Reviews of Historical Novels set in Arthurian Britain (c.425-c.550)

Text and graphics copyright Howard Wiseman 2008-2014.
Last Modified: 96th February 2014

Below I rate some historical Arthurian novels I have read (or, for a few poorly rated cases, partly read). I then give detailed reviews of those on my short-list for the best novels. Finally, I discuss the choice of chronologies that authors have to make, and why they make the choices they do. Note that I have not included novels in which the fantastical or contra-historical elements are so strong that they have to be classified as historical fantasy rather than historical fiction. This includes several works I admire, all by female authors: Diana Paxson, Mary Stewart, Joy Chant, and Gillian Bradshaw (though the last book in her Down the Long Wind trilogy I have counted as historical fiction below).

Ratings of the Novels

Author.....................
Novel(s)......................................        
Year Setting (i) Writing  Style Plot and Characters Historical Context Historical Realism Absence of Fantasy Historical
Scope
Subjective
Rating (/10)











Baxter, Stephen
Coalescent (parts thereof)
2003
B-E?
****
*** **
**
***
** 6******
Bradshaw, Gillian
In Winter's Shadow
1983
L?
***
**
*
***
*
**
6******
Canning, Victor
The Crimson Chalice Trilogy
1976-78
C
***
**
*
**
*
*** 5*****
Carmichael, Douglas Pendragon 1977 L *** ** *** ** * ** 6******
Christian, Catherine
The Pendragon
1978
L
***
***
**
*
*
***
5*****
Cornwell, Bernard
The Warlord Chronicles 1995-97
C
**** **** * *** * *** 9*********
Duggan, Alfred
Conscience of the King
1951
L
***
**
***
***
***
*** 8********
Faraday, W. B. Pendragon 1930 C ** ** ** * *** ** 5*****
Frankland, Edward Arthur, the Bear of Britain 1944
L
* * ** ** ** *** 4****
Finkel, George
Twilight Province (Y)
1967
VL
***
***
**
***
***
*** 7*******
Fisk, Alan The Summer Stars 1992
C(ii)
** ** ** * *** ** 4****
Gloag, John
Artorius Rex
1977
L
**
*
**
**
***
*** 3***
Godwin, Parke
Firelord & Beloved Exile
1980 & 84
C
***
***
**
**
*
*** 7*******
Hollick, Helen The Pendragon's Banner Trilogy 1994-97
E
* ** ** ** ** **** 6******
Hume, M. K. The King Arthur Trilogy 2009-10 ?
* * * ** * *** 2**
James, John Men Went to Cattraeth 1969 L **** ** *** **** ** ** 7*******
Lees, Frederick The Arthuriad of Catumandus  1996
C
** ** **** ** ** *** 7*******
McCaffery, Anne Black Horses for the King (Y) 1996 ? *** ** * *** *** * 5*****
McCormack, Patrick The Albion Trilogy 1997-(iii)
C
*** *** *** **** * ** 8********
Manfredi, Valerio
The Last Legion (translation) 2003
A-E?
*
* *** * ** * 2**
Masefield, John Badon Parchments 1947 VL *** * * ** *** ** 3***
O'Meara, Walter
The Duke of War (Y)
1966
C
***
**
**
***
***
** 6******
Reeve, Phillip
Here Lies Arthur (Y)
2007
A-C?
***
**
**
***
***
** 5*****
Rice, Robert The Last Pendragon 1991
L?
** ** ** ** *** ** 5*****
Sutcliff, Rosemary The Lantern Bearers (Y) & Sword at Sunset 1959 & 63
C
**** ** ** ** ** **** 7*******
Treece, Henry
The Great Captains
1956
C?
****
**
**
**
**
**
5*****
Treece, Henry The Green Man (parts thereof) 1966 VL *** ** ** ** * * 4****
Turton, Godfrey
The Emperor Arthur
1967
L
**
**
**
*
*
***
3***
Viney, Jayne
The Bright-Helmed One
1975
C
****
**
**
**
***
***
6******
Whyte, Jack The Camulod Chronicles & Golden Eagles
1993-2005
VE
* * * * ** ** 1*
Wolf, Joan
The Road to Avalon
1988
E
***
**
**
*
*
*** 5*****

Notes:
(Y) indicates a book aimed at younger readers.
(i) For the letters in the column "Setting", see below for an explanation.
(ii) Fisk is inconsistent in his setting - in the first paragraph the narrator (Taliesin) says the battle of Badon was in 515, but on several later occasions he implies it was c.495.
(iii) The third book in the Albion trilogy, The Lame Dancer, is unpublished, and was provided to me in private communication by the author, Patrick McCormack, in 2007. Click the name to dowload a print-ready pdf file I have put up on my site.



Detailed Reviews

The Arthuriad of Catumandus by Frederick Lees.

Summary
This novel purports to be a history written by one Catumandus (Cadfan), an ex-patriot Briton living in the Eastern Roman Empire, in about 535 A.D. Lees goes so far as to invent a story as to how he (Lees) obtained the papyrus manuscript by Cadfan. As its title suggests, it is primarily about Arthur, and Cadfan is in fact Arthur's illegitimate son, conceived in the dying days of the Roman Empire in Gaul. Over the course of the novel we find out about events going back to the invitation of the Saxons by Vortigern. The main narrative begins when Cadfan arrives in Britain, as an Imperial envoy, not long before the battle of Badon. In this respect it is in the tradition of Arthurian romances (following Geoffrey of Monmouth), where this decisive defeat of the Saxons was only the start of the tale. The story follows the fate of the Britons up to the battle of Camlann, after which Cadfan returns to the East.

Likes
1. Lees puts Arthur's Britain in the wider historical context of the Roman Empire. The death throes of the Western Empire and the revival of the Eastern play important parts, and no historical facts are contradicted.
2. He uses the oldest Welsh and Anglo-Saxon traditions for creating the characters and politics of Britain. For example, the Welsh genealogies are the source for the kings of the petty British kingdoms.
3. Lees has a strict chronological framework and he sticks to it. There are no obvious inconsistencies in the work.
4. He manages to tell the story in one moderately sized novel.

Dislikes
1. Lees incorporates too much of the Arthur of the romances in a literal way, which was not convincing to me. To give just a few examples: the holy grail, the Fisher king, the siege perilous, the incest with Morgan. Lees tries to make them fit into his strict dark-age context but they seem out of place.
2. The relations between Gwenwhyfar and Cadfan, and her past relationship with Lasanleawg (Lancelot) I found rather tedious. The same goes for Cadfan's sex life.
3. Myrddin (Merlin) I also found rather tedious. He is another anachronistic character (he actually belongs a few generations after Arthur). This wouldn't matter except that Lees knows that Myrddin is out of place so he has to arrange for him to have a grandson, also called Myrddin, to be around at the right time. This is another example of Lees trying too hard to reconcile the authentic history and the romances.
 4. The descriptions of battle are poetic rather than realistic: blood-soaked ground, shining blades etc. I guess this might just be Cadfan, but I found it did not move me.

Timeline
428        Hengest is invited to Britain.
452        Arthur born.
460-75   Ambrosius is sureme ruler of Britain.
497        Battle of Badon.
517        Battle of Camlann.

The Warlord Chronicles by Bernard Cornwell

Summary
Like The Arthuriad, Cornwell's trilogy (The Winter King, Enemy of God, Excalibur) also purports to be a narrative written by one of Arthur's younger contemporaries, Derfel (although unlike Lees, Cornwell does not pretend to be the owner of Derfel's vellum manuscript). He is one of Arthur's warriors who becomes a monk, and is based on a character in Welsh hagiography who was said to have fought with Arthur at Camlann. Derfel tells the tale, almost all from first-hand knowledge, of how Arthur rose to power in Dumnonia, forced the Britons into a sort of unity, was betrayed, recovered, thrashed the Saxons at Badon and finally met his end at Camlann. Also intertwined are some traditional Brittonic themes, including Tristan and Iseult and the hunt for the 13 treasures of Britain.

Likes
1. These novels for me captures the spirit of the British Dark Ages politics better than any other. The level of organisation, the civil wars between the British states, the struggle for succession on the death of a king, the importance of dynastic marriages, and the negotiations between Briton and Saxon are all convincingly portrayed.
2. The description of battle is detailed, engrossing, and, from what I've read elsewhere, realistic. 
3. There is some humour. Merlin in particular is quite a character.
4. There is no feeling of inevitability about the plot. Partly this is because Cornwell has invented new story lines rather than just selecting from the old ones. But also one feels the characters to be free agents, not being guided by the hand of fate which hovers ponderously in some novels.
5. Arthur, Derfel, and many other characters are likeable and believable, but also people the reader could look up to. I guess I am just old fashioned, but it pleases me to follow the lives of such characters. Other characters are too villanous to be believable, but they are Derfel's personal enemies so perhaps we can't expect an unbiassed portrait.
6. Mordred is not Arthur's son. He is Arthur's half-nephew, and is the rightful heir to the throne of Dumnonia. This is more in line with the old Welsh traditions and also made for a better plot I thought.

Dislikes
 1. There is a supernatural element which had an ambiguous status (i.e. it was not clear whether it was real or not). This I did not mind except that in the last book it becomes too overt for my liking (and almost took the novel into the realm of historical fantasy).
2. Paganism (druids, human sacrifice etc.) is unrealistically prevalent. The one thing Gildas (writing probably at most a generation after Arthur) did not criticize the rulers of his day for was paganism.
3. Cornwell does not make use of the known (or at least traditional) history and genealogies of the time.  He makes no mention of Ambrosius or Vortigern, who were surely the most important Britons of the time preceding Arthur (although he does mention Cunedda in passing). There is no mention of the Roman Syagrius in Gaul, even though he would have been in power at the time Arthur was supposed to have been there.
4. The geographical extent of the British kingdoms do not correspond to what we know. There is no way that Gwent would have once extended into the middle of Britain, or Dumnonia as far as Sussex.
5. Cornwell is slightly inconsistent in his chronology in various places. The worst is that, at least to my reading, Derfel starts off about 10 years younger than Arthur, but ends up close to him in age.

Timeline
 
455        Arthur born.
497        Battle of Badon.
504        Battle of Camlann.

The Lantern Bearers and Sword at Sunset by Rosemary Sutcliff

Summary
Sutcliff's "young adult" novel The Lantern Bearers, and its adult sequel Sword at Sunset  are the most influential historical Arthurian novels of the last century. They tell the history of Britain from its final abandonment by the Roman army (which Sutcliff puts in c.450) to the death of Arthur. Strictly, Arthur is only mortally wounded at the end of Sword at Sunset, as he is its narrator. The earlier novel is narrated by Aquila, a Roman soldier. Sutcliff's story follows fairly closely the narrative of Geoffrey of Monmouth, except that she ignore's Arthur's fictional career as conquerer of north-west Europe. But she also weaves in bits from the Anglo-Saxon chronicle, Welsh legends, the romances, and even archaeology.

Likes

1. There is no fantasy in these novels - they are straightforward, realistic, and powerful.
2. The historical context is strong, with references to events in the Roman Empire and back to the late 4th century.
3. The poem by Brett Francis Young that opens 
Sword at Sunset.
 
Dislikes
1. The story is rather predictable. This comes from following Geoffrey of Monmouth I suppose.
2.  Sutcliff has severe problems of internal inconsistency. By my reckoning there is a dislocation of about seven years at the boundary of the two books (c.471 in The Lantern Bearers suddenly becomes c.478 in Sword at Sunset), but there is also a discrepancy of at least seven years in the opposite direction (regarding the birth date of Cerdic, son of Vortigern and Rowena) and other miscellaneous discrepancies of up to four years.
3. Although there is no fantasy, the hand of fate is annoyingly present.
4. The political context, and the way battles were fought seem less realistic to me than in Cornwell's novels.

Timeline (as best I could make out)
Lantern Bearers:
445    Arthur born.
450    Last Roman troops withdrawn.
458    Night of the long knives.
460    Ambrosius becomes high-king of Britain.
471    Battle of Gulophum (Ambrosius' victory)
Sword at Sunset:
478    Battle of Gulophum (Ambrosius' victory)
498    Ambrosius dies
501    Battle of Badon.
522    Battle of Camlann.

Twilight Provice by George Finkel

Summary
The only novel in my short-list by an Australian, Finkel's Twilight Province is aimed at younger readers. It is told by Bedwyr, prince of the eponymous Province in northern Britain, looking back on the life of Arthur. Many of the traditional Arthurian characters are here, although sometimes in surprising form – Lancelot become Olans, a Gothic warrior. The story is not tied to any Arthurian tradition, but follows a typical line, with Badon being towards the end of the book.

Likes

1. This is definitely an historical novel – no fantasy or hand of fate here.
2. It places 6th century Britain in a firm historical context, through Bedwyr's two voyages to Constantinople.
3. The size of armies is realistic, and battles are described well if not as thrilingly as by Cornwell.
4. It has some nice line drawings. I particularly like that in the final chapter showing a middle-aged Bedwyr looking out over Constantinople.
5. Like Cornwell, Finkel avoids the incest motif. He does include a quest for the holy grail, but in a charming way.

Dislikes
1. The relationships are sanitized, I guess because this is for younger readers.
2. The lack of contact between the British states (prior to Arthur's becoming Dux Bellorum) is unrealistic. So is the peacefulness of Bedwyr's province for generations prior to c.520.
3. The peaceful transition of the population of Bedwyr's province from a mainly British-speaking to a mainly Saxon-speaking population is at odds with both nations' traditions. Finkel's Britons are clearly the mid-20th century English in disguise, so Finkel wants them to be linked culturally and by descent.
4. Little use is made of the information in Gildas. Vortigern is not mentioned, and Ambrosius plays a very small role.
5. Some of the line drawings are anachronistic, showing rectangular or kite-shaped shields, horned helmets, and stirrups.

Timeline
c.504       Arthur born.
524-535   Arthur's victories.
538          Arthur's death.  

The Albion Trilogy by Patrick McCormack

Summary
Unlike the other books reviewed in detail here, The Albion trilogy (The Last Companion, The White Phantom, and The Lame Dancer) is told in third person, from the point of view of many different characters. The two most important are Bedwyr and his much younger companion Nai. The story takes place around 520, thirty years after the battle of Badon, and ten years after Camlann, but through flashbacks and narrations by various characters, details of the past are revealed. These episodes are concentrated in the periods 475-78 and 493-497, before and after Arthur's great battles. The story centres around the Chalice of Sovereignty, a cup held by a clan of the Attecotti (a tribe of western Scotland) supposedly since the Britons lost sovereignty to the Romans. In mysterious circumstances Arthur leads a naval expedition to reclaim the chalice in 493, and he is acclaimed the Amherawdyr (Emperor) of Britain. Now, ten years after his death, various kinglets seek to gain the chalice for themselves, while Nai and Bedwyr try to prevent this from happening.

Likes

1. McCormack has researched the history and Welsh legends of these times very thoroughly, and has woven them together expertly. He almost completley avoids the influence of Geoffrey of Monmouth or the romances.
2. His descriptions of life are full of detail and completely convincing, especially life in the decaying towns of the Britons, and life on a Saxon boat.
3. Like The Arthuriad, the story has a consistent internal time-frame.
4. The characters are complex and flawed, but there is much to admire in some of them.
 
Dislikes
1. There are strong elements of fantasy in the ability of characters to foretell the future, and in the way legends of the past are repeated in the present.
2. Sometimes the narration of past events by certain characters goes on for an implausibly long time given the setting in which they are supposed to be telling the story.
3. The novels have many plot threads, which is fine, except that there seem to be a few loose ends.
4. There are few descriptions of full-scale battles --- most of the fights are between a handful of warriors on each side.

Timeline (personal communication from the author)
425-   Vitolinus = Vortigern is high-king of Britain.
452    Arthur born. (Bedwyr a few years later.)
460    Ambrosius becomes Magister Militum.
475    Arthur and Gwenwhyfar wed.
480    Arthur becomes Magister Militum.
490    Battle of Badon.
493    Arthur gains the Chalice of Sovereignty.
510    Battle of Camlann.

Conscience of the King by Alfred Duggan

Summary
Uniquely, Conscience of the King is told from the perspective not of Britain's defenders, but of one of the Germanic invaders: Cerdic (the King of the title), who narrates the story of his long life. That said, Cerdic in this version is really Coroticus, a Roman-British nobleman, although with German ancestry ("Woden-born"). Moreover, his early military career was in the service of Ambrosius before he flees, as a fugitive from justice, into the service of Oisc of Kent. His lack of scuples (the title of the book is wholly ironic) leads to his fleeing again, this time into the service of Aelle, before he finally gathers his own following to found the kingdom of the West Saxons. It would not be appropriate to call this in Arthurian novel --- though it certainly does fall under the header of this page --- as Cerdic never meets Arthur except in battle, and knows little about his origin or fate.

Likes

1. Duggan is renowned for the accuracy of his historical novels and here he has, as he states, "used all the evidence there is for the Coming of the Saxons". In particular, he has an explicit time-frame based upon the Anglo-Saxon chronicle and the Annales Cambriae.
2. It contains several detailed descriptions of large-scale military campaigns.
3. Although Cerdic is an unprincipled scoundrel, his intelligence, frankness, and desire to found a civilized state enable the reader to warm to him.
 
Dislikes
1. Considering it was published in 1951, this novel holds of surprisingly well in the light of subsequent scholarship, but there are a few aspects that are dated, such as (i) the Saxon's use of the "blood-eagle", (ii) the Britons being largely exterminated in Saxon occupied areas, (iii) the Britons' use of rectangular shields, and (iv) Arthur's use of stirrups and couched lances.
2. It would have been nice if Arthur's career had been more fleshed out, in particular how he acquired from Byzantium the horses, training, and equipment to field 1000 cataphracts, and how he was betrayed by one of his followers.

Timeline
446-58  Vortigern is King of Britain.
451       Cerdic born.
469-73  Ambrosius is Count of Britain.
495       Cerdic founds Wessex.
516       Battle of Badon.

Firelord & Beloved Exile by Parke Godwin

Summary 
In Firelord, as in Sword at Sunset, Arthur tells his story from his deathbead, while in Beloved Exile Guinevere tells her (surprising) story of the next forty years. Firelord is heavily influenced by themes from the romances, including Merlin, the Holy Grail and the Faerie people. But this is not fantasy: Merlin is Arthur's alter ego who appears to him occasionally, the Holy Grail is a real cup believed (by some) to be that from the last supper, while the Faerie people are Picts from north of the wall. Godwin also includes motifs from Welsh legend, in particular regarding Modred and Guinevere. While not being predictable, Firelord follows the usual narrative line for Arthur's life. But in Beloved Exile Godwin's imagination is free to run. The result is interesting, but with less of the high drama of Firelord.

Likes

1. There is a grandeur and depth of emotion in Firelord.
2. Through Firelord and Beloved Exile Godwin explores the difference between British and Saxon societies: the former being aristocratic, kin-based, honour-bound, poetic and chivalric; the latter much more democratic, land-based, law-bound, prosaic and pedestrian. These are stereotypes, for sure, but it gives the novels a sense that something is at stake in the struggle between the two societies. Godwin also makes one believe that Arthur's Britons are the Welsh of old, without diminishing their heroic stature.
3. The portrait of Guenevere as a woman of power is compelling. Her power comes from her intelligence, pragmatism, and royal birth (unlike in lesser novels where she is often portrayed as a warrior-princess, or mystical priestess, or girl-next-door).
4. The time-line is clear, and there are strong if occasional references to continental events.
5. Godwin uses genuine British tribal names, and also features Vortigern (briefly) and Ambrosius.
 
Dislikes
1. Arthur's intimate relations with a group of Picts, whence came his son Modred, is an interesting way to work in the clash between Modred and Guenevere, and Modred's rebellion. However I just did not find it believable that Arthur, raised in relative luxury of a Romanized household, could bear living in a Pictish hovel for six months, let alone find it his true spiritual home.
2. Various parts of the story follow Geoffrey or the romances too closely to be realistic. For example: the prominent brothers from Orkney, which in reality was a distant, small and poor island unlikely to have had any relations with the Romanized south.
3. Lucius Tiberius (Arthur's Gallic adversary in Geoffrey of Monmouth) features here as a patrician in Gaul under Clovis' thumb. But Arthur never engages in war in Gaul, so it is hard to know why Godwin introduced him, except to tease the too-knowledgable reader.

Timeline
c.452 Arthur is born, and Guenevere also
c.462 Vortigern hands the Kingdom over to Ambrosius
476 Arthur becomes King
497 Battle of Badon
538 Death of Guenevere

Men Went to Cattraeth by John James

Summary
It may surprise to find a book titled Men Went to Cattraeth in a list of novels of Arthurian Britain, as this battle is generally dated to the late 6th century. However, like so much else in this period, this dating is debatable, and James chooses to set it much earlier (around 491 seems to be indicated on p.8), when Arthur is still a toddler. Apart from this, the story follows a conventional interpretation of the poem of Aneirin, which is the only account of the battle: 300 or so British horsemen, feasted for a year by Mynydog of Eiddin (Edinburgh), rode to war against the Anglo-Saxons of Northumbria, and ultimately to their death at Catterick in Yorkshire. The novel is the first-person recollection of Aneirin, one of the few Britons who survived the battle, and is very dark in tone. War and the clash of cultures are its themes, but Aneirin reveals snippets of the bigger story, from the coming of the Saxons in the time of Vortigern to the triumph of Arthur.

Likes

1. James' descriptions of war and genocide are horrifying to modern sensibilities, and through James' skill in writing we sense that he shares our horror, and sympathizes with the Saxons, while maintaining Aneirin's Dark-Age sensibility and anti-Saxon polemics throughout.
2. Like Godwin, James makes much of the difference between British and Saxon societies, but in even more extreme ways. The aristocratic Britons are a free-spritited warrior society, but also poetic: "The true aim of a kingdom is to nurture poets" says their war-leader. Aneirin and his comrades despise the "Savages" for having a so-called King who does manual work alongside his subjects, and for the way they kill and clear the forests to grow wheat ("the evil plant"), to support a dense population of bread-eaters. When Aneirin makes it back to British territory, he celebrates how he can hunt for his dinner again, eating "as a free man ... food gained not by sweat and labour of hands but by guile and skill."
3. There is a tragic irony greater than the optimism of the doomed expedition to Catterick: Anerin and the Britons steadfastly conceive of themselves as Romans, and their ways as civilized ways, whereas the reader recognizes that the Saxons are in many ways more advanced than the Britons. Aneirin says the Savages "have wizards to conjure [their] ships together, making the sides firm with planks of oak, because they have not the wisdom to sew leather as civilized people do".  Even the Britons' Christianity is suspect, as they worship the Virgin rather than God or the Christ.
4. The heroes of Cattraeth do not die in vain, even by their own terms. First, the last of them die knowing they will be immortalized by Aneirin: "If we have died only that a poem is made, then we have died for a better thing than ever we lived for." Second, the campaign of Mynydog's 300 weakens the Saxons of the North so much as to enable the later victories of Uther and Arthur. 
5. In general, the description of life and battle seem authentic (though the differences between Saxon and Briton are exaggerated). The only obvious error of fact I picked up was that the Britons did not know that Hadrian's wall was built by Hadrian.
 
Dislikes
1. Mynydog's motivation for sending the 300 to their doom, revealed in the last chapter, is not plausible. Although it ties the story to Arthur's rise to power, it  weakened the whole book I thought.
2. Of course I would have liked more about Arthur, and Vortigern, and Ambrosius, but I recognize that is not the novel James set out to write.
3. Aneirin seems to quote lines from Taliesin relating to Owain son of Urien, in reference to a different Owain, Owain son of Mark of Cornwall. But Taliesin certainly is from the mid-late 6th century so it is not clear what is going on here.
4. Arthur is Mynydog's nephew for most of the book, but James slips in the last chapter and calls him Mynydog's grandson.

Timeline
c.460 the Saxons take York
c.487 Arthur is born
c.491 The battle of Cattraeth.
?520s Arthur, battle-leader, has triumphed over the Saxons and set up Mordred, his heir apparent, as ruler in the North.

Comments on the Timelines

    Of the eight books or series reviewed in detail above, five agree quite closely in their timeline: Arthur is born in 445x455, Badon is fought in 490x501, and (except for Firelord) Camlann is fought in 504x522. Since the battle of Badon is the only one of these events which is surely historical, it is arguably the crucial event as regards the setting of any historical novel in Arthurian Britain. Of the 31 novels or series tabled above, at least 9 follow a similar timeline to that just outlined, including in particular:

C   Arthur leads the Britons to victory at Badon in c.497 (489x506)

Here C stands for consensus, or conventional. However, some novels or series in the above have an Early or Late setting for Badon:

E    Arthur leads the Britons to victory at Badon in c.471 (465x77)
L    Arthur leads the Britons to victory at Badon in c.515 (509x21)

There are a few examples of Very Early and Very Late settings:

VE   Arthur leads the Britons to victory at Badon in 452 or earlier
VL   Arthur leads the Britons to victory at Badon in 534 or later

Finally, there are a few anomalous settings:

B-X   Arthur is a war-leader in Britain before Ambrosius' victory at Badon, with that battle dated as in the X time-frame
A-X   Arthur is a war-leader in Britain after Ambrosius' victory at Badon, with that battle dated as in the X time-frame


    It is interesting to consider the historical or pseudohistorical material which leads different authors to choose different settings.

    The basis for choosing an anomalous setting is that Gildas, the only reliable source for Badon, mentions Ambrosius but does not mention Arthur at all. (It should be noted however that Gildas only names Ambrosius as the British leader in a battle a long time before Badon, perhaps as many as 44 years before --- see my article.) The A-X case is expected because Nennius mentions Arthur after Ambrosius. The sole B-X setting comes from wishing to identify Arthur with Riothamus, the King of the Britons who was defeated in Gaul in c.470. The identification of Arthur with Riothamus is also probably the chief motivation for Hollick, and Wolf, who chose the Early setting. (I don't think it is worth speculating about Whyte's motivation for choosing a Very Early setting.)  The motivation for Finkel and Masefield to choose a Very Late setting is, I suspect, to enable Arthur's victories to depend upon help from Emperor Justinian (527-65). For Treece, it is another synchronicity: Beowulf.

    The remaining cases are more involved.

    The Late setting for Badon, which is the second-most popular, and the one I have adopted in my reconstruction, is best justified by the following:
The significance of the last dot point is that this is the only period in the ASC long enough to include the time Gildas describes after Badon in which "foreign wars have ceased", and "an age succeeded ... that ... has experienced only the calm of the present."

    The Concensus view, which has become increasingly popular, probably owes much to the influence of John Morris' The Age of Arthur (1973), explicity acknowledged by the novelists Godwin and Paxson among others. It is best justified by the following:
The relevance of the last dot point is that these dates are roughly 15 years earlier than the dates in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle for the Briton's first appeal to the Angles (443) and for the revolt of Hengest (455). If this correction is made to the subsequent dates in the Anglo-Saxon chronicle, for the next eighty years, then the last claimed English victory before 552 would be in 499, or 493 (if the 514 entry is rejected). The latter date (493) fits well with the suggested Badon dates of 496 or 497, and almost fits Bede's Badon date of 489x93. It should be pointed out, however, that Bede's date for Badon is almost certainly based on adding the infamous Gildasian 44 years to his date for the English advent, 445x449. Thus, if Bede's advent date is rejected in favour of a date of 428 then following Bede's computation for Badon would result in a still earlier date for Badon.

Finally, it is interesting to look at how the date of Badon in my selection of historical fiction has changed over the years. Prior to the publication of Morris' Age of Arthur in 1973, what I have called the C, L, and VL settings were roughly equally popular. Since then, the VL setting has completely disappeared, and the L setting has become rare. Moreover, since the publication of Geoffrey Ashe's The Discovery of King Arthur in 1985, the E/VE setting has come to rival the C setting in popularity. Note that some of the vertical-axis placements in the plot below are approximate, and in some cases I am not sufficiently confident about the year the author has/had in mind to give even an approximate placement.

Year of Badon versus Year of Publication



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