WHAT’S THE MATTER OF BRITAIN AND THE BRITISH EMPIRE?
I have outlined in my essay on Monotheism how the Jerusalem priesthood at the time of Josiah and later in exile were not ‘discovering’ an objective record of past events but were creating a new scenario to motivate the Jewish people to act in a way that the priests had already decided was in their “ideal and material interests” as Max Weber put it. Similarly significant ideo-dynamic and mytho-dynamic events took place in the British Isles following the collapse of the Roman Empire, though over a longer period of time.
The Matter of Britain
In the early Twelfth Century Geoffrey of Monmouth wrote his “History of The Kings of Britain”. It was immensely influential and was soon circulating throughout Europe. Like the Jewish priests in Jerusalem, he claimed that the source of his history was some ancient writings he had “discovered”. In his narrative he reveals that the British people were founded by a Trojan descendant of Aeneas named Brutus and names some of the kings. The main characters in his book are King Arthur and Merlin the Wizard. Merlin makes lengthy prophecies and Arthur is a mighty warrior who defeats the Anglo-Saxon invaders. He also conquers Ireland, Norway, and Scotland and finally invades Europe where he defeats the Roman armies and their eastern allies, kills the emperor Lucius Tiberius and occupies Rome in revenge for the Roman invasion and occupation of Britain. As in the Iliad, the Old Testament, and the Aeneid, the battles, the allies involved on both sides and individual heroic actions are all named and described in most convincing detail. This history is about as true as that found in the Old Testament referring to the period before the Eighth Century BC.
A New Myth of Origin
It is possible that Geoffrey was modelling his work on Virgil’s masterpiece the Aeneid. This mytho-dynamic epic was written for the Emperor Augustus to provide the aggressive tribal Latin upstarts with a fictional history rivalling that of their rivals the sophisticated Greeks with their Iliad. Geoffrey was providing an alternative mytho-dynamic history of the “British” people, other than that of the Norman-controlled “English”. The great Welsh poet David Jones refers to it as “The Angevin Aeneid”. The strong bias against Rome in this epic provides an independent myth of origin to that of the Rome-centred Latin countries like France. At the time of composition the Plantagenet kings were at war defending their extensive territories in the west of continental Europe against Frankish expansionism.