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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Friday, 27 December 2019

St Derfel the Mighty

Plotting Camlan: Letters from the Dead

Sixth in n Evan Evan’s list of the Seven who escaped from Camlan is “Derfel the Strong from his strength”. Derfel is an elusive character, completely absent from the Triads and the earliest stratum of Welsh Arthurian poetry.

Derfel Gadarn (Derfel the Mighty) is remembered by the later Welsh poets as fighting at Camlan. After the carnage of this battle he turned his back on warfare and entered the religious life, studying at Llantwit. He is said to have become a hermit and founded the church at Lllanderfel, Penllyn, near Bala, in the early 6th century, recorded as the “Old Abbey” in 1291. The churchyard is curvilinear indicating its early Celtic Christian beginnings. The church was extensively rebuilt around 1500. About 350m north-west of St Derfel's Church is Ffynnon Derfel (Derfel's Well).

On the hillside of Mynydd Maen in Gwent, South-East Wales, a shrine was also dedicated to him. He is said to have moved to the monastery at Bardsey Island taking up the position of Abbot, succeeding St Cadfan, his cousin. Derfel is said to have died at Bardsey in 660 AD.

Llanderfel is perhaps best remembered today for the story of the wooden image of the Saint that was sent to London in 1538 and used for the execution of John Forest at Smithfield. Forest had been confessor to Queen Catherine of Aragon, the first wife of King Henry VIII, and refused to acknowledge the King as head of the church. Forest was burned to death for heresy, roasted over the wooden statue of St Derfel. This act was said to be a fulfilment of the prophecy that the statue would one day burn down a forest.

 Originally the Saint’s statue at Llandderfel portrayed him as an armed warrior, not a monk, sat upon a horse, some say stag which was a common companion for many of the Welsh saints. Before the Reformation, hundreds of pilgrims are said to have visited the church to see the statue every 5th April, St Derfel’s feast day.

The Horse of Derfel

After special pleading by the local people the red stag known as the “Horse of Derfel” was permitted to remain at Llanderfel church, where it can still be seen today in the north porch, looking worse for wear after its decapitation in 1760 on the orders of the Dean.

The Brother of Arthur
According to the late Welsh genealogical tract Bonedd y Saint, Derfel is listed as a son of the legendary king of Brittany Hywel Mawr (Hoel the Great). Welsh tradition also makes Derfel a brother of St Tudwal and St Arthfael (Armel).

Barber and Pykitt (Journey to Avalon: Final Discovery of King Arthur), argue that St Armel was actually the name King Arthur took after the battle of Camlan. Arthur, like many of the survivors of Camlan, is said to have renounced the warrior-life and turned to religion becoming a Saint; he went into exile in Brittany founding churches at Plouarzel,  St Armel-des-Boschaux and Ploermel. Barber and Pykitt  concluded that Arthur did not die at Camlan but simply disappeared, leaving his fate, and his grave, unknown to the Britons.

St Armel’s shrine can still be seen at St Armel-des-Boschaux, which, in keeping with the wonder of Arthur’s grave, is of course empty. However, there is no Breton connection between St Armel and King Arthur.

The location of Llanderfel is significant in our search for Camlan as it is in the same region (Bala) where Morfran (Afagddu) came from. Yet if the date of Derfel’s death is correct at 660, he is certainly too late to have fought at Camlan in 537.

We have now looked at six of the survivors from Evan Evans’s list of the seven who escaped Camlan. Last is “Geneid the Tall, from his speed” who has defied identification.

However, Peter Bartrum has suggest that the name “Geneid Hir” is derived from Eueyd Hir or Euehyd Hir, a name from the Second Branch of the Mabinogi as one of the seven chieftains left in Britain by Brân when he took the forces of the Island of the Mighty to Ireland.

Next: Medrawd: Fallen Hero?

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Tuesday, 24 December 2019

St Pedrog and the Spear

Plotting Camlann: Letters from the Dead

The Welsh antiquary Evan Evans (1731-1788) included “St Petrog, from the strength of his spear” in his list of the seven who escaped from Camlan. Rachel Bromwich considers Evans's text to be a copy of Lewis Morris's copy of 17th century manuscript Peniarth 185 which in turn would appear to be based on an earlier Welsh tradition.

A tradition of Pedrog’s presence at the Battle of Camlan by Dafydd Nantmoor (or Nanmor), a prominent Gwynedd poet who flourished in the last half of the 15th century, is the earliest account of the saint fighting with Arthur at Camlan.

St Pedrog’s spear was kept at Llanbedrog church on the Lleyn Peninsula and last seen in 1535. This spear was said to be the very same that Pedrog wielded in the battle at Camlan.

Three churches are dedicated to St Pedrog in Wales; in addition to Llanbedrog, he is also the patron saint at St. Petrox near Pembroke and Y Ferwig near Cardigan.

In Dafydd Nantmoor’s 15th century poem he calls on the saint for help in driving away some sand dunes that were threatening Y Ferwig (Verwick), a small town on the Cardiganshire coast. Here he is described as possessing a famous spear and one of seven who survived Camlan. After Arthur’s fateful last battle Pedrog turned away from war and became a monk at Y Ferwig:

"In Camlan there were seven men of the Britons who escaped from the field, without being slain by either side, One of them is a saint because of his spear; Pedrog was renowned with his weapon at the death of Arthur. He was a crowned  king's son, from the ancient kings of Cornwall. He served (and will serve) the Trinity after that day, above Dover, and (he) gave a vow never more to employ worldly weapons. Then he came to y Verwig, the place where he awaits his death-day." [Rachel Bromwich, TYP p.482]

It is of some interest that the poem claims Pedrog came from an ancient line of Cornish kings, which probably is the reason for the confusion with St Petroc of Cornwall. The later Latin Life’s of Saint Petroc, none earlier than the 12th century, all place the Saint in Cornwall in the 6th century, where over 18 churches are dedicated to him. Indeed he is Cornwall’s most famous saint.

The Cornish tradition claims Petroc came from South Wales, landing at Haylemouth and founded a monastery at Padstow (Petroc’s Stow). Some sources claim he spent twenty years in Ireland before arriving in Cornwall. He later lived as a hermit on Bodmin Moor, where he built a monastery for his followers. On his death, around 564, he was buried at Padstow which became the centre of his cult. Exeter and Glastonbury also claimed his relics. Around 1,000 AD, his relics were translated to Bodmin. In 1177 Petroc’s relics were stolen and taken to Saint-Méen (St Meven) in Brittany. At the intervention of king Henry II the saint’s relics were restored to Bodmin but a rib was left at Saint-Méen. At Bodmin, Petroc’s relics were placed in an ivory reliquary. This was hidden during the Reformation but found in the 19th century above the porch of the Bodmin church; today his skull remains in the parish church. Today it is recognised as one of the finest reliquaries in England, made by excellent Sicillian-Islamic craftsmanship.

Reliquary of St Petroc, Bodmin

Cornish Saint or Welsh Warrior?
Apart from the Vitae produced by his Cornish followers, St Petroc only appears in one other Vita. In the Preface to Lifris of Llancarfan's Life of Cadog (Vita I Cadoci), Petroc is one of ten sons of Glywys, grandfather to St Cadog. Nine of these sons are kings of the regions within Glywysing, the ancient kingdom of South-East Wales centred on Glamorgan. One of his sons was known as Gwynllyw the warrior.

St Petroc, Bodmin
The 12th century Gotha manuscript shows Gwynllyw as the brother of Petroc and Cadog's father. This genealogy agrees with the Vita Cadoci which shows Petroc as Cadog's uncle. St Cadog is said to have been born around 497; Petroc, as his uncle, would have been of the previous generation.

Gwynllyw (Woolos the Warrior) was King of Gwynllwg in South Wales and is the legendary founder and patron saint of the City of Newport, living around 450 – 500 AD. According to medieval tradition he was a feared warlord and raider who knew King Arthur, but later renounced war and found religion and became a hermit founding St Woolos Cathedral in Newport.

St Petroc of Cornwall is never associated with Camlann, or typically a spear, indeed his icon is often a wolf, or a stag that he rescued from a cruel huntsman. It would appear that in the tale of the seven who escaped from Camlan, St Petroc of Cornwall has here been confused with Petroc Baladrddellt (also known as Pedrog, or Pedrogl Paladrddellt), son of Clemen ap Bledric, a 7th century king of Dumnonia (south-west England comprising Devon and Cornwall), who ruled after his father Bledric ap Custennin who, according to Geoffrey of Monmouth, was killed at the Battle of Bangor Orchard (Chester) around 613 – 616. As St Petroc of Cornwall died around 564 he could not have been the son of Clemen ap Bledric.

Pedrog Baladrddellt (Petroc Splintered-Spear) would have succeeded to the throne of Dumnonia after his father died, probably around 630. According to the Bonedd y Saint Pedrog Paladrddellt was a saintly man, who is said to have died at Y Ferwig in Ceredigion, as  Dafydd Nantmoor recalls.

In Welsh tradition Pedrog Paladrddellt is listed as one of “The Three Just Knights of the Realm” having dedicated himself to preserving the justice by the law of arms, in the list known as The Twenty-Four Knights of King Arthur's Court. The 15th century account of Dafydd Nantmoor is clearly evidence of an older oral tradition in Wales; it is likely that the epithet "Splintered-Spear" inspired the Welsh tradition that Petroc was one of the seven survivors of Camlann. After the battle he renounced warfare for the religious life.

Churches in Wales dedicated to St Pedrog

Clearly the saint's spear was known from South Wales to North Wales; apart from Nantmoor's poem it is referenced nine other times in later Welsh poetry, and emphasised his military prowess; without doubt the reason for his attachment to Camlan. The Welsh tradition seemingly isolated from the Cornish and Breton cult sites of St Petroc.

Quoting Wade-Evans, Peter Bartrum has argued that “Clemens is a corruption of Glywys” based on the Cornish tradition being preserved in a Welsh context, as Glywys Cornubiensis or Glywys Kerniw as Petroc's father. But the chronology does not support this; Pedrog Baladrddellt and St Petroc of Cornwall are separated by nearly a hundred years and clearly not the same individual.

Next: Saint Derfel

Rachel Bromwich, Trioedd Ynys Prydein: The Triads of the Island of Britain, 4th Edition, UWP, 2017.
PC Bartrum, A Classical Welsh Dictionary: People in History and Legend up to about A.D. 1000, online at The National Library of Wales 
Karen Jankulak, The Medieval Cult of St Petroc, Boydell Press, 2000.

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Monday, 23 December 2019

St Cedwyn, Survivor of Camlann

Plotting Camlann: Letters from the Dead

Cedwyn, “from the world's blessing”, is listed among the seven survivors of the battle of Camlann in a 17th century manuscript. There is very little information available for St Cedwyn; he is absent from major accounts of the saints, such as David Farner’s Dictionary of the Saints and Elizabeth Rees Celtic Saints of Wales. However, we can only assume he was a warrior who in the aftermath of the slaughter at Camlann where both Arthur and Modred fell, he turned to religion and finished his days serving the sick and needy.

According to the Welsh genealogical tract Bonedd y Saint (Descent of the Saints) his mother was Madrun, a saint married to Ynyr Gwent, a prince of Caerwent and father of Caradog Freich Fras (Caradog strong arm) a contemporary of King Arthur. St Ceido was the fruit of the union of Madrun and Ynyr.

Madrun, or Madryn, is identified with St Materiana known for her church at Tintagel and also attributed with the foundation of a nunnery at Trawsfynydd in Merioneth. Madrun is said to be the daughter of Vortimer, who later married Gwgon Gwri (Gwgawn Gwrawn), son of Peredur son of Eliffer Gosgorddfawr (of the Great Army) and victor at the Battle of Arfderydd 573 AD, by whom she is said to have bore St Cedwyn. Clearly the chronology is not correct; this is far too late for Cedwyn to have been present at Camlann.

There seems to be some confusion here in the genealogies as the only historical Ynyr Gwent that can be positively identified is from the mid-6th century, around a hundred years after Vortimer, the son of Vortigern, would have lived. According to the 9th-century Historia Brittonum, Vortimer fought four battles against the invading Anglo Saxons in Kent and died shortly after the final battle. Vortimer’s floruit must have been mid-to-late 5th century with his battles in Kent mirrored in the Anglo Saxon Chronicle record of the advance of Hengest and his son Esc. Known as Gwerthefyr Fendigaid in Welsh (Vortimer the Blessed) he asked to be buried where the Saxons first landed as a talisman against further incursions. However, his request went unheeded by the Britons and the invaders soon returned.

Church of St Cedwyn, Llangedwyn, Powys.
The foundation of the church at Llangedwyn in Montgoneryshire is attributed to St Cedwyn. Cedwyn’s chapel was said to have been in the Tanad valley near Llanrhaeadr-ym-Mochnant in North Powys, about 9 miles south-west of Oswestry, not far from the famous the Pistyll Rhaeadr waterfall, one of The Seven Wonders of Wales, at the foot of the Berwyn mountains. Claimed to have been founded in the 6th century the church at Llangedwyn was heavily restored in the 18th century.

There was also a Llangedwyn at Brecon, but now long lost, nearby the Cedwyn stream runs into the River Ely toward Cardiff. On the right bank of the Ely, is a wooded valley known as Cwm Cedwyn. According to Sabine Baring-Gould in The Lives of the British Saints, “the Cedwyn of Ynys Cedwyn in North Glamorgan, near the junction of the Twrch with the Tawe, is said to have been a giant”.

According to Terry Breverton in The Book of Welsh Saints, Llangedwen could have been at Trefeglwys in Montgomery. Apparently there is a dedication to Cedwyn in Montgomery and the saint’s presence here may be affirmed by the holy well Ffynnon Gedwen at Trefeglwys. Breverton cites his mother recalling the well being near a haunted house where children used to fill water bottles. He identifies this haunted house as “Dol Gau” where the sorcerer Ifan Huw claimed to have raised demons in the 18th century.

Next: St Pedrog from the strength of his spear

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Sunday, 15 December 2019

St Cynfelyn

Plotting Camlann: Letters from the Dead

The Welsh Annals (Annales Cambriae) record for year 93 (c.537 AD)  the fall of both Arthur and  and Medraut at the Strife of Camlann. The memory of this battle lingered long in the minds of the Welsh Poets and Welsh Tradition as a particularly bloody account with few survivors, indeed the Triads of the Island of Britain (TYP 84) refer to Camlann as one of the “Three Futile Battles of Britain”.

The earliest account of the survivors of Camlann is found in a triad embedded in the earliest Arthurian tale Culhwch and Olwen. In this account three survivors are listed: Morfran son of Tegid, Sanddef Pryd Angel and Cynwyl Sant, who was the last to leave Arthur.

Yet, by the 17th century the number of survivors from Camlann was listed as seven and Cynwyl Sant (the saint) had been replaced by St Cynfelyn. A note in Evan Evans’s (1731-1788) notebook (Panton MS 13) gives seven names for the Survivors of Camlann. Rachel Bromwich considers Evans' text to be a copy of Lewis Morris' copy of 17th century manuscript Peniarth 185.

We have previously looked at St Cynwyl who is remembered at of Aberporth on the west coast of Wales in Ceredigion, where the church is depicted as St Cynfil's on historic maps. Apart from a couple of churches in Carmenthenshire and Penrhos in Llŷn, very little is known of St Cynwyl; he is absent from most books on the Celtic Welsh Saints. His relationship with Arthur and his presence at the battle of Camlann and why he appears listed amongst the survivors remains a mystery. Neither St Cynwyl, or his horse Hengroen, appear to provide any clues in plotting the location of Camlann.

Who then was St Cynfelyn; a famous warrior, a famous saint, or both?

Saints and Warriors
Peter Bartrum lists no less than ten characters bearing the name Cynfelyn in his Classical Welsh Dictionary. Amongst these are warriors of the Old North and a Saint from Mid-Wales.

Bartrum tells us that Geoffrey of Monmouth’s ‘Kimbelinus’ was based on Cunobelinus, the son of Tasciovanus of the Catuvelauni. In Brut y Brenhinedd (The Welsh version of Geoffrey’s Chronicle) the name is correctly rendered Cynfelyn. However, Tasciovanus was a historical king, known from coinage dated around 20 BC who ruled the Catuvellauni from Verlamion (modern-day St Albans). As pre-Roman king Cunobelinus is totally out of place in relation to the battle of Camlann.

Then, in Bartrum’s list, we have Cynfelyn Drwsgl which at first glance seems more promising. His epithet means Cynfelyn the ‘clumsy’ but Rachel Bromwich (Triads of the Island of Britain) suggest this perhaps should be more correctly rendered as ‘leprous’. Cynfelyn is listed in the genealogies as one of the Men of the North (Gwŷr y Gogledd) and in the Triads listed as one of ‘Three Pillars of Battle’. In another he is listed as one of the ‘Three Horse-Burdens’ which relates to the Battle of Arderydd. A poem in the Black Book of Carmarthen records Cynfelyn as one of the seven sons of Eliffer [Gosgorddfawr] which again links to the battle of Arderydd. According to the Welsh Annals the battle of Arderydd was fought in 573 AD.

Arderydd is the second of “Three Futile Battles of Britain” listed in theTriads of the Island of Britain (TYP 84), fought apparently over a “lark’s nest”. This battle was the inspiration for the Merlin legend, from the poems found in the Black Book of Carmarthen, in which he has gone mad and fled into the forest, in turn founded on Lailoken the wildman of the forest.

St Michael and All Angels Church, Arthuret, Cumbria

The battle site was identified many years ago by Skene as the woods just north-east of the Cumbrian village of Arthuret, near Longtown. Owing to the name, the church here has attracted Arthurian legend with claims that King Arthur, or his head, is buried here, but Arthur was long gone before this battle and it seems a very late association.

The poet Aneirin records an assault by a retinue from the Gododdin, an area in Lothian around Edinburgh, around 600 AD. The poem, a series of elegies remembering the fallen warriors of the Gododdin is famous for recording the survival of just three warriors. It is usually interpreted as an attack on the Angles at Catterick (Catraeth). The original was said the have been composed in Eidyn (Edinbugh) before transferring to North Wales at an early date. It appears that on arrival in Gwynedd the poem was somewhat expanded and modified. At some stage four poems known as Gorchanau were added, although these are not considered part of the original work.

One, Gorchan Cynfelyn, records a contingent from Gwynedd who joined the attack on Catraeth in support of the Gododdin. This particular Gorchan is important in tracing the development of the Arthurian legend, as it provides the earliest reference to supernatural boar the Twrch Trwyth and records an obscure reference to fighting in a river as with Arthur and his men in the river Severn as found in Culhwch ans Olwen. This Cynfelyn is recorded as son of Tegan, son of Cadfan.

Y Gododdin
However, Camlann is likely to have been fought earlier. The date of 542 is the date Geofffey of Monmouth provides for Arthur’s last battle. This is the same date given by Evans Evans. Yet, the  Welsh Annals provides 537; significantly 21 years after the Battle of Badon. The date given by the Welsh Annals for Badon, 516, could be as much as 20 years too late; most historians date Badon to within a decade either side of 500 AD, giving a date range of 490 x 510.

It seems unlikely, although not totally impossible, that if this is the same Cynfelyn who fought at Camlann in 542 he would be an ageing warrior if actively participating in battle at Arderydd in 573 or Catraeth c.600. Mighty warriors they both may have been, but neither are recorded as a saint. Furthermore, neither of these two warriors are associated with churches in their geographic heartlands. It seems we must look elsewhere for a St Cynfelyn associated with the battle of Camlann.

In the earliest account of the survivors of Camlann, we have Morfran son of Tegid, Sanddef Pryd Angel and Cynwyl Sant. A later 16th century account has St Cynfelyn replacing Cynwyl Sant. Perhaps we should be looking within the locations of those three men; both Sanddef and Morfran are associated with the area around Bala Lake (Llyn Tegid) and Cynwyl around Aberporth.

Mofran appears in the later tale of Taliesin, again located around Bala. The 'Hanes Taliesin' is a legendary account of the life of Taliesin first recorded in the mid-16th century by Elis Gruffydd, According to ‘Hanes Taliesin’, Taliesin claims to have been ‘in Gwynfryn in the court of Cynfelyn, in stock and fetters for a day and a year.

Midway between the towns of Aberystwyth and Machynlleth in north Ceredigion, is the parish of Llangynfelyn centred on the villages of Tre-Taliesin and Tre'r Ddôl and the settlements of Llangynfelyn, and Craig y Penrhyn.

The parish is named from the church of St Cynfelyn, about a mile north-west of Tre-Taliesin, significantly located midway between Aberporth and Bala, the locations of the earliest recorded survivors of Camlan. The church, a Grade II listed building unfortunately now derelict, is situated within a roughly circular churchyard, indicative of an early Celtic 'llan'. A healing well, Ffynnon Gynfelin, is situated on the north side of the churchyard.

In searching for a saint by the name of Cynfelyn we find there is very little information available about the saint, his festival does not occur in any of the Welsh calendars. Little is known of this 6th century saint, yet he is thought to have been a real person who is said to be a descendant of Ceredig and Cunedda Wledig.

After the battle of Camlann, Cynfelyn is said to have retreated to live as a hermit in a small cell on the edge of a bog, and in time that cell took its name and became known as Llangynfelyn. He raised his cell on the side of Gors Fochno, somewhere close to where his church stands today.

Sarn Gynfelyn
Situated on the Ceredigion coastline, between Borth and Aberystwyth, is a reef or causeway, known as Sarn Cynfelyn, extending some seven miles out to sea. The five causeways (sarnau) extending into the Cardigan Bay are relics of glacial moraine deposited during the last ice age forming natural reefs of boulders and shingle washed clean by the sea over thousands of years.

Further north is Sarn Badrig, also known as St. Patrick’s Causeway, emerging from Mochras (Shell Island) and extending for 14 miles into Cardigan Bay. Legend claims Saint Patrick walked across to Wales along this shingle ridge. These causeways were thought to be the remains of ancient dams or dykes protecting the mythical sunken kingdom of Cantre'r Gwaelod inundated in the 6th century.

Submerged forest Ynyslas
About 5 miles north of Sarn Gynfelyn is the submerged forest at Ynyslas, which is also associated with the legend of the drowned land. Here on the coastline is the exposed remains of a forest of oak, pine, birch, willow and hazel tree stumps is revealed at low tide, estimated to be about 5,000 years old. This is clearly proof that land in Cardigan Bay was flooded years ago; the legend of Cantre'r Gwaelod is based on the ancient memory of a real event.

Legend claims that after the inundation the king of Ceredigion, Gwyddno Garanhir, brother of Maelgwn Gwynedd, relocated his court to dry land, and established his main port at Porth Wyddno (modern Borth). Nearby, between Aberdyfi and Aberystwyth, he had a fishing weir constructed. As recent as the 18th century there were reports of sightings of the remains of human habitation at the far end of Sarn Cynfelyn, where a collection of large stones and boulders some seven miles out to sea form a reef known as 'Caer Wyddno', the fort, or palace, of Gwyddno. This is one of the sites claimed to be where the babe Taliesin was found in the fish weir.

Next: St Cedwyn, from the World's blessing

Rachel, Bromwich, Trioedd Ynys Prydein: The Triads of the Island of Britain, University of Wales Press; 3rd edition, 2006.
PC Bartrum, A Classical Welsh DictionarPeople in History and Legend up to about A.D. 1000, online at The National Library of Wales

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