The Origins of Uther Pendragon
by Tim Walker
The abandonment of the Province of Britannia by the Romans took place over a number of years leading to a final separation around the year 410 AD. It is in this year that a letter from the Emperor Honorius advised the last administrators that Britannia must ‘look to its own defence’. The Roman legions had withdrawn incrementally over a number of years leading up to the final separation to bolster the defense of Gaul as a troubled Western Empire fought with itself and attacking Germanic tribes.
What happened next in Britannia is still the subject of conjecture and debate by historians and archaeologists who have few scraps of evidence to go on. The oral tradition of storytellers and some scant accounts by monks and Welsh poets has left us with a tantalising glimpse of a desperate defence of the island from invaders, and the suggestion that tribal chiefs elected a high king or ‘leader of battles’ to lead their army. Resistance to the colonisation of what is now England by the Anglo-Saxons continued for approximately three hundred years, so we can assume there was some organised resistance by the Britons. Reliable record keeping began again around 887 with the Anglo-Saxon Chronicles in the reign of King Alfred the Great.
The story of Uther Pendragon and King Arthur is first told by Geoffrey of Monmouth in his History of Kings of Britain written around the year 1136. Many historians have discounted this as an unreliable source due to the author’s habit of supplementing ‘facts’ with ‘invention’. He clearly was a man with a creative mind, but there is evidence that he had done his research and taken account of the writings of monks Gildas, Nennius and Bede, and the Welsh poets - and some are now of the view that he may have had access to other source material that is unknown to us.
His account of the period immediately after the end of Roman administration starts with the Archbishop of London, Guithelin, travelling to Armorica (modern day Brittany in northwestern France) and pleading with King Aldrien to come and claim the kingdom of Britannia and save it from barbarian invaders. Aldrien has problems of his own with the Franks, and instead sends his brother Constantine with a force of two thousand men. Constantine is welcomed by the council of tribal kings and is crowned High King of Britannia. He then married a lady ‘descended from a noble Roman family’ and they had three sons, Constans, Aurelius and Uther. Constantine reigns for ten years before he is murdered by a sly noble named Vortigern who takes the crown for himself.
Aurelius and Uther flee to Armorica where they bide their time until they mature and return to Britannia with an army to do battle with Vortigern, defeating him and placing Ambrosius on the throne. Throughout Ambrosius' reign, Uther was his staunchest ally, commanding his army in many adventures to the north and to Ireland, including assisting Merlin to bring the giant stones that are now Stonehenge. Geoffrey also gives us the story of Uther’s obsessive passion for Igraine, the Duchess of Cornwall, and how Merlin helps him deceive and win her. Could these be tales with some substance, handed down by bards and minstrels?
Most of Uther’s reign was taken up with campaigning against Saxon, Scots and Irish invaders across the length and breadth of the island, suffering some defeats and then scoring a major victory against a combined Angle, Saxon and Jute army at the battle of ‘Mount Damen’. Where this is, no one knows, but there are other mentions of a major military success by a Briton army led by either Ambrosius, Uther or Arthur at ‘Badon Hill’ sometime around the end of the fifth century. The city of Bath was at that time known as ‘Caer Badon’ and Little Solsbury Hill stands beside it, a possible location for ‘Mount Badon’.
Perhaps in time archaeologists will piece together more compelling evidence of what really happened in Britain in the fifth and sixth centuries. Until then, it remains a dark age, hidden from our eyes and shrouded in myths and legends. Almost certainly there were high kings or military leaders who organised resistance to invaders, but their true identities and deeds remain largely unknown.
Tim Walker is an independent author based in Windsor, UK. Tim’s background is in marketing, journalism, editing and publications management. He began writing an historical series, A Light in the Dark Ages (set in the Fifth Century), in 2015, starting with a novella set at the time the Romans left Britain – Abandoned. This was followed in 2017 with a novel – Ambrosius: Last of the Romans, and the third installment, Uther’s Destiny, has just been released in March 2018.
His creative writing journey began in July 2015 with the publication of a book of short stories, Thames Valley Tales. In 2016 his first novel, a futuristic/dystopian thriller, Devil Gate Dawn was exposed on the Amazon Scout programme prior to publication. Both titles were re-launched with revised content, new covers and in print-on-demand paperback format in December 2016.
In January 2017 his first children’s book, The Adventures of Charly Holmes, co-written with his 12-year-old daughter, Cathy, was published. In September 2017 he published a second collection of short stories – Postcards from London.
Tim loves to hear from readers, you can find him: Website Newsletter sign-up Amazon Author Page Facebook Twitter
Britannia is in shock at the murder of charismatic High King, Ambrosius Aurelianus, and looks to his brother and successor, Uther, to continue his work in leading the resistance to barbarian invaders. Uther’s destiny as a warrior king seems set until his world is turned on its head when his burning desire to possess the beautiful Ygerne leads to conflict. Could the fate of his kingdom hang in the balance as a consequence?
Court healer and schemer, Merlyn, sees an opportunity in Uther’s lustful obsession to fulfil the prophetic visions that guide him. He is encouraged on his mission by druids who align their desire for a return to ancient ways with his urge to protect the one destined to save the Britons from invaders and lead them to a time of peace and prosperity. Merlyn must use his wisdom and guile to thwart the machinations of an enemy intent on foiling his plans.
Meanwhile, Saxon chiefs Octa and Ælla have their own plans for seizing the island of Britannia and forging a new colony of Germanic tribes. Can Uther rise above his family problems and raise an army to oppose them?
Book three in A Light in the Dark Ages series, Uther’s Destiny is an historical fiction novel set in the Fifth Century - a time of myths and legends that builds to the greatest legend of all – King Arthur and his knights.