Arthurian links

King Arthur

King Arthur depicted in an Italian manuscript of c.1350

There isn’t much about King Arthur here at Senchus, which might suggest that I have little interest in this enigmatic figure (in any of his several manifestations). In fact, my apparent disregard conceals the fact that I owe a big debt to him – or rather to those who have written about him. The broad field of Arthurian studies sparked my interest in early medieval history in the first place (around 30 years ago). That’s probably a tale in itself, which might get an airing sometime in the future.

This post is a quick round-up of some interesting Arthurian stuff I’ve found on recent travels in the blogosphere. Although I don’t get involved in the ‘Historical Arthur’ debate these days – having voiced my opinions a while ago – I still enjoy reading about it from time to time. I also keep half an eye on that other fella – the Arthur of legend – especially when he turns up in local folkore woven around mysterious heroes and ancient monuments. And it’s no coincidence that I enjoy modern glossy presentations of Arthuriana, such as the excellent TV series about Merlin. I’m a sucker for mock-medieval drama and brightly coloured heraldry, so when these appear in an Arthurian context my interest in the wider topic receives a boost.

I’ll begin this round-up with Esmeralda’s Cumbrian History & Folklore, a blog created in October of last year by Diane McIlmoyle. Deservedly described elsewhere as “the up-and-coming premier blog on Cumbric studies”, Diane’s website is a veritable treasure-trove of information. I’ve already found plenty of useful stuff there, mainly because of the many connections between medieval Cumbria and Southern Scotland. A couple of recent posts on Arthurian topics caught my eye: one on Urien of Rheged (a 6th century North British king who turns up in the romances) and another on Morgan Le Fey (whom the romances portray as Urien’s wife). Another Arthur-related post looks at the origins of the Merlin legend in old Welsh traditions about the battle of Arfderydd (fought in Cumbria in 573). Diane always manages to strike a neat balance between scholarship and readability, which is why her site is one of my regular stops.

Meanwhile, over at the Badonicus blog, Mak Wilson has recently completed a detailed contribution to the Historical Arthur debate (as part of an idea for a screenplay). His eleven-part series has covered a lot of ground, from the battle-list in the Historia Brittonum to the famous reference in the Gododdin poetry. Along the way, Mak has looked at a number of genuine early figures called Arthur, any (or none) of whom might have had something to do with the origin of the legend. In the final instalment he steps back to consider the data and (very wisely, in my view) doesn’t commit himself too strongly to one theory or another. This is a thoroughly researched study with enough nuggets to keep even non-participants in the Great Arthurian Debate interested. A strong Scottish thread runs through it, as when Mak looks at the Dál Riatan princes called Artúr (referring to papers by fellow-bloggers Michelle Ziegler and Jonathan Jarrett) and also the Gododdin verses (some of which which were probably composed at Edinburgh).

Speaking of the Gododdin brings us seamlessly to an informative post about early Welsh poetry at Edward Watson’s Clas Merdin blog. Among other things, Edward discusses the origins of the older Cynfeirdd poems attributed to the 6th century bards Taliesin and Aneirin. He begins with an extract from a poem of the slightly later englynion genre. Here we meet the North British hero Llywarch Hen (‘Old Llywarch’) lamenting the fact that he is carrying under his arm the severed head of King Urien (he of Arthurian fame). “Woe to Rheged because of this day”, weeps Llywarch, as he hurries away from the scene of Urien’s demise. The blogpost ends with an overview of modern scholarship and a mention of Jenny Rowland’s indispensable Early Welsh Saga Poetry: a Study & Edition of the Englynion. Two earlier posts, both Arthur-related, also held my attention. In one, published in February, Edward writes about ancient tracks and alignments around South Cadbury hillfort and Glastonbury Tor, drawing on folk-tales and antiquarian musings. This follows on neatly from a January post on the archaeology of South Cadbury (sometimes called “Cadbury-Camelot”), a site excavated by the late Leslie Alcock during his time at the University of Wales in Cardiff. Here we have an indirect Scottish connection because Professor Alcock later moved to the University of Glasgow where he spent the remainder of his academic career. In Scotland he launched a pioneering programme of excavations at a selection of early medieval centres of power, focussing on places mentioned in the old chronicles: Dunollie, Dumbarton and Dundurn, to name but three.

And that’s the end of this round-up. I know there’s a lot more Arthurian blogging going on but the items I’ve mentioned here are among the small number that have hooked me in recently.

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21 comments on “Arthurian links

  1. esmeraldamac says:

    Brilliant. Thanks for the mention (you are always too flattering, but thank you!). I know Mak’s blog – it’s very detailed! I obviously need to have a long read of Clas Merdin – it sounds great.

    I know what you mean about Arthurian stories – it’s a minefield, but somehow, it draws you in…

    • Tim says:

      And no sign of the momentum slacking off, Diane, with the Camelot miniseries this year and the 4th series of Merlin next year. Camelot has a ‘Dark Age’ setting, apparently, which usually means tatty Roman outfits and lots of mud.

      • badonicus says:

        … and those “tatty Roman outfits” are of the wrong period!

        There are also the ‘Camelot’ and ‘Excalibur’ movies from Warner Bros. I picked a fine time to want to write an Arthurian screenplay!

  2. badonicus says:

    Many thanks for the kind words Tim, and for pointing us to Edward Watson’s site, which I’ve added to my Blogroll. I’m very interested in the early poetry myself and did a three part blog on the possible origins of an Arthurian poem or poems … if they ever existed!

  3. badonicus says:

    I’ve put a link from the original post to the later one Tim, so you can keep the same link. Apologies and thanks. Mak

  4. I’m watching a Merlin marathon courtesy of my DVR while I put together my weekly round-up. Badly out of period but fun anyway. What is this series Camelot?

    • badonicus says:

      You can see the trailers on YouTube. It’s starting 11th April on Starz but it’s coming to Channel 4 later in the year. It stars Jamie Campbell Bower as King Arthur, Joseph Fiennes as Merlin and Eva Green as Morgana. Quite a cast.

  5. […] Clarkson of Senchus reviews some Arthurian sources online and has a post on stowaway mice on Viking ships showing up in genetics of mice on the Orkney Isles. […]

  6. That’s two very good blogs there I’d managed to miss, thankyou for the notice Tim. Badonicus is going to take me a while to work through…

    • Tim says:

      I think of it as a never-ending game of catch-up, Jon. Interesting new blogs help to keep our reading backlogs toppped-up, just when the piles of paper and electronic data start to look manageable. I struggle to keep on top of it all, even when I try to be selective. Or maybe I just read too slowly these days….

  7. badonicus says:

    … and sorry abut the length of my blogs, which probably doesn’t help!

  8. Thank you so much for pointing out these blogs. Much to explore. (Also: Camelot! I’d forgotten that was coming.)

    • Tim says:

      I just hope this new ‘Camelot’ is half as entertaining as the Richard Harris one 🙂

      And congratulations, Nicola, on finishing volume 1 of the Hild novel. That hardcopy draft is a truly awesome sight!

      • Richard Harris–whoa! I’d forgotten about that, too! (Might be worth re-watching at some point.)

        And thanks for the congrats. The sight of the ms. is so overwhelming I’ve decided to read it on my Kindle instead (much less intimidating).

  9. […] feed. Before getting into the main topics, I would like to direct you towards a nice round-up of Arthurian links at the Senchus website, as well as an article via Medievalists.net on Arthur of Dalriada. Also, if […]

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