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
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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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