The Future of History

Thursday, 11 October 2012

House of Arthur

I've had some very exciting and enjoyable contact lately with the Seannachie ("recorder", "historian" or "antiquary") of the Clan Arthur.

Hugh McArthur is an effusive Glaswegian who, in the midst of life's journey, decided to trace his antecedents.  So involved did he become in the history of the clan that he was appointed Clan Arthur Seannachie by the clan chief some years ago.  Hugh has since produced a series of booklets which peer at different aspects of the life and times of Artuir mac Aedain, the historical model for the Arthur of legend.  That series of booklets continues to grow.  For further information, please visit

Understandably, perhaps, Hugh McArthur is in no doubt whatsoever that his distant ancestor, Arthur son of Aedan, prince of the Scots, was the original "King Arthur".  His researches have turned up a great deal of interesting information (including a fascinating reference to the plant badge of the Arthur clan - most Scottish clans had a plant symbol, and the Gaelic name of the plant worn by the MacArthurs has a most intriguing and impressive translation).

Much as I found the information available on the Clann Arthur website useful in the course of my work on The King Arthur Conspiracy, I refrained from contacting the clan on the grounds that I wanted to research and write my own history of Arthur, and not the history of the Arthur clan.  Now, however, I feel free to liaise with the Seannachie who, along with other Scottish researchers (Stuart McHardy, Adam Ardrey), is working so hard to raise awareness of the historical Arthur.

That work is not made any easier by the intransigence and arrogance of certain Arthur scholars.  Which brings me back to the title of my Arthur book.  The "conspiracy" in question was not just the conspiracy to end the life of the historical Arthur - it is an ongoing conspiracy to prevent the real "King Arthur" coming to light.  The British establishment is built on its own myth of the past, of which Arthur is a major element.  A latent English nationalism (which dares not speak its name) refuses to accept that King Arthur was anything other than - well, if not an Englishman, then at least recognisably imperialistic and by-and-large English.  The fact that there is NO REAL EVIDENCE WHATSOEVER for the existence of the mythical Arthur who preceded Artuir mac Aedain means nothing to those whose notion of Arthur forms part of a patriotic pseudo-history of England.  And yet, the only way they can explain the fact that the first Arthur to appear in any historical records is Artuir mac Aedain is to pretend that there must have been an earlier (more "English") Arthur after whom Artuir was named.  It's a bizarre, pointless and endlessly circular argument, with no evidence to support it.  Which is partly why most Arthur "experts" decline even to mention the historical records in which the first named Arthur - a Scottish prince - appears.

But all this is, or at least could be, changing.  With the vote for Scottish Independence looming, and a growing number of historians (including Michael Wood, popular denizen of the BBC schedules for many years) pointing to Artuir mac Aedain as the probable origin of the Arthurian legends, I'm fairly confident that the Scottish Arthur will soon become a talking point.  Others will join in the quest to reveal his life story and legacy.  And it will be more and more difficult to support the "Earlier Arthur" fiction.  That Arthur is purely speculative.  The real King Arthur, Artuir mac Aedain, undoubtedly existed.

There will be more research and more information coming from the Clan Arthur Seannachie, and every little bit is another piece in a tantalising jigsaw.  Finally, the real Arthur is being revealed.

Although, as Hugh McArthur pointed out to me, much excellent work had been done on this subject before the First World War, by scholars such as J.S. Glennie and W.F. Skene.  But with the First World War, it is as if the English refused to let go of a culture hero who (in reality) was their bitter enemy (the irony being, of course, that the English were originally Germanic - so that, in order to distance themselves from their enemies in the Great War, they embraced ever more rigidly a British hero who had fought against their ancestors!).  The strides taken by Victorian scholars in identifying the Scottish origins of Arthur and his legends were quietly sidelined and forgotten.  Back to square one.

I get a great sense of pride and purpose in being able to work in tandem with those who will not accept that Arthur was a fanciful creation of an English elite, but that he was, in reality, a Scottish prince, whose existence - unlike that of the "English" Arthur - is a matter of fact.

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