King Arthur’s 2nd to 5th Battles – Bulbarrow Hill Site Visit

This month, February 2017, I visited the area I had identified four years ago as where King Arthur fought his second to fifth battles. In my post “King Arthur of Somerset: early battles above the River Divelish”, I explained that the Historia Brittonum “says Arthur’s four battles on the borders of Lindinis were ‘above the river which is called Dubglas’,” and that “linguists inform us that the name Divelish can have derived from Dubglas. The River Divelish rises on the N Dorset Downs south of Ibberton.”

The location is far more spectacularly credible than I had imagined as the site of Arthur’s early skirmishes to prove his worthiness to rule the Kingdom of Lindinis by defending its southern border.

In what is now deeply rural north Dorset, two miles south of Ibberton, the rim of Bulbarrow Hill gives large vistas to southward over the valleys below. Any general who had command of south Somerset but needed to guard against enemies from his south would want to control and defend Bulbarrow Hill. Correspondingly, Bulbarrow defended would be extremely difficult to conquer from the south with anything less than overwhelming force.

Today there is a sign informing us that this scenic location is on the “Wessex Ridgeway” long-distance footpath. The footpath is a recent creation; but the ridge, one can truthfully say, is as old as the hills, and the sign tells us that it was “used by traders and invaders”.

There is even an Iron Age fort on the ridge, called Rawlsbury Camp (a mile west of the sign), about 500 metres from one of the sources of the River Divelish. King Arthur’s base for his second to fifth battles? The pieces of the jigsaw fit together: credible purpose, credible strategically, credible linguistically[1]. One can’t prove it, of course, but it would certainly make sense.

 

[1] Equally so, incidentally, if the anciently Dubglas-named river be the stream flowing from Higher Ansty (below Rawlsbury) southwards through Dewlish, as others have suggested.

 

 

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Map of King Arthur’s Lindinis (Somerset) Kingdom

This map is great – except that, the Google I can use obviously takes the line representing KingArthur’s Lindinis kingdom’s boundary along today’s roads rather than along hilltops where in reality it must have been. Also, accuracy is limited by the number of reference points I can use. In particular, the line from Beaminster (marked M on the map) to Iwerne Minster (marked N) should be along the N Dorset Downs watershed, not dipping southwards to Dorchester.

The Real King Arthur

This blog piece has taken five hours / fifty years to make. Five hours to compose – and, behind that, fifty years of study and love, visits and maps, intellect and intuition. I have been in pursuit of the real King Arthur since I first visited Glastonbury, and then South Cadbury, in the 1960s.

As a schoolboy in Taunton, I believed that he was one of ours – a man of what we knew as The Westcountry, a land that included Somerset, Devon, and Cornwall. Now I am confident. The pieces fit together. All the indicative evidence points in one direction. Arthur was King of Lindinis Civitas. This was northern Devon, most of Somerset, northern Dorset, and much of western Wiltshire.

Everything, every story or notice that has a geographical element and is maybe derived from a source in the fifth or sixth centuries, has a certain or probable Lindinis provenance. Modern writers placing Arthur in the north, Scotland, Lincolnshire, or the third century, base their thinking on no more than the odd piece of etymology (such as Camboglanna on Hadrian’s Wall as a claimant for Camlan, or Lincoln – Lindum in Latin – as a claimant for Linnuis), and bypass the inconvenient total absence of Arthur’s name from the Bonedd y gwyr gogledd (“Descent of the men of the north”), a document of genuine antiquity in which the names of the actual kings of the various regions of northern Britannia are given in several genealogical compilations; and any connecting of Arthur to Tintagel, Caerleon, Colchester or London is derivative of the fanciful imaginings of Geoffrey of Monmouth.

The earliest historical source on Arthur pointing in part away from Lindinis is the list of twelve battles in the Historia Britonnum, an eighth- or ninth-century compilation; however, all the battles there listed which are identifiably far from Lindinis are also identifiably ones that were unconnected to King Arthur (Chester; Wallop; Armterid – now called Arthuret, north of Carlisle; etc): they were fought by other warriors at dates spread across the quarter of a millennium after the British overthrew their Roman governors.

It is a lost cause to attempt to convince academic historians that there even was a real King Arthur, let alone that anything specific can be said about him. Such historians allow as evidence only documents that are beyond doubt contemporary to the events they attest, or copied unaltered from ones that were so, and physical archaeology and artefacts. In an era when very few people could write, when the main method of culture transmission was oral storytelling – primarily by bards in poetic song – and when even the most imposing residences and strongholds of the social elite were built in wood, evidence that attains academics’ thresholds is virtually non-existent. It is not only for King Arthur that this type of evidence is lacking: even the reality of (piecemeal) conquest of England by Englishmen (the “Anglo-Saxons”) is questioned for lack of such ultra-hard proof.

But the indications for King Arthur are diverse and consistent. What happened has often come down to us as told in allegory and story, a culturally natural form for the fifth and sixth centuries, rather than as the dry facts beloved of modern scholarship.

The one dry source is the Annales Cambriae, which names him as a Christian and as the victor of the Battle of Badon – at a date that has to be corrected to 490 – and as being killed in 538 at the Battle of Camlan. The other sources, which I have discussed in previous posts here, are oral traditions later written down, saints’ Lives, and an eighth-century battle list that straddles the border between eulogy and record-keeping.

In probable chronological sequence, the life of King Arthur thereby conveyed is this:-

  • As a youth when Cador was Governor of Lindinis Civitas, Prince Arthur met St. Carantoc at the mouth of the Doniford Brook, near Watchet in Somerset. They travelled to see Cador in his kaer (citadel) at Dundry (Somerset). Cador chose Christianity to be the official religion of Lindinis. He granted St. Carantoc a land charter to build a church at the commercially significant town of Carhampton (Somerset).
  • Arthur as the new man in charge of Lindinis had a culturally essential duty to fight and win raids on his borders. He won one such at Glein (possibly Clannaborough, in the Lindinis part of Devon), and four more skirmishes on the hills above the River Divelish (near Ibberton, on the border of the Lindinis part of Dorset).
  • He won a battle on the Bristol Channel coast (Somerset); and then another that may have been near Beaminster (on the border of the Lindinis part of Dorset) or near Mere (near the border of the Lindinis part of Wiltshire).
  • He was given Divine protection from death by a Christian Mystery initiation at Beckery on what was then the Glastonbury peninsula (Somerset).
  • He defeated English aggressors at the stunningly successful Battle of the Badonic Hill near Bath (Somerset) in 490.
  • He ruled Lindinis for half a century and became known as King Arthur (rather than Roman-style Governor). During the long peacetime that followed his Badonic victory, his largest citadel which he used often to host feasts for kings of other British kingdoms, was the Cadbury-Camelot hillfort at South Cadbury (Somerset).
  • He was killed at the Battle of Camlan at Queen Camel (Somerset) in 538.
  • He was buried by monks of Glastonbury Abbey (Somerset), most likely at Nyland, the island in the marshes (now the Somerset Levels) held sacred as the Gate to the Otherworld, rather than by the Old Church at Glastonbury itself.

After his death he was remembered as a great warrior hero by Celtic bards of the later sixth century (Aneurin, Taliesin), and as their own past warrior hero by the bard who eulogised a battle lost in the eighth century at Langport (Somerset). He was remembered in song particularly by minstrels of Brittany (culturally descended from immigrants from the Westcountry).

From them, his fame entered mainstream European literature as the fictionalised hero of “Arthurian legend”. The real King Arthur, successful Brittonic warrior leader, commander of a hillfort in SE Somerset beside the River Cam later known as Camelot, Christian ruler of one of the ten former Roman civitates of Britannia Prima, Lindinis, a name after his time corrupted to Lyonesse…. became transformed into the wizard-guided idealised model English (!) king, born at Tintagel, and governing the whole island of Britain (and then some) with the help of the Knights of the Round Table – voided in the public imagination of all lifetime connection to his true home among the hills, coasts, forests, and extensive brackish marshes of Somerset.

Dating the Battle of Badon

 

The Date of the Battle of Badon Controversy

The The date of the battle of Badon has long been the subject of controversy among students of the period. The uncertainty is due to the ambiguity of Gildas’s words in his book De Excidio et Conquestu Britanniae. He refers in the context of Badon to “the 44th year with one month elapsed”, i.e. a period of 43 years and one month. But it is not linguistically clear whether the period was before the Battle of Badon – between a previous event mentioned in his book and the battle – or after it, between the battle and the date of writing.

 

How to Interpret Gildas

A major difficulty with interpreting this as the period between the battle and the time of writing is: how could Gildas while he was still writing have known to the month at what date his work would be finished? The alternative that the 43 years and one month ended with the battle (which of course did have an exact date) leads to the question: which of three events Gildas discussed in the preceding chapters of De Excidio he intended as the starting point. It could reasonably be any of: the letter to Aetius (Chapter 20); the council of Britain deciding to invite some Saxons to fight for Britain (Chapter 23); or the coming to power of Ambrosius (Chapter 25).

Gildas could reasonably have known the month and year of any of these. But the coming to power of Ambrosius should be ruled out, because Gildas indicates that it happened after and in consequence of the Great Raid of 473. This would require the date of Badon to be 516 or up to a few years later. A date as late as this is inconsistent with Gildas’s saying that the people who were in positions of responsibility during the warring that culminated at Badon, including kings, officials and priests, had all died by the time of writing. De Excidio was published during the lifetime of King Maelgwn (Mailcun in the older spelling used in the Annales Cambriae [AC]), so not later than 548CE.[1] A period of thirty years or so is not sufficient for this to be true. Fifty years at least would be necessary.

Also, Gildas records that he was born in the year of the battle of Badon. Hagiographical writings record that he gave or sent a bell to St. Bride. (It is presumed that he was a bell-maker.) If true, this has to have been before her death in 524, and therefore Gildas’s birth can hardly have been later than, at a squeeze, 510. There is also the tradition that he founded Rhuys Abbey in the 520s. This date is not as assured as that of St. Bride’s death – but even if the foundation date were in the 530s it would speak in favour of a date of Gildas’s birth earlier than 516.

 

43 Years after Aetius or Hengist

It is much more probable therefore that Gildas intended us to understand his period of 43 years and 1 month to begin with one of the other two seminal events he reports, the letter to Aetius or the invitation to Hengist. The letter to Aetius is the most probable, as it is the only one of the three events in writing, and therefore with an exact date on its face. It is figured to have been sent in 446 because that was the year of his third consulship, to which the letter refers.

In any case though, if the council of Britain was meant it makes little difference to the calculation for the date of Badon. The council cannot have been long after the letter, for response to the emergency prompting the request to Aetius for military aid was urgent. It makes logical sense to postulate that the council convened late in 446 or early in 447, the year when according to Mageoghagan’s Irish annals Hengist actually arrived with his English warriors in response to that council’s request. On either basis, the resulting calculation is that the Battle of Badon was fought in 489 or 490.

 

Badon in 490 CE Makes Sense

This date for Badon and therefore for Gildas’s birth fits the information about Gildas’s life excellently. It is also fully consistent with the archaeological record, which shows a break in the English penetration of Britain approximately comprising the first half of the sixth century; and with the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle which gives no battles other than in Wessex between 490 and 550. Its supposed battles in Wessex have been interpreted as an ‘origin myth’ for the Gewissae dynasty, rather than factual truth.

 

The Annales Cambriae Date for Badon can be Amended to 490

It can be reconciled with the AC on a straightforward hypothesis: that the original Christian source said the Battle of Badon was “490 years after the Incarnation of Christ”, and that an early copyist mis-transcribed that as “490 years after the Passion of Christ’. Scribes before the introduction of the AD calendar sometimes expressed dates anno passio, and 27 needs to be subtracted from the number thus given to give the corresponding CE year.[2] The AC date for the Battle of Badon on a +445 calibration is 517CE, and 517 minus 27 is 490.

490CE as the date of the Battle of Badon fits well with all the evidence. It does not require the AC compilers to have made a complex derivation of the date of Badon, such as by interpreting De Excidio and the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle while not using other dates also found in the same sources. It is compatible with the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, Bede, the archaeological evidence, the floruit of Ambrosius, the Irish annals, De Excidio, the events of Gildas’s life, and the other entries in the AC.

The 27-year Passion/Incarnation mistake does nothing to diminish the likelihood of authenticity of the AC entry. On the contrary, it enhances it, for the error is much more probable with a source that was originally written before the invention of the AD calendar in 529.


[1] On the calibration of the AC to the CE calendar by adding 445 to the AC’s internal year ticker count, which I advocate for its pre-565 entries (see my previous post here of 21 September 2013).

[2] The Historia Brittonum demonstrates that such mistakes happened: Chapters 16 and 66 show a similar mistake in reverse, 405 and 400 years after the Incarnation, respectively, being written when “years after the Passion” should have been written.

King Arthur: Buried at Glastonbury Abbey?

The Fiction Show of c1191

In c1191, monks of Glastonbury Abbey dug up remains purporting to be the earthly remains of King Arthur and his wife Guinevere. Experts on the twelfth century are, I understand, agreed that the dig happened alright, but that the connection between what was dug up and King Arthur was wholly fictional.

For one thing, Guinevere was invented in the twelfth century: no early source about Arthur names his wife. Besides, the story put out in the 1190s was that the woman’s body was seen with a lock of golden hair – as might have been on the head of an English queen; but not one of sixth-century Celtic Britain. Thirdly, the inscribed cross found in 1191 below ground at a layer above the bones asserted that there lay King Arthur “in insula avalonis” – on the Isle of Avalon. The Isle of Avalon was also invented in the twelfth century: it was one of Geoffrey of Monmouth’s realms of fable.[1] Besides, there is no basis for supposing that anyone of the sixth century was buried with an inscribed cross; no other such crosses have turned up despite the considerable number of sixth-century graves that have been discovered.

Until recently, historians thought that the inscription was tenth century, and that it might have been added when the Abbey cemetery was raised by Abbot St. Dunstan. They now say that the appearance of tenth-century writing is itself phoney; the inscription was recent at the time it was “found”.[2]

 

Signs and Wonders: Not Disbarred

The next question, though, is: however phoney the show in c1191, why King Arthur there – Glastonbury? Certainly, the fact that the monks said that King Arthur was buried there does not, in its cultural context, mean by itself that there was any factual basis for their so saying. They said that Joseph of Arimathea came to live and die at Glastonbury, and this has zero basis in fact.

In what James Carley calls the official version of the events of c1191, Geraldus Cambrensis said that the site of King Arthur’s burial was “revealed by strange and almost miraculous signs…. Certain indications in their [the Abbey’s] writings, and others in the letters engraven on the pyramids…. Others again were given in visions and relations vouchsafed to good men and religious, yet it was above all King Henry II of England that most clearly informed the monks, as he himself heard from an ancient Welsh bard”.[3]

Carley’s own close review of William of Malmesbury’s record of what was on the Abbey’s pyramids is sufficient to show that this element of Geraldus’s “signs” adds up to nothing. Like the “Artognou” stone inscription excavated at Tintagel, Glastonbury Abbey’s pyramids are, in the story of Arthur, a red herring.

Geraldus’s reference to “indications in the… writings” can be set alongside William of Malmesbury’s words of c1125 in his book “The Deeds of the Kings of England”, where he calls Arthur “a man clearly worthy not to be dreamed of in fallacious fables, but to be proclaimed in veracious histories as one who long sustained his tottering country and gave the shattered minds of his fellow citizens an edge for war”[4]. The implication is that something about a real Arthur was recorded in the Abbey library, but not much – not at any rate, anything William found substantial enough to write up in either of his books. This record could well have included the words which formed the Battle of Badon entry in the Annales Cambriae, telling of Arthur’s victory and his the carrying the image of the Cross on his shoulders; and maybe little, perhaps nothing, more. William’s words after “histories” are a paraphrase of the words of praise that Gildas gave to Ambrosius Aurelianus in his book “De Excidio et Conquestu Britanniae”, immediately prior to his report of the Battle of Badon that, infamously, does not name its victor. Perhaps William read both Gildas and the Annales Cambriae words and deduced, not without good cause, that in regional military resistance to English advances, Arthur successfully carried on where Ambrosius left off. All of which is relevant to an understanding of who the real King Arthur was, but says nothing about whether he was buried at Glastonbury.  

It is the “Welsh bard” component of the “signs” that makes political sense. King Henry had a clear political motivation to “prove” to the Welsh that King Arthur was dead, because the “once and future king” legend had by this time become attached to his name and Henry wished to curb its risk of fomenting rebellion. Henry would therefore have had motivation to bribe, cajole, threaten or force anyone his informants led him to believe knew the truth to reveal the whereabouts of King Arthur’s grave. But he would have cared little where the answer was. What mattered was that the Welsh would believe it to be genuine. If there had been any counter-tradition in circulation, this could have been hard to squash. There are only two credible possibilities for Geraldus saying that a bard named Glastonbury as the burial site. One is that it was, behind the vows of bardic secrecy, the true answer. The other is that nobody knew, that the answer (and maybe the bard, too) were fictitious, and that Glastonbury was picked out of thin air – one might imagine, by Abbot Blois, as a favour to King Henry II. It at least had the merits of being a Christian site of great, but unknown, antiquity; and with a cemetery to match.

“Visions and relations vouchsafed to good men and religious” is, as in other Abbey contexts, code for “the oral knowledge within the Abbey secretly passed down the generations”.

The combination of the “bard”, the “visions and relations vouchsafed”, and the “indications in the writings”, while not to the modern mind proof of anything, is stronger than the components individually in indicating that the burial of Arthur at Glastonbury, in contrast to the identification therewith of the bones and inscription that were dug up in c1191, is genuine. It is also to be noted that, in the age of veneration of relics, disputes arose about Glastonbury’s claims to those of St. Patrick, St. Dunstan, Sts. Aidan, Bede, Hilda and other Northumbrian saints,[5] but no other claimants ever came forward asserting that they and not Glastonbury had King Arthur.

I offer a basis for the claim that the Abbey buried King Arthur to have been true and yet for the man’s bones not to have been there in 1191. The most sacred thing to have done in 538 if the Abbey did bury King Arthur would not have been to sink his coffin to the south of the Old Church.[6] It would have been to take it by silent water craft through the meres that are now the drained Somerset levels[7], to a final resting place at Nyland, one of the Abbey’s “Seven Holy Islands” – Nyland’s other name is Andrewsey, a portmanteau word meaning “the isle (ey) of the door (drws) of the Queen of Heaven (An)”, i.e. the door to the Otherworld (Annwn).[8]

 

 

 

 


[1] As with so many of his imaginative creations, Geoffrey did not invent Avalon out of totally thin air. There is a poem titled Avallenau attributed to Myrddin, a bard who lived about 100 years after Arthur. (Geoffrey Latinised his name to Merlinus and used it for a major character in his story.) The author indicates within the Avallenau poem that he composed it in c620. The English for avallenau is “apple trees”. The poem is an esoteric work delighting in the chakras. For Geoffrey to use the word for an imaginary otherworldly place of healing, filled with apple trees, was therefore far from silly.

[2] Rahtz and Watts, Glastonbury, 2009: p 59 report the similarity of the inscription writing to one of known twelfth century date at Stoke-sub-Hamdon.

[3] James Carley, Glastonbury Abbey, 1996: p148.

[4] ibid, p154.

[5] ibid, Chapter 5

[6] The earliest person named on the Abbey cemetery’s pyramids is Abbot Bregored, the last Celtic British abbot, who died in c670. All the names on the pyramids other than Bregored appear to be English. (ibid, pp150-151). Archaeologists found evidence of “two mausolea dating from the Celtic period” (ibid, p150; Rahtz and Watts, Glastonbury: 2009, p111). Despite these, however, Rahtz and Watts (p109) date the origin of the cemetery to “the seventh to eighth centuries”. The burial of kings and abbots there may not pre-date Bregored.

[7] Tennyson, author of the imaginative and beautiful fiction poem Morte d’Arthur,  presumably knew this.

[8] See previous blog post (26 July 2013) on the Seven Holy Islands.

Glastonbury’s Seven Holy Islands

Seven Holy Islands

The “Isle” of Glastonbury and the hills (or rises) Bride’s Mound at Beckery, Meare (also called Ferramere), Godney, Barrow Hill (between Panborough and Bleadney), Marchey (also called Martinsey), Nyland (also called Andersey or Andrewsey) since Saxon times belonged to Glastonbury Abbey and, along with the “Glastonbury 12 hides” were named as exempt from taxation in Magna Carta. These are the “seven holy islands”. From the fifth to the tenth century, the five other than Glastonbury and Beckery probably were true islands wholly surrounded by the Brue and Axe rivers and their channels, tributaries and distributaries in a marshy landscape. All five are surrounded by land below today’s 10 metre contour above mean sea level, “which indicates the approximate extent of former periodic flooding”[1]; much of it below the 5 metre contour. The Beckery-Glastonbury peninsula is similarly surrounded except along the Edgarley Road ridge to its east which at its lowest is 13 metres above sea level. According to Professor Stephen Rippon (http://humanities.exeter.ac.uk/archaeology/research/projects/title_90439_en.html ), works to control water flow into the Axe and Brue valleys from the east (thus beginning their journey to their present state of dry land) were undertaken from the tenth century onwards.

 

Spiritual Progress Through the Islands of Somerset Summerland

A straight (ley?) line runs from Nyland through Barrow and Godney to the Old Church of Glastonbury Abbey. According to the esotericist author John Michell, the pattern of the seven holy islands mirrors that of the stars of the Great Bear. It can be speculated that the Abbey valued the seven islands in sacred trust because they were previously held sacred by the Druids; and indeed that they, the holy rivers Brue and Axe which surround them (nominally equivalent to, and perhaps derived from, the holy rivers Varuna and Asi at India’s Varanasi), and the holy City of Light (glas), were the original Summerland, the earthly symbolic representation of the heavenly Otherworld, from which Somerset got its name. [2]

It is possible that each of the islands symbolises an aspect of the initiate’s spiritual journey to enlightenment. Some islands offer a clear suggestion of such symbolic meaning: Meare, once famous for its now-drained Meare Pool, for stilling the mind as in meditation; Andrewsey, for the  “third eye” which yogis say is the door to an inner world where you experience transcendent love, light, and joy; Martinsey, named for St. Martin the West’s pioneer of withdrawal from the world like the Desert Fathers of Egypt, for renunciation; Beckery, which means “beekeepers’ island”, for the sweet honeyed “taste” of the nectar of divine bliss as the devotee crosses Pomparles Bridge, the “perilous” bridge (also known to all fairytale heroines) of letting go of all vestiges of ego, entering oneness with Spirit – and advances to full enlightenment, symbolically the city of light, Glas[ton]bury. Possibly Godney, God’s isle, was the symbolic island for devotion and prayer; and Barrow, alone of the seven set in a narrow water- channel between two proper hills (Wedmore and Wookey), the symbol for the self-discipline needed to overcome all barriers to spiritual attainment.

It may be no coincidence on this basis that if the Seven Holy Islands mirror the Great Bear constellation, Andrewey corresponds to the only star that can fairly be called the beginning of the constellation, and the line from Beckery to Glastonbury corresponds to the line that points to the Polestar.

 

Glastonbury’s Seven Holy Islands and the Seven Kaers of Preiddeu Annwn

It is possible to find a correspondence between these putative identifications of the symbols of the Seven Holy Islands and the seven “kaers” (royal citadels) in the poem attributed to Taliesin, Preiddeu Annwn.  The poem in masked language expresses the initiate’s spiritual journey to find “the treasures of heaven, hidden within” (which is what I see as the true meaning of the title).

Kaer Sidi (line 10 of Preiddeu Annwn) is the ultimate spiritual destination, the state of enlightenment, corresponding to the Isle of Glastonbury. Nyland, considering its shape, could be Kaer Pedryuan, the “four-cornered” kaer (line 12). Kaer Vedwit (line 22), the citadel of wisdom, is on this schema Meare, the pool of stillness centred in meditation which enables the devotee to contact wisdom. Kaer Rigor (line 28) is the very highly spiritually advanced state of stillness in which the body is literally absolutely immovable and as if non-functioning (c.f. rigor mortis), known to yogis as sabikalpa samadhi, in which yogis say the pure bliss of God is felt, the last step on the initiate’s spiritual ascent before achieving enlightenment, so by both location and symbolic meaning this has to be Beckery. Barrow might symbolically be Kaer Golud (line 34), one translation of which is the citadel of “hindrance or impediment”, with Godney being Kaer Vandwy (line 42), the citadel of prayer. Finally, Kaer ochren (line 48), the “ochre-coloured” citadel has to be Martinsey, the isle of renunciation, for which the colour ochre, in which swamis are robed, is anciently the symbol.

 

[1] Rahtz and Watts, Glastonbury: 2009, p29.

[2] I have seen no evidence that the modern Welsh name for Somerset, gwlad yr haf, meaning “the summer land”, has any deep antiquity. But to the east of Glastonbury, cut by Edgarley Road less than half a mile from its lowest point, is Ponter’s Ball, a human-made earthwork obstacle that could have been used as a checkpoint to island Glastonbury from outsiders. Rahtz and Watts (ibid, p30) mention the possibility “that it was the eastern boundary of a great Celtic sanctuary around the Tor”. The road cuts Ponter’s Ball at a hamlet called Havyatt, which means “summer gate”.

Camlan (Camlann) and Camelot

Camlan

King Arthur was killed at the Battle of Camlan (sometimes spelt Camlann). This bare fact is stated in the Annales Cambriae in its entry for 538CE.  Commentators have for decades searched the length and breadth of Britain for the location of Camlan, striving to decipher at which enclosure or church (lan) on which bend (cam) Arthur fell.

All the while they have missed what is hidden in the open. Re-parse the name from Cam lan to Caml an; recall that, for the Druid faith, “An” is a name of the Supreme Being, the Goddess, the Queen of Heaven; then all that remains is the translation into English: Queen Camel.

 

Queen Camel

Queen Camel is at the foot of Camel Hill; two miles to the west, encouragingly for this connection, is Annis Hill. The River Cam, which flows through Queen Camel, rises a few miles to the north-east on God’s Hill (the only place so named in Britain).

Queen Camel is also just two miles west of Cadbury Castle, the hillfort proved by Alcock’s archaeologists to have been a major timber-built kaer (royal banqueting centre and defensive citadel) during the late fifth and/or the sixth centuries, its principal hall twice the size of any other in Britain known for this period. Its name is indicative of it having been built or rebuilt by Cador (the Governor of Lindinis in the third quarter of the fifth century – see my post here of 9th March 2013). If Arthur was King of Lindinis, Cadbury Castle would certainly have been one of his residences, and quite possibly the most sumptuous one at which he fulfilled his political/diplomatic responsibilities to other kings of Britons as a giver of feasts[1]. Cadbury Castle is only six miles from Ilchester and therefore can be reckoned to have been the place to which the greatest proportion of Lindinis’s ruling class decamped when they vacated the Roman city during Cador’s governorship. If the battle of Camlan was indeed, as legend portrays it, an internal struggle in which somebody (Medraut?) challenged Arthur, by then an old man, for his kingship, the Queen Camel area below Cadbury Castle is a most rational location for such a battle.

 

Camelot – South Cadbury

There is, of course, no solid proof that King Arthur lived at Cadbury Castle. It is, though, most curious that in the earliest “Arthurian” tale to name a castle, by Chrétien de Troyes written in c1170, it is called Camaalot. Close variants of this name have been used in many later Arthurian tales. Perhaps Chrétien drew the name, along with some of the rest of his storylines, from Breton minstrels who sang of the achievements of Arthur and kept a true tradition of the Camel name from this district of south Somerset. And there is no other genuine contender for the location of King Arthur’s primary residence – the only other place so designated in medieval story, Caerleon in Monmouthshire where he is placed in other legends, is wholly spurious.


[1] There is a poem attributed to Taliesin, but known only from a text 1000 years later than Taliesin’s time, in which Arthur the victor of Badon is referred to as “Chief giver of feasts”, a praise totally apposite to a successful sixth-century British ruler.