Arthur Uther Pendragon

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Arthur Uther Pendragon
Arthur Uther Pendragon.jpg
BornJohn Timothy Rothwell
(1954-04-05) 5 April 1954 (age 64)
Wakefield, Yorkshire, England
TitleTitular Head and Chosen Chief,
Raised Druid King of Britain.
Parent(s)May Victoria Rothwell (née Barratt) and Wilfred Lawrence Rothwell

Arthur Uther Pendragon (born John Timothy Rothwell, 5 April 1954) is a British eco-campaigner, Neo-Druid leader, media personality, and self-declared reincarnation of King Arthur, a name by which he is also known. Pendragon was the "battle chieftain" of the Council of British Druid Orders.

Born to a working-class family, Pendragon served in the British Army's Royal Hampshire Regiment before being discharged following an injury. Identifying as a greaser, he formed a biker club known as the Gravediggers, moving in counter-cultural circles at free festivals around Britain. After reading a book on King Arthur by the occultist Gareth Knight, he came to believe that he was the reincarnation of the legendary king and changed his name by deed poll. He formed the Loyal Arthurian Warband out of his supporters and began describing himself as a Druid. Angered that English Heritage charged entry to visit Stonehenge, an archaeological site in Wiltshire, between 1990 and 1991 he picketed outside the site on a daily basis.

Later that decade he joined various eco-protests against road development across Britain and, with the Council of British Druid Orders, campaigned for open access to Stonehenge during the solstices. For several years, Pendragon engaged in direct action protests and was repeatedly arrested. English Heritage agreed to implement open access at the solstice in 2000. Pendragon later focused on campaigning for the return of human remains removed from Stonehenge by archaeologists in 2008. He continued to call for free access to the site.


Early life: 1954–1985[edit]

Pendragon was born John Timothy Rothwell to a working-class family on 5 April 1954.[1] His mother, May Victoria Rothwell (née Barratt), was from London; his father, Wilfred Rothwell, was from Liverpool. The latter had served as a sergeant in the York and Lancashire Regiment of the British Army during the Second World War and on returning to civilian life became a lorry driver.[1] Rothwell—who was nicknamed "Johnny" by his family[2]—had an older brother and two younger siblings, one male and one female.[3] Wilfred was a heavy drinker and this exacerbated tensions in his marriage, leading to a separation; the couple never officially divorced.[4]

Rothwell was raised largely around the area of Aldershot and Farnborough,[5] spending much of his time on military bases and council estates.[6] He later described being a rebellious child and a regular truant from school who was caught engaging in arson on one occasion.[7] As a teenager, he read up on Druidry, occultism, and Zen Buddhism.[8] He obtained a BSA 250 motorbike and began associating with biker gangs.[9] In this period, he had multiple run-ins with the law and on one occasion was charged with affray against a policeman.[10]

Rothwell joined the British Army, being trained in Exeter before serving in the Royal Hampshire Regiment, where he was stationed in Hong Kong.[11] During parachute training, his arm was injured and he was subsequently discharged from the military.[12] He moved back to Farnborough, working for his cousin as a paint-sprayer and then as a roofer and fence erecter.[13] He moved to Liverpool, where he shared a flat with his father,[14] before relocating to Lancashire, where he worked as a supervisor on a country park project.[15] There, hew as initiated into a witchcraft group and joined the Universal Free Church.[15] He married one of his co-workers, Liz, and they moved to Farnborough, where he became senior supervisor on the Basingstoke Canal Restoration Project, foreman for Ash Parish Council's parks and gardens, and finally general foreman for Laing Management Contracting.[16] Dissatisfied with this lifestyle, after several years he and Liz separated and returned to more counter-cultural activities; Liz moved to Tintagel while Rothwell moved into a caravanette and re-embraced the biker subculture.[17]

As a biker, Rothwell identified as a greaser;[18] he rode a custom-built Triumph Thunderbird.[19] Rothwell and his friends formed a biker club, varyingly known as the Gravediggers and the Saddletramps.[19] This group engaged in a feud with a rival biker gang, with Rothwell carrying a gun in case of altercations.[20] He attended various free festivals around the country, at which he mixed with hippies, New Age travellers, and Druids.[19] He was given the nickname "King John", because he held parties at the ruined castle at Odiham, also known as "King John's Castle".[21] Rothwell took various jobs, including as a gardener; through this job he met and began a relationship with a woman named Angela, securing a divorce from his wife shortly after.[22]

Becoming Arthur Pendragon: 1986–1991[edit]

Pendragon moved to Glastonbury and attended one of his earliest Druidic rites at Glastonbury Tor (pictured)

After reading a book on King Arthur by the occultist Gareth Knight, Rothwell saw similarities between himself and the legendary king and came to believe that he was King Arthur reincarnated.[23] On 11 June 1986, he officially changed his name to Arthur Uther Pendragon by deed poll.[24] Shortly afterward, he bought a sword called Excalibur in a Farnborough shop; its seller stated that it had been the prop in the 1981 film Excalibur.[25][26] He designed a white robe with a red dragon on it and began regularly wearing it.[27]

Pendragon moved to Glastonbury in Somerset.[28] He disbanded his biker club,[29] and formed a group he called the Arthurian Warband, divided into three sections: the Shield Knights, Quest Knights, and Brother Knights.[30] To attract interest for this organisation, he put adverts in magazines like Back Street Heroes, a biker magazine.[31] Through this, he gained his first member, a black East Ender whom he called "Parsival" or "Parsley" after the legendary Arthurian knight.[32] Pendragon had also passed the test allowing him to join Mensa, and he gained another recruit by advertising in the organisation's magazine.[33] Membership of the Warband grew;[34] however, his relationship with Angela ended and she returned to Farnborough.[35]

Pendragon began writing poetry,[28] assembling a collected volume of writings by himself and other Warband members, The Latter Day Book of Arthurian Bards, which they privately published.[36] He began to attract interest around Glastonbury.[37] He came into contact with the Druid Rollo Maughfling, attending a Beltane ritual that Maughfling's Glastonbury Order of Druids held on Glastonbury Tor.[38]

The archaeological site at Stonehenge in Wiltshire was important to Pendragon; he had visited it to seeking spiritual confirmation of his decision to change his name.[39] He was angered that English Heritage, the state body responsible for managing the site, charged visitors entry, believing that everyone should be able to visit the site for free. At the time, he referred to English Heritage as "English Heretics".[40] Between September 1990 and January 1991 he held a daily protest outside the entrance to the Stonehenge visitor's centre, holding up a placard stating: "Don't Pay, Walk Away".[41] During this period, he moved out of his caravan and lived in an area of woodland around two miles from Stonehenge;[40] he survived largely on donations of food from his sympathisers.[42] Many visitors to Stonehenge had their photograph taken with him and he attracted the interest of local press, being the subject of an article in the Salisbury Journal.[43] English Heritage threatened to serve an injunction against him unless he desisted, but never carried out the threat.[44]

Druidry and the solstice protests: 1991–2001[edit]

Pendragon protested English Heritage's management of Stonehenge, namely the fees they charged to visitors and the fact that it was closed to Druids and New Age travellers on the solstices

After his Stonehenge picket, Pendragon began identifying as a Druid and renamed his Arthurian Warband as the Loyal Arthurian Warband (LAW).[45] He established good relations with several other Druid groups, being appointed "Honoured Pendragon" of the Glastonbury Order of Druids (GOD) and "Official Swordbearer" of the Secular Order of Druids (SOD).[46] Around this time, he was brought before a magistrates court for his refusal to pay the recently introduced poll tax and found guilty;[47] he paid off the moneys owed with the finances gained after a successful case that he brought against Wiltshire police for wrongful arrest and unlawful imprisonment.[48] In January 1993, he was crowned as King by a group of supporters at the Coronation Stone in Kingston upon Thames, London.[49]

Ever since the Battle of the Beanfield in 1985, English Heritage had banned open access to Stonehenge on the solstices to prevent revellers damaging the monument. In protest at this decision, every solstice a large group of New Age travellers, modern Pagans, hippies, and bikers assembled outside the police cordon surrounding the site. Each year, Pendragon was amongst the protest and every year he walked past the cordon and was arrested, after which he would spend the night in a cell of Salisbury Police Station.[50] He joined the Council of British Druid Orders (COBOD), a group campaigning for open access to the site, and pushed for reform within the group. He successfully urged them to switch from a mandatory to a voluntary annual membership fee and encouraged the adoption of direct action tactics to push their cause.[51]

At the 1994 solstice protests outside Stonehenge, he brought a documentary crew from BBC Radio 4 with him to publicise his actions in pushing through the cordon and getting arrested.[52] That same year, he send other LAW members to squat in Winchester Cathedral to raise awareness and to demand that the Church of England give support to their cause.[53] At the 1995 solstice, while he was again trying to breach the police cordon around Stonehenge, he sent other LAW members to lock English Heritage staff out of their London office to demonstrate their point.[54] In 1996, he was joined in the protest by Shelly, his recently-discovered teenage daughter; she was arrested alongside him for breaching the police cordon.[55]

The 1990s saw the growth of a new environmentalist protest movement geared at opposing the expansion of the road system through woodlands and other rural areas.[56] In 1993, Pendragon appeared at a Beltane ceremony on St Catherine's Hill for the eco-protesters fighting the proposed M3 motorway expansion. After the ritual, he joined the protesters in getting in the way of diggers on Twyford Down.[57] Over the coming years he would visit various other eco-protests against road expansion, often bringing with him media publicity for their cause.[58] He also supported campaigns for workers' rights, attending protests by striking dockers in Liverpool.[59]

In 1996, he joined an eco-protest camp in Newbury, where he climbed a tree to stop it being cut down, remaining there until being pulled out by police.[60] He then established his own camp further along the proposed track of the Newbury bypass with other members of the LAW, calling it "Camelot".[61] They were aware that the longer they remained there, the costlier it would be for developers and the less likely that such projects would be commissioned in future.[62] In April 1996, contractors sought to evict the protesters from the camp.[63] In one incident, a chauffeur-driven Jaguar was driven into Pendragon and other protesters in a hit and run attack; the owner was later revealed as a wealthy local with a financial stake in the development. Following the attack, the car was damaged when one Druid smashed its window with an axe.[64] The chauffeur and its owner claimed that the attack was unprovoked and police decided to press charged. Pendragon and two other Druids were charged with violent disorder over the incident, with the case being tried at Reading Crown Court. Over the course of the case, the judge instructed the jury to find Pendragon not guilty on all charges; the jury also found the other two defendants not guilty.[65]


Arthur Pendragon attending 2010 Stonehenge Summer Solstice ritual


Pendragon is best known for his legal battles with English Heritage regarding the monument of Stonehenge in Wiltshire, a site of great religious significance to Neo-Druids. Throughout the 1990s, he campaigned for the removal of the four-mile exclusion zone which was established each year during the summer solstice.[26][66] On 19 October 1998, with assistance from organisations such as Liberty who acted as his counsel, Pendragon had his case heard by the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg. He claimed that the exclusion zone around Stonehenge was restricting his freedom of thought, conscience, religion and freedom of expression, in contravention of Articles 9, 10 and 11 of the European Convention of Human Rights. The court decided in favour of the UK government. However, the exclusion zone was lifted the following year, after an unrelated case brought before the House of Lords ruled that the public have a right to assembly on a public highway.[67][68]

In June 2008, Pendragon set up a protest camp on a byway near the monument, demanding free access to Stonehenge for everyone. He insisted that the fences surrounding the site should be removed, and that the two nearby A roads (the A344 and A303) should be closed or redirected. He occupied the byway for ten months, and obtained 8,000 signatures in support of his petition. On 24 April 2009, he was ordered by Salisbury County Court to dismantle his camp and leave, following complaints from Wiltshire Council that he was obstructing traffic.[69] Pendragon defied the order.[70] He finally ended his protest on 19 May,[71] after English Heritage announced plans to move a section of the A303 underground, and to create a new visitor centre about a mile-and-a-half away from the stones.[72]

In August 2011, Pendragon filed a High Court appeal calling for the cremated remains of more than forty bodies to be immediately reburied. The remains had been exhumed from a burial site at Stonehenge in 2008, to be studied at Sheffield University. The appeal was rejected.[73][74] Pendragon has also voiced his opposition to English Heritage's plan to display three more sets of human remains at the new visitor centre, claiming that out of respect to the ancient British ancestors, replica bones should be on view instead.[75]

Poll tax protest[edit]

On 24 January 1994, Pendragon was summoned to magistrates' court after refusing to pay two years' worth of poll tax. His case was presided over by Lord Tenby, who allowed Pendragon to wear his robes and sword in court, and allowed him to swear oath on his sword. At the end of the hearing, the case went against Pendragon and he was ordered to pay the money owed.[76][77]

Other legal cases[edit]

Pendragon has been arrested, mainly for trespass, over 30 times.[78] Whilst in prison on remand, he has been denied his right to wear his own clothing – his Neo-Druidic robe – and ordered to wear prison uniform. Pendragon, refusing to comply with these orders, has then been left without clothing and put in solitary confinement.[78]

Political career[edit]

Pendragon is a self-proclaimed English eccentric, and says that this helps him in his political work.[66] He has stood in several elections – most recently as an Independent candidate for Salisbury in 2010,[79][80] 2015[81] and 2017[82].

Personal life[edit]

The Pendragon biography noted that he was one of those Druids "whose motivations are fundamentally political and radical".[83] In Pendragon's co-written autobiography, it is noted that Pendragon viewed Britain as "a land, not an identity" and as "a feeling, not a language", and this "it welcomes all who arrive on these shores".[84] It was noted that his patriotism was "inclusive, not exclusive. It was welcoming of other cultures and other stories".[85]

In that biography, it was noted that Pendragon could be self-centred, vain, and impatient with others, and that he was sometimes unable to see perspectives other than his own.[84] It also noted that he was "a man who laughed at himself".[86]

Reception and legacy[edit]

Some in Britain's Druidic community thought that Pendragon brought Druidry into disrepute with his politicised campaigns and direct action tactics.[87]


  • Pendragon, Arthur Uther; Stone, C. J. (2012). The Trials of Arthur: Revised Edition. Thorsons. ISBN 978-0956416315.



  1. ^ a b Pendragon & Stone 2003, p. 6.
  2. ^ Pendragon & Stone 2003, p. 8.
  3. ^ Pendragon & Stone 2003, p. 10.
  4. ^ Pendragon & Stone 2003, pp. 10, 12.
  5. ^ Pendragon & Stone 2003, p. 19.
  6. ^ Pendragon & Stone 2003, p. 50.
  7. ^ Pendragon & Stone 2003, p. 11.
  8. ^ Pendragon & Stone 2003, p. 16.
  9. ^ Pendragon & Stone 2003, pp. 16–17.
  10. ^ Pendragon & Stone 2003, pp. 16, 17.
  11. ^ Pendragon & Stone 2003, pp. 17–19.
  12. ^ Pendragon & Stone 2003, p. 20.
  13. ^ Pendragon & Stone 2003, p. 24.
  14. ^ Pendragon & Stone 2003, pp. 24–25.
  15. ^ a b Pendragon & Stone 2003, p. 26.
  16. ^ Pendragon & Stone 2003, pp. 26–27.
  17. ^ Pendragon & Stone 2003, pp. 27–28.
  18. ^ Pendragon & Stone 2003, p. 32.
  19. ^ a b c Pendragon & Stone 2003, p. 28.
  20. ^ Pendragon & Stone 2003, pp. 30–31.
  21. ^ Pendragon & Stone 2003, p. 33.
  22. ^ Pendragon & Stone 2003, p. 37.
  23. ^ Pendragon & Stone 2003, pp. 38–39.
  24. ^ Pendragon & Stone 2003, p. 46.
  25. ^ Pendragon & Stone 2003, pp. 53–57.
  26. ^ a b Berens, Camilla (10 February 1994). "Britons, behold your King". The Independent.
  27. ^ Pendragon & Stone 2003, pp. 64–65.
  28. ^ a b Pendragon & Stone 2003, p. 60.
  29. ^ Pendragon & Stone 2003, p. 51.
  30. ^ Pendragon & Stone 2003, p. 65.
  31. ^ Pendragon & Stone 2003, p. 66.
  32. ^ Pendragon & Stone 2003, pp. 66–68.
  33. ^ Pendragon & Stone 2003, pp. 64, 69.
  34. ^ Pendragon & Stone 2003, p. 72.
  35. ^ Pendragon & Stone 2003, p. 74.
  36. ^ Pendragon & Stone 2003, pp. 70, 74.
  37. ^ Pendragon & Stone 2003, p. 71.
  38. ^ Pendragon & Stone 2003, pp. 74–78.
  39. ^ Pendragon & Stone 2003, pp. 44–45.
  40. ^ a b Pendragon & Stone 2003, p. 83.
  41. ^ Pendragon & Stone 2003, pp. 83, 90–91.
  42. ^ Pendragon & Stone 2003, p. 86.
  43. ^ Pendragon & Stone 2003, pp. 87–90.
  44. ^ Pendragon & Stone 2003, p. 87.
  45. ^ Pendragon & Stone 2003, p. 94.
  46. ^ Pendragon & Stone 2003, p. 97.
  47. ^ Pendragon & Stone 2003, pp. 95–96.
  48. ^ Pendragon & Stone 2003, p. 96.
  49. ^ Pendragon & Stone 2003, pp. 220–223, 233.
  50. ^ Pendragon & Stone 2003, pp. 98–99.
  51. ^ Pendragon & Stone 2003, pp. 104–106.
  52. ^ Pendragon & Stone 2003, p. 106.
  53. ^ Pendragon & Stone 2003, pp. 106–107.
  54. ^ Pendragon & Stone 2003, p. 108.
  55. ^ Pendragon & Stone 2003, pp. 113–114.
  56. ^ Pendragon & Stone 2003, p. 125.
  57. ^ Pendragon & Stone 2003, pp. 126–128.
  58. ^ Pendragon & Stone 2003, p. 131.
  59. ^ Pendragon & Stone 2003, p. 188.
  60. ^ Pendragon & Stone 2003, pp. 132–137.
  61. ^ Pendragon & Stone 2003, p. 141.
  62. ^ Pendragon & Stone 2003, p. 145.
  63. ^ Pendragon & Stone 2003, p. 150.
  64. ^ Pendragon & Stone 2003, pp. 174–177.
  65. ^ Pendragon & Stone 2003, pp. 190–203.
  66. ^ a b Cohen, Nick (11 June 1995) "King Arthur fights holy war". The Independent.
  67. ^ "Law Lords back public gatherings". The Lawyer. 22 March 1999. Archived from the original on 5 October 2013.
  68. ^ Harris, Paul (21 June 1999). "After 10 years, Druids return to Stonehenge". The Independent.
  69. ^ Riddle, Annie (27 April 2009). "Druids in defiant mood despite court order". Salisbury Journal.
  70. ^ "Druid protestor King Arthur Pendragon defies Stonehenge eviction order". The Telegraph. 3 May 2009.
  71. ^ "Free Stonehenge". The Loyal Arthurian Warband. Retrieved 5 October 2013.
  72. ^ "Stonehenge centre gets go-ahead". BBC News. 13 May 2009.
  73. ^ "King Arthur Pendragon loses human remains legal battle". BBC News. 23 August 2011.
  74. ^ "Stonehenge bones decision backed by humanist association". BBC News. 24 August 2011.
  75. ^ "Stonehenge should display fake human remains, druid says". BBC News. 8 May 2011.
  76. ^ Pendragon & Stone (2003), pp. 95–96.
  77. ^ "Druid does battle over poll tax bill". The Independent. 25 January 1994. Archived from the original on 5 October 2013.
  78. ^ a b Penton, K (2008). "Sunrise Festival Interview".[dead link]
  79. ^ Mayall, Roy (27 April 2010). "All hail Salisbury's King Arthur". The Guardian.
  80. ^ "Minute Manifesto: King Arthur Pendragon (Independent)". BBC News. 26 April 2010.
  81. ^ Merrill, Jamie (22 March 2015). "Election 2015: Meet the top 12 wacky candidates seeking your vote in May". The Independent.
  82. ^ "General Election 2017 Meet the Six Salisbury Candidates". Salisbury Journal. 11 May 2017.
  83. ^ Pendragon & Stone 2003, p. 118.
  84. ^ a b Pendragon & Stone 2003, p. 144.
  85. ^ Pendragon & Stone 2003, p. 81.
  86. ^ Pendragon & Stone 2003, p. 69.
  87. ^ Pendragon & Stone 2003, p. 190.


Pendragon, Arthur Uther; Stone, Christopher James (2003). The Trials of Arthur: The Life and Times of a Modern-Day King. Hammersmith, London: Thorsons Element. ISBN 9780007121144.

External links[edit]