Sunday, 15 October 2017

Cerdic, Charford and Camlann

The Road to Camlann Part IV

The Battle of Cerdicesford
Charford in the north-west corner of Hampshire has attracted some attention from scholars of Arthuriana in the search for the site of the battle of Camlann. The Anglo Saxon Chronicle records a series of battles fought by Cerdic and his son Cynric in the foundation of the kingdom of the West Saxons. In 519 AD Cerdic and Cynric fought the Britons at 'Cerdicesford' (Certiceford) and from that day on ruled the West Saxons.

The hamlets of North and South Charford in the New Forest occupy a strategic position near the Hampshire Avon. It is possible this 6th century battle resulted in the demarcation of the early border of Cerdic's realm. Of all the sites of Cerdic's battles the identification of North Charford is fairly certain as it is recorded as 'Cerdeford' in the Domesday Book of 1086.

Yet, Cerdic is recognised as a British name, in the genealogies the ancestor of the kings of Wessex; subsequent monarchs all had some level of descent claimed in the Chronicle from Cerdic. He has been identified as Cerdic, son of Cunedda, founder of Ceredigion; Cerdic, Vortigern's interpreter; Sir Caradoc Briefbras (Short-Arm) a Knight of the Round Table and ancestor to the Kings of Gwent; in Welsh legend his father is named as Llyr Marini, the Celtic Sea-God; and Cheldric in Geoffrey of Monmouth's 'History of the Kings of Britain'.

The Anglo Saxon Chronicle identifies Cerdic's father as Elesa, his grandfather as Esla, son of Gwis, descended from Woden, the god of the Anglo-Saxons. Elesa has been identified with the Romano-Briton Elasius, the “chief of the region” the man who met Germanus of Auxerre.

Sir John Rhys1 noted long ago the similarity of Cerdic's Saxon forebears Elesa, Elsa, as recorded in the Chronicle, with the Welsh king Eliseg, and his father Elis, inscribed on the pillar at Valle Crucis near Llangollen in Wales. Similarity of one name may not be significant but the duplication of both names suggests a connection. Furthermore, Cerdic's son Cynric has been identified as Cunorix, the name on a tombstone turned up at Viroconium (Wroxeter). We immediately question why the first king of Wessex should be recorded in 9th century Powys?

Graham Phillips and Martin Keatman2 flirt with the idea that the battle of Certiceford was Arthur's final campaign. Phillips and Keatman see an alliance between Cunormorus in Dumnonia in the south-west of Britain and Cerdic in the east. They suggest that Arthur attempts to drive a wedge between the two kingdoms and ventures into Wessex to engage with Cerdic at Certiceford.

Phillips and Keatman are clearly influenced by Medieval Arthurian sources, Geoffrey of Monmouth has Mordred ally with the Saxons and engage in battle at nearby Winchester before moving the battle on to Camelford in Cornwall, and Malory places the battle of Camlann on Salisbury Plain which is barely 20 miles north of Charford (Certicesford). However, although Phillips and Keatman see this as Arthur's final campaign,  they have him return to his homeland, weak and wounded, to fight Camlann in north-west Wales.

John Rudmin and Joseph Rudmin3 identify CERDIC AS the legendary KING ARTHUR and the battle of Badon, the moment when he and Cynric established the kingdom of the West Saxons, at Banbury in Oxfordshire. Evidently, such theories are based on little evidence and much assumption; we cannot even be certain that Arthur's battles were fought against the Anglo Saxons; Cerdic is as enigmatic as Arthur himself.

Whereas Aelle and the early foundation of Sussex, the land of the South Saxons, may have lasted twenty years, from the mid-470s to the battle of Badon, c.495, we could argue that the dates of Cerdic's floruit mirrors the period after Badon leading up to Camlann; Gildas' golden age when external wars had ceased, the 21 years listed between the two battles in the Welsh Annals.

The Origins of Wessex
The most important historical source produced in Wessex itself is the Anglo Saxon Chronicle compiled in the late 9th century under the instigation of King Alfred. The West Saxon entries begin with the landing of Cerdic and Cynric in 495 at the unidentified Cerdicesora (Cerdic's shore). But not all sources agree that Cynric was his son, for in the earliest recorded version of the West Saxon genealogy Cynric is given as the son of Creoda, son of Cerdic.

However, the Chronicle is not the simple record of West Saxon history which it might at first sight appear. We know it was compiled by more than one individual and seems to have undergone large-scale manuscript copying and circulation. Indeed most historians regard the account of Cerdic as forming the basis for the legendary foundation story of Wessex, yet they are reluctant to abandon the only written account of the birth of the kingdom of the West Saxon kings; regardless, to many it is referred to as “The Cerdic Legend”.

Cerdic is cited in the Anglo Saxon Chronicle as the founder of the West Saxon dynasty, reigning from 519 to 534:

495 – Cerdic and Cynric his son, arrived with five ships and fought the Welsh at Cerdices ora.
501 - This year Porta and his two sons, Beda and Mela, came into Britain, with two ships, at a place called Portsmouth and slew a noble young Briton
508 - This year Cerdic and Cynric slew a British king, whose name was Natanleod, and five thousand men with him. After this was the land named Netley, from him, as far as Cerdices ford.
514 – This year the West Saxons came to Britain in three ships at the place called Cerdices ora and Stuf and Wihtgar fought the Britons.
519 - This year Cerdic and Cynric undertook the government of the West-Saxons; the same year they fought with the Britons at a place now called Cerdices ford. From that day have reigned the
children of the West-Saxon kings.
527 - This year Cerdic and Cynric fought with the Britons in the place that is called Cerdic's leag. 530 - This year Cerdic and Cynric took the isle of Wight,and slew many men at Wihtgaraesbyrg.
534 - This year died Cerdic, the first king of the West-Saxons. Cynric his son succeeded to the government, and reigned afterwards twenty-six winters. And they gave to their two nephews, Stuff and Wihtgar, the whole of the Isle of Wight.

A few things are immediately obvious from this list: the 495 entry would appear to be duplicated 19 years later in 514. The duplication of a number of the Chronicle entries for Cerdic and Cynric 19 years apart has cast doubt on the validity of 495 as a date for the beginning of Cerdic and Cynric’s conquest of Wessex. The Cerdic and Cynric victories around the Hampshire Avon certainly suffers from a defective chronology; we should therefore view the other Cerdic entries with due suspicion. The arrival of the West Saxon's certainly bears much in common with the foundation legend of the Jutes in Kent.4

Portchester Roman walls
Similarly, the battle at Portsmouth in 501 in which a noble young Briton was killed has been related to the Arthurian poem the Battle of Llongborth found in the Black Book of Carmarthen, significant for its early mention of King Arthur. The Elegy for Geraint was written in praise of Geraint, a Dumnonian king, said to have fallen during the Saxon wars in the early 6th century. Llongborth has been interpreted as 'port of the warships' which equates well with Portsmouth, and yet, following this entry, we here no more of Port and his sons.

In studying the regnal dates given in the Chronicle and in the closely related West Saxon Genealogical Regnal List, David Dumville came to the conclusion that the 5th and 6th century dates were extremely unreliable and had been artificially extended to make it appear that the kingdom was founded at an earlier date than was actually the case. Dumville's calculation on the basis of the reign-lengths given in the Genealogical Regnal List was that Cerdic’s reign was originally seen as beginning in 538, six years after his arrival in 532.

Cerdic is somewhat an enigma himself; he arrives on the south coast of Hampshire with several ships and quickly establishes his territory. However, although Cerdic may have led a British-English alliance in expanding the territory of the West Saxons it seems unlikely he landed on the south coast of Hampshire at all. Barbara Yorke5 argues that the account of Cerdic and the origins of Wessex as noted in the Chronicle seems to be based on the foundation legend of the Jutes arrival in Kent. Indeed, Bede identifies the Hampshire coast as being occupied by Jutes:

“Those who came over were of the three most powerful nations of Germany - Saxons, Angles, and Jutes. From the Jutes are descended the people of Kent, and of the Isle of Wight, and those also in the province of the West Saxons who are to this day called Jutes, seated opposite to the Isle of Wight.”6

Bede, using information supplied by Bishop Daniel, indicates that southern Hampshire and the Isle of Wight were independent provinces which did not become part of Wessex until much later, in fact not until after their conquest by King Cædwalla in 686–8; these people were indeed classed as Jutes and not Saxons; the south Hampshire coast therefore seems an unlikely geographic origin for the West Saxons.

Archaeology has not helped locate the origins and expansion of the West Saxons, as too often finds are made to fit a preconceived framework based on the evidence of the Chronicle. Further, it would appear that Wessex was established from the upper Thames Valley from the 6th century; analysis of the accounts of the origins of the kingdom suggest that Cerdic was establishing his position in the 530s, around the upper Thames valley. Little more can be said until the reign of Ceawlin, son of Cynric, when Wessex began to acquire significant territory. However, it wasn't until after the reign of Cædwalla when the term ‘West Saxon’ begins to appear, whereas Cerdic’s people seem to have been known as the “Gewissae” with Cerdic named in early sources as "dux gewissorum", that is, “duke of the Gewissae”. Indeed Bede writes of “Cædwalla, of the royal race of the Gewissae,” and asserts that the West Saxons of Winchester were Gewissae,7 a Saxon tribe descended from Gewis of Baeldaeg's Folk.

The identity of the Gewissae is debated among scholars, however, it is fairly certain that they were not a Saxon tribe at all but Britons, which is supported by the British name of their leader Cerdic and perhaps the connection with Powys as we have see on the Pillar of Eliseg. Significantly, the earliest references to the Gewissae is found in the upper Thames region around Dorchester on Thames. Barbara Yorke suggests the name may be derived from the Old English word for “reliable” or “sure”, as in the “trusted ones” which would be appropriate for a British militia. If this is correct then Gewissae would be a corruption of “Gleuissae”, derived from the Latin “Gleuenses” meaning “men of Gloucester” and “men of Gwent” respectively. From this, scholars agree that Cerdic, the “dux gewissorum”, led the Gewissae from Gwent to Gloucestershire, then into Hampshire where they became known as the West Saxons.8 For a British warlord to have ultimately been accepted as “West Saxon” by writers of the Chronicle indicates his forces relied heavily on Germanic mercenaries.

We should then reconsider Cerdic's first battles around the Hampshire Avon in the context, not of Saxon expansion, but as internecine warfare among the Britons following the 21 year peace of Badon fought against Aelle of the neighbouring South Saxons c.495. According to the Chronicle, Cerdic dies in 534; there is no mention of a battle, no Camlann; perhaps old age had caught up with the battle-weary dux gewissorum.

In conclusion it is certainly unlikely that Cerdic had any contact at all with Arthur and had no association with the battles of Badon or Camlann. More likely Cerdic, whoever he was, filled the void left following the demise of Arthur at the battle of Camlann.

Copyright © 2017 Edward Watson 

Notes & References:
1. John Rhys, Y Cymmrodor, Vol XXI, 1908.
2. Graham Phillips and Martin Keatman, King Arthur: The True Story, Century, 1992.
3. John Rudmin and Joseph Rudmin, Arthur, Cerdic, and the Formation of Wessex
4. Barbara Yorke, The Jutes of Hampshire and Wight and the origins of Wessex, in Origins of the Anglo Saxon Kingdoms, edited by Steve Basset, Leicester University Press, 1989, pp.84-96.
5. Ibid.
6. Bede, The Ecclesiastical History of the English People, Oxford University Press, 2008, Book I. XV
7. Ibid., Book 4. XV.
8. David Hughes, The British Chronicles, Volume 1, Heritage, 2007, p.229.

* * * 

Friday, 6 October 2017

Arthur and the Saxons

The Road to Camlann Part III – The South East

“It is useless to look for Arthur's battle-sites anywhere but round about the area, once highly Romanized, in southern England, in the country south of the Thames and west of Kent. If it can be shown that enough remains to suggest identification of the battle-sites on the fringe of this area, the story of Nennius becomes credible.”1

Arthur's Battles and the Saxon Wars
If Arthur's battles were fought against the Saxons, and it is not certain they were, we might hope to find some trace in the Anglo Saxon Chronicle. We find no records of Badon or Camlann, the high and low points of Arthur's career, among the early English; perhaps they are there, hidden from a form we might recognise, but in a different language.

The battle list contained within the 9th century Historia Brittonum (also known as 'Nennius' if you will) shows a series of battles that culminated in the twelfth at the battle of Badon. This account of the Britons fortunes seems to reflect Gildas (De Excidio Britanniae, ‘On the Ruin of Britain’) who, gives no dates but was writing before Maelgwn's death in 547 AD and certainly within living memory of the battle, places great significance to the ‘siege of Badon Hill’ (obsessio montis Badonicus) as the ‘final victory of our Country which has been granted to our time by the will of God.’
Anderitum Roman fort
Gildas tells us that the Britons took up arms and rallied under Ambrosius Aurelianus, the last of the
Romans and that, “from that time on now the citizens, now the enemy, were victorious ... right up until the year of the siege of Badon Hill, almost the last, not the least, slaughter of the villains, and this the forty-fourth year begins (as I know) with one month already elapsed, which is also [that] of my birth.”

In this passage it seems obvious that Gildas is saying is that he was born in the same year as the siege of Badon Hill and he was writing forty-three years and one month after that battle; we can thus date the battle to within a few years of either side of the year 500 AD.

Alternatively, it has been suggested saying that he is saying that the battle of Badon took place
forty-three years and one month after some other event not named by him in this sentence.

Bede closely follows Gildas in describing the fluctuating fortunes of the Britons, and the battle of Badon:From that time on, now the citizens, now the enemy were victorious right up until the year of the siege of mount Badon, when there was no small slaughter of the enemy about forty-four years after their arrival in Britain.2

Here Bede appears to have interpreted Gildas' statement as meaning that Badon occurred in the year of his birth, the forty-fourth year of the English settlement in Britain.

Bede claims the English Advent occurred in 449 AD. Badon, then must have occurred around 493 - 495. 449 is the year that the Anglo Saxon Chronicle records the arrival of Hengist and Horsa in Ipwinesfleet, at the invitation of Vortigern the king of the Britons. Battles at Aylesford (455), Crayford (457) and Wippedfleet (465) followed, which resulted in the Britons conceding Kent and fleeing to London. This account is mirrored in the so-called 'Kentish Chronicle' of the Historia Brittonum, but with the names Hengist and Horsa meaning stallion and horse it raises suspicion of it being a purely mythical foundation story.

In the 10th century Welsh Annals, Badon [Bellum Badonis] is entered under year 72, which corresponds to A.D. 518, and reads,

“The battle of Badon, in which Arthur carried the Cross of our Lord Jesus Christ for three days and three nights on his shoulders and the Britons were victorious.”

The Annals are the first to give these details, and the first to provide a precise date for Badon; there are no other extant sources for the 518 date. Frank Reno3 re-calibrates the dates of the Annals Cambriae by 19 years, a full lunar cycle, calculated from the Easter Tables, which once again brings the date for Badon to around 500 AD.

As Badon is the last battle in the 12 listed in the Historia Brittonum (Nennius), Arthur's battles must have all been fought prior to that date, and, following the Welsh Annals, Camlann 21 years later. We can therefore pinpoint Arthur's floruit within a window of around 480 to 520.

If Arthur was the leader of the Britons at Badon it is unlikely he could have been around to fight Hengist and Horsa in the mid-5th century, the Britons were led by the sons of Vortigern against the Saxon in Kent. Indeed, if Arthur fought against the Saxons in the south-east during the last quarter of the 5th century his adversaries would have been Aelle and Cerdic. The Anglo Saxon Chronicle records:

477 Aelle lands at place called Cymenes ora with his three sons, Cymen, and Wlenking, and Cissa, in three ships. There they slew many of the Welsh; and some in flight they drove into the wood that is called Andred's leag.
485 - This year Aelle fought with the Britons at Mearcreades burnam.
490 - This year Aelle and Cissa besieged Andredes cester, and slew all that were therein; nor was one Briton left there afterwards.4

Aelle and the foundation of Sussex
According to the Chronicle, Aelle landed at Cymenes ora (ora = shore), which has been identified as a stretch of south-eastern coast between Selsey and Pagham. Andred's leag is the forest of Anderida, the Weald, which then stretched from Kent in the east to just north of Selsey in the west. Andredes cester is without doubt meant as the Roman Saxon Shore fort at Anderitum (now Pevensey castle) some 50 miles eastward along the coast from Selsey. From these two Chronicle entries we can see Aelle's progress from landing in 470 to the South Saxons spreading to Pevensey twenty years later. But the main area of Saxon settlement in the 5th century seems to have been between the river Ouse and Cuckmere. By the 6th century this had spread westward to the Adur, the opposite direction to the Chronicle.5

Pevensey Castle (Anderitum) - copyright English Heritage
The Chronicle tells us that in 485, in the midst of this reign, Aelle fought the Britons at Mearcreades burnam but does not record this as victory for the English. Mearcreades burnam has been interpreted as 'the river of the frontier agreed by treaty,' i.e the Ouse was the boundary of Saxon settlement, and the battle could have been an attempt by Aelle to break out beyond this boundary.At 480-feet Mount Caburn is one of the highest landmarks in East Sussex, on the summit is the remains of an Iron Age hill fort, separated from the South Downs, by Glynde Reach, a tributary of the River Ouse.

Collingwood identifies Arthur's first battle ("on the river Glein") from the Historia Brittonum as the Glynde in eastern Sussex, at its confluence with the Ouse near Lewes beneath the Caburn (Caer Bryn = strong fort). A long barrow on Cliffe Hill, part of the Caburn, is known as the Warriors Grave, which may have been so-named in memory of a battle fought here. Ekwall7 accepts the Glynde as equivalent to the "river Glein” a site often favoured by scholars as the Glen in Northumberland, or the Glen in Lincolnshire.

If this was indeed Arthur's first victory as recorded in the battle list of the Historia Brittonum, the date, 485, fits perfectly with the dates suggested for the Arthurian campaign. Aelle seems to have been contained until he struck at Andredes cester (Pevensey) some five years later.

We then hear no more of Aelle in the Chronicle and there is no record of his death. Yet, Bede, the historian of the English peoples, tells us that Aelle was the first English king to hold sovereignty (bretwalda) over all the southern provinces south of the Humber.8

Traditionally Aelle is the leader of the Saxon's at Badon (c.495) along with Octha of Kent (son of Hengist?). Octha is identified with 'Osla Big-Knife' (Gyllellvawr) in Arthurian tradition; in Culhwch and Olwen he is one of Arthur's warband as they hunt the giant boar Twrch Trwyth, but drowns when he follows the boar into the Severn and the scabbard of his seax (Saxon long-knife) fills with water dragging him under; in the Dream of Rhonabwy he is Arthur's adversary at Badon (Caer Faddon).9

Badbury Rings, Dorset
Traditionally we are are told that Badon was fought at Bath, as this describes the ancient name of the city with the hot springs, an idea that has stuck since Geoffrey of Monmouth's fables; but surely Bath is far too west for a Saxon advance at this time. Even the favoured sites of Liddington Castle (Wiltshire) and Badbury Rings (Dorset) are too far west for a South Saxon advance, a battle site further east, nearer the territory of the South Saxons (suthsaexe) would make much better sense. Archaeological evidence for early Saxon settlement in Sussex has been found in burials at Alfriston, Selmeston, Bishopstone, Beddingham, Glynde, Saxonbury (Lewes) and Wooodingdean.

However, if the identification of Arthur's first battle on the Glynde (river Glein) and his penultimate, Badon, in the south-east are correct we should then also expect to find the other ten battles in this area of England. Collingwood does exactly that for eleven of Arthur's battles but fails to offer a candidate for Badon in the region of the South Saxons.10 Oddly, the south-east is one area of Britain largely absent of Arthurian tradition.

After Badon, Aelle disappears from the Chronicle and even Sussex fails to get a mention for 150 years; it seems almost certain that both Aelle and his sons were killed in the battle. Badon was without doubt such a resounding victory for the Britons, perhaps revenge for the slaughter of all the occupants of the fort at Andredes cester, that the archaeological record shows a cessation in Saxon expansion in the south from this time for several generations. Indeed, writing before 865, a monk from Fulda records Saxons from Britain landing at Cuxhaven, Lower Saxony, Germany, in 531, an event which is also supported by the account in Procopius who writes of 6th century migration from Britain to the land of the Franks across the Channel.

If Arthur's twelve battles were fought in the south of England then can we expect find the site of Camlann also in the same area?

Copyright © 2017 Edward Watson

Notes & References
1.  WG Collingwood, Arthur's Battles, Antiquity 11, 1929.
2.  Bede, The Ecclesiastical History of the English People, Oxford, 2008.3. Frank D Reno, The Historic King Arthur, McFarland & Co, 1997.
4. Michael Swanton (Translator & Editor), The Anglo Saxon Chronicle, Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 1997.
5. Mike Ashley, The Mammoth Book of King Arthur, Robinson, 2005.
6. Ibid.
7. Ekwall, English River Names, Oxford University Press, 1928.
8. Bede, op.cit.
9. Thomas Jones and Gwyn Jones, The Mabinogion, Everyman, New Edition, 2001.
10. Collingwood, op cit.

* * *

Sunday, 24 September 2017

Camlann in the South West

The Road to Camlann Part II 

Arthur's Country
In 1112 a party of canons set out from Laon cathedral carrying relics of the Blessed Virgin Mary on a fund raising tour of central France for the rebuilding of Laon Cathedral. The year after the canons crossed the Chanel and continued the tour throughout the south of England. Herman of Laon, wrote an account of the canons tour soon after 1145, certainly within living memory of the event.

When the canon's party left Exeter and moved into Dartmoor they were told they were entering ‘Arthur's Country’ where landscape features such as the ‘seat’ and the ‘oven’ of King Arthur  were pointed out to them. When they arrived at Bodmin and the visiting canons dared to suggest that Arthur might no longer be alive a near riot broke out.

No one can be certain how long these features had been associated with Arthur but it is certain that a strong Arthurian tradition existed in the South-west of England, a 170 mile tract of land stretching from Bath to the Land's End, long before Geoffrey of Monmouth wrote his Arthurian epic in the 12th century. Herman's account of the tour of south-western England by the canons of Laon demonstrates just how strong that belief was.

However, although the Arthurian tradition was certainly alive in south-west England before Geoffrey he was the first to locate the Battle of Camlann in Cornwall. Prior to this, the earliest reference to Camlann found in the 10th century Welsh Annals, fails to mention a location and merely tells us “The Strife of Camlann in which Arthur and Medraut fell”.

Medraut is portrayed throughout the Arthurian legend as Arthur's nemesis, the infamous traitor who brought down the king at Camlann, thus bringing to an end the Fellowship of the Round Table. Significantly, Geoffrey refers to the villain as Modred, the Cornish rendering of Medraut, suggesting he may have been drawing on an ancient south-western source.

The negative view of Modred follows Geoffrey's account in the Historia Regum Britanniae, c.1136, of a traitor who usurped the throne while the king (his uncle) was on campaign in mainland Europe and persists throughout the romances up to Malory's culmination of the Arthurian tale. Sadly this view has influenced modern writers who still see Modred in a negative light, but in Welsh tradition, free of Geoffrey's influence, he is portrayed in a positive way; indeed, to the bards he was the epitome of courage and virtue.

The so called 'Arthur Stone' near Slaugterbridge, Cornwall
Thus, we find Geoffrey's popular account of Modred's treachery has no historical or traditional basis to it whatsoever. Further, the antiquarians fascination with Cornwall seems to be based on the identification of a 6th century inscribed stone found on the bank of the river Camel near Slaughterbridge, Camelford (considered by some to be the site of Camelot). Today this is the site of the Arthurian Centre, an unique Arthurian exhibition where one can walk down to the river, through the battlefield site, to see the stone lying on the riverbank.

The so-called 'Arthur's Stone' was first recorded by Carew in 1602 but had reputedly lain on the river bank for a thousand years before that. The stone carries a Latin inscription and rare Ogam script, an ancient Celtic alphabet thought to convey arcane messages between the Druids. The stone has no connection with Arthur whatsoever but does indicate an Irish presence in North Cornwall at this time.

Following Alfred, Lord Tennyson's description of the stone following a visit to Slaughterbridge in June 1848, he was inspired to write the Idylls of the King, a work of 12 poems significantly influential on the Arthurian Revival of the Victorian Age, antiquarians again favoured a Cornish location for Camlann, reinforcing earlier adherence to the 12th century chronicler Geoffrey of Monmouth, while today academics prefer a northern setting on Hadrian's Wall.

Arthur's Last Battle according to Geoffrey
Geoffrey of Monmouth was the first to locate the Battle of Camlann at the river “Cambula”, identified as the river Camel in Cornwall, which rises on Bodmin Moor, flows past Camelford and discharges into the sea at Padstow. It is claimed that Camelford was formerly known as 'Cam Pol', Cornish for curved, or crooked, river.

According to Geoffrey (Historia Regum Britanniae, Book XI, Chp I, II) Modred and his whole army, around eighty thousand men, met Arthur just after he landed at the port of Rutupi (Richborough near Sandwich, Kent) and engaged in battle with him, and made a very great slaughter of his men. With great difficulty, Arthur eventually got ashore, returned the slaughter, and put Modred and his army to flight.

Modred and his forces fled to Winchester which Arthur beseiged for three days. Modred then fled to Cornwall. Arthur pursued him as far as the river “Cambula”, where Modred lie in wait. Modred was the boldest of men and always the first to make an attack, immediately placed his troops in order, resolving either to conquer or to die, rather than continue his flight any longer.

After much slaughter, Geoffrey writes, “Arthur, himself, our renowned king, was mortally wounded and was carried off to the Isle of Avalon, so that his wounds might be attended to. He handed the crown of Britain over to his cousin Constantine, the son of Cador Duke of Cornwall; this in the year 542 after our Lord's Incarnation.”

Bones and harnesses are said to have been brought to the surface during ploughing of this area but these are said to date from the battle of Gafulford recorded in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle for 823 AD. Camelford is the favoured location for this conflict between the British and Saxons during the westward expansion of Wessex under King Egbert (802 to 839). There is no evidence of any other Dark Age battle being fought here.

Malory and Arthur's Day of Destiny
Geoffrey's account influenced Arthurian Romance for several hundred years. Indeed, Thomas Malory's story was the final culmination of the Arthurian legend, written c.1469, drawing on Geoffrey,  Arthurian French prose romances, and the anonymous English works titled the Alliterative Morte Arthure and the Stanzaic Morte Arthur, remains fairly faithful to Geoffrey's earlier work in that Arthur lands on the south-east coast and pursues Mordred, but the final battle is fought on Salisbury Plain, not Cornwall.

Mordred (as Malory calls him) meets Arthur at Dover but is forced to retreat. In this battle Gawain is mortally wounded. In his Preface to Malory, Caxton claims Gawain's skull can still be seen at Dover Castle in his day. Arthur meets Mordred again at the battle of Bareon Down (Barham Down - Stanzaic Morte Arthur) and again puts him to flight. The Barham Downs is an extensive area of downland south east of Canterbury.

Their forces come together again at Salisbury Plain where they prepare for what is to be their final battle. But the night before the battle, Arthur dreams he is on the 'Wheel of Fortune'. After this prophetic dream he has another in which Gawain and a number of ladies come to him to warn him against fighting in the morning for if Arthur fights, they warn, he will die.

Arthur seeks a truce with Mordred, and the two armies meet on the field to set terms when an adder appears, a knight unthinkingly draws his sword to kill it. With the flash of steel the two armies think fighting has broken out and battle commences.

At the end of the day, Mordred is the only man of his army left standing, and Arthur has only two knights, Sir Lucan and Sir Bedivere. Against Sir Lucan's advice, Arthur fights Mordred and kills him, but he gets his own fatal wound as he does it. Arthur charges Mordred and impales him with a spear. But with the last of his strength, Mordred impales himself even further, so as to come within striking distance of King Arthur, then strikes a mortal blow to Arthur's head. Lucan and Bedivere take him to a chapel.

The dying Arthur commands Bedivere to throw his magical sword Excalibur into the lake nearby, then return and tell what he has seen. But believing Arthur's sword is too precious to throw away, Bedivere hides the sword under a tree. When Arthur challenges Bedivere by asking what he saw, he says he saw only waves and winds. Knowing he is not being truthful Arthur sends him twice more, and the last time Bedivere finally does as Arthur commanded. A hand rises out of the lake and catches the sword, brandishes it three times, then withdraws below the water.

Bedivere then carries Arthur to the waterside, where a barge carrying ladies in black hoods awaits him. Arthur is placed in the barge and borne away to 'Avilon', his ultimate fate uncertain; will he be healed of his wounds, or will he die? Bedivere then wanders through a forest where he comes to a hermit who is kneeling over a freshly dug grave. The hermit reveals it is the grave of a man brought to him at midnight by ladies in black. Is this the body is of Arthur? Malory does not say.

By South Cadbury – Is That Camlann?
The Somerset Cam is another river conjectured as a site for the battle of Camlann. Geoffrey Ashe (The Quest For Arthur's Britain, Academy Chicago, 1987, p.125) writes of a mass grave on the western side of the hill where labourers dug up skeletons of men and boys that had the appearance of a hasty burial. However, there is no local tradition to support such a connection with Arthur's final battle.

South Cadbury hill fort
In the 16th century the antiquary to the king, John Leland, wrote, “At the very south end of the church of South-Cadbyri standeth Camallate, sometime a famous town or castle . . . The people can tell nothing there but that they have heard Arthur much resorted to Camalat.

Leland seemed to accept Slaughterbridge in Cornwall as the site of Camlann as described by Geoffrey of Monmouth, but is the first to record an association between the hill fort near South Cadbury, Somerset, with Arthur's court at Camelot, possibly because of the local river called the Cam, and the settlement of Queen's Camel. Rising on the south side of Bratton Hill, east of Yarlington, the Cam flows south west past North Cadbury, Sparkford, Queen Camel and West Camel, joining the Yeo near Yeovilton.

Local lore tells of Arthur sleeping in a cave beneath the hill, behind a pair of golden gates which open just one night of the year. Indeed, when a group of antiquaries visited the hill, a local resident asked if they had come to take the king away. Another tale says that the ghosts of Arthur and his knights ride from the hill along Arthur's Hunting Path toward Glastonbury, eleven miles distant on certain nights of the year. But these appear to be late traditions.

Archaeological investigations, under the direction of Leslie Alcock for the Camelot Research Committee (CRC), co-founded by Geoffrey Ashe and C A Ralegh Radford, carried out large-scale excavations of South Cadbury hill fort from 1966-70.

The hill fort saw considerable activity during the pre-Roman Iron Age, when the huge ramparts were constructed. Evidence of Roman activity was found in the excavation of barracks and a ‘shrine’ or ‘temple’ on the hill-top. The Roman presence at Cadbury significantly declined during this period with the growth of the Roman town at nearby Ilchester.

Alcock's excavations revealed that the fort had been re-fortified in post-Roman times, the classic Arthurian period, commanding the gateway to the south west. Alcock found evidence for a wall which had been built in the 500's AD and the ramparts were strengthened with large quantities of dressed masonry from derelict Roman buildings and mounted by raised wooden walkways. The remains of a large timber feasting hall, 63 feet by 34, were discovered at the centre of the site, set in a commanding position on the high part of the plateau that the excavators termed 'Arthur's Palace'. It has been dated to the 5th/6th centuries from pottery finds.

Alcock had uncovered a new type of late 5th century site; the heavily fortified British hall. It was soon discovered that the fortified Dark Age hall, was not unique to South Cadbury as there were many more similar fortified halls at other hill forts in Britain. Yet South Cadury is symbolic of the Arthurian period more than anything else; a battle leader co-ordinating British resistance against advancing barbarians. Alcock had confirmed the Arthurian period did actually exist.

We should expect to find a candidate for Camlann near to Arthur's fortress, but despite the locality of the river Cam, there appears to be no local tradition for the battle. In the late 16th century William Camden went on to relate that local people were unaware of Leland's name for the site (Camalat), but referred to it as ‘Arthur’s Palace’ or ‘Cadbury Castle’. Subsequently it can be questioned if Leland invented this tradition, attracted by the nearby settlement name of Queen's Camel?

Camden himself actually identified Cadbury with another Arthurian battle; Cath-Bregion, the site of Arthur’s eleventh battle from the list in the Historia Brittonum. Joseph Ritson (The Life of King Arthur from Ancient Historians and Authentic Documents, 1825) had observed a note in the margin in one manuscript of the Historia, opposite this particular battle, “in Somersetshire, quem nos Cath bregion.” Chris Barber and David Pykitt (Journey to Avalon: The Final Discovery of King Arthur, Weiser, 1997, p.199) suggest this refers to Catbrain Hill just north of Bristol.

Copyright © 2017 Edward Watson

* * *

Sunday, 17 September 2017

The Road to Camlann

An.93. Gueith camlann in qua Arthur et Medraut corruerunt.
[The Strife of Camlann in which Arthur and Medraut fell]

Part I – The North
The Strife of Camlann was the final battle of King Arthur in which he either died or was mortally wounded fighting with, or against, Medraut (Cornish = Modred). Whichever, after Camlann Arthur disappears and the golden age of the Round Table comes to an end. This period, the 10th century Welsh Annals date Camlann to 537 AD, coincides with the end of sub-Roman Britain and the onset of Anglo Saxon England.

The name 'Camlann' is said to derive from the Brittonic *Cambo-glanna (crooked-bank, of a river) or *Cambo-landa (crooked-enclosure). Scholars who argue against the existence of Arthur doubt Camlann was a real event and assert the location is unknown. However, advocates for a historical Arthur in the north of Britain claim it was a battle fought on Hadrian's Wall.

OGS Crawford1 concluded that, despite a derivation from the Celtic camb(o) = curved and landa = enclosure, there was no such place called "Camlann". He suggested the name was probably of Latin origin, i.e. "Camboglanna" which he identified as the Roman Fort of Birdoswald on Hadrian's Wall. Crawford saw the provenance of the Welsh Annals in Scotland which he used to support his northern Arthur theory. Accordingly, academic authors followed, indeed, Birdoswald on Hadrian's Wall is the preferred option for Richard Barber2 which fits well with his thesis that Arthur was a prince of Dalriada.

Along the line of The Wall
Norma Lorre Goodrichfollowing OGS Crawford, envisaged the terrain of Camboglanna and its vicinity as the ideal land for Modred to lie in wait for King Arthur as he rode out from Carlisle and cites local lore that claims Arthur lies sleeping under Sewingshields Castle, a short distance to the east of Camboglanna. No doubt influenced by local landscape features such as King’s Crags, Queen’s Crags, King Arthur’s Well and King Arthur’s Chair, Goodrich's attempted reconstruction of an Arthurian history using facets taken from Geoffrey and later Romance is not taken seriously by academics today.

A possible early Arthurian reference in the Medieval Welsh poem Y Gododdin in which the poet Aneirin praises the prowess of one of the warriors, Gwawrddur, who fed black ravens on the rampart of a fortress in comparison in valour to Arthur, has been seen a reference to a conflict at a old Roman fort in the north, possibly on Hadrian's Wall. John Koch has suggested that the earliest version of Y Goddodin could have been composed in the 6th or 7th century prior to a later transmission to Wales and if authentic would be the earliest known Arthurian reference.4

The proponents for a northern Arthur argue that the name Camlann most likely derives from that of the Roman fort Camboglanna on Hadrian's Wall5. Indeed, Camboglanna has remained a favoured location for Camlann among academics in the argument for a Northern Arthur ever since Ekwall first made the suggestion in 1927, followed by OGS Crawford in 1935.6 Collingwood and Wrightidentified Camboglanna as Birdoswald, but recent research indicates that the Roman fort of Castlesteads by the Cam Beck is the correct identification.

There can be little doubt that the Roman garrison in Britain was severely weakened by successive troop withdrawals by Maximus, Stilicho and Constantine III, but the opinion that Hadrian's Wall was deserted after the late 4th century has, in the light of recent archaeological work, been abandoned in favour of continuous use well into the 5th century.

Following the end of Roman administration in Britain c.410 AD occupation of the fort at Birdoswald appears to have continued into the early 6th century by which time two granaries had been demolished and the northern one replaced with a large timber hall, probably occupied by a local warlord, a construction conjectured by size and type to have been similar to that evidenced at South Cadbury hill fort in Somerset. Today the position of the timber pillars of the hall are marked by modern posts. The hall seems to have survived into the 6th century when the site appears to have gone out of use around 520 AD.8

Thus, at Castlesteads (the Roman fort of Camboglanna) is situated above a winding stream, the Cam Beck, with a very crooked bank indeed (*Cambo-glanna = crooked bank, of a river). After the Roman withdrawal a local chieftain refortified the next Roman fort along Hadrian's Wall at Birdoswald (Banna) building a Dark Age Hall which was suddenly abandoned around the time the Welsh Annals date the battle of Camlann. Coupled with the fact that the earliest reference to Arthur may be contained within the poem Y Goddodin, the case for a northern Camlann appears strong.

Birdoswald Roman fort = Banna
Yet we struggle to find many recorded battles actually fought on the Wall. The Roman's record the Pictish wars of the 2nd Century and the Barbarian Conspiracy of 367 AD breached the Wall, but there is little evidence of any Dark Age battles that could fit a suitable timeframe for Camlann.

In the 6th century Gildas wrote that as soon as the Romans withdrew from the Island the Picts and Scots returned and seized all the country towards the extreme north as far as the Wall. A garrison was placed on the Wall but the hooked weapons of their enemies dragged the guards from the battlements. The Britons then abandoned the protection of the Wall and the enemy pursued them and butchered them like sheep. The Britons then appealed to Aetius, thrice consul for help (the Groans of the Britons):

The barbarians drive us to the sea; the sea throws us back on the barbarians: thus
two modes of death await us, we are either slain or drowned.”

Then, Gildas continues, the Picts settled at the extremity of the island for the first time. Following this all the councillors, together with the Proud Tyrant invited into the country (like wolves into the sheep-fold), the fierce and impious Saxons, a race hateful both to God and men, to repel the invasions of the northern nations. First landing on the eastern side of the island, to fight for it but ending up fighting against it.9 If then we are to believe Gildas, the Saxon mercenaries were first settled by the eastern end of the Wall to guard against the threat from the north.

We find a Dark Age battle recorded on the Wall in the 7th century, some 200 years after the Romans departed from British shores. The Battle of Heavenfield, fought in 633 or 634 AD between the British kingdoms of Northumbria and Gwynedd where the Anglian King Oswald  defeated the Welsh Cadwallon ap Cadfon.

The same conflict was recorded by Bede as the Battle of Deniseburna, near Hefenfelth, where Oswald was said to have had a holy vision on the eve of the battle, and had his men erect a large wooden cross. In commemoration of the battle today a wooden cross stands at the entrance to St. Oswald’s church, on the line of the Wall, a few hundred yards off the B6318, some 4 miles north of Hexham.

Just when the search for a battle on Hadrian's Wall that could equate to Camlann appears fruitless, a serious contender emerges in the theory of C. Scott Littleton and Linda A. Malcor10 in which they argue that a number of features in the Arthurian legend could be Scythian in origin, and, they claim, the evidence of Scythians in Britain begins in the 2nd century, when a group of Sarmatian horsemen were brought over to northern Britain as Roman heavy cavalry by Marcus Aurelius in 175 AD. Littleton and Malcor do not attempt to identify Camlann but demonstrate a number of parallels between the Arthurian and Scythian legends, notably return of the hero's magical sword to the Queen of the Sea (Lady of the Lake). After Camlann, the mortally wounded Arthur insists Bedivere throws Excalibur into the lake; Littleton and Malcor argue that this ritual may have its origins in the Nartz legend when Batraz throws his sword into the sea after his final battle.

A potential link with Lucius Artorius Castus as the figure of Arthur behind medieval European literature was first suggested by Kemp Malone.11 In her re-construction of the career of Lucius Artorius Castus in Britain based on epigraphic evidence and the account of the Caledonian revolt in the 180s AD from Dio Cassius, Malcor presents a serious contender for Arthur, stationed at York, the City of the Legions, recovering much of the north. Malcor reconstructs several Arthurian battle sites along Hadrian's Wall, including Camboglanna, which must have seen heavy fighting against the Picts during the Caledonian invasion in the 2nd century, but does not argue for an northern site for Camlann as Castus did not die in Britain.

Accorded the tittle of 'Dux' Castus left Britannia with two Legions to engage in a Civil War that Malcor claims has strong parallels with Arthur's final battle at Camlann. Malcor argues that Lucius Artorius Castus is the only figure with this name whose military activities in Britain can be traced to the battles of King Arthur and would come in contact with the origins of the Arthurian legend through the Sarmatians (Nartz sagas).12 Malcor's theory was the inspiration behind Antoine Fuqua's 2004 film 'King Arthur' starring Clive Owen, in which she was historical advisor.

Antoine Fuqua's 'King Arthur'
However, as Prefect (Praefectus Legionis) to the Legio VI Victrix, an administrative position usually only held at an advanced age, it is unlikely that Castus actually fought in any battles while serving in Britannia and probably spent most, if not all, of his time at the Legion's headquarters in York. There is certainly no direct evidence that he commanded a contingent of Sarmatian heavy cavalry, which were permanently stationed at Bremetennacum (Ribchester), originally sent to Britannia in 175 AD by Emperor Marcus Aurelius. Dates for Castus's time in Britain vary; indeed, one scholar argues that he may have left Britannia before the Sarmatians arrived.

Malcor claims that before finishing his military career as a Dux Legionum, a term equivalent to Arthur's title of Dux Bellorum, Castus led an expedition of “Britanicimiae” to Armorica (Brittany). The unit's name probably derived from its early service in Britain, however, no units of this name are known to have been active in Britain during the late 2nd Century.

The epigraphic evidence for Castus is  known only from two inscriptions found in Croatia. An inscription on a sarcophagus which was broken in two and set into the wall of the Church of St Martin in Podstrana, Croatia, has been translated as:

“To the divine shades, Lucius Artorius Castus, Centurion of the Third Legion Gallica, also
Centurion of the Sixth Legion Ferrata, also Centurion of the Second Legion Adiutrix, also
Centurion of the Fifth Legion Macedonica, also Chief Centurion of the same Legion, in charge of (Praepositus) the Misenum fleet, Prefect of the Sixth Legion Victrix, Commander of two British Legions against the Armenians, Centenary Procurator of Liburnia with the power of the sword. He himself (set this up) for himself and his family in his lifetime.”

Lucius Artorius Castus inscription
No dates are given in either inscription, and scholars vary on their opinion of Castus' floruit. However, all tend to agree that the expedition of two British Legions was to Armenia not Armorica.13 Yet, even if we concede that Castus may have fought at Camboglanna on Hadrian's Wall during the Caledonian Wars in the 2nd century, the academics favoured location for Camlann, he was certainly not mortally wounded there and died some years later. After retiring from the army he became governor of Liburnia, in Roman Dalmatia (modern Albania and Croatia), where he probably died. In reality, nothing further is known of him.

However, the name is right ('Artorius' could have developed as 'Arthur' when taken into Welsh) and, according to Malcor, he even crosses to Gaul, putting him in direct contention with Geoffrey Ashes's Riothamus.

In The Discovery of Arthur,14 Ashe traces the legend of King Arthur to its roots, as he says, in the 12th-century chronicles of Geoffrey of Monmouth and argues for Riothamus as an actual 5th-century British monarch who crossed to Gaul "by way of ocean" with several thousand British troops as the legendary king of the Britons. Riothamus was betrayed by the local prefect and, claims Ashe, was last seen heading in the direction of Avallon. Here, where the sacred waters of Les Fontaines Salées, in the ‘Avallonnais’ region of Burgundy, with its natural salt springs and mineral waters was known as a healing sanctuary since prehistoric times.15

The 9th century Historia Brittonum (History of the Britons) records that Arthur's eleventh battle was fought on the hill called Agned. Geoffrey of Monmouth identified Monte Agned as Edinburgh, yet ‘Agned,’ has been explained as a corruption of Andegavum, i.e., Angers, capital of Anjou, in the lower Loire Valley. During the 460s Saxons were present on the lower Loire, and for some years in conflict with the Britons who were settling just north of them in Armorica. The Saxons were finally beaten and dispersed in a battle near Angers around 469 by a force of Britons that could have allied with Romans and Franks in the area. These Britons may have been the same force led by Riothamus who would certainly have been in this area around this time before his march on Bourges.

In the preface to the Legend of St. Goeznovius, a Cornish born bishop venerated as a saint around Léon during the 6th century settlement of Britons in Armorica, said to be written by William a Breton chaplain in 1019, it describes the traditional story of Vortigern inviting Saxons into the country until they were driven from the country by King Arthur who fought battles in Britain and in Gaul before being "summoned… from human activity”. Ashe weaves all these threads together to assert that Riothamus was indeed King Arthur, but to make his theory work Ashe is forced to reject any historical evidence for Arthur's presence at either Badon or Camlann.

Further, Rodney Castleden16 suggests we should consider if Arthur's adventures in Brittany are in fact misplaced altogether. Castleden quotes Stuart Piggott who has questioned if this should actually read as a North Welsh campaign; in Latin Gwynedd is 'Armonica' which could easily be confused by a copyist with 'Armorica', the early Latin term for Brittany.

Significantly, the best candidate for a northern Arthur cannot satisfy the requirements of Camlann. The best that we can conclude is that the Gallic excursions of either Lucius Artorious Castus or Riothamus may have provided the inspiration for Geoffrey Monmouth's tale of Arthur's invasion of Gaul. And yet Geoffrey opted for a southern location for Arthur's final battle.

Copyright © 2017 Edward Watson

Notes & References
1. OGS Crawford, Arthur's Battles, Antiquity 9, 1935.
2. Richard Barber, The Figure of Arthur, D S Brewer, 1972.
3. Norma Lorre Goodrich, King Arthur, Harper, 1986.
4. John T Koch, The Gododdin of Aneirin, University of Wales Press, 1997.
5. Leslie Alcock, Arthur's Britain, Penguin, 1971.
6. Eilert Ekwall, English River Names, Oxford University Press, 1927 (Reprint edition, 1968); OGS Crawford, Arthur's Battles, Antiquity 9, 1935.
7. Collingwood and Wright, The Roman Inscriptions of Britain. Vol. 1: Inscriptions on Stone. Oxford: Clarendon. 1965.
8. Tony Wilmott, Birdoswald Roman Fort, EH, 2005, p.12-13.
9. Gildas, On the Ruin of Britain, translated by J. A. Giles and T. Habington.
10. C. Scott Littleton and Linda A. Malcor, From Scythia to Camelot, Garland, 1990.
11. Kemp Malone, Artorius, Modern Philology 23, 1924–1925: pp.367–74.
12. Linda A. Malcor, Lucius Artorius Castus - Part 1: An Officer and an Equestrian, The Heroic Age, Issue 1, Spring/Summer 1999.
Part 2: The Battles in Britain, The Heroic Age, Issue 2, Autumn/Winter 1999.
13. The inscriptions were examined in 2012 during the international conference on Lucius Artorius Castus organized by authors Linda Malcor and John Matthews. Croatian archaeologist Željko Miletić dates Lucius Artorius Castus's military career to circa 121–166 AD and his procurator-ship of the province of Liburnia to circa 167–174 AD.
14. Geoffrey Ashe, The Discovery of Arthur, Henry Holt and Company, 1987.
15. Marilyn Floyde, King Arthur's French Odyssey, 2009.
16. Rodney Castleden, King Arthur: The Truth behind the Legend, Routledge, 2000.

* * *

Thursday, 10 August 2017

Mithras: Roman Religion from Thames to Tyne

Excavations of two Roman sites in Britain during the 1950s revealed a rare glimpse into the Roman mystery religion of Mithraism that flourished throughout the Western Roman Empire from about the 1st to the 4th century.

Tauroctony: Side A (obverse) of a two-sided Mithraic relief. Found at Fiano Romano, near Rome in 1926.
(CIMRM 641, Louvre, Paris. 
By Jastrow - Own work, Public Domain.)

The remains of an underground temple (Mithraeum) was discovered in 1954 at Walbrook, London, dating to the mid 3rd century, yielding an array of archaeological treasures including marble sculptures of Mithras, Minerva and Serapis, now held at the Museum of London.

The first excavation of the Temple of Mithras excavation in 1954 by eminent archaeologist W.F. Grimes
(CIMRM 814 - Mithraeum. Walbrook, London.)

Just four years earlier, 300 miles north at Carrawburgh on Hadrian’s Wall, two subterranean early 3rd century temples provided further evidence of the Mithraic mysteries in Britain including sculptures, religious utensils and three altars dedicated to Mithras by officers of the Roman Army unit stationed there, the First Cohort of Batavians.

Mithraeum, Carrawburgh, Hadrian's Wall

Now the Great North Museum: Hancock in Newcastle, which houses the Carrawburgh altars, is bringing many of these finds together to offer a rare opportunity to delve into the story of the worship of Mithras in Roman Britain from two different perspectives. As a god worshipped both in the provincial capital of London and on the northern frontier of Hadrian’s Wall.

The synergy between the worship of Mithras in Londinium and on Hadrian’s Wall is as important as it is compelling.

Mithras: Roman Religion from Thames to Tyne is on display in the Hadrian’s Wall gallery at the Great North Museum: Hancock, Newcastle upon Tyne until Sunday 27 August 2017.

* * *

Monday, 31 July 2017

The Survivors of Camlann

An.93. Gueith camlann in qua Arthur et Medraut corruerunt.
[The Strife of Camlann in which Arthur and Medraut fell]1

The Battle of Camlann
It is argued that the earliest reference to the battle of Camlann is found in the 10th century Welsh Annals (Annales Cambriae), recording the conflict in the year An.93, usually interpreted as around 520 - 539 AD.

The entry is often considered to be a genuine historical reference to Arthur, leader of battles. A second entry in the Welsh Annals, 21 years previous, suggested dates range from 490- 510, refers to Arthur's victory at the Battle of Badon:

An.72. Bellum badonis inquo arthur portauit crucem domini nostri ihu xp'i . tribus diebus & tribus noctibus inhumeros suos & brittones uictores fuerunt. 
[The Battle of Badon, in which Arthur carried the Cross of our Lord Jesus Christ for three days and three nights upon his shoulders and the Britons were the victors]2

The Camlann entry in the Annales Cambriae
This entry would appear to confirm the twelve battles listed in section 56 of the 9th century Historia Brittonum (often, incorrectly, attributed to one 'Nennius'), culminating in the battle of Badon:

“Then Arthur along with the kings of Britain fought against them in those days, but Arthur himself was the military commander ["dux bellorum"]. His first battle was at the mouth of the river which is called Glein. His second, third, fourth, and fifth battles were above another river which is called Dubglas and is in the region of Linnuis. The sixth battle was above the river which is called Bassas. The seventh battle was in the forest of Celidon, that is Cat Coit Celidon. The eighth battle was at the fortress of Guinnion, in which Arthur carried the image of holy Mary ever virgin on his shoulders; and the pagans were put to flight on that day. And through the power of our Lord Jesus Christ and through the power of the blessed Virgin Mary his mother there was great slaughter among them. The ninth battle was waged in the City of the Legion. The tenth battle was waged on the banks of a river which is called Tribruit. The eleventh battle was fought on the mountain which is called Agnet. The twelfth battle was on Mount Badon in which there fell in one day 960 men from one charge by Arthur; and no one struck them down except Arthur himself, and in all the wars he emerged as victor.”3

The author of the Historia states that Arthur was victorious in all his battles, presumably just the twelve as he does not include Camlann, which is found in the Welsh Annals appended to the Historia in Harlian manuscript 3859. The so-called Arthurian battle list has been said to be based on an old Welsh poem celebrating the victorious Arthur, such as Taliesin's poems in praise of Urien of Rheged. However, others argue that many of the battles in the list, such as the City of the Legions is a reference to the battle of Chester which occurred about a hundred years after Badon in 615 AD, could not have been fought by the same man and has been incorrectly attributed to Arthur to simply make the total up to the significant number of twelve.

That Badon was a real event is not disputed as the battle is recorded by the contemporary Gildas, and later by Bede. But the Badon entry in the Welsh Annals looks suspiciously similar to the section on the eighth battle at Guinnion in the Historia Brittonum in which Arthur carried an image of the Virgin on his shoulders. Camlann then is often argued for as the only genuine historical reference to Arthur. The entry begins with the word “Guieth”, Welsh for “battle”, when the Badon entry begins with the Lation word “Bellum”. This signifies a Welsh source for the Camlann entry; however, the use of the word “guieth” is not unique to this entry; indeed, there are several uses of the word in the Welsh Annals which all may reflect a Welsh source.

It is often argued by academics favouring a northern Arthur that the site of the battle of Camlann was at Camboglanna, a Roman fort on the western sector of Hadrian's Wall, usually identified as Birdoswald. No doubt the Post-Roman re-occupation of the fort adds to the Arthurian association, yet the fort at Birdoswald has now been correctly identified as Banna, not Camboglanna which was actually the Roman fort of Castlesteads, situated above the river known as the Cam Beck, which may actually provide a better explanation for the name, although sadly nothing remains above ground today of the Roman fort there.

Long ago Leslie Alcock argued that the name Camlann is derived from the Brittonic *Cambo-glanna (“crooked bank (of a river)”), as found in the name of the Roman fort of Camboglanna, (“crooked glen”).4

Alcock argues that the Romano-British name of “Camboglanna” would have evolved into “Camglann” in Old Welsh, whereas the entry in the Welsh Annals appears as “Camlann” (minus the “g”) as it would have appeared in Middle Welsh. This has been interpreted as indicative of a later, rather than contemporary, insertion into the 10th century Annals.5

This has then raised doubts on the authenticity of the Camlann entry in the Welsh Annals; if it is indeed an insertion by a later hand it may not be a genuine reference at all, although Arthur is always associated with Camlann in Welsh tradition. Unless a reference was known to exist in another Middle Welsh source the entry could indeed appear to be spurious. The Camlann entry in the Welsh Annals is said to be unique and not referenced in any earlier source; this is not correct, as there is an earlier text which may have provided the source the Welsh Annals.

The 13th century Black Book of Carmarthen contains a list of the graves of the heroes of Britain, known as 'The Stanzas of the Graves' (Englynion y Beddau). The series of englynion, or short stanzas, in Middle Welsh, is thought to be considerably older than its earliest manuscript, possibly dating to the 9th century on linguistic evidence. The Stanzas of the Graves is often neglected in the search for a source for the battle of Camlann, but the 12th stanza records:

The grave of Osfran's son at Camlan, 
after much battle; 
the grave of Bedwyr on the slope of Tryfan.6

If only we knew who Osfran's son was and where he was buried we could locate Camlann.

Cause of the Battle
The Welsh Annals provide no clue as to the location of Camlann or indeed the cause of the battle, yet Welsh tradition remembers the battle as a futile event that resulted in much slaughter on both sides.

Significantly, Welsh sources never remember the Battle of Camlann as a major event in the wars against advancing barbarians during the post-Roman years in Britain. On the contrary, Camlann is remembered as being caused by in-fighting between the Britons; perhaps confirmed by the 6th century account of Gildas who recorded in section 26 of his complaint against the clergy and the kings of Britain (De Excidio et Conquestu Britanniae), that following the victory at Badon foreign wars ceased, but civil troubles continued.

The tale of Culhwch and Olwen includes a short line that suggests that the battle was planned, perhaps with the deliberate intention of bringing down Arthur. In Culhwch we find that “Gwyn the Irascible, overseer of Cornwall and Devon” was one of the nine who plotted the battle of Camlan.7

This scheming of Camlan is confirmed in the later tale of the Dream of Rhonabwy (Breudwyt Rhonabwy). In his dream, Rhonabwy is riding across the the Plain of Argyngroeg, towards Rhyd y Groes on the Severn, when he meets a rider. The horseman identifies himself as 'Iddawc the son of Mynyo', also known as ‘Iddawc Cordd Prydain’, meaning the ‘Agitator of Britain’, so named, he explains, because of his role as provocateur in the battle of Camlan. Idawc tells Ronabwy that he was sent as a messenger by Arthur to his cousin Medraut in order to secure peace between him and Arthur at Camlan. Iddawc tells how Arthur’s effort failed because he did not pass on Arthur’s fair words, but instead he passed on insults to Medraut, thus provoking the battle. Three nights before the end of the battle Iddawc left them, and went to the Llech Las in North Britain to do penance for seven years.8

The Triads of the Island of Britain (Trioedd Ynys Prydein) record the battle as the worst of “The Three Futile Battles of the Island of Britain” because of a quarrel between Arthur's wife Gwenhwyfar and her sister Gwenhwyfach.

Camlann is recorded in five of the Triads of the Island of Britain, as detailed by Rachel Bromwich:

[30] Three Faithless Warbands of the Island of Britain; the warband of Alan Fyrgan who deserted him during the night and let him go to Camlan, where he was slain.

[51] Three Men of Shame of the Island of Britain; the third and worst was Medrawd who took the Island while Arthur was on the continent in conflict with the emperor. This late Triad, which Bromwich dates to around 1400, clearly follows Geoffrey of Monmouth's fictional Arthurian history and can be rejected as being of any use in the search for Camlann.

[53] Three Sinister Hard Slaps of the Island of Britain; the second was when Gwehwyfach struck Gwenhwyfar, and because of this the Battle of Camlan took place.

[59] Three Unfortunate Counsels of the Island of Britain; the third, the threefold division by Arthur of his men with Medrawd at Camlan.

[84] Three Futile Battles of the Island of Britain; the third was the worst, that was Camlan, which was brought about because of Gwenhwyfar's contention with Gwenhwyfach.9

Bromwich adds that the Triads contribute substantially to the body of evidence which shows that knowledge of the battle was prominent in early Arthurian tradition and was well known to the Gogynfeirdd, the Poets of the Princes, who flourished from the 12th to the second half of the 14th century.

Then there are those that argue for a mythological explanation for Camlann. Because of the battles persistent association with Gwenhyfar, Thomas (Caitlin) Green, among others, argues for an Otherworldly conflict rather than a historical basis. Green stresses that Gwenhyfar is one of Arthur's possessions that he brings back from the Otherworld along with his knife, shield and sword (as argued by Patrick Ford10). Indeed in an early account of Gwenhyfar's abduction by the king of the summerland, Arthur rescues her from Avalon (Annwn). Caradoc of Llancarfan's account of the abduction of Gwenhyfar, as contained in the Vita Gildae, betrays traces of an Otherworld adventure, belonging, with the likes of the poem Spoils of Annwn, a Celtic supernatural excursion. This echoes the earliest abduction stories such as the possibility of influence from the Greek Persephone myth.

'King Arthur's Stone' Slaughterbridge, Cornwall

The Survivors of Camlann

The British antiquarian view tended to follow Geoffrey of Monmouth in locating the battle on the river Camel in Cornwall. The attraction no doubt being the 6th century inscribed stone said to mark the spot where King Arthur and Medraut fell at Slaughterbridge between Camelford and Tintagel. The stone, often referred to as 'King Arthur's Stone', bearing both ogham and Latin inscriptions ('Latinus son of Macarus lies here') is now accepted as a memorial to an unknown local Celtic leader with no connection whatsoever with Arthur.

The early Welsh poets clearly remembered Camlann as a particularly bloody affair with few survivors, yet always connected with Gwenhwyfar. As with the earliest accounts, the battle is clearly an episode in Welsh history, fought on Welsh soil, and the recorded survivors are also from Wales.

The tale of Culhwch and Olwen survives in only two manuscripts. The earliest version survives as a fragmented version in the early 14th century White Book of Rhydderch, while a complete version can be found in the later Red Book of Hergest (c.1400). Scholars argue that linguistic evidence indicates the tale took its current form by at least the 11th century, making it the earliest Arthurian tale, a century before Geoffrey of Monmouth produced his Arthurian pseudo-history.

Culhwch and Olwen records three survivors of Arthur's battle at Camlann:

“... Morfran son of Tegid (no man placed his weapon in him at Camlan, so exceeding ugly was he; all thought he was a devil helping. There was hair on him like the hair of a stag), and Sandde Angel-face (no one placed his spear in him at Camlan, so exceeding fair was he; all thought he was an angel helping), and Cynwyl the Saint (one of the three men that escaped from Camlan. He was the last to part from Arthur, on Hengroe0n his horse).....”

Culhwch is given forty difficult tasks (anoethau) to complete by Ysbaddaden chief-giant if he wants to win the hand of his daughter, Olwen. One such task is “The cauldron of Diwrnach the Irishman, the overseer of Odgar son of Aedd king of Ireland, to boil meat for thy wedding guests.

Culhwch's ordeal may be alluded to in a 9th century poem attributed to Taliesin known, as The Spoils of Annwn (Prieddu Annwn), which features a raid on the Otherworld to retrieve the cauldron of the chief of Annwn. At the end of each verse the poem repeats that “none, save seven, returned.

A similar account is recalled in the Second Branch of the Mabinogi, Branwen, Daughter of Llŷr. When the battle erupts the Irish start to use a magic cauldron to revive their dead. The battle ends in mass slaughter for both sides, with only five pregnant women surviving to repopulate Ireland and, in addition to Branwen, only seven survivors remained of the army of the Island of the Mighty to return to Britain. Clearly there is much synergy between the two tales, where, in the Tale of Branwen and Culhwch and Olwen, Ireland has become a euphemism for the Otherworld. It is tempting to see this as three accounts of the same tale, perhaps the original Arthurian tale.

Indeed, a later account found in 17th century manuscript suggested that, just like the Tale of Branwen and the Spoils of Annwn, there were in fact seven survivors of Camlann:

“Here are the names of the men who escaped from the battle of Camlan: Sandde Angel's form because of his beauty, Morfran son of Tegid because of his ugliness, St Cynfelyn from the speed of his horse, St Cedwyn from the world's blessing, St Pedrog from the strength of his spear, Derfel the Strong for his strength, Geneid the Tall from his speed. The year of Christ when the battle of Camlan took place was 542.”

The Location of Camlann
We saw above how The Stanzas of the Graves (Englynion y Beddau) associate the grave of Osfran's son with the site of Camlann. Osfran is only known from one other work, a 12th century poem to St Cadfan by Llywelyn the Bard. Cadfan, a 6th century Breton nobleman, is said to have sailed to Tywyn, Merionethshire, with twelve other saints. He is claimed to have founded a church at Llangadfan in northern Powys before moving on to Bardsey, around 516. If Osfran's son was contemporary with Cadfan he would have been the right age to have fought at Camlan.

The A470 at Bwlch Oerddrws in winter
Notably, most of the early Welsh accounts always refer to 'Camlan', spelt with one 'n'. We find the name spelt exactly this way at Camlan, a township in Mallwyd parish, Merioneth, on the river Dovey, two miles south of Dinas Mawddwy, now part of Gwynedd. The location survives on modern maps as Camlan Isaf, Camlan Uchaf, Bron Camlan and Maes Camlan. Significantly, Camlan is located near the pass of Bwlch Oerddrws on the main A470 road between Dinas Mawddwy and Dolgellau, a strategic pass between North and South Wales.

Just a little north of Dolgellau we find the Afon Gamlan, a river rising on the south side of the Rhinogydd mountain range that runs down from Cwm Camlan into the Eden and then joins the Mawddach at Ganllwyd, north of Dolgellau. The old Roman Road known as Sarn Helen would have crossed the Gamlan in this desolate valley.

In conclusion, all the evidence points to the site of the battle of Camlan(n), and its subsequent survivors, being located in mid-Wales.

Copyright © 2017 Edward Watson

Notes & References
1. The Welsh Annals, The Annales Cambriae, James Ingram, translator, Everyman Press, 1912. The primary text of this translation is from the Harleian manuscript, the earliest copy of the Annales Cambriae which has survived.
2. Ibid.
3. The History of the Britons (Historia Brittonum), Chapter 56 translated by Alan Lupack, The Camelot Project
4. Leslie Alcock, Arthur's Britain, Penguin, 1979, p.67.
5. John T Koch, Celtic Culture, ABC-CLIO, 2006.
6. John K Bollard, Anthony Griffiths, Englynion y Beddau: The Stanzas of the Graves, Gwasg Carreg Gwalch, 2015.
7. Culhwch and Olwen, in The Mabinogion, translated and edited by Gwynn Jones and Thomas Jones, Everyman Press, 1967.
8. The Dream of Rhonabwy, in The Mabinogion, translated and edited by Gwynn Jones and Thomas Jones, Everyman Press, 1967.
9. Rachel Bromwich, Trioedd Ynys Prydein, Third Edition, UWP, 1996.
10. Patrick K. Ford, ‘On the Significance of some Arthurian Names in Welsh’, Bulletin of the Board of Celtic Studies 30, 1983.

* * * 

Monday, 24 July 2017

The Land of Taliesin

“Then I was for nine months
In the womb of the hag Ceridwen
I was originally little Gwion,
And at length I am Taliesin”

Taliesin's Grave
To start at the end. Marked on Ordnance Survey maps as Bedd Taliesin this little dolmen near Gwar cwm uchaf in the Parish of Llanfihangel Genau-y-Glynn is situated close to a minor road east of Tal-y-Bont on the west-facing slopes of Moel-y-Garn overlooking the Dovey Estuary in mid-west Wales. Said to be the remains of a Bronze Age round kerb cairn, this enigmatic megalithic structure has been badly disturbed with the comparatively small capstone, barely six foot long, today propped up on a pile of stones, it seems the original supporting stones were long ago robbed for gateposts, exposing the stone-lined cist grave many years ago. This is the traditional grave of the Bard Taliesin.

Bedd Taliesin
Coflien, the online database for the National Monuments Record of Wales (NMRW), describes the site as being “situated on a level shelf below a craggy hill to the SE, an asymmetrical cairn, 12m NNE-SSW by 13m, showing elements of an apparent kerb, c.6.0m in diameter, having a ruinous cist, 2.0m by 0.5m, a displaced capstone, 1.75m by 1.1m lying to the N: the burial place of Taliesin.”1

This prehistoric burial-mound has never been properly excavated by archaeologists, although it has clearly been disturbed on several occasions and a skull was reportedly removed from the site before 1800. Possibly owing to its isolation Bedd Taliesin is ignored by most studies of prehistoric chamber tombs in Wales. Scott Lloyd's recent publication 'The Arthurian Place Names of Wales' (University of Wales Press, 2017) fails to mention the grave of the bard. Perhaps the reason why Bedd Taliesin is ignored by so many is that it does not fit within the usual convenience of geographical grouping, such as The Black Mountain Group, The Gower Peninsula, Anglesey, Harlech and so on. In most of these groups tombs are found within a couple of miles or so of each other, rarely in isolation.

Indeed, Daniel's inventory omits Bedd Taliesin altogether. Under Cardiganshire (Ceredigion) Daniel writes, “At the present day there are no undoubtedly authentic remains of burial chambers in Cardiganshire, but there can be little doubt that some sites formerly existed along the coast, from the literary references that exist.2 He goes on list twelve 'lost' sites in the area but does not include Taliesin's grave.

Odd that Daniel is aware of the additions to Edmund Gibson's edition of Camden's Britannia (1695), by the antiquary Edward Lhuyd, which he references in his catalogue of prehistoric chambered tombs,3 yet this is precisely where we find the earliest reference to Bedd Taliesin:

“Gwely Taliesin, in the parish of Llanfihangel Genau'r Glyn . . . ought to be the grave of the celebrated Poet Taliesin ben beirdd, who flourished about the year 540. This grave or bed . . . seems also to be a sort of Cistfaen, 4 feet long,- and 3 in breadth, composed of 4 stones, 1 at each end and 2 side-stones ; whereof the highest is about a foot above ground. I am far from believing that ever Taliesin was interred here.”4

In 'A Gentlemen's Tour Through Monmouthshire and Wales' (1781) Henry P Wyndham described the site thus, “The spurious sepulchre of the Bard Taliesin, who flourished in the 6th century and one which stood near the highways, has, within these five years, been entirely plundered and the broken stones are now converted into gateposts.”5

As a prehistoric tomb Bedd Taliesin seems genuine enough and said to date from the Early Bronze Age but has the typical appearance of a Neolithic monument. So why is it ignored; is it the association with Taliesin? There is a similar ignorance with 'Bedd Arthur' situated on the Preseli ridge in Pembrokeshire, south-west Wales, another site never excavated.

The Bard Taliesin 
Taliesin is regarded as a genuine poet of the 6th century. He is first mentioned in the 9th century Historia Brittonum (History of the Britons); “at that time, Talhaiarn Tataguen was famed for poetry, and Neirin, and Taliesin and Bluchbard, and Cian, who is called Guenith Guaut, were all famous at the same time in British poetry.” The Historia adds that this was during the time of Maelgwn Gwynedd, who according to the Annales Cambriae (Welsh Annals) died in 547 of yellow plague.

Of these five early poets only the works of Aneirin and Talisen has survived. Aneirin is famed for 'Y Goddodin', a series of elegies to the men of the North British kingdom who died in battle at Catraeth. The poetry attributed to Taliesin is found in the 'Llyfr Taliesin' (The Book of Taliesin) a 14th century manuscript (Peniarth MS 2) containing a collection of some of the oldest poems in Welsh, many of them in praise of Urien Rheged (c.530-590) and his son Owain ab Urien, rulers of the kingdom of Rheged, and Cynan Garwyn, ruler of Powys who flourished in the second half of the 6th century.  Ifor Williams identified twelve of the poems in the manuscript as being the work of a historical Taliesin, or at least contemporary with Urien and Cynan.6

The Book of Taliesin also contains prophetic and legendary poems such as 'Preiddeu Annwfn' recalling Arthur and his warriors journey to the Otherworld to steal the cauldron of the Head of Annwfn in which only seven return, presumably Taliesin is one as he includes himself on the trip. Preiddeu Annwfn has been dated to the 9th century, so could not have written by a Taliesin of the 6th century. Llyfr Taliesin was copied by a single scribe in south-east Wales in the 14th century. By the middle of the 17th century The Book of Taliesin had reached the famous library of Robert Vaughan (c.1592-1667) at Hengwrt, a mansion near Dolgellau in Merionethshire.

It is thought that the historical Taliesin was probably born in Powys, as demonstrated by the poems to Cynan Garwyn, 6th century ruler of the region. It should be of no surprise that the same community would also want to claim his grave but the prehistoric tomb Bedd Taliesen clearly has no proven connection with the historical Taliesin.

Indeed, the location of the Bard's grave seems to have been influenced by the 16th century 'Hanes Taliesin' (Historia Taliesin, or The Tale of Taliesin), which locates the story in North and Mid-Wales rather than the British Kingdoms of the Old North (Yr Hen Ogledd) with which the historical poet was associated. The 'Hanes Taliesin' is a legendary account of the life of Taliesin first recorded in the mid-16th century by Elis Gruffydd, consequently Ifor Williams postulated that there are essentially “two Taliesins”; one historical, who existed in the 6th century, the other a mythical, medieval creation.

The Tale of Taliesin 
This tale is set in the days of Arthur when the legendary Taliesin started life as Gwion Bach, a servant to Ceridwen, wife of Tegid Foel. She was a witch who had a son named Morfran (Great Crow), who was so ugly he became known as Afagddu (or Y Fagddu) after the pitch black night. Ceridwen sought to give him the gift of wisdom and knowledge to compensate for his ugliness. She consulted her book on the arts and made a special brew from the herbs of the earth to give him Inspiration (Awen). This brew has to be cooked for a year and a day in a cauldron that is continuously stirred.

Ceridwen assigned a nameless blindman to stir the cauldron, while Gwion Bach stoked the fire underneath it. The first three drops from this cauldron would give the recipient extraordinarily wisdom and the gift of prophecy and the rest of the brew would be a fatal poison. While Ceridwen was asleep the three drops splashed out of the cauldron on Gwion Bach, instantly giving him the gift of wisdom. We hear no more of Morfran who, deprived of the brew, remains ugly and unenlightened, but in Culhwch and Olwen he is named as one of the three survivors of Camlann, Arthur's final battle.

Knowing that Ceridwen would be very angry once she found out Gwion ran away. Once she awoke Ceridwen ran after him. He first turned himself into a hare and she became a greyhound in pursuit. He then changed into a fish and leapt into a river: she then turned into an otter. He then turned into a bird in the air, and she became a hawk. Eventually, Ceridwen forced Gwion into a barn, where he turned into a single grain of corn. She then turned into a hen and ate him.

Ceridwen became pregnant because of this. Knowing it was Gwion she carried she resolved to kill the child at birth; but when he was born he was so beautiful that she couldn't bring herself to do it, so she had him put into a basket and throw him into the sea. The baby was found in a fish weir by Elphin, the son of Gwyddno Garanhir, the Lord of Ceredigion, while fishing for salmon. On seeing the boy's 'radiant forehead', he names him “Taliesin”. The babe then sang poetry to Elphin who took him home and gave him to his wife, where they raised him as their own. At the age of thirteen Taliesin wins a contest against Maelgwn's bards to release Elphin who is held captive following a chastity test of his wife.

This tale, like the poems of the historical Taliesin, is set in the 6th century and the days of Maelgwn Gwynedd, but it is essentially two tales in one; the first part, before Elphin's appearance, is known as 'The Tale of Gwion Bach' and is found in many manuscripts. The second part, 'The Tale of Taliesin' records the exploits of the young boy Taliesin, and is not so common but was recounted by Thomas Love Peacock's later novel 'The Misfortunes of Elphin'.

Celtic scholar Patrick Ford sees the separation of the two parts as straightforward, as 'The Tale of Gwion' deals with magic potions, shape-shifting and set in the days of the legendary King Arthur, a supernatural world similar to that found in 'Culhwch and Olwen'. Whereas the second part,  'The Tale of Taliesin', feels to have more of a historical bias. Ford states that, “while the two parts are chronologically consecutive, they are worlds apart in setting, and perhaps, in audience.7

Although indeed an ancient tale, the earliest account of The Tale of Gwion is found in the 16th century work of  Elis Gruffydd which he related to an oral account. Although Ifor Williams is surely correct in arguing that Bedd Taliesin has no connection with the historical poet Taliesin, this land of Wales is undoubtedly the home of the later Taliesin of legend and folklore.

Surviving Camlann
As we have seen above Morfran disappears from The Tale of Gwion Bach when Gwion gains wisdom, but enclosed within a Triad in Culhwch and Olwen he is named as one of the three survivors of Camlann, Arthur's final battle:

“....and Morfran son of Tegid (no man placed his weapon in him at Camlan, so exceeding ugly was he; all thought he was a devil helping. There was hair on him like the hair of a stag), and Sandde Angel-face (no one placed his spear in him at Camlan, so exceeding fair was he; all thought he was an angel helping), and Cynwyl the Saint (one of the three men that escaped from Camlan. He was the last to part from Arthur, on Hengroen his horse)...”8

Later tradition records seven survivors of Camlann which agrees with the seven survivors of the raid on the Otherworld to steal a magic cauldron recorded in the poem 'Preiddeu Annwfn' from the Book of Taliesin, the bard himself is presumably one as he accompanies Arthur on the journey and returns to tell the tale. This theme recurs in the Second Branch of the Mabinogi, the tale of 'Branwen uerch Llyr' in which the army of the Island of the Mighty carry out a raid on Ireland over a Cauldron of Rebirth. In this version, again, only seven survive, and once more, Taliesin is among them.

However, both accounts of the survivors of Camlann, Culhwch and the later account, include the three, Sandde Angel's Form, Morfran son of Tegid, and St. Cynfelyn which seems to hold some geographic significance to the tradition of Arthur's final battle. Indeed, by plotting the location of these survivors we may be able to pinpoint the battle site.

The Tale of Gwion Bach starts at Bala (Llyn Tegid), as Morfran son of Tegid affirms. About 20 miles south west of Bala is a valley called Camlan, at Mallwyd on the A470 road, near Dinas Mawddwy, south-east of Dolgellau. A further 20 miles south west of Camlan we are back at Bedd Taliesin.

Adjacent to the parish of Llanfihangel Genau-y-Glynn, and midway between the towns of Aberystwyth and Machynlleth in north Ceredigion, is the parish of Llangynfelyn centred on the villages of Tre-Taliesin and Tre'r Ddôl and the settlements of Llangynfelyn, and Craig y Penrhyn. The parish is named from the church of St Cynfelyn, about a mile north-west of Tre-Taliesin. The church, a Grade II listed building unfortunately now derelict, is situated within a roughly circular churchyard, indicative of an early Celtic 'llan'. A healing well, Ffynnon Gynfelin, is situated on the north side of the churchyard.

We know little of the life of Saint Cynfelyn and his festival does not occur in any of the Welsh calendars. However he is considered a real person who lived in the 6th century. He is said to have become a hermit, probably after the slaughter of Camlan, setting up his cell in the area on the edge of Cors Fochno (Borth bog) where the church dedicated to the saint now stands. It seems significant that one of the survivors of the Battle of Camlann should spend his last days just 20 mile south-west of the only location in the land to bear that name.

Sarn Gynfelyn
Situated on the Ceredigion coastline, between Borth and Aberystwyth, is a reef or causeway, known as Sarn Cynfelyn, extending some seven miles out to sea. This causeway was popularly believed to be associated with the sunken land known as Cantre'r Gwaelod inundated in the 6th century. The five causeways (sarnau) extending into the Cardigan Bay are relics of glacial moraine deposited during the last ice age forming natural reefs of boulders and shingle washed clean by the sea over thousands of years.

The submerged forest 
About 5 miles north of Sarn Gynfelyn is the submerged forest at Ynyslas, which is also associated with the legend of the drowned land. Here on the coastline is the exposed remains of a forest of oak, pine, birch, willow and hazel tree stumps is revealed at low tide, estimated to be about 5,000 years old. This is clearly proof that land in Cardigan Bay was flooded years ago; the legend of Cantre'r Gwaelod is based on the ancient memory of a real event.

Legend claims that after the inundation the king of Ceredigion, Gwyddno Garanhir, brother of Maelgwn Gwynedd, relocated his court to dry land, and established his main port at Porth Wyddno (modern Borth). Nearby, between Aberdyfi and Aberystwyth, he had a fishing weir constructed. As recent as the 18th century there were reports of sightings of the remains of human habitation at the far end of Sarn Cynfelyn, where a collection of large stones and boulders some seven miles out to sea form a reef known as 'Caer Wyddno', the fort, or palace, of Gwyddno. This is one of the sites claimed to be where the babe Taliesin was found in the fish weir.

Bedd Taliesin may have no connection with the historical Taliesin of the 6th century. However, it is for the individual to decide whether the land of Wales, where every rock, every mountain, every lake has a story to tell, is richer for possessing the legendary and folkloric Taliesin of the later medieval tales, or poorer. For me there is only one choice.

Copyright © 2017 Edward Watson

Notes & References:
1. Bedd Taliesin, Coflein website.
2. Glynn E Daniel, The Prehistoric Chamber Tombs of England and Wales, Cambridge University Press, 1950, p.215.
3. Ibid. p.118.
4. The first known mention of the grave is made by Edward Lhuyd in 1695 in the additions to Edmund Gibson's edition of Camden's Britannia, p. 647.
5. Chris Barber and John Godfrey Williams, The Ancient Stones of Wales, Blorenge Books, 1989, p.118.
6. Ifor Williams, The Poems Of Taliesin, The Dublin Institute Of Advanced Studies, 1987.
7. Patrick K Ford, The Tale of Gwion Back and The Tale of Taliesin, pp.159-187, in The Mabinogi and Other Medieval Welsh Tales, 30th Anniversary Edition, Univerity of California Press, 2008.
8. Thomas Jones and Gwynn Jones, Culhwch and Olwen, from The Mabinogion, Everyman Press, 1993.

* * *