THE new thesis that King Arthur might have been a Glaswegian which was revealed by The National earlier this week has sparked a friendly war between academics over whether or not the legendary or mythical king was Scottish.

Dr Andrew Breeze of the University of Navarre in Pamplona, Spain, is to present a paper in Glasgow in July in which he claims he will show his new research into place names of ancient battles proves Arthur was a warrior king defending Strathclyde from invaders – “he could have been a Glaswegian, possibly from Govan”, as the philologist and Celticist put it.

Last night, Professor Thomas Owen Clancy, Ollamh na Ceiltis (Professor of Celtic) at Glasgow University, responded in no uncertain terms.

Clancy said: “Dr Breeze’s approach to associating the battle sites with Scottish place names is very unscientific, and I hope that in any presentation or article on this he tightens up his workings.”

According to Breeze’s interpretation of the ninth century book, The History of the Britons, Arthur’s Battle of the Glen took place on the River Glen near Wooler in Northumberland.

He said: “The battle of the Caledonian Forest will be in the Southern Uplands, near Beattock Summit, while the conflict on the River Douglas will be on Douglas Water, near Lanark. The difficult ones were fights on a river called Bassas, a riverbank called Tryfrwyd, and at a hill called Agned. But if you go to books on early Scottish place names, they mention Tarras Water in Eskdale, Dreva in Upper Tweeddale, and Pennango in Teviotdale.

“I think that Bassas is a scribe’s miswriting of Tarras, while Dreva will be the riverbank Tryfrwyd, and Pennango, which means ‘Death Hill’, will be a lost toponym southwest of Hawick.”

The Oxford and Cambridge graduate and Fellow of both the Society of Antiquaries and the Royal Historical Society also suggested the Battles of Guinnion Fort and the City of the Legion took place at Kirkgunzeon, between Dumfries and Kirkcudbright, and The Rock of the Legion near Kinneil, at the east end of the Antonine Wall, respectively.

Clancy feels Breeze needs to be rebutted: “First of all, as the original article notes, the idea that Arthur might be northern is not new: place names like Arthur’s O’on and Arthur’s Seat testify to medieval and early modern associations of Arthur with the Scottish landscape, and the Campbells liked to think Arthur was in their genealogy. But the search for a historical Arthur in the north is doomed by the sources.

“As early as we can see Arthur – in the very text that Dr Breeze fixes on, the early ninth century History of the Britons – is already a figure of legend and literature, rather than history. The list of battles looks to have come from a later poem; it is not a contemporary chronicle.”

Clancy says there are a number of problems with Breeze’s ideas. He said: “Dr Breeze seeks to make names the same that are just a little bit like each other. But proper place-name scholarship does not do this. Dreva cannot be the battle named as Trebruit. The early forms of the name show it as Draway etc, nothing like Trebruit, and Alan James has shown it is probably Old English, meaning a “drag-way”, a place where boats and goods were dragged over the watershed between Tweed and Clyde

“The same problems apply to his association between the lost Pennango and the hill of Agned – these names are a little bit alike, but linguistically they cannot be identical. Manifestly, Bassas isn’t Tarras, and there have been several plausible suggestions for the identification of Bassas (eg Baschurch in Shropshire) which Breeze ignores. If we are to completely emend a name to read something else we need more than a whim.”

Clancy concluded that Beeze’s task was “pointless”, saying: “As Oliver Padel showed some years ago, the Arthur we see in the History of the Britons is already an Arthur who is everywhere, a figure of tourist legend whose reputation is spread across the Brittonic-speaking world from Dumbarton to Land’s End and beyond to Brittany. The battle sites fit into this pattern of ‘everywhere and nowhere’.

“The result is that, sure, Arthur may have been a ‘Glaswegian’ (insofar as anyone could have been at the time, since Glasgow then was merely a small church site), but he was as likely, if not more likely, to have been a Cornishman, a warrior from Herefordshire, from Devon, from Cumbria: he has moved beyond history already, and become everyone’s legend.”

Last night, Breeze was unrepentant, saying: “You perhaps have enough Celticists now to provoke a cheerful dogfight amongst dons. As Gordon Brown supposedly said, Let them come!”