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.

31 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

  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!).

          Like

  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.

        Liked by 1 person

        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!

      Liked by 1 person

    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.

      Liked by 1 person

    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…

      Liked by 1 person

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