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  Vortigern Studies > Vortigern > Guest Articles > Frank Reno (1)

Guest Author:
Frank D. Reno
Visit Frank's website: The Quest for King Arthur

Presently, Frank Reno and his wife Lavinia have just completed a 1000-page historical novel (about Arthur, of course) and are about to complete the editing.  He's simultaneously working on his third non-fiction book, an annotated paradigm of Arthurian history and legend, based upon his first two texts and various articles he has written.  This book will probably be ready for publication by early 2004.  Occasionally, he gives presentations on a variety of Arthurian aspects, the most recent being a program offered in September 2002 to an audience of approximately 700 people in Oklahoma City.  During the rare lapses when he has spare time, he's been working on a second website which will present a new portfolio of photographs showing various Arthurian-related sites in Britain, Brittany, and France.

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Vitalinus/Guithelinus

Frank D. Reno

The Quest for King Arthur
first published on
The Quest for King Arthur

Like so many other egnimatic figures such as Utherpendragon, Vortimer, and Ambrosius Aurelianus in the saga of King Arthur, Vitalinus is hidden in a haze. In the Historia Brittonum, his name appears twice. The first is in Section 49, where the reader is informed that "Vitalinus is the son of Gloui. Bonus, Paul, Mauron, and Vitalinus were four brothers, sons of Gloui, who built the great city on the banks of the River Severn that is called in the [sic] British Caer Gloui, in English Gloucester." In Section 66 the second passage reads, "And from the [beginning of the] reign of Vortigern to the discord between Vitalinus and Ambrosius are 12 years." Those are the only two appearances of the name Vitalinus in British history, deceptively suggesting that Vitalinus must indeed be a very minor character in the Arthurian saga.

Yet once again, there is a gossamer thread about Vitalinus which can be traced, and the key lies in the variant of his name. Translations of the Historia Brittonum use the name Vitalinus. However, in the original Latin version his name is Guitolin/Guitolini, rendered into English as Guithelinus. It is this variant name (Guithelinus) used by Geoffrey of Monmouth which transforms Vitalinus' seemingly minor part into a role of major importance in Arthuriana. Although there are critics who deride Monmouth's work as an unreliable historic source, he has no hidden agenda or motive in relation to Guithelinus. In truth, in this instance he can be portrayed as a copist because he doesn't grandstand Guithelinus' role nor does he pad the story with his imaginative creations.

As a matter of fact, Monmouth himself does not outright connect Guithelinus the Archbishop of London and Guithelinus the Bishop of Gloucester; the reader himself must make that connection. In his narrative at the end of the chapter about the "Coming of the Romans" and the beginning of the chapter about the "House of Constantine", Monmouth gives a great deal of information about Guithelinus the Archbishop of London addressing the Britons at the moment of Roman evacuation, about crossing to Brittany to seek help, about becoming the guardian of Utherpendragon and Aurelius, and about fleeing to Brittany to prevent their assassination by Vortigern. It isn't until 110 pages later, in a section titled "The Saxon Domination" that Monmouth incidentally mentions that "It was at this time that the saintly Daniel died, the most devout Bishop of the church of Bangor. The bishop of Gloucester was promoted to be the Archbishop of London." Monmouth doesn't even mention the name 'Guithelinus' in this context, strongly indicating that Monmouth was indeed a copyist and at times didn't assimilate and relate the material he was copying. Historic Figures of the Arthurian Era : Authenticating the Enemies and Allies of Britian's Post-Roman King
Historic Figures of the Arthurian Era : Authenticating the Enemies and Allies of Britian's Post-Roman King
by Frank D. Reno

What this does, however, is form a chain from the single links: Guithelinus is the son of Gloui; Guithelinus helped to build Caer Gloui (Gloucester); Guithelinus was a figure of consequence and became the Bishop of Gloucester; Guithelinus rose in rank to the Archbishop of London; Guithelinus was involved in political and military affairs; Guithelinus became the protector of Utherpendragon and Aurelius; Guithelinus was instrumental in perpetrating a Roman return to the island.

One of those links has to be scrutinized in more detail, and that is the passage in the Historia Brittonum which relates that there was discord between Vitalinus and Ambrosius Aurelianus (vis-a-vis Aurelius Ambrosius, vis-a-vis Arthus) 12 years into Vortigern's reign. In both The Historic King Arthur and Historic Figures of the Arthurian Era* I concentrate upon the word discordiam used to describe sentience between Vitalinus and Ambrosius. I disagree with any translation which characterizes the disagreement between Vitalinus and Ambrosius as a bellum (a war) or proelium (a battle), in spite of the Historia's addendum that the disagreement caused the Battle of Wallop. Although most scholars view Vitalinus' and Ambrosius' relationship as adversarial, I accept the word discordiam at its face value: discord, disagreement, argument. This interpretation seems to be borne out by the chronological reference to "12 years into Vortigern's reign." At that time, Arthus would have been in his early teens, and, knowing his heritage, undoubtedly wanted to rightfully claim the throne rather than acquiesing to Vortigern's claim. Vitalinus realized the folly of that, knowing that Vortigern would probably assassinate the young aspirant. Because of thediscord and Vitalinus' sense of duty as a guardian, he crossed to Brittany with his young ward to wait for a more auspicious time.

An interesting artifact which for some reason has been overlooked is the Vitalianus Stone in the graveyard at St. Brynach's Church in Nevern, Wales. It came to my attention through Ralph and Beatrix Davis, the owners of the Manor House Hotel in Fishguard, after my first book had already been published. As an Arthurian enthusiast, I thought it an incredible find. When I first viewed it about five years ago, its inscription, 'Vitalianus Emerato', was legible, but in the interim lichen has obscured the epitaph. This churchyard, in addition to the Vitalianus Stone, has the bilingual gravemarker for Maglocunus map Clutor, an ancestor of the Maglocunus recorded in the Annales Cambria and the king castigated by Gildas Badonicus. This likewise is the same graveyard where "Caman Llan" is located, one of the possible sites I've proposed for Arthur's fatal battle.

*See the indices (Guithelinus, Vitalinus, discordiam) in both books for all the specific details.

**See Historic Figures of the Arthurian Era, Photo 14, page 225, for the close-up inscription on the stone. Photo 5 on page 142 shows how much weathering has taken a toll on the stone when compared to the photo at the right.

Bibliography:

  • Alcock, Leslie.  ARTHUR'S BRITAIN. New York: Viking Penguin, Inc., 1987.
  • Ashe, Geoffrey.  THE DISCOVERY OF KING ARTHUR. New York: Henry Holt and Company, 1987.
  • Blair, Peter Hunter.  ROMAN BRITAIN AND EARLY ENGLAND. New York/London: W.W. Norton & Compay by arrangement with Thomas Nelson and Sons Ltd., 1966.
  • Collingwood, R.G. and J.N.L. Myres, ROMAN BRITAIN and THE ENGLISH SETTLEMENTS. Oxford: The Clarendon Press, second edition, 1937.
  • Curley, Michael J.  GEOFFREY OF MONMOUTH. New York: Twayne Publishers, 1994.
  • Ekwall, Eilert.  THE CONCISE OXFORD DICTIONARY OF ENGLISH PLACE-NAMES. Oxford: Oxford Clarendon Press, reprinted 1991.
  • Knight, Jeremy.  "The Pillar of Eliseg," VALLE CRUCIS ABBEY. Cadw: Welsh Historic Monuments, 1987.
  • Morris, John.  THE AGE OF ARTHUR. London: Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 1989.
  • Morris, John.  BRITISH HISTORY. London and Chichester: Phillimore and Co. Led., 1980.
  • O'Sullivan, Thomas.  THE DE EXCIDIO OF GILDAS: ITS AUTHENTICITY AND DATE. Reprinted with permission of the Trustees of Columbia University Press, 1978.
  • Phillips, Graham and Martin Keatman.  KING ARTHUR: THE TRUE STORY. London: Century Random House, 1992.
  • Reno, Frank D. (1996): The Historic King Arthur, (MacFarland).
  • Reno, Frank D. (2000): Historic Figures of the Arthurian Era, (MacFarland).
  • Reno, Frank D. (2001): The Quest for King Arthur, the Nexus of History with Legend, at: http://kingarthura-z.home.att.net/
  • Skene, William F.  THE FOUR ANCIENT BOOKS OF WALES CONTAINING THE CYMRIC POEMS ATTRIBUTED TO THE BARDS OF THE SIXTH CENTURY, VOLUME 1. Edinburgh: Edmonston and Douglas, 1868.
  • Stevenson, Josephus. NENNII: HISTORIA BRITTONUM. Londini: Kraus Reprint Ltd., 1964.
  • Thorpe, Lewis, trans.  GEOFFREY OF MONMOUTH: THE HISTORY OF THE KINGS OF BRITAIN. Middlesex, England: Penguin Books, 1966.
  • Wacher, John.  THE TOWNS OF ROMAN BRITAIN. Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1974.
  • Wade-Evans, Arthur W.  THE EMERGENCE OF ENGLAND AND WALES. Cambridge: W. Heffer & Sons Ltd., 1959.
  • Webster, Graham.  THE CORNOVII. Stroud, Gloucester: Alan Sutton Publishing Ltd., 1991.

Vitalinus/Guithelinus is Copyright 2001, Frank D. Reno. All rights reserved. Used with permission.

Comments to: Frank D. Reno


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