Hey, sorry I have been away for awhile. Many changes going on at the moment, and hanging over my head a deadline; I am supposed to hand in a finished draft for a readable history of Britain from 367-664. The outline is written, most of it is on paper I have a little research to do before it is. My big problem at this point is a lot of tedious editing. I thought, maybe, anyone interested in the topic might get a kick out of me putting up chapters as I complete them. So, don’t expect them regularly, but I will start putting them on my blog. Today, an introduction:
In a way, our understanding of British history has developed a lot like a person as he or she matures from a small child into adulthood. During the nineteenth century everything about Britain during the Dark Ages was understandable and most issues were seen as black or white. Gildas had provided a list of events from the Late Roman occupation up to his birth in about 527. Bede had added accurate details for that period and continued the history up to the seventh century. Nennius’ Historia Brittonum filled in what few blanks there were of the period along with many British events and names while The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle gave a detailed history of the English kingdoms’ development. Geoffrey of Monmouth provided an overview – themes and fluidity. There were of course discrepancies between all these sources, but it was believed they were nothing more than simple and honest misunderstandings between honest historians of the distant past.
The focus of historical studies then was to find better ways of understanding the materials so that all of them made sense together. With that in mind, scholars spent their careers pouring over the same four basic sources. Meanwhile, archeologists continued to improve their methods for uncovering the past. The revelation that Carbon disintegrated at a steady rate helped with dating as did the study of tree rings. Progressively more careful ways of digging and recording information helped as well.
The trouble was that the more scholars learned about history and archeology, the more obvious it became that the four traditional sources of the period were related to and inspired by each other. Once that was recognized their agreement really did not mean anything positive. In fact, it just meant that Gildas was the only one who knew anything about the fifth century unless it could be proven that Bede, Historia Brittonum, and The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle had used other sources.
Optimistic caution followed their revelation; experts claimed to know less and their studies became more specific as they made in-depth studies on each of the basic four, learning about their sources and eventually the motivations for their writing. The studies revealed more and more bias and less and less real knowledge of the period.
Dr. Dumville brought post-Roman studies to an extreme during the 1970s with a series of articles pointing out the basic oversights in the most-used sources. It was Ninnius, not Nennius, who claimed to have written the Historia Brittonum. His authorship was debated. The work had been written and rewritten for very political reasons and was not necessarily accurate. Similar accusations were thrown at Bede and The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle. Dumville flatly stated that any events which occurred between the departure of Roman troops in 409 and the beginnings of contemporary recordkeeping in the mid-sixth century were irrecoverable.
Historical and archeological scholars had largely pulled away from Dumville’s stance by the 1990s. Several literary experts began studying the individual sources at length. Professor Koch even attempted to reconstruct several sixth-century poems, Y Gododdin, “Marwnad Cunedda”, “Trawsganu Cynan Garwyn”, “Moliant Cadwallon”, and “Marwnad Cynddylan”. Professors Rowland Haycock and Jenny Rowland have studied many other poems in-depth to provide context and meanings for them line by line. The important recent works of Thomas Charles-Edwards and a new generation of historians have revealed new ways of looking at the sources and the period.
The modern era of Arthurian studies began on shaky foundations as well. Arthur and his twelve battles had after all been named in the Historia Brittonum. Studies by Jessie Weston and Alfred Nutt speculated that the Holy Grail was based on Romanian and Turkish religious observances or alternatively Celtic mythology. Nutt’s work continued with Roger Loomis, who connected Arthur to a sun god and his war-band with various figures in Irish Mythology. His thoughts held the field until the 1960s, promoting translations of Arthurian works from medieval Welsh, English, French, German, Italian, Danish, and Spanish with his popularity.
The 1960s saw scholars trained in Celtic literature approaching Arthurian studies with different and more disciplined approaches to the subject. Rachel Bromwich ended all doubt about the origins of Arthur’s name while continuing work by her and other experts researched how and when the materials had transferred to the continent. John Morris’ Age of Arthur was a book written by a widely knowledgeable expert in the area, but its unestablished theories were in the short term viewed as a step back in the area.
Since then, Arthuriana really continued on in two veins. One group of scholars and good capitalists have written book after book finding different ways of saying the same things about Gildas, Historia Brittonum, the Annales Cambriae, Bede, and The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle with varying levels of academic knowledge and economic success.
At the highest levels, the work of distentangling sources, influences on Arthurian literature, and character name histories has been at the forefront. Intensive studies have been accomplished on the continental romances, the Welsh stories, and their relationships. Peredur, Lancelot, and Gawain have been the subjects of several papers as well.
Several changes have occurred on both fronts over the last few years. As Professor Koch recently pointed out, the last of Professor Ifor Williams’ students died. Williams was a brilliant scholar but his reputation and charisma stifled the growth of an entire generation of scholars. With their decline and deaths progress has come in leaps and bounds; new and innovative work has been done on every major work of literature from this period. This has led to new approaches in the way historians have interpreted the period. It has also guided new methodologies. In 2012, the present author developed a new and more accurate means of extracting historical information from historical, pseudo-historical, and literary sources through intensive studies of the materials followed by a strict application of the results. The immediate results were a better understanding of the traditional Guinevere abduction and the Holy Grail legend. More far-reaching uses were found in a study of Arthur’s historicity and an exploration of Hengest and Gwrtheyrn’s place in history. It was found that, stripping away all the materials we know to be biased, the history of Britain between 410 and the end of the sixth century is very different from any picture we have yet developed.
In a very real way, what is laid out below is simply a continuation of the author’s previous work in context supplemented with the latest scholarly works. Approached from another perspective, the present monolith is a summary and rationalization of everything that has been accomplished in the subject of post-Roman Britain up to this point.
What follows below has several goals. First, to demonstrate a pattern of disintegration in Roman Britain that reached a climax in the decades after the Britons overthrew Constantine’s government and were refused Roman rule. In addition, I will demonstrate that the breakdown of Roman social, political, and economic order occurred with the re-emergence of the British social structure.
Second, the Britannia section will demonstrate the continuation of political and linguistic romanitas at the local level. Third, historical and archeological evidence will show the nature of Romano-Germanic culture. This evidence will be used to demonstrate how the Germanic tribes were divided during their service as foederati. The same evidence will show that they continued to function as separate entities after Rome had left Rome, during their initial revolt, and throughout the rest of the fifth century.
Fourth, several chapters will be devoted to explaining how the Picts and Irish immigrants to Britain had the political stability and military strength to overwhelm the Britons wherever they attacked. Concurrently, they will demonstrate why both culture groups were unable or unwilling to exploit their advantage through a permanent conquest. Fifth, chapters devoted to the sub-Roman period will walk through the process by which both the Germanic tribes and the British villages developed from isolated groups into full and integrated kingships in less than two centuries.
Sixth, evidence will be presented that demonstrates Christianity was not a thriving religion among all the Britons. Instead, evidence will be presented to show that it survived the fifth century along the borders of the old Roman province of Britannia and only developed into the dominant religion after all semblance of Roman culture had dissipated from everyday life. It is also hoped that the data will present Anglo-Saxon Christianity as a product of economic pressure which was used for the spread of political power. Finally, the author hopes to explore the fact that the Germanic conquest of British lands was inevitable.
A great deal has been learned and unlearned since the modern study of post-Roman Britain began in the nineteenth century. However, as complex as the sources and a study of the history has become there is still much that can be understood about the period, many underlying themes and controlling factors to understand, and new ways and more useful methods of looking at the few historical sources at our disposal. Post-Roman Britain is no longer as easy as Geoffrey of Monmouth portrayed the subject in his famous 1136 work, but neither is beyond our understanding, either.
1 Dumville, “ ‘Nennius’ and the Historia Brittonum”, SC 11 (Cardiff, 1976), 78-95.
2 Chadwick, “Early Culture and Learning in North Wales”, Studies in the Early British Church, ed. Nora K. Chadwick, (Cambridge, 1958), 29-36; Dumville, “Historia Brittonum: An Insular History from the Carolingian Age”; Historiographie im frühen Mittelalter, eds. A Scharer and G. Scheibelreiter, (Munich, 1994), 411; Higham, King Arthur: Mythmaking and History, (New York, 2002), 130.
3 Kirby, “Bede and Northumbrian Chronology”, EHR 78 (London, 1963), 514-527; “Bede’s Native Sources for the Historia Ecclesiastica”, Bulletin of the John Rylands Library 48 (London, 1965-1966), 341-371; “Problems of early West Saxon history”, EHR 80 (London, 1965), 10-29; “Vortigern”, BBCS 23 (Cardiff, 1970), 37-59; “Northumbria in the time of Bede”, St. Wilfrid at Hexham, ed. David Kirby, (Newcastle-upon-Tyne, 1974), 2-4.
4 Dumville, “Sub-Roman Britain: history and legend”, History 62 (London, 1977a), 173-192.
5 The Gododdin of Aneirin, trans. and ed. John T. Koch, (Cardiff, 1997); Cunedda, Cynan, Cadwallon, Cynddylan: Four Welsh Poems and Britain 383-655, ed. and trans. John T. Koch, (Cardiff, 2013).
6 Legendary Poems from the Book of Taliesin, trans. and ed. Marged Haycock, (Cardiff, 2007); Early Welsh Saga Poetry, trans. and ed. Jenny Rowland, (Cambridge, 1990).
7 Arnold, An Archaeology of the Early Anglo-Saxon Kingdoms, (London, 1988); Stephen Bassett (ed.), The Origins of the Anglo-Saxon Kingdoms, (Leicester, 1989); Leslie Abrams and James P. Carley (eds.) The Archaeology and History of Glastonbury Abbey. Essays in Honour of the Ninetieth Birthday of C.A. Ralegh Radford, (Woodbridge, 1991); Higham, Rome, Britain and the Anglo-Saxons, (London, 1992); Dark, Civitas to Kingdom: British Political Continuity 300-800, (Leicester, 1994); Higham, An English Empire, (Manchester, 1995); King Arthur: Mythmaking and History, (New York, 2002); Scott DeGregorio (ed.) Innovation and Tradition in the Writings of the Venerable Bede, (Morgantown, 2006).
8 Weston, The Legend of Sir Gawain, (London, 1897); The Quest of the Holy Grail, (London, 1913); From Ritual to Romance, (London, 1920) Nutt, Alfred. Studies on the Legend of the Holy Grail. (London, 1888).
9 Celtic Myth and Arthurian Romance, (New York, 1927); Arthurian Tradition and Chrétien, (New York, 1949); Wales and the Arthurian Legend, (Cardiff, 1956); The Grail: From Celtic Myth to Christian Symbol, (Cardiff, 1963).
10 Bromwich, “First Transmission from England to France”, The Arthur of the Welsh, Rachel Bromwich, Brynley F. Roberts, and Alfred O.H. Jarman (eds.) (Cardiff, 1991), 273-298; Bullock-Davies, Professional Interpreters and the Matter of Britain, (Cardiff, 1966).
11 Nothing is to be gained by listing individuals or their works. The simple fact that a physics professor has written as an equal to experts in this field is telling enough about the state of its integrity.
12 Charles-Edwards, “The Date of the Four Branches of the Mabinogi”, THSC (London, 1971), 263-98; Laurie, Two Studies in Chrétien de Troyes, (Geneva, 1972); Buschinger and Zink (eds.), Lancelot-Lanzelet: Hier et Aujourdhui, (Reineke, 1995); W.H. Jackson and Sylvia A. Ranawake (eds.), The Tristan of the Germans, (Cardiff, 2000); Karen Pratt and Glynn Burgess (eds.) The Arthur of the French: The Arthurian Legend in Medieval French and Occitan Literature, (Cardiff, 2006).
13 Trioedd Ynys Prydein: The Welsh Triads, ed. and trans. Rachel Bromwich, (Cardiff, rev. 1978); Brouland, “Peredur ab Efrawg”, Perceval-Parzival; Hier et Aujourdhui, ed. Danielle Buschinger and Wolfgang Spiewok, (Reineke, 1994), 59-70; Bugge, “Fertility myth and female sovereignty in the weddynge of Sir Gawen and Dame Ragnell”, CR 39.2 (University Park, 2004), 198-218.
14 Goetinck, Peredur: A Study of Welsh Tradition in the Grail Legends, (Cardiff, 1975); Busby, Gauvain in Old French Literature, (Amsterdam, 1980); Gowans, Cei and the Arthurian Legend, (Cambridge, 1988).
15 Johnson, Origins of Arthurian Romances, (Madison, 2012); Evidence of Arthur, (Madison, 2014); Hengest, Gwrtheyrn and the Chronology of Post-Roman Britain, (Madison, 2014).