North Yorkshire author Alistair Hall embarked on a historical detective trail to try to find out. Convinced Arthur was real, he believes his new book The Battle of Mount Badon: Ambrosius, Arthur and the defence of Britain holds the answers to one of history’s greatest puzzles.
Richmond's Georgian Theatre Royal - a national treasure that we should cherish“I am well aware that this is a bold claim,” he says. “I have had a passionate interest in Arthur since childhood, some 50 years ago, and my forensic research has revealed that an Arthur did exist and played a major role in the turbulent times of 5th century Britain.
“What is more, and I think this is absolutely crucial, is that my research suggests that the received history of the 5th century is probably incorrectly dated by as much as a generation since these events occurred in the North and followed the Roman evacuation. Moreover, my reassessment gives characters, hitherto considered legend, clear and justifiable roles.
“Of course, like a detective, being on the right track meant that clue after clue jumped out, not just from the landscape but also the sources themselves and like all solutions, it now seems rather obvious. I believe this is very big news and should cause historians who are studying Britain in the Dark Ages to rethink current theses.”
The stirring “legend” of Arthur stems from fleeting references to him in the 9th century by a Welsh cleric called Nennius, which were then embellished by Geoffrey of Monmouth three centuries later. Nennius records Arthur as a brave warrior who fought no less than 12 battles against the Saxons. One of these battles, Mount Badon, provided the starting point for Alistair’s historical quest.
Alan Titchmarch taken back to childhood as he opens steam railway line alongside Flying Scotsman“From the outset I was quite prepared to abandon Arthur, further undermining his historicity, if my research led me in that direction,” he says.
Instead, he says he has come up with “an over-arching solution which not only confirms the identity of Arthur, but also rewrites history and provides a new structure and chronology to a period which has been under debate for centuries”.
This particular period of British history is kick-started by the arrival of the Saxon mercenaries Hengist and Horsa, ostensibly to defend the East Coast from Pictish raids in around 425. But in the early 440s they rebel and along with other Germanic settlers they raid and attack sub-Roman Britons on a widespread basis.
The Britons respond but were defeated twice, first on the Isle of Axeholme and then at Stamford, both in Lincolnshire. The Britons rallied under the direction of the Roman warrior Ambrosius and attacked the Saxons’ strategic harbour by the Wash. It was a victory for a British king known as Vortimer but he died and this is where Arthur took command.
“By establishing that Hengist and Horsa never landed in Kent and were instead Humber based, I am up against Bede, the Anglo Saxon Chronicle and Nennius who all claim they were there, but they were all recounting the same 200-year-old oral tradition,” says Alistair. “This shift to the North brings everything, including Arthur, into kilter. It all then makes complete sense.”
Former Georgian poor house in Yorkshire village where Captain Cook lived re-opens as cafe-bar“I am extremely proud that, via painstaking research, I have been able to add authenticity and historicity to the wonderfully enduring legend of King Arthur,” he adds. “It is my fervent hope that my book will rewrite history and King Arthur will take his rightful place in the pantheon of great British monarchs.”
The Battle of Mount Badon: Ambrosius, Arthur and the defence of Britain by Alistair Hall is out now.