The Northern Arthur
How a Prince of Brythonic York may have started it all.
*Note from Aurochs*
Over the last few months I’ve put out a few more pieces of content here and there that enhance this article quite a bit, so I have decided it was time to go ahead and update it with a little bit of new info and a decent amount of clarification. Even if you have read this article before, I hope you will read this update and enjoy.
The Forgotten Tribe
When the Celtic peoples of Northern Britain are discussed, most will think of the Scots, while others will think of the Picts. Some will bring up the Gododdin. The Gododdin are but one of the numerous Brythonic derived tribes in Northern Britain. Other lesser known Northern British tribes like the Brigantes may have had far reaching influence that we still don’t fully grasp. I would like to make a case that a Brythonic prince descended from these people was the first historic Arthur, who in the wake of the upheaval of Britain in the late 5th and early 6th century may have made an impression so lasting, that close to fifty generations after his death, he is still a household name. He is immortalized in poetry, films, books, T.V. shows, and with worldwide fame, amongst peoples and places he could never have dreamed of, and with twists and turns to his story that he wouldn’t believe possible.
This, especially by me, is well-trodden ground, but I would like to bring most of the parallels into one place, and try to build a case for a descendant of Coel Hen as the beginning of the King Arthur legend. A few others have identified this figure before and stretch everything possible to link him to Arthurian legend, and a few have done everything to imply him without explicitly naming him. The truth I believe, as it usually does, lies somewhere in between these extremes. There will be a few stretches in this article, bear with me though. There are scant precious sources for us to draw upon, but I think we can still work with something convincing from what we do have.
Aurochs, Arthur, and the Anvil is a reader-supported publication. To receive new posts and support my work, consider becoming a free or paid subscriber.
Who was Arthwys ap Mar
Arthwys ap Mar ap Ceneu ap Coel ap Tegfan, King of Greater Ebrauc, born around 470 A.D. and ruling as king from roughly 490 to the late 530s. His great-grandfather Coel Hen is one of the many Dynastic heads, similar to Ceredig of Alt Clut, Cunedda of Gwynedd, as well as Eudaf Hen. Coel established a large kingdom in the north after Roman withdrawal/Expulsion, functionally ruling the same area that the late Roman military position of the Dux Britanniarum was responsible for. Some have figured that Coel may have been the last man to hold that title with Roman authority, and as my friend p5ych0p0mp has pointed out in his latest article may have continued as a position akin to a high-king, which I will discuss more in depth later.
Arthwys himself has only featured in small snippets of scholarship until recently, and for quite a while experts considered him a King of the Pennines, but this would seem to be a misattribution. In a corruption in a later genealogy, Pabo Post Prydain, a King of the Pennines, is given as Arthwys’ son, but all evidence leads to him actually being Arthwys’ uncle. Either of these solutions cause problems with chronology for Pabo’s descendants, but that’s for a later article. Arthwys shows up in numerous genealogies, sometimes as the son of Mar, sometimes as the son of Masguid Gloff, who as Peter Bartrum reckons are likely the same man. We know very little directly aside from what we can draw from these genealogies, but there are a few hidden tidbits here and there that we can look at to help us supplement.
Smarter than the average bear
Let’s examine the name Arthwys, the origin of which is disputed, much like the name Arthur itself, which no one is able to give a dead to rights most likely origin. The name appears as Athrwys by the 7th century, suggested to be derived from Athro, a root for ‘master’, though Arthwys seems to be the earlier name. Arthwys, sometimes rendered Arthuis, may be derived from Arth (Bear) *uis, from Proto-Brythonic *gwɨs (Knowledge) Arthwys then may mean something like Smart Bear, or Bear of Knowledge. With this same logic the later version Athrwys may mean something like Master of Knowlege, or Teacher of Knowledge. The name Arthwys itself may have even become Arthur over time from copyists errors. Arthwys being a common spelling, it would be easy to see a smudged is becoming an r, rendering Arthwys to Arthur. This is of course conjecture, but, it is always a possibility for how a man named Arthwys ends up being referred to as Arthur years later. To add some more confusion to the mix is the Artognou stone. A translation of the stone gives us "Artognou descendant of Patern[us] Colus made (this)." Could Colus be Coel Hen, Arthwys’ great-grandfather? Artognou also has a curiously close meaning to Arthwys, derived from Brythonic *arto "bear" and *gnāwo- "to know" Possibly regional variations of the same name even? So here we have an Artognou (Bear-Knowing) descended from Colus, on an inscription dated to the same time period as Arthur's traditional post-Badon peace, contemporary with Arthwys, descended from Colus (Coel Hen?).
Arthur as a name itself as mentioned earlier is of debatable origin as well, with some giving a Roman origin in the Nomen gentilicium Artorius, although this is disputed and the origin of Artorius itself is also similarly hard to track down, with Etruscan, Celtic, and Greek origins suggested. One would expect to find Arthur latinized as Artorius often if that was the case, however it is always latinized as Arturus, Arthurus, or Arturius1. Others have proposed Bear-Man, Arto-uiros, or Artgur, both of which are also disputed. Sadly almost nothing rock solid to go on here. If both names have their root in bear, that may be a lead worth following, although I think the copyist error is always a possibility.
Lost in Calaterium
I have addressed this and laid out my theories on this in a prior article, so if you would like to read about this a little more thoroughly you can find that article below, otherwise I will summarize much of this below.
Geoffrey of Monmouth’s De gestis Britonum (Dgb) or Historia Regum Britanniae a much maligned pseudo-history, has been pored over by detractors and admirers alike. Much of what it says about Arthur seems to be contrived from many different sources, including local folklore, and others. Geoffrey was considered a charlatan even in his time, so many discount DGB in it’s entirety right off the bat, but I think this is unwise. Veritably throwing the baby out with the bathwater if you will. There are a couple of things going for Geoffrey when it comes to some semblance of historical truth
At a time when I was giving a good deal of attention to such matters, Walter, Archdeacon of Oxford, a man skilled in the art of public speaking and well-informed about the history of foreign countries, presented me with a certain very ancient book written in the British language. This book, attractively composed to form a consecutive and orderly narrative, set out all the deeds of these men, from Brutus, the first King of the Britons, down to Cadwallader, the son of Cadwallo. At Walter’s request I have taken the trouble to translate the book into Latin, although, indeed, I have been content with my own expressions and my own homely style and I have gathered no gaudy flowers of speech in other men’s gardens.
Now it would seem to me that Walter of Oxford would have been familiar with the book he had given Geoffrey, and may have taken issue with a misrepresentation of the work. Walter died in 1151, well after DGB was written in 1136. That is not to say that Geoffrey didn’t embellish things, and maybe added bits from folklore and hearsay, as when an event Geoffrey mentions can be corroborated, it is often wildly different from the other sources. Geoffrey can be useful, but we must take his writing with a grain of salt of course.
Enough with simultaneously flogging and defending Geoffrey. There is an interesting bit that seems to have been taken from an older chronicle or history that Geoffrey had access to. This could have been a regnal list with scant accompanying history, that Geoffrey embellished to create a history given for a short line of kings in ancient pre-Roman Britain that looks suspiciously familiar to one who has looked into the kings of the Hen Ogledd in the early Brythonic Heroic Age. This would seem coincidental, but it’s just too close to the genealogies for me to just let it go. This part of the narrative that Geoffrey weaves in DgB seems to stem from an early northern chronicle that has since been lost. Whether this chronicle had significant detail, or was little more than a regnal list that Geoffrey wove into a narrative we may never know, but this doesn’t take away it’s value in learning a little more about Arthwys ap Mar, who here appears as the latinized Archgallo (More likely Arthgallo) son of Morvidus, or the Welsh Arthal ap Morydd. By combining this with some of the most likely sites for Arthur’s Twelve battles from Nennius’ Historia Brittonum, which aside from Y Gododdin is likely the earliest text to mention Arthur I have created what I consider a somewhat convincing narrative of Arthwys ap Mar’s life and exploits. This is not without conjecture, and this is where I ask you to bear with me, as while it may seem a stretch, I do genuinely think this is getting close to what may have happened from roughly 480 a.d. to 537 a.d. concerning the kings of the failing Brythonic kingdom of Ebrauc. You can find this narrative below, but once again I will summarize within this article as well.
Arthwys' story begins with Mar’s death, and Mar's uncle Garbanian the king of Bryneich taking the throne of Ebrauc, either as regent to the young Arthwys or possibly as a usurper.2 Once Arthwys becomes old enough to lead a warband for his uncle he proceeds to win his first victories, fighting the Gododdin, the Angles, and Alt Clut, with possibly a costly victory fighting the sons of Dyfnwal Hen of Alt Clut with his cousin Dyfnwal Moelmud (Garbanian’s son) at the Caledonian forest, leading to Geoffrey’s story of Archgallo wandering in the forest of Calaterium. Arthwys, now a battle hardened commander decides that the time has come to take his home back and wins a series of victories against his Uncle Garbanian, winning his rightful throne of Ebrauc back. Now a king of such renown to be known to Brythonic peoples across the island, he leads a coalition of kings to fight a large force of Germanic invaders at the battle of Badon, either at The Wrekin, possibly coming to Cadell of Powys’ aid, or maybe as far south as Liddington Castle, freeing Dumnonia from Saxon rule for 30 years. Ruling from Ebrauc during this Pax Arthuriana it seems that in a rare event, the power of a Brythonic Kingdom grew, while most were waning.
We can find this with the establishment of two kingdoms, Caer Wenddoleu, and Calchfynydd, that acted as buffer states for the kingdoms within Arthwys’ influence. Mar, Arthwys’ father is often given a number of other sons, Llenneac, Morydd, Einion, and sometimes Ceredic. Only Llenneac seems to have inherited territory as his descendants ruled the kingdom of Elmet. Morydd, Einion, and Ceredic's descendents do not seem associated with any particular kingdoms however. Einion's son Rhun the Wealthy had a daughter who married Maelgwn Gwynedd, but is not associated with any territory in particular. His epithet Ryfeddfawr, means ‘The Wealthy’, and with his daughter’s marriage to Maelgwn this could indicate fairly high status still. Einion may be remembered in Geoffrey of Monmouths work DGB, as a son of the aforementioned Arthgallo (a typical jumbling here seen with the other figures in Geoffrey’s narrative.)
To him succeeded Enniaunus, his brother, who took a contrary course, and in the sixth year of his reign was deposed, for having preferred a tyrannical to a just and legal administration.
Perhaps this is a memory of Einion ap Mar as a corrupt and ineffective king, explaining why his son Rhun did not inherit?
Morydd as well seems to lack inheritance, but his later descendant Myrddin3 Is associated heavily with one of these new northern kingdoms that arose in the early 6th century, Caer Wenddoleu. Myrddin is often cited as the advisor and bard for Caer Wenddoleu's eponymous king Gwenddoleu ap Ceidio. Myrddin and Gwenddoleu are both descendants of Coel, so how did one come to serve the other?
The answer I think is that these two kingdoms, Calchfynydd and Caer Wenddoleu were both established as kingdoms for Arthwys’ brothers to reign, serving a dual purpose, the first being to give them their unportioned part of inheritance, as only Arthwys and Llenneac received parts of their father’s original kingdom of Ebrauc, and the second to create buffers between the hostile northern kingdoms and the other Coeling kingdoms. Shortly after Badon, Arthwys found himself at odds with the northern chieftain Caw, the father of Heil, Cywllog and Gildas. After defeating Caw it was clear that a strong presence must be established on the border between the non-Coeling kingdoms of the north. Morydd, with his grandson’s association with Caer Wenddoleu may have been the first ruler of that kingdom, with Ceidio ap Arthwys even fostered there. Morydd may have had children later in life, and upon his death Ceidio could have taken the realm for his own. Einion may have had a similar situation in Calchfynydd with power transferring not from father to son, but from uncle to nephew. These kingdoms probably changed hands from Arthwys’ brothers to his sons around 537 the year of the battle of Camlann, with power centers around Kelso for Calchfynydd, and Carwinley for Caer Wenddoleu. This gives even more strength to the idea of Arthwys as an ‘Overking’ or High-King in the North.
It seems that while Arthwys was a capable military commander, he was considerably less astute at making friends amongst the Brythonic kings. Sometime in eight late 535ad or early 536 a massive volcanic eruption changed the fates of the Brythonic kingdoms in Britain. After a generation of reprieve from Germanic advance and only a handful of localized small conflicts, a volcanic winter grips the island. Crop failure, plague, and death follow. The wasteland found in later legends is real. War between the Brythonic kingdoms rears it’s head again, the men of Gododdin and Alt Clut begin cattle raiding their Coeling neighbors to supplement their kingdom’s crop failure. Rheged was a major target as it seemed to prosper under the old king Merichion, Arthwys’ cousin and his son Cynfarch. Caw’s sons ally with Medraut ap Letan of the Gododdin (who was their Brother-in-Law via their sister Cywllog) and bring a fateful warband south in a desperate raid either attacking Morydd at Caer Wenddoleu first, or trying to attack the rich Meirchion. Arthwys and his brother Morydd come to Meirchion’s aid, and subsequently fall in the ensuing strife at Camboglanna (Camlann). They are immortalized in the Annales Cambriae entry for 537.
The strife of Camlann, in which Arthur and Medraut fell, and there was great mortality in Britain and Ireland.
After this Arthwys’ son Eliffer takes the throne, Ellifer likely dies around 547 fighting Ida of Bernicia. Eliffer’s sons Peredur and Gwrgi become co-kings, and eventually lose their kingdom to the Angles.
This is of course a truncated version of the narrative I have attempted to reconstruct. I cannot say for certain that everything here is correct, and we are making an assumption that the battles in Nennius are actually Arthwys ap Mar’s battles. I think the case for the Northeastern campaign is composed of the strongest candidates for the sites with a power center at Ebrauc, and Arthwys is in the right time and place so… this is where it makes sense to me.4
Keeping it in the family.
The case for Arthwys doesn’t end there however. Within the genealogies one finds many interesting parallels as well as direct inspirations for later Arthurian figures. Many of these men are within Arthwys’ paternal family. Once again we have to be careful about playing fast and loose with the “name game”, but some of these ‘almosts’ are quite compelling.
The first place to look is logically at his immediate family. Among these we find many figures associated with Arthur, not only in post-Galfridian works, but also in pre-Galfridian works, and Geoffrey himself. Once again, Geoffrey is not the most reliable source, but it is interesting that more than a few of these family members appear here. We find Pabo, Ceneu, and Garbanian, all who Geoffrey places at Arthur’s coronation, that is not to say that this coronation is the medieval style coronation that Geoffrey mentions, but possibly a Dark Age ceremony in a similar vein. We know Aedan of Dal Riada was coronated and anointed in the style of King David of the Old Testament (likely the first instance of this being done with a European monarch), roughly eighty years after Arthwys would have been, so we can surmise that Arthwys may have undergone a similar coronation sans anointing. His uncles and grandfather if alive, would have been extremely likely to be there at this coronation.
If we look at his cousin Meirchion ap Gwrwst, or even Meirchion’s son Cynfarch Oer, we have a possible inspiration for the King Mark of the Tristan and Isolde legend. Not only is Cynfarch Arthwys’ cousin, he is also remembered as Arthur’s cousin in the The Dream of Rhonabwy ‘March the son of Meirchawn’, a much later story. This is often held to be the Mark of Tristan and Isolde, and has often been placed in the south, as per the legendary version, however there is no strong evidence for a March or Cynmarch/Cynfarch in the south, much more likely that as the borders between the Celtic and Germanic worlds settled that the story’s setting was shifted significantly to more familar territories with the people who were still telling them. A little more unsure is the identification of Lot, or Loth, and his son Gawain, who sometimes appears as a son of Cynfarch, Lleuddan, and his son Gwrfan. Some have made the argument that the warrior Gwrfan Arfwyn (wild hair) in Culhwch and Olwen is an earlier version of Gawain, and Gwrfan ap Lleuddan and Gwrfan Arfwyn are thus the same as well. This is not without dispute though, as Letan of the Gododdin also has a son Gerguan (Gwalchmai). This may be a conflation of genealogies that gave Cynfarch a descendant he did not otherwise have.
Meirchion’s grandson provides another line. The famous Urien, ruler of Rheged and better known in the later legends as Uriens, King of Gore. Uriens is the husband of Arthur’s sister Morgan Le Fay. Morgan may be a later version of Urien’s wife in earlier sources Modron ferch Afallach. Modron is one of the interesting meldings of historical figures with pre-Christian, Pagan figures, as Modron seems to have been a mother goddess. She supposedly was a Sister-in-law to Maelgwn Gwynedd, and could possibly be named for this goddess figure, and later conflated to be the same, or she could have been entirely legendary, though Urien her husband is 100% historical. I do wonder how much of the assumed pagan tradition supposedly locked within Arthuriana is not in fact just real people named for these figures that had already long passed from being actively worshipped into country folklore or as distant ancestral figures. I would propose that Modron, a real woman, was then conflated with the goddess she was named for, which then morphs into the figure of Morgan Le Fay. Urien is slain by his distant cousin Morcant Bwlch, King of the steadily overrun kingdom of Bryneich, seemingly out of jealousy, though there are other possible political motivations at play. The historical Urien, who was quite old during his wars against the Angles may have been old enough to have participated in the fateful battle of Camlann, beginning his association with Arthur.
Urien’s son Owain appears as the later knight Yvain, the Knight of the Lion. Owain is said to have killed Fflamddwyn (the Flame stealer), the Welsh name for the Anglian king of the up and coming Anglish kingdom of Bernicia (Slowly consuming Morcant’s territory of Bryneich). This was likely Theodoric of Bernicia, but sometimes the name has been applied to Ida, Theodoric’s father. Upon his father Urien’s death, the historical Owain ap Urien fights against Arthwys’ nephew Gwallawc, and cousin Dunod, who invade Rheged, further fracturing the Brythonic kingdoms. After staving off these incursions, Owain was killed in battle against his father’s old enemy Morcant Bwlch.
Turning then to Llenneac, a brother of Arthwys we have a possible analogue for two early figures, Llenlleog the Irishman from Culhwch and Olwen, and Llwch Llawwynnauc (mirror figures in two separate stories). Llwch is almost certainly a euhemerized god, related to the Irish Lugh, however as it goes with many of these stories historical figures are often laid on top of or in place of these earlier deities. Both Llenlleog and Llwch are often cited as pre-Galfridian inspirations for Lancelot. In fact Llenlleog is one of the only figures to wield Caledfwlch other than Arthur. Llenneac ap Mar’s importance can be stressed in my opinion (though we know little of him) by the fact that of all the attested sons of Mar/Maeswig, it seems that only he and Arthwys ended up with kingdoms. Llenneac eventually ruled Elmet, which was then inherited by his son Gwallog. Gwallog is known from much poetry, and is remembered as a fierce one eyed warrior king, fighting against pretty much every kingdom in the north, including his distant cousins.
Fierce Gwallawc caused
the great mortality of Catraeth, greatly renowned:
Legends of Gwallog (though once again playing the name game a little to heavily here) may have given some initial inspiration for Galahad even. Gwallog himself directly appears as a warrior of Arthur in Geraint and Enid. Gwallog’s son Ceredig would be the last Brythonic king to hold out against the Angles, losing Elmet to them in the year 617, with the kingdom coming to an alienated and sad ending. Ceredig was probably in his 60s when he died, an old king, with no apparent heirs, and no support from surrounding kingdoms. A fate sown by his father's assaults on his cousins and neighbors most likely.
Another brother, Morydd, who I mention in the narrative section, is possibly the Medraut that fell at Camlann in the annals, as well, giving us another root for a later Arthurian figure, then with Morydd’s grandson we find still another Arthurian figure, the historical Merlin, Myrddin ap Madog ap Morydd, also known as Myrddin Wyllt and Lailoken (Llallwgan, a pet name given to him by his sister supposedly).
Even Percival has his roots within the family of Arthwys ap Mar. Percival is derived from the earlier figure of the Welsh Romance Peredur ap Efrawg. The key lies in the Romance Peredur's father. Efrawg is the Middle Welsh evolution of the Brythonic Ebrauc(York) So we're looking for Peredur of York, and there just so happens to be a Peredur of York, Peredur ap Eliffer, co-king of York with his twin brother Gwrgi. Peredur is none other than Arthwys’ grandson, and one of the last kings of Brythonic Ebrauc.
A more tenuous link stands with Arthwys’ wife, Cywair. Later known as St. Cywair, she was apparently a princess from Ireland, and is said to be the granddaughter of Niall Noígíallach by his son Laoghaire, who was also supposedly high king of Ireland in the mid 5th century, giving an odd echo of Guinevere’s father in the later romances Leodegrance or Leodegan.
There are numerous other less likely stretches we can make here, as well as identifications for figures that are outside of Arthwys’ family, such as Gerguan (Gwalchmai) of the Gododdin (Gawain) but I will abstain.
Some Poetry and further associations with the North
We have two poetic links to Arthur connecting him to the north. The first and oldest being Y Gododdin of course, in which we are given an elegy for Gwawrddur, a warrior who despite his prowess, couldn’t compare to Arthur
He fed black ravens on the rampart of a fortress Though he was no Arthur Among the powerful ones in battle In the front rank, Gwawrddur was a palisade
This was likely written 40 to 100 years after Arthur’s death at Camlann. Many will propose that this is a later interpolation of Arthur into the older poem, however smarter men than myself have said that it is consistent with the oldest parts of the poem, and genuinely dates back to the early 7th century. Aside from this we also have the poem ‘Kadeir Terynon’ or “Chair of the Sovereign” or “Chair of the Prince” A notoriously hard to decipher poem. Relevant lines below.
The sovereign elder.
The generous feeder.
The third deep wise one,
To bless Arthur,
Arthur the blessed,
In a compact song.
We know from this that the poem is likely about Arthur himself and his lineage. Teyrnon, which is sometimes a personal name also appears, but should be instead interpreted here as a noun, ‘Prince’ or ‘Sovereign’.
From the loricated Legion,
Arose the Guledig,
Around the old renowned boundary.
Here we have an example of some of the more hard to translate lines, with this translation being from W.F. Skene. With a little interpretation we can make some assumptions here. The basic meaning would be, from the armoured legion Arose the Wledig (Implying a battle-king) from the ‘old renowned boundary’ (Hadrian's wall). Skene's interpretation has been challenged by recent scholars, not on the basis how to translate but on issue of interpreting the original text. If Skene is correct, this may also give another Northern association to Arthur. That isn't the only curious thing here though. At the beginning of the poem we are given the line "o echen Aladur." This means "from the stock of Alador" or simpler, "descended from Alador" a few have taken this as a reference to the early Romano-British god Mars-Alator, attested in one inscription. This is where I am going to stretch things a little. I think this is an oblique reference to Arthwys’ father Mar. Equating him with Alator as clever a poetic flourish, referencing the similarity of Mar's name to the deity. We unfortunately know next to nothing about this god otherwise, or even how widespread his worship was. But that being said, I do find it a curious reference and not at all out of the realm of the possible when it comes to these learned late 6th and early 7th century poets, who would have been well versed in their Myth and History.5
when the queen shall will a song in the chamber, let the bard sing a song respecting Camlan, and that not loud, lest the hall be disturbed.
-Except from the Cyfraith Hywel (Welsh law)
Curiously the famous battle of Camlann is not mentioned in any poetry attributed to Taliesin, a young bard who was supposedly present, and bore Arthur away to Avalon. P5ych0p0mp has once again with his amazing detective work found references that he believes relate to Camlann within Taliesin’s poetry.
It is I who defended my sanctuary
in the fight to the death against Casnur’s kin
with vigorous swordstroke against Cawrnur’s sons
-Marwnat Vthyr Pen
P5ych0p0mp believes that this Casnur/Cawrnur spoken of is none other than Caw the usurper of Alt Clut, an enemy of Arthur (a sentiment I agree with). Caw’s son Hueil was also an enemy, and Caw’s daughter Cywllog married Medraut of Gododdin, who may be the Medraut mentioned in the Annales Cambriae6. As p5ych0p0mp has discovered 'The Deathsong of Uther Pen' is not in fact about the later legendary figure 'Uther Pendragon' but instead about Arthur/Arthwys, and does commemorate Camlann along with Taliesin's work 'Preiddeu Annwfn', a mythologized account of Arthwys' passing. I highly recommend you visit the link above to read more in depth as to what p5ych0p0mp has to say on these poetic mentions, his work is highly compelling and well worth the read. I have also delved into Preiddeu Annwfn in the months since originally writing this article, and you can find it here:
There is another northern reference that is certainly drawing from Nennius’ Historia Brittonum, Lambert of Saint-Omer's work Liber Floridus. Within it is an interesting bit of miscellanea not found elsewhere relating to King Arthur, and more specifically, placing him in the far north of Britain. While the majority of Lambert's information on Arthur comes from Nennius' Historia Brittonum, it does include one bit of information that isn't found in any extant copies of Nennius.
There is a palace, in Britain in the Picts’ land, of Arthur the soldier, built with wondrous art and variety, in which may be seen sculpted all his acts both of construction and in battle. It shows in fact the 12 battles against the Saxons who had occupied Britain.
He then recounts Nennius’ battle list. The he directly calls Arthur “Leader of the Picts”
Then Arthur the leader of the Picts, directing kingdoms inland in Britain, with strong men, this fiercest soldier, seeing England everywhere beaten in battle, good lands taken away, many enslaved and redeemed and expelled from their inheritance, with the kings of the Britons he came against the Saxons with a ferocious attack and rushing upon them fought manfully, the leader in 12 battles
This is of course not any kind of conclusive evidence, but it is however another interesting memory of a Northern Arthur, possibly misattributed to being a King of the Picts because of a high kingship of the north perhaps? There is an interesting synchronicity that I believe may indicate that Arthwys was indeed for a short time King of the Picts. At the tail end of Arthwys’ life a Pictish ruler named Gartait II became king. Gartnait is accepted to have died in 537, the same year as Camlann. While that is not foolproof evidence on it’s own, it just so happens that 50 years later another Gartnait rules, and just so happens to rule around the same time as Artuir mac Aedan of Dal Riata was coming of age. This Gartnait too dies around the same time as this Arthur. I would then suggest that Gartnait, Arthwys, and Artuir are all in fact the same name. I have an article below exploring this in a little more detail.
Why No Uther?
Within this article there are a few things conspicuously absent. There is no sword in the stone, no lady of the lake, and no Uther. My goal is not to link every part of Arthurian legend with Arthwys ap Mar, and in fact I think trying to do so is counterintuitive and will instead lead you down the path of “hoping it’s true” and leading one to constantly bend and twist until a trope fits. Excalibur can’t be solidly placed here, so why try and twist it to fit? The Sword in the Stone while an iconic part of the later tales, is far from a part of the pre-Galfridian works, and probably belongs originally to St. Galgano. Uther seems to have been a misattribution caused from a number of odd synchronicities. From one manuscript of Nennius we are told when speaking of Arthur that he was called
in British mab Uter, that is in Latin terrible son, because from his youth he was cruel
This is clearly a reference to his character and demeanor, not his father, additionally, there is a triad listing the triplets of Eliffer Gosgorddfawr, the son of Arthwys ap Mar. “The three fair womb-burdens of Britain”
The third was Gwrgi and Peredur sons of Eliffer of the Great Warband, and Arddun their sister.
In the translation available at Jesus College, Oxford, Arddun instead is called Arthur. What does this have to do with Uther though? Eliffer’s name is latinized as Elutherius, and I would chance to say that this mistranslation of the triad may have been the root, or reinforcement of the idea of (El)Uther(ius) as the father of Arthur. This combined with the bit from Nennius, may have been enough for Geoffrey of Monmouth to cement Uther as Arthur's father in future versions of the legends. Some of these tropes like Uther can be explained away, and bolster the case that Arthwys ap Mar was the Arthur of Badon and Camlann, others are just flat out later additions, as I have demonstrated with St. Galgano.
The Northern High-King
So we have a Northern King, named Arthwys, with the largest sphere of influence of any contemporary figure, surrounded by figures that stand as inspiration for later Arthurian characters, in the right time, and in the right place for the most likely sites for Arthur’s supposed battles. His family ruled major kingdoms in the north, and his great-grandfather was likely the last Dux Britanniarum. His descendants go on to be immortalized in their own legends as well. The Monarchy of Great Britain is in fact descended from him through Cadrod, Arthwys’ great-grandson, and from his cousin Meirchion of Rheged’s descendants as well. He ruled from Pictland to the Southern border of Northern England, fought the Angles, the Saxons, the Picts, the Irish and his fellow Britons. He won Badon and stopped Germanic advances for a generation, and ultimately died defending his cousin from a Cattle Raid at Camboglanna.
He was immortalized by Taliesin, who was in the employment of his cousins in Rheged as
Arthur the blessed
That is not to say that we can attribute everything in the Arthurian Legends to Arthwys, as I wholly believe the later Arthur is a composite of many different figures, ranging from the first (the Arthur of Y Gododdin , Badon, and Camlann) Arthwys, to other adjacent figures, like Ambrosius Aurelianus, Artuir mac Aedan, Riothamus, Cadell of Powys, Athrwys of Gwent, Magnus Maximus, to more far flung figures as Cassivellaunus, Cunobelinus, Owain Ddanwyn, and even English figures, such as Alfred the Great, and Æthelstan of Wessex. Many people have their ‘pet’ Arthur, and honestly at this point it’s obvious that I do too, but there are few proposed figures that I will flat out say “had nothing to do with the later legends” as so many seem to play their small part. I have even mused that the Sarmatian theory may have some merit, as the Sarmatian cavalry at the Wall may have inspired a tradition of horsemanship that seems so prevalent in the North. The many pieces of the composite Arthur will have to wait for another article.
The difference for me when it comes to Arthwys is that all of the puzzle pieces just seem to fit ever so snugly compared to most other proposed figures. It is hard for me to see any other figure as the original kernel of truth behind Arthur. Enthroned at Ebrauc could Arthwys have ever dreamt the heights his name would soar to? Could he have imagined that one day people across the world would speak his name? Find great tragedy in tales of him? Despair? Hope? I doubt he could have known, but I believe that he is the start of our Once and Future King.
Arthurius is found in certain Irish texts.
There are two major pieces of evidence to support this. The first being my proposed ‘lost regnal list’ that Geoffrey seems to have had access to, which gives a succession in Ebrauc as Mar-Garbanian-Arthwys-Ellifer-Peredur+Gwrgi. The second being a genealogy for the wife of Cynwyd Cynwydion, Peren ferch Greidal. Her genealogy is given as Peren-Griedal-Arthwys-Garmon. I think this is once again an echo of this Regnal list being confused for a genealogy, placing Garmon (another form of Garbanian) in succession before Arthwys.
Myrddin is the son of Madoc, who was the son of Morydd. This comes from one of Iolo’s genealogies, and while I generally am distrustful of many things from him, generally when he fabricates something there is an agenda behind it, so why not make Myrddin a member of a more famous household etc? This is a genealogy I am likely to believe from him. My friend p5ych0p0mp has another theory however on Myrddin’s genealogy, which you can read here.
More can be found here outlining reasoning etc.
My good friend p5ych0p0mp who is a ridiculously knowledgeable Brythonic Heroic Age researcher as well has also delved into not only Kadeir Teyrnon, but also Marwnat Vthyr Pen. You can find his work on the subject below.
I personally believe that the Medraut of the Annals is both Medraut of Gododdin, as well as Morydd ap Mar, being later conflated on account of similar names, and both likely present at the battle. This solves the issue of the both noble and praiseworthy Medraut of much tradition, as well as the dastardly evil Medraut of other. These two men, when combined with the Melwas found in The Life of St. Gildas give us the Mordred of later legend.