Readers may be interested to learn I’ve got a book out … hence (among other reasons) the silence on this blog lately. The Legend of Vortigern is published in the Ancient Legends Retold series by the History Press, and is due out on 8th April. It’s the story of a relatively little-known figure in the Arthurian cycle, perhaps best thought of as a disreputable associate of King Arthur’s unimpressive uncle.

The evidence for a real Vortigern is somewhat better than the evidence for an Arthur – not that that’s saying much. Like Arthur, Vortigern is a British ruler, featuring in legends relating to the mysterious fifth century. His life is defined by generational wars among his own people, the Celtic British, and against the encroaching English. He came to bulk quite large in the Matter of Britain, the medieval legend-cycle which numbers Lear, Cymbeline and Arthur among its dozens of kings. But if Arthur embodies a sense that Britain was hardy enough to flourish even in adversity, Vortigern’s voice is an older, more anguished one, closer to the raw shock of Britain’s seeming abandoment to her enemies, by the ebbing power of Rome. If his age really was a Dark Age, then, unlike Arthur, Vortigern speaks to us bluntly, from the heart of its darkness. Small wonder if he has been ignored; and if not ignored, then usually blamed. Obscure as he remains, Vortigern has never gone away. People may not know his story nowadays, but they have often heard his name. He maintains a presence in Welsh tradition, giving his name to ruins and landscape features (Nant Gwrtheyrn), besides a whole medieval district (Guorthigirniaun) in Powys, of whose royal house he is reckoned an ancestor.

My account of Vortigern’s legend is based on the best-known medieval version: Geoffrey of Monmouth’s twelfth-century History of the Kings of Britain. In most respects Geoffrey was a very long way from the real fifth century. But re-reading his account, and returning to it repeatedly for guidance, leaves me convinced that Geoffrey was not a bad historian, as some have thought him, but a storyteller: or, at least, a diligent student of storytelling traditions which had harboured this tale since its inception, which Professor Ifor Williams places among the cyfarwyddiaid, the professional storytellers of medieval Wales.

You can find out more (and pre-order a copy) here.

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