Recently, Dane Pestano, author of King Arthur in Irish Pseudo-Historical Tradition was kind enough to write a review of my book King Arthur’s Children on his blog at: http://darkagehistory.blogspot.com/2011/11/book-review-king-arthurs-children.html. I felt honored to have such a scholar read my book, and I wish to return the favor by reviewing his book.
And I’m glad I did because King Arthur in Irish Pseudo-Historical Tradition is an impressive and insightful look into the possibility that the legend of King Arthur may be rooted in that of a historical Irish king. I am completely impressed with the extensive research Pestano did to write this book—in his short bio in the back of the book, Pestano states that he spent four years researching this topic, and while I don’t feel qualified to comment on all of his research, I could easily follow the argument and he has me fairly convinced by all the supporting evidence he finds.
Pestano begins by discussing the evolution of the Arthurian legend in early written texts including the Historia Brittonum from 829 AD that first mentions Arthur and his Twelve Battles, the 10th century Gododdin, and the Vita Goeznovius, circa 1016, which first mentions Arthur’s kingship and conquest of Gaul. All these works predate Geoffrey of Monmouth’s important History of the Kings of Britain from the twelfth century. But they are all three centuries or later from Arthur’s actual timeframe of the early sixth century. Pestano thinks the answers to the historical Arthur may lie in Irish literature and history, and after discussing scholars who have dismissed Ireland as offering anything in the search for the historical Arthur, he states that the Irish had their own Arthur but by a different name so his identity has lain hidden. This Arthur actually fits into the timeframe for Arthur better than any other candidate offered so far.
Who is this Irish Arthur? Pestano points out that there are possibly some blended versions of this man, but he believes it to be Muircertach Mac Erca, who was the first Christian King of Ireland and reigned from about 510-537. Not only does Mac Erca’s timeframe fit perfectly with Arthur’s dates, but he has many other similarities, including that he was said to have conquered Britain and Gaul, and that he was fostered by a Druid. His wife also has a name that would match Arthur’s wife as the Welsh equivalent. Furthermore, he is provided with a threefold death which Pestano suggests was Christianized into the Fortune’s Wheel dream that appears in well known Arthurian texts.
Pestano’s research is very extensive, and I admit I had a bit of a hard time following it at times because most of the texts and people he discusses are unfamiliar to me, but those are shortcomings on my own part and the book’s organization is overall clear.
In my continual interest in King Arthur’s children, I found a couple of things particularly interesting in the book. Pestano mentions Mac Erca’s children, including Baedan, whose descendants were rulers of Saxon Northumbria, via his second wife, the daughter of Clovis of France. Therefore, if Mac Erca is the real King Arthur, his descendants did live on to the present day through Northumbrian royalty. Pestano also refers to Baedo, whom the Spanish say was King Arthur’s daughter, a reference to a child of Arthur’s whom I missed in writing King Arthur’s Children.
But I was most excited by research revealing that Mac Erca had a son whom Pestano says was Constantine, the heir to Arthur in the Arthurian legend. Interestingly, Constantine’s mother was the daughter to Clovis, King of the Franks, who when baptized was called the “new Constantine” which explains the origin for Constantine’s name, and more importantly, solves the longtime riddle of why Constantine ended up inheriting the kingdom upon Arthur’s death—because he was Arthur’s (Mac Erca’s) son.
I admit I have not read all the theories for different candidates of the historical Arthur, but most that I have heard about do not fit into the timeframe for Arthur but are several years away from it, before or after. Therefore, Pestano’s theories bear further looking into. Fortunately, he is planning to produce a longer work on the subject, while this work is to introduce the information and provide a basic life of Mac Erca and the supporting texts.
Overall, I highly recommend the book. My only criticisms stem from reading the Kindle version; I’m still getting used to the Kindle reader and dislike flipping back and forth to try to read end notes, and I wished there had been some genealogy charts to look at and help me keep all the people mentioned straight, but those are minor concerns. I definitely feel this book is one that merits a second and third reading in order to absorb fully all of the extensive research Pestano has done. I trust King Arthur in Irish Pseudo-Historical Tradition will become a major source for future research, and it will be interesting to see a few years down the road if Pestano’s theory is accepted or other scholars build upon it. I look forward to Pestano’s next book which will go into even more detail.
King Arthur in Irish Pseudo-Historical Tradition is available at Dane Pestano’s blog and website at: http://darkagehistory.blogspot.com/2011/08/king-arthur-in-irish-pseudo-historical.html
A Kindle editions is available at http://www.amazon.com/Arthur-Irish-Pseudo-Historical-Tradition-ebook/dp/B005GM6CZ4/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1321307933&sr=1-1
Tyler R. Tichelaar, Ph.D. is the author of King Arthur’s Children: A Study in Fiction and Tradition, available at www.ChildrenofArthur.com