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Arthurís Battles

 
 

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There are several early sources which mention the battles fought by Arthur; Historia Brittonum' written C.800 Nennius, the early welsh 'Dream of Rhonaby', the early welsh 'Culwch and Olwen', the welsh triads and Gildas' 'Concerning the Ruin of Britain' which mentions Badon, but not Arthur.

( It is likely that Gildas, a monk, failed to mention Arthur  because of the well documented life long deadly blood feud between Arthur and Gildas' brother Huail. )

The sequence culminated in the biggest of them all, the Battle or siege of Mount Badon. This last attack was launched against the heart of Arthur's realm. Sources mention 960 Saxon killed. Aelle of Sussex commanded the Saxon, Oesc king of the Kentish Jutes died in this battle.

Arthur seems to have fought a series of battles against the same enemies, or at least enemies under the same leader, and after the last one he drove them in to the sea never to be seen again.

Arthurís Battles

 

In -'Historia Brittonum' written C.800 Nennius lists twelve battles fought by Arthur. 

50. Then it was, that the magnanimous Arthur, with all the kings and military force of Britain, fought against the Saxons. And though there were many more noble than himself, yet he was twelve times chosen their commander, and was as often conqueror. The first battle in which he was engaged, was at the mouth of the river Gleni. The second, third, fourth, and fifth, were on another river, by the Britons called Duglas, in the region Linuis. The sixth, on the river Bassas. The seventh in the wood Celidon, which the Britons call Cat Coit Celidon. The eighth was near Gurnion castle, where Arthur bore the image of the Holy Virgin, mother of God, upon his shoulders, and through the power of our Lord Jesus Christ, and the holy Mary, put the Saxons to flight, and pursued them the whole day with great slaughter. The ninth was at the City of Legion, which is called Cair Lion. The tenth was on the banks of the river Trat Treuroit. The eleventh was on the mountain Breguoin, which we call Cat Bregion. The twelfth was a most severe contest, when Arthur penetrated to the hill of Badon. In this engagement, nine hundred and forty fell by his hand alone, no one but the Lord affording him assistance. In all these engagements the Britons were successful. For no strength can avail against the will of the Almighty

56. At that time, the Saxons grew strong by virtue of their large number and increased in power in Britain. Hengist having died, however, his son Octha crossed from the northern part of Britain to the kingdom of Kent and from him are descended the kings of Kent. Then Arthur along with the kings of Britain fought against them in those days, but Arthur himself was the military commander ["dux bellorum"]. His first battle was at the mouth of the river which is called Glein. His second, third, fourth, and fifth battles were above another river which is called Dubglas and is in the region of Linnuis. The sixth battle was above the river which is called Bassas. The seventh battle was in the forest of Celidon, that is Cat Coit Celidon. The eighth battle was at the fortress of Guinnion, in which Arthur carried the image of holy Mary ever virgin on his shoulders; and the pagans were put to flight on that day. And through the power of our Lord Jesus Christ and through the power of the blessed Virgin Mary his mother there was great slaughter among them. The ninth battle was waged in the City of the Legion. The tenth battle was waged on the banks of a river which is called Tribruit. The eleventh battle was fought on the mountain which is called Agnet. The twelfth battle was on Mount Badon in which there fell in one day 960 men from one charge by Arthur; and no one struck them down except Arthur himself, and in all the wars he emerged as victor. And while they were being defeated in all the battles, they were seeking assistance from Germany and their numbers were being augmented many times over without interruption. And they brought over kings from Germany that they might reign over them in Britain, right down to the time in which Ida reigned, who was son of Eobba. He was the first king in Bernicia, i.e., in Berneich.

Seven of the battles listed by Nennius are sited on rivers, two are on hills, one is in a wood, one is in 'the city of the Legions and one is by 'castle Guinnion.'

Nennius Battles;- 8 - Guinnion, 9 - City of Legions, 10 - Tribruit, 11 - Mount Agned, 12 - Badon.

 None of the places named is easily recognizable but they can be interpreted as describing a series of invasions or raids by the English as they sailed around the coast of the Southwest of Britain, from Exeter round Lands End to Barnstaple Bay, where the final battle, the siege of Mount Badon, took place. 

'Saxon ships were for a period free to distress the peoples of the Atlantic coasts. The Irish Annals place the 'second Saxon raid on Ireland' in 471. Sidonius called them 'masters of the sea whose raids on the Biscay coast were deterred by a Gothic admiral's "half naval, half military duty of coasting the western shores, on the look out for the curved ships of the Saxons."

'The Saxons plundered on both sides of the Channel, attracting most notice in the thirty years or so after 460, when they controlled the Sussex and Hampshire havens, raiding the Atlantic coasts of Gaul and Ireland as well. The Age of Arthur - John Morris

 

Reading a list of various authorities interpretations of the locations described by Nennius makes very clear the fact that there are no universally accepted interpretations of the sites of any of the battles.

1 'The first battle was at the mouth of the river Glein'.

  Jackson, Dark Age Britain;- gives the River Glen in Lincolnshire

Tolstoy quoted in Mathews, Warriors of Arthur;- gives River Glen in Northumberland.

Ashe, Guidebook ;- says derived from British word 'pure' or 'clear'

;- either Lincolnshire or Northumberland.

;- glen meaning valley is different word.

2-5 'The next four were on the banks of the River Dubglas in the region of Linnius'.

( Nennius list reads as if it had been transcribed from an old poem, and if so this entry may refer to one battle which had four stanzas in the original )

 Linnius =  Lindenses (Latin)

Jackson ;- gives River Witham in Lindsay (Lincs.)

  Tolstoy gives River Douglas in Lanarkshire

  Ashe, Guidebook;- says means blue -black

  mod. forms as 'Douglas', Dawlish, Divelish.

'Blackwater' is the English version of the modern Irish equivalent.

  Geoffrey of Monmouth says 'Douglas, near York.

Ashe, Guidebook 'no identification for Linnius.'

  from Cameron, English Place Names. 'water, river' may be the meaning of the second element of Dalch (D), Dawlish (D), Divelish (Do), Douglas (La), Dulas (He) and of place -name Dowlish (So(;- all of which mean 'black stream'.

Eilean Dubh - the dark isle

from 'Moors of the South-West.' pp 89 -90. De Lank river near Camelford ' the river name is not of Norman origin; 'de' comes from the Celtic 'dhu' = 'black'.

6 'The sixth was on the river Bassas'.

  Jackson can't identify.

Tolstoy claims Cambuslang.

Ashe says 'unknown'.

7 'The seventh was in the wood of Celidon (Cat Coit Celidon).

Jackson gives 'Caledonian Forest'.

Tolstoy gives 'Peebles, Lanark, Dumfries'.

Ashe 'North of the Border'.

8 'The eighth was by Castle Guinnion'.

Jackson gives the Roman fort of Binchester.

Tolstoy gives Caer Guidn (Lands End) c.500 against Saxon called Cerdic.

Ashe 'unknown'.

from 'AA Illustrated Guide to Britain.' p.25 'Sennen - King Arthur leading the forces of several Cornish chieftains routed the Danes here.

  from Ashe, Guidebook &c.' 'Zennor .... four Cornish kings ......redheaded Danes.

  from 'West of Hayle River.' p.17 'Ancient tradition of an unpopular red-haired minority in the region (Penwith peninsula) 'A tale of Arthur, aided by nine vassal kings, wiping out a 'Danish' army in a great battle by a mill near the land's end and Arthur and the nine kings dined in triumph round the table rock at Sennen. The name of the mill is given as 'Vellan -Druchar', Velly -Druchia is a ruined cottage about a mile north east of St. Buryan.

9 'The ninth was in the City of the Legion'.

Jackson gives either Caerleon or Chester.

  Tolstoy gives Exeter (sea) against Cerdic. says this was the battle of Llongborth

  Ashe 'Caerleon or Chester'.

10 'The tenth was on the bank of the river Tribruit'.

Jackson gives 'southern Scotland'.

Ashe says the Welsh form is 'Tryvrwyd' and quotes from a Welsh poem;-

  'By the hundred they fell,

  They fell a hundred at a time.

Before Bedwyr

  On the shores of Tryvrwyd. says probably south Scotland against hostile Britons.

11 'The eleventh was on the hill called Agned' (Agned cat Bregonium)

  some versions of Nennius give 'Breguoin'.

Jackson says 'Bremenium' the Roman fort at High Rochester.

Tolstoy gives Brent Knoll.

Ashe 'identity unknown'.

12 'The twelfth was on Mount Badon'. (Mons Badonicus)

Jackson gives Solsbury Hill but prefers Liddington.

Tolstoy gives Bathampton Downs (Bath)

  Ashe 'quotes Gildas as calling it a siege.

  Annales Cambriae 'The battle of Badon'.

  date given as 500, 518, 499, 495.

Malory on the Battle of Barham Down;- Ashe, Guidebook;- says Malory puts this battle on the road between Dover and Canterbury. Jutes had long been in possession of Kent. Group of Jutish Barrows may have suggested mass graves..

 

THE BATTLE OF VELLA N-DRUCHAR.

Vellan (mill), druchar (wheel)

THE Sea Kings, in their predatory wanderings, landed in Genvor Cove, and, as they had frequently done on previous occasions, they proceeded to pillage the little hamlet of Escols. On one occasion they landed in unusally large numbers, being resolved, as it appeared, to spoil many of the large and wealthy towns of Western Cornwall, which they were led to believe were unprotected. It fortunately happened that the heavy surf on the beach retarded their landing, so that the inhabitants had notice of their threatened invasion.

That night the beacon-fire was lit on the chapel hill, another was soon blazing on Castle-an-Dinas, and on Trecrobben. Cam Brea promptly replied, and continued the signal-light, which also blazed lustrously that night on St Agnes Beacon. Presently the fires were seen on Belovely Beacon, and rapidly they appeared on the Great Stone, on St Bellarmine's Tor, and Cadbarrow, and then the fires blazed out on Roughtor and Brownwilly, thus rapidly conveying the intelligence of war to Prince Arthur and his brave knights, who were happily assembled in full force at Tintagel to do honour to several native Princes who were at that time on a visit to the King of Cornwall. Arthur, and nine other kings, by forced marches, reached the neighbourhood of the Land's-End at the end of two days. The Danes crossed the land down through the bottoms to the sea on the northern side of the promontory, spreading destruction in their paths. Arthur met them on their return, and gave them battle near Vellan-Druchar. So terrible was the slaughter, that the mill was worked with blood that day. Not a single Dane of the vast army that had landed escaped. A few had been left in charge of the ships, and as soon as they learned the fate of their brethren, they hastened to escape, hoping to return to their own northern land. A holy woman, whose name has not been preserved to us, "brought home a west wind" by emptying the Holy Well against the hill, and sweeping the church from the door to the altar. Thus they were prevented from escaping, and were all thrown by the force of a storm and the currents either on the rocky shore, or on the sands, where they were left high and dry. It happened on the occasion of an extraordinary spring-tide, which was yet increased by the wind, so that the ships lay high up on the rocks, or on the sands; and for years the birds built their nests in the masts and rigging.
Thus perished the last army of Danes who dared to land upon our western shores.
King Arthur and the nine kings pledged each other in the holy water from St Sennen's Well, they returned thanks for their victory in St Sennen's Chapel, and dined that day on the Table-men.
Merlin, the prophet, was amongst the host, and the feast being ended, he was seized with the prophetic afflatus, and in the hearing of all the host proclaimed--
"The northmen wild once more shall land,
And leave their bones on Escol's sand.
The soil of Vellan-Druchar's plain
Again shall take a sanguine stain;
And o'er the mill-wheel roll a flood
Of Danish mix'd with Cornish blood.
When thus the vanquish'd find no tomb,
Expect the dreadful day of doom."

From - Popular Romances of the West of England collected and edited by Robert Hunt [1903, 3rd edition]

 

related pages

Nennius
 
Mount Badon
 
Camlann

 

 

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