Battle of Badon
|Battle of Mount Badon|
|Part of the Anglo-Saxon settlement of Britain|
Arthur leading cavalry charge at Mount Badon in an 1898 illustration for Idylls of the King
|Commanders and leaders|
|Unknown (possibly King Arthur and/or Ambrosius Aurelianus)||Unknown (possibly Aelle of Sussex)|
The Battle of Badon also known as the Battle of Mons Badonicus (Latin: obsessio[nis] Badonici montis, "Blockade/Siege of the Badonic Hill"; Bellum in monte Badonis, "Battle on Badon Hill"; Bellum Badonis, "Battle of Badon"; Old Welsh: Badon; Middle Welsh: Gweith Vadon, "Battle of Badon"; Welsh: Brwydr Mynydd Baddon, "Battle of Badon Mount/Hill") was a battle purportedly fought between Britons and Anglo-Saxons in the Post-Roman Britain in the late 5th or early 6th century. It was credited as a major victory for the Britons, stopping the encroachment of the Anglo-Saxon kingdoms for a period.
The earliest references to the battle by the British cleric Gildas date to the 6th century. It is chiefly known today for the supposed involvement of King Arthur, a tradition that first clearly appeared in the 9th-century Historia Brittonum, possibly written by Nennius. Because of the limited number of sources, there is no certainty about the date, location, or details of the fighting.
The earliest mention of the Battle of Badon is Gildas' De Excidio et Conquestu Britanniae (On the Ruin and Conquest of Britain), written in the early to mid-6th century. In it, the Anglo-Saxons are said to have "dipped [their] red and savage tongue in the western ocean" before Ambrosius Aurelianus organized a British resistance with the survivors of the initial Saxon onslaught. Gildas describes the period that followed Ambrosius' initial success:
From that time, the citizens were sometimes victorious, sometimes the enemy, in order that the Lord, according to His wont, might try in this nation the Israel of today, whether it loves Him or not. This continued up to the year of the siege of Badon Hill (obsessionis Badonici montis), and of almost the last great slaughter inflicted upon the rascally crew. And this commences, a fact I know, as the forty-fourth year, with one month now elapsed; it is also the year of my birth.
De Excidio Britanniae describes the battle as such an "unexpected recovery of the [island]" that it caused kings, nobles, priests, and commoners to "live orderly according to their several vocations." Afterwards, the long peace degenerated into civil wars and the iniquity of Maelgwn Gwynedd.
That Arthur had gone unmentioned in the source closest to his own time, Gildas, was noticed at least as early as the 12th-century hagiography which claims that Gildas had praised Arthur extensively but then excised him completely after Arthur killed the saint's brother, Hueil mab Caw. Modern writers have suggested the details of the battle were so well known that Gildas could have expected his audience to be familiar with them.
The battle is next mentioned in an 8th-century text of Bede's Ecclesiastical History of the English People (Historia Ecclesiastica Gentis Anglorum). It describes the "siege of Mount Badon, when they made no small slaughter of those invaders," as occurring 44 years after the first Anglo-Saxon settlement of Britain. Since Bede places that arrival during or just after the joint reign of Marcian and Valentinian III in 449–456, he must have considered Badon to have taken place between 493 and 500. Bede then puts off discussion of the battle – "But more of this hereafter" – only to seemingly never return to it.
Bede does later include an extended account of Saint Germanus of Auxerre's victory over the Saxons and Picts in a mountain valley (traditionally placed at Mold in Flintshire in northeast Wales), which he credits with curbing the threat of invasion for a generation. However, as the victory is described as having been accomplished bloodlessly, it was presumably a different occasion from Badon. Accepted at face value, St. Germanus' involvement would also place the battle around 430, although Bede's chronology shows no knowledge of this.
Nennius and the Welsh Annals
The earliest surviving text mentioning Arthur at the battle is the early 9th-century Historia Brittonum (The History of the Britons), attributed to Nennius, in which the soldier (Latin mīles) Arthur is identified as the leader of the victorious British force at Badon:
Geoffrey of Monmouth's c. 1136 Historia Regum Britanniae (The History of the Kings of Britain) was massively popular and survives in many copies from soon after its composition. Going into (and fabricating) much greater detail, Geoffrey closely identifies Badon with Bath, including having Merlin foretell that Badon's baths would lose their hot water and turn poisonous. He also mixes in aspects of other accounts: the battle begins as a Saxon siege and then becomes a normal engagement once Arthur's men arrive; Arthur bears the image of the Virgin both on his shield and shoulder. Arthur charges and kills 470, ten more than the number of Britons ambushed by Hengist near Salisbury.
Elements of the Welsh legends are added: in addition to the shield Pridwen, Arthur gains his sword, Caliburnus, and his spear, Ron. Geoffrey also makes the defence of the city from the Saxon sneak attack a holy cause, having Dubricius offer absolution of all sins for those who fall in battle.
There is considerable scholarly debate as to the exact date and location of the battle, though most agree that it took place in southern England sometime around the turn of the sixth century.
Dates proposed by scholars for the battle include 493, 501 and 516. Daniel McCarthy and Dáibhí Ó Cróinín have posited that Gildas' 44 years and one month is not a reference to the simple chronology but a position within the 84-year Easter cycle used for computus at the time by the Britons and the Irish church. The tables in question begin in January 438, which would place their revised date of the battle in February 482.
Andrew Breeze in a recent book (2020) argues that the Battle of Badon or "Braydon, Wiltshire" happened in 493, basing the date in that Gildas was writing De Excidio in 536, in the middle of extreme weather events of 535–536, because he cited a "certain thick mist and black night" which "sits upon the whole island" of Britain, but not the subsequent famine in the year 537. Breeze also commented that Badon was fought "(...) in southern Britain, was fought in 493 and had nothing to do with Arthur."
Susan Hirst, Geoffrey Ashe and Michael Wood argue for the site of Liddington Castle on the hill above Badbury (Old English: Baddan byrig) in Wiltshire. This site commands The Ridgeway, which connects the River Thames with the River Avon and River Severn beyond.
The similarly-named Badbury Rings in Dorset have also been argued to be the location of the battle. David Cooper agrees that Badbury Rings is the most likely site and has provided the most comprehensive analysis of the battle available to date. Tim and Annette Burkitt have proposed the site of Bath, Somerset on the basis of the Welsh Annals, as well as archaeological and toponymic evidence.
More recently, Breeze argued that Badon must be etymologically Brittonic rather than English (thus eliminating Bath from consideration as its name is entirely Germanic), and that the toponym as given by Gildas (Badonici Montis) is a misprint of Bradonici Montis, based on known Celtic place names in Wales and Cornwall. Breeze posits Ringsbury Camp near Braydon in Wiltshire as the location of the battle.
Possible Saxon commander
The A Text of the Annales Cambriae includes the entry: "The first celebration of Easter among the Saxons. The second battle of Badon. Morgan dies." The date for this action is given by Phillimore as 665, but the Saxons' first Easter is placed by the B Text in its entry 634 years after the birth of Christ and "the second Badon" is not mentioned.
Apart from the professional scholarship, various communities throughout Wales and England carry on local traditions maintaining that their area was the site of the battle. These include (besides Badbury Rings) Bathampton Down in Somerset, the mountain of Mynydd Baedan near Maesteg in South Wales, and Bowden Hill in Wiltshire.
The battle is mentioned in the 1975 comedy film Monty Python and the Holy Grail as one of the many "feats" of Sir Robin, who is said to have "personally wet himself at the Battle of Badon Hill."
It is featured prominently in the 1997 Excalibur: A Novel of Arthur by Bernard Cornwell, in the book's second part, "Mynydd Baddon". In it, the armies of Angle and Saxon kings Aelle and Cerdic, aided by Celtic traitors led by Lancelot, are defeated in an epic battle by an uneasy alliance of various British and Irish kingdoms. Cornwell combines various medieval accounts of the battle, such as it beginning as an Anglo-Saxon siege of a hilltop (here initially desperately defended by Guinevere) and having Arthur's cavalry appear with the sign of the cross on their shields (here a requisite demanded by the Christian king Tewdric).
- Battle of Camlann, the legend of King Arthur's last battle
- Ashe, Geoffrey, From Caesar to Arthur pp. 295–8.
- Dupuy, R. Ernest & al. The Harper Encyclopedia of Military History From 3500 B.C. to the Present, 4th ed., p. 193. HarperCollins Pub. (New York), 1993.
- Hollister, C. Warren. The Making of England to 1399, 8th ed., p. 31. Houghton Mifflin Co. (New York), 2001.
- Hugh Williams (ed.), Gildas, De Excidio Britanniae, Honourable Society of Cymmrodorion, 1899, p. 61–63.
- Green, p. 31.
- The "Tiberius Bede" or C text. Cotton Tiberius MS. C.II. (in Latin)
- Bede. The Ecclesiastical History of the English People, I.xvi.
- L. ...usque ad annum obsessionis Badonici montis quando non minimas eisdem hostibus strages dabant quadragesimo circiter & quarto anno adventus eorum in Britaniam.
- Per Bede's account. The actual dates were somewhat different.
- Bede, I.xv.
- Bede, I.xx.
- The "Nennius" entry of the Dictionary of National Biography credits an 11th-century Irish edition by Giolla Coemgin with being the oldest extant edition of the Historia Brittonum, but it apparently only survived in a 14th-century copy. Cf. Todd, James. Irish version of the Historia Britonum of Nennius. Irish Archaeological Soc. (Dublin), 1848. Accessed 6 Feb 2013.
- L. Duodecimum fuit bellum in monte Badonis, in quo corruerunt in uno die nongenti sexaginta viri de uno impetu Arthur; et nemo prostravit eos nisi ipse solus. Mommsen, Theodore (ed.) Historia Brittonum. Accessed 7 Feb 2013. (in Latin)
- Lupack, Alan (Trans.) The Camelot Project: "From The History of the Britons (Historia Brittonum) by Nennius". Retrieved 6 Feb 2013.
- Harleian MS. 3859. Op. cit. Phillimore, Egerton. Y Cymmrodor 9 (1888), pp. 141–183. (in Latin)
- The words for "shoulder" and "shield" being easily confused in Old Welsh: scuit (shield) vs. scuid (shoulder)]. Cf. Jones, W. Lewis. The Cambridge History of English and American Literature in 18 Volumes, Vol. I, XII, §2. Putnam, 1921. Accessed 30 Jan 2013.
- L. Bellum badonis inquo arthur portauit crucem domini nostri ihu xp'i . tribus diebus & tribus noctibus inhumeros suos & brittones uictores fuerunt.
- Ingram, James. The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle. Everyman Press (London), 1912.
- The earliest two being the Cambridge 1706 II.I.14 and Berne Stadtbibliotek MS 568, both apparently from the year of composition. Cf. Griscom, Acton. The Historia Regum Britanniae of Geoffrey of Monmouth. Longmans, Green, & Co., 1929. Accessed 7 Feb 2013.
- Thompson. VII.iii.
- Thompson, Aaron & al. (trans.) History of the Kings of Britain, IX.iv. In Parentheses, 1999. Accessed 6 Feb 2013.
- Andrew Breeze, British Battles 493–937: Mount Badon to Brunanburh (2020: Anthem Press), pp. 1-10.
- Daniel P. McCarthy and Dáibhí Ó Cróinín. "The 'lost' Irish 84-year Easter table rediscovered". Peritia, vol. 6–7, 1987–1988, pp. 227–242.
- Breeze, Andrew (2020). British Battles 493-937: Mount Badon to Brunanburh. London. pp. 4–9. JSTOR j.ctvv4187r.
- Hirst, S. et al. "Liddington Castle and the battle of Badon : Excavations and research 1976". Archaeological Journal. 1996, vol. 153, pp. 1–59.
- Ashe, Geoffrey. From Caesar to Arthur, pp. 162–164
- Wood, Michael. In Search of Myths and Heroes (2005). pp. 219–220.
- Carr, R. (2001), "Badbury or Badon", Dorset life, 267: 5–7.
- Cooper, David: Badon and the Early Wars for Wessex, circa 500 to 710 (2018: Pen & Sword Books)
- Burkitt, Tim and Annette. "The Frontier Zone and the Siege of Mount Badon: A Review of the Evidence for their Location". Proceedings of the Somerset Archaeological and Natural History Society 1990, vol.134. pp.81-93.
- Burkitt, Tim and Bennett, Annette, "Badon as Bath", Popular Archaeology, April 1985, Vol.6, No.6.
- Andrew Breeze, British Battles 493–937: Mount Badon to Brunanburh (2020: Anthem Press), pp. 6-7.
- Bradbury, James (2004). The Routledge Companion to Medieval Warfare. New York: Routledge. p. 140. ISBN 0-415-22126-9.
- Warner, Philip (1972). British Battlefields: The Midlands. Reading: Osprey. p. 23. OCLC 60058359.
- L. Primum pasca apud saxones celebratur. Bellum badonis secundo. morcant moritur.
- Public Record Office of the United Kingdom. MS. E.164/1, p. 8. (in Latin)
- Scott, Shane (1995). The Hidden Places of Somerset. Aldermaston: Travel Publishing Ltd. p. 16. ISBN 1-902007-01-8.
- Echard, Sian; Rouse, Robert; Fay, Jacqueline A.; Fulton, Helen; Rector, Geoff (2017-08-07). The Encyclopedia of Medieval Literature in Britain, 4 Volume Set. John Wiley & Sons.