The Lady of the Lake

Sir Bedivere (Bedwyr Bedrydant) throwing Excalibur into the lake, Walter Crane.

 

 

 

The Lady of the Lake of Arthurian mythology is known for having given to Arthur and later recieved back from him the sword Excalibur.

 

 

 

 

 

She was based on a historical figure who appears in the genealogies as Nynian, the wife of Cawrdaf, see Cawrnur and the dendogram below.

Nynian.

Her name takes a number of forms including Elen and a late triad, Three Elens who went from Ynys Prydain, tells us she was Arthur’s sister. This relationship is supported by the 15th c. La Tavola Ritonda which tells us she was a daughter of Uthr Bendragon. This may explain why the Lady of the Lake is also identified with Morgan le Fay, who is also said to be Arthur’s sister.

Camlan may be seen as a power struggle over succession as Arthur had no surviving heir. This would also explain the Medrod’s antagonism towards Arthur. He may have felt he had a greater right to the crown of Dumnonia, being a nephew through Arthur’s sister whereas Custennin ap Cadwr bore that relationship through Arthur’s half-brother. The latter claimant may have been Arthur’s choice as the was of the patrilineal descent from Gwrlais.

Two further references are made concerning Nynian. JC 12  lists a ‘Nennue’ immediately after the name ‘Arthur’ and V. Paterni 13 tells of ‘Nimannauc’ leaving Letavia in order to follow Paternus.

Arthur’s tenth battle

HB 56 describes the battle thus:
“… in litore fluminis quod uocatur traith tribruit …”
The word  traith  only appears in the Vatican recension and its presence tells us that the location was a river that flowed out into a beach.[1] tribruit occurs as tryfrwyd in MW. It may consist of two elements try and brwyd which combine to mean ‘very variegated’ or, as Jackson suggested, “very speckled”[2]. A reasonable identification is Chesil beach on the Dorset coast. It is renowned for its multicoloured pebbles. Its current name derives from OE ceosel meaning ‘gravel’ or ‘sand’ or ‘shingle’.

Chesil Beach and the Fleet Lagoon, BennH, CC BY-SA 4.0.

Two rivers that flow into the sea nearby are the Brit and the Bride, their names being the second element of ‘tribruit’. Ifor Williams showed that bruit in the OC was translated from the L. varius and means ‘variegated, of different forms.’[3] Thus the appearance of the beach gave the rivers that flow into it their names. Furthermore, the south coast was said to have been under Saxon attack during the late 5th/early 6th c.

Chesil Beach, rivers Brit and Bride, OS.

The Saxon choice of landing site may have been to access the Exeter to Dorchester Roman road, RR 4f:

Roman roads, Margary, Southern Britain, © Keith Briggs.

[1] Fitzpatrick-Matthews, K.J.
[2] Jackson, K.H. 1958, 4 n. 1.
[3] Williams, I., 1944, 94.

Camelot

The Welsh sources identify Arthur’s court as Celliwig whereas the Romances name it as Camelot. There is one location where the two names collide, namely Bodmin in Cornwall. Not only can one find the name Callywith there but also the town is close to the river Camel.

Celliwig means ‘grove of trees’ and Callywith wood can be found just east of Bodmin. Nearby is Castle Canyke, the largest hillfort in Cornwall, and a likley location for Arthur’s court, see Celliwig.

The name of the river, which means ‘the crooked one’, is appropriate as the river makes a sharp turn to the north, just after Bodmin, from its original southerly flow. The river’s name forms the first part of the name Camelot.

Camel estuary and mudflats towards Dinham, David Hawgood, CC BY-SA 2.0.

The second element may have its origin in the word ‘llwyd’, one of whose meaning is ‘turbid’ or ‘muddy’ with reference to water. The Camel together with its tributaries originate on high ground and moorland underneath which is impermeable granite. This leads to the river being prone to flooding during which its appearance would be turbid

 

 

Today the mud flats and sand extend from Wadebridge to just past Gentle Jane where it gives way to just sand, see map below. However, before the construction of river and tidal flood defenses the mudflats may have extended further upstream.

Camel estuary.

The following map highlights the locations mentioned earlier with red underlining.

Detail from OS Explorer Map 107.

Padel, although not mentioning Callywith in the article, wrote concerning two versions of the name of an Anglo-Saxon manor in Cornwall:

“This discrepancy [of the two forms of the name] has not been satisfactorily explained; but it is possible, at least, that an original *Cælliwic (a possible Anglo-Saxon borrowing of Cornish Kelli Wic; cf. the Assize Roll spelling) could have been corrupted, in written transmission, into the two different forms [Caellincg and Caellwic] shown by the Anglo-Saxon sources.”[1]

[1] Padel, O., 1977, Kelli Wic in Cornwall, Cornish Archaeology no. 16.

Anglo-Saxon Mappa Mundi

Detail from British Library, Anglo-Saxon Mappa Mundi, Cotton MS Tiberius BV f.56v.

The British Library describes this document thus:

“The ‘Anglo-Saxon world map’ contains the earliest known, relatively realistic depiction of the British Isles. It was created, probably at Canterbury, between 1025 and 1050 but is probably ultimately based on a model dating from Roman times. This showed the provinces of the Roman empire, of which ‘Britannia’ (England) was one. The map was revised and updated in about 800 and again in about 1000. New information was added but at each stage errors and misunderstandings occurred in the copying process.

Like most early maps, this one has East at the top. Nevertheless the British Isles (bottom left) are immediately recognisable and the Orkneys, the Scillies, the Channel Islands and the isles of Man and of Wight are shown. The tortuous shape of Scotland is particularly well drawn. London, the Saxon capital of Winchester and Dublin are indicated using Roman-style town symbols. The size of the Cornish peninsula is exaggerated, probably reflecting the importance of its copper and tin mines in the ancient world. Most tantalising of all is what appears to be two fighting figures in the peninsula. Could they refer to the conflict between the Saxons and the native Britons in the centuries following the departure of the Romans early in the fifth century, which gave rise to the legend of King Arthur?”

This is, therefore, a pre-Galfridian identification of Arthur’s conflict with the Saxons in the S.W. peninsula. A cross below the two figures may possibly identify the location of a battle and would be consistent with Badon having occurred at Badbury Rings, see Badbury Rings.

In order to identify the location, it will be noticed the courses of three southern rivers are shown. When comparing with a modern map:

Major rivers of England, my work CC BY-SA.

Major rivers of England, my work CC BY-SA.

it can be seen that the rivers are the Thames, the Bristol Avon and the Salisbury Avon, all three having sources that are not too distant from each other as also depicted on the Mappa Mundi. To the east of the last river is an area labelled Cantia. This is not Kent but rather a reference to the region of Venta Belgarum, that is Winchester. It has been pointed out that the names Gwent and Ceint have been confused elsewhere, for example in versions of triad 56.[1]

[1] Blake, S., Lloyd, S., 2003, 57.

Winlogee

Koch states:
“The name Gwenhwyfar corresponds exactly to Old Irish Findabair, the name of the daughter of Medb and Ailill in the Irish Ulster Cycle, a compound of find ‘white, fair’ and siabair ‘phantom’. Like Gwenhwyfar, Findabair is responsible for the death of many heroes in the calamitous confrontation of Táin Bó Cuailnge (‘The Cattle Raid of Cooley’). Thus, it is possible that not only the names but also the characters are of common origin.”[1]

This suggests that the name of Arthur’s wife may not have been Gwenhwyfar after all and that it later became attached to her. Her abduction appears to be represented in the Modena Archivolt where she is given the possibly genuine name, Winlogee:

Modena Archivolt, Ruge, CC BY-SA 4.0

For the Shropshire town Much Wenlock and village Little Wenlock, Mills states:
“Shrops. Wininicas 675-690, Wenlocan, Winlocan 9th. cent., Wenloch 1086 (DB). Probably Old English loca ‘enclosed place’ (hence perhaps ‘monastery’) added to the first part of old Celtic name Wininicas (obscure, but possibly ‘white area’ or the like referring to limestone of Wenlock Edge, from Celtic *wïnn ‘white’). Affix is OE mycel ‘great’.”[2]

However, it may be that those placenames derive from the personal name Winlogge and thus give us an indication of the area of her origin. Triad 56 tells us Gwenhwyfar was the daughter of Ogfran Gawr. Old Oswestry hillfort in N.W. Shropshire, one of the best preserved hillfort in Britain, is known as Caer Ogyrfan:

Old Oswestry hillfort, Oswestry Borderland Tourism, CC BY-SA 2.0

[1] Koch, J.T. (ed.), 2006, 861.
[2] Mills, A. D., 2011, 489.

Liber Floridus

The Liber Floridus tells us of Arthur as leader of Picts:

“Tunc arthur dux Pictorum re[[ ]]abat”[1]

LF LVI Ghent uni.

This is compatible with triad 1 which tells us Arthur was Chief of Princes in Pen Rhionydd. Watson identified this site with Ptolemy’s Rerigonion which means ‘very royal palace’.[2] This was the capital of the Novantae, a tribe who may have included people of Bede’s ‘australes Picti’. It is also significant that the word “regnabat” indicates the title dux does not preclude its holder from ruling a kingdom.

Another entry points to the fact that Arthur, who was the leader of the Picts, had some authority, as opposed to ruling, over kingdoms in the interior of Britain:

“Tunc Arthur dux Pictorum interioris Britanniȩ re/gens regna”[3]

LF LVII Ghent uni.

We know, from the Historia Brittonum, this to be the case during the 12 battles. The refernce to the interior suggests Arthur himself was from a peripheral region. This is consistent with triad 1 since Arthur ruled in the North, as has already been stated, but also in Cornwall and Dyfed. The only known Demetian Arthur was a son of Pedr.

[1] Derolez, A., 1968, 137.
[2] Watson, W.J., 1926, 34.
[3] Derolez, A., 1968, 146.

The Otranto mosaic

The mosaic is dated from 1163, at a time when the cathedral was in the Norman Principality of Taranto. One portion of the mosaic depicts King Arthur:

Arthur in the Otranto mosaic. A Caper in Salento (capersalento.blogspot.com)

The mosaic portrays a leopard confronting a rider and obstructing his path to the Tree of Life. A second leopard attacks the unseated rider. Two yellow leopards on a red background is the emblem of Normandy. This was the coat of arms of the Plantagenet king Henry II (1154 to 1189). England’s royal arms, with an extra cat, derives from Henry’s son, Richard the Lionheart. The imagery is one of the Normans defeating the English, hence the leopard mauling the dislodged rider.

Why Arthur? The House of Godwin may well had adopted him. A number of manuscripts, including Harl. 2414 which describes him as “iarll Kernyw”, show Godwin, Earl of Wessex, having Cornish ancestry, see Coliavus. As pointed out in The Bayeux tapestry and the draco standards, it is likely that one of the standards portrayed on the Bayeux tapestry is of Cornish and not Saxon origin.

The writing “Rex Arturus” is referring to the figure hovering to the right of the picture, not the rider as is usually thought. The text is closer to him than the mounted figure. The reason that “Rex” became associated with the rider is because of his crown, but this was a late additon in a repair to the mosaic, see image:

Drawing by Aubin Louis Millin of Otranto mosaic before restoration. A Caper in Salento (capersalento.blogspot.com)

It shows areas of damage and the rider wearing a cap, but not a crown. The nature of the headgear is confirmed by the image of the rider where he is being bitten by the leopard. It appears that Arthur is in spirit form, long since dead. This may have been a Norman counter to the Breton/Cornish belief that Arthur was asleep and would rise again when needed.

The figure who is riding the goat is a representation of Harold Godwinson. He is being ridiculed with an imagery showing him going to battle riding a goat and inadequately dressed for the conflict. Arthur has his hands raised to his face, as if in horror, thus suggesting his agreement with the Normans that Harold was a false claimant to the throne.

The whole scheme being placed between the Expulsion from the Garden of Eden and the Cain and Abel story is to suggest the result of Hastings was an act of God, whose hand is depicted above. Harold’s location on the mosaic is significant. Cain and Abel are relevant as a case of treachery. It is claimed that when Harold ended up in Normandy he had taken an oath of fealty to William and then sworn on sacred relics. Likewise, Adam and Eve had broken a covenant with God. Note, the rider has his arm raised as does one of the figures expelled from the Tree of Life.

The Vita Haroldi of Waltham Abbey claims Harold survived the battle and eventually lived his life as a hermit in a cave. Although this may not be historical, it might explain the garb he is portrayed as wearing.

Arthur as grandson of Ambrosius Aurelianus

A number of genealogies indicate Arthur was a grandson of Ambrosius Aurelianus, see Arthur’s descent from Cunedda. There may be an oblique reference to this relationship in DEB 25, following on from the reference to Ambrosius:

“… cuius nunc temporibus nostris suboles magnopere auita bonitate degenerauit …”
“… whose offspring now, in our times, has greatly degenerated from his grandfather’s moral excellence ..”

Arthur’s adversaries and ally

The HB is correct in claiming Ochta was the son of Hengest. This is supported by Bede. Although the ASC names Aesc as the son, if it is accepted that the 488 date is correct for Hengest’s obit then it would seem that Ochta was the name of Arthur’s opponent in some of the 12 battles.

As far as Esla of the Gewisse is concerned, as Sisam pointed out, Esla/Elesa formed an alliterative pair as did Wig/Giwis. Chronology would, therefore, suggest he was a contemporary of Arthur and identification with Osla Gyllellfawr is reasonable. The Culhwch ac Olwen, where we are told his dagger, Bronllafn Ferllydan, is used as a bridge and also that he was involved in the chase of the Twrch Trwyth, describes him as an ally of Arthur. However, in the Breuddwyd Rhonabwy he is an opponent at Badon, but asked Arthur for a truce. Perhaps, he defected to Arthur. If Esla was, indeed, an ally it may explain why DEB 26 states:

“tam desperati insulae excidii insperatique mentio auxilii”

“… ‘so desperate a destruction of the island’ – the Saxon revolt – ‘and unhoped-for mention of assistance’ …”[1]

This unforseen help referred to may have been Saxons fighting with the Britons against Kentish forces. That may also explain the reason why the West Saxons claimed their dynasty started with Cerdic, rather than with the arrival of Giwis, possibly in 475. Although the ASC claims Cerdic’s obit in 534, Dumville dates it to 554. It is, therefore, likely that Cerdic was one of Arthur’s opponents at Camlan.

[1] Higham, N.J., 2018, 162.

 

St. Stephen’s church

Le Morte D’Arthur III 5 states:
“Then was the high feast made ready, and the king was wedded at Camelot unto Dame Guenever in the church of Saint Stephen’s, with great solemnity.”

Malory mistakenly identified Camelot with Winchester, probably because it supposedly housed the arthurian round table in the Great Hall. No religious building has ever been dedicated to St. Stephen at Winchester. As indicated Camelot was Celliwig, that is Castle Canyke in Bodmin, see Celliwig. Just over 3 miles away from Celliwig is the church of Saint Stephen’s, by the river Camel and about 350 yards away from the Roman fort at Nanstallon.

Church of St Stephen’s. Photo © Derek Harper (cc-by-sa2.0)

Of course, the current church would have been built over the Arthurian predecessor.