“King” Arthur


Researched and compiled by
Hugh D.P. McArthur, FSA Scot
Clan Arthur Seannachie
High Commissioner for Clan Arthur in Britain
© 2020 Hugh DP McArthur

The 6th C carving of a horseman on the side of the Govan Sarcophagus is no knight in shining armour. It rather depicts a high status Celtic-Romano warrior in the likely mould of the historic 6th C Artur Mac Aeden. The A carved on the horse's flank must be a clue to the owner of this majestic coffin.
Image courtesy of Govan Old Parish Church

A sixth century red sandstone sarcophagus stands on display in Govan Old Parish Church, near Glasgow. It is claimed to have held the remains of St. Constantine, King of Cornwall, Christian martyr and founder of Govan in 565AD. Carved on the side of the sarcophagus is a sixth century Celtic - Romano warrior bearing the capital letter A branded cavalry style on the horse's flank. God in Govan! Could this be a carving of "King" Arthur? Probably - At least, it is very probably a representation of Arthur of the Round Table.

Arthur was allegedly "King" of the Britons. The Britons were the Welsh speaking tribe who inhabited the Kingdom or region of Strathclyde between the 4th and 11th centuries, and were reckoned to be at their zenith by Arthur of the Round Table's period. Dumbarton, the Rock on the Clyde, means Fortress of the Britons. In the 11th century laws of King Malcolm Canmore, near the end of Strathclyde's reign, Dumbarton is referred to as Castello Arturius - Arthur's Castle.

Dumbarton is one of the three key strategic natural fortresses (Edinburgh & Stirling being the other two) that defend the neck of Britain, i.e. the shortest land route across mainland Britain from Clyde to Forth via Antonine's Wall. Govan has long been associated with the royalty of Dumbarton, so it makes sense that the Arthur of Arthur's Castle, who ever he was, would be buried in Govan.

To the NW of Govan at the head of Loch Long rises the triple peaked mass of Ben Arthur. This magnificent beastie wasn't named after an insignificant person. To the SW of Govan, at Arthurlie in Barrhead stands the ancient carved stone of Arthurlie Cross. Local tradition remembers the area as Arthur's camp. Further afield we find King Arthur's Seat in Edinburgh, Arthur's O'on at Falkirk, Loch Arthur close to Dumfries, and even Guinevere's Grave at Meigle in Perthshire and at this stage we are only scratching the surface of local Arthurian tradition and evidence in Northern Britain.

So Who Was Arthur?

Remarkably, the only historical candidate for the title is one Artur MacAeden, 6th century son of the Dalriadic King of Scots in Argyll, whose mother and grandmother were reputedly from British Strathclyde. This Arthur had a sister called Morgana, a nephew known as St.Kentigern, the Patron Saint of Glasgow, and some say that St. Constantine, alleged King of Cornwall, and founder of Govan, was Arthur's uncle. We can be certain though that Arthur of the Round Table was distantly related to St. Columba through his father, Aeden MacGabhran, and the High Kings of Ireland. Also without doubt, is the Merlin type role that St.Columba played in the life of Arthur and Aeden. He chose and placed Aeden MacGabhran on the throne of Dalriada (Argyll & Ulster) after a prophetic dream, he prophesised Arthur's death and it was he who sent Constantine to found Govan.

Dunadd - Ancient Seat of the Dalriadic Kings, Fortress of Aeden MacGabhran, Home of Arthur's father - Looms menacingly from the early morning mists of the Kilmartin Valley.
Photograph courtesy of Northabout Publishing

At this point we should shift our focus from Dumbarton to Dunadd, the Seat of the Dalriadic Kings in Argyll - Arthur's father's fort in another valley of great antiquity. Not far from this location we will see the true story of Arthur unfold. Before we go any further though, I must introduce one last witness, in the person of the Welsh poet Taliesin. So far, I have outlined three of Scotland's most influential "Christian" saints who were contemporary with Arthur and Aeden during a tumultuous age. Now it's time to represent the resident religion of Northern Britain during the Celtic Church's foundation. Taliesin also shares this period, and it is in one of Taliesin's poems, with bitter pagan overtones, that we find one of the oldest written references to Arthur. The solution to this poem, Priddeu Annwn, finally fixes Arthur in history.

Priddeu Annwn describes a sea raid on an island fortress that has long been interpreted as the quest for the Holy Grail, the location of which has baffled experts for centuries. The cryptic clues contained within the poem and other supporting reference material, places this raid on the "Otherworld" irrefutably at the Gulf of Corryvreckan between the Islands of Scarba and Jura off Scotland's West Coast.

The Corryvreckan Whirlpool is a unique location and is the largest whirlpool in Europe and third largest in the world. It is obvious that a terrifying natural feature like this would have been held in great esteem by the local tribes of the 6th century who still worshipped sea gods and water spirits. The whirlpool to this day roars and breathes dragon-fashion sending the swirling serpent currents throughout the oceans and rivers of the world. The surviving myths and legends of the Corryvreckan also confirm primary pagan goddess associations with the site. It is this successful but costly raid on the most unassailable fortress in Britain that made Arthur the living legend that he is today. Arthur overcame the challenge, he sailed over the dragon to Hell's gate, he assailed the mountain, he slaughtered the pagans and he returned triumphant with the hallowed pagan treasures leaving an ancient religion reeling from a fatal blow. Twisted and ground by the serpents of the seas and time we find ourselves washed up in Argyll once more where we can still meet the people who will testify to Arthur's existence. The ancient MacArthur clan from Argyll and Cowal have long declared their descent from the loins of "King" Arthur, and they still carry his shield, his badge and his crest to back their claim. Their location between Dumbarton and Dunadd lends credence to this long ignored enigma. As we try to track this clan's own shadowy history through the intervening centuries, we see tantalising flickers of Kings Kenneth MacAlpin and Robert the Bruce, the Templar Knights, the Holy Grail, and Scotland's very foundation.

The Sun Stone - Obviously pre-Christian or at least transitional, but Sun Stone I don't think so. The spiral boss is the ancient symbol of the Goddess and irrefutably represents the Corryvreckan Whirlpool, The Cauldron of the Goddess, The Fountain of the Sea & The Centre of the Celtic pre-Christian universe.
Photograph courtesy of Govan Old Parish Church

Returning once more to finish our story where we began, it is difficult not to notice the other essential treasure to be found in Govan Old Parish Church - The Sun Stone. Far from representing the sun, it must be obvious by now that the pre-Christian spiral boss and swirling fan of four serpents on this forbidding stone slab, can only represent the Corryvreckan and the dragon herself. Perhaps all the Celtic crosses (Govan's in particular) the spiral bosses and the ancient Cup and Ring markings found throughout the West of Scotland can all be seen to represent the whirlpool, the dragon, the Goddess and the remnant of Scotland's ancient religion.

"Listen 'O' Listen" Is that a rumble I hear to the West?

Ritchie, Anna "Govan & Its Carved Stones" ISBN 1874012229
The Govan Sarcophagus - Arthur's Coffin? By Stuart McHardy MA (Hons), FSA Scot