Friday, 8 May 2020

St Indract and Glastonbury

In the early 12th century the English historian William of Malmesbury was commissioned by abbot Henry of Blois to write the history of Glastonbury Abbey emphasising its early Christian past. William’s work De Antiquitate Glastonie Ecclesie (On the Antiquity of the Church of Glaston, c.1129) claimed that Irish saints Benignus, Brigit, Columba and Indractus the martyr had visited St Patrick’s resting place at Glastonbury.

Clearly impressed with this Irish connection at Glastonbury, William mentions in his prologue to the De Antiquitate that he wrote Vitae (Lives) of Saints Patrick, Benignus and Indractus, in addition to two lives of St. Dunstan. In his Vita Dunstani (Life of St Dunstan) William reaffirmed the tradition of Patrick at Glastonbury, although in his earlier Gesta pontificum Anglorum (Deeds of the English Bishops) he appeared somewhat sceptical about Glastonbury’s claims to hold the remains of Ireland’s patron. Afterall, Glastonbury has claimed to possess a remarkable collection of relics, not least the legendary King Arthur and his Queen Guinevere.

The earliest reference to Irish pilgrims at Glastonbury is found in the Life of St Dunstan by the anonymous author known simply as “B” (995- 1005) which states that Irish peregrini flocked to Glastonbury because St Patrick is said to lie at the Abbey.

There certainly seems to have been an Irish community at Glastonbury, with many Irish saints appearing in the Abbey calendars before the 11th century, as attested by a letter dated to before 690, by Aldhelm, Bishop of Sherborne (d.709), in which he rebukes Heahfrith, possibly one of his pupils, for succumbing to Irish learning. Irish saints such as Brigit, Patrick and Indract were known to have been venerated at Glastonbury.

The Glastonbury Charter of St Patrick provides the names of twelve hermits said to have been inhabiting Glastonbury when Patrick arrived. The names have been compared to the names on the largest of the two ancient pyramids in the old cemetery as described by William of Malmesbury. The Charter has long been recognised as a forgery produced by the monks of Glastonbury in the late 13th century which puts much doubt on the authenticity of the names on the pyramids,

However, whether pilgrims first journeyed to Glastonbury because of the claims that St Patrick rests there, or whether the legends were a product of the Irish presence at Glastonbury remains to be answered. And yet the possibility that Patrick was indeed native to Somerset before he was abducted by Irish pirates adds further intrigue to the association with the Holy Men of the Emerald Isle.

St Benignus appears in the Glastonbury calendars from the 10th century but the association appears to be based on a confusion of identities (as is usually the case at Glastonbury). William of Malmesbury tells us that St. Benignus was born in Ireland and converted to Christianity by St. Patrick. Benignus became a disciple of St. Patrick and three years after Patrick founded the abbey at Druimlias he was appointed abbot. There Benignus remained for 20 years before becoming Bishop of Armagh. Benignus died around 468.

Yet in William's De Antiquitate Glastoniae he writes that Benignus did not die in Armagh but resigned his bishopric and left for Somerset around 460, where he lived as a hermit at Meare, barely three miles from Glastonbury. It seems the Irish community associated this man, known as Beonna, with St Benignus who had followed St Patrick to Glastonbury. In the late 11th century Beonna's relics were translated to the church at Glastonbury.

Miracles soon occurred, a sign the Saint approved of the translation, at a point midway between Meare and the Abbey where a church was built dedicated to the Saint. The relics of St Benignus (or Beonna) were moved to a shrine before the High Altar of St Marys Church at the Abbey, close to those of fellow Irish saints St Patrick and St Indract.

When William visited Glastonbury in the 1120’s, in addition a cult of St Benignus, he found the existence of cult to St Indract. William wrote a Vita Indractus but this is sadly now lost, consequently most of the information we have on St Indract comes from a Latin passio said to be based on an earlier Life written in Old English and from John of Glastonbury’s 14th century account said to be based on William’s original.

John of Glastonbury tells us that Indract was martyred during the reign of King Ine, 688-726. John writes that Indract was the son of an Irish king who journeyed on pilgrimage to Rome. On his return he pledged to visit Glastonbury to venerate the relics of St Patrick. Following a few days at Glastonbury Indract and his seven companions set off for Ireland breaking their journey at Shapwick for the night.

Some of King Ine’s men were staying nearby, including a band of wicked men led by a thegn named Huna. Thinking Indract and his companions were wealthy and carrying large amounts of money they attacked them as they slept and mutilated their bodies.

Meanwhile, when looking out over the Somerset countryside the King saw a pillar of bright light in the distance. After witnessing the same event for the next two nights he decided to investigate. On arriving at the spot he found the mutilated bodies of Indract and his companions, and Huna and his band of men who had gone mad were devouring their own flesh. King Ine brought the bodies of Indract and his companions to Glastonbury where he enshrined Indract at the north side of the High Altar at St Mary’s Church, opposite St Patrick, with his followers placed under the floor of the basilica. The body of one companion is said to have not been found, but on their feast day, 8th May, a column of light is said to emanate from his place of burial.

According to John of Glastonbury when St Hilda’s relics were gifted to Glastonbury Abbey by King Edmund the Elder they were kept in a reliquary with those of St Indract.

There is evidence suggesting that St Indract was venerated at Glastonbury at least by the early 11th-century. However, his cult, although known in Ireland, seems to have been local to Glastonbury. According to William of Malmesbury, St Indract’s martyrdom was around 710, but Irish accounts assert a date of around 854.

As with Saints Patrick and Benignus, and so many others, there again seems to be confusion with the identity of the individual claimed to rest at Glastonbury.

Michael Lapidge has argued that he is most likely to represent a 9th-century abbot of Iona named Indrechtach ua Fínnachta whom several contemporary Irish sources report as being "martyred among the English" in 854. These sources give the date of his death as 12th March, which differs from the Glastonbury tradition of 8th May.

Michael Lapidge, The Cult of St Indract at Glastonbury in Ireland, pp.179–212, Ireland in Early Medieval Europe: studies in memory of Kathleen Hughes, editors Dorothy Whitelock, Rosamund McKitterick, David N. Dumville, Cambridge University Press, 1982.
James P Carley, Glastonbury Abbey: The Holy House at the Head of the Moors Adventurous, Gothic Image, 1996.

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Tuesday, 7 April 2020

Camelot Has Fallen

The Arthurian Legacy is the theme of the latest issue of Medieval Warfare X.1 (May/June 2020).

Warfare in Arthurian literature is explored by Danièle Cybulskie in the major article ‘The fall of Camelot’ according to writings of Geoffrey of Monmouth and Thomas Malory who tell the story of King Arthur’s last battle and show how warfare changed between the twelfth and fifteenth centuries.

Neither author was a stranger to warfare and their experiences clearly influenced their respective portrayals of the Arthurian Legend.

Geoffrey witnessed medieval warfare first hand and no doubt some elements of his History of the Kings of Britain (c.1138) were influenced by the early part of the civil war raging for nearly twenty years between King Stephen (reigned 1135-54) and his cousin Empress Matilda and her son Henry of Anjou (future Henry II)  for the English Crown. Indeed Robert, 1st Earl of Gloucester, illegitimate son of Henry I of England, and powerful military supporter of Matilda during The Anarchy, is recorded as patron to some versions of Geoffrey’s Historia.

The true identity of Malory has been debated for many years, however, the Thomas Malory who fought at the Siege of Calais (c.1436) during the Hundred Years War is generally considered to be the same man who wrote the Arthurian epic Le Morte d’Arthur from a prison cell during the Wars of the Roses (1455 to 1487) civil war fought between the Hose of Lancaster and the House of York. Malory was in prison for much of this period in which he switched his allegiance from York to become entangled in a Lancastrian conspiracy to overthrow King Edward IV.

The major difference between these works was that Geoffrey writing what was perceived as ‘history’ at the time; whereas Malory produced a summation of all the Arthurian literature that he could get his hands on in his prison cell to provide the ultimate tale of King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table.

Cybulskie traces accounts of warfare in their respective ages up to Arthur’s final battle at Camlann. Geoffrey's version of Arthur's final battle is surprisingly brief, yet Arthur is mortally wounded and taken to the Isle of Avalon to be cured of his wounds.

Malory based his tale of the fall of Camelot on the Mort Artu and the Stanzaic Morte Arthur. The dying Arthur is taken away in a barge by ladies in black hoods, his ultimate fate uncertain; does he die of his wounds or is he healed and lives on? Bedivere then wanders through a forest where he comes to a hermit who is kneeling over a freshly dug grave. The hermit reveals it is the grave of a man brought to him at midnight by ladies in black. Is this the body is of Arthur? Malory does not say.

The cover shows the mortally wounded King Arthur taken by boat to Avalon while his sword
Excalibur is returned to the Lady of the Lake as depicted in Malory’s Le Morte d’Arthur.

If Geoffrey and Malory’s accounts of the fall of Camelot were inspired by the Arthurian literature of the twelfth and fifteenth centuries, Randall Moffett’s article 'Defending Britain in the sixth century - The historic Arthur' in the same issue steps back to the sixth century. By ‘historic’ the author considers a figure that could have rallied the beleaguered Britons after the withdrawal of the Romans and faced the onslaught of the invading Germanic tribes. Moffett considers what a historic King Arthur and his Knights would have looked like in the sixth century and discusses armour and weaponry used during the Post Roman to the Anglo Saxon period (AD 450-600).

Medieval Warfare Magazine is a publication for those interested in the military history of the Middle Ages. Published six times per year, each issue contains articles on battles, weapons, and armies, along with news and reviews.

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Thursday, 19 March 2020

The Giant’s Daughter

Plotting Camlan: Letters from the Dead

Throughout the Arthurian legend Guinevere is well known as an adulteress and abductee; the woman who brought about the battle of Camlan and the fall of King Arthur.

But was it always that way? 

Arthurian Legend in the 12th Century
The 12th century saw massive change to the Arthurian legend after the work of Geoffrey of Monmouth elevated Arthur of the Britons to conqueror of Europe. This period witnessed the birth of Arthurian Romance; following Geoffrey, Medieval Romance carried King Arthur to the courts of Europe with the tales of Chretien de Troyes introducing the quest for the Grail. Others followed and by the 15th Century Thomas Malory wrote the ultimate Arthurian story, Le Morte d’Arthur.

Malory’s summation weaved together the many strands of Arthurian Romance but has essentially stayed true to Geoffrey’s final days of the King; Medrawd (Mordred) has usurped the throne and abducted Guinevere. The Arthurian journey ends at Camlan.

The First Abduction
Guinevere - Henry Justice Ford
Geoffrey is conventionally credited with being the first to write of Guinevere’s abduction and her affair with Medrawd (Mordred) in bringing down Arthur. Yet earlier Welsh Tradition suggests that the story of "Gwenhwyfar" (the Welsh rendering of the name Guinevere) and her association with Camlan was well known prior to Geoffrey putting quill to parchment. However, it is clear that the story developed as Geoffrey’s influence on the Arthurian legend grew.

Gwenhwyfar makes her first literary appearance in the Welsh tale of Culhwch and Olwen in which Arthur cites the lady along with his other possessions. The tale of Culhwch is dated to the 11th century but the first written account that has survived is found in the White Book of Rhydderch, dated to the first quarter of the 14th Century. Although the first version of Culhwch is generally accepted as being composed before Geoffrey, we cannot rule out his influence on the manuscript version that has survived and the possibility that Gwenhwyfar was introduced to the tale as Arthur’s wife by a later hand.

The first abduction of Gwenhwyfar appears in the Vita Gildae (The Life of Gildas) by Caradoc of Llancarfan. In this account Arthur’s Queen is carried away by Melwas (honey-youth), King of the summer country, to the “city of glass”. The tale explains this as the name of Glastonia, modern Glastonbury.

The Vita is dated to the first quarter of the 12th century; Caradoc being a contemporary of Geoffrey of Monmouth. Indeed Geoffrey refers to Caradoc at the end of some versions of his Historia as being the only person capable of continuing the history of the Britons. It seems Caradoc was well versed in the early Arthurian tales as he wrote a second version of the Life of Saint Cadog in which Arthur also figures prominently. There is no reason for arguing against this being an early tale, however it is of course possible that Caradoc substituted Gwenhyfar, or "Guennuuar" as he renders her name, under the influence of Geoffrey.

Almost certainly Geoffrey knew of Caradoc’s tale of Gwenhwyfar’s abduction and weaved it into his Historia in support of the feud between Arthur and Medrawd. And this reputation then stayed with Guinevere throughout later accounts of Arthurian Romance for the next four hundred years.

Arthur’s raid on the “city of glass” is recorded in an earlier Welsh poem known as Preiddeu Annwn (The Spoils of Annwn) from the 14th century manuscript The Book of Taliesin. However, scholars have argued on linguistic grounds for a 10th Century composition date. If this is correct it was composed several hundred years before Geoffrey.

This early Welsh poem describes a raid by Arthur on Annwn, the Welsh name for the Celtic Otherworld, to release a prisoner, named here as "Gweir". The poem is divided into eight stanzas, with each using different terms such Caer Sidi (Mound, or Fairy Fortress) Caer Rigor (Fortress of Hardness), or Caer Wydyr (Glass Fortress) to describe the Otherworld.

In Old Welsh, “caer” can mean fortress, stronghold or citadel. In the 9th Century Historia Brittonum (History of the Britons, aka Nennius) the author lists 28 cities, all of which are called "caer".

It is certainly possible that Arthur’s raid on Caer Wydyr in The Life of Gildas by Caradoc of Llancarfan is based on an archetypal tale such as Arthur’s raid on Annwn from the Taliesin poem Preiddeu Annwn, but in Caradoc’s account it has been adapted to explain the name of Glastonia and perhaps included Gwenhwyfar for the first time. However, Geoffrey of Monmouth never referred to Glastonbury as “Avalon”, another name for the Celtic Otherworld; to him Avalon was an island where Arthur’s sword Caliburn was forged and then he was taken to be cured of his wounds by Morgen and her sisters, a similar concept to the Isles of the Blessed.

Significantly, Gwenhwyfar is not mentioned in the earlier account of Arthur’s raid on the Otherworld as recorded in the Preiddeu Annwn, yet the story of the abduction of Arthur’s wife by his nephew was certainly extant in Europe before Geoffrey.

In the north Italian city of Modena stands the Cathedral dedicated to The Assumption of the Virgin Mary and Saint Geminianus. On the archivolt of the cathedral's north portal, known as the Porta della Pescheria, is a carving claimed to be the earliest monumental sculpture to feature the Arthurian legend.

Modena Archivolt
The Modena archivolt shows two figures, identified as Mardoc and Winlogee, inside a castle. Riding on horseback toward the castle are figures such as Artus de Bretania, Galvagin and Che. This scene has been described as the abduction of Guinevere as “Winlogee” appears to be a Breton rendering of the name. Mardoc (Medrawd) has imprisoned her in the Castle of Glass with Arthur, Gawain and Cai advancing.

The carving on the Modena archivolt has been dated to be between 1120 and 1140, making it contemporary with Caradoc of Llancarfan and Geoffrey of Monmouth yet certainly before Chretien de Troyes took the theme of Guinevere’s abduction into Arthurian Romance.

Is there evidence for Gwenhwyfar before Geoffrey?

The First Guinevere
As we have seen above, Gwenhwyfar first appears in the 11th century Arthurian tales  Culhwch and Olwen. When Arthur recalls a list of his possessions they all have Otherworldly connections, including Gwenhwyfar.

The original Welsh form of the name Gwenhwyfar, meaning “white fairy/phantom”, is cognate with the Irish name Findabair, the daughter of Queen Medb in Irish mythology, from Old Irish “síabair” meaning a spectre, phantom, supernatural being.

Indeed, for this reason some scholars [Thomas Green for example] see the battle of Camlan as an Otherwoldly event, rather than historical.

There is then an argument that in the original tale Arthur’s Queen was carried off to the Otherworld, the City of Glass. Arthur then carries out a raid to retrieve her, along with other booty, such as cauldron. This tale, perhaps the first and original Arthurian tale, a Celtic version of the Greek myth of Persephone, has been lost to us in the course of time.

And as with Gwenhwyfar’s name, we find that the abduction story may have its origins in an earlier Irish account in which the King’s wife is abducted by his nephew.

Gwenhwyfar in Welsh Tradition
In some versions of Geoffrey’s work the name Gwenhwyfar is rendered into Latin as “Guanhumara”. It has been suggested that this spelling of the name may be based on an earlier Welsh name suggesting Geoffrey had access to some native Cambrian source. Whatever Geoffrey’s sources we find Gwenhwyfar’s appearance in Welsh tradition to be very few and far between.

As we have seen above, Gwenhwyfar first appears in the Arthurian tale Culhwch and Olwen, and occurs in the Life of Gildas (as Guennuuar), yet she is then entirely absent from early Welsh literature until The Triads of the Island of Britain.

The Triads contain a rich body of folklore and legendary tales, yet often include historical characters, often out of time and place. Rachel Bromwich lists 97 Triads in her magnum opus: Trioedd Ynys Prydein: The Triads of the Island of Britain; a collation of all the manuscripts abbreviated as “TYP”. Peniarth 16 is the oldest version of the Triads, which Bromwich calls the “Early Version” ending at Triad 46.

The earliest, and only Triad in Peniarth 16, to mention Camlan is TYP 30 “Three Faithless Warbands of the Island of Britain” which does not mention Arthur, Gwenhwyfar or Medrawd but tells how the warband of Alan Frygan deserted him the night before the battle. Frygan was a Breton lord who died around 1130 which indicates the likely composition date of the composition of the Triad.

The remaining Triads do not appear in Peniarth 16 but are found in the following manuscripts:

Triads 47-69:  The White Book of Rhydderch and The Red Book of Hergest,
Triads 70-80: Peniarth 47,
Triads 81-86: Peniarth 50,
Triads 87-97: miscellaneous additions from later manuscripts.

The White Book of Rhydderch and The Red Book of Hergest manuscripts are dated to the 14th century while Peniarth 47 and Peniarth 50 manuscripts are from the 16th century.

Battle of Camlan
According to the Triads, here mirroring Geoffrey, Gwenhwyfar is the cause of the Battle of Camlan. She is mentioned in five Triads and the battle of Camlan in a three.

Triad 53 says the slap that Gwenhwyfach struck upon Gwehhwyfar caused the conflict of the Battle of Camlan. Apart from this and one other Triad (see below), Gwenhwyfach is only known from Culhwch and Olwen in which she is recorded as Gwenhwyfar’s sister.

Triad 54 tells of Modred’s visit to Arthur’s court at Celliwig in Cornwall and he left neither food nor drink that he did not consume. He also dragged Gwenhwyfar from her Royal chair and struck a blow upon her. The Triad records a second reckless ravaging when Arthur came to Modred’s court and left neither food or drink. This Triad is often linked to the previous one (53) and typically interpreted as Arthur’s avenging Medrawd’s insult. However, this tale may not necessarily linked to Camlan.

Triad 56 lists Arthur’s Three Great Queens, all appropriately named Gwenhwyfar yet each with a different named father, one named curiously as Gogfran the Giant.

Triad 80 records Three Faithless Wives of the Island of Britain with Gwenhwyfar more faithless than the three because she shamed a better man than the others.

Triad 84 lists Three Futile Battles of the Island of Britain; the third was Camlan which was brought about because of Gwenhwyfars’ contention with Gwenhwyfach.

In addition to the Triads already mentioned (30, 53, 84) the battle of Camlan is also mentioned in Triads 51 and 59. Triad 51 mentions Three Men of Shame in the Island of Britain; the third and worst was Medrawd when Arthur left him with the government of the country while he went oversea to oppose the emperor of Rome. Bromwich writes that the content of this Triad from the Red Book has been lifted directly from the narrative of Geoffrey of Monmouth.

The threefold divisions by Arthur of his men with Medrawd at Camlan is recorded in Triad 59 as one of the Three Unfortunate Counsels of the Island of the Island of Britain. Again, this appears to follow Geoffrey’s account which says Medrawd has a force of 60,000 men for the final battle which he split into six divisions, in each he placed six thousand, six hundred and sixty-six armed men, the rest he placed in his own division. Meanwhile, Arthur divided his men into nine divisions.

The later Triads found in the White and Red Books show Arthur’s growing popularity from the influence of Geoffrey of Monmouth and the courtly romances. It should be noted that it is only after Geoffrey that Gwenhwyfar is associated with Camlan and her treacherous affair with Medrawd.

Hence, it is difficult to find evidence of Gwenhwyfar in Welsh tradition that is free from Geoffrey’s influence. Yet where we might there is just a trace of Gwenhwyfar in a supernatural context; this puts her firmly in the realm of legendary beings, which is where the earliest Welsh Arthurian literature, such as Culhwch and Olwen and Preiddeu Annwn, places Arthur as a superhero fighting witches, monsters and giants in the Otherworld.

The Giant’s Daughter
We noted above how Gwenhwyfar was referred to in the Triads as the daughter of [G]Ogfran the Giant (often spelt Ogrfan). Significantly absent from the earliest Welsh literature that is securely free of Geoffrey’s influence which always associates her with Camlan and Medrawd, Gwenhwyfar is remembered by the later Medieval Welsh poets as the “Giant’s Daughter”.

Old Oswestry hillfort - Caer Ogfran
Gwenhwyfar was referred to in the Triads as the daughter of Gogfran the Giant, although not necessarily a giantess she is clearly a folkloric character. Gogfran is associated with Old Oswestry hillfort, known as Caer Ogfran, in Shropshire, since at least the 12th century. However, scholars are not agreed on the location of the Giant’s abode; “carreg-y-fran” near Beguildy in Radnorshire may have its origin in “Kayr Ogheruen”, i.e. Gogyrfen’s Fort. Oddly Radnorshire contains several locations known as the “Giants Grave”.

In the early 17th  century Sion Rhys Davies wrote an account of the Giants of Wales in defence of Geoffrey of Monmouth’s claim that Britain was first inhabited by Giants. Indeed, Geoffrey has Arthur fighting the giant Ritho, or Ritta, on mount Snowdon and he defeats another giant at St Michael’s Mount on his journey to Gaul.

A late tale recorded by Davies tells of the abduction of Gwenhwyfar’s brothers by some giants. She calls upon Arthur for assistance:

“There was a place on the frontier of the land of Shropshire, called Bron Wrgan, and it was the abode of giants.

“And in this place it is related that there were some brothers to Gwenhwyfar, the daughter of Gogyrfan Gawr, who were imprisoned by some of these giants. And she grieved greatly they were in captivity. But Arthur saved them each one, killing the giants, and taking the head of the biggest of them and throwing it into the middle of the river instead of a stone, in stepping across the river, to go to Castell y Cnwclas. And as he placed his foot on the head of the giant in stepping across the river Arthur said, Let the head grow in the river instead of a stone. And henceforth that river was called Afon Tyfed-iad, as the side of the giant's head grew.” [Sion Dafydd Rhys, The Giants of Wales and Their Dwellings, c.1600]

Afon Tefeidiad is the Welsh name for the river Teme which flows past Knucklas. A local tradition claims that Knucklas castle is where Arthur and Guinevere were married. There are scant remains of the castle today, but what does remain has been dated to the 12th and 13th centuries when the fortification was constructed by the Mortimers, a powerful family of Norman Marcher Lords, who controlled this area where Offa's Dyke and the River Teme shadow the border between Wales and England.

Knucklas Castle
Local tradition claims the mound at Knucklas, now a Cadw scheduled monument, was fortified in the Iron Age then re-occupied in the Dark Ages.  However, without excavation there has been little evidence produced to support such claims.

Another local legend says that further along the Teme valley at Crug-y-Byddar, near Felindre, was the castle of Uther Pendragon, Arthur’s father.

In between Felindre and Knucklas along the B4355 road in the Teme Valley is the village of Beguildy. Here we find Pantycaregl Farmstead, once a 16th century gentry house. According to the National Monuments Record of Wales:

“Part of Pantycaregl Farmstead (nprn 404525) was a storeyed and winged stone-built gentry house, probably dating from about 1580. It was built by Morgan ap Maredudd, patron of Sion Dafydd Rhys. The house was gutted by fire in 1931 and a new farmhouse stands on the site, although the cellar of the old house is still in use and carved heads have been preserved.

Giant's head at Pantycaregl
The curious stone heads set under the corners of the eaves are said to be the heads of giants and perhaps refers to the Arthurian tale of the Afon Tyfeidiad (River Teme) quoted above. This seems even more likely when we realise that Morgan ap Maredudd, the builder of Pantycaregl, was also the patron of Sion Dafydd Rhys who often stayed here while writing many of his works.

The 11th century tale Culhwch and Olwen details a list of over two hundred characters that Culhwch calls upon to help him win Olwen. One of these characters is "Gwyn Hyfar, steward of Cornwall and Devon, one of the nine who plotted the Battle of Camlan." Rachel Bromwich translates this as "Gwynn the Irascible." This name has an undeniable phonetic similarity to "Gwenhwyfar" who the writers of Welsh Tradition hold responsible for the Battle of Camlan.

Rachel Bromwich, Trioedd Ynys Prydein: The Triads of the Island of Britain, UWP, 4th Edition 2014.
Michael Faletra, trans & ed.,The History of the Kings of Britain: Geoffrey of Monmouth, Broadview Press, 2007.
Thomas Green, Concepts of Arthur, Tempus, 2007.
Chris Grooms, The Giants of Wales: Cewri Cymru, Edwin Mellen Press, 1993.

See: The Abduction of Guinevere

Edited. 22/03/20

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Sunday, 1 March 2020

St David at Glastonbury

1st March is St. Davids Day, and has been celebrated as the national day of Wales since the 12th Century. In Medieval tradition he was the nephew of King Arthur.

St David
In Caradoc of Llancarfan’s Life of St Gildas he tells us that Saint Gildas became the most celebrated preacher in Britain. However, there was one occasion when he was lost for words; Gildas was preaching in a church when he found himself unable to speak. He asked all to leave the church but found he was still unable to continue. He asked if anyone was hiding in the church when a woman pregnant with child called out to him “I, Nonnita, am staying here between the walls and the door, not wishing to mingle with the crowd.”

Gildas requested she left the church. After Nonnita had left he called the people back in to deliver his sermon. At the end the Angel of the Lord explained to Gildas that “Nonnita, a saintly woman, remains in the church, who is now with child, and is destined, with great grace, to give birth to a boy whom thou couldst not preach, the divine power withholding thy speech. The boy this is to come will be of greater grace: no one in your parts will equal him.”

The child in Nonnita’s (St Non) womb was Dewi (David); so moved by the experience Gildas bequeathed Wales to St David’s administrations.

According to the Life of St David written by Rhygyfarch c.1090, Glastonbury was the first of twelve monasteries founded by the Saint in the late 6th Century.

This of course conflicts with the Glastonbury legend that claims the church at Glastonbury had been in existence several hundred years before St David’s arrival. When William of Malmesbury produced his history of the Abbey he suggested that St David must have come to Glastonbury to rededicate the Old Church there.

According to William, the night before the rededication of the Old Church St David experienced a vision in which The Lord confirmed that he himself had dedicated the Old Church long ago. St David decided to build a smaller chapel on to the eastern end of the church. According to later tradition, the line of connection of the two chapels was marked by an external pyramid on the northside and a raised step inside. Extending a line on the southern side is where, it is claimed, Joseph of Arimathea lies.

St David is said to have received a wonderful altar stone, “the sapphire”, from the Patriarch of Jerusalem which he took to Wales. However, as with may contradictory claims, a Glastonbury tradition claimed that St David presented this marvellous jewel to the community at Glastonbury. It was apparently hidden during the turbulent Saxon times but rediscovered by Henry of Blois in the 12th Century. The sapphire was richly decorated and then hung in the church where it remained until the Dissolution, when the commissioners of Henry VIII noted “ a super altar… decorated with the great Saphire of Glastonbury.”

St David's Cathedral
Later, Glastonbury was to claim to posses the majority of St David’s physical remains. It wouldn't be the only time the Abbey would pull such a stunt. Glastonbury argued that much of St David’s diocese in South Wales had been devastated by English incursions and that a Holy woman named Aelswitha brought St Davis’s relics to Glastonbury for safekeeping in the 10th century. According to John of Glastonbury the virgin St Aelswitha lies between the High Altar and the tomb of King Arthur. However, the Welsh disputed the Glastonbury claim and continued to display, they argued, the genuine relics at St David’s Cathedral.

James P Carley, Glastonbury Abbey: The Holy House at the Head of the Moors Adventurous, Gothic Image, 1996.

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Sunday, 16 February 2020

The Lost Story of Camlan

“Many a streaming tear coursing down cheeks, many a blood-stained side gashed, many a widow bewailing him, many a fatherless son, many a ruined homestead in the track of conflagration, many an anguished cry as after Camlan...” - Gruffudd ab yr Ynad Goch (fl.1280), elegy for Llywelyn ap Gruffudd, Prince of Wales.

Plotting Camlan: Letters from the Dead

Geoffrey’s Story
Allusions to Arthur’s last battle at Camlan can be found in the work of the Welsh poets from Y Cynfeirdd, continuing through Y Gogynfeirdd, to Cywyddwyr; a thousand year period commencing in the mid-6th century. Evidently the tradition of Camlan had a remarkable longevity in Welsh literature but, frustratingly, only incomplete references have survived; we never find a full account of the battle or the reason for the conflict. Does this suggest that the Welsh literati were aware of the full account of the battle that brought down the Dux Bellorum without need for further expansion; or was there a lost saga of Camlan long forgotten in the mists of time?

The first full account of the battle of Camlan, or “Camblam” as the author calls it, is found in the 12th century work of Geoffrey of Monmouth known as Historia regum Britanniae (The History of the Kings of Britain, c.1136). Geoffrey claims to have taken his story from a very ancient book in the British tongue given to him by Walter, Archdeacon of Oxford, which he translated into the Latin.

In Geoffrey’s account King Arthur returns to Britain from his campaign in Europe in response to Mordred usurpation of the throne and abduction of Arthur’s Queen, Gwenhwyfar (Geoffrey’s “Ganhumara”, later known as “Guinevere” in the Romances). In Geoffrey account Gwenhwyfar does not resist Mordred and appears to go with him willingly. On his return to Britain Arthur lands at Richborough in Kent where his army eventually gets ashore after much fighting with Mordred’s forces. Mordred withdraws his army to Winchester. When Arthur’s host marches on Winchester Mordred takes flight to Cornwall and Gwenhwyfar flees from York to the City of the Legions (Caerleon) and joins the order of the nuns there at the church of St Julius the Martyr.

The forces of Arthur and Mordred meet for the final conflict on the River Camblam, identified by historians as Camelford on the river Camel. Geoffrey is the first to identify this Cornish location as the site of Camlan. In his study of Geoffrey’s work (The Legendary History of Britain, California, 1950) JSP Tatlock argues that Geoffrey has simply taken the name “Guieith Camlann” from the Annalaes Cambriae, and applied it to the location to the River Camel in Cornwall, barely a stone’s throw from Tintagel, the place, he identifies, of Arthur’s conception; thus, Geoffrey’s account of Arthur’s story, from birth to death, has turned full circle.

Does this stone,  lying on the bank of the
River Camel  at Slaughterbridge,
mark the site of the battle of Camlan?
Mordred has a force of 60,000 men for the final battle according to Geoffrey, which he split into six divisions, in each he placed six thousand, six hundred and sixty-six armed soldiers, the rest he placed in his own division. Meanwhile, Arthur divided his men into nine divisions. Battle commenced then after much of the day fighting with heavy losses on both sides, Arthur, with a single division of six thousand, six hundred and sixty six men charged for the squadron where Mordred was. After hacking their way through causing immense slaughter, Mordred was killed along with thousands of his men. The fighting continued until eventually Arthur was mortally wounded and carried off to the Isle of Avalon so that his wounds might be attended to. The crown of Britain passed to his cousin Constantine, the year 542.

But Arthur is not dead; Geoffrey reiterates this point in his later Life of Merlin, in which he states that Arthur is being healed of his wounds by Morgen and her sisters. It seems Geoffrey knew of tales of Arthur’s anticipated return; the “Breton Hope”. However, in the Brut, the Welsh version of the Historia regum Britanniae, Arthur is said to be buried in a hall on the island of Avalon.

The Sources of Legendary History
Geoffrey’s sources have been the subject of much debate and his claim of an ancient book is not taken seriously by modern scholars. It was even doubted by his contemporaries, who accused him of lying. He certainly had access to the works of Gildas, Bede and Nennius; the rest, filling in the gaps, is considered to be pure invention on Geoffrey’s part.

This presents two possibilities: Firstly, the allusions to the battle of Camlan found in Welsh literature from the 12th century onwards correspond to an independent source that Geoffrey also used; or secondly the medieval Welsh poets were influenced by, and followed, Geoffrey’s account.

To consider the first possibility first, we find tantalising glimpses of the battle of Camlan in early Welsh literature but lacking any specific detail.

The earliest extant and only account considered to be a historical record of Camlan is found in the 10th century Cambro-Latin chronicle, the Welsh Annals (Annales Cambriae) for Year 537: “The strife of Camlann in which Arthur and Medraut fell”.

The Stanzas of the Graves, or The Graves of the Warriors of Britain, (Englynion y Beddau) records the resting places of legendary characters from Welsh literature. As the text is folkloric in nature it is not considered a reliable historical resource. However, recorded in several manuscripts, the earliest collection is found in the Black Book of Carmarthen (Llyfr Du Caerfyrddin), compiled in the 13th century. Scholars of Welsh orthography argue that the majority of the englynion are much older than the manuscript and date to the 9th- or 10th-century. Of the 73 stanzas found in the Black Book three have Arthurian content mentioning Arthur's grave and the site of the battle of Camlan. Unfortunately the text fails to elaborate and reveals neither location.

The next mention of the battle of Camlan is in the 11th century tale Culhwch and Olwen in which we find a reference to Gwyn Hyfar (Hy-far = Irascible) steward of Cornwall and Devon, as one of the nine who plotted Camlan. The tale of Culhwch and Olwen also includes an embedded triad listing three men who escaped from Camlan; Morvran the son of Tegid, Sandde Bryd Angel, and Cynwyl Sant. Yet, oddly this Triad is completely absent of The Triads of the Island of Britain (Trioedd Ynys Prydein). Again, no further information is given on the cause or location of the battle of Camlan.

In Culhwch and Olwen we also meet Arthur's wife Gwenhwyfar for the first time in which she is listed along with his other possessions, sword, knife, etc. We also find Gwenhwyfach for the first time, identified as the sister of Gwenhwyfar. Yet, although the tale is conventionally dated to the 11th century it is not found in written form before the 14th century manuscripts, the White Book of Rhydderch and Red Book of Hergest. Simon Rodway has argued for a composition date from the second half of the 12th century (CMCS 49, 2005, and Arthur in the Celtic Languages, UWP, 2019), therefore we cannot securely state that the first appearance of Gwenhwyfar in Arthurian literature, as found in Culhwch and Olwen, is entirely independent of Geoffrey of Monmouth.

It must be noted that in these accounts, prior to Geoffrey of Monmouth, there is no suggestion of a love triangle between Mordred and Gwenhwyfar. Neither is Mordred described as a traitor, indeed he is noted as brave, good-natured man by the medieval Welsh poets.

Yet, on the other hand, Mordred is conspicuous by his absence from Arthur’s warband in his early adventures found in early Welsh poems such as Preiddu Annwn, Pa Gur, and significantly from Culhwch and Olwen in which the “court list” calls up nearly three hundred characters from Arthurian lore and beyond. Significantly, after appearing in the 10th century Welsh Annals, in the entry for Camlan as noted above, Mordred is largely absent from Welsh literature until Geoffrey uses him as Arthur’s arch nemesis.

Mordred and Gwenhwyfar are also absent from the earliest version of the Triads of the Island of Britain (Trioedd Ynys Prydein) contained in the manuscript Peniarth 16. As later version of the Triads developed, as found in the White Book of Rhydderch and the Red Book of Hergest (14th century), they are both implicitly involved with Camlan.

In conclusion, although there are ample allusions to the Battle of Camlan in Welsh sources prior to Geoffrey of Monmouth’s early 12th century Historia regum Britanniae, indicating the existence of a lost story of Camlan in Welsh tradition, none of these accounts elaborate on the cause or infer that it was caused by Mordred and Gwenhwyfar. Indeed, apart from the entry in the Welsh Annals neither Mordred or Gwenhwyfar appear in Welsh literature securely dated before Geoffrey’s story and we cannot be certain that their involvement with Camlan was directly the result of Geoffrey’s influence.

However, according to the accounts of Camlan contained within the Welsh legendary historical texts known as The Triads of the Island of Britain the cause of the battle was quite different but always involved Gwenhwyfar.

The Welsh poets:
Y Cynfeirdd (The Early Poets. 6th Century - 1100)
Y Gogynfeirdd (The Less Early Poets, c. 1100 – c. 1300)
Cywyddwyr (Poets of the Nobility, c. 1300 – c. 1650)

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Saturday, 1 February 2020

St Brigid and the Blue Glass Bowl

St Brigid
Brigid personifies the remarkable survival of a pagan Goddess into the 21st century. Born in the mid-5th Century as daughter of a Druid she developed into a Goddess yet today, the 1st February, she is celebrated as Saint Brigid, patron to many including blacksmiths, boatmen, cattle farmers, held in such high esteem in Ireland She is second only to Saint Patrick. In the Celtic calendar it is Imbolc and marks the start of the light half of the year when days begins to lengthen and grow warmer. It is a favourite time of the year when nature awakes after the long dormant dark days of winter; bulbs are starting to come into flower, buds are ready to burst on trees and shrubs.

The night before, St Brigid's Eve, 31st January, corn dollies known as the Brideog (little Brigid) would be made by young girls and unmarried women, adorned with ribbons. They would all gather in one house and stay all night with the Brideog. The following day the Brideog would be carried through the neighbourhood, calling at house to house, where the girls would receive offerings such as food or coins. Households would leave a piece of cloth outside for Brigid to bless as she walked the earth. In the morning the cloths are brought inside and believed to possess powers of healing and protection recived from the Goddess. St Brigid Crosses would be manufactured from rushes and placed above the door on the outside of the house to provide protection from fire and evil.

We find Brigid sites predominantly in Ireland but also across the British Isles from the many churches dedicated to Her, but also ancient burial chambers such as the Bridestones on the Staffordshire-Cheshire border. But one of the most peculiar stories associated with a St Brigid site is at Bride’s Well near Glastonbury in Somerset.

This land between The River Brue and Wearyall is known as Beckery, granted to Glastonbury Abbey by the Saxon king Cenwealdh in 670AD. Debate continues to the origin of the name; it may be derived from the Old English name for ‘Bee-keeper’s Island’ (Beocere) or from the Gaelic for ‘Little Ireland’ (Becc-Eriu). The later explanation fits well with the story of St Brigid at Glastonbury a tradition that the Saint stayed at Beckery for a short period and left relics behind. A stone marks the site of Bride’s Well and  a gentle rise is named Bride’s Mound. 

Archaeological excavation has uncovered a Chapel at Beckery with evidence indicating a monastic community lived there. Arthurian legend claims King Arthur visited the chapel at Beckery after experiencing a recurring dream while staying at a nunnery on Wearyall. At the chapel he met the Virgin and Child, an encounter which led to the change of his coat of arms as described in the account of King Arthur’s eighth battle at Guinnion from the Historia Brittonum.

The Blue Bowl
However, the strangest story associated with Beckery is a mysterious blue glass bowl found in Bride’s Well, which some have described as the true Grail of Glastonbury.

Dr. John Arthur Goodchild qualified as a medical practitioner in 1873 and started his practice in Cannes, France. In 1877 Goodchild moved his practice to Bordighera in Italy. It is here he purchased a blue glass bowl and platter in 1885. He took these to a glass specialist at the British Museum in London who was puzzled by the techniques used in the manufacture and their origin but thought it was indeed very ancient. He took them to his father’s house at Hampstead and locked them away in a cupboard where they remained for the next ten years.

Goodchild had a strong interest in spirituality and religion and believed that the Divine was feminine and the West would witness a spiritual revival led a woman, or group of women. This was published in his book “The Light of the West” (1898).

A year earlier in 1897 Goodchild had a psychic experience while in Paris. He found himself paralysed, unable to move he heard a voice which informed him that Jesus had actually owned the bowl, still in his father’s cupboard. The voice told Goodchild to take the blue bowl to Bride’s Hill, Glastonbury, but not until after his father’s death. The objective was, he was told, for the bowl to pass into the possession of a woman when new spiritual truths were to be revealed.

Shortly after, on his return to Bordighera, Goodchild received news that his father had died. He returned to England in 1898. The platter he passed on a family in Italy but kept the bowl which he duly took to Glastonbury. He followed the instructions received in the vision and placed the blue glass bowl in a muddy pond at Glastonbury. This was a lost well near the rising ground at Beckery known today at Bride’s Mound. He returned to Hampstead and told no one of what he had done.

Beckery (

Goodchild journeyed back to the pond at Glastonbury every year between 1899-1906, except 1905, and was convinced the blue bowl was no longer there but never checked the location where he had hid it in a hollow under a rock. He stayed in the town trying to pick up on any local news of such a discovery. He visited the pond to find the spring there had a reputation as a healing well and visitors had tied pieces of material to the nearby trees and bushes containing prayers. He noticed one tied to a Holy Thorn tree there was from one Katherine “Kitty” Tudor Pole.

In August 1906 Goodchild experienced a vision of a sword floating in the eastern sky. He didn’t understand its meaning and simply made a note of it. Then in early September he experienced a vision of a cup suspended in the western sky. He felt compelled to send a drawing of the sword to his friend Wellesley Tudor Pole, brother of Kitty, in Bristol and simply asked that it be passed on to the two pilgrims who had recently visited the well. It is not clear how Goodchild knew about the "two pilgrims" but his information was correct.

He received no further communications from the voice he had heard in Paris and was not aware that other people were starting to receive psychic messages about the blue glass bowl.

In 1902 Wellesley Tudor Pole, a young man from Weston-super-Mare in Somerset, experienced visions while ill in which he saw himself as a monk at Glastonbury. Believing that a pre-Christian culture from Ireland had spread to Glastonbury he became convinced, around 1904, that he needed to move to Glastonbury believing he would find a sacred object. He believed that the discovery would require the assistance of three maidens.

Wellesley duly passed on Goodchild’s message to Janet and Christine Allen, friends of the Tudor Poles, who had recently been to Glastonbury. Later in September they visited Goodchild in Bath and revealed how their friend  Wellesley had received a psychic message saying that they should go to a well at Glastonbury and search the waters for something. They had actually visited Glastonbury some two or three weeks before this meeting with Goodchild, around the same time he had received his visions of the sword and cup.  On the occasion of their visit to Glastonbury Janet and Christine had searched the well at Beckery and found the blue bowl in the well at Bride’s Mound, Beckery, but sensing the great sacredness of the object they placed it back in the muddy waters. On returning to Bristol they told Wellesley what had happened.

Wellesley and Kitty visited Goodchild in Bath later that month, 29th September, and he explained the whole story of the blue glass bowl. On 1st October Kitty went to Beckery and removed the bowl from the well, and with Goodchild’s consent, took it to a shrine in her family home in Bristol. They were convinced that they had found the Holy Grail.

Today at Beckery a stone showing the cross of St Brigid marks the place where the blue bowl was found at Bride’s Well. The blue glass bowl is now held by the Trustees of Chalice Well at Glastonbury, a charity founded by Wellesley Tudor Pole in 1959.

Further reading:
Brian Wright, Brigid: Goddess, Druidess, Saint, The History Press, 2009.
Steve Blamires, The Little Book of the Great Enchantment, Skylight Press, 2013.
Patrick Benham, Avalonians, Gothic Image Publications, 2nd Edition, 2006.

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Wednesday, 1 January 2020

Medrawd: Fallen Hero?

Plotting Camlan: Letters from the Dead

The earliest extant and only historical record of Camlan is found in the 10th century Cambro-Latin chronicle, the Welsh Annals (Annales Cambriae):

Gueith camlann in qua Arthur et Medrawd corruerunt.
(The strife of Camlann in which Arthur and Medraut fell).

Annalaes Cambriae
The Welsh Annals tell us that Arthur and Medrawd (Medraut) fell at Camlan. This battle has been dated to 537 AD by scholars, 21 years after the battle of Badon. The siege of Badon hill is recorded by both Gildas and Bede and accepted as a historical event. However, neither of these early scribes name the leader of the British as Arthur, in fact Gildas fails to name the leader at all.

The Badon entry in the Welsh Annals, although supported by external sources, looks suspiciously like the text of Arthur's eighth battle at Guinnion in the Historia Brittonum [see: Arthur, Badon and the Cross]. This does not mean the battle was not a real event but it raises questions over its attachment to Arthur. One might expect an original chronicle entry to have simply read; “516 – The Siege of Badon Hill”.

Such is the Camlan entry as presented in the Welsh Annals as a simple record of an event without connection to legendary feats. Yet Camlan is not recorded in any other external source that can be considered historical, subsequently it is viewed with suspicion by historians.

The fact that the Welsh Annals use the Welsh word "Gueith" (battle, or strife) for Camlan suggests a native Welsh source. The use of the word “Gueith” is not unique to the Camlan entry, many others conflicts contained therein are recorded in Latin, such as “Bellum Badonis”. Camlann is typically depicted as a futile battle among factions of the Britons (continuing internal wars are mentioned by Gildas after the victory at Badon) and has been interpreted as a battle fought by rival Welsh kingdoms, such as Gwynedd versus Powys. For this reason Medrawd is often identified as Maelgwn who was dominant in Wales in the days after Arthur's fall.

When did Medrawd become the bad guy? There is nothing in the entry in the Welsh Annals to suggest he was responsible for the demise of Arthur. In fact, the Camlan entry makes no connection between either men or their relationship; are they fighting on the same side or adversaries?

In Medieval Welsh poetry Medrawd was portrayed as a rather courteous figure, noted for his good nature and valour (Padel, 2000, pp.113-15, Bromwich, 2017:445-46).

Mordred the Traitor
It wasn't until the 12th century when Medrawd became Arthur's nemesis at Camlan in Geoffrey of Monmouth’s History of the Kings of Britain (Historia Regum Britanniae), c.1136.

According to Geoffrey, while Arthur is on campaign in Europe, Mordred (as he names him) claims the throne and abducts Gwenhwyfar. The final battle is fought in Cornwall, near the river Kamblan (probably the Camel) (Padel, 1984:13). From that point on Mordred became synonymous with treachery and the man who brought down the king. The theme continued throughout the later Arthurian Romances with Mordred seemingly the result of an incestuous liaison.

Battle Between King Arthur and Sir Mordred (William Hatherell)

It is likely that Geoffrey confused two characters here, as Mordred is a Cornish name and does not readily translate into the Welsh as Medrawd (Padel, 1984:15-17). Was there an old tradition of a bad prince Mordred in Cornwall?

There is a possibility that Geoffrey may have substituted a Cornish name for Melwas, (Padel, 2000:114) the abductor of Gwenhwyfar from the episode included in Caradoc of Llancarvan's “The Life of Gildas”. Two later poems recall variations of the tale from a lost Welsh original; "The Dialogue of Melwas and Gwenhyfer” and “The Dialogue of Arthur and Gwenhyfar”. The abduction story was in circulation in the early 12th century, well before Geoffrey wrote his account in his Historia. [see: The Modena Archivolt]

Who was this Medrawd?
In the late 11th century tale of ‘How Culhwch won Olwen’, Culhwch invokes over 200 members of Arthur’s court as guarantors of the gift he is demanding of Arthur; the hand of Olwen daughter of Ysbaddaden Bencawr. Yet Medrawd is not mentioned among them and is surprisingly absent from early Welsh Arthurian poetry.

Sir Mordred by HJ Ford (1902)
Medrawd appears in three of the Triads of the Island of Britain, but none can be safely considered free from the influence of Geoffrey of Monmouth (Bromwich; 2017:140-41).

The Triads of the Island of Britain (Trioedd Ynys Prydein), contain Welsh traditions in groups of threes, have come down to us in several medieval Welsh manuscripts. The earliest are found in Peniarth 16, dating to the last quarter of the 13th century. Later collections are found in the White Book of Rhydderch and the Red Book of Hergest, dating to the early and late 14th century respectively. Although not written down until relatively late, some of the early Triads record events from the 6th or 7th centuries, Rachel Bromwich argues, that in their current form, none is older than the 9th century.

Medrawd appears in Triad 51, 54 and 59 (Bromwich, 2017):

‘Three Men of Shame’ (TYP 51), draws from Geoffrey’s accounts of the invasion of the Romans, the Saxons and downfall of Arthur to the treachery of Mordred at Camlan. Bromwich notes that the wording of this Triad closely follows the Brut (the Welsh versions of Geoffrey’s Historia).

‘Three Violent Ravagings’ (TYP 54) records how Medrawd went to Arthur’s court at Celliwig in Cornwall, leaving neither food or drink in the court that he did not consume. Medrawd then dragged Gwenhwyfar from her royal chair and struck a blow upon her.

‘Three Unfortunate Counsels’ (TYP 59) tells how Arthur divided his troops threefold with Medrawd at Camlan.

If we dismiss Triad 51 as directly following Geoffrey of Monmouth’s version of the fall of Arthur we may be able to detect traces of a Welsh tradition in Triad 54 where Medrawd has violated Arthur’s hospitality at Celliwig. But in Triad 59 we cannot even be certain that Arthur and Medrawd are on opposing sides.

The Triads contain further information on the cause of the strife of Camlan that we will come to later.

Rhonabwy’s Dream 
In the 13th century Dream of Rhonabwy, included in the Mabinogion, Iddawc Cordd Prydain, the Agitator of Britain, tells Rhonabwy that he was one of the messengers between Arthur and Medrawd, his nephew, at the battle of Camlan and kindled strife between them because he was young and eager for battle. When he was sent by Arthur to seek for peace with Medrawd, charged with the fairest sayings he could think of, yet Iddawc would say to Medrawd the most offensive words he could. And that, he said, is how the battle of Camlan was contrived.

The story describes in detail how Arthur’s forces are assembling at a ford by the river Severn for the Battle of Badon, but Arthur himself is more interested in playing a game of gwyddbwyll with Owain mab Urien (son of Urien Rheged). While they play the board game Arthur’s men and Owain’s ravens begin to squabble and fight until Arthur crushes the  gwyddbwyll pieces. As with the Triads, it is certainly likely that the author of Rhonabwy's Dream was influenced by Geoffrey.

Son of Llew
The 15th century Welsh text ‘The Twenty-Four Knights of Arthur’s Court’ lists Medrawd as son of Llew, son of Cynfarch, one of Three Royal Knights of Arthur’s Court. Is this the infamous Medrawd who fought at Camlan?

There were two British princes of this name in the 6th century; Medrawd ap Llew ap Cynfarch and Medrawd ap Cawrdaf, ap Caradog Freichfras. The former was the nephew of Urien of Rheged, who died around 580 and would have lived too late to have fought at Camlan, assuming that we accept the date of the battle in the Welsh Annals, 537. Here Geoffrey has his Mordred as the brother of Gawain, both sons of King Lot of Orkney and Anna (Arthur’s sister).

Whereas Caradog Freichfras (Caradoc Strongarm) is a semi-legendary ancestor to the kings of Gwent, South Wales, Cawrdaf is associated with North Wales. In the Triads Cawrdaf is listed as one of the ‘Three Chief Officers of the Island of Britain’ (TYP 13). Cawrdaf’s son is the more likely candidate to be the Medrawd of Welsh tradition.

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 Dyfnog (§.51), a 6th century saint.

Cawrdaf is described, in some sources, as the 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.

The parish Church at Llanrhaeadr-yng-Nghinmeirch, Denbighshire, in the Vale of Cwyd in North Wales, famous for its medieval stained glass 'Jesse Window', is dedicated to St Dyfnog, Medrawd’s son according to Bonedd y Saint.  A spring on the hillside is known as St Dyfnog’s Well where tradition claims he did penance by standing under the waterfall in a shirt, belted with an iron chain.

Another genealogical tract lists Cawrdaf as the father of Iddawc, Agitator of Britain (§.88), the man who caused Camlan, the self-confessed traitor in Rhonabwy's Dream. Although we should be cautious in holding a high degree of confidence in these late genealogical listings, this does raise the intriguing proposition that Iddawc was the brother of Medrawd.

As we have seen, Iddawc, Agitator of Britain first appears in Rhonabwy's Dream on the plain of Argyngroeg, near Welshpool in Montgomeryshire (Powys), not so distant from Cawrdaf sites in North Wales.

Fallen Hero?
In the native Welsh tradition, Medrawd is remembered as the warrior who fell fighting with Arthur at the battle of Camlan and to the Gogynfeirdd as a man of great valour and courtesy. Evidently the true story of Medrawd has been lost and replaced with Geoffrey of Monmouth’s treacherous usurper Mordred.

It seems Geoffrey confused the Medrawd of Welsh tradition with a Cornish Mordred that he writes of in the Historia Regum Britanniae. Oliver Padel stresses that the name Mordred existed in Cornwall and Brittany in the 9th and 10th centuries, a fact which underlines Geoffrey’s sources (Padel, 2000: 15-16).

We have failed to positively identify a site with Medrawd, the man who fell at Camlan, but we find his immediate family, father Cawrdaf and son Dyfnog, both associated with locations in North Wales.

Next: The Lost Story of Camlan

Rachel Bromwich, Trioedd Ynys Prydein: The Triads of the Island of Britain, University of Wales Press, Fourth Edition, 2017.
Peter Korrel, Arthurian Triangle: A Study of the Origin, Development and Characterization of Arthur, Guinevere and Modred, Brill, 1984.
O J Padel, Arthur in Medieval Welsh Literature, University of Wales Press, 2000.
O J Padel, Geoffrey of Monmouth and Cornwall, pp.1-28, in Patrick Sims-Williams ed., CMCS 8, 1984.
Lewis Thorpe, trans., Geoffrey of Monmouth: The History of the Kings of Britain, Penguin, 1973.
Judith Weiss, Mordred, pp.81-98, in Neil Cartlidge ed., Heroes and Anti-Heroes in Medieval Romance, D.S.Brewer, 2018.

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