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Posts Tagged ‘first drafts’

Camlann

Legend makes this Arthur’s last battle and the one in which he took a mortal wound. And it’s the hardest of all to place.

One suggestion is that the name may derive from Brittonic Cambo-landa, which would mean crooked or twisting enclosure or crooked/twisting open land. Or from Cambo-glanna, which would be crooked or twisting river. I have a lot less difficulty picturing a twisting river. However, that interpretation leads to Camboglanna, a Roman fort along Hadrian’s Wall. It’s hard for me to see how that could work. Though maybe not impossible, considering that according to legend Mordred was the son of King Lot and that Lothian (part of Lot’s kingdom) was in what is now southeastern Scotland—on the north side of Hadrian’s Wall. Still . . . .

In the south there are other possibilities. There’s the River Cam (tributary of the Yeo) that flows past Cadbury Castle. And the River Camel in Cornwall, which could be interesting, considering that legend makes Arthur’s successor a “cousin” Constantine, who was king of Dumnonia.

Being a discovery writer, I haven’t yet addressed the question of what this particular battle will be about. Since Arthur was not a king, it clearly could not have been an attempted usurpation of the throne. Though I suppose it could be a younger man trying to take over whatever army or strike force Arthur had built. Or some other kind of argument, possibly egged on by an outside force—that would fit well with the background of my story. (And, on that note, there’s the interesting Welsh story of the mediator sent by Arthur to Mordred before the battle, who actually intentionally stirred things up instead.)

I expect which site I ultimately choose for my story will depend on what the war is about. At least this gives me some options to play with.

On a side note: Starting with those goals I set last week was set back by starting back to work last week–with a more demanding schedule than usual. There were not enough brain cells left functioning at the end of a day to even try to write. However, now things have been put on hold again at least for the next three weeks. So, I need to start up with that goal again.

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This is the site of Arthur’s final and decisive battle against the Saxons and it’s one of the most difficult locations to place. Nobody really knows where this battle took place. No evidence has so far been found. Yet, the earliest and most nearly contemporary account of the time we have, Gildas’s On the Ruin and Conquest of Britain, mentions it. About the only other thing we know for sure—again, from that earliest source—is that it was a siege. Therefore, arguably, it must have taken place near a defensible site—most likely a hillfort.

That narrows it down some—not much, but some. The possibilities most often cited are Liddington Castle, Badbury Rings, or Ringsbury Camp—again, all hillforts, not castles. All are in the southwest—either present-day Wiltshire or Dorset.

Liddington Castle:

At only 7 ½ acres, this is a relatively small hillfort to the east of Cadbury Castle. However, it is one of a number of hillforts along The Ridgeway. This is a very ancient trackway connecting the Thames River area with the valleys of the Avon and Severn Rivers—an important trade route. It was also part of or connected to the Icknield Way, which ran from the Salisbury Plain to Norfolk, former territory of the Iceni. That could be interesting to work with. Unfortunately, there’s no evidence that Liddington Castle was re-occupied during the Dark Ages.

Badbury Rings:

Badbury Rings is a much larger hillfort to the south and possibly slightly east of Cadbury Castle. The original ditch and embankment enclosed 18 acres, but it was later expanded later to 41 acres with several rings of earthworks. And there was another horizontal earthwork, Brokerley Dyke, to the northeast. It’s part of a string of hillforts in Dorset (territory of the Durotriges). And it was reoccupied during the Dark Ages.

Ringsbury Camp:

This hillfort had a double earthwork that enclosed only 8 acres. Interestingly, the embankment was built with rocks that did not come from the immediate area.

Of the three, I’m most drawn to Liddington and the Ridgeway, with the large Badbury Rings a close second. Well . . . fortunately, that battle takes place fairly late in the story. I don’t have to choose just yet.

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Camelot

This is the site of King Arthur’s Court in the later legends. But, setting aside the issue of trusting later stories, Arthur still needed to live somewhere. And a well-fortified dwelling makes a certain amount of sense for a war leader.

One good possibility is a hillfort now called Cadbury Castle, in Somerset, long associated with Camelot in local legend.

Yeah, it’s not on this map, yet. In fact, I think I’m going to need to redo some of the locations on this map, anyway.

The “bury” part, at least is Saxon, not British and may date to a much later Saxon mint on the site. It’s impossible to tell, now, what the Britons called it in the fifth century, though it is near the villages of Queen’s Camel and West Camel and the River Cam (a tributary of Yeo) runs by it, so Camelot may be a Norman French mispronunciation of it. Something with “Camel” as part of the name is more than reasonable.

Four rings of ditch-and-embankment earthworks encircle the hill, providing access only from the southwest and northeast. These walls protected an area of about 18 acres. The Iron Age hillfort was abandoned during the period of Roman control. Like several other such hillforts, it was reoccupied during the Dark Ages, after the Romans left. Unlike the others, it was not only reoccupied, but refortified—and the new fortification were unusual.

Around 470, a stone wall or ledge was added to the top of the innermost earthwork. Above that, a timber wall protected a parapet and spanned the gate.

Inside these defenses, on top of the plateau, were several buildings, including a timber great hall about 63 feet long by 64 feet wide. And, like Tintagel, there’s evidence of luxury items from the Mediterranean, marking this as a high-status dwelling.

A highly suitable dwelling for a war leader. And, as far as is known so far, Cadbury Castle was the only site refortified in this manner during the Dark Ages.

If you scroll down, there are some interesting photos and artist’s renderings on this website: https://eaglesanddragonspublishing.com/tag/cadbury-castle/

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Tintagel

Okay, so much for the characters and their weapons. Now for the setting.

To a considerable extent, it’s necessary to just make a guess at locations for the Arthur legend. Some can be identified, others guessed at with fair probability of being correct—or at least reasonable. Others . . . well, some are just flat out guesses.

So, let’s start with Arthur’s birthplace, Tintagel. This, at least, is one legendary location that can be placed absolutely—whether or not the legend about Arthur’s birth has any historical basis.

There it is on the northern coast of Dumnonia . . . Cornwall, now. (Well, as nearly as I could place it, anyway.)

Of course, in the fifth century, Tintagel would not have been a medieval-style castle. More like the coastal version of an Iron Age hillfort, a promontory fort, substituting steep cliffs and the sea for embankments around most of the protected area. Though the current ruins are of a castle built after the Norman Conquest, there is archaeological evidence of a high-status late or post-Roman dwelling at Tintagel, possibly a trading center with ties not only to Gaul, but also to the Mediterranean and North Africa, judging by the luxury items found during excavations. There seems to have been a path down the eastern cliffs to a small cove.

In fact, it’s a little hard to see why anyone would have wanted to build a castle there. It was hardly necessary. By itself, Tintagel would have been supremely defensible.

Now an island, Tintagel would have been on a headland, connected to mainland Cornwall (Dumnonia) by a narrow ridge. And, during the Dark Ages, a ditch and embankment earthwork narrowed the approach to the ridge. Although the area within the defenses ran for half a mile from the gate and about a quarter mile across, the usable space was more likely to be between ten and twenty acres—within the same size range as most hillforts.

For a bit of fun, a sea cave, called Merlin’s Cave, runs right through the island near the landward side.

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Weapons

Okay, so those are the characters, mostly. Now let’s get into something else–weapons.

There are a variety of weapons cited throughout the legends.

First and foremost, of course, is Excalibur (Caledfwlch in Welsh). The Welsh name translates as something like “Hard Cleft”. Caledfwlch appears in early Welsh tales.

This sword was given to Arthur by the Lady of the Lake and, in some versions, made by her especially for Arthur. In some versions, it was inscribed “Take me up” on one side and “Cast me away” on the other. Also, in some versions, when the sword was drawn in Arthur’s first battle, its blade was so bright that it blinded his enemies.

Although the story of the Sword in the Stone appears much later, that sword was never Excalibur. The Sword in the Stone was Clarent, a sword used mainly for ceremony. And, in some late versions, Mordred stole Clarent and used it against Arthur at the Battle of Camlann. None of that seems to be part of the original legend, however.

Excalibur’s scabbard has no name (at least that I’ve been able to find), but it was said to have powers of its own. Any wounds received while wearing the scabbard would not bleed so that the wearer could not be killed easily. This is interesting in light of the healing reputation both of Avalon and at least some of the Ladies of the Lake. In very late stories, such as Le Morte d’Arthur, Morgana (possibly a Lady of the Lake herself) stole the scabbard and threw it into a lake. This enabled Mordred to kill Arthur, years later.

Arthur possessed other weapons, according the Welsh traditions:

A dagger called Carnwennan (translated “Little White Hilt”), which he used to slice a witch in half in Culhwch and Olwen. Sometimes, Carnwennan is said to have the power to shroud its wielder in shadow.

A spear called Rhongomyniad (translated “Spear Striker”). Later versions simply call it Ron, meaning “Spear”.

Arthur’s shield was Wynebgwrthucher (translated “Face of Evening”).

Not a weapon, exactly, but his ship was Prydwen (“Fair Face”).

I want to mention one more weapon, though not one of Arthur’s.

Galatine was Gawain’a sword, also given to him by the Lady of the Lake. The name is clearly not Welsh, but I haven’t been able to find a Welsh name for it, which may—or may not—indicate that it’s not part of the older stories.

Galatine is strongest in sunlight. Sometimes even said to make its wielder invincible in sunlight.

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Nimuë is one of the women identified as the Lady of the Lake, who give Arthur the sword Excalibur. And also give Gawain the sword Galatine. She is also one of the women who come to the battlefield of Camlann to take Arthur to Avalon.

Sometimes, in later stories, she is depicted as Merlin’s apprentice with whom he is hopelessly in love. Often, she is the one who enchants Merlin, sealing him up in a cave or a tree, whereupon she takes his place as advisor to Arthur.

I’ve already written the first scenes with my version of Nimuë.

Morgana is also an enchantress, though generally a benevolent one, acting as a magical protector to Arthur. Usually, she is the youngest daughter of Igraine and Gorlois, making her Arthur’s half-sister.

She is especially associated with Avalon (or the Isle of Apples) where her chief role is as a healer. Avalon was associated with mystical practices early on. One possible location for Avalon is Glastonbury Tor—a conical hill rising a bit over 500 feet above the Someset levels. It would have been surrounded by a marsh, making it sort of an island. It is also the location in which Excalibur was said to have been forged.

Morgana is one of the women who come to take Arthur from Camlann to Avalon, where he will be healed, perhaps to return.

Possibly because of her association with Avalon, she is also sometimes considered a Lady of the Lake.

In some versions, she is also the reluctant wife of King Urien of Rheged, and therefore the mother of Owain (Yvain) and a daughter Morfydd, who was Owain’s twin sister.

In Geoffrey of Monmouth’s version, she is a shapeshifter who can fly on strange wings and uses her powers only for good. Hmm, I just might make use of that.

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No version of the Arthur story would be complete without Guinevere. She was Arthur’s wife, of course. In fact, the Welsh triads actually give Arthur three wives, all named Guinevere (Gwenhwyfar in Welsh).

  • Gwenhwyfar daughter of Cywryd
  • Gwenhwyfar daughter of Gwythyr ap Greidiol
  • Gwenhwyfar daughter of Ogrfan Gawr

Though, Gwenhwyfar means something like “White Enchantress”, so there could be other ways to interpret their roles.

Later traditions make her the daughter of King Leodegrance (a fairly obviously French name, not Welsh), who was possibly a king of Cornwall or of a part of Brittany with a very similar sounding name, Cornouaille.

Guinevere’s first appearance otherwise comes with Geoffrey of Monmouth in the 12th Century and it’s Chretien de Troyes who created the Arthur/Guinevere/Lancelot love triangle.

There are a few mentions of a younger sister (or half-sister) with a similar name. Sometimes this sister was married to Mordred and the enmity between the sisters was the root cause of the Battle of Camlann in which both Arthur and Mordred are killed. Or the sister was a false Guinevere, who temporarily displaced the true Guinevere through trickery.

There’s another legend concerning Mordred and Guinevere, in which they entered an adulterous relationship with each other while Arthur was across the channel in Gaul or Rome. But that one seems to me to confuse Arthur with the historical figure, Riothamus, who actually did lead troops from Britain across to Gaul in support of one of the late Western Roman Emperors. An expedition from which he never returned, because the Emperor failed to do his part. Of course, there are people who argue that Riothamus was the true Arthur. For myself, since there manifestly still were Saxons (and Angles and Jutes) in Britain, as well as contentious tribal rulers, I just can’t picture an actual Arthur taking his warriors away to fight in Gaul. And, anyway, the ending of that story about Mordred and Guinevere is barbaric and not something I intend to use.

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And now for the ladies. There aren’t as many of them, and there’s generally not as much to say about them. Hmm, I may have to do something about that in my story. I’m going to start with his birth family.

Igraine (Eigyr in Welsh), of course, is Arthur’s mother. She is the daughter of Amlawdd Wledig and Gwenwyr (Gwen ferch Cunedda).

Amlawdd was the king of Ergyng, a smallish subkingdom, probably at least partly within the area ruled by Vortigern. Most of it lay in what is now western Herefordshire between the River Monnow and the River Wye—and east of the Wye to the Roman town of Ariconium (Ergyng in Welsh) and perhaps farther. Or, in other words, just about where the word Dobunni is on the map below.

Igraine’s maternal grandfather, Cunedda was likely an historical person, probably a chieftain of the Votadini in the north near Hadrian’s wall. His grandfather, Padarn Beisrudd, seems to have gained some official Roman military rank. (Beisrudd means “Red Cloak”, like the cloaks worn by Roman officers.) Padarn, his son Edern, and then Edern’s son Cunedda seem to have been in charge of protecting against encroachments by the Picts and Scotti. Then, possibly invited by Vortigern, Cunedda and his Votadini relocated to northern Wales, in the area that would become the center of Gwynedd. Possibly this move was to protect against Irish raids in Wales.  

With either Gorlois (who doesn’t seem to have any references earlier than Geoffrey of Monmouth) or Uther, she had several children besides Arthur. Morgause and Morgana are her daughters. And another son, Madog ap Uther. Madog also had a son, Eliwlod.

Morgause:

Morgause was Arthur’s sister, daughter of Uther and Igraine. She was married to King Lot of Orkney and Lothian, and the mother of Gawain, Agravain, Gaheris, Gareth, and Mordred.

In later versions, she is beheaded by her son Gaheris when he finds her in an adulterous relationship.

Morgana:

Of course, Arthur had another sister or half-sister, Morgana. I’m going to cover her in a different post, though, because she’s important as more than just his sister.

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I’m not going to call them knights, because in the Dark Ages that concept—at least as we think of it—didn’t exist. There may have been a round table for all I know. They certainly could have made a round table if they wanted to. But these warriors did not wear plate armor from head to toe and they probably did not fight from horseback—certainly not with lances—because the stirrup had not reached Europe yet.

The ones that seem to have some basis in the older traditions are Bedivere (Bedwyr), Kay (Cei), Gawain (Gwalchmai), King Uriens and his son Owain, and Illtud. (I know, Illtud doesn’t show up in most of the versions of the Arthur legend, but he’s interesting, so I may include him.)

Bedwyr of the Perfect Sinew was a one-handed warrior. And, in Culhwch and Olwen, he wielded a magic lance. He and Cei were close friends. Being one-handed makes him interesting to work with.

Cei was not Arthur’s foster brother or the son of Ector in the older traditions. He was supposed to be exceptionally stubborn. He was also credited with several supernatural abilities—to be able to withstand fire or water better than anyone else, to go nine days without sleeping or breathing (?!), to grow as tall as the tallest tree, and to be able to radiate heat from his hands. A wound from Cei’s sword could not be healed. He was nevertheless killed and Arthur avenged his death.

Gawain was Arthur’s nephew, son of Arthur’s sister or half-sister Morgause and King Lot of Orkney and Lothian. Orkney and Lothian are both very far north. In some versions, though, his mother was Gwyar, who might have been one of Igraine’s sisters—making Gawain Arthur’s cousin rather than his nephew. Sometimes, Gawain has brothers listed as Agravain, Gaheris, Gareth, and Mordred. But these, other than Mordred, seem to be late additions.

Gawain also has a magic sword, given to him by the Lady of the Lake. His sword, Galatine, is nearly as potent a weapon as Excalibur.

Formidable, courteous, compassionate and loyal are the descriptors used of Gawain. He’s a mentor to young warriors and a defender of the poor and of women.

King Uriens of Rheged and his son Yvain (or Owain) are somewhat problematic for me. Rheged, which had been the western (and less Romanized) half of the territory of the Brigantes, would have been a very new kingdom. Since Arthur was not, could not have been, high king, it’s hard to picture the king of another tribal domain following him. Though, if Arthur was a war leader—not a king—he might have operated in Rheged at some point. And on way to look at Arthur is as the leader of a possibly small, but highly mobile strike force. That could be interesting.

Illtud (also known as St. Illtud) was Arthur’s cousin once removed. Igraine’s mother and Illtud’s were sisters. He was one of Arthur’s warriors and, later, followed a Welsh king until a religious . . . event. He then left his wife to become first a hermit and then a monk. He may have founded a monastery at Llanilltud Fawr (translated: Illtud’s Great Church), which became one of the great monastic schools in Wales. (The monastery was real, but it may have been older than Illtud.) His students supposedly include Saint Patrick, Saint David, Taliesin, and . . . Gildas. The very same Gildas who failed to even mention Arthur. Hmm. . . .

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Mordred

Now Mordred (Medraut in Welsh) is interesting. Unless he had multiple personality disorder or was bi-polar, the accounts of him seem to be describing two different people. The Welsh texts describe him as good-natured, moderate, and courteous. (Though, really, the best villains could be charming and disarming—for their own purposes.) Other accounts have him out of control, almost berserk.

In the earliest accounts, even as late as Geoffrey of Monmouth in the 12th Century, Mordred was not an illegitimate son of Arthur nor the result of incest. He was Arthur’s nephew, son of Arthur’s sister or half-sister Morgause and her husband King Lot. Sometimes, he was also Arthur’s foster son. And the earliest mentions of the Battle of Camlann merely state that Arthur and Mordred both died there—not whether they were fighting side by side or against each other.

In some stories, Mordred was married to Guinevere’s younger sister, Gwenyhwyach, and the rivalry between the two Gwen’s was the cause of discord between Arthur and Mordred. . Other stories have him marrying Cwywyllog (yeah, I have no idea how to pronounce that, either), daughter of Caw and having two sons, the elder possibly named Melehan. These sons rose in rebellion against Arthur’s successor—Constantine of Dumnonia. They were defeated and, separately, went into hiding—one hid in a church, the other in a friary. Constantine hunted them down and killed them before the altars of their hiding places. Which matches very closely to the accusations Gildas levels against the real ruler of his day.

Personally, I think Constantine makes a better villain than Mordred. Although, nothing says there can be only one.

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