Wednesday, January 31, 2018

Searching for King Arthur — Gildas #Arthurian #Legend #OurAuthorGang

Searching for King Arthur  — Gildas

Gildas was a 6th Century monk who was born in the year of the Battle of Mons Badonicus, or, The Battle of Mount Badon, as we now know it. Mount Badon is, of course, the famous battle where King Arthur halted the Saxon invasion for a time.

Gidas's great work — On the Ruin and Conquest of Britain, is no easy read. In fact, it  reads like a damning sermon. He certainly did not mince his words! He target five particular kings - goodness knows what they had done to upset him - and he isn't particularly forgiving of his fellow priests.

"Britain has priests, but they are fools; numerous ministers, but they are shameless; clerics, but they are wily plunderers."

He seems to be more than a little obsessed with the Book of Daniel, and the Book of Revelations. 

However, Gildas's work is considered one of most important sources on the history of Britain in the 5th and 6th centuries, simply because, for once, it was written by someone who was actually there and although it is not considered a primary sources it is about as close as we are going to get.

However, Gildas gives the word 'vague' a whole new meaning. He gives us very few names and no firm dates. He misses out chunks of history if they do not serve his purpose or his message.

What does Gildas say about Arthur?


The only 5th century person he does talk about is a man called  Ambrosius Aurelianus.

"... a gentleman who, perhaps alone of the Romans, had survived the shock of this notable storm. Certainly his parents, who had worn the purple, were slain by it. His descendants in our day have become greatly inferior to their grandfather's excellence..."

Now this is where it gets a little confusing. Ambrosius appears to be of Roman descent. He organises Briton and leads them in battle against the Saxons. Some historians believe that Ambrosius was Arthur, but I am not convinced with that argument. The Venerable Bede clearly states in his work — An Ecclesiastical History of the English People — that they are two separate people.

So what is going on?

Gildes is very vocal about many things, but not Arthur. He doesn't mention him. At all.

Arthur has always come across as a sort of people's hero. But in monastic writings of the time he is not described as a hero, in fact he is described as the complete opposite. Which leads me to suspect two things. Firstly, he wasn't as good as we all think he was. Or, he had fallen out with the Church. I kind of lean towards the latter. According to the Life of Gidas, Arthur killed Gildas brother. No wonder he omitted him! He wasn't going to make him immortal in his works. Who could blame him?

War is coming...

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