A treasure chest of relics

By Christophe.Finot (Own work) [CC BY-SA 2.5 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.5)], via Wikimedia Commons
Round Table in the Grand Hall, Winchester, by Christophe Finot (Own work) [CC BY-SA 2.5 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.5)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons
Robert Rouse, Cory Rushton:
The Medieval Quest for Arthur
The History Press 2005

Nowadays, a book possibly entitled The Invention of King Arthur might imply subterfuge and forgery. Several centuries ago, when “to invent” would simply mean “to chance upon”, it would instead imply a re-discovery of what already existed. Nowadays we are rightly wary of Arthurian relics such as Arthur’s Tomb at Glastonbury, Arthur’s Seal, Gawain’s skull, Lancelot’s sword and the Winchester Round Table, as objects more likely to be “invented” in the modern sense of “made up” rather than pre-existing. In Caxton’s 15th century, with fewer critical tools at their disposal, people were more inclined to accept such chanced-upon unprovenanced evidence at face value (though then as now there were always doubters and detractors, as the wholesale destruction of saintly relics in the English Reformation was to demonstrate); however, I am of course aware that weeping stuatues and their ilk still excite the credulous in our own time.

Continue reading “A treasure chest of relics”

Passionate but not persuasive

Alistair Moffat Arthur And The Lost Kingdoms Weidenfeld and Nicolson 1999

Thank goodness these “lost” kingdoms are not “holy” kingdoms, as is claimed by conspiracy theorists from southeast Wales! At least we don’t have to suffer a rant about secret histories suppressed by the ignorant English and the arrogant establishment familiar from similar “histories”, “true” stories and “final” discoveries.

Instead, the major part of this book is given over to a study of the area between the Walls, both Antonine and Hadrianic, before, during and after the Roman occupation of Britain. Moffat, a native of the Scottish Border country, sympathetically evokes the Celtic tribes (the Damnonii, Novantae, Selgovae and Votadini) who, squeezed between Gaelic, Pictish and Anglian peoples, forged successor kingdoms in the Dark Ages. He is clearly trying to restore a sense of forgotten history to the Lowland Scots and, several quibbles aside (such as projecting back late and post-medieval lore onto the Iron Age and early medieval period, and a lack of caution over placename evidence), I think he is largely successful.

It is, however, when we come to the association of Arthur with this area that the real problems start. Continue reading “Passionate but not persuasive”

For the completist. Or the gullible.

Graham Phillips and Martin Keatman
King Arthur: The True Story
Arrow Books 1993

In this book we are invited first to look at the traditional evidence for the existence of King Arthur. And what a ragbag it is, as any researcher knows. At the centre is a yawning black hole, sucking in the unwary. A sensible approach therefore to the historical problem of who Arthur might have been is to fix, by logical deduction, the time and place in which he might have flourished. The time suggested is the late 5th/early 6th century. This seems uncontroversial, so no Brythonic god, first-century Roman, Sutton Hoo warrior or Atlantean avatar here, it would seem. The first half of the book sifts through Romantic preconceptions through to the ghost chronology dimly perceived from the difficult documentary evidence we possess. Thus far, there is little to quibble about.

But now the authors make a leap into the dark, and the ‘possible’, the ‘probable’, the ‘could be’ and the ‘surely’ all rear their several heads. Continue reading “For the completist. Or the gullible.”