Wednesday, 21 March 2012

Arthal and Morvidus

I follow a Dark Ages history blog, Senchus aka Tim (The Men of the North) Clarkson. An intriguing photograph of a stone carving on his blog today, about the monastery at Dacre in southeast of the Lake District caused me to look up the origin of the 'Bear with Ragged Staff' emblem, adopted by the earls of Warwick. The earldom was created in 1088, and could be inherited through the female line - an unusual feature. Wikipedia explains: The heraldic device of the Earls of Warwick, the bear and ragged staff, is believed to derive from two legendary Earls, Arthal and Morvidus. Arthal is said to mean "bear", while Morvidus was said to have slain a giant "with a young ash tree torn up by the roots." Another web page explains that Arthal was a legendary king of the Britons as accounted by Geoffrey of Monmouth. He was the second son of King Morvidus and brother of Gorbonianus. Arthal began as an evil king bent on destroying the nobles and undoing all his brother …(interested parties can read on in the original). What has this got to do with the price of fish? First: what weight to place in language tradition over (say) other evidence - the stone carvings are known locally as 'the Dacre bears' although one of them looks more like a lion. Second: I take issue with historians of the Dark Ages who slip - misleadingly - into using modern political or geographical expressions such as 'Wales' and Scotland'. If you were sculling around Britain in 900AD in the Kingdom of Strathclyde, you wouldn't have described yourself as being 'in Scotland'. Third: the tradition of a title being capable of inheritance through the female line is intriguing.

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