Friday, 12 July 2019

Glastonbury Pilgrimages 2019

This weekend sees the annual Glastonbury Pilgrimages taking place when pilgrims will process down Glastonbury High Street and gather in the Abbey grounds to celebrate Mass.

The Broken Heart of Glastonbury 
During the Late Medieval Period, Glastonbury had become a centre of pilgrimage, with an annual pilgrimage held on the 8th of September, to celebrate the birth of Our Lady. The halcyon days came crashing to an end on 15th November 1539, when the last abbot, Richard Whiting was executed on Glastonbury Tor, the Abbey wrecked and the ancient Shrine of Our Lady of Glastonbury lost.

On 5th December 1926, after an absence of nearly 400 years, the first Roman Catholic Mass was held in a church in Glastonbury since the Dissolution of the Abbey and the cruel murder of its frail old Abbot.

The small temporary Church built in 1926 led to the foundations of a new Church being laid in 1939, dedicated once again to Our Lady as a successor to the ancient Shrine at Glastonbury. This new church, St Mary's, The Shrine of Our Lady, stands just across the road from the ancient Abbey gates.

The first organised mass pilgrimage to Glastonbury was held in 1895 to celebrate the beatification of Abbot Richard Whiting, on the anniversary of his martyrdom when thousands of pilgrims climbed the Tor where Mass was held.

The modern concept of the Glastonbury Pilgrimage started in 1924 and took place after both World Wars and has been an annual event ever since.

This year the Glastonbury Pilgrimage Association Annual Pilgrimage will be held on Saturday 13 July followed by the Clifton Diocese Annual Pilgrimage on Sunday 14 July.

Friday 12 July
The Glastonbury Pilgrimage Association Annual Pilgrimage starts on Friday 12th July in celebration of Mary, Disciple of the Lord when a Vigil Mass will be in the Undercroft of the Lady Chapel at 6.00 pm.

Saturday 13 July
On Saturday 13th July events start at 9.30 am with the Orthodox Liturgy, celebrated in the Undercroft followed by a Solemn Celebrated Mass sung in the Nave of the Abbey Church at 12.00 noon. After lunch at 2.00pm there will be various stations for the Sacrament of Anointing and the Sacrament of Confession will be heard in a suitable venue to be announced. This is followed by the Procession of the Blessed Sacrament to the Abbey for Solemn Benediction in the Nave of the Abbey Church at 3.00pm.

Sunday 14 July
On Sunday 14 July The Clifton Diocese Pilgrimage starts in St Mary's church, the Shrine of Our Lady, at 11.30am.

A procession will be made around the abbey grounds, then out into the High Street and back to the Abbey via the main entrance, in Magdalene Street culminating in Mass in the Abbey grounds at 3.30pm.

Further Information:
Glastonbury Pilgrimage Association Annual Pilgrimage
Clifton Diocese Annual Glastonbury Pilgrimage
The Shrine of Our Lady of Glastonbury

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Sunday, 7 July 2019

The Secrets Behind King Arthur's Sacred Sites

Documentary on Channel 5 at 7:00pm first aired on Saturday 29th June, claiming to examine new archaeological evidence from sites associated with the legendary King Arthur which experts argue seems to suggest there may be truth behind the legends.

Included contributions from Christopher Gidlow (Revealing King Arthur), Graham Phillips (The Lost Tomb of King Arthur), Fiona Gale (County Archaeologist with Denbighshire County Council), Robert Tremain (English Heritage Tintagel) and Roberta Gilchrist (University of Reading) as Arthurian scholars and archaeologists attempt to solve the mystery if Arthur was a real person or a legend...... 

Investigating some of the most Mystical Places from Arthurian Legend
So much for the hype, did this TV documentary actually tell us anything new in the story of King Arthur or provide any new archaeological evidence for his historical existence?

The story begins setting the historical context for King Arthur: after the Romans withdrew from Britain, the Anglo Saxons arrived from Germany, settling in the south east of England. The Britons come of worse during the early Saxon wars until the end of the 5th century when a fightback led by King Arthur culminated in the British victory at Badon.

Writing some 600 hundred years after the event, the Welsh bishop, as the documentary calls Geoffrey of Monmouth, writes an account of the history of the Kings of Britain which is as much fiction as fact. Geoffrey tells the story of Arthur's conception at Tintagel by the magic of Merlin the wizard; why Geoffrey chose the north Cornish promontory has puzzled historians for centuries. Yet, so the narrator tells us, recent discoveries suggest the legend may be based on fact.

At Tintagel archaeologists have discovered about a hundred structures built in the Post-Roman period, long before the medieval castle was built there. Radiocarbon dating has revealed these structures were built in the 5th century. Ongoing excavations has uncovered high quality glass and pottery at Tintagel suggesting high status occupation at the time of Arthur's conception.

An inscribed slate, known as the “Artognou stone” discovered in 1998 at Tintagel is believed by some to relate to Arthur as the first letters of the word mean "Bear". The documentary then tells us that the 6th century historian Gildas mentions a great warrior known as “The Bear” who fights at the battle of Badon in 516 AD linking the Tintagel slate to the legendary King Arthur.

The Dragons of Emrys
The documentary now switches back to Merlin who whisks the boy Arthur away after his birth. We then move to Snowdonia in North Wales and the ancient hillfort of Dinas Emrys.

According to Geoffrey of Monmouth this is the site where Vortigern attempted to build his fortress but the walls kept collapsing. Vortigern’s magicians advise him to sprinkle the blood of a fatherless child on the foundations and this will solve the problem. The young Merlin is identified as a suitable sacrifice.

The Dragons of Dinas Emrys
The boy Merlin tells Vortigern of the two dragons, one red, one white, asleep in a pool under the site of the intended stronghold which is the reason the foundations keep collapsing. Geoffrey moves on to Merlin Prophecies and the wizard goes on to become the greatest sorcerer.

Vortigern, however, is considered a historical character who ruled c.450 AD, thought by many to be the “Superbus Tyrant” mentioned by Gildas who invited the Saxons in to Britain. In the 1950s archaeologists discovered a subterranean pool underneath the ancient hillfort at Dinas Emrys with dating evidence for Post-Roman occupation of the hillfort; perhaps there is some truth behind the legend.

The documentary goes on; Arthur must then prove he has the right to rule and pulls the sword from the stone as described by Malory in the 16th century. Then we're off the Mitchell's Fold stone circle with Graham Phillips who tells us that in the Middle Ages arguments were resolved with duels fought in stone circles. We are shown megaliths with holes in which swords could have been pulled from. Then Merlin reappears to take Arthur to the Lady of the Lake from where he receives his magical sword Excalibur.

Many years later when Arthur lies dying after the battle of Camlann he must throw Excalibur back into the lake. The documentary admits that this is fantasy but it appears to be based on pre-Christian religion. We then move to the ancient site of Flag Fen, east of Peterborough. Here a timber causeway was built in the Bronze Age through the marshes from which many objects were thrown into the water, presumably as offerings to the water goddess. Phillips tells us that 1500 years ago there was a tradition in Britain during a funeral to throw a warrior's sword into sacred water which is where, he claims, the story of Excalibur originated.

Camelot was believed to Winchester because of the Round Table hanging on the wall of the Great Hall. Constructed from oak trees growing around 1270, Christopher Gidlow says its almost certain Edward I built the table. Gidlow argues that the Round Table kept the tradition of Arthur and his Knights alive for many years and convinced many, including Malory, that Winchester was Camelot.

In search of Camelot, Arthur’s Court, we arrive at Cadbury Castle hillfort in Somerset, abandoned after being attacked by Romans in the 1st century AD. Archaeologists found the hill fort was refortified around 500 AD. Was this King Arthur's Camelot? Significantly, no medieval writer mentions it until the 16th century.

Caerleon amphitheatre

The documentary now switches to South Wales and the Roman amphitheatre at Caerleon, the site Geoffrey of Monmouth identified as Camelot. The Romans abandoned Caerleon c.300 AD. If Geoffrey is correct then 200 years later Arthur used it as his court with the amphitheatre at Caerleon used as a meeting place for a fellowship.

Gidlow explains that the Round Table is not introduced to Arthurian legend until the 12th century by Wace (pronounced here as “Wazz”) and then Layamon who writes that 1600 knights sat around the table. Gidlow argues that Wace and Layamon must have had something like the amphitheatre at Cearleon in mind. Archaeologists have not found a royal palace at Caerleon but they have found evidence of a post-roman building there.

The Grail
We are now told the Grail was the cup of the last supper. According to legend the grail is brought to Britain and hidden in a castle at Corbenic. Arthur and his knights set out on a quest to find it.
The narrator tells us that the story of the Grail was inspired by Celtic legend; the story of Bran the Blessed who had a cauldron with the power to restore life. We are now at Castell Dinas Bran, above Llangollen in Wales, who's current buildings date to the 13th century, named apparently after Bran the Blessed, or to some it is Corbenic.

Fiona Gale, County Archaeologist, has carried out geophysical surveys and magnetometry at Dinas Bran in search of Post-Roman buildings beneath the 13th century castle. But Gale found no evidence for a building here dating to the Arthurian period.

10 miles from Dinas Bran is Whittington Castle which Phillips claims is a more plausible candidate for the Grail Castle. Phillips tells us that it is the “white castle in the white town” of the Romances. In the 13th century Fulk Fitzwarin is said to have held the Grail at Whittington Castle in a private chapel. Centuries later his family removed the Grail and hid it in the family estate. Phillips found a 2000 year old Roman scent jar which he believes is the cup held by Fitzwarin and the origin of the Grail stories.

Following the battle of Camlann in which he and Modred fell, Arthur is taken to Avalon. Many believed Avalon to be Glastonbury, so the narrator tells us, and we focus on the Tor, a sacred place for centuries. But no sign of Arthur’s tomb has ever been found on the Tor so we must look elsewhere.

In 1191 monks at the abbey claimed to have discovered his grave although today this is largely seen as a hoax. Gidlow thinks it unlikely the Glastonbury monks invented the story to raise money; he prefers to think that they had simply found the remains of some “imposing little man; as Arthur was topical at this time they simply assumed they had found him”. If Arthur is buried at Glastonbury we will never know until the whole site is excavated.

Glastonbury Excavations
In 1963 Ralegh Radford claimed to have found some cist graves which dated to the 6th century, and a pit which he believed was the site of where the monks dug in the 12th century. In 2015 Roberta Gilchrist, University of Reading, re-examined the Glastonbury excavation archive and found the cist graves disturbed by the pit were dug hundreds of years later - sometime between 12th -15th centuries, significantly later than Ralegh Radford had supposed.

In further studying the archive Gilchrist found that Ralegh Radford had missed some very large post holes that contained eastern Mediterranean amphorae fragments. The 5th - 6th century pottery indicated this was the site of a Post-Roman timber hall of high status within the Abbey grounds.

Evidence of Arthur?
The television documentary “The Secrets Behind King Arthur's Sacred Sites” attempts to bring together the latest archaeological evidence from key sites associated with the Arthurian legend. But does it provide evidence for the existence of Arthur?

Recent work at Tintagel has confirmed occupation in the 5th - 6th centuries. Ralegh Radford’s original interpretation that it was a monastic site has been disproven by modern archaeology; Tintagel was a high status Post-Roman site importing fine glass and pottery from the Mediterranean. Has any link been found to King Arthur who according to Geoffrey of Monmouth was conceived there by Merlin’s magic? Following Geoffrey, later writers suggested that Arthur was born there.

In 1998 an inscribed slate was found in a secure Post-Roman context on the island. The first three letters of the name on the Artognou stone do indeed suggest a link with “Arthur”, however the full name translates at “bear knowing”. In fact, contrary to what we are told in the documentary, Gildas does not provide the name of the leader of the Britons at the battle of Badon, and certainly makes no connection between the battle and the “Bear”; Gildas simply does not mention the leader of the Britons at Badon, which has led many to argue that it was not Arthur.

Gildas wrote the De Excidio et Conquestu Britanniae (On the Ruin and Conquest of Britain) around the late 5th or early 6th century as a rant against the foolishness of the Britons who were being punished by God with the Saxon onslaught for their sins. In the second part of his sermon Gildas attacks five British princes that he describes as “tyrants”; one of these rulers, Cuneglasus, Gildas berates as “You bear, you rider and ruler of many, and guider of the chariot which is the receptacle of the bear".

In the genealogies Cuneglasus is a son of Owain Danwyn (or Ddantgwynn) which has led Graham Phillips (King Arthur: The True Story, Century, 1992) to suggest that Owain was King Arthur. However, Owain was a minor Gwynedd king of Rhos at Dinarth on the north coast of Wales, whereas Phillips tells us Arthur is king of Powys and locates the site of his grave at Baschurch in Shropshire.

Geoffrey takes his story of the dragons of Dinas Emrys from the 9th century Historia Brittonum (History of the Britons). In the original tale the fatherless boy identified as a suitable sacrifice is named Ambrose (Emrys in Welsh) – there is no mention of Merlin who is the pure invention of Geoffrey of Monmouth. However, archaeology has revealed a subterranean pool at Dinas Emrys but there is no recorded Arthurian association, beyond Geoffrey's tale of the boy Merlin, with the site.

As for the site of Arthur’s Court, the term “Camelot” was not introduced to the Arthurian legend until the 12th century. Geoffrey may have seen the Roman remains at Caerleon and envisaged a Post-Roman presence at the site; but Geoffrey never saw the old Roman amphitheatre as The Round Table and a meeting place for a fellowship of knights, indeed he doesn't even mention it. Yet archaeology has uncovered evidence for a Post-Roman timber hall on the site.

Cadbury Castle in Somerset is one of the countries largest hillforts, deserted during the Roman invasion of Britain and refortified in the 5th and 6th centuries before being finally abandoned. As with Tintagel, high quality pottery has been found on the site and evidence of a large timber hall suggests a high status site during the Arthurian period. But, despite a visit by Edward I in the 13th century on his way to Glastonbury Abbey, there is no evidence that the hillfort was associated with King Arthur before John Leland in the 16th century convinced himself it was the site of Camelot.

Despite multitudes of claimants, the Grail remains obscure. Yet the Romances always identify the stories as occurring in Britain. Fiona Gale found no evidence of Post-Roman remains under the 13th century castle remains at Dinas Bran. It is up to the individual to decide if there is any substance to Graham Phillips interpretation of the Fulk Fitzwarin Romance that the Grail was kept in a private chapel at Whittington Castle (in the white town) and this was the Roman scent jar that he discovered at Hawkstone Park in Shropshire (The Search for the Grail, Century, 1995).

Post-Roman hall at Glastonbuy Abbey
Finally we come to evidence of a high status Post-Roman timber hall in the grounds of Glastonbury Abbey. This is a significant development in our understanding of the site as previously it was thought that Post-Roman activity first occurred on the Tor which later spread to the Abbey precinct; the new evidence suggests the opposite.

Although Post-Roman activity has now been found at many sites associated with the Arthurian legend, such as Tintagel, Dinas Emrys, Cadbury Castle, Caerleon and Glastonbury Abbey, can any of this be interpreted as evidence of Arthur?

The Secrets Behind King Arthur's Sacred Sites will be available on Channel 5 catch up until 29 July 2019.

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Saturday, 29 June 2019

Vikings: Return to Repton

The Vikings had been carrying out coastal raids around the British Isles since the late 8th century. But their tactics changed in the second half of the 9th century; instead of hit and run raiding parties the Vikings now seemed intent on settling a Great Army on the land.

The Fragmentary Annals of Ireland record that Ímar (Ivar) was the son of Gofraid, King of Laithlinn (Norway?). Ímar had two brothers, Auisle and Amlaíb (Olaf), collectively described in the Irish Annals as “kings of the foreigners”, forming the Uí Ímair dynasty. Another Viking leader, Halfdan is often named as another brother.They were leaders of a particularly aggressive Scandinavian group active across Ireland and Britain, raiding into Wales and Scotland by the mid-9th century, taking York in 866 and ruling the city until 954, taking Dumbarton, the rock of the Britons in 870 after a 4-month siege, and being the dominant force in England for a short period in 878.

Ivar (Ímar) was given the title "King of the Norsemen of all Ireland and Britain" in contemporary annals and has been identified by historians as ‘Ivar the Boneless’, the Viking who led the Great Heathen Army in England in the 860’s, returning to Dublin in 870 with much booty and slaves after his success at Dumbarton.  This period of activity in England and Scotland corresponds with Ivar’s absence from the Irish Annals during these years. Furthermore, the death of both Ivar the Boneless and Ivar (Ímar) is recorded as 873 in Ireland, After his death, it is claimed, Ivar’s body was transported to England and buried at the Viking camp at Repton, where a significant grave of an individual was uncovered.

The Danes appear to have lost interest in Wessex and after overwintering at London 871-72 headed for York the following year. After overwintering at Torksey 872-73 they then moved to Repton in Derbyshire on the river Trent. Overwinter 873-74 they dug in and fortified this settlement with the church of St Wystan, desecrating the Royal Mercian mausoleum, centred in the ditch and rampart.

When the Great Army left Repton, destroying the monastery buildings and setting fire to the church, they went on to complete the conquest of Mercia in 874, driving the Mercian king Burgred into exile and replacing him with Ceowulf II.

Early Excavations
Repton was first excavated between 1974 and 1993 when Martin Biddle and Birthe Kjblbye-Biddle investigated the site. They found evidence of a D-shaped enclosure with a massive V-shaped ditch, 4m wide and 4m deep. This enclosure used the Trent as a boundary on one side (closing the 'D') and the Mercian royal shrine of St Wigstan (Wystan) as a gatehouse to control access on the opposite side.

Evidence for the Danish presence was found around the east end of the church. During the Biddles' excavations a number of furnished graves were uncovered at the site in the churchyard, immediately north and south of the crypt; one contained silver pennies securely dating the grave to the mid-870s. The most significant grave, originally marked by a 12 in square wooden post, was found north of the church containing the skeleton of a 35-45 year old man, about 6 ft tall.

This individual showed evidence of weapon trauma; he had received a blow to the skull, and a sword-cut to the thigh had severed the femoral artery. Around his neck a leather string held two glass beads, a leaded bronze fastener  and a small silver Thor's hammer. Between his thighs had been placed the tusk of a boar and lower down the humerus of a jackdaw.

Between 1980-86 the Biddles also investigated a mound (a charnel house) in the vicarage garden to the west of St Wystan’s church. Here they discovered a charnel deposit with the remains of at least 264 people, approximately 80% of which were determined to be male, mostly aged between 18 and 45, with many displaying evidence of fatal violent injury. Based on this analysis, it was thought that these might be the remains of the Viking Great Army who died in battle.

The archaeological context (including several coin finds dated between AD 872 and 875) and a few of the original radiocarbon dates from the site appeared to confirm the Biddles' theory, suggesting a 9th century date for the burials. However, other Carbon-14 dates indicated that some of the remains dated from as early as the 7th and 8th centuries. This was explained by the suggestion that the deposit had been mixed with reinterred burials from the Saxon cemetery, which may have been unearthed by the digging of the defensive ditch around the church.

Within the mound was the remains of a structure which held a stone coffin, containing 'a Skeleton of a Humane Body Nine Foot long.' Speculation has led to claims that this was the body of Ivar the Boneless. Around this singular interment the disarticulated remains of over 260 people were found with their Feet pointing to the Stone Coffin. The entombment is without parallel in Europe during the Viking age, and it is interesting that one saga notes that Ivar died and was buried in England 'in the manner of former times', an allusion to the fact he was interred in a barrow. At least some of these individuals must have been part of the Great Army who died at Repton during the winter of 873-874.

Biddle proposed that the mass burial had been purposefully arranged around this central burial, suggesting Ivar the Boneless, one of the leaders of the Great Army and ruler of the Irish Sea Vikings who died in 873 at an unspecified location.

Return to Repton 
It is over 40 years ago since Martin Biddle and Birthe Kjolbye-Biddle’s excavations suggested the Great Army of the Vikings had encamped at Repton during the winter of AD 873-74. But many archaeologists had thrown doubt on their interpretation of the site and many questions remained unanswered.

Dating evidence, including silver pennies dated AD 872-75, supported the argument for winter camp of the Great Army at Repton. However, the dating of some of the 264 people found in the mass grave had long puzzled archaeologists; some of these bodies were dated to as early as the 7th and 8th centuries, which doesn't fit the historical context.

Now, new investigations carried out by archaeologists from the University of Bristol under the direction of Cat Jarman and Mark Horton, are using bioarchaeological methods to resolve unanswered questions about the human remains.

In 2017 new geophysical surveys took place, followed by further excavations on the site of the so-called charnel house in the Vicarage gardens west of the church.

Cat Jarman determined that the dating discrepancy turned out to be due to marine reservoir effects (MREs). Cat explains that radiocarbon measured in archaeological samples comes from the carbon absorbed during life, mainly from diet. Carbon 14 in terrestrial and marine animals gives an apparent age difference of around 400 years, due to the mixing at sea of atmospheric carbon and older carbon from deep water:

“Therefore a fish would yield a date significantly earlier than say a sheep, even if they were alive at the same time. This difference is passed on along the food chain, meaning that remains of humans with marine diets can give radiocarbon dates that seem artificially older than their real age.”

After making corrections by estimating the percentage of an individual’s marine food consumption it placed the human remains at Repton precisely within the range of the coins found with the skeletons, indicating that the charnel deposit is consistent with a single event.

Sampling a large selection from the charnel deposit revealed they were not local people but likely from southern Sacandinavia supporting the interpretation that they were members of the Viking Great Army from Denmark.

Brothers in Arms
The double grave of G.511 and G.295 at Repton gives dates of AD 677–866 and AD 715–890 respectively. The early date for G.511 is inconsistent with our current understanding of the historical context and archaeological evidence. The grave goods leave little doubt as to the Scandinavian cultural identity of this individual, yet a date before AD 873 seems unlikely, as there is no evidence for a Scandinavian presence in Repton prior to this date.

DNA extracted from G.511 and G.295 revealed the individuals were related in the first degree on the paternal side; meaning they are either father and son or half-brothers. Osteological analysis shows that the older man was at least 35-45 years old and the younger man 17-20 years old at the time of death, suggesting the father-son relationship may be the correct interpretation. Isotope analysis indicates that G.511 and G.295 grew up in a similar location, possibly southern Scandinavia (Denmark).

Both men had suffured violent trauma at the time of death,  and probably buried within a few years of each other. G.511 suffered two spear wounds above his left eye and a deep cut to the left femur, likely to have removed his genitallia. A boar's tusk was placed between his legs so that he arrived in the afterlife with his virility intact. The boar tusk buried with G.511 yielded a calibrated date of AD 695–889.

New radiocarbon dates indicate the death of the two men to between 873 and 886; the archaeological evidence supports a date toward the beginning of the range. We can identify a father and son from the Historical sources that matches these two individuals. The Annals of Ulster records Olaf (Amlaib) as one of the Viking kings active in Ireland and Britain in this period but particularly dominant in Ireland in the 850's and 860's. Olaf was the brother of Ivar the Boneless who he campaigned with in Northern Britain from 870-871, besigung Dumbarton Rock before returning to Ireland.

Olaf returned to Scotland in 874 when he was killed by King Constantine. The following years Olaf's son Eystienn was killed by Halfdan at an unspecified location, probably the same Halfdan, Olaf's brother, named as being at Repton in 873 in the Anglo Saxon Chronicle. Cat Jarman suggests Olaf and Eystienn as the best candidates for the individuals in graves G.511 and G.295.

Cat Jarman, Resolving Repton, Current Archaeology 352, July 2019, pp.18-25.
Catrine L. Jarman, Martin Biddle, Tom Higham & Christopher Bronk Ramsey, The Viking Great Army in England: new dates from the Repton charnel, Antiquity 92 - 361 (2018): pp.183–199

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Wednesday, 19 June 2019

Arthur and the Plantagenets

Tales From The Twelfth Century
The Arthurian legend experienced a profound change in the 12th century; some would argue that this was when the real legend began. Previously Arthur had been a soldier, a warrior, the Dux Bellorum leading the British post-Roman resistance against Germanic invaders; but this same Arthur had also ventured into the Otherworld fighting giants, witches and hunting a supernatural boar; treading the border between history and myth. Unlike other heroic precursors, such as Charlemagne who could be used by Norman monarchs to legitimise their claims to the throne, the historicity of Arthur of Britain was unproven.

King Arthur (14th Century Tapestry)

This was to change in the 12th century when Arthur was promoted to Emperor taking his armies to war in Europe and becoming firmly rooted in the historical past. Geoffrey of Monmouth, considered the Father of the Arthurian Legend, can be seen as the starting point behind this new all-conquering Arthur in his Historia Regum Britanniae (History of the Kings of Britain, c.1136). However, although Geoffrey's work was generally well received there were doubtors who accused him of lying and inventing his history of Arthur. Geoffrey claimed he translated his account from an ancient book given to him by Walter, Archdeacon of Oxford, from which he constructed a noble history of the Britons, from their founder Brutus of Troy (c.12th century BC) to the last Welsh king Cadwallader (7th century AD).  The story of Arthur occupies Books 9-11, but his death is shrouded in mystery; Geoffrey has the mortally wounded king taken to Avallon to be cured of his wounds, a mystical isle where his sword was forged.

Geoffrey’s work is seen a major transformation in the Arthurian legend; Post-Galfridian Arthurian works portray his influence showing the popularity of his Historia among medieval authors (over 200 manuscripts survive).

Following Geoffrey, the Norman poet Wace put Geoffrey’s Chronicle into Old Norman dialect, indicating his target audience. Wace based his Roman de Brut (c. 1155) on Geoffrey’s Historia and introduced the Round Table into the Arthurian legend. The Brut of Layamon, an English priest, followed around 50 years later, putting the ‘Chronicle of Britain’ into English poetry for the first time, incorporating items from Welsh tradition not found in either Geoffrey or Wace.

By now the Brut tradition of British history had been established, with Welsh versions appearing in the 13th century, yet two major events in the last quarter of the 12th century spurred an outburst of Arthurian literature.

In 1190-91 the grave of King Arthur and his Queen Guinevere had been discovered in the monk’s cemetery at Glastonbury Abbey. An inscription on a leaden cross found in the grave confirmed this place was indeed ‘Avallon’.  Around this time the French poet Chrétien de Troyes introduced the 'Grail' to the Matter of Britain in his final Arthurian Romance Perceval, or the Story of the Grail. Chrétien left his tale of Perceval unfinished which left a multitude of later writers free to complete the interpretation of the Grail in their own words.

What caused this surge in Arthurian literature in the 12th century; could it have been a sudden interest in Arthuriana following the discovery at Glastonbury and Geoffrey’s tome, or was something else at play here?

Since Geoffrey of Monmouth, Arthurian literature was carefully shaped over the next two hundred years or so with all these threads linked to a common patronage. This has been interpreted as the use of the Arthurian legend by one particular Royal dynasty as political propaganda to establish their origins in legitimacy to the English throne.

The First Planagenet King of England 
The House of Plantagenet originated in the French region of Anjou, whose inhabitants were known as Angevins. The dynasty begins with Geoffrey V, Count of Anjou who married the Empress Matilda, daughter of Henry I of England, known as Henry Beauclerc, the fourth son of William the Conqueror. Geoffrey of Anjou wore a sprig of the yellow broom plant, ‘planta genista’ in Latin, which attracted the epithet “Plantagenet”. Geoffrey and Matilda had a son, named Henry, known as “Curtmantle”.

Henry Curtmantle spent the years from age 9 – 13 at the court of his uncle Robert, Earl of Gloucester. Geoffrey of Monmouth had dedicated his History of the Kings of Britain to Robert who was also a staunch ally of Henry’s mother the Empress Matilda. It is likely that during his time at Robert’s court in Bristol the young Henry was first exposed to tales of King Arthur. The young Henry was also tutored by Thomas Becket, the man who later, when Archbishop, was murdered in Canterbury Cathedral by four knights in the employ of the Plantagenet king.

Following the death of of Henry I, King of England, in 1135 a succession crisis led to widespread civil unrest, known as The Anarchy, in England and Normandy. The sole legitimate heir to Henry I, his son William, had died in the ‘White Ship’ disaster of 1120. Henry tried, unsuccessfully, to install his daughter Matilda as his heir. Matilda was known as ‘Empress’ as she had moved to Germany to marry the Holy Roman Emperor Henry.

With no apparent male heir to Henry I, his nephew Stephen Blois seized the throne. In 1139 Matilda invaded south-west England with the support of her half-brother Robert of Gloucester, illegitimate son of Henry I and a very powerful Earl who some wanted to take the throne in his own right.

When Henry V, Holy Roman Emperor, died in 1125 Matilda was recalled to Normandy by her father Henry I to marry Geoffrey of Anjou in 1128 forming an alliance between between England and Anjou, securing the southern border of Normandy.

The Civil War raged on, becoming something of a stalemate; the way out was an agreement on the future succession of England. In 1153, the Treaty of Westminster stated that Stephen would remain monarch of England for the rest of his life but on his death Henry (Curtmantle), the eldest son of Geoffrey and Matilda would succeed him as king of England. Geoffrey of Monmouth appears on the Treaty as a witness.

Henry inherited Anjou in 1151 and a year later became the Duke of Aquitaine by marrying Eleanor of Aquitaine, just weeks after the annulment of her marriage to King Louis VII of France. Eleanor and Louis had two daughters from their marriage, Marie and Alix. Marie was countess of Champagne and Troyes.

One year after signing the Treaty of Westminster Stephen died, Henry was crowned in 1154 as Henry II of England, followed by his sons Richard and John, commencing the era of the Plantagenets in England. At its peak, the Angevin Empire stretched from Scotland to the Pyrenees.

The Dynasty that Shaped a LegendIt can be of no coincidence that the commencement of the English reigns of the Plantagenet kings was also the time of a great upsurge in the literary evolution of the Matter of Britain centring on the emergence of the story of the Grail. Part of this was the coming togeteher of Henry II and Eleanor of Aquitaine who filled their courts with poets and writers. Which forces the question, were the Plantagenets responsible for moulding the Post-Galfridian legend of Arthur? Some points to consider:

    • Robert, Earl of Gloucester, illegitimate son of Henry I of England, was patron of Geoffrey of Monmouth’s History of the Kings of Britain.

    • Geoffrey’s book, c.1136, details the reign of Arthur from his miraculous conception at Tintagel Castle to his mysterious disappearance after the battle of Camlann.

    • The mysterious disappearance of King Arthur fuels the Brittonic hope of his return. However, belief in Arthur’s survival was apparent in the south west of England before Geoffrey’s book as witnessed by the Canons of Laon in 1113.

    • Young Henry Curtmantle (the future king Henry II of England), educated at Robert, Earl of Gloucesters’s court at Bristol.

    • Robert was a staunch ally of the daughter of Henry I, the empress Matilda in the civil war against Stephen of Blois.

    • The civil war concludes with an agreement in 1153, known as the Treaty of Westminster, that Stephen will reign as king of England but on his death the throne will pass to Matilda’s son Henry; Geoffrey of Monmouth is a witness to the treaty.

    • In 1154 Matilda’s son is crowned Henry II of England. He marries Eleanor of Aquitaine two weeks after the annulment of her marriage to King Louis VII of France. Eleanor had two daughters from her first marriage, Marie and Alix.

    • The union of Henry and Eleanor produced eight children, including the future kings of England, Richard the Lionheart, and John, and an explosion in Arthurian literature.

    • Henry’s court is filled with poets and writers such as Walter Map and Gerald of Wales.

    • c.1155 the Norman poet Robert Wace writes Roman de Brut, a verse Chronicle based on Geoffrey of Monmouth’s History of the Kings of Britain. Wace introduces the Round Table to the Arthurian story and dedicates his Brut to Queen Eleanor.

    • Wace’s later work, the Roman de Rou, was commissioned by Henry II of England.

    • Toward the end of the 12th century the English priest Layamon compiled a Chronicle of Britain, the first version of Geoffrey’s Chronicle in English. JSP Tatlock argues that Layamon wrote his Arthurian narrative with Arthur of Brittany in mind.

    • Queen Eleanor and her daughters introduces chivalry and courtly romance to the Matter of Britain. Her daughter, Marie, Countess of Champagne, is patron to the French poet Chretien de Troyes.

    • In Lancelot, the Knight of the Cart Chrétien introduces Lancelot and his love affair with Guinevere to Arthurian Romance. It is believed to have been a story assigned to him by Marie Countess of Champagne, and completed not by Chrétien himself, but by the clerk known as Godefroi de Leigni, which has been interpreted as his disapproval of the subject matter.

    • In the last quarter of the 12th century Chrétien de Troyes introduced the Grail to the Matter of Britain in his final Arthurian Romance Perceval, or the Story of the Grail.

    • Chrétien's Perceval is dedicated to his patron Philippe d'Alsace, Count of Flanders who provided him with the book that he claimed he adapted into the Story of the Grail. Philippe mediated in some of Henry II’s disputes with King Louis VII and Thomas Becket. Chrétien left his Perceval unfinished, possibly due to his own passing or Philippe’s death while on Crusade.

    • The Lancelot-Grail (Vulgate Cycle) is (incorrectly) attributed to Walter Map, possibly in part, due to his presence at Henry’s court, but written certainly by a similar courtier.

    • Without an heir himself, Richard I (The Lionheart) decreed that his nephew, Arthur of Brittany, should succeed him to the throne of England.

    • In 1190-91 the grave of King Arthur was discovered at in the cemetery at Glastonbury Abbey. According to Gerald of Wales, the location was disclosed by Henry II. Henry had been a good patron to the Abbey, but once Richard I took the throne in 1189 funds were concentrated on the Crusades.

    • The discovery in 1190-91 occurred during the short Abbacy (1189-1193) of Henry de Sully, appointed by Henry II’s son Richard I.

    • We are told Henry de Sully was not the same man who was abbot of Fécamp Abbey in Normandy, and the eldest brother of Stephen Blois, King of England, and Henry of Blois, Bishop of Winchester. Fécamp boasted relics of the Holy Blood which had promoted the abbey to a major site of pilgrimage. Sully apparently died at Fécamp in 1189, the year his namesake arrived at Glastonbury.

    • In 1191 Richard presented Tancred of Sicilly with King Arthur’s sword ‘Caliburn’ in return for ships for the Third Crusade. Christopher Berard argues that Arthur of Brittany was to be knighted with the sword by Tancred at the wedding to his daughter.

    • Glastonbury Abbey was hopeful of Arthur of Brittany’s patronage when he was king of England. However, it was not be as the young Prince mysteriously disappeared in 1203 leaving the throne of England clear for John, Richard’s younger brother, who many suspected of being implicated in the matter. Subsequently, John purposefully avoided Arthurian matters although he also possessed an Arthurian sword; Curtana said to be the sword Tristan used to kill the giant Morholt.

    • Henry III granted the Twelve Hides of Glastonbury to the Abbey in 1227, making several later visits to the Abbey in 1235 and 1236, the first by a reigning monarch for two hundred years.

    • In 1233 Richard, Earl of Cornwall, brother of Henry III, purchased the ‘Island of Tyntagel’ being credited with building the castle at this time. According to Geoffrey of Monmouth, Tintagel was the place of King Arthur's conception.

    • Edward I visits Glastonbury Abbey in 1278 and translates the remains of Arthur and Guinevere to a black marble tomb in front of the High Altar.

    • Edward’s ceremonial visit to Glastonbury followed his success in the first Welsh war in which he defeated Llewelyn ap Gruffydd, self proclaimed Prince of Wales. A short period of peace followed but it was not long before Edward was at war with the Welsh again. At the end of Edward’s second Welsh war Arthur’s Crown had been surrendered and sent to Westminster Abbey and Llewelyn’s head followed it to be impaled on a stake at The Tower.

    • Edward I constructs the Round Table, the top now hangs on the wall at the Great Hall at Winchester. The Round Table was probably constructed for a feast with chivalric tournaments, a trend that continued for centuries. In the 16th century king Henry VIII had the table repainted in Tudor colours with himself in Arthur’s place, as we see it today.

    • In 1331 Edward I’s grandson Edward III made a similar visit to Glastonbury, and like his forebear called in to Queen Camel and the Iron Age hillfort at Cadbury which had been identified as Camelot from the 12th century, but never recorded as such in the Romances.

    • Edward III continued to hold regular Round Table chivalric tournaments in which Arthurian characters and scenes were re-enacted.

    • In 1343 Edward III set out his intention to create the Order of the Round Table, comprising 300 knights, but this was abandoned and in 1348 he announced the creation of the Order of the Garter, consisting of 25 knights, the number of places around the Winchester Round Table, with permanent places for the monarch and the Prince of Wales, a tradition that survives today.

    • The origins of the Order’s garter and motto, “Honi Soit Qui Mal Y Pense” (Shame on Him Who Thinks Evil of It), are uncertain but it appears to share much with the 14th century English Arthurian work “Sir Gawain and the Green Knight.”

Although the Arthurian Age is typically set in the years between the Roman withdrawal and the arrival of the Anglo Saxons, 400-600, the writers of medieval Arthurian literature styled Arthur on the fashion and politics of their own day.

When Henry II took the throne of England he was in need of a predecessor from the past to legitimise his rule. As Christopher Berard observes, Henry had the good fortune to be the first king of England with the opportunity to present himself in the model of Geoffrey of Monmouth’s “Arthur”.

"Arthurianism" is defined by Berard as imitation or evocation of Arthur in a political or cultural context. This included hosting and participation in Arthurian pageants, such as, but not restricted to, Round Table tournaments, patronage of Arthurian literature; anything that could draw comparison between contemporary figures and Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table. As we have seen above, this is something the early Plantagents did particularly well; by emulating Arthur they were bringing him back to life.

Arthurianism in Early Plantagenet England (Boydell Press, 2019) by Christopher Michael Berard charts the history of the first 150 years of Arthurianism, in five chapters from its beginnings under Henry II (154-1189), during the reigns of Richard I (1189-1199), John (1199-1216), Henry III (1216-1272), to its peak during the reign of Edward I (1272-1307).

© 2019 Edward Watson

Further Reading:
Dan Jones, The Planatgenets (William Collins, 2013)
Martin Aurell, The Plantagent Empire 1154-1224 (Routledge, 2007)
Martin Aurell,  'Henry II and Arthurian Legend'  in Henry II: New Interpretations, eds. Christopher Harper-Bill and Nicholas Vincent (Boydell Press, 2007)
Sian Echard, ed., The Arthur of Medieval Lation Literature (University of Wales Press, 2016)
Sian Echard, Arthurian Narrative in the Latin Tradition (Cambridge University Press, 2008)
Karen Jankulak, Geoffrey of Monmouth (University of Wales Press, 2010)
Michael Faletra, trans & ed.,The History of the Kings of Britain (Broadview Press, 2007)
JSP Tatlock, The Legendary History of Britain (Gordian Press, 1974)
Francis Ingledew, Sir Gawain and the Green Knight and the Order of the Garter (University of Notre Dame Press, 2006)

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Sunday, 26 May 2019

The Destruction of the Glastonbury Holy Thorn

Vandals have struck again and destroyed the historic Glastonbury tree whose origins are said to be linked to the arrival of Christianity in Britain nearly 2,000 years ago.

The legendary Holy Thorn on Wearyall Hill in Glastonbury, Somerset, is regarded as one of the most iconic symbols of Christianity, and claimed to be derived from the original tree that grew from Joseph of Arimathea’s staff that he thrust into the ground after landing in Britain with his twelve companions sometime after the Crucifixion.

At sometime last Thursday, 23rd May, the Holy Thorn on Wearyall Hill was destroyed through an act of intentional vandalism. The Police have been informed and are trying to establish a motive for the attack; owing to its Christian links a religious motive has not been ruled out.

The Glastonbury Thorn before the attack in 2010
[The Official Page for the Glastonbury Thorn - Facebook]
This tree, said to be derived through cuttings from the lineage of the original, was planted on Wearyall Hill in 1951 to celebrate the Festival of Britain, had its branches cut off in 2010 and reduced to a stump in the early hours of one December morning. The surviving trunk put out some weak shoots that failed to develop, but now the stump of this tree has also been destroyed as someone returned nine years later to finish the job.

The Glastonbury Holy Thorn has refused to grow from seed and direct cuttings and can only be grown by being grafted onto the common hawthorn, Crataegus monogyna. The Holy Thorn is an unusual variety in that it flowers twice a year, spring and winter, known as Crataegus monogyna var, ‘biflora’ (= twice flowering), a variety usually found in the Middle East around the Mediterranean.

Every Christmas a sprig of the winter blossom is cut from the Holy Thorn in St. Johns churchyard and sent to the Queen. This tradition has continued since the Bishop of Bath and Wells first sent a branch to Queen Anne, in the 16th century.

Shortly before the Dissolution of the Monasteries in the 1530’s, three Holy Thorn trees were said to be growing on Wearyall Hill. In the 17th century the one surviving tree was cut down by Puritans during the English Civil War (1642 -1651). This Holy Thorn had grown to quite a size for the species and now formed two trunks. One was completely destroyed, axed and burned by one of Cromwell’s Roundheads as a relic of superstition; as it fell, its thorns blinded the axe man in one eye. The other trunk was nearly cut through but survived for another thirty years, parenting many cuttings.

Offspring of the Holy Thorn survived at secret locations around Glastonbury and today their descendants can be seen in specimens growing around the town such as at Glastonbury Abbey, St Johns Church, Chalice Well, the Abbey Barn and in some private gardens.

From this stock, a new Holy Thorn was propagated and planted on Wearyall Hill in 1951, which survived for sixty years until it was vandalised during the night 8-9th December 2010, the very day that the Queen’s blossom was due to be cut from the Holy Thorn at St John’s.

The Pilgrim Reception Centre, Glastonbury, working with the Royal Botanical Gardens at Kew, collected cuttings from the branches severed in 2010 to propagate and continue the lineage.

In April 2012 a new tree propagated by Kew from these severed branches was planted on Wearyall Hill and surrounded by a metal railings to provide some protection from grazing livestock. Yet, within two weeks the replacement tree had been broken off about a foot from the ground.

Someone seems determined there will not be a Holy Thorn growing on Wearyall Hill.

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Sunday, 28 April 2019

Arthur in the Celtic Languages

There are many books that focus on the Arthurian legend in literature, but three books featuring collections of essays by leading authorities in the field show the development of scholarship over the last seventy years should be held in every enthusiast's collection.

Arthurian Literature in the Middle Ages: A Collaborative History (Clarendon Press, 1959)
edited by Roger Sherman Loomis. Includes important essays such as The Arthury of History (KH Jackson), Arthur in Early Welsh Verse (KH Jackson), The Legend of Arthur's Survival (RS Loomis), other chapters,  as the title suggests, concentrated on the development of Arthurian Medieval Literature.

Then in 1991 came The Arthur of the Welsh: The Arthurian Legend in Medieval Welsh Literature, edited by Rachel Bromwich, A. O. H. Jarman and Brynley F. Roberts published by Wales University Press (UWP) as part of the Series: Arthurian Literature in the Middle Ages which includes The Arthur of Medieval Latin Literature, The Arthur of the Italians, The Arthur of the English, The Arthur of the French and so on.

The Arthur of the Welsh presents a collection of essays focusing on the Arthurian literature produced in Wales, in both Welsh and Latin, during the Middle Ages, with chapters on the ‘historical’ Arthur (Thomas Charles-Edwards), Arthur in early Welsh verse (Patrick Sims-Williams), the Merlin legend (A. O. H. Jarman), the tales of Culhwch ac Olwen (Brynley F. Roberts). Other chapters investigate the evidence for the growth of the Arthurian theme in the Triads and in the Historia Regum Britanniae of Geoffrey of Monmouth, and discuss the Breton connection and the gradual transmission of the legend to the non-Celtic world.

In January 2019 UWP published the latest book in Arthurian Literature in the Middle Ages series;

Arthur in the Celtic Languages: The Arthurian Legend in Celtic Literatures and Traditions edited by Ceridwen Lloyd-Morgan and Erich Poppe.

This is the first comprehensive authoritative survey of Arthurian literature and traditions in the Celtic languages of Welsh, Cornish, Breton, Irish and Scottish Gaelic. With contributions by leading and emerging specialists in the field, the volume traces the development of the legends that grew up around Arthur and have been constantly reworked and adapted from the Middle Ages to the twentieth century.

It shows how the figure of Arthur evolved from the leader of a warband in early medieval north Britain to a king whose court becomes the starting-point for knightly adventures, and how characters and tales are reimagined, reshaped and reinterpreted according to local circumstances, traditions and preoccupations at different periods.

From the celebrated early Welsh poetry and prose tales to less familiar modern Breton and Cornish fiction, from medieval Irish adaptations of the legend to the Gaelic ballads of Scotland, Arthur in the Celtic Languages provides an indispensable, up-to-date guide of a vast and complex body of Arthurian material, and to recent research and criticism.

Part One: Wales
The Beginnings of Welsh Arthurian Tradition
Native Welsh Arthurian Tales
Medieval Translations and Adaptations into Welsh
Influences and Re-Compositions
Popular and Later Traditions
Part Two: Cornish & Breton Traditions
Part Three: The Gaelic World

‘This long-awaited successor to The Arthur of the Welsh is the first-ever survey of Arthurian material across all the Celtic languages from the Middle Ages to modern times. A significant contribution to the field of Arthurian studies in general, it will prove an indispensable resource for those working with material in the Celtic languages.’ - Professor Sioned Davies, Chair of Welsh, Cardiff University

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Monday, 15 April 2019

Glastonbury and the Myths of Avalon

Glastonbury and the Myths of Avalon
Yuri Leitch
(Self published 2019)

For those expecting yet another book on the Arthurian mysteries of Glastonbury, the back cover of Yuri Leitch’s latest publication makes it quite clear; this is not a book about the historical Arthur; this is a book about the history of Arthurian Romance and its significance to Glastonbury during medieval times. Leitch asserts that “the Arthur of Glastonbury is a myth created by the Benedictine Order of Glastonbury Abbey; motivated by the fascinating intrigues of their day; this is their story”.

This may come as a shock to many who have visited the little Somerset town and, on witnessing the site of Arthur and Guinevere’s grave, been caught up in the Glastonbury legend. Anyone who has fallen into this trap can be forgiven as Glastonbury is unique for its collection of tales; Joseph of Arimathea; Patrick; Brigid; King Arthur; Richard Whiting; the Tor; Chalice Well; the Michael Line; to list just a few. Coupled with the spiritual atmosphere of the place it is very easy to be drawn in and blinded to the facts; but that said, there is something here, although perhaps we can’t quite put our finger on it; Geoffrey Ashe referred to it as “someting else”.

I think it was at Andrew Collin’s Questing Conference at Glastonbury Assembly Rooms in 2007 that I first heard Yuri Leitch argue that Glastonbury was not Avalon. He had just published his first book ‘GWYN: Ancient God of Glastonbury and Key to the Glastonbury Zodiac’ (The Temple Publications, 2007) and delivered his presentation accordingly. At lunch we noted his Arthurian murals on the walls of the George and Pilgrims Inn across the road, embellishing the traditions of the town. Now, 12 years on, he expands the argument against an Arthurian Glastonbury in his latest book ‘Glastonbury and the Myths of Avalon’ (Self published 2019)

But this is not a negative book and Leitch cannot be categorised as an “Arthur assassin” as author’s Thomas Green and Nicholas Higham have been termed. Leitch clearly defines Glastonbury’s place in Arthurian Romance, perhaps the most popular part of the legend, that emerged in the 12th century.

Glastonbury’s part in the creation of the image of Arthur and his Knights of the Round Table and the quest for the Grail cannot be underestimated.

This a short work, the main content of the book is four chapters across 114 pages. The first chapter deals with the mysteries of St David who Leitch argues has a stronger claim to the foundation of Glastonbury than Joseph of Arimathea. The second chapter begins with discussion on Arthur’s grave at Glastonbury and critical analysis of the leaden burial cross. Leitch then reconstructs what he thinks really happened and the motive. The next chapter explores the arrival of the Grail and Joseph of Arimathea at Glastonbury; an event that occurred shortly after Robert de Boron wrote his account of the Grail, completing Chretien de Troyes unfinished Story of the Grail. Around this time saw the emergence of the Perlesvaus, author unknown but suspected of having been written at Glastonbury. Shortly after this, William of Malmesbury’s early 12th century text of the history of Glastonbury Abbey was altered with additions supporting the Joseph of Arimathea legend by an unknown hand, probably a monk from the Abbey.

The fourth and final chapter focuses on the Mysteries of Avallon with Leitch arguing that the real location is in the Avallonnais region of Burgundy, France. This claim has been made by Geoffrey Ashe (and developed by Marilyn Floyde) who identified the historical Arthur as the Romano-British military leader named Riothamus who was active in Gaul around 470 AD. Riothamus was betrayed by Arvandus, the Prefect of Gaul and then routed by the Goths. According to Ashe, Riothamus was last seen heading for Avallon in Burgundy and the healing sanctuary at Les Fontaines Salées.

The book is completed by seven appendices including Glastonbury’s Arthurian Timeline, The Historical Arthur, concluding with Arthur the Deity taking the overall page count to 170.

In a short End Note, Leitch calls for Glastonbury to move forward and stop repeating the same, tired old claims of its Arthurian and Arimathean traditions and explore its medieval history and its very real connections with the Angevin Empire and the stories of the Grail.

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Monday, 25 March 2019

Cynwal Sant: The last to leave Arthur

Plotting Camlann: Letters from the Dead

Saint Cynwyl
The earliest account of the survivors of Arthur’s last fateful battle at Camlan is found in the 11th century tale Culhwch and Olwen. Embedded in this tale is a triad reciting the three survivors of the battle: Morfran son of Tegid, Sandde Angel-face and Cynwyl Sant, who was the last to leave Arthur, on Hengroeon his horse.

The name of the steed Hengroen means ‘old skin’ and is said to survive in the name Dinhengroen in Abergele on the north coast of Wales, but quite why a settlement should be named after a horse is beyond me.

This is probably the Saint who was patron of Cynwyl Gaeo and Cynwyl Elfed in Ystrad Tywi, a region of south-west Wales situated on the banks of the River Tywi that was to become the county of Carmarthen.  It is said there is a place in the River Annell where the saint used to kneel in the cold waters and pray. Farmers would scoop water from the depressions made by Cynwyl’s knees and pour it over their cattle to purify them. Alternative stories claim that Cynwyl Gaeo is named after the giant, Cynwil Gawr.

Located between Llandovery and Lampeter is the village of Gaeo; at the centre of the settlement stands the parish church, a grade II listed building, dedicated to St Cynwyl. This church stands on an ancient site occupying a position near the Roman road linking the Roman forts at Llandovery (Alabum) and Llanio (Bremia) to the Roman gold mines at Dolaucothi. This ancient road remained in use as a Drover's road until the 18th century. Wirt Sikes, who studied Welsh folklore, noted the survival of Roman names in the parish, a people, he said, who pride themselves in their Roman descent.

Cynwyl Elfed is situated about 5 miles north of Carmarthen. The church of St Cynwyl at Elfed is said to have been founded in the 6th century, although like many ancient churches little survives of the original structure today as many were rebuilt in medieval times and restored again in later times. The enclosures (llannau) of the earliest Celtic Welsh Saints were typically circular, or oval, and rather tellingly the churchyard at Cynwyl Elfed is curvilinear and bounded by the Afon Duad to the east. Two churches with the same patron saint in close proximity almost certainly indicates the existence of a local cult.

It seems Saint Cynwyl is also remembered at of Aberporth on the west coast of Wales in Ceredigion, where the church is depicted as St Cynfil's on historic maps. The medieval church was replaced by a new structure in the mid-19th century.

And at Penrhos in Llŷn, North Wales, sometimes called Llangynwyl, is St Cynfil’s church some 2 miles from Pwllheli, on the western shore of Cardigan Bay. This church was, again, a 19th century construction built on an ancient site within a circular churchyard. The Grade II listed building has now been converted to a holiday cottage but the exterior remains unspoilt.

Saint Cynwyl is often confused with a son of King Dunawd of Pabo Post Prydyn of the North Pennines who migrated to North Wales, but this is based on a miss-reading of genealogies of Gwŷr y Gogledd, or Men of the North.

All we have for Saint Cynwyl, the last man to leave Arthur at Camlan, is scant evidence for a local cult at two sites near Carmarthen, singular sites at Aberporth on the west coast of Wales and Penrhos on the Llyn peninsula, and a settlement on the north Wales coast apparently named after his horse.

We can’t even be certain he was a historical person, let alone known of any miracles connected with a St Cynwyl, yet four churches named after the same saint tends to indicate his existence, even if somewhat localised. It is likely he spent his early days around the Carmarthen area; the highest concentration of churches tends to indicate the main popularity of a saint’s cult. Cynwwyl, like many Celtic Welsh Saints, would have spent the last years of his career on pilgrimage to Bardsey Island (Ynys Enlli), off the tip of the Llyn Peninsula, said to be the burial site of 20,000 saints. On route to Bardsey he may have left the Carmarthen area, moved to Aberporth, his cell becoming popular with local people seeking cures to their ills, before making his way to Penrhos where he founded a church before ending his days at Bardsey watching the sun set over the sea in the west.

In conclusion, very little is known of St Cynwyl; he is absent from most books on the Celtic Welsh Saints. And even more obscure is his relationship with Arthur and his presence at the battle of Camlann and why he appears in the Triad embedded in Culhwch and Olwen with Morfran and Sandde. Neither St Cynwyl, or his horse Hengroen, appear to provide any clues in plotting the location of Camlann.

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Thursday, 7 March 2019


The Mabinogi: A Book of Essays
Edited by C. W. Sullivan III
First published 1996 by Garland Press
Reissued in 2015 by Routledge Revivals

The Lost Tale of Dylan in the Fourth Branch of the Mabinogi
"Throughout the Four Branches of the Mabinogi, the mystical Otherworld encroaches upon the realm of mortal kind, and one of the more powerful appearances of it takes the form of animals that participate in metamorphoses with human figures. These can signify an Otherworld incursion into mortal nature in several different ways. They can signal a thinning of the barriers between the realms of the Otherworld and this world; they can represent characteristics associated with the mysteries of fertility and tribal magic; and they can appear to enhance or, at times, take the place of the principal figures in the tales. It is this third role of Otherworld animals that I wish to concentrate on, because among the many named, and hence characterised animal shapes into which figures are transformed, we come across an unnamed animal whose dis-closure may shed light on the puzzle of the lost tale of Dylan in the Fourth Branch." - Sarah Larratt Keefer

The purpose of this collection, which was first published in 1996, is to provide both an overview of the major critical approaches to the Four Branches of the Mabinogi and a selection of the best essays dealing with them. The essays examine the origins of the Mabinogion, comparative analyses, and structural and thematic interpretations. This book is ideal for students of literature and Medieval studies.

Table of Contents

Part 1: Origins
1. The Mabinogion and  Lady Charlotte Guest Rachel Bromwich
2. The Date of the Four Branches of the Mabinogi T. M. Charles-Edwards;

Part 2: Comparative Analysis 
3. The Calumniated Wife in Medieval Welsh Literature Juliette Wood
4. The Lost Tale of Dylan in the Fourth Branch of The Mabinogi Sarah Larratt Keefer
5. Branwen: A Study of the Celtic Affinities Patrick K. Ford
6. Manawydan fab Llyr: Wales, England, and the "New Man" Andrew Welsh;

Part 3: Structural Interpretations
7. A Thematic Study of the Tale Pwyll Pendeuic Dyuet Sean O Coileain
8. Pwyll Prince of Dyfed: the narrative structure Elizabeth Hanson-Smith
9. The Structure of the Four Branches of the Mabinogi J. K. Bollard
10. Prolegomena to a Reading of the Mabinogi: "Pwyll" and "Manawydan" Patrick K. Ford
11. Narrative Structure in Medieval Welsh Prose Tales R. M. Jones; Thematic Interpretations;
12. Thematic Structure in the Four Branches of the Mabinogi Jeffrey Gantz
13. The Role of the Myth and Tradition in The Four Branches of the Mabinogi J. K. Bollard
14. The Theme of Sovereignty in Pwyll Catherine A. McKenna
15. Gwydion and Aranrhod: Crossing the Borders of Gender in Math Roberta L. Valente
16. Inheritance and Lordship in Math C. W. Sullivan III

> CCC <

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Thursday, 28 February 2019

Sanddef Pryd Angel

Plotting Camlann: Letters from the Dead

"....Sanddef Pryd Angel angel-face - no one wounded him at the battle of Camlan because of his beauty...."

Along with Morfran and Cynwyl Sant, Sanddef Pryd Angel is named as the three who escaped from Camlan in a triad embedded within Culhwch and Olwen. No one dared wound Sanddef because he was so beautiful he was mistaken for an Angel.

In contrast to Morfran who is famed for his ugliness, Sanddef Pryd Angel is known for beauty, which gives him his epithet meaning 'Angel's Form'. He is entirely absent from the early Triads of the Island of Britain (Trioedd Ynys Prydein) but is found in the later "Twenty-four Knights of Arthur's Court", again coupled with Morfran, as the "Three Irresistible Knights".

Sanddef is also found in two poems from Canu Llywarch Hen, in one version the name is found complete with the epithet ‘Pryd Angel’ and listed as one of Llywarch’s twenty-four sons.

Llywarch was a prince from the Old North (Hen Ogledd) during the 6th century. Following the fall of the northern Britons he is said to have fled to Powys and ended his days by Bala Lake (Llyn Tegid). A mound known as Pabell Llywarch (Llywarch's Tent) 2 miles north of Bala, said to be the site of a ruined stone circle, where a now lost inscribed stone near the church at Llanfor was claimed to commemorate old Llywarch. A tradition claims he ended his days here, writing poetry commemorating the loss of his sons.

As we have seen in the previous post, Morfran, Sanddef’s constant companion, was the son of Tegid and associated with Bala Lake. It his here that the cauldron of inspiration was tended by Little Gwion and the great shape-shifting chase, in which he was pursued by Ceridwen the sorceress, commenced.

The Death of Duran son of Arthur

Sandde [Bryd Angel] drive the crow
off the face of Duran [son of Arthur].
Dearly and belovedly his mother raised him.
Arthur [sang it]

This short reference to Duran son of Arthur is found only in a 15th century manuscript, otherwise Duran is unknown to Welsh Tradition. The mention of Sandde(f) suggests it is the battlefield of Camlan and Arthur's son lies among the dead, now carrion fodder.

Next >> Cynwyl Sant
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Monday, 25 February 2019

Morfran, Dark Demon

Plotting Camlann: Letters from the Dead

“….and Morfran son of Tegid - no one wounded him at the battle of Camlan because of his ugliness. Everyone thought he was an attendant demon; he had hair on him like a stag. Sanddef Pryd Angel angel-face - no one wounded him at the battle of Camlan because of his beauty. Cynwyl Sant the saint – one of three men who escaped from the battle of Camlan; he left Arthur last, on Hengroen his horse.”

An Attendant Demon
The first mention of Morfran, son of Tegid is found in Culhwch and Olwen, dating to the 11th century it is the oldest Arthurian tale. Morfran is listed in the embedded triad above with Sandde Bryd Angel and Kynwyl Sant as three men who escaped from the battle of Camlan. Morfran, meaning literally ‘Great Crow’, was so ugly he was mistaken for an attendant demon. Morfran is listed among the many warriors of Arthur’s court invoked by Culhwch in his pursuit of the hand of Olwen daughter of the chief giant Yspaddaden. Morfran is also found in the later native tale The Dream of Rhonabwy, listed as one of Arthur’s counsellors.

Morfran is mentioned in two Welsh Triads (Trioedd Ynys Prydein); as one of the “Three Slaughter-Blocks of the Island of Britain” (TYP 24); and his horse is noted as one of the “Three Lovers’ Horses of the Island of Britain” (TYP 41); “silver-white, proud and fair, horse of Morfran son of Tegid.” According to Rachel Bromwich a ‘slaughter-block’ is a “chopping-block of battles, one who holds his ground firmly in battle, in spite of the enemy’s blows”

Morfran son of Tegid is listed as one of "The Twenty-four Knights of Arthur's Court" in a late manuscript where we find him again coupled with Sanddef Angel-Face as two of the "Three Irresistible Knights" along with Glewlwyd Mighty-Grasp. No one could refuse them anything: “Sanddef because of his beauty, Morfran because of his ugliness, and Glewlwyd because his size, strength and ferocity.

Battersea Cauldron

Into the Darkness
But today, Morfran is probably best known for his part, albeit minor, in the Story of Taliesin (Hanes Talisien) in which he was the son of Ceridwen, the crooked sorceress. He is a purely mythical figure located at Penllyn, at the head of Bala Lake (Llyn Tegid); his father Tegid was said to have lived in the centre of the lake.

Evidently, this is a very old, well developed tale but does not appear in any Welsh manuscript until the 16th century; in the earliest version found in a manuscript written by Elis Gruffydd, Morfran is called Afagddu, ‘utter darkness’, because of his ugliness. In later versions Afagddu, or Y Fagddu, has become Morfran’s ugly brother.

Realising her son would never come to anything because of his looks, Ceridwen boiled a cauldron of a special herbal concoction for a year and a day. At the end of this period the cauldron would produce three drops of the brew which would instil extraordinary wisdom and the gift of prophecy to whoever they should fall upon. Gwion Bach and an unnamed blind companion tended the cauldron for 12 months and when the three drops spring forth they land on him. We hear no more of Afagddu who disappears from the tale. Ceridwen sets after Gwion in a shapeshifting chase, finally to swallow him as a grain of wheat. Nine months later Ceridwen gives birth to Taliesin the bard of radiant brow.

Morfran’s Otherworldly qualities dominate modern stories of him, in which he is seen as the personification of the shadow. This concept arises from our first encounter with him; the chilling prospect of coming face-to-face with a demon on the battlefield would send a shiver down the spine of most warriors who, would at that moment, have departed from their corporeal existence and entered the spiritual realm.

Next >> Sanddef Pryd Angel

Rachel Bromwich, Trioedd Ynys Prydein: The Triads of the Island of Britain, University of Wales Press, Fourth Edition, 2014.
Patrick K Ford, The Mabinogi and other Welsh Medieval Tales, 30th Anniversary Edition, University of California Press, 2008.
Kristoffer Hughes, From the Cauldron Born, Llwellyn, 2013.

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Sunday, 17 February 2019

Iddog, Agitator of Britain

Plotting Camlann: Letters from the Dead

“I was one of the messengers between Arthur and his nephew Medrawd at the battle of Camlan. And at that time I was a high-spirited young man, and because I was so eager for battle, I stirred up trouble between them. This is what I did: whenever the emperor Arthur would send me to remind Medrawd that he was his foster-father and uncle, and to ask for peace lest the sons of the kings of the Island of Britain and their men be killed, and when Arthur would speak to me the fairest words that he could, I would repeat those words to Medrawd in the most offensive way possible. Because of that I was called Iddog Cordd Prydain. And that is how the battle of Camlan was contrived. But three nights before the end of the battle of Camlan I left them, and came to Y Lech Las in Prydain to do penance. And I was there for seven years doing penance, and I was shown mercy.”1

Thus is the introduction of the rider that Rhonabwy meets in his dream coming across the plain of Argyngroeg heading toward Rhyd-y-Groes on the Severn, explaining how Iddog son of Mynio received his nickname ‘Agitator of Britain’. He is virtually unknown outside of the Rhonabwy’s Dream, yet he is mentioned in a late Triad.

A Triad from the Red Book of Hergest, ‘Three Men of Shame’ (TYP 51), draws from Geoffrey of Monmouth’s accounts of the invasion of the Romans, the Saxons and downfall of Arthur to the treachery of Medrawd at Camlan. Rachel Bromwich notes that the wording of this Triad closely follows the Brut (the Welsh versions of Geoffrey’s Historia). The earliest text of the Triad is found in the Red Book version, c.1400. A later version found in the manuscript Peniarth 51 adds a reference to ‘Iddog the Agiatator of Britain’ (idawc korn prydyn), as plotting the battle of Camlan, a name known elsewhere only in Rhonabwy’s Dream. Bromwich concludes that this is a late addition as the reference to ‘Iddog’ should have appeared in the earlier Red Book Triad and may not have been part of the original. Iddog then appears to be solely the creation of the author of Rhonabwy’s Dream.2

Later in the Dream, Iddog introduces Arthur to Rhonabwy who is mustering a great host in preparation for the battle of Badon, but Iddog was present at the battle of Camlan and has served seven years penance since. In Rhonabwy’s Dream, time is running backwards; according to the Welsh Annals (Annales Cambriae) Arthur and Medrawd fell at Camlan, 21 years after Badon. However, this should not detract from Iddog’s role as a conspirator in bringing about the battle of Camlan.3

[click for larger view]
In the tale of ‘How Culhwch won Olwen’, Culhwch invokes nearly 300 members of Arthur’s court as guarantors of the gift he is demanding of Arthur; the hand of Olwen daughter of Ysbaddaden Bencawr.4 This so-called court list includes a Triad (not found in TYP) of the ‘Three who escaped from Camlan’ (which we will come to later) and ‘Gwynnhyvar (Gwynn the Irascible) overseer of Cornwall and Devon (one of the nine that plotted the battle of Camlan)’. Unfortunately, we know nothing more of the remaining eight who plotted Arthur’s downfall at Camlan as they are not named in Culhwch, but we can add Iddog.

The list of Arthur’s counsellors in Rhonabwy is reminiscent of this court list in Culhwch; the author has certainly borrowed some characters from the earlier tale in addition to pulling characters from Welsh tradition as recorded in the Triads. Notable borrowings include Bedwin the Bishop (CaO), Caradog Freichfras (TYP), Gwarthegydd son of Caw (CaO), Gorau son of Custennin (CaO), Mabon son of Modron (CaO), Osla Gyllellfawr (CaO), and Cawrdaf son of Caradog Freichfras (TYP), to name just a few from over forty.

Caradog Freichfras is the man in Rhonabwy’s Dream who remarks with bold, eloquent speech that he is surprised to see such a large host accommodated in such a confined space (Rhyd-y-Groes) and that it was even stranger that those who had promised to be at Badon at noon to fight Osla Gyllellfawr were still at the ford at this time.  Rhonabwy is taken back that one should have spoken so boldly to Arthur, but Iddog replies that Carradog is Arthur’s chief adviser and nephew. Several times in the Mabinogion, Caradog is referred to as the son of Llŷr Marini, a sea deity; in The Second Branch of the Mabinogi Llŷr appears as the father of Brân, Brânwen and Manawydan.

Caradog has been confused with just about every Caradoc (or Caratacus) in history. In Arthurian literature he becomes a knight of the Round Table and features in a Beheading Game in his own story (Le Livre Caradoc) found in the First Continuation of Chrétien de Troyes's Perceval, or the Story of the Graal.

In the Triads, Caradog Freichfras is listed as Chief of the Elders at Arthur’s court in Celliwig, with Bishop Bedwin (Bytwini) as Chief of Bishops (TYP 1). But it is Caradog Freichfras’s son Cawrdaf that is of interest to us in attempting to untangle the plot of Camlan. In the Triads he is listed as one of the ‘Three Chief Officers of the Island of Britain’ (TYP 13). In some sources Cawrdaf is described as a saint who founded churches at Llangowdra (Ceredigion), Abererch (Llyn) and Llangoed (Anglesey). Not far from the church at Abererch can be found the Saint’s well Ffynnon Cawrdaf and a rock shaped like a seat known as Cadair Cawrdaf.

In a late manuscript known as Bonedd y Saint (Descent of the Saints), which records the genealogical tracts of the early British Saints, Cawrdaf is listed as the father of Medrawd, in turn the father of St.Dyfnog (§.51). Another genealogical tract lists Cawrdaf as the father of Iddog, Agitator of Britain (§.88), the man who caused Camlan, the self-confessed traitor in Rhonabwy's Dream.5 Although we should be cautious in holding a high degree of confidence in these late genealogical listings, this does raise the intriguing proposition that Iddog was the brother of Medrawd. The plot thickens.

As for Iddog, we know very little; he appears mysteriously riding across the plain of Argyngroeg, an area near Welshpool, Powys, known today as Gungrog and disappears as Rhonabwy awakes. Apart from this one tale he appears to be entirely absent from Welsh tradition.

Another who appears in the list of Arthur’s counsellors in Rhonabwy’s Dream is Morfran son of Tegid. Morfan (Great Crow) was one of the three who survived Camlan (CaO) because he was so ugly everyone thought he was a demon.

Next >> Morfran, son of Tegid

Notes & References:
1. Rhonabwy’s Dream, from The Mabinogion, translated by Sioned Davies, Oxford, 2007.
2. Rachel Bromwich, Trioedd Ynys Prydein: The Triads of the Island of Britain, 4th Edition, University of Wales Press, 2017. Hereon referred to as "TYP".
3. Here I use the spelling “Camlan” with one “n” as recorded in Welsh sources.
4. Rachel Bromwich, D Simon Evans, Culhwch and Olwen: An Edition and Study of the Oldest Arthurian Tale, University of Wales Press, 1992.
5. P C Bartrum, Early Welsh Genealogical Tracts, University of Wales Press, 1966.

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