The Welsh Dragon

For most of history, the Welsh dragon was not a very common symbol. In fact, it was flown by only one king, Cadwaladr ap Cadwallon, who reigned from 655-682 AD. It was so distinct that his flag came to be known as “the Red Dragon of Cadwaladr”.  Today, it is known as the ‘Welsh dragon’ and the the Welsh flag looks like this: (my The Last Pendragon Saga is about a mythic version of Cadwaladr) Within Welsh mythology, the story of the two dragons, one red (for the Welsh) and one white (for the Saxons) fighting beneath Dinas Emrys dates back to Geoffrey of Monmouth, writing in the 12th century. The coat of arms of the Welsh princes in the 13th century was actually this: With the death of Llywelyn ap Gruffydd and the complete suppression of everything that had belonged to or symbolized Read more…

Lancelot

Here’s the real deal on Lancelot:  In the Welsh tales, he doesn’t exist.  The only adultery that may or may not have occurred is between Gwenhwyfar and Modred and not by Gwenhywfar’s choice. The French made him up.  There.  I said it. “Sir Lancelot first appears in Arthurian legend in ‘Le Chevalier de la Charrette’, one of a set of five Arthurian romances written by the French poet Chrétien de Troyes (completed by Godefroy de Lagny) as a large collection of verses, c.1180 to 1240. Lancelot is characterised alongside other knights, notably Gawain, Kay, and Méléagant (or Meliagaunce) – a consistent rival and parallel anti-hero against Lancelot – and is already heavily involved in his legendary romance with Guinevere, King Arthur’s queen. …Chrétien de Troyes composed ‘Le Chevalier de la Charrette’ at the request of the Countess Marie de Champagne, Read more…

The Triumph of Medieval Propaganda

Geoffrey of Monmouth wrote his History of the Kings of Britain back in the 12th century. It was at the behest of Robert of Gloucester, his patron, that he claims to have transcribed/copied/invented his history, placing King Arthur at the center of a national–and by that I mean English–origin myth. The idea was to justify the conquest of Britain by the Normans as a mirror to what King Arthur had done in the 5th century, including crossing the English Channel from Normandy to  Britain. Children’s author Phillip Womack (author of The Other Book and The Liberators) said in the Times Online:  “As inhabitants of these islands, we don’t have many myths that bring us together, but King Arthur is one.  I think that we will always seek him as a saviour, whatever situation we’re in, because that’s human nature. The Read more…

The Great Prophecy of Britain

Armes Prydein Fawr, the Great Prophecy of Britain, is a poem attributed to Taliesin (although could not be his work as it was composed in the 10th century) in which he sings of the return of Cadwaladr ap Cadwallon (the hero in my book, The Last Pendragon) and Cynan, another dark age leader of the Welsh people.  Among the Welsh, it was these two, not Arthur, who would return in the future to save Britain.  The motivation was the same, however, in that the poet desires to drive the invading Saxons out of the land that had belonged to the Cymry. In the poem, Taliesin predicts the allliance of the Irish and Scots with the Welsh towards that purpose.  John Davies, in his book, The History of Wales, writes that the poem expresses frustration with the peaceful, compromising policies of Hywel Read more…

Cadwaladr ap Cadwallon

Cadwaladr ap Cadwallon was a real person.  His father, Cadwallon, was killed in the battle of Catscaul or “Cad-ys-gual”, the Battle of the Wall (Heavenfield, near Hexham) in 634 AD.  An unknown usurper, Cadfael ap Cynfeddw, placed himself on the throne of Gwynedd, and was himself overthrown in 655 AD by the twenty-two year old Cadwaladr, Cadwallon’s son, who’d been raised in exile until he could return to claim his birthright. Cadwaladr is mentioned in the following sources: The Harlaein Genealogies:  a collection of old Welsh genealogies preserved in British Library, Harleian MS 3859.  They’ve been dated to the reign of Hwyel Dda (10th century).  Cadwaladr is mentioned as the son of Cadwallon and the father of Idwal, all Kings of Gwynedd. Annales Cambriae (the Annals of Wales):  A single line:  682 – A great plague in Britain, in which Cadwaladr Read more…

Geoffrey of Monmouth

Geoffrey of Monmouth was born sometime around 1100, probably in Monmouth in southeast Wales. “His father was named Arthur. Geoffrey was appointed archdeacon of Llandsaff in 1140 and was consecrated bishop of St. Asaph in 1152. He died c. 1155. Geoffrey is one of the most significant authors in the development of the Arthurian legends. It was Geoffrey who, in his Historia Regum Britanniae (completed in 1138) located Arthur in the line of British kings. Such an action not only asserted the historicity of Arthur but also gave him an authoritative history which included many events familiar from later romance. Geoffrey also introduced the character of Merlin as we know him into the legends. Geoffrey’s Merlin, a combination of the young and prophetic Ambrosius in Nennius’s history and the prophet Myrddin who figures in several Welsh poems, first appears in Read more…

All about King Arthur

King Arthur:  was he real?  was he even a king?  Someone reached my blog the other day by typing in “King Arthur wasn’t Welsh”.  What?  Clearly that person needed to be pointed in the proper direction and I’m glad my blog was here to do it. I have written extensively about King Arthur in many places on this blog, and with that poor lost soul in mind, I realized that it might be of some benefit to put these posts all in the same place.  To find out about the origins of King Arthur, see: Geoffrey of Monmouth Historical Sources for King Arthur Possible King Arthur (s) Was King Arthur Real? Who Was Guinevere? Lancelot Morgan/Morgana/Morgan le Fey The British (Welsh/Cymry) High Council For information on the places associated with King Arthur: The Holy Grail and Dinas Bran King Arthur’s Round Read more…

The Beginning of the Dark Ages in Britain

The ‘Dark Ages’ were ‘dark’ only because we lack extensive (or in some instances, any) historical material about the period between 407 AD, when the Romans marched away from Britain, and 1066, when William of Normandy conquered England. “Initially, this era took on the term “dark” . . . due to the backward ways and practices that seemed to prevail during this time. Future historians used the term “dark” simply to denote the fact that little was known about this period; there was a paucity of written history. Recent discoveries have apparently altered this perception as many new facts about this time have been uncovered. The Italian Scholar, Francesco Petrarca called Petrarch, was the first to coin the phrase. He used it to denounce Latin literature of that time; others expanded on this idea to express frustration with the lack of Read more…

The Holy Grail and Dinas Bran

That King Arthur got mixed up with Jesus Christ can’t be too surprising, given the myth-making that went into the King Arthur story.  Rumor has it that Bran, for whom the castle, Dinas Bran, was named, was Joseph of Arimithea’s son-in-law.  Legend has it that after Jesus’ death, Joseph brought the Cup of Christ from Israel to Britain.  It does seem unlikely, doesn’t it? But that is what the ‘Holy Grail’ is, that King Arthur’s knights go in search of:  “The Holy Grail of Christian legend is the vessel given by Christ to his disciples to sup from at the Last Supper. Later, it is said to have been given to his grand-uncle, St. Joseph of Arimathea, who used to collect Christ’s blood and sweat whilst he hung upon the Cross.”  http://www.arthurianadventure.com/holy_grail.htm Dinas Bran, in turn, is the “site of an ancient Iron-Age Read more…

The Fictional King Arthur (rant!)

Yes, I have some issues with King Arthur as a fictional character. King Arthur, as usually written, comes off as either as a flat character, someone whom the author employs as a backdrop to explore the personalities of other characters (Merlin, Guinevere, Lancelot), or as unheroic and human, tripped up in the end by the overwhelming burden of his imperfections. Arthur is either a pawn, buffeted by the winds of fate, or so flawed, one has to ask how he was remembered as a hero in the first place.  Only the most recent example of this is Starz’s aborted Camelot series, at least the bit I watched, where it is inexplicable that Merlin would come to him as the hero (in a totally deserted castle) and expect anything good to happen. There is a simple reason for this: it is very Read more…

King Arthur (2004) movie review

King Arthur has been fodder for a hundred movies and will undoubtedly continue to be so. I truly wish that someone would come up with one where the history isn’t appalling. Ridley Scott is famous for acting as if there are no actual historical facts (see my review of Robin Hood), but the absurdity of the history Jerry Bruckheimer puts in this movie made me glad that my workout was only 30 minutes so I didn’t have to watch the whole thing at once. The Good: Is there anything good about this movie? Actually, the visuals are spectacular, and they obviously put a lot of money into making it. The acting is good, in fact, and if I didn’t know anything about British history, warfare, Christianity, or the Roman empire, maybe the plot even makes sense. I will grant that the Romans Read more…

The Welsh/British High Council

Within British (and by that I mean Welsh/Cymry/Celtic) legend, a High Council–a Parliament of a sort–existed in the Dark Ages to choose a “high king”.  One of these high kings, according to legend, was King Arthur.  Later, during Arthur’s reign, he instituted his ’round table’, a gathering of equals, to discuss the troubles in his realm.  Or so the story goes. But did this High Council ever exist? The answer is ‘yes’–certainly during the reign of the last Prince of Wales, Llywelyn ap Gruffydd.  In 1282 when Edward I of England wrote his letters to Llywelyn and Dafydd, demanding that they concede defeat, he also wrote a letter to the ‘Council of Wales’, laying out his case.  To this they responded: “The people of Snowdonia for their part state that even if the prince desired to give the king seisin Read more…