Arthur the first

There’s a place now called Hartshill Hayes Country Park. It’s not far from Atherstone and can be found off Old Bury Road which is appropriately named because Hartshill is an ancient burial site.

When I arrived there, an area of ancient woodland, I asked one of the volunteers whether or not there were any tumuli within the park. He pointed just over the fence and told me that the tumulus in question had been excavated with a bulldozer in a single afternoon, some years back, but that if it happened now it would be done with sieves. I mentioned Arthur – not Arthur II but Arthur 1 – and told him of the book which I was using as a sort of road map while I ventured through parts of England and Wales – ‘The Holy Kingdom.’

We talked awhile and I got no sense that he was just being polite. The place is an ancient burial site and he was astute enough to know that not everything he’d been told regarding history was necessarily accurate.

I walked though the woodland park, as many others were, just absorbing the sense of the place. While the authors of my road map had mentioned many burial mounds within the woodland I can’t truthfully say that I could easily recognise what was natural and what was manmade. It was sufficient to have found the place within which the first Arthur, the one who fought the Romans in the late three hundreds A.D. lay buried, along with ‘multitudes of the eminent British.’

According to the book, Atherstone was originally named Mancetter, an ancient Romano-British town and Hartshill ‘graveyard’ belonged to the original monastery of Glastenic/Glastons/Glastonbury.

Quoting directly from the book as Alan Wilson and Baram Blackett showed Adrian Gilbert through that woodland, “Now we know that glastons in Breton and Cornish is said to mean ‘oak trees’ and glastennen in Welsh means ‘the scarlet oak tree’ – possibly a tree of sacrifice or religious celebration. What do you see all around you? Not like Glastonbury in Somerset is it?”

Adrian Gilbert agrees that it’s quite unlike the open treeless fens of Somerset.

I appreciate that those who have made Glastonbury in Somerset a place of pilgrimage would be shocked, perhaps dismayed, to know that they have been misled but when that Glastonbury’s monastery was burnt to the ground in 1191, the Benedictine monks carried out an archaeological dig.

Again, I’m quoting, “ …they were sorely in need of funds to rebuild it. At that time, as we have seen, stories concerning King Arthur were all the rage in the courts of Europe and nowhere more so than in Wales. Hearing from a Welsh bard that Arthur was said to have been buried at a place called Glastennen, Henry II passed on this information to his cousin the Abbot of Glastonbury. Equating Glastennen with their own Glastonbury, the monks set about looking for Arthur’s tomb in the vicinity of their abbey. In the course of a dig that they conducted in the graveyard they turned up some curiously large bones which they had no scruples in identifying as those of King Arthur and Queen Guinevere, immediately informing Henry II of the success of the operation.”

On such misidentifications a whole tourist industry has been built.

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