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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).  Mr Ardrey (who has established a reputation for pursuing academic historians of medieval Scotland with his 'interesting' ideas...) claims to have written a polite letter to me, but I have no recollection of receiving one.  I have kept all the e-mails and letters from crazies that I have received since WoA appeared because they are pretty entertaining so I don't know what happened here.

The tone is set - in a way - by the claim that
'The legendary Arthur is commonly presented as a Christian English King...' 
Hmmm... the one thing Arthur is *never* presented as is English.

But it gets much, much better:
"... in reality [says the author of this blog], he was an historical figure, a man of the old way of the druids, a Scot and a warlord. Merlin too lived in history: he was the preeminent druid of the 6th century."
There is - needless to say - absolutely no historically-acceptable evidence for any of that.  (See also, for especial amusement, the claim to know where Merlin's house was; the 'grave' of Merlin which Mr Ardrey claims to have found in fact has been excavated; it was Bronze Age...)  Elsewhere he claims to have identified and dated all twelve of Arthur's battles.  Anyone can have a guess at where Arthur's battles are, but no one will ever know.  That's why so many mutually incompatible locations have been suggested.  It's fun.  It's not history.  The one thing we can say with at least a small amount of certainty is that, with the exception of the battle of the Caledonian Forest, the author of the HB, who after all is the only early medieval person to mention 'Arthur's battles', and who may, for all we know, have made them all up anyway, thought (rightly or wrongly, if he didn't invent them, that is) that the battles were fought in the southern half of Great Britain.  Badon is the only battle in the HB's list of 'Arthur's Battles' that is definitely historical and recorded by a near-contemporary author (Gildas).  On the basis of Gildas' account it cannot be reasonably located other than in southern Britain.  Where in southern Britain, we'll never know.  I have my ideas but I'd never sell them to anyone as 'proven' or even as 'more plausible than anyone else's ideas.

But there's more: read on...
"For 1,500 years the Christian Church and its temporal partners-in-power deleted historical evidence and fabricated a legend that, literally, suited their book."
But if the evidence was deleted... ...  Maybe they got rid of his letter to me too.  This is precisely the sort of thing I had in mind when I wrote Worlds and in particular the opening page, which says of pseudo-historians:
"Each author fanatically believes his version (and the author is usually a he) to be the true story, hushed up by horrid academics or by political conspiracies (usually by the English) or sometimes his rivals."
Which is possibly why the author of Finding Arthur seems to have developed such an unhealthy obsession with me (he likes to refer to me as 'Guy', though we've never met) - five of his last twelve blog posts being concerned with me.  Check out the section of the home page called 'Arthuriana and the Jesuit touch'.  Says it all.  You might reasonably suppose I was paying people to write these things to illustrate my point!  But I'm not.

Anyway, there has been a glut of attempts to 'prove' that Arthur was Scottish, of late.  Here is another, which argues (again, without a shred of evidence):
 "Arthur was born in the latter half of the 5th century. He became the commander of a rapid reaction force of British cavalry, originally created by the Romans but which had continued after their withdrawal."Arthur's career started in Strathclyde, where struggles between rival rulers had allowed the Southern Picts to occupy the Lennox. Arthur seems to have settled the succession, taken back the lost territory and probably then advanced to overrun the Pictish forward positions, forcing a peace."This was something the Romans had never achieved and it was a feat which made his reputation."He fought as a crusader and in his wake followed Christian missionaries bringing moral authority to hold the peace."
And here is a third, which also conjures up a conspiracy.
"Arthur led the Britons to the brink of victory but was cut down by treachery and betrayal. Arthurian legends have since been corrupted, leading to popular but false assumptions about the king and the belief that his grave could never be found. Drawing on a vast range of sources and new translations of early British and Gaelic poetry, Arthur explodes these myths and exposes the shocking truth. In this, the first full biography of Arthur, Simon Andrew Stirling provides a range of proofs that Artuir mac Aedain was the original King Arthur; he identifies the original Camelot, the site of Arthur's last battle and his precise burial location. For the first time ever, the role played by the early Church in Arthur's downfall and the fall of North Britain is also revealed. This includes the Church's contribution to fabricated Arthurian history, the unusual circumstances of his burial and the extraordinary history of the sacred isle on which he was buried."
All of which leads me to quote what I say in Worlds of Arthur (pp.152-3) under the sub-heading "King Arthur was Scottish":
There certainly was a historical, Scottish Arthur. He was Artuir, son of King Áedán mac Gabráin of Dalriada. We know nothing about him beyond what Adomnán’s Life of Saint Columba tells us, written almost a hundred years after Artuir’s death. The information could, however, come from an earlier Life written by Adomnán’s predecessor in the 630s or 640s, of which Adomnán includes an excerpt. Artuir, says Adomnán, was killed, alongside his brother Eochaid Find, in a battle won by his father against the Miathi. The Miathi are presumably the Maetae recorded in early Roman geographies and thus another of the groups subsumed within the Pictish confederacies reasserting their identity in the post-imperial centuries (see Chapter 11). Artuir’s death must have occurred before Áedán’s in c.608 because Columba’s prediction was that he would not succeed his father as king. Thus he was never a king in his own right, though that need not matter, given the HB’s description of Arthur. Artuir mac Áedáin might be the historical figure behind Arthurian legend but, even if he was, there is nothing else we can say about him. Attempts to do so involve joining the dots from all sorts of snippets, inconsistently cherry-picked from later (second-millennium) sources, whether later Celtic hagiography and folklore or Arthurian romance (French or otherwise), mostly with no relationship to each other, and breaking just about every rule in the book of sound historical methodology. 
As to the pagan Arthur, this (from p.153) seems relevant:
These aren’t the druids you’re looking for: the pagan King Arthur
That King Arthur was a pagan is commonly stated in novels, pseudohistory, and other New Age Arthurian material. There is no reason to suppose that any historical fifth- or sixth-century Arthur was anything other than a Christian. Two of the three first-millennium sources that mention Arthur explicitly describe him as Christian. The other, Y Gododdin, contains precious little by way of religious elements of any sort. Its Christian elements, according to Koch, are later additions. Some of Koch’s argument turns on how you understand an ambiguous phrase that might refer to communion, though. Whichever way you read it, as ‘communion’ or ‘a victor’s share’, the argument easily becomes circular. In any case, Koch rightly states that this has no necessary bearing on the poet’s religion or that of his subjects. The western Roman Empire, including Britain, had been heavily Christianized (see Chapter 11) and Gildas did not see paganism, unlike heresy, as a problem with the British rulers of his day. Even Artuir mac Áedáin is mentioned in a Christian context, being part of an army prayed for by St Columba and his monks.
That really is all that a careful historian (an actual historian, you might say) can say on those subjects.  Pottering about with Chrétien de Troyes (as if that were a reliable source in any case) and cherry-picking and relocating to Scotland everything that he says about the legendary Arthur (ignoring everywhere when he locates Arthur somewhere else) is doubtless a great laugh.  History it isn't.  Caveat emptor.  Were people not likely to lose good, hard-earned money on the misleading claims of Messrs Ardrey, Crichton and Stirling, we could see it all as harmless fun.  This was largely why I wrote Worlds of Arthur and I am delighted that the likes of Ardrey, Edwin Pace and Dan Hunt see it as a threat.  I'm even glad that Amazon is offering Worlds... as part of a 'buy them together' offer with Crichton's book!