I am handing the blog over today, to fellow Arthurian fantasy author, Justin A Orton. Justin is going to put forward the case for a Scottish King Arthur. So over to you, Justin…
I’ve been asked many times where the concept of a Scottish King Arthur arose.
Well this is not a new concept. The Clive Owen movie “King Arthur” is set north of Hadrian’s wall and most of the action takes place in the Scottish borderlands. Others have also explored the “Scottish” Arthur, most notably the historian David F. Carroll in his book “Arturius – A Quest for Camelot”. Much of my research mirrors his and I would encourage those seeking further details to read his book.
As a child, I was obsessed with the Arthurian Legend, and yes – I spent far too many childhood days searching rocks for hidden swords! Alas I’m not king yet!
From the age of ten, Scotland had become our vacation destination of choice and before long I fell totally in love with the rugged beauty of this land, its people, its music and its history. Robert the Bruce supplanted Arthur as my favorite hero king and it was while researching his history that I stumbled across Arthur again.
By this time I had come to believe that “King Arthur” never truly existed, and was more a composite figure whose fame had grown with hand me down stories. It seemed every location in England wanted to claim some link to the Arthur legend, and while each offered a tantalizing thread to the story, Scotland is the only location I’ve found where not just Arthur, but many of the places, and characters from the legend can be found in the same geographical region, and historical period.
Only in Scotland can a case can be made for the existence of:
· The Round Table
· The battle of Camlann
So who is this real Arthur of Scotland? Let’s avoid poems, myths and other unreliable works, and focus on historical record. To do this we must forget any reference to the word Arthur. The use of the ‘h’ was not common until the 12th century, which is when Geoffrey of Monmouth penned his “History of the Kings of Britain”. Most of the legends we have come to accept stem from this somewhat “fanciful” accounting. To coin a phrase from another childhood hero – Indiana Jones – “We’re digging in the wrong place!”.
Sixth century writing was predominantly Latin and the name Arthur, or Artur would have been recorded as Arturius. As soon as we drop the “h” the pieces of the puzzle start to fit for in 6th century Scotland we find record of one of the greatest war leaders of the time. Arturius – son of Aidan MacGabran, King of Dalriada.
Arturius governed the Scottish region of Mannan, located between the two roman walls – Hadrian’s to the south, and the Antonine wall to the north. Rome’s influence in this region had been limited to a frontier outpost. It was a troublesome military district, difficult to control and with little value to the empire. They abandoned this northern frontier falling back to the stronger defensive line of Hadrian’s wall. It is highly likely that the people of this region had trained, fought and served in the battle-hardened legions of Rome, as portrayed in the Clive Owen movie.
At the sound of the word we imagine grand castles more akin to Disney, or the mighty fortifications of the Norman period that came hundreds of years AFTER Arthur. Many cities over the years have been tagged as built on the bones of Camelot - but there has been no historical record of such a fortress-city. However, in Scotland - there is documented evidence of a fort known to the Romans as Ad Vallum, but to the Britons of the time as Camelon - later corrupted to Camelot. This fortress was an impressive structure and guarded not only the central region of Scotland but also the strategic crossing point of the River Carron. The small town of Camelon remains to this day, 1.5 miles west of Falkirk, and yes you guessed it – this fortress was the base of operations for none other than Prince Arturius – war leader of the north.
The Round Table
Conditioned by movies, novels and epic poems we all think of a gigantic round table within the halls of Camelot, around which Arthur and his knights held council. Of course, no true table has been discovered, and were a round table to be unearthed it would be incredibly difficult to prove it was that of legend - unless perhaps it were found at Camelon! Well, interestingly enough there is, not far from Camelon, beneath the towering buttresses of Stirling castle, a mound known as the King’s Knot. It is known for certain that this mound predates Stirling castle, and there is a poem that actually names this mound the “Round Tabill.” The poem admittedly was written in 1370 and tells of the flight of King Edward after his crushing defeat at Bannockburn by King Robert the Bruce. “An besouth the Castill went they thone, Rychte by the Round Tabill away…”
It is conceivable this place was a neutral meeting place for “Arturius” and the vassal kings of the North.
In my novel “To Raise a King” I use this location for Arthur’s Round Table. I could easily picture Arturius and the kings of the region gathered at the top of the mound, with various chieftains and generals placed on a lower tier, while their guards attendants and retinue gathered on the flats around.
In legend King Arthur died in the battle of Camlann, fighting the Picts, who were led by Mordred son of King Lot. Again, there is no reliable historical record of such a battle in England or Wales, yet recorded in the Annals of Ulster in the year 582AD a major battle was fought in Mannan near the river Allan – known as the Crooked Allan. Crooked in Gaelic translates to “Cam,” and thus the river was known as Camallan. Our factual Arturius, war leader of the North, is recorded to have died here - fighting none other than the Picts! This is conclusive stuff, but let’s throw a little supposition into the mix. In all probability, the Pictish forces would have been led by the son, or sons, of the Pictish king. At the time of Camallan, this King was Cannelat. “Canne” is actually a Celtic prefix meaning head or chief. If one drops the “Canne”, you are left with the name Lat. Could king Lot of legend, actually be Chief Lat of history?
In the legend of Arthur, our heroic king, mortally wounded, is taken to the island of Avalon by his sister Morgan. Yet again no historical record exists for a place named Avalon. But - I know I’m getting predictable here - records show the land immediately adjacent to the battlefield of Camallan was originally swamp. In fact an island existed here formed by the river Allan to the east, the river Forth to the south, and the river Teith to the west with the intervening land comprising water-filled swamps. Being on the banks of the Allan this land would have been known as Av Allan – which translates to “On Allan”. Say “Av Allan” to yourself a few times - sounds remarkably like Avalon right? You can almost picture the loyal soldiers carrying their fallen leader to a place of safety and this island would surely have been it.
One could argue that all the above historical records are mere coincidence, but it becomes harder to dismiss the facts when you consider that King Aidan MacGabran - the father of Arturius - also had a daughter named Mergein, meaning sea birth. Mergein of course is later corrupted to Morgain, and by the 12th century had morphed into Morgan.
There is no record of Guenever (Gwenevere) until Geoffrey of Monmouth’s fanciful history. By the time of its writing (600 years after the death of Arturius) the language had changed, and spellings had changed. However, it is interesting to discover that the wife of Arturius – rumored to have been taken by the Picts - was named Anora. In the time of Geoffrey of Monmouth it was not uncommon to prefix a name with Guan, later written as Gwen (literally meaning white, representing fair or pure). Arthur’s queen would thus have been recorded as Fair Anora, or Guan-anora - phonetically Gwenanora. It is possible that this was later corrupted into Gwenevere. I admit this is far from conclusive, but it does add another link all be it tenuous between our historical Arturius of the North and the legend we’ve come to love.
And so finally to Merlin. It’s hard not to get a little excited when you hear the name Merlin. What you may not know is that a true figure of history existed with the name Merlin or Myrddin. The Annals of Wales contains an entry showing that Myrddin was allied with a pagan prince who was defeated in battle in 573AD at the Battle of Arderydd - just north of Carlisle. Known as a druid, or bard, he fled the field of battle and lived in the wooded areas of Celyddon between the two Roman walls - the Antonine and Hadrians – in the exact vicinity of Camelon! This Merlin came under the protection of one of the kings of the north - King Ryderrch. Given Arturius was known to be war leader of these northern kings, then it is extremely likely that Arturius and Merlin were known to each other.
My novel “To Raise a King” is built around these characters and locations. Legends claim that Arthur never died, but merely fell into a magical sleep to awaken in his countries time of need. David Carroll makes an interesting link to the fact that William Wallace - another larger than life hero - did in fact rise, from this very same region to serve his country. I’ve taken a slightly different path but for that you’ll need to read “To Raise a King” and the forthcoming sequel “To Save a Queen”.
Thank you so much Justin, for such an informative post! If you would like to check out Justin’s debut novel, To Raise A King, then scroll down…
When Matt escapes a Scottish boys' home to search for his parents, he instead finds himself fleeing for his life. Cast back in time to the brutality of 6th-century Scotland, he is sent on a dangerous quest - a race to recover the missing fragments of a broken crown and save two worlds from certain destruction.
Love, betrayal and murder follow Matt as he struggles against a backdrop of powerful magic and political tension that soon erupts into open war. Matt's faith in himself, and his trust in his newfound friends will be put to the ultimate test as he fights to Raise a King.
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About the author
I spend most days delving into the world of computer code and unraveling programming mysteries for many major corporations, but my true passion is fictional writing.
My work is always supervised by Oliver (my cat), who’s four-legged contributions can often be found in both my coding and writing (all spelnig errors r stritcly his!).
I was born and raised in England, but now live with my beautiful wife Lisa in Florida (famous for its theme parks, beaches, the occasional hurricane, and a certain mouse).
My hobbies include: reading, movies, history, travel (I want to see mountains again Gandalf – mountains!), and exploring the latest gadgets and gizmos.
I’m rather fond of single malt scotch and it’s not uncommon to find me of an evening, sipping on a fine dram, while pondering how to get a character out of the very awkward situation I recently put them in!