Arthur II and his resting place

It’s King Arthur II who has captured the imagination of millions through tales of chivalry, knights in armour, round tables and Camelot. As to the reality of such a person, that’s another matter.

As a king of Glamorgan, there is the evidence within the Llandaff Charters that he existed in the sixth century A.D. … why this is not more generally known, more widely accepted has more to do with politics, religion and academic reputations than the simple truth of the matter.

The authors of The Holy Kingdom make the point that a round table would not have been a practical item to have, around which a royal court held sway. It would need to be of enormous size. Leaving that aside for the moment, their research suggests that Lodge Hill, an already existing ancient hill fort near Caerleon, would have served Arthur’s purpose as one of several places in which he held court. Great stone castles weren’t in use, hill forts were.

Again, I’ll quote from the book rather than rely upon my own impressions which, no doubt, contain errors.

Caerleon, impressive as it is, was only one of Arthur’s courts. The real centre of his activity was in the Cardiff area and now Alan and Baram took me to Castle Field, a grassy hill fort, now part of Craig Llwyn- Greystones farm- just a few miles from the centre of Cardiff.

…. ‘This (referring to a field), believe it or not, was once the centre of King Arthur’s kingdom, the site of his fabled castle of Camelot,’ said Alan. Its real name, he went on, is Caer Melyn, the ‘Yellow Fortress’, on account of the yellow sulphur pits nearby, which coloured the waters of the springs. Mellitus means honey in Latin, which is, of course, yellow coloured, so it is easy to see how in the French legends the Welsh Caer Melyn could be corrupted to Caer Mellitus and this shortened to Camelot.

British – and that includes English as well as Welsh – kings generally had more than one place of residence where they held court. They were in the habit of touring round these various courts, which were administered by stewards in their absence, rather as assize judges do today. The king would spend a period of time at each court before moving on to the next. In this way the burden of supporting the large retinue which travelled with him would be spread out and they would not exhaust the supplies of any one region. Although all we could see now were some low grassy banks, as late as the fifteenth century there was a castle standing here. When it fell derelict it was, as usual, quarried for stone by the local farmers and now there’s not much to see. However, were archaeologists to dig here there is no knowing what they might find. It’s ironic, Alan pointed out, that this fortress can be seen from Cardiff University yet it has so far been ignored by the archaeological faculty which has spent hundreds of thousands of pounds fruitlessly excavating South Cadbury Hill in Somerset. Craig Llwyn is only a quarter of a mile away from the university.”

There is more before the following:

“A couple of miles to the south of Lisvane (now a suburb of Cardiff) is Roath, a name deriving from Rhaith. The Rhaith was a law court, a form of grand council or jury which was called to sit in with the king. So Roath would have been the place in Cardiff where the king sat in council with his ministers.

Camelot, then, was no great city with walls and battlements; it was simply one of the main manor house courts of the Glamorgan kings.”

Again, I can’t possibly place here the wealth of detail which the book provides. Although I’d prepared for my journey with placemarks on GoogleEarth, I still managed to pass by many places mentioned in the book which are of real significance. As to where Arthur II lies buried, there are chapters recording ‘the where and the why’ of it.

Arthur II eventually gets buried at a site nearby where a ruined church stands. St. Peter’s church, Mynydd y Gaer, probably founded by King Lleurig (Lucius) circa  A.D. 160 and rebuilt many times is where their evidence points to.

There is the legend of King Arthur lying sleeping in a cave awaiting some future time when he would be needed. The seeds of this legend are more prosaic, more practical than legendary.

King Arthur II dies but his son Morgan is too young to easily hold the kingdom and so Arthur’s death is kept secret for awhile. His body is placed in a cave – St. Illtyd’s cave which sits well above the Ewenny River in Glamorgan. From there, he is later transported to his final resting place at Mynedd y Gaer.

Quoting from the book:

“Now the Ewenny River, which flows near to the cave of Illyd, has its sources up on Mynedd y Gaer. This is where stands St. Peter’s church where Alan and Baram found the stone with the inscription ‘REX ARTORIUS FILI MAURICIUS.’ It is therefore tempting to think that this stone is what Nennius and others call an ‘altar’ and that it accompanied the body of Arthur when it was first buried in the cave and later, on the mountain. When they had the church excavated they hoped to find Arthur II’s grave close to where they found the stone. However, this proved not to be the case, though it is always possible that had they gone down further they might have found something. Accordingly, they have revised their opinions. They still think that he is buried on Mynydd y Gaer, but now believe he was not buried inside the church itself. Mynydd y Gaer is also significant because, as we have seen, it is the grave of Meurig, the father of Arthur II.

‘Let’s go back up the mountain,’ said Alan, ‘and I will show you where we now think King Arthur is buried.’

We went back to the car and drove the short way to Brynna and from there made our way up the west side of Mynedd y Gaer, parking near to the Mynwent y Milwyr. …”

There are further pages of detail which my instinct says ‘Let it be – stop here.’ So, Arthur II is buried in Glamorgan as one would expect of a king of Glamorgan.

I had no intention, a year or so back, when planning this trip to Britain, of doing any more than going back to where I was born and paying my respects to ancestors before my own health fails and I shuffle off this mortal coil. I am indebted to the work of Alan Wilson, Baram Blackett and Adrian Gilbert for their research which, in turn, meant that I wasn’t just being a tourist but a traveller.

I love my home in the Blue Mountains, Australia and am equally indebted to the Aboriginal tribal men I met and worked with in the mid 70’s and who opened my eyes in more ways than one.

I hadn’t planned on visiting many castles, while in Britain, but Harlech castle is along the way between Poppit Sands and the Llyn peninsula and I thought I’d drop in and have a look. I didn’t expect to find a parking spot at the castle itself but missed a turn off to a car park and so I continued on to the castle itself where – surprise, surprise – a space existed for me. As I parked and got out of the car so a canon fired off. ‘Wonderful’ thought I ‘Get the camera and see if I can capture the smoke.’ This I did.

Walking in to buy my ticket I remarked to the girl at the door that my timing was, happily, excellent in respect to canon going off. ‘Never heard it before,’ she replied ‘ It’s not a usual thing.’

I understood from that exchange that this was probably the work of re-enactment people who travel from place to place and when I asked those concerned, it proved to be the case.

Before I got to the castle ‘proper’ there was a small room where a brief filmic story was being told. I had a shiver of recognition when King Bran appeared, wading across the Irish Sea to rescue his sister. It’s a story from the Mabinogian and the shiver was felt because – in my brief foray into acting, decades ago – I played King Bran in an ABC radio play.

I had no idea what the connection was between Harlech and King Bran until this morning when I searched and found that, as the legend would have it, it was from Harlech that King Bran first gazed out over the Irish Sea to witness the arrival of the Irish fleet.

Synchronicities are wonderful.

 

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