John Lambert was a teacher of history who began writing historical fiction when he retired. This is his sixth novel to be published.
All his stories show how the past determines the present and influences the future.
History is essentially about people and their achievements, about the best, and worst, of human behaviour. In his stories, John generally places fictional characters in an historical context but in this case has chosen a historical character where the context itself has many uncertainties. These uncertainties allow fictional interpretation and development of the central characters.
Fiction and historical context combine to make believable
and interesting studies of human achievement.
By the same author
ARTHUR, KING OF THE BRITONS
The Roman legions left Britain in 410 AD to defend the Empire in places closer to Rome. A Roman administration remained till about 418 AD. Thereafter, despite three and a half centuries of Roman rule, Britain returned to being a land of tribes and regions, a land governed by chieftains and petty kings, some more powerful than others. The so-called ‘Dark Ages’ began.
Yet Roman civilisation remained in some parts of the land, notably in the west, in what is now Wales and Cornwall, and in the far north, the land of the Votadini tribe who held the area beyond Hadrian’s Wall. In the west, there were several rulers during the century that followed the departure of the Romans who gained recognition as Kings of the Britons, with their influence extending well beyond their own immediate fiefdom.
By the middle of the century, invading Jutes, Angles and Saxons from the continent gained control of much of the eastern part of Britain. They may have been originally invited as mercenaries to assist the Britons in their internal quarrels and against the marauding attacks from the Irish in the west and the Picts in the north, but they stayed on and settled, pushing the Britons back into the midlands and the west.
By Roman standards, the Jutes, Angles and Saxons were barbarians. Moreover, many of the Britons were Christian, the invaders were not.
The attacks by the invaders were successful in the 450s, and the early 460s, but less so in the next two decades when their advance was held by Ambrosius Aurelianus, King of the Britons, who was of Roman descent. Ambrosius, based in Wales and central Britain, had an outstanding battle leader who, by superior strategy and skill, in a series of battles turned the tide against the invaders. This battle leader was called ‘the Bear’, and he succeeded Ambrosius as King of the Britons about 488. For the next five years, the Bear continued to discomfort the Saxons. In 493, at the battle of Badon [probably Bath], the Bear so completely defeated them that they retreated to the east and there was a period of peace across most of Britain for twenty-five years.
This peace came to an end when internal conflict among the Britons resumed about 518 AD. Some of the British rebels sided with the group of Saxons who had established themselves in the south of Britain at the turn of the century. Though the Bear was again successful in battle, he was mortally wounded.
In Brythonic, the language spoken by the Britons, the word for bear is ‘Arth’. In Latin, it is ‘Ursus’. The Bear was probably King Arthur.
Arthur has been the subject of endless speculation, and a whole library of books. Most writers assume a medieval context, yet that is five hundred years from the truth. Others doubt that he lived at all. We know the monarchs of England from the sixth century onwards, and Arthur is not among them. Historical research, however, has shown that he almost certainly did live, and that he was a great warrior. Moreover, it has shown that he lived as a ‘light’ in the ‘dark ages’ of the late fifth century and early sixth. The historical records of this period are very limited, but they do refer to Arthur, to his victories at Badon and Certiceford, and to his death at Camlann. There is only one reference to what may have been his real name.
What follows is a mixture of fact and fiction, based on the historical context. That Arthur led the Britons at Badon is probably fact; the details of the battle are mostly invention. That there was peace between the Saxons and the Britons for several decades after Badon is fact; Arthur’s vision for Britain is invention.
The stories endeavour to take account of many of the legends, and many of the characters associated with Arthur, by giving them a credible basis. These stories might actually have happened.
PART ONE: THE MAKING OF A KING
Cunedda received the invitation on a scroll, written in
Latin. It was from Ambrosius Aurelianus who styled himself ‘King of the
Britons’. The message was dated ‘The Year of our Lord, Four hundred and sixty’.
To Cunedda, Chief of the Votadini, Greetings
It has come to my attention that you and your warriors have a well-earned reputation for being able to inflict resounding defeat upon invaders of your land, particularly upon the Angles, the Picts, and the Scotti.
I write to seek your assistance against the attacks being made by the Irish upon my people in Gwynedd and Powys, and in my ongoing defence of my lands against the Angles and Saxons. There is little likelihood of plunder, but I could recompense you with land upon which you and your warriors could settle.
Your acceptance of this invitation would be greatly appreciated.
It suited Cunedda to accept the invitation because the pressure from the Scotti and Picts was becoming increasingly difficult to resist. It was two years, however, before he and one hundred of his warriors, with their families, made the journey. Cunedda himself brought with him his son, Enniaun, and Enniaun’s son, Owain, who was just one year old when they arrived in Gwynedd. A second son, Cadwallon, was born to Enniaun and his wife, Lleddwyn, soon after they arrived.
Ambrosius had promised land but had not told Cunedda that to obtain it he would have to defeat the Irish who were already settled on it. Cunedda, not deterred, put his warriors to work and the Irish were duly dispossessed. The women and children became Cunedda’s subjects.
In the decade that followed, the Votadini proved their worth, became an integral part of the success of Ambrosius’ military forces, and grew in number.
Owain’s military training began when he was six. At that age he was strong enough to hold the short, thrusting, Roman sword that Ambrosius insisted be used throughout his army. Ambrosius also insisted on the traditional long shield of the Roman infantry, rather than the round shield of the Saxons, but the long shield was too heavy for Owain, so his grandfather, Cunedda, fashioned a rectangular light timber half-shield that Owain could hold with comfort. Owain was given a personal trainer, Tincius, a seasoned soldier, to teach him the rudiments of sword play. By age seven, Owain could counter any attack Tincius could deliver, and was promoted to using a full shield. He was also then taught the use of the javelin and the bow. Battle tactics began at age eight, as did horsemanship. At ten, Owain joined a regular troop and at twelve became a fully fledged soldier. Even at twelve, he was nearly six feet. When he reached his full height a few years later, he was well over six feet. Moreover, he had strength as well as height.
Physical strength was, of course, a great advantage for a soldier, but it was Owain’s intellectual capacity which marked him out for success in battle. He seemed to have an innate understanding of how best to place his soldiers so that they were in command of any encounter. Even when outnumbered, he could always devise a scheme which offset numerical disadvantage. Tincius remained with him as mentor and bodyguard till Owain was eighteen and helped him learn the skills and tactics that had made the Roman Legions such formidable instruments of war. Ambrosius’s army was essentially Roman in its operation and was proud to be so. Owain accepted this without question but was always searching for ways of improvement.
Owain’s first encounters with the enemy were small skirmishes with the roving bands of Angle marauders in the area to the north of Lincoln. There were a number of small villages held by the Britons, but often under attack. The village fortifications were generally a wooden palisade with a ditch beyond it. The earth from the ditch was thrown up to make a mound that gave extra height for the palisade. Ambrosius had garrisons of twenty men in each of nine or ten of these villages, all a league or so from one another. A message of an attack could bring support from another village quite quickly. Lincoln itself was also held by the Britons and was the base for the Legion responsible for the whole area to the north, south and east of the city. The Angles, whether newly arrived by sea, or from their own villages on the coast, were generally in bands of up to one hundred, and looked to avoid large battles. Their intent was to plunder and return to their ships or to their villages. If a larger battle seemed likely, both sides would draw in more troops.
Owain found the garrison work rather boring but revelled in the opportunity for tactics provided by the skirmishes. Again and again his suggestions for ambushes, feints, diversions, pincer movements, and surprise attacks from the rear, or from a flank, brought success. Where a frontal attack was needed, Owain would be in the forefront of the fighting, but he preferred to win by outwitting his opponents.
Being known as the grandson of Cunedda brought both opportunities and recognition, but it was his own achievements which made his reputation. Owain was promoted rapidly till at age twenty-five he was given command of the Third Legion. There were four legions, each of five thousand men, in Ambrosius’s army. The legions were rarely at full strength for Ambrosius could not afford to pay his troops as full-time warriors. Instead, they were paid only when required for service on campaign or garrison duty. Campaigns were kept as short as possible so that the men could return to their homes and relieve Ambrosius of the need to feed and pay them. The legions had a skeleton staff that could be rapidly augmented if needed.
Owain’s first major battle as head of the Third Legion took place in 485, again in the area north of Lincoln. An alliance of Saxons from the south with the Angles of the northeast produced an army of about four thousand moving north along the coast. As the alliance army was within the Third Legion’s delegated boundaries, the standing strategy from Ambrosius was that the Third Legion should deal with it. If additional troops were needed, the Third Legion could call on the Second Legion in York, or the First Legion in Viroconium where Ambrosius had his headquarters. The Commander of the Second Legion was senior by many years to Owain, which meant the Second Legion would control the battle tactics, so Owain elected not to seek assistance. The Third Legion was about equal in numbers to the Anglo Saxons, and well trained. Owain was confident it could prevail, though he knew that if he were defeated, it would be the end of his career, for Ambrosius would not forgive him for failing to seek reinforcements. However, that was a risk he was prepared to take.
The battle was fought on the north bank of the River Glen. Owain undertook a thorough reconnaissance of the land through which the Anglo Saxons would travel and selected a site which would give him high ground with the protection of the river on his right flank. He deliberately chose to place himself on the road the enemy would have to take north from the ford that provided the most likely river crossing. He then prepared a defensive position out of sight of the ford. The next step was to initiate a series of skirmishes south of the ford, extricating his troops each time in such a way as to entice the Anglo Saxons to follow them along the road to the ford. The skirmishes were spread over two days, at the end of which the Anglo Saxons were committed to crossing the river at the ford.
On the third day, the same pattern was followed. Once again the Anglo Saxons were led to follow the retreating Britons believing them to be small in numbers. The Third Legion was waiting for them behind a low palisade which gave the advantage to the defenders. The Anglo Saxon attack was not well co-ordinated, and the Legion had little trouble in dispatching many of the attackers. When Owain switched from defence to attack, and the legion stormed out of the palisade, there was a great slaughter.
It was in this battle that Owain gained the name Attur, ‘the Bear’, for the way he attacked from his lair. From now on we will call him Arthur, as his soldiers did.
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