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…

The Succession (1170 AD) in Gwynedd

1170 AD was a tough year in Gwynedd. It was the year Owain Gwynedd died and as is often the case with a strong king, his death brings about a vacuum waiting to be filled with intrigue and fratricide. Because his brother, Rhun, had already died, Hwyel ap Owain Gwynedd, the second son, was the eldest surviving son. Unfortunately for Hywel, Owain had a lot of sons and the contention among them at their father’s death was fierce. While the tradition in Wales, under Welsh law at the time, was to split the kingdom among all the surviving sons, in practice, this rarely happened amicably. Hywel, although beloved of his father and his choice to succeed him, did not survive 1170, as he was killed by two of his younger brothers, Dafydd and Rhodri, who conspired against all of their Read more…

Eryri (Snowdonia)

Eryri, Snowdonia in English, was the place in Gwynedd to which the Princes of Wales retreated, and their final stronghold when the English pressed on them from every side.  Mt. Snowdon (Yr Wyddfa) has always been at its center, but it traditionally included the Carneddau range and essentially all the land west of the Conwy River. It is the land the Edward allowed Llywelyn ap Gruffydd to keep in the 1277 treaty.  Today, as a national park, it includes 838 square miles. From John T Koch, Celtic Culture: An Historical Encyclopedia: “The first literary mention of Eryri occurs in the 9th century Historia Brittonum, where an account is given of the downfall of the semi-legendary 5th century king Vortigern.  Pursued by his revolted Anglo-Saxon mercenaries and hated by his Brythonic countrymen, the king’s magi direct him to build a stronghold Read more…

Historical Sources for King Arthur

Historians are not in agreement as to whether or not the ‘real’ Arthur—the living, breathing, fighting human being—ever existed. The original sources for the legend of King Arthur come from a few Welsh texts. These are: 1) Y Goddodin—a Welsh poem by the 7th century poet, Aneirin, with it’s passing mention of Arthur. The author refers to the battle of Catraeth, fought around AD 600 and describes a warrior who “fed black ravens on the ramparts of a fortress, though he was no Arthur”.  http://www.missgien.net/celtic/gododdin/poem.html 2) Gildas, a 6th century British cleric who wrote De Excidio et Conquestu Britanniae (On the Ruin and Conquest of Britain). He never mentions Arthur, although he states that his own birth was in the year of the siege of Mount Badon. The fact that he does not mention Arthur, and yet is our only Read more…

Annwn, the Welsh Underworld

Annwn, or Annuvin in the Chronicles of Prydein by Lloyd Alexander, is an ‘other’ world, from the one that mortals live in.  It is the realm of the gods, or of the dead, depending upon the source. This site states:  “The Welsh word annwn, annwfyn is traditionally translated “otherworld,” and is akin to some of the Irish worlds of the gods (Tír na mBéo, “Land of the Living,” etc.) One will recall that in the First Branch of The Mabinogi, Pwyll exchanges place and shape with Arawn, king of Annwn, whose realm is there depicted as co-existent with Pwyll’s Dyfed. In another poem from The Book of Taliesin ( Angar Kyfyndawt, 18.26-23.8) the speaker declares annwfyn to be underground: yn annwfyn ydiwyth, in Annwfyn the peacefulness, yn annwfyn ygorwyth in Annwfyn the wrath, yn annwfyn is eluyd in Annwfyn below Read more…

Taliesin the Bard

Whence come night and flood? How they disappear? Whither flies night from day; And how is it not seen? These lines are taken from a poem by Taliesin, a Welsh poet who lived roughly between 534 and 599 AD.  His poetry has survived in the medieval Red Book of the Hergest, and The Book of Taliesin, found here: http://www.llgc.org.uk/index.php?id=bookoftaliesinpeniarthms2. “It is this manuscript which preserves the texts of famous poems such as ‘Armes Prydein Fawr’, ‘Preiddeu Annwfn’ (which refers to Arthur and his warriors sailing across the sea to win a spear and a cauldron), and elegies to Cunedda and Dylan eil Ton, as well as the earliest mention in any western vernacular of the feats of Hercules and Alexander. The manuscript is incomplete, having lost a number of its original leaves, including the first.” He is associated with Arthur, Read more…

Bards and Poets

In Welsh society before the conquest–in all Celtic societies in fact–the bard/poet played a very important role in the life of society. “The three principal endeavors of a Bard: One is to learn and collect sciences. The second is to teach. And the third is to make peace And to put an end to all injury; For to do contrary to these things Is not usual or becoming to a Bard.” ~THE TRIADS OF BRITAIN http://www.joellessacredgrove.com/Celtic/history.html “In the Celtic cultures, the Bard/Filidh/Ollave was inviolate. He could travel anywhere, say anything, and perform when and where he pleased. The reason for this was, of course, that he was the bearer of news and the carrier of messages, and, if he was harmed, then nobody found out what was happening over the next hill. In addition, he carried the Custom of the Read more…

A Child’s Christmas in Wales

Dylan Thomas wrote A Child’s Christmas in Wales in 1954.  It begins:  “One Christmas was so much like another, in those years around the sea-town corner now and out of all sound except the distant speaking of the voices I sometimes hear a moment before sleep, that I can never remember whether it snowed for six days and six nights when I was twelve or whether it snowed for twelve days and twelve nights when I was six.  All the Christmases roll down toward the two-tongued sea, like a cold and headlong moon bundling down the sky that was our street; and they stop at the rim of the ice-edged fish-freezing waves, and I plunge my hands in the snow and bring out whatever I can find . . .” For the full text:  http://www.bfsmedia.com/MAS/Dylan/Christmas.html

Red, Black, and White Books

In Lord of the Rings, Frodo leaves Sam the Red Book of Westmarch, in which to record the goings on of Middle Earth after he is gone. Tolkein himself says that his inspiration for the fictional book was the Red Book of Hergest in the Bodleian Library at Oxford, which he knew well. In Wales, there were three such books of which we know: The Red Book of Hergest The Black Book of Camarthan The White Book of Rhydderch The Red Book of Hergest was written between 1375 and 1425 by Hywel Fychan fab Hywel Goch of Fuellt, for his employer, Hopcyn ap Tomas ap Einion of Ynys Tawe. In it are some of the most famous Welsh texts, including the Chronicles of the Princes, The History of the Kings of Britain by Geoffrey of Monmouth, The Ruin and Conquest Read more…

The Poetic Tradition

Tonight the hall of my lord is dark, With neither fire nor bed. I will weep a while, then still myself to silence. Tonight the hall of my lord is dark, With neither fire nor candle. Who will give me peace? Tonight the hall of my lord is dark, With neither fire nor light. Grief for you overtakes me. Darkness descends on the hall of my lord The blessed assembly has departed, praying That good comes to those of us who remain. This poem (interpreted for my own purposes from the original:  http://faculty.arts.ubc.ca/sechard/492llyw.htm) is from the Welsh poem Canu Heledd.   The poem tells a story of  Cynddylan, or Cynddylan ap Cyndrwyn, a seventh century ruler  of a sub-kingdom of Gwynedd.  His father allied with Penda of Mercia, but died before 642: “In the aftermath of victory Penda and Cynddylan seem Read more…

Update on King Arthur’s ’round table’ in Chester

Yes–slacking off today.  But I did find this interesting piece on King Arthur’s round table by Keith Fitzpatrick-Mathews.  It is a much more lengthy rebuttal than mine (http://www.sarahwoodbury.com/?p=1186), but makes many of the same points (also see, http://www.sarahwoodbury.com/?tag=king-arthur).  Fitzpatrick-Mathews also takes to task Christopher Gildow’s article entitled “Top Ten Clues to the Real King Arthur”.  What’s particularly great is the exchange between the two in the comments at the end.   Worth a read for anyone who thinks King Arthur might have really existed. http://badarchaeology.wordpress.com/2010/07/19/king-arthur’s-round-table-discovered-in-chester/

Man’s Inhumanity to Man

Man was made to mourn: A Dirge, by Robert Burns Many and sharp the num’rous ills Inwoven with our frame! More pointed still we make ourselves Regret, remorse, and shame! And Man, whose heav’n-erected face The smiles of love adorn, – Man’s inhumanity to man Makes countless thousands mourn! The following article from March 14, details the attacks in Lagos, Nigeria, which is one of the most war torn countries in Africa.  It begins: “Nigerians woke last Sunday, to the news that more than 400 people of Dogo Nahawa community in Jos south area of Plateau state had been sent to their early graves by rampaging invaders. News of the attack spread like wildfire creating panic in parts of Jos North, which had earlier in January, witness another round of the orgy of violence that has now become and existential Read more…