A beautifully told story with colorful characters out of epic tradition, a tight and complex plot, and solid pacing. -- Booklist, starred review of On the Razor's Edge

Great writing, vivid scenarios, and thoughtful commentary ... the stories will linger after the last page is turned. -- Publisher's Weekly, on Captive Dreams

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Res gestae Arturi britanni

TOF amidst his books thinking
seriously of writing something
One of the peculiarities of writing, and for some a fun part, is researching and creating the background.  It is TOF's custom to weave any real history into the fictional narrative as closely as possible, so if any reader is insane enough to research some reference, he will actually find something at the other end.  Usually.  Well, sometimes. 

In the current work-in-progress, The Shipwrecks of Time, fellows at a small private historical research institute are conducting various studies.  Francis Xavier Delacorte (aka Frank) is off in the Rhineland searching for evidences of "Lost Books," tomes known only by reference to their titles, like Shakespeare's play Cardenio, or Francois Villon's The Devil's Fart.  Most of the books are "cover," since his real interest (or rather, the Institute Director's real interest) is in the lost Peruzzi Manuscript, allegedly written by one Henry of Regensburg in the 14th century and supposedly cursed.  Everybody who gets close to finding it dies.  (A good reason not to look for it, sez TOF; but then a) some folks don't believe in curses and b) there wouldn't be a book then.)

Supradicta, TOF always try to tie in the fiction to the real world as tightly as possible; so e.g., when Frank discovers a letter...
In the Albert-Louis University library, he had also come across a comment in the letters of Ludwig Devrient to Lewis Theobald’s Double Falshood – or – The Distrest Lovers, the purported revision of Shakespeare’s original Cardenio.  Devrient, an accomplished actor and German translator of Shakespeare, had commented dryly that no one should ever desire, let alone need, to revise the English bard. may look up Ludwig Devrient, Lewis Theobald, Double Falshood, the Cardenio, or even the Albert-Louis University and discover that, maybe, just maybe, Devrient could have written just such a letter and that it might be found in just such a library. 

It is also a True Fact™ that in Jacob Cnoyen's works is a reference to a lost book called Res gestae Arturi britanni. The heroic deeds of Arthur of Brittany.  This is of no interest for Frank's own research, but his colleague, the cold and aloof Wilma Masterson, is preparing concordances to the Matter of Britain (basically, the Arthurian cycle) and the Matter of France (the cycle of chansons centered on the court of Charlemagne).  This involves identifying and cross-referencing all the significant terms in each extant manuscript copy of the works involved.  A hideous task in 1965/66, requiring index cards and so forth.  No computers with search engines.  How did people live like that?  

Okay, so here it is: Frank has found by accident a 28-page portion of the Res gestae Arturi in an archive in Heidelberg and sent it to Wilma, thinking she will be interested.  Of course she is, and notes immediately that it is written in a Merovingian hand in fairly bad vulgate Latin. 

The opening line of Liber I runs:
De britanno minor erat autem le fortissimus Arturus in supradicta campo dux.
(Regarding lesser Britain, the most brave Arthur was duke of that "field".)  
and she is all caught up in the demonstrative ille becoming the article le and the legal term supradicta pinch-hitting for the demonstrative and campus shifting from "field" to "country or land." 

But then she wonders: "Little Britain"?  What if Arthur was dux (Duke, or war-leader) of Brittany, which had been settled on Roman invitation by refugees from Britain, and not of Britain?

Greg Tours
Okay, so what I needed was that the missing chronicle should hold something startling, and that just kinda popped into my head.  

To make it as real as possible, I decided that the author would be Gregory of Tours, who actually did write the Historia Frankorum.  So I'm glancing through it and come to this:
Brittani de Bituricas a Gothis expulsi sunt,
multis apud Dolensim vicum peremptis. 
(The Britanni were driven from Bourges by the Goths,
and many were slain at the village of Déols.)

So in a battle between the Romans and the Goths, the Bretons were involved on the Roman side. 
In Randers-Pehrson's Barbarians and Romans, we find that General Aegidius whose Kingdom of Soissons was an island of romanitas in a barbarian sea, did in fact call upon the Bretons, and others when the Visigoths pushed north to the Loire valley.  First, at Angers, they defeated Odoacer and the Saxons; then at Orleans (with Frankish foederati under Childeric) kicked Gothic butt.  Aegidius was then poisoned and the retreating Goths attacked the "Britanni" who seem to have been left in Bourges as rearguard to block such a retreat.  The Goths escaped and Childeric chased the remaining Saxons to the mouth of the Loire, where they were slaughtered.  

(Aside: Odoacer will go on to depose the last Western Emperor and make himself king of Italy.  Childeric will father Clovis, who will take Soissons from Syragius, son of Aegidius, and forge Soissons and Austrasia into France.  Basically, Aegidius is why Gaul is called France and not Gothland.)

Childeric I
So far, so good.  It means I can splice Wilma's "discovery" onto actual history.  These events happened about 100 years before Gregory would "write" the res gestae, making it practically yesterday's news.  In the novel, the "heroic deeds" will include a fighting retreat from the Loire back to Brittany.   First stop, Angers, where they pick up a Jutish captain who had deserted Odoacer.  He is described as an "ogre" named "Little-eye."  Since "little" is paulus, that unexpectedly matched with Count Paul of Angers, who was supposedly killed by Childeric after Aegidius died.  

Where do they go from Angers?  The logical route takes them to the town of Cavalon.  You can drop the C and figure why my jaw dropped.  Then, looking for a stronghold in Brittany, I found a castle (Villa Anaurot) built by a 5th century British prince near the town of Quimperlé, which in Breton is Kemper Le, the 'confluence of the River Ellé.'  Now say "Kemper Le" and "Camelot" and you can convince yourself that the one might morph into the other; esp. in another language, like English.  

Here's the problem.  TOF has managed to half-convince himself that it all actually happened that way.  And he finds he may have been anticipated.  Dang. 


  1. Awesome! You are the Samuel L. Jackson of statistician/historians!

  2. Have Mel Gibson direct the film version. All you have to do then is get yourself put in charge of the script, and it totally will have happened.

  3. It's a dirty little secret of the field that a great many academic medievalists are also die-hard sci-fi fans, long before jobs in medieval literature became as common as Klingon vegans. Anyway, you will find that almost any theory about Arthur you can think of has already been propounded, expounded, and pounded into the ground by someone before you. Don't let it faze you. Medieval writers figured out pretty quick that Arthur himself had limited story potential, but the knights and ladies of his court had unlimited story potential.

    And for the record, I loved "Eifelheim".

  4. I have just discovered "Eifelheim" and have to tell you that whereas the concept of a midieval first encounter w/ aliens is fresh and fun, the execution of the novel--your prose--is brilliant: supremely intelligent, warm and humane, respectful of your characters (many thanks for that), and the characters are fully alive and entirely themselves.

    Thank you for a wonderful book, one that I'm reading very slowly so as to savor the feast. I'll get to your other stuff eventually, but "Eifelheim" will be with me for a very long time.

    Jim McCormick

    1. I blush; but I will not try to dissuade you.

  5. I've read the Riothamus books before (they have their own Avalon candidate), but a lot of your stuff is All New.

    Though I don't buy Cavalon/Avalon, as there's already an important Caval: Arthur's dog. (Big dog, named like a horse. So of course Irish wolfhound folks want to claim him and know about him. Also shows up in Susan Cooper's books.) And of course the way Welsh people read the lays of Brittany and vice versa, and the way French and English people read them, are bound to have been very different. Nor is there anything against there being two famous Arthurs who got munged together.

    The saints in Brittany are good value for money, and a lot of them are related to Arthur (same with the Welsh ones), and a lot of Welsh saints spent time in Brittany. (St. Gwen the Triple-breasted got kidnapped there, IIRC. She was only called that because she was the mother of triplets, though.) But looking into that stuff is a real timesucker, however fun, and you are busy writing a novel. So beware!

  6. Please post the 28 page portion of res gestae Arturi. Or please email to


    1. Cnoyen really did refer to it, but the manuscript is long-lost. It was "found" only for the purpose of the story.


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