Tuesday, May 27, 2008
Arthur Guinevere and.....Mordred
In our final episode about Arthur, we should some up aspects about what made him a real Dux bellorum (leader of Battles). Arthur was a real warleader, a Christian who may have been a petty king of Ercing , who was nonetheless a flawed personality in the spiritual sense.. There is no reason , ion view of this to doubt his being buried in Glastonbury in the Christian manner , without grave goods and facing towards Jerusalem. A shard of long blonde hair was also found in that of his queen, and Geoffrey of Monmouth had wintnessed it. By the time it was discovered, Glastonbury Abbey was a famous and very rich abbey and had no need to advertise Arthur as a ‘draw’. In addition Arthur was not a great public saint, but a war leader.
There have been many tales told about Arthur and all sorts of romantic mediaeval chivalric additions, most fictitious yet which have endured from mediaeval times. Arthur was a Christian King, he carried a statue of the Virgin on his shoulders at one of his battles and he was always chastened when he came up against the saints. He is said to have been Dux Bellorum, the war leader who led the natives of the island of Britain and mercenaries from Ireland , Brittany and even Saxaons against the Saxon tribes and defeated them at Mount Badon. This could be Bedwyn, but for many reasons Christopher Gidlow suggests North Wales.
The evidence for his life rests on De Exicidae Britannicae by Gildas, who lived just after the reign of Arthur and the book is named ‘The Ruin of Britain’. Gildas, of Pictish extraction tells the tale of the ferocious civil war that ensued after Arthur’s death.
There is an oral tradition, then ancient, that Northern Britons heard the tale of a fallen hero called Guarthur. The bard brought before all Arthur’s generosity with his horses and the slaughter that ensued. This was at Cattraeth. The oral tradition of this must have been much older, the poem being passed on from generation to generation-but only a few hundred years before it was written down.
Links Arthur also to Gwent, the elite Romanised Silurians at Caerwent, the hillfort chieftains of Glwyssing (Glwys father of Woolos/Gwynlliw) Most particularly he is linked to Ercing , which is now mostly Herefordshire . We also have the story of Arthur in the mountain near Brycheiniog when Woolos is trying to carry of Gwladys of Brycheiniog. There is a possibility that he was a sub king of Ercing.(part of Hereford) It was customary for young boys to be placed with a foster family and after the death of Uther, and Ygraine’s later marriage to the Chieftain of the Bretons . Uther and Ygraine who were afterwards married also gave birth to a daughter Anna, who gave birth to Medraut or Mordred. Ygraine then married King Budicus of Brittany after Uther Pendragon was poisoned by Saxons after just driving them out of St Albans to which they had advanced. Ygraine and Budicus gave birth to Hoel, who was Arthur’s loyal step brother who supported him in his campaigns.
Petty King of Ercing but Magister Milites
Arthur probably would have grown up in the petty royal family in Ercing as a relative and a foster brother to Kai and Bedwyr (Kay and Bedevere) who do feature in the mediaeval tales, but they were warriors and officials like Arthur. Uther and Ambrosius were brothers, and when Ambrosius was killed, Uther became the Pen Draco-the chief Warleader. We have every reason to believe Arthur was baptised as a child. Glwyssing and Gwent were strongholds of Christian faith.
This is not to say that he did not live in other parts of Britain from time to time. As a war leader, also a Pendragon, or Magister Milites (Master of Soldiers) he was called to fight the Saxons all over Britain as well as Caerleon. There is evidence in Kent, which may have been reached cross country over the Ridgeway to the Chilterns and then South. There is evidence in the North of Britain. There is even evidence that he fought in Gaul from the Breton ‘Life of Saint Gouesnou’ where the author monk writes ‘Their pride is checked for a while by the great Arthur, King of the Britons ‘ who ‘famously wins many battles in Britain and parts of Gaul’.(Ashe 1982)
Pentecost Celebration Feast
The great ‘Coronation Feast’ at Caerleon is clearly an embroidery of what may have just been a celebration of victory or peace after war. The imagery is that of a chivalric twelfth century. The idea that the celebration took place at the ancient Roman amphitheatre is quite plausible. It was the only large area which could take such a wealth of gathered leaders, who had come to join Arthur, recognising has power as a great general. He may have been a petty king of Ercing in North Gwent, but could not have been crowned King of Britons. The function of warleader was generally not that of kings. It may even have been a wedding feast with Gwenhwyfar. We may never know because of Geoffrey’s different interpretation of the event.However, this was a great and still magnificent Roman city and it is here to St Julian’s Convent that Gwynhafr fled to spend the rest of her days.
Badon Hill (Mons Badonis) and the evil Saxons!!!
We know he actually existed because of his achievement in the victory of Badon Hill. Common sense dictates that somebody co-ordinated the siege of Badon Hill. Small kingdoms joined together to fight the encroaching Saxons. They were a pest, killers of Tecla, Tegfedd, possibly even Tyfil, they attacked Mamhilad in Pontypool and fought against Tewdrig and Meurig in warbands. There is evidence the Saxons and Angles were beginning to band together and make a real ‘push’ to colonise Britain, pushing the remaining British into Wales, not bothering much with Ireland, and pushing the Cymrics (from Cumbria) even further north, into the land of the Picts and Scots. They put large numbers of small monastic settlements to the sword, only keeping those they needed as slaves. We have evidence from the Book of Llandaff that large numbers of refugees crossed the Wye and the Severn.
Warlords often employed by kings
The Victor at Badon was a military commander, the political realities of the time blurred the distinction between military and civilian, even in our own day we have had military leaders holding civil office, most are dictators, General Franco, Fidel Castro in Cuba was a military government, the leadership in present Burma, even the notorious Saddam Hussein. Warlords amalgamated small kingdoms all over the West of Britain so some sorty of person must co-ordinated the resistance to the siege of the Saxons. There were still British ‘enclaves’ in the East of Britain. What we are reffing to is he Western Kingdom now known as Britannia. So this Federation of the kingdoms of Western Brtain, for its own preservation joined into a defensive fource under a great warlord. ‘The co-incidence’, says Christopher Gidlon ‘between a British Magister Militum, and a supporting civil authority, waging wars against the Saxons in the generation before Gildas and Maglocunus , Arther the Warleader of the Historia Brittonum and The Gododdin is obvious. It is likely they were one and the same person. The only counter argument is unlikely; that all in the British Kingdoms. The true name of the man who led the resistance was forgotten and replaced with another man who did not’
Historia Brittonum is not the only text referring to Arthur. The Annales Cambriae (Welsh Chronicles) also support his existence at Badon and also his death in a battle of a different nature of a civil war. Gidlow writes, ‘Y Gododdin, Historia and Annales l describe the real man, the victor of the Battle of Badon, and are perfectly consistent with historical reality
Stories of the Welsh and Gwentian Saints
In the stories of the Welsh saints, you see nothing of his fighting of the Saxons and it would be easy to imply that the references were there to make them more interesting. What I believe they are are spiritual snapshots of Arthur’s real personality. The would be seducer of Gwenhwyfar, the childish withholder of Carannog’s altar, the jealous person coveting Padarns holy robe. Perhaps the stories show that the great saints played their part in taming the wild and undisciplined kings. Arthur could overstep the mark and he struck so hard at one battle in the North of England that all the clergy came bare headed and bare footed to beg for mercy for the defeated.
Draco-Dragon Dragon a ruthless and cruel ruler
Interestingly dragon (Draco) is a name given to a dictatorial and cruel Warlord. The story of Carannogs altar (below) would seem to bear out that Arthur was trying to deal with such a renegade war leader, acting as a sort of sixth century policeman.
The legendary and chivalric mediaeval Arthur was an embroidery of Geoffrey, as well as one or two creations of his own . There were so many battles and he added a fictitious gloss, and it is easy to see where he added them and has no bearing on the case that he actually was existed and was buried as a Christian at Glastonbury. The Normans were entraned by the story of the ancient Britons. They despised the Saxons and it is largely due to the Norman Monks that subsequent histories were written, with confusing locations and so forth. The battle of Badon may have been fought at Bewdyn in Wiltshire or Badon North Wales.
Battle of Camlann
The Battle of Camlann is another case in point. The place where Arthur, Kai, Medraut (Mordred) There is the sixth century inscribed stone under the river at Slaughterbridge in Camelford. Viewble from the bank, but difficult climb and on private land. A ‘King Arthur Centre’ has been opened nearby, but concentrating on the whole legends of Arthur and all material about all the chivalric 13th century. The stories of Arthur were phenomenally exciting to continental Europe and taken across the Kingdoms of the Franks (West Franks) and the to Germany(East Franks) coming through Breton sources. These then became further embroidered by other considerations, Germanic legends and great glittering French stories. Associated characters from Welsh legends like Peredur, become Parzival and Percival, Geraint who was also a real person, somehow gets linked in as one of the knights others seem to be inventions of French and German writers.Drystan, seemingly one of Arthur’s ‘real ‘ associates becomes Tristan (the sad-Fr)and Yseullt his wife Isolde and the story that emerged was irresistible and the basis of a great opera by Wagner, as indeed was Parzival.So the Arthur legends were a mediaeval phenomenon as soon as Geoffrey’s book was translated and copied at Monmouth Priory.
There is also a basis for Camlann in Wales, France and various other places, but the site at Camelford or Wales would have been the most probable because of the proximity to Glastonbury. The tradition of the battle’s site at Slaughterbridge is a powerful one of great antiquity. His adversary was none other but Medraut, his nephew.
Gwenhwyfar and Mordred (Medraut)
Arthur had been away from his queen for a while, especially fighting in Gaul, and left Gwenhwyfar as regent, as a ruler in her own right. It is reasonable to see she would ask for the advice of Arthur’s cousin Medraut and that he might seduce her. Arthur may have turned a blind eye to her adultery, but was reputed in the triads to have struck her hard over this in front of his court. It seems that Medraut had cast his eye over all. Arthurs lands and power and as we said yesterday, having control of the regent meant, he could lay claim to Arthur’s inheritance. This carrying off of brides to gain their husband’s lands was a well known phenomenon. It appears that Gwenhwyfar’s adultery, skirted around by Geoffrey, was known by Gildas and the Triad compilers. This was indeed a ferocious civil war, over a woman. Gwenhwyfar and Medraut (Mordred) flee to York where they are pursued by Arthur’s men. Gwenhwyfar (Guinevere) escapes all the way back to Caerleon and Mordred flees back down south to Cornwall where he raises an army. The Queen enters religious life as St Julian’s Convent,(on the South bank of the Usk between Caerleon , where George Herbert's House once stood) where she later dies and body brought to Glastonbury, to join her husband.The stones from that house are now in the church of Ss Julius and Aaron on Heather Road at St Julians in Newport. The site of the convent was at the end of Haisbro Avenue but Newport have just built a block of luxury flats there on the site of St Julius Martyrdom, the Chapel and George Herbert's house, which was formed from the stones of an earlier building, possibly the nunnery.
The Passing of Arthur
It seems the ageing Arthur and his knights meet Mordred and a powerful force, and in this battle no one won. In a Phyrric victory all died, and the history of Britain after that was ruinous. One bad leader emerged after another and the last the worst of all. There was continuous fighting between the feuding commanders and this weakens the whole of the island of Britain and allows the great influx of Saxon settlers into the areas already won during the time of Uther. Gildas thought little of Guinevere, however, as there is no doubt that this love triangle caused the downfall of the only man capable of leading the Britains in a straight way against the invader . It divided the forces fighting against them, and the moral of the tale, ‘a mortal sin can only end badly’.
One of the worst of the additions of Geoffrey and subsequent writers was to make of Arthur's other cousin Morgan into a wicked sorceress instead of the kindly woman who accompanied Arthur to his last resting place, Ynys Witrin or the place of Apples in Glastonbury.We have to be proud that his stories gave rise to a plethora of tales that have anchanted the world more than Merlin and given everlasting fame to the last great defender of the Britons, who were subsequently overwhelmed by Saxons after civil wars. We can only be proud it was written at Monmouth Benedictine Priory so beautifully preserved and picturesque.
Growth and Development of the Saxon Church after Augustine
But this was the will of God, and when they came, the Saxon brothers, in a period of peace, were newly catechised by Augustine (the Welsh, understandably having nothing to do with evangelising the Saxons) these new Christians, with their zeal and generosity were among the great new saints of the islands, travelling to remote and dangerous places in Germany and France and setting up the Church in a more structured way, so that the Body of Christ which is the church, could support each other and not fall into errors of faith, providing the early link with Peter.
An excellent Source
Christopher Gidlow’s book is excellent, superbly researched with very interesting extras-(what the weapons of the ancient Britons looked like, the Anglo Saxon erivation of Some-saete, Dor Saete, and Devon Dyfneint (Dumnonia Lat) There is a detailed examination of all the evidence-so do buy and read. IBSN0750934190
The Reign of Arthur from History to Legend by Christopher Gidlow (avail amazon)
Great stories will always be great stories and the stories will go on to enchant the people of the world for many years to come.
Gwentian Perspective is considered enthusiastically
His real story closely links him to Gwent. Caerleon is a strong contender and still worth a visit as so many remaining Roman buildings are still standing, baths, a magnificent Roman museum, St Cadoc's Church on the site of the original forum and Temple of Jupiter as well as a complete ruined set of barracks and amphitheatre.The period of peace Arthur fought so hard for. Meurig, son of tewdrig later kept the bulk of the Saxons on the other side of the Severn and Wye in future years. These Saxons were at first pagans and killers and there is no doubt that the Welsh nature of Gwent was saved by Meurig and his men, the great Chieftain of Glamorgan, whose father, Tewdrig died earlier at the Battle of Tintern.
Lastly it is good to realise that after his death within a generation, while holding upin Wales, the Saxons begin to arrive in large numbers, residing in the East and later north and eventually driving out the British from Dumnonia(Devon-Cred's monastery probably disappeared here from Crediton, only retaining the name-the Brits probably fleeing to Cornwall and Sancreed (St Cred) In the new Church the Saxons originally built at Crediton when they had been Christianised, this became the birthplace of Wynfryth or Boniface.