The Grail Cypher: A radical reassessment of Arthurian history
Walter Kayo sat at his desk in the scriptorium, the cold chill of winter half broken by a flickering fire in the hearth. The velum page before him was still not finished, yet already his eyes felt heavy and refused to focus. As he dipped his quill to begin the final paragraph there was a commotion outside, accompanied by the tramp of heavy boots. Three burly men strode in bearing armor and arms, their white mantles emblazoned with large splayed red crosses. They introduced themselves as being ambassadors of King Baldwin of Jerusalem, and deposited a large manuscript on his desk.
Kayo wafted away the large cloud of dust they had disturbed, and looked balefully at the enormous volume before him. He had no idea what it was about, but it obviously meant a lot more work for his small understaffed scriptorium. The officer in charge pointed to some marked pages, so Kayo hefted the manuscript open and started to slowly read. But the text was old, tattered, often illegible, and in Aramaic, which was not his favorite language. Half way down the page his eyes started to widen and his jaw took it upon itself to drop down. He looked up bearing an expression that clearly stated: “what the hell is this!”
The officer understood Kayo’s perplexion and returned a wry smile, which was reinforced by muffled laughter from the two soldiers behind. The officer approached more closely, disturbing some sheaves on the desk and creating another cloud of dust. He lowered his voice to a whisper and said: “King Baldwin wants you to turn this into an interesting story.” Kayo’s jaw was now beyond control, but he managed a small nod in acknowledgement.
Count Baldwin liberates Christian Edessa from Muslim control, during the First Crusade. Public domain.
The story of King Arthur and his gallant knights that this semi-mythical Walter Kayo eventually crafted is complex, frustrating and fraught with contradictions and impossibilities. In the hands of subsequent Arthurian authors it became a compilation of two histories blended together in such a clumsy manner that it betrays confusion in both its broad outline and ﬁner detail.
Very few of the names and events recorded in these chronicles exist in the historical record, and so the text represents a huge historical crossword puzzle that is almost impossible to crack. But how can we derive an answer for two-down in this puzzle, if we have not discovered the solution for ﬁve-across? That is the central problem that has faced all previous researchers of Arthurian history, because starting this decipherment is next to impossible. Happily, Tyche-Fortuna has smiled upon these endeavors, because the previous historical analysis in the King Jesus Trilogy has already answered the question for ﬁve-across, and so we can now conﬁdently begin to ﬁll in the rest of the crossword. And the result will be a latticework of answers and conclusions that will be both controversial and challenging.
Arthurian history is traditionally set in the fifth or sixth centuries, the era of the Dark Ages. This is a period in British history that is not simply ‘dark’ because of an economic and social collapse following the decline and fall of the Western Roman Empire, it is also ‘dark’ because it lacks any historical records. This makes it difﬁcult to decipher what was happening in this era, and it is this lacuna in British history that has enabled the life of King Arthur to remain enigmatic and semi-legendary for so long. Had Arthur been a king of the fourth or ninth centuries, we could easily have determined if these legends were fact or ﬁction, but Arthur has managed to slip into a historical crevasse where there are many known unknowns and several unknown unknowns.
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But this simple observation is interesting, and begs two obvious questions. Did a real King Arthur become semi-legendary simply because he lived in a Dark Age era of historical phantoms? Or did a mythical King Arthur get deliberately placed into this historical lacuna, because Walter Kayo and the other 12th and 13th century scribes and chroniclers knew that they could hide a semi-ﬁctional legend in the poorly documented confusion of the Dark Ages?
The earliest known image of King Arthur - on Modena Cathedral in Italy. Credit: Ralph Ellis
At the end of the Western Roman Empire there were two revolts against Rome organized by strong leaders who were based in or came from Britain. The first of these was Magnus Maximus of the late fourth century, and then there was Constantine III in the early fifth century. Both of these ‘British’ kings became emperor of Rome for a short while, but their revolts ultimately failed and they were executed.
Several venerable British historians recorded the events of these tumultuous times, including Gildas, Bede and Nennius. But none of these chroniclers said anything about the classical King Arthur, because he never existed in this era and in this region. The one or two one-sentence references we have to a warrior Arthur were actually talking about a heroic semi-divine Hercules figure, who was supposed to come to the aid of an army in its time of need. This is why Nennius records that a warlord called Arthur was involved in twelve great battles, because these were hazy recollections of the twelve labors of Hercules and therefore symbolic of the precessional zodiac.
The Boy's King Arthur : the death of Arthur and Mordred ( Public Domain )
This threadbare Arthurian history, if one can call these few moth-eaten strands a history of Arthur, takes us all the way through to the beginning of the 12th century. And perhaps it is worth reinforcing this fact. The classical story of King Arthur is totally missing from the historical record for some 600 years. Until we reach the 12th century there is absolutely no classical King Arthur whatsoever. According to the many chroniclers of this era, he simply did not exist; and this is the vast lacuna that any history of King Arthur must explain, before it can become regarded at true history. And yet it can be explained quite satisfactorily, if we open our eyes to the full spectrum of possibilities.
In 1096 the People’s Crusade to the Holy Land began, as a popular revolt against the Muslim invasion of the Judaeo-Christian Near East. Within this large force were Baldwin of Boulogne and Tancred of Norman Italy, who campaigned in southeastern Anatolia. The army of Tancred then did the obvious thing and turned south towards Antioch-Orontes in Syria, while Count Baldwin kept marching east, capturing towns near modern Gaziantep and then Antioch and Edessa. The situation had been pretty grim in Christian Edessa prior to Baldwin’s arrival, and so he was invited in by the people as a liberating hero. But this Crusade had started out as a campaign to liberate Judaea, so why was Baldwin campaigning to the east of the Euphrates in Mesopotamia? Did he already know that Edessa had been a pivotal city during the tumultuous first century events that gave rise to the gospel stories?
Whatever the case, the literary realm of Western Europe began to dramatically change from this time onwards, and the classical Arthurian genre was about to suddenly blossom. And it is worth taking a minute here to wonder why this event happened in Normandy at this very moment in time. Hand-written manuscripts of this magnitude were hugely expensive to manufacture, and the later Vulgate Cycle was about twice the size of the entire Bible. So why in the 1130s and 1140s did various aristocrats from Brittany and Normandy and eventually through to Holland, Germany, Italy and Spain, start producing these enormously expensive volumes about a history of a British king who never existed? And we know that the classical King Arthur of Britain never existed, because nobody had ever mentioned him up until this time. The answer lies in the history of the Knights Templar.
Artist’s impression of a Templar Knight ( Wikimedia Commons )
King Baldwin I of Jerusalem was succeeded in 1118 by Baldwin II, the son of Hugh I. And in 1119 Hugues de Payens and Godfrey de Bouillon approached Baldwin and requested permission to set up a monastic order for the protection of pilgrims in the Near East. This new martial monastic order was, of course, the Poor Soldiers of Christ and the Temple of Solomon— or the Knights Templar for short. And note that Hugues de Payens had chosen a name that reflected the first century Nazarene, Ebionites, Essene, and Boethusians, in being called the ‘Poor Knights’, and so the Knights Templar were covertly declaring themselves to be the true heirs to the Nazarene-Ebionite sect of Jesus and James.
Baldwin II ceeding the location of the Temple of Solomon to Hugues de Payns and Gaudefroy de Saint-Homer. The fourth person is Warmund, Patriarch of Jerusalem. ( Wikimedia Commons ).
The formation of the Knights Templar is central to this story. Not only did Wolfram von Eschenbach name the Templars as the Guardians of the Holy Grail-stone, but this was exactly the kind of secretive order that would have been required to carry out the dangerous literary mission that created the Arthurian genre. And the dates are suspiciously coincident too. It was immediately after the foundation of the Knights Templar in 1119 that novel manuscripts started turning up in Normandy, the very region and era that these European aristocrats originally came from. Baldwin of Boulogne was from eastern Normandy; Hugues Payens was from Troyes in northeastern France; while Godfrey Bouillon was from Ardennes and Lorraine which encompassed much of modern Belgium and Holland.
The novel texts that had been acquired in Judaeo-Syria, most probably from Edessa, were decidedly heretical - the sort of text that only a secretive and initiatory organization like the Templars could possibly have handled. Norman aristocrats like Hugues and Godfrey were probably devout Christians, but obviously Christians with an open mind, because what Count Baldwin had discovered in Edessa represented a radically new perspective on classical Christian history. Here were texts that said that the biblical Jesus was a warrior king of Edessa, who had led the Jewish Revolt against Rome. The new story was very similar to the traditional gospel story, but the import of this amendment - from pauper prince to warrior king - was incendiary to say the least. And yet the eastern bishops were adamant that this was the gospel truth: Jesus had been a king of Edessa.
But what could be done with texts that contained such a radical reevaluation of the gospel stories? These manuscripts were of such importance they could not be buried and forgotten, and yet this was not an era in which a count or even a king could challenge the established creed of the Catholic Church. In fact, the only way in which this information could be preserved for future generations, is if some courageous and creative authors crafted a fictional story about heroic knights that incorporated all of the many historical heresies contained within these Edessan manuscripts. And what these Norman authors needed, in order to achieve this, was a real history upon which this new semi-fictional history of Jesus could be hung; which could provide the new story with a degree of historical authenticity. These authors did not want to craft a fairy-story for children, they wanted a plausible history to intrigue an intellectual aristocrat. What they needed was a rebel prince or king who had been involved in a tax-dispute with the Roman Empire and had set out to become the next emperor, just as the biblical King Jesus had likewise done in the first century.
This is why Wolfram von Eschenbach says that Master Kyot was sent out to search many other lands, including Ireland and Britain, in order to discover the rest of the story. But what Kyot was actually looking for was not ‘the rest of the story’, instead he wanted ‘the ideal cover-story’. Kyot finally found what he was looking for in Anjou, in northwestern France, and what he discovered there was the history of the Bretton-British usurper emperors of Rome, Magnus Maximus and Constantine III. Here were two warrior monarchs of a small ‘oppressed’ land who could act as the perfect substitute and camouflage for the Edessan history of King Jesus of Judaea. Both Maximus and Constantine had been kings of a small nation who had led a revolt against Rome, and just as importantly they had lived at the very start of the Dark Ages when much of the history of Europe had been lost to the sands of time.
The next thing that these intrepid authors required was a pseudonym for their hero, one that reflected Jesus’ true status and position but would only be recognized by a few enlightened initiates. And since it was known that Jesus was often portrayed as the central Sun-god figure on a zodiac, as is depicted on the Beit Shean zodiac from Galilee, the answer was obvious. All they needed to do was replace the central Helios Sun-king on this Christian zodiac, with the figure that was already displayed at the center of many of the more empirical zodiacs—the constellation of Ursa Major. Ursa Major was the central constellation around which the twelve signs of the zodiac rotated and the Great Bear is the root of Arthur’s name. And since the Round Table was an allegoric circle of the zodiac, the symbolic synchronicity was now complete:
- Ursa Major, the Great Bear, is encircled by twelve signs of the zodiac.
Ursa Major Constellation ( Public Domain )
- King Arthur-Bear was encircled encircled by twelve Knights of the Round Table.
King Arthur's knights, gathered at the Round Table to celebrate the Pentecost, see a vision of the Holy Grail. ( Public Domain )
- King Jesus-Izas was encircled by twelve disciples at the Last Supper table.
Jesus and disciples at the last supper. Roman mosaic. ( Public Domain )
In which case, the popular King Arthur of Britain from classical Arthurian history never existed, at least not in the manner which we expect. In reality, the history of the new King Arthur that had been crafted in the 12th century by the Knights Templar, represents the heretical gospel story that had been outlawed and destroyed by the Catholic Church - the Gospel of the Monarchal and Martial Jesus.
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Such a radically different gospel obviously existed at one time but Christian Edessa and Christian Mesopotamia had become cut off from the Roman and Constantinople Churches, behind the fifth century velvet curtain of the Council of Chalcedon, and behind the seventh century iron curtain of Islam. And so the copious compositions of Aphrahat, Ephrem, Moses of Chorene, Yohannes Drasxanakertci, Dionysius of Tel Mahre and numerous others besides, were lost to Western theology and scholarship for hundreds of years—before East met West once again during the Crusades.
From the evidence outlined in this book, it is axiomatic that one of the forgotten manuscripts rediscovered in Edessa during the Crusades was the source for all of Arthurian history, and its rediscovery caused a muted sensation in the courts of northern France. There followed some consternation about how to handle these heretical texts, and then a great flurry of literary excitement and endeavor. The result was the creation of a pseudo-historical monarch called King Arthur, who valiantly attempted to free his people from Roman ‘oppression’. But the unmentionable sub-text to this esoteric story, was that the semi-fictional King Arthur of Britain and Gaul was actually the historical King Jesus of Judaea and Edessa.
King Arthur was King Jesus.
The 'Round Table' at Hamat teverya on the Sea of Galilee. Here is King Arthur (‘Jesus’), surrounded by the twelve disciple-knights of the Round Last Supper Table. Credit: Ralph Ellis
Featured image: Detail, The Boy's King Arthur: "And when they came to the sword that the hand held, King Arthur took it up." ( Public Domain )
By Ralph Ellis