Not much is known about the historic sixth century Scottish Arthur, Artur MacAeden, and far less is acknowledged about his illustrious father Aeden MacGabhran, the Dalriadic King who truly has earned a place in the foundations of British history. The Life of Saint Columba written in 696 by Adoman simply states that Artur and his brother Eochaid Find died in battle against the Maetae (thought to be the Picts in Strilingshire) around 590. Columba also prophesies that Artur will not come to the “throne” as he will die in battle. Little else is known about this “Prince” and historians are usually quick to dismiss him as the origin of the Arthurian Legends since he is regarded as a Scot from a slightly later period.
One very significant point that is overlooked however, is that Aeden’s mother was the daughter of Brychan of British fame and indeed Artur’s mother is also reckoned to have been a descendant from a north British dynasty. If the sixth century Northern Britons (or Cymry) were still adopting the matriarchal system as is widely believed, then Artur and Aeden would surely be recognised as sons of the Britons as well as Scots. In the classic Le Morte D’Artur by Mallory, The King of Scots appears in the role of a guardian, always behind Arthur and his Round Table Knights with the Knights of Scotland, and indeed the relationship between the historic Artur MacAeden and his father would appear fulfil this motif. Furthermore, Mallory illustrates the Knights of Scotland as instrumental in “Queen” Guinivere’s downfall.
The legendary King Arthur is dated from around 480 and died at the Battle of Camlann in 537 or 542, whereas Artur MacAeden could not have been born much before 540. However, the following prominent quasi-historical figures who are traditionally associated with King Arthur appear to have roots and spheres of influence that overlap in the late sixth century well north of Hadrian's Wall:
Guinivere - Arthur’s Pictish Princess wife traditionally from Perth
Many Scots historians have placed Arthur’s 12 battles around Loch Lomond and Antonine’s Roman Wall, but there is one Arthurian battlefield, which is hardly known, and clearly relates to Artur MacAeden’s lifespan and locale. On Craigmaddie Moor, north of Milngavie near Glasgow, there is a site known as Cat Craig or The Battle Rock. The following is an excerpt from the sign post:
“The Battle of Ardunion was fought just northeast of here about 570AD, when Gwallawg of Elmet (Hatfield), Rhydderch Hen of Strathclyde, and Urien of Rheged (Cumbria), defeated Hussa, son of the King of Bernicia (modern Northumberland).
Local tradition believed that King Arthur directed the battle from this vantage point, but Arthur was killed at the Battle of Camlan in 519 and Urien was the “Overking”.
(Except the shadowy Prince Artur MacAeden was alive an kicking at the time this battle took place. Taliesin mentions Ardunion and it could actually be close to the location of the City of the Legion).
The standing stone at Ballagan is traditionally believed to be where the English made their last stand, the stone (so tradition says) was raised in memory of the Celtic nobles who were killed. When the railway was built in the 19th century piles of bone were dug up at Dunglass. . . . . . Clach Artair or Arthur’s Stone can be seen on the Gled Knowes above East Ballagan.”
The sixth century was a period of religious and tribal turbulence. The final Christian victory over the Pagans in Northern Britain came just three years later at the Battle of Arthuret (Ardrydd) fought in 573, possibly at Airdrie in the Clyde Valley. Aeden was present and it is hard to believe that Artur could have been absent. In 574, as a direct result of the victory, Aeden was appointed King of Scots, chosen instead of his brother in Saint Columba’s prophetic dream on the Isle of Iona. The magnitude of this event should not be understated – This was the first time in North British history that a King was appointed by the church and illustrates a major turning point in sixth century North British/Scottish politics.
Another point of significance is that Aeden was not only King of Scots, he was also Lord of Aberfoyle and Prince of Forth (or Manau of Gododdin) having a power and influence that spanned across modern day Scotland the length of Antonine’s Wall and beyond. One source gives Dun Aeden as the origin of Edinburgh, perhaps that’s why Arthur’s Seat is on the Salsbury Crags nearby.
Although a Christian King, Aeden is reputed to have had more than one wife. Artur’s half brothers Eochaid Find and Eochaid Bhuidhe (The ancestor of the Kings of Scots) came from an Irish line, as did Saint Blaan the founder of Blan’s Chapel on the Isle of Bute, the village of Blanefield (next to Ardunion) and Dunblane, the present day seat of the Church of Scotland. Aeden also fathered Gartnait, a King of the Picts, and is reputed to have had a daughter called Morgein (traditionally the name of King Arthur’s sister).
Throughout his life, Aeden fought a string of battles against the Picts and Saxons as well as his relatives, with sea raids recorded as far north as Orkney and as far south as Galloway. In 603, a decade or so after Artur’s death, grey haired, yet still in the saddle, King Aeden invaded Northumbria commanding a combined force from the north of Picts, Britons, Scots and Irish. Operating in a “War Leader” or Pendragon role, he met with disaster at Degastan when his warriors were routed. Aeden himself died around 605 and is buried in Kintyre.
Behind King Aeden’s life lies the Golden age of Britain - A time of powerful Celtic Saints, when tribes battled, Christianity flourished and old ways died. A time when industry prospered, cities were founded, the arts flourished, illuminated books were written and legends were born. A time when Dalriada’s seed helped forge the new Britain . . . . And behind Aeden’s empire stands the shadow of Arthur.
There may still be a weak case for an early mythical King Arthur in the south based on a few loose dates in a century when most dates are questionable. There is definitely a very strong case that at least some of the Arthurian legends are based on the exploits of Artur MacAeden and his Pendragon father in the late sixth century in the landscape that is now Scotland.