserved