The Battle of Badon .
. . or was it?
Depending upon whose view point you take, either this famous battle is
one of the only historical events which can be linked to
King Arthur with a
fair degree of certainty or to others this link is based upon spurious
The Battle of
Mount Badon was fought some time between AD 490 and 516 (depending on
which source you believe).
invaders were defeated and forced to come to terms with the British.
Today, we do not know exactly where Mount Badon was, though it is most
likely to have been Little Solsbury hill, or Lansdown Hill, above
Bath. It would have been
called Badon (possibly pronounced 'Bath-on') by the British.
near contemporary reference comes from
Gildas, a Welsh monk.
Gildas preached a
blood and thunder sermon about The Ruin of Britain (Book
1. 25-26) some time before 547.
After a time, when the cruel plunderers
had gone home, God gave strength to the survivors ... Their leader was
Ambrosius Aurelianus, a gentleman who, perhaps alone of the Romans, had
survived the shock of this storm: certainly his parents, who had worn
the purple, were slain in it ... Under him our people regained their
strength and challenged the victors in battle. The Lord assented and the
battle went their way.
From then on victory went now to our countrymen, now to their enemies
... This lasted right up till the year of the siege of Badon Hill,
pretty well the last defeat of the villains and certainly not the least.
That was the year of my birth; as I know, one month of the forty-fourth
year since then has already passed.
implies that Badon was won not by King Arthur, but by Ambrosius. Arthur is
never mentioned in Gildas.
However, by the ninth century, Badon had been
firmly established as one of King Arthur's victories.
How had this happened?
To find out we must go back to
Nennius mentions Arthur in the History of the
Britons (Historia Brittonum IV.56), where it claims that he won Mount
At that time the English increased their
numbers and grew in Britain … Then Arthur fought against them in those
days, together with the kings of the British; but he was their warleader
(or 'dux bellorum').
The first battle was at the mouth of the
river called Glein.
The second, the third, the fourth and the fifth were
on another river, called the Douglas, which is in the country of
The sixth battle was on the river called Bassas. The seventh
battle was in Celyddon Forest, that is, the Battle of Celyddon Coed.
eighth battle was in Guinnion fort, and in it Arthur carried the image
of the holy Mary, the everlasting Virgin, on his [shield,] and the
heathen were put to flight on that day, and there was a great slaughter
upon them, through the power of Our Lord Jesus Christ .
battle was on Badon Hill, in which 960 men fell in one day from a single
charge of Arthur's, and no one laid them low save he alone; and he was
victorious in all his campaigns.
This is the first known reference to King Arthur and Mount Badon, and it
gives credence to the historicity of King Arthur the warlord. For no-one
would deny that Mount Badon was a historical event. If Arthur was linked
to it, then surely King Arthur must be an historical figure too?
Mount Badon was also mentioned
along with King Arthur in another Welsh record, the Annales Cambriae, which
list in the year 516:
'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 British were victorious.'
The Annales Cambriae survive in an English manuscript of c.1100
and are part of a list of events begun by the monastic community of St
David's in the 8th Century AD - two to three hundred years after the
time of King Arthur.
The references of earlier events, from the 5th to the
7th Centuries, derive
from oral traditions.
Some people doubt their accuracy for that reason.
However, this line of argument rest upon the assumption that (oral)
historians in the past were less trustworthy than historians today.