The Future of History

Wednesday, 26 October 2011

Trouble Ahead?

Apologies, good people, that the blogposts aren't coming thick and fast at the moment.  There's a good reason for this.  I'm just going through the publishing contract for the ARTHUR book (title to be determined), and there's a meeting with the publishers next week.  Originally, the plan had been to self-publish.  Now that The History Press have accepted the book for publication, the book won't be coming out until next year.  So I have to be careful not to give away all the revelations in the book before then.  So I'm having to rethink the blogspots.

It's only recently come to my attention that a minister in Ohio published a book a year or two ago.  "The Revelation of Arthur" seems to argue that there is evidence in the Scriptures, of all places, for the existence of Arthur, and that Arthur was or is nothing less than the Anti-Christ.

Ooh.  Oh dear.  Looks like the greatest hero Britain has ever known might have been a baddie, folks.

Well, maybe not.  As the song says, it ain't necessarily so.  But the minister's book does raise an interesting issue: that of the Church and its attitudes towards Arthur.

The Church has long been ambivalent towards Arthur, to say the least.  There's a charming story, first told early in the 1200s, of a preaching abbot who, realising that his flock wasn't really listening, suddenly said: "Listen!  I have a strange and wonderful tale to tell.  There was once a king called Arthur ..."  And all his monks started paying attention.

The Church didn't like that sort of thing.  Arthur, and the stories told about him, were just too popular.  But the ecclesiastical antagonism towards Arthur and his fellows went back much further than that.

It was a senior missionary of the early Church in Britain who arranged the assassination of Arthur.  The evidence for this is produced in the book (coming out next summer, all being well), and relies on contemporary poems of Arthur's last battle and his burial.  Having killed him, the Church then did its best to forget all about him.  If there is a supposed paucity of information available about the historical Arthur, the reason is because the medieval Church had a practical monopoly of writing, and anything that was not approved of by the Church was liable to be expunged from the records.

In fact, it's a miracle of sorts that any information survives about Arthur (although you wouldn't know it if you just followed the discussions of the Arthur 'experts', who often go out of their way to ignore what information there is).  Arthur's popularity prevented him from disappearing altogether, and the best that the Church could do was to convert him into a Christian king.  Oh, and also to pretend that he was buried at Glastonbury.

The discovery that Arthur's principal enemy was a churchman, and that this churchman betrayed Arthur and effectively handed Britain on a plate to Arthur's enemies, did not form part of any preconceived notion with which I approached the research.  No - it emerged, painfully and reluctantly, during the course of the research.  I read the contemporary sources and tried to figure out what they were saying.

The poem of Arthur's last battle, for example, makes no bones about it: Arthur and his men suffered a treacherous surprise attack at the hands of a "raucous pilgrim army", a "tempest of pilgrims".  They were betrayed by a priest, who also happened to be one of Arthur's twenty-four 'Round Table' knights.  But the real conspirator - the puppet-master, if you will - kept away from the scene of the final battle.  He was present, however, at Arthur's burial.  And the chief poet of the time makes his contempt for the famous saint all too apparent.

The minister in Ohio and his book, "The Revelation of Arthur", would appear to be taking the Church's fear and loathing of Arthur to a new level.  In his eyes, evidently, Arthur was not just a British warlord who fell foul of an early saint: oh no, he was the Anti-Christ.

Perhaps, when the complicity of certain early saints in the death of Arthur and the betrayal of Britain becomes clear, the Church will actually have cause to proclaim Arthur as the antithesis of their own culture hero.  Till then, it should be pretty obvious that there are no references to Arthur in the Scriptures.  The Church is simply attacking Arthur as it has done so often in the past because he is popular.

I do, however, see the minister's crackpot theory as a bit of a warning.  Since I pieced together the evidence surrounding Arthur's death I have been aware that some of this will not go down at all well in certain circles.  It will be interesting to see how representatives of the Church - like the minister in Ohio - respond to the fact that the early Church was responsible for Arthur's death.

Even after fifteen hundred years, Arthur and the Church are still at loggerheads.  And I can't wait to present the case for the defence.  Anti-Christ?  No.  Victim of the Church?  Yes.

The Church, I suspect, won't like that at all.

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