Top Ten Arthurian Locations: No 6
In his History of the Kings of Britain
(Historia Regum Britanniae, c.1136 AD), Geoffrey of Monmouth tells us that Ebraucus built a city on the other side of the Humber which he called 'Kaerebrauc'
from his own name (Celtic Eboracum = York), at the time that David ruled in Judea, around 1,000 BC. The story goes that Ebraucus then built the city of Alcud (Dumbarton) and the town of Mount Agned, which Geoffrey says was at this time called the 'Castle of Maidens
', or the 'Mountain of Sorrow'.
Today it is generally accepted that Geoffrey had Edinburgh's Castle Rock
in mind and some fortification that stood on it in his day. Following Geoffrey, the writers of Medieval Romance always assert that the first castle to have existed on the rock was known as 'The Castle of the Maidens
' where there stood a shrine to Morgan le Fay,
one of the nine maidens.
In the 14th century John of Fordun provides the first historical reference to a castle at Edinburgh in his account of the death of King Malcolm III. John records that Malcolm's widow Margaret is at the Castle of Maidens when she is informed of his death in November 1093.
is of course the site of Arthur's 11th battle from the Historia Brittonum
(Nennius) but other writers have not taken up Geoffrey's connection seeking alternatives elsewhere; one location favoured among Arthurian scholars is Angers
(Andegavum), in Gaul, where the Loire Saxons were defeated by the Britons, around the time that Riothamus was fighting in the area.
In his survey of Britain, William Camden (Britannia,
1607), recorded that “the Britans called Castle Myned Agned, the Scots, the Maidens Castle and the Virgins Castle, of certaine young maidens of the Picts roiall bloud who were kept there in old time”
A variant 10th century manuscript of the Historia Brittonum
provides the alternative name of Breguoin
for this battle; this has been identified as 'the Cells of Brewyn'
a battle attributed to Urien Rheged in Welsh poetry. The 'cells' has been interpreted as meaning the derelict remains of the Roman fort at Bremenium
(High Rochester in Northumberland), an outpost on Dere Street north of Hadrian's Wall. However, Edinburgh is associated with another Arthurian battle, which we will come to shortly.
The name of Edinburgh was at one time commonly thought to be simply a rendering of
( Edwin’s Burgh) after the 7th century Northumbrian King Edwin. This seems to have derived form the an entry in an Irish Annal which records for the year 638 that “the city of Din Eidyn is captured by the English and renamed Edinburgh
”. But modern scholarship argues that the form 'Eidyn
' predates Edwin and the form 'Edwinesburh' can only be dated to the time of David I (d.1153).
The Land of Lleu's Fortress
As well as the country's capital city, today Edinburgh is the principal settlement of the Lothian region of the Scottish Lowlands. The ancient Lothian territory of the Iron Age tribe recorded in classical sources as the 'Votadini
', stretched from the Firth of Forth to the Tyne. Traprain Law hill fort in East Lothian was the earliest known citadel of the Votadini until it was abandoned in the early 5th century and they relocated to Din Eidyn
(Eidin's fortress), Edinburgh.
A common misconception is that the name 'Lothian' derives from King Lot of the Arthurian legend, best known as the father of Sir Gawain. Geoffrey of Monmouth seems to have based his King Lot on Leudonus
, legendary king of Leudonia, who features in hagiographical material concerning St Kentigern. Welsh sources call this same character Lewdwn
, or Llewdwn Lluydauc
(Llewdwn of the Hosts) and make him king of the Brythonic-speaking Gododdin
(Old Welsh = Guotodin), the descendants of the Votadini.
Part of the kingdom of the Gododdin, occupying the narrow coastal region on the south side of the Firth of Forth, known as Manaw Gododdin
, was the homeland of Cunedda and his sons prior to their relocation in to North Wales. This land also spawned the heroic warriors of the literary epic Y Gododdin.
is one of the oldest known pieces of British literature. The poem, written in Old Welsh by Aneirin, named as one of the five bards famous for their poetry in the Historia Brittonum,
celebrates an attack on the northern Angles of Deira and Bernicia at a place named Catraeth (Catterick?
) c.595 – 600. But the event is an absolute disaster for the warriors of the Gododdin, who spent the previous year feasting at Din Eidyn. The poem says a war band of three hundred set out for Catraeth and only three Britons survived the encounter, others say only Aneirin himself lived to tell the tale. It is argued the poem contains the earliest reference to Arthur the Warrior.
There is only one extant early manuscript of Y Gododdin,
from “The Book of Aneirin”, (Llyfr Aneirin), kept in Cardiff Central Library, thought to date to c.1265. It is generally accepted that this manuscript contains the work of two different hands, known as Scribe A and Scribe B. Scribe A wrote down 88 stanzas of the poem, leaving a blank page before continuing with four poems known as Gorchanau
. Later Scribe B added some 35 stanzas, some variants of those already written down by Scribe A.
Celtic scholar John T Koch (1997) has attempted to untangle this mess and reconstruct the separate Y Gododdin
texts. Koch argues that the most archaic text, reflecting the first, or 'Leech Leud=ud' recension, deriving from the original oral tale, the B2 text, remained in the North, possibly Strathclyde.
The other text, 'The Srath Caruin' recension, Koch claims, moved to Gwynedd, North Wales, following the Battle of Winwaed, which the Anglo Saxon Chronicle
records in 655 AD. From this text two separate texts, A and B1, are derived.
From this Koch has reconstructed three texts, variants A, B1 and B2, which he categorised as follows:
– the most archaic surviving text, reflecting the first, or 'Leech Leud=ud' recension, deriving from the original oral tale, was absent of Christian influence and does not contain attribution to Aneirin or indeed mention of Aneirin as the sole survivor of the battle, or even the Bernicians (Northern English) as the enemies.
The 'Srath Caruin' text diverged and the A text in particular, now in Gwynedd, became subject to later additions and interpolations.
– this text derives from the second or the 'Srath Caruin' recension, a Christian collection attributed to Aneirin.
– the most innovative text, also derived from the second or the 'Srath Caruin' recension, but through third and fourth recensions; again a Christian collection attributed to Aneirin, but has the addition of the Bernicians as the enemy and displays interests in Gwynedd, the Coeling and in the personae of Talysessin and Myrdin.
Significantly the opening stanza to the most archaic Y Gododdin
(the B2 text) derived from the
'Leech Leud=ud' recension, is named from the translation of the opening line "The rock of Lleu’s
tribe", B2 text awdl B2.24:
"The rock of Lleu’s tribe,
the folk of Lleu’s mountain stronghold at Gododdin’s frontier"
The origin of the Lothian name is said to come from the British *Lugudūniānā (Lleuddiniawn in Modern Welsh spelling) meaning "country of the fort of Lugus
Koch notes that this singular awdl (B2.24) exists in all three variant texts and argues this is “primary material, pre-Christian, linguistically Archaic
” and regards the opening lines as referring to a hill fort on Gododdin’s frontier probably Din Eidin (modern Edinburgh), the chief citadel of the Brythonic speaking tribe of Gododdin.
The rock of Lleu’s tribe can be no other than either Castle Rock
or Arthur’s Seat
(Suidhe Arthair), an ancient volcano, towering over Edinburgh and linked with the stories of Arthur the Warrior. Local folklore claims that Arthur and his men lie sleeping inside the hill, awaiting the call to come forth in time of the Country’s need.
The Battle of Tryfrwyd
According to the 9th century Historia Brittonum
Arthur's “...tenth battle was waged on the banks of a river which is called Tribruit.”
Of the other Arthurian battles listed in the Historia Brittonum
, the 'Battle of Tribuit' is the only one generally agreed to be associated with Arthur in another early Welsh source. Badon is also attributed to Arthur in the Welsh Annals
but not by historians Gildas and Bede; for this reason the Badon entry is viewed with some suspicion by historians and probably derives directly from the battle list in the Historia Brittonum.
appears as 'Tryfrwyd'
in the Old Welsh poem Pa Gur?
(What Man is the Gatekeeper) dated to perhaps the mid-9th or early 10th century.The poem follows the exploits of Arthur and his warband. In one episode Arthur's men fight dogheads (cinbin
) on the mountain of Eidyn; which can only be a reference to Edinburgh as discussed above.
“Manawydan son of Llŷr,
whose counsel was weighty;
Shattered spears back from Tryfrwyd.
And Mabon son of Mellt,
he used to stain grass with blood.
And Anwas the Winged
and Lluch Llauynnauc:
they were accustomed to defend
at Eidyn on the border.”
“On the mountain of Eidyn
he [Arthur] fought with dogheads.
By the hundred they fell;
they fell by the hundred
before Bedwyr the Perfect.
On the shores of Tryfrwyd
fighting with Rough Grey,
furious was his nature
with sword and shield.”
In the battle of the Tryfrwyd Arthur and his men fight against a character named Garwlwyd
(Rough-Grey), who is likely identical with the Gwrgi Garwlwyd
(Man-Dog Rough-Grey) who appears in the Welsh Triads who “made a corpse of the Cymry every day and two on Saturday so as not to have to kill on a Sunday.”
would seem appropriate as one of the dog-heads.
Arthur's main protagonist in the fight is Bedwyr, later known as Sir Bedivere in Medieval Arthurian Romance, and the poem also mentions the euhemerized gods Mabon, Manawydan and Lluch Llauynnauc (Lluch of the Striking Hand
; i.e. the god Lugus
, Irish Lugh
, Welsh Lleu).
Arthur's enemies of the mountain of Eidyn are cinbin (dogheads), men who possess the characteristic of cynocephaly, or cynocephalus, i.e. having the head of a dog,
which is a widely attested mythical phenomenon existing in many different forms and contexts. The word cynocephaly is taken from the Greek word kynokephaloi
, meaning 'dog' and kephalē meaning 'head' which is interpreted as “werewolves.
Thomas Green (2008) sees it as significant that Arthur fights dogheads “on the border
” at Eidyn, the very edge of the Brittonic world, reflecting Arthur’s role as a defender of Britain from all attacks, supernatural or otherwise. Green suggests that the story of Tryfrwyd has been attached to the so-called 'historical' battle list in the Historia Brittonum
, but in Pa Gur?
it is clearly mythical in nature, associated with werewolves and Arthur, aptly, accompanied by the god Lugh in the "country of the fort of Lugus"
(Lothian = Lleuddiniawn), the ancient name for Eidyn (Edinburgh), the land providing the first literary mention of Arthur.
Copyright © 2017 Edward Watson
John T Koch, The Gododdin of Aneirin: Text and Context from Dark-Age North Britain
, University of Wales Press, 1997.
Stuart Harris, The Place Names of Edinburgh: Their Origins and History,
Steve Savage Publishers, 2002.
Thomas Green, Concepts of Arthur,
Tempus, 2008, pp.84-85 and pp. 119-121
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