Monday 25 June 2012

London Stone

A Tale of Two Cities III

London Stone has been described as an outlier to a stone circle that once stood on Ludgate Hill, a sacred place from ancient times. Tradition claims a pagan temple on the site was destroyed around 597 AD to make way for the first Christian church to be built there in 604 AD, the precursor to St Paul's Cathedral. Is it possible that a prehistoric standing stone has survived in the heart of the modern city?

Book the Third: The London Stone
London Stone, a Grade II listed ancient monument, once a much larger block of limestone but now about eighteen inches square, is today imprisoned behind a iron grating within a wall on the north side of Cannon Street opposite the railway station. The Stone has gained near mythical status over the years, it certainly seems to have had an active history and has been repeatedly moved from its original position, wherever that was. And now it seems to be on the move again.

The property company Minerva plan to demolish entire seven-storey office block where London Stone is now housed and propose to relocate it to an office block further down the road at the Walbrook Building, one of the City's newer office blocks. A move considered as preservation by some and desecration by others, the plan includes alterations to the front of the Walbrook Building where a special display case will be built to contain the legendary London Stone.
London Stone - Cannon Street
Only traces of the Stone's early legend has survived and nothing is known of its early history for certain; the Stone is first mentioned in the 10th century were it is recorded as a landmark belonging to Christ's Church in Canterbury. The composition of the stone is Oolitic limestone, a non-local stone, which must have been transported in to London for construction purposes, possibly by the Romans for use as the Milliarium Aureum (Golden Milestone), the suggestion no doubt enhanced by the Stone's close proximity to the Roman road Ermine Street running from the Roman fort at Cripplegate (Londinium) to Eburacum (York) and onto Hadrian's Wall in the north. And yet some claim its origin is even earlier and that Cannon Street is on the line of an ancient, pre-Roman trackway into London, marking an alignment to Tower Hill with London Stone as the omphalos or sacred centre where all roads met.

In the 16th century we find our first descriptions of the Stone. William Camden, author of Britannia, was probably the first to describe the Stone as a Roman ‘milliarium’, the central milestone from which all distances to Londinium were measured in the land Itineraries. Camden’s trusted reputation amongst later antiquarians has guaranteed the survival of this tradition and it certainly remains popular today. However, there is no evidence to support this view and certainly no trace of Roman numerals has ever been found on the stone.

Evidently at some time the Stone has lost much of it's bulk as it was once much larger and stood on the opposite side of the road. However, the reason for the reduction in size seems to have eluded history. A 16th century copperplate map of the City of London shows the Stone as a large rectangular block in the roadway opposite the main door of St Swithin's Church.

The previous size of the Stone is made clear by the Elizabethan historian John Stow who describes it as, ‘a great stone called London Stone, fixed in the ground very deep, fastened with bars of iron’ (Survey of London,1598). John Dee, alchemist of Queen Elizabeth I, is said to have taken pieces of the Stone for occult  experiments, perhaps this was common practice and the Stone was chipped away by relic hunters.

Stow had refused to speculate on the origin of the Stone, but in the 18th century John Strype, in his updated edition of Stow’s Survey of London, seems to have been the first to offer the alternative proposal that it was ‘an Object, or Monument, of Heathen Worship’ erected by the Druids. The English poet, artist and celebrated mystic William Blake perpetuated the myth by including the mysterious relic in his Jerusalem, portraying it as a sacrificial altar of the Druids: "They groan'd aloud on London Stone, They groan'd aloud on Tyburn's Brook, Albion gave his deadly groan, And all the Atlantic mountains shook."

During the 18th century the Stone was considered an obstruction to traffic and was moved to the north side of the street. Some fifty years later, in 1798, it was moved again after being considered a further obstruction and relocated against the south wall of the church. The Stone was then moved into an alcove in the wall of St. Swithun's churchyard during the construction of the station in the 19th century. The church was ruined during the blitz of the Second World War and finally demolished in 1961. London Stone apparently survived the war intact and since 1962 has been kept at the same spot within the wall of number 111 Cannon Street. Today most people walk past the stone without so much as even a cursory glance, seemingly oblivious to its mystical significance or confused origin.

Sacred Waters
The Roman fort at Cripplegate pre-dates the Roman City Wall of London by at least a century and is thought to have housed the thousand-strong bodyguard of the provincial governor. The fort lies on the edge of the upper Walbrook valley toward the north-eastern shoulder of the high ground that peaks at Ludgate Hill. Once an important freshwater source in Roman Londinium today the Walbrook flows some 30ft below the City's streets as the London Bridge sewer before discharging into the Thames. Evidence suggests that in ancient times, many years before the Romans, the waters of the Walbrook were considered sacred.

Numerous objects have been fished out of the Walbrook, the small stream that flowed through the centre of the Roman city. Vast amounts of metalwork have been recovered from sites along the valley of the Walbrook, with great numbers of human skulls found in the upper channels, at one time thought to have been the result of the Boudican sacking of Londinium in 60 AD. This theory seems unlikely as many of these skulls were predominantly from young males aged between 25 – 35 and found without jawbones indicative that they were defleshed before deposition, together with an absence of other human bones. Furthermore, when considered in the context of the human skulls found in London's wells, such as the nearby Queen's Street, together with London's long association with the cult of the head it would appear that the skulls were intentionally deposited in the sacred waters of the Walbrook. Metalwork and human skulls are often found deposited in wet places, yet it is rare to find them both together from the same period. Dating evidence suggests this ritual had been taking place at this location from the Bronze Age.

About 150ft (45m) to the west of the street named after the Walbrook was a small valley upon the banks of which the Romans built a mithraeum, an underground temple to the God Mithras. Mithraism was a mystery religion popular amongst Roman soldiers throughout the Empire which iconography indicates was associated with a bull cult. The temple, excavated by W. F. Grimes in 1954,  has been relocated to Temple Court, off Queen Victoria Street, but the intention remains to restore the  mithraeum to its original location on the bank of the ancient Walbrook river as part of the Walbrook Square Project.

The large amount of material found in the Walbrook led to the suggestion that it was no more than a rubbish dump containing discarded metalwork and human remains that had washed down from local cemeteries but archaeologists and historians have long suspected that the upper valley of the Walbrook was a sacred region and these objects are correctly recognised as votive deposits and the Walbrook phenomenon is now acknowledged as possessing ritual significance.

Rising in Moorfields, the Walbrook entered the City through the Wall just west of All Hallows-on-the-Wall running toward the site of the modern Bank of England, effectively bisecting the old Roman city, it's ancient course betrayed by a noticeable depression marking the place were the river crossed Cannon Street on its way to the Thames. The church at All Hallows-on-the-Wall encompasses part of the old Roman City Wall, possibly starting life as as ancient shrine there. The area enclosing Cannon Street station was once the site of an imposing Roman building complex, originally thought to have been the Governor's Palace. Those who deny the Stone a prehistoric provenance often speculate that it may have originated from this complex.

London Stone - early 19th century engraving 
London Stone is enigmatically connected with the destiny of England's capital city; London's fate is said to lie with the Stone. In 1450 when Jack Cade entered the City leading his rebellious band of Kentish peasants he is said to have rode up to the Stone and it struck with his sword and by that gesture claimed to be the rightful 'Lord of London'. From this it is not such a massive leap to see why it has been claimed that London Stone was the stone from which King Arthur drew the sword Excalibur and subsequently declared as the rightful king of Britain.

In more recent years London Stone has been linked to the Trojan story of London. The legend claims that because Brutus received such encouraging advice from the oracle at the temple of Diana he swore he would build a new temple in her honour. According to the tradition Brutus built his temple at Ludgate Hill and London Stone is claimed to be a remnant, perhaps an altar, from that temple and commemorated in the saying:

“So long as the Stone of Brutus is safe,
So long will London flourish”

But this can only be traced back as far as 1862 and the Celtic revival of the Victorian Age.

Much has been said about London Stone but in truth, no one knows the origin of this foreign stone in London. Yet its survival in a sacred area of the City has persisted through a remarkable length of time.

Copyright © 2012 Edward Watson

Next: In Search of London's Ancient Temples

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Sunday 17 June 2012

A Tale of Two Cities II

Whereas, Geoffrey of Monmouth centred his tales of Brutus and the foundation of the New Troy on the site of the square mile of the Roman trading settlement of Londinium, the City now the modern business and financial capital of the country, Thomas Malory has his Arthurian associations with London based a mile to the west around the City of Westminster.

Book the Second: The 'Knyght Presoner' 
Sir Thomas Malory, the 'knyght presoner', wrote the ultimate version of the Arthurian legend in English which he claimed he had translated from a French 'life' of King Arthur while he was in prison. But Malory's book, Le Morte d'Arthur, is much more than a simple translation of an unnamed French source; although clearly influenced by continental sources, it is more 'the complete works of King Arthur', the magnum opus.

Dying shortly after its completion, Malory's book was printed by William Caxton in 1485 who named the work after the final book, Morte Darthur, (The Death of Arthur) although Malory had originally named it "The Whole Book of King Arthur and His Noble Knights of the Round Table". Said to be from Newbold Revel, Warwickshire, the identity of Sir Thomas Malory is as elusive and as mysterious as the knights of his stories; there were at least half a dozen individuals bearing the name in the 15th century. [1]
The Lady of Shalott – John William Waterhouse, 1888
Following his initial imprisonment in 1452 Malory spent the rest of his life behind bars, apart from short spells during brief reprieves. In May 1455, he was transferred from Ludgate to the Tower of London, which at that time was used for detaining aristocratic prisoners, rather than the final days before execution of later use for which the tower is famous. Here, Malory had access to a library that was quite extensive for the time, and it was at the Tower library that he most likely read the French book and other continental material that was the source of Le Morte d’Arthur, his only work of literature, which according to the epilogue was completed in the ninth year of Edward IV, that is between 4 March 1469 and 3 March 1470. Malory died barely twelve months later on 14 March, 1471, and and was buried under a marble tombstone in the chapel of St Francis within the church of Greyfriars, Newgate, which, despite its proximity to one of the jails in which he had been imprisoned, was considered one of the most fashionable church in London at the time.

Malory has much of Arthur's activities around Westminster in London but, like Geoffrey before him, fails to make it the centre of Arthur's rule. Malory's geography is questionable; he clearly places Arthurian events in the context of his own day, moving Camelot to Winchester, [2] probably influenced by the location of the Round Table there, which in his time was almost certainly believed to have been original. To Malory, Camelot is a city, it's main church that of Saint Stephen’s where the king wedded Guenever and twelve of Arthur's defeated enemies were buried. However, Caxton, possibly following Geoffrey of Monmouth, clearly states in the book's introduction that Camelot was in Wales rather than south east England. To explain this apparent discrepancy between author and publisher it is said that Malory confused Venta Belgarum (Winchester, Hampshire) with Venta Silurum (Caerwent, Gwent).

Westminster was once a separate city that grew around the Abbey, the 'West Minster', the monastery church at Thorney Island, that gave the area its name, located about one mile west of the old Roman walled City of Londinium with St Paul's, the 'East Minster'. Tradition claims the 'West Minster' was founded by Sæberht, king of the East Saxons in the 7th century, however, it is certain that there was a small community of monks on the island by at least the 8th century.

According to Malory, Arthur's knights often go to Westminster to see the King and it is where Queen Guenever rode a-Maying into woods and fields beside Westminster, with certain knights of the Round Table, clad all in green when abducted by Sir Meliagrance. Indeed, Arthur and his court sight the barge carrying the dead body of Elaine, the Fair Maid of Astolat (Tennyson's 'lily maid of Astolat' from the Idylls of the King and his poem 'The Lady of Shalott'), down the Thames at Westminster. After nursing the wounded Launcelot back to health, Elaine dies of a broken heart after he leaves the castle unaware of her feelings for him. Following her instructions, her body is placed in a boat, holding a lily in one hand and her final letter in the other. Her body is floated down the Thames to Camelot, where she is discovered by King Arthur's court. (Book XVIII, Chp XIX).

Elaine by John Atkinson Grimshaw 1877
Presumably Arthur's court is not far away as he and Queen Guenever can see the Thames from a window, (Book XVIII, Chp XX). We should therefore expect Astolat to be upstream on the Thames but Malory puts it at Guildford, the first place Arthur and his Knights stop on their way from London to Camelot (Winchester). Guildford is on the river Wey, joining the Thames at Weybridge, but it was not navigable in Malory's time, so he has Elaine's father and brother take her body directly to the Thames. [3]

However, at the end of the book Caxton reiterates his claim to have “divided the work into twenty-one books, chaptered and emprinted, and finished in the abbey, Westminster” leaving one to wonder how much of Malory's confused geography was due to editorial licence as we have seen above Caxton disagreed with Malory's location of Camelot at Winchester but an identification that remained popular for several centuries.

Later, Malory has Modred follow Queen Guenever to London where she has shut herself in the Tower in attempt to escape him. Modred arrives with an army and besieges her but must break off the siege with the news that Arthur has returned from France and landed at Dover.

Having failed to prevent Arthur's advance from Dover, Modred has gathered even more troops and waits for the king at Salisbury Plain, near the site of the stone temple of Stonehenge which Geoffrey associated with the magical arts of Merlin. Malory has adapted his final episode from the French 'Death of King Arthur' which also sites the fatal battle on the Plain. After receiving a warning in a dream Arthur arranges a truce and concedes parts of the kingdom to Modred. However, tensions run high and both are suspicious of the other and order their knights to attack as soon a weapon is drawn. All seems well until a knight is bitten on the foot by an adder. He draws his sword and the flash of the blade in the sunlight brings the armies to battle. Throughout Welsh tradition the strife of Camlann that followed ultimately leads to the downfall of the British leaving the way open for the Saxon onslaught.

The Sword in the Stone
Perhaps Malory's most famous Arthurian event in London is the drawing of the sword from the stone:

“So in the greatest church of London, whether it were Paul’s or not the French book maketh no mention, all the estates were long or day in the church for to pray. And when matins and the first mass was done, there was seen in the churchyard, against the high altar, a great stone four square, like unto a marble stone; and in midst thereof was like an anvil of steel a foot on high, and therein stuck a fair sword naked by the point, and letters there were written in gold about the sword that said thus:—'Whoso pulleth out this sword of this stone and anvil, is rightwise king born of all England'.” (Book I, Chp V)

Sir Kay is going to a tournament but has lost his sword so the young Arthur goes to the churchyard and took the sword from the stone and unwittingly proved himself as the rightful heir to the throne.

It has recently been claimed that the drawing of the sword from the stone outside “the largest Church in Roman London discovered, probably the seat of its Bishop, was at Tower Hill.” [4] The Roman Cathedral at Tower Hill was not discovered until 1995 and thought to have been built  between 350 - 400 AD with masonry reused from other buildings in the late Roman period. The massive building overlooking the city would have been one of the world's largest early churches at 100m long and 50m wide and would have been almost identical in design and slightly larger than the church of St Thecla in Milan. It is common conjecture that the Cathedral at Tower Hill was built by order of Magnus Maximus, (remembered as Macsen Wledig in Welsh tradition), proclaimed Emperor of the West in 383 AD by the Britannia garrison.

Born to a poor Spanish family Maximus became a distinguished general in the Roman army serving under Count Theodosius in Britain in 369 AD during recovery of the province following the "barbarian conspiracy". Around 380 AD he was promoted to comes Britanniae, general of the field armies of Britain. The following year he had resounding success against an incursion of Picts and Scots. Following his elevation to the purple by the British field army tradition holds Maximus responsible for stripping the garrisons of Britannia of her troops in pursuit of Gratian, the western emperor, who he defeated outside Paris. According to the 9th century Historia Brittonum the British troops never returned and may have settled in Brittany giving some credence to Breton traditions.

Maximus ruled Britain, Gaul, Spain and northern Africa from his court at Augusta Treverorum (Trier) in the lower Rhineland. It is at Trier c.385 AD that Maximus condemned the Spanish bishop Priscillian and six of his followers to the death penalty. The episode is notable for being the first people in the history of Christianity to be executed for heresy by other Christians. [5] Maximus' reign was short lived; after marching on Italy he was defeated at the Battle of the Save by the Emperor Theodosius, son of Count Theodosius, captured and executed near Aquileia in 388 AD. Along with Maximus so died the hopes of the west: he was the last emperor of note to venture to Britain.

Owing to Maximus' short reign it is doubtful that the Roman Cathedral at Tower Hill was ever completed. There is certainly no evidence of his return to Britain. Writing in the 6th century Gildas tells us in the De Excidio et Conquestu Britanniae that:“After this, Britain is left deprived of all her soldiery and armed bands, of her cruel governors, and of the flower of her youth, who went with Maximus, but never again returned.” [6] However, if the cathedral was finished it must have had a short-lived existence as the remains indicate evidence of fire damage from the 5th century suggestive of Germanic raiding parties venturing down the Thames and sacking the building a thousand years before Malory's day; he was almost certainly unaware of the cathedral's existence.

Lundenwic - Londinium
However, there had certainly been a late-Roman episcopal see in London. In The Ecclesiastical History of the English Nation The Venerable Bede records a tradition that the first Saxon cathedral was built by King Ethelbert in the metropolis of the East Saxons in the year 604 AD:

“when this province also received the word of truth, by the preaching of Mellitus, King Ethelbert built the church of St. Paul, in the city of London, where he and his successors should have their episcopal see.” (Book II, Chp III)

Bede calls it a ‘mart of many nations’  but for many years archaeologists could find no trace of this early Saxon London. Yet, the early Saxon settlement of 'Lundenwic' was not on the site of the abandoned Roman city of Londinium, but a mile to the west. Excavations at St Martin-in-the-Fields, near Trafalgar Square, by the Museum of London Archaeological Service (MOLAS) has uncovered evidence of the presence of Saxons on the site well over a hundred years earlier than Lundenwic is generally supposed to have been founded.

The tale of these two cities is yet to be told.

It has been suggested that the London Stone was where the young Arthur drew the sword. This weathered block of limestone has achieved near mythical status and is enigmatically connected with the destiny of England's capital city; London's fate lies with the stone.

Copyright © 2012 Edward Watson

Next: Book the Third: The London Stone


Notes & References
1. P.J.C. Field, The Life and Times of Sir Thomas Malory, D.S.Brewer, 1999, discounts the other five.
2. In 1934 Walter Oakeshott discovered another copy of Malory's Morte Darthur in Winchester College. Until the discovery the Winchester manuscript the available text of Morte Darthur was dependent solely on William Caxton's 1485 printing of the book with most modern issues based on H Oskar Sommer's 1890 edition of this work. The Winchester Manuscript contains some differences to Caxton's version which has led scholars to question how much Caxton altered from Malory's original. As we have seen above Malory associated Winchester with Arthur's Camelot, no doubt influenced by the Round Table hanging in the Great Hall part of Winchester Castle, which was hanging there in Malory's day and no doubt fuelled his imagination. Reading of the discovery in the newspaper the Arthurian scholar Eugène Vinaver met Oakeshott, and produced the 3 volume "The Works of Sir Thomas Malory" (Oxford, 1947) based upon the Winchester Manuscript and perhaps a more faithful rendition of Malory's original.
3.  Geoffrey Ashe, Arthurian Britain, Gothic Image, 1997. The Wey was made navigable to Guildford in the 17th century and extended further south in the 18th century to Godalming.
4.  As part of the promotion to the publication of his book Revealing King Arthur: Swords, Stones and Digging for Camelot (The History Press, 2010), Christopher Gidlow published the 'Top 10 clues to the real King Arthur', in The Independent, 12 July 2010.
Following 30 years of academic denial of King Arthur, Gidlow attempts to turn the tide and looks at the archaeological evidence for Arthur’s existence. At No 2 in Gidlow's list is The London Basilica at Tower Hill which he endeavours to connect with the drawing of the sword from the stone by Malory's statement that "outside the greatest church of London, whether it were Paul's or not",  arguing that it was the largest Church in Roman London and probably the seat of its Bishop.
5. On the the fate of the Priscillianists, a sect of heretics, the English historian Edward Gibbon wrote: “The theory of persecution was established by Theodosius, whose justice and piety have been applauded by the saints: but the practice of it, in the fullest extent, was reserved for his rival and colleague, Maximus, the first, among the Christian princes, who shed the blood of his Christian subjects on account of their religious opinions.” - Edward Gibbon, The History of The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, Volume 3, Chapter 27, 1776 -1788.
6. In support of the statement by Gildas there is no evidence for Maximus returning to Britain although he may well have ordered the building of the cathedral at Tower Hill but the concept of Londinium experiencing a golden revival at the end of the 4th century under Maximus is totally unfounded. It is often claimed that he reopened the London mint and used the 'AVG' mark on his coinage. The argument for the usage of this mint mark denoting Londinium appears to be based solely on the Roman city being renamed 'Augusta' in the 4th century. Indeed, the Roman historian Ammianus Marcellinus tells us that Theodosius "marched from Augusta, which was earlier called Londinium." However, archaeological evidence for Maximus's Londinium officina has never been found and survival of the modern name 'London' suggests 'Augusta' was more an official honorific rather than in common usage.  The Treveri were an important tribe in Gallic Belgica, which the Romans gave the name of 'Augusta' to their chief city, revealing its antiquity under its modern name of Treves, situated on the Moselle, a tributary of the Rhine. It was one of six cities in Gaul to which the privilege of coining money was granted. Is it not more likely that coins minted under Magnus Maximus using the 'AVG' mark were minted at Augusta Treverorum (Trier) where he held his court.

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Tuesday 5 June 2012

A Tale of Two Cities

“According to the old British chronicles, King Lud, the sixty-eighth ruler after Brutus, fortified London in about 70 BC and gave it its present name, a corruption of Lud-Dun, Lud's fortress. His name is also remembered in Ludgate Circus and Ludgate Hill, the site of St. Paul's Cathedral. The old Lud Gate itself, the western entrance through the city walls, displayed heroic statues of  king Lud and his two sons. When the gate was taken down in 1760, the statues were preserved and are now to be seen in the Church of St Dunstan in Fleet Street” [1]

Archaeology has failed to reveal a British settlement pre-existing Roman London. Judging by the number of votive deposits found in the Thames and it tributary waters the area must have been a liminal zone sparsely populated by the native population. Debate continues as to why the Romans founded Londinium where they did.

Many archaeologists favour the origin of the town as a settlement of merchants and officials planted on the north bank of the Thames some years after the Roman conquest, emerging as a major commercial centre during the 1st century AD. The Roman City of London developed on two previously unoccupied hills; Cornhill and Ludgate Hill, the site of St Paul's Cathedral. Between the two flowed the sacred waters of the Walbrook.

In 2006 archaeologists from the Museum of London discovered a series of ditches, the western boundary of a double-ditch enclosure on the east bank of the Walbrook, which has been interpreted as evidence of the first, short-lived London fort; the latest wisdom being that London appears to have first emerged as a frontier port, where Claudius amassed his army in 43 AD before the advance on Colchester some 60 miles to the north-east.

The earliest Arthurian associations with the City of London are found to be limited to the Mabinogi tale Brânwen Daughter of Llyr and the ancient Celtic cult of the Living Head. Now we turn to two influential medieval insular writers and their storytelling of Arthurian London who place their tales in two distinct parts of the capital; a tale of two cities.

Sir Thomas Malory on occasion has Arthur located near Westminster in London but, like Geoffrey of Monmouth some three hundred and thirty years before him, fails to make the city the centre of Arthur's rule. Malory has his Camelot based at Winchester but the most famous Arthurian event in London is the drawing of the sword from the stone.

Geoffrey of Monmouth consumes most of his writing on London with the earlier Brutus dynasty who he claims established a pre-Roman settlement on the banks of the Thames. It is apparent that Geoffrey has in mind the early Roman settlement as he has the city walls subsequently refortified by King Lud. Later, he has the Britons loosing London to the Saxons before recapturing it. Geoffrey has Arthur hold the first council of his reign in London but fails to mention any further visits to the city by the King.

Book the First: The New Troy
In his 12th century 'pseudohistorical'  work Historia Regum Britanniae (History of the Kings of Britain) Geoffrey, following the outline story contained in the Historia Brittonum, narrates the history of the British Kings up to Cadwaladr (ap Cadwallon), the last of the line that began with Brutus of Troy.

Geoffrey names London as one of the three noblest cities along with York and the City of the Legions (Caerleon-on-Usk), calling these the seats of the three Archflamens. By this term Geofffrey probably meant pagan Arch-Druids who, after “being delivered from idolatry, where made Archbishops”. [Book IV, Chap. 19] [2] Geoffrey has Vortigern take Constans to London to be made King. Following the slaughter of the British princes at the temple of Ambrius (Stonehenge) on the kalends of May, Vortigern grants all of the Saxon's demands. They take London, before advancing on York, Lincoln and Winchester. Vortigern retired to Cambria (Wales) and consulted his wise men.

Geoffrey is clearly influenced here by the story contained within the anonymous 9th century Historia Brittonum. [3] Vortigern is advised by his twelve wise men to retire to the remote boundaries of his kingdom and build a citadel; but three times the building collapsed. To make the fortress stand up Vortigern was advised to: “find a child born without a father, put him to death, and sprinkle with his blood the ground on which the citadel is to be build”. The boy Ambrose is brought to Vortigern who explains that the fortress will not stand because it is sighted above a subterranean pool containing two dragons, one red, the other white. This first account of the boy Ambrose (also known as Emrys) is without doubt a contributory inspiration in Geoffrey's later creation of Merlin and his apparent obsession with the art of prophecy.

Vortigern and Merlin by Alan Lee
The burial of the dragon's is accounted for in the later tale of Lludd and Llefelys as the second plague of King Lludd's reign: a shriek which came on every May-eve over every hearth in the Island of Britain. His brother Llefelys said the second plague was due to a dragon in Lludd’s kingdom and another dragon of a foreign race is fighting with it. To overcome this plague he would need to bury them in the strongest part of the island, which was in Snowdonia (Eryri: 'the abode of eagles'), at a place then called Dinas Ffaraon, after that the spot was called Dinas Emrys, and from then on the May-eve shriek ceased. The tale clearly has similarities with the stories of Brân and Vortimer and the failure to honour the talisman is once again blamed as the reason for the Saxon invasion of Britain, as we have seen in Arthurian London

However, the tale of 'Lludd and Llefelys' was omitted by Geoffrey from his original Latin chronicle but is included in several Middle Welsh versions of his work known as Brut y Brenhinedd (Chronicle of the Kings), collectively known as the Brut, (a chronicle commencing with Brutus) in which the redactor would make minor corrections to errors possibly occurring in translation or additions appertaining to local tradition. The presence or absence of the tale of 'Lludd and Llefelys' has been used to classify the early versions of the Brut, with the tale being included for the first time in the mid-13th century manuscript Peniarth MS 44.[4]

However, the tradition of Brutus as founder of Britain is older than Geoffrey's History of the Kings of Britain and appears for the first time in the 9th century Historia Brittonum, clearly one of Geoffrey's main sources. Yet despite figuring so prominently in the Historia Brittonum, Brutus failed to make a major impact on Welsh tradition and according to material pre-dating Geoffrey, after conquest the Island of Britain was named after Prydein son of Aedd Mawr. [5] Yet we find that no genuine tradition of Prydein has survived and he is more elusive than Brutus.

In describing the origins of the Britons, the Historia Brittonum states that the island of Britain derives its name from Brutus, “a Roman consul who conquered Spain, and reduced that country to a Roman province. He afterwards subdued the island of Britain, whose inhabitants were the descendants of the Romans, from Silvius Posthumus.” After the Trojan war Aeneas arrived with his son in Italy and obtained the kingdom of the Romans. Aeneas was the father of Ascanius and Silvius, the latter was called 'Posthumus' because he was born after the death of his father. [6]

Aeneas, having been informed that his daughter-in-law was pregnant by Ascanius ordered his son to send his magician to examine her and find out whether the child were male or female, but in so doing the wizard also foretold of a tragedy. The grandson of Aeneas was named Brutus who, in fulfilling the wizard's prophecy, killed his father Ascanius. He was driven from Italy and after some time in Gaul “came to this island which is named Britannia from his name.” The Historia Brittonum provides a second account of Brutus: “after the deluge, the three sons of Noah went to three different parts of the earth: Asia, Africa, and  Europe. The European was Alanus, with his three sons, Hisicion, Armenon, and Neugio. Hisicion had four sons: Froncus, Romanus, Alamanus, and Brutus from which the Britons were so named.”  [7]

In his History of the Kings of Britain, Geoffrey, as was his way, elaborates on the story, but ignored the second account of Brutus from the Historia Brittonum. He has Brutus as Aeneas's great-grandson, whereas the anonymous author of the Historia Brittonum has him as either the grandson then later his great-great-grandson. Aeneas, an important figure in Greek and Roman legend, is a character from Homer's Iliad. Aeneas's journey from Troy and the founding of a enclave south of Rome, is recounted in Virgil's Aeneid. He is one of the few Trojans not to have been killed or enslaved during the fall of Troy. Geoffrey, clearly influenced by the description of the Trojan diaspora in the Aenid, extends this to northern Europe and incorrectly claims Homer as a source for Brutus' foundation of the city of Tours.

Geoffrey has Brutus depart from Greece and arrives to an uninhabited island called Leogecia. At a desolate city on the island they come across a temple of Diana. Brutus consults a statue of the goddess and then falls asleep in front of the altar. During his sleep the goddess comes to him and foretells that he should go to an island in the western sea which was once possessed by giants, and there raise a second Troy.

After a detour through Gaul and meeting up with a second group of Tojans led by Corineus, Brutus arrives on the coast of the promised land at Totnes. The island was called Albion and inhabited by none but a few giants as the oracle had foretold. After driving the giants into the mountains Brutus then named the island 'Britannia' after himself. He came to the river Thames and then built his city, the New Troy: Trinovantum. Corineus and his followers go on to found Cornwall. Brutus's sons Locrinus, Kamber and Albanactus provide names for England (Loegria), Wales (Kambria) and Scotland (Albania), respectively. Brutus's three sons appear to be entirely Geoffrey's creation as they are found in no other source pre-dating his work. [8

And, so Geoffrey's story goes, that at the time of the Roman invasion of Britain, Lud became King and rebuilt the city that King Brutus the Trojan had founded and had named as the New Troy (Troia Nova), which according to Geoffrey was the original name of Trinovantum, no doubt influenced by the name of the home of the Trinovantes, one of the Iron Age tribes of pre-Roman Britain, whose homeland was on the north side of the mouth of the Thames, south of the lands of the Iceni. The Trinovantes were considered the most powerful tribe in Britain shortly before Julius Caesar's expeditions into Britain in 55 and 54 BC. Their name is thought to mean "very new"  in the sense of "newcomers" and has nothing to do with ancient Troy.

London Wall, Cooper's Row
According to Geoffrey the city was later refortified and renamed by King Lud as 'Kaerlud' the stronghold or city of Lud, an act that caused a quarrel between Lud and his brother Nennius who wanted to maintain the name of Troy. Geoffrey goes on to say that Gildas deals with this quarrel at length, but of this occasion Gildas remains silent. [9] Geoffrey tells us that the name later became corrupted to 'Caerlundein', which the Romans apparently took up as Londinium, and thus became modern day London. Geoffrey's account of London is typical of his style throughout his work; a combination of a tantalising fragment of tradition greatly elaborated into an obviously self constructed story complete with a multitude of errors, sending many a historian on a wild goose chase.

Lud’s name persists in present day Ludgate Circus and Ludgate Hill, on which St. Paul's Cathedral now stands, Ludgate being a major gateway into the old City of London. Crumbling statues of King Lud and his two sons, Androgeus and Tenvantius, which formerly stood at the gate, now stand in the porch of the church of St Dunstan-in-the-West on Fleet Street in London. At one time there was even a public house at Ludgate Circus called the "King Lud".

Yet the etymology of the name of England's capital city remains a mystery and probably derives from something similar to the original name of modern day Lyon in France: Lugdunum, named after the ancient pan-Celtic deity Lugus, of which  Lud(d) is a Welsh variant.

Legend claims that King Lud was buried in an entrance to the city that still bears his name, Ludgate, his father Beli Mawr supposedly buried at Billingsgate and the legendary burial place of King Brutus is Bryn Gwyn, the White Mount, at the site of the Tower of London. It is here, according to the Mabinogion, that they buried the head of Brân after the ill-fated journey to Ireland in which none save seven returned.

Copyright © 2012 Edward Watson

Next: Book the Second: The 'Knyght Presoner' 


Notes & References
1. John Michell, The Traveller's Guide to Sacred England, Gothic Image, 1996.
2. Geoffrey of Monmouth, Historia Regum Britanniae ("History of the Kings of Britain"), c.1136.
3. Later editions of the Historia Brittonum are often ascribed to a 'Nennius', however, the earliest version dated to c.829/830 AD remains anonymous.
4.  Rachel Bromwich, Trioedd Ynys Prydein: The Triads of the Island of Britain. University Of Wales Press, 2006.
5. Bromwich, Ibid. The Names of the Isle of Britain (Enweu ynys Prydein) - “The first name that this island bore, before it was taken or settled: Myrddin's Precinct. And after it was taken and settled, the island of Honey. And after it was conquered by Prydein son of Aedd Mawr, it was called the Isle of Prydein (Britain).”
6.  John Morris, ed. and trans., History of the British (Historia Brittonum), in Nennius: British History and the Welsh Annals, Phillimore, 1980.
7. Morris, Ibid.
8. Karen Jankulak, Geoffrey of Monmouth, University of Wales Press, 2010.
9. Jankulak, Ibid.

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