Thursday, 23 June 2011

At Pentecost King Arthur held his Court

Whitsun (also Whitsunday, Whit Sunday or Whit) is the name used in the United Kingdom for the Christian festival of Pentecost, the seventh Sunday after Easter, which commemorates the descent of the Holy Spirit upon Christ's disciples (Acts of the Apostles chapter 2). In England it took on some characteristics of Beltane, which originated from the pagan celebration of Summer's Day, the beginning of the Summer half-year in Europe.

The name is a contraction of “White Sunday”, attested in “The Holy-Ghost”, which thou did send on “Whit-Sunday” in the Old English homilies, and parallel to the mention of hwitmonedei in the early 13th-century Ancrene Riwle. Walter William Skeat noted that the Anglo-Saxon word also appears in Icelandic hvitasunnu-dagr, but that in English the feast was always called Pentecoste until after the Norman Conquest, when white (hwitte) began to be confused with wit or understanding.

Excerpt from The Acts of King Arthur and his Noble Knights by John Steinback

King Arthur held Whitsun court at Winchester, that ancient royal town favored by God and His clergy as well as the seat and tomb of many kings. The roads were clogged with eager people, knights returning to stamp in court the record of their deeds, of bishops, clergy, monks, of the defeated fettered to their paroles, the prisoners of honor. And on Itchen water, pathway from Solent and the sea, the little ships brought succulents, lampreys, eels and oysters, plaice and sea trout, while barges loaded with casks of whale oil and casks of wine came tide borne. Bellowing oxen walked to the spits on their own four hooves, while geese and swans, sheep and swine, waited their turn in hurdle pens. Every householder with a strip of colored cloth, a ribbon, any textile gaiety, hung it from a window to flap its small festival, and those in lack tied boughs of pine and laurel over their doors.

In the great hall of the castle on the hill the king sat high, and next below the fair elite company of the Round Table, noble and decorous as kings themselves, while at the long trestle boards the people were as fitted as toes in a tight shoe. Then while the glistening meat dripped down the tables, it was the custom for the defeated to celebrate the deeds of those who had overcome them, while the victor dipped his head in disparagement of his greatness and fended off the compliments with small defensive gestures of his hands. And as at public penitence sins are given stature they do not deserve, little sins grow up and baby sins are born, so those knights who lately claimed mercy perchance might raise the exploits of the brave and merciful beyond reasonable gratitude for their lives and in anticipation of some small notice of value.

This no one said of Lancelot, sitting with bowed head in his golden-lettered seat at the Round Table. Some said he nodded and perhaps dozed, for the testimony to his greatness was long and the monotony of his victories continued for many hours. Lancelot’s immaculate fame had grown so great that men took pride in being unhorsed by him—even this notice was an honor. And since he had won many victories, it is possible that knights he had never seen claimed to have been overthrown by him. It was a way to claim attention for a moment. And as he dozed and wished to be otherwhere, he heard his deeds exalted beyond his recognition, and some mighty exploits once attributed to other men were brought bright-painted out and laid on the shining pile of his achievements. There is a seat of worth beyond the reach of envy whose occupant ceases to be a man and becomes the receptacle of the wishful longings of the world, a seat most often reserved for the dead, from whom neither reprisal nor reward may be expected, but at this time Sir Lancelot was its unchallenged tenant. And he vaguely heard his strength favorably compared with elephants, his ferocity with lions, his agility with deer, his cleverness with foxes, his beauty with the stars, his justice with Solon, his

stern probity with St. Michael, his humility with newborn lambs; his military niche would have caused the Archangel Gabriel to raise his head. Sometimes the guests paused in their chewing the better to hear, and a man who slopped his metheglin drew frowns.

Arthur on his dais sat very still and did not fiddle with his bread, and beside him sat lovely Guinevere, still as a painted statue of herself. Only her inward eyes confessed her vagrant thoughts. And Lancelot studied the open pages of his hands—not large hands, but delicate where they were not knobby and scarred with old wounds. His hands were fine-textured—soft of skin and very white, protected by the pliant leather lining of his gauntlets.

The great hall was not still, not all upturned listening. Everywhere was movement as people came and went, some serving huge planks of meat and baskets of bread, round and flat like a plate. And there were restless ones who could not sit still, while everyone under burden of half-chewed meat and the floods and freshets of mead and beer found necessity for repeated departures and returns.

Thursday, 9 June 2011

Why the tales of King Arthur and his Noble Knights of Round Table are so popular and fascinating?

For a man who may or may not have wandered Britain some 1,500 years ago, King Arthur retains the enviable knack of making his regal presence felt.

Merlin, Excalibur, Guinevere, Lancelot, the Lady in the Lake - all the components of his story are instantly familiar both in his erstwhile homeland and in much of the world.

Modern historians might query whether there is any real evidence for his existence, but none doubt his lasting hold over the popular imagination.

His, after all, is a tale that takes in romance, heroism, chivalry, honour and, of course, the promise that its hero will one day return to rescue his people.

Little wonder, then, that the entertainment industry continues to cheerfully plunder it.

Camelot, a Channel 4 drama starring Eva Green and Joseph Fiennes, is only the latest in a series of big-budget takes on Arthurian legend. Recent years have witnessed the 2008 BBC series Merlin, 2007's Colin Firth blockbuster The Last Legion and 2004's King Arthur, starring Keira Knightley and Clive Owen.

Nor is this a recent fad. No less a Hollywood icon than Indiana Jones was confronted by Arthur's mythology in his third big-screen encounter, while John Boorman's 1981 fantasy Excalibur and Robert Bresson's 1972 film Lancelot also re-imagined the saga.

Perhaps most memorable of all, however was 1975's Monty Python and the Holy Grail, with its less than reverent take on the story - ("strange women lying in ponds distributing swords is no basis for a system of government").

What all demonstrate is that somehow, over time, the story of a fifth or sixth-Century Romano-Celtic warrior resisting Anglo-Saxon settlement became the basis of one of the West's most treasured chronicles.

Academics have attempted to identify contemporary figures on whom Arthur may have been based, and his name appears as a military commander in Nennius's 830AD account History of the Britons.

However, most experts agree that the story was popularised by the 12th Century History of the Kings of Britain, written by the Oxford-based Welsh scholar Geoffrey of Monmouth.

According to Geoffrey, his work was based on a secret lost Celtic manuscript to which only he had access. It told of Guinevere, Merlin, the sword Caliburn - later known as Excalibur - and Arthur's final resting place in Avalon.

The historian Michael Wood, who explored the Arthurian sagas in his books In Search of England and In Search of Myths and Heroes, regards Geoffrey's work as, essentially, pro-Celtic propaganda, based on a desire to mythologise Britain's pre-Saxon heritage rather than verifiable fact.

But ultimately, he believes the veracity or otherwise of the legend is irrelevant - more important being the grip it has held on the collective imagination ever since.

"These myths have the power to get recycled by different cultures because they are great stories," says Wood.

"They suggest there was this golden age of lost innocence. They are still living stories that connect with people. He gets appropriated by everybody. It's endlessly repeatable - the hero fighting the dark, evil hordes."

Certainly, the story of Arthur developed a life of its own after Geoffrey's account became the medieval equivalent of a bestseller.

The French writer Chretien de Troyes introduced the Holy Grail to the story as well as Lancelot, who cuckolds Arthur.

In 1191, monks claimed to have discovered the remains of Arthur and Guinevere at Glastonbury abbey. Though latter-day cynics have observed that the building had recently suffered a fire and an influx of tourists would have been of great assistance to the restoration fund, the find cemented the area's status as the focal point of English mysticism and crystal healing shops.

Through this process, over time, Arthur transmogrified from a fierce Celtic warlord to a wise, noble and honourable national father-figure.

Terry Jones, co-director of Monty Python's interpretation of the myth, and a keen historian, says he was always cynical about the Arthurian legend and its supposed virtues for this reason.

But nonetheless, he says he recognised that the universality of the tales made them an ideal backdrop for Pythonic humour.

"The ideas of chivalry are very suspicious," he says. "The reality of the time was of men clad in armour going around beating up undefended people. The whole notion of chivalry was about dressing it up to make it respectable.

"But when we did the Holy Grail we knew it was a good story that everyone recognises. Everybody tries to claim Arthur for themselves - the French and the Welsh, not just the English."

Indeed, Nick Higham, professor in Early Medieval and Landscape History at the University of Manchester and an expert in Arthurian myth, believes the sagas help us chart the development of national identity on these islands.

Although Geoffrey of Monmouth presented Arthur as a Celtic hero, Prof Higham says, this legend was, in turn, appropriated by the Normans, who found the notion of a noble, pan-British, non-Anglo-Saxon hero politically useful.

Likewise, he says, the Tudor dynasty appropriated Arthur on the basis of their Welsh heritage. And in the early 20th Century there was an upswing of interest as contemporary analogies were drawn with a British hero fighting invaders from Germany, Prof Higham argues.

"Because there's nothing known about Arthur in reality, he's incredibly malleable and you can present him however you want him," he says.

"As the consequence of a series of peculiar accidents, Arthur has been portrayed as the solution to our cultural problems down the ages."

Romantics may hope that, one day, Arthur will return to rescue his people.

But if he lives on through his legend, the ancient monarch, it would appear, has never really gone away.


BBC News Magazine

Rediscovering Glastonbury Abbey Excavations - Symposium at Glastonbury Abbey, 9 June 2011

Glastonbury Abbey (February 2011 Contest)

Excavations at Glastonbury Abbey began soon after the site was purchased for the Church of England in 1907, although a series of trenches had been dug by St John Hope three years earlier.

Since then, the 34 seasons of excavations up to 1979 exposed most of the plan of the medieval church and evidence of earlier phases of the monastery.

Despite significant archaeological discoveries and the great importance of Glastonbury Abbey in understanding British monasticism, very little of this evidence has been published. In 1981, Ralegh Radford (Director of excavations 1951 - 1964) published an interim report suggesting a series of churches, a Saxon enclosure ditch, potentially the earliest cloister in Britain, and craft-working activities including unique glass furnaces. Several attempts at full publication were never completed and consequently details of these discoveries remain unavailable.

Following Radford's death in 1999, his excavation archive was retrieved and deposited with the National Monuments Record at Swindon, making the publication of a full report a feasible proposition.

In 2007, a one-year pilot project, funded by the British Academy, demonstrated the enormous potential of the excavation material, in particular the Radford archive which was found to be almost complete. One season of Radford's excavations, the chapter house, were selected for detailed analysis, and a geophysical survey of the Abbey Site was undertaken by the University of Reading. An interim report on the chapter house was published as a Fieldwork Highlight in Medieval Britain and Ireland 2007, Medieval Archaeology 52.

The current project involves full analysis of the excavation records, the results of which are now being entered into an Integrated Archaeological Database.

A geophysical survey of accessible areas of the Abbey precinct and cloister has been carried out. The finds are being analysed by a prestigious team of specialists.

The results of the project will be published by the Society of Antiquaries with a generous donation from Linda Witherill, who took part in Radford's excavations at the Abbey. The database will be archived with the Archaeology Data Service as an interactive online resource.

Abbey volunteers have also made an invaluable contribution to the project: Peter Poyntz-Wright, a member of the excavation team in the 1950s and 60s, has been transcribing the original site notebooks, Doug Forbes is scanning photos and drawings, Lindsay Beach has audited and sorted finds ready for specialist study and a team have gallantly marked thousands of tile fragments and pottery sherds.

In addition to publication of the results, two one-day symposiums will also be held, one at Glastonbury Abbey in June 2011, and one in London in November 2012.

Click here for more information on the programme for the Glastonbury Abbey Symposium.


Glastonbury Abbey Symposium

EBK: Glastonbury Abbey

Monday, 6 June 2011

Marlborough Mound where the legendary wizard Merlin was purported to be buried has been found to date back to 2400 BC.

Radiocarbon dating tests were carried out on charcoal samples taken from Marlborough Mound, which lies in Marlborough College's grounds.

The 19m (62ft) high mound had previously mystified historians. Some believed it dated back to about 600 AD.

English Heritage said: "This is a very exciting time for British prehistory."

Dig leader Jim Leary said: "This is an astonishing discovery.

"The Marlborough Mound has been one of the biggest mysteries in the Wessex landscape.

"For centuries people have wondered whether it is Silbury's little sister; and now we have an answer. "

Silbury Hill, an artificial man-made mound about five miles away, also dates back to 2,400 BC.

Marlborough Mound was reused as a castle and became an important fortress for the Norman and Plantagenet kings.

It was also the scene for major political events, such as the general oath of allegiance sworn to King John in 1209.

Nicholas Sampson, Master of Marlborough College, said: "We are thrilled at this discovery, which confirms the long and dramatic history of this beautiful site and offers opportunity for tremendous educational enrichment."

The work is part of a major conservation programme being undertaken by the Marlborough Mound Trust.


BBC News Wiltshire

Silbury Hill

The steep sides and flat top of Silbury Hill may be newer than thought

Saturday, 28 May 2011

Book examines a wide range of Tolkien’s published scholarly work and fiction

Tolkien and Wales: Language Literature and Identity

by Carl Phelpstead

Wales…and especially the Welsh language". Now, a Cardiff University academic has explored Wales’ influence on Tolkien in the first book-length study of his debts to Welsh language and literature.

Tolkien and Wales: Language, Literature and Identity traces the Welsh influences in Tolkien’s scholarly and creative work.

The study’s author, Dr Carl Phelpstead, Reader at the School of English, Communication and Philosophy, said: "The book examines a wide range of Tolkien’s published scholarly work and fiction, but I also draw on unpublished manuscripts and on Tolkien’s own collection of Welsh books in order to evaluate the influence of Wales and Welsh on both his writings and on his sense of national identity.

"One of the things that has interested me most in the unpublished material has been the small bits of evidence uncovered about Tolkien’s understanding of spoken – as opposed to written – Welsh."

Relevant material has been taken from some of Tolkien’s unpublished manuscripts in the Bodleian Library, Oxford, including drafts of his O’Donnell Lecture on ‘English and Welsh’ containing material not in the published version.

Dr Phelpstead also examines annotations handwritten by Tolkien in books on Welsh topics or in Welsh. He said: "These books are now in the English Faculty Library, Oxford. The marginal comments, corrections and other notes provide interesting evidence of the depth of Tolkien’s knowledge of medieval and modern Welsh."

The book will be launched on Saturday 21 May at a special event at Cardiff University’s Bute Building. Dr Phelpstead said: "Books are often launched with a party or drinks reception, but I thought that, given the wide interest in Tolkien’s work, it would be worth combining the book launch with some talks explaining and celebrating the influences of Wales and Welsh on his fiction and scholarship."

Dimitra Fimi of Cardiff University has studied how author JRR Tolkien drew on Welsh as he crafted the language of elves. His lifelong interest in Welsh began in childhood when he saw Welsh words on coal trucks arriving from Wales.

Dr Fimi said: “It was fascinating for him. It was something out of the ancient pasts of Britain from the west.”

As a writer he cherished the ancient history of Britain. In the Welsh language – and in his heavily annotated copies of The Mabinogion – he found inspiration to create his own mythology.

In a 1955 lecture Tolkien described his love of Welsh, saying: “For many of us it rings a bell, or rather it stirs deep harp-strings in our linguistic nature. It is the native language to which in unexplored desire we would still go home.”

She believes Tolkien’s passion for language was at the heart of his literary work. “It opens a different door to the author’s mind. For me, I cannot separate The Lord of the Rings from the languages that are spoken there.” Although many fans regard the invented languages as “a bit of an accessory,” for Tolkien these were essential elements. He was baffled by the global success of the sagas, his passion was for the The Silmarillion.

Dr Fimi said: “It has made me look at The Silmarillion as a work closer to Tolkien’s heart than The Lord of the Rings ever was.

“When Tolkien was writing the first Elvish language there was Esperanto, but at the time there were at least 150 other projects. It was all very idealistic... Then World War I comes and shatters all these ideas.”

He was attracted to Welsh as a language of intrinsic beauty, “something ancient that had to be preserved and passed on.”

Sources: Cardiff University, Western Mail

Friday, 6 May 2011

Viking 'shipyard' found on Isle of Skye

Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historical Monuments of Scotland (RCAHMS) and marine archaeologists are investigating a 12th century Norse shipbuilding site on the Isle of Skye

Investigations at Loch na h-Airde on Skye’s Rubh an Dunain peninsula have uncovered the remains of a possible medieval shipyard, including boat timbers dating from the 1100s, a stone-built quay, a man-made entrance canal, and a blockage system designed to keep a constant water level in the Loch.

Loch na h-Airde, Rubh an Dunain, Isle of Skye

Loch na h-Airde, Rubh an Dunain, Isle of Skye

In the bottom right of the image is Loch na h-Airde on Skye's Rubh an Dunain pennisula. The Loch - with a man-made canal linking it to the sea - is now believed to be the site of a 12th century Viking 'shipyard'. (c) Edward Martin

* More about this site

Archaeologists now believe that the site has been a focus for maritime activity for many centuries, from the Vikings to the MacAskill and Macleod clans of Skye. The loch and canal would likely have been used for the secure wintering of boats, along with their construction and maintenance.

Colin Martin, a marine archaeologist specialising in ship wrecks who is investigating Loch na h-Airde said, “This site has enormous potential to tell us about how boats were built, serviced and sailed on Scotland’s western seaboard in the medieval period – and perhaps during the early historic and prehistoric eras as well. There is no other site quite like this in Scotland.”

RCAHMS aerial survey team have been assisting in the investigation with reconnaissance flights photographing the loch and the surrounding area. As well as providing a context for the site in the landscape – helping to explain where and how 12th century mariners lived and worked – the imagery will also be used at high resolution by ground surveyors to identify possible dive sites for ship and other remains.

RCAHMS Aerial Survey Manager Dave Cowley said, “We are now so used to thinking about travelling round Scotland by roads, that it is difficult to visualise how our ancestors might have used the sea as a highway, connecting communities across these maritime landscapes. The aerial perspective gives us an excellent sense of this, showing the inter-relations of land and sea, and helping us to understand how people may have travelled, traded – and fought – on the waters around Scotland’s western isles.”

The ongoing aim of the investigation is to build up the most accurate possible picture of the site’s historical significance to Scotland’s western seaboard, allowing landowners and other heritage bodies to map out a plan for its future conservation and preservation.

Source: Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historical Monuments of Scotland

Tuesday, 3 May 2011

Viking Woman's face has been reconstructed

image shows the reconstructed face from a female skeleton

Academics at the University of Dundee have helped recreate the most accurate picture of Viking life yet as part of a £150k investment at York’s JORVIK Viking Centre.

York Archaeological Trust, owner of JORVIK, has used the most advanced scientific and archaeological research techniques to bring York’s Vikings to life and allow the public to come face to face with the most accurate picture of Vikings at two new exciting exhibitions at the Centre, launched this week.

The Trust has enlisted the skills of academics at the University of Dundee to produce a facial reconstruction of a female skeleton – one of four excavated at Coppergate in York over 30 years ago.

Says Caroline Erolin, Lecturer at the Centre for Anatomy and Human Identification at the University of Dundee, “We laser scanned the skull to create a 3D digital model onto which we could produce the reconstruction. The reconstruction process is carried out utilising specialist computer equipment which allows the user to 'feel' what they are modelling on screen. The anatomy of the face is modelled in 'virtual clay' from the deep muscles to the superficial.

“I was pleased to be involved in this project as 10 year previous as a medical art student I produced 2D reconstruction artwork of an individual from Fishergate in York as a part of my Masters research project, which ended up on display at JORVIK. It was good to be involved with the attraction again, this time through my post as a medical artist at the University of Dundee.”

Janice Aitken, Lecturer & Researcher at the University of Dundee, took Caroline’s digital reconstruction and added the lifelike finishing touches. Says Janice, “I use the same sort of software as is used to create 3D animations in the film industry. I digitally created realistic eyes, hair and bonnet and added lighting to create a natural look. It is very satisfying knowing that the work we create at Dundee University will be seen by thousands of visitors to JORVIK and being part of a process which can so vividly help people to identify with their ancestors.”

York Archaeological Trust’s new Investigate Coppergate exhibition examines the Vikings’ diet, displays the Viking facial reconstruction and also investigates the diseases from which the Vikings suffered. The concluding The end of the Vikings exhibition looks at the final battles of Viking-age in York that heralded the end of the Viking era and the coming of the Normans. It features skeletal remains showing battle wounds and a full skeleton with evidence of severe trauma, alongside discussion about how they died.

Says Sarah Maltby, York Archaeological Trust Director of Attractions, “Archaeological research capabilities have moved on considerably since the original Coppergate excavations which took place over 30 years ago. The new exhibition areas mark a shift in how archaeological finds are analysed and the techniques available to researchers. We now have a much more accurate and physical image of what Viking life was like, what they ate, what they wore and even what they looked like thanks to Dundee University – all of which is now on display at JORVIK.”

Visit or call 01904 543400 for more information on the new exhibitions at JORVIK Viking Centre.

For more information or interview opportunities please contact Hannah Trinder or Karen Nixon at Partners PR on 01904 610077 / /

Click here to go the JORVIK website

Source: University of Dundee

Monday, 2 May 2011

Beli Mawr

Beli Mawr or Beli ‘the Great’ is Apollo Belenos, Apollo the Bright or Shining One. The earliest Welsh genealogies make his father one Afallach, who as we have seen can be equated with the Irish Ablach of Emain Ablach, the Apple Orchard Otherworld. His mother was ‘Anna’, i.e. the goddess Anu.

In Arthurian romance Beli Mawr is called Pellinore. In the 12th century, Johannes Cornubiensis identified Caer Beli or the Fort of Beli with Ashbury Camp near Week St. Mary in Cornwall. This fort he also termed the ‘Fatale Castrum’ or Deadly Castle. However, this is an error, as Ashbury Camp is an unremarkable hill-fort. Instead, Ashbury, Oxfordshire is the actual site of the original Cair Beli. This is where we find the famous Neolithic chambered tomb now known as Wayland’s Smithy. Wayland was the smith-god of the invading Saxons. The Smithy is near the Uffington White Horse and one of the primary symbols of Belenos in Gaul is the horse.

Beli as Apollo is associated with Stonehenge, as Geoffrey of Monmouth has the Britons slain by the Saxons at this great ritual centre on May 1st or Beltane, the day of ‘Beli’s Fire’. Stonehenge, of course, is just a little south of the Wayland’s Smithy chambered tomb and the Uffington White Horse.

As Stonehenge was a great astronomical observatory concerned primarily with the motion of the sun through the year, a motion which defines our measurement of time, Beli should be invoked for any matter that is time sensitive or requires calculations and computations. He is the horse that unfailingly gallops across the sky 365 days a year. As such, he is also useful for purposes of steadfastness and determination or single-mindedness of purpose. He is a prophet in the sense that like the future, the course of the sun is always predictable. Finally, he is the god of resurrection, as the sun is reborn every Winter Solstice. Archaeo-astronomers have confirmed that the Winter Solstice was observed annually at Stonehenge.

Excerpt from the book The Secrets of Avalon by August Hunt.

See: for details.

Wednesday, 20 April 2011

Old Norse Women's Poetry: The Voices of Female Skalds

Following the latest tradition about the Medieval Scandinavian Woman Studies, the new publication detailing in an unprecedented manner the women's poetry onto this literary sources.

Old Norse Women's Poetry

The Voices of Female Skalds

Sandra Ballif Straubhaar

The rich and compelling corpus of Old Norse poetry is one of the most important and influential areas of medieval European literature. What is less well known, however, is the quantity of the material which can be attributed to women skalds. This book, intended for a broad audience, presents a bilingual edition (Old Norse and English) of this material, from the ninth to the thirteenth century and beyond, with commentary and notes. The poems here reflect the dramatic and often violent nature of the sagas: their subject matter features Viking Age shipboard adventures and shipwrecks; prophecies; curses; declarations of love and of revenge; duels, feuds and battles; encounters with ghosts; marital and family discord; and religious insults, among many other topics. Their authors fall into four main categories: pre-Christian Norwegian and Icelandic skáldkonur of the Viking Age; Icelandic skáldkonur of the Sturlung Age (thirteenth century); additional early skáldkonur from the Islendingasögur and related material, not as historically verifiable as the first group; and mythical figures cited as reciting verse in the legendary sagas (fornaldarsögur).

About the Author:

Sandra Ballif Straubhaar is Senior Lecturer in Germanic Studies at the University of Texas at Austin.


1. Introduction
2. Part 1: Verse Translations and Commentary
3. Real People, Real Poetry
4. Quasi-Historical People and Poetry
5. Visionary Women: Women's Dream-Verse
6. Legendary Heroines
7. Magic-Workers, Prophetesses and Alien Maidens
8. Trollwomen
9. Part 2: Prose Translations
10. Glossary of Names: Persons and Weapons
11. Time Line
12. Bibliography

Further Details

First Published: 21 April 2011
13 Digit ISBN: 9781843842712
Pages: 158
Size: 21.6 x 13.8
Binding: Hardback
Imprint: D.S.Brewer
Series: Library of Medieval Women
Subject: Medieval Literature

Monday, 18 April 2011

The Thirteen Treasures of Britain

The Treasures of Britain
From the Drawing by E. Wallcousins

It is in keeping with the mythological character of Arthur that the early Welsh tales recorded of him are of a different nature from those which swell the pseudo-histories of Nennius 1 and of Geoffrey of Monmouth. We hear nothing of that subjugation of the countries of Western Europe which fills so large a part in the two books of the Historia Britonum which Geoffrey has devoted to him. Conqueror he is, but his conquests are not in any land known to geographers. It is against Hades, and not against Rome, that he achieves his highest triumphs. This is the true history of King Arthur, and we may read more fragments and snatches of it in two prose-tales preserved in the Red Book of Hergest. Both these tales date, in the actual form in which they have come down to us, from the twelfth century. But, in each of them, the writer seems to be stretching out his hands to gather in the dying traditions of a very remote past.

Tri Thlws ar Ddeg Ynys Prydain

1. Dyrnwyn the sword of Rhydderch Hael; if any man drew it except himself, it burst into a flame from the cross to the point, and all who asked it received it; but because of this property all shunned it. and therefore was he called Rhydderch Hael.

2. The basket of Gwyddno Garanhir; if food for one man were put into it, when opened it would be found to contain food for one hundred.

3. The horn of Bran Galed; what liquor soever was desired was found therein.

4. The chariot of Morgan Mwynvawr; whoever sat in it would be immediately wheresoever he wished.

5. The halter of Clydno Eiddyn, which was in a staple below the feet of his bed; and whatever horse he wished for in it, he would find it there.

6. The knife of Llawfrodded Farchawg; which would serve four and-twenty men at meat all at once.

7. The cauldron of Tyrnog; if meat were put in it to boil for a coward it would never be boiled, but if meat were put in it for a brave man it would be boiled forthwith.

8. The whetstone of Tudwal Tudelud; if the sword of a brave man were sharpened thereon, and any one were wounded therewith, he would be sure to die, but if it were that of a coward that was sharpened on it, he would be none the worse.

9. The garment of Padarn Beisrudd; if a man of gentle birth put it on, it suited him well, but if a churl it would not fit him.

10, 11. The pan and the platter of Rhegynydd Ysgolhaig; whatever food was required was found therein.

12. The chessboard of Gwenddolen; when the men were placed upon it, they would play of themselves. The chessboard was of gold, and the men of silver.

13. The mantle of Arthur; whosoever was beneath it could see everything, while no one could see him.

This version is slightly different from that given by another sources (Jones' Welsh Bards) which omits the halter of Clydno Eiddyn, but adds the mantle of Tegau Eurvron, which would only fit such ladies as were perfectly correct in their conduct. Jones' version also included the ring of Luned (whoever concealed the stone of this ring became invisible), by which she effected the release of Owain the son of Urien, as has already been seen in the story of the Lady of the Fountain.