Arthur, it seems, is claimed as the king of nearly every Celtic kingdom
known. The sixth century certainly saw many men named Arthur born into the
Celtic royal families of Britain but, despite attempts to identify the great
man himself amongst them, there can be little doubt that most of these
people were only named in his honour. Princes with other names are also
sometimes identified with "Arthwyr" which is thought by some to be
a title similar to Vortigern.
Geoffrey of Monmouth recorded Arthur as a High
King of Britain. He was the son of his predecessor, Uther Pendragon and
nephew of King Ambrosius.
As a descendant of High-King Eudaf
Hen's nephew, Conan
Meriadoc, Arthur's grandfather had crossed the Channel from Armorica
(modern Brittany) and established the dynasty at the beginning of the fifth
century. The Breton King Aldrien
had been asked to rescue Britain from the turmoil in which it found itself
after the Roman administration had departed. He sent his brother, Constantine,
to help. Constantine appears to have been the historical self-proclaimed
British Emperor who took the last Roman troops from Britain in a vain
attempt to assert his claims on the Continent in 407. Chronologically
speaking, it is just possible he was King Arthur's grandfather. Arthur's
Breton Ancestry was recorded by Gallet.
Riothamus the King
Geoffrey Ashe argues that King Arthur was an
historical king in Brittany known to history as Riothamus,
a title meaning "Greatest-King". His army is recorded as having
crossed the channel to fight the Visigoths
in the Loire Valley in 468. Betrayed by the Prefect of Gaul, he later
disappeared from history. Ashe does not discuss Riothamus' ancestry. He, in
fact, appears quite prominently in the pedigree of the kings of Domnonée,
despite attempts to equate him with a prince of Cornouaille
named Iaun Reith. Riothamus was probably exiled to Britain during one of the
many civil wars that plagued Armorica. He later returned in triumph to
reclaim his inheritance, but was afterwards killed in an attempt to expel
Germanic invaders. The main trouble with this Arthurian identification is
that it pushes King Arthur back fifty years from his traditional period at
the beginning of the sixth century (see Ashe, 1985).
Welsh tradition also sees Arthur as High King of
Britain but tends to follow the genealogies laid down in the Mostyn MS117
and the Bonedd yr Arwr. These show Arthur as grandson of Constantine
but, this time, he is Constantine
Corneu, the king of Dumnonia. Traditional Arthurian legend records three
kings of Dumnonia during Arthur's reign: Constantine's son, Erbin; grandson,
Gereint and great grandson, Cado. Nowhere is there any indication that these
three were closely related to Arthur, nor that he had any claim on the
Dumnonian Kingdom. Nor is their any explanation as to why a Dumnonian prince
would have been raised to the High-Kingship of Britain. Arthur's connection
with this area of Britain is purely due to his supposedly being conceived at
Tintagel, the residence of his mother's first husband, and buried at
Glastonbury, the most ancient Christian site in the country.
The Clan Campbell trace their tribal pedigree back
to one Arthur ic Uibar: the Arthur son of Uther of tradition. Norma Lorre
Goodrich uses this fact to argue that Arthur was a "Man of the
North". This idea was first proposed by the Victorian Antiquary, W F
Skene, and there is some evidence to recommend it, especially the possible
northern location of Nennius' twelve
battles. Goodrich places Arthur's Court at Carlisle. As the capital of the
Northern British Kingdom of Rheged,
this seems an unlikely home for Arthur, who was not of this dynasty.
Professor Goodrich relies heavily on late medieval literary sources and
draws imaginative conclusions (see Goodrich 1986 & Skene 1868).
There was a Northern British King named Arthwys [ap
Mor] who lived in the previous generation to the traditional Arthur. He was
of the line of Coel Hen (the Old) and probably ruled over a large kingdom in
Many of Nennius' Arthurian Battles are often said to have taken place in Northern Britain. These and other northern stories associated with King
Arthur may, in reality, have been relating the achievements of this near
Another Northern British Arthwys was the son of
Masgwid Gloff, probably a King of the Elmet
region of modern West Yorkshire. Nothing is known of this prince who was
exactly contemporary with the real King's traditional period. Though it is
unlikely that he held his own kingdom, his exploits may have contributed to
King Arthur's story.
There is also the possibility, proposed by August
Hunt in his downloadable book "The Road from Avalon" [no
longer available], that Arthur developed from King Cerdic, founder of the
Saxon dynasty of Wessex.
The name Cerdic is Celtic, not Germanic, and he may well have been Ceredig
son of Cunedda Wledig.
Arthur's battles as recorded in Nennius may be identified with Cerdic's
battles in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle.
August Hunt, as a second alternative, suggests
that King Arthur was really Cadwaladr [ap Meirchion] of Meirionydd.
His name translates as "Battle-Leader", exactly identical to
Nennius' description of Arthur as Dux Bellorum; while one probable location
for Arthur's death at the Battle of Camlann is the Camlan Valley on the
border of Meirionydd and Powys.
The Scotti, though fresh from Ireland,
also used the name Arthur for a royal prince. Artur, the son of King Aidan
of Dalriada, was
probably born in the 550s. David F Carroll has recently argued that this man
was the real Arthur, ruling Manau
Gododdin from Camelon (alias Camelot) in Stirlingshire. Details can be
found on the author's web
site (Carroll 1996).
Graham Phillips and Martin Keatman identify Arthur
as Owain Ddantwyn (White-Tooth), a late fifth century prince of the House of
Cunedda (more specifically of Gwynedd).
Their arguments, however, are wholly unconvincing, and contain many
unresolved discrepancies. Owain's son, Cuneglasus (known from Welsh
pedigrees as Cynlas) was among the five Celtic kings condemned in the
writings of Gildas. Through a
misinterpretation of this account, Keatman & Phillips imply that
Cuneglasus was the son of one Arth, ie Arthur. They further claim that he,
and therefore his father, Owain, before him, must have ruled Powys,
as this is the only kingdom un-reconciled with Gildas' kings. However,
Cynlas lived at Din Arth in Rhos.
He was not the son of Arth. In traditional Celtic manner the kingdom of
Gwynedd had been divided between his father, Owain, who received Eastern
Gwynedd (ie. Rhos) and his uncle, Cadwallon Lawhir (Long-Hand) who took the
major Western portion. During this period, Cyngen Glodrydd (the Renowned)
was ruling Powys (see Phillips & Keatman 1992).
This theory only breaks down with the Powys contention. I suggest that
the above is all quite acceptable with the following amendment: Owain ruled
Rhôs, not Powys, although in truth there may well have been annexations of
parts of Powys during the reign. Owain succeeded to the greater part of
Gwynedd on the death of his brother Cadwallon. Within a couple of years of
his accession, Cadwallon's son, Maelgwn (Mordred?) rose up and, with the
possible collusion of Owain's son – Cuneglasus – seized the kingdom, killing
his uncle at the battle of Camlann. Cuneglasus received his inheritance –
Rhôs – as reward from a grateful Maelgwn, his cousin.
A much simpler and thoroughly more convincing thesis
from Mark Devere Davies suggests that Arthur may have been Cuneglasus [of Rhos]
himself. I can do no better than recommend you to the author's web
A King Arthwyr ruled in Dyfed
in the late sixth century. He was the son of King Pedr ap Cyngar, but little
else is known of him. Though he was probably merely named after the great
man, it is possible that some of his accomplishments may have become
attached to the traditional legend.
Baram Blackett & Alan Wilson have theorised
that the legendary King Arthur was an amalgam of two historical characters:
(alias Arthun), the British king who conquered Greece, and Athrwys (alias
Arthwys [ap Meurig]) the king of
Arthun was a son of the British Emperor
Maximus, who lived in the late fourth century. He is better known as
Anwn (alias Dynod) and his title of king of Greece is generally thought to
be a misreading of his Latin name, Antonius Gregorius. He actually ruled
much of South Wales. Arthwys of Glwyssing & Gwent is widely accepted as
a seventh century king who lived in South-East Wales. His home in the
traditional Arthurian region around Caerleon is part of this man's
attraction. Blackett & Wilson argue, not unconvincingly, that he really
lived in the early sixth century and that his father, Meurig was called
"Uther Pendragon", a title meaning "Wonderful
Commander". They also make the important assertion that Arthur lived,
not in Cerniw (ie
Cornwall), but in Cernyw (ie. Glywyssing) (see Blackett & Wilson 1980).
St Arthmael the King
Like Blackett & Wilson, Chris Barber
& David Pykitt identify the King Arthur with King Athrwys of
However, here the similarity stops, for there are important differences in the
identification of people, places and events. Their major addition is the
supposition that after Camlann, Arthur/Athrwys abdicated and retired to
Brittany where he became an important evangeliser. He was known as St Armel
(or Arthmael) and his shrine can still be seen at St Armel-des-Boschaux.
Their ideas have much to commend them and make compelling reading (see
Barber & Pykitt 1993).
It has been suggested, many times over the years,
that King Arthur may have been a descendant of one Lucius Artorius Castus.
He was an historical second century Dalmatian general stationed in Britain
who commanded the Roman auxiliary troops, known as Sarmatians, on an
expedition to crush an uprising in Armorica. It is highly unlikely that the
two had any connection with each other.