Monday, 24 August 2015

St Patrick at Glastonbury

The story of Patrick, the Apostle of Ireland, celebrated on 17th March as a national day of Ireland, is well known; as a young man he was kidnapped from Britain and spent years enslaved as a shepherd in Ireland. Patrick eventually escaped and returned to his home before he went back across the sea to convert the Irish to Christianity. It is often said that more information survives on the disputed chronology, his place of birth and his true identity rather than his theology. Two surviving Latin works are now generally accepted to be genuine works of Patrick, namely his letter to Coroticus and the Confessio in which he states his father was named Calpurnius, a deacon, and his grandfather, Potitus, was a priest, who lived at Bannavem Taburniae. The identification of this place varies from the north west of England to Somerset in the south west.1 Patrick's home was nearby and is where he was taken prisoner, at about sixteen years of age. The rest has been completed by legend.

Glastonbury Abbey
The Glastonbury tradition claims Saint Patrick is buried at the Abbey; the Somerset monks, disputing the assertions of Downpatrick, claimed that after Patrick's episcopate in Ireland he retired to Glastonbury Abbey where he became the first Abbot. He is said to have died there and was buried next to the High Altar in the "Old Church.” The feast day of the Glastonbury Patrick is 24th August.

Controversy is no stranger to Glastonbury when it comes to sacred relics said to rest there; the Abbey is famous for the discovery of the remains of King Arthur and his Queen Guinevere in the old cemetery in 1190/91. An event that confirmed the great warrior Arthur was dead and Glastonbury was Avalon.

Much of the Patrick at Glastonbury legend comes from the Charter of St Patrick, described by modern scholars as Glastonbury's most notorious forgery and dated to around the 12th century. Significantly, it was around this time that the development of the legend of St. Joseph of Arimathea at Glastonbury began.

Chronicles and Charters 
The history of Glastonbury Abbey is said to begin with the hand of William of Malmesbury. By 1126 this highly regarded historian of mixed Norman and English descent had already completed two works, Gesta regum Anglorum (Deeds of the Kings of England) and Gesta pontificum (Deeds of the Bishops), during the next few years he wrote the Vita sancti Wulfstani (Life of Saint Wulfstan). William was then invited by the monks of Glastonbury Abbey to write the history of their house to prove the antiquity of the establishment.

William compiled De antiquitate Glastoniensis ecclesiae (Concerning the Antiquity of Glastonbury) between 1129-35, in which he wrote that on the site of the Abbey there stood a church constructed of "wattle and daub” which he called "the oldest church in England," a symbol of the ancientness of Glastonbury's Christianity. By William's time the historical origins of the Old Church (vetusta ecclesia) had been lost but legend claimed it had been built by two early missionaries sent from Rome.

No original copies of  De Antiquitate Glastoniensis Ecclesiae have survived but what we know of its original text is based on large sections that had been transcribed into the Gesta Regis Anglorum. In the second edition of the  Gesta (c.1135) William tells us that Patrick spent thirty-nine years at Glastonbury up to his death and burial there in the year 472, at the age of 111.

The earliest version of the "De Antiquitate" that has come down to us is a 13th century copy heavily interpolated by the Glastonbury monks which adds significant elaboration not present in William's original document. William's book, in its interpolated form, asserts that during the 2nd century, in response to a plea from King Lucius, Pope Eleutherius dispatched the missionaries, Faganus and Deruvianus (Phagan and Deruvius), who came to the island of Britain to preach the Gospel, “as the Charter of St. Patrick and the Deeds of the Britons attest.” And so the legend began.

St Patrick's Charter tells us that he was sent on a mission to Ireland by Pope Celestine. On his return to Britain he came to an isle called Ynswitrin (the British name for Glastonbury) and discovered a church there dedicated to the Virgin, built by 12 disciples of St Philip and St James.

Here he found several brethren well instructed in the Catholic faith. They had followed those saints that Phagan and Deruvian had left there; until the coming of Patrick in the 5th century there was an unbroken succession of twelve hermits living at Glastonbury. They had no leader and were always twelve in number in memory of the twelve companions who first settled at this spot under Joseph of Arimathea.

Patrick choose to dwell with them and they made him their chief. The brethren showed him the writings of St Phagan and St Deruvian, wherein it was contained that the twelve disciples had built the Old Church. The Charter asserts that these 12 disciples were each given pieces of land, the so-called “twelve hides” of Glastonbury.

The twelve hermits whom St Patrick found when he arrived at Glastonbury are named as: Brumban, Hyregaan, Bren Wencreth, Bantommeweng, Adelwalred, Lothor, Wellias, Breden, Swelwes, Hinloernus and Hin. The names do not seem to be of any obvious ancestry; neither Irish, Welsh, nor Saxon. Yet, there may be some correspondence between these names and the names engraved on the larger of the two ancient pyramids of the old cemetery as recorded by William of Malmesbury.2

Glastonbury Tor
The Charter records that Patrick climbs the Tor with brother Wellias and finds a ruined “old oratory” constructed by Phagan and Deruvius in honour of St Michael the archangel, where he finds a volume containing the Acts of Apostles along with Acts and Deeds of St Phagan and St Deruvian. Following a vision Patrick appointed two brethren to be there continually;  two Irish brethren, Arnulf and Ogmar, who had come with Patrick from Ireland were the first to make their humble dwelling at that oratory.

The interpolated version of William's book tells us that Patrick spent the last years of his life at Glastonbury and died there corresponding to the Charter which ends stating the Apostle of the Irish, and the first abbot in the Isle of Avalon, was buried in the Old Church on the right hand of the altar.

Patrick was succeeded as abbot by his own disciple Benignus who had followed him from Ireland. Benignus preferred to lead a solitary life and lived as a hermit on the Somerset Levels near the site of the pre-historic lake dwellings at Meare, visiting the brethren at Glastonbury infrequently.

Later, in the mid-14th century John of Glastonbury produced his Cronica sive Antiquitates Glastoniensis Ecclesie (Chronicle of the Antiquities of the Church of Glastonbury) and elaborated the Glastonbury story even further. John provides further details in his Chronicle about St Patrick's mission to Glastonbury. John tells us that St Patrick, a nephew of St Martin of Tours, was born in Britain in 361. He was abducted at the age of sixteen by Irish pirates subsequently spending six years as a slave to a cruel Irish chieftain called Milchu. After escaping he was then sent back to Ireland in 425 by Pope Celestine I where his mission was to convert the Irish. He returned to Britain on a floating wooden altar, landing at Padstow in Cornwall. In 433 he arrived at Glastonbury and remained there as abbot until his death in 472 when he was buried in a beautiful shrine. The shrine was destroyed in the fire of 1184, his bones were then exhumed and placed in a new shrine covered in gold and silver where they were venerated until the last days of the monastery.

John also produced an imaginative pedigree for King Arthur, claiming that through his mother, was descended from Joseph of Arimathea. John's Cronica appears to be an attempt to bring together all of the available sources regarding Joseph of Arimathea's connection with Glastonbury. In so doing he introduced the Prophecy of Melkin which suggests Joseph is also buried at the Abbey, a claim which resulted in the search for Joseph's body at Glastonbury by John Blome as evidenced by a Royal Writ of 10 June 1345.

It appears that during this time new information on St Patrick was added to William's De Antiquitate in an attempt to confute the claims of Ranulph Higden (d.1364), a monk of the Benedictine abbey of St. Werburg, Chester, in his Polychronicon, which enjoyed considerable popularity, being translated into English in the late 14th century, and printed by William Caxton in the late 15th century. Ranulph argued that the Glastonbury Patrick was a later Irish bishop who died in 863 ending his days at Glastonbury and the saint of the Irish was, as the Irish claimed, buried at Down.3

The Life of St Patrick
In his introduction to De antiquitate William of Malmesbury states that he has written a Life of St Patrick, which is now unfortunately lost to us. However, John Leland, the antiquary of Henry VIII, claimed to have found a copy of two of William's books in the library at Christchurch (Hampshire). William appears to have used material from two Irish sources. The only two items that cannot be traced to these two sources seem to derive directly from Patrick's own writings such as the Confessio.

John of Glastonbury's Cronica includes material from William's De antiquitate with additions from other sources to bring the history of the Abbey up to date. The Cronica includes four passages on St Patrick which corresponds to passages in Leland's summary suggesting that William's Life of Patrick did indeed exist. Leland states he has never found the third book, and although he found two manuscripts of the work in the library at Glastonbury, they too like the Christchurch copy, were also incomplete. William may never have completed the third book but it seems probable that he intended to fill it with material connecting Patrick with Glastonbury.4

Regardless of the later additions by the Glastonbury monks, in his original writings, such as the second edition of the Gesta as we have seen above, William did seem convinced that Glastonbury possessed the majority of Patrick's relics although it is not altogether clear that he actually believed him to have been one of the early abbots. So rich was the Glastonbury collection of relics that William said it presented a “heavenly sanctuary on earth”.

The Irish Connection
Why so many Irish saints feature in the Glastonbury calendars has not been answered by modern scholarship. The Irish were certainly influential in the south west of England during the early 7th century as attested by St Adhelm's letter to Heafrith berating him for yielding to Irish learning. Heafrith has been identified as Ecgfrith who later became abbot of Glastonbury.

In the entry for the year 891 the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle refers to an Irish presence in England as the result of the travels of Irish pilgrims; “Three Gaels came to King Alfred in a boat without any oars from Ireland, which they had left secretly, because they wished for the love of God to be in foreign lands, they cared not where.”

By the 10th century Glastonbury was the centre of a cult of St Patrick and destination for Irish peregrini. As a young boy, Dunstan, perhaps the Abbey's most famous abbot, studied under the Irish monks who were then at Glastonbury. The Life of St Dunstan, written c.1,000 by an author identified simply as 'B' makes particular mention of an Irish community at Glastonbury:

“Irish peregrini, as well as other flocks of the faithful, sought this aforementioned place called Glastonbury with great veneration, especially because of the renown younger Patrick who is said to lie buried in that church.5

Osbern of Canterbury's 11th century Vita S. Dunstani (Life of Dunstan) also makes mention of the  Irish peregrini “who embraced a life of voluntary exile in England, chose Glastonbury for their habitation.6

Then of course there is the tradition that Brigid followed Patrick to Glastonbury. Brigid holds a special association with Glastonbury and is depicted on Saint Michael's tower on the Tor milking a cow. Brigid also appears on the north door of the Lady Chapel in the Abbey ruins in a carved figure and has traditional connections with the Somerset town. According to Giraldus Cambrensis and John of Glastonbury, She visited Patrick at Glastonbury during the 5th century. William of Malmesbury claimed that Brigid stayed at Beckery on the western side of Glastonbury where she founded a small chapel. Near the foot of Wearyall Hill, made famous by Joseph of Arimathea and the legend of the Glastonbury Thorn, is a small hillock known as Bride's Mound. On this mound was a spring known as Saint Bride's Well. Relics, claimed to be Brigid's, including a spindle and a bell, were left at Bride's Mound where the adjacent fields are called “The Brides.

St Brigid on St Michael's Tower, Glastonbury Tor
It seems a community of holy women developed in this area, perhaps inspired by legends of St Brigid. John of Glastonbury states that on Wearyall Hill there was "a monastery of holy virgins" which is also the first reference to a women's community in the area. He then relates a story concerning the visit of King Arthur to Beckery where he had a vision of Mary. As a result of this vision, King Arthur became a Christian and changed his coat of arms from a red dragon to one showing Mary and Child. A similar episode appears in the High History of the Holy Grail.

One suggested meaning for the name “Beckery” is Beag Eire, or Bec-Eriu, "Little Ireland" as found in a charter of Henry II, “Bekeria quae Parva Hibernia dicitur” i.e. Beckery, known as Little Ireland.

It is fairly certain that there was a pre-Conquest Irish community at Glastonbury, but it remains a puzzle as to their attraction to the Somerset town; did they come to Glastonbury because of the tales of St Patrick or did their presence lead to the creation of the traditions?

Two Patricks?
Throughout the Middle Ages and even after William of Malmesbury, considered a reliable historian in his own days, endorsed some of Glastonbury's claims in his now lost Life of St Patrick, there continued to be persistent doubts surrounding the Glastonbury cult of St Patrick.

The Irish had their hagiographical tradition that there had been more than one Patrick many years before William's history was manipulated by the Glastonbury monks. In the 8th century an Irish hymn was composed which stated that “When Patrick departed this life, he went first to the other Patrick: together they ascended to Jesus the Son of Mary.”

The 10th century Clonmacnoise Chronicle records the death of Senex Patricius/Sen Phátric in 457 AD and calls him bishop of the church of Glastonbury. The early 9th century Martyrology of Tallaght lists two Patricks for 24th August; Patrick of Ros Dela and Patrick of  Armagh. Whether, this entry is meant to be the same Patrick, or two individuals, we have no way of knowing, yet it suggests that at this time there was at least a belief in two Bishops Patrick in Irish Provenance. However, some saw this as a misidentification of the apostle of Ireland with the other St Patrick (Sen Phátric) who's feast day fell on 24th August.  Who then was Sen Phátric of Ros Dela? Ros Dela has been identified with Rostalla in Ossory where the elder Bishop Patrick had a localised cult.

The elder Patrick, Sen Phátric, is seen as a probable a reference to Palladius, the Roman deacon sent to Ireland in 431 by Pope Celestine, “who suffered martyrdom at the hands of the Irish, as is the tradition of the holy men of old.” Chronological difficulties in the tradition of St Patrick may have prompted the theory of two Patricks; whether the knowledge of a Patrick of Ossory offered a solution, or whether Palladius was associated with Rostalla, is unknown.7

Two Patricks appear in the kalendar composed in 970, now found in the Leofric Missal. The distinction between the two is made by the grading of the festival day; the elder Patrick, Sen Phátric, commemorated on 24th August had a graded feast, i.e. second rank, whereas Patrick whose feast fell on the 17th March was ungraded. This may suggest that the earlier tradition at Glastonbury concerned Palladius, the elder Patrick (Sen Phátric) but it was later transformed when the monks realised the benefits of possessing the relics of the greater and more prestigious saint, THE Apostle of Ireland.

Yet it seems clear that if indeed Glastonbury held the genuine relics of a Saint Patrick it was those remains of the elder Patrick, Palladius. The Bosworth Psalter, dated to the final quarter of the 10th century, had a calendar added in 988-1012 with Canterbury and Glastonbury saints which records that “Patrick senior rests in glaston”.8 The early 11th century Old English tract 'Secgan be pam Godes sanctum pe on Engla lande ærost reston' (The Resting Places of English Saints) also lists the relics of St Patrick as lying at Glastonbury. However, this fails to answer who the historian Ranulph Higden referred to as a third Patrick, as noted above, an Irish bishop who died in 863 and was buried at Glastonbury?9

In 1942 the Irish scholar T. F. O'Rahilly published a lecture entitled “The Two Patricks”. At the time the work caused enormous controversy by proposing that there had actually been two "Patricks"; Palladius and Patrick. The lecture claimed that what we now know of St. Patrick was in fact in part a conscious effort to blend the two into one hagiographic personality but in fact only confirmed what the Irish had known since the 8th century at least.10

It has been commonly accepted for centuries that Saint Patrick lived in the first half of the 5th century and died in 461. However, following years of debate between scholars it is now generally agreed that Patrick, the Apostle of Ireland was most likely to have been active in the latter half of the 5th century, d.17th March 493. While Palladius, the elder Patrick (also named Patrick Senior/Senex Patricius/Sen Phátric) was active in the earlier part of the century and may, or may not, rest at Glastonbury.11

Copyright © 2015 Edward Watson

Notes & References
1. Harry Jelley, Saint Patrick's Somerset Birthplace: A Serious Study into the Birthplace of Saint Patrick in the Fifth Century, Cary Valley Historical Publications, 1998. See: Harry Jelley, The Birthplace of St. Patrick in Somerset - Vortigern Studies website.
2. James P Carley, Glastonbury Abbey:The Holy House at the Head of the Moors Adventurous, Gothic Image, 1996.
3. John of Glastonbury. The Chronicle of Glastonbury Abbey: An Edition, Translation, and Study of John of Glastonbury's Cronica sive Antiquitates Glastoniensis Ecclesie. Ed. James P. Carley. Tr. David Townsend. Rev. ed. Woodbridge: Boydell, 1985.
4. Clark H. Slover, William of Malmesbury's "Life of St. Patrick", Modern Philology, Vol. 24, No. 1, 1926, pp. 5-20.
5. Carley, Glastonbury Abbey, p.99.
6. A distinctive tradition in the Celtic church across Britain and Ireland was the peregrinatio pro Christo, or "exile for Christ".  The peregrini were in voluntary exile, spending their life in a foreign land far from home, a lifestyle which came to be termed the "white martyrdom". It is a martyrdom in which there is no violent death as opposed to the traditional "red martyrdom" when a Christian is killed for his faith.
7. D.N. Dumville, Patrick senior and junior, pp.59-64, in Dumville and Abrams (eds.), Saint Patrick, AD 493–1993, Studies in Celtic History 13, Boydell, 1993.
8. Matthew Blows, A Glastonbury Obit List in Archaeology and History of Glastonbury Abbey, eds. Lesley Abrams and James P. Carley, Boydell Press, 1991, p.259. See also pp.218-9.
9. Carley, Glastonbury Abbey, p.104.
10. T. F. O'Rahilly, “The Two Patricks”, Institute for Advanced Studies, Dublin, 1942.
11. The Two Patricks and which, if any, is buried at Glastonbury is a complex subject. Interested readers requiring a fuller account are directed to Lesley Abrams, St Patrick and Glastonbury Abbey: nihil ex nihilo fit?, pp.233–242 in: Dumville and Abrams (eds.), Saint Patrick, AD 493–1993,

Photographs © 2015 Edward Watson

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Wednesday, 12 August 2015

King Arthur and the Mystery of the Round Table

Mention the Round Table and most will think of the wooden relic hanging on the wall of the Great Hall of Winchester Castle. Yet, there are a multitude of claimants to the title of King Arthur's Round Table ranging from prehistoric earthworks to the 700 year old Winchester table top.

In Caxton's Preface to Thomas Malory's Le Morte d'Arthur he responded to those who doubted Arthur's existence by citing several Arthurian relics as evidence: " may see his sepulchre in the monastery of Glastonbury.... in the castle of Dover ye may see Gawaine’s skull, and Cradok’s mantle: at Winchester the Round Table"

Winchester Round Table
Malory had made Winchester his Camelot, no doubt influenced by the Round Table in the Great Hall there and named his work, appropriately, the last great Arthurian epic, as "The Whole Book of King Arthur and His Noble Knights of the Round Table". Sixteen years later Caxton published his edition in 1485 as "Morte d'Arthur" (The Death of Arthur), naming the work simply after the last book, the title by which most of us are familiar with Malory's work today.

The Winchester as Camelot concept influenced the Tudor monarchs of Malory's time who claimed descent from King Arthur. Henry VII named his firstborn son after the legendary King, with his wife Elizabeth of York compelled to give birth to his heir at Saint Swithun's Priory (now Winchester Cathedral Priory), i.e. Camelot, on 20th September 1486. Arthur was Henry and Elizabeth's eldest child. But the young Arthur never achieved his destiny as King Arthur II; six months after marrying the young Spanish princess Catherine of Aragon, Arthur died on 2nd April 1502, at Ludlow, Shropshire on the Welsh Marches, victim of an unknown ailment.

Caxton didn't seem to agree with Malory, preferring South Wales for Arthur's capital, perhaps following Geoffrey of Monmouth, of which he added, "And yet of record remain in witness of him in Wales, in the town of Camelot, the great stones and the marvellous works of iron lying under the ground, and royal vaults, which divers now living have seen."

It is thought Caxton was referring to the Roman remains at Caerwent or the legionary fortress at Caerleon in South Wales. And here we find another Round Table; the Roman Amphitheatre, which until excavation in 1926, was a circular earthwork enclosing a  grass-covered oval hollow. Recently, in 2010, another City of the Legion, Chester, claimed their amphitheatre was the real Round Table.

Information board at Arthur's Round Table, near Penrith, Cumbria
The Round Table has a remarkable longevity in connection with the Arthurian legend; prehistoric megalithic monuments are named as such. Arthur's Round Table near Penrith in Cumbria is a Neolithic henge, dating from about 2,000 BC. We are told that this ancient earthwork has nothing to do with Arthur - but there are many prehistoric monuments associated with the King.

Often the capstone of a Welsh cromlech is named as Arthur's Table, Bwrdd Arthur. Other ancient sites bearing the same name include an ancient hillfort situated at Llanddona, Anglesey. And then there is the enigmatic earth mound at Stirling, Stirlingshire, known as  King's Knot, or Arthur's Round Table.

Yet, for all these prehistoric monuments that have attracted Arthurian names or associations, the Round Table is entirely absent from the early Welsh poetry of Y Cynfeirdd and even Geoffrey of Monmouth.

It is not until 1155 when the first mention of Arthur's Round Table appears in the "Roman de Brut" of the Norman poet Robert Wace, in what is basically a rewrite of Geoffrey of Monmouth's Historia Regum Britanniae. The Chronicle, or Brut, tradition continued with Layamon, a cleric from Worcestershire in England, who produced the first English version of the Arthurian epic and said the Round Table could seat 1600 but was oddly portable. Was Layamon's Round Table a meeting place, or an assembly, that could move around the country?

Further development in Arthurian Romance sees Joseph’s Grail Table at Cardoel, said to have been a prototype for the Round Table, made by Embreis (Merlin). The Round Table passes to Gwenhwyfar's father which Arthur then inherits as her dowry.

The Grail Table
Robert De Boron and the Vulgate Cycle identify Arthur's father, Uther Pendragon, as being responsible for the actual construction of the table, after hearing Merlin's tales of St. Joseph of Arimathea and the Grail Table. The table of the Grail stories has twelve seats and one empty place to mark the betrayal of Judas, known as the 'Siege Perilous,' but in Merlin's table the seat was reserved for the most pure of knights who would sit there after attaining the Grail.

The Winchester Round Table has been dated to 1250–1280, during the reign of Edward I, an Arthurian enthusiast. The current paintwork was done by order of Henry VIII during the first quarter of the 16th century. As we have seen the table at Winchester was inspirational to Thomas Malory and believed to have been a genuine historical relic in his day.

In the next few posts we will explore some of these concepts of Arthur's Round Table in greater detail.

Copyright © 2015 Edward Watson

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Saturday, 1 August 2015

The Disappearance of Arthur, Duke of Brittany

The Princes in the Tower
After the discovery of Richard III's remains in 2012, the re-interment at Leicester Cathedral in March 2015 was attended by the Archbishop of Canterbury and senior members of other Christian denominations along with members of the Royal family. Calls for a full state funeral for the last of the Plantagenet kings, a dynasty who had ruled England since the accession of Henry II in 1154, culminating in re-burial at Westminster Abbey, were rejected.

A dark cloud persists over Richard's rise to power and his brief reign. Shakespeare portrayed him as the hunchback King, a villain who murdered his way to the throne. The Elizabethan playwright refers to the legend of the 'Princes in the Tower', the disappearance of his young nephews and rivals to his throne.

Richard, then Duke of Gloucester, was appointed to look after his nephews, 12-year-old Edward V and his 10-year-old brother Richard, the only sons of Edward IV of England.  As Lord Protector he was to prepare the young Edward for his coronation as king. However, Richard took the throne for himself and the boys disappeared without trace in the Tower of London in 1483.

The mysterious disappearance of the Princes in the Tower tends to overshadow a similar story of the disappearance of a young Plantagenet Prince two hundred and eighty years earlier. The disappearance of the 16 year old Prince Arthur, Duke of Brittany, in 1203 by his uncle King John who seized the throne.

Our story begins with the death of Richard I, “the Lionheart", (Coeur de Lion) in 1199.

A Family at War
Richard was the second eldest son of Henry II and Eleanor of Aquitaine. Richard had joined his family in a rebellion against their father, the King, in 1173. Eleanor is suspected of manipulating her sons, Henry, Richard, Geoffrey to revolt against their father; the three brothers made an oath at the French court that they would not make terms with Henry II. The youngest son, John, was only five years old at the time and remained in England. In 1183 the elder brother Henry died, leaving Richard heir to the throne. King Henry II wanted to give Aquitaine to his youngest son, John but Richard refused and, in 1189, joined forces with Philip II of France against his father, pushing him to a premature death in July of that year.

Prompted by Saladin's capture of Jerusalem in 1187, Richard 'took the cross' and finally departed for the Holy Land  in 1190. On his return from Crusade he spent the last five years of his reign, 1194-99, in intermittent warfare against his former ally Philip II. While besieging the castle of Châlus in central France he was hit in the neck by a crossbow bolt and the wound became infected. He died on 6 April 1199 and was buried at Fontevraud near his father. Richard's death gave his younger brother John opportunity to grasp power, but he would not find it easy to gain control of his father's empire.

John attempted to claim the Angevin treasure and the castle at Chinon to install his power. But, in the local custom, the son of an older brother was preferred as claimant to the throne. Arthur, son of Geoffrey of Brittany, was recognised as the heir thus depriving John of the Angevins' ancestral land.

Prince Arthur was the son of Constance of Brittany and Geoffrey Plantagenet, Duke of Brittany, the brother of Kings Richard and John, and third son of Henry II, younger than Richard but older than John. In August 1186 Geoffrey died in a jousting accident leaving his wife Constance with two young daughters and pregnant with a third child. In the following March Constance gave birth to a son, Arthur. One of Arthur’s sisters, Maud, died in early childhood while his other sister, Eleanor, was known as the Fair Maid of Brittany.

When King Richard the Lionheart left for the Crusades in 1190 he designated the young Arthur as heir to the throne of England and the English held French territories should Richard not return. In 1196 Richard again named Arthur as his heir. However, on his deathbed in 1199, Richard is claimed to have changed his mind and declared his younger brother John as his heir, apparently fearful that Arthur, at just 12 years old, was too young to become king.

John's rule was limited to Normandy and England; he was made Duke in April 1199 in Rouen, Normandy, and later crowned as King of England in May at Westminster Abbey. He left his mother, Eleanor, controlling Aquitaine. Consequently, support for the two heirs to the Angevin throne was divided with the majority of the English and Norman nobility supporting John’s claim, while the French supported Arthur’s; it wasn't long before war broke out between John and Arthur.

John went to Normandy to negotiate a truce with Philip II. William des Roches, a strong supporter of the king and protector of Arthur, switched allegiance and handed over Arthur to John. Yet, Arthur managed to escape and join Philip II's court. At this time many French nobles decided to join the crusade in 1199 and deserted John's court. John's dominant position was short-lived and he had no option but to accept the Treaty of Le Goulet in 1200 in which Philip II was confirmed over the lands he had taken in Normandy joined by further concessions in Auvergne and Berry. John was recognised at the head of Anjou.

Arthur with his Lusignan allies attacked Poitou, while Philip II attacked Normandy and captured many castles on the frontier. John was in Le Mans at this time and moved south. However, John's fortune was to change in 1202. On 1st August that year John's forces took Arthur by surprise, capturing him and along with Hugh X of Lusignan and 200 French knights. Arthur was imprisoned in the Chateau de Falaise in Normandy, the birthplace of William the Conqueror, Duke of Normandy.

Chateau de Falaise (Wikimedia commons)
The Mystery of Arthur's Disappearance
At Chateau de Falaise Arthur was guarded by Hubert de Burgh. According to the chronicle of Ralph of Coggeshall, John issued orders for Arthur's jailers to blind and castrate him but Hubert refused to let the young prince be mutilated.

The following year, Arthur was transferred to Rouen Castle and subsequently vanished in April 1203. Arthur's disappearance gave rise to various stories; one was that Arthur's jailers feared to harm him, and so he was murdered directly by King John and his body dumped in the Seine. The Margam Annals provide the following account of Arthur's death:

"After King John had captured Arthur and kept him alive in prison for some time, at length, in the castle of Rouen, after dinner on the Thursday before Easter, when he was drunk and possessed by the devil ['ebrius et daemonio plenus'], he slew him with his own hand, and tying a heavy stone to the body cast it into the Seine. It was discovered by a fisherman in his net, and being dragged to the bank and recognized, was taken for secret burial, in fear of the tyrant, to the priory of Bec called Notre Dame de Pres."

Following Arthur's disappearance William de Braose rose in John's favour and was awarded new lands and titles in the Welsh Marches; de Braose was obviously suspected of complicity in Arthur's disappearance. Many years later de Braose fell out of favour and came into conflict with King John, his wife Maud directly accused John of murdering Arthur. Subsequently, Maud and her eldest son were imprisoned in Corfe Castle in Dorset and allegedly starved to death. William de Braose fled to France where he is claimed to have published a statement on what happened to Arthur but no copy has survived.

Arthur's sister Eleanor, the Fair Maid of Brittany, was imprisoned by John in 1202 and kept under house-arrest until her death in 1241. Her imprisonment has been referred to as the ‘most unjustifiable act of King John’ after she spent some thirty years or so in confinement in various Castles in England.

End of an Empire
King John's complicity in Arthur's death is seen as the major single cause of the dismembership of the Angevin Empire, originally established by Henry II of England, Count of Anjou and Duke of Normandy, during the late 12th and early 13th centuries. The lands of the House of Plantagenet extended over roughly half of medieval France, all of England, and parts of Ireland and Wales, an area stretching from the Pyrenees to Ireland.

King John was defeated in the Anglo-French War (1202–14) by Philip II of France which left the empire split in two, with John losing many French provinces, including Normandy and Anjou. By the time King John and Philip II finally agreed to a truce in 1206, the "Angevin Empire" had been reduced to only Gascony, Ireland, and England.

Curiously, following the disappearance of Arthur Duke of Brittany and the later death of Arthur Prince of Wales, the eldest son of Henry VII and elder brother of Henry VIII, in 1502 of a mystery illness, no one of that name has ever survived to become king; "King Arthur" uniquely refers to the one and only legendary Dark Age leader of battles who rallied the Britons during the onslaught of the Anglo-Saxon invaders.

Copyright © 2015 Edward Watson

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Sunday, 26 July 2015

King Arthur's Crown

Before embarking on his final campaign against the English  in 1282 Llywelyn ap Gruffudd, Prince of Wales and Lord of Aberffraw, deposited his crown and other relics at Cymer Abbey for safekeeping. When Llywelyn was killed later that year the English King Edward I made the Welsh “surrender certain particularly precious relics as tokens of submission, including a piece of the true cross and the legendary crown of Arthur.”

The Last Prince of Wales
Llywelyn ap Gruffudd (c. 1223 – 11 December 1282), also known as Llywelyn the Last, was King of Wales from 1258, until his death in 1282. He was the son of Gruffudd ap Llywelyn Fawr and grandson of Llywelyn the Great, the last sovereign prince and king of Wales before its conquest by Edward I of England.

Llywelyn found Edward a formidable opponent. At over six feet tall Edward, (17 June 1239 – 7 July 1307), was known as “Longshanks” and later in his reign as “the Hammer of the Scots”. He raised the greatest armies of the English Middle Ages, and summoned the largest parliaments; notoriously, he expelled all the Jews from his kingdom. The longest-lived of all England's medieval kings, he fathered no fewer than fifteen children with his first wife, Eleanor of Castile. After her death in 1290 he erected the Eleanor Crosses at locations he stopped over while taking her body to London.

Earlier, the Prince Edward led the forces of his father, King Henry III in the main battles of 13th century Second Barons' War defeating and killing Simon de Montfort in a massacre at the Battle of Evesham. He travelled across Europe to the Holy Land on crusade, taking the cross in 1268, and left for the Holy Land in July of 1270. In may of 1271, Edward helped relieve the city of Acre from siege.

Harlech Castle
During his Welsh campaigns Edward I built a formidable 'Iron Ring' of castles, a days march apart, encircling the country. From the first campaign the English king erected the castles of Flint, Rhuddlan, Builth Wells and Aberystwth. Following Llywelyn's second uprising in 1282 Edward began construction of an Iron Ring of castles in North Wales at Conwy, Harlech, Beaumaris and Caernarfon. These colossal fortresses were painted white and represent the most ambitious construction project in medieval Europe, designed to prevent the recurrence of any further Welsh uprisings, Edward is said to have spent more than 10 times his annual income on building castles.

According to the Flores Historiarum during the construction of the castle the body of the Roman emperor Magnus Maximus was discovered at Caernarfon. On the king's orders it was exhumed then reburied  in the local church, seemingly a repeat performance of the disinterment of Arthur five years earlier in 1278. Maximus was said to be the father of Constantine, who, according to Geoffrey of Monmouth, was the grandfather of Arthur.

Edward's sense of England's destiny seemed to be influenced by the tales of the legendary King Arthur, and his grandson Edward III further developed the idea of the Round Table at Winchester.

The First Welsh Campaign
After agreeing to the the division of Gwynedd in the terms of the Treaty of Woodstock in 1247 Llywelyn was restricted to the lands west of the River Conwy (Uwch Conwy) while east of the river (Is Conwy) as far as Chester, known as "Yr Perfeddwlad" (the middle land), was under English control of King Henry which he gave to his son Edward.

Edward's leadership qualities were soon tested when Llewelyn ap Gruffydd declared himself ruler of North Wales and in 1256 rebelled against English control of his homeland. Edward and his father had put down the rebellion by 1257.

Not surprisingly the population of Gwynedd Is Conwy resented English rule. Prince Edward, now Earl of Chester, visited the area in 1256 but failed to deal with the complaints of the Welsh. Later that year, in November,  Llewelyn, with his brother Dafydd, crossed the Conwy. By early December, Llywelyn controlled all of Gwynedd Is Conwy up to the gates of Chester. In retaliation an English army led by Stephen Bauzan invaded but was decisively defeated by the Welsh at the Battle of Cadfan in June the following year.

By early 1258 Llywelyn was using the title 'Prince of Wales' which the English refused to recognise. Llywelyn now embarked on a campaign of recovery of Welsh lands but in 1263 his brother Dafydd changed allegiance and went over to King Henry. In 1265, Llywelyn captured Hawarden Castle in Flintshire and routed the combined armies of Hamo Lestrange and Maurice fitz Gerald in north Wales. The following year Llywelyn moved on to Brycheiniog where he routed Roger Mortimer's army.

In a position of strength Llywelyn opened negotiations with King Henry and was recognised as Prince of Wales in the Treaty of Montgomery of 1267 which marked the high point of his power. Ten years after his recognition as the Prince of Wales by Henry III, Llywelyn was to suffer a humiliating defeat at the hands of the new king, Edward I. From the outset, Llywelyn seemed almost to go out of his way to court Edward's anger not least by by continuing to ally himself with the family of Simon de Montfort.

King Henry died in 1272 and Edward became King. In 1276 King Edward I declared Llywelyn a rebel and planned to retake Gwynedd Is Conwy. The following year he assembled an enormous army claimed to be over 15,000 men to march against Llywelyn. Edward twice came to Chester to summon Llywelyn to make peace, but each time was refused, on the grounds that the Prince of Wales "feared for his safety". Subsequently, Edward laid siege to Rhuddlan Castle, where Llywelyn was starved into submission.

Rhuddlan Castle
Subdued, but not beaten, Llywelyn began his own program of re-fortification by strengthening his grandfather's castles at Criccieth, Ewloe, and Dolwyddelan. In 1273 he started construction of a new castle at Dolforwyn, high above the Severn valley, posing a challenge to the royal frontier post at Montgomery. Llywelyn's refusal to abandon this project was just one incident in a catalogue of disagreements with the new king.

Edward's patience ran out and in 1276 he decided to settle accounts with the defiant Welsh Prince. Edward himself took to the field at Chester in July 1277, and by August he had some 15,600 troops in his pay. Faced with these odds, Llywelyn had no option but to sue for peace. The ensuing Treaty of Aberconwy represented a comprehensive humiliation for the Prince of Wales; stripped of his overlordship he had won ten years earlier, Gwynedd was again reduced to its traditional heartland to the west of the River Conwy.

From declaration of war on 12 November 1276 to the proclamation of peace on 9 November 1277 it had taken Edward just a short year to bring Llywelyn ap Gruffudd, grandson of Llywelyn the Great, to submission. But if Edward thought the Prince of Wales was beaten he was to be greatly mistaken.

Edward Visits Arthur's Tomb
Within a few months of humbling Llywelyn, at Easter in 1278 Edward took his court to Glastonbury Abbey to visit the tomb of King Arthur. Today, Arthur's existence is considered doubtful at best, but in Edward's time he was considered a historical personage. It was of course Edward's great-grandfather Henry II who had suggested the monks dig for Arthur's grave  at Glastonbury.

Two days after Easter the king ordered the tomb to be opened. At twilight Edward had the remains removed to the Abbey's treasury while a grander tomb was constructed; according to Leland who visited the Abbey in the early 16th century, it was a black marble sarcophagus with a lion at each end and an effigy of Arthur at its foot.

The following morning Edward personally wrapped Arthur's bones in silk, while Eleanor of Castile similarly prepared Guinevere's remains for reburial. Finally Edward and Eleanor affixed their seals as if to authenticate the contents. The skulls of Arthur and Guinevere were not re-interred but remained on permanent display for popular devotion.

The timing of Edward's visit to Glastonbury immediately following the submission of  Llewellyn was significant. During his Welsh campaign Edward had repeatedly heard claims of the return of King Arthur to lead the Welsh to victory. The visit to Glastonbury was Edward's statement for denying Arthur's survival and crushing any remaining Welsh hopes of a revival.

Edward's Second Welsh Campaign
Regardless, without Arthur's return the Welsh revival started a few years later when the war flared up again. On 21 March 1282, Llywelyn's brother, Dafydd ap Gruffyd, attacked Hawarden Castle and sparked off the war of 1282-83. Dafydd, who had allied with Edward, suddenly abandoned his alliance launching this attack on the English, forcing Llewellyn to join him. Initially, the Welsh achieved great success, besieging Flint and Rhuddlan and reaching as far as Chester in the north and the Bristol Channel in the south.

However, by the end of the year Llywelyn was dead, having been killed on 11 December in a chance ambush at Cilmeri at The Battle of Irfon Bridge (Orewin Bridge) near Builth Wells. A memorial stone now marks the spot. Llywelyn's body was interred at Abbey Cwmhir while his head was hacked off and sent to Edward at Rhuddlan before being taken to the Tower of London.

The defeat effectively ended the independence of Wales; Edward had conquered Wales and extinguished its native rulers. The Welsh crown was lost.

Coron Arthur
Following his defeat of the Welsh Prince Edward had been presented with a coronet that had belonged to Llywelyn (Talaith Llywelyn), which was said to be “Arthur's Crown” (Coron Arthur).

Llywelyn had deposited this crown and other precious items, such as the Cross of Neith, with the monks at Cymer Abbey for safekeeping at the start of his final campaign in 1282. As we have seen he was killed later that year. Following Llywelyn's death his brother, Dafydd, claimed the title of Tywysog Cymru, or Prince of Wales, but his reign was extremely brief and he was killed not long after his brother without being able to reclaim the precious items from Cymer Abbey.

At Conwy a group of Welshmen are said to have presented King Edward with 'part of the most holy wood of the cross which is called by the Welsh "Croysseneyht" which Llywelyn son of Griffin, late Prince of Wales, and his ancestors, princes of Wales, owned it'.

The Cross of Neith was later taken regularly by Edward on his travels and spent a considerable sum having its pedestal adorned with gems set in gold in 1293-4. Edward also had a chalice made from Llywelyn's treasure, which he ordered be given to the Vale Royal Abbey at Whitegate in Cheshire,  a religious house he founded in 1270. It has been suggested that the Dolgellau chalice, found in 1890 on the mountainside of Cwn Mynach, near Dolgellau, is the same chalice.

Cymer Abbey
Cymer Abbey is today a ruined Cistercian abbey near the village of Llanelltyd, just north of Dolgellau, Gwynedd, in north-west Wales. The Abbey was used as a base by Llywelyn's troops in 1275 and 1279. In 1283 Edward I occupied the Abbey and a year later gave the Abbey compensation of £80 for damage caused in the recent wars.

When Llywelyn's coronet came into the possession of the English they had it re-gilded and sent to London. Soon after, Edward's oldest son, Alfonso, presented it at the shrine of Edward the Confessor in Westminster Abbey.

Llywelyn's Coronet, or “Arthur's Crown”, was kept at Westminster along with the English Crown Jewels, until 1303 when they were all re-housed in the Tower of London after they were all temporarily stolen. It is widely thought that Llywelyn's Coronet was destroyed alongside most of the original English crown jewels in 1649 by order of Oliver Cromwell during the English civil war; however, an inventory taken by the new republican administration prior to the destruction of the crown jewels makes no mention of this coronet and there is no record of it in the lists of relics at Westminster made in 1467, 1479 or 1520.

Just as Arthur’s bones at Glastonbury were used by Edward I as evidence of his physical death thus countering the belief that he would one day return to lead the Welsh to victory, the mysterious “Crown of Arthur” can be seen as a symbolic representation of Welsh sovereignty now in the hands of the English. Edward I had removed from Wales the all the articles of Llywelyn's dynasty and symbolically enforced his authority over Wales by reburying Arthur and taking “his crown”.

Yet, as with all of Arthur's relics, the bones at Glastonbury disappeared with the Dissolution, Excalibur was given to Tancred of Sicily by Richard I the Lionheart, Arthur's Crown mysteriously disappeared and is never heard of again.

Was this really King Arthur's Crown? Tellingly, there appears to be a complete lack of an earlier Welsh history for the possession of Arthur's Crown.

Copyright © 2015 Edward Watson

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Wednesday, 15 July 2015

Tales from the Tin Mines

Archaeological evidence indicates that the mineral resources of Cornwall and West Devon have been exploited for over 3,500 years. The Romans extracted the ore from tin streams to supply the Empire across northern Europe. Extraction continued in early and later medieval times reaching its peak in the 18th and early 19th centuries, when, as a result of the rapid growth of pioneering copper and tin mining, the landscape of Cornwall and West Devon was dramatically transformed. Its deep underground mines supplied two-thirds of the world’s copper. The substantial mining remains seen today in the south west of England make this is a unique landscape. The Cornwall and West Devon Mining Landscape was given World Heritage Site status by the UNESCO World Heritage Committee in July 2006. Legends from the mines have become indelibly written into the lore of the land which bears testimony to the past as much as the engine houses that survive across the south western peninsula of England.

Inhabitants of the Mines
St Just is the most westerly town in mainland Britain and the nearest to Land's End, and although the identity of the Saint has long been forgotten, the legacy of this mining centre of the Penwith peninsula lives on with disused engine houses littering the coastline of Cape Cornwall. Miner's were superstitious men and many strange beliefs grew around the copper and tin mines of Cornwall.

Cornwall's deepest mine is 1,000 metres deep and some run for great distances under the sea bed, some levels so close that miners claimed to be able to hear the rumbling of boulders being moved by the tides above their heads. Copper and tin have been extracted from Cornwall since the Bronze Age, some 4,000 years ago and it would seem that since prehistoric times the act of removing this material was considered a ritual act. Tales of the supernatural arose around mines and miners as people who were revered in the act of entering the earth, the abode of the gods, and retrieving the ore of these precious metals to manufacture high quality weapons, cauldrons and ornamental metalwork, over many, many hours and days to be later cast into wetlands and rivers as votive offerings to underworld deities.
The chimneys of Levant Mine from Pendeen Watch.
(Sheila Russell - Wikimedia Commons)
Most, if not all, underground mine workings possess tales of supernatural entities. Most mines are said to be haunted by the spirits of the victims of the many accidents that were commonplace when mining was a crude, labour intensive activity. The Cornish mines are no exception, acquiring tales of hauntings right up to recent times. At Wheal Vor, near Breage, north west of Helston, a forewarning of accidents would occur in the appearance of a white hare. This white hare normally appeared above ground in one of the engine houses but the miners never managed to catch it. Small black dogs were also said to haunt the place. Following the death of a man and boy who were sinking a shaft when a charge of explosive blew up prematurely. There bodies were so badly mutilated that they were no longer recognisable and were hastily shovelled into the furnace of the engine. Since then the small black dogs started to appear.

The sprites of Cornish mines, particularly in the Land's End peninsula, are known as the 'Knockers'. Miners treated the Knockers with respect and it was believed that anyone who was disrespectful to them would suffer bad luck. When a mine closed it is believed that the Knockers lived on in the abandoned mine. The activities of Knockers is recorded at Ballowall and Balleswidden mines near St Just, and the Rosewall and Ransom mines at St Ives. Generally the Knockers were benevolent and their tapping guided human miners toward productive lodes provided they received a portion of the miners lunch, usually the “hoggan” from his pasty, or “fuggan”, a piece of his cake. Some believed they were the spirits of Jewish miners, introduced into the Cornish mines since the time of the crucifixion, as they were never heard working on the Jewish sabbath. Others claimed they were not the spirits of Jewish miners but of those who had crucified Christ who could be heard gently singing in the mines on Christmas Day, Easter Day, All Saint's Day and the Jewish Sabbath.

According to an account by Wiliam Bottrell in A Tinner's Fireside Stories, the faery miners who worked in Ballowall mine were; “miserable, little, old, withered, dried up creatures; the tallest of them no more than three foot six or thereaway, with shanks like drumsticks, and their arms as long, or longer, than their legs. They had big, ugly heads, with grey or red locks, squinting eyes, hook noses and mouths from ear to ear. The one older and uglier than the rest seemed to take the lead in making wry faces and all sorts of mocking tricks. When he put his thumb to his nose and squinted at Tom, all those behind him did the same. Then all turned their backs, stooped down, lolled out their tongues and grinned at him from between their spindle shanks.”

The miner Tom Trevorrow had insulted the Knockers by refusing to leave the hoggan for them. The old miners had told Tom that the levels he was working on were more infested with “knackers” than any other part of the mine. These mischievous sprites were seen on many occasion running around the blacksmith's shop and going down the Buck Shaft that entered the current level he was working in. The shaft was so named because of a black buck-goat, or Bucca in the shape of one, was seen to go down the shaft but never found below. The term Bucca can mean hob goblin, or imp and corresponds to the Irish “puca”, English “puck” or Welsh “pwca”.

The Tinners' Way, known as the Old St Ives Road, is thought to have been an ancient trackway
traversing some of West Penwith's loneliest and wildest uplands. Thought to start at the Neolithic axe factory at Kenidjack castle cliff, running to the trading port of St Ives and the Hayle estuary, tin and copper ore were no doubt transported along this track which passes many ancient Cornish sites.

Carn Kenidjack, The Hooting Cairn
By St. Just, not far from Cape Cornwall and the sea, is a flat, sinister tract of land between Chun Castle and Carn Kenidjack. Known as The Gump (Cornish for 'moor', we are told), a place said to be haunted by witches and demons, a place where the piskies used to hold their merrymakings andnlead mortals astray. It is here that An' Pee Tregger encountered the pisky on her way home to Pendeen from Penzance market on Hallan Eve, the nearest Sunday to Halloween.
Carn Kenidjack from JT Blight

A tale of The Gump tells of a strange light seen on the rocks of Carn Kenidjack by two miners on their way home across the moor from the now abandoned Morvah mines. As the sun was setting the two miners decided to take the shorter route past the Carn. Darkness had quickly fallen by the time they had reached the rocks. Lights flickered amongst the rocks and the miners could see large forms moving about the Carn and heard a demonic three-men's song ending with a piercing hoot. A hooded horseman on a black horse rode up behind them and told the miners he was going up to the Carn to watch the wrestling. Some strange force compelled them to follow the horseman.

They didn't know the horseman but recognised the manky black horse from their mine. On reaching the Carn they found themselves amongst giants with painted faces who formed themselves into a circle. Two of the giants stepped forward to wrestle when someone called out for a light. The horseman, now seated on the ground, pulled back his hood to reveal his eyes ablaze with light. The two miners realised it was the devil himself who had led them there. One of the wrestlers was hurt in a fall and lay motionless on the ground. The crowd hailed the victor while the two miners tended the loser. As he lay dying they said a prayer for his soul when suddenly the hill was plunged into total darkness. A strong wind blew around the petrified men, which then suddenly stopped and returned the Carn back to moonlight. The giants had all disappeared. The men could see a huge black cloud rolling out to sea, in its midst the eyes of the devil continued to shine brightly. The two men could not find their way off the hill until sunrise the next morning.

The Tregeseal Barrow is an oval mound of an unusual entrance grave type known as a Scillonian Chambered Tomb. The Scillonian group of entrance graves is so called because the greatest concentration of the tombs is found on the Isles of Scilly. Similar entrance graves, consisting of a narrow entrance leading into a rectangular burial chamber covered by a small round stone cairn, are also known in Brittany and the Channel Islands.

Overlooking the rugged granite cliffs to the south of Cape Cornwall, facing west toward the setting sun, is the prehistoric funerary cairn known as Ballowall Barrow.

Ballowall Barrow
Ballowall Barrow, or Carn Gluze or Gloose, is one of the largest and most complex of the prehistoric funerary monuments that cluster along the West Penwith coastline. Situated one mile west of St Just it is thought the barrow was constructed by local communities to provide a striking tomb for the dead with a spectacular sea-cliff vista.

Ballowall Common has been heavily exploited by miners for the many lodes of tin which underlie this area, and the monument was long been concealed and thus protected beneath mine waste. The large, multi-phased monument is unique. No other monument of this type has so far been identified in Cornwall although during the 19th century the Cornish antiquarian William Copeland (WC) Borlase mentioned the excavation of another cairn nearby which showed some similarities in construction. Unfortunately no trace of this second cairn now survives.

It is probable that a conventional Neolithic Scillonian Chambered Tomb was the first structure here, followed in the middle-Bronze Age by a central cairn and cists. Finally, a collar was incorporated into the original mound and chamber of the entrance grave. The top of the cairn is now missing but persists to a height of almost 10ft. The barrow was lost after being used throughout the Neolithic and Middle Bronze Age. The 67 ft diameter cairn lie hidden for generations under the spoil from local tin mining activity.
Ballowall Barrow overlooking The Land's End  (pic: author)
The excavations by WC Borlase in 1878-79 uncovered middle Bronze Age urns containing cremated bones in the cists. Borlase, a native of Penzance and great, great, grandson of the naturalist and antiquary Reverend William Borlase (1695-1772), produced his Naenia Cornubiae in 1872 from Blight's and Dr Borlase's notes, a valuable record of Cornish megalithic monuments.Yet,  unfortunately, by today’s standards, his excavation record of Ballowall Barrow is inadequate and unreliable; there are many discrepancies in the accounts of the work, and many of the finds are now lost making interpretation of the site difficult.

Local tales suggest that the mound was exposed and recognisable as such perhaps not long before Borlase’s investigation. Borlase is said to have been drawn to the site by tales from miners returning from work at night who had reported seeing strange lights burning on the neolithic Ballowall Barrow on the cliff top. These mysterious lights were interpreted as dancing faeries.

St. Helen’s Oratory
Among all these old mining works and tales of the supernatural is St Helen's Oratory, the remains of 6th century chapel at Cape Cornwall near the tip of West Penwith, in a field known as Parc-an-Chapel (the Field of the Chapel). The chapel can be seen from Kenidjack Head to the north and Carn Gloose to the south.

St Helen's Oratory, Cape Cornwall (pic: author)
Cape Cornwall was long considered to to be the “true Land's End” (Pen Kernow) until accurate mapping proved otherwise. However, it is without doubt from here that the best view of Land's End is be had without having to fight your way through the crowds.

The existing stone structure is a Scheduled Ancient Monument on land recently acquired by the National Trust. Archaeological recording during conservation works in 2001 identified as a derelict agriculture building standing on or near the site of a Medieval chapel or oratory. Conservation works used existing rubble to rebuild the structure to the form we see today.

A now lost Chi-Rho marked stone found on Cape Cornwall near this location suggests a Christian site may have been in existence here from the 5th century, but it is uncertain when the first chapel was established on the site. The inscribed stone was reportedly thrown down the vicarage well in St Just, presumably where it remains. A Latin cross of 4th century type was ploughed up from the abandoned Cape Cornwall mine leat and subsequently erected on the gable of the present building.

The chapel was first described by Dr William Borlase in the mid-18th century, was 45 feet long and 12 across, with a window toward the altar. The dimensions and orientation of the present construction are quite different from those given by Borlase which may be the result of several rebuilds since the 18th century.

Borlase thought that the Cape may have originally been called "the promontorie of Helenus" named after Helenus, son of Priamus, arrived here with Brute was buried here but the sea has washed away his sepulchre. Borlase seems to have erroneously based his reasoning on classical cultures of the east Mediterranean as was topical at the time. The name Helen may derive a missionary who founded the site. The island of St Helen's (Enys Elidius) in Scilly also has an early Christian chapel named for St Elidius.

Copyright © 2015 Edward Watson

J T Blight, Week at the Land's End, 1861. (Reprint 1989).
William Bottrell,Traditions and Hearthside Stories of West Cornwall, Vol. 2, 1873.
William Copeland Borlase, Naenia Cornubiae, 1872. (Reprint, 2010).
CW Dymond, Cornwall's Ancient Stones: a Magalithic Enquiry, Oakmagic, 1999.
Robert Hunt, Popular Romances of the West of England, 1903. (Reprint 2012).
John Michell, The Old Stones of Land's End, Garnstone Press, 1974.
Craig Weatherhill & Paul Devereux, Myths & Legends of Cornwall, Sigma,1994.
Craig Weatherhill, Belerion, Alison Hodge, 1981.
Craig Weatherhill, Cornovia, Alison Hodge, 1985.
St Helen's Oratory: Archaeological Recording during repair works, LUDU, Cornwall Council and the National Trust, 2011.

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Friday, 10 July 2015

The Glastonbury Pilgrimages

A Roman Catholic pilgrimage was held in 1895 after the beatification of Abbot Richard Whiting, John Thorne, and Roger James, the three Glastonbury martyrs executed in 1539.

In 1897 the archbishop of Canterbury led an international pilgrimage to Glastonbury Abbey in commemoration of the 1300th anniversary of the arrival of St. Augustine in England.

Excavations at the abbey site from 1907 until 1921 under the controversial Frederick Bligh Bond raised national awareness of the significance of the abbey and led indirectly to the formation of the Anglican West of England Pilgrimage Association, which almost every year since 1923 has organised a pilgrimage to the site.

This year the Anglican Glastonbury Pilgrimage takes place on Saturday 11th July 2015, with the Clifton Diocesan Annual Pilgrimage to Glastonbury due to take place on Sunday 12th July.

On Sunday a liturgy takes place in the Abbey grounds to commemorate the martyrdom of Blessed Richard Whiting, the last Abbot of Glastonbury, and his fellow martyrs, Blessed Roger James and Blessed John Thorne, followed by the start of the procession at 2.15pm. The procession exits the Abbey grounds through the Abbey House Gardens, it proceeds through the town centre via Chilkwell Street, the High Street and Magdalene Street, returning to the Abbey through the Magdalene Street Gates at approximately 3pm.

A Town Divided

“There was a brief hour during the Middle Ages when poetic imagination wove all Glastonbury's threads into a single cord. Its Abbey rose to an apogee of honour. Pilgrims called it a second Rome. It wove so mighty a spell that nothing would do at the Reformation but total ruin. And still, through all that history of mysterious warfare and mysterious truce, the landscape endures. The enchantments of mist and sunset transform it from one day to another, and its final secret remains elusive.” - Geoffrey Ashe, King Arthur's Avalon.

On taking up residence in the Somerset town of Glastonbury many find a division between the local Somerset folks who have lived there for generations, and the incomers of ‘the New Age community’.

After moving to Glastonbury author's such as Jon Cousins (The Glastonbury Documents) and dowser Sig Lonegren noted it was something more than just a divided community and has something to do with the dissolution of the Abbey. The ritual murder of the three Glastonbury martyrs on the Tor makes absolutely no sense in the context of the Dissolution of the Monasteries and forces the opinion that there must have been, what Glastonbury author Geoffrey Ashe calls 'Something Else', a secret that the Last Abbot of Glastonbury, Richard Whiting, took to the grave.

The dysfunction felt in today's Somerset town has its roots in this macabre ritual act in 1539 when the heart of the town and its spirit was broken.

Cousins has contacted Churches in Glastonbury and the Anglican and Catholic Bishops of this diocese to see if they would be willing to hold a healing service of remembrance in the Abbey on the day of the martyrdom. The local churches and all of the people of Glastonbury of all denominations were invited to participate in this ceremony to bring the separate parts of Abbot Whiting back together in an act of healing. But oddly not one of the Churches wanted to be involved with the event.

An Alternative Glastonbury Pilgrimage
Further research has revealed that the execution of the three Glastonbury martyrs actually took place on Friday, 14th November 1539.

In 2014 an event was organised by Jon Cousins for anyone wishing to pay their respects to Abbot Richard Whiting and his fellow Glastonbury martyrs John Thorne, and Roger James. After gathering at Frederick Bligh Bond 's War Memorial on Glastonbury High Street (outside St. John's Church) at 11 am, to observe a Silent Minute at 11.14 am, on Friday, 14th November. From there the procession walked to the summit of Glastonbury Tor where a further Silent Minute was observed.

Following the event Cousins posted the following on his Remember Richard Whiting Facebook page:

“Thank you everyone who came to Remember Richard Whiting, John Thorne, and Roger James today - holding a Silent Minute at Bligh Bond's War Memorial at 11.14 am.
A few of us proceeded to the summit of the Tor, where we observed the Silent Minute again. Also remembered today were the mysterious 'parties' mentioned in Lord Russell's letter to Thomas Cromwell on 16th November 1539 - who were killed on the same day as the Glastonbury Three – 'all condemned and four of them executed at a place called the Were' (possibly Weary-all Hill).”

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Sunday, 5 July 2015

Old Oswestry Hill Fort Under Threat

One of Britain's oldest border settlements in Shropshire, England, Oswestry is a place of ancient origin. From an early period the area around Oswestry has been the battleground of fierce border feuds between England and Wales.

The Battle of Maserfield is thought to have been fought near there in 642 (or 641) between the Anglo-Saxon kings Penda of Mercia and Oswald of Northumbria, although the site of the battlefield is still disputed by historians. The Northumbrians were soundly beaten by a combined Mercian-Welsh force with Oswald killed and dismembered; according to legend, one of his forearms was carried to an ash tree by a raven, and miracles were subsequently attributed to the tree, from which the name of the town developed (Oswald's Tree) and Oswald was considered a saint. A spring with healing properties, Oswald's Well, is said to have rose where the bird dropped the arm from the tree.

Border feuds continued through the ages. In the early 13th century King John launched his campaign from Oswestry to meet Llywelyn ap lorwerth in battle. Some four years later in 1215 King John burnt Oswestry to the ground in retaliation for John Fitzalan's betrayal. Twenty years later Llewellyn attacked Oswestry and razed it to the ground. In 1277 Edward I started the construction of the town walls in his capaigns against the Welsh. The town became a key location in the uprising of Owain Glyndwr when in 1400 his followers burnt Oswestry to the ground. Three years later Glyndwr used Oswestry as his base prior to the battle of Shrewsbury.

Oswestry has also been known as, or recorded in historical documents as: Album Monasterium; Blancminster; Blankmouster; Blancmustier; Croes Oswald; Oswaldestre; Meresberie. In The Itinerary of Archbishop Baldwin through Wales Gerald of Wales writes of the journey from "Chester to the White Monastery (Album Monasterium), and from thence towards Oswaldestre".

The location of Gerald's Album Monasterium, is uncertain as three churches in the county of Shropshire bore that appellation; the first at Whitchurch, the second at Oswestry, the third at Alberbury. The White Monastery was apparently on the southside of the town, near some ground near the called Monk's Acre. The ancient name of the church was Blanc-minster; it seems likely that the White monastery adjoined the White Church.

Yr Hên Ddinas
Oswestry's story begins with the 3,000-year-old settlement of Old Oswestry, Yr Hên Ddinas, (The Old Fort), one of the most spectacular and best preserved Iron Age hill forts in Britain, with evidence of construction and occupation between 800 BC and 43 AD. The Iron Age hillforts is the finest example from a string of running through eastern Wales and the Marches, its highly impressive defences of formidable multiple ramparts enclosing a site of over 40 acres.

Countryside surrounding Old Oswestry hill fort is not protected from development. 
Photograph: Jonathan CK Webb
The site covers 44 acres of which the defences occupy some 28 acres and 16 acres by the interior. The vast ramparts consist mainly of four ditch and bank systems, average in height 4.5 to 5.5m externally and 1.0 to 1.5m internally, providing the perimeter defences, increasing to seven ramparts along its western side, enclosing a rough pentagonal shaped area that may have contained a small settlement. The site has two entrances; one on the western side and one on the eastern side. The western entrance consists of a series of deep rectangular hollows on either side, a feature not found at any other hillfort in Britain. The complex ramparts may have been necessary as Old Oswestry sits on an unusually low hill for a typical Iron Age hillfort, yet there are stunning views from the ancient earthwork.

Situated 1 mile north of Oswestry, approached from an unclassified road off the A483, the hillfort is located between the Roman legionary fortresses of Viroconium (Wroxter) and Deva (Chester), it is likely that the hillfort remained in use at least until the Roman conquest, however, there is no evidence that the Romans ever attacked the site, perhaps an indication of peace with the local Celtic tribe, the Cornovii? Some hillforts were re-occupied after the Romans left Britain; indeed nearby Wroxeter seems to have undergone some re-fortifications in the Post-Roman period, yet it is not known whether the Old Oswestry hillfort was occupied again.

Although the Welsh name for Old Oswestry Hillfort, Yr Hên Ddinas, 'The Old Fort,' there is an alternative legendary name of Caer Ogyrfan, 'the City of Gogyrfan.' According to the Triads of the Island of Britain, Gogyrfan the Giant was the father of Gwenhwyfar, King Arthur's Queen.

In the 8th or 9th centuries AD the hillfort became sandwiched between two major Dark Age boundaries when it was incorporated into the enigmatic earthwork of Wat's Dyke with Offa's Dyke running parallel to the west. Wat's Dyke is said to be an early Mercian frontier earthwork extending for a distance of 38 miles from the estuary of the Dee at Basingwerk, Flintshire, to the Morda Brook at Maesbury Mill, Shropshire, with two sections adjacent to the Old Oswestry Hillfort.

New Threat to Old Hill Fort 
After surviving 3,000 years of turbulent history a new threat has appeared in the countryside surrounding Old Oswestry hill fort with Shropshire council intent on pushing through a housing development abutting the fringe of the hill fort, a scheduled ancient monument in the care of Historic England, citing government targets for new builds. Land immediately surrounding the 13-acre hill fort has no statutory protection. Threats to the rural settings of historic buildings and sites have multiplied as local authorities struggle to meet housing targets set by the government.

A spokesperson for Shropshire council told the Observer: “The sensitivity of the Old Oswestry Hill Fort and its setting have been recognised by Shropshire council throughout its local plan-making process, which started in 2010. However, Shropshire council does not accept that proposed development would result in substantial harm to the significance of the hill fort. National planning guidance therefore requires that any impact must therefore be weighed against the public benefits of the proposal.” The council stated that it is obliged to provide 27,500 new homes within the county between 2006 and 2026.

Despite opposition from English Heritage, Protect Rural England, Oswestry Civic Society, OPHAG (the local Oswestry Archaeological and Historic Group), local residents during public consultation and an online petition that has drawn more than 8,000 signatures objecting to the plans, Shropshire Council is forging ahead under strategic county planning Site Allocations and Management of Development (SAMDev) Plan with proposals for significant housing development within the
curtilage of this globally important Iron Age monument.

The main concern is the close proximity of the housing sites OSW002, OSW003 and OSW004 in the plan and the impact the development will have on the Hillfort and its setting. After tinkering with the figures since 2012, the revised numbers of dwellings for these sites are: OSW002 – land off Gobowen Road reduced from 80 to 36; OSW003 – Oldport Farm, Gobowen Road increased from 25 to 35; OSW004 (part) – land off Whittington Road reduced from 125 to 117 dwellings. Or, in other words, regardless of objections, Shropshire Council is steamrolling ahead with plans for the
development that will stretch up to the very edge of the Hillfort, destroying the view of the top and all around.

Senior archaeologists, such as Professor Barry Cunliffe of the University of Oxford, are concerned with these “ethically unacceptable” plans that they say will destroy one of the nation’s greatest Iron Age treasures. The archaeologists aim to highlight what they see as the grave threat to heritage sites across Britain posed by the liberalisation of planning guidelines and controls to encourage economic growth. It is suspected the government is using the battle over Old Oswestry Hill Fort as a “stalking horse” to test the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF), introduced in 2012 to speed up development schemes such as housing, roads and high-speed rail lines.

However,  campaigners argue that the decision to approve the housing scheme in the face of overwhelming opposition by Oswestry residents directly contradicts the spirit of the 2011 Localism Act. The act is intended to strengthen and enhance local, grassroots decision-making on matters such as planning.

Professor Cunliffe said, “The setting of the hill fort is the issue here. The objectors to the development have a very, very strong case. It [The proposed scheme] ruins the setting.”

Old Oswestry Hillfort was designated as a Scheduled Monument (number 27556) in 1997 and is now in the guardianship of Historic England (formerly English Heritage). A spokesman for Historic England said: “Old Oswestry Hill Fort is a very important site of national significance. Since 2007 Historic England, previously English Heritage, has consistently expressed its concern over proposed development sites near the hill fort and we have worked with the landowners and Shropshire council to find ways to reduce potential impact, including upon its setting.

Saffron Rainey, chairman of the Civic Society, said the group believed it was a ‘grave mistake’ to include the area in the SAMDev report. Rainey said, “the hillfort was part of Oswestry’s heritage and a valuable ancient monument comparable to Maiden Castle."

He added, “If you look at Maiden Castle in Dorset you wouldn't dream of building within half a mile of it.

Hill fort said to be where King Arthur’s Guinevere was born has lasted 3,000 years: now it’s under siege - The Guardian 27 June 2015

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