Saturday 23 April 2016

St George the Dragon Slayer

“Follow your spirit, and upon this charge Cry 'God for Harry, England, and Saint George!'” - William Shakespeare, Henry V, Act III, 1598 

From History into Legend
Today 23 April, St George's Day, local festivals across the country will re-enact George killing the Dragon. Although, today celebrations of St George will probably be eclipsed by the 400th anniversary of the death of Elizabethan playwright Willliam Shakespeare on 23 April 1616.

George was apparently a soldier in the Roman Army who was tortured and beheaded for refusing to renounce his Christian beliefs during the persecutions under the Emperor Diocletian in the early 4th century. Accounts of his martyrdom appeared as early as the 5th century, recording the existence of a shrine at the town of Diospolis (Lydda), where George was both martyred and buried. However, today historians suspect the Passion may have been invented as a result of popular demand for the story of the martyr and are sceptical about the very existence of George.

Archangel Michael slaying the Dragon
The Anglo Saxons were aware of St George as a martyr, but placed no special significance on him. He is mentioned in the writings of the Venerable Bede and a reference to him is made by St. Adamnan, 7th century Abbot of lona, who is thought to have heard the story from Arcuif, a French bishop who had travelled to the Holy Land.

The story of George and the Dragon was said to have been brought to Europe by Crusaders returning from the Holy Land. The Passion of St George was combined with the tale of the dragon slayer and first appeared in Vincent of Beauvais' Speculum Historiale, based on the Chronicon of Helinand of Froidmont, and part of the Speculum Maius (The Great Mirror), the encyclopedic compendium of the Middle Ages.

Following the appearance of St George in a vision to Crusaders at the Seige of Antioch (1097-1098) during the First Crusade the monarchs of England seemed to hold a fascination with the East Mediterranean Saint. It is around this time we find some of the earliest images of St George appearing on tombs and above church doors. However, any connection to his popularity being due to the crusader king Richard I (The Lionheart) has recently been dismissed by historians as a legend invented by the Tudor court.

The story of George the Dragon slayer was further popularised in Jacobus de Voragine's 'Golden Legend' in the 13th century. Originally titled the Legenda Sanctorum (Readings of the Saints), the Golden Legend was one of the first books printed in the English language by William Caxton in 1483.

In the mid-13th century Henry III paid for an account to be written of George's life and had an image of the saint placed over the entrance to the hall at Winchester Castle. Yet, Henry's favourite saint was undoubtedly Edward the Confessor as shown when he committed a huge amount of funds to the rebuilding of Westminster Abbey containing a new shrine to which the saint's relics were translated in 1269.

The earliest recorded use of the red Cross of St George is from the last years of Henry's reign which ended in turmoil. When Simon de Montfort led the Second Baron's Revolt, the forces of Henry's son Prince Edward (later Edward I) wore red crosses on a white background on the battlefield at Evesham in 1265. Edward's forces used the device again in the Conquest of Wales. In his two campaigns in Wales, 1276-77 and 1282-83, Edward's men were issued with armbands bearing the red cross of St George. The red dragon has long been the National emblem of Wales; it is tempting to speculate that Edward I was playing out the legend.

When Edward III, grandson of Edward I, formed the Order of the Garter c.1348 he placed it under the patronage of St George. But it is not until the 15th century that the cult of St George began to assume a national identity following the victories of Henry V. In 1415 at the battle of Agincourt in northern France, Henry further advanced the cult by invoking George as the Patron Saint of England. Many believed they saw St George fighting on the English side at the battle.

Dragon Hill, Uffington
The Dragon Slayer
At Uffington in Oxfordshire is an odd shaped hill known as Dragon Hill. This natural conical chalk hill with the top artificially truncated is traditionally the spot where George slew the dragon. There is a stretch of exposed chalk on the top of Dragon Hill where, it is claimed, grass will not grow as this is the spot where the dragon's blood spilled onto the ground. Across a steep sided valley known as The Manger is the famous chalk figure of the Uffington White Horse, dominating the so-named Vale of the White Horse. On higher ground above the chalk figure is the site of Uffington Castle, an early Iron Age hillfort and contender for the site of the Battle of Badon. The ancient trackway running from Dorset to the Wash known as The Ridgeway passes by the northern entrance of the hillfort. A perforated sarsen stone, known as the Blowing Stone, once stood here but was moved about a mile away to Kingston Lisle around 1750.

The Uffington White Horse is nearly four hundred feet in length, said to be of prehistoric origin and related to the Iron Age hillfort. Indeed, deposits from the trenches forming the horse's outline recovered during excavations by the Oxford Archaeological Unit in 1990 have returned Bronze Age dates making it possibly the oldest hill figure in Britain.

Uffington White Horse (or is it a Dragon?)
Other tales claim the horse was cut by King Alfred after defeating the Danes in 871 AD at the battle of Ashdown fought somewhere on the Oxfordshire – Berkshire border. Alfred is said to have called his warriors to battle by making a loud sound through the Blowing Stone. An alternative tradition says the horse was cut by Hengist, leader of the invading Anglo Saxons, in the 5th century.

Writing in his 'Monumenta Britannica' (c.1670) John Aubrey pondered with the idea that Uther Pendragon, the father of King Arthur, might have been buried here.

The Uffington chalk figure has been referred to as a horse since at least the 11th century, said to bear similarity to stylised horses from Celtic Art, as seen on Iron Age coins for example, but it always strikes me as being more feline or serpentine rather than equine. Surely this is an early depiction of the dragon?

The Mythical Centre of England
The Welsh tale of Lludd and Llefelys, preserved in two manuscripts, the White Book of Rhydderch (c.1300–25) and the Red Book of Hergest (c.1375–1425) records that while Lludd was king of the Island of Britain it became infected with three supernatural plagues, or oppressions.

The first plague was a certain race that came called the Coranians; the second was a shriek which came on every May-eve; and the third was provisions of food and drink disappeared from the king's court over night.

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, Llefelys told Lludd he would need to measure the length and breadth of the Island to find the centre, there dig a pit and place a cauldron filled with the finest mead, covered over by a satin cloth. They would appear as dragons fighting in the air and then tire and fall in the form of pigs into the cauldron, sink in to the mead, drink it and then fall asleep. Lludd would then need to bury them in the strongest part of the island. When Lludd measured the island, Oxford was found to be the exact centre of Britain.

Oxford is less than twenty miles from Dragon Hill at Uffington. But of course, the 'centre' depends what you are measuring and where from; in most cases you would find the centre of any given object by bisecting the longest dimension by the widest, half length by half breadth.

Henry of Huntingdon wrote of the ‘Four Highways’ in his Historia Anglorum (c.1131); “The first runs from west to east and is called the Icknield Way......The fourth, longer than the others, begins in Caithness, and ends in Totnes, that is from the beginning of Cornwall to the end of Scotland.”

Following Henry of Huntingdon, Geoffrey of Monmouth identified the Four Highways as being part of the story of the mythical King Belinus, hence the longest of the Four Highways has been named the 'Belinus Line'.

The Belinus Line - Copyright (c) 2012 Gary Biltcliffe
According to Geoffrey of Monmouth in his 12th century chronicle the "History of the Kings of Britain"  (Historia Regum Britannie c.1136) (HRB Book III, Chap.5), Belinus wore the crown of Loegria, Kambria and Cornubia (England, Wales and Cornwall). After falling out with his brother Brennius, who ruled from Northumberland to Caithness, and driving him across the Channel to Gaul, Belinus ruled the whole island of Albion from sea to sea, and reaffirmed the laws that his father King Dunvallo Molmutius had made; The Molmutine Laws.

In plotting the boundaries of the northern realm known as Brigantia during the 1970s Ragland Phillips noted a grid pattern. He extended this line beyond Brigantia and found a dead straight line extending from the south coast of England to Scotland. He called this alignment the Belinus Line after Geoffrey of Monmouth's mythical roadbuilder.

The Belinus Line runs through important ancient sites such as St Catherine's Hillfort in Hampshire, Beacon Hill, Inkpen Beacon, Dragon Hill at Uffington, The Rollright Stones in Oxfordshire, Alderley Edge and the Bridestones in Cheshire, Shap (stone circle, now ruined) in Cumbria marking the mid point, on through Arthuret to the coast of Scotland at Durness.

The Michael Line
Many ancient sites associated with the dragon legend are found on the high places in the landscape; many were 'Christianised' by replacing the stone temples with a church. These sites are often situated atop a mound, a rocky knoll or flat-topped hill. The church is typically dedicated either to St Michael or St George, both depicted in Christian iconography as dragon slayers.

In the 1960's the late John Michell noted the similarity between Glastonbury Tor and Burrow Mump. Both hills have the appearance of being shaped by the hand of man and both have a church dedicated to St Michael perched on the top. In the book The View Over Atlantis (1969) Michell discusses this alignment in detail:

"The St. Michael Line of traditional dragons sites in south-west England (…) is remarkable for its length and accuracy. It appears to be set between two prominent Somerset hills, both dedicated to St. Michael with ruined churches on their summit. These two hills are Glastonbury Tor and 'The Mump' at Burrowbridge some ten miles to the south-west. Both these hills appear to have been artificially shaped so that their axis align with each other, and their orientation, 27 degrees north of east, can be read off a large Ordnance Survey sheet."

Paul Broadhurst and Hamish Miller extended Michell's alignment through Burrow Mump and Glastonbury Tor in a straight line for 350 miles to the east coast. They traced an alignment of hill-top shrines dedicated to dragon-slaying saints stretching from St. Michael's Mount near Land's End in Cornwall, through the ancient temple of Avebury at the mid-point, to Hopton-on-sea on the Norfolk coast; the longest east-west line than be drawn across southern Britain.

Seven Barrows at the intersection of the
 Belinus Line and the St Michael Line
Here there be Dragons
At the intersection of the two longest lines that can be drawn across Britain, the Belinus Line and the Michael Line, lies a huge Bronze Age cemetery known as 'Seven Barrows' just inside the Oxfordshire border. The site consists of about thirty prehistoric barrows, some say more, possibly as many as forty. The cemetery is situated along the Lambourn to Kingston Lisle road, barely three miles from Dragon Hill.

Surely it is beyond coincidence that the very place determined as the mythical centre of Britain is the site where St George slew the Dragon.

Copyright © 2016 Edward Watson 

Further Reading:
Jonathan Good, The Cult of St George in Medieval England, Boydell Press, 2015.
Gary Biltcliffe and Caroline Hoare, The Spine of Albion: An Exploration of Earth Energies and Landscape Mysteries Along the Belinus Line, Sacred Lands Publishing, 2012.
Paul Broadhurst and Hamish Miller, The Sun and the Serpent, Mythos Press, 1990.
Guy Ragland Phillips, Brigantia: A Mysteriography, Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1976.
John Michell, The View Over Atlantis, Sago Press, 1969.
Paul Newman, Lost Gods of Albion: The Chalk Hill Figures of Britain, The History Press, 2009.

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Sunday 17 April 2016

Charles Thomas, Tennyson and Arthur

The Passing of Arthur

“Back to to the sunset bound of Lyonnesse - 
A land of old upheaven from the abyss
By fire, to sink into the abyss again;
Where fragments of forgotten peoples dwelt,
And the long mountains ended in a coast
Of ever-shifting sand, and far away
The phantom circle of a moaning sea.”

- Idylls of the King, Alfred, Lord Tennyson.

“The background to this Idyll is, to say the least, mysterious,” writes Charles Thomas in Exploration of a Drowned Landscape (Batsford, 1985. pp.265-267). He continues:

“The earlier poem, Morte D' Arthur, according to Hallam Tennyson completed by 1835, appeared in the famous 1842 collection. Tennyson's devotion to the Arthur theme began in boyhood, with his discovery of Malory's Le Morte d'Arthur. Significant facets were then lodged for ever in his mind, as when in a youthful MS note (1833) he could write how, in 'the latest limit of the West in the Land of Lyonnesse, where, save the rocky Isles of Scilly, all is now wild sea, rose the sacred Mount of Camelot.'

Morte D'Arthur by Daniel Maclise
"In the  Morte D' Arthur the great king, mortally stricken, is carried from the battlefield by Sir Bedivere to a little chapel by the seaside; this is drawn directly from Malory's version. Here, after twice prevaricating, Bedivere hurled the sword Excalibur into the water, where an arm in white samite rose to grasp it. Here too a barge with ladies clothed in black arrived to take the dying king to Avilion The water, stirred by winds and waves, is implicitly the open sea in Sir Thomas Malory's recital, and the barge with its Dark Queens moves slowly away. Insofar as the nearby Last Battle was located at all closely, Malory placed the event somewhere by the south coast, on a down near Salisbury that was also not far from the English Channel shores.

"Tennyson, however, decided that Arthur departed from Cornwall; in 1835 and 1842 he was specific. The chapel nigh the field of the battle

'stood on a dark strait of barren land.
On one side lay the ocean, and on one
Lay a great water, and the moon was full.'

"This great water is fringed with juts of pointed rock, crags, reeds and bullrush beds, and a margin with many-knotted waterflags. It is fresh water, and the dark strait is barren because it consists of pebbles. The side which is not the ocean is a lake or mere. Even its true orientation is given. When the barge approached across this lake, and goes again with Arthur, Sir Bedivere stands to watch

'till the hull
Look'd one black dot against the verge of dawn,
And on the mere the wailing died away.'

"Clearly then the barge was departing eastwards, across a lake which was bounded on its western side by firstly a pebble bar and then the sea. Only one place in Cornwall fulfils these conditions: the remarkable freshwater lake, Loe Pool, on the western shore of the Lizard peninsula. It is fed by the river Cober which flows into it just below Helston, and is penned by the massive shingle barrier, Loe Bar, now pierced by an outflow tunnel.

Loe Bar, according to Tennyson, where the barge departed for Avallon
"The northern side of the Pool near the Bar has low jagged cliffs with pines; there is some vegetation along the water's edge. Looking inland, north-east,  from the Bar itself, the vista is not only romantic and impressive, somehow reminiscent of the Lake District or perhaps Austria rather than of Cornwall, but also suggests an inland water-stretch much longer than it really is.

"Tennyson's Morte D' Arthur, published in 1842, was re-used with virtually no alterations as the core of The Passing of Arthur; the much longer Idyll. Last of 12, published in 1869. In the interval the poet has twice toured Cornwall. The first occasion, May to July of 1848, was a solitary visit; he went to Bude, Tintagel, Camelford, the Land's End and the Lizard, enjoying long coastal walks. At Morwenstow he met the idiosyncratic Robert Stephen Hawker, whose own interests included matters Arthurian.”

Anthony Charles Thomas
 Historian, archaeologist and Cornishman
26 April 1928 - 7 April 2016 

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Tuesday 12 April 2016

Fair Cei: Hero or Villain?

"Cei and Bedwyr are consistent characters throughout [Culhwch and Olwen].......the former bearing little resemblance to the discourteous and ineffective buffoon of later romance."1

"In spite of his discourtesy, downright rudeness, and eventual treachery, there is the underlying knowledge that he has a special importance for Arthur, who almost always remains fond of him, and shows a tolerance of him that is at times remarkable."2

One Who Wears a Crown
Cei and Bedwyr are the most important of Arthur’s companions in the Welsh stories. They appear in the earliest stratum of the Arthurian legend along with other native British heroes such as Gwalchmei (Gawain). Cei and Bedwyr accompany Arthur on his earliest adventures such as the Welsh tale How Culhwch won Olwen, and the poem Pa Gur yv y Porthaur? (Who is the gatekeeper?) fighting supernatural monsters, giants and witches in a world of magic. Here Arthur is not a king but a leader of a band of men possessing fantastic abilities, seemingly living beyond a normal existence. These early adventures are set in a world far removed from the later tales of Arthurian Romance, chivalry and courtly love.

In these marvellous adventures it is Cei who is the most heroic of the warriors in Arthur's Court with Bedwyr typically adopting a supporting role. Whereas Arthur's character is rarely developed in these tales, Cei slowly falls from favour with Continental writers, perhaps detecting traces of a discord with Arthur that was apparent from the very beginning.

An early Triad that records Cei's early prowess refers to him as one of the 'foremost fighters'. In Trioedd Ynys Prydein, the Triads of the Island of Britain, Cei, son of Cenyr of the Fair Beard, is listed as one of the Three Battle-Diademed Men of the Island of Britain:

Trystan son of Tallwch,
And Hueil son of Caw,
And Cei the son of Cynyr Ceinfarfog,
And one that was diademed above the three of them 
That was Bedwyr the son of Bedrawc.3

'Battle-Diademed' in this respect is translated from the Welsh 'taleithyawc' meaning 'one who wears a crown', which according to Rachel Bromwich was a mark of distinction worn on the head of the foremost champions in battle. Llywelyn ap Gruffydd, the last king of Wales, prior to the conquest by Edward I of England, wore a coronet (in Welsh, Talaith Llywelyn) said to be the Crown of Arthur.

Cei the Fair
The name 'Cei' may derive from the Latin Ceius or Gaius, possibly a genuine Romano-British chieftain who occupied the site of the Roman fort at Caer Gai, by Bala, Wales, in Post Roman Britain. Inscriptions have been found at the site suggestive of a relationship to Cei of Arthurian legend but their interpretation has been debated by scholars without satisfactory resolution.

Sir Kay showeth the mystic sword unto Sir Ector,
 (Howard Pyle from The Story of King Arthur and His Knights. 1903)
Alternative suggestions are that the name 'Cei' equates with the Irish Cei, Coi, explained in the 10th century Cormac's Glossary (Sanas Cormaic) as equivalent to 'Conair' meaning 'path, way', equivalent to the Welsh 'Cynyr' who is listed as Cei's father, but with the epithet 'Fair Beard', in the court list in How Culhwch won Olwen and The Triads; the combination of Cei and Cynyr, 'Path, son of Way' corresponds well with similar pairings in Culhwch, such as Nerth son of Kedarn, “Strength, son of Strong” and Drem son of Dremidyd, “Sight, Son of Vision”.4

The name also compares favourably with the Irish law-giver Cei Ceinbrethach, 'Cei of Fair Judgement'. Significantly, throughout the early Welsh poem Pa Gur yv y Porthaur? (Who is the gatekeeper?) he is referred to as 'Fair Cei':

76 Fair Cei and Llacheu
77 They made battles
78 Preceding the suffering of blue lances
79 On the summit of Ysta-Wyngun
80 Fair Cei slew nine witches
81 Fair Cei went to Mon [Anglesey]
82 to destroy lions5

In Malory's tale of King Arthur, as Sir Kay, Cei was one of the first and foremost Knights of the Round Table; in some accounts he is Arthur's seneschal and foster brother. As Sir Bedivere, Bedwyr survived to the end as Arthur's loyal companion; Malory (following the Vulgate Mort Artu), has him throw the king's sword Excalibur into the hand of the Lady of the Lake before the mortally wounded Arthur can depart on the barge for Avalon, never to be seen again.

Cei's Decline
In How Culhwch won Olwen, Cei is noted for drinking as much as four men, his sharp tongue and quick temper apparent in these early native tales are further developed in later Arthurian Romance in which he is known for his 'boorish' behaviour. However, Cei is certainly not the first British hero to fall from grace with the continental writers; Gawain, who as Gwalchmei was the best of knights who always accomplished his task in early Arthurian tales, suffered a similar fate.

In Chrétien de Troyes unfinished tale Perceval, or the Story of the Grail (Perceval, le Conte du Graal) Gawain is described as Arthur's nephew and best knight. About half way through the story Gawain takes up the quest from Perceval, but Chrétien fails to bring the tale to a conclusion. In the First Continuation of Chrétien's story Gawain fails in the Grail quest and his significance is thereon greatly diminished in later tales and he clearly falls from favour with continental writers.

The French invented their own hero in Lancelot, infamous for his love affair with Arthur's Queen Guinevere. Geoffrey of Monmouth was the first to write of Guinevere's infidelity, but in Geoffrey's account it was Mordred, betrayer of Arthur, who took her as his queen, seizing the king's wife and his realm while Arthur was leading an invasion on the Continent.

The negative characterisation of Cei appears to be fully developed in Chretien de Troyes earlier tale 'Yvain' in which he is described as being “...slanderous, mean, cutting and insolent.” The French concept of the unheroic presentation of Cei finds its way in to the Welsh tales of Peredur, son of Efrawg, Owain, or the Lady of the Fountain, and in Gereint and Enid.6 However, the seed that may have fuelled the decline of Cei (Kay) in the Romances can be detected in the apparent feud between Arthur and Cei in early Welsh literature.

The Early Welsh Texts
Cei first appears in two highly imaginative pieces of literature; the poem Pa Gur yv y Porthaur? from the Black Book of Carmarthen, and the closely related earliest Arthurian prose tale How Culhwch won Olwen, found (in part) in the White Book of Rhydderch and (complete) in the Red Book of Hergest.

Culhwch is the most archaic text included in Lady Charlotte Guest's Mabinogion collection and one of the most important texts in the study of the Arthurian cycle preserving the older Arthurian tradition of the hunting of the Twrch Trwyth which certainly has antecedents in earlier Celtic tradition. The early tales feature an Arthur far removed from the emperor of Geoffrey of Monmouth and the knights of later Continental Romance. Here Arthur and his retinue adventure in the realm of the supernatural in combat against giants, witches and enchanted boars.

Cei in Culhwch and Olwen
In the tale of How Culhwch won Olwen, Cei appears to possess superhuman properties as prophesied by Cynyr, (claimed to be his father); “If there be anything of me in thy son, maiden, his heart will always be cold, and there will be no warmth in his hands”. He can also go without sleep and hold his breath under water for nine days and nine nights, has the ability to deliver unhealable wounds and when he desired he could be as tall as the tallest tree.

At Nant Gwynant on the road west from Capel Curig toward Dinas Emrys in Snowdonia, North Wales, Cei's name is commemorated at Gwyrd Cei ('Cei's Span' or 'Stretch'). The word 'gwryd' is a measurement of the distance between a man's finger tips when his arms are outstretched on both side of his body; a fathom, six foot, literally a man's span. If the gap between the mountains in Nant Gwynant was named from Cei's stretched finger tips he must have been of gigantic stature. Indeed in Welsh tales Cei has the persistent epithet of “The Tall” (Cei Hir) indicative that he was a giant, as tall as a tree.7

How Culhwch won Olwen begins with the gatekeeper Glewlwyd Gafaelfawr (Mighty-Grasp) denying the young Culhwch entry into Arthur's hall until Arthur requests to see him. Cei objects to Culhwch's admission. Once Arthur recognises him as his cousin, Culhwch demands a boon and invokes his help and all the warriors of the court in his quest to win the hand of Olwen, the giant's daughter, in marriage. Ysbaddaden chief-giant presents Culhwch with forty impossible tasks, or anoethau, to complete before he can marry his daughter.

In this tale Cei is the most adept of Arthur's warriors, helping to release Mabon from Caerloyw, and slaying Wrnach the Giant. The animosity between Cei and Arthur begins when Cei and Bedywr kill Dillus the Bearded. Ysbaddaden has charged them with plucking the beard of Dillus, whilst he is still alive, to make a leash to hold Drudwyn the whelp of Greid son of Eri.

"When Cei was certain Dillus was asleep he dug a pit under his feet, the biggest in the world, and he struck him a mighty blow and pressed him down in the pit until they had entirely twitched out his beard with wooden tweezers; and after that they slew him outright."

Cei and Bedwr went to Celli Wig in Cornwall, and presented Arthur with the leash made from the beard of Dillus the Bearded. Arthur sang this englyn:

Cei made a leash
From Dillus' beard, son of Eurei.
Were he alive, thy death he'd be.

The implication of Arthur's verse is that if Dillus had not been caught at a disadvantage by Cei, i.e. asleep, it is Cei that would be dead and not the giant.

“And because of this Cei grew angry, so that it was with difficulty the warriors of this Island made
peace between Cei and Arthur. But nevertheless, neither for Arthur's lack of help, nor for the slaying of his men, did Cei have aught to do with him in his hour of need from that time forward.”8

From this point on Cei disappears from the tale completely and is not heard of again.9 This rift between Arthur and Cei seems to have influenced later negative romance depictions of Kay.

Pa Gur yv y Porthaur? (What man is the Porter?)
Pa Gur is an obscure poem which refers to other tales that it assumes the reader will know, for example, Bedywr on the shores of Tryfrwyd fighting with Rough-Grey (lines 47-49) may well be a reference to Arthur's tenth battle as listed in the so-called battle-list of Chapter 56 in the Historia Brittonum. Rough-Grey is known from the Triads as Gwrgi Garwlwyd (= man-dog rough-grey) who made a corpse of the Cymri every day, and two on Saturday so as not to have to kill on a Sunday. That this is evidently the same conflict is demonstrated by the reference to Rough-Grey in Pa Gur immediately following the conflict with dog-heads on Din Eidyn (lines 43-44).

The poem ends abruptly after 90 lines but its content is sufficient to portray an Arthurian adventure very similar to that detailed in How Culhwch won Olwen, indeed the poem contains many of the same characters invoked in Culhwch's list and many have argued that Culhwch derives from Pa Gur.

But in Pa Gur, in stark contrast to Culhwch, Arthur seems to be down on his luck, looking back at happier days in a past tense, as shown by the lines “I used to have servants, it was better when they were alive” (lines 62-63). Earlier in the poem he names these servants as Manawydan son of Llyr, Mabon son of Mellt, Anwas the Winged and Llwch Windyhand, who defended Din Eidyn (lines 17-29).

Arthur tells the gatekeeper he is with Cei the Fair and the best men in the world, but he only names three, wizards all of them: Mabon son of Mydron, Uthr Pendragon's servant; Cystaint son of Banon; and Gwyn Goddyfrion (lines 1-16). The gatekeeper episode is relatively common in Celtic literature, even Lugh is refused entry to the court in The Battle of Mag Tuired, from the Ulster cycle, and must individually name his many skills to gain entry. Glewlwyd Gafaelfawr is again the gatekeeper in Pa Gur, as he is in most Arthurian tales, but in this poem he refuses Arthur and his band of men entry into the court, forcing Arthur to recall a list of his companions and their exploits. Here, it would appear Arthur is being denied access to the court. But who's court is this?

The poem refers to an attack on 'Celli', presumably Arthur's court at Celli Wig in Cornwall is meant. The attacker seems to be Cei who struck them down three at a time (lines 31-36). As this follows directly on from the list of Arthur's servants (lines 17-29) this may be the episode in which Arthur lost  them (lines 62-63). The poem continues, calling Cei the 'Prince of plunder', unrelenting as an enemy. (line 67: the literal meaning here is that 'he was a warrior long/tall as an enemy', possibly a pun on Cei's epithet 'hir' = 'the tall'.)10

Rachel Bromwich gives the following translation:

64 Before the kings of Emreis 
65 I saw Cai hurrying. 
66 He carried away booty. 
67 the ‘long man’ [i.e. Cai] was hostile(?). 
68 Heavy was his vengeance, 
69 fierce was his anger.11
Sir Kay breaketh his sword at ye Tournament.
(Howard Pyle from The Story of King Arthur and His Knights, 1903)
Lover and Traitor
The early 13th century Old French Romance Perlesvaus, or The High History of the Holy Grail, tells us that at Pentecost a maiden came to Arthur's court with a jewelled box. The maiden claimed the box contained the head of a knight, which could only be opened by the man who had killed him. Arthur tried first, followed by Gawain, then Lancelot, but they all failed. But when Kay tried, the box opened.

A letter inside explained that the head in the box was that of Loholt (Welsh Llachau), the son of Arthur and Guinevere. Loholt had killed the giant Logrin then fell asleep on top of him, as his custom was to sleep on any man he killed. Sir Kay found Loholt and cut off his head while he slept, he then took the head of the giant to King Arthur's court claiming he had killed him.

Guinevere recognised the head in the box as her son Loholt by a scar on his face, which he had carried from childhood, and then died from grief.12 Pa Gur makes reference to Cei and Llacheu fighting battles (lines 76-77), but provides no further information; as to whether they were allies or opponents, we are left to ponder.

A little later, the 13th century poem The Dialogue of Melwas and Gwenhyfer is suggestive of Cei having an affair with Guinevere (Gwenhwyfar in Welsh).13 Caradoc of Llancarfan first tells of Guinevere's abduction by Melwas in The Life of Gildas (c.1120) but makes no suggestion of a love affair between Cei and Guinevere.

The French poet Chrétien de Troyes is the first to allude to Sir Kay (Cei) being Guinevere's lover in the 12th century poem Lancelot, or the Knight of the Cart. Chretien writes that when Guinevere was abducted by Meliagaunce (Melwas?) they are pursued by Lancelot in a cart to his castle. Lancelot has to cross a sword bridge to reach the castle and then fight Meliagaunce to win Guinevere's release. Guinevere intervenes to stop Lancelot killing Meliagaunce. But the fighting between the two men breaks out again after Meliagaunce claimed that Sir Kay is Guinevere's lover.

What inspired Chretien to include this love affair in his story – is there a lost tale of Cei and Gwenhyfar as lovers?

Mordred is known throughout Arthurian tradition as the notorious traitor who brought down King Arthur at the Battle of Camlann. The account is first found in the entry for the year 537 in the 10th century Welsh Annals (Annales Cambriae):

 “The strife of Camlann, in which Arthur and Medraut fell.”

From this simple chronicle entry it is impossible to be certain if Arthur and Medraut (Old Welsh for Mordred) are opponents or fighting on the same side. But from that one line Mordred has been portrayed as the betrayer of Arthur and the man responsible for his downfall.14

In the 12th century Geoffrey of Monmouth first portrayed Mordred as Arthur's nemesis. Geoffrey has Mordred seize the King's wife and realm while Arthur is on campaign in Europe, perhaps adopting the role of Melwas. Arthur returns to Britain to meet with Mordred on Salisbury Plain for the final, fatal battle.

Tales of Mordred's treachery are entirely absent from earlier Welsh accounts. Indeed, the earliest account of the discovery of Arthur's grave at Glastonbury c.1191 claim Mordred was found in the grave alongside Arthur and Guinevere, which seems very unlikely if he was the treacherous villain responsible for the King's downfall.15

From the above, there is ample evidence, the feud with Arthur (Culhwch), the attack on Celli Wig (Pa Gur),the murder of Arthur's son (Perlesvaus), the love affair with Guinevere (Chrétien), to suggest that it was Cei, not Mordred, who brought down the King.

Copyright © 2016 Edward Watson 

Notes & References
1. Gwynn Jones and Thomas Jones, The Mabinogion, Everyman, 1974 (revised edition, 1991).
2. Linda Gowans, Cei and the Arthurian Legend, D.S.Brewer, 1988, p.6.
3. Rachel Bromwich, Trioedd Ynys Prydein: The Triads of the Island of Britain, Third Edition, UWP, 2006.
4. Ibid.
5. John T. Koch, ed. Celtic Culture: A Historical Encyclopedia, ABC-CLIO, 2006.
6. Bromwich, op.cit., p.309.
7. Chris Grooms, The Giants of Wales: Cewri Cymru, Edwin Mellen Press, 1993.
8. Jones and Jones, op.cit.
9. R Bromwich & D S Evans, Culhwch and Olwen: An Edition and Study of the Oldest Arthurian Tale, UWP, 1992.
10. Patrick Sims-Williams, The Early Welsh Arthurian Poems, pp.33-72 (cf.pp.38-46), in R Bromwich, AOH Jarman and B F Roberts, editors, The Arthur of the Welsh, UWP, 1991 (reprinted 1999).
11. Rachel Bromwich, trans., in The Figure of Arthur by Richard Barber, 1972, pp.69-71.
12. Nigel Bryant, trans. The High Book of the Grail, DS Brewer, 1978, pp.173-175.
13. Mary Williams, An Early Ritual Poem in Welsh, Speculum vol. 13 no. 1. January 1938. pp 38-51. on Mary Jones Celtic Literature Collective: Version 1 ; Version 2 
14. Rachel Bromwich, Triads, pp.445-6.
15. Richard Barber, Was Mordred Buried at Glastonbury, Arthurian Literature 4, 1985.

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Saturday 2 April 2016

Tintagel Bridge: A Step into the Past

'Stepped at one stride across the sea.....'

On 23 March 2016 English Heritage (EH) announced the winner of the Tintagel Castle: Bridge Design Competition to design a new structure linking the mainland to the island of Tintagel.

Tintagel is the place were King Arthur was conceived (and some say born) according to the legends. Archaeological investigations have revealed large amounts of 5th and 6th century Mediterranean pottery indicating that Tintagel was an important trading post from late Roman times until the end of the 7th century, long before the construction of the Norman castle in the early 13th century. However, it is the Arthurian link that draws many visitors each year to the site.

As part of EH's plans to improve the "visitor experience" at Tintagel Castle, they have refurbished the Beach Cafe and constructed a new exhibition exploring the history of Tintagel Castle and the Arthurian legends. Ongoing plans for 2016, EH claim, will include an “imaginative new outdoor interpretation” that will feature interactive exhibits and informative panels in addition to a range of artworks crafted in bronze and stone bringing history and legend to life. The first of these imaginative displays has seen the face of Arthur's legendary wizard Merlin carved into the rocks on the beach by the entrance to Merlin's Cave. This first sculpture, on display from February, has received a mixed reception.

As part of the improvements planned for Tintagel, EH intends to build a new footbridge at Tintagel Castle which will follow the path of the original crossing between the mainland and the headland, to improve access to the island and conserve the landscape.

A new bridge sounds welcome as one memory that visitors to Tintagel are guaranteed to take away with them is the many steep steps one has to climb to get to the ruins. There are currently over 100 steps leading up to the Island Courtyard. After leaving the island you have to climb up a set of even steeper steps to the Mainland Courtyard.

EH launched a competition in 2015 to find the best architectural and engineering team to design the new footbridge. Six were shortlisted. Following a period of consultation on the concept designs the winner was announced in March 2016.

An expert jury came to a majority decision on the winning team of Ney & Partners and William Matthews Associates, beating 136 others to secure the commission for the £4m English Heritage project in Cornwall.

A Step into the Past
Ney & Partners concept for the Tintagel Castle footbridge is to restore the link that once existed between the mainland and island void by using two independent cantilevers that reach out from each side but don't quite touch in the middle, leaving a 4 inch gap. The design team claim the narrow gap between the two sides will represent the “transition between the mainland and the island, here and there, the present and the past, the known and the unknown, reality and legend”.

The winning team's concept design for the new bridge at Tintagel Castle
© MRC/Emily Whitfield-Wicks and Ney & Partners 
The designers concept of a journey into the past which will start through the historic inner gate of the lower ward with dramatic views of the castle ruins and the Island of Tintagel. At this point the bridge will first come into view, without imposing its presence, but drawing visitors to it. The bridge entrance will be located between two slate walls clearly distinguishing the bridge from the mainland. The highlight of the crossing will be the rite of passage; in traversing the narrow gap passing from mainland to an island, from the  Norman 13th century to the Celtic Dark Age; from one world to another.

In presenting their winning design Ney & Partners said, “The narrow gap between the cantilevers represents the transition between the mainland and the island, here and there, the present and the past, the known and the unknown, reality and legend; all the things that make Tintagel so special and fascinating.

The team’s inspiration is said to have come from their study of Celtic history and the original drawbridge arrangement of Tintagel Castle. Clearly it is the concept of the transition through worlds and time that the innovative bridge will symbolise that appealed to the jury.

Kate Mavor, chief executive of English Heritage, said, “The winning team’s concept is daring and very exciting. It is not the final design but instead a brilliant indication of the team’s talent and imagination. with them on a design that will both complement the spectacular landscape and unlock for the visitor the history of the site.

“In our new role as a charity, we are looking for new, imaginative ways to interpret the sites in our care and inspire our visitors – this bridge forms part of that approach.”

Yet, this has not prevented the accusation in the newspapers of English Heritage's “Disney-fication of the legendary Cornish castle” just as some saw the Merlin sculpture as vandalism.

The project is due to be completed in 2019.

Edited 20/07/19

A New Bridge For Tintagel Castle – Competition Winner Announced – English Heritage website

King Arthur's Tintagel castle to get death defying new bridge with gap in middle - Daily Mirror 23 March 2016

Work on Tintagel Castle's Bridge starts - English Heritage News 18/06/19

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