Sunday, 10 July 2016

The Staffordshire Hoard comes to Stafford

Coinciding with the 7th Anniversary of the discovery of the largest hoard of Anglo-Saxon gold ever found, the  Staffordshire Hoard comes to the county town of Stafford.

Treasure! The Discovery of the Staffordshire Hoard
From Tuesday 5th July to Saturday 10th September items from the Staffordshire Hoard will be on display at the Ancient High House, Greengate Street, Stafford, in the “Treasure! The Discovery of the Staffordshire Hoard History Exhibition”, telling the story of how the Hoard was found and saved for the nation.

Running concurrently, and in support of the Staffordshire Hoard exhibition, will be “Anglo-Saxon Stafford: Throwing light on the Dark Ages” a history exhibition exploring the emergence of the kingdom of Mercia and the foundations of Stafford.

The Staffordshire Hoard was discovered on 5 July 2009 when metal detector Terry Herbert uncovered more than 3,500 items in a field near the village of Hammerwich, near Lichfield, in Staffordshire, England.

Consisting of over 5kg of Gold and 1.4 kg of silver the Hoard was purchased jointly by the Birmingham Museum & Art Gallery and the Potteries Museum & Art Gallery, Stoke on Trent for £3.3 million. Mainly all martial, or warlike in character, including sword pommels possibly as old as the mid 6th century, it is the largest collection of Anglo-Saxon precious metalwork ever found anywhere in the world.

Stafford Ancient High House
While viewing the Staffordshire Hoard exhibition in Stafford it is worthwhile delving into a little history the Ancient High House. This Elizabethan town house, constructed in 1594, is said to be one of the finest Tudor buildings in the country and the largest remaining timber framed town house in England. Although now a historic house museum operated by Stafford Borough Council since 1986, the High House has a history of its own and featured in the conflict in the Midlands during the English Civil War, 1642–1651.

The Ancient High House Stafford (Wikimedia Commons)
On 17th and 18th September, 1643,  Charles I stayed at the Ancient High House shortly after raising the Royal Standard at Nottingham; the act of calling his loyal subjects to arms is seen as marking the start of the English Civil War. Charles made the High House his temporary headquarters, taking counsel and planning the forthcoming campaign. A local story claims that while staying at the High House with King Charles, Prince Rupert demonstrated the accuracy of his cavalry pistol by shooting the weather on St Mary's church.

The Royalists had steadily gained ground in the Midlands, establishing garrisons at Tamworth, Lichfield, and Stafford by the end of 1642.  After defeating the Royalists at Stratford-upon-Avon the the Parliamentarian forces marched on Lichfield in an effort to break the Royalist hold on the Midlands. Following his success at the Siege of Lichfield, in March 1643, the Parliamentarian Sir John Gell had turned his attention to Stafford and arrived at Hopton Heath, about 3 miles north of the town, on 19th March. On hearing of Gell's arrival Spencer Compton, the Earl of Northampton, marched his Royalist forces out of Stafford to engage the Parliamentarians.

The Battle of Hopton Heath did not result in a decisive victory for either side following withdrawals by both Parliamentarian and Royalist forces after nightfall. The Royalists captured several pieces of artillery but the Earl of Northampton was killed and Gell carried away his corpse demanding the return of the artillery lost at Hopton for the body. The Royalists refused to pay the ransom and the Earl's body was buried at All Hallows Church in Derby.

The Hoard continues to reveal its Secrets
As research and conservation work continues in the largest study of its kind ever undertaken on Anglo-Saxon gold the full story of the Hoard continues to unfurl with new discoveries being revealed. Scientific analysis has revealed that the goldsmiths of Mercia treated gold objects to improve their colour and make them appear even more golden by removing alloys such as copper and silver from the surface. The study has revealed that this technique was being widely used in the Anglo-Saxon period.

Helmet fragment from Staffordshire Hoard (Wikimedia Commons)
Two rare items have been discovered among the Staffordshire Hoard. The first is a 7th century helmet. Helmets from the Anglo-Saxon period are very rare, this being only the fifth to be discovered. Around 1,500 thin, fragile silver sheets and fragments, consisting of around a third of the Hoard in size, have been painstakingly pieced together to form a band around the circumference of the helmet, featuring warrior friezes gilded with gold.

The Sutton Hoo helmet found in the royal ship-burial in 1939, was silver, and possibly made for the East Anglian King Rædwald, the decoration directly comparable with finds from cemeteries in eastern Sweden. In comparison, the gold decoration on the Staffordshire Hoard helmet suggests it too was probably worn by a King or someone of great importance from Mercia.

The other item is a unique sword pommel. There are are over seventy pommels (the decorated end of a swordgrip) among the Staffordshire Hoard. Conservation and research teams have identified one that is unique, reconstructing it from 26 fragments. This pommel is Anglo-Saxon in style, but features British or Irish influences; its central garnet with glass inlaid disc forms an early Christian cross, while on its opposite side is a motif formed of three serpents, seemingly representing both Christian and pagan beliefs. The pommel has a round hump on the shoulder, know as a 'sword-ring', and displays evidence that there would have been one on each shoulder. Many swords from the Anglo Saxon period in England and Europe display similar rings, but the Hoard pommel is the first to feature two.

Sword Pommel from Staffordshire Hoard (L) and reconstructed sword (R)

The Mercian Trail
The Mercian Trail has been developed as a partnership between Birmingham Museums Trust, The Potteries Museum & Art Gallery, Lichfield Cathedral, Lichfield District Council, Tamworth Borough Council and Staffordshire County Council. The aim being to promote the emerging story of the Staffordshire Hoard and the history of this region of  Anglo-Saxon Mercia through a series of permanent and temporary displays.

There are four Staffordshire Hoard permanent displays at Birmingham Museum & Art Gallery, The Potteries Museum & Art Gallery, the Chapter House display at Lichfield Cathedral and the ancient capital of Mercia at Tamworth Castle.

A touring exhibition led by Staffordshire County Council is visiting schools, galleries, visitor centres, bringing the story of the Staffordshire Hoard and Anglo-Saxon Mercia to a wide audience.

Warrior Treasures
About a hundred items of Saxon Gold from the Staffordshire Hoard collection is now on the first UK-wide tour. Providing visitors with the opportunity to view a large number of items from the collection outside the West Midlands where the Hoard was discovered.

The Warrior Treasures exhibition will visit the Royal Armouries, Leeds from 27 May 2016 - 02 October 2016, and at Bristol Museum and Art Gallery from 22 October 2016 - 23 April 2017.

The Staffordshire Hoard permanent exhibitions at Birmingham Museum & Art Gallery, The Potteries Museum & Art Gallery- Stoke-on-Trent, Tamworth Castle and Lichfield Cathedral will remain open during the tour.

For further information visit the Staffordshire Hoard website.

* * * 

Saturday, 9 July 2016

Glastonbury Pilgrimages 2016

Every year since the early 1950’s the Glastonbury Pilgrimages have been held in Glastonbury. The first pilgrimage to Glastonbury in modern times was in 1895 to celebrate the beatification of The Last Abbot of Glastonbury Richard Whiting, on the anniversary of his martyrdom at Glastonbury Tor on 15 November 1539.

This year the Anglican Pilgrimage will take place on Saturday 9th July and the Clifton Diocese on Sunday 10th July.

The Anglican Pilgrimage commences with a Vigil Mass in the Undercroft of the Lady Chapel at 6.00pm on Friday 8th July.

On Saturday  9th July at 12.00 noon Solemn Concelebrated Mass will be sung in the Nave of the Abbey Church.

The Procession of the Blessed Sacrament will start from the eastern end of Glastonbury High Street, starting outside St John’s Church, from 2.45pm. The Procession will move off following the traditional route down the High Street, through the main Abbey entrance.
The Procession of the Blessed Sacrament to the Abbey for Solemn Benediction in the Nave of the Abbey Church will take place at 3.00 pm.

The Clifton Diocese Pilgrimage starts in St Mary's church, the Shrine of Our Lady, at 11.30am.

A Liturgy of the Word, commemorating the martyrdom of Blessed Richard Whiting, the last Abbot of Glastonbury, and his fellow martyrs, Blessed Roger James and Blessed John Thorne in the Abbey Grounds, followed by the start of the procession at 2.15pm.

The procession exits the Abbey grounds through the Abbey House Gardens and proceeds through the town centre via Chilkwell Street, the High Street and Magdalene Street, returning to the Abbey through the Magdalene Street Gates, opposite the Shrine Church at approximately 3pm.

The Pilgrimage Mass will be celebrated by Rt. Rev. Declan Lang, Bishop of Clifton, in the Abbey grounds at 3.30pm.

* * *

Sunday, 3 July 2016

King Arthur's Sword

The last historical reference to Caliburn (Excalibur), the mythical sword of King Arthur, was when King Richard the Lionheart presented it  to Tancred of Sicily while on his journey to the Holy Land on the Third Crusade. The sword then disappeared and was never seen again.

Sicily, Island of Morgana
After “taking the cross” in 1187 Richard I, “The Lionheart”, finally joined the Third Crusade in the summer of 1190. By September that year he had sailed down the west coast of Italy and arrived in Messina, Sicily. In March 1191, according to Benedict of Peterborough and Roger of Hoveden, in an exchange of gifts Richard  presented Tancred, king of Sicily, with a sword “which the British call Caliburn, which was the sword of Arthur, former noble king of England”.1

Richard was delayed in Sicily with family business to attend to. William II, king of Sicily, was married to Joanne of England, the seventh child of Henry II, King of England and his queen consort, Eleanor of Aquitaine. Following William's death in 1189, Joanne was kept prisoner by the new king of Sicily, Tancred. When her brother Richard I, finally arrived in Italy on his way to the Holy Land he demanded her return, along with her dowry. Richard parted with his sword, said to have once belonged to the Great Arthur, as part of the exchange of gifts with Tancred.

Yet, is it conceivable that the Lionheart would actually depart with the genuine sword of the legendary King? The date of the exhumation at Glastonbury and Richard's arrival at Messina with Caliburn at first glance certainly looks remarkably concurrent. However, Tancred may have been easily duped as the island of Sicily held a special place in the Arthurian legend.

The Arthurian Romance Flouriant et Florete (c.1250) identified the island of Sicily as Avalon, the last resting place of Arthur, no doubt inspired by the Sicilian tradition that identified Mount Etna (Mongibello) as the dwelling place of Morgana la Fay. The mirage phenomenon, apparent in the Straits of Messina, named “Fata Morgana” is based on the belief was that these illusions were sightings of false landfalls created by the sorceress to lure unsuspecting sailors to their death.

The Lady of the Lake tells Arthur of Excalibur - Aubrey Beardsley
Presumably this same tradition influenced the chronicler Jean d'Outremeuse, who in the late 13th century in Ly Myreur des Histors, tells how, after being shipwrecked nine days from Cyprus, Ogier the Dane fights with 'capalus' (Palug’s Cat) before meeting Arthur in a Mediterranean Avalon where Morgan is their host in a palace surrounded by pools and fruit trees in which they both appear ageless and enjoying immortality.2

Similarly, in La Faula Guillem Torroella describes a voyage on a whale's back to an island in the Mediterranean that is clearly meant to be Avalon. The Majorcan poet describes Morgan's palace which houses paintings of Arthurian characters. A young man in her company turns out to be Arthur healed of his wounds.3

It is popularly reported that Richard the Lionheart's father, Henry II, had found Arthur's sword on the discovery of Arthur and Guinevere's grave at Glastonbury Abbey in 1190, or 1191. King Henry was apparently told of the location of the grave by a Welsh bard, probably at Cilgerran Castle in Pembrokeshire, south-west Wales, where he stopped whilst on his way to Ireland in 1171. On his return he is said to have initiated a search at the Abbey and the grave was duly discovered, or so the story goes, but the chronology just doesn't fit.

Henry stayed in Ireland only six months, returning to England in 1172, and was called away by the rebellion of three of his sons and his wife Eleanor of Aquitaine in 1173–74. Henry II died 1189 yet the monks of Glastonbury did not dig for King Arthur's body until 1190 (or 1191). If the account that Henry was told told of Arthur's grave at Glastonbury on his way to Ireland in 1171 is correct why then did it take the monks twenty years before they dug for King Arthur's remains?

There are several versions of the discovery of the grave, including Ralph of Coggeshall in 1221, Adam of Damerham 1290s, each offering slightly different details; there are at least five different versions of the inscription on the leaden burial cross found in the grave. Yet, differ as they may, not one of these accounts mentions the discovery of a sword, indeed the only metallic object found in the grave was the inscribed leaden burial cross, now lost. Clearly, we must look elsewhere for the source of King Richard's famous sword.

The Origins of Excalibur
The Arthurian legend is famous for the motif of the “Sword in the Stone” proving Arthur is Britain's rightful sovereign. The account contained in Malory's Le Morte Darthur, c.1469, is the tale most familiar to readers today.  However, Malory's rendition closely follows the earliest mention of “the sword in the stone” found almost three hundred years earlier in in the “Merlin” section of Robert de Boron's Le Roman du Graal.

But the sword that the young Arthur pulled from the stone is not the famous Excalibur, the sword attributed with magical powers; according to Malory, this first sword that Arthur pulled from the stone is broken when Arthur fought King Pellinor. Merlin then leads Arthur to the Lady of the Lake to receive Excalibur. But he is told that the scabbard is more valuable than the sword as the wearer will never shed blood. However, Morgan le Fay throws the scabbard into the lake. Indeed, this is the sword of Arthurian Romance which commenced with Chretien de Troyes and Perceval, or the Story of the Graal (Perceval, ou Le Conte Du Graal) in which he writes that Gawaine carried the sword Escalibor. To the French Romancers this sword could cut through steel, hence Malory thought that Excalibur meant “cut steel”.

In his Historia Regum Britanniae, (History of the Kings of Britain, c.1136) Geoffrey of Monmouth tells us that Arthur's sword (Latinized as “Caliburnus”) was forged in the 'Isle of Avallon'. The sword's name Caliburn is perhaps from the Latin 'chalybs' meaning 'steel'. On his second and last mention of Avalon in his Historia Geoffrey merely states that when mortally wounded Arthur was taken there. On both occasions he clearly means an Otherworldly location. Contrary to popular belief Geoffrey does not equate Avalon with Glastonbury; he in fact makes no effort to identify its location.

The Lady of the Lake offers Excalibur to Arthur - Alfred Kappes
Like much of Geoffrey's work, his inspiration for Arthur's sword seems to have come from Celtic traditions in which Arthur's sword is named “Caledfwlch” in Welsh. Caledfwlch is a compound word constructed from the elements 'caled' which can have the adjective meaning 'hard' or the noun 'battle'. The second element 'bwlch' means 'breach, gap, notch', and may mean 'hard-notch' or 'battle-notch'. In The oldest Arthurian tale, “How Culhwch won Olwen” Arthur's sword is used to kill the giant Diwrnach Wydel. Caledfwlch is an Otherworldy weapon and cognate with the Irish sword Caladbolg. In in the Irish epic Táin Bó Cuailnge, Caladbolg is the name of the sword that Fergus mac Róig inherited from the Ulster King Fergus mac Leite who had brought it from the land of the Sidhe, the Otherworld. The name of the sword has the same meaning; 'hard gap'. John Koch suggests the compound would mean ‘hard cleft’ or ‘cleaving what is hard’.4

Although writing in the 12th century Geoffrey's description of Arthur preparing for the Battle of Badon seems to be based on authentic Dark Age detail. Arthur dons his golden helmet with dragon crest, a leather jerkin (lorica), across his shoulder he carries his circular shield Pridwen, on which an icon of the Virgin Mary is painted (Prydwen was actually the name of Arthur's ship). His sword is named as Caliburn and his sword as Ron.Geoffrey's list of Arthur's arms is based on a similar account found in “How Culhwch won Olwen”.

Unlike later writers of Arthurian Romance who describe Arthur and the knights of The Round Table clad in suites of armour of the 12th to 14th centuries, the war-gear for the time of writing, Geoffrey has Arthur attired in armoury similar to that found in the 7th century ship burial at Sutton Hoo.

In their Chronicle accounts (Brut) of the Arthurian legend Wace and Layamon follow Geoffrey. In writing the first account of the Arthurian legend in Middle English Layamon concurs that Arthur's sword Caliburn was forged on the Isle of Avalon, but adds that his corslet was the work of Wygar, an elfish smith, and his spear the work of the smith Griffin and made in Kairmerdin (Merlin's city).

Legendary Swords
The most treasured weapon of warriors in Northwestern Europe was the sword. Anglo Saxon swords are often found constructed by pattern-welding, the craft of twisting several rods of red-hot steel together before forging into a flat weapon by the smith. This technique would result in not just a stronger blade but also intricate patterning described as 'dragon-skins' or 'twisting snakes'. To enhance the appearance and value of a sword it often had its hilt and scabbard decorated with silver, gold and garnets by outstanding craftsmanship as attested by the Staffordshire Hoard.

Legendary smiths, such as Wayland, are well known for manufacturing magical weapons exclusively for the Legendary Hero and certainly not unique to King Arthur. Famous swords were given personal names, such as Gram (Sigurd), Nagelring (Beowulf), Durendal (Roland) and Joyeuse (Charlemagne), to name just a few.

At one time The Sword of Attila, also called 'The Sword of Mars' sent by the gods, was thought to be Joyeuse, the sword of Charlemagne, King of the Franks. A sword identified with Charlemagne's Joyeuse was used in the Coronation ceremony of French kings from 1270 to 1824.

Legend claims the blade of Joyeuse was smithed from the same materials as Roland's Durendal and Ogier's Curtana. Durendal was the sword of Charlemagne's paladin Roland forged by Wayland the Smith, the legendary Norse blacksmith.

Charlemagne used Joyeuse to knight Ogier the Dane. Ogier was a legendary character from the Old French 'chanson de geste' who became popular in European literature, as discussed above with his connections to Sicily. Ogier possessed a sword named Curtana which according to legend bore the inscription “My name is Curtana, of the same steel and temper as Joyeuse and Durendal”. Ogier is said to have inherited the sword from the Arthurian knight Tristan.

The Plantagent kings carried the swords of legendary heroes in the belief that the power of its original possessor was transferable by means of their weapon.

At one time Richard the Lionheart's brother (Bad King) John claimed to possess the “sword of Tristan”; the sword is listed amongst his regalia in an inventory of 1207 AD. By 1250 the sword is named as “Curtana”. According to legend, Tristan used this sword to kill the giant Morholt, the champion of Ireland, its length becoming shortened when part of the blade was embedded in the giant's skull when he hacked off his head. The Romance of Tristan and Iseult records how Tristan was injured in the fight with the giant and his wounds were nursed by Iseult. She saw his broken sword and realised he had killed Morholt.

Swords of the Coronation
Henry III of England possessed a coronation sword which was also named Curtana and said to have been Tristan's sword, which no doubt, he inherited from his father King John. The name is probably intended to imply “shortness” (from the Latin Curtus, meaning short) as the end is broken off.

The sword Curtana is first documented as one of the three swords employed in the coronation of Henry's wife Queen Eleanor of Provence in 1236. The coronation tradition involving three swords dates back at least to Richard I. Later sources on the coronation of modern kings of England tell us that the sword featured a notch. As we saw above the name of Arthur's original sword Caledfwlch can mean 'hard notch'. This notch appears to be significant in the swords used in the coronation of kings.

Szczerbiec” is the coronation sword that was used in crowning ceremonies of the kings of Poland from 1320 to 1764. Its name, derived from the Polish word szczerba meaning again a gap, notch or chip, is sometimes rendered into English as “the Notched Sword” or “the Jagged Sword”, although its blade was apparently straight with smooth edges.

During the coronation of Henry VI, Curtana was considered to be the “Sword of Justice” while a second sword was the “Sword of the Church”. Eventually, however, the shortened blunt edge of Curatana was taken to represent mercy, and it thus came to be known as the “Sword of Mercy”.

Today Curtana is a ceremonial sword used at the coronation of British kings and queens, which, along with the Sword of Spiritual Justice and the Sword of Temporal Justice, is catalogued as part of the Crown Jewels of the United Kingdom. The official version says the Sword of Mercy is so named as its end is blunt and squared. However, it appears this sword has its origins in Arthurian legend as the sword Curtana carried by Tristan, and later Ogier the Dane, with its end shortened because its tip lies embedded in the skull of the giant Morholt.

Excalibur is returned to the Lady of the Lake - Aubrey Beardsley
But the most notorious of all the swords from Arthurian legend is surely the “Sword of Peace” seemingly, perhaps, the complete opposite to the lethal Excalibur. In the Middle English poem the Alliterative Morte Arthure, c.1400, there is mention of “Clarent”, the “Sword of Peace”, used for knighting ceremonies as opposed to a weapon of war. However, there is a dark side to the so-called Sword of Peace; it was also known as the “Coward's Blade” as it was stolen by Mordred and later used to kill King Arthur.

Copyright © 2016 Edward Watson

Notes & References
1. EMR Ditmas, The Cult of Arthurian Relics, Folklore Volume 75, Issue 1, 1964.
2. Caitlin (Thomas) Green, Arthuriana: Early Arthurian Tradition and the Origins of the Legend, The Lindes Press, 2009.
3. Norris J Lacey ed., The Arthurian Encyclopedia, Garland, 1986.
4. John Koch, Celtic Culture, ABC Clio, 2006.
5. Lewis Thorpe, trans., Geoffrey of Monmouth: History of the Kings of Britain, Penguin Classics, 1973.

* * *

Saturday, 25 June 2016

Gervase and the Moon in June

On 25th June 1178 five monks from Canterbury witnessed a curious astronomical event1:

“In this year, on the Sunday before the Feast of St John the Baptist, after sunset when the moon had first become visible a marvellous phenomenon was witnessed by some five or more men who were sitting there facing the moon. Now there was a bright new moo, and as usual in that phase its horns were tilted toward the east; and suddenly the upper horn split in two. From the midpoint of the division a flaming torch sprang up, spewing out, over a considerable distance, fire, hot coals, and sparks. Meanwhile the body of the moon which was below writhed, as it were, in anxiety, and, to put it in the words of those who reported it to me and saw it with their own eyes, the moon throbbed like a wounded snake.”

The account can be found in the chronicles of Gervase of Canterbury, a medieval monk considered a reliable historian.

This extraordinary event was largely forgotten until 800 years later when, in 1976, the geologist Jack Hartung suggested Gervase had recorded a rare eye-witness account of the five monks who had seen an impact on the Moon's surface by a large meteor. The periodic bombardment of the Moon is a fate it has suffered regularly over its 4 billion year long history as attested by the many craters across its surface, but few of these impacts have been actually witnessed.

Hartung argued that evidence of the impact could be seen on the north eastern edge of the moon in a crater named after the 17th century Italian philosopher Giordano Bruno. Hartung suggested the flame the monks saw was incandescent gases, or sunlight reflecting on dust emitted from the crater. He argued that such a crater would be at least 7 miles across, possess bright rays extending for at least 70 miles formed by debris thrown out at impact, and be situated between 30 and 60 degrees North, 75 and 105 degrees East. The crater would be very near the edge of the Moon, or just on the far side. The Giordano Bruno crater happens to lie within these co-ordinates, 13 miles in diameter and notable for its brightness and the rays extending several hundred miles from it.2

The Giordano Bruno crater
Lunar astronomers Callame and Mulholland claim the event would have been sufficiently visible to justify the description of the eye-witness accounts recorded by Gervase. The astronomers also detected evidence of a small vibration in the orbit of the Moon. The Moon rotates in such a way that the face is always pointing at Earth, but with small oscillations, giving it a slight wobble about its polar axis. This slight wobble is not visible to the naked eye but has been detected by astronomers firing a laser beam at reflectors left on the Moon's surface by Apollo astronauts. When the laser is fired the arrival of the returning light beam is timed. Over the years thousands of laser beams have been fired at the Moon providing sufficient data to detect a 15 metre oscillation of the lunar surface about its polar axis over three years. This vibration,  Callame and Mulholland argue, can only be explained as the result of a significant recent impact of such a magnitude to have formed the Giordano Bruno crater. It is estimated that this vibration would die out over a period 20,000 year, or so.3

From studies of impact cratering it is possible to estimate the energy released at impact to have created the crater; the Giordano Bruno would have required around 100,000 megatons. By comparison, on 30th June 1908 a meteor is thought to have burst in mid-air at an altitude of 5 to 10 kilometres over Tunguska, Siberia. The detonation felled around 80 million trees over an area of over 2,000 square kilometres and would have been capable of destroying a large city if impacting on a populous area. Early estimates considered the energy release equivalent to 10–15 megatons, about 1,000 times greater than the atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima, Japan in 1945.4

In 1975 seismometers left on the Moon by Apollo astronauts detected the impact of a huge swarm of boulders. The bombardment started on June 22, which suggests the Taurids were responsible for the onslaught.

Today many astronomers argue that the Giordano Bruno crater was created more than a million years ago but accept the wobble of the Moon's polar axis is the result of an interstellar impact. However, astronomers have argued that an impact of such magnitude to form the Giordano Bruno crater would have ejected more than 10 million tons of lunar debris, much of which, inevitably, should have rained down into the Earth’s atmosphere causing spectacular meteor storms lasting for many days after the impact. Yet, there are no reports of such an event in 1178.

Current thinking is that the monks probably observed a meteor exploding in the Earth's upper atmosphere travelling head-on toward them along the sight-line of one horn of the crescent Moon. The meteor would have exploded when it entered the upper atmosphere, creating the “hot coals and sparks”, obscuring the crescent with a dark smoke trail. Atmospheric turbulence would account for the “writhing snake” effect.

A head-on meteor in the Earth’s atmosphere would only align with the horn of the Moon over a small area of the Earth’s surface giving a localised perspective which may explain why only the five monks witnessed the impact and apparently no one else. Astronomer Duncan Steele has suggested that the meteor could have originated from the Beta Taurid meteor shower. This is a trail of debris from Comet Encke, which the Earth crosses every June. Clube and Napier, explain that, “the significant feature is not collision with comets themselves, but with their debris”.

Whether the astronomical event that the monks witnessed was the creation of the Giordano Bruno crater or a meteor exploding in the upper atmosphere, like the Tunguska event, the event underlines the fact that the planets of the inner solar system are prone to periodic bombardment by space debris from comet trails with catastrophic consequences; such an event seems to have occurred during the Dark Ages.

Something Nasty in the Dark Ages?
A comet appeared in the sky early in 1066, which many interpreted as a premonition of the Norman conquest of England. The comet appears on the Bayeaux Tapestry, an embroidery depicting the Norman invasion and defeat of the English at the Battle of Hastings in 1066. This happened to be comet Halley, the first periodic comet detected, travelling past Earth once every 76 years or so. Observations of Halley's comet suggest the ancient Greeks observed the comet as long ago as 466 BC.

The Bayeaux Tapestry showing Halley's Comet
Geoffrey of Monmouth was probably aware of the comet recorded on the Bayeaux Tapestry and its implied meaning on the outcome on the Battle of Hastings. He writes of a comet in his History of the Kings of Britain (Historia Regum Brittaniae, c.1136), which foreshadows the reign of Uther. On the way to the battle Uther sees a comet in the shape of a fiery dragon, which Merlin interprets as a sign of Aurelius's imminent death and Uther's glorious future:

“At the appearance of this star, a general fear and amazement seized the people; and even Uther, the king's brother, who was then upon his march with his army into Cambria, [Wales] being not a little terrified at it, was very curious to know of the learned men, what it portended. Among others, he ordered Merlin to be called, who also attended in this expedition to give his advice in the management of the war; and who, being now presented before him, was commanded to discover to him the signification of the star. At this he burst out into tears, and with a loud voice cried out;

“O irreparable loss! O distressed people of Britain! Alas! the illustrious prince is departed! The renowned king of the Britons, Aurelius Ambrosius, is dead! Whose death will prove fatal to us all, unless God be our helper. Make haste, therefore, most noble Uther, make haste to engage the enemy: the victory will be yours, and you shall be king of all Britain. For the star, and the fiery dragon under it, signifies yourself, and the ray extending towards the Gallic coast, portends that you shall have a most potent son, to whose power all those kingdoms shall be subject over which the ray reaches. But the other ray signifies a daughter, whose sons and grandsons shall successively enjoy the kingdom of Britain'.” (BOOK VIII, CHAP. XV)

After winning the battle Geoffrey gives Uther the epithet “Pendragon”. Clearly Geoffrey misinterpreted “Pendragon” as meaning “dragon's head” (from the comet) whereas it literally means “Chief-Dragon” as “chief of warriors”. But, significantly, Geoffrey's tale of Arthur is set in the Dark Ages, so although he may have been inspired by the depiction of Halley's Comet on the Bayeaux Tapestry as an omen to the Battle of Hastings, he is clearly referring to a comet event in the days of the Great Arthur.

Astronomers believe there was an increased risk from bombardment in the period between 400 and 700 AD, the classic Dark Age period. Contemporary chroniclers write of a period of climate change, prolonged winters, decreased temperatures and a persistent dust veil. Gildas, writing around c.540 AD, describes a bleak picture of Britain at this time. Historians have long suspected a downturn in the Britons fortunes played to the invading Anglo Saxon's advantage. It was at this time that refortified post-Roman towns such as Wroxeter (Viroconium) were deserted.

The 5th century historian Zachariah of Mitylene writes of “a great and terrible comet appeared in the sky at evening-time for 100 days” around in around 538-9 AD. The medieval historian Roger of Wendover stated that, “in the year of grace 541 AD, there appeared a comet in Gaul, so vast that the whole sky seemed on fire. In the same year, there dropped real blood from the clouds, and a dreadful mortality ensued.

Some versions of the Welsh Annals open with the entry for 447 AD - “Days as dark as night”. A hundred years later in 547 The Welsh Annals record “great death [plague] in which Maelgwn, king of Gwynedd died. Thus they say 'The long sleep of Maelgwn in the court of Rhos'. Then was the yellow plague.” The Irish Annals record “a failure of bread” in 536 and 539 suggesting crop failure owing to climate change. Repeatedly, these events are followed by outbreaks of plague.

The Anglo Saxon Chronicle records that in the year 538 the sun was eclipsed, fourteen days before the calends of March, from before morning until nine and in 540 the sun was eclipsed on the twelfth day before the calends of July; and the stars showed themselves full nigh half an hour over nine.

The celestial disturbance appears to have continued for some time; later the Welsh Annals record “a star of marvellous brightness was seen shining throughout the whole world” in 676 followed by a great plague in Britain in 682, in which Cadwaladr son of Cadwallon dies. Then in 683 there was plague in Ireland. The Anglo Saxon Chronicle again mirrors the Welsh Annals; in 678 a comet-star appeared in August, and shone every morning, during three months, like a sunbeam. It was around this time that hillforts such as Cadbury were abandoned.

All of these Chronicle accounts concur on the appearance of a comet or celestial disturbances during the period around 400 – 700 AD. This dramatic Dark Age event is linked to climate change, drought and famine around the world. This severe downturn in living conditions left humanity more susceptible to outbreaks plague; the “Justinian Plague” arrived in Constantinople in 542 AD, the first recorded emergence of the Black Death in Europe.

It has long been suspected that around this time Britain was devastated by the effects of a cometary impact, an event occurring in 536 AD which produced a dust veil and cooling effect with global consequences.

Volcano or Comet?
The cause of this catastrophic event in the Dark Ages that resulted in crop failures, summer frosts, drought and famine around the world some 1500 years ago has puzzled historians and scientists alike for years.

Author David Keys argues that evidence from historic sources refer to a persistent dry fog across the Mediterranean, that lasted for 12 to 18 months and caused “a spring without mildness and a summer without heat”.Keys believed that a major volcanic event was to blame and suspected Krakatoa as the culprit.5

The same year Mike Baillie argued that comet symbolism underlies the Arthurian Legend. Baillie developed the science of dendrochronology, or tree-ring dating, finding evidence around the world for dramatic effects in trees across the years from 536 to 545 AD. Significantly, Baillie concludes,  a close comet pass coincides precisely with the time the Welsh Annals stated that Arthur perished in the strife of Camlann, 537AD.6

Dallas Abbott, of Columbia University, has recently studied the 536 AD event and the consequent dust veil and combined planetary cooling effect. After taking ice core samples from Greenland that was laid down between 533 and 540 AD, they found evidence of a volcanic eruption in 536 AD but it almost certainly was not of a sufficient magnitude to cause such dramatic climate change.

The Greenland ice cores were also found to contain fossils of tiny tropical marine organisms suggesting this was an extraterrestrial impact in a tropical ocean, throwing them high into the stratosphere, carrying them to the north polar regions. The ice cores also contained large amounts of atmospheric dust from this seven-year period, not all of it originating on Earth but some particles indicative of an extraterrestrial source.

This cometary residue apparent in the ice cores contained deposits of tin, nickel and iron oxide spherules, which Abbott explains, are associated with cometary dust. This alien matter was deposited in Greenland during the Northern Hemisphere spring time, coinciding with the Eta Aquarid meteor shower.

The orbit of comet Halley leaves a trail of debris which the Earth’s crosses every year on two occasions: the Eta Aquariids in early May, and the Orionids in late October. Abbott argues that although the Eta Aquarid dust may be responsible for a cooling period in 533 AD, on its own it cannot explain the global dimming effect of 536-7 AD which cooled global temperatures by as much as 3 degrees Celsius (5.4 degrees Fahrenheit) for several years; that would require something much more dramatic. Abbott concluded that a piece of the famous Halley's Comet broke away from the main body and impacted on Earth in 536 AD blasting so much dust into the atmosphere that the planet cooled considerably.7

Halley's Comet 1986
Halley's Comet is known to have appeared in Earth's skies in 530 AD and was noted as being astonishingly bright at that time. Irish Annals record “running stars” that were shining for 20 days, and there were many earthquakes. Both China and Byzantium recorded in 530 AD that Halley’s Comet continued to shine for 20 days. The brightness suggests a close pass in which the comet may have broken up as it passed Earth and rounded the sun, ejecting large pieces that fell to Earth and leaving a thicker than normal trail of debris responsible for the dust veil of 536 AD and cooling effect of subsequent years. In 2004 a study estimated that a comet fragment just 2,000 feet (600 metres) wide could have caused the 536 AD event.

Unlike the event recorded by Gervase in 1178, which is doubted as a significant lunar impact by many astronomers today, the 536 AD dust veil and its global consequences is an accepted event; yet few reconstructions of Dark Age History acknowledge the event as a contributory factor in the decline of the Britons.

Halley's Comet's most recent appearance was in 1986. Its next appearance will be in 2061.

Updated 26/06/16
Edited 29/06/16

Copyright © 2016 Edward Watson 

1. The date of the event was originally recorded as 18th June on the Julian calendar which converts to 25th June in the modern Gregorian scheme.
2. Victor Clube and Bill Napier, The Cosmic Winter, Basil Blackwell, 1990. pp.159-162.
3. Ibid.
4. Modern estimates claim that the airburst had an energy range from 3 to 5 megatons.
5. David Keys, Catastrophe: An Investigation into the Origins of the Modern World, Century, 1999.
6. Mike Baillie, Exodus to Arthur, Batsford, 1999.
7. However, observations taken from Halley’s last appearance in 1986 suggest that the Eta Aquarid meteor shower might not originate from Halley’s Comet, but is possibly disturbed by it.

* * *

Sunday, 12 June 2016

Scotland's Merlin Unveiled

Scotland's Merlin
A Medieval Legend and its Dark Age Origins
by Tim Clarkson

In this book, Merlin’s origins are traced back to the story of Lailoken, a mysterious ‘wild man’ who is said to have lived in the Scottish Lowlands in the sixth century AD. The book considers the question of whether Lailoken belongs to myth or reality. It looks at the historical background of his story and discusses key characters such as Saint Kentigern of Glasgow and King Rhydderch of Dumbarton, as well as important events such as the Battle of Arfderydd. Lailoken’s reappearance in medieval Welsh literature as the fabled prophet Myrddin is also examined. [from the back cover]

Merlin, the wizard of Arthurian legend, has been a source of enduring fascination for centuries, the earliest roots seemingly based in the early Welsh figure of Myrddin. Today it is generally accepted that Merlin, the Arthurian wizard, was the 12th century creation of Geoffrey of Monmouth. Whereas the Merlin of literature and Arthurian myth is well known as magician, wise man, prophet and the modern inspiration behind popular wizards such as Dumbledore and Gandalf, Merlin the 'historical' figure is less well known and some contend that he may not have existed at all.

Not so claims Tim Clarkson in his new book Scotland's Merlin: A Medieval Legend and its Dark Age Origins (John Donald 2016) in which he argues that the roots of the Merlin legend lie in Dark Age Scotland. Impeccably researched, Clarkson traces Merlin's origins from his first appearance in Geoffrey's Historia Regum Britanniae (‘History of the Kings of Britain’) c.1136 as the boy Ambrose (Emrys) to the later Merlin Sylvestris of Northern tradition.

Geoffrey devised his Merlin from an amalgamation of historical and legendary figures. Ambrosius Aurelianus is mentioned in 6th century De Excidio et Conquestu Britanniæ (On the Ruin and Conquest of Britain) of Gildas. He is one of the few figures that Gildas admires in a Britain that has degenerated since the departure of the Romans. According to Gildas it is Ambrosius, the last of the Romans, who rallies the beleaguered Britons to victory over the Anglo Saxons, culminating in the victory at Badon.

The 9th century miscellany known as the Historia Brittonum (History of the Britons), often attributed to a monk named Nennius, has Ambrosius (Emrys), as the son of a Roman consul. Here Vortigern's twelve wise men advise him to retire to the remote boundaries of his kingdom and there build a fortified city to defend himself. They came to a province called Guenet (Gwynedd); and having surveyed the mountains of Heremus (Eryri, Snowdonia) they discovered, on the summit of one of them, a hilltop suited to the construction of a citadel. All of the materials were assembled for the building but it all disappeared in one night, so that nothing remained of what had been provided for the constructing of the citadel. Materials were again procured a second and third time, and yet again they vanished as before.

Vortigern's advisers told him  “You must find a child born without a father, put him to death, and sprinkle with his blood the ground on which the citadel is to be built, or you will never accomplish your purpose.”

Consequently, messengers were sent throughout Britain, in search of a child born without a father. When they came to the field of Aelecti, in the district of Glevesing, they found the fatherless boy who was led back to Vortigern. Before they put the boy to death, Vortigern allowed him to speak, “hidden under this pavement there is a pool. There are two vases in the pool, in them a folded tent, containing two serpents, one white and the other red.”

They dug and found it to be so. The serpents began to struggle with each other; and the white one, raising himself up, threw down the other into the middle of the tent and sometimes drove him to the edge of it; and this was repeated thrice. At length the red one, apparently the weaker of the two, recovering his strength, expelled the white one from the tent; and the latter being pursued through the pool by the red one, disappeared.

The boy Ambrose (Emrys) told the meaning of this mystery; “The pool is the emblem of this world, and the tent that of your kingdom: the two serpents are two dragons; the red serpent is your dragon, but the white serpent is the dragon of the people who occupy several provinces and districts of Britain, even almost from sea to sea: at length, however, our people shall rise and drive away; the Saxon race from beyond the sea.

When questioned of his origin the boy replied, “A Roman consul was my father.”

Vortigern's Tower, Dinas Emrys by Alan Lee
The story of Vortigern's Tower is essentially the same in Geoffrey's work; the underground dragons, one white and one red, representing the Saxons and the British, and their final battle is a portent of things to come. But of course Geoffrey has the boy named as Merlin. The episode of Vortigern's Tower is seen as the defining point in the birth of the Merlin legend.

The site has been identified as Dinas Emrys, near Beddgelert in Snowdonia. The archaeology of this remote hilltop has revealed evidence of Post-Roman activity, imported pottery from the eastern Mediterranean and a subterranean pool, probably a cistern for the water supply. The foundations of a tower were discovered on the summit during excavations in 1910 which were initially thought to have been evidence of Vortigern's Tower but turned out to be the remains of a 12th-century Norman keep. Nevertheless, there was ample evidence for Dark Age occupation.

In his Historia Geoffrey provides only two further tales concerning the wizard. In the first, Merlin creates Stonehenge as a burial place for Aurelius Ambrosius. In the second, Merlin uses enchantment to enable Uther Pendragon to enter Tintagel in disguise and father his son Arthur with the Duke of Cornwall's wife, Igraine. Merlin then disappears from Geoffrey's story; he does not tutor and advise Arthur as in later versions.

Clarkson includes a short chapter of “Arthuriana” and cites the possibility that both legends originated in the Strathclyde region and Southern Scotland as “good enough reason to discuss Arthur in a book about Merlin” and cannot resist quoting Breeze's recent paper on the location of Arthur's battles. Clarkson notes that Arthur does not appear in connection with the Northern tales of Lailoken. Similarly, before Geoffrey's story, Merlin has no connection with King Arthur in the early Welsh poems and is entirely absent from the tales of the Mabinogion.

The earliest reference to Myrddin (= Merlin in Welsh) comes from the Armes Prydein Vawr (Great Prophesy of Britain) attributed to the 6th century bard Taliesin. The reference “Myrddin foretells...” is considered not older than 930 AD and indicates there was a Welsh prophetic tradition concerning the name Myrddin before Geoffrey and may have been influential on his writings two centuries later.

Geoffrey's first work on the wizard was entitled Prophetiae Merlini (Prophecies of Merlin), c.1130, which he claimed were the actual words of the prophet. Yet most see the Prophecies as Geoffrey's own construct. The Prophecies were circulated as a separate publication before being incorporated into his Historia Regum Britanniæ at Book VII.

In the 1140s or early 1150s John of Cornwall produced another work entitled Prophetiae Merlini which many see as a direct lift from Geoffrey's work. However, John did not simply make a copy of Geoffrey's Prophecies, as they contained other elements not included in Geoffrey's works which raises the possibility, however slight, for an independent source for a southern prophetic tradition of Merlin. The sources for John of Cornwall's Merlin Prophecies are certainly worthy of further study in the argument for a northern archetype.

The Merlin story was transmitted to Europe through Geoffrey of Monmouth's Historia. As a literary figure he developed throughout Arthurian Romance with later authors reliably placing Merlin as the king's advisor until he becomes bewitched and imprisoned by the Lady of the Lake.

Geoffrey later wrote the Vita Merlini (Life of Merlin) c.1150, in which his Merlin figure changes dramatically to include the tradition of the wildman of the woods referring to the wizard's trauma after witnessing a horrendous battle in the Yr Hen Ogledd (The Old North), formerly the territory of northern Britain and southern Scotland. Geoffrey seems to have stumbled across another Merlin/Myrddin. Clearly the Merlin of Vortigern's time (5th century) cannot be the same Merlin who went made after a northern battle a hundred years later.

In the Vita Merlini Geoffrey writes of a battle fought by Peredur, prince of the North Welsh allied with Rodarch, king of the Cumbrians against Gwenddolau, who ruled the kingdom of Scotland. So traumatised by the slaughter on both sides, Merlin wept for three days, refusing food. “Then, when the air was full with these repeated loud complainings, a strange madness came upon him. He crept away and fled to the woods.....lurking like a wild thing” in the forest of Calidon.

This episode is entirely absent from Geoffrey's earlier tales of Merlin. What caused this change in his account of Merlin; had Geoffrey uncovered further source material that compelled him to elaborate and complete his account of Merlin? Here, no doubt, Geoffrey was influenced by the Welsh Myrddin poems which refer to Merlin's madness.

There are six medieval poems containing material relating to Myrddin the Wildman: Yr Afallennau ('The Apple-trees'); Yr Oianau ('The Greetings');Ymddiddan Myrddin a Thaliesin ('The Dialogue of Myrddin and Taliesin'); Cyfoesi Myrddin a Gwenddydd ei Chwaer ('The Conversation of Myrddin and his Sister Gwenddydd'); Gwasgargerdd fyrddin yn y Bedd ('The Diffused Song of Myrddin in the Grave'); and Peirian Faban ('Commanding Youth').

The first three are found in the 13th century Black Book of Carmarthen, the second two in the 14th century Red Book of Hergest. However, the poems contain material of a much earlier date, possibly 11th century and some certainly appear to pre-date the composition of Geoffrey's Vita Merlini. These poems portray a wildman of the woods, usually named as Myrddin, living in the Caledonian Forest where he has fled after the battle of Arfderydd. Here Myrddin has lapsed into madness and acquired the gift of prophecy. In this aspect he is Myrddin Wyllt, Merlin the Wildman.

The medieval earthwork of Liddel Strength, near Carwinley, a candidate for 'Caer Gwenddoleu'.
This conflict at Arfderydd is recorded in the Annals Cambriae (Welsh Annals), simply as '573 - Bellum Amertid'. A later, 13th century, addition states "Merlin went mad". The site of the battle was identified long ago by W. F. Skene as being at Arthuret, near Longtown in Cumbria. Clarkson discusses the battle in some detail.

In the late 12th century Gerald of Wales identified two Merlins: one called Ambrosius who prophesied in the time of king Vortigern; the other was born in Scotland and named Merlin Celidonius and Sylvester, from the Celidonian wood because he grew mad and sheltered in a wood. Gerald adds that this second Merlin lived at the time of king Arthur. This second Merlin character is identifiable as Myrddin Wyllt of Welsh poetry, based on Northern sources.

Clarkson investigates the sources in depth for the story of the northern wild man of the woods that was transferring to the Welsh Merlin legend. In Scotland there exists an almost identical tale in which the Wild Man is called 'Lalocen' as he appears in the 12th century Life of St Kentigern (St Mungo of Glasgow). A 15th century Latin text called Vita Merlini Silvestris (Life of Merlin of the Forest), names the prophet as 'Lailoken', a wildman of Strathclyde.

Clarkson concludes that the Lailoken legend was transported to Wales and attached to the name Myrddin.The transmission of the northern wild man prophet to Wales must have occurred before the Welsh Myrddin poems were written down in the Black Book of Carmarthen and Red Book of Hergest and certainly before Geoffrey of Monmouth's Vita Merlini.

The crux of 'Scotland's Merlin' is that the 6th century battle of Arfderydd was the single event that sparked the Merlin legend; Clarkson identifies Lailoken as a historical character, the Merlin-archetype, whose story became over-shadowed by the growth of the Welsh Merlin legend.

Essential reading for anyone interested in the Merlin legend.


Tim Clarkson's previous books include:

The Men of the North: The Britons of Southern Scotland (2010)
Columba (2012)    
The Makers of Scotland: Picts, Romans, Gaels and Vikings (2013)    
Strathclyde and the Anglo-Saxons in the Viking Age (2014)
The Picts: A History (New Edition 2016)

Available from Birlinn

Tim's Blog: Senchus: Notes on Early Medieval Scotland

* * *

Saturday, 28 May 2016

The Tomb of King Arthur Discovered in Shropshire

The Real King Arthur Thrice Discovered: Book II
Three books are being published this year each promising to reveal the true identity of the real King Arthur: he was a Yorkshireman; or did he come from Powys on the Marches; or he came from Gwent in south Wales:
  • Simon Keegan, Pennine Dragon, New Haven Publishing, 14 March 2016,
  • Graham Phillips, The Lost Tomb of King Arthur: The Search for Camelot and the Isle of Avalon, Bear & Company, 19 May 2016,
  • Chris Barber, King Arthur: The Mystery Unravelled, Pen & Sword History, 30 June 2016.
In the first part we looked at Simon Keegan's book Pennine Dragon in which he argued for Arthwys ap Mar (Arthur of the Pennines), who ruled from York to Hadrian's Wall, as the legendary king Arthur who defeated the Saxons at the battle of Badon.

In this second part of The Real King Arthur Thrice Discovered we look at The Lost Tomb of King Arthur (Bear & Company, 19 May 2016), the culmination of author Graham Phillips 25 years of research into the Arthurian legend.

Part I - The Story So Far
A self-acclaimed historical detective and former radio journalist and broadcaster, Graham Phillips wrote five books between 1983 and 1995 with Martin Keatman, a partnership that started with the psychic adventure quest The Green Stone (1983) and ended with Robin Hood (1995). In the middle of this run of non-fiction works was King Arthur: The True Story (1992).

Phillips has since produced eight further books as sole author, from Search for the Grail (1995 – reissued as The Chalice of Magdalene in the US by Bear & Company in 2004), Merlin and the Discovery of Avalon in the New World (2005) to The End of Eden (2007).

He has appeared on several television programmes, notably with Tony Robinson and Michael Wood, and more recently on Forbidden Histories with Jamie Theakston on the Yesterday channel (April 2016). Phillips is a regular speaker at alternative conferences such as the Glastonbury Symposium (2015) and is scheduled for an appearance at Andrew Collin's Origins Conference later this year.

The Lost Tomb of King Arthur was published on 19th May leading to flurry of headlines citing Phillips's claim that he has discovered the tomb of King Arthur in a Shropshire field.

The publisher's blurb claims that Phillips, using new translations of primary source material, shows King Arthur was a real man, and by using a 'wealth of literary and scientific evidence' has identified Camelot as a real place and the legendary Excalibur a real sword.

The book is quoted as one man’s journey to uncover the final resting place of the historical King Arthur; using literary research and the latest geophysics equipment Phillips claims to have pinpointed the exact location of Arthur’s tomb.

The people of Stafford were given a preview of Phillip's latest work in a talk by the author on Tuesday  26th April  2016  at St Chad's Church in Stafford, an event organised by Phillipa Smart's Magenta Circle. Being held on my doorstep I was compelled to attend this presentation but over two hours sitting on the pews in St Chads was not the most comfortable of evenings.

Two weeks earlier we were given a preview of Phillips latest discoveries. Jamie Theakston's Forbidden History (Yesterday Channel) screened In Search Of The Real King Arthur
on 8th April 2016. Theakston spent most of the program with Phillips on the trail of King Arthur in Shropshire. This program covered much of the same ground as the Magenta Circle talk.

Magenta Circle advertised the talk as “Best-selling author and historical detective Graham Phillips will be talking about his new book, The Lost Tomb of King Arthur, presenting compelling evidence that the fabled monarch was in fact a real-life historical figure who united the Britons to fight the invading Anglo-Saxons around 500 AD.

He will describe his exciting twenty-year quest to uncover the truth behind the legends of Camelot, Excalibur and the Holy Grail. But most astonishing of all, he will reveal the location he believes King Arthur was buried. With the help of eminent archaeologists, and the latest scientific equipment, Graham has what he argues to be definitive proof that the body of a warrior buried with his shield – just as ancient manuscripts describe Arthur’s burial – lies in isolated countryside in the Midlands of England. A body that dates from the exact time Arthur is said to have lived.”

Phillips started the evening by recapping on his earlier work on King Arthur, covering much of the ground of King Arthur: The True Story (with Martin Keatman, 1992). In the opening session Phillips reiterated the three key points to his theory:
  • Owain Ddantgwyn was Arthur
  • Virocomium (Wroxeter Roman city) was Camelot
  • The Berth, at Baschurch, is the burial place of the kings of Powys, and Arthur
Taking each point in turn, firstly Phillips identifies Owain Ddantgwyn as the historic King Arthur based on the 'Denunciation of the Five Princes' contained in Chapters 28-36 of De Excidio Britanniae (The Ruin Of Britain) a 6th century text by Gildas. In Chapter 32 Gildas directs his tirade at Cuneglasus (Cynlas the Red):

“Why dost thou, also, wallow in the old filth of thy wickedness, from the years of thy youth, thou bear, rider of many, and driver of a chariot belonging to a bear's den, despiser of God and contemner of His decree, thou Cuneglas (meaning in the Roman tongue, thou tawny butcher)?” (Gildas: De Excidio Britanniae, trans & ed. Hugh Williams, Cymmrodorion, 1899).

Here Phillips places much emphasis on the word 'bear' and tells us that in Welsh the word translates as 'Arth', thus convincing himself that Gildas is making a reference to Cuneglasus who, as a descendant of Arthur, has inherited the 'bear's chariot'.

At Chapter 33 Gildas directs his longest rant toward Maglocunus:

“And thou, the island dragon, who hast driven many of the tyrants mentioned previously, as well from life as from kingdom, thou last in my writing, first in wickedness, exceeding many in power and at the same time in malice, more liberal in giving, more excessive in sin, strong in arms, but
stronger in what destroys thy soul----thou Maglocunus.”

But for Phillips, the key here is Gildas' reference to Maglocunus defeat of his uncle:

“In the first years of thy youth, accompanied by soldiers of the bravest, whose countenance in battle appeared not very unlike that of young lions, didst thou not most bitterly crush thy uncle
the king with sword, and spear, and fire?”

Geoffrey of Monmouth tells us that it was Arthur’s own nephew, Mordred, who rebelled against him and brought down the king. In Welsh genealogical tracts the father of Cuneglasus and the uncle of Maelgwn (Maglocunus) is Owain Ddantgwyn.  According to Phillips then, the historic King Arthur is  Owain Ddantgwyn; 'Arthur' was the ‘battle name’ of Owain. QED.

Maglocunus then is identified as Mordred, the man who brought down the King. Phillips claims that the descendants of Maglocunus, the Dragon of the Island, went on to eventually rule all of Wales, hence the red dragon as the national emblem. While the descendants of Cuneglasus went on to rule Warwickshire, whose emblem today is the Bear.

County Flag of Warwickshire
Secondly, Philips argues that Owain and his son Cuneglasus were rulers of Powys. As Viroconium (Wroxeter) was the largest city in Powys, refortified by a powerful Post-Roman Dark Age ruler, it must have been its capital and therefore it must have been Owain's seat of power. As Owain has been identified as Arthur, Viroconium must have been, according to Phillips, the historic Camelot.
Archaeological evidence suggests Viroconium was deserted in the early 6th century which Phillips argues correlates with the date of the battle of Camlann, according to the Welsh Annals (Annals Cambriae) in 537AD, and the fall of Arthur.

Phillips third point is that according to a Dark Age poem The Berth in Shropshire is the burial place of the kings of Powys, and therefore Owain Ddwantgwyn (Arthur). A poem in the Red Book of Hergest, known as The Canu Heledd, identifies Eglwyseu Bassa (“The Churches of Bassa") as the resting place of Cynddylan, a 7th century Prince of Powys. Phillips argues that this can only be Baschurch in Shropshire:

“The Churches of Bassa is confined tonight,
for the heir of the Cyndrwynin,
the land of the grave of Cynddylan the Fair”

He claims the same Dark Age poem refers to Cynddylan as a descendant of Arthur. Presumably, here he means the 9th-century poem The Death Song of Cynddylan (Marwnad Cynddylan) which refers to the “the young whelps of great Arthur”.

Wroxeter Roman City
But one big problem for Phillips theory is that Cuneglasus ruled from Rhos on the North Wales coast, not Powys. In 1997 it seems the fortress of Cynlas the Red, 6th century King of Rhos, was identified during excavations at Bryn Euryn on the east bank of the Conwy Estuary, in the township of Dineirth (The Bear's fortress). Excavations of the ramparts revealed the base of a massive defensive stone wall, thought to have originally stood at least 3m high.

Maglocunus (Maelgwn), the son of Cadwallon Lawhir ('Long Hand') brother of Owain Ddantgwyn, was said to have ruled from Deganwy, on the Creuddyn Peninsula by Llandudno and Rhos-on-Sea. According to the Welsh Annals, Maelgwn died of the “yellow plague” c.547. Tradition claims he was buried on Puffin Island (Priestholm) off the eastern tip of Anglesey.

This family was clearly located in Gwynedd, North Wales. At best Owain Ddantgwyn was probably a King of Rhos in the late 5th century, along way from Vironconium and Baschurch. Further, Cynddylan does not appear in the line of the rulers of Gwynedd.

However, these points are not new and have been the subject of much debate since the publication of King Arthur: The True Story in 1992. So much for the recap; the main points of his talk in Stafford was to be the site of Arthur's last battle at Camlann and the discovery of his tomb. We broke for the interval with the prospect of great revelation in the second part.

Part II - The Lost Tomb

> CC <

* * * 

Sunday, 8 May 2016

The Real King Arthur Thrice Discovered: Book I

Three books due to be published this year promise to reveal the real King Arthur: he was a Yorkshireman; or did he come from Powys on the Marches; no he came from Gwent in south Wales:
  • Simon Keegan, Pennine Dragon, New Haven Publishing,14 March 2016,
  • Graham Phillips, The Lost Tomb of King Arthur, Bear & Company, 19 May 2016,
  • Chris Barber, King Arthur: The Mystery Unravelled, Pen & Sword History, 30 June 2016.
Phillips and Barber are well published authors needing no introduction, their latest Arthurian works claiming to be a summation of a life-times study of the legend, but this is Keegan's first book.

The Real King Arthur of the North
Pennine Dragon: The Real King Arthur of the North by Simon Keegan (New Haven Publishing,14 March 2016) claims to be the definitive work on the true King Arthur published in the 1500th anniversary of Arthur's greatest victory at Badon.1

A journalist from the Daily Mirror newspaper's Manchester office, author Simon Keegan expected to find Arthur in the south-west of England as the legend claims but after years researching the ancient texts he says it is possible to prove that Arthur was from the Lancashire-Yorkshire area.

The popular image of King Arthur is a medieval knights in shining armour possessing a magic sword and advised by a wizard could not be further from the reality of the historic Arthur was first recorded much earlier as a warleader fighting invading Saxons in the 6th century. Keegan therefore chose the statue of Constantine at York, apparently an ancestor of Arthur, for the cover of his book because he wanted to show what a true Romanised leader like Arthur would look like rather than a latter day medieval knight.

Keegan argues that Arthur was always identified as a man of the north in the earliest historical references and identifies Arthur's battles as being fought across the north of England and lowlands of Scotland. Keegan claims we find that Arthwys was at precisely the right time and place and is the only possible man who could have been the King Arthur of legend.

Pennine Dragon claims the historic Arthur was a Yorkshireman, identified as Arthwys ap Mar, King of Ebrauc and the Pennines, whose father was King in the York area and whose kingdom stretched from Hadrian’s Wall down to Yorkshire and Lancashire with Camelot identified as the Roman fort at Slack, Outlane near Huddersfield situated alongside the Roman road, although today under the carpark of the local golf club, adjacent the M62. The Antonine Itinerary records a place named 'Camboduno' somewhere in the West Riding of Yorkshire on Iter II (the second major road in Britain) situated between Calcaria (Tadcaster, North Yorkshire) and Mamucio (Manchester). This appears to be the same station named as 'Camulodunum' (Camulod) listed in the 7th century Ravenna Cosmology, the name possibly transferred from the native hillfort of Almondbury, some five miles away, after the ancient Celtic War-God, Camulos.

The Roman fort at Slack, Outlane, as it may have looked 2,000 years ago
 superimposed on the landscape now, in context with the M62
Initial excavations revealed the Roman fort was established in the 1st century and abandoned in the 2nd century, yet further work by Huddersfield and District Archaeological Society has shown there was activity on the site for at least another 200 years, into the Arthurian period. Keegan sees this fort as a strong contender for the original Camelot.

Other locations identified with the Arthurian legend such as Badon, Camlann, Avalon and the Round Table are all, predictably, identified in the north. Keegan also claims to have identified fifty Arthurian characters as real historical figures from the area. He identifies Lancelot and Galahad as LLaenauc and Gwallawg respectively, kings of the ancient British kingdom of Elmet.

In Pennine Dragon Arthur's wife, the Guinevere of legend (Welsh: Gwenhwyfar), is identified as St Cywair (born 455 AD), an Irish Saint known as the Queen of the Pennines. And just as the legendary Guinevere ended her days in a monastery, Cywair (Welsh: Gwyr) apparently finished her days in the church now called St Cywair's in Llangower, at the south end of Bala Lake (Llyn Tegid) in Wales. The ancient church at Llangower is dedicated to her memory with her feast day still celebrated there on 11th July. Nearby is a holy well named Ffynnon Gower claimed to possess healing properties, the water regarded as a cure for all ailments. There is a late 17th century reference to an associated standing stone, Llech Gower.

In Welsh tradition Gwyr was a 5th century Irish princess who married the king of the North Britons and the mother to St Pabo and Llywarch Hen, the early Welsh bard. According to local tradition there was another well in this area but the well keeper forgot to put the cover over it which caused the flood which formed Llyn Tegid.

Pennine Dragon’s 'Camelot' Protected Status
Since the publication of Pennine Dragon in March 2016 the Roman fort at Slack, situated on a strategic location on the Roman road from Chester to York, named 'Camulod' or 'Cambodunum' which Keegan identifies with Arthur's Camelot, has received further protected status from Historic England (formerly English Heritage) who has extended the schedule to include the area of the Romano-British vicus.

At Slack, as with many other military sites of the Roman period, the vicus, the area of civilian settlement has received little attention and the potential for continuation of civilian activity on the site not fully examined.

Work on the vicus at Slack by the Huddersfield and District Archaeological Society during three seasons of excavation in 2007, 2008 and 2010 made very significant discoveries which has produced evidence for the period of Roman occupation from about 80 AD to 340 AD, extending it well into the 3rd and possibly 4th centuries leading to reconsideration of the later use of the site.

Radiocarbon dating and pottery analysis from the vicus area adjacent to the fort has provided evidence of considerable late activity indicating that the settlement lasted for perhaps 200 years after the fort was demilitarised.2

Arthur of the Pennines
In the genealogical tract 'The Descent of the Men of the North' (Bonedd Gwŷr y Gogledd), extant in several manuscripts, notably the 13th century manuscript Peniarth MS45, can be found the pedigrees of twenty 6th-century rulers of the 'Old North' (Hen Ogledd). This text records the great grandson of Coel Hen (Old King Cole c.385-415) as Arthwys ap Mar who lived from about 460-520, mirroring the flourit of Arthur of Badon.

Arthwys ap Mar does not appear in all the genealogies, indeed to some extent he is as shadowy a figure as Arthur. When he is listed it is always as son of Mar, grandson of Ceneu, great grandson of Coel. However, these pedigrees show evidence of manipulation by Welsh genealogists to provide links to the British Heroes of the Old North. Thus, the name 'Ceneu' appears as a phantom entry arising from a misunderstanding of a reference to 'ceneu' in the poem Gweith Argoed Llwyfein by Talisien. Sir Ifor Williams has argued that the word 'vab' (son of) had been erroneously added by a Welsh scribe who assumed Ceneu vab Coel to be a personal name. Subsequently, Ceneu as a descendant of Coel was accepted by copyists and scholars alike, when according to Williams it should read as “And a whelp of Coel would be a hard-pressed warrior before he would hand over any hostages.3

However, similarity of name and time falls a long way short in providing proof that Arthur of the Pennines is THE King Arthur of Badon. But it does raise the interesting possibility as to whether some deeds ascribed to Arthwys in long-lost ancient northern texts were known by Nennius and Geoffrey of Monmouth who later ascribed these feats to Arthur in their respective works.

In his Historia Regum Britanniae (c.1136) Geoffrey writes of a pre-Arthurian king named Archgallo who wanders hopelessly, deposed and dejected, with just ten knights through the Forest of Calaterium. Geoffrey places the Forest of Calaterium in Albany (Scotland), the place he has Brennius battle with Belinus, located remarkably close to the Forest of Caledon (Celidon) the site of another Arthurian battle.

Alternatively, it has been suggested that Calaterium may have been the Forest of Galtres (Thompson and Giles), an ancient Royal Forest north of York which extended up to the City walls, now long obliterated owing to deforestation in the 17th century, placing Archgallo directly in the territory of Arthwys ap Mar. Archgallo is almost certainly based upon Arthur of the Pennines; Geoffrey even has him crowned at York. Geoffrey seems to have taken Archgallo's family, such as Elidurus and Peredurus from the line of Arthwys featuring his son Eliffer Gosgorddfawr (of the Great Host) and his twin sons, Gwrgi and Peredyr who are remembered for their victory over King Gwenddoleu at the Battle of Arfderydd (Arthuret in Cumbria).

Geoffrey seems to be recalling a long-remembered story of the North which may have contained an element of truth in the record of the battles of Arthwys. It has long been suspected that Geoffrey had access to a now lost Northern Chronicle which recorded the deeds of Arthwys, some of which he seems to have confused with Arthur of Badon. For example, Geoffrey locates Arthur's battle on the river Douglas just outside of York.

In truth the Arthurian battle sites listed in Nennius (Historia Brittonum, Section 56, c.829)  are unidentifiable and can be made to fit almost any location; they can certainly be made to suit a northern identification and therefore used in an argument for an Arthur of the North who battled against the Saxons.

The story of Arthwys of the Pennines may certainly be homogeneous with that of Arthur, and this may be as close as we will get to the discovery of a historic King Arthur; indeed Geoffrey of Monmouth seems to have conflated the two characters in writing of the northern deeds of Arthur.

Yet Arthur is never referred to as 'Arthwys' in vernacular sources and although the Welsh personal name Arthwys is well documented it is an entirely separate name from 'Arthur'. Indeed, the Welsh form of Arthur is exactly that: Arthur – not Arthwys.4

1. It is arguable if Arthur, the Dux Bellorum, actually fought at Badon, but to distinguish that character from the subject of Keegan's book he is referred to here as Arthur of Badon.
2. The Romans in Huddersfield - A New Assessment, British Archaeological Reports Vol 620, 2015.
3. Tim Clarkson, The Men of the North, 2010.
4. Caitlin (Thomas) Green, The Historicity and Historicisation of Arthur.

* * *