King Arthur, Man or Myth?

Among the many historical figures linked with the southern border region of Wales, King Arthur stands out as possibly the most famous and most controversial. The Arthur of popular legend most certainly never existed. However, a great warrior chief did appear at this time who led the British to considerable success against the barbarian invaders that had plagued the British Isles since the withdrawal of the Roman legions in the early 5th century. The now mythical image of this great British leader has been much distorted during the intervening fifteen centuries. But, by studying available historical accounts a picture which may come close to the truth can be discerned.

The time is the late 5th century. The Roman legions had abandoned Britain nearly three generations earlier. During the intervening decades the nation has been under continuous assault from barbarian raiders on all sides, attracted by the rich pickings of post-Roman Britain. Although valiant in their defense, the British have proved ill-equipped to deal with the barbarian threat and have already lost substantial lands in the south and the east during the collapse of national political cohesion following the Roman administration. The nation lies divided into regional kingdoms based upon pre-Roman Celtic tribal homelands.

It is 490 AD, the British are loosing their battle against the aggressors. But suddenly the tide of defeats begins to turn. A new warrior leader has come to the fore, bringing the British kingdoms together. This leader’s war title is ‘Arthur.’

According to the 12th century historian, Geoffrey of Monmouth, Arthur was of Romano-British descent, allegedly the nephew of Ambrosius Aurelianus (leader of the British during the middle decades of the 5th century). Ambrosius is himself believed to have been king of Gwynedd, a British kingdom whose star was in the ascent during the closing decades of the 5th century. By 470, Gwynedd had annexed the neighbouring kingdom of Powys, following the fall from favor of the Vortigern clan. Powys had been the stronghold of the clan of the great warrior king, Vortigern who led the newly independent Britain during the 440s. Now in the possession of the royal house of Gwynedd, and hence into the power of the Aurelianus family, we find Powys ruled by one Owain Ddantgwyn. So we now have Arthur linked to the royal house of Gwynedd, we also have Owain Ddantgwyn ruling a client kingdom of Gwynedd, Powys.

Graham Phillips and …

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