Monday, 25 March 2019

Cynwal Sant: The last to leave Arthur

Plotting Camlann: Letters from the Dead

Saint Cynwyl
The earliest account of the survivors of Arthur’s last fateful battle at Camlan is found in the 11th century tale Culhwch and Olwen. Embedded in this tale is a triad reciting the three survivors of the battle: Morfran son of Tegid, Sandde Angel-face and Cynwyl Sant, who was the last to leave Arthur, on Hengroeon his horse.

The name of the steed Hengroen means ‘old skin’ and is said to survive in the name Dinhengroen in Abergele on the north coast of Wales, but quite why a settlement should be named after a horse is beyond me.

This is probably the Saint who was patron of Cynwyl Gaeo and Cynwyl Elfed in Ystrad Tywi, a region of south-west Wales situated on the banks of the River Tywi that was to become the county of Carmarthen.  It is said there is a place in the River Annell where the saint used to kneel in the cold waters and pray. Farmers would scoop water from the depressions made by Cynwyl’s knees and pour it over their cattle to purify them. Alternative stories claim that Cynwyl Gaeo is named after the giant, Cynwil Gawr.

Located between Llandovery and Lampeter is the village of Gaeo; at the centre of the settlement stands the parish church, a grade II listed building, dedicated to St Cynwyl. This church stands on an ancient site occupying a position near the Roman road linking the Roman forts at Llandovery (Alabum) and Llanio (Bremia) to the Roman gold mines at Dolaucothi. This ancient road remained in use as a Drover's road until the 18th century. Wirt Sikes, who studied Welsh folklore, noted the survival of Roman names in the parish, a people, he said, who pride themselves in their Roman descent.

Cynwyl Elfed is situated about 5 miles north of Carmarthen. The church of St Cynwyl at Elfed is said to have been founded in the 6th century, although like many ancient churches little survives of the original structure today as many were rebuilt in medieval times and restored again in later times. The enclosures (llannau) of the earliest Celtic Welsh Saints were typically circular, or oval, and rather tellingly the churchyard at Cynwyl Elfed is curvilinear and bounded by the Afon Duad to the east. Two churches with the same patron saint in close proximity almost certainly indicates the existence of a local cult.

It seems Saint Cynwyl is also remembered at of Aberporth on the west coast of Wales in Ceredigion, where the church is depicted as St Cynfil's on historic maps. The medieval church was replaced by a new structure in the mid-19th century.

And at Penrhos in Llŷn, North Wales, sometimes called Llangynwyl, is St Cynfil’s church some 2 miles from Pwllheli, on the western shore of Cardigan Bay. This church was, again, a 19th century construction built on an ancient site within a circular churchyard. The Grade II listed building has now been converted to a holiday cottage but the exterior remains unspoilt.

Saint Cynwyl is often confused with a son of King Dunawd of Pabo Post Prydyn of the North Pennines who migrated to North Wales, but this is based on a miss-reading of genealogies of Gwŷr y Gogledd, or Men of the North.

All we have for Saint Cynwyl, the last man to leave Arthur at Camlan, is scant evidence for a local cult at two sites near Carmarthen, singular sites at Aberporth on the west coast of Wales and Penrhos on the Llyn peninsula, and a settlement on the north Wales coast apparently named after his horse.

We can’t even be certain he was a historical person, let alone known of any miracles connected with a St Cynwyl, yet four churches named after the same saint tends to indicate his existence, even if somewhat localised. It is likely he spent his early days around the Carmarthen area; the highest concentration of churches tends to indicate the main popularity of a saint’s cult. Cynwwyl, like many Celtic Welsh Saints, would have spent the last years of his career on pilgrimage to Bardsey Island (Ynys Enlli), off the tip of the Llyn Peninsula, said to be the burial site of 20,000 saints. On route to Bardsey he may have left the Carmarthen area, moved to Aberporth, his cell becoming popular with local people seeking cures to their ills, before making his way to Penrhos where he founded a church before ending his days at Bardsey watching the sun set over the sea in the west.

In conclusion, very little is known of St Cynwyl; he is absent from most books on the Celtic Welsh Saints. And even more obscure is his relationship with Arthur and his presence at the battle of Camlann and why he appears in the Triad embedded in Culhwch and Olwen with Morfran and Sandde. Neither St Cynwyl, or his horse Hengroen, appear to give any clues in plotting the location of Camlann.

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Thursday, 7 March 2019


The Mabinogi: A Book of Essays
Edited by C. W. Sullivan III
First published 1996 by Garland Press
Reissued in 2015 by Routledge Revivals

The Lost Tale of Dylan in the Fourth Branch of the Mabinogi
"Throughout the Four Branches of the Mabinogi, the mystical Otherworld encroaches upon the realm of mortal kind, and one of the more powerful appearances of it takes the form of animals that participate in metamorphoses with human figures. These can signify an Otherworld incursion into mortal nature in several different ways. They can signal a thinning of the barriers between the realms of the Otherworld and this world; they can represent characteristics associated with the mysteries of fertility and tribal magic; and they can appear to enhance or, at times, take the place of the principal figures in the tales. It is this third role of Otherworld animals that I wish to concentrate on, because among the many named, and hence characterised animal shapes into which figures are transformed, we come across an unnamed animal whose dis-closure may shed light on the puzzle of the lost tale of Dylan in the Fourth Branch." - Sarah Larratt Keefer

The purpose of this collection, which was first published in 1996, is to provide both an overview of the major critical approaches to the Four Branches of the Mabinogi and a selection of the best essays dealing with them. The essays examine the origins of the Mabinogion, comparative analyses, and structural and thematic interpretations. This book is ideal for students of literature and Medieval studies.

Table of Contents

Part 1: Origins
1. The Mabinogion and  Lady Charlotte Guest Rachel Bromwich
2. The Date of the Four Branches of the Mabinogi T. M. Charles-Edwards;

Part 2: Comparative Analysis 
3. The Calumniated Wife in Medieval Welsh Literature Juliette Wood
4. The Lost Tale of Dylan in the Fourth Branch of The Mabinogi Sarah Larratt Keefer
5. Branwen: A Study of the Celtic Affinities Patrick K. Ford
6. Manawydan fab Llyr: Wales, England, and the "New Man" Andrew Welsh;

Part 3: Structural Interpretations
7. A Thematic Study of the Tale Pwyll Pendeuic Dyuet Sean O Coileain
8. Pwyll Prince of Dyfed: the narrative structure Elizabeth Hanson-Smith
9. The Structure of the Four Branches of the Mabinogi J. K. Bollard
10. Prolegomena to a Reading of the Mabinogi: "Pwyll" and "Manawydan" Patrick K. Ford
11. Narrative Structure in Medieval Welsh Prose Tales R. M. Jones; Thematic Interpretations;
12. Thematic Structure in the Four Branches of the Mabinogi Jeffrey Gantz
13. The Role of the Myth and Tradition in The Four Branches of the Mabinogi J. K. Bollard
14. The Theme of Sovereignty in Pwyll Catherine A. McKenna
15. Gwydion and Aranrhod: Crossing the Borders of Gender in Math Roberta L. Valente
16. Inheritance and Lordship in Math C. W. Sullivan III

> CCC <

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Thursday, 28 February 2019

Sanddef Pryd Angel

Plotting Camlann: Letters from the Dead

"....Sanddef Pryd Angel angel-face - no one wounded him at the battle of Camlan because of his beauty...."

Along with Morfran and Cynwyl Sant, Sanddef Pryd Angel is named as the three who escaped from Camlan in a triad embedded within Culhwch and Olwen. No one dared wound Sanddef because he was so beautiful he was mistaken for an Angel.

In contrast to Morfran who is famed for his ugliness, Sanddef Pryd Angel is known for beauty, which gives him his epithet meaning 'Angel's Form'. He is entirely absent from the early Triads of the Island of Britain (Trioedd Ynys Prydein) but is found in the later "Twenty-four Knights of Arthur's Court", again coupled with Morfran, as the "Three Irresistible Knights".

Sanddef is also found in two poems from Canu Llywarch Hen, in one version the name is found complete with the epithet ‘Pryd Angel’ and listed as one of Llywarch’s twenty-four sons.

Llywarch was a prince from the Old North (Hen Ogledd) during the 6th century. Following the fall of the northern Britons he is said to have fled to Powys and ended his days by Bala Lake (Llyn Tegid). A mound known as Pabell Llywarch (Llywarch's Tent) 2 miles north of Bala, said to be the site of a ruined stone circle, where a now lost inscribed stone near the church at Llanfor was claimed to commemorate old Llywarch. A tradition claims he ended his days here, writing poetry commemorating the loss of his sons.

As we have seen in the previous post, Morfran, Sanddef’s constant companion, was the son of Tegid and associated with Bala Lake. It his here that the cauldron of inspiration was tended by Little Gwion and the great shape-shifting chase, in which he was pursued by Ceridwen the sorceress, commenced.

The Death of Duran son of Arthur

Sandde [Bryd Angel] drive the crow
off the face of Duran [son of Arthur].
Dearly and belovedly his mother raised him.
Arthur [sang it]

This short reference to Duran son of Arthur is found only in a 15th century manuscript, otherwise Duran is unknown to Welsh Tradition. The mention of Sandde(f) suggests it is the battlefield of Camlan and Arthur's son lies among the dead, now carrion fodder.

Next >> Cynwyl Sant
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Monday, 25 February 2019

Morfran, Dark Demon

Plotting Camlann: Letters from the Dead

“….and Morfran son of Tegid - no one wounded him at the battle of Camlan because of his ugliness. Everyone thought he was an attendant demon; he had hair on him like a stag. Sanddef Pryd Angel angel-face - no one wounded him at the battle of Camlan because of his beauty. Cynwyl Sant the saint – one of three men who escaped from the battle of Camlan; he left Arthur last, on Hengroen his horse.”

An Attendant Demon
The first mention of Morfran, son of Tegid is found in Culhwch and Olwen, dating to the 11th century it is the oldest Arthurian tale. Morfran is listed in the embedded triad above with Sandde Bryd Angel and Kynwyl Sant as three men who escaped from the battle of Camlan. Morfran, meaning literally ‘Great Crow’, was so ugly he was mistaken for an attendant demon. Morfran is listed among the many warriors of Arthur’s court invoked by Culhwch in his pursuit of the hand of Olwen daughter of the chief giant Yspaddaden. Morfran is also found in the later native tale The Dream of Rhonabwy, listed as one of Arthur’s counsellors.

Morfran is mentioned in two Welsh Triads (Trioedd Ynys Prydein); as one of the “Three Slaughter-Blocks of the Island of Britain” (TYP 24); and his horse is noted as one of the “Three Lovers’ Horses of the Island of Britain” (TYP 41); “silver-white, proud and fair, horse of Morfran son of Tegid.” According to Rachel Bromwich a ‘slaughter-block’ is a “chopping-block of battles, one who holds his ground firmly in battle, in spite of the enemy’s blows”

Morfran son of Tegid is listed as one of "The Twenty-four Knights of Arthur's Court" in a late manuscript where we find him again coupled with Sanddef Angel-Face as two of the "Three Irresistible Knights" along with Glewlwyd Mighty-Grasp. No one could refuse them anything: “Sanddef because of his beauty, Morfran because of his ugliness, and Glewlwyd because his size, strength and ferocity.

Battersea Cauldron

Into the Darkness
But today, Morfran is probably best known for his part, albeit minor, in the Story of Taliesin (Hanes Talisien) in which he was the son of Ceridwen, the crooked sorceress. He is a purely mythical figure located at Penllyn, at the head of Bala Lake (Llyn Tegid); his father Tegid was said to have lived in the centre of the lake.

Evidently, this is a very old, well developed tale but does not appear in any Welsh manuscript until the 16th century; in the earliest version found in a manuscript written by Elis Gruffydd, Morfran is called Afagddu, ‘utter darkness’, because of his ugliness. In later versions Afagddu, or Y Fagddu, has become Morfran’s ugly brother.

Realising her son would never come to anything because of his looks, Ceridwen boiled a cauldron of a special herbal concoction for a year and a day. At the end of this period the cauldron would produce three drops of the brew which would instil extraordinary wisdom and the gift of prophecy to whoever they should fall upon. Gwion Bach and an unnamed blind companion tended the cauldron for 12 months and when the three drops spring forth they land on him. We hear no more of Afagddu who disappears from the tale. Ceridwen sets after Gwion in a shapeshifting chase, finally to swallow him as a grain of wheat. Nine months later Ceridwen gives birth to Taliesin the bard of radiant brow.

Morfran’s Otherworldly qualities dominate modern stories of him, in which he is seen as the personification of the shadow. This concept arises from our first encounter with him; the chilling prospect of coming face-to-face with a demon on the battlefield would send a shiver down the spine of most warriors who, would at that moment, have departed from their corporeal existence and entered the spiritual realm.

Next >> Sanddef Pryd Angel

Rachel Bromwich, Trioedd Ynys Prydein: The Triads of the Island of Britain, University of Wales Press, Fourth Edition, 2014.
Patrick K Ford, The Mabinogi and other Welsh Medieval Tales, 30th Anniversary Edition, University of California Press, 2008.
Kristoffer Hughes, From the Cauldron Born, Llwellyn, 2013.

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Sunday, 17 February 2019

Iddog, Agitator of Britain

Plotting Camlann: Letters from the Dead

“I was one of the messengers between Arthur and his nephew Medrawd at the battle of Camlan. And at that time I was a high-spirited young man, and because I was so eager for battle, I stirred up trouble between them. This is what I did: whenever the emperor Arthur would send me to remind Medrawd that he was his foster-father and uncle, and to ask for peace lest the sons of the kings of the Island of Britain and their men be killed, and when Arthur would speak to me the fairest words that he could, I would repeat those words to Medrawd in the most offensive way possible. Because of that I was called Iddog Cordd Prydain. And that is how the battle of Camlan was contrived. But three nights before the end of the battle of Camlan I left them, and came to Y Lech Las in Prydain to do penance. And I was there for seven years doing penance, and I was shown mercy.”1

Thus is the introduction of the rider that Rhonabwy meets in his dream coming across the plain of Argyngroeg heading toward Rhyd-y-Groes on the Severn, explaining how Iddog son of Mynio received his nickname ‘Agitator of Britain’. He is virtually unknown outside of the Rhonabwy’s Dream, yet he is mentioned in a late Triad.

A Triad from the Red Book of Hergest, ‘Three Men of Shame’ (TYP 51), draws from Geoffrey of Monmouth’s accounts of the invasion of the Romans, the Saxons and downfall of Arthur to the treachery of Medrawd at Camlan. Rachel Bromwich notes that the wording of this Triad closely follows the Brut (the Welsh versions of Geoffrey’s Historia). The earliest text of the Triad is found in the Red Book version, c.1400. A later version found in the manuscript Peniarth 51 adds a reference to ‘Iddog the Agiatator of Britain’ (idawc korn prydyn), as plotting the battle of Camlan, a name known elsewhere only in Rhonabwy’s Dream. Bromwich concludes that this is a late addition as the reference to ‘Iddog’ should have appeared in the earlier Red Book Triad and may not have been part of the original. Iddog then appears to be solely the creation of the author of Rhonabwy’s Dream.2

Later in the Dream, Iddog introduces Arthur to Rhonabwy who is mustering a great host in preparation for the battle of Badon, but Iddog was present at the battle of Camlan and has served seven years penance since. In Rhonabwy’s Dream, time is running backwards; according to the Welsh Annals (Annales Cambriae) Arthur and Medrawd fell at Camlan, 21 years after Badon. However, this should not detract from Iddog’s role as a conspirator in bringing about the battle of Camlan.3

[click for larger view]
In the tale of ‘How Culhwch won Olwen’, Culhwch invokes nearly 300 members of Arthur’s court as guarantors of the gift he is demanding of Arthur; the hand of Olwen daughter of Ysbaddaden Bencawr.4 This so-called court list includes a Triad (not found in TYP) of the ‘Three who escaped from Camlan’ (which we will come to later) and ‘Gwynnhyvar (Gwynn the Irascible) overseer of Cornwall and Devon (one of the nine that plotted the battle of Camlan)’. Unfortunately, we know nothing more of the remaining eight who plotted Arthur’s downfall at Camlan as they are not named in Culhwch, but we can add Iddog.

The list of Arthur’s counsellors in Rhonabwy is reminiscent of this court list in Culhwch; the author has certainly borrowed some characters from the earlier tale in addition to pulling characters from Welsh tradition as recorded in the Triads. Notable borrowings include Bedwin the Bishop (CaO), Caradog Freichfras (TYP), Gwarthegydd son of Caw (CaO), Gorau son of Custennin (CaO), Mabon son of Modron (CaO), Osla Gyllellfawr (CaO), and Cawrdaf son of Caradog Freichfras (TYP), to name just a few from over forty.

Caradog Freichfras is the man in Rhonabwy’s Dream who remarks with bold, eloquent speech that he is surprised to see such a large host accommodated in such a confined space (Rhyd-y-Groes) and that it was even stranger that those who had promised to be at Badon at noon to fight Osla Gyllellfawr were still at the ford at this time.  Rhonabwy is taken back that one should have spoken so boldly to Arthur, but Iddog replies that Carradog is Arthur’s chief adviser and nephew. Several times in the Mabinogion, Caradog is referred to as the son of Llŷr Marini, a sea deity; in The Second Branch of the Mabinogi Llŷr appears as the father of Brân, Brânwen and Manawydan.

Caradog has been confused with just about every Caradoc (or Caratacus) in history. In Arthurian literature he becomes a knight of the Round Table and features in a Beheading Game in his own story (Le Livre Caradoc) found in the First Continuation of Chrétien de Troyes's Perceval, or the Story of the Graal.

In the Triads, Caradog Freichfras is listed as Chief of the Elders at Arthur’s court in Celliwig, with Bishop Bedwin (Bytwini) as Chief of Bishops (TYP 1). But it is Caradog Freichfras’s son Cawrdaf that is of interest to us in attempting to untangle the plot of Camlan. In the Triads he is listed as one of the ‘Three Chief Officers of the Island of Britain’ (TYP 13). In some sources Cawrdaf is described as a saint who founded churches at Llangowdra (Ceredigion), Abererch (Llyn) and Llangoed (Anglesey). Not far from the church at Abererch can be found the Saint’s well Ffynnon Cawrdaf and a rock shaped like a seat known as Cadair Cawrdaf.

In a late manuscript known as Bonedd y Saint (Descent of the Saints), which records the genealogical tracts of the early British Saints, Cawrdaf is listed as the father of Medrawd, in turn the father of St.Dyfnog (§.51). Another genealogical tract lists Cawrdaf as the father of Iddog, Agitator of Britain (§.88), the man who caused Camlan, the self-confessed traitor in Rhonabwy's Dream.5 Although we should be cautious in holding a high degree of confidence in these late genealogical listings, this does raise the intriguing proposition that Iddog was the brother of Medrawd. The plot thickens.

As for Iddog, we know very little; he appears mysteriously riding across the plain of Argyngroeg, an area near Welshpool, Powys, known today as Gungrog and disappears as Rhonabwy awakes. Apart from this one tale he appears to be entirely absent from Welsh tradition.

Another who appears in the list of Arthur’s counsellors in Rhonabwy’s Dream is Morfran son of Tegid. Morfan (Great Crow) was one of the three who survived Camlan (CaO) because he was so ugly everyone thought he was a demon.

Next >> Morfran, son of Tegid

Notes & References:
1. Rhonabwy’s Dream, from The Mabinogion, translated by Sioned Davies, Oxford, 2007.
2. Rachel Bromwich, Trioedd Ynys Prydein: The Triads of the Island of Britain, 4th Edition, University of Wales Press, 2017. Hereon referred to as "TYP".
3. Here I use the spelling “Camlan” with one “n” as recorded in Welsh sources.
4. Rachel Bromwich, D Simon Evans, Culhwch and Olwen: An Edition and Study of the Oldest Arthurian Tale, University of Wales Press, 1992.
5. P C Bartrum, Early Welsh Genealogical Tracts, University of Wales Press, 1966.

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Sunday, 3 February 2019

Prophetic Visions of the Past

Plotting Camlann: Letters from the Dead

Part IV

Arthur's Prophetic Dreams
In the 12th-century native Welsh tale The Dream of Rhonabwy Madog son of Maredudd, Prince of Powys, has sent out a hundred men in every three commots to search for his rebellious brother Iorwerth who has been raiding into England.

Rhonabwy, one of Madog’s retainers on the quest, along with Cynwig Frychgoch of Mawddwy and Cadwgan Fras from Moelfre in Cynllaith came to the house of Heilyn Goch whilst seeking somewhere to stay for the night. Rhonabwy and his two companions are put up in a blackhouse, a building shared with cattle in which the floor is covered in dung. Cynwig and Cadwgan sleep on a blanket spread across flea-infested straw and twigs. Rhonabwy settled down on a yellow ox-skin on a dias. As soon as Rhonabwy fell asleep he was granted a vision.

Rhonabwy dreamt he was journeying with his companions across the plain of Argyngroeg and his intent was towards Rhyd y Groes on the Severn. As they travelled they came across a rider who said he was Iddawc the son of Mynyo but better known through his nickname Iddog Cordd Prydain (Agitator of Britain). Iddawc transports them back in time to Arthur mustering his troops before the battle of Badon.

The yellow ox-hide appears to the trigger into the dream. In his Historia Regum Britanniae, c.1136, Geoffrey of Monmouth records a dream triggered by sleeping on an animal skin.

The goddess Artemis (Diana)
According to Geoffrey of Monmouth, Brutus, the legendary founder of Britain, landed at the island of Leogecia, and came to a Temple of Diana in a desolate city. That night he drank from a consecrated vessel filled with wine and the blood of a white hart, then spoke to the statue of Diana asking for guidance, he then laid down on a hart's skin before the altar at the Temple of Diana. During the night the goddess appeared to him and told him to go to an island in the western sea.

It is certainly possible that the author of Rhonabwy's Dream was influenced by Geoffrey. The storyteller refers to Medrawd as Arthur’s nephew, a relationship not mentioned in pre-Geoffrey Welsh tradition. Also in Rhonabwy’s Dream, Arthur is referred to as ‘Emperor’, again a term used by Geoffrey to describe the man who conquered most of Europe in his story.

However, it is significant that the storyteller of Rhonabwy used an ox-hide as it reflects the ritual of the Irish seers who would wrap themselves in an animal skin, preferably an ox-hide, alongside a waterfall or pool of water, in order to receive prophetic dreams and hidden knowledge.

It would appear that that medieval writers commonly made use of dreams for the delivery of predictions. As we have seen Geoffrey was fond of using a dream sequence to introduce prophetic visions into his story and feed his fascination with prophesy. For example, Arthur's dream of the ‘dragon and bear’ in Geoffrey's Historia recurs in the Alliterative Morte Arthure.

Malory’s Morte d’Arthur continued the use of dreams to introduce predictions in to his story some 400 years after Geoffrey’s Historia. In Morte d'Arthur there are four dreams; the first two are prophetic dreams in which King Arthur foresees his own end. In the first, Arthur is given a prophetic dream from Gawain. Arthur's army has pushed Mordred's army back to Salisbury Plain, where the two forces agree to meet in battle on the Monday following Trinity Sunday. The night before the battle, Arthur dreams that he's tied to a wheel that plunges into black water full of serpents and beasts. Gawain appears to Arthur and tells him that he will die the next day if he engages in battle with Mordred:

“God given me leave, for to warn you of your death; for an ye fight as to-morn with Sir Mordred, as ye both have assigned, doubt ye not ye must be slain, and the most part of your people on both parties."

Arthur’s second dream in Malory concerns the Questing Beast. The first accounts of this peculiar creature appear in the Perlesvaus and the Post-Vulgate Suite du Merlin. Malory followed the Post-Vulgate's account in his book in which the Questing Beast appears to King Arthur drinking from a pool shortly after he experienced a perturbing dream that foretells Mordred's destruction of the kingdom.

Other dreams in Malory also concern portends of death; Lancelot dreamed about the death of Queen Guinevere thrice in one night, and the fourth and final dream in Malory is by a bishop who sees the gates of heaven open for Lancelot following his death.

However, Rhonabwy’s Dream stands apart from all these Arthurian accounts, which are all essentially prophetic visions, in providing a glimpse in to the past; and while Irish seers used the ox-hide to gain visions of the future, Rhonabwy uses it, unwittingly, to receive a vision of a bygone time.

Early in the story Rhonabwy meets Iddawc, a messenger at the battle of Camlann, who spent seven years doing penance at Y Llech Las in Prydain (The Grey Rock in North Britain) for causing strife between Arthur and Medrawd by twisting their messages.

In the dream it is now at least seven years since Camlann, as Iddawc has completed his penance. He leads Rhonabwy to Rhyd y Groes where he meets Arthur preparing for the battle of Badon. The Historia Brittonum records twelve successful battles for Arthur, culminating in his greatest victory at Badon resulting in peace for a generation. In the Arthurian canon the battle of Camlann, Arthur’s final battle in which he is mortally wounded, occurs some twenty-one years after Badon. Such is the use of dreams in literature where the storyteller can break through boundaries and reverse the known chronology.

Who then is this Otherworldly guide who caused Arthur’s death and can transport Rhonabwy back to a time when Arthur is still alive?

Next >> Iddog, Agitator of Britain

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Tuesday, 29 January 2019

The Location of Rhonabwy's Dream

Plotting Camlann: Letters from the Dead

Part III

The Gathering of A Great Host
The tale of Rhonabwy’s Dream is set on the modern England – Wales border, the site of many conflicts over the centuries. Perhaps this is the reason why the author selected this location?

The plain of Argyngroeg is today named 'Gungrog' near the town of Welshpool, known in Welsh as ‘Y Trallwng’, meaning the sinking or marshy land, historically in Montgomeryshire but today under the administration of Powys.

South of Welshpool is a strategic crossing point of the river Severn at Rhydwhyman. This ford was the main passage from mid-Wales along the valleys of the river Camlad and Rea Brook into Shropshire and Shrewsbury. The first structure built to guard this rite of passage was an Iron Age hillfort at Fdridd Faldwyn. North of the ford the Romans built the fort at Forden Gaer (Lavobrinta).
About a mile and a half from the ford the massive earthwork known as ‘Offa’s Dyke’, said to have been constructed by the Mercian king Offa in the 8th century, crosses the Camlad near Rhyd y Groes ('the ford of the cross').

Half a mile south is the remains of the motte-and-bailey earthen fortification of Hen Domen (old mound), commanding the ford across the Severn, built by Roger de Montgomery, the Earl of Shrewsbury shortly after the Norman Conquest. About 150 years later, during the reign of Henry III, the castle was established a mile south at Montgomery, in his campaign against Llywelyn ap Iorwerth. However, the Severn crossing at Rhydwhyman was not visible from here and it is thought the tower at Hen Domen was retained to watch the ford. Henry’s castle at Montgomery survived many attacks of the years, notably those in 1228 and 1231 by Llywelyn ap Iorwerth, and again in 1245 by Dafydd ap Llywelyn, until is was demolished by Parliamentarians in 1649 during the English Civil War.

The author of Rhonabwy’s Dream seems to have selected this location as a site with a history of conflict between the English and Welsh. However, historians see this as an unlikely location for the battle of Badon. In the story, Arthur breaks camp at Rhyd y Groes, moves up the valley of the Severn toward Cefn Digoll then dismounts below Caer Faddon; Badon then, according to the storyteller, is somewhere near the north end of Long Mountain?

Cefn Diggoll is the Welsh name for ‘Long Mountain’, a mass of high ground extending in the southwest from Forden to Vennington, near Westbury, in Shropshire to the northeast. Ivan Margary traced a Roman road running over Long Mountain, crossing the summit at 1,339 feet (408m) and the hillfort of Beacon Ring, linking the Roman city at Viriconium (Wroxeter) to the fort at Lavobrinta (Forden Gaer). Margary only considered a highland route but evidence has been discovered since his study of a low level Roman road running along the valley of the Camlad.

The Triads of the Island of Britain
(Trioedd Ynys Prydein) record a battle fought at Cefn Digoll in 630 between Edwin of Northumbria and a Mercian-Welsh alliance led by Cadwallon of Gwynedd and Penda of Mercia. The battle preceded a Welsh campaign into Northumbria, which ultimately led to Edwin's death at the Battle of Hatfield Chase.

Another Triad records the fetching of Myngan from Meigen to Llansilin as one of the 'Three Missions that were obtained from Powys'. The poem In Praise of Cadwallon (Moliant Cadwallon) lists a sequence of fourteen victories by Cadwallon over the English and includes the line, 'The camp of Cadwallon on the Severn and from the far side to Dygen, almost the burning Meigen'.

Clearly this is the site of Dark Age conflict, yet the relationship of the accounts in the Triads with the Welsh Annals entry for the battle of Meigen on the Kalends of January in 630, where Edwin and his two sons were killed by Cadwallon, and the Annals entry for 632 which records the slaughter of the Severn and the death of Idris in 632, is uncertain and may, or may not, be referring to the same events.

North across the valley from Long Mountain, in which runs the A458 road from Welshpool to Shrewsbury, is Dygen Freiddyn the old name for the Breidden Hills, a location preferred by Blake and Lloyd as the location of Badon. (Keys to Avalon, Element, 2000). However, no evidence of Dark Age occupation has been found there.

We are left to ponder if the author of the Dream of Rhonabwy consciously selected this location for the mustering of Arthur’s Great Army before the battle of Badon based on its historical setting for conflict between the English and Welsh; or did he hold some local knowledge of a now lost tradition of this being the site of Arthur’s greatest victory?

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