The Pendragon's Banner Trilogy
King Arthur - the story as it
might have really happened?
might have really happened?
Who became the man
Who became the king
Who became the legend
The Pendragon's Banner Trilogy
What is the truth behind the familiar stories of King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table? There is no evidence for "King" Arthur ever existing - but the stories must have come from somewhere - or someone. Surely?
My Pendragon's Banner Trilogy strips away all the made-up Medieval myth and mayhem and delves deeper into history, uncovering the early, more real version of the man we know as 'Arthur'.
Here you will find no Merlin, no Lancelot. No holy grail, round table or knights in armour. Instead, a believable warts and all Arthur, set in the Dark Ages of the 5th & 6th centuries between the going of the Romans and the coming of the Anglo Saxons.
This is the story as it might have really happened.
Arthur is no chivalric Christian King in this tale, but a man who has to fight hard to win his kingdom - and even harder to keep it!
So Who Was The Real King Arthur?
Anything connected with King Arthur must only be conjecture; there is no factual proof of evidence for his existence, which is why so many historians/ authors/ enthusiasts argue like mad about the various theories, everyone insisting their idea is the truth. I usually take a middle ground and agree to disagree.
The matter of Arthur, however, must be regarded with caution.
The matter of Arthur, however, must be regarded with caution.
If Arthur existed there is nothing factually concrete to place him in an exact period. Was he pre-Roman? Romano-British, post Roman or early British-Saxon? Or, as some believe, much later, 11th- 12th century?
Existence in the later period is highly unlikely as he would have been well documented, so Arthur most definitely did not clank around in armour, live in a stone-built, turreted castle or undertake chivalric deeds as a courtly knight. Post Roman seems the more likely placing, in that chaotic ‘Dark Age’ time between the going of Rome and the coming of the English (roughly 450 – 550 AD)
I personally think the scanty references we do have that mention Arthur (Gildas, Nennius etc) are fairly accurate records, but unfortunately the Medieval monks – and the Victorians - altered so many ‘facts’ that the truth has become distorted, i.e. the Victorians invented horns for Viking helmets, scythes for Boudica’s chariot – and everyone in early history (except Vikings) was vertically challenged height-wise!
The good thing about Arthur, for us authors, is that we have a free rein to write what we want, within (and even outside of) reason.
When writing the Pendragon’s Banner Trilogy I chose to have no myth, magic, fantasy or Norman make-believe. I did not want Lancelot, the Holy Grail or Arthur as a chivalric King. There was to be no Merlin, no magic sword in the stone. Nor was there to be the love triangle. I plain and simply do not see Arthur as a cuckolded king.
I went back to the early Welsh legends which portray him in a very different light. We have Arthur kicking a woman, stealing cattle – there is even the possibility of him killing his own son – these story-lines conjured a far more intriguing, and in my mind, believable man than the Medieval King Arthur. Would a king of that period really allow his queen to swan off with his best knight? I very much doubt it!
Plus, I could not see Gwenhwyfar as I call her (Guinevere) falling for a goody-two-shoes like Lancelot anyway. (Boy am I going to get some stick for writing this article! J)
Those earlier legends intrigued me: why did Arthur kick a woman, what were the circumstances that made him steal cattle from a monastery. How/why did his son die? Add to that there were references to three sons in all (not including Mordred) One was killed by a boar, one by his own father, one was the son of “Arthur the Soldier”. I couldn’t resist the drama of using those three tragic tales, and of course I do not doubt that Gwenhwyfar was their mother.
I am of the firm conviction that no king worth his salt would have gone off in search of a Holy Grail leaving his kingdom open to unrest. Mind you, Richard I did just that, I suppose , abandoning his kingdom in favour of the Crusades – but then, I consider he was useless as a ruling king for England, so I rest my case. The Holy Grail story-line was nothing more than Medieval spindoctoring to promote the glory of the Crusades. ‘Your Kingdom needs you! Join Arthur in the Quest for the Holy Grail – come on Crusade!’
But there is, I discovered, a logical pointer to Arthur leaving his kingdom and going off on a ‘quest’. A man called Riothamus fought against the migrating tribes threatening Gaul and his own Brittany.
Brittany in the Dark Ages was a part of Britain, an extension of Cornwall, and Riothamus – who definitely did exist – was probably only a title meaning something like ‘King Most’ or ‘Supreme Lord’. So here was a good, believable explanation as to why Arthur left Britain; he was defending his own territory, not going off after a mythical holy goblet.
I decided to use this theme in the third part of the Trilogy, Shadow of the King, as I wanted to write something different to what was usually expected. What if Arthur was Riothamus and he took his Artoriani Cavalry to Brittany? And what if he did not come back, because he was presumed dead?
Of course, I am not going to answer those questions, you will have to read the book, but I will leave you with this thought to chew on:
Mordred is named as Medraut in the early legends, and there is not one mention of him being the evil toad he becomes in the later Medieval tales. He may well have been Arthur’s fourth son, possibly illegitimate, but the reference states:
“The battle of Camlann, in which Medraut and Arthur fell.”
It is a distinct possibility that he fought – and died - on Arthur’s side.
The nice things about combining legend with fiction is that as long as it is plausible, anything will make a good story. And while there is enough imagination to go round, and people are willing to keep writing, there will always be good, entertaining stories about King Arthur, be his story set as what might have rally happened, as a knight in armour, a sleeping Time Lord or as a space man in a space ship.
Who cares? Hurrah for imagination and the darn good story teller.
Long may Arthur reign as King of Fiction.
From my Author's Notes
|US edition Cover|
There is very little evidence for what really happened in the hundred years or so between the going of the Romans and the dominance of Britain by the Anglo-Saxons, the English. There is a period of myth and romance, a Dark Age where knowledge has been forgotten and replaced by stories. As time has passed, these tales have become more and more distorted; events and characters exaggerated or invented. We have a few, challengeable facts and even fewer names, the best-known being Arthur and his wife Guinevere or, as I call her, Gwenhwyfar.
|UK edition Cover|
Whether Arthur was real or a character of fiction is not certain. We do know fifth century Britain was in turmoil, and that someone had the strength to apply organisation to the chaos. If it was not ‘Arthur’, there is no other legendary character to fit the gap.
My Pendragon’s Banner trilogy is my personal view of those Dark Ages. I am not an historian; I speak no Welsh or Latin. I am not expressing fact, merely what might have been. The dates are my own interpretation, gleaned from a hotch-potch of muddled theories and chronologies. They may not tally with those proposed by the professional historian, but as virtually no date of this period can be established as absolute fact, I feel I can justify my theories.
Some few situations and people in my story are indeed fact. Vortigern lived, although this now commonly used name may then have been a title meaning something like ‘overlord’. Hengest probably existed, as did Cerdic. Emrys, who fleetingly appears in Book One, is better known by his Roman name, Ambrosius Aurelianus. He did exist. Exactly when and where, is open to question, but possibly in the south. Usually he is placed before Arthur, but to my mind this is not logical, and so in this trilogy he comes after. You will discover how and why in Book Two, Pendragon’s Banner, and in particular in Book Three, Shadow of the King. Cunedda and his sons are acclaimed as the founders of the Gwynedd dynasty, leading down to Llewelyn, Prince of Wales, who died fighting against Edward I of England, who then plundered Wales for his own. It is told Cunedda migrated into Gwynedd from the territory of the Votadini, which ran from modern Edinburgh down into Northumbria. Why and how and when we do not know, except, if it is true, it must have been after Rome had abandoned Britain to look to her own defence and before the firm hold of settled Anglo-Saxons. Some time, therefore, in the early fifth century.
I invented Gwenhwyfar as Cunedda’s daughter because I wanted to include him in my story. Imagine my delight when, on searching through some early genealogies (which admittedly are extremely unreliable), I discovered he did have a daughter called Gwen! In all probability she was not Gwenhwyfar, wife to Arthur - but the wonderful thing about this period of history for a writer of fiction is that ‘probably’ cannot be proven as ‘unlikely’! Any writer on these unknown Dark Ages has a free rein of imagination - although I have tried my best to keep that rein curbed within the margin of at least the plausible. For any errors, I apologise, or claim poetic licence!
As for Arthur, no one knows if he was real. A few scattered poems and early Welsh bardic tales were adopted by the twelfth century Normans who were responsible for the stories we know so well today. The knights, chivalrous deeds and the Round Table belong to this later period, as did the fictitious invention of Lancelot, his adultery with Gwenhwyfar, and Merlin the wizard. You will not find them in my tale.
Early references to Arthur do not portray him as a chivalric, benevolent king - the opposite in fact. A down-to-earth, ruthless war leader. This, then, is my Arthur. There are no court niceties in The Kingmaking. Legend tells of Gwenhwyfar’s abduction and rape by Melwas, and of the pagan women at Glastonbury. I am not the first person to suggest Arthur may have married a daughter of Vortigern and that Cerdic may have been his son.
The tale of Gwynllyw and Gwladys’s flight from her father is also an old one, complete with Arthur playing dice and lusting after her, and Cei’s outraged reprimand.
For places and personal names I have often had to invent my own, or used a mixture of Latin, Welsh and English. The language my characters use would also have been one of the three tongues. On the whole, I assume Arthur and Gwenhwyfar would be talking in British (Welsh). I have, through necessity, taken one or two liberties with my use of Welsh, for which I apologise. When Arthur first gives Gwenhwyfar her ‘nickname’ he would probably have said something like ‘fy nghymraes fach i’ - my little Welsh woman - which is unfortunately too ponderous for those of us who struggle with Welsh pronunciation. I have therefore settled for the more familiar ‘Cymraes’.
Some terms are blatantly out of context with the period but I have used them because they are more familiar in meaning to our modern times.
For instance, ‘moustache’ is not a contemporary word – but to say ‘trail of hair on the upper lip’ is clumsy and slightly absurd. Another is ‘witch’. Correctly, perhaps, I should have used ‘hag’, but this conjures up a picture of a bent old crone, which is not the description I wanted. It is uncertain how soon after the going of Rome the term ‘king’ became used. Emerging leaders at this time were perhaps warlords, overlords or supreme commanders, but I have used ‘king’ because it conveys a consistent meaning in our modern tongue. The terms and traditions surrounding dowries and a man’s heir may also, technically, be slightly out of place, but again I stress this is primarily a novel, not a factual record.
The skirmish along the Devil’s Dyke in Cambridgeshire is embroidered by my own fancy, for it is not certain when this, and similar earthworks cutting at right angles across the ancient Icknield Way, were first constructed. Some archaeologists and historians place them any time from the Roman period to as late as the seventh century. I feel the Devil’s Dyke is neither Saxon nor Roman but an earlier, Celtic boundary. It seems logical that it formed a man-built ‘gateway’ between the natural defences of the Ouse and the Stour, dense woodland and impassable marsh. The only unprotected area into the ancient kingdom of the Iceni was the 7.5 miles intersected by the ridge along which ran the Way. Iceni artefacts have been found to the north of the Dyke, but few to the south. Therefore I believe the Devil’s Dyke would already have been around 400 years old at the time when, in my tale, Arthur was grumbling about Vortigern’s incompetence.
|Original cover of 1st edition |
There were indeed battles at Agealesthrep (Aylesford, Kent) and Crecganford (Crayford, Kent), though the dates are not precise. The Cantii territory does seem to have been settled at an early date. Cantii had become Kent; the name Canterbury still echoes its British inheritance.
I have used the Arabian type horse for Arthur’s mounts for no reason except I like the breed. There have been many horse bones found on Roman sites that are very similar to this distinctive horse, so my whim is not entirely fanciful - and no one is certain just how or when the Arabian features were first bred into the sturdy Welsh breed of today’s ponies. I like to think this was Cunedda’s doing!
There possibly really was a massacre of Vortigern’s Council; Gloucester (Caer Gloui) is renowned for flooding; and archaeologists found a Saxon brooch among the broken Roman roof tiles in Londinium…
|US edition Cover|
Arthur, the chivalric king of the Medieval story, is not the same Arthur who appears in some of the early tales that we have of him. In these, we hear of his anger at a woman who was trying to seduce one of his men, and the consequent attack on her. He is often portrayed as someone who steals from the Church. Almost, it seems, this Arthur was condemned by the Christian priests, not revered as the man who, in the stories of five hundred or so years later, initiates the finding of the Holy Grail and who carried the portrait of the Virgin on his shoulder or shield. For that particular episode, I am satisfied that my explanation is reasonable. There are many instances of the old pagan beliefs becoming intertwined with the new embryonic Christianity. The Mother Goddess most certainly metamorphosised into the Virgin Mary.
|UK edition Cover|
Hueil is fact - stories tell of a feud with Arthur. Those stories of Ider relate how the young man sets out to prove himself by slaying the three giants of Brent Knoll; in some stories he kills the giants but dies himself, in others, he survives. My version is a deviation, but is based on these early tales. Arthur’s jealousy against Ider is also part of that old telling, as are the episodes of the bear in Gwenhwyfar’s tent and Arthur questioning her about whom she would marry after his death.
Amlawdd was probably a factual character, but through the passing of time we have lost his real identity. I have used his name and existence to fit with my story but admit my usage may not be accurate. So very little of this long-past, dark age of our history is known to us as fact. A novelist’s dream, for we have a free rein of imaginative invention!
Legend has it that the King’s and Queen’s Crags near Hadrian’s Wall are so called because Arthur and Gwenhwyfar quarrelled there - even the throwing of the comb is part of that story. Apparently, you can see the mark on a rock where it fell! There are so many hills and stones named after Arthur, and I have used those few that seemed appropriate, those that tied in with my ideas.
Vercovicium is only a suggested name for Houseteads, we do not know its definite Roman name, and I confess that Winifred Castre for Winchester is total fabrication on my part - my only defence is that there is no agreed explanation for this city’s name! Caer Cadan is also my own. I needed something to reflect the Camelot of legend with the actual hill fort of Cadbury Castle, Somerset. Strictly speaking the “c” of Cadan should, in today’s Welsh, mutate to a “g” (Gadan). However, I have been advised that mutations did not influence the language until well after Arthur’s time, and I therefore ask Welsh-speaking readers to forgive my liberty. The building of the Valle Crucis Abbey come a long time after my story - but who knows what early buildings stood there first?
The Wandsdyke was built after the Romans but before the Saxons as a defence against the north. The English did not know of it before they conquered this area, hence its name, ‘Woden’s dyke’. It seems strange that if Wandsdyke was built to keep the Saxons out, why did they not know of it? The answer can only be because it was built long before they were in that area, and must therefore have been erected by British against British. It has often been attributed to Ambrosius, but as there is no proof of this, I have given its building to Arthur.
The Medieval Norman stories - created when only the first-born, legitimate male inherited - make much of Arthur having no son. Earlier references contradict this. Nennius writing his Historia Brittonum in the ninth century, mentions Amr who was ‘slain by his father, Arthur the soldier” and who was buried beneath the ancient stones in what is now Hereford. Llacheu, Arthur’s son, was killed in battle and in the Mabinogion, we find the story of Gwydre, son of Arthur, killed by the boar Twrch Trwyth.
Nennius is also a source of Arthur’s battles. He describes twelve, the locations of which are heatedly debated. My conclusions are a general hotchpotch of theory and guesswork. For those who know about Arthur, and are asking, “But what about the battle of Badon?” you will have to wait for book three, Shadow of the King.
The distances and speed of Arthur’s horses are not far fetched. It is quite possible to average thirty or forty (modern) miles a day without overtaxing horses if they have adequate feeding, a moderated pace and the occasional day’s rest. In 207 BC the Consul Nero covered three hundred miles in a seven-day forced march with no ill effect, save the horses lost weight.
The story of Gwenhwyfar’s offer to be shared between Arthur and Amlawdd is borrowed from a most ancient tale. Correctly, the other man involved should have been Melwas, who appeared briefly in The Kingmaking, but Gwenhwyfar’s trickery did not fit neatly into that particular story and so I have used it against Amlawdd in this. The same story is also credited to Tristan and Isolde. Perhaps those early Tellers of Tales felt justified in re-using a good plot to fit their heroine’s needs? I feel equally justified in blatantly borrowing it for myself!
Shadow of the King
|US edition Cover|
|UK edition Cover|
If dates cannot be agreed upon, the matter of Arthur himself is even more debatable! There is much passion and heated disagreement concerning the various theories of Arthur’s how, when, and where. Indeed, it has not even been established whether he ever truly existed outside the realm of the imagination.
Cerdic is also an anomaly. He is named as a leader of Saxons - those men who were the founders of Wessex - but his name is British. It has been widely assumed that his father was British-born. I am not the only person to suggest his father could have been Arthur.
Ambrosius Aurelianus existed. Gildas writes fondly of him as ‘the last of the Romans’. The fortresses I have named after him in my story may, in fact, have nothing to do with him, but again, I am not the only one to have suggested it. I decided to use them because those in modem Epping Forest (Ambersbury Banks and Loughton Camp) are near to where I live - anyway, why not?
Gildas lived. Although again, my dates may not be accurate. We know he wrote some time during the early sixth century. His book complains about the moral decline of religion; it is not a history. He does mention the siege at Badon, although his dating is frustratingly ambiguous - and who was his ‘filthy lioness’? He rebukes her son for murder in a holy place, but that is all we know of her. I have made her Archfedd, Arthur’s daughter, but obviously I have no evidence whatsoever to back this. He probably knew Ambrosius, most certainly knew Maelgwyn of Gwynedd, Aurelius Caninus and Vortipor, for he soundly rebukes their crimes and sins. Why did he not mention Arthur? I believe because by the time he was writing, Arthur was already dead and was irrelevant to his narrative. It might also have been because Gildas’s loyalty could not lie with the Pendragon because of his eldest brother’s death ... the Stone exists at Rhuthun (Ruthin), the legend of Hueil’s execution by Arthur along with it.
Geraint’s death at the battle of Llongborth is fact. An early Welsh poem describing the event is highly dramatic and so sad. After the war-cry, bitter the grave. It was a battle that heavily featured cavalry, and is one of the first poems to mention Arthur’s men. For the Saxons involved, Port is probably a fabricated name, but I have used it anyway. From the Saxon Wihtgar, the Isle of Wight apparently gets its name. Ambrosius did fight Vitolinus and gain a rather doubtful victory at Guoloph, and Aelle was the first Saxon Bretwalda, and did attack Anderida (Pevensey).
My version of the story of ‘the Loathly Lady’ - Ragnall - does not quite follow the known tale, for mine is more of an interpretation on a theme; and of course I have substituted Cadwy, Ambrosius Aurelianus’s son, for the Sir Gawain of the more familiar medieval legend.
As for Medraut, the Mordred of later tales, he is usually portrayed as the traitor, the one who fought against his father, but an early poem does not support this. The battle of Camlann in which Arthur and Medraut fell ... There is nothing here to suggest they fought on opposing sides. For once, and to be different, I have made Medraut more of a ‘good guy’ - if a somewhat misguided one.
The contagious disease we now call strangles is as much a worry to horse-owners of today as it was in the past. The illness is mentioned in Chapter V of Pelagonius’s veterinary notes under the heading Cures and medicines for head ailments’. The majority of cures appear only once in this section, but strangles is mentioned on seven occasions, indicating how prevalent this illness must have been during Roman times. Perhaps my one questionable fact would be that this disease mainly affects young horses and only occasionally the old. However, given the lack of knowledge about contagion in the fifth century, I do not think it unreasonable to suppose that a horse like Onager could contract it.
As with many totally unconnected legends, the Wookey Hole Witch came to be associated with the stories of Arthur. She was a reality, an old woman living in the caves whose skeleton was found with an alabaster ball. She actually dates from the early eleventh century and so could not possibly be Morgaine. Poetic licence can be allowed to stretch the imagination occasionally; and besides, people are known to have lived in the caves from about 2500 BC. It is not unreasonable to suggest a lone woman could have been there in the fifth century.
And a note here on the difference between British and English. The British were the Britons – the Romano Celts. The English were the Angles, Saxons and Jutes – basically foreign invaders and settlers. Sixth Century immigrants. The British Celts are the true inhabitants of what we now call ‘England’, not the English! The modern ‘Welsh’ are also Britons. Wealas is a Saxon word for ‘foreigner’.
Many of the British place and river names have been lost to us. On the whole, I have used what I have felt comfortable with, although these may not always be totally accurate. To the historian or professional, I apologise for any liberties; but again, I emphasise this is a story, a novel. It is not meant as a scholarly, historical work.
Geoffrey Ashe’s book The Discovery of King Arthur put the idea of a campaign in Gaul into my mind. Not everyone agrees with his theories, but I am grateful for the inspiration behind what - I hope - proves to be a good story! Shadow of the King follows his theory, in which he suggested Arthur could have been Riothamus, a war leader who did exist. We have several references to prove that fact, in particular, a letter to him from Sidonius Apollinaris - a letter which I have used in my story. Riothamus was King of the Britons - but does this mean the British or the Bretons? Riothamus, like so many names of this period was a title meaning something like King Most or Supreme Leader. Today, the title Prince of Wales refers to Prince Charles, but could equally mean the notorious Prince Regent or the Welsh Llewelyn ap Gryffydd, the only true Welsh Prince of Wales!
The battle at Deols (Vicus Dolensis) was fought between “the British” and the Goths. Syagrius’s army did fail to arrive, and the British were slaughtered. Riothamus fled into Burgundy and was never heard of again.
Was he Arthur? Mr Ashe’s theory has been hotly disputed, but I think it is as plausible as many alternative suggestions regarding Arthur. And there is no faultless evidence to prove Riothamus was not Arthur! The one, major factor again is the dating. Sidonius was already Bishop of Clermont Ferrand when he wrote his letter to Riothamus. Was he inaugurated as Bishop before 469 or after the battle of Deols? Or perhaps Riothamus was just a nuisance, a minor warlord who plagued that area for several years. Perhaps he was Arthur. It is up to the individual to decide.
As for the man, Ecdicius, and the siege of Clermont Ferrand (Augustonemtum), eighteen men against several thousand Goths? Surely not! Well, we have another letter from Sidonius Apollinaris praising his brother-in-law for just such a wondrous victory! The letter was written before 475 and there is no reason to disbelieve its contents. Well-armed cavalry can wreak havoc among poorly equipped, startled infantry.
But was Ecdicius trained by Arthur?
If Arthur truly lived, and if he was Riothamus? Who knows?