Explorations in Arthurian History

The People












  • Aelle: Saxon leader who founded the kingdom of Sussex in 477 and became the first bretwalda years later. Bede calls him the first high king of Saxon Britain. Not much else is known. One source calls him a king of Northumbria; another source lists him as an Angle leader. He is thought by some to have been the Saxon leader at the Battle of Badon Hill.
  • Angles: invaders and eventually settlers from Angeln or Denmark who chose the middle-eastern coast of Britain as their new stomping grounds. The kingdoms they founded were Northumbria, Mercia, and East Anglia. From the Old English words Engla and land ("Land of the Angles") we get England and from Englisc we get English. Angles were settled in Lincolnshire and Lindsey, thought to be the sites of some of the 12 great battles of Arthur according to Nennius. Click here for more.
  • Anglo-Saxons: members of the Germanic tribes (invited by Vortigern to stem the tide of Pict incursions) known as the Angles, Saxons, and Jutes. These people settled along the eastern coast of Britain and, through conquering and diplomacy, made their way west until they controlled all of the island except Wales, Scotland, and some of Cornwall. The seven major kingdoms were Northumbria, Mercia, East Anglia, Essex, Sussex, Wessex, and Kent; together, these kingdoms were known as the Heptarchy. Click here and here and here (funny) and especially here for more.
  • Ambrosius Aurelianus: Briton leader mentioned by Gildas, Geoffrey, and Nennius who strengthened his people against the increasing Saxon invasions. He is said by some to be a Roman. Whatever his origin, his impact on British history is large: He coordinated his people and dealt the Saxons a stunning counterblow in 470, assuming the title of High King of Britain. Click here and especially here for more.
  • Argante: Queen of Avalon. Layamon says Arthur went to her after the last battle.
  • Balin and Balan: knights who met an untimely death at each other's hand. Click here and here for more.
  • Bedivere: according to Geoffrey the Duke of Normandy and Arthur's right-hand man. He is portrayed as such in Culhwch and Olwen, although there his name is Bedwyr. He is also reputed to be the one who cast Excalibur into the pool after Arthur's wounding. Click here and here and here for more.
  • Belgae: original inhabitants of Gaul who crossed over to Britain early in the first century and ruled over a good bit of southern Britain, with centers in Colchester, St Albans and Silchester. A famous Belgae was King Cassivellaunus. Although the Belgae were populous and well-organized, they didn't stand a chance against the invading Roman legions. They did leave behind the technological advance of the heavy plow. Click here for more and here to read Julius Caesar's account of his run-in with the Belgae.
  • Bors: See People of the Legend.
  • Brigantes tribe who lived in what is now Yorkshire. Chief Brigante cities were Isurium and Eboracum. Cartimandua was the fiery queen who kept her place on the throne by accepting Roman support and handing over Caratacus, the king of brigantes. The Brigantes, too, were assimilated into the Roman Empire, in 71. Click here for more and here for more.
  • Brutus the Trojan: descendant of Aeneas who establishes a kingdom in Britain, with his capital at Troia Nova. He named the island Britain after himself and called his people the Britons. This tradition lives in both Nennius and Geoffrey of Monmouth and perpetuates itself after that as well. In fact, Wace titled his work The Romance of Brutus. Click here and here and especially here for more on Brutus.








  • Caratacus: King of the Catuvellani, a tribe of Britons who lived in the vicinity of modern-day St Albans, at the time of the Roman invasion of Britain in AD 43 here and here fight against Rome at Dolforwyn Castle
  • Cartimandua: Queen of the Brigantes who made a name for herself by allying with the Romans and handing over her king, Caratacus, to keep peace. Click here and here for more.
  • Celts: legendary people who began in Europe and Asia and moved to Britain long before the Romans arrived. Click here and here and here and here for more as well as the Encyclopedia of the Celts.
  • Cerdic: Saxon leader who gave his name to the town of Certicesford, a contender for the Battle of Badon Hill. Click here for more. Click here for excerpts from the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle and here for John Leslie Hall's poem "Cerdic and Arthur."
  • Claudius: Roman emperor who authorized the invasion of Britain (in 43) and who personally took the city of Camulodunum (Colchester). For more than 300 years after Claudius came and went, Britain was a Roman province. Click here and here for more.
  • Cornovii: tribe who had their headquarters at Wroxeter. From Cornovii came the word Cornwall, and from the tribe came the people of Powys. Click here for more about the Cornovii.
  • Cunedda: led Votadini migration from the north country to Gwynedd. Click here for more and here for a list of the House of Cunedda
  • Cuneglasus: one of the five tyrants mentioned by Gildas and king of Powys about 540. Said to be both Arthur himself and Arthur's son. He is also known as Cynlas the Red, a king of Rhos.
  • Cunomorus: Most sources say that he was the historical basis for King Mark of Cornwall. His name even appears on the Tristan Stone. But one source says that he was in reality Conomor, a king of Dumnonia. Click here for more.
  • Cynric: son of Cerdic. Click here for more. Click here to read from the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle.






  • Damnonii: Scottish tribe that evolved into the kingdom of Strathclyde. Click here and here for more.
  • Fisher King: Click here and here and here for more and here to read about the Fisher King's connection to Bran
  • Galahad: See People of the Legend.
  • Ganhumara: Arthur's queen, according to Geoffrey of Monmouth.
  • Gawain: son of Morgause and Lot and nephew of Arthur, he was from the first portrayed as a model of knightly perfection. Gawain is also sometimes portrayed as having his strength linked to the Sun, a link to Gwalchmei, the solar deity of Celtic mythology. Indeed, a Welsh tradition of Geoffrey of Monmouth's History of the Kings of Britain equates Gawain and Gwalchmei. Gawain is perhaps most famous for the story of his adventures at the hands of the Green Knight. Click here and here and here and especially here.
  • Germanus: Catholic bishop of Auxerre who undertook two visits to Britain, both to eradicate Pelagian "heresy," which stressed the essential goodness of human nature and the freedom of the human will. During his first visit, in 429, Germanus met with Vortigern and is said to have instructed the Britons to shout "Alleluia!" when faced with a joint army of Saxons and Picts. This became known as the Alleluia Victory when the opposing army bolted from the field. The second visit, in 447, succeeded in driving Pelagianism from Britain. Bishop of Auxerre who visited Britain and about 429.
  • Gorlois: according to Geoffrey of Monmouth both a military strategist and the husband of Ygerna (Igraine). In Geoffrey we first get the account of how Arthur is born of Gorlois's wife in a tryst with Uther Pendragon. Click here and here and here for more.
  • Guinevere: queen of Arthur who fell in love with Lancelot and failed to give the king an heir. Early Welsh literature names her Gwenhwyfar, the "White Phantom" and the "first lady of the island." Geoffrey of Monmouth names her Gunhamura, a Roman lady. Some accounts, including for a time the monks at Glastonbury, maintain that Guinevere was Arthur's second wife. Click here and here and here and here for more. See People of the Legend.
  • Gwenhwyfar: older name of Guinevere meaning the White Phantom. here and especially here The Welsh Triads tell us that there were three Gwenhwyfars.
  • Hengist Jute who with his brother Horsa was the first of the Anglo-Saxon settlers, residing on the Isle of Thanet at the behest of Vortigern, who wanted recruits to fight against encroaching Picts and Scots. Together, they founded the kingdom of Kent, where Hengist ruled beginning in 455. Click here and here and here for more.
  • Horsa: Nennius tells us that he and his brother Hengist landed at the behest of Vortigern. He is echoed in Malory and Milton. Geoffrey tells us that Vortigern's second son, Katigern, and Horsa killed each other "above the ford at Epiford." Click here to read John Leslie Hall's poems about Horsa. Click here to read from the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle.
  • Igraine: also known as Ygerna. Wife of Gorlois and then Uther Pendragon and mother to Arthur. Some stories have her also as mother to either Morgause, Morgan, or both.
  • Isolde: famous lover of Tristan and wife of King Mark. Click here and here and especially here for more.









  • Joseph of Arimathea: buried Jesus, of whom he was a secret disciple, in his own tomb. We see him first in Robert de Boron's "Joseph d'Arimathie," which tells of his being entrusted with the Holy Grail, which he brings to England. The village of Glastonbury is the reputed home of Joseph's first church. He is also said to have planted the on the Holy Thorn, a tree on Wearyall Hill near Glastonbury that blossoms at Christmas. Click here and here and here for more.
  • Kay: In Welsh traditions, he is thought to be the first to join Arthur's cause. In Malory and elsewhere, he is Arthur's foster brother. here and here
  • Lady of the Lake: here and especially here
  • Lancelot: See People of the Legend.
  • Lot: He is given many names and many faces as well. Was he King of Lothian? Was he King of Orkney? Was he King of Gododdin? He is also alternately a supporter and opposer of King Arthur.
  • Mark: legendary king of Cornwall. He is thought have been based on the historical figure of Cunomorus of Cornwall. He is inextricably woven into the tale of Tristan and Isolde. Some legends confuse his story with Gorlois's. Click here and here and here for more.
  • Medraut: alternate name for Modred/Mordred. The Annales Cambriae says only that that Medraut and Arthur perished at the battle of Camlann.
  • Merlin: Merlin can be traced to Nennius, who tells the story of the boy-prophet who saw the two dragons battling in the ground beneath Vortigern's Tower. In Geoffrey of Monmouth's Historia regum Britanniae, we first see Merlin as adviser to Uther Pendragon and later Arthur. We are also introduced to the idea that Merlin was a prophet (in this case named Ambrosius); indeed, in the Vita Merlini, Merlin is a wild man of the woods who is gifted with powers of divination. Click here and here and here for more. See People of the Legend.

  • Modred/Mordred: Arthur's bastard son who, according to whom you read, either killed Arthur himself or merely seized the kingdom while Arthur was away. Some traditions have Mordred marrying Guinevere in Arthur's absence. Most sources say that Mordred's mother was Morgause, although some say it was Morgan. Click here and here and here and here for more.
  • Morgan: Geoffrey of Monmouth (in the Vita Merlini) introduces her as the ruler of Avalon and the healer of Arthur after his great defeat at Camlann. Chretein de Troyes's Erec tells us that she is Arthur's sister. The Vulgate cycle features her as instigator of trouble between Arthur and Guinevere. She is almost always portrayed as having magical powers, which some sources say she learned from Merlin. Indeed, the Avalon legends say it is Morgan who heals Arthur when he is brought to the magical Isle. Click here and here and here and here for more.
  • Morgause: wife of Lot and mother of Gawain, Gareth, Gaheris, and Agravaine. Some traditions have her as Arthur's sister or half-sister; most say she is the mother of Mordred. Click here and especially here for more.
  • Myrddin: alternate name/progenitor of Merlin. Was he a wild man? Was he driven mad to live in the Celidon Forest? Was he Arthur's advisor? The questions are almost as numerous as the answers. He is mentioned in the Black Book of Carmarthen and the Red Book of Hergest. Geoffrey of Monmouth even throws in two Myrddins the prophet/magician Myrddin Emrys (Merlin Ambrosius) and the madman Myrddin Wyllt (Merlin Celidonius). It is also significant that Geoffrey has a Merlin as Arthur's court advisor. He was born in Carmarthen, which is "Myrddin's Town." Click here and here for more.
  • Nimue: alternately the Lady of the Lake and the sorceress who learned Merlin's secrets and then imprisoned him. Click here and here for more.






  • Octha: son of Hengist who carried on his father's tradition. Octha is thought to have been the Saxon leader at the Battle of Badon Hill. Alternately, he is said by Geoffrey to have been allowed by Ambrosius to settle in York and then been captured by Uther Pendragon, let go to Germany for several years, returned and burned and plundered his away across half of the island, and then finally have been killed at St. Albans by an army led by Uther in a litter.
  • Parsival/Perceval: knight who found the Holy Grail. Versions differ on where he found it (Was it the Grail Castle?) and where he had to go to get it (Through the WasteLand?). Grail and Round Table knight whose childlike innocence rendered him almost impervious to worldly temptation. His great adventure, in Chretien de Troyes's poem "Le Conte du Graal," is a visitation with the Fisher King, who showed him (depending on tradition) either a dish or the Holy Grail. He proved unable to ask the question that would heal the Fisher King and was sent packing; consequently, he sought the Grail. In some legends, he finds it; in others, he does not.
  • Peredur: title character in Welsh version/progenitor of Perceval. In this tale, which can be found in the Mabinogion, Peredur sees not the Holy Grail but a head on a plate. Click here to read the tale of Peredur.
  • Picts: ancient tribes who lived in what is now eastern and northeastern Scotland. The term comes from the Latin Picti, which means "painted," after the people's propensity to paint their bodies. Hadrian's Wall and the Antonine Wall were built to contain their incursions on Roman territory; and Vortigern had them in mind when he invited Hengist and Horsa to Britain. Click here and here and here to learn more about Picts.
  • Pwyll: king of Dyfed in Celtic mythology. He was the keeper of the cauldron of plenty and was a friend of Arawn, king of Annwn. In The Spoils of Annwn, Arthur goes on a quest for this magic cauldron. Some Arthurian legends incorporate this cauldron as the Holy Grail and Pwyll as Pelles, keeper of the Grail.
  • Saxons: Germanic raiders and invaders who settled on the Isle of Thanet at the behest of Vortigern in order to help in his fight against Picts. Under Hengist and Horsa, the Saxons wasted no time in establishing their own kingdoms, including Kent, Sussex, Essex, and Wessex. Together with the Angle kingdoms of Northumbria, Mercia, and East Anglia, they make up the Heptarchy. Other Saxon leaders include the famous Cerdic. Click here, here, here and of course here (Saxon Shore) for more on Saxons.
  • Scotti: Irish settlers who eventually took over all of what is now Scotland and gave it their name. Scotti comes from the Roman name for the Irish meaning "raider" or "bandit." The contination of settlements by the Scotti were a factor in the decision of the Votadini to move to Gwynedd. Click here for more about the Scotti.











  • Taliesin: sixth-century poet whose name has mingled with that of Merlin through the mists of time. He figures as a character in the Spoils of Annwn, which is part of the Book of Taliesin, and in one of the tales of the Mabinogion. Twelve of his poems have survived. One attributed to him, a eulogy to Cynan Garwyn ap Brochfale, king of Powys, suggests that Taliesin may have been a native of Powys. Click here for more.
  • Tristan: nephew of King Mark of Cornwall. Supposedly on a mission to bring Isolde back to Cornwall for Mark to marry, Tristan and Isolde drink a love potion themselves and fall hopelessly in love. Tradition has Isolde marrying Mark. Some legends have Tristan marrying another woman named Isolde; others say the two lovers were banished by the vengeful Mark; others say that Mark killed Tristan and Isolde died of grief. Click here and especially here for more.
  • Uther Pendragon: legendary father of Arthur. He is said to have impersonated Gorlois of Cornwall and impregnated Gorlois's wife, Igraine, with the child that became Arthur. Some traditions have him as brother of Ambrosius and High King of Britain for a time. Geoffrey of Monmouth says he is buried at the Giants' Dance. Click here and here for more. Click here to see Howard Pyle's illustration. Click here for a discussion of Uther and the Seven Swords of Waylund. Uther's grip on Britain remains. Modern Cumbria has a Pendragon Castle.
  • Viviane: alternate name for the Lady of the Lake.
  • Vortigern: the man who started it all. It was he, the ruler of Powys (according to the Pillar of Eliseg), who invited the Saxons to England to fight against the Picts. Hengist and Horsa settled on the Isle of Thanet but soon wanted more. Some traditions have Vortigern marrying a daughter of Magnus Maximus, a Roman usurper. Others have Vortigern's daughter marrying a Saxon leader. The name Vortigern is even thought to be just a title, like Arthur. Click especially here for more information on Vortigern.
  • Votadini: tribe who moved from what is now Scotland to Gwynedd. These people came from Gododdin, and their fight against the Saxons is the subject of the ancient Welsh poem the Gododdin. Ambrosius and Arthur are both thought to have been Votadini. Bamburgh Castle is thought to have been the fortress of a Votadini leader.

Other relevant links

Map of Celtic tribes

Encyclopedia of the Celts

Map of Saxon Invasion and Land Holdings, 500

Transformations of Celtic Mythology in Arthurian legend

The Changing Role of Women in Arthurian Legend

History of the Early British Kings

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