References in Literature to Arthur in early Welsh chronicles

Y Gododdin (7th century)

Attributed to the 7th century poet Aneirin, Y Gododdin ("The Gododdin"), is a series of 99 elegies to the men of the kingdom of Gododdin in north-eastern Britain who fell in the battle of Catraeth, thought to be Catterick in North Yorkshire, against the Angles, ca. 600 AD.

It was composed in Old Welsh, and survives in a 13th century manuscript known as the Book of Aneirin.

The earliest mention of Arthur may be in Y Gododdin, a collection of elegies commemorating the fallen heroes of a battle fought c.AD 600 at Catraeth. The reference to Arthur in Y Gododdin is indirect, when the poet praises 80 warriors, one of whom he says fought bravely "even though he was no Arthur."

Thought to come from the Latin cataracta, or waterfall, which also gave its name to Cataractonium, a Roman fort there, the site has been identifed with Catterick in the North Yorkshire. Catraeth eventually was lost to Anglo-Saxon settlers from Deira and incorporated into their expanding kingdom of Northumbria.


Annales Cambriae (970)

The Annales Cambriae (Annals of Wales) is a chronicle written in Latin, dating from around AD 970, covering 533 years in time, starting from the year AD 447. It is a collection of relatively obscure Welsh material, but it does contain two entries that are of Arthurian interest

" (c. 519 AD) The Battle of Badon, in which Arthur carried the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ on his shoulders for three days and three nights and the Britons were victors"

"(c. 540 AD) The strife of Camlann in which Arthur and Medraut fell, and there was death in Britain and in Ireland."

These entries were originally seen as historical proof of the existance of Arthur and of his rival, Mordred (Medraut, in Welsh). That view is no longer widely held.

Annales Cambriae says that Camlann was fought in 539, 21 years after the Battle of Badon Hill. The Annales also record a battle called Arfderydd in 575, after which "Myrddin went mad." This battle and subsequent madness of Myrddin are also mentioned in the Black Book of Carmarthen.


Life of St. Cadoc, written by Lifris of Llancarfan (c 1130))

This 11th-century work portrays Arthur as prone to debauchery and pettiness. Written by the monk/saint who founded the monastery of Llancarfan in Glamorgan. The Llancarfan writings denigrate Arthur, who is said to be not Welsh, but vaguely from southwest England.

Arthur aids the saint's mother in eloping with her lover, though Arthur lusts after her himself. Cadoc is the result of this elopement. Many years later, as abbot of Llancarfan, Cadoc grants sanctuary to a man who has slain three of Arthur's men. Arthur disputes this but is eventually silenced by a miracle and he accepts Cadoc's authority.

In the second tale, Arthur is called King of Britain, hinting at a political system that could not have existed into the 6th century. It makes him a contemporary of the Abbot Cadoc and St. David, it puts Arthur well into the 6th century and much later than the reputed date of the battle of Camlann.


Black Book of Carmarthen (c 1250)

The Black Book of Carmarthen,called after the colour of its binding and its connection with the Priory of St John the Evangelist and Teulyddog, Carmarthen, is believed to be the work of a single scribe writing at different periods of his life about the year 1250. This makes it one of the earliest surviving manuscripts written solely in Welsh.

Arthur is mentioned by name as having been the Battle of Llongborth. Other mentions of a man called Arthur within the Black Book include a tale of his trying to gain entrance to the castle guarded by Glewlwyd Gafaelfawr. He is also mentioned in the "Stanzas of the Graves," another poem in the Black Book. The poem mentions his grave but says that its location is not known.


The Book of Taliesin (14th cent)

The Book of Taliesin was copied by a single scribe, probably in Glamorgan dating from the first half of the fourteenth century, is one of the most famous Welsh manuscripts. The volume contains a collection of some of the oldest poems in Welsh, many of them attributed to the poet Taliesin who was active towards the end of the sixth century and sang the praise of Urien Rheged and his son Owain ab Urien.

The Book of Taliesin provides some indirect references to Arthur and one direct reference: The Spoils of Annwn, which tells of Arthur's traveling to the land of Annwn (the "fort of glass") to secure a magical cauldron and a magical sword.


Red Book of Hergest (14th cent)

Mythical tales featuring Arthur are included in a late 14th-century work called the Red Book of Hergest, a large fourteenth-century manuscript kept at Jesus College, Oxford.

The Mabinogion - part of the Red Book of Hergest (14th cent)

The Mabinogion are found in the "Red Book of Hergest". The tales of the Mabinogion are folk stories passed down by word of mouth, until assembled as one book around 1060 AD. Its contents draw upon the myths and history of Celtic Britain, largely within the confines of Wales and the otherworld. We note that in the "Four Branches" there is no mention of Arthur.

The tales comprise a number of parts, the first four "Pwyll", "Branwen", "Manawydan", and "Math" comprising the Four Branches of the Mabinogi. Besides these four stories, the Mabinogion includes two from romantic British history ("The Dream of Macsen Wledig" and "The Story of Lludd and Llefelys"), two more ("The Dream of Rhonabwy" and "Culhwch and Olwen"), "Taliesin", and, finally, three tales ("Owain or The Lady of the Fountain", "Geraint the Son of Erbin", "Peredur the Son of Efrawc") which show a marked kinship with medieval French tales.

An earlier manuscript called 'The White Book of Rhydderch' (c. 1325 AD) is incomplete but may well have contained all the stories when it was whole. Fragments of these tales appear elsewhere, the earliest of which is believed to be 'Peniarth 6' which dates to c. 1225.

The Mabinogion does not seem to have been widely read until its translation into English in 1849 by Lady Charlotte Guest.
She gave it the the title Mabinogion. Each of the Four Branches ends with the term 'So ends this Branch of the Mabinogi.' The Welsh word 'mab' means 'son'. Lady Charlotte concluded that 'mabinogi' was a noun meaning 'a story for children' and that the word 'mabinogion' was its plural.

King Arthur in Literature