The Grave of Arthur?

Rex Artorius inscription. Image: Alan Wilson and Baram Blackett

Article first published in Pendragon, the Journal of the Pendragon Society XVI No 3 (1983), and here slightly revised and expanded


Several Pendragon Society members over the past year [1982-3] brought to our attention news of two South Wales historians who have claimed to have discovered the grave of Arthur.

So I wrote to Alan Wilson and Anthony Blackett of Penylan, Cardiff to get more details than those provided by press cuttings. A correspondence was begun in August and continued till November 1983.

They have clearly completed a lot of research over a decade, investing much of their savings, and some of it appears in books they have themselves published. One (Arthur the War King) is a novel, but three are factual: King Arthur King of Glamorgan & Gwent, which I have seen, is the first; King Arthur and the Charters of the Kings is the second (though, according to Charles Evans-Günther, most of this is an uncredited copy of Rev W J Rees’ edition of Liber Landavensis, the Book of Llandaf). Finally, King Arthur’s Invisible Kingdom may already have been printed by the time this magazine is published.¹

Early medieval inscriptions, after V E Nash-Williams, ‘Early Christian Monuments of Wales’ (1950), redrawn by C A Lovegrove, 1983

PVMPEIVS CARANTORIVS, Glamorgan;
PAVLI . . . FILI MA . . ., Glamorgan: Wilson and Blackett argue this is the stone of St Paul, son of Meurig, and brother of Athrwys or “Arthur II”.
MAGLOCVN FILI CLVTORI, Pembrokeshire; if this Maglocunus is the famous Maelgwn denounced by Gildas then Clutorius, they say, may be Caswallon Lawhir. Why should Maelgwn of Gwynedd be buried in Dyfed?
MACARITINI FILI BERIC(I), Glamorgan; “We cannot make out the MA” say Wilson and Blackett. It is “not there”.
FILI AVITORI, Caernarvonshire. DERVACI FILIVS IVSTI IC IACIT, Brecknockshire. (All county names as they were in the early 20th century.)


Essentially Wilson and Blackett argue that the King Arthur of legend is an amalgam of at least two (out of five) historical King Arthurs between 200 and 1000 CE, and that Gryffydd ap Arthur — or, as we know him, Geoffrey of Monmouth — was the first to combine their careers.

These two King Arthurs were

  1. Arthur ap Macsen, that is the son of Maximus who they say defeated the Emperor Gratian at Soissons, later killing him at Lyon in 383.
  2. Arthur ap Meurig, that is Artorius son of Mauricius who flourished 500-575, the “Liberator who smashed the various invasions of the first half of the 6th century”.

Arthur ap Meurig is a member of a dynasty ruling in South Wales, many of whose graves are extant, they say. Arthur’s paternal grandfather, King Tewdrig, is evidenced by his grave, stone coffin, skeleton and wound in skull at Mathern, Gwent. Arthur’s father Meurig has his tomb at Llandaff. Arthur’s son Morgan Mwynfawr is represented by a slab in an abbey ruin. And now they are excavating the tomb of King Arthur with its “sword-shaped” stone inscribed with the legend KING ARTHUR SON OF MAURICE at Cor Emrys, Caer Caradoc, Glamorgan.

Camelot, they say, is Caer-Melyn, the Yellow Fort; Baedon [sic] Mountain is in Glamorgan, above Tondu; Camlan is still marked on modern OS maps south of Dolgellau; Llongborth is six miles south of Cardigan; Llaniltern is where this Arthur had his estate, where he lived as regent but never ruled as king. The legends, they argue, centre on southeast Wales and are evidence of a hidden civilisation obliterated by orthodox English history. Geoffrey Ashe’s theory of Arthur as Riothamus can be dismissed; Riothamus was in fact Aegidius son of Syagrius. And as for Arthur’s grave at Glastonbury, that was a hoax concocted for political anti-Welsh reasons.

There is much, much more to their narrative. I will concentrate only on the Arthur identifications, firstly because the titles of all their books emphasise “Arthur” as a focus for their contentions, and secondly for reasons of space.

ARTHUR I?

First, Arthur son of Maximus. Unfortunately he simply doesn’t exist. However, Anthun or Annun (for Antonius) does exist in medieval genealogies. Wilson and Blackett quote one as “Anhun or Arthun son of Magnus Maximus who killed Gratian the King of the Romans.” In the original this actually reads ANTHUN map Maxim guletic qui occidit Gratianum regem Romanorum (“Antonius, son of Maximus the ruler who killed Gratianus, king of the Romans”).

Not only is Arthun a misreading but the sense of the orignal is misunderstood: Anthun is indeed the son of Maximus the ruler, but it is Maximus who’s responsible for the killing of Gratian. In fact it was Maximus’ deputy Andragathius who personally murdered Gratian, but Wilson and Blackett claim this Andragathius is Arthur I anyway!

• Both Arthur candidates have been chosen because of the supposed similarity of their names, despite the fact that the letter ‘n’ of Anthun and Andragathius are never mistaken for the letter ‘r’ in any document.

ARTHUR II?

Their second candidate for Arthur is not a son of Meurig, but Athrwys certainly is. This Athrwys or Athruis is pretty firmly dated to the early 7th century when he was made King of Gwent during the reign of his father Mouric — Meurig, or Maurice, or Mauricius) — who was king of Glevissig (Glywysing, roughly Glamorgan). Athrwys died before his father, but his son Morgan succeeded as King of Glevissig when Mouric died. This Morgan (also called Morcant, whose sobriquet Mwynfawr means ‘great in riches’) seems himself to have died in 665, subsequently giving his name, it’s claimed, to Glevissig in the form Morgannwg, later Glamorgan (‘the territory of Morgan’).

Wilson and Blackett nevertheless throw the 7th century dating for Athrwys out of the window. They instead identify him as the Arthur of legend, but also throw out any floruit in the early 6th century connected with the Arthurian battles of Badon and Camlann. Their “Arthur II” lives c500-575, having survived the final battle.

Note that Athrwys or Athruis, which the authors claim to be the same for Arthur, is missing the first ‘r’. This is a strong argument against any such identification: the initial ‘A’ of Athrwys has a short sound (as in English ‘at’ or Welsh ‘agor’) while the corresponding ‘A’ of Arthur would, because of the following rolled ‘r’, have a longer sound (as in English ‘art’ in fact, or in the Welsh phrase ‘ar agor’, meaning ‘open’).

The PUMPEIUS CARANTORIVS inscription compared with the letter forms on Wilson and Blackett’s King Arthur stone.

GRAVESTONES

Their chief ‘evidence’ for Athrwys ap Meurig being King Arthur is a stone they say they uncovered inscribed REX ARTORIVS FILI MAVRICIVS.

As I repeatedly pointed out to them, this is gibberish as it stands, and is either (a) a misreading on their parts (unlikely once they’d produced a poorly reproduced photo) or (b) a hoax perpetrated by someone. But, not being in any way conversant with Latin, they claim the inscription reads “King Arthur son of Maurice”. It does not. It actually reads “King Artorius/Arthur — of the son — Maurice”. To mean what they claim it means it would have to read REX ARTORIVS FILIVS MAVRICI.

They rejoined that FILI did appear on inscriptions of the period contrary to what I had said, and cited

    • PAVLI FILI MA . . .
    • MAGLOCUNUS FILI CLUTORIVS
    • DERVACI FILI JUSTVS
    • FILI AVITORI
    • CARITINI FILI BERICI

I replied that they’d misquoted me (I had not said FILI was never used), that they had made mistakes in transcription (as in the mix of U and V for ‘u’), and had misunderstood the meaning of the Latin:

    • MAGLOCVN_ FILI CLVTOR_
    • DERVACI FILIVS IVSTI IC IACIT
    • MACARITINI FILI BERIC(I)

“(The stone or memorial) of Maglocunus son of Clutorius; (the stone) of Dervacus, the son of Iustus here lies; (the stone) of Macaritinus son of Bericius.”

Their own reply confirmed my belief that they lacked any knowledge of Latin case-endings, or they would have known that FILI (‘of the son’) is the genitive case of FILIVS (‘son’ in the nominative) and that even in Colloquial (or Vulgar) Latin speakers and writers in the post-Roman period would have an understanding of case-endings of nouns and names.

Another example of their extremely loose interpretation of Late Latin inscriptions is concerning PVMPEIVS CARANTORIVS. Wilson and Blackett state that their objective is to debunk the “frequently quoted exposition” of this as “The five fingers of my friend (kinsman) slew me”. Their version runs: “Pompey the kinsman of Arthur”. What they seem to have done is to read -ANTORIUS as Artorius (again that ‘r’ substitution for ‘n’ that they favour), taken CAR- to mean the same as Modern Welsh câr ‘kinsman’, and thus come up with their preposterous translation.²

ARTHUR AP MEURIG

Returning to their Arthur ap Meurig insciption, if the stone had read REX ARTORIVS FILIVS MAVRICIVS, “King Arthur the son (of) Maurice” (with Mauricius in the nominative rather than the genitive case) one would have been less suspicious. There are parallels with such debased grammar elsewhere, eg CATACVS … FILIVS TEGERNACVS, “Catacus … son (of) Tegernacus” and MACCVDICCL FILIVS CATICVVS, “Maccudiccl son (of) Caticuus”.

Even PVMPEIVS CARANTORIVS has been suggested as Pompey (son of) Carantorius, with FILIVS inferred and Pompey’s possible father in the nominative (Radford, 1972:24ff).

But FILI MAVRICIVS really is insupportable. What also causes concern is the representation of the inscription in King of Glamorgan and Gwent. The lettering cannot be made out clearly in the photograph so the authors have transcribed them onto a white sheet of card or paper. This does not inspire confidence.

Further: the form of the four Rs are all similar — closed bows with horizontal tails. The E is similar to a Greek E met with in manuscripts. The two Ss continue below the bases of the other letters. All in themselves not unusual.

But in fact all these features, and the arrangement of the words on the stone are strongly reminiscent of the Pumpeius inscription, also from Glamorgan, and contrast strangely with the variety found in other contemporary inscriptions.

THE GRAVE OF ARTHUR

The circumstances of the authors’ discovery of this stone are puzzling. In ‘The Stanzas of the Graves’ from The Black Book of Carmarthen is a famous statement:

Anoeth bid bet y Arthur: ‘A wonder forever, the grave of Arthur.’

From this they conclude that Athrwys was given a secret burial somewhere, and that this is recorded in chapter 22 of The Life of Illtyd, claimed as a cousin of Arthur. This mentions the burial, in Gower, of “the body of a holy man”, a “man of God”. At a later date the body of re-interred, they say, “in a cave above the Ewenny river” at “Cor Emrys, Caer Caradoc” in Glamorgan.

Tempting though it is, I shan’t go into the details of how they concoct this further complication to the grave of Arthur, it’s just all too tedious.

But isn’t Arthur, the tyrannus and rex rebellis of the South Walian Saints’ Lives, rather the last person to be called a “holy man”? No, Wilson and Blackett reply. “When the Welsh said that their royal families were holy they meant HOLY.” Many Welsh genealogies, they say, begin with Aballach or Valentinian, who gave his name to a Gnostic Christian sect of the 1st century CE. And Valentinian was the son of Alfech or Alpheus of the New Testament, “the second spouse of Mary…”

At this stage, with approving references to the Holy Blood, Holy Grail being made, it was time to call a halt to correspondence. You cannot have meaningful dialogue with people who state that they are right and you are wrong.


¹ I’ve not been able to find a reference to this being published. However, the pair co-authored The Holy Kingdom in 1998, which doubtless was an update of their previous research. My critical review is here.

² I have no idea where they drew their frequently quoted exposition from, with Pumpeius somehow linked to Welsh pump, ‘five’. Kenneth Jackson suggested that Carantorius may be a latinisation of the supposed *Carantorix, “king of kinsmen”, related to Welsh ceraint ‘kinsmen’ and the Celtic suffix –rix, ‘ruler’. Detailed discussion can be found here.

References and further reading

  • Peter C Bartrum. Welsh Genealogies AD 300-1400. Board of Celtic Studies & University of Wales Press; 2nd ed 1980.
  • C Evans-Günther, editor. Dragon, Newsletter of the Dragon Society, No 7: 8.
  • Adrian Gilbert, Alan Wilson and Baram Blackett. The Holy Kingdom. Bantam Press. 1998.
  • John Morris. The Age of Arthur. Weidenfeld & Nicolson. 1973: 130, 228f, 256; Map 7.
  • V E Nash-Williams. Early Christian Monuments of Wales University of Wales Press. 1950.
  • C A Ralegh Radford. Margam Stones Museum. HMSO 1972. 14ff.

Author: Calmgrove

Book review blogger and piano accompanist

7 thoughts on “The Grave of Arthur?”

  1. You may be amused to learn that over on the Facebook page for the Arthurian Society (where as too often serious discussion of literature and history is eclipsed by “who was the real Arthur?” fantasies and conspiracy theories), I’ve just received a thinly veiled threat of a libel lawsuit for linking to this article.

    I’ve also butted heads with Mr. Lawrence Jones, aka “Tywysog Llywelyn Jones Cymru,” the American man who claims to be the rightful King of the Britons via descent from his Welsh ancestors, and takes GREAT exception to expressions of skepticism.

    This field sure does attract a lot of amateur crackpots.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Crackpots, I agree, though they seem very intent on proceeding from amateur to fully-fledged professional crackpots. Ignore threats of libel, veiled or otherwise: linking to this article doesn’t constitute libel and they know it, unless they’re willing to throw money away in a failed court case.

      Like

      1. Yeah, toothless, legally ignorant lawsuit threats seem to be part of the stock in trade of conspiracy fantasists. Goes hand in hand with being paranoid and unable to handle disagreement, I suppose. And this was from some random commenter, not even the charlatans discussed on this page.

        The crackpots do have a silver lining: I discovered your site just a few days ago when googling for info on Wilson and Blackett. I’m enjoying perusing the articles.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. I sometimes feel sorry for those snowflakes, Michael, because they seem unable to cope with being contradicted. Next thing will be that they’re somehow being silenced by the amorphous cancel culture we keep hearing about…

        You remind me that I’ve yet to post online more of those other early published articles I did from the 70s onwards: ho hum, so many other distractions at the moment. Anyway, feel free to explore the links to reviews I’ve posted here: https://wp.me/P2oNj1-49

        Like

      3. On top of their other problems, like being delusional. His Majesty King Llywelyn obliquely accused another mocker of being a paid troll for British intelligence. Because the UK government clearly feels very threatened by him.

        Ah, yes, “cancel culture.” The phrase generally seems to be used most by the people most eager to silence others.

        Anyway, enough of this nonsense. The stories will endure long after these ankle-biters are forgotten. Thanks for the link.

        Liked by 1 person

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