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The Wasteland and the British Exodus

The Wasteland is a vaguely mentioned (and little explored) part of Arthurian myth. In the legends, Britain has become a wasteland where nothing much can grow and people are ill and dying. A sorry state of affairs, but is there any substance to this legend? Can we find any objective scientific evidence that a wasteland ever existed? To be credible with a modern skeptical audience, it would have to be material that is not tainted with the allegations of "forgery" that are thrown at the famous early and middle-ages authors like Geoffrey of Monmouth, Bede, Gildas, etc.

Dendrochronology might be a useful place to start...

Professor Mike Baillie of Queen’s University ... has helped to develop the science of dendrochronology, or tree-ring dating. This relatively accurate means to gauge the growth conditions of trees from many thousands of years ago shows that — to quote Baillie and his co-author — “from European oaks, through pine chronologies from Sweden, across to Mongolia, and from California to Chile, dramatic effects in trees have been observed across the years from 536 to 545 AD.”

Something had happened to serious stunt the growth of trees over large parts of Europe. The two main suggestions are a meteor or a volcano.

Was it caused by a comet/meteor?

Like the Tunguska event perhaps?

In 538, a comet was sighted according to the historian Edward Gibbon. The comet “appeared to follow the Sagittary: the size was gradually increasing; the head was in the east, the tail in the west, and it remained visible above 40 days. The nations who gazed with astonishment, expected wars and calamities from their baleful influence; and these expectations were abundantly fulfilled.”

Zachariah of Mitylene recorded that in around 538/9, “a great and terrible comet appeared in the sky at evening-time for 100 days.” Similarly, medieval historian Roger of Wendover stated that, “in the year of grace AD 541, there appeared a comet in Gaul, so vast that the whole sky seemed on fire. In the same year, there dropped real blood from the clouds, and a dreadful mortality ensued.”

The monk, Gildas, writing around AD 540, recorded that “the island of Britain was on fire from sea to sea … until it had burned almost the whole surface of the island and was licking the western ocean with its fierce red tongue.”

(Some) think this is why the Saxons had such an easy time settling in Britain — there weren’t many surviving Britons to stop them.

Ref : King Arthur and the comet

Or that the surviving Britons were later short of manpower and deliberately invited Saxon mercenaries to come to Briton, to help defend them from Vikings and Danes.

Or was it a volcanic eruption?

David Keys suggests that mankind was hit by one of the greatest natural disasters ever to occur, which led to climate chaos, famine, migration, war, and massive political change on virtually every continent. It displayed all the hallmarks of a nuclear winter. Keys believed that a major volcanic event was probably to blame. Indeed, he favored Krakatoa, in modern day Indonesia, as the prime culprit and even suggested that a loud noise recorded in China in AD 535 might have been the volcano exploding.
Ref : Atlantis Rising magazine
More refs : Sixth-Century Misery , The Global Cooling Event of the Sixth Century
"Unusual climate during Roman times plunged Eurasia into hunger and disease"

The large volcanic eruptions of AD 536 and 540 led to climate cooling and contributed to hardships of Late Antiquity societies throughout Eurasia, and triggered a major environmental event in the historical Roman Empire. Our set of stable carbon isotope records from subfossil tree rings demonstrates a strong negative excursion in AD 536 and 541–544.

Modern data from these sites show that carbon isotope variations are driven by solar radiation. A model based on sixth century isotopes reconstruct an irradiance anomaly for AD 536 and 541–544 of nearly three standard deviations below the mean value based on modern data. This anomaly can be explained by a volcanic dust veil reducing solar radiation and thus primary production threatening food security over a multitude of years.

Refs : Nature article, WUWT coverage

The most recent volcanic evidence is from a team at the University of Maine (UM) in Orono.

... the team reported that a cataclysmic volcanic eruption in Iceland spewed ash across the Northern Hemisphere early in 536. Two other massive eruptions followed, in 540 and 547. The repeated blows, followed by plague, plunged Europe into economic stagnation that lasted until 640
Ref : Science Magazine, Nov 2018

Regardless of whether it was meteors or volcanoes, it seems Britain was no longer a healthy place to live in at the time. In the South West, especially Devon and Cornwall, this triggered a mass migration of Britons southwards across the Channel.
- from Dumnonia (Devon) to Domnonea
- from Kernow (Cornwall) to Cornouaille
Both of which eventually became part of Armorica (Brittany).

Domnonée retained close political links between the Brythonic (Celtic) territories in Britain (Wales, Cornwall, Devon), and the newly created Armorican Britain (Brittany), and it hosted many kings, princes, clerics and other leaders who came over from Celtic Britain. The sea was a unifying rather than divisive factor. In the traditions relating to the settlement of Brittany by the Bretons there are several kingdoms of this kind.
Ref : Wiki Domnonea

The same Wikipedia source is curiously insistent about something else:

At the time of the Roman conquest of Gaul, the rough area of later Domnonée was held by the pagan Curiosolite Gauls. Domnonée is said to have been founded in the 4th century by Christian Briton immigrants

Which then skips an explanation of how Christianity was spreading southwards into Brittany, not northwards into Britain. Or how it had previously got to Britain and passed-by Brittany. Either way, the Bretons took with them their own beliefs, stories and legends which in time became part of the heritage of the French language and literature, curiously and persistently based on British origins.

How can this be? Surely French is an ancient language? Actually no. As Graham Robb has eloquently explained in "The Discovery of France", France (as we know it now) is a recent invention. By recent, I mean from the French Revolution onwards. Only after that was French imposed as a single language on the region. It had not always been one country, and for many centuries had existed with several different languages and many different dialects.

This helps make sense of what at first glance appears to be a baffling and exceedingly daft idea - that French was invented in England. According to David Howlett, the author of "The English origins of Old French literature " :

Dramatic differences between Latin texts written before and after the settlement of the Normans in England imply that the conquerors inherited from the conquered a tradition of Anglo-Latin composition. They also derived from a 500-year-old tradition of Old English literature the idea and the formal, generic, and thematic models of Old French literature. The earliest examples of nearly every genre of Old French verse and prose were composed in the Anglo-Norman dialect or written by continental authors working in England or preserved in English manuscripts. These, with the Insular heroes and stories of Brendan, Havelock, Horn, Arthur and Tristan, suggest that for the first century of its existence most French literature was English in origin and execution.

Similarly, in "Language Made Visible: The Invention of French in England After the Norman Conquest" by David Georgi,

The English origins of French literature remain something of an open secret, backed by impressive evidence, but known only to a relatively small audience. In 1992, Ian Short lamented that "standard histories of medieval French literature persist in ignoring the fact that French Literature begins, to all intents and purposes, in 12th century Anglo-Norman England". Many years later, this fact is still not universally recognised, even among Anglo-Norman specialists. A recent book devoted entirely to post-conquest England remarks "in the twelfth century England seems to have been a key region for the production of French writing, in some ways ahead of French-speaking areas on the continent." As late as 2005, the team of eminent scholars who prepared the chapter on "Vernacular Literary Consciousness" in the Middle Ages volume of the Cambridge History of Literary Criticism, called the development of French literature in England "curiously precocious" and don't seem to know what to make of it.

Where does this leave us? With many Cornish and British stories emigrating to North West Europe, where the Grael themes were adapted, modified and rewritten to support local topics and issues. Like Flemish and Huegenot independence.

Next : You Need Protection