Unpicking a legend by a legendary writer

Writing friend Helen Hollick is no stranger to this blog, nor to publishing. This week, she’s celebrating not only her 70th birthday, but also her 30th year of publishing books. (And I thought I was doing well with my 10th year!)

First accepted for traditional publication in 1993, Helen became a USA Today Bestseller with her historical novel, The Forever Queen (titled A Hollow Crown in the UK) with the sequel, Harold the King (US: I Am The Chosen King) being novels that explore the events that led to the Battle of Hastings in 1066.

Her Pendragon’s Banner Trilogy is a fifth-century version of the Arthurian legend, and she writes a nautical adventure/fantasy series, The Sea Witch Voyages. She has also branched out into the quick read novella, ‘cosy mystery’ genre with her Jan Christopher Murder Mysteries, set in the 1970s, with the first in the series, A Mirror Murder incorporating her own, often hilarious, memories of working as a library assistant.

Her non-fiction books are Pirates: Truth and Tales and Life of A Smuggler. She lives with her family in an eighteenth-century farmhouse in North Devon and occasionally gets time to write…

Today, we’re looking at Helen’s Pendragon trilogy and asking THAT question:

King Arthur? Was he, perhaps, in Brittany and France? Over to Helen!

Thirty years ago, one week after my 40th birthday in April 1993, I was accepted by William Heinemann (now part of Random House UK) for the publication of my Arthurian Pendragon’s Banner Trilogy. To say I was excited is an understatement.

The trilogy has gone through various editions since then, under my own ‘indie’ steam when I obtained the rights back in 2006, a German translation and traditionally published in the USA/Canada. To celebrate the 30 years, I decided to re-issue my own copyright editions with new, beautiful covers, designed by www.avalongraphics.org, and to hold an online party – so welcome to the celebration!


‘King’ Arthur is a different person to many different people, from a Medieval, Christian king to a small boy in a Disney cartoon. My Arthur is a ‘Dark Age’ battle-hardened warlord, his (fictional) existence is set in the Britain/England of the 450s-500s, a period of great upheaval, when ‘chivalry’ did not exist, bloody battles were fought and twenty-first century unacceptable behaviour was commonplace. ‘Then’ was a very different world to ‘now’.

Few historians are prepared to accept the dates and events listed in sources such as the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle as entirely accurate. Rather, these records represent a broad – and biased – sweep of events. There are very few undeniable facts for this muddled era of British history. We know a little of what happened, occasionally where, but not precisely when. Even the early written records disagree with each other where dates are concerned.

If dates cannot be agreed upon, the matter of Arthur himself is even more debatable! There is much passion and heated disagreement concerning the various theories of his how, when, and where. Indeed, it has not even been established whether he ever existed outside the realm of the imagination. (He probably didn’t.)

In my trilogy, I set out to write a ‘what might have happened’ story, stripped of the post-Norman Conquest chivalric tales of knights in armour, the Holy Grail, round table, Lancelot – and even Merlin. Instead, I tried to make sense of the chaos that the withdrawal of Rome from Britain left behind, and the steady immigration of the Germanic tribes of the Angles, Saxons and Jutes who took advantage of that void of chaos. I was determined to write something different to the Medieval stories – what, perhaps, could have been behind the Arthurian legend?

The late Geoffrey Ashe’s The Discovery of King Arthur put the idea of a campaign in Gaul (Brittany and France) into my mind. Not everyone agreed with his suggestion, but I am grateful for the inspiration.

Book 3, Shadow of the King follows his theory, in which he suggested Arthur could have been Riothamus, a war leader who did exist. We have several references to prove that fact, in particular, a letter to him from Sidonius Apollinaris, Bishop of Clermont Ferrand. Riothamus was King of the Britons, but does this mean the British or the Bretons, or both? Riothamus, like so many names of this period was a title meaning something like Supreme Leader. Today, the title Prince of Wales refers to Prince William, but could equally mean the notorious Prince Regent or the Welsh Llewelyn ap Gryffydd.

Was this overseas campaign the base for the later quest for the Holy Grail? For the story of ‘Arthur’ leaving his realm to go off somewhere, not to return for many years? I made full use of Ashe’s theory – including a wonderful three-weeks exploring Brittany and parts of France, using the places I visited as ideal scenes: Vézelay, Carnac…


It is fact that a great battle at Deols (Vicus Dolensis) was fought between ‘the British’ and the Goths. The British were slaughtered. Riothamus fled into Burgundy… and was never heard of again. Was he the man who then became the Arthur of legend?

Mr Ashe’s theory has been disputed, but I think it is as plausible as any alternative suggestions, and there is no evidence to prove Riothamus was not Arthur! Perhaps he was, perhaps he wasn’t. It is up to the individual to decide.

Panorama of Avalon (Wikipedia CC Commons (Patrick 89))

Another place I visited, however, does give pause for thought: Avallon, a quaint, old town  (worth a visit) in what was Burgundy, is a real place…

If Arthur truly lived, and if he was Riothamus?

Who knows?

Thank you, Helen, for a new perspective on King Arthur, probably a more realistic one. And I LOVE the possible connection to France!


Helen’s new, self-published, editions with beautiful covers designed by Cathy Helms of www.avalongraphics.org are, alas, only available outside of USA and Canada, where the same books are published by Sourcebooks Inc.

Where can you buy them?

New Editions available worldwide except USA/Canada: https://mybook.to/KingArthurTrilogy
US trilogy: https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B074C38TXN
Canada trilogy:https://www.amazon.ca/gp/product/B074C38TXN


Connect with Helen
Website: https://helenhollick.net
All Helen’s books are available on Amazon: https://viewauthor.at/HelenHollick
Subscribe to Helen’s Newsletter:  https://tinyletter.com/HelenHollick
Her Blog: https://ofhistoryandkings.blogspot.com/
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/helen.hollick
Twitter: @HelenHollick https://twitter.com/HelenHollick

Follow Helen’s Celebration Tour https://www.helenhollick.net/


Alison Morton is the author of Roma Nova thrillers –  INCEPTIO, CARINA (novella), PERFIDITAS, SUCCESSIO,  AURELIA, NEXUS (novella), INSURRECTIO  and RETALIO,  and ROMA NOVA EXTRA, a collection of short stories.  Audiobooks are available for four of the series.Double Identity, a contemporary conspiracy, starts a new series of thrillers. JULIA PRIMA, a new Roma Nova story set in the late 4th century, is now out.

Find out more about Roma Nova, its origins, stories and heroines and taste world the latest contemporary thriller Double Identity… Download ‘Welcome to Alison Morton’s Thriller Worlds’, a FREE eBook, as a thank you gift when you sign up to Alison’s monthly email update. You’ll also be among the first to know about news and book progress before everybody else, and take part in giveaways.

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