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Arthurian Romances

The World Pertaining to King Arthur

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King Arthur, ‘Once and Future King’

King Arthur, ‘Once and Future King’By Michael Wood

The fantastical tale of King Arthur, the hero warrior, is one of the great themes of British literature. But was it just invented to restore British pride after the Norman invasion? Michael Wood puts the king in the spotlight.

A great theme

The core myths of the Celtic peoples centre on the great cycle of stories based on the life and exploits of King Arthur. These legends link Arthur to a common poetic idea of Britain as a kind of paradise of the West, with a primeval unspoiled past. Together they add up to the greatest theme in the literature of the British Isles.

Together they add up to the greatest theme in the literature of the British Isles.

The historic figure of Arthur as a victorious fifth-century warrior, leading Britons into battle against Saxon invaders, has so far proved impossible for historians to confirm. In fact the one contemporary source that we do have for the time, ‘The Ruin and Conquest of Britain’ by the British monk and historian Gildas (c.500-70) gives somebody else’s name altogether as the leader of the Britons.

So where does the legend come from? Why has Arthur – the ‘once and future king’ of the poet Thomas Malory – remained so important to us, and why has he been important in the past?

First layer of the legend

The King Arthur that we know of today is a composite of layers of different legends, written by different authors at different times. He appears in his first incarnation in the ‘History of the Britons’, written in 830 and attributed to a writer called Nennius.

Here Arthur appears as a heroic British general and a Christian warrior, during the tumultuous late fifth century, when Anglo-Saxon tribes were attacking Britain. In one of the most pregnant passages in British history, Nennius says:

Then in those days Arthur fought against them with the kings of the Britons, but he was commander [dux bellorum] in those battles.

Nennius then gives a list of 12 battles fought by Arthur, a list that belongs in an old tradition of battle-list poems in Welsh poetry. Some of the names appear in other early poems and annals, stretched over a wide period of time and place, and the list represents the kind of eclectic plundering that was the bard´s stock-in-trade.

So the 12 battles of Arthur are not history. One man could not possibly have fought in all of them. The 12 battles are in fact the first signs of a legend.

Historic Arthur

In the turmoil of the period following the Norman invasion in 1066, Celtic literature experienced a flowering. Much of it concerned stories of the Welsh and the other Celtic Britons in glorious triumph against their new masters. A shower of new histories also sprung forth, introducing the Normans to the culture and the past of the Celts. All such stories need a main protagonist, a hero to lead the troops, and this is where Arthur fitted in.
Much of it concerned stories of the Welsh and the other Celtic Britons in glorious triumph against their new masters.

Already known in Welsh poetry and in Nennius’s history, he was an obvious contender. And with that background it is perhaps unsurprising that it was another Welsh writer who propelled Arthur from being just a Celtic warrior to being a mythical super-star.

The writer was Geoffrey of Monmouth, who spent his working life in Oxford and here produced his momentous work ‘The History of the Kings of Britain’. Geoffrey claimed the work was based on a secret lost Celtic manuscript that only he was able to examine. But it’s really a myth masquerading as history, a fantastical tale of the history of the British Isles, which concentrates its key pages on King Arthur and his wondrous deeds.

In this work, for the first time, Arthur’s whole life is told – from his birth at Tintagel to his eventual betrayal and death. There´s Guinevere and Merlin, there´s the legendary sword Caliburn (later known as Excalibur), and even the king´s final resting place at Avalon – though it’s not yet identified with Glastonbury.

At the time it was written Geoffrey´s book had a tremendous influence, and over 200 manuscripts still remain in existence. Its impact was as great in Europe as it was in Britain. Geoffrey had an expert way of mixing myth with fact, thus blurring reality – and this blend attracted a mass audience, perhaps in the same way that works such as The Da Vinci Code do today.

The Holy Grail

At the same time, the stories of Arthur began to bloom in the Celtic lands of northern France. This French connection began soon after the Norman Conquest, when Henry II of England married the vivacious and beautiful Eleanor of Aquitaine. In their court the two worlds of French and English literature intermingled, and poets and troubadours transformed the Arthur legend from a political fable to a tale of chivalric romance.

Perhaps the most important among the court writers was Chrétien de Troyes, who worked for Eleanor´s daughter Marie de Champagne. Chrétien is probably the greatest medieval writer of Arthurian romances, and it was he who turned the legend from courtly romance into spiritual quest. The mysterious Holy Grail, one of the most captivating motifs in all literature, first appears as part of the Arthurian legend in Chrétien’s unfinished poem ‘Perceval, or the Story of the Grail’ (1181-90):

A girl came in, fair and comely and beautifully adorned, and between her hands she held a grail. And when she carried the grail in, the hall was suffused by a light so brilliant that the candles lost their brightness as do the moon or stars when the sun rises. After her came another girl bearing a silver trencher. The grail was made of the finest pure gold, and in it were set precious stones of many kinds, the richest and most precious in the earth or the sea.

Chrétien´s image of the grail, luminous and other-worldly, became a mystical symbol of all human quests, of the human yearning for something beyond, desirable and yet unattainable. With that, the Arthur legend entered the true realm of myth.

Arthur becomes political

By the time the Tudor king Henry VII came to the throne in 1485, chivalric tales of Arthur’s knightly quests and of the Knights of the Round Table, inspired by Chrétien de Troyes, had roused British writers to pen their own versions, and Arthur was a well established British hero. Thomas Malory’s work the Death of Arthur, published in 1486, was one of the first books to be printed in England.

It is a haunting vision of a knightly golden age swept away by civil strife and the betrayal of its ideals. Malory identified Winchester as Camelot, and it was there in the same year that Henry VII´s eldest son was baptised as Prince Arthur, to herald the new age.

It is a haunting vision of a knightly golden age swept away by civil strife and the betrayal of its ideals.

In the meantime Geoffrey of Monmouth’s tome had not been forgotten, and Arthur was also seen as a political and historical figure. Nowhere was this more true than in the minds of 16th-century rulers of Britain, trying desperately to prove their equal worth with their sometimes-ally sometimes-foe Charles V, the great Holy Roman Emperor.

The young prince Arthur did not live to be crowned king and usher in a true new Arthurian age, but in 1509 his younger brother became Henry VIII and took in the message. He had the Winchester Round Table of Edward III repainted, with himself depicted at the top. Here he was shown as a latter-day Arthur, a Christian emperor and head of a new British empire, with claims once more to European glory, just as Geoffrey of Monmouth and Thomas Malory had described.

Victorian revival

The 19th century in Britain was a time of great change, and the Industrial Revolution was transforming the nation irrevocably. But this situation produced great doubt and uncertainty in people’s minds – not just in the future direction of the world but in the very nature of man’s soul. As we have seen, at times of great change the legend of King Arthur, with its unfaltering moral stability, has always proved popular, and so it proved again in the reign of Queen Victoria.

The Victorian Arthurian legends were a nostalgic commentary on a lost spirit world.

Thus, when the Houses of Parliament were rebuilt after the disastrous fire of 1834, Arthurian themes from Malory´s book were chosen for the decoration of the queen´s robing room in the House of Lords, the symbolic centre of the British empire. And poems such as Tennyson´s ‘Idylls of the King’ and William Morris´s ‘The Defence of Guinevere’, based on the myth, became extremely popular. In addition, the Pre-Raphaelite painters produced fantastically powerful re-creations of the Arthurian legend, as did Julia Margaret Cameron in the new medium of photography.

The Victorian Arthurian legends were a nostalgic commentary on a lost spirit world. The fragility of goodness, the burden of rule and the impermanence of empire (a deep psychological strain, this, in 19th-century British literary culture) were all resonant themes for the modern British imperialist knights, and gentlemen, on their own road to Camelot.

Modern myth

Today the tale has lost none of its appeal. Camelot was ‘discovered’ at Cadbury, in Somerset, in the 1960s, and many books on the subject have been written in the past few decades. Films such as John Boorman´s Excalibur (1981), Robert Bresson´s Lancelot (1972) and Jerry Zucker’s First Knight (1995) were pre-cursors to Antoine Fuqua’s 2004 Hollywood epic King Arthur. Historians have also identified a real fifth-century Arthur – a prince and recognised warrior who died fighting the warring Scottish Picts.

But in the end it is perhaps his myth that is in any case more important than his history.

Has any of this helped verify the King Arthur of our story books? Maybe not. But in the end it is perhaps his myth that is in any case more important than his history. Over the centuries the figure of Arthur became a symbol of British history – a way of explaining the ‘matter’ of Britain, the relationship between the Saxons and the Celts, and a way of exorcising ghosts and healing the wounds of the past.

In such cases the dry, historical fact offers no solace, it is myth that offers real consolation, not in literal, historical fact but in poetic, imaginative truth. And a body of myth like the Arthurian tales therefore represents in some magical way the inner life of our history as Britons, over many hundreds, even thousands, of years. In this sense the fabulous myths really do serve Britain and make Arthur, perhaps, the real ‘once and future king’.

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10 Important Medieval Dates

10 medieval dates you need to know…

Don’t know the battle of Bosworth from the battle of Bannockburn? Confused between Magna Carta and the Domesday Book? We’ve got you covered. Here we bring you 10 key medieval dates you need to know…

Tuesday 22nd March 2016    Submitted by: Ellie Cawthorne  from BBC History Extra
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Detail from the Bayeux tapestry. (DeAgostini/Getty Images)
Detail from the Bayeux tapestry, which depicts the Norman conquest of England in 1066. (DeAgostini/Getty Images)

 

1066: The battle of Hastings and the Norman conquest

The Norman conquest of 1066 marked a dramatic and irreversible turning point in English history. Events began with the battle of Hastings, in which the Anglo-Saxon king Harold II attempted to defend his realm from the Norman invasion forces of William, Duke of Normandy (later known as William the Conqueror).

Harold’s English troops numbered around 5,000, compared to a well-equipped Norman force of 15,000 infantry, archers and cavalry. Although the English had some initial success using shield-wall tactics, they proved no match for William, who was a formidable warlord. English defences were eventually broken down and King Harold was killed. His crushing defeat and gory death on the battlefield is famously recorded in the Bayeux tapestry, which was completed in the 1070s.

Following William’s success at the battle of Hastings – dubbed by Andrew Gimson the “most durable victory of any monarch in English history”– William the Conqueror set about transforming the face of Anglo-Saxon England. He skillfully secured his hold on the lands he had invaded, replacing the English ruling class with Norman counterparts and building defensive fortresses at strategic points throughout the kingdom.

Under William the feudal system [a hierarchical system in which people held lands in return for providing loyalty or services to a lord] was introduced, the church reorganised and England’s links to Europe strengthened. The legacy of 1066’s Norman conquest can still be seen today in Britain’s language, culture and social structure.

 

William I

A portrait of William the Conqueror from the ‘Historia Anglorum, Chronica majora’. (Fine Art Images/Heritage Images/Getty Images)

 

1085: The Domesday Book is completed

The Domesday Book is England’s earliest surviving public record, unsurpassed in depth and detail until the introduction of censuses in the 19th century.

Towards the end of the 11th century England came under threat from Danish invaders. William the Conqueror (who had himself been an invader two decades earlier) realised the need to catalogue the country’s financial resources in order to assess how much taxation he could reap from the land to fund a potential war. He therefore commissioned a massive survey of England’s landholdings and financial assets. The monumental resulting document, the Domesday Book, extensively catalogues the kingdom’s taxable goods and records the identities of England’s landholders at the time.

The Domesday Book is significant because it provides a unique and remarkably rich historical source for medievalists. Its vast amount of information offers historians, geographers, linguists and even lawyers invaluable insights into the nature of England’s government, landscape and social structure at the time.

The book now survives in two volumes: Great Domesday and Little Domesday.

1095: The First Crusade is decreed

Pope Urban II’s official call for “holy war” in 1095 heralded the beginning of centuries of religious conflict. The crusades were a significant and long-lasting movement that saw European Christian knights mount successive military campaigns in attempts to conquer the Holy Land. Religious conflict peaked during the 12th and 13th centuries and its impact can be traced throughout the Middle Ages.

Muslims in the Holy Land were not the only target of the crusades. Crusade campaigns were directed against a variety of people viewed as enemies of Christendom. Military campaigns against the Moors in Spain and Mongols and pagan Slavs in Eastern Europe have now also been recognised by historians as part of the crusade movement.

The crusades had a huge impact on medieval life in Britain. People from all walks of life were involved – everyone from peasant labourers to lords and kings took up the fight for Christendom. Richard the Lionheart (r1189–99) considered the quest to conquer the Holy Land to be so important that he was absent from England for many years of his reign, waging war in the Middle East.

These intercontinental military expeditions also had a much wider impact on global relations. They led to an unprecedented interaction between east and west, which had an enduring influence on art, science, culture and trade. Meanwhile the shared fight for Christendom arguably also helped to foster ideological unity within Europe. In the words of historian Linda Paterson, the crusades “transformed the western world and left a profound legacy in inter-cultural and inter-faith relations nationally and worldwide”.

 

Crusades

A battle during the crusades. Miniature from the ‘Historia’ by William of Tyre, 1460s. (Fine Art Images/Heritage Images/Getty Images)

 

1170: Thomas Becket is murdered

Bloody proof of overflowing tensions in the ongoing power struggle between the medieval church and crown, the murder of Thomas Becket in 1170 has gone down in history for its shocking brutality.

In 1155, after enjoying a successful career in the clergy, Becket (1120–70) became chancellor to King Henry II. Friendship and rapport developed between the two men and in 1161 Henry appointed Becket as archbishop of Canterbury.

However, following Becket’s appointment as archbishop, his harmonious relationship with the king was short-lived. Trouble began to emerge as it became clear that Becket would now fight for the interests of the church, often in opposition to the wishes of the crown.

Becket began to challenge the king over a wide range of issues and their turbulent disagreements lasted several years. Their relationship disintegrated to such an extent that between 1164 and 1170 Becket lived in France to avoid Henry’s wrath. He returned to Canterbury in 1170 but was soon in conflict with the king again, this time over the excommunication of high-ranking clerics.

This dispute was the final straw for Henry. According to popular legend he lost his temper with the archbishop, asking “Who will rid me of this troublesome priest?” Believing this to mean that the king wished Becket dead, four knights travelled to Canterbury to seek out the archbishop. On 29 December 1170 they brutally murdered Becket in his own cathedral.

In 1173, three years after his death, Becket was canonised. His murder transformed him into a martyr figure and his shrine at Canterbury Cathedral became a major European pilgrimage site. The priest’s murder was extremely damaging to Henry’s reputation and in 1174 Henry visited Becket’s tomb to pay penance for his actions.

Thomas Becket

A late 12th-century illustration of the murder of Thomas Becket in 1170. (CM Dixon/Print Collector/Getty Images)

 

1215: Magna Carta is signed

Sealed by King John at Runnymede on 15 June 1215, Magna Carta (meaning ‘great charter’) has become one of the founding documents of the English legal system.

At the time of its creation, however, the document’s long-lasting significance was not immediately recognised. Following a period of political and military upheaval in England, John was reluctantly forced to sign Magna Carta as part of peace negotiations with rebel barons. Drafted as part of a peace treaty, the initial document contained specific grievances dealing expressly with King John’s rule. At the time the agreement had little impact, as King John swiftly backtracked on its promises, prompting civil war.

Magna Carta’s real significance lay elsewhere. Buried within its many clauses were certain adaptable core values that ensured its influential legacy in English history. As the first document to establish that everyone, including monarchs, was subject to the law, Magna Carta laid the foundation for legally limiting the power of the sovereignty. Its 39th clause, meanwhile, ensured the right of all ‘free men’ to a fair trial.

The fundamental principles laid down in these clauses proved central to the establishment of the English legal system. The original document was adapted several times in subsequent years and three of the clauses from the original Magna Carta still remain on the statute books today. These establish the liberties of the English Church (Clause 1), the privileges of the City of London (Clause 13) and the right to trial by jury (Clauses 39 & 40).

 

1314: The battle of Bannockburn

The battle of Bannockburn saw Scottish leader Robert the Bruce take on the English king Edward II in a pivotal conflict in Scotland’s fight for independence.

In 1296 Anglo-Scottish tensions spilled over into open warfare when English forces under Edward I invaded Scotland. By 1314 the Scottish Wars of Independence had been raging for many years and Edward II’s hold over Scotland had begun to crumble. In an attempt to restore his grasp on the kingdom Edward II amassed a large body of troops to relieve Stirling Castle, which had been besieged by the forces of Robert the Bruce. However, Edward’s attempt to regain control backfired, as the Scots prepared to face the English forces head-on in what became the battle of Bannockburn.

The battle took place on 23 and 24 June 1314. Although the English force boasted greater numbers, the Scottish were well trained and well led, fighting on land they were motivated to defend. Their knowledge of the local land also worked in their favour, as they tactically targeted terrain that would be difficult for Edward’s heavy cavalry to operate on. English casualties were heavy and Edward was forced to retreat.

Bannockburn dealt a significant blow to English control over Scotland and Edward’s withdrawal left swathes of northern England vulnerable to Scottish raids and attacks. Robert the Bruce’s victory proved decisive for Scotland, solidifying the country’s independence and strengthening his grip over his kingdom. In 1324 Robert finally gained papal recognition as king of Scotland.

 

1348: The Black Death comes to Britain

The summer of 1348 saw the first outbreak of the bubonic plague in England, leading to an epidemic of huge proportions. The disease is estimated to have killed between a third and a half of the population – a devastating and unprecedented death rate.

Known as the Black Death, the bubonic plague was caused by a bacterium now know as yersinia pestis. Without any knowledge of how it was transmitted the disease spread like wildfire, particularly in urban areas. The writer Boccaccio saw the plague ravage Florence in 1348 and described the symptoms in his book The Decameron: “The first signs of the plague were lumps in the groin or armpits. After this, livid black spots appeared on the arms and thighs and other parts of the body. Few recovered. Almost all died within three days, usually without any fever”.

The dramatic death toll had a significant impact on the social and economic landscape of Britain in the following decades. Writing for History Extra, Mark Ormrod has argued that in the long-run the epidemic led to a “real improvement in the quality of life” for medieval people. He suggests that “the drop in the population resulted in a redistribution of wealth – workers could demand higher wages, and tenant farmers could demand lower rents, giving the poor more expendable income”.

 

Death strangles plague victim

Death strangling a victim of the plague. From the 14th-century Stiny Codex.(Fine Art Images/Heritage Images/Getty Images)

1381: The Peasants’ Revolt

The first large-scale uprising in English history, the Peasants’ Revolt of 1381 threatened to overturn the existing social structure and undermine the country’s ruling elite.

The revolt was prompted by the introduction of a third poll tax (raised to fund the war against France), which had a particularly damaging effect on the poor. Unrest began in Essex, spreading rapidly to East Anglia, St Albans, Bury St Edmunds and London. As events escalated, government ministers were attacked and their homes destroyed. The chaos reached a peak as rioters captured and executed the king’s treasurer and the archbishop of Canterbury.

Soon, the rioters’ demands extended far beyond abolishing the third poll tax. They called for the abolition of serfdom and outlawry, and the division of lordship among all men. They also railed against the corruption of the church, demanding that its wealth be distributed among the people.

Faced with the threat of escalating violence in his capital city, the 14-year-old King Richard II met with one of the central figures of the revolt, Wat Tyler, to discuss the rioters’ grievances. However, violence broke out at the meeting and Tyler was murdered by William Walworth (Lord Mayor of London). Following Tyler’s death, government troops sought out and executed those who had rebelled, and resistance soon died out.

Peasants revolt

A 15th-century image depicting the meeting between Wat Tyler and the revolutionary priest John Ball during the Peasants’ Revolt. (Prisma/UIG/Getty Images)

1415: Henry V defeats the French at Agincourt

Soon after becoming king of England in 1413, the ambitious young Henry V turned his attention to expanding his realm. During his father’s reign he had pushed for an invasion of France, and as the country was undergoing a period of political turmoil under its elderly monarch, Charles VI, it was the perfect time to launch an assault on the vulnerable kingdom.

After landing in France on 13 August 1415 and besieging the town of Harfleur, Henry’s troops marched on Calais. The French army met them at Agincourt and Henry’s men found themselves outnumbered as a bloody battle ensued. Despite this the French death toll was significant and Henry claimed victory.

Agincourt has gone down in history as a legendary victory for England and for Henry. However, historian Ralph Griffiths suggests that it was in fact a close-run and far from decisive battle. He argues that contemporaries exaggerated Henry’s achievements in France.

However, patriotic Agincourt propaganda undoubtedly had sticking power in the Middle Ages. The defeat proved devastating to French morale, while Henry’s reputation on the continent was enhanced dramatically. Henry was welcomed back to Dover with triumph and the story of his illustrious victory at Agincourt was celebrated for centuries to come.

 

Agincourt

A 15th-century image of the Battle of Agincourt. (DeAgostini/Getty Images)

 

1485: Richard III is defeated at the battle of Bosworth

The last significant clash of the Wars of the Roses, the battle of Bosworth saw the Lancastrian Henry Tudor (the future Henry VII) defeat Richard III in a bloody fight for the English throne.

Following Richard’s deposition of Edward V in 1483, Henry challenged the Yorkist king as a usurper. In August 1485 Henry launched an attack on Richard in an attempt to seize control of England. Richard’s army of 15,000 vastly outnumbered that of Henry, who had only 5,000 men. Confident of defeating his challenger, Richard was reportedly overjoyed at Henry’s arrival in England and even delayed facing his troops in order to celebrate with a feast day.

However, once the battle began, Richard’s strong initial position was undermined by the desertion of his troops and the defection of Lord Stanley (who had previously fought on the Yorkist side and commanded significant troops). The Yorkist forces were defeated and Richard was killed on the battlefield.

The discovery of Richard’s skeleton in Leicester in 2012 has told us much about how the defeated king met his death. Writing for History Extra, Chris Skidmore states that “several gouge marks in the front of the skull seem to have been caused by a dagger, perhaps in a struggle. The two wounds that would have killed Richard include the back part of his skull being sheathed off; if this did not kill him, a sword blade thrust from the base of the skull straight through the brain certainly would have done the job”.

As the last major conflict of the Wars of the Roses and one that heralded the end of the Plantagenet dynasty, the battle of Bosworth marked a significant turning point in British history. It signalled the end of the medieval era and beginning of the Tudor period.

Arthurian Quote of the Day!

  

Whoso pulleth out this sword of this stone and anvil, is rightwise king born of all England.

                                                         -Inscription, 7

This prophecy is what opens the door for Arthur to claim his birthright of the crown. Arthur pulls the sword from the stone with the intention of giving it to his foster brother Kay. He has no idea of its implication, or of his fate. This acts lays the foundation of Arthur’s chief characteristic – he is first a man, and then a King, which seemingly separates him from the other lesser kings of England. The pulling of the sword from the stone makes Arthur High King, although he already has a legitimate claim to the throne. A case of mistaken identity, one of the reoccurring motifs throughout the text, prompts the Kings of the North to declare war on Arthur. They claim he is not of noble birth, and is too young to rule. Arthur, with the aid of Merlin, conquers the Kings of the North, thus proving he is worthy of his crown, by birth and by prophecy.

T.G.I.F.! Here’s Your Arthurian Quote of the Day…

  

Ready my knights for battle. They will ride with their king once more. I have lived through others for far too long. Lancelot carried my honor, and Guenevere, my guilt. Mordred bears my sins. My knights have fought my causes. Now, my brother, I shall be… king.


Excalibur (1981), written by Rospo Pallenberg and John Boorman, based on Le Morte d’Arthur by Thomas Malory

Easter Rising

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Early in 1914 the Carsonite Volunteers, with the connivance of British sympathisers in high places, ran a big cargo of arms ashore at Larne. Forthwith the British Government prohibited the importation of rams into Ireland, lest the Nationalists should secure weapons too. The Irish Volunteers thus organised an illegal shipment of arms to Howth from the Continent. A rising had been planned for Easter Sunday. But on Easter Monday, soon after noon, the Irish Republic was proclaimed in Dublin, and the insurgent Tricolour suddenly broke on startled eyes from the flagstaff above the General Post Office in the heart of the Irish capital. The Easter Monday Rising, however, had no such military prospects of success. There was always, of course, the chance that a German success on the Western Front would break Englands defences and allow substantial help to be sent before the Rising was crushed, but this proved a vain hope. On the morning of Easter Monday, April 24th 1916, the Dublin battalions paraded, bearing full arms and one days rations. Shortly after noon, the General Post Office, the Four Courts, three of the railway termini, and other important points circling the centre of Dublin were rushed and occupied. The Proclamation of the Irish Republic was published in big placards :

Poblacht na hEireann
The Provisional Government of the Irish Republic
To the People of Ireland

Irishmen and Irishwomen ! In the name of God and of the dead generations from which she receives the old tradition of nationhood, Ireland, through us, summons her children to her flag, and strikes for her freedom …….
We declare the right of the people of Ireland to the ownership of Ireland, and to the unfettered control of Irish destinies, to be sovereign and indefeasible……In every generation the Irish people have asserted their right to National freedom and sovereignty; six times during the past three hundred years they have asserted it in arms. Standing on that fundamental right and again asserting it in arms in the face of the world, we hereby proclaim the Irish Republic as a Sovereign Independent Sate, and we pledge our lives and the lives of our comrades to the cause of its freedom, of its welfare, and of its exaltation among the nations ……
The Republic guarantees civil and religious liberty, equal rights and equal opportunities to all its citizens, and declares its resolve to pursue the happiness and prosperity of the whole nation and of all its parts, cherishing all the children of the nation equally, and oblivious of the differences carefully fostered by an alien government, which have divided a minority from the majority in the past …….
We place the cause of the Irish Republic under the protection of the Most High God, whose blessing we invoke upon our arms…… In this supreme hour the Irish nation must, by its valour and discipline, and by the readiness of its children, to sacrifice themselves for the common good, prove itself worthy of the august destiny to which it is called.

Signed on behalf of the Provisional Government
Thomas J Clarke
Sean MacDiarmada Thomas MacDonagh
P H Pearse Eamon Ceannt
James Connolly Joseph Plunkett

There was little fighting on the first day of the Rising. Wholly unprepared since it was believed that the Volunteers had abandoned the project, the British authorities were taken by surprise and could not immediately muster forces to attack the insurgents before they had “dug themselves in”. It was on Tuesday that a British force of some 4500 men attacked the rebel strongholds and secured the Castle. A cordon was then drawn around the north of the city, some of the rebel outposts being attacked and broken with rifle or artillery. Meanwhile large reinforcements were being hurried into Ireland. On the Thursday the encircling forces pressed closer and penetrated to the central scene of operations. Liberty Hall had been shattered by gunfire from the river, and now shells ignited great buildings in O’Connell Street. The lines of communication between the insurgent strongholds were broken, and the British Forces, concentrated on reducing headquarters, the General Post Office, over which the Republican flag still flew.
In Co Galway Liam Mellows led a large body of insurgents on Galway city. A gunboat in Galway Bay dispersed them by shellfire. At Athenry, the insurgent camp was surrounded and dispersed when the hopelessness of resistance became clear.
O Friday, a terrific bombardment had set the centre of Dublin city wholly ablaze. Banks, churches and business places were aflame and tottering. The loss of life among non-combatants was appalling. Commandant Daly had destroyed the Linen hall Barracks but was now surrounded at the Four Courts. Countess Markievicz, after being driven out of trenches in Stephens Green, was defending the College of Surgeons. Commandant McDonagh was surrounded in Jacobs factory. Commandant de Valera, whose men had so tenaciously resisted the advance from the south, was now holding Bolands Mills, while Commandant Ceannt held part of the South Dublin Union. On Saturday at 2pm Pearse surrendered to Sir John Maxwell unconditionally. And so the Rising ended, the outstanding forces laying down arms on the Sunday. All the signatories of the Republican declaration were put to death. Some death sentences were commuted to sentences of imprisonment for life, happily for Ireland, Commandant de Valera escaping thus. After a year the prisoners were released for the purpose of English propaganda in America. When one year later that is, in 1918, England decreed the conscription of Irelands manhood to save her from the great German advance, it was around deValera that the nation rallied. His coolness and wisdom saved Ireland from a bloody defeat, and secured a moral victory. In December, at the General Election, all Nationalist Ireland declared its allegiance to the Republican ideal, and the Sinn Fein policy of abstention from Westminster was adopted. In January, the republican representatives assembled in Dublin and founded Dail Eireann, the Irish Constituent Assembly, proclaiming the Republic once again. A message was sent to the nations of the world requesting the recognition of the free Irish Sate, and a national government was erected.

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Ireland in the Lore of the Ancients

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IRELAND IN THE LORE OF THE ANCIENTS

SCOTIA (A name transferred to Alba about ten centuries after Christ) was one of the earliest names of Ireland – so named, it was said, from Scota, the daughter of Pharaoh, one of the ancient female ancestors of the Milesians – and the people were commonly called Scotti or Scots – both terms being frequently used by early Latin historians and poets. One of its ancient titles was Hibernia (used by Caesar) which some trace from Ivernia, the name, it is said, of a people located in the south of the Island. But most trace it from Eber or Heber, ther first Milesian king of the southern half, just as the much later name, Ireland, is by some traced from Ir, whose family were in the northeastern corner of the island. Though it seems much more likely that this latter name was derived from the most common title given to the Island by its own inhabitants, Eire – hence Eireland, – Ireland. It was first Northmen and then the Saxons, who, in the ninth and tenth century began calling it Ir-land, or Ir-landa – Ireland.

In the oldest known foreign reference to Ireland, it was called Ierna. This was the title used by the poet Orpheus in the time of Cyrus of Persia, in the sixth century before Christ. Aristotle, in his Book of the World, also called Ierna. It was usually called either Hibernia or Scotia by the Latin writers. Tacitus, Caesar, and Pliny call it Hibernia.

“This Isle is sacred named by all the ancients,
From times remotest in the womb of Chronos,
This Isle which rises over the waves of ocean,
Is covered with a sod of rich luxuriance.
And peopled far and wide by the Hiberni”

By Rufus Festus Avienus, who wrote this at beginning of the fourth century.

King Arthur, General of the Britons

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King Arthur, General of the Britons
A discussion by David Nash Ford

Though Arthur is quite firmly established as an historical figure, there appears to be little evidence that he was the King of tradition. To quote Nennius,

Arthur fought…together with the Kings of the British; but he was Dux Bellorum.

This would seem to confirm the popular view today that Arthur was a professional soldier: a brilliant military leader employed in an official capacity by an alliance of British Kings to carry out their warfare against all coming enemies.

“Dux Bellorum” translates literally as Duke of Battles. This might be comparable to the Roman “Dux Britannorum” in charge of the Northern British defences. Though many think the Roman “Comes British History Clubrum” a better fit, for he led mobile cavalry forces across the country, as perhaps indicated by Arthur’s supposed widespread battles.

None of this, however, precludes Arthur from also being a King. Nennius may have intended his phrase to imply that Arthur was one of the Kings alongside whom he fought, yet he was the greatest warrior among them. If the more formal title of Dux or Comes was meant, then perhaps a High-Kingship is implied as tradition would suggest. Early sources, no doubt, assumed that everyone already knew Arthur was a King, as with most Royal entries in the Annales Cambriae. There was no need to announce it.

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