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Celtic Radio Community > The Celts > Was King Arthur Really King Mcarthur?

Posted by: Macfive 25-Aug-2004, 10:02 PM
It's nice sometimes to read about your clan in the news!

James Owen in London
for National Geographic News
July 28, 2004

So who was King Arthur, and where was Camelot?
Most people associate him with southwest England, a region steeped in Arthurian tales of wizards, sword-wielding aquatic ladies, and knights in shining armor.

This version of the legend has been popularized since medieval times, particularly by English kings, poets, and noblemen who regarded Arthur's Camelot and his Knights of the Round Table as the ideal chivalric court.

King Arthur, the new Hollywood movie, takes a different direction. This Arthur, played by Clive Owen, is based on a historical figure, Lucius Artorius Castus, who was born in Samaria, an ancient region in what is now Ukraine.

Actor Clive Owen portrays King Arthur in the new movie of the same name. The film has reignited debate over where the Arthur legend originated.

user posted image

The location, too, is different, with the action moving to Hadrian's Wall in northern England, where our hero battles against pagan tribes.

This interpretation is an improvement, according to Hugh McArthur, a Scottish historian from Glasgow.

"The film brings the story much closer to home," he said. "If they had just extended it a bit further north then you're probably in the right geography." McArthur also approves of the depiction of Guinevere, Arthur's queen, as a Pict. The Picts were an ancient north-Scottish people.

McArthur says the real-life Guinevere was a Pictish noblewoman, born and bred in Scotland. (However, he's not so sure about the leather bikini worn by Keira Knightely, the actress who plays her.)

Other than that, he says, Hollywood has got it wrong.

McArthur is one of a growing number of Arthurian experts who believe the legend belongs north of the English-Scottish border. He says historical evidence points to Arthur coming from what is now Scotland, not from Cornwall in southwest England, or, indeed, anywhere else.

Ancient Strathclyde

McArthur says the legend is based on Arthur, a sixth-century war-band leader that ruled over Strathclyde, a kingdom of Welsh-speaking Britons that stretched from Loch Lomond in Scotland down to north Wales. The kingdom's capital was Dumbarton in west-central Scotland.

"There's a large number of place-names in the region which can be linked to Arthur," he said. "At Dumbarton itself there's Arthur's Castle, and just to the west of Loch Lomond, there's a mountain called Ben Arthur, which includes a site known as Arthur's Seat."

McArthur says it's just one of seven "Arthur's Seats" he has uncovered in Scotland.

"There are 40 to 50 place-names in Scotland with the name of Arthur in them," he added. "I can't say they are all Arthurian, but there's an awful lot of them that are."

And he says the most likely location for Avalon (the holy island where Arthur received his sword Excalibur and was later taken when mortally wounded) is on Loch Lomond. Historians believe Arthur's main battles?chronicled by Nennius, a ninth-century Welsh monk?were fought nearby.

McArthur, who claims his clan is directly descended from the Strathclyde Arthur, says the king's bloody struggles to convert pagan tribes were later airbrushed out of accounts of the Christianization of Scotland. "Christians didn't want to write themselves up as a bloodthirsty crew," he explained.

"Another problem was that Strathclyde was a Welsh-speaking nation," he added. "As the language retreated into modern-day Wales and Cornwall, the story went with them."

McArthur's theory has support from Edinburgh-based Scottish historian Stuart McHardy, author of The Quest for Arthur.

Though McHardy believes Arthurian legend is probably largely mythological, he added, "There's a very good argument for saying there was an historical character in the sixth century. He was leading a Christian crusade against the pagans in the bottom half of Scotland, which is the best match for all the battles mentioned by Nennius."

He says Guinevere is buried in Meigle, Perthshire. "And Merlin is thought to be buried not that far from here," he added.

Roman Connection?

As for Arthur being part of the Roman occupying force in northern England, as portrayed in the new movie, McHardy said, "The Roman connection is complete rubbish as far as I'm concerned."

The Romans left Britain at the start of the fifth century?about a hundred years before Arthur is said to have led a resistance campaign against invading Germanic tribes.

For instance, ancient accounts refer to a major battle at Badon Hill, an unknown location where Arthur's forces defeated the Anglo-Saxons in around A.D. 500. Like McArthur, McHardy thinks stories associated with King Arthur filtered south as Welsh-speaking Britons were gradually pushed out of Scotland by the Picts. These stories were then interwoven with local English landmarks.

"They were set within the known environment, so that people could absorb them," he said.

Tintagel, an ancient castle on the north coast of Cornwall, is perhaps the most familiar Arthurian setting. It's been claimed as Arthur's birthplace since medieval times.

Likewise, Glastonbury, in Somerset, has long been associated with Avalon. Similar historic sites are promoted by tourism offices around the country.

Given the mythology surrounding Arthur, and the difficulty in pinning him down historically, it's not surprising so many places now claim him as their own.


Posted by: greenldydragon 29-Aug-2004, 12:31 PM
That's really interesting. It does seem much more likely than some of the other theories, and definitely more likely than the actual myth.

Posted by: Silverhand 29-Aug-2004, 10:23 PM
I think you mean "Sarmatia", not Samaria, which is in Palestine.

I haven't heard much about the movie that has made me want to see it. The idea of a "Scottish" Arthur is interesting, though... Stephen Lawhead's Pendragon series puts "Camelot" in Scotland, although he's still got Glastonbury and Tintagel. His Guenivere is an Irish warrior princess.

Posted by: CelticRose 10-Sep-2004, 06:56 PM
I love anything to do with King Arthur. I watched something on the history channel not too long ago and it debated whether King Arthur really exhisted or not. I would like to think he did. I love anything to do with this legend!

Posted by: MacAibhistin 10-Sep-2004, 08:18 PM
I'm with you, CelticRose. We don't have a lot to go on, but I would say he was real and not completely legend. The legend is too old and there are too many references over a wide range of time to make him a complete fiction. I am sure that Merlin and many of the other elements are fictions. Nonetheless, a like the idea of Arthur standing up for justice, integrity, and equality, etc. He's a great hero. And, does it really matter if we add a bit of fiction to his character? After all, the Americans are famous for doing it to their presidents. Just look at Washington and the cherry tree. wink.gif


Posted by: CelticRose 11-Sep-2004, 01:25 AM
LOL Good point, Rory! I always wondered about that ole cherry tree! wink.gif

Posted by: MacAibhistin 11-Sep-2004, 11:01 AM
The cherry tree story was a fiction added by none other than a minister who was creating the first biography of Washington some 20 or so years after his death. It was myth making from the outset. unsure.gif


Posted by: CelticRose 11-Sep-2004, 01:02 PM
Sheesh! As a child I always believed it was true! rolleyes.gif

Posted by: sir_tal 17-Sep-2004, 03:45 PM
QUOTE (Silverhand @ 29-Aug-2004, 09:23 PM)
Stephen Lawhead's Pendragon series puts "Camelot" in Scotland, although he's still got Glastonbury and Tintagel. His Guenivere is an Irish warrior princess.

I've read the Pendragon Cycle several times, and I am constantly amazed at how well researched those books are. Every time I look around for Arthurian legends or Celtic Mythology and religion, I am finding a lot of Myrddin's bardic songs, etc.

Lawhead has Arthur dealing with a lot of Southern England (especially when dealing with the petty kings of the South), but his heart lies in the north. Sir Ector, Arthur's foster-father, commands a hillfort called Caer Edyn, which would have been modern-day Edinburgh. So according to Lawhead, Arthur grew up in Edinburgh.

Lawhead does a spectacular job at melding the known legends with his own personal findings, and the theories of Prof. Rhys. (I think I spelled his name right.) Anyone who is interested in how the Arthurian legend could have gone down should read these books.

"Warning" - Lawhead is a Christian, and his books are suffused with his beliefs. But if you can handle reading about someone else's beliefs, then these books are awesome. Very celtic.


Posted by: ImmortalAvalon 21-Sep-2004, 08:35 PM
I love Arthurian lore, and get a kick out of reading about the different "true" Arthur theories. One theory that I've found rather fascinating, if a bit hard to swallow, comes from Steve Blake and Scott Lloyd in their book, Keys to Avalon. There's a sequel, Pendragon, but I haven't read it yet. It, supposedly, uses the tradition Welsh sources (i.e. The Mabinogion, The Triads, Stanzas of the Graves, etc) to place the entire Arthur story in Wales. In order to do this, they drastically rearrange the geopolitcal landscape of early medieval Britain. As an example: in conventional histories, the kingdom of Northumbria was made up of two parts, Deira and Bernica, and was located in the North of England, Blake and Lloyd place it in Cheshire and Shropshire, which, according to them, were part of Wales in those days. As I said, fascinating, and hard to swallow.

About Lawhead, recently, I read his King Arthur (or something like that), which went into the "future king" part of the "once and future king". It was very interesting.

By the way, Lucius Artorius Castus was more than likely born in the Campania region of Italy (think Naples).

Posted by: bubba 21-Sep-2004, 10:41 PM
I rather think Arthur is a composite of several people. He's associated over too wide a timespan to be a single man and predated the shining armor of romantic stories. The one that sticks with me is Riothamus who lead troops in France as Arthur was supposed to have done at some point. Of course, we'll never know for sure and the mythology is entertaining at worst and instructive at best.

Posted by: Macfive 01-Oct-2004, 09:02 PM
Here is a good link with alot of information. The part relating to King Arthur can be found under "The Saxons."

Posted by: sir_tal 05-Oct-2004, 01:03 PM
About Lawhead, recently, I read his King Arthur (or something like that), which went into the "future king" part of the "once and future king". It was very interesting.

Are you talking about Avalon? The book where Arthur returns to lead Britain in its time of trouble and singlehandedly saves the monarchy from almost certain abolishment? I really did enjoy that novel as well. While that novel can be enjoyed on its own, it is connected rather well to his Pendragon Cycle. The books in that cycle are:


And then the somewhat independent Avalon.

I highly recommend all of them. Incidentally. I recently wrote Stephen Lawhead a letter thanking him for his books and asking him a couple of questions. (Had he seen the King Arthur movie, as well as what sites he would recommend visiting if I were taking a 3 week trip to Scotland/Britain.) He actually responded saying that he was living in Austria at this time, and as such had not had the opportunity to see the movie, but that some of his friends weren't all that impressed with it. In addition, he included SEVERAL sites to visit in the UK including Ireland. smile.gif Nice guy.


Posted by: ImmortalAvalon 11-Oct-2004, 02:37 PM
Are you talking about Avalon? The book where Arthur returns to lead Britain in its time of trouble and singlehandedly saves the monarchy from almost certain abolishment?

Thank you, sir_tal, that's it precisely, and I greatly enjoyed it as well. I read the others of the Pendragon Cycle as I find them, usually by accident at one of the local libraries.

I've tried to read Rosalind Miles's Guinevere Trilogy as well as Isolde, but I just can't get into them. ::sigh::

I rather think Arthur is a composite of several people.

I agree with that, bubba. Today's Arthur, I believe, is a composite of several historical, and not so historical (mythological even) characters woven into one superhero type figure, with a lot of medieval idealistic embellishment. The same can be said of Merlin.

Posted by: cori 18-Oct-2004, 04:35 PM
I rather think Arthur is a composite of several people.

I also agree with this theory. Many of our legends and myths come from stories people wish were true, thus creating such an ideal kingdom. With so many different views on the subject, I doubt that any of them are entirely true, but I do love to hear all of them.


Posted by: MelissaDawn7 27-May-2014, 10:39 AM
Interesting read, thanks! I've always been interested in the Aurthurian legends smile.gif

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