Tuesday, 29 December 2015

Sir Galahad - and why he annoys me!

The son of Lancelot du Lac, Sir Galahad, was the greatest of knights who ever sat around Arthur's fine Round Table. So how come no one had heard of him until the 13th Century?

George Frederick Watts (1817 - 1904) 
Galahad first appears in Lancelot-Grail. He became such a popular knight that from here-on-in, we hear about him all the time. He is everything his father was, but then more. The more I read about him, the more I am convinced that he should really have entered the church and stayed well away from Arthur and his knights. If you don't know his story, then read on and you will see what I mean.

Lancelot mistakes Elaine, the daughter of the Fisher King, as Guinevere, and he begets her with child. More magic is involved here, I fear -- unless Lancelot was like Prince Charming who, as I should imagine you all know, failed to recognize the love of his life and had to identify her by placing a glass slipper on her foot! They say love is blind and all that, but...really?
Elaine has a son. According to Prose Lancelot, the child is given his father's original name of Galahad - of course. Galahad has a noble ancestry on his mothers side at least, he descends from the brother of Joseph of Aramethia. I guessed he lucked out with his father, who could not tell one woman from the next, (I know, I know, you get the picture, I am just not impressed with Lancelot's excuses).

Merlin foresees Galahad's future in a vision. The son of du Lac is destined to find the Holy Grail.

Galahad grows up and becomes a man.

Lancelot, knights him and takes him to Camelot. Here he sits in the chair that no one should sit on except for the chosen Grail seeker. Luckily for Galahad, he is that man, otherwise he would have died there and then and what a shame that would have been.

With wide eyes, King Arthur asks the young knight to accompany him.  The rest of the knights look on, a few nudge Lancelot knowingly, but Lancelot has no idea what they know, being as he cannot even tell one woman from another, (get over it...he made a mistake, move on). Arthur leads him to a river where there is a sword in a stone. The inscription on the sword reads;

“Never shall man take me hence but only he by whose side I ought to hang; and he shall be the best knight of the world.”

Before you start shouting at the screen saying it is Arthur that pulls a sword from the stone - hold fire.  Galahad pulls the sword free and Arthur declares that Galahad is the best knight to ever live, he could hardly say "...Oh, it is you who is the rightful king, my mistake, here is the crown," can he?

The quest for the Grail begins.

Galahad prefers to work alone, (well, that is what they say anyway - personally I don't think he was that popular in court). He rescue many maidens in distress during his quest, as well as Percival who finds himself out numbered 20 to 1 -- to this day, Percival states that he had everything in hand and he didn't really need rescuing.

Eventually Galahad is reunited with Bors and Percival. Percival's sister knows where the Grail ship is - she could have said something before, I don't really understand why she didn't  - Anyway, she dies and Bors vows to take her body home, (any excuse to get away from Galahad), which leaves just Percival and Galahad.

The two intrepid knights end up at the court of King Pelles (the Fisher King) and Galahad mends a sword - just by holding it - and sees a life changing vision. He now knows where the Grail is - it is on the ship - and he also knows what he has to do with it.

Unfortunately Camelot is far to unsavory for the Grail to go to??!  Instead, the two knights have to sail to the Holy City of Sarras.

Galahad has a "now I have seen it all" moment, and request that he be allowed to die when he chooses. The request is granted. After meeting with Joseph of Arimethea, he chooses to die - it is said because the experience was glorious - The angels come and lift Galahad up to the heavens. As for the Grail...it has never been seen on earth again.
"The fact that Sir Galahad had always acted so damned self-righteous that his Grail-hunting companions had wearied of his holier-than-thou ways probably had nothing whatever to do with his demise."


The story of Sir Galahad was to inspire many future poets and writers, and his piety, chastity and purity almost becomes, how can I say it, difficult to read about it. In the blog where I talked about Lancelot, I mentioned that if he had not had the affair with Guinevere he would make me feel slightly ill - because he would have been too good to be true, and I think in the case of Galahad, this statement really does apply. Of all the knights, he is the one that really annoys me. Which probably says more about me than him. Maybe I need to work on that. But listen...

"I never felt the kiss of love,
Nor maiden's hand in mine.”
Lord Tennyson 

"the best of Arthour's Knights,
Who should achieve the quest of the Sangrael
Which only they shall see whose lives are pure.
No bravery is such a virtue as the Graele may gain.”
Thomas de Beverly

Do you see what I mean, he is just to good and too nice. At least Thomas Berger's in Arthur Rex portrays him differently. In Arthur Rex, Galahad does not die after securing the safety of the Holy Grail, instead he is portrayed in a satirical light. Galahad sleeps through most of a battle.. he decides to join in...kills Lancelot by mistake... and then is killed himself. No honorable death there, then.
In Monty Python and the Holy Grail, Galahad's chastity is put to the test when he finds himself at the mercy of a castle full of sexually frustrated nuns!
So there we have it, Galahad, my least favorite of Arthur's knight's.

Sunday, 27 December 2015

Merlin - The Wizard of Alderley Edge

There are many places across Britain that claim to have links to King Arthur and his Knights. Can you remember when I spoke of Cadbury Castle and how hidden under the hill was a secret cave, with a pair of iron gates at its entrance? It turns out Cadbury is not the only place where such a tale is told.

There is a small village in Cheshire, with a population of just over 4,000, that boasts the same sort of story. They tell a tale of a farmer, a white horse, a sorcerer and a mysterious cave hidden in a hill.

The story goes...

Once there was a farmer from Mobberley who was on his way to the market at Macclesfield, in the hope of selling his white mare. As he made his way around the Edge he saw an old man, dressed in flowing grey garments. The old man approached him and offered him a fair price for the horse. The farmer refused, he wanted more than this mystery man was offering him and he thought he would get a better price at the market. The old man wished him luck and told him that he would wait for his return from the market and, if he still had the horse, then maybe the farmer would be willing to sell the animal to him then.

The horse did not sell and, with grave disappointment, the farmer began to make his way home, hoping that the old man, dressed in grey, would be waiting for him and still willing to buy the horse at the price he had offered earlier.

Thankfully the old man was there and the farmer sold the horse to him, which cheered him somewhat after his dismal disappointment at the market. The old man did not have any money on him, but he assured the farmer that his home was not very far away. The farmer was happy to follow the old man back to his house.

As they approached an area, near a place that was known locally as Stormy Point, the old man produced a wand and started to mutter under his breath. The farmer, was understandably alarmed, and wished now that he had refused the old mans offer, but he had come this far and he needed the money.

 The view from Stormy Point over to the Pennines

The rocks opened up in front of him. Fearfully he looked inside and saw a pair of majestic iron gates. The old man had started to chant in the language known only to those who practiced magic, and the gates opened. Terrified the farmer fell to his knees and begged the old man not to harm him, to let him go, he wouldn't tell anyone. The sorcerer, which he clearly was, smiled reassuringly and promised that he meant him no harm and all he wanted to do was pay him for the horse.

Not knowing what to do for the best - for this sorcerer had great power and he did not want to offend him - the farmer decided to lead the horse into the cave. Up ahead of him he saw countless men and white horse, all fast asleep. He watched with his mouth a gasp as the sorcerer went to an old chest and pulled out a bag of coins, which he gave to the farmer as payment for the horse.

The farmer asked fearfully who these people were. The sorcerer told him that this was a sleeping army who would one day rise again, should England be in peril. They would do him no harm, he had nothing to fear from them.

The sorcerer then abruptly told the farmer to leave, which he gratefully did. The iron gates slammed shut behind him and when he turned around to look at the gates one last time, there was nothing to see. The land in front of him looked as it always had.

Not daring to linger, the farmer walked swiftly away. When he returned home he told everybody he knew about the strange encounter and the next day his friends traveled with him back to the rocks, but they could see no cave, everything looked as it always did.

From the description of the men asleep and the sorcerer's words, we can assume it is Arthur and his knights and the sorcerer, Merlin. I there any truth in the story? -- I think that is probably up to you to decide, but I do wonder what the farmer's friends thought of him when he told the tale?

Tuesday, 22 December 2015

Was Cadbury Hill, King Arthur's, Camelot?

Cadbury Castle was once a site of both a Bronze and Iron Age Hillfort. It sits in the civil parish of South Cadbury, in Somerset, England, and for many centuries it has been associated with Arthur's Camelot.

 Cadbury Hillfort
Is Cadbury Hill, Camelot?

Well, for many years it was thought that it was. John Leland (1503-1552) who was regarded as "the father of English local history and bibliography" stated that;

"At the very south ende of the chirch of South-Cadbyri standeth Camallate, sumtyme a famose toun or castelle, apon a very torre or hille, wunderfully enstregnthenid of nature. . .The people can telle nothing ther but that they have hard say that Arture much resortid to Camalat."

He genuinely seemed to believe that Cadbury was Camelot. In fact, Leland believed in the historical King Arthur so much, that if any were to disagree with him - the Italian Scholar, Polydore Verfil, for one - he took serious offense and would have to write a very long publication dismissing such nonsensical claims.

Local legend backs Leland up. Under the hill, beyond a pair of iron gates in a cave, is where Arthur sleeps, waiting for the day he shall rise again. 

Thanks to the endorsement of Leland's work, Cadbury became, I guess the right word would be, to all intents and purposes, Camelot.

The Camelot Research Committee dug at the site, between the years 1966 and 1972, hoping to find evidence that this was Arthur's Camelot. What they found caused something of a sensation. They discovered that the 18-acer site had been fortified with a drystone wall. Inside the protection of this wall, timber buildings once stood - one of which was a large Feast Hall. Whoever this fort belonged to, they were wealthy. Fragments of imported pottery, from as far away as the Mediterranean, were also found there. No one had seen anything like it. It must be Camelot, for what other explanation is there. Who else would build a wall around a fort, that you could only enter into through a gate? Who else but Arthur?
The ramparts

What the dug discovered was that this place was unique.
It was also close to Glastonbury - Avalon - It all fit. 
And of course there was the causeway, known locally as King Arthur's Hunting track, which linked Cadbury to Glastonbury.
Or so they thought....
As different hillfort sites across Somerset were excavated, it turned out that having a drystone wall around the fort was the norm. Cadbury wasn't unique. And they did not find anything that directly linked Arthur with the site, apart from wishing it so. But, it did throw up something interesting. For some reason the locals, a warlord we should assume, decided to bring his people into the safety of a fortified fort in the period c.470 - 500 - which is when it is thought Arthur lived. There was obviously some sort of crisis going on in the area, a war with the Saxon's perhaps? Interestingly, within half a century, the fort had been abandoned, the crisis therefore must have been over.

So back to the question...is Cadbury, Camelot?
Let us not forget that Camelot was an invention of the French poet, Chrétien de Troyes, it isn't and wasn't a real place. It is a simple work of fiction. Now, I am not saying Arthur didn't have some sort of hillfort, he may well have done. But legend would have it that he lived in Cadbury, and for now, I guess that is enough.

Sunday, 20 December 2015

Camelot at Christmas

Tis the season…

For those living in the Dark Ages, winter was a long drawn out affair. It was cold, food was scarce and the threat of death was ever present, like a knife dangling over ones head, waiting to claim its next victim. It really was a fight for survival. Nothing was guaranteed - at least of all your life.

From the very beginning, the darkest days of winter was a cause to celebrate. The people needed something to look forward to and spring seemed so very far away.

Arthur and his knights celebrated Christmas - if the stories are to be believed. In fact, Christmas at Camelot was usually very memorable and you wouldn't want to miss it, because Arthur’s Christmas feast were renowned.

There was music so exquisite that it lifted your eyes towards the Heavens. Singing raised the spirit. Dancing made your heart beat in time with the drums and served as a reminded to the guests that they were alive, and they were part of something special.

The Great Hall was lit with expensive candlelight, probably made of beeswax, and a fire burned brightly in the hearth, so no one felt the cold. This was a safe place, and the worries of the world could be left outside the castle gates. Nothing bad could happen to you when you were enfolded in the warm embrace of Camelot’s strong and mightily walls.

Feasting at King Arthur’s Court
 And the food…every type of delicacy was served - no expense spared. The first course arrived to a fanfare of music, as if the meal itself was royal. Soups, bread, fish, spice cakes, the list was endless - no one went hungry here. There was so much food that the tables bowed with the weight of it.

For every two knights there were twelve separate dishes. Beer overflowed and the wine kept on coming. It was a good time to be alive.

Let us not forget the entertainment. Bards traveled from afar to tell their magnificent tales of knights and dragons, villain's and heroes. Jesters and magicians made sure everyone was having a good time. Maybe they would even have had a snowball fight - can you imagine that? The knights of Camelot battling it out in the snow, slipping over on the ice as they threw a wet ball of snow at their next victim! Gifts were exchanged and Arthur looked on and thought this is the life; this is how it should be.

How do I know all of this? You ask…

The Arthurian Christmas feast is described in the tale Sir Gawain and the Green Knight. Can you remember that story? I have blogged about it before, but if you have missed it you can read about here.

Truthfully, I have no idea how Arthur celebrated Christmas. Nothing of social etiquette was written down in the Dark Ages - in fact hardly anything on any subject was written down - which is why it is called the Dark Ages. All we can do is have an educated guess, but the problem with guesses, even educated ones, is that they can be wrong. The medieval text, that I am using as reference, was written in the late 14th Century. The author, of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, who goes by that famous name, anonymous, was probably writing about medieval feasting in the 14th Century, it was what he knew after all. Although, I do not think a beheading game was a particularly popular party game in the 14th Century - anonymous must have made that bit up. 

But let us imagine, for one moment, that the text of the Green Knight is accurate. What would theses 12 dishes look like?

I am going to take an educated guess…and I have already told you what that means.

Pottage, a kind of soup, but I am thinking of a rich one made with the finest cuts of beef, no dollops of fat and gristle in this soup - unless you asked for it.

Roasted Goose perhaps, or maybe roasted Partridge – how about both?


Dry cured hams

A boars head? That always looks good on a table.



Eggs - maybe preserved ones, because chickens generally stop laying during the winter months.

The only fresh vegetables would have been seasonal, but back in the Dark Ages and the Middle Ages for that matter, it was not recommend to eat raw fruit and veg, for fear of dysentery – one of the biggest killers of the time.

But hey, they had ale and mead and wine and beer, to wash it all down with. I should imagine there was many a rosy face at these feasts. And these feast went on for days. It would have cost a fortune to host, so Arthur would have certainly had to have been very wealthy.

I often imagine what it would have been like at one of these feasts - noisy, I should think and busy. Eating until you felt like you have been stuffed. Surrounded by your friends and foes alike - for I doubt very much all the knights liked each other - can you imagine the egos and the competition between the knights to be the best and the favorite of the King?!
Still, I think everyone would have had a good time...

Although maybe not Gawain, he had next Christmas to look forwards to, when it would be his turn to bare his neck and face the Green Knight's axe.

Friday, 18 December 2015

Lacock Abbey

I am going to take a small break from my knights and look at some more of my favourite historical buildings. Don't worry, they will be back soon...I can never stay away from them for long!

So I thought today I would go and look at a building that was used in a certain movie franchise you may have heard of.
Lacock Abbey

It was founded in 1229, during the reign of Henry III, by Lady Ela the Countess of Salisbury. The Abbey was dedicated to St Mary and St Bernard and it saw its first nuns veiled there in 1232. It prospered during the Middle Ages, probably due to the wool trade in the area. But then Henry VIII had that little row over his divorce with the church and the Abbey got caught up in the Dissolution of the Monasteries of 1536. Henry sold the Abbey to Sir William Sharington for the grand total of £783.

 Sharington turned the Abbey into a house. He made a few alterations during his time, no doubt to make it less Abbey like.

During the English Civl War (1642 - 1651), the Abbey/ house was garrisoned by the Royalists. Unfortunately, Oliver Cromwell captured the nearby town of Devizes and the garrison had no choice but to surrender.

The house then passed onto the Talbot family.

The Abbey's most famed occupant would probably be...

William Henry Fox Talbot - you may or may not have heard of him, he was an inventor and an amateur scientist. He invented the "Talbotype" (calotype) which for those who don't know, was a paper negative process for cameras. I wonder what he would make of the digital cameras we now use?

The National Trust was given the Abbey and the surrounding village in 1944.

Lacock Abbey has been used for location on a fair few films and TV series..such as Robin of Sherwood and Pride and Prejudice. The Other Boleyn Girl was also filmed here. But, there is one blockbuster that now has its own dedicated tour at Lacock - I know because I have been on the tour. Can you guess what was filmed here?

Hopefully the cauldron was a bit of a give away. Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets as well as Harry Potter and Half-Blood Prince were filmed here.

There is even a village tour you can go on, for a few of the houses in the village of Lacock were also in the Harry Potter movies, and I can understand why, because the village is beautiful.

Tuesday, 15 December 2015

Chrétien de Troyes

 "I am a writer, I give the truth, scope!"
Chaucer, A Knights Tale (movie quote).   

I have often mentioned, in my blogs, the French poets of the 12th Century and how they came to influence the Arthurian Legend.

Chrétien de Troyes was one of these poets.

Troyes is often credited with being the inventor of the modern novel - although it would take many centuries before the first proper novel was published.

What made the work of Troyes so different to the norm of the 12th Century?

His stories had a beginning a middle and an end. He was the first to write such literature. Before this, the Celtic bards may have told tales of a battle or a particular time in history, but there was never anything coherent to their tales - there was no order. Troyes was the first to make sense of the muddle.

Little is known about Troyes's life. He may have been at the court of Marie of France the Countess of Champagne, employed as a writer and he has also been linked to Philip, the Count of Flanders.

Regardless of his life and who and where he may or many not have been, his romantic poems have had a major influence on the Arthurian Legend as we know it today. His work is considered one of the best in medieval literature - he would have ranked number one on the Amazon charts, if Amazon had been around back then! And his stories...well, lets just say that you have more than likely heard of them, even if you did not know who they were written by.

I want to look at just one of his great masterpieces today and to explore how he shaped our future opinion of Arthur and his knights.

Lancelot, le Chevalier de la Charrette
Lancelot, the Knight of the Cart


We all know the story of Lancelot - even those who do not take much interest in Arthurian Legend could probably tell you something about him.

"Lancelot was the knight who had an affair with Guinevere, Arthur's Queen."

It is interesting to note, that until Troyes work, Lancelot had been but a minor figure in the Celtic myths of Arthur's court - hardly worth a mention, and it is even suggested that there was no such knight until Troyes invented him.

It is said that Troyes patroness, Countess Maria was rather passionate about the idea of courtly love, and you can not get more romantic than the love triangle between Arthur, Guinevere and Lancelot. Ironically, it is rumored that Troyes felt so disgusted by the adulterous nature of the story that he could not finish the work himself, but handed it over to his clerk. I wonder what he would think now, if he knew that after Arthur, Lancelot was the knight that everyone remembered?

Tell me the story.

Queen Guinevere had been abducted by the cruel and vicious knight, Meleagant. Sir Gawain embarks on a heroic rescue mission. On the road he meets a young knight, Lancelot, who has ridden his horse so hard, that the animal has died of exhaustion. Lancelot persuades Gawain to lend him a horse and then he gallops away, leaving Gawain staring after him. Gawain finally catches up with Lancelot, only to find that he has run his new horse to death as well.

Both knights realise that they are trying to rescue the same woman, Guinevere.

Lancelot encounters a dwarf with a cart - like you do!

 This dwarf tells Lancelot that he knows where Meleagant has taken Guinevere. He kindly offers for Lancelot to ride on the cart. Lancelot is reluctant, for it is dishonorable for a knight to ride upon a cart. Eventually he relents, and climbs on board. Gawain decides to follow on horseback - there is no way he is going to take a ride in a cart.

The journey is not an easy one and it is made harder by Lancelot's lowly form of transport. The pair encounter incredibly rude knights and beautiful women intent on mischief. But their progress is slow, so the two of them decide to split up, that way they would be able to cover more ground.

It is Lancelot that finds the Queen in the castle of Gorre. But Guinevere sends him away - there is no way she is getting on to the cart (what was the matter with this woman? - get on the cart).

Lancelot's only option is to find Gawain, as he has a horse, but although the Queen is proving to be stubborn and ungracious, he finds he cannot leave her alone. Guinevere, obviously realising how completely off her trolley she sounds, apologises to Lancelot and they spend a passionate night together. However, when Lancelot broke into Guinevere's chambers he hurt his hand and leaves the sheets of Guinevere's bed covered in blood. Meleagant, seeing the blood, accuses Guinevere of adultery ( because abduction is all right?) and the only knight with such an injury in the vicinity at the time is Sir Kay.

To cut a long poem short...

Lancelot challenges Meleagant to a duel, but Meleagant's father interferes and in the end the two men agree to fight each other in a years time.

Guinevere makes it home, but Lancelot does not for he is tricked by another dwarf and ends up in prison, although he is kindly let out to for the duel, as long as he comes back again afterwards.

Lancelot sees Guinevere before the fight. She tells him that if he loves her then he should lose to prove to her that his love is true. Which he does. But then, halfway through the fight, Guinevere changes her mind and tells him if he loves her then he must win. First the cart and now this - I would have walked away if I was him.

Lancelot wins and then being honorable, or incredibly stupid, returns to his captors. And here Troyes story ends. He entrusts Godefroi de Leigni to finish his work for him.

Troyes also wrote Perceval, the Story of the Grail, again he did not complete this work - maybe because he died - how inconsiderate is that?!  

No one knows if Troyes had access to any original sources to which he based his works on. He vaguely said something about Celtic myths, but unlike Monmouth he had not secret manuscript that conveniently got lost after he had finished with it. Dare I suggest that he was using something called his imagination?

His work was very popular, evident by the number of manuscripts that still survive to this day. There is, it seems, nothing better than a good story.

Saturday, 12 December 2015

Was King Arthur Welsh?

I love looking at maps. I think they are absolutely fascinating, particularly old maps - the AA roadmaps of today just confuse me - thank goodness for satnavs!

Do you own an Atlas?

If you do, I am sure you will agree that they are usually so big that they do not fit on your bookcase. I have a book of old maps that is twice the size of a normal atlas. It is huge and lives on top of my wardrobe, for there is no where else to put it - although living there does have its disadvantages, especially when I want to get the maps down. That book can really hurt when you drop it and it lands on your foot. Believe me...I know! What is she rabbiting on about now? I hear you say...has she been at the sherry again? Quick hide the mulled wine.

Actually, I do have a point and I will get to it.

The problem with Britain, back in the day, is that she was split up into many different kingdoms. Sometimes these kingdoms merged and became larger kingdoms - likewise, sometimes these kingdoms broke apart. A map of Britain in AD500 would be unrecognisable to what it is now - obviously the geography of the land would be the same, it wasn't shaped like a tennis racket or anything crazy like that - I mean there were just lots of kingdoms - over 40 to be precise.

The Romans had united some of the kingdoms - for a time - if you remember your history the Romans gave up trying to conquer the holy terrors of the north and Empire Hadrian ordered a massive wall to be built to keep these barbarian warriors back.

There was no England, Wales and Scotland as such.

But there seemed to be a heck of a lot of King Arthur's.

England has one. Wales has one. Scotland has one. And one of them is even Roman. I would not be surprised if one day those astronauts will find a sword, stuck in a stone, on the moon or maybe even Mars - most likely Mars.

Historians have spent years researching, arguing, coming to conclusions and scratching their heads, about who Arthur was, and where he actually came from.

The legend states that he is from the South-West of England - no question there. Avalon is in Glastonbury, Cadbury Hill is Camelot, and Arthur has strong connections with Cornwall as well.


Now Cornwall, wasn't always called Cornwall. Sometimes her name looked remarkably similar to what it does now - Cornovii, but that was not always the case.

 In AD500, she was called Cerniw. And this is where it gets a little complicated, because Wales also had a kingdom called Cerniw, which is believed to have been somewhere near Newport. Arthur is referenced to having a court in Cerniw. Do you see the problem and where I am going with it?

I have to ask...

Was King Arthur Welsh?

Let's look at the evidence - or the legend - lets look at the legend.

Firstly, there is Dinas Powys Hill Fort. Archiologists has dated this fort, near Cardiff, as being a prominent high status building dating between the 5th and 6th Century - Could this be Arthur's fort? 

There is even a hoof print of King Arthur's horse at Carn March near Gwynedd. What other evidence do you need?

For those who want to know the story of the hoof print - read on for a very brief outline.

Arthur's horse dragged a monster from the river at Llyn Barfog. The end. I told you it was brief.  If you look closely at the picture above, you can just make it out.

Wales also has plenty of lakes which could have been the location of Avalon. The two most probably locations are both in Snowdonia -Llydaw and Llyn Ogwen.

And remember, Merlin was Welsh. Carmarthen, in Wales had an Oak tree that used to stand in the town centre. It was a magical tree and even had a name - Merlin's Tree. There is also a story that Merlin was imprisoned in a hidden cave at Bryn Myrddin - Merlin's Hill - it is said if you listen very carefully, you can still hear him groaning.

Forget about Arthur being buried at Glastonbury. How about the standing stones at Pembrokeshire's Preseli Mountains? Or maybe he is buried in Glamorgan.

What about Arthwyr, King of Glamorgan and Gwent, rumour has it he became High King of Britain. He had a daughter called Morcant (Morgan). 

Do you know when you don't feel very well and you check out your symptoms on the internet and scare yourself witless thinking you are suffering from some rare tropical disease that only infects 0.000000001% of the population. I sometimes think that is what it is like when I am hunting for Arthur. He can be made to fit where ever you want him to. Now, I am not saying he isn't Welsh. He could well be. He could just as well be Scottish, who knows. And I don't think it really matters. What matters is that the stories of him are timeless and what he and his knights stood for really defines the word 'noble.' Maybe that is all we need to really know.

Also, on another note, Wales was the location of many of the scenes in the BBC series, Merlin. Maybe, Arthur and his knights were simply heading home.


Thursday, 10 December 2015

Sir Thomas Malory - who was he? And what does he have to do with King Arthur?

"Doo after the good and leve the evyl, and it shal brynge you to good fame and renomme."

(Do after the good and leave the evil, and it shall bring you to good fame and renown.)

If you have been reading my blogs then you may well have seen me mention Thomas Malory before. He is credited with writing Le Morte d'Arthur - the death of Arthur. You may have heard of it?!

Le Morte d'Arthur was first published in 1485 and is now one of the best known works of Arthurian literature. Many of the stories that were to follow, including the works of White and Tennyson, were strongly influenced by Malory's work.

Sometimes I think that my hunt for Arthur is like looking for a shadow in a darkened room. There are stories whispered in your ear that seem compellingly true, only they are not - take Glastonbury Abbey for example. There are stories that are so improbable that at first you dismiss them, only to realise later on that maybe you should have paid them a little more attention. Ironically, sometimes the hunt for the author of these famous stories, leaves you just as baffled as the stories themselves. And this is true when we look at  Le Morte d'Arthur.

Who actually wrote it?

There are several Sir Thomas Malory's recorded living at that time, so it is a bit like the children's game Guess Who? Do you know the one I am talking about?....Is it a man? Does he have a beard? Did he write Le Morte d'Arthur?

If only it were that easy!

Scholars generally agree that Sir Thomas Malory was born sometime in the early 15th Century. He was a nobleman who resided in Newbold Revel, Warwickshire. This Sir Thomas had a rather notable career. He inhereited his father's estate in 1434, but he did not really conform. He spent most of his life in and out of prison. His name has a long list of alleged crimes attached to it, theft, attempted murder, rape, extortion. He even escaped from Coleshill Prison, but instead of keeping a low profile, he robbed the Cistercian Monastery! He was arrested, but he must have had friends in very high places, for after two years lounging in prison, he was released through a royal pardon.

It is a thought he was a Member of Parliament - why should that come as a surprise? And he may have fought in the Hundred Year War. He was knighted in 1441.

I am surprised, what with all his shenanigans, that this Malory had time to write a masterpiece about chivalry and honour, but then again, he did spend a great deal of his time in jail, perhaps he was bored?! 

In 1460 he found himself in the notorious harsh, Newgate Prison, and it was during this time that he wrote Le Morte d'Arthur.

It does not sit easy with many that a man who was clearly the very opposite of chivalry should write a best-seller about a King who could not be dishonourable even if he tired. There have been countless attempts to link Le Morte d'Arthur with somebody - anybody - else, but it always comes back to this Warwickshire, Sir Thomas.

Sir Thomas died in prison on 31 July 1485 and Le Morte d'Arthur was published posthumously by William Caxton.

Le Morte d'Arthur

 “Malory did not invent the stories in this collection; he translated and compiled them..." Elizabeth Bryan 

Malory translated existing stories and piled them together into one big book. Originally Malory called his works;

"The hoole booke of kyng Arthur & of his noble knyghtes of the rounde table"

But Caxton had something to say about that. The book became surprisingly popular and was reprinted many times over the centuries, although sometimes things were added into the works and likewise, sometimes things were taken out. Originally Malory umbrellared eight books under Le Morte d'Arthur, but for some unfathomable reason, Coxton dived the original eight in to 21, which makes a staggering 507 chapters! 

It is what it is, a work of fiction. I don't think you can take anything away from it that is historically accurate. But, the stories are great and seemingly everlasting because they have stayed the test of time. I wonder if Malory, while dying in prison, had any idea how influential his work would become.

Monday, 7 December 2015

Sir Bors


Who was Sir Bors and wherefore did he come?

Family history time. Bors was the son of King Bors - who was the brother of King Ban of Brittany - who was the father of Lancelot. I hope you are keeping up. I could draw a family tree I suppose, which would probably explain it a great deal more clearly...
One hour later...
...I think I am asking far too much of myself...I shall keep persevering thought for I am not one to give up...
Five minutes later...on second thoughts, perhaps I will ask my eldest to draw the tree...
Twenty minutes later....Why can't I do that??

Well that didn't take long now, did it? Me and my great ideas.

So now we know where Bors is in the family tree -- I am sure you all very much relieved and will be able to sleep easy tonight because of It? But, just to confuse the issue, in my book The Du Lac Chronicles which is out early 2016 ( I shamelessly plug ) Bors is not a member of the Du Lac family and he actually waged war on Lancelot during the Du Lac wars...and that is all I am going to tell you about my book today, so if you want to find out more, guess what you are going to have to do???!

Bors childhood.

We need to have a quick look at King Bors life so I can put Bors junior, who I am talking about today, in context. King Bors and King Ban were allies to Arthur and helped him in the struggle against the uprising of the eleven kingdoms. Unfortunately, both Bors and Ban died battling Claudas. Lancelot got lucky and was raised by the Lady of the Lake, whereas Bors junior and his brother, Lionel, were taken captive by Claudas where they had a particularly unpleasant childhood. Thankfully, they finally managed to escape - although they did kill Claudas's son, Dorin, before they left - but they say he had it coming. Claudas, for obvious reasons, was not pleased and he retaliated, but the boys were rescued by a servant of the Lady of the Lake and they spent what little remained of their childhood with their cousin, Lancelot.
To cut a long story short, all three boys end up as knights of Camelot.

Bors father's a child - but remember this is the time of sorcery and magic rings. Bors is tricked into carnal relations with King Brandegoris daughter and a son comes from the union. Bors recognises the child as his own, despite the magic ring, and he later introduces Elyan to court. In T. H. White's book, The Once and Future King, Bors is describe as an "Almost virgin." How can you be an almost virgin? The mind boggles. He is also described as being incredibly bad tempered. Maybe it was because of his "almost virgin" status? 
Ignoring White....  
Bors is very chivalrous and becomes one of the Grail Knights and, along with Percival and Galahad, he witnesses the mysteries of the Grail with his own eyes. Sadly, he is the only one to return to court after seeing the Grail.

However, believing in chivalry and honour can have it's drawbacks. I can remember, many years ago, during my school days, one particular teacher who taught us philosophy. This teacher had a thing for impossible situations where no matter what you did, someone died. She did this every single lesson, I jest not. I could give you lots of examples but, I will save you that torture and tell you about just one. Here goes...Two men are drowning in the sea, one of them was supposedly your father and other had the cure for cancer...we were told we could save only one. I pointed out that I couldn't swim, so there would be three people drowning instead of two... the teacher wasn't impressed with my answer -- personally I thought I made a valid point and I still stand by it. Nevertheless, if you were in that situation, who would you choose?

But what has this got to do with Bors? I hear you yell.

Well, Bors found himself in this situation. His brother, Lionel needed rescuing - the poor bloke was being whipped with thorns by some terrible villains, but down the road Bors witnessed the abduction of a pretty, young girl by a rogue knight...Oh my days, it is beginning to sound like an episode from that Australian soap-opera, Neighbours.

Bors decides to rescue the girl, whilst praying desperately for his brother to be delivered by the Lord. Lionel manages to escape, but he isn't too happy with his brother's choice - in fact, Lionel is so angry that he tries to kill Bors. Bors drops his weapons and says "If you want to kill me, kill me - I'll not defend myself." Maybe he was trying to call Lionels bluff, but it didn't work. Lionel said "If that is what you want, prepare to die." They probably didn't say those exact words to each other, please don't quote me on that! Sir Calogrenant and a local village hermit, try to to intervene, more fool them...Lionel kills them both. There is nothing stopping Lionel now from murdering his brother..apart from a lightening fork that is sent down from the heavens -- which I don't think actually kills him, because Lionel pops up again later on in the story -- unless Bors had two brothers called Lionel? I am assuming that he did not.
During the Lancelot and Guinevere scandle, which rocked the court of Camelot, Bors helps Lancelot rescue the Queen. He sides with Lancelot and follows him into exile from court. Eventually Bors gains the lands of Claudas. Sir Gawain writes to Lancelot asking for his help against Mordred. Lancelot does not go, but Bors and Lionel do. Lionel dies in the skirmishes immediately after the Battle of Camlann. Bors avenges him and so the story ends.

My favourite portrayal of Bors?

I think my favourite portray of Bors was played by Ray Winston in the 2004 film, King Arthur - the film is worth watching just for the banter between Bors and Lancelot ( Ioan Gruffudd ). And I also love the portrayal of the Saxons, especially Cerdic and Cynric -- I promise you, you will definitely be meeting those two in The Du Lac Chronicles, did I tell you it is out early 2016?!