Tuesday, 18 November 2014

Locating the 12 Great Battles of King Arthur: Part Two

In the last post we looked at the 1st seven battles of King Arthur and their potential locations.  Today we will look at the final five battles which ended in victory.


The eighth was near Gurnion castle, where Arthur bore the image of the Holy Virgin, mother of God, upon his shoulders, and through the power of our Lord Jesus Christ, and the holy Mary, put the Saxons to flight, and pursued them the whole day with great slaughter.
The quote taken for the eighth battle suffers confusion due to the translation of certain Welsh words being misinterpreted.  '...where Arthur bore the image of the Holy Virgin, mother of God, upon his shoulders,..'  The words shield and shoulder may well have been mixed up.  Geoffrey of Monmouth tells us that Arthur bore armonial bearings of both the cross and virgin, more likely on his shield; the arms later adopted by Glastonbury Abbey.

The site for this battle is difficult to identify.  The name Gurnion, also known as Guinnion, is considered to be similar to the Roman fort of Vinovium at Binchester, Durham, although Land's End, Caer Guidn in the British language, has also been suggested.  Another theory suggests a translation of the Saxon Battle of Wihtgarasburh, the Isle of Wight or, in Welsh, Gwyn.  However, some believe that either of the walled towns called Vents by the Romans to be more likely locations.  One of these became the modern Caer-Went in Gwent, where the other is now Winchester in Hampshire.  The latter was the location of a pre-Camlann battle between Arthur and his nephew Mordred, as told by Geoffrey of Monmouth, although modern historians believe a more likely enemy to have been the Saxon invader, Cerdic, who fought in around the year 500AD.


During its transition between names, Winchester was the Romano-British Caer-Guinntguic or Caer Guinn.  -guic would be a corrupt of -iog, which is a standard place-name ending.  -ion was used in a similar way and, despite there being no record of it, an acceptable name would be Caer Guinnion, as with Caer Leir being recorded as Caer Lerion, and Caer Celef having been recorded as Caer Celemion.

The ninth was at the City of Legion, which is called Caer Lion.
The ninth battle can be possibly identified with two locations, both of which were known as City of the Legions or Urbe Legionis.  Some identify the battle to have taken place at Caerleon, where others believe it could have taken place at Chester, at either end of the Welsh border.  Both of these places were home to Roman Legions at various times throughout the Roman occupation.  It is also possible that York bore such a title.  Chester was known as Caer Legion, where Caerleon was known as Caer Legion guer Uisc (Caerleon-upon-Usk), although the later suffix is often lost.


Chester is often the most preferred option, having been recorded in the Annales Cambriae as Urbs Legionis.  This was the site of the Battle of Chester.  In 613, King Aethelfrith of Bernicia invaded the Welsh Kingdoms in order to stop King Iago of Gwynedd from restoring Edwin, an old enemy of the Deiran throne.  The armies of Gwynedd, Powys, Pergwern and Dumnonia fought against him but were defeated at the Battle of Chester, with King Iago of Gwynedd and Selyf Sarffgadau of Powys being killed.  It is thought that this battle could have been taken back 100 years to the time of Arthur.

In Llongborth I saw Arthur,
And brave men who hewed down with steel,
Emperor, and conductor of the toil. 

                                                         From Geraint son of Erbin, Black Book of Caermarthen

Tolstoy, however, prefers Exeter, known to the Romans as Isca Dumnonorium and by the British as Caer Wisc.  A poem in the Black Book of Caermarthen, called Gerint son of Erbin, suggests that this battle took place either at sea or around a harbour.  This is due to the word Llongborth, which may refer to a ship harbour.  Geraint, the hero who fell in this battle, was from Devon, making Exomouth another possible candidate.


The tenth was on the banks of the river Trat Treuroit.
The tenth battle at Trat Treuroit, also known as Tribuit and, more properly, Tryfrwyd, is mentioned in the Black Book of Caermarthen.  Cai Hir (the Tall), Arthur's foster brother of traditional legend, is said to have fought there against a foe called Ganulwyd.  It is believed that Arthur, as Cai's patron in the poem, was the British commander during the battle.

Cai entreated him,
While he killed every third person.
When Celli was lost,
Cuelli was found; and rejoiced
Cai, as long as he hewed down.
Arthur distributed gifts,
The blood trickled down.

                                                     From Arthur and the Porter, Black Book of Caermarthen

Some have identified the location of this battle as the River Frew at Stirling.  Others have suggested the River Ribble in Lancashire, the Severn at Gloucester, and also the Eden at Carlisle.

The eleventh was on the mountain Breguoin, which we call Cat Bregion.
The eleventh battle location was identified by Geoffrey of Monmouth as Edinburgh and most don't disagree with this as there is very little evidence to challenge his identification.  It is known that Edinburgh Castle was occupied during this time and was a strategic point of importance being at the centre of the Kingdom of Gododdin.  It has been suggested that this battle was connected with King Lot of Gododdin, one of the eleven kings who rebelled against Arthur during the start of his reign.


Geoffrey calls Edinburgh Castle the Castle of the Maidens or the Dolorous Castle.  Edinburgh's alias was Din-Eityn, which relates that the settlement is on top of a rock.  During the 7th century there was the Siege of Din-Eityn which some believe has been pushed back to  the time of Arthur.  In a 10th century version of Nennius' History, the battle location is given the alternative name of Breguoin.  Some have suggested that this could be a corruption of Bravonius, a Roman name for Leintwardine in Herefordshire.  This is believed to have been a battle which may have involved King Athrwys of Ergyng, though this location was more often known as Branogenium.

Anoter alternative is that the battle stems from Bremenium, now High Rochester in Northumberland, the site of King Urien Rheged's Battle of the Cells pf Brewyn.  More obscure possible locations include Brent Knoll in Somerset, Ribchester in Lancashire, and Cirencester in Gloucestershire.  Some have also suggested that the tenth and eleventh battles were actually one single, long and hard fought battle.


The twelfth was a most severe contest, when Arthur penetrated to the hill of Badon.  In this engagement, nine hundred and forty fell by his hand alone, no one but the Lord offending his assistance.

516
The Battle of Badon, in which Arthur carried the Cross of our Lord Jesus Christ for three days and three nights on his shoulders and the Britons were the victors.
                                                         Annales Cambriae

The twelfth battle, according to Nennius Arthur's last victorious battle, was the Battle of Badon.  And with this battle we have actual historical evidence to support Nennius' writing.  Popular opinion bases the Battle of Badon between 490 and 516AD, but pinning down the exact date is a cause of much dispute.

It is believed that this battle took place above the city of Bath in Somerset, at Little Solisbury.  Bath was referred to by the Britons and the Celts as Bathon, giving the phonetic spelling of Badon.  The Welsh Monk Gildas states that the Battle of Badon HIll was won by Ambrosius Aurelianus.

After this, sometimes our countrymen, sometimes the enemy, won the field, to the end that our Lord might this land try after his accustomed manner these his Israelites, whether they loved him or not until the year of the siege of Bath-hill, when took place also the last almost, though not the least slaughter of our cruel foes, which was (as I am sure) forty-four years and one month after the landing of the Saxons, and also the time of my own nativity.


Tolstoy identifies the location as Bathamption, a hill just outside of Bath, tying in nicely with Geoffrey's suggestion.  Despite Bath being a very popular contender for the location of this battle, there have been other suggestions.  These include Bawden Hill in Lothian, Dumbarton Rock in Strathclyde, Mynydd Baedon in Glamorgan, Little Salway Hill in Somerset and Brenth Knoll, also in Somerset.  Modern theory, however, suggests one of the many Badburys around the country, giving us countless possibilities for the location of this battle.

That's all for today.  Next time we will look at the final battle of King Arthur.


Useful Resources
  
Historia Brittonum by Nennius
Annales Cambriae
The Black Book of Carmarthen
Gildas (c.504-570): Works

Historia Regum Britanniae by Geoffrey of Monmouth
The Oxford Guide to Arthurian Literature and Legend by Alan Lupack
Revealing King Arthur: Swords, Stones and Digging for Camelot by Christopher Gidlow
King Arthur: The Truth Behind the Legend by Rodney Castleden
The Historic King Arthur: Authenticating the Celtic Hero of Post-Roman Britain By Frank D. Reno

The Battles of King Arthur
King Arthur and His BattlesThe Battle of Mount Badon by Sam Boyer
The Deadliest Blogger