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1130s in England

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1130s in England
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Events from the 1130s in England.

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  • ✪ Was King Arthur Real?
  • ✪ The Rise And Fall Of The The Knights Templar
  • ✪ Kingdom Awakening 2013 seminar


When most people think of King Arthur, they usually picture him on horseback brandishing his sword Excalibur. This is actually what a late medieval knight would look like around the 15th century. Through the years the legend expanded, as medieval writers all over Europe added to the story. Arthur’s popularity and momentum continued to grow as themes, plots and characters, were adapted to be more contemporaneous with the changing times. But the Arthurian legend, as we know it, actually begins nearly a thousand years earlier in 5th or 6th century Britain. Not as an English King, but a British battle commander, leading the former Romano-Britons against the invading hordes of the Germanic Anglo-Saxons. Before you can determine whether this Arthur existed you really need to ask if this historical context is real. The written sources for this period are scarce, vague and unreliable. They come most notably from the British scribe Gildas, the English monk Bede and the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle. It’s their work that lead to the traditional historical narrative of the Anglo-Saxon Invasion that eventually transformed Britain into England - land of the Angles. By the beginning of the 5th century AD and after more than 350 years under Roman rule, the fading Western Roman Empire withdrew from Britain to deal with it’s own issues. The Britons, seemingly defenseless, were mercilessly raided by the Picts and the Scotti. The British leader Vortigern hired Anglo-Saxon mercenaries, led by Hengist and Horsa, to fight them off. They hopped on their boats, came to Britain and stopped the raids. They wanted more than the British land granted to them by Vortigern and switched from mercenary ally to conqueror. Rallying under another leader, Ambrosius Aurelianus, the Britons managed to fight back against the Anglo-Saxons. Decades of fighting ensued, with victories and defeats on both sides, culminating in a decisive British victory at Mount Badon sometime around 500 AD. The Britons enjoyed a temporary period of peace, but the Anglo-Saxon invasion would continue, setting towns ablaze, killing, enslaving and displacing the British inhabitants. But Where’s Arthur in all of this? Gildas appears to have an aversion to names, giving us only Ambrosius earlier on but not the leader at Badon decades later. Its Bede who names Vortigern, Hengist and Horsa, but their historicity is also in doubt. Not one of them mentions Arthur. The earliest reference to Arthur is debatably from the 7th century Welsh poem Y Gododdin, though it’s only a brief one line comparison to another legendary warrior. It wasn’t until the 9th century when Arthur first gets placed in the middle of this conflict in the Welsh pseudo-historical text, History of the Britons, possibly written by Nennius. In this text he’s a battle commander, not king, leading the Britons to victory in twelve battles. Arthur is also included in the Annales Cambriae, a chronicle with a list of years and their corresponding memorable events. The Annales has Arthur fighting in the early 6th century at Badon and his last fatal battle at Camlann. But it was written hundreds of years later in the 10th century. The Arthurian legend’s meteoric rise to popularity didn’t really take off until Geoffrey of Monmouth included the first cradle to grave story of Arthur in another pseudo-historical text, The History of the Kings of Britain, in the 1130s. Gildas is the only somewhat contemporary figure writing about this conflict debatably around the year 540 AD. Almost two hundred years later in 731 we get Bede’s account followed by the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle which started in the 880s. For the events of the 5th and 6th century, the chronicle got their information from Bede, and Bede got his from Gildas. So we really only have one source, Gildas. But how reliable is he? At this time, scribes weren’t writing history as historians do today - factual dates, events and people as unbiasedly considered as possible. Instead, history was much more of a morality tale, or politically motivated, altering facts to fit their purpose. It gets worse with Nennius and Geoffrey, who are difficult to mine for facts as they dabble in outright fantasy and fiction. With Gildas, his 5th century history was only a small portion of his text. Most of ‘On the Ruin’ is a sermon, blaming the Anglo-Saxon invasion on the sins of the British. For a long time their version of the events was accepted, more or less, as actual history. The archaeological remains we did find in Britain from this period, were previously interpreted and identified based on this historical account from Gildas, Bede and the chronicle. But by the 1980s the evidence was being re-considered more critically and independently. At first it seemed that archeology confirmed the carnage wrought by the supposed flood of genocidal Anglo-Saxon invaders. But the evidence of death and destruction at towns and villas may not have been the result of violence. Instead, Britain may have undergone a cultural and political shift, before the supposed Anglo-Saxon Invasion, abandoning Roman economy, towns and villas for hill forts, timber buildings and a barter based economy. There is even evidence in some areas of continued Roman style occupation as late as the seventh century. So the destruction we do see could be explained by mundane accidental fire damage, deterioration from abandonment and plain ol’ burials - not the victims of a mass killing spree. DNA studies have demonstrated a genetic relationship of modern British people to northern Germanic people. But how much of this relationship is due to the movement of people like the Germanic tribes, throughout history, especially during the long reign of the vast Roman Empire. Germans were already in Britain long before the Anglo-Saxon Migration, having served and lived there as part of the Roman Army. Where DNA is used to support a large migration, the timescale is said to be over 300 years. Instead of a flood of incoming Anglo-Saxons in a shorter period of time, it could have been a slow, centuries long trickle. Regardless, DNA isn’t the only signifier for ethnic identity. To some extent, it’s a cultural choice. My grandparents immigrated to Canada from Italy in the 1950s, and while my parents may still identify partially as Italian, I just think of myself as Canadian or more specifically, Torontonian. A future archeologist wouldn’t be able to guess my Italian heritage by my possessions or diet alone. Nor would they be right by categorizing me and my cultural identity as Italian judging only by my DNA. It’s possible that some Germanic and British people made similar choices on their own culture identity on an individual basis. What was once thought to be the remains of an Anglo-Saxon, Jute, or Frisian based on the material possessions they were buried with, could have been genetically British who choose to identify with their material culture and adopted their burial customs as well. But there was still a migration, to some extent, as the DNA suggests. After all, English is a Germanic language. There was still some violence, as indicated in the more historically attested 7th century. But it’s not all of Britain on one side defending against the Anglo-Saxon horde on the other. Instead you see Britons fighting Britons, English fighting English, and allied British-English fighting other British-English alliances. Gildas never meant for his brief overview of this one 5th century Saxon conflict to be a factually accurate historical account. Adding to this, his latin is often confusing, vague and easily misinterpreted, especially by Bede who made it The Adventus Saxonum - The Coming of the Saxons. Nennius didn’t help matters with his own pseudo-history. There’s no convincing evidence that any of the twelve battles he has Arthur leading ever existed, except for maybe Badon which he likely got from Gildas anyways. The History of the Britons was a Welsh text from the 9th century. It was a time when the Welsh were victims of several English attacks. You can see now that Arthur’s historical context is doubtful with much of the detail largely fictitious. Nennius may have known of a folk hero named Arthur, and inserted him into the already overblown account of the Anglo-Saxon conflict. He made him the heroic British battle commander, whose nobility and prowess Britons could draw inspiration from in their current fight with the English. While there are several archaeological sites that date to Arthur’s time, only Glastonbury connects to him directly. In 1191, monks from the abbey claimed to have found the remains of two people and a lead cross that identified them as King Arthur and Guinevere, and Glastonbury as the Isle of Avalon. Both the cross and bones have been missing for centuries. It was likely a hoax to attract attention and money for repairs to the fire damaged Abbey. While not an island in the 12th century, Glastonbury Tor was surrounded by marshland at some point in the distant past. Arthur’s connection with Avalon first appears in Geoffrey of Monmouth’s history where the fatally wounded Arthur is brought to Avalon in hopes of recovery. But his fate is left in doubt. So the burial could have also been an attempt to demoralize the Welsh opponents of the King of England, Henry II. The Welsh still saw Arthur as their King, so this burial would prove that Arthur was indeed mortal and never coming back. The fact that Gildas, the closest relevant contemporary source for Arthur, never mentions him by name, is reason enough to doubt that he was real. Perhaps the legend derived from Ambrosius who Gildas does name, though they often appear as separate characters in the legend. Archeology provides no definitive evidence to support Arthur’s existence either. But that has by no means prevented the hunt for a real, historical King Arthur. There are a few ‘Arthurs’ around the end of the 6th century, most notably Artúir mac Áedáin, son of King Áedáin mac Gabráin of Dalriada, a region now part of Scotland and Ireland. Artuir was never king, his brother succeeded their father, and died fighting in a battle against the Picts. But we know very little about him. Outside of his name and that he actually existed there’s no evidence that can securely connect him to the legendary Arthur. The Roman Lucius Artorius Castus has been put forward as the source or inspiration for King Arthur. This theory states that he was active around the late 2nd or early 3rd century AD, hundreds of years before the supposed Anglo-Saxon invasion. He held a military post in Britain, commanding a heavy Sarmatian cavalry unit, being both the source for the portrayal of Arthur and his men fighting on horseback, and the sword and the stone tale inspired by their mythology. He also led another unit called the Britannicae, against the British settlement in Armorica in Gaul, now part of France. Artorius was real, there are fragments of an inscribed summary of his career on his stone sarcophagus. It doesn’t quite tell the same story though. First off, the sarcophagus is in Croatia. His posting in Britain was at the end of his career and was likely administrative only. The Britannicae unit was once in Britain, where it got it’s name, but by the 1st century had been stationed in modern day Hungary. As for the heavy Sarmatian cavalry, some were part of the Roman Army in Britain, but there is no actual evidence, in the inscription or elsewhere, that has Artorius leading them. His campaign in Armorica was most likely in Armenia, at the eastern border of the Empire, due to a probable misreading of the partial inscription on his sarcophagus. Armorica was relevant to begin with as it was used to connect Artorius to Arthur’s campaign in Gaul in Geoffrey of Monmouth’s story. That same Gallic campaign has also been used to draw parallels to the historical British leader Riothamus. Around the 470s, Riothamus brought an army with him from Britain in an alliance with Rome to prevent the Visigoths from annexing Roman territory in Gaul. Riothamus was defeated by the Visigoths, and the survivors fled to Burgundy. Arthur, in Geoffrey’s story, is not fighting with Rome, but against them. Arthur’s Roman conquering spree is cut short when he heads back home to deal with his treacherous nephew Mordred. Arthur kills Mordred but is fatally wounded. He’s carried off to the isle of Avalon and his story ends. How do you get Arthur from Riothamus? It’s been argued that Riothamus is a title, meaning ‘great king’ which is an apt description of Arthur, but versions of Riothamus have been identified as actual names, not just a title. Also, Riothamus is last heard from in Burgundy. There is an Avallon in Burgundy, but it’s about 200km from where Riothamus was actually last heard from. Regardless, Avalon isn’t first associated with Arthur until Geoffrey of Monmouth, writing 700 years later. All these theories rely upon the vague, untrustworthy, non-contemporary and pseudo historical texts already mentioned, and more. Later sources could have drawn from contemporary folk and oral traditions. But this only hints at some possible element of truth as oral traditions change through the centuries before finally being written down. So, was King Arthur real? There may have been a warrior of some repute named Arthur at one point in British history, but that’s all we can say with the available evidence. In the unlikely event that some definitive archaeological find or trustworthy written source is uncovered, we may never be able to confirm the details of the legend with any more certainty. This video barely scratches the surface of the Anglo-Saxon migration or invasion, and the numerous King Arthur theories, so let’s continue the discussion in the comments below. Please like, subscribe, and if you’re able, support the channel on patreon.



MonarchHenry I (to 1 December 1135), Stephen





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This page was last edited on 26 September 2019, at 18:24
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