Hello everyone,

Research is a constant, ongoing process while writing historical fiction. Sometimes a fascinating tidbit surfaces that might be of particular interest beyond its use in a novel. As I continue to work in the historical fiction field, I will post those occasional points of interest here. Occasionally I muse on the writing process as well along with news to keep readers informed of what's going on with my books and other writings.

Please feel free to post comments--I'd love to hear from you.

The photo above is of Snowdonia in North Wales, which plays a large part in the setting of the Macsen's Treasure Series.


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Sunday, September 30, 2007

Arthur's Battle List-Part 1

So many aspects concerning King Arthur's life continue to be debated over and over within the community of Arthurian historians. Among those points is a list of twelve battles that Arthur was alleged to have fought and won in his quest to consolidate power. The list comes from the document called Historia Brittonum, attributed to a monk called Nennius. Historians conjecture and argue constantly over where these battles took place, if they happened at all. There is no consensus.

While researching A Land Beyond Ravens (the 4th and final part of the Macsen's Treasure series) the first of the battles come into play, so I've found it necessary to decide if I agree with any of the theories historians have put out there.

The first battle Nennius names is "at the mouth of the river Glein." I've seen this spelled a number of ways in various translations: Glein, Glen, or Gleni. Most historians look for any rivers in Britain that still have the name Glen. Of course names have changed dramatically over the last 1500 years) Two with that name appear on current maps, one in Lincolnshire and the other in Northumberland. According to Christopher Gidlow, in his book The Reign of Arthur, both are in plausible locations for war against the Saxons. However, he also points out that, at the time the battle may have taken place, the frontier between British territory and the encroachment of Saxon territory may actually have been closer to the eastern side of the kingdom that was called Powys. Pinning down historical boundaries in those days is fuzzy at best, but the area can roughly be thought of as where Wales now meets the English counties of Shropshire and Cheshire. There is a county of Powys in Wales now, however its modern boundaries are quite shifted from those of the fifth century.

In going beyond looking simply for river names, I snooped for relevant place names in general, and the point arose that in the Welsh language (its pre-runner being spoken at that time) the word for the mouth of a river could also mean the confluence of rivers. Another point I considered was that in those days there was little, if any, written language outside of Latin, so when names where written down later, they were spelled phonetically. So what also sounds like Glein, glen or gleni? A brief trip to the Welsh dictionary and up pops: glyn—the word for glen, as in river valley...Ah-hah! Back to the maps!

In examining them, I found two village names. One is Glyndyfrdwy that lies along the well known River Dee, or Afon Dyfrdwy, famous for the homeland of the Welsh hero Owein Glyn Dŵr. The other village is called Glyn Ceiriog that lies along the Afon Ceiriog. Both rivers flow down from the Berwyn Mountains of Wales, through river valleys that run roughly parallel to each other. They come together in a confluence near Chirk, about halfway between Wrexham and Oswestry. This area lies within what was probably the eastern side of the fifth century kingdom of Powys.

Of course this theory is as much conjecture as anyone else’s, but in my mind this is a possible and very plausible site for Arthur's first battle: at the confluence of the river glens. Within the context of the novel, this is where Arthur takes his first command and begins to earn his title, Battle Lord of Britain.

More later on additional battle sites.