Siol nan Gaidheal
The Neo-galfridian Conceit

At the turn of the last millennium the Scots had established one of the most stable monarchies in Europe while England found itself aggrandised by the sons of outlaws such as Harold Godwinson. Indeed in so far as England existed it was an invention of the Danes who had eliminated every indigenous dynasty other than the West Saxon, thus catapulting those petty warlords into a position of political authority. When it came to the legitimisation of the realm of England this again was achieved by the intervention of outside forces - politically by Norman feudalism and in a literary sense by the Welsh Geoffrey of Monmouth and Giraldus Cambrensis. This literary endeavour, termed Galfridian after Geoffrey of Monmouth who composed his Historia Regum Britanniae around 1138, established in the 12th century an attitude amongst the English that has prevailed since, that of their claim to dominion over the whole British Isles. The Galfridian conceit has been repeatedly invoked by ideologists and propagandists for English expansionism over the centuries and was the source of the notion of the British Empire as it was initially conceived, a distortion of the Galfridian notion of a united British throne that preceeded the influx of rude barbarians from the low countries into the realm of Loegria, that now extinct British province whose geographical extent is now termed England. In the Galfridian conceit, drawn from a fabricated past in which the island of Britain is ruled by three brothers, Locrine in England, Albanact in Scotland and Camber in Wales, the English are accorded ascendancy over the other two peoples on the basis of Locrine's seniority. This may seem harmless romancing and yet the notion has been deployed repeatedly to legitimise English claims.

There is a degree of irony in the fact that if Geoffrey of Monmouth's tale is derived from any unrecovered original as he claims, it would have been composed at a time and place that would suggest the original document was intended to re-assert the Cambric claim to the province of Lloegyr (Loegria, of which the appelation Locrine is a clumsy corruption). The irony lies in the way that the very aggressors being resisted at that time, the English, have adopted that mythology to justify their continued aggression. Indeed apologists for the Norman and Tudor incursions into Ireland explicitly referred to the Galfridian notion that Ireland had been originally populated from Britain to legitimise English claims over Ireland. The English have long been practitioners of the idea that if you repeat a lie often enough it becomes the truth.

The neo-Galfridian conceit was most pointedly revived by the psychotic Tudor, Henry VIII, and his lackey the Protector Somerset during the English invasions of Scotland in the 1540's. The mythic genealogy which Tudor fantasists had traced leading from Henry to Locrine was used to affirm a British union without conceding English superiority over the junior and hence dependent territories of Scotland and Wales. Five years later Somerset's ideologists were again active in advocating the marriage of Mary Stuart and Edward VI on neo-Galfridian grounds. Thus in the words of James Henrisoun the Scots should "laie doune their weapons, thus rashely received, to fight against the mother of their awne nacion: I mean this realme now called Englande the onely supreme seat of the empire of greate Briteigne." This is the first reference ever made to the British Empire and it at once apparent that it is inspired by the anti-Celtic, anglo-centric mythology adopted from Geoffrey of Monmouth. Similarly Humphrey Llwyd uses the term "British Empire" two decades later in the neo-Galfridian document Commentarioli Britannicae Descriptionis Fragmentum. Then later, in 1576, comes John Dee's famous appeals to "this Incomparable Brytish Empire," its inhabitants "the true and naturall born subjects of this Brytish Empire," which is to say, of "the Queenes Majesties Dominions, or her Brytish Empire." Here we see the neo-Galfridian conceit now being advanced for the benefit of Elizabeth, which ultimately leads him to propose "the Lawfull Possession as well as the Proprietie of the Supremacy over Scotland." At this time the Galfridian invention of a British colonisation of Ireland in the time of Arthur was referred to by Edmund Spenser, Sir Humphrey Gilbert, Richard Hakluyt and John Dee in justification of English adventures in Ireland. The supposed discovery of the New World in 1170 by the Welsh prince Madoc was also used as the basis of including the Americas in the empire of Arthurian fantasy.

Spenser's The Fairie Queen reiterates the fabricated Tudor lineage in Books II and III, wherein he prophecies the recovery of the Galfridian hierarchy of the multiple monarchy of Locrine, Albanact and Camber, with Scotland and Wales paying allegiance to England and the Arthurian colonists of Ireland reunited with their parent monarchy. Spenser claimed his work has a paedogogical purpose and called it a "historical fiction," craving comparison with Xenophon rather than Plato. That the arrant nonsense of the neo-Galfridian conceit has not received widespread derision illustrates the extent to which the prejudice it expresses has seeped into the English national consciousness.

In this age of devolution we see once again that prejudice presented as fact, but rather than making reference to absurd Galfridian fabrications, we now hear about "reserved matters" - a new way of coining an old lie.


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