Lincolnshire and the great King Arthur tales

When most people think of King Arthur, images of round tables, chivalric knights clad in armour and the sorcerer Merlin spring to mind. Unfortunately, this couldn’t be further from the truth.

In reality, Arthur was a dark age warlord, fighting to expel Germanic invaders in the aftermath of the Romans leaving Britain in 410 A.D. He was also, as I will now explain, someone potentially with a big link to Lincoln.

In the wake of the Roman departure from Britain, the island was a place of constant warfare. The fourth and fifth centuries had been full of upheaval with the migration of Germanic groups across Europe, and this was also the case in Britain (though likely some of these groups had been settled here prior to the Roman departure).

By the middle of the fifth century, Britain was a land divided amongst many small or ‘petty’ kingdoms, with the Germanic people of the Angles, Saxons and Jutes controlling much of the east and south, and the Britons controlling the west and the north of the island.

Kingdom of Lindsey

The area of modern north Lincolnshire was in this period known as the Kingdom of Lindsey. This small kingdom, ruled by the Angles, featured kings such as Winta, Cretta, and the wonderfully named Bubba. The name Lindsey itself meant ‘Isle of Lincoln’ and encompassed the area between the rivers Trent and Witham, the Foss Dyke and the North Sea.

The kingdom was believed to be centred in Lincoln, and was surrounded by the Mercians in the west and Deira in the north, in what is now East Yorkshire, and the East Angles to the south, in modern East Anglia and Cambridgeshire.

How though, does Arthur fit into this picture? The earliest records for Arthur are the 10th century Welsh chronicles and ‘The History of the Britons’ by Nennius. In his work, Nennius ascribes twelve famous victories to Arthur, with the final being the famous Battle of Badon (Bath). Interestingly, the second through fifth were fought near the river called Dubglas (black water) in the region of Linnuis. Historians have debated where ‘Linnuis’ may be, with places in Scotland and Lancashire suggested, but the most obvious translation of the place is ‘Lindsey’.

Geoffrey of Monmouth, the author of the 12th century ‘History of the Kings of Britain,’ who introduced the classic depictions of Arthur: the chivalric king with his Knights of the Round Table, also places the battles at Lincoln and gives further details into why they occurred. According to Geoffrey, Arthur, upon coming to power, vowed to retake the Saxon stronghold of York for the Britons. As he marched north with his forces, he was intercepted by the King of Deira, a man named Colgrin, at Lincoln.

Geoffrey’s account of the circumstances of these battles is interesting. Lindsey, as I have mentioned, was a small, ‘petty’ Anglian kingdom. What is little known of the kingdom is that it quickly fell under the domination of its neighbours, namely the Mercians and the Deirians, giving an air of truth to the account.

King Arthur depiction from a manuscript

Lincoln also stood on the important Roman route north, Ermine Street, meaning it would be of great strategic importance to both the Germanic kings and those trying to separate their forces and defeat them (namely Arthur).

It also raises the possibility of a continuing presence of Arthur in the Lincoln area. Nennius notes twelve famous victories for Arthur. If ‘Linnuis’ is Lincoln, then four of his victories were in the area around the city. This would mean the Britons must have gained and lost control of the area numerous times, resulting in the need for Arthur and his forces to remain in the area.

While all of these historical accounts are uncertain and can probably never be truly verified, it is exciting to think that Lincolnshire, and more specifically Lincoln, potentially played a key part in the creation of one of the most enduring and beloved stories in the world, that of King Arthur.