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.