Monday, 12 October 2015

The Site of the Battle of Hatfield Chase

Bede records that Edwin met his end in “a great battle being fought in the plain that is called Haethfeld, Edwin was killed on the 12th of October, in the year of our Lord 633”.

Edwin, martyr-king of Northumbria
Edwin (Eadwine) was the first Christian king of Northumbria, son of Ælle the king of Deira, later venerated as a Saint after his death at the battle of Hatfield Chase (Haethfeld) at the hands of the pagan king Penda of Mercia and Cadwallon ap Cadfan, king of Gwynedd.

Following Ælle of Northumbria's death a Deiran noble named Æthelric took control of the kingdom. He may have been the father of Æthelfrith who later became king of Northumbria, a realm consisting of both Deira in the south, and Bernicia in the north of the kingdom. During Æthelfrith's reign Edwin was forced into exile, hunted by Æthelfrith. Around 616, Edwin was in East Anglia under the protection of king Raedwald. Following the death of Æthelfrith at the battle of the River Idle that same year, Edwin was installed as king of all Northumbria.

The Venerable Bede records in the Historia ecclesiastica gentis Anglorum (An Ecclesiastical History of the English People) that in the seventeenth year of Edwin's reign he was slain by Cadwallon, king of the Britons, supported by Penda of the Mercians, in a great battle fought in the plain that is called Heathfield, on the 12th of October, in the year 633 AD.

Edwin's son Osfrid was killed in the battle in which all of the army of the English was either slain or dispersed. Another of Edwin's sons, Eanfrid, “compelled by necessity”, went over to Penda. Bede implies that great slaughter of the Northumbrians ensued, with Cadwallon striving to remove the whole race of the English from Britain.

The kingdom of the Northumbrians fell into disarray and the subsequent collapse of the ecclesiastical community at York saw Bishop Paulinus flee by sea to Kent, taking with him Queen Ethelberga. [Bede, HE, II.20] In the aftermath of the battle Edwin's head was taken to York, and afterwards into the church of St. Peter the Apostle. Later, when Eanfled, widowed queen of Oswiu (d.670), had her husband buried at Whitby Abbey she then had her father king Edwin's remains moved there from the battlefield. His head was later taken to the chapel of St. Gregory at the new minster in York

The Anglo Saxon Chronicle follows Bede but differs in stating that the battle on Hatfield moor was fought on the fourteenth of October.

The Welsh accounts of the battle tell more-or-less the same story; the Historia Brittonum (History of the Britons) states that Edwin and his two sons, Osfrid and Eanfrid, fell at the battle at Meicen, with the kingdom of the Deiri lost to his family. Following Edwin's death Oswald, an exiled son of Æthelfrith, would return to claim the kingdom.

The Annales Cambriae (Welsh Annals) record Edwin's death in the year 630 at the battle of Meigen on the Kalends of January when he was was killed with both of his two sons and Cadwallon was the victor.  A Welsh poem, Gofara Braint, claims that Edwin's head was taken to Aberffraw, the palace of the Welsh kings on Mon.

The battle sites
Edwin, enemy of the Welsh 
Early Welsh poetry refers to 'Edwin' as symbolic of the English opponent in prolonged conflict against the North Wales king Cadwallon, ultimately ending in his defeat. A Triad included in The White Book of Rhydderch (Llyfr Gwyn Rhydderch c.1350) refers to Edwin, king of Lloegr, as the 'third Great Oppression of Mon', (The Isle of Anglessey).

Drawing on Welsh traditional sources for his History of the Kings of Britain (c.1136), Geoffrey of Monmouth tells us that following the battle of Chester, c.616, the Northumbrian king Æthelfrith banished his own wife and married another. She, being with child, went to live with Cadwan (Cadfan) in Gwynedd and had a son called Edwin who grew up with Cadwan's son Cadwalla (Cadwallon). Needless to say, after a period of exile in Brittany, eventually Cadwalla and Edwin fall out over who will wear the crown of Britain and the Welsh campaign against Edwin's English begins.

In addition to Geoffrey's account and reference to Edwin's exile in the Triads, we find a further tradition in the Life of Oswald, thought to be written by Reginald of Durham in 1165. This 'Life' is an account of Oswald the Northumbrian king who was also killed at Oswestry in 642, again at the hand of Penda. As with Geoffrey, Reginald's account tells of Edwin's residence in Gwynedd.

It is of course possible that the Triads and Reginald's account were influenced by Geoffrey's story of Edwin's Welsh exile in his History of the Kings of Britain and must be treated with some caution as the account is absent from both the Welsh and Irish Annals, but Æthelfrith's pursuit of Edwin and his heirs in exile is documented by Bede who asserts that Edwin had spent long periods in exile before he came to the throne of Northumbria. [Bede, HE, Book II.]

Edwin certainly appears to have spent sometime in the midland realm of Mercia as he married Cwenburh, daughter of king Cearl, and had two sons, Osfrid and Eanfrid, while in exile. An exile in North Wales could certainly have been a motive for Æthelfrith's attack on Chester, Edwin his target, in order to prevent him returning to claim the Deiran throne. Indeed, it is Æthelfrith's pursuit of Edwin, the Deiran heir, that ultimately brings about his own death; just a year after the Battle of Chester, the death of Æthelfrith is recorded when he is slain in battle on the east side of the River Idle after King Raedwald of East Anglia refused to handover Edwin, who was now in residence at Raedwald's court, to the Northumbrians. [Bede, HE, II.12] The site of this battle is typically identified as the place where the Roman route of Ermine Street running from Lincoln to Doncaster fords the River Idle at Bawtry, situated close to the modern borders of Yorkshire, Nottinghamshire and Lincolnshire, and the old boundaries of the kingdoms of Deira, Mercia and Lindsey.

Following the death of  Æthelfrith, Edwin was re-instated on Deiran throne, with Æthelfrith's seven sons going into exile, interrupting the domination of Northumbria by the Bernicians. Edwin became the most powerful king the country had yet seen; his overlordship stretching from the Scottish borders to southern England, while making war on the northern Welsh and taking possession of the Menavian islands, Man and Anglesey (Mon).

Following the baptism on 12 April 627 of Edwin and a large number of his court in the river at York by Paulinus, Edwin embraced Christianity and evidently received the approval of Bede. But to the Welsh he was “Edwin the Deceiver” and his bitterest enemy was his supposed foster-brother Cadwallon ap Cadfan who Edwin at one time had driven into hiding on the little island of Priestholm (Puffin Island) off Anglesey. However, Cadwallon was not beaten yet.

In 633, Cadwallon, united with the Mercian king Penda, marched on York. Edwin was caught off guard with the two armies meeting at Hatfield Chase on 12th October.

The Traditional Battle Site
As with many ancient battles the site remains uncertain, however, the favoured location for the battle of Hatfield Chase is just east of Doncaster where the old Roman road crossed the River Thorne where much of the area is now covered over by the construction of the M18 motorway.

The accepted view of historians is that Hatfield was a small kingdom centred on Hatfield Chase bordered by Mercia, Lindsey, Emet and Deira, in South Yorkshire. Saxon Haethfeld was both a settlement and a sub-province of low lying land between the Don and the Humber, essentially a no-man's land, according to Bede, between the Southern and Northern English, an area which the modern Hatfield Chase is just part of today, much of it still heath and bog.

Today Hatfield Chase is contained to the west by the M18 motorway and the Isle of Axholme to the east. The river's Ouse and the Idle mark the northern and southern boundaries respectively. The Chase was a royal hunting ground until drained by Charles I in the 17th century but still contains two large peat bogs known as Thorne and Hatfield Moors.

A local antiquarian, Reverend Abraham de la Prynne, recorded in the 17th century that the battle had taken place at The Lings near Hatfield where he claimed a burial mound situated at the meeting of Lings Lane and the A18:

“The next day, when that the army was marcht away, several of the country round about that fled to save themselves from the heat & fury of the enemy, came to view the slain, & found them to amount to above 10,000; among the rest they found the body of poor King Edwin all plaistered over with Dirt, Blood, & Gore: whose head they cut off and sent it to York to some of his Nobles there that buryd it with great sorrow in St Peter’s Church which he was then building. As for his body, & that of his son Osfrid and the rest of his nobles, they were cast in a great Hole all together, and a large hill of earth thrown over them, which hill remains to this day in Hadham field, near the Lings, called now Sley-burr Hill, that is the hill where the slayn were buried.”

Historians seems stuck on the idea since William Camden first identified the site of Haethfeld as Hatfield Chase near Doncaster in the 16th century. Camden had probably identified the site of the battle of the River Idle.

Yet, there are still many “Hatfield” (Haethfeld merely means 'heath field'), sites in existence across the country; in addition to Hatfield Chase near Doncaster there is also High Hatfield near Cuckney, Nottinghamshire.

The Alternative Battle Site
In 1951 excavations by work men carrying out under-pinning revealed some two hundred skeletons believed to be evidence of a medieval massacre found beneath St Mary's Church at Cuckney near Mansfield in Nottinghamshire. There has been no further excavation at the church since the discovery of the mass grave over sixty years ago.

Excavations at St Mary's Church, Edwinstowe, 1951.
The church was built within the confines of a castle during the unrest of the mid-12th century. It has been suggested that the building was erected around 1150 to consecrate the burials of the men who fell in fighting round the castle during Stephen's reign. The possibility that the skeletons date from this period cannot be dismissed without further investigation.

However, local legend claims that Edwin’s body was transported by some of his troops fleeing the battle, for a few miles to what became known as Edwinstowe where the king's body was originally hidden; 'stowe' meaning 'resting place'. The village of Edwinstowe is just 5 miles across Sherwood Forest from Cuckney. Edwin's head, according to the English account, was then taken and buried in the church of St Peter at York.

The Battle of Hatfield Investigation Society (BOHIS) has been awarded £15,600 Heritage Lottery
Fund (HLF) support to explore and share the history of Cuckney, Norton and Holbeck.

“In December 1950, the first skeletons - around 50 - were uncovered from the first mass grave at St Mary’s Church, in Cuckney, by subsidence contractors,” explains Paul Jameson, chairman of the BOHIS.

St Mary's Church, Edwinstowe
“The Reverend Ashworth Lound, of St Mary’s, personally counted some 200 skulls. And a present Cuckney villager, then a choirboy, remembers seeing 20 to 30 skulls on display in the church, most of which seemed to have pick type damage. He believes that this was not caused by contractors during the 1951 operations.”

During the 1951 excavations, no artefacts were found to help date the bodies. It is now hoped that funding from the Heritage Lottery grant will provide opportunity to obtain dating material.
BOHIS is currently liaising with Mercian Archaeology.

See: The Battle of Hatfield Investigation Society

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Monday, 21 September 2015

Once Upon a Time in the North.......

The Real King Arthur Discovered: A Dark Age General from Strathclyde 
Widely reported recently 1, 2, has been the revelation that the legendary British King Arthur has been identified as a historical figure, a general from 5th and early 6th century Strathclyde who fought all his battles in southern Scotland and Northumberland.3

This is not a new story; the same was widely publicised back in March this year, see for example King Arthur in Strathclyde.

So what's new? This isn't just another pseudo-historical account published by a keen amateur Arthurian so beloved by Guy Halsall (Worlds of Arthur: Facts and Fictions of the Dark Ages, OUP 2013) but a paper published by an academic, so it must be factual, right?

The paper presenting the argument for Arthur not as a King but as a Dark Age general based in Strathclyde details the research of Dr Andrew Breeze, a philologist and Celticist from the University of Navarre in Pamplona, Spain, whose previous works include the controversial claim that the Mabinogion was authored by Gwenllian, the daughter of Gruffudd ap Cynan, king of Gwynedd.

The evidence,” for the historical Arthur Breeze claims “is in a Latin chronicle called The History Of The Britons, written in the ninth century by a Welsh monk. It lists nine places where Arthur defeated his enemies, but nobody has been able to say exactly where they were.”

Breeze's paper, The Historical Arthur and sixth-century Scotland, is published in the University of Leeds journal Northern History, Volume 52, Issue 2, September 2015.

Breeze bases his argument on his positive identification of the Arthurian battle list in the 9th century Latin chronicle known as The History Of The Britons (Historia Brittonum), often referred to as 'Nennius' after the monk who claimed to make a pile of all he could find on the Britons, as detailed in the prologue in some versions of the text.

The Arthurian battle list, the so-called chapter 56 of the  Historia, lists twelve battles fought by Arthur in which he was victorious in all of them. The author does not claim Arthur was king of the Britons but the Dux Bellorum, the leader of battles, i.e. a generalissimo.

How Mordred was slain by Arthur - Arthur Rackham

The Arthurian battle list from the Historia:

Then Arthur, with the kings of Britain, fought against them in those days, but Arthur himself was the dux bellorum. 
The first battle was at the mouth of the river which is called Glein. 
The second, third, fourth, and fifth battles were above another river which is called Dubglas and is in the region of Linnuis. 
The sixth battle was above the river which is called Bassas. 
The seventh battle was in the forest of Celidon, that is Cat Coit Celidon. 
The eighth battle was at the fortress of Guinnion, in which Arthur carried the image of holy Mary, the everlasting virgin, on his shoulders [shield]; and the pagans were put to flight on that day. And through the power of our Lord Jesus Christ and through the power of the blessed Virgin Mary his mother there was great slaughter among them. 
The ninth battle was waged in the City of the Legion.
The tenth battle was waged on the shore of a river which is called Tribruit. 
The eleventh battle was fought on the mountain which is called Agned. 
The twelfth battle was on Mount Badon in which there fell in one day 960 men from one charge by Arthur; and no one struck them down except Arthur himself, and in all the wars he emerged as victor.4

The battles on the rivers Glein, Dubglas and Bassas are unknown outside the Historia. However, Breeze follows previous scholars in identifying the 'Glein' as the River Glen near Wooler in Northumberland, but the 'Dubglas' he cites as the River Douglas near Lanark. The sixth battle at 'Bassas' Breeze sees as a scribe’s miswriting of Tarras Water in Eskdale.

It is commonly agreed that the seventh battle in the forest of Celidon, Cat Coit Celidon, is the Caledonian forest in Scotland. The links with Merlin who fled into the forest after the Battle of Arfderydd, (The Battle of Armterid entry for AD 573 in the Welsh Annals) and its Arthurian associations requires no further comment here. Breeze places this battle in the Southern Uplands, near Beattock Summit.

The location of the eighth battle at the fortress of Guinnion is also unknown beyond the Arthurian battle list. 'Guinnion', according to Breeze, took place at Kirkgunzeon, between Dumfries and Kirkcudbright.

The battle fought at the City of the Legions is generally considered to be a misplacement of the Battle of Chester, c.616, in which the forces of Powys were slaughtered by the Northumbrians. The battle is a hundred years too late and wrongly ascribed to Arthur; no other battles at the city of the legions are known.

Breeze places the ‘city of the Legion’ at the east end of the Antonine Wall near Bo'ness and not at Chester or York as most others have. He sees this as yet another scribal error, for “The Rock of the Legion”, near Kinneil. Earlier, in March this year, Breeze identified Gildas' city of the legion, the place of the martyrdom of Aaron and Julius, as Caer-Lerion as Leicester (Ratae).

The tenth battle was fought on the shore of the river Tribruit (Tryfrwyd in Welsh) which may be the same battle found in an obscure poem from the Black Book of Carmarthen known as Pa gur yv y porthaur? (What man is the porter?) which contains the lines “Perforated shields from Tryfrwyd?” and “On the strands of Tryfrwyd” while Arthur fights dog-heads (Cynvyn) on Mynyd Eiddyn (Din-Eidyn). Here Arthur's retinue includes mythological figures such as Mabon, the son of Modron and Manawydan, the son of Llyr. Here we are clearly in the realm of fantasy. Breeze argues the site of this battle is actually Dreva in Upper Tweeddale.

The eleventh battle was fought at a hill called 'Agned'. Geoffrey of Monmouth identifies Mount Agned as Edinburgh and specifically Din-Eidyn as the Castle of Maidens. Perhaps Geoffrey knew of a tradition of an Arthurian battle on Edinburgh rock; 'Arthur's Seat' is the name of the main peak of the group of hills at the centre of the city of Edinburgh with a hill fort situated on the summit. In 638 AD the monks of Iona record the siege of Din Eidyn; is this the same battle wrongly ascribed to Arthur?

Other recension's of the Historia give the eleventh battle the alternative name of Breguoin. It has been suggested that this name could derive from Bremenium, now High Rochester in Northumberland, a Roman fort constructed near the Roman road known as Dere Street.

Bremenium has also been identified as the site of King Urien Rheged's later battle of the
Cells of Brewyn (cellawr Brewyn) recorded in A Song for Urien Rheged, a battle-catalogue poem from the Llyrfr Taliesin (‘The Book of Taliesin’). Many historians accept that Arthur's Breguoin battle was taken from the Urien poem and incorporated into the Arthurian battle-list in the Historia.

Breeze has identified Mount Agned as Pennango in Teviotdale. Consulting books on early Scottish place-names he states Pennango means ‘Death Hill’, a lost toponym southwest of Hawick.

Arthur's Last Stand
Included in the Harelian manuscript is the Annals Cambriae (Welsh Annals), a 10th century Cambro-Latin chronicle with the following Arthurian entries:

516 -The Battle of Badon, in which Arthur carried the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ on his shoulders for three days and three nights and the Britons were victors.

537 -The Strife of Camlann in which Arthur and Mordred fell and there was death in Britain and in Ireland. 

The Badon entry in the Welsh Annals looks suspiciously like it is derived directly from the eighth battle in Historia battle list; at the fortress of Guinnion, in which Arthur carried the image of Holy Mary, the everlasting virgin, on his shoulders.

The battle is found in Gildas' 6th century work De Excidio et Conquestu Britanniae as the Seige of Mons Badonicus. Gildas does not name the leader at the battle but cites Ambrosius Aurelius as the leader of the Britons in the campaign leading up to it; by implication Ambrosius was the British leader at Badon. In the Historia account of the battle Arthur slays 960 by his own hand; it seems here we have again ventured into the realm of the fantastic. Clearly the Badon entry does not belong to Arthur and cannot be considered as evidence to his historicity.

The site of the battle of Badon, Breeze says was likely to be Braydon, near Swindon in Wiltshire and had nothing at all to do with Arthur, arguing that the battle is entirely absent from Early Welsh vernacular tradition and Arthur's first association with the battle is not found until the 9th century Historia.

Finally we come to the battle of Camlann and Arthur's last stand. Although featured in later Welsh tradition such as the Triads, the strife of Camlann is entirely absent from the Historia and earlier sources.

As with all the Arthurian battles a multitude of locations have been suggested for Camlann over the years, ranging from the River Camel in Cornwall, the Afon Gamlan in Gwynedd, Wales, to Cameleon near Falkirk in Scotland. Breeze locates the site of the conflict at Castlesteads on Hadrian’s Wall. Again, this is hardly new, being first suggested by Ekwall in 1928, followed by Crawford in 1935.5

Crawford argued that the name was originally Camboglanna, the name derived from Brittonic cambo "crooked" and glanna "bank/shore", popularly interpretted as "crooked glen". For many years Camboglanna was considered to be the Roman fort of Birdoswald on Hadrian's Wall where the River Irthing twists and turns its way around the site forming a crooked glen indeed. However, Birdoswald has since been identified as the Roman fort of Banna while Camboglanna is now Castlesteads a few miles to the west on high ground overlooking the Cambeck Valley.

Breeze said the pattern presented by the new identifications is “startling”. Instead of  Arthurian battles occurring up and down the country, as others have claimed, there is a concentration in southern Scotland and the Borders. Hence, Arthur fought all his battles on the borders of Strathclyde defending the kingdom from other Northern Britons.

A Dark Age Battle Poem
It was first suggested some eighty years ago that the Arthurian battle list contained within Chapter 56 of the Historia Brittonum is excerpted from an Early Welsh battle-catalogue poem, perhaps an elegy to Arthur.6 Similar poems can be found in The Book of Taliesin in praise of Urien Reheged.

However, the authenticity of the Arthurian battle list is far from proven; if the list is based on an old poem it is possible the names of the battle sites may have been selected for their rhyme scheme rather than historical value and borrowed from other sources: Dubglas rhymes with Bassas; Cat Coit Celidon with Castell Guinnion; Cair Legion with Bregion. Indeed, Arthur appears in the legends of all the Brythonic lands yet there is no trace of this 'poem' outside of the Historia. At best a battle poem can only be used as a measure of the growth of a legend of a particular hero7 and we should use caution in using Early Welsh poetry as a historical source.8

If the battle sites in such a poem were indeed recollections of a historical account we should expect to find external references to them. Only three of the nine Arthurian battle sites can be verified from external sources and even then they appear to be wrongly ascribed to Arthur the soldier. The first six battles, all fought at rivers, defy identification; the seventh looks suspiciously like Merlin's forest; the fortress at Guinnion is the oddity, it looks like it should belong to a poem like Preiddu Annwn (The Spoils of Annwn) a mythical tale in which Arthur attacks several fortresses; The battle of the Tribuit has striking similarities to the mythological account in the poem Pa Gur. The final three battles, the city of the Legions, Mount Agned (Breguoin) and the battle of Badon, all seem to have been wrongly ascribed to Arthur but 'borrowed' for the battle list.

In summary, prior to Breeze's article, the situation on the Arthurian battle list is that we have six unidentified battle sites at rivers, three mythical encounters and three borrowed from external sources but seemingly wrongly ascribed to Arthur conveniently making the battle list up to the biblical number of twelve. Yet, the Historia is typically cited as being the first document to support Arthur as a historical figure.

What the Historians say
And there lies the problem with Breeze's argument and many others attempting to construct a historical Arthur from the Historia; the 9th century document is not considered a reliable source by any means. Modern scholars consider the document to be a well-constructed piece of synthetic historical writing.

The Historia Brittonum was compiled in Wales in the first half of the 9th century. About forty manuscripts are known to exist in eight recensions. The 'Nennian Prologue' is now generally agreed as a later forgery. Most manuscripts omit the introduction and leave the authorship blank, as such, scholarly opinion no longer considers the ascription to a monk named 'Nennius' as valid.

Nevertheless, the Historia is an important source for Roman Britain and Wales and the Brythonic north (yr Hen Ogledd) of the 5th to the 7th centuries. It purports to give an account of the geography and history of the British Isles from their first settler (Brutus) to the early Middle Ages; subsequently it was the single most important source used by Geoffrey of Monmouth in creating his legendary History of the Kings of Britain (Historia Regum Britanniae, c.1139).

Today historians view the document with considerable suspicion. John Koch for example states, “much of the contents are picturesque, fantastic, and clearly unhistorical, with the result that some view the work as a whole as belonging to the genre of legendary history rather than history”.9

Nicholas Higham states, “Arthur emerges for the first time in an insular context as a pseudo-historical character in a series of Latin works written in Wales and Brittany in the ninth, tenth, eleventh, and early twelfth centuries. These works were of several different kinds, including a synthetic pseudo-history (the Historia Brittonum), a chronicle (the Annales Cambriae)...”

“We should be hesitant, therefore, in ascribing any particular antiquity to the author’s sources and cautious about judging it as historically accurate as regards the depiction of the fifth and sixth centuries. There is much legend and myth included, which must once again tell against its historicity.10

Keith Fitzpatrick-Matthews, in his ongoing study of the Historia Brittonum argues that “The bases of recent critical arguments about the historical value of the text are that:

1. Where it impinges upon history that can be tested by external sources (for instance, in its accounts of Roman Bitain (§§19-30)..... or Saint Germanus (§§32-35, 39 and 47), it is demonstrably either wrong or it distorts the evidence to fit the author’s preconceptions about British history. The pseudo-history constructed around the career of Magnus Maximus (§27) is an excellent example of this tendency.”11

Caitlin (Thomas) Green tells us that, “.....the case for a historical Arthur rests entirely on two sources, the Historia Brittonum and the Annales Cambriae, both of which would appear to have a concept of Arthur that is (at least partly) unequivocally historical.

“As such the Historia is of very dubious historical value, for example, in addition to many of its sources being of a similar date to itself and suspect in nature, the Historia can be shown to portray characters who are decidedly mythical in origin, such as Hengest and Horsa as genuinely historical. 

“Indeed, as a number of recent commentators have recognised, the Historia Brittonum is in fact a synchronising and synthetic history of the type well known from medieval Ireland, fusing sources for its own political ends and involved in the creation of a full national pseudo-history, a process which was closely allied with the historicising of legend.”12

David Dumville views the document as a carefully crafted political statement, reflecting the concerns of early 9th-century Gwynedd and containing little or nothing of value to the history of earlier ages. The best we can say with regard to Artur is that the Historia Brittonum provides an indication of the state of the Arthurian legend in 9th century Gwynedd.13

When using the battle list from the Historia Brittonum to reconstruct a Dark Age history it is often overlooked that the same early manuscript (Harleian MS 3859) includes the Mirabilia, a list of topographical Wonders of the Island of Britain that are described as “overtly folkloric and non-historical in nature”; Arthur the soldier appears in two mirabilies (wonders) concerning s pile of rocks showing his dog Cabal's footprint with a miraculous returning stone and the tomb of Arthur's son Amr which always varies in length. Clearly, this is not history but fantasy and aptly demonstrates that even from the earliest stage the Arthurian legend had entered the marvellous world of myth. Consequently the Mirabilia is often ignored by those claiming the battle list as a genuine campaign itinerary.

Dr Breeze should be commended on making the first positive identification of the battle sites, if that is indeed what he has achieved. However, positive identification of the localities mentioned in the so-called chapter 56 of the Historia Brittonum, possibly, but not probably, based on an Early Welsh battle catalogue poem, is not proof of the historicity of the victor.

As Kenneth Jackson remarked on the Arthurian battle list as long ago as 1959, “a great deal of nonsense has been written in the attempt to identify them14

Copyright © 2015 Edward Watson

Notes & References
1. King Arthur? No, the legendary leader was just a Scottish general who lived most of his life in Strathclyde – The Mail Online 03 September 2015
2. King Arthur: Legendary figure was real and lived most of his life in Strathclyde, academic
claims – The Independent 03 September 2015
3. Andrew Breeze, The Historical Arthur And Sixth-Century Scotland, in Northern History Volume 51, Issue 2 (September 2015), pp.158–181.
4. John T Koch & Antone Minard eds., The Celts: History, Life, and Culture, ABC-CLIO, 2012.
5. Eilert Ekwall, English River Names, 1928 (Oxford reprints 1968), and OGS Crawford ,Antiquity Volume IX, No: 36, 1935.
6. H M & N K Chadwick, The Growth of Literature, 3 Volumes, 1932-40, (Cambridge Library Collection 2011).
7. David N Dumville, The Historical Value of the Historia Brittonum, in Arthurian Literature VI, 1986.
8. David N Dumville, 'Early Welsh Poetry: Problems of Historicity', in Early Welsh Poetry: Studies in the Book of Aneirin, ed. Brynley F. Roberts. Aberystwyth: National Library of Wales, 1988.
9. John T Koch, entry for Historia Brittonum in Celtic Culture, ABC, 2006.
10. Nicholas J. Higham, Early Latin Sources: Fragments of a Pseudo-Historical Arthur, in Companion to Arthurian Literature, Edited by Helen Fulton, Blackwell, 2009.
11. Keith Fitzpatrick-Matthews, The Historia Brittonum website.
12. Thomas Green, The Historicity and Historicisation of Arthur, 1998.
13. David N Dumville, The Historical Value of the  Historia Brittonum,
14. Kenneth Hurlstone Jackson, 'The Arthur of History' in Arthurian Literature in the Middle Ages, ed., RS Loomis, Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1959.

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Thursday, 17 September 2015

Historia: The Sutton Hoo Festival of History

19 and 20 September 2015, 10.30am - 5.00pm

A chance to explore the roots of English history at Sutton Hoo - England's 'Valley of the Kings'

In 1939 archaeologist Basil Brown excavated the largest mound of many in the cemetery of the Anglo-Saxon kings at Sutton Hoo and made one of the most spectacular archaeological discoveries of all time.

Inside the mound was the imprint of a twenty seven metre long ship with a ruined burial chamber at its centre adorned with gold jewellery, silverware and the famous burial mask or helmet, known collectively as the Sutton Hoo Treasure. The dead man was clearly a person of high status from the Anglo-Saxon kingdom of East Anglia, possibly a king.

The Suton Hoo burial mask
However, no trace of a body was found during the excavations of the ship burial. It seems to have totally decayed in the acidic conditions. Coins found inside the purse in the grave have been dated to around 610–635 AD providing an approximate date for the burial.

Rædwald the 7th-century king of East Anglia is the most favoured candidate for the occupant of the Sutton Hoo ship-burial. Rædwald reigned from around the end of the sixth century to his death in 624. Little detail has survived of his reign but he is remembered for a great victory of the Northumbrians at the Battle of the River Idle in 616.

"The Sutton Hoo ship burial provides remarkable insights into early Anglo-Saxon England. It reveals a place of exquisite craftsmanship and extensive international connections, spanning Europe and beyond. It also shows that the world of great halls, glittering treasures and formidable warriors described in Anglo-Saxon poetry was not a myth."

Mrs Edith Pretty, the landowner, donated the Sutton Hoo treasure to the British Museum in 1939 where it is today displayed in Room 41.

The ship burial
The National Trust has organised the Historia over the weekend 19 – 20 September to celebrate the history of Sutton Hoo and the Anglo-Saxon world. Expert speakers will deliver presentations  including Time Team's Dr Sam Newton and British Museum curator Dr Sue Brunning. Family activities have also been organised, including trails, treasure-handling, children's crafts, a Geology Walk and a display of the Sutton Hoo replica ship Sae Wylfing. Some activities are separately ticketed.

Historia Talks (£3 each) include:

19 September
Paul Jameson: The Battle of Hatfield
Does the archaeological discovery of hundreds of bodies solve the mystery of the fate of one of the great Anglo-Saxon kings?

Stephen Pollington: The Elder Gods
Who were the gods of early England and what legacy remains of the customs and beliefs of the Anglo-Saxons?

Dr Sam Lucy: Trumpington Bed Burial
The rare bed burial of a young woman with her pectoral cross provides a fascinating glimpse into the Anglo-Saxon world at a time of dramatic transition.

20 September
Paul Constantine: The Mound One Ship & Sae Wylfing
One of the greatest of the Sutton Hoo treasures - the Ship itself - rotted away in the soil over thirteen centuries. A new project asks if we can reconstruct this magnificent vessel.

Dr Sam Newton: Raedwald, the First King of England
Was Sutton Hoo the last resting place of King Rædwald of East Anglia? Rædwald lived, fought and died during one of the founding moments of English history.

Dr Richard Hoggett: Excavation & Experiment at West Stow
This year marks the 50th anniversary of the archaeological excavations at West Stow, which revealed the remains of an extensive Early Anglo-Saxon settlement in the Lark valley.

Dr Faye Minter: Anglo-Saxon Rendlesham
Recent archaeological work at Rendlesham, near Sutton Hoo, has revealed some fascinating new information about Anglo-Saxon East Anglia.

The Sutton Hoo cemetery
Great British Walk - Landscape, Archaeology & Geology of Sutton Hoo
As part of the Historia Festival of History, there will be the opportunity to explore the Sutton Hoo landscape from a new perspective when on Sunday 20th September National Trust Archaeologist Angus Wainwright leads a walk across the Sutton Hoo landscape, down to the River Deben, revealing multiple layers of geology, archaeology and history, through the Anglo-Saxons and into the prehistoric past.

Booking Essential!

The National Trust Visitor Centre at Sutton Hoo
Sutton Hoo, Tranmer House, Sutton Hoo, Woodbridge, Suffolk IP12 3DJ
Phone: 01394 389714.

See the National Trust website for further details.

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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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