Friday, 26 December 2008

Cambridge Colloquium in Anglo-Saxon, Norse and Celtic

Cambridge Colloquium in Anglo-Saxon, Norse and Celtic
Cambridge Colloquium in Anglo-Saxon, Norse and CelticSaturday, 7 March 2009"Hidden Depths"Call for PapersThe Department of Anglo-Saxon, Norse and Celtic at the University ofCambridge invites paper proposals for its annual interdisciplinarypostgraduateconference, the theme of which is: "Hidden Depths."We are pleased to announce that this year's keynote speaker shall beMichael Winterbottom, Professor Emeritus of Classics at the University ofOxford. Professor Winterbottom will be discussing 'The Style of Bede'sHistoria Ecclesiastica: How Simple is it?'Papers should take no more than twenty minutes to deliver. Please submita 250-word abstract of your paper by 9 January 2009 to shall be £5

Thursday, 25 December 2008

In the Midst of Legend : Igrayne's Weeping

by Ian Grigor

Gorlois' failure to return confirmed the Duke could no longer live
smiling to himself Uther eased himself from Igraines sleeping clutch
with sunrise approaching Uther took care to dress silently
kissing her gently he wondered if she could ever love his caressing touch

Morgana fought the urge to scream as the stranger left the room
for deceit had been the knife in her fathers back this passed night
looking across ti her Mother Morganas heart broke, Igraine was love blind
for Magic was the shroud of Darkness to those without the sight


The abrupt knock on the bedroom door startled Igraine...
placing her youngest daughter back in the crib she called 'Yes!'
the door opened to reveal Cenmin, his armour stained and dented
shaking her head she stated 'If Gorlois looks as bad as you it will not impress!'

Those words of Igraines made Cenmins task so much harder
looking uneasy he said 'My had better follow me...'
the ice cold fingers of alarm crept up Igraines spine 'What has happened?'
'My Lady...'said Cenmin ' were a had best come and see!'


Igraine ran to and knelt by her dead husbands side
tears flowing she gripped Gorlois' hand 'When did he die?'
Gorlois had been like a brother to Cenmim 'Just after nightfall, My Lady'
Igraine turned on Cenmin sharply 'That is not lie!'

'On my life, My Lady, he was one of the first to fall!'
Igraine shook her head 'Impossible! He was my bed!'
Cenmin closed his eyes and could once more see Gorlois' death
'Believe me, My Lady..i saw it happen...your name was the last he said'

Igraine turned back to Gorlois and tenderly kissed his forehead
laying her head on his blood stained chest she whispered 'Things are so unclear...
whose arms were i in last night, my love, if they were not yours...'
Morgana rested her head next to Igraines ' Magic blinded you Mother...father was not here'

Cenmin stepped forward and placed his hand on Igraines shoulder
'My Lady, we have preparations to make. We must send out word...
..telling of the Dukes death must be sent out, Druids must be summoned'
Igraine continued weeping. She chose these words not to be heard.

Cenmim raised his voice 'My Lady, Hear me, please! We must...'
Igraine stood and placed her hand on his chest 'My heart breaks and reason i lose...
..the heavy curtain of doubt clouds all and is stained by the blood of sorrow
Gorlois, the Father of my children lies dead behind is not what i choose!'

'My Lady Igraine..' spoke Cenmin ' is not my choice either, but it happened..
Gorlois fought for your honour, your name, the innocence of your love..
..i loved the Duke like a Brother, My Lady..i would gladly take his place
but the Gods decided otherwise..his love for you was all..he held nothing above!'

Igraine took Cenmins hand in hers '..and i his love, Cenmin...
..send out word and summon those Druids..will you do me this courtesy?'
Cenmin nodded his head 'I am your loyal servant, My Lady..
..i will summon all who need know..i will lay waste to this travesty.'

'But would that be enough, Young Knight?' it was Morgana who had spoken
Cenmin looked across to Morgana and smiled 'You have an Opinion, child?'
'How you you lay ruin to the fact my Father is dead? He remains so whatever..
your words, however sincere, are hollow. Our grief is not diminished, it remains wild!'

With a brief shadow of contempt on his face Cenmin looked back at Igraine
'Your Daughter speaks wise words, My Lady. Counsel of one twice her age..
could i speculate at the thought of her being an enchanted one?'
'An unfair burden strikes her..' stated Igraine '..she fights pain with rage'

Saturday, 20 December 2008

Tuesday, 16 December 2008

The Yule Cat

The oldest written sources on the Yule Cat are from the Nineteenth Century. These refer to the fact that those who do not get a new item of clothing for Yule are destined to become offerings for the Yule Cat. It may sound strange that the deprived ones will also become the sacrifices, but this tradition is based on the fact that every effort was made to finish all work with the Autumn wool before Yule. The reward for those who took part in the work was a new piece of clothing. Those who were lazy received nothing. Thus the Yule Cat was used as an incentive to get people to work harder.

A woman describes a scene from her youth in the last century thus: "We were lazy doing this chore. Then we were reminded of the Yule Cat. We thought that was some terrible beast and the last thing we wanted was to be one of his offers".

One of Iceland's most beloved poets in this century, Jóhannes úr Kötlum, wrote a lay about the Yule Cat. It follows in the translation of Vignir Jónsson, who says: "You'll have to forgive me but I didn't make it rhyme - I'm not much of a poet."

You all know the Yule Cat
And that Cat was huge indeed.
People didn't know where he came from
Or where he went.

He opened his glaring eyes wide,
The two of them glowing bright.
It took a really brave man
To look straight into them.

His whiskers, sharp as bristles,
His back arched up high.
And the claws of his hairy paws
Were a terrible sight.

He gave a wave of his strong tail,
He jumped and he clawed and he hissed.
Sometimes up in the valley,
Sometimes down by the shore.

He roamed at large, hungry and evil
In the freezing Yule snow.
In every home
People shuddered at his name.

If one heard a pitiful "meow"
Something evil would happen soon.
Everybody knew he hunted men
But didn't care for mice.

He picked on the very poor
That no new garments got
For Yule - who toiled
And lived in dire need.

From them he took in one fell swoop
Their whole Yule dinner
Always eating it himself
If he possibly could.

Hence it was that the women
At their spinning wheels sat
Spinning a colorful thread
For a frock or a little sock.

Because you mustn't let the Cat
Get hold of the little children.
They had to get something new to wear
From the grownups each year.

And when the lights came on, on Yule Eve
And the Cat peered in,
The little children stood rosy and proud
All dressed up in their new clothes.

Some had gotten an apron
And some had gotten shoes
Or something that was needed
- That was all it took.

For all who got something new to wear
Stayed out of that pussy-cat's grasp
He then gave an awful hiss
But went on his way.

Whether he still exists I do not know.
But his visit would be in vain
If next time everybody
Got something new to wear.

Now you might be thinking of helping
Where help is needed most.
Perhaps you'll find some children
That have nothing at all.

Perhaps searching for those
That live in a lightless world
Will give you a happy day
And a Merry, Merry Yule.

Sunday, 7 December 2008

King Arthur's Conspiracy

La Spada di King Arthur

Wednesday, 26 November 2008

In the Midst of Legend

"My friend Edileide Brito asked me to write a poem for her and so as she studies Arthurian legends I decided to put the legend into verse". ~~Ian Grigor' speaks~~

In the midst of legend
by Ian Grigor

'I must have her, Merlin....she must be mine!' demanded King

But Gorlois would never permit it, would lead to war...

'That does not concern me, Wizard...i would give all...

'all could be a costly price, sure...

'I have never been more so...Igraine must be mine this night!

'You would risk war with Gorlois over Envy...for a night of lust?

'Envy...lust...what are these words,Merlin? I want her!

'If i give you your desire,Uther, then agree to my terms you must!

'Anything, Merlin...give me Igraine and i will pay any cost...

open a safe path to her chambers and you will have all you ask!

'In the count of nine moons a child will be born to you...

I demand possession of this infant...can you handle such a task?

'You task me with words, Merlin...end this haste of mine...

clouds your vision, Uther...will you give what i ask of you?

'I swear it, Warlock...this oath you lay before me shall be upheld!

'then this night Igraine shall be yours...the Dragons breath will carry you...

'Look there...' cried the vassel 'they leave...they flee...

have won...Uther has turned tail and run...the feud is over...

'Gorlois closed his eyes and sighed ' would appear so...

i will not let him hide..after sunset we follow...with night as cover..'

'But Igraine!, who will protect her in your absence?''

I will find Igraine safe on my return...she will come to no harm...

Uthers desire for her will be his undoing...i will see to it!...

the walls of Tintagel will defend quiet your alarm!'


Uther, removal of your men has had the desired effect...

we have drawn Gorlois out...he seeks to end this folly.

'Then work your Magic, Merlin..quickly...i command it!

'rash actions result in mistakes, you desire Melancholy?

'I desire know this...yet still you mock me!

'mock you...i? your own impatience mock you...

bend to the wind and so too must your conceit...

you have to give as well as take, Uther lest your rue be untrue...

'...lest my rule be untrue?..i am King, Merlin...your King!

'Merlin sighed...i come and i go as i see fit..i do so to my delight..

if i do your bidding it is by choice...

i serve no King, he by Blood or right.

Uther was silenced briefly '..then must i beg you to work your Magic?

your eyes and sleep the image of your desire'..

it become reality...a truth..or remain a dream?

'Hold tight your wish...your lust must burn as Dragonfire.

Merlin waved slumber before Uthers eyes then turned to face Tintagel

with his arms open wide he began to repeat the Magical rhyme

Anul nathrakh, urth vas bethud, dolchjel djenvedream the Dragon...

ride the serpents recovery will take time


Uther woke with a scream '..Merlin! i swear i saw Dragons!'

oh yes, Uther...i have awoken him...lokk about you see?

I see only mist..' answered the confused King

it is the Dragons breath..i have broken his chains..oh, i have set him free

'But what of do i reach her from here?

'Trust the Dragon, Uther and this night you will lay by her

side'What do i do about the ravine, Merlin..unlike birds i do not fly'
Merlin pointed to Tintagel..ride your horse, Uther..lust will be your guide

Uther pulled himself onto horseback and looked hesitantly at Merlin

'will i gain entry to Tintagel..will i be excepted by the Duchess?'

ride the Dragons breath, Uther...throw aside your anxieties...

will take on the semblance of Gorlois..upon you this i impress!

Merlin stepped aside as Uther rode toward and off the ravines edge

as the Dragons breath curled round him he took on the Dukes

is it, Uther..change..yes, become Gorlois..Igraines denyal will lay at slumber

sighing and bereft of alibi the Wizard was sure his spell had been wise


Gorlois looked from the valley encampment to his first in command

'What kind og King fells he will be safe in a Bivouac?

''An arrogant King, who feels he can take on a whim

''Let us then return the sentiment..this refuge of his we shall sack'

Charging into the encampment Gorlois and his men slashed and stabbed

'Uther! Coward King! Come, stand and fight me! Prove yourself a man!

'A hand stayed the bow from loosing its arrow 'Wait, let him first shadow the


..the King will be with Igraine now...Gorlois must not escape..follow the Kings plan!'


'Why do you cower, Uther? Lady Igraine would see disgust in your grovel..

you seek union with another mans wife yet still you hide!

'The Archer looked from Gorlois to his fellow Assassin 'Is this just?..

Gorlois has done no wrong..his only aim to to protect his Bride!'

'Keep your mind centered on the task in hand...

King has issued his orders and so we obay!

''What kind of motive is that to end the life of a man.....

i pray, for his reasons, the King lives to rue this day!'

Turning back to his quarry the Assassin aimed his bow

begging forgiveness and praying he'd miss he let loose the

missile sought its victim, struck and felled him from his horse

'Be at peace, sire. Let the living suffer Uthers Tyrannical abuse'

Tuesday, 11 November 2008

Vikings preferred male grooming to pillaging

By Jonathan Wynne-Jones

Last Updated: 8:48PM BST 25 Oct 2008

The Vikings are traditionally known for leaving destruction in their wake as they travelled around Europe raping, pillaging and plundering. But Cambridge University has launched a campaign to recast them as "new men" with an interest in grooming, fashion and poetry.Academics claim that the old stereotype is damaging, and want teenagers to be more appreciative of the Vikings' social and cultural impact on Britain.They say that the Norse explorers, far from being obsessed with fighting and drinking, were a largely-peaceful race who were even criticised for being too hygienic.The university's department of Anglo-Saxon, Norse and Celtic has published a guide revealing how much of the Vikings' history has been misrepresented.They did not, in fact, wear horned or winged helmets. And they appear to have been a vain race who were concerned about their appearance."It seems that the Vikings may not have been as hairy and dirty as is commonly imagined," the guide says."A medieval chronicler, John of Wallingford, talking about the eleventh century, complained that the Danes were too clean - they combed their hair every day, washed every Saturday, and changed their clothes regularly."The guide reveals that Norsemen were also stylish trend-setters: "Contemporaries who met individual Vikings were struck by the extreme bagginess of their trousers."A tenth-century Persian explorer described trousers (of Vikings in Russia) that were made of one hundred cubits of material, and a number of runestones depict warriors with flared breeches."The traditional view of the Vikings as "illiterate warring thugs" exaggerates considerably the reality of their life, the academics argue."Although Norse men and women may have sometimes liked fighting and drinking, and were sometimes buried with weapons, they also spent much of their time in peaceful activities such as farming, building, writing and illustrating. "The guide points out that the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, a contemporary list of notable events beginning in the ninth century and running through to the twelfth, records some battles, but not for every year."Life can't have been as violent as we sometimes like to imagine," it adds.Dr Elizabeth Rowe, a Viking expert and lecturer in Scandinavian mediaeval history at the university, said it was important that children should not picture the Norse warriors as an aggressive race, preoccupied with raping and looting."Many British children are quite likely to have Viking ancestry and we want to make them think about the reality of their past," she said."It's damaging to think that they were simply a violent society, and easy to undermine them as a people who have no redeeming qualities."The truth is that their culture was very artistic and they were keen to make an impression because they want to cultivate a certain look. They were very concerned about their appearance."The first burial ground of Viking origin in Britain was located only four years ago. Discoveries at the site have challenged the romanticised picture of a noble savage race, perpetuated most famously in Wagner's operas and Hollywood films.Archaeologists in Cumbria unearthed the remains of Viking men and women buried with copper brooches, jewellery, and riding gear as well as swords and spears.Dr Francis Pryor, an archaeologist and regular on the Channel Four series Time Team, said the discovery had shown the Norse warriors to be part of an advanced society.He said: "Far from the illiterate warring thugs in horned helmets who brought us to new depths of barbarism after landing by boat to sack monasteries and molest women, they were a settled and remarkably civilised people who integrated into community life and joined the property-owning classes."

http://www.telegrap/ newstopics/ howaboutthat/ 3256539/Vikings- preferred- male-grooming- to-pillaging. html

Monday, 3 November 2008


Episode Guide
Be aware that the episode guides below contain plot spoilers!

Episode 1 - Dragon's Call
Episode 2 - Valiant
Episode 3 - The Mark Of Nimueh
Episode 4 - The Poisoned Chalice
Episode 5 - Lancelot
Episode 6 - A Remedy To Cure All Ills
Episode 7 - The Gates Of Avalon
Episode 8 - The Beginning Of The End

The 13 episode series is being produced by Shine Limited for BBC Wales and will follow the relationship of Merlin and Prince Arthur. Julian Murphy, Johnny Capps, Jake Michie and Julian Jones are the members of Shine's award winning production team who were behind such interesting series as Hex and Sugar Rush. 'Merlin' has already gained a great deal of attention after it was purchased by the NBC network in the United States, one of the US's major television networks. It's actually some time since a British TV series was actually purchased by a major television network in the US, particularly one that is yet to have actually aired in the United Kingdom.

Monday, 27 October 2008

Prehistoric child is discovered buried with 'toy hedgehog' at Stonehenge

This toy hedgehog, found in a child's grave at Stonehenge, is proof of what we have always known - children have always loved to play. The chalk figurine was probably a favourite possession of the three year old, and placed next to the child when they died in the late Bronze Age or early Iron Age, around 3,000 years ago.

Sunday, 5 October 2008

Le roi Arthur, une légende en devenir
Du 15 juillet 2008 au 4 janvier 2009

Considérée comme l'un des plus importants thèmes littéraires et artistiques en Europe, la légende arthurienne a connu un succès jamais démenti. Matière à évasion et discussion, les exploits prodigieux, les conquêtes amoureuses et la quête du Graal fascinent toujours l'imaginaire populaire, les historiens ou les simples curieux. En Bretagne, l'ombre du roi Arthur plane depuis des siècles sur la forêt de Brocéliande. Au cinéma, à la télévision ou dans la littérature de jeunesse, son fabuleux destin enchante encore la création contemporaine. L'exposition des Champs Libres explore la vie du roi Arthur, clé de voûte d'une construction littéraire hors norme où se mêlent le merveilleux, l'amour et la guerre. Au-delà du récit historique, elle croise les sources anciennes et adaptations contemporaines pour évoquer la naissance et le devenir d'une légende et l'universalité du mythe.Articulé sur 1 000 m2, trois salles d'exposition temporaire et deux niveaux, le parcours des Champs Libres présente plus de 200 oeuvres liées aux aventures du roi et de ses chevaliers. De nombreux documents historiques et iconographiques (manuscrits et livres précieux, tableaux, objets d'art, affiches de film...) illustrent le rayonnement culturel des légendes arthuriennes. Parmi eux, figure un trésor conservé par la Bibliothèque de Rennes Métropole : l'un des plus anciens manuscrits enluminés des romans de la Table ronde. Première réalisation conjointe des trois composantes des Champs Libres, le Musée de Bretagne, la Bibliothèque de Rennes Métropole et l'Espace des sciences, l'exposition s'adresse à tous les publics, en particulier aux familles. Au moment de l'ouverture de l'exposition, l'université de Rennes 2 accueillera le 22e Congrès de la Société internationale arthurienne, rassemblant les plus grands spécialistes mondiaux de la légende, du 15 au 20 juillet 2008.

Saturday, 4 October 2008

Knightly Order

You who long for the Knightly Order,

It is fitting you should lead a new life;

Devoutly keeping watch in prayer,

Fleeing from sin, pride and villainy;

The Church defending,

The Widows and Orphans succouring.

Be bold and protect the people,

Be loyal and valiant, taking nothing from others.

Thus should a Knight rule himself.

He should be humble of heart and always work,

And follow Deeds of Chivalry.;

Be loyal in war and travel greatly;

He should frequent tourneys and joust for his Lady Love;

He must keep honor with all,

So that he cannot be held to blame.

No cowardice should be found in his doings,

Above all, he should uphold the weak,

Thus should a Knight rule himself.

~~Eustace Deschamps

Monday, 15 September 2008

Bri Leith

Bri was a Tuatha De Danann princess/queen and the daughter of King Midhir and Queen Fuamnach. Bri and her sister Blathnat were and raised in Tir Tairngiri, the Land of Promise, but later relocated with their father to his crystal mansion in the fairyland burgh called Bri Leith [Grey Hill].

Bri was the eldest sister, so she inherited the throne when her father and mother abdicated, but she always shared the sovereignty of her kingdom with her baby sister Blathnat, who was one of the flower faes. She loved a Tuatha De Danann Prince named Liath, but they never married because her father's guards would not let him enter Bri Leith.

Sunday, 14 September 2008

A brief history of England

Saturday, 6 September 2008

Arthurian Folktales

According to folktales based in Onomastic Arthurian places Myrddin Fardd (writing in the nineteenth century), which is worth repeating for its illustration of the local folkloric traditions surrounding these stones wherever a multitude of tales are told about him "Arthur". Sometimes, he is portrayed as a king and mighty soldier, other times like a giant huge in size, and they are found the length and breadth of the land of stones, in tons in weight, and the tradition connects them with his name, a few of them have been in his shoes time after time, bothering him, and compelling him also to pull them, and to throw them some unbelievable distance. A cromlech recognized by the name ‘Coetan Arthur’ [Arthur's Quoits] is on the land of Trefgwm, in the parish of Myllteyrn; it consists of a great stone resting on three other stones.The tradition states that ‘Arthur the Giant’ threw this coetan from Carn Fadrun, a mountain several miles from Trefgwm, and his wife took three other stones in her apron and proppedthem up under the coetan. A double megalithic chambered tomb with capstone in Llanrhidian Lower on the Gower peninsula (SS49139055): ‘Legend has it that when Arthur was walking through Carmarthenshire on his way to Camlann, he felt a pebble in his shoe and tossed it away. It flew seven miles over Burry Inlet and landed in Gower, on top of the smaller stones of Maen Cetti.The 25 ton capstone of an ancient burial chamber near Reynoldston, north of Cefn Brynis, West Glamorgan (SS490905) is called Arthur’s stone and his ghost is occasionally said to emerge from underneath it – it is explained as a stone that was tossed from Arthur’s shoe.

Friday, 5 September 2008

Table turns for King Arthur

Monday, 14 February, 2000, 20:01 GMT
Table turns for King Arthur

Arthur held court in Scotland, says one historian.

King Arthur's legendary round table was based in Scotland - on a site which is now a back garden in Stenhousemuir, says a historian. Scholars have spent decades trying to pinpoint the original location of the famous table, where Arthur is said to have held court with his knights. Until now, the site has always believed to have been in the west country.
Archie McKerracher: Historian
But a Scottish historian says they are wrong - and the round table in fact used to stand in the town of Stenhousemuir, near Falkirk. Archie McKerracher, of the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland, has told how his research shows that King Arthur and his knights actually met on a long-forgotten spot which is now the back garden of an ordinary terraced house. Mr McKerracher says that far from being made of wood or even being a table, the "round table" was really a stone hut. He believes the remains of the hut have been used, one millennium later, as the foundations of a home now happily occupied by a structural consultant and his family. Translations confusion The garden of 40 Adam Crescent, home to Thomas and Charlotte Scott, is now the focus of intense speculation. According to tradition, Arthur was crowned King of Britain in AD 516, when he was only 15.

'All were seated within the circle and no-one was placed outside'
Robert Wace, historian, from 1155

Not long after coming to the throne, legend says he founded the Order of the Knights of the Round Table, choosing those knights whom he considered most brave and noble. Controversy surrounds the question of whether Arthur really existed and some historians have argued he is the personification of several people rolled into one. Mr McKerracher, a fellow of the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland, blames the confusion over the site of the round table on repeated translations of ancient texts. 'A table rotunda' He said: "The principal symbol of Arthurian tales is the legendary Round Table. "The first person to mention it was Robert Wace, who wrote a history of Britain in Norman French in 1155. "What the text actually says is 'Arthur built a table rotunda' - and there is only one building in Britain meriting that description - what is known as Arthur's O'on, or 'rotunda'.

The legend of King Arthur's Round Table has lived for centuries
"Wace added that 'all were seated within the circle and no-one was placed outside' which could hardly mean a circular table but rather a circular building." Mr McKerracher said research showed that Arthur's O'on - derived from the word "oven" - was a beehive-shaped building demolished in 1743 by Sir Michael Bruce of Stenhouse, who used the stones to repair a mill dam. According to Ordnance Survey maps, the site is the back garden of the Scotts' house. Mr Scott said: "I didn't realise it was here when we moved in 24 years ago - there's not really anything to see - but when I put a new wall in some years ago, I had to bend it around a large boulder which could have been a part of it." Middle Eastern mausoleum Mr McKerracher says tales of King Arthur were originally handed down orally in ancient Brittonic Gaelic, recorded in Latin in the early Middle Ages and then translated into the Norman French spoken by the nobility of England. He believes King Arthur built a mausoleum, similar to a type which were fashionable in the Middle East in the fifth century, after making a pilgrimage to Jerusalem. He said: "It seems probable Arthur built his own mauseleum, or 'martyrium', the O'on, to house a secret holy order dedicated to the popular religious cult of Mary Magdalene." Mr McKerracher says other evidence suggests Arthur's kingdom extended from Wales to Dumbarton in Scotland. He believes it was Geoffrey of Monmouth, who wrote the stories of Arthur in 1136, who first moved him to the English west country, in order to please his patron Robert, Earl of Gloucester.

Clue to King Arthur discovered

Thursday, August 6, 1998 Published at 13:51 GMT 14:51 UK UK

Clue to King Arthur discovered

The sixth century stone that bears the inscription Artognov An ancient stone bearing a sixth century inscription similar to the name Arthur has been unearthed at Tintagel Castle, the mythical birthplace of the legendary king.
The discovery could prove that King Arthur had his headquarters at the site of ruined castle on the coast of north Cornwall.

The stone is a 35cm by 20cm piece of slate inscribed with the name Artognov - Latin for the English name Arthnou.
A spokesman for English Heritage, the conservation organisation that announced the discovery, said the stone was "the find of a lifetime."
He said it added "a new dimension to the possibility of there having been a real Arthur on whom the mythical figure was based."
Stop-gap for a leaky drain
The stone was unearthed towards the end of the latest round of excavations at Tintagel, which is owned by the Duchy of Cornwall.
It had been broken in order to be used as a drain cover outside a sixth of seventh century building.
Arthur's stone, along with other recent finds, helps fill in some of the many gaps that still exist in Tintagel's history, despite extensive excavations in the area that first began in the 1930s.
The new discoveries provide further evidence for the existence of some kind of royal headquarters at Tintagel for a Dark Ages ruler of Cornwall.

Dr Geoffrey Wainwright, chief Archaeologist with English Heritage, said: "Despite the obvious temptation to link the Arthnou stone to either the historical or the legendary figure of Arthur, it must be stressed there is no evidence to make this connection.
"Nevertheless it proves for the first time that the name existed at that time and that the stone belonged to a person of status."
The undisputed Arthur
Tintagel expert Professor Charles Thomas said the inscription's informal Roman lettering could be translated as: "Artognou, father of a descendant of Coll, has had (this) constructed".
English Heritage said that as a historical figure Arthur almost certainly did exist as a successful soldier fighting battles across the country in the sixth century.
Long literary history
Literary references to Arthur can be found in the ninth century. The 12th century writer Geoffrey of Monmouth first wrote of him as a romantic hero and linked him with Tintagel.
The famous tales of Arthur and his round table were put together by the Norman writer Wace. These were followed in the 15th century by Sir Thomas Malory's Le Morte D'Arthur chronicle.
The stories were taken further by the 19th century poet Alfred, Lord Tennyson.
Excavations at Tintagel over the years have provided clues that it was a high status - possibly royal - site of a Cornish chieftain.
The Arthur stone also shows that the inhabitants of Tintagel carried on living a Romanised life, and read and wrote Latin, long after the Romans left England in 410 AD.
A varied life
Tintagel relies heavily on its connection with King Arthur, and the new stone will enhance that link.
There are many variations in tales of the mythical king's life. Geoffrey of Monmouth's 12th century legend told how Arthur was born after his mother was seduced by a king, whom the wizard Merlin had transformed into her husband.
Another version says that Merlin found the baby Arthur was ashore in a cave below the castle.
As one guidebook for Tintagel says: "Fact hereabouts is tremendously hard to separate from fiction."

Tintagel facts
Occupation of the site at Tintagel castle dates back to Roman times.
Historians believe the castle was built in the early 13th century by Earl Richard of Cornwall.
By the late 15th century the castle was ruined and deserted.
A fire at the site in the early 1980s led to the discovery of the remains of around 50 buildings and some pottery.
Despite decades of investigation Tintagel remains a mystery, says English Heritage.

Thursday, 14 August 2008

The truth about the Picts

They have been dismissed as savages who resisted the march of civilisation. But the remains of a monastery found in the north of Scotland suggest the Picts have been wronged
By Ian JohnstonWednesday, 6 August 2008

The Picts have long been regarded as enigmatic savages who fought off Rome's legions before mysteriously disappearing from history, wild tribesmen who refused to sacrifice their freedom in exchange for the benefits of civilisation. But far from the primitive warriors of popular imagination, they actually built a highly sophisticated culture in northern Scotland in the latter half of the first millennium AD, which surpassed their Anglo-Saxon rivals in many respects.
A study of one the most important archaeological discoveries in Scotland for 30 years, a Pictish monastery at Portmahomack on the Tarbat peninsula in Easter Ross, has found that they were capable of great art, learning and the use of complex architectural principles.
The monastery – an enclosure centred on a church thought to have housed about 150 monks and workers – was similar to St Columba's religious centre at Iona and there is evidence they would have made gospel books similar to the Book of Kells and religious artefacts such as chalices to supply numerous "daughter monasteries" .
And, in a discovery described as "astonishing, mind-blowing" by architectural historians, it appears that the people who built the monastery did so using the proportions of "the Golden Section", or "Divine Proportion" as it became known during the Renaissance hundreds of years later. This ratio of dimensions, 1.618 to one, appears in nature, such as in the spiral of seashells, and the faces of people considered beautiful, such as Marilyn Monroe. It can be seen in Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris, the Alhambra palace of Granada in Spain, the Acropolis in Athens and the Egyptian Pyramids, but was thought to have been too advanced for the Picts.
"The Picts have always been an attractive lost people, they are one of the most interesting lost peoples of Europe," said Martin Carver, a professor of archaeology at York University who has worked on the site since the mid-1990s, and recently written a book detailing the findings. "The big question is what happened to them and did they ever really make a kingdom of their own."
The answer to the latter question seems an emphatic yes, based on the findings at Portmahomack, which is remote today but would have once been a key point on sea routes in the North Sea. "They would have been dreaming of a New Rome and a new world connected by water rather than Roman roads," said Professor Carver. "They were the most extraordinary artists. They could draw a wolf, a salmon, an eagle on a piece of stone with a single line and produce a beautiful naturalistic drawing. Nothing as good as this is found between Portmahomack and Rome. Even the Anglo-Saxons didn't do stone-carving as well as the Picts did. Not until the post-Renaissance were people able to get across the character of animals just like that."
In addition to stone carving, the archaeologists found evidence that vellum, chalices and other religious artefacts were being made at the site on a considerable scale. Vellum, a form of paper made from animal skin, would have been used to make highly decorative gospel books. The cemetery, containing graves of middle-aged and elderly men almost exclusively, and a piece of stone bearing a tantalisingly incomplete inscription provided other key clues as to the Christian nature of the site.
"The most important piece had a Latin inscription. That's as common as muck in the Mediterranean, but extremely rare in Scotland," said Professor Carver, who previously led research into the Anglo-Saxon burial mound at Sutton Hoo, Suffolk. "It says 'This is the cross of Christ in memory of Reo...' and the rest is broken away. Unfortunately the key bit, the name of the person, is missing. It means there's someone around there who knows how to write in the eighth century. That itself is a revelation."
A Pictish wall, which is believed to have formed part of the original monastery's church, was discovered in the basement of the derelict church on the site, which has now been turned into a visitor centre. But it was the dimensions of another structure within the complex, the "Smith's Hall", that attracted particular attention as it was made with "a startling symmetry offering us more than just competence in construction" .
A detailed study was made of the horse-shoe shaped building, searching for the unit of measurement used by the Picts. Professor Carver said a "Tarbat foot" of 12-and-a-half inches seemed to have been the standard measure used to make hall and other parts of the monastery. He also found the ratios of lengths of different walls and bays inside the window conformed to the architectural principle called the Golden Section. "The Golden Section, together with its inverse, the Golden Number, 1.618, has been valued by artists for millennia ... and it is a true delight to observe it among their architects," he said. "It shows the importance of symbol and worship in everything done in the service of the Christian God.
"There is something rather intriguing in the learnt character of them. This is a building put up to house metal workers. It's the idea they were all possessed of the same kind of knowledge and all trying to serve it."
Jean Gowans, who recently retired as chairman of the Architectural Heritage Society of Scotland, said the idea the Picts had been using the Golden Section was "wonderful, astonishing" .
"It really is absolutely fascinating. It's mind-blowing stuff," she said. "This is staggering to hear, but I'm not totally surprised. I think they were pretty sophisticated, when you think of all the Pictish stones and the wonderful carvings that they made, a lot more sophisticated than perhaps they are given credit for in public perception."
The monastery at Portmahomack suffered a major fire in the ninth century and several stone sculptures were smashed, suggesting it was sacked by an invading force, likely to be Vikings intent on expanding their territories in northern Scotland. The site continued to be occupied but at this point evidence of a monastic settlement disappears.
However, the shared religion of the Picts and Scots may have helped them unite against a common enemy, ultimately creating the kingdom of Scotland. "There was a war as important as Alfred's against the Danes [in England] and the Picts got really battered. In the Annals of Ulster, there are records of battles where the flower of Pictish aristocracy is killed," Professor Carver said.
"Portmahomack got burnt down pretty definitively round about 820. The idea is they were under new masters. It could be the Norse or the Men of Moray, MacBeth and his family. I think Portmahomack was captured by the Men of Moray. The Norse wanted it badly but they didn't get it. There is no Norse material there. There was no more vellum-making and sculpture and it stopped being a monastery. In the ninth to 11th centuries, they are making metal work, but that's the real Dark Age."
Portmahomack: Monastery of the Picts is published by Edinburgh University Press
Tribes that resisted the Romans
Picts was the name which the Romans gave to a confederation of tribes living beyond the reach of their empire, north of the Forth and Clyde.
The name makes its first known appearance in the works of a third-century orator, Eumenius, and is assumed to come from the Latin word pingere, "to paint", suggesting they painted or tattooed their bodies.
But what name they called themselves, or what language they spoke, we do not know.
One thing that puzzled outsiders is that they were the last people on these islands to trace their lineage through their mothers. The Venerable Bede, writing in 731, said that the Picts had come from mainland Europe,presumably Scandinavia, to northern Ireland to ask for land, but the Irish sent them on to Scotland.
Hence a myth that the Picts were given Irish wives, on condition that they became matrilineal.
Other wild stories included that they were dark-skinned pygmies who hid in holes in the ground during the afternoon, but had magical powers at night.
Probably they were a coalition of indigenous tribes brought together by the Roman threat.
In Bede's lifetime, the Picts were defeated in war by the Northumbrians and converted to Roman Christianity.
Andy McSmith

Wednesday, 13 August 2008

Selif Sarffgadau: "The Serpent of Battle"

Selyf (Solomon) 'Serpent of Battle' (Sarffgadau) son of Cynan Garwyn, King of Powys died in about 613 at the battle of the City of the Legions (Chester) fighting against King Æthelfrith of Bernicia and Deira (Northumbria). His death is recorded in the Annals Cambriae and the Irish annals. According to Welsh poetry attributed to Taliesin, his father Cynan Garwyn had been a major over-king in Wales in the previous generation. The Battle of Chester took on a life of its own in Welsh legend and was elaborated in both Geoffrey of Monmouth and the Welsh triads.
The dragon or serpent has been associated with Welsh kings since the earliest post-Roman reports of Britain. Gildas refers to king Maglocunus (Mailcun/Maelgwyn of Gwynedd) as the head serpent of the isles, ie. pendragon (literally pen = head, dragon) in c545. Selyf Sarffgadau ('Serpent of Battle' / Battle Serpent) is one of the best recorded of the dragon kings. Cadwallon of Gwynedd, Selyf's reputed nephew, best known for killing Edwin of Deira, was also referred to as dragon of the isles in a fragmentary death song. Of course, in Welsh legend the ultimate Pendragon dynasty is that of Arthur son of Uther Pendragon.
In the Welsh Triads, Selyf is listed as one of the three "Battle-Leaders of the Isle of Britain". In the Black Book of Carmarthen's triad 43 he is the owner of one the three great pack horses, which may be an allusion to his ability to move a large army over great distances. However, this horse is credited to his father Cynan Garwyn in triad 39. In Taliesin's poetry, Cynan Garwyn is credited with very wide ranging victories throughout what is today Wales. The name of Selyf's bard, Arofan, is also remembered in the triads. Selyf ap Cynan is also mentioned as a companion of Owen ap Urien in the Arthurian tale the Dream of Rhonabwy. Bartrum notes that Selyf and Owen would have been contemporaries — both opponents of Æthelfrith– but not with the Arthurian setting or Arthur himself. In Welsh poetry, Arthur is usually outside of time, or almost in Welsh version of Valhalla where all the greatest heroes of all eras are part of his retinue. The poet Cynddelw also refers to Selyf in his poem Breineu Powys (Priviledges of Powys) in the line "Kananwon Selyf seirff cadeu" (Descendants of Selyf, serpents of battles).
According to the welsh pedigrees and hagiography, Selyf had four sons, none of whom succeeded him. The Life of St. Beuno claims that it was Beuno's curse that prevented their succession. It seems just as likely that the utter destruction of Powys by Æthelfrith blocked his lineage from the throne. Under consistent Northumbrian pressure, Powys seems to have been ruled by multiple small dynasties in the early seventh century. Some of these dynasties appear to have allied themselves with Mercia against Northumbria. Most of the territory of Powys was probably annexed by Mercia to their immediate east. It seems likely that Selyf was the last Powysian king to rule over a large midlands kingdom that dominated the whole region, east and west. It is possible that the Brochwel/Brocmail who Bede reports abandoned the monks of Bangor-Is-Coed to Æthelfrith's forces was one of Selyf's kinsmen; Brochwel is a name common in his dynasty.
When a single dynasty emerges again in Powys it does claim descent from Selyf's kindred. Most claims are to a brother Eiludd but other lineages claim descent from a Beli ap Selyf, Eiludd ap Selyf, or Beli ap Mael Myngan ap Selyf. It is possible that none of them were truly related to Selyf but felt the need to claim a link to his lineage. In the Bonedd y Sant (Pedigrees of the Saints), Selyf ap Cynan is claimed to be the father of St. Dona.
Selyf's chief defended cities at the time are believed to have been Chester and the hill fort at the Wrekin above Wroxeter, probable namesake of the Wreconsaete of the tribal hinge. Viroconium Cornoviorum (Wroxeter) was the civitas capital for the Cornovii, Powys likely tribal orgins, while Chester had been a legionary base during the Roman occupation.
Selyf's dominance in Wales is suggested by the role his main monastery, Bangor-Is-Coed, played in negotiations with Augustine of Canterbury. After the initial meeting at Augustine's Oak, the Annals Cambriae records a Synod of City of the Legions (Chester) in 601 that may be the conference Bede refers to in between the first and second meeting with Augustine. The fact that the synod was held in Selyf's primary city suggests that he was the dominant king who did not want to associate with the Canterbury mission. The slaughter of the monks of Bangor-Is-Coed, under Powy's protection, was said by Bede to have been a fulfillment of Augustine's prophecy.

Sunday, 10 August 2008

Britain AD - Episode III

Britain BC - Episode 2 by Francis Pryor

Britain BC - Episode 1 by Francis Pryor

Britain AD Episode II - The invasion that never was

Medieval Art Position

University of Minnesota, Twin Cities

Medieval Art. Open rank, full-time, tenured or tenure-track, to
begin September 2009. We invite applicants capable of teaching the
broad tradition of European Medieval art and architecture, but
preferably with a research specialization in any aspect of Medieval
Art of the Mediterranean World, including Early Christian and
Byzantine art and architecture, from the 4th century to the 15th
century. We seek candidates critically engaged with new historical,
theoretical, and/or topical paradigms currently shaping the study of
Medieval art and the discipline more generally, and who are
particularly interested in cross-cultural exchange (for example with
the Islamic world).

Qualifications: Ph.D. in art history, college/university- level
teaching experience. For junior-level candidates, a promising record
of research and publication; for candidates applying at the level of
associate or full professor, a substantial record of research and

Applicants MUST apply online through the University of Minnesota
employment system:

employment.umn. edu/applicants/ Central?quickFin d=74444
(Assistant Professor or Instructor)

employment.umn. edu/applicants/ Central?quickFin d=74452 (Associate
Professor or Professor)

Friday, 8 August 2008

Ruins may be Viking hunting outpost in Greenland

By Alister Doyle, Environment Correspondent
8:28 a.m. July 28, 2008

OSLO – Ruins recently discovered on Greenland may mark the Vikings' most northerly year-round hunting outpost on the icy island, a researcher said on Monday.
Knut Espen Solberg, leader of 'The Melting Arctic' project mapping changes in the north, said the remains uncovered in past weeks in west Greenland may also be new evidence that the climate was less chilly about 1,000 years ago than it is today.
'We found something that most likely was a dock, made of rocks, for big ships up to 20-30 metres (60-90 ft) long,' he told Reuters by satellite phone from a yacht off Greenland. He said further study and carbon dating were needed to pinpoint the site's age.
Viking accounts speak of hunting stations for walrus, seals and polar bears in west Greenland. Inuit hunters also lived in the area.
'This is the furthest north on Greenland that evidence of year-round Viking activity has been found,' Solberg said of the finds in an area called Nuussuaq. 'At the time the Vikings were living here it was warmer than today.'
In a Medieval warm period, trees and crops grew on parts of Greenland. The Vikings disappeared in the 14th century, coinciding with a little-understood shift to a cooler climate.
Solberg said that the expedition, linked to Norwegian climate research institutes and including an archaeologist, reckoned the dock was probably built by Vikings because the Inuit only used small kayaks and had no need for a large quay.
The team, which came upon the ruins during their expedition, also found remains of several small stone buildings nearby. Both Inuit and Vikings had similar building styles.
Christian Keller, a professor of archaeology at Oslo University, was quoted as telling the daily Aftenposten that the buildings were similar to Viking structures in west Norway but that the dock was unlike known Viking quays.
Any carbon dating placing the site between 900-1400 would make it 'an exciting find' from the Vikings, he said. A later date could mean it was built by European whalers in the 16th century.
Solberg said Vikings in Greenland were unlikely to have built with wood, traditionally used in Scandinavia for docks. A wooden structure would not have survived thick winter ice.
He also said that modern climate change, blamed mainly on human emissions of greenhouse gases from burning fossil fuels, was bringing erosion to archaeological sites on Greenland.
Warmer summers mean fewer days with ice on the sea, increasing a battering of waves on the shore, while permafrost is also thawing. Seas have also been rising, largely because of a long-term coastal subsidence unrelated to climate change.

Our Celtic roots lie in Spain and Portugal

The Welsh have more in common with sun-kissed glamour pusses like actress Penelope Cruz and footballer Christiano Ronaldo than pale- faced Germans like Helmet Kohl, according to an academic. Professor John Koch suggests the Welsh can trace their ancestry back to Portugal and Spain, debunking the century-old received wisdom that our forebears came from Iron Age Germany and Austria. His radical work on Celtic origins flatly contradicts the writing of Sir John Rhys, who in the late 19th century established the idea that we originally came from central Europe. Sir John believed the Celts were the remnants of a great culture that extended here from modern-day eastern France, Switzerland, southern Germany and Austria. But Professor Koch, of the University of Wales Centre for Advanced Welsh & Celtic Studies, in Aberystwyth, says archaeological inscriptions on stones show we came from southern Portugal and south-west Spain. He said: “Celts are said to come from west central Europe – Austria, southern Germany, eastern France and that part of the world. “That’s been the theory that everybody has grown up with for at least 100 years. “There is evidence that the Celtic languages were spoken there because of place names and people’s names.
“But the assumption was that was where they came from. I think they got there later. “There is evidence in Spain and Portugal indicating they were there 500 or more years before.”
Professor Koch says there are Celtic texts in Portugal and Spain way before they started springing up in central Europe during Roman times. One key piece of evidence is the earliest written language of western Europe – Tartessian, found on inscribed stones in Portugal and Spain dating back to between 800BC and 400BC. The professor maintains this language can be deciphered as Celtic. Expert on Welsh history and archaeology Dr Raimund Karl, says there is also biological and genetic evidence to support professor Koch’s theory. He said: “In the last couple of years there have been a number of genetic studies of human DNA indicating that the population of much of the western part of the British Isles is related to other communities along the Atlantic seafront. These include Brittany, northern Spain, Portugal and the French Atlantic coast. That’s their genetic origin.”
But Dr Karl, of the University of Wales, Bangor, said there is also archaeological evidence suggesting a cultural link with central Europe. “There is evidence suggesting a link with central Europe from elite-material culture – stuff associated with the upper parts of society. This includes weaponry, feasting equipment, artwork on jewellery and other prestigious items.” However the academic said attempts to identify a biological Celt or notions of cultures emanating from a particular spot are meaningless. He believes human cultures and populations are constantly in a state of flux, drawing their influences from far and wide. Dr Karl, himself an Austrian, added: “I personally think the question of where Celtic culture originated is by and large meaningless. Culture is constantly changing and never has a single point of origin. “The biological Celt is meaningless because human populations inter-mingle.”

Saturday, 2 August 2008

The Shadow house of Lugh

The Shadow House of Lugh
By Ethna Carbery

Dream-fair, besides dream waters, it stands alone:
A winged thought of Lugh made its corner stone:
A desire of his heart raised its walls on high
And set its crystal windows to flaunt the sky.

Its doors of the white bronze are many and bright,
With wonderous carven pillars for his Love's delight,
And its roof of the blue wings, the speckled red,
Is a flaming arc of beauty above her head.

Like a mountain through mist Lugh towers high,
The fiery-forked lightning is the glance of his eye,
His countenance is noble as the Sun-god's face—
The proudest chieftain he of a proud De Danaan race.

He bides there in peace now, his wars are all done—
He gave his hand to Balor when the death gate was won,
And for the strife-scarred heroes who wander in the shade,
His door lieth open, and the rich feast is laid.

He hath no vexing memory of blood in slanting rain,
Of green spears in hedges on a battle plain;
But through the haunted quiet his Love's silver words
Blow round him swift as wing-beats of enchanted birds.

A grey haunted wind is blowing in the hall,
And stirring through the shadowy spears upon the wall,
The drinking-horn goes round from shadowy lip to lip—
And about the golden methers shadowy fingers slip.

The Star of Beauty, she who queens it there;
Diademed, and wondrous long, her yellows hair.
Her eyes are twin-moons in a rose-sweet face,
And the fragrance of her presence fills all the place.

He plays for her pleasure on his harp's gold wire
The laughter-tune that leaps along in trills of fire;
She hears the dancing feet of Sidhe where a white moon gleams,
And all her world is joy in the House of Dreams.

He plays for her soothing the Slumber-song:
and faint as any dream it glides along:
She sleeps until the magic of his kiss shall rouse;
And all her world is quiet in the Shadow-house.

His days glide to night, and his nights glide to day:
With circling of the amber mead, and feasting gay;
In the yellow of her hair his dreams lie curled,
And her arms make the rim of his rainbow world.

Thursday, 31 July 2008

From The Times
August 13, 2005

The man who invented Arthur
His legends of Lancelot, Guinevere and Galahad are embedded in our national psyche. But who was Thomas Malory? Peter Ackroyd considers the enigmatic figure who penned the greatest epic tale of English chivalry

GREAT NATIONAL EPICS HANG, like Muhammad’s tomb, somewhere suspended between heaven and earth. They seem to have reached beyond the range of time and circumstance, and their supposed authors seem beyond the reach of posterity. Nobody knows who “wrote” the Nibelungenlied, and the identity of Homer is forever in question. The same obscurity has descended upon Sir Thomas Malory, who has been credited with the composition of what Christina Hardyment in this enterprising biography calls “our most enduring national epic”. It is known as Le Morte Darthur and, although it is in many respects an epic made out of other epics, it is a work that has effectively created the myth of Arthur and his knights for all subsequent generations.
As a result of Malory’s plangent and often elaborate prose, the song of Arthur has never ended. He inspired Milton and Dryden with dreams of Arthurian epic, and in the 19th century it was predominantly Tennyson who restored the themes of Malory to life with The Idylls of the King. William Morris wrote The Defence of Guenevere, and Swinburne composed Tristram of Lyonesse. The Round Table had been reconstituted in the libraries of 19th-century England.
It was Malory, too, who created for posterity the images of Lancelot and of Guinevere, of Tristram and Isolde, of Galahad and Gawain, of Merlin the magician and Arthur the once and future king. Never has so elusive and fugitive an author created so triumphant a mythology. So in proportion to the grand and gleaming giants of his imagination, Malory has retreated into the shadows. He was not formally named until the end of the 19th century, when an American scholar identified him as Sir Thomas Malory of Newbold Revel. There were other Thomas Malorys of the period — Malory died in 1471 — but this particular assignation seems to have stuck.
It seems to have been something of a baptism of fire, however. Almost as soon as he was named, he was blamed for various heinous crimes. At the beginning of the 20th century another American scholar discovered a court record, partially burnt, that accused Malory of rape, ambush, intent to kill, theft, extortion and gang violence (the latter as the result of a raid upon a neighbouring abbey). He was by no means the model of medieval chivalry, and far from being the “very perfect gentle knight” of Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales. This one was a rogue and villain, violent and dangerous even by the lax standards of the 15th century.
Hardyment supposes that such a record might be incompatible with the wonderful achievement of Le Morte Darthur — which is why she goes to some length in order to exonerate him — but there is no necessary disjunction. Chaucer was also accused of rape (in the convoluted procedures of medieval law, “rape” did not necessarily mean rape in the modern sense), and Ben Jonson was a murderer. There is no connection between a vital prose and a virtuous life.
Yet in Hardyment’s account it would seem that Malory’s crimes were those of an enthusiast and a partisan, rather than a criminal. His actions were determined by his attachment to a code of chivalry that was even then being undermined by Parliament and by over-mighty lords. Sometimes he bears a passing resemblance to that other knight, Don Quixote, forever going to war on behalf of lost causes.
He was born at a difficult time, in the immediate aftermath of the unhappy reign of Richard II; that most theatrical of monarchs was struck down by the aspiring Henry IV in 1400. The murder of the King inaugurated a century of civil conflict in which Malory would play a large part. He came from a family steeped in the traditions of chivalry; they were “gentlemen that bear olde arms”, and had managed to acquire vast estates throughout Warwickshire. As such they were ineluctably drawn into the conflicts of the wider world.
Thomas Malory’s own father, John Malory, was imprisoned for a plot to seize the new King, Henry IV, but somehow he survived the King’s displeasure to lead forces against the King’s enemies. In this period the young Malory would have heard readings of the 12th-century Roman de Brut and the Morte Arthure, those clarion calls to the spirit of the chivalric age. It is also inevitable that he attended jousts and tournaments, where the words on the page took on a formidable and glorious life.
There is no doubt that he was formally trained in the arts of chivalry — arts that included hunting, riding, hawking and archery. His earliest biographer, writing in the 16th century, described him as “outstanding from his youth for his heroic spirit and many remarkable gifts”. At the age of 14 he went to war against France in the retinue of the Earl of Warwick. He served as a “lance” at Calais, and four years later he is mentioned in a “muster roll ” at Normandy.
Hardyment then goes on to posit that he spent the next two decades, the 1420s and the 1430s, as a foreign settler in France. This would at least help to explain his wide knowledge, and use, of French Romance literature in his masterwork. She also suggests that he was engaged with the Knights Hospitaller in the defence of Rhodes against the Turks in 1435, which would also account for his detailed knowledge of European travelling routes shown in Le Morte Darthur.
This must all remain conjecture. There are not many ascertainable facts to be gleaned by even the most assiduous of biographers; but they are at least sufficient to provide a living context for what is in part a military history of the early 15th century. There could be no more appropriate setting, in any case, for Le Morte Darthur itself. In part the great epic can be read as a magnificent retrieval of the exploits of the Lancastrian army in a foreign land. Hardyment is excellent, too, at recovering the stray details that make up the life of the design. The inclusion of specific names and places, for example, is generally a sure guide to the author’s real interests. Malory introduces on two occasions the name of Sir Sontraille, an obscure French captain who happened to be held captive in Warwickshire for ransom in 1432.
By 1441 Malory had become a knight, no doubt at the behest of the young Henry VI. He also became justice of the peace, Member of Parliament and Sheriff of Warwickshire. Hardyment describes him as “a wealthy and travelled man with a keen interest in new cultural developments”. The house at Newbold Revel was enlarged, no doubt because he was in the process of acquiring a wife and family. He had a large household of servants, including a harper whose duty was to sing of love and chivalry. Malory probably had a collection of books as well, and Hardyment reconstructs a library containing, among other volumes, Ywain and Gawain — an English translation and adaptation of Chrétien de Troyes’ Le Chevalier au Lion — Chaucer’s Troilus and Criseyde, Vegetius’s 4th-century Art of War and the New Testament.
A library can be a refuge as well as an inspiration. This was a time of weak governance in England, with the retinues of over-mighty nobles vying for ascendancy under the titular dominance of the feeble, amiable and religiose Henry VI. France was all but lost. A rebellion against the lawful authorities was raised by Jack Cade. And in this period Malory, with 26 others, was accused of ambushing the Duke of Buckingham with intent to murder him. The escapade was in fact part of the internecine conflicts of the period. Buckingham was the sworn enemy of Warwick, Malory’s liege lord, and it is easy to understand the motives if not the circumstances of his action. It was in any case a violent age from which no one was immune. The code of chivalry was itself a device to hide, or divert attention from, the savagery and brutality of an era when the country was in the hands of what were essentially warring tribes. The family that killed the most was the one most likely to prosper. That was how any royal family emerged, through murder and intrigue.
Malory was briefly imprisoned at Coleshill Manor, but escaped by swimming across the moat. It sounds a romantic feat, but the moat would have been filled with sewage. Then he gathered up a motley army and attacked Combe Abbey. Hardyment believes that it was to recover incriminating documents that were held there. It has also been suggested that the multifarious charges then laid against him — including that of rape — were designed deliberately to strip him of all knightly prestige. Given the “showcase” nature of justice in this period, this is not at all unlikely. He was taken into custody, and for the next eight years went in and out of prison with monotonous regularity. He was never formally put on trial because of the annoying inability of jurors to turn up, and he was freed on bail on numerous occasions.
Life in prison was not necessarily as hard as it is in the 21st century; he had his own set of chambers, access to his family and, perhaps most importantly, to his money. It is even possible that he wrote most of Le Morte Darthur while he was incarcerated, so that the great epic becomes a towering example of prison literature to be compared with The Pilgrim’s Progress and The Consolations of Philosophy, by Boethius. That setting may also account for the tone of melancholy that seems to invade the narrative, a wistfulness combined with a dour sense of fate. The story of Arthur is accompanied by sensations of loss and of transitoriness, as well as a note of stoic resignation. That may explain its central place in the national imagination.
It has burnt so brightly that many consider Arthur to have been a true king. Tennyson believed, for example, that Arthur was a real personage. But there is no evidence to that effect. There may have been a British warrior-king who flourished in the late 5th century, and who may have won a victory against the English invaders at a place known only as Mons Badonicus, but no one can be sure of anything. It is in any case a tribute to Malory’s skills that the invisible and ethereal chieftain has earned so prominent a place in national historiography.
The judicial pardon of Sir Thomas Malory was inscribed on an official roll in the autumn of 1462. Then he is mentioned in a list of knights about to invade Scotland; he was by now an old, as well as an experienced, warrior. Then once more he disappears from the record. It is not known when, where or how he died. He was buried in the Greyfriars Church by Newgate, however, which is now no more than a ruin. But he left behind a far greater monument.


by Christina Hardyment HarperCollins,

£25; 656pp£22.50 (free p&p) 0870 1608080

From Le Morte Darthur
Several lords are fighting over the kingship of England. One Christmas, a sword appears, embedded in a stone outside a church in London, with an inscription declaring that whoever pulls it out shall be King.
So upon New Year’s Day, when the service was done, the barons rode unto the field, some to joust and some to tourney. Sir Ector rode unto the jousts, and with him rode Sir Kay his son, and young Arthur that was his nourished brother. So as they rode to the jousts-ward, Sir Kay had lost his sword, for he had left it at his father’s lodging, and so he prayed young Arthur for to ride for his sword. Arthur rode fast after the sword, and when he came home, the lady and all were out to see the jousting. Then Arthur said to himself, “I will ride to the churchyard, and take the sword with me that sticketh in the stone, for my brother Sir Kay shall not be without a sword this day”. And so he handled the sword, and lightly and fiercely pulled it out of the stone, and took his horse and rode his way until he came to his brother and delivered him the sword. And as soon as Sir Kay saw the sword, he wist well it was the sword of the stone, and so he rode to his father Sir Ector, and said, “Sir, lo here is the sword of the stone, wherefore I must be king of this land”. Sir Ector made Sir Kay swear upon a book how he came to that sword. Sir, said Sir Kay, “by my brother Arthur, for he brought it to me”. “Now,” said Sir Ector to Arthur, “I understand ye must be king of this land.”

Wednesday, 30 July 2008

New research refutes myth of pure Scandinavian race

A team of forensic scientists at the University of Copenhagen has studied human remains found in two ancient Danish burial grounds dating back to the iron age, and discovered a man who appears to be of arabian origin. The findings suggest that human beings were as genetically diverse 2000 years ago as they are today and indicate greater mobility among iron age populations than was previously thought. The findings also suggest that people in the Danish iron age did not live and die in small, isolated villages but, on the contrary, were in constant contact with the wider world.
On the southern part of the island of Zealand in Denmark, lie two burial grounds known as Bøgebjerggård and Skovgaarde, which date back to the Danish iron age (c. 0-400 BC). Linea Melchior and forensic scientists from the University of Copenhagen analysed the mitocondrial DNA of 18 individuals buried on the sites and found that there was as much genetic variation in their remains as one would expect to find in individuals of the present day. The research team also found DNA from a man, whose genetic characteristics indicate a man of Arabian origin.
The ancestors of the Danes were in contact with the wider world
Archeologists and anthropologists know today that the concept of a single scandinavian genetic type, a scandinavian race that wandered to Denmark, settled there, and otherwise lived in complete isolation from the rest of the world, is a fallacy.
"If you look at the geographic position of Denmark, "then it becomes clear that the Danes must have been in contact with other peoples," says scientist, Linea Melchior. "We know from other archeological excavations that there was a good deal of trade and exchange of goods between Denmark and other parts of Scandinavia and Europe. These lines of communication must have extended further south as one of the Danish burial grounds, which dates back to the iron age also contained the remains of a man, who appears to have been of arabian origin.
People from distant lands were absorbed in Danish iron age communities
At the beginning of the Danish iron age, the roman legions were based as far north as the river Elbe (on the border of northern Germany) and it is thought that the man of arabian descent found in the burial grounds in Southern Zealand would have either been a slave or a soldier in the roman army. It is probable that he possessed skills or special knowledge, which the people in Bøgebjerggård or Skovgaard settlements could make use of, or he could have been the descendant of a female of arabian origin, who for reasons unknown, had crossed the river Elbe and settled down with the inhabitants of Zealand.
"This discovery is comparable to the findings of a colleague of mine, who found a person of siberian origin on the Kongemarke site," continues scientist, Linea Melchior. He was buried on consecrated ground, just as the circumstances of the arab man's burial was identical to that of the locals. The discovery of the arab man indicates that people from distant parts of the world could be and were absorbed in Danish communities.
The iron age peoples moved away from their place of birth
"All of our ancestors, no matter when they arrived have contributed to our history and the development of our lifestyle," explains Linea Melchior. "Indeed, Danish identity is more a definition of where one is physically located and lives today than a question of our past history - since we're all originally african in origin. That we ended up in Europe was accidental, which is in itself remarkable".
"Another interesting feature of the approximately 50 graves assessed so far on the two sites and also from other burial sites and time periods in Danish history is that none of the individuals seem to be maternally related to one another", explains Linea Melchior. "We couldn't see any large families buried in the same location. This suggests that even as far back as the Danish iron age, people didn't live and die in the villages of their birth, as one would previously have imagined".

The findings have been published in the American Journal of Physical Anthropology 135:206-215 (2008) and PLoSOne 3(5): e2214.

Monday, 28 July 2008

Dragons, leeks and daffodils: our national emblems

Think of Wales and you think of the red dragon, the heraldic symbol of the Principality that features on our national flag.

This mythical creature has come to symbolise the fiery Welsh, proud and defiant in the face of adversity - usually in battles with the English.
Legend has it that the symbol of the red dragon was sported on a crest by Arthur, son of Uthr Bendragon. It was said that the father had seen a dragon in the sky predicting his son would be king.
Other, more likely explanations of how the dragon came to be associated with Wales, can be more readily verified.
The dragon symbol probably found its way into Wales via Rome, when the Roman legions arrived on our shores sporting the mythical, fire-breathing creature as an emblem.
In the Medieval era Welsh poets would compare their brave leaders to dragons and between 1485 and 1603 the dragon formed part of the arms of the Tudor dynasty.
It surfaced again in the 19th century when it appeared as the royal badge for Wales in 1807. From then onwards the red dragon was frequently used as a symbol in Welsh patriotic societies and was finally officially recognised by the Queen in 1959.
Other national emblems include the daffodil and the leek.
The leek has the older association with Wales with references to this green and white plant dating back to the six-century poet Taliesin.
The leek is also mentioned in 13th century Red Book of Hergest which contains manuscripts of the Welsh mythological tales known as The Mabinogian.
Eating leeks was believed to encourage good health and happiness and they were worn by the Welsh in the Battle of Crecy in 1346.
It has been suggested, too, that the green and white family colours of the Tudor dynasty are taken from this most Welsh of symbols.
By the time Henry VIII - whose father Henry VII founded the Tudor dynasty - presented a leek to his daughter on St David's Day in 1536, the leek was firmly associated with Wales.
St David is, of course, the patron saint of Wales and the patriotic wear small, ornamental leeks and daffodils on March 1 to celebrate the Principality's own saint's day.

In contrast, the daffodil is a much younger emblem, gaining popularity in the 19th century. Women, especially, were fond of this bright, cheerful flower as an emblem of Wales.
At the beginning of the 20th century it became even more closely associated with the Principality when Welshman and British Prime Minster David Lloyd George wore it on St David's Day and at ceremonies to mark the investiture of the then Prince of Wales.

BBC hopes Merlin magic can rival Doctor Who

by Catherine Mary Evans, Western Mail

AN ALL-STAR drama based around one of Wales’ oldest legends will become the BBC’s latest attempt to rival the prime-time success of Doctor Who.
Merlin, which is currently being filmed in Wales and France for BBC1, is set in the mythical town of Camelot and follows the fabled friendship between the young wizard Merlin and Prince Arthur.
The 13-part family drama series, due to hit our screens in September, is set in a time before Arthur becomes king, as Merlin comes to terms with his magical powers.
Newcomer Colin Morgan, 22, from Northern Ireland, takes the lead role as Merlin. His previous television experience is limited to guest roles on Doctor Who and the Catherine Tate Show. However, he has made a name for himself in the West End with critically acclaimed roles in Vernon God Little and All About My Mother.
Morgan is joined by rising star Bradley James, who plays the young Arthur Pendragon, long before he took the sword from the stone and became King. James, 23, has previously appeared in an episode of ITV's detective drama Lewis.
Up-and-coming actress Angel Coulby, who has also appeared in Doctor Who and ITV police drama Vincent, stars as Guinevere.
The young performers’ acting skills will be put to the test alongside acting heavyweights such as veteran John Hurt and ex-EastEnder Michelle Ryan.
Bafta-winner Hurt will provide the voice of the young Merlin's mentor, the Great Dragon, while Bionic Womanstar Ryan will play wicked sorceress Nimueh. The role will be Ryan's first part since Bionic Woman, which was dropped following disappointing ratings in the US. Ryan has also been signed up to star in ITV1's new romantic comedy Mr Eleven, although this is not expected to air until late autumn.
BBC Wales’ head of drama Julie Gardner, also an executive producer on Doctor Who, said: “In this new version, Merlin and Arthur are young contemporaries for the first time ever, bringing a much loved tale to a whole new generation with a fresh, youthful new look and approach for Saturday nights.”
“John Hurt plays Merlin’s mythological mentor and the only dragon left with magic powers. It is an absolute privilege to be working with him.”
Heroes star Santiago Cabrera, who played Isaac Mendez in the hit US drama, will take the role of Lancelot.
One Foot in the Grave’s Richard Wilson and Buffy the Vampire Slayer’s Anthony Head take on the roles of court physician Gaius and Arthur’s father King Uther Pendragon respectively.
Guest stars include Eve Myles, Will Mellor, and Green Wing’s Julian Rhind-Tutt.
BBC bosses hope the tale will appeal to young and old audiences alike, and will fill the hole left by David Tennant’s absence in Doctor Who, which occupies a similar Saturday night slot in the schedules.
Merlin, which is being made by production company Shine – the International Emmy Award-winning production team behind Hex and Sugar Rush – through BBC Wales, will be broadcast from September in the Saturday 7pm slot previously filled by Doctor Who and Robin Hood.
Johnny Capps of Shine Television said: “We have a wonderful cast and fantastic locations, which we hope will bring alive the magic and myth of Camelot for a new audience.”
The series has already been sold to a number of international broadcasters by distributor FremantleMedia Enterprises, including NBC in the US and CTV in Canada.

Wednesday, 23 July 2008

Welsh claim to origins of the Holy Grail

Jul 12 2008 by Robin Turner, Western Mail

The allure of the Holy Grail has fascinated writers and ensnared knights for more than 1,000 years.
From Malory to Monty Python, the eternal chalice – said to be the very cup from which Jesus drank at the last supper – has become enshrined as one of popular culture’s most spiritual icons.
But while Scotland has been given the credit for being the Grail’s final resting place – thanks largely to Dan Brown’s hugely-successful novel The Da Vinci Code – a new book by a Welsh academic says Wales’ claim to the relic is stronger.
Since The Da Vinci Code was published in 2003 it has sold more than 60 million copies and been made into a blockbuster movie.
It has also led to hundreds of thousands of visitors making a pilgrimage to Rosslyn Chapel near Edinburgh, which the book claims is the Grail’s final resting place.
But Grail expert Dr Juliette Wood of Cardiff University, a New York-born Welsh convert, said theories linking the Grail to Scotland were relatively new.
“Wales’ associations with the Grail stretch back to the 14th century,” she said.
Dr Wood, who specialises in Welsh folklore and Celtic literature, dismisses Brown’s assertion that the Grail was discovered by the Knights Templar who buried it beneath one of the pillars of Rosslyn Chapel.
“Stories in the past century have tended to romanticise the Knights Templar as some kind of special forces of Christianity but in reality they were simple soldiers, admittedly brave, but ultimately they followed orders,” said Dr Wood, who is also secretary of the Folklore Society in London.
“Dan Brown’s book has certainly revived interest in the Grail but when it talks about masonic involvement and the Knights Templar, it goes too far.
“The story about Rosslyn Chapel’s links with the Grail is only about 20 years old.
“Wales’ link is much stronger. Wales has Arthurian romances which refer to the Grail, but Scotland doesn’t have that. There are a number of Holy Grail romances written in Scotland but there has not been anything found in Gaelic.”
Dr Wood said possibly the strongest association Wales had with the Grail came from the story of Peredur the Son of Evrawc, which appears in the Mabinogion.
“There are strong links between Peredur and the Knight Percival from the King Arthur romances.
“The two are not the same but there are strong similarities between them,” she said.
“The story of Peredur of Wales is that he sets out on a quest to find the Grail.
“In a castle one night, it appears not as a shining beacon, but in the form of his cousin’s head, floating on a platter or dish in a pool of blood.
“Peredur then avenges his uncle by slaying the nine witches of Gloucester.
“What happens to the Grail after the death of the witches however is a mystery, it appears to disappear into the mists of time.”
Other theories which link the Grail to Wales include an ancient Celtic myth surrounding the Nanteos Cup, a sacred life-giving cauldron, thought to have been the basis for many Grail stories.
More recently a theory was put forward by former Western Mail journalist and bard, Owen Morgan, who claimed the Grail was not an object but the beautiful landscape of Wales.
Many further meanings have been devised for the Grail, which has been linked to the Celts and King Arthur, the eucharistic rites of Eastern Christianity, ancient mystery religions, Jungian archetypes, dualist heresies, Templar treasures and even the alleged descendants of Christ and Mary Magdalene.
The common thread running through all the stories is the assumption that the Grail legend has a single source with a meaning that is concealed in the romances themselves.
“I think the enduring fascination of the Grail is its elusiveness, it’s like a puzzle no-one yet has solved and people see it as a challenge, just like the ancient knights,” said Dr Wood, who left New York at the age of 23 to learn Welsh, but ended up staying.
“I saw a postcard in a shop in Aberystwyth depicting the Nanteos Cup and I became hooked on the Grail legend and its associations with Wales ever since.”
Eternal Chalice: The Enduring Legend of the Holy Grail (I.B.Tauris, £18.99), is out now

King Arthur "was Welsh" say French academics

Jul 1 2008 by Darren Devine, Western Mail

French historians have suggested King Arthur was indeed a Welshman despite years of English “spin” claiming the mythical figure as their own.
As part of a major conference into the legend, academics say that if the king ever existed he was probably from Wales with strong links to Brittany, in northern France.
And far from being English – a ploy, they say, to appeal to nationalist sentiment – he would actually have been the sworn enemy of the Anglo-Saxons.
The organisers of the event at Rennes University, in Brittany, say the fable of Arthur and Camelot has been continually updated by English nationalists keen to bring back the Age of Chivalry.
Being held next month, the conference and exhibition – King Arthur a Legend in the Making – will suggest English historians, artists and writers conspired to create a fictitious national hero.
Curator of the Rennes exhibition Sarah Toulouse said: “These stories deal with universal themes. The earliest fragments of the tales can be traced back to Wales in the seventh century.
“But by the 13th century stories based on the Arthurian legends were being told right across Europe.”
When the British Empire was at its zenith, writers like the Victorian poet laureate Alfred Lord Tennyson depicted King Arthur as an upstanding Englishman whose masculine virtues saw him try to create heaven on earth.
Mrs Toulouse added: “King Arthur is a mythical figure who was invented at a certain point in history for essentially political reasons.”
The tales of Camelot, Excalibur and Arthurian derring-do have long been popular throughout Europe, with the earliest images of the king found in Italy, dating from about 1120. They also quickly spread as far apart as Iceland and found particular popularity in rural Brittany, although French historians have not gone as far as trying to claim the king as French. “It would be out of the question for us to say that,” said Mrs Toulouse.
Alan Wilson, a Welsh authority on Arthur, agreed with many of the conference’s claims, even claiming he has discovered evidence the monarch famed for his Knights of the Round Table lived and died here.
He says the nation is missing out on a tourism bonanza by ignoring our connections to the legendary leader.
In the early 1980s Mr Wilson, along with Arthurian co-author Baram Blackett, found what they claimed was the King’s memorial stone at the small ruined church of St Peter-super-Montem on Mynydd-y-Gaer, near Bridgend.
A decade later, after using deep ground metal detection equipment, the two say that a cross weighing 2.5lb with an inscription reading “Pro Anima Artorius” (For The Soul Of Arthur) was among several articles discovered. They say the National Museum of Wales was offered both items for analysis, but the offer was declined.
Mr Wilson said despite writing to Culture Minister Rhodri Glyn Thomas about the strength of Wales’ claims on King Arthur, his work is being ignored here.
The writer, who is originally from Cardiff but who now lives in Newcastle, claims historical records from the life of St Illtyd, Arthur’s cousin who buried the monarch, show his body was taken up the Ewenny River.
It was later placed in a cave near Pencoed following his death in 579AD, says Mr Wilson.
The 76-year-old author, whose latest work on the leader was the King Arthur Conspiracy, said the King’s body was then moved to the church where it was buried under a crypt.
Mr Wilson, who believes Arthur’s mythical kingdom of Camelot was in an area now known as Castlefield in Cardiff, said, “I gave them (Assembly officials) copies of our books last year and met the First Minister Rhodri Morgan’s private adviser.”
Mr Wilson, who worked in shipbuilding as a master planner and received commendations from both the Italian and Swedish Governments, added: “The Culture Minister [Rhodri Glyn Thomas] was due to meet us, but ducked out at the last minute. We’ve sent them documents within the last six weeks.
“But it seems the Welsh establishment don’t want tourists. We’ve made monumental discoveries that could create a tourist bonanza like you can’t imagine. You’re sitting on a tourism gold mine in Wales.”
A spokesman for Assembly tourism organisation Visit Wales said overly exploiting every part of Wales said to have connections to Arthur would ruin the visitor experience.
He added: “In addition, the Arthurian story is not unique to Wales since many other parts of the UK and France can claim and demonstrate strong links with the great legend.”
Laying claim to the legend
Almost every corner of the UK has laid claim to the legend of King Arthur. Here we highlight just a few of the places associated with the King:
Authors Alan Wilson and Baram Blackett say Arthur’s kingdom of Camelot was in the Castlefield area of Cardiff.
Tintagel, in Cornwall, has also had a long association with Arthur and the area’s castle is said by local legend to have been the King’s fortress.
Glastonbury Abbey has been taken to be the Isle of Avalon, where Arthur was said to have gone to be healed of his wounds following the Battle of Camlann in 537. Late tradition assumes that he died and was buried there. Other legends have it that the Island of Avalon is the Isle of Aval in northern Brittany.
Stories of King Arthur holding court at Caerleon, near Newport, stretch back to the time of Geoffrey of Monmouth in the 12th century and further still to the oral traditions set down in the Mabinogion.