Clans touch swords in battle to crown Arthur as their own

HIS STORY has inspired everyone from the knights of medieval times to Hollywood film directors, but the true identity of King Arthur has remained stubbornly lost in the mists of time.

But, as Arthur fever rears its head with a major new film starring Clive Owen and Keira Knightley, out next month, two Scottish clans have emerged as challengers to those in Wales and Cornwall who claim the model of chivalry as their own.

While the knights of the round table, the lady in the lake, sword in the stone and the search for the Holy Grail have passed into British national identity, no-one truly knows who Arthur was.

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However, historians at Clan Arthur believe they are the descendants of a chieftain who fits the bill better than anyone else and are now claiming him to be "Oor Arthur".

But the McArthurs face competition from Clan Campbell, which has traditionally claimed to be descended from Artur Mac Aeden, the son of a Scottish king and a Welsh-speaking Briton from the ancient kingdom of Strathclyde.

Clan historian Hugh McArthur said it would be a good time to publicise the Scottish Arthur story.

"The Duchy of Cornwall makes a lot of money out of the Arthurian legend with very little evidence," he said.

"It can never ever be proven, the genealogical records don’t exist and nobody could prove a link that far back.

"What I’ve got is circumstantial evidence, but there’s so much of it - links in heraldry, clan badges, tradition that the clan was descended from Arthur’s son.

"North of the Border there’s an awful lot more evidence than south of the Border. There are a lot of Arthur sites in Scotland that could be put together to make a history trail about King Arthur."

He has compiled a list of evidence which suggests King Arthur of legend was in fact Artur Mac Aeden, who lived during the sixth century.

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"There are about seven places called Arthur’s Seat in Scotland and I’m up to about 40 Arthur places names in Scotland," Mr McArthur said. "And locals will tell you that Loch Lomond used to be called the Lake."

Mr McArthur also said that while Dumbarton means Fortress of the Britons, it was also called Castello Arturius, or Arthur’s Castle, in 11th-century records.

The mountain Ben Arthur is not far away at the head of Loch Long and at Arthurlie in Barrhead stands the ancient carved stone of Arthurlie Cross.

Mr McArthur also points to Arthur’s Seat in Edinburgh, Arthur’s O’on at Falkirk, Loch Arthur close to Dumfries and Guinevere’s Grave at Meigle in Perthshire as evidence of the existence of a powerful Scottish Arthur.

And Mr McArthur believes one of the biggest clues is contained in a poem by Welsh poet Taliesin, which describes a sea raid on an island fortress that has been seen as part of the quest for the Holy Grail.

He said "cryptic clues" in the poem put the fortress, which was held by pagans, near the Corryvreckan whirlpool off the west coast of Scotland.

"It is this successful but costly raid on the most unassailable fortress in Britain that made Arthur the living legend that he is today. Arthur overcame the challenge, he sailed over the dragon [whirlpool] to Hell’s gate, assailed the mountain, slaughtered the pagans and returned triumphant with the hallowed pagan treasures leaving an ancient religion reeling from a fatal blow."

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However, Clan Arthur’s claim that King Arthur is one of their own faces competition from Clan Campbell, which has a genealogy that starts with the legendary figure.

Alastair Campbell, who has written three books about the history of his clan, said: "The traditional genealogy of the Campbells does trace us back to King Arthur, but most historians reckon that’s the sennachie’s shorthand for ‘We don’t know who the Campbells are but we know they are of noble birth and come from the British kingdom of Strathclyde and if they are top guys they must be related to the king and King Arthur’.

"It’s a good story, but you’ve got to start with wondering whether King Arthur actually existed as such. The King of Strathclyde as King Arthur, it’s not something I put my hat on, but I go for the Campbells being Britons of high rank from Strathclyde."

Robert McArthur, sennachie of Clan Arthur, said: "The Campbells claim descent from Smervie Mor [the son of Artur mac Aeden], the Campbells claim all sorts of things.

"My long-running debate with the ‘chief executive’ of Clan Campbell is he says we are part of them. How can we be part of them if they weren’t around until 1,000 years after us?"

Geoffrey Ashe, who has written several books about King Arthur, said he felt sure the legendary figure’s base was in and around Cornwall.

"There’s no denying the original Arthur might have been in Scotland, but the evidence of where his roots are seems to me to point very clearly to the south and south-west rather than the north," he said.

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"He was fighting against Saxon invaders coming much more from the south-east than in the north. They hadn’t really got to the north at that time."

He said he had studied the various candidates found in Scotland but had been unconvinced.

"There’s more than one ‘northern Arthur’ and mac Aeden is the most popular with people," Mr Ashe said.

"I find it hard to believe how a Scot could have become a legend for the Welsh. They regarded his father Aeden as something of a traitor. Aeden and his son were not popular with the Welsh."

Quest for the Historical Truth

THE legendary King Arthur was a leader of the Britons who fought against Saxons that invaded following the departure of the Romans.

The Welsh-speaking tribes of Britons lived throughout mainland Britain at the time, but were pushed to the Celtic fringe by the Saxons, Angles and Jutes.

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The Scots, arriving in Scotland from Ireland, ultimately took control of the British kingdom of Strathclyde.

If Arthur was from Welsh-speaking Strathclyde, his story may have migrated south with tribal poets to Wales and Cornwall as the Britons lost power north of the modern-day Border.

However, traditionally, he has been associated with Tintagel Castle in Cornwall, said to be his birthplace and the site of his court.

Under this version of events, Arthur is credited with a great victory over the Saxons at the battle of Mount Badon - thought to be in Dorset - while the magnificent fortress of Camelot was actually a hill fort at South Cadbury in Somerset.

Glastonbury is reputed to be where the great leader was buried, one day to rise up and defend Britain once again.

However, the French also have an Arthurian tradition and some claimed he was a king of Celtic Brittany.

The new film claims he was born on the eastern fringes of the Roman empire in Sarmatia, south of modern-day Russia, as Lucius Artorius Castus, before coming to Britain. The Sarmatians worshipped a sword stuck in a stone.

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Last year, an Italian historian, Mario Moiraghi, announced that Arthur was from Tuscany. He claimed to have found the sword in the stone in a Cistercian Abbey of San Galgano at Montesiepi.

However, British Arthurians pointed to a gaping hole in his theory: the sword was still in the stone and Arthur was supposed to have removed it.

Amid all the confusion is the theory that Arthur was not so much a name but a title, and that numerous Arthurs fought bravely across Europe, creating a legend greater than any one man could ever hope to achieve.