Thursday, July 22, 2010

Gildas and Arthur's First Battle

Last post, I talked about the two entries in the Annales Cambria that give us our first information about Arthur. I’d been aware of the entries for a long time – had come across them during my post-graduate work – though I couldn’t remember the dates. (My own work in Medieval Studies focused on the 12th century German writers Wolfram von Eschenbach and Gottfried von Strassbourg, who later featured as the heros in an early novel I wrote, one so painfully amateurish it’s long been relegated to the dust bin.) But the words “in which Arthur and Medraut fell” gave me an idea for my trilogy. What if Medraut wasn’t a villain at all? My idealistic hero was born.

I promised I would talk about Gildas…

Our first hint at the Arthurian story comes from a sixth-century monk named Gildas. In his De Excidio Britanniae (On the Fall/Ruin of Britain), he describes a series of battles that culminate with the Battle of Badon. Badon gives a possible date for King Arthur’s life.

Even so, it is hard to put your finger on the exact date. Gildas is both amazingly precise and infuriatingly vague. He tells us that the battle was fought in the year of his birth, exactly 43 years and 1 month before he wrote De Excidio. At last, someone whose parents, at least, would have remembered the battle! But Gildas doesn’t tell us the year in which he is writing! Using a reference from the last paragraph of De Excidio, Mike Ashley calculates Badon must have happened between 492 and 497 AD, which is twenty years before the dates given in the Welsh Annals.

So what I have at this point is a range of somewhere between the last quarter of the fifth century and the first half of the sixth. At least, I’ve got a place to look.


  1. I've read this and your previous entry and all I can say is, you've been blessed to a degree. LOL Your field is so factually nebulous you can write all over the place. That vagueness may have some bearing on why Arthur is so popular among writers - there's a lot of wiggle-room. Enjoy it! :)

  2. It gets more wiggly, as you'll see!