The Future of History

Monday, 26 September 2011


There's a poem of Arthur's last battle.  But, shhh-! don't tell anyone about this, because it's not very widely known.

Yes, there's an authentic, eye-witness account of that dreadful battle, composed by a man who was there.  Two versions of this poem survive, one slightly longer (and probably older) than the other.  It gives quite a bit of detail with regard to where the battle was fought, who was there and what happened.

It's one of the most important pieces of early British literature.

No one, it seems, has noticed that it deals with Arthur's last battle, and there are two reasons for this.  They are, sadly, rather familiar reasons.

Firstly, so many scholars have refused to acknowledge any connection between Arthur and the North (Scotland, especially) that they just won't countenance the idea.

Secondly, the poem refers to a place called Catraeth.

In Welsh, Catraeth is the name of the Roman fort of Cataractonum, which became the North Yorkshire town of Catterick.  So, of course, everyone assumes that the poem deals with a disastrous raid on Catterick, sometime roundabout the year 600.  A British war-band left Edinburgh, went south in to the territory of the Northumbrian Angles, and came to grief.  There were very few survivors.

There are problems with this analysis, though.  The main one being that the Anglo-Saxons, who quickly forgot their defeats, sure liked to remember their victories.  The resounding defeat of a British army of Lothian would have been remembered by the Angles, and yet with uncharacteristic reserve they chose not to mention this one.

That is not the only problem with the assumption that Aneirin's Y Gododdin poem concerned a disastrous battle at Catterick.  For example, one of the British heroes mourned in the poem is 'Gereint from the south'.  We know from another contemporary poem that Gereint son of Erbin from Cornwall died at another battle, which the Britons knew as Llongborth ('Harbour').  He can't have died at two different battles, can he?

The poem refers to several places which just happen to have been at or near the site of Arthur's last battle, which was nowhere near Catterick.  Among those mentioned in the poem we find several names which recur side-by-side with Arthur in the early literature - Cynon, Owain, Caradog, Taliesin, etc.

Even where a part of the poem turns out to have been added in later, there is a clear link with Arthur (one extra stanza concerns a battle fought by Arthur's nephew, Domnall the Speckled, in Strathcarron in 642).

But one of the biggest problems with the notion that Y Gododdin relates a battle fought at Catterick is the fact that the poet refers to a 'tempest of pilgrims' and a 'raucous pilgrim army' which attacked the British position from the rear.  There weren't any pilgrims in Anglian territory at that time.

And yet, following on from the last blogpost, we find that recurrent problem: somebody, once upon a time, said - "Oh, look!  Catraeth means Catterick in Welsh.  So that's where the battle happened."  And it has become heresy to point out that this really doesn't make sense.  After all, Catraeth probably meant 'battle-shore', so it could refer to a lot of places, especially the one where Arthur made his last stand, and this is confirmed by other references to specific places in the poem.

But because the Word of the Lord is that Catraeth is Catterick and nowhere else no one has been allowed to know that there is a contemporary poem of Arthur's last battle - a poem which tells us much about how he was betrayed, which confirms the location of the battle and indicates just how many close family members fought and died there with Arthur.

It's typical of history, or rather historians, that is.  A wonderful piece of evidence, a genuine British treasure, totally misunderstood and largely ignored because one person once picked up on a coincidence (Catraeth, Catterick) and nobody since has had the imagination to ask whether there really was a battle at Catterick (evidence?), why those who fought at this battle also died somewhere else, and why the place-names mentioned in the poem don't refer to the Catterick region.

You get into trouble for raising these questions.  There will be those (who probably haven't read the poem) who will scream and shout IT WAS CATTERICK because that's what they've been told.

Their loss.  It's a great poem.  And it helped me to reconstruct Arthur's last battle.  Which did not happen at Camlan.  The place is properly known as Camno.

Wednesday, 21 September 2011

Chapter and Verse

A few years ago, while I was researching another of my projects, my wife (Kim) and I went to a County Records Office somewhere in England.

There was a document I wanted to find.  Basically, it proved the existence of a certain Anne Whately.

We've known for a long time that the first marriage licence issued to William Shakespeare allowed him to marry one Anne Whately of Temple Grafton.  The next day, two Stratford farmers coughed up a fair amount of money to make sure that young will married one Anne Hathaway of Stratford (optimistically described as a 'maiden').

The document was there, and yes, it proved that Anne Whately did exist, and that the Shakespeare family would have known of her.  Job done.

At the counter, Kim couldn't resist asking if anyone else had wanted to see this document.  Scholars, perhaps, or students?  The staff looked blank.  So Kim told them that they'd got a very important document there - it proved the existence of the woman William Shakespeare had wanted to marry, as opposed to the woman he ended up marrying.

Quick as a flash, a guy with a beard came hurtling over and said something along the lines of:

"Well, of course, the official line on Anne Whately was delivered by Professor Samuel Schoenbaum, who said that she was a clerical error.  The clerk at the Worcester Consistory Court got her name wrong."

Under other circumstances, I might have been inclined to argue.  However, what I really wanted was to get out of there fast and keep the secret to ourselves, at least until I get round to writing that book.

But, at the same time, I was flabbergasted.  We - that is, my wife -  had just announced that we had found documentary proof that Anne Whately existed.  And straightaway a guy had told us that she didn't exist.  Had he asked to check the document? No.  He just told us what Professor Samuel Schoenbaum (who also hadn't seen the document) once said about her.

I mention this because I'm anticipating a great deal of this sort of thing when my ARTHUR book comes out very shortly.  I think of it as the 'Chapter-and-Verse' tendency.

You announce a discovery.  You have documentary proof.  But they don't want to see it.  Because somebody once said ...

It's like dealing with theology students.  You tell them that the Earth revolves around the Sun, and they'll quote you no end of learned sources who insist that it doesn't.  They won't look at the evidence.  They just go looking for something that somebody else once said.  "Well, of course, Samuel Schoenbaum said she didn't exist - ergo, she can't have existed."  But here's the evidence that she did.  "Well, Professor Schoenbaum said ... "

There's going to be a lot of that sort of thing.  Someone once pretended to look into something with a view to disproving it - the equivalent of a policeman standing by a road accident saying "Move along, please, move along, there's nothing to see here."  And their judgement is endlessly quoted at anyone who asks awkward questions in the hope that certain issues (such as Arthur having been Scottish) will go away.  It's the default position of the self-appointed experts.  Rather than considering new evidence, they all line up to discredit it (without looking at it) because somebody once said something else.

It's like that old joke: History never repeats itself, but historians only repeat each other.

So I've snuck a wee quote from Andre Gide into the start of my ARTHUR book:

"Alas! there exists an order of minds so sceptical that they deny the possibility of any fact as soon as it diverges from the commonplace.  It is not for them that I write."

At least take a look at the evidence before quoting whatever Professor Dumbledore said, chapter and verse!

Friday, 9 September 2011

Written in the Stars

In the book, I explain how Arthur got his name. 

Not to go into too much detail, it came from a Greek myth which happened to replicate the circumstances in which he was conceived.  In the myth, a 'Most Beautiful' priestess was seduced by naughty old Zeus and gave birth to a boy.  She was then turned into the likeness of a bear.  When the boy was old enough to go hunting, and came close to killing his bear-like mother without realising who she was, Zeus elevated them both up to the heavens.  The mother became Ursa Major, the Great Bear.  The boy became a nearby star, a red giant whose name meant 'Bear-Guardian'.

This myth inspired the name of Arthur (from the Welsh arth, meaning 'bear', and gwr, 'man' or 'husband') - the Bear-Guardian star having reached its zenith at the moment he was conceived.

I also explain in the book why Arthur's father was referred to in a poem, composed immediately after his death, as Gorlassar.  The name can be translated as 'Blue-flame', 'Bright-blue' or 'Super-blue'.

For the next few nights, a supernova will be visible over the constellation of Ursa Major.  In Britain, people with binoculars ought to be able to see it.  It looks like a pale blue disc.

Now, call me superstitious, but I find it a little exciting that a 'Super-blue' light will appear above the Great Bear on the weekend that I shall be finishing my ARTHUR revisions.  After all, Arthur's people paid a great deal of attention to astronomy.  His father's accession as king was heralded by a comet in the sky, and cosmological events allow us to work out the exact date and time of Arthur's burial.

So, forgive me if I feel a little light-headed.  After all, it's not often that your efforts are flagged up in the firmament.  I'll be looking at that blue light over the Bear tonight and saying a quiet thank you.

Thursday, 8 September 2011

Uther Pendragon

As I guessed, slowly drip-feeding info about the real Arthur out into the world provokes a backlash.  And a very funny backlash it is too, much of the time.

Still, it allows me to sharpen my claws, check my arguments and practice countering the usual charges.

One observation I've recently made on Arthurnet (a sort of global email community) is that a lot of the old familiar names from the Arthur legends only make sense when you stop thinking of them as Welsh and start thinking of them as Gaelic in origin.

A good example is the name we all associate with Arthur's father: Utherpendragon.

Now, a lot of people assume that it's Welsh and means something like 'Terrible Chief Dragon'.  And, let's face it, that sounds fair enough.  Uthr (Welsh: 'terrible', 'awesome') makes sense.  Pen means 'head' or 'chief'.  And we all know what a dragon is.

Except that's not the original meaning of Utherpendragon.  Only the pen bit is right.

'Uther' is an English version of the Welsh Uthyr.  That in turn was a contraction of Gwythyr, which some say was the Welsh version of the Latin 'Victor'.

But Gwythyr was still only a Welsh attempt at a Gaelic term.  Athir was an Old Irish word.  It meant 'father'.  To that was added Eo or Io, old words for a 'yew'.  In fact, there is evidence that Eo ('yew') could be applied to any large sacred tree.

Put the two together - Io and Athir - and you get 'Yew-Father', a name I'm sure we're all familiar with.


It's what the name Jupiter meant.

So, Uther wasn't a Welsh name at all.  It was the Irish equivalent of Jupiter, the Roman god also known as Jove (or Zeus to the Greeks).

I don't want to give too much away about the 'Dragon' part - you'll just have to hold your breaths till the book comes out.  But I'll give you a bit of a clue.  It has nothing to do with dragons.  It was Draigen, an Old Irish word meaning 'Blackthorn'.  And it was a place - an island in fact.  A very special island.

And Arthur's father was the 'Chief' of that isle. 

See, it all makes sense when you figure out what language you're dealing with.

Sunday, 4 September 2011


British history is in vogue at the moment.

Madonna is releasing a film about Wallace Simpson ("W.E.") and, though I fear for the script, I imagine that the casting of Andrea Riseborough will prove to have been inspired.

Another forthcoming movie release is "Anonymous", which seeks to make out that the plays of William Shakespeare were really written by Edward de Vere, 17th Earl of Oxford.

Okay, let's not worry about the fact that the Earl of Oxford died in 1604 - at least nine years before the end of Shakespeare's playwrighting career.  Even sillier theories have been put forward over the authorship question, with both Christopher Marlowe (died 1593) and Queen Elizabeth I (died 1603) being nominated as the "real" Shakespeares.  The simple reality is that there are no good reasons whatsoever to imagine that Shakespeare was not the author of his own plays - but that hasn't stopped the conspiracy theorists.

(A word of warning: this blog is about ARThur and WILLiam)

The "Was Shakespeare Really Shakespeare" nonsense can be dated back to the late-eighteenth century.  In 1769, the actor-manager David Garrick staged his Shakespeare Jubilee in Stratford-upon-Avon.  The event was a wash-out (literally) and, besides, it missed the anniversary of Shakespeare's birth by five years.  The Londoners who attended decided that they didn't like the Stratfordians.  They considered them ignorant.

Only a few years earlier, a rather interesting piece of evidence had turned up.  Hidden under the rafters of the Shakespeare family home on Henley Street was a small, handwritten document.  It was a Jesuit 'Last Testament of the Soul'.  Thousands of these had been distributed around the Midlands by two Jesuit priests who had entered the country illegally.  The one found at Henley Street had been signed by Shakespeare's father, roundabout the time that Will Shakespeare was 16.

The discovery of John Shakespeare's illicit 'Last Testament' was dynamite.  Inevitably, perhaps, the document was conveniently lost by a Shakespeare scholar.  But the people of Stratford knew all about it.  So David Garrick and his metropolitan friends decided that the locals were ignorant.  The only people who really knew anything about Shakespeare were the Londoners.  And one thing they knew about him was that he was never, ever, ever a Catholic.

But take the Catholicism out of Shakespeare's writings and they stop making sense.  Or, put it another way, try reading them in the context of a vicious persecution of Catholics, including many of Shakespeare's friends, neighbours and relatives, and see what happens.  It took me twenty years to figure this out (because the academic elite really does not like discussing the possibility that Shakespeare was Catholic), with the result that for twenty years I couldn't enjoy Shakespeare.  I didn't know what he was on about.

Then, fortunately, I asked myself the question (long overdue, given the evidence): Could he have been a secret Catholic?  And the next Shakespeare play I saw became one of the most painful, distressing, cathartic experiences I had ever known.

All these foolish theories about somebody else writing the plays of Shakespeare stem from a blanket refusal in the academic community to admit who he really was.  Effectively, they have suppressed the evidence (for 'political' reasons, all to do with rather outdated, David Starkey-type notions of what England is).  And when the evidence is withheld, conspiracy theories abound.

The same can be said of Arthur.  For years, though I longed to discover who he was, I could only make out a vague, possibly non-existent culture hero.  He had been Welsh, but then the English made him English.  And there simply wasn't enough evidence to point to any historical figure as the original Arthur.  If he had existed, it looked like he would never be found.

But then I found him.  By accident.  I was researching his father, a king called Aedan.  And Aedan had a son called Artuir.  And a daughter called Muirgein.

I had never yet come across any early Arthurs who had sisters called Morgan.  Could Arthur have been Scottish, then?  Well, I decided it was worth taking a proper look.

That was eight years ago, and I've been looking ever since.  And you know what?  The evidence is overwhelming.

There is, however, a long-running argument in the Arthurian community.  While many of us had begun to suspect that Arthur was of Irish extraction and was based in the North, the backlash was constant.  NO!!  Arthur could not have been a Scot.  Or an Irishman.  Or northern.  No!  No, no, no!!

When you look at the arguments used against the theory, though, they are pathetic.  Superficially, the argument against the Scottish Arthur (who was actually more British than Scottish) is that he was too late: the generally accepted era of Arthur was some 50 to 100 years before his time.  But that 'generally accepted' age of Arthur is based entirely on flawed and faulty evidence - and not very much of it, at that.  So while there is a mound of evidence that the first Arthur on record, whose sister was called Morgan, who fought against the 'Saxons' and was buried on a sacred isle, it all has to be studiously ignored.  Why?  Because some people only want to believe in an Arthur who didn't exist, rather than spend a little while examining one who did.

As Will, as Art.  A self-appointed 'elite' determines what we are allowed to believe.  So, Shakespeare was NOT a Catholic (and we end up not really sure if he was really Shakespeare) and Arthur was NOT a prince of the North (so we end up doubting whether he existed at all).  See the link here?  Whenever racial, moral, religious and intellectual intolerance steps in, we lose our heroes.

Because some people only want us to believe in their heroes.  The approved English Protestant ones.  The ones who didn't exist.

Friday, 2 September 2011

Setting the Scene

I've been toying with a prologue - a way of establishing atmosphere before the historical investigation begins.  See what you think:

THE winter had been hard.

Hidden away in the depths of the forest, the crazy man had shivered and gibbered his way through the dark months, snow up to his thighs, ice in his beard.  Bitterly he imagined the feasting halls with their bright choking fires, their music and stories and laughter.  More bitterly still, he thought of the great hall of Dumbarton, where his enemy would have celebrated the foreign Christmas feast.

Once, he had worn a golden torque around his neck. Girls swarmed around him like bees to a comb.  But that was before.

In his dreams he saw them.  Their hollow faces floated above him: black mouths spewing accusations.

Only the wolf kept him company, sharing his hunger and his mountain solitude.

He cut an alarming figure.  Short and emaciated, his hair long and matted at the back, the front of his scalp bristling with stubble.  When his eyes were not starting from their sockets they were sunk deep inside their cavities, contemplating things most men would be glad not to have seen.  Blue-black tattoos pricked into his skin with iron awls told his story.  He was a poet, a shouter, one of the inspired ones; he was also a battle-horseman and an enchanter.  He was the madman, the wild prophet of the woods, the myrddin.

For months he had guarded the spring which burst through the side of the world (it was the earth's wound, where the Mother made water).  From the summit of his forest hideaway he could glimpse the great hills of Bryneich and Rheged and the mountains to the north, even those beyond Dumbarton.  He could look down on the ruin of Britain.  The metallic spring water had kept him alive.

Alone with the wolf and the wraiths he kept watch on the skies, waiting for a sign.  He knew it would come.  The world had not ended.  Men would polish their armour.

All winter long, when the madness was not upon him, he had thought ahead.  The tang of iron was in his mouth.  Sometimes the spring water made him retch.  It tasted of blood and weapons.  And then the visions came again.

The battle-fog, the cries of confusion, the killing.

The voices that whispered.

All winter long, up to his manhood in snow.


On the first day of spring, the serpent came from the mound.  That was the way of things.

He was a serpent, coiled inside the cavern where the spring trickled out of the Mother like a running wound.  The men of Rhydderch had not found him.  The skies had turned: the stream froze in its rocky gully - a terrible winter.

It was time for the serpent to emerge from its mound, sloughing its skin like an old garment.

Spring brought the youth up the mountain.  He rode from the lake where he had passed the winter, safe on an island of stones, and left his pony down in the valley where the river was young.  There was still ice in the gully, and the peaks were white.

The boy was a man now.  At the battle, he became a man; now the years had caught up.

The Wildman greeted him.  It was a sorrowful reunion.  Though moons had passed, the youth still wore the battle on him.  But unlike the myrddin, who heard voices in the wind, in the trees, the boy suffered his own recriminations.  The madman was blamed by everybody, the youth only by himself.

They could not talk of plans and purposes until ghosts had been laid to rest.  The man they called Little-Shout, who could talk with the birds, had readied himself for this meeting through endless frosty nights.  He spoke:

'Peiryan faban, cease your weeping.  Aedan will come across the wide sea.  And from Manau a host of excellent hundreds.  On the islands on the way to the hill of the Irish, a series of bloody encounters, like a race.'

He was seeing now, just as he had seen by the winter moonlight.  Long-headed spears, many long lances.  Many red swords, stern troops, shining shields, lively steeds.

'Peiryan faban, fewer tears.  The encounter of Rhydderch and Aedan by the bright Clyde will resound from the northern border to the south.'

The young man listened.  Ahead of him, his sixteenth summer, a season of battles, and beyond that more battles - a lifetime of war, perhaps.  Would they all be as awful as the one at which his friend had gone mad?

'Peiryan faban, try to rest.'

The young warrior gazed down the hillside, his eyes following the course of the water through its rocky gully.  He was taller than his crazy friend but he wore his hair the same way, long at the back.  It streamed from the top of his head like reddish gold.  He had brought the eagle with him.  The creature shared his far-ranging vision and his natural royalty.  Six colours were woven into his plaid.  His bare forehead was speckled with dark spots.

His name was already famous among the tribes.  Druids had prophesied that he was the longed-for one and a brilliant poet had spent the winter spreading the word.

Last summer, he fought his first battle.  This summer, he would lead the armies of the North.  He had become a dragon, a champion, a leader of men.  The Romans had a word for such things.  But his crazy friend had just given him a new title.

Little-Shout called him peiryan faban.

He was the Commanding Youth.

Though the people knew him as Arthur.