Unreadable nonsense

Wilson with the Arthur II stone, and Blackett with the Arthur I stone

Adrian Gilbert, Alan Wilson and Baram Blackett:
The Holy Kingdom
Bantam Press 1998

I scarcely know where to start with reviewing this work except to say that it is one of the most misguided books produced by a mainstream publisher that I have ever come across.

With sensationalist claims (the publishers go for the hyperbolic “explosive” and “astounding”) the authors, calling themselves historians, purport to overturn orthodoxy: they claim there were not one but two kings named Arthur — one the son of the imperial pretender Magnus Maximus and the other his sixth-century descendant from Glamorgan — whose careers were conflated to produce the single King Arthur of legend.

They not only identify the supposed burial sites of both Arthurs, they then go on to justify the title of their book with madcap theories about holy dynasties and the quest for the grail; sadly it’s all puerile balderdash.

I have to confess a personal interest in countering the nonsense that the authors spout. I first wrote to Wilson and Blackett in August 1983 after Welsh paper The Western Mail reported on their claims, expressing what I thought was mild scepticism while also acknowledging that at that time I didn’t have their full arguments at my disposal. I wasn’t prepared for the unprovoked abuse that I subsequently received, nor the deliberate misrepresentation of what I’d written, the mistakes in transcription, mistranslations of Latin and the fanciful claims.

I started to make a list of questionable statements in this book before stopping, exhausted, at page 40. These include calling medieval poets Chrétien and Wolfram by the place they’re associated with (Troyes and Eschenbach) as though these are bona fide surnames or titles; true scholars would use best practice and simply call them by their given names, as they would have been then, otherwise it’s a bit like referring to Tom O’Bedlam only by the 17th-century madhouse he was confined in.

They then accuse Tudor historian John Leland of “faking” place names around Cadbury in his Itinerary. What Leland actually wrote was “At the very south end of the church of South-Cadbyri standeth Camallate, sometime a famous town or castle . . . The people can tell nothing there but that they have heard Arthur much resorted to Camalat.” As spelling was variable in those days (witness Leland’s own variation) Leland interpreted the places we now know as West Camel and Queen Camel, both near the River Cam (Celtic for “crooked”), as related to Camelot on the basis of local folk etymology.

PRO ANIMA ARTORIVS

Elsewhere there is a so-called report into a 1990 dig northeast of Cardiff, at the site of St Peter’s Super Montem which Wilson and Blackett had previously bought. Two archaeologists, Dr Eric Talbot and Alan Wishart of Glasgow University, were down to lead the dig. Unfortunately the report is incomplete, inadequate and has clearly been doctored. Despite the dig being authorised by then Royal Commission for Ancient Monuments, the artefacts discovered — axe, knife and small electrum cross inscribed Pro Anima Artorius — have still not been examined by either trained archaeologists or other independent experts. The fact that Pro anima Artorius* is in illiterate Latin (it’s not ‘for the soul of Arthur’ but the gibberish phrase ‘Arthur for the soul’), that the finish is crude and that the design is completely anachronistic should alert anyone to the truth that it’s a plant and a hoax. We’re not even told its find spot, which in itself speaks volumes.

Of the archaeologists, Eric Talbot unfortunately died in 2011, but the report as presented here is unworthy of someone with his expertise and reputation. Alan Wishart (who reportedly did most of the digging) is currently a dealer in postal history specialising in material dating from 1400 to 1870, an area he pursued from soon after the 1990 excavation, and is no longer involved in archaeology.

REX ARTORIVS FILI MAVRICIVS

A previous find was the so-called gravestone of Arthur II, identified from an inscription reading ARTORIVS REX FILI MAURICIVS. Unfortunately this doesn’t read ‘King Arthur the son of Meurig’ as the authors pretend but the gibberish ‘King Arthur Meurig of the son’.* Both the suspiciously fortuitous and unprovenanced cross and stone ‘proving’ the existence of ‘Artorius’ — even the oddly consistent spelling for Artorius raises questions — run counter to any established scientific method.

Quite frankly Wilson and Blackett, like Adrian Gilbert, are seekers after what they call suppressed knowledge, investigating “ancient Esoteric knowledge and religious Mysteries”: in other words, they are conspiracy theorists. It’s pointless going into aspects of their ridiculous assertions — others have done this effectively, for example here and here. They’ve also been antisocial and litigious neighbours; and in 2004 they stood unsuccessfully as local government candidates for the defunct far right British National Party. These are not trustworthy individuals: Blackett was not only BNP candidate under the name Brian Terry, he was apparently convicted of handling stolen art. Is his name Anthony Thomas Blackett, or Mike (said to be his brother’s name), or M T Byrd, or Grant Berkeley?

This all then results in a confused and badly written narrative featuring two fantasists who have no real historical sense at all, along with a linking commentary by a writer who specialises in Alternative History (another name for — let’s give it its proper appellation — Pseudohistory). The Holy Kingdom is anachronistic, relies on speculative antiquarianism, and has little foundation in any recognisable reality.

The result is unreadable nonsense — extremely easy to parody — which depresses the human spirit; you cannot have a meaningful dialogue with theorists who say they are right and you and everyone else is wrong. The real King Arthur? Don’t make me laugh.


Based on and expanded from a review in a 1998 issue of the Journal of the Pendragon Society

* Pro anima Artori would mean ‘For the soul of Arthur’; the correct Late Latin  for ‘King Arthur the son of Meurig’ would be Rex Artorius filius Maurici. Even given the vagaries of Vulgar Latin in the Late and Post-Roman period across the former Empire, Wilson and Blackett’s ignorant insistence that such crass mistakes weren’t really mistakes speaks volumes.

59 thoughts on “Unreadable nonsense

  1. I saw this review on your GR account, Chris – and I couldn’t agree more. There was a time for such pseudo-scientifical books, from forbidden archaeology to Däniken ideas… I sincerely hope it’s past us, but in the times of fake news everything seems possible 😒

    Liked by 1 person

    1. The audience this utter claptrap appeals to is the same as those who believe the EU is the devil incarnate, academics and scientists conspire to hide ‘the truth’, and that the mainstream meejuh are censoring them. Humourless, they’d not appreciate the joke about the Flat Earth Society having members from around the globe.

      But we can be in no doubt, Ola: they’re dangerous because once their unreasonable doubt is sown then everything is doubted and society’s tenuous bonds are frayed and likely to fail. And then we’ll be ripe for a Martian invasion…

      😁

      Liked by 2 people

      1. Quickly! Where is my tin-foil hat?! 😁

        I do agree with you, though; it’s very much an old adage, by a thoroughly infamous and despicable author, and yet sadly quite true, that a lie repeated a thousand times becomes truth. Just look at the anti-vaccine movement…

        Liked by 1 person

        1. 🙂

          I used to live not too far from where Edward Jenner did some of the first vaccinations using dead cowpox pus to inoculate patients against the much deadlier smallpox. I’m sure those inoculated with cowpox vaccine were grateful not to (a) die, or (b) survive but with disfiguring pock marks on their faces. But perhaps anti-vaxxers would prefer to die (or let others die) than put their trust in a proven safeguard. There’s none so deaf as those who will not hear, as my mum used to say…

          Liked by 1 person

          1. Dave Owen

            Calmgrove, so you are obviously against people having a different opinion than your own.
            Why give yourself something that you don’t already have.
            Vaccines are supposed to work, by giving you a mild dose of the current sickness.
            Why are there so many Schools for vaccine injured children. Vaccines cause autism.

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            1. I’m sorry, your point is what exactly?

              I’m going to give you the benefit of the doubt, despite the fact that you don’t seem to be making a very coherent argument. I am not “obviously” against people having different opinions from my own. People can have their own opinions, but I don’t accept them insisting that their unsupported opinions somehow trump facts. And the claims of anti-vaxxers are not supported by facts at all, only wild speculation and conspiracy theories.

              Can you actually list the “many schools for vaccine injured children”? In a lifetime career in state education I have never come across these, let alone heard of them.

              And as for the nonsense that “vaccines cause autism” I would point out that as someone on the autism spectrum I find your statement not only specious but insulting.

              Please use a different platform to peddle your false claims. If you are able to conduct a polite conversation here relevant to this post you will be welcome, but please don’t repeat your false claims here or I will send them to my spam folder.

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        2. Caleb Howells

          “Pro anima Artori would mean ‘For the soul of Arthur’; the correct Late Latin for ‘King Arthur the son of Meurig’ would be Rex Artorius filius Maurici.”

          That’s very interesting, thank you for explaining that. It is true though that a number of stones from that time period are inscribed with ‘FILI’ rather than ‘FILIUS’. Although the ones I’ve seen do then end the following name with ‘I’ rather than ‘IUS’.

          Liked by 1 person

          1. Hi Caleb, and thanks for reading this and commenting. I see you’ve published a book positing that Arthur did in fact invade and conquer Europe, but I don’t intend to address or answer this — because it’s much too big a topic to deal with in a paragraph or two! — instead commenting on the forms FILI and FILIUS.

            I did classical Latin at school in the 60s, but even a cursory glance at a Latin grammar book will reveal why there are several forms of nouns in even Late and Vulgar Latin of the period after the Roman Empire collapsed. So, even English retains some of these variations:
            “I” in English is the noun for oneself in what is called the nominative form: I speak.
            “Me” is what’s called accusative: Arthur calls me.
            “My” is what’s referred to as genitive or possessive: Arthur gives me my sword.
            Filius, ‘son’, works in the same way. Filius, ‘the son’. Filium, ‘the son’ when something is done to him. Filii (often shortened to ‘fili’) means ‘of the son’ or ‘the son’s’.

            So here’s how it works on many post-Roman monuments, from the late 5th-century for a few more hundred years. If a stone reads, as in a Cornish example, RIALOBRANI CVNOVALI FILI it means ”(the memorial) of Rialobran, of Cunoval the son”. The endings of all the words are all possessive because the stone belongs to Rialobran who happens to be the son of Cunoval.

            The whole issue is complicated because the formulae for these inscriptions can and do vary, or are incomplete because of damage or weathering, or occasionally are near illiterate — but whenever FILI appears you have to interrogate its function and even whether a grammatical mistake has been. What you mustn’t do, but these clowns have done, is to ignore how Latin works but assume it follows the rules follow modern English.

            Apologies for going on about this. Better to read somebody like Charles Thomas, such as his “And Did These Mute Stones Speak” (1996) or “Christian Celts: Messages & Images” (1998), reviewed here: https://wp.me/s2oNj1-cryptic

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            1. Caleb Howells

              That’s nice that you saw my book! To be clear though, I definitely don’t suggest that the Arthur of the sixth century actually invaded Europe, but like many other researchers, I’ve concluded that he was a composite figure (at least as he appears in the HRB).

              Thank you very much for the explanation about ‘fili’ and ‘filius’. I have basically no knowledge of Latin at all. So how does this relate to the ending of the next word? For example, it’s evident that ‘fili’ was sometimes used in the placement that it appears on the ‘Rex Artorius Fili Mauricius ’ Stone – one example of this is the Maglocunus Stone, which says ‘Maglocuni Fili Clutori’. So when ‘fili’ is used, must the names always end in ‘i’ rather than ‘ius’?

              Liked by 1 person

            2. I must admit I skimmed the blurb for your book, Caleb, from which I got that you discussed Arthur and Europe, but clearly got the wrong end of the stick, for which apologies! A composite figure is how I view the figure of Arthur. Have you come across Concepts of Arthur? That tries to go back to the roots of the various inputs into the legend. (I’ve reviewed it; the link is on my Arthuriana page.)

              Scholars generally agree that in many of the inscriptions, and this is certainly evident in Wales, the notion is that “the stone, monument, memorial” is to be understood with the possessor’s name following. So Maglocuni Fili Clutori, as now seen in Nevern church, means “(the memorial) of Maelgwn, (and therefore) of the son of Clutorius”, with all the words in the possessive case. Without digging out my reference books — I’m just about to retire for some shut-eye! — I can’t confirm whether or not Filius appears, but I’ll check tomorrow.

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            3. I apologise for not addressing your query again, Caleb, regarding the appearance of ‘filius’ on a Welsh inscription. Here’s one obvious one: Trenacatvs / (h)ic iacit filius / Maglagni which can be translated as “Trenacatus, here he lies, the son of Maglagnus.” ‘Filius’ is in the nominative as befit the subject of the person buried in the grave. Maglagnus is, however, in the genitive form Maglagni because he’s the father of Trenacatus. If Maglagnus had had a memorial stone it might well have read either HIC IACIT MAGLAGNUS or some formula such as ‘(the stone) of Maglagus’ in which case the inscription would include the word MAGLAGNI, ‘of Maglagnus’.

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  2. I love the part about the “surnames” and read it out loud to my daughter, a medievalist. She said “and Chretien probably wasn’t his name either; it was most likely a pen name.”

    Liked by 1 person

  3. piotrek

    Well, it is annoying, but there was no reason to hope history will be exempt from this worrying trend…

    We have some morons now in Poland, who maintain there was a great Slavic empire from Antiquity to early Middle Ages, and only a plot by the mainstream historians and the Church hides its awesomeness from the masses 😀 It would be pathetic, really, but they are also published by one of the big, usually reliable, publishers…

    Liked by 1 person

    1. As we both know, big publishers — conglomerates really, having swallowed up many smaller presses along the way — are now in existence to make money, like any other business: academic studies are expensive because they’re sober and reliable, while gossipy, speculative titles sell well and swell the coffers. ‘Tis ever the way of the world. *sigh*

      A few years ago Russian authors were claiming that King Arthur and/or the Arthurian legends were not only Slavic in origin but Russian, and that any association with some self-important island off the coast of Europe was mistaken. I suspect this is part of the Great Slavic History, hidden … until now.

      Liked by 1 person

    1. I don’t know about Blackett but Wilson says he has engineering qualifications, and that he attended some archaeology courses, but as so little of what they claim is verifiable I can’t confirm these claims.

      This link says it has the answers but the tone of the commentary suggests the writer has been fed his information from Wilson himself: http://treasure1.tripod.com/wilson.html

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        1. Some qualifications, intelligently applied, can allow you to transfer skills across disciplines; in Wilson’s case his extreme political philosophies and poisonous personality seem to have blunted those skills — he has no real acquaintance with Latin for example and, though Welsh by birth, I doubt if he has a working understanding of Welsh (and that’s my observation, speaking as a desultory dysgwr of just two years standing!).

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  4. Holy moley. They sound like utter charlatans, the kind that just change their game and move on. I suppose the publishers are cynical enough to be publishing it for the money it will bring in. Sigh.

    I wonder if calling people by their place names got more common after Dan Brown spent an entire novel referring to ‘da Vinci’ as if it was his last name?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yes, I sigh heavily too, Jean. I believe that, before Dan Brown, the authors of Holy Blood, Holy Grail used Da Vinci as a de facto surname, and that he may have done the same as he was definitely indebted to the crackpot notions in that farrago of fake facts and speculation.

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      1. Yes indeed. Mercifully I’ve never had to read HBHG (this is possibly a hazard of your line of work?), but I do recall that they sued Dan Brown for plagiarism of their ideas, despite claiming at the same time that it was real history…”crackpot notions in that farrago of fake facts and speculation” is a wonderful description.

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        1. I met one of the authors, Richard Baigent, just before the book’s first publication in 1982 and I have to say he was a bit of a poseur, strutting around in a self-important way during a public talk. I ought to dig out my initial review and perhaps post it here, just for you, Jean!

          That nonsense about plagiarism: anyone with an ounce of common sense knows that plagiarism applies to large-scale copying of text rather than of concepts. Where ideas are concerned one can argue that once facts are established in an historical text that history can be used for fictional purposes. Dan Brown’s fiction was based on the HBHG authors’ ‘history’ and so they were on dodgy grounds arguing plagiarism: to win they’d have had to acknowledge their work was a parcel of fiction. Hoist, methinks, by their own petard. (Oh, and landed with a hefty bill too.)

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    1. You have to smile, Anne, or else scream! Quite apart from anything else misguided about this it’s appallingly written and your teeth would be worn to stumps if you’d been foolish to read it all in one sitting!

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    1. It’s about making money, Sandra, not about verity or integrity. Bantam is part of Transworld (all under the Penguin banner) the mission statement of which is “turning books into bestsellers” — that tells you all you need to know about their ethos.

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        1. Even more depressing, Sandra, is the subsequent slew of responses from cultists (‘cultist’ singular?) on this page which I’ve let stand as examples of the kind of mentality that promotes these crackpot concepts.

          If you’ve the stomach do see the lengths they go to in order to avoid direct answers whike hurling insults and chucking around non sequiturs: I find it both hilarious and dispiriting the effort cultists make to promote factual nonsense.

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    1. Does it help to add that — like a few of our current crop of politicians, not to forget trolls — these two are thoroughly unsavoury and well as shady characters? If I could quote what they wrote to me way back then you’d see that there wouldn’t be a bargepole long enough to keep them at suitable distance. I hope they and their followers sink without trace, but until then forewarned is forearmed…

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        1. Hugh

          Well the fact that you are trying to push an oxford Imperialistic anti anything before the Anglo Saxons , you are just contradicting yourself with your text book history knowledge. It is in the names in Welsh towns, and landmarks taken off modern maps is why your text book history knowledge can’t get around it. Alan makes it very clear the linguistic properties, as well as recorded history that it’s quite literally set in stone. If you try to say it’s bad Latin I am pretty sure Latin would of been altered in Britain to suit the Celtic tongue. If your any way educated on the Brythonic (Celtic ) languages you know it evolves quickly and frequently and the linguistic pattern arranges naturally second spoken languages in its own way. If you don’t believe me look at Yeats’s earlier plays it shows how Hibernian English was spoken in the same linguistic pattern of the Irish language. Also you couldn’t be more wrong linking up Alan, and Barram to be far right pushing historians, they are trying to say descendants of a lot of us came from Syria and near modern day Turkey for god sake! What far right wing historian would want that to be heard?😂 You push imperialism not wokeness my friend, so stop contradicting yourself and state what your real “academic” agenda on your imaginary thesis will be…

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          1. Don’t “my friend” me. Fair warning: it’s perfectly clear now that Messrs Owen, Phillips, Osborne and you are all either one and the same using different aliases or that you’re a couple of cultists working in cahoots, and as this conversation is going nowhere it is now terminated.

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  5. dave owen

    Calmgrove, so you are saying an Engineer has no right to use his skills to determine fact from fiction.
    Are you saying as a Welshman he could not read the Welsh language, seems strange.
    Are you saying this applies to all Welshmen, or just Alan.
    Did Alan not read the Egyptian hieroglyphs, did he make that up.
    I think he has stepped on your toes sometime.

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    1. Your scattergun criticisms make no coherent sense. I suggest that as a disciple of Alan Wilson (or maybe you are Alan Wilson under a pseudonym?) you share the same approach of asking rhetorical questions as though they refute cogent arguments.

      I’ve come across similar smug tactics in the past and they cut no ice so kindly desist from making further comments here. The fact that you use different email addresses for your two comments tells me a lot about your desire to avoid any transparency.

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      1. And congratulations to you, Rhys Osborne, for confirming to me that you’re yet another illiterate fanboy cultist who doesn’t deserve a considered reply, especially bearing in mind you never address the detailed criticisms levelled at your pseudo-historian messiahs. “Something intelligent”? Don’t make me laugh.

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  6. Jack Phillips

    Wilson and Blackett have proved that you can use the Welsh language to decipher the hieroglyphs.
    If you have 1 Braincell you should know that you can’t “fake” the cypher, so if you can’t follow and see that it works you are just proving that you are utterly brain-dead. Just a scoffing preducial moron.

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    1. Hullo, I see that you are yet another cultist who believes your heroes are always right.

      Wilson and Blackett (or whatever the latter calls himself at the moment) don’t prove anything of the sort you claim, especially bearing in mind they can’t even decipher Latin, just as you can’t spell ‘prejudicial’ (even though the word you’re really looking for is, I’m guessing, is ‘prejudiced’).

      Secondly, I see that, when in doubt, you resort to crude insults like ‘brain-dead’ and ‘moron’. So, if you have nothing of value to bring to the discussion please desist from commenting here or I shall just send you to spam.

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  7. Caleb Howells

    Regarding the theory that Athrwys ap Meurig was the historical King Arthur, I actually find that extremely convincing. The traditional chronology for Athrwys and his family (which is more or less the chronology espoused by Wilson and Blackett) has a lot of backing, from what I have researched. For example, the Life of St Cadoc identifies Tewdrig the martyr of Gwent (the father of Meurig, as shown by the account in the Book of Llandaff) with Tewdrig the great-great-grandfather of Cadoc. That would make Athrwys, the grandson of Tewdrig, two generations above Cadoc. Even allowing Meurig to be a late son of Tewdrig, that would still make Athrwys an older contemporary of Cadoc. That places him firmly in the sixth century, in Arthur’s time, and nowhere near the seventh century. This is obviously just one piece of evidence for this earlier chronology, but there are far more as well.

    In contrast, the later chronology seems to be established entirely on the single entry in the Welsh Annales which reports the death of Ffernfael ap Ithel in the year 775, and it is assumed that this was Ffernfael the great-grandson of Athrwys.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks for commenting, Caleb. I’m sorry but I have absolutely no inclination to discuss here the extremely complex matters of the reliability of the Liber Landavensis and the reliabity or not of its transcription of early undated charters and genealogies, nor the fraught nature of attempts to correlate genealogies in other sources and establishing firm dates.

      Nor do I have any faith in any of Wilson and Blackett’s nonsensical British pseudohistory and their espousal of speculative antiquarianism, the Priory of Sion, and other conspiracy theories. Nor do I take kindly to the calculated insults their supporters heap on anyone who isn’t a cult follower. So forgive me for not wanting to prolong this discussion.

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      1. Caleb Howells

        No problem, I just wanted to highlight that the theory that Athrwys was Arthur has at least some genuine support.

        To be clear though, this theory predates Wilson and Blackett by centuries. The earliest known mention is by Thomas Carte in 1747, and numerous researchers between then and the early 1900s followed suite. W&B picked it up later, after it had lost its popularity. They have nothing whatsoever to do with originating the theory, and so any criticisms of them as individuals or as researchers should have no bearing on the Athrwys theory. That’s all I wanted to clarify.

        And I do certainly agree with you that it is deplorable the way many supporters of W&B conduct themselves. It’s why I distance myself from them despite agreeing with a fair number of the actual theories (though I disagree with plenty of them too, rest assured).

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        1. Yes, I’m aware they didn’t originate the Athrwys theory (I’ve been aware of their views since the early 70s after all) but as they’ve as it were taken the ball and run with it and then added to the 18th-century theory with their own superfluous spin, I consider they now own it.

          In any case I don’t accept that any perceived similarity to the name Arthur (Athrwys, Andragathius or, in the case of the Cornish slate at Tintagel, Arthnou) identifies a different historical figure as our legendary one.
          https://wp.me/s9xVjG-artognou).

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  8. Robert Davies

    Thanks for the review. I have written elsewhere of these charlatans Wilson and Blackett. Their dishonest claims about the content of Caesar’s Bellum Gallicum (The Gallic War) to prove the existence of an ancient British Alphabet (Coelbren) are laughably blatant. I’ve even checked the original Latin script. As for Wilson’s attempts to translate Welsh place names in order to prove that one of his King Arthurs is buried in south Wales … as a Welsh speaker and published author in the language, it’s evident that he does not speak Welsh. Linguistically, he’s just a mongolot English speaker with an English-Welsh dictionary.

    I’ll only take issue with you on one matter you refer to: while there are conspiracy loons among Brexit supporters, there is also a perfectly rational and coherent anti-capitalist and pro-democracy critique of the EU and its predecessors that goes back through Tony Benn to Michael Foot and Aneurin Bevan. Whatever their reasons – some good and some bad in my view – for opposing EU membership, most Brexit supporters do not base their arguments on some barmy conspiracy theory. Please leave that silly misrepresentation on the Guardian CIF pages where it belongs! Other than that, keep up the good work.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I won’t argue with you over Brexit — the EU as an institution wasn’t ever perfect — but I can’t say that the situation we’ve since had to put up with is anything other than a Tory capitalist’s wet dream. I know Benn and Foot and others weren’t overkeen on the EU, and as a left-of-centre voter I know there’s plenty to criticise; you’ll understand that I reserve my anger at the ‘loons’ because of their blatant lying, misrepresentations and underlying far right stance behind bleats of sovereignty and the rest.

      As for the said charlatans, I’ve a sheaf of early correspondence with them where reasoned argument was in short supply and casual insults and falsehoods plentiful. If you’ve ever been in contact with them you’ll have seen the same. Everything you say about their supposed understanding of Welsh is true—though I only had two years of evening classes in the language I can see the depth of their knowledge of Welsh is barely superficial. As for their supoosed facility in Latin it’s all fake smoke and dull mirrors

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  9. Chris, I just came upon this although you wrote it a while ago. It struck me that in all the years of reading your illuminating reviews I’d never encountered one in which you made your opinion of the work in question crystal at the very outset, and that opinion what wholly negative. That made me realize that you usually approach a new book with openness, prepared to be drawn in. Even with this book, you didn’t pronounce judgement right away; instead you wrote to the authors, hoping for further enlightenment and a civil exchange of ideas and information. The abusive response that you describe tells me all I need to know.

    By the way, their story of a dig that supposedly turned up an ancient artifact reminds me of Angus Wilson’s novel, Anglo-Saxon Attitudes, which features a similar hoax. I went through a phase in my undergraduate days when I read absolutely everything by him and still think he needs more recognition. I wonder if that novel stands the test of time?

    As always, it’s a pleasure to read your reviews, including this uncharacteristically (and convincingly) damning one.

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    1. Thanks, Josna, it really is rare that I’m so forthright in my condemnation of a publication! It may interest you to know that nary a day passes by without this particular review being clicked on; and in fact this year alone, of the 1463 views of my blog so far, 569 have been of this page.

      Add to that the fanboy comments from Dave Owen, Hugh, Rhys Osborne and Jack Philips above which either ignore my criticisms with ‘whataboutery’ or are plain abusive, and you can see there’s a concerted attempt to — in short order — distract, misdirect and rubbish any rational criticisms. Because these wannabe critics are untraceable (‘Dave Owen’ even used two different email addresses for his two comments) and seemingly unidentifiable I’ve now resorted to sending further emails direct to my spam folder without bothering to answer — it’s absolutely pointless. Even the dialogue with writer Caleb Williams ends on a sour note.

      It’s quite clear that, in common with most trolls, these correspondents aren’t interested at all in engaging in rational debate but just want to bully and browbeat any critic. So yes, I feel totally justified in my damning dismissal of this book and all it stands for!

      On a lighter note, I have heard of the Angus Wilson novel though without realising its continued relevance, I must seek it out now!

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      1. Caleb Howells

        Hi Calmgrove,

        I assume you’re referring to me when you mentioned ‘Caleb Williams’. I’m a bit confused about your statement that our discussion ended on a sour note. We certainly disagreed, but I didn’t think that there was any sourness or hostility between us. I definitely hope I didn’t convey that impression, and I didn’t get that impression from you. We both had our say, we disagreed, but that’s as far as it went. And that’s fine, right?

        I really want to stress that although I agree with their fundamental tenet that Athrwys is the historical Arthur, I don’t ‘support’ them in any meaningful way, nor do I agree with the majority of their theories. I used to, but I don’t anymore due to numerous reasons, such as the ones mentioned in your review. But I’ve now spent years conducting my own research and have come to my own conclusions. Some of them happen to still be the same as some of W&B’s conclusions, but most of them are not.

        The reason I’m saying this is that I hope that you don’t just think that if someone believes that Athrwys was the historical Arthur then they must be a ‘crazy supporter’ of the Wilson and Blackett cult (because that is certainly what it has become). It’s perfectly possible to believe in that theory (which, I must stress, long predates W&B) without having anything to do with those researchers. I certainly don’t want to be associated with them, yet at the same time I’m not going to change my historical opinions because of the poor reputation of any modern researchers. And I hope that we can respect each other as two people who are fascinated in history but who have different opinions about this point, without the need for any hostility or ‘sourness’ between us.

        Regards,

        Caleb Howells

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        1. First, Caleb, apologies for misnaming you earlier, my mind flipped to Caleb Williams the title of William Godwin’s novel which I read about in recent months (you may remember him as the husband of Mary Wollstonecraft and the father of Mary Shelley). So sorry to have mixed up the respective surnames.

          Secondly, when I said our dialogue turned sour I meant in terms of my disappointment that you still, favoured Athrwys as a candidate for Arthur. You have always been polite and respectful in our discussions, and I didn’t mean to pour any aspersions on your responses. To be clear: I think the desire to identity an individual as ‘the’ Arthur is misguided as ‘Arthur’, king or not, has always been a construct. And, indeed, a construct that has changed with every writer through the centuries.

          Can I point to a couple of authors who might clarify this approach, even if they might come at the issue from different directions? Nick Higham discusses the possible political agenda of the author of the Historiae Brittonum in his Arthur construct; Thomas Green’s Concepts of Arthur points out the many constructs that existed in early writings (though he then confusingly tries to postulate a figure who might be a model); and Oliver Padel’s Arthur in Medieval Welsh Literature discusses all the conflicting visions of Arthur in Welsh writings through the ages, showing that anyone can chose their favourite model from various eras and build a case while ignoring the alternatives. The Athruis model is a relative latecomer and fits a particular political agenda favouring a primacy from southeast Wales, if I remember the arguments.

          So my sourness comes from expecting old arguments rehashed, not from any bitter discussions between us. And I do know you have distanced yourself from Wilson and Blackett’s cult following, so I’m not accusing you of that approach!

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    1. Critiquing a poorly argued thesis which builds on factual errors and promotes a dubious premise is protesting too much? Unless you have something of substance to add here stop making fatuous comments on this blog.

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