British History, 407-597, by Fabio P. Barbieri

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Book VIII: The lost Document "L"

This book argues that there was a historical King Arthur, who swept the remnants of Roman law and statehood from Britain and Armorica, replacing it with the Celtic culture that faces us in Gildas, and offers dates for his life and death; it also argues that the history of sixth-century Gaul as we have it (from Gregory of Tours and Procopius of Caesarea) is a pack of Frankish-inspired lies, from which a whole epic of British intervention has been removed - leaving, however, unmistakable traces.

 

Nennius, I argue, had collected obscure or foreign notices on British history, in order to complement an already existing number of Welsh historical documents including Gildas and the lost history of the Saxon wars, "L". A significant quotation proves that Nennius knew L. On the other hand, Geoffrey had intended not to supplement the existing Latin British documents, but to synthetize them in one grand narrative; and, I argue, he had included L into his synthesis. The triumph of Geoffrey meant that the documents he had used in his synthesis were no longer copied and were lost. This chapter comes to grips with the mendacity of the Frankish sources, and argues that they covered up a period of great British power in Gaul, connected with the triumph of resurgent Celticism in Britain itself, of which the new country of Brittany is only a part.

A three-sided comparison between Gildas, Nennius ch.56 and Geoffrey establishes some facts about Arthur’s career. A vigorous argument is made for Geoffrey’s date of Arthur’s death, 542; it is argued that it coincides with Gildas’ dating to an extent that cannot be either coincidental or intended, since it is impossible that my dating for Gildas’ The Ruin of Britain could be reached by a medieval author such as Geoffrey.

Geoffrey’s account of King Arthur is compared with another Celtic legend. The result is that, while Geoffrey certainly includes a long and tolerably complete mythical account of a great warrior king, comparable in all its main points with other Celtic legends, he also contains a large number of notices which have nothing legendary about them, and which contain definite historical information including intervals between events.

Making ample use of Welsh poetry and hagiography, I argue that Arthur’s memory in Wales and North Britain was at best ambiguous (unlike Brittany and Cornwall, where he was regarded as a flawless hero); he was cruel, he had fought many feuds, and had oppressed the clergy; and there are clear indications, and at least one clear statement, that he had rebelled against a "Roman Emperor" of Emrys’ (Ambrosius’) blood, comparable with the Emperor Leo of Geoffrey’s story. I argue that he was an ambitious Northern warrior chief who started the Saxon war that ended at Badon Hill to pay for the expenses of a lavish court, and eventually revolted against Roman law because he did not want to pay tribute.

Geoffrey’s circumstantial account, several Welsh documents, and one half-forgotten Norse dynastic legend mentioned by Saxo Grammaticus, show that Arthur invaded Scandinavia at some point. I connect this with the powerful seaborne Scandinavian armadas that seem to have invaded the British Saxons and the Franks (the raid of Hygelac/Chlochilaicus) about 527, which I argue were set in motion by Arthur against his present and potential enemies, Franks and British Saxons.

From the 460s and until 529, the Romano-British had some sort of presence in North-West Gaul, ignored by Gregory of Tours (whose account is shown to be thoroughly mendacious). About 529, Arthur invaded Armorica to finish off the power of his Ambrosiad enemies, and found himself in conflict with the Frankish king Lothar (Chlothochar); he was the cause of the otherwise unexplained decline of this king’s power and influence in the 530s, that can be traced in the pages of Gregory of Tours, and that was brusquely reversed after 544, till he became the only lord of all the Franks. From Gregory’s account of the episcopal succession in Tours, it can be proved, a) that no Frank was in power in Tours between 526 and 544; b), that Lothar entered Tours in 544, but found himself dangerously exposed to the power of the local bishop Iniuriosus; c), that when Iniuriosus kindly died, Lothar deliberately acted to destroy the power of his diocese; d), that all his actions towards Tours show distrust as to a nest of disaffection and possible revolt. In other words, when Arthur’s empire collapsed after his death in 542, Lothar seized Tours, but did not have the resource to push any further west, which is why Brittany remained independent. Arthur’s Gallic wars had at any rate effectively come to an end by 537, when his chief ally Cai and his son Llacheu had both died in battle.

More material is brought together to show the structure of the empire of Arthur, its position in the contemporary world, and the reason for its eventual fall. The dynamics of its revolutionary success and aggression is analyzed, particularly as a complete breach with the Roman past, and its ideological history is shown - like that of so many revolutions - to have veered wildly in several directions and eventually lost its own moral underpinning.

History of Britain, 407-597 is copyright 2002, Fabio P. Barbieri. Used with permission.

Comments to: Fabio P. Barbieri


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