Discover more from Aurochs, Arthur, and the Anvil
The Death of Arthur
Reevaluating the possible historical scenario behind The Battle of Camlann found in the Welsh Annals.
In my earlier article on Arthur’s battles I discussed some possibilities for where Camlann may have happened, and in my short narrative histories I have also made some connections and created what was a likely scenario for the Battle of Camlann. This is akin to weaving textiles without a loom, difficult, but not impossible. I think it worth a short article tying it all together. Catraeth which is discussed in the article below acts as an interesting echo of Camlann, and shares some similarities, with Urien, much like Arthur/Arthwys, fighting to maintain a High-Kingship, except Urien is successful whereas Arthur is not.
A quick note before we begin. Many have read my article on the Northern Arthur, Arthwys ap Mar, who I believe is the initial inspiration for the Arthur of the Annales Cambriae and of Nennius. Some will initially balk at the proposition that one can extrapolate so much from so little, but the thing is we aren’t working from so little. There is a modern mindset of “These are the hard facts we have and that’s all we have” zero attempt at connecting dots or logical extrapolation from these pieces. With regards to Arthwys there are two primary pieces that we glean info from first. The first is the genealogies, from which we can find datable figures and extrapolate the most likely floruits for these various figures. The second is Geoffrey of Monmouth’s figure of Archgallo or Arthgallo.
While I will spare the majority of the details for the sake of brevity, I will still summarize. Arthgallo exists in a portion of Geoffrey’s work that is more or less identical to the pedigrees of the Coeling (descendants of Coel Hen, the King of Northern Britain roughly from the fall of Rome to around 440). From this we can glean a little more information about Arthwys himself. Arthwys as a name also is possibly linked to the name Arthur itself, which you can read about here, in an article from my friend.
From this information it stands that Arthwys may be the earliest incarnation of the name Arthur that we have on record, and with his most likely floruit, he is prime to be the Arthur of the battle of Badon, but also fits as the elderly Arthur of the wastland and Camlann nicely as well, being in his mid to late sixties.
When making these undertakings on looking at the shadowy figures of the Brythonic Heroic Age, especially Arthur, you must, much like Geoffrey Ashe does in his work linking Arthur to Riothamus make the leap that the figure you are presenting as Arthur is there all along, he just isn’t in the documents under his own name but under Arthur. As such you must assume then that a mention of Arthur is a mention of your Candidate, as such in Ashe’s case Arthur and Riothamus become identical, the same goes with my work, where Arthur and Arthwys are identical. With this approach when can then take a look at everything we have regarding the event at hand, Camlann.
With that out of the way we can begin looking at the events leading up to Camlann.
Arthwys came to power as the king of Ebrauc some time in the early 490s, and shortly after saved the day at the battle of Badon, of which the Annals tells us
“The twelfth battle was on Mount Badon in which there fell in one day 960 men from one charge by Arthur; and no one struck them down except Arthur himself”
Some have taken the ‘Arthur Himself’ line to be a mythical flourish, and while 960 is undoubtedly not a correct figure, and likely holds some rough extrapolation of a less specific term used in whatever source Nennius drew from, I believe this passage likely originally implied that of all the commanders and warbands at Badon, it was Arthur’s warband (and thus Arthwys’) that saved the day with a significant cavalry charge that broke the enemy forces. After this grand victory, Arthwys returned home to the north. The beginnings of the Arthurian ‘empire’ are sown here. During the generally accepted post-Badon ‘Pax-Arthuriana’ Arthwys fought no major battles, but likely came into conflict with a northern chieftain named Caw, or Cawnur/Caunus, and his son Heuil. Caw had deposed the young king Tutagual of Alt Clut (or possibly his father), and eventually tensions boiled, likely stemming from cattle raiding as my friendpoints out, leading to Arthwys likely removing Caw by force, beginning a feud that would last a generation. After this two buffer states were established.
The kingdom that became Caer Wenddoleu was carved out of Alt Clut’s territory, protecting the border between it and Rheged (The territory of Arthwys’ cousins Meirchion and later his son Cynfarch). This was probably initially ruled by Arthwys’ brother Morydd. Morydd’s grandson Myrddin is heavily associated with this kingdom, but did not rule it, meaning that while his family may have held significant power at an earlier period, that power transitioned at some point, and in fact, transitioned from Morydd’s family to Arthwys’ son Ceidio. Another kingdom, called Calchfynydd, was carved out across the border between Bryneich (also Coeling territory), Alt Clut, and the territory of the Gododdin. While it is likely that this territory was initially governed by one of Arthwys’ brothers (who generally are not able to be associated with a northern territory) power at some point again transferred to one of Arthwys’ sons, in this case Cynfelyn.
In the case of Caer Wenddoleu, power may have transferred after conflicts started by Morydd’s son Madog. From my article discussing the trope of Guinevere’s abduction:
There is a relief carved into an arch of the Duomo di Modena cathedral Italy depicting this very story. Mardoc (Madog) holds Winlogee (Guinevere) in a tower, and is approached by Artus de Bretania (Arthur) and Isdernus (Edern) to rescue her.
If legend holds true, the Picts and the Gododdin may have also had a hand in such a raid, stealing women and cattle. This places Madog in disfavor and as such, he is disinherited, though this along with the conflict with Hueil mab Caw begins to set the stage for the next steps. During this conflict (roughly around 530-531, Arthwys subdued the Gododdin and the Picts, and brought them under the umbrella of his High-Kingship. He is crowned as Gartnait I, within the Pictish regnal lists. This is corroborated by Artuir mac Aedan, a latter Arthur also likely ruling as Gartnait II, king of the Picts under his father Aedan of Dal Riata.
The idea of Arthur as a King of all Britain very well may have been inspired by this large High-Kingship evidenced by the above mentioned territory gains of Arthwys’ children. This northern ‘empire’ seemingly is accepted and does well for a few years, until calamity unlike anything in living memory happened. In late 535 or early 536 a volcanic eruption changed Arthur’s Britain into the well known Wasteland of later legend. This caused widespread devastation across the world, bringing a volcanic winter that caused crop failures, and allowed the Plague of Justinian to spread amongst the weakened populace much easier. The old conflict with Caw’s family arises as the northern kingdoms rally together, lines were drawn between shared kinship, with the Coeling facing down the other kingdoms of the North. Spurred on by the desperate conditions of the near-apocalyptic volcanic winter, a raid was planned on Rheged, who thrived upon a herding based economy, and was likely less affected initially by the horrid conditions.
As my friendhas fantastically shed light on, Camlann is likely the subject of Marwnad Vther Pen, commemorating the battle either from the point of view of Arthur, as suggests, or alternatively his son Eliffer Gosgorddfawr, also known as ElUTHERius
It is I who defended my sanctuary
in the fight to the death against Casnur’s kin
with vigorous swordstroke against Cawrnur’s sons
The children of Letan of the Gododdin, Medraut, and Gerguan, historical precedents for both Mordred and Gawain, likely joined in with Caw, once again referencing
Anticipating another raid the Coeling ambushed a combined force from Strathclyde, Gododdin and Pictland. This is “when the bands of four men feed between two plains” at Camboglanna. The four men were Dux Bellorum Arthwys Uthyr Pendragon allied with Meirchion the Lean of Rheged (With Urien and Taliesin in his host) fighting against “Cawrnur’s sons” lead by King Hueil ap Caw who was allied with Medraut ap Letan of Gododdin.
Meirchion or his son Cynfarch may have been one of the ‘Four’, but another of the four may have been Morydd ap Mar, the brother of Arthwys, who as seen earlier had descendants associated with Caer Wenddoleu. Morydd may have been the initial force to encounter Hueil’s coalition, and may even have been driven back in a defensive war of attrition, falling back through his territory, unable to contend with the combined might of the Picts under Hueil, and the Gododdin under Medraut. Aid finally arrives with Meirchion and Arthwys coming to relieve Morydd. Arthwys as the triads state, divides his forces three-fold, with part going to Morydd, who ends up conflated with the villainous Medraut. The third portion of the army is not remembered in the triads, however, it may have been given to Cynfarch and his young son Urien, who was around 17 at the time of the battle. With the territory Arthwys held he likely had a significant retinue still, even during the decline of the 6th century. The battle leaves all of the participants in a poor state. Arthwys dies to a young warrior within Medraut’s retinue, named Cydywal. For once Arthwys is remembered by his actual name (although misinterpreted as the later iteration Athrwys) as Cydywal’s victim.
Son of Swyno, a seer foretold –
died for his honour, to be called a hero,
killed Athrwys and Affrai
with his own sword.
Morydd and Medraut both perish, further tying them together, and explaining the honorable Mordred of some accounts, and the despicable of others. Camlann is remembered by the Annales Cambriae
The Strife of Camlann in which Arthur and Medraut (Mordred) fell and there was death in Britain and in Ireland.
The battle leaves a vacuum of power that Eliffer stepped in and fulfilled for a around ten years, until his death at the ascent of Ida of Bernicia in 547. Urien’s time had come, and he steps up to become the high-king of his day, but the seeds for his own doom were sown on the fateful day of the Battle of Camlann in 537. The old enmity between the Coeling and the Gododdin would lay dormant for forty years before Urien found himself attacked in a raid not unlike Camlann, except this time his own kin, grandchildren and great-nephews of Arthwys came down up on him at Catraeth. Though Urien was the victor, his own kinsmen grew ever more jealous and untrusting, leading to his assassination, just when the Angles were almost driven out of Britain for good.