It’s a welcome return to Linda’s Book Bag for Tim Walker, author of Uther’s Destiny. Tim previously wrote a cracker of a guest post about fiction and fear when the second book in his A Light in the Dark Ages trilogy, Ambrosius: Last of the Romans, was published and you can read that post here.
Uther’s Destiny is available for purchase here.
Britannia is in shock at the murder of charismatic High King, Ambrosius Aurelianus, and looks to his brother and successor, Uther, to continue his work in leading the resistance to barbarian invaders. Uther’s destiny as a warrior king seems set until his world is turned on its head when his burning desire to possess the beautiful Ygerne leads to conflict. Could the fate of his kingdom hang in the balance as a consequence?
Court healer and schemer, Merlyn, sees an opportunity in Uther’s lustful obsession to fulfil the prophetic visions that guide him. He is encouraged on his mission by druids who align their desire for a return to ancient ways with his urge to protect the one destined to save the Britons from invaders and lead them to a time of peace and prosperity. Merlyn must use his wisdom and guile to thwart the machinations of an enemy intent on foiling his plans.
Meanwhile, Saxon chiefs Octa and Ælla have their own plans for seizing the island of Britannia and forging a new colony of Germanic tribes. Can Uther rise above his family problems and raise an army to oppose them?
Book three in A Light in the Dark Ages series, Uther’s Destiny is an historical fiction novel set in the Fifth Century – a time of myths and legends that builds to the greatest legend of all – King Arthur and his knights.
Uther’s Destiny – The Background Story
A Guest Post By Tim Walker
Uther’s Destiny (published in March 2018) is the third book in the series, A Light in the Dark Ages. I had the idea for this series in the summer of 2015 when I visited the site of what was once the Roman town of Calleva Atrebatum. Located in Hampshire in the English countryside, it is now a grassy meadow without any structures (except the ruin of a Medieval Christian church) on which cattle graze, with the outline of a stone perimeter wall, visible in jagged patches, maintained by English Heritage.
I stood there and soaked up the atmosphere, feeling the call of history. Questions ran around my mind – What was it like being an inhabitant of a Roman town? When did the Romans leave and what happened to the locals afterwards? This set me on a path to research what was known about the final years of Roman Britain and what happened to the Britons after they left. I had already compiled and published a book of short stories – Thames Valley Tales – and felt that I wanted to write my own story of events in Fifth Century Britain – historical fiction woven around historical facts.
I soon discovered that historical facts were thin on the ground, and this period had become known as The Dark Ages for this reason – it was a time of confusion and opportunistic plunder in which the light of learning had all but been extinguished. Although the Christian Church was established, it was in its infancy and this was before the time of monastery building, something that would only happen later under the protection and patronage of Christian Saxon kings. The Romans took their scholars and clerks with them, leaving behind few who could record the events of the time.
I came across a translation of a book written around 1136 AD, the Historia Regum Britanniae (The History of the Kings of Britain) by Geoffrey of Monmouth, that is the earliest written version of the Arthurian Legend. Geoffrey set out to write a complete timeline of British monarchs from ancient times up to the Saxon kings. There is clear evidence he has done his research, drawing on the early accounts of monks Nennius and Gildas, and referencing the Welsh chronicles, but too many gaps remained that he chose to fill with bizarre and unbelievable stories. He also elected to ‘cut and paste’ historical snippets and rearranged them to suit his own purpose, confounding historians. For this reason his work has been largely discounted as a credible historical source. More recently, some have reappraised his work, believing that there may be more credibility than previously thought if his claim to have had access to lost works (written accounts of deeds from the fifth and sixth centuries) is true. Efforts have been made to understand his thought process and re-arrange his maverick chronology into a more believable timeline.
I decided to use Geoffrey’s framework for events after the Romans finally departed (believed to be 410 AD) as a basis for my storytelling. Historians such as John Morris* have boldly claimed that a King Arthur most likely did exist, and have put his death at the Battle of Camlann (based on studies of contemporary sources) at around 515 AD. So, my question is, what actually happened between 410 and 515 AD?
Geoffrey’s account starts with Archbishop Guithelin of London taking ship to Armorica (Brittany) to plead with King Aldrien to claim Britain as his kingdom and provide protection for the people from barbarian raiders. Aldrien declines, but agrees to send his brother, Constantine. He arrives on the south coast with a small army and soon persuades a group of tribal chiefs to make him High King (or Emperor) of Britannia and offer them protection from hostile chiefs and the many invaders who beset the island.
Constantine marries into a Romano-Briton family and rules for about ten years, having three sons – Constans, Aurelius and Uther. He is deceived and murdered by a noble called Vortigern who seizes the crown. Vortigern employs Saxon chiefs Hengist and Horsa to lead his army. Then there is the appearance of sorcerer Merlin, who advises the king to re-site his tower to avoid rock falls caused by two dragons fighting in a cave beneath it. After some time the sons of King Constantine, Aurelius and Uther, defeat Vortigern in battle and Aurelius becomes king, taking the name ‘Ambrosius’ meaning ‘The Diving One’. He is murdered by a Saxon spy and is succeeded by Uther, who takes the name ‘Pendragon’ after seeing a dragon fly across the sky on his coronation day.
Then there is the Arthur story – he is conceived at Tintagel Castle, born from the union of King Uther Pendragon and Ygerna (or Igraine), Duchess of Cornwall, who is deceived into thinking Uther is her husband Gorlois. With Gorlois dead, Uther marries Ygerna and they have a second child, Anna.
Arthur becomes king at the age of fifteen, defeats the Saxons at York wielding a sword called ‘caliburn’, rebuilds London, and marries Ganhumara (‘Guinevere’) who is from a noble Romano-Briton family. Arthur establishes his court at Caerleon in Wales, forms an alliance with his nephew, King Hoel of Brittany, and they inflict further defeats on the Saxons at Lincoln and Bath before crushing a combined force of Picts (Scots) and Hibernian (Irish) tribes near Loch Lomond. They then attacks Ireland, the Orkneys, Iceland, Norway, Sweden and parts of Gaul (France), forcing the people to pay them homage. He lays waste to fields, slaughters the population of these places and burns down their towns – the exact opposite of a chivalric king. Geoffrey’s Arthur is an arrogant, aggressive and brutal warlord who kills and takes what he wants.
But Geoffrey’s story does not end there – Arthur is summoned by the Roman Emperor to face charges of war crimes and responds by raising a large army, sailing to Gaul, and meeting the Roman army in battle, defeating and killing the emperor. Arthur’s mind is set on capturing Rome and becoming Emperor, but he is forced to return home at news that his nephew Mordred has taken his queen, Ganhumara, and seized the kingdom. In a bloody civil war in which thousands die, both Mordred and Arthur fall in battle – Arthur’s body is taken to the Isle of Avalon. Arthur is succeeded by his cousin, Constantine of Cornwall.
This is a summary of Geoffrey’s account in his Historia, and it is an intriguing thought that he MAY have taken it from a lost manuscript. Later generations lightened the blood-soaked narrative and gave Arthur a noble makeover, adding more sorcery, the romance of Camelot, chivalric heroes (the knights of the round table), the quest for the Holy Grail, an evil foe in Morgana, and a doomed love triangle involving Arthur, Guinevere and Lancelot.
Uther’s Destiny continues on from the second story in the series, that of Ambrosius Aurelianius (Ambrosius: Last of the Romans) and follows some of Geoffrey’s narrative, but includes some other historical source material and details I’ve uncovered – such as the connection to Dragon Hill in the Berkshire Downs. Uther is a warrior king who had been his brother’s main military commander for many years, taking the fight to aggressive Angle, Saxon and Jute colonists, the Scots and Irish. His falling in love with the wife of a noble and his elaborate deception to win her presents a great opportunity for character exploration, and there is a climactic battle scene at Badon Hill. This is a battle variously attributed to Ambrosius Aurelianus and King Arthur by speculating historians, but in my story it is Uther who rallies the Britons to defend this hill outside the town of Bath.
Until a missing text is uncovered or archaeologists finally unearth clues that point to real individuals and true events, we are left with a tantalizing glimpse of this lost age through the writing of Geoffrey of Monmouth, and the possibility that there may be some credibility in his account.
*The History of Merlin and Arthur by Geoffrey of Monmouth – translated by A. Thompson and J.A. Giles, published by Omo Press, 2014.
*The Age of Arthur by John Morris, published by Orion Books, 1993
(Thanks so much for this insight Tim. I love this era of history and think your A Light in the Dark Ages sounds fascinating.)
About Tim Walker
Tim has been writing fiction since 2013, following a career encompassing journalism, marketing, general management and business ownership.
After school, he worked as a trainee reporter, progressing to writing a music column and reviewing films.
He obtained an honours degree in Communication Studies, majoring in film studies, and added a Post-Graduate Diploma in Marketing two years later in Bristol.
After graduating, he worked for ten years in London in the newspaper publishing industry in market research and advertising sales support.
He followed this with two years as a voluntary worker with Voluntary Services Overseas (VSO) in Zambia, working in book publishing development. Soon after, he set up and managed his own publishing, marketing and management consultancy company.
Tim now lives near Windsor in Berkshire where he blogs and writes creative fiction.