King Arthur and Drumchapel.

Here lies my theory of how King Arthur is connected with Drumchapel...

Local history sources

One of the first references that started this line of enquiry was a quote from Duncan Robertson's Drumchapel - A Historical Sketch : [Chapter 1, Page 1] "Of the aforementioned drums, the western one is Drumry, said to signify the King's Ridge, behind which name there lies a world of unrecorded history. Of some old Celto-British chief who made his settlement upon its crest, while, as the recent excavations would seem to imply, to the days when the white-robed Druids, standing by their altars in their temples and groves, practiced their mysterious rites and imposed their cult upon the primitive hunters who peopled Strathclyde in these far distant days." Thus I was interested in which Celtic chief gave his name to Kingsridge, the name of the ridge just below the military way of the Antonine Wall.

Of note here also is the reference to the Druid site. Research here led to an excavation in the 1930's at Knapper's Sand Quarry on the Drumchapel side of Great Western Road at NS507 713 - finds from here are now in Kelvin Art Gallery and Museum. The Royal Commission on Ancient and Historic Monuments Scotland states "the existence of a henge or a Bronze Age Barrow, predating a Food Vessel cemetery".

And so to King Arthur... John Bruce, in his History of the Parish of West or Old Kilpatrick states "It was during these struggles that the great Cymric hero, Arthur the Faultless, King of the Poets, first saw the light. Gildas in the 6th Century, and Nennius in the 7th, relate the real Arthur's history; while Merlin, the poet of Tweedsdale, and Llywarch Hen and Taliesin, both poets of Lennox, sing his praises. It has been thought that one of the battles of Arthur was fought in the neighbourhood of Duntocher, certainly in the neighbouring parish of Strathblane, where 'Arthur's stone' bears witness to one of his victories."

The History of Dumbartonshire by Joseph Irving also mentions King Arthur. Mentioning that Al Cluith (Dumbarton) was the base of King Arthur, he goes on to explain Al Cluith "appears to have borne the name 'Castrum Arthuri'. In a Parliamentary record of the reign of David II, giving a curious detail of the king's rents and profits in Dumbartonshire, mention is made of the 'redditum assize Castri Arthuri' and, as a further evidence of the presence of Arthur in ancient Dumbarton, in the Welsh Triads, as quoted by Owen in his Dictionary, it is said 'Arthur ynbeneteyrnedd yn Mhenryn Rhionydd yn y gogledd' [Arthur, a supreme of princes at the promontory of Rhionyth, in the north.] Other Welsh writers describe the residence of Arthur in Strathclyde as Penryn-Ryoneth; and as the British Penryn supposes a promontory with some circumstance reduplicating its height, Chalmers thinks this intimation clearly points to Alcluid as one of the seats of Arthur's authority. The point of Cardross was the 'Rhyn-Ryoneth', and the Castle of Dumbarton the Pen-Rhyn-Ryoneth of the ancient British Triads." Confirming this, the Welsh Traiads say that St. Mungo (Kentigern) - based in Glasgow - was King Arthur's chief bishop at his base of Pen Rhionydd; obviously then, the capital Dumbarton.

The assertion of Castrum Arthuri is backed up by George MacGregor's The History of Glasgow. Of Strathclyde kings, he writes "The first mentioned ruler is Cawn or Caw, who is said to have been driven from his kingdom at the end of the fifth century by the Picts, and who took refuge in the kindred principality of Wales. At the commencement of the sixth century, Hoel, Coyle or Huail, became king; but his reign was no more fortunate than that of his predecessor. Tradition has it that the great King Arthur, whose exploits have been the subject of the works of many quasi-historians and minstrels, obliged Hoel to seek refuge in Anglesey, where he died in 508. Arthur, on the same authority, established himself firmly in Strathclyde, fixing upon Alclywd as one of his fortresses. This place, some say, was then called Castrum Arthuri; while Stirling Castle is affirmed to be his 'round table'. Here he reigned from 508 till his death in 542." Caw and Hueil are said to have been father and son, and seem to have been minor kings opposed to Arthur, the Ard Righ (High King). Arthur is said to have killed both Caw and his sons in battle. The sons died first, not in Wales, but at Cambuslang, a site associated with Nennius' sixth battle of his list of Arthur's twelve victories. When Caw was later defeated he was buried alongside his sons. Another of Caw's sons was reputedly Gildas whom pointedly does not mention Arthur or the High Kingship, an office he would detest. Instead, he denounces Constantine of Damnonia [Strathclyde] as killing royal youths.and their guardians on the site of a church, while wearing the habit of a holy abbot. Cambuslang held an early church supposedly visited by both St.Cadoc and Gildas.

Interestingly, I.M.M. MacPhail's Dumbarton Castle suggests that Dumbarton as Arthur's Castle is a misreading, but then goes on to list Arthurian traditions in the area. He makes reference to the possibility of Arthur having fought locally : "at least one of them was fought not far from Dumbarton, in Glen Douglas on Lochlomondside." and notes the Campbell clan's belief in their descent from King Arthur: "In a seventeenth century account, based on centuries old tradition, of the genealogy of the Campbells, the author traces their descent from 'King Arthur of the round table', whose son Smerevie Mor, was born in Dumbarton, 'on the south side thereof, in a place called the redd hall or in Irish Tour in Talla Dherig, that is, the tower of the redd hall'. The name, 'the Red Hall', occurs in other Gaelic folk tales as that of Arthur's residence." MacPhail also asserts that "'the Tower of the Red Hall' has a historical connection with Dumbarton Rock. One of the buildings of the medieval castle in Dumbarton Rock was the Red Tower, which was repaired in 1460." This leads him to the connection of King Arthur and the Galbraith clan. Details of this link can be found on my Galbraith page.

In another local history, that of neighbouring Yoker, written by the senior pupils of Yoker Secondary School in 1966, attests that King Arthur is associated with this area.. In Both sides of the burn: The story of Yoker they write: "It is known that the people of Strathclyde, now unprotected, were subjected to fierce attacks by Picts from the north and Angles from the south. After a terrific and protacted struggle in which the fortunes of war, the invaders were finally and decisively routed in the 6th century by King Arthur and his son Owen, Prince of Lennox, who on the death of his father became King of Strathclyde."

Mentioning the battles, James Knight in his Glasgow and Strathclyde claims "Careful research seems to show, however, that when we trace the Arthurian legends back to their origins we arrive at a real historical person, not a king, but the head of a British federation in Strathclyde, in the century after Ninian. His enemies were the heathen Scots on the west, the Picts on the north, and the Angles on the east, and against these he fought and won twelve battles, the sites of which have all been identified in lowland Scotland. As the result of a victory at Bowden Hill, West Lothian, in 516, he divided the conquered territory among three brothers. To Urien was assigned Reged or northern Stathclyde, Arawn held Yscotland beyond the wall as far as Stirling, and Llew or Loth, King of the Picts, Arthur's brother-in-law and ally, ruled over the eastern territory on the Firth of Forth, now called Lothian. Loth was the father of Thenaw, whose name survives in Tannochside and St. Enoch's, Glasgow, and she was the mother of Kentigern or Mungo, the real founder of Glasgow and its patron saint, of whom more will be said by-and-by. For twenty years after this victory the land had rest, but in 537 a fresh pagan combination was formed under Modred, Arthur's nephew, and at Camelon, near Falkirk, a great battle was fought in which both leaders fell, and which overwhelmed Christianity in Scotland for a whole generation."

National history sources

Early national history books also back the Strathclyde claim. James Taylor in his Pictorial History of Scotland writes: "Among the petty chiefs who reigned over Strathclyde, there are none whose names or exploits are worthy of preservation , with the single exception of the famous King Arthur. At the commencement of the sixth century, this semi-fabulous monarch was chosen pendragon, or chief military leader of the Cumbrian Britons, expelled his sovereign, the feeble Huail of Hoel, and reigned over Strathclyde from A.D. 508 to A.D. 542, when he was killed in the fatal battle of Camlan. The fame of his deeds of valour has been perpetuated both by the romances of the poets and the tales of tradition, while his obscure successors, continually occupied either in civil broils or foreign conflicts, have engaged neither poet or chronicler to transmit their deeds to more inquisitive times."

Good evidence to support a Scottish King Arthur can be found on the website by David Carroll . Against this is the website by Michelle Ziegler. While this website agrees with the principle of a Scottish King Arthur it argues that Artur mac Aedan (as suggested by David Carroll) is too late to be the King Arthur. Other evidence of a Scottish Arthur can be found on the Magicdragon site. My own research of King Arthur's battles confirms this conjecture.

Contemporary sources

Arthurian legend is varied and somewhat contradictory. For that reason is it best to work only with contemporary sources i.e. sources from around the 6th Century. Most of what people ascribe to Arthurian legend today comes from Geoffrey of Monmouth, a 12th Century writer who embellished and introduced various strands of the Arthurian story. Certainly, he was most keen on placing Arthur firmly in Wales, perhaps understandably as poems such as that of Taliesin and Y Gododdin were written in Welsh. Yet, in the 6th Century, most of southern and central Scotland spoke Welsh; the poem Y Gododdin describes a battle of the Votadini, based in Edinburgh.

Y Gododdin

This is one of the most important sources because it is the first to mention Arthur by name. It was written c. 600 AD by the poet Aneurin, describing a failed battle against the Angles at Catterick. Describing one warrior:

He struck before the three hundred bravest
He would slay both middle and flank
He was suited to the forefront of a most generous host
He would give gifts from a herd of horses in winter
He would feed black ravens on the wall
Of a fortress, though he were not Arthur

This is the earliest piece of vernacular writing in Europe, and it was written in Edinburgh. The Votadini were allied with the Damnonii of Strathclyde as both kingdoms were under threat from the Picts and Angles. It was Arthur who gave these kingdoms respite from their attacks, traditionally winning twelve battles (according to Nennius) and thus was celebrated by both peoples. The poem also mentions the Lord of Dumbarton:

He rose early in the morning
when the centurions hasten in the mustering of the army
following from one advanced position to another.
At the front of the hundred men he was first to kill.
As great was his craving for corpses
As for drinking mead or wine
It was with utter hatred
that the Lord of Dumbarton, the laughing fighter,
used to kill the enemy.

Here then is a brief examination of other primary sources...

Annals

Various annals refer to the period, although most are not contemporary but written later by monks. These can however be used to reference dates; most entries usually accurate to within a couple of years. The annals are the Annals of Tigernach, Annals of Ireland, Annals of Ulster and the Annals Cambriae, sometimes called the Annals of Wales.

Gildas

Gildas, the monk, wrote De Excidia Britanniae in the 6th Century. He makes no mention of Arthur but mentions a character called the Bear, possibly an epithet for Arthur - Arcturus is the latin for bear. He does mention a siege of Mount Badon however - which Nennius also mentions.

One point to bear in mind is that Gildas and Nennius although mentioning Saxons as the enemy of the British were actually referring to Angles.

Adomnan

Adomnan wrote Vita Columba in the 7th Century. Much of the text is an attempt to prove Columba worthy of sainthood. It details various miracles and prophecies ascribed to St. Columba. However, most of the rest of the text seems historically accurate.

Nennius

Traditionally, Nennius wrote the Historia Brittonum in the 8th Century; although modern historians now regard the ascription to Nennius as false and the text written anonymously around 829/830 AD. Work on this ascription was undertaken by Heinrich Zimmer in his 1893 book Nennius vindicatus. He asserted that Nennius compiled the majority of the book (chapters 7 to 65) but that chapters 57-65 (known as Genealogiae Saxonum, regarded as the only legitimite historical section of the Historia Brittonum ) had been written by a unknown Briton of Strathclyde around 679 AD and merely revised by Nennius.

Whoever the author - whom I will regard as Nennius for convention - wrote of the twelve battles of King Arthur. He was in the words of Gerhard Helm in the book The Celts "unrestrainedly inventive" although he did have seem to have access to now lost 5th and 6th Century manuscripts. Thus any information taken from this source must be checked with care.

W. F. Skene in his Celtic Scotland says this of Nennius' Arthur : "The Arthur of Nennius was however, a very different personage from the shadowy and mythic monarch of the later Welsh traditions, and of th Arthurian romance. He is described by Nennius as merely a warrior who was a military commander in conjuction with the petty British kings who fought against the Saxons. The Saxons referred to were those whom Nennius had previously described as colonising the regions in the north under Octa and Ebissa, and it is that part of the country we must look for the sites of the twelve battles which he records." Thus Skene places almost all of the twelve battles firmly in Scotland.

The flow of the chapters in Nennius' Historia Brittonum also point to a Scottish base:- from chapters 50 to 55 Nennius writes of St. Patrick, a Saint born in Kilpatrick, Dunbartonshire; chapter 56 mentions Arthur's battles; and chapter 57 is regarding Bernicia, an ancient Northumbrian kingdom that stretched into South-East Scotland. This geographical implication, of course, is that Arthur and his battle-sites rightly belong to southern Scotland.

This conclusion is reinforced by the original authorship of the Genealogiae Saxonum to be a Strathclyde Briton. Indeed it suggests that the same Strathclyde Briton may also have written those earlier chapters 50 - 56; obviously he would be familiar with St. Patrick's connection to Kilpatrick and Arthur's battles being correctly sited in Strathclyde and the north of Britain. And if that is the case, the argument for a historical Arthur is also strengthened, as the Genealogiae Saxonum is an accepted historical manuscript by the same author.

Ancient Welsh poetry

Taliesin is reputed to be a 6th Century bard contemporary with Arthur. The Book of Taliesin is a 13th Century Medieval text possibly a copy of 6th Century work, perhaps not. No-one can be sure if the poems were written by him or by a group of bards. Other important sources are The Black Book of Carmarthen and The Red Book of Hergest and The White Book of Ryderrch. Certainly the poems are fanciful and at best can only be taken to provide corroborating evidence. As mentioned earlier, John Bruce claimed that Taliesin and Llywarch Hen are from the Lennox; and some ancient poems mentioning Arthur may be set in firm geographical locations. Might Bruce be right? Later, I will try to place the Arthur of these poems with their implied location, hopefully giving corrobating evidence to a Scottish King Arthur.

Druidry

Druidry would have still been practised in Scotland - but the evidence suggests that Druidry would have been wiped out in England and Wales by the Romans. Certainly Caesar was reported to have exterminated the druids in Anglesey c. 50 AD. Given that the Romans left Britain in 410 AD that would have accounted for about 400 years of intolerance of the druid way of life. It may have been possible that after this date druids would have once again attempted to get back their influence in England and Wales but since the Roman Empire accepted Christianity around a hundred years before this seems unlikely.

Not so in Scotland, particularly north of the Antonine Wall. South of the wall, where the Romans only occupied periodically druidry would still have probably managed to cling on. The Knapper's site is on the south side of the wall. Druids occupied an exalted position as advisors to the kings. King Brude, the King of the Picts (550 - 584) was met by St. Columba. In Vita Columba Adomnan writes of the King's druid, Broichan, as being a foster-father and a tutor to Brude. Thus, a Scottish king or prince in the 6th Century would be assigned a druid as tutor - as Merlin would have been to Arthur.

If we take the conjecture that Arthur was based in central Scotland in the 6th Century - a century when the main road in the area would still be the Roman military way behind the Antonine wall, around 37 miles in length from coast to coast and the easiest traveling route - then Arthur would have also known Drumchapel, both as a destination along the military way and as a place to meet Merlin the druid.

Merlin

One of the more reliable conjectures in Arthurian legend is that Merlin was a druid and poet who was given protection by Ryderrch -a King of Strathclyde; the kingdom based in Alt Cluith or Dumbarton- and was based near the 'Waters of Clyde'. Thus we have a druid based in the area - and at the Knapper's site, evidence of a henge. Furthermore, King Ryderrch was said to have his Royal Palace at Pertnech (Partick). The Drumchapel henge is situated midway from Ryderrch's Palace at Partick and the British capital of Alt Cluith (Dumbarton) making it ideally located for a druid wishing Royal protection. It is also close to the military way of the Antonine Wall which would have been the main road of the country at the time, thus giving ease of movement right across the country. From this I conjecture Merlin must have known the lands of what is know Drumchapel very well.

Joesph Irving backs this assertion in his aforementioned book. He writes of the battle between Ryderrch of the Britons and Aedan of the Scots in 577 at "Ardryth (supposed to be Airdrie) [where Ryderrch] defeated him with great slaughter. Aidan is described by Merlin of Caledonia as Fradwig, the Perfidious; but this is possibly because he did not sufficiently aid Merlin's patron Gwenddolau, who, according to the fashion of the time, had called the Scoto-Irish king as an auxiliary against the munificent ruler of Alcluid, but forfeited his own life by his treachery, at the battle of Ardryth. This, we think, is the engagement which Merlin himself had some hand in bringing about, and on account of which he performed a severe penance during the remainder of his life. It appears certain, at least, that he was present on the occasion, and enjoyed the high honour of wearing the golden torques. This personage, who was a native of Alcluid, seems to have roamed over Strathclyde like a second Nebuchadnezzar, living only in dens and caves of the earth, and clothed in such raiment as was furnished by the shaggy skins of wild animals. In the Scotichronicon is the account of an interview between Merlin (while living in this distracted and miserable manner) and his countryman St. Kentigern. On being commanded by the saint to give an account of himself, Merlin answered that the penance he performed was imposed on him by a voice from heaven during a bloody conflict of which he had been the cause."

Drumchapel - Druids and Kings

And so the naming of Kingsridge.Given the proximity of the druid's henge, it is likely that the name refers to a meeting place when visiting Merlin, the druid - if not by Arthur then a later King of Strathclyde.

St. Columba's biographer, Adomnan, in his Vita Columba notes that a convention was held on the Ridge of Cett - believed to be Daisy Hill, near Limavady, County Derry - to discuss the relationship of the Irish Dalriada to the Scottish Dalriada in 575. (King Aedan of the Scots was to continue to rule over the Irish province and collect taxes but Aed, the Ui Neill leader, would have the right to raise arms from the Irish Dalriada.) Perhaps some such convention also took place on Kingsridge; a meeting of Kings.

Certainly, the origin of the word Drumry would back this up. Righ is the gaelic word for King; thus Drum Righ is King's Ridge in English. The gaelic origin would have come into prevalence as the language slowly began to infiltrate the Welsh speaking Kingdom of Strathclyde as the kingdom of Dalriada became more powerful, Strathclyde less so.