This is a rather light-hearted counter-factual history of what might have happened if events during the long life of Ranulf of Blundeville had taken a slightly different turn. The point of divergence from the true path of history is that Ranulf has better relations with his first wife and that her son Arthur survives to replace Henry III (then aged 9) on the death of King John. Arthur becomes king, marries Gwenhwyfar, daughter of Dafydd ab Owain Gwynedd and is later present at the wedding of John Canmore, heir of Ranulf of Blundeville to Elen ferch Llywelyn, daughter of Llywelyn the Great. Edward I never sits on the throne of England.
This alternative version of history (or something like it) features in The Chester Mystery Novels, being the plot of the entirely fictional historical novel that the equally fictional detective Richard Dutton never quite gets around to finishing. Arthur is also the principal character of an alternative history novel by the eccentric English writer Frederick Rolfe (aka 'Baron Corvo'), entitled "Hubert's Arthur", posthumously published by A. J. A. Symons in 1935. The novel started as a collaboration between Rolfe and Harry Pirie-Gordon, but in the event the latter only supplied the copious heraldic details pertaining to the characters. This is presented as the lengthy narrative of the aged Hubert de Burgh, who is supposed to have saved Arthur's life and accompanied him on crusade to the Holy Land, where he becomes King of Jerusalem and eventually returns to England, defeats King John and kills his son Henry Plantagenet (the historical Henry III) in single combat.
In Randall Garrett's alternate-history fantasy stories, the Lord Darcy series, Richard does not "succumb to his illness", but survives it. John Lackland never becomes king, and the Plantagenet line, descending from Arthur, continues down to the present day.
In Dutton's version Arthur is rescued by de Burgh (a minstrel as well as a handy fighter) and flees to Europe in 1203, via Sicily (where he recovers Excalibur), Rome (where he meets the priest later to become Pope Honorius III), Constantinople. Diyarbakir, Epirus, Venice and Toulouse. Returning to England in 1216, Arthur becomes king. In this version Arthur (aged 30) effectively replaces Henry III, the son of King John and Isabella of Angoulême, Henry assumed the throne when he was only nine in the middle of the First Barons' War.
The characters include:
- Eustace the Monk - pirate and outlaw;
- Frederick II - Holy Roman Emperor;
- Robin Hood;
- Fulk FitzWarin and his wife Maud le Vavasour;
- Lucian the Monk of Chester;
- Gerald of Wales;
- The Arab engineer Al-Jazari;
- Honorius III - Pope and black magician;
- Roger Bacon - early user of gunpowder;
- 1170, Eustace the Monk is born. He will become a mercenary and pirate, in the tradition of medieval outlaws.
- 1172, Ranulf de Blondeville is born. Duke Richard of Aquitaine becomes Duke of Poitiers (later King Richard I of England). The future Pope Gregory VIII is sent by Pope Alexander III to the Council of Avranches, where Henry II of England is absolved of the sin of murder in the matter of the assassination of Thomas Becket. Through his ancestor Ranulf de Meschines, Ranulf de Blondeville is descended from both the Saxon earls of Chester and Wessex and the Norman French.
- This year Randle III., son of Hugh, earl of Chester, was born. In this year also Hugh, earl of Chester, slew a great multitude of Welshmen, near the bridge of Baldert, of whose heads one of the mounds at the hospital for the sick outside Chester is formed
- 1174 Dafydd ab Owain Gwynedd marries Emma, a natural daughter of Geoffrey of Anjou and therefore Henry II's half-sister. The bride's expenses being met out of the royal coffers.
- 1181, Hugh of Cyfeiliog dies (30 June, at Leek). Ranulf of Blundeville succeeds to the earldom of Chester (like his father before him) as a minor (aged nine) and attains his majority in 1187. In August, Supernova SN 1181 appears in Cassiopeia.
- 1183, Henry (eldest son of Henry II) revolts and tries to ambush his father at Limoges. He was joined by troops sent by his brother Geoffrey and Philip II of France. Henry's troops besieged the town, forcing his son to flee. Henry the Young wandered aimlessly through Aquitaine until he caught dysentery. On Saturday, 11 June 1183, the Young King realized he was dying and was overcome with remorse for his sins.
- 1185, Prince John used Chester as a base for his failed invasion of Ireland:
- John Lackland, son of king Henry II., with a great band of armed men, and a multitude of ships, arrived by sea at Pembroke in Wales. On the Sunday after Easter he started for Ireland in order to be crowned king there. But two hundred other justices and nobles of England, with his [their ?] companions, commence their sea voyage to Ireland at Chester. The same year Hugh de Lacy was killed in Ireland by a certain Irishman. When king Henry heard of it, he prepared to send his son John again into Ireland. But when John had come to Chester, and was waiting for a [favourable] wind, the death of his brother Geoffry, count of Brittany, is announced to his father; when Henry heard of this, he caused his son John to be recalled, and sent Philip of Worcester with a very few others to Ireland.
- 1186, Geoffrey Plantagenet, fourth son of King Henry II of England and Eleanor, Duchess of Aquitaine, younger brother of Richard (later I), and older brother of John (later King) is trampled to death in a jousting tournament. At his funeral, a grief-stricken Philip II (later rumoured to be the lover of Richard I) was said to have attempted to jump into the coffin. Gerald of Wales said the following of Geoffrey:
- He has more aloes than honey in him; his tongue is smoother than oil; his sweet and persuasive eloquence has enabled him to dissolve the firmest alliances and his powers of language to throw two kingdoms into confusion.
- 1187, Arthur of Brittany, later stepson of Ranulf de Blondeville is born (six months after the death of his father). Saladin, Sultan of Saracens take Jerusalem - consternation in Europe.
- The son of Geoffrey Plantagenet, and Constance, Duchess of Brittany, was born at Nantes, on Easter Day, 1187, six months after the death of his father. He was the first grandson of Henry II., for the graceless young King Henry had died childless. Richard was still unmarried, and the elder child of Geoffrey was a daughter named Eleanor; his birth was therefore the subject of universal joy. There was a prophecy of Merlin, that King Arthur should re-appear from the realm of the fairy Morgana, who had borne him away in his death-like trance after the battle of Camelford, and returning in the form of a child, should conquer England from the Saxon race, and restore the splendours of the British Pendragons. The Bretons, resolved to see in their infant duke this champion of their glories, overlooked the hated Angevin and Norman blood that flowed in his veins, and insisted on his receiving their beloved name of Arthur. Thanksgivings were poured forth in all the churches in Brittany, and the altars and shrines at the sacred fountains were adorned with wreaths of flowers.
- At the same time a Welsh bard directed King Henry to cause search to be made at Glastonbury, the true Avalon, for the ancient hero's corpse, which, as old traditions declared, had been buried between two-pyramids within the Abbey. There, in fact, at some distance beneath the surface, was found a leaden cross inscribed with the words, 'Here lies Arthur, Once and Future King'
- 1188, Giraldus Cambrensis spent a night at Dafydd ab Owain Gwynedd's castle at Rhuddlan on his journey round Wales with Archbishop Baldwin.
- Having crossed the river Conwy, or rather an arm of the sea, under Deganwy, leaving the Cistercian monastery of Conwy on the western bank of the river to our right hand, we arrived at Ruthlan, a noble castle on the river Cloyd, belonging to David, the eldest son of Owen, where, at the earnest invitation of David himself, we were handsomely entertained that night.
- 1189, Ranulf de Blondeville married to Constance of Brittany, the widow of Henry II’s son Geoffrey, and the mother of Arthur of Brittany, with whom King John contested the succession. Weak, ill, and deserted by all but an illegitimate son, Geoffrey, Archbishop of York, Henry II died at Chinon on 6 July 1189.
- Henry entered Brittany, assembled the States at Nantes, and claimed the guardianship of his grandson's person and domains. They were at first intimidated by his threats, but Constance showed so much spirit that she obtained the keeping of her son, and the immediate government, though she was not to act without the advice and consent of the King of England, who received the oaths of the barons present. The widowed heiress suffered much persecution from the different suitors for her hand, among whom figured her brother-in-law, John Lackland; and Henry, fearing her marriage with some powerful prince, so tormented her by threats of removing her son from her charge, that he forced her into a marriage with Ranulf de Blondeville, Count of Chester, grandson to an illegitimate son of Henry I.
Richard I (6 July 1189 – 6 April 1199)
- 1189 Ranulf de Blondeville (aged 19) was present at Richard I's coronation, being the bearer of the crown.
- 1190, St John's Hospital (Little St Johns) founded by Ranulf de Blondeville: its site is now the Blue Coat School. In September 1190 both King Richard and Philip II the French King arrived in Sicily on their way to the Third Crusade. After the death of King William II of Sicily, his cousin Tancred seized power and was crowned early in 1190 as King Tancred I, although the legal heir was William's aunt Constance, wife of the new Holy Roman Emperor Henry VI. Tancred had also imprisoned William's widow, Queen Joan, who was King Richard I's sister. When Richard arrived, he demanded that his sister be released and given her inheritance. The people of Messina then revolted, demanding that the foreigners leave. Richard attacked Messina, capturing it on October 4, 1190 and looting and burning the city.
- 1191, Tancred finally agreed to sign a treaty on March 4, 1191. The treaty was signed by Richard, Philip II and Tancred. Its main terms were:
- - Joan was to be released, receiving her inheritance and the dowry her father had given to her late husband.
- - Richard and Philip recognized Tancred as King of Sicily and vowed to keep the peace between all three of their kingdoms.
- - Richard officially proclaimed his nephew, Arthur of Brittany, as his heir, and Tancred promised to marry one of his daughters to Arthur when he came of age.
- - Richard and Tancred exchanged gifts; Richard gave Tancred a sword which he claimed was Excalibur, the legendary sword of "King Arthur".
Arthur would not yet have been four years old, and his step-father, Ranulf de Blondeville, had just become step-father to the future king of England. Richard finally arrives in Palestine, takes Acre, then ensured that the ethical traditions of the Christian forces were maintained by beheading the 2,700 unarmed and surrendered Moslem garrison.
- 1192, Richard I takes Jaffa, retires from Jerusalem without taking it and returning to England is captured by Leopold of Austria. Gerald of Wales visits Glastonbury, reports on exhumation of Arthur's grave in "Liber de Principis Instructione."
- 1193, Richard is put on trial before the "Diet of Worms". Ranulf de Blondeville was appointed a judge in the kings court. This involved the sponsorship of Richard's new Justicar, Walter de Coutances and Ranulf de Blondeville would now for the first time serve alongside Willam Marshall, generally regarded as one of the major soldiers and statesmen of the age. Now allied to a powerful faction, Ranulf de Blondeville opposes John's attempted coup of 1193-4. Richard's ransom was partly paid by his mother Eleanor of Aquitaine (who had to pawn the Crown Jewels of England to do so). Saladin dies.
- 1194, On Richard's return , in the company of Earl David (Ceannmhor) of Huntingdon, Ranulf de Blondeville played a role in besieging and taking Nottingham Castle (using Greek Fire). Roger de Hoveden thus describes the siege:
Earl David, brother of the King of Scotland, and Ranulph, Earl of Chester, and Earl de Ferrers besieged Nottingham Castle with a large army.
David married Maud of Chester, daughter of Hugh de Kevelioc, 3rd Earl of Chester, by whom he had three sons and four daughters. One of the sons, Robert Odo (de Huntingdon) is born in Loxley, Warwickshire and prior to his death will be outlawed by King John - he is better known as "Robin Hood". Tancred of Sicily dies and is briefly succeeded by the unfortunate William III. Frederick II is born.
Dafydd ab Owain Gwynedd is defeated by his nephew, Llywelyn ap Iorwerth, at the battle of Aberconwy with the aid of his cousins, the sons of Cynan ab Owain Gwynedd.
- 1196, Arthur becomes Duke of Brittany:
Arthur, who was now nine years Old, was in 1196 introduced by his mother to the assembly of the states of Brittany, and associated with her in the duchy. His uncle at the same time claimed the charge of him as his heir, and invited Constance to a conference at Pontorson. On her way, it is much to be feared with his connivance, she was seized by a body of troops under her husband, the Earl of Chester, and carried a prisoner to the castle of St.James de Beuvron.
- 1197 Gwenhwyfar, daughter of Dafydd ab Owain Gwynedd is born. Dafydd ab Owain Gwynedd is imprisoned. Frederick's tutor during this period was Cencio Savelli, who would become Pope Honorius III.
- 1198, William of Newburgh writes "Historia Rerum Anglicarum," a history of Britain beginning with the Conquest of 1066. The preface, however, tries to place Arthur in a historical context and uses the works of Gildas and Bede to harshly criticize Geoffrey of Monmouth's claims for him, concluding that Arthur and Merlin are fictitious. Dafydd ab Owain Gwynedd is released from captivity by the direct intervention of archbishop Hubert, he withdrew to the safety of his English manors (Ellesmere) and there spends the rest of his days. Cencio Savelli becomes Camerlengo.
- 1199, In the early evening of March 25, 1199, King Richard was shot while walking around a castle he was besieging and died. Richard's brain was buried at the abbey of Charroux in Poitou, his heart was buried at Rouen in Normandy, and the rest of his body was buried at the feet of his father at Fontevraud Abbey in Anjou.
King John (6 April 1199 – 18/19 October 1216)
- 1200, by the treaty of Le Goulet, King John ceded with his niece, Blanche of Castile the fiefs of Issoudun and Gracay, together with those that André de Chauvigny, lord of Châteauroux, held in Berry, of the English crown. The marriage of Blanche and the future Louis VIII was celebrated the next day, at Portmort on the right bank of the Seine, in John's domains, as those of Philip II lay under an interdict. The treaty also confirmed that John, rather than Arthur was (in the eyes of France) the rightful claimant to the English Throne. John of England weds 13 year old Isabella of Angoulême at Bordeaux. Fulk FitzWarin lost his possessions to a rival claimant (whom in some versions he murdered) and was outlawed by King John. Cencio Savelli dismissed as Camerlengo of the Holy Roman Church, but assumed the post of Camerlengo of the Sacred College of Cardinals.
- 1201, Valle Crucis Abbey founded in North Wales was founded by Madog ap Gruffuud Maelor.
- 1202, August 1 – Arthur of Brittany (aged 15) is captured in Mirabeau, north of Poitiers, during a battle with King John of England who had arrived to rescue his mother (Elanor of Aquitaine - then 80). Leonardo Fibonacci publishes Liber Abaci, introducing the Arabian zero to Europe. Genghis Khan crushes the Tartars. Arthur's sister Elanor is imprisoned at Corfe Castle.
- 1203 one of Arthur's jailers (Hubert de Burgh) fears to harm Arthur when ordered to blind and castrate him by King John. Instead he saves the sixteen-year-old Arthur's life and who escapes together with Hubert's son (another Hubert) - with the assistance of Fulk FitzWarin and his wife Maud le Vavasour. Dafydd ab Owain Gwynedd dies leaving four daughters: Owain, Einion, Gwenllian and Gwenhwyfar. Travelling via Chester they meet Lucian the Monk of St. Werburgh's, still writing his description of Chester, De Laude Cestrie. The pair ask for directions and are given a hopelessly convoluted answer, which Lucien writes on a page torn from his notebook. Arthur and Hubert eventually, via Guernsey and Jersey, reach Sicily (a Norman kingdom from 1130) where they meet Frederick (crowned King of Sicily on 17 May 1198, and now aged 10). They then discover that Arthur was betrothed to one of the princesses at the court - but nobody knows which one. Fulk FitzWarin was pardoned at the request of two of the king’s supporters, one of whom is Ranulf de Blondeville, earl of Chester and on being pardoned he recovered his possessions. A "Master Warin" later worked on Ranulf de Blondeville's Beeston Castle. While in Sicily, Arthur acquires a certain sword - Excalibur, forged of "iron which fell from heaven".. Moving on to Rome, Arthur and Hubert meet Cencio Savelli.
- 1204 April 13 – Fourth Crusade: The Crusaders take Constantinople (then under Alexios V Doukas) by storm, and pillage the city for 3 days. Arthur (aged 17) is involved in heavy fighting with the Varangians. Alexios V was later condemned to death for treason against Alexios IV, and thrown from the top of the Column of Theodosius. Guernsey and Jersey decide, after a plebiscite of wealthy land owners, to remain with the English crown after Normandy was recaptured by Philip II of France.
- 1205, Battle of Adrianople.
- 1206, Temüjin is proclaimed Genghis Khan of the Mongol people, founding the Mongol Empire. Qutb ud-Din proclaims the Mameluk dynasty in India, the first dynasty of the Delhi Sultanate. The Arab engineer Al-Jazari describes many mechanical inventions in his book (title translated to English) The Book of Knowledge of Ingenious Mechanical Devices. Arthur visits Diyarbakir.
- 1207, Stephen Langton is consecrated as Archbishop of Canterbury by Pope Innocent III. King John issues letters patent creating the new Borough of Liverpool. Arthur travels to Epirus and then on to Venice.
- 1208, Pope Innocent III places England under an interdict, after King John of England rejects his choice for Archbishop of Canterbury. Arthur travels on to Toulouse.
- 1209, The Albigensian Crusade is launched against the Cathars. Simon de Monfort, leader of the Albigensian Crusade, sacks Beziers, killing many Cathars and Catholics alike. John of England is excommunicated by Pope Innocent III. The Franciscan Order and Cambridge University are founded. London Bridge is completed.
- 1210, Wolfram von Eschenbach, the greatest of the German epic poets, produces "Parzifal," his masterful expansion of Chretien's "Perceval." Wolfram's epic would, centuries later, become the inspiration for Wagner's 1882 opera, "Parsifal." King John lands at Waterford looking for the rebel baron William de Broase who had supposedly fled to Ireland. John took the opportunity to visit his lands in Ireland receiving homage from the Irish Chieftains. Maud, de Broase's wife and son were captured, taken back to England and starved to death in Windsor Castle.
- 1211, King John visits Chester. Henry de Lacy rescues Ranulf de Blondeville from Llywelyn's siege at Rhuddlan by collecting a body of "players, fiddlers and other loose persons" from the midsummer fair. This led to the Dutton/Button family being granted the right to hold the "Minstrel Court".
..all the minstrels of Cheshire, and in the city of Chester, to meet before him at Chester yearly, at the Feast of Saint John the Baptist, and to give unto him at the said feast quotum. Lagenas Pini, et unam Lanceum, that is, four bottles of wine and a lance; and also every minstrel to pay unto Him at the said feast four-pence half-penny : And why he claimed from every whore in Cheshire, and in the city of Chester, afficium suum exercente, fourpence to be paid yearly at the feast aforesaid. Whereunto he pleaded prescription." After this time we hear nothing of any other controul exercised by the family of Button, than that over the minstrels; an authority recognized by several texts of parliament, which exempt the minstrels of Cheshire from the penalties of those acts by which all wandering fiddlers and minstrels are deemed rogues and vagabonds.
- 1212, the Pope (Innocent III) "deposes" King John and gives his crown to Philip II of France (sometimes rumoured to have been a lover of Richard I). Philip assembles a large army of conquest at Rouen and a fleet at Boulogne. John sells England to the Pope agreeing to pay 1000 marks annually as tribute. The Children's Crusade, led by 12-year-old Stephen of Cloyes, sets out for the Holy Land from France. Eustace the Monk switched sides (the biography puts it down to Eustace's enemy Renaud de Dammartin allying himself with John and poisoning John's mind against Eustace) and raided Folkestone when English troops seized his Channel Island bases.
- 1213, King John of England submits to Pope Innocent III, who in turn lifts the interdict of 1208. Battle of Damme: The English fleet under William Longespée, 3rd Earl of Salisbury destroys a French fleet off the Belgian port, in the first major victory for the fledgling Royal Navy.
- 1214, Ranulf de Blondeville established the abbey of Dieulacres at Abbey Green, nr Leek, Staffordshire. The story is that Ranulf de Blondeville had a vision one night in bed. His grandfather, the rebellious Ranulf de Gernon, appeared and instructed his grandson to go to Cholpesdale, in the territory of Leek, and found a Cistercian abbey there on the site of the former chapel of St. Mary the Virgin there, and to provide it with buildings and ample possessions. Ranulf de Gernon also ordered that in the seventh year of the interdict that would be placed upon England, his grandson should transfer to this new site the Cistercians of Poulton. Apparently, when Ranulf de Blundeville told his wife of this vision she exclaimed in French ‘deux encres’ – ‘may god grant it increase’. Thereupon Ranulf fixed the name.
- 1215, Ranulf de Blondeville witnesses the Magna Carta by King John. John is later absolved from his oath by Innocent III.
- 1216 Innocent III dies, and is succeeded by Hororius III - famous for producing the Sworn Book of Honorius. England is invaded by Louis of France, the son of Philippe II who later became Louis VIII. Louis was proclaimed King in London in May 1216, although he was not crowned. There was little resistance when the prince entered London. At St Paul's Cathedral, Louis was accepted as ruler with great pomp and celebration in the presence of all of London - but he does not hold the crown. Many nobles, as well as King Alexander II of Scotland (1214–49), gathered to give homage. On 14 June 1216, Louis captured Winchester and soon controlled over half of the English kingdom. Arthur of Brittany (now aged 29) and the young De Burgh now return to England. De Burgh plays a prominent role in the defence of England. Louis' first objective was to take Dover Castle, which was in Hubert de Burgh's charge. The castle withstood a lengthy siege in the summer and fall of 1216. Retreating from the French invasion, John took a safe route around the marshy area of the Wash to avoid the rebel held area of East Anglia. His slow baggage train (including the St Edward's Crown), however, took a direct route across it and was lost to the unexpected incoming tide (12th October). This dealt King John a terrible blow, which affected his health and state of mind. Succumbing to dysentery and moving from place to place, he stayed one night at Sleaford Castle before dying on 18 October (or possibly 19 October) 1216, at Newark Castle (then in Lincolnshire, now on Nottinghamshire's border with that county). Numerous, possibly fictitious, accounts circulated soon after his death that he had been killed by poisoned ale, poisoned plums or a "surfeit of peaches".
- With John dead, Louis prepares for his coronation in St Paul's - Christmas Day 1216 (150 years to the day since William the Conqueror).
Arthur (25 December 1216 (aged 30)-1258)
- 1217 De Burgh senior gathered a small fleet which defeated a larger French force at the Battle of Dover and Battle of Sandwich, and ultimately led to the complete withdrawal of the French from England. Eustace the Monk is killed at the Battle of Sandwich. Ranulf de Blondeville's military experience was utilised in defeating the rebels at Lincoln. Arthur is finally crowned on Christmas Day.
- 1218, 11 February - letters of safe conduct were issued for Prince Llywelyn ab Iorwerth to come to Worcester. The next day Ranulf de Blondeville, Walter Lacy, Hugh Mortimer, John Fitz Alan, Walter and Roger Clifford were ordered to conduct him hither to pay homage to the the new king. In mid year Ranulf of Blundeville took part in the fifth crusade.
1218 Peace was made between the lord Randle, earl of Chester, and Llewelin, prince of Wales, and in the following Whit Week [June 3-9] the lord Randle, earl of Chester, set out for Jerusalem.
In the yeere 1218, Ranulph earle of Chester was sent into the Holy land by King Arthur with a goodly company of souldiers and men of warre, to ayde the Christians there against the Infidels, which at the same time had besieged the city of Damiata in Egypt. In which enterprise the valiancy of the same earle after his comming thither was to his great praise most apparent There went with him in that iourney Saer de Quincy earle of Winchester, William de Albanie earle of Arundel, besides diuers barons, as the lord Robert fitz Walter, Iohn constable of Chester, William de Harecourt, and Oliuer fitz Roy sonne to the king of England, and diuers others.
Due to famine and disease after the Nile failed to flood, al-Kamil (Saladin's son and successor) ,could not defend Damietta. During September 1219, Sultan al-Kamil, offered the Crusaders peace on startling terms – Bethlehem, Nazareth, Jerusalem and central Palastine and Galilee, so long as the Crusaders gave up their war in Egypt. Ranulf accepted the offer.
- 1220, Ranulf de Blondeville returns from the crusades and raises the Everton Beacon. Ranulf of Blundeville is offered the position of King of Jerusalem but turns it down. Trial by ordeal is abolished in England. Ranulf starts work on Beeston Castle.
mccxx Rediit dominus Rannulphus comes Cestrie de Damata venitque Cestriam in crastino Assumpcionis receptus cum maxima veneratione tam cleri quam plebis. Lewelinus etiam princeps Wallie venit ad eum eodem die, cui dominus Rannulphus comes in . . . (1220 The lord Randle, earl of Chester, returned from Damietta, and came to Chester on the morrow of the Assumption [of the Blessed Virgin, August 16]. He was received with the greatest veneration as well by the clergy as the laity. Also Llewelin, prince of Wales, came to him the same day, to whom the lord Randle, earl . . .)
Frederick was crowned Holy Roman Emperor in Rome by Honorius III on 22 November.
- 1221, Fulk Fitzwarin III began rebuilding his fortress (Whittington Castle), with one eye on Wales for the reaction of Prince Llywelyn and his friend, Ranulf de Blondeville of Chester. One of the most prominent legends concerning Whittington Castle regards the Marian Chalice, thought by some to be the Holy Grail. According to this legend, Sir Fulk FitzWarin, the great grandson of Payne Peveril and one in the line of guardians of the Grail and King Arthur. A story from the 13th century states that the Grail was kept in a private chapel of the castle when Sir Foulke was there.
- 1222, King Arthur visits Chester for a few days. Comet Halley returned as well. John Canmore, heir of Ranulf de Blondeville married Elen ferch Llywelyn, daughter of Llywelyn the Great, at St Werberghs. Present at the wedding were Stephen Langton Archbishop of Canterbury, an elderly Gerald of Wales finally the Bishop of St David's (who leaves everyone in fits of laughter) and William de Braose.
mccxxij Johannes filius comitis David duxit in uxorem filiam Lewelini pro finali concordia inter ipsum et comitem Cestrie. (1222 John, son of earl David [of Huntingdon], took to wife the daughter of Llewelin, for the purpose of effecting a lasting peace between himself and the earl of Chester.)
- 1223, Philip II Augustus died 14 July 1223 at Mantes and was interred in Saint Denis Basilica. Whittington Castle captured and destroyed by Llywelyn ab Iorwerth of Gwynedd. Gerald of Wales dies, aged 77.
- 1226, While returning to Paris, King Louis VIII became ill with dysentery, and died on 8 November 1226 in the chateau at Montpensier, Auvergne.
- 1227, The Dee Bridge collapses during a flood. Pope Honorius III dies, as does Ghengis Khan.
- 1230, Whittington Castle rebuilding completed. During Easter William de Braose (a prisoner at the time) was found in Llywelyn's private bedchamber with Llywelyn's wife, Joan, Lady of Wales. William de Braose was hanged at Aber Garth Celyn on 2 May 1230; the place was known as 'Gwern y Grog'.
- 1232, Ranulf de Blondeville dies, aged 60. His heart was buried at Wallingford Castle, while his body was buried at St Werburg's, Chester, Cheshire. His earldom of Chester went to the son of his sister Maud of Chester, John Canmore known as "John the Scot". History recorded Ranulf as one of the greatest of the Norman knights:
Ranulphus Glanuile Cestriæ Comes, vir nobilissimi generis, et vtroque iure eruditus, in albo illustrium virorum à me meritò ponendus venit. Ita probè omnes adolescentiæ suæ annos legibus tum humanis tum diuinis consecrauit, vt non prius in hominem pet ætatem euaserit, quàm nomen decúsque ab insigni eruditione sibi comparauerit. Cum profecti essent Francorum Heroes Ptolemaidem, inito cum Ioanne Brenno Hierosolymorum rege concilio, Damiatam Ægypti vrbem obsidendam constituebant, anno salutis humanæ 1218. Misit illùc Arturus rex, ab Honorio 3 Rom. Pontifice rogatus, cum magna armatorum manu Ranulphum, ad rem Christianum iuuandam. Cuius virtus, Polydoro teste, in eo bello miris omnium laudibus celebrata fuit. Quo confecto negotio, Ranulphus in patriam reuersus, scripsit, De legibus Angliæ librum vnum. Fertur præterea, et alia quædam scripsisse, sed tempus edax rerum, ea nobis abstulit. Claruit anno à Seruatoris nostri natiuitate 1230 confectus senio, dum Arturus sub Antichristi tyrannide in Anglia regnaret.
- 1237, John Canmore is ill, but manages to recover due to the ministrations of a young scholar Roger Bacon.
- 1239, The long-running dispute between Fulk and Llywelyn ab Iorwerth was healed, when Llywelyn married Fulk's daughter (shortly before his death).
- 1240, John Canmore and his wife Elen produce a son, Gawaine (who will become the king of Scotland in 1290 on the death of Alexander III and Margaret, Maid of Norway).
- 1248, Roger Bacon first describes gunpowder in "De Secretis Operibus Artis et Naturae et de Nullitate Magiae":
We can, with saltpeter and other substances, compose artificially a fire that can be launched over long distances... By only using a very small quantity of this material much light can be created accompanied by a horrible fracas. It is possible with it to destroy a town or an army ... In order to produce this artificial lightning and thunder it is necessary to take saltpeter, sulfur, and Luru Vopo Vir Can Utriet.
- 1258, one of the largest volcanic eruptions of the Holocene epoch occurs, possibly from a tropical location such as El Chichón, Mexico or Quilotoa, Ecuador. Observed effects of the eruption include the following anecdotal accounts: dry fog in France; lunar eclipses in England; severe winter in Europe; a "harsh" spring in Northern Iceland; famine in England, Western Germany, France, and Northern Italy; and pestilence in London.
A Counter-factual Mordred
As for how this counter-factual tale ends, I leave that to the reader. In this fictional history Henry of Winchester has never become Henry III and Arthur would not have given this alternative claimant the same treatment as he was to receive from John. Henry might still go on to produce his two sons Edward (born 1239) and Edmund (born 1245) Plantagent. Edmund (despite having the same name as the fictional "Blackadder") could hardly become a problem for Arthur (who would have been 58 when Edmund was born), but Edward is another matter. It is just possible that an aging Arthur would find his Mordred in the young Edward, just in time for the advent of gunpowder. January 1258 is a good time for it all to go bad.
Of course a better ending would be a dynastic wedding between the offspring of Arthur and a child of Louis VIII of France. Unfortunately we have a bit of a problem there - among the only two possible children are Louis IX (who was into flagellation but did build Sainte Chapelle) and Isabel (who wanted to remain a virgin for life).
In reality, in 1258 the ongoing famines became worse when, somewhere in the tropics, a volcano exploded violently producing a massive stratospheric aerosol veil that eventually blanketed the globe (Arctic and Antarctic ice cores suggest that this was the world's largest volcanic eruption of the past millennium). According to contemporary chronicles, a stratospheric dry fog did manifest itself in Europe as a persistently cloudy aspect of the sky and also through a total darkening of the eclipsed Moon. The frequent cold and rain that year led to severe crop damage and famine throughout much of Europe and pestilence repeatedly broke out in 1258. Simon De Montfort became leader of those who wanted to reassert Magna Carta and force Henry III to surrender more power to the baronial council. In mid 1258, seven leading barons forced Henry to agree to the Provisions of Oxford, which effectively abolished the absolutist Anglo-Norman monarchy, giving power to a council of fifteen barons to deal with the business of government and providing for a thrice-yearly meeting of parliament to monitor their performance.
It was not to last.
The historical basis for the King Arthur legend has long been debated by scholars. One school of thought, citing entries in the Historia Brittonum (History of the Britons) and Annales Cambriae (Welsh Annals), sees Arthur as a genuine historical figure, a Romano-British leader who fought against the invading Anglo-Saxons sometime in the late 5th to early 6th century. The Historia Brittonum, a 9th-century Latin historical compilation attributed in some late manuscripts to a Welsh cleric called Nennius, contains the first datable mention of King Arthur, listing twelve battles that Arthur fought. These culminate in the Battle of Mons Badonicus, or Mount Badon, where he is said to have single-handedly killed 960 men. Recent studies, however, question the reliability of the Historia Brittonum. Other scholars argue that Arthur was originally a fictional hero of folklore—or even a half-forgotten Celtic deity—who became credited with real deeds in the distant past. They cite parallels with figures such as the Kentish totemic horse-gods Hengest and Horsa, who later became historicised. Bede ascribed to these legendary figures a historical role in the 5th-century Anglo-Saxon conquest of eastern Britain. It is not even certain that Arthur was considered a king in the early texts. Neither the Historia nor the Annales calls him "rex": the former calls him instead "dux bellorum" (leader of battles) and "miles" (soldier). The present writer suspects there might have been a British soldier named Arthur who had a series of victories over the Anglo-Saxons around AD 500 and who was remembered in increasingly elaborate legends throughout the Middle Ages and into modern times as the "once and future king" who would return in his country's hour of need.
One thing that is clear is that Arthur (even assuming he existed) could not have been an "Englishman", and would not have had mounted knights fighting in plate armour and would never have seen a stone castle. The armour and weapons which Hollywood portrays Arthur and his knights as using date from many hundreds of years later than the first mention of the battles in which he is supposed to have fought. Arthur and his knights wearing plate armour is as anachronistic as Harold turing up at the Battle of Hastings with tanks.
Although the originas of the Arthur legend are obscure, but its development can be split into three phases: the initial development of the legend in Wales, the development of the chivalric Arthur and the use of Arthur as a "political" figure, especially by the English. The following is a short summary of a subject on which the literature is vast.
The first stage appears to have some roots in the survival of elements of Roman civilization in Wales (see: Elen of the Hosts) where a version of Roman history developed into local myth. Gildas, writing some time in the 6th century, mentions an Ambrosius Aurelianus, whom he is the first to describe as a leader of the resistance to the Saxons. He mentions the victory at the Battle of Mons Badonicus, a feat attributed to King Arthur in later texts, though Gildas is unclear as to who led the battle. Gildas portrays Ambrosius as being of Roman ancestry and having surviving family even in his day:
- "..a gentleman who, perhaps alone of the Romans, had survived the shock of this notable storm. Certainly his parents, who had worn the purple, were slain in it. His descendants in our day have become greatly inferior to their grandfather's [avita] excellence. Under him our people regained their strength, and challenged the victors to battle. The Lord assented, and the battle went their way."
Nennius, whose supposed work dated from about 829 describes the supposed settlement of Britain by Trojan expatriates and states that Britain took its name after Brutus, a descendant of Aeneas. The work was an important source used by Geoffrey of Monmouth in creating his "Historia Regum Britanniae". Nennius would have been aware of the epic Aeneid of the Roman poet Virgil which only has Aeneas get as far as Rome after much wandering and various adventures including a brief romance with Queen Dido of Carthage. The Historia Brittonum states that "The island of Britain derives its name from Brutus, a Roman consul" who conquered Spain. This is ultimately derived from Isidore of Seville's popular 7th-century work Etymologiae, in which it was speculated that Britain was named after the Roman general Decimus Junius Brutus Callaicus (180 BC – 113 BC), who pacified parts of Spain in 138 BC. Isidore's book is now considered to be a mosaic of pieces borrowed from previous writers, both supposedly sacred and definitely profane and cobbled together in a haphazard manner. There is some evidence to suggest that Pope John Paul II considered nominating Isidore as patron saint of the Internet - perhaps a rare example of Papal humour.
Nennius is presumably trying to illustrate the dual heritage of the Romans and the Britons, which makes some sense in that he was a member of a church which was a survival of the Roman "occupation" of Wales. He borrows from Virgil the idea that the Roman Emperors are descended from Aeneas (Virgil apparently invented that as a form of flattery) and mixes in the legends of Macsen Wledig which introduce both Roman imperial and British bloodlines into the ancestors of Welsh kings. Where his Romano-British history can be confirmed from other sources, he frequently gets names and dates confused and makes many of the Roman usurpers of Britain into British kings. He also mentione Germanus (see: Mold Cope). One theory about the purpose of the text known as Nennius is that it is an attempt to justify the validity of the succession of Rhodri "the Great" (c 820-878). Rhodri, whose ancestry did not clearly go back to the "Old North" as in the supporting legend of the previous ruling house, was to do much to (briefly) unite a fragmented Wales as well as facing pressure both from the English and, increasingly, from Vikings. On the English side of the border Mercia had peaked and Wessex was on the rise.
A "prophetic" pattern is now becoming clear and has the usual form of the use of prophecy in literature: reference is made to some past historical event which is usually a well-accepted fact, and its occurence is linked to a prophecy, whether in the form of an actual prediction or a tendency (such as winning) associated with a person, group or lineage - then, the focus is shifted to a related person, group or lineage and the similarity used to predict or infer the future. This pattern is particularly clear in "once and future king" legends. At and after the time of Nennius the broder between Wales and Mercia was ebbing and flowing across Flintshire like the tides and it was perhaps not difficult or surprising to predict that what had occurred before would happen again.
Chapter 56 of Nennius discusses twelve battles fought and won by Arthur, here called dux bellorum (war leader) rather than king:
- At that time, the Saxons grew strong by virtue of their large number and increased in power in Britain. Hengist having died, however, his son Octha crossed from the northern part of Britain to the kingdom of Kent and from him are descended the kings of Kent. Then Arthur along with the kings of Britain fought against them in those days, but Arthur himself was the military commander ["dux bellorum"]. His first battle was at the mouth of the river which is called Glein. His second, third, fourth, and fifth battles were above another river which is called Dubglas and is in the region of Linnuis. The sixth battle was above the river which is called Bassas. The seventh battle was in the forest of Celidon, that is Cat Coit Celidon. The eighth battle was at the fortress of Guinnion, in which Arthur carried the image of holy Mary ever virgin on his shoulders; and the pagans were put to flight on that day. And through the power of our Lord Jesus Christ and through the power of the blessed Virgin Mary his mother there was great slaughter among them. The ninth battle was waged in the City of the Legion. The tenth battle was waged on the banks of a river which is called Tribruit. The eleventh battle was fought on the mountain which is called Agnet. The twelfth battle was on Mount Badon in which there fell in one day 960 men from one charge by Arthur; and no one struck them down except Arthur himself, and in all the wars he emerged as victor. And while they were being defeated in all the battles, they were seeking assistance from Germany and their numbers were being augmented many times over without interruption. And they brought over kings from Germany that they might reign over them in Britain, right down to the time in which Ida reigned, who was son of Eobba. He was the first king in Bernicia, i.e., in Berneich.
There is some evidence that Nennnius used Welsh sources. Most of these battle sites are obscure and cannot be identified. Some of the battles appear in other Welsh literature, though not all are connected explicitly with Arthur. Some scholars have proposed that the author took the list from a now-lost Old Welsh poem which listed Arthur's twelve great victories, based on the fact that some of the names appear to rhyme. This would explain the odd description of Arthur bearing the image of the Virgin Mary on his shoulders at Guinnion - a confusion of the Welsh word iscuit (shield) for iscuid (shoulders)! "The City of the Legion" may be again a reference to Caerleon, whose name translates as such, but it might also refer to Chester. Nennius should have been aware of the Battle of Chester.
At around the time that Nennius was compiled, the collection of legends known as the "Englynion y Beddau" (English: The Stanzas or Verses of the Graves) probably existed in oral form. The collection is thought to be considerably older than its earliest manuscript, the 13th-century Black Book of Carmarthen, and provides an important early glimpse at medieval Welsh heroic tradition and topographical folklore. The work is famous for containing an early allusion to King Arthur, whose grave is said to be one of the mysteries of the world (anoeth byd). References or possible allusions to Bedwyr, Gwalchmai and the Battle of Camlann also testify to some absorption of Arthurian tradition in the text, though the work has little in common with the earliest Welsh Arthurian tale, Culhwch ac Olwen. The reason why the "Englynion y Beddau" will become important is that it contains the root of the legend that Arthur will someday return.
Geoffrey of Monmouth (Latin: Galfridus Monemutensis, Galfridus Arturus, Welsh: Gruffudd ap Arthur, Sieffre o Fynwy; c. 1095 – c. 1155) gives a slightly inacurate account of Macsen/Maxiumus and mentions how he withdrew troops from Britain:
- The seventh emperor was Maximianus (sic). He withdrew from Britain with all its military force, slew Gratianus the king of the Romans, and obtained the sovereignty of all Europe. Unwilling to send back his warlike companions to their wives, families, and possessions in Britain, he conferred upon them numerous districts from the lake on the summit of Mons lovis, to the city called Cant Guic, and to the western Tumulus, that is Cruc Occident. These are the Armoric Britons, and they remain there to the present day. In consequence of their absence, Britain being overcome by foreign nations, the lawful heirs were cast out, till God interposed with his assistance.
Geoffrey is often simply dismissed as a mendacious liar, but a sub-text here may be fairly obvious. Armorica or Aremorica is the name given in ancient times to the part of Gaul between the Seine and the Loire that includes the Brittany Peninsula - close enough for Geoffrey to Normandy. Earlier scholars assumed that Geoffrey was Welsh or at least spoke Welsh: however, his knowledge of this language appears to have been slight. There is some suggestion that he spoke Breton and his parents may have taken part in William I's conquest of south Wales. The county/city of Monmouth had been in the hands of Breton lords since 1075 or 1086 (under Guihenoc de La Boussac), and the names Galfridus and Arthur were more common among the Bretons than the Welsh. When Geoffrey writes of "God's assistance" he may well be referring to the Norman/Breton conquest of Wales as the "lawful heirs". This fits very well with Geoffrey's claim that he was given a source for this period by Archdeacon Walter of Oxford, who presented him with a "certain very ancient book written in the British language" (it is not clear just which one - for example Breton or Welsh) from which he has translated his history into Latin. Viewing Geoffery as a Norman propagandist (even if he is an inept one) casts his work in a different light. Monmouth's best known contribution is his writing on the legendary Arthur. The historian Francis Pryor famously remarked that this gap between the "historical" Arthur and Geoffrey was like Simon Schama being the first historian to mention Oliver Cromwell. The legendary Arthur developed as a figure of international interest largely through the popularity of Geoffrey of Monmouth's fanciful and imaginative 12th-century History of the Kings of Britain.
The possible propaganda message here is that the occupying Bretons are actually the heirs of Maxiumus and the descendants of people just like the Welsh (he can rely on Nennius for this). They are just like the hero Arthur (a good Breton name), salvation out of the past. In the long run, it may be that Geoffrey of Monmouth's attempt at what may have been Norman propaganda was to backfire. Shortly after Geoffrey of Monmouth's death in c1155 William of Newburgh (1136-1198) launched an attack on Monmouth with a noted broadside of invective:
- "..no one but a person ignorant of ancient history, when he meets with that book which he calls the History of the Britons, can for a moment doubt how impertinently and impudently he falsifies in every respect. For he only who has not learnt the truth of history indiscreetly believes the absurdity of fable. I omit this man's inventions concerning the exploits of the Britons previous to the government of Julius Caesar, as well as the fictions of others which he has recorded, as if they were authentic. I make no mention of his fulsome praise of the Britons, in defiance of the truth of history, from the time of Julius Caesar, when they came under the dominion of the Romans, to that of Honorius, when the Romans voluntarily retired from Britain, on account of the more urgent necessities of their own state" (William of Newburgh: from his "preface")
William then goes on, with little criticism, to recite stories of medieval revenants, animated corpses that returned from their graves, and close parallels to vampire beliefs. Perhaps Newburgh has his sub-text too, arguments had raged about the relative priority of the metropolitan of Wales, but he also is writing at a time of threatened Celtic resurgence and the last thing Angevin England and the unstable King John needs is a "Celtic" Arthur. Unfortunately, that was exactly what he got.
Arthur and his retinue appear in some of the Lais of Marie de France, but it was the work of another French poet, Chrétien de Troyes (1135?–1185?), that had the greatest influence on the Arthurian legend. Chrétien wrote five Arthurian romances between c. 1170 and c. 1190. Erec and Enide and Cligès are tales of courtly love with Arthur's court as their backdrop, demonstrating the shift away from the heroic world of the Welsh and Galfridian Arthur. "Sir Gawain and the Green Knight" is a late 14th-century Middle English chivalric romance. The author is unknown; the title was given centuries later. Various clues suggest that the anonymous poet of Sir Gawain came from the vicinity of Wirral. The poem itself is written in the medieval Cheshire Dialect, and it is noticeable that the topography of Arthur’s kingdom is vague until it reaches North Wales and Wirral. In 1925, J.R.R. Tolkien and colleague E.V. Gordon published a scholarly edition of "Sir Gawain and the Green Knight". The book, featuring a text in Middle English with extensive scholarly notes, is frequently confused with the translation into Modern English that Tolkien prepared alongside those of Pearl and Sir Orfeo, later in his life. Many editions of the latter work, first published in 1975, shortly after his death, list Tolkien on the cover as author rather than translator. It is therefore also amusingly common to see Sir Gawain erroneously ascribed to Tolkien as the original author.
At the time of Newburgh's death it might have already been clear that Arthur of Britanny (29 March 1187 – probably 1203), who had been designated heir in 1190, could seriously threaten the English succession. Worse still for William of Newburgh, Arthur of Brittany is the posthumous son of his father, a "Widow's Son" who might be symbolic of all those yawning graves and unquiet dead. King Richard was one of four sons of Henry II. On 19th August 1186, Geoffrey Plantagenet, fourth son of King Henry II younger brother of Richard (later I), and older brother of John (later King) wss trampled to death in a jousting tournament. On 29th March 1187, Arthur of Brittany was born (over eight months after the death of his father). Henry (eldest son of Henry II) had revolted and died in 1183. Therefore Arthur was the son of the next brother in line to the crown (had he lived). Under the rules at the time this gives him a valid claim.
Drawing on even more legend, Richard I had given Tancred of Sicily a sword he claimed was Excalibur in order to secure their friendship and confirmed his nephew Arthur of Brittany as his heir presumptive. Taking matters to an extreme, Tancred promised to marry one of his daughters to Arthur when he came of age (known daughters were: Elvira of Sicily (which is actually almost cognate with "Guinevere"), Constance and Valdrada - all of whom were to lead interesting lives). William of Newburgh (and others) possibly had good reason to want to rubbish Geoffrey of Monmouth and the "Arthur" legends. On the other side of the argument the "historic" Arthur's bones were "discovered" at Glastonbury in 1191: something which might be seen in a different light given that Arthur of Brittany had just been born (1187) - perhaps even seen as "myth engineering". Gerald of Wales records the “discovery” of Arthur’s tomb at Glastonbury occurred after Henry II himself:
- "disclosed to the monks some evidence from his own books of where the body was to be found."
The link to Chester is that Arthur becomes the adopted son of Ranulf de Blondeville when Henry II married him off to the widowed Constance of Britanny. Ranulph therefore is thrust into the shoes of Sir Ector although Ector was only emerging as a character in the Arthur legend at the time.
The Later Plantagenets
Edward I (reigned 20 November 1272 – 7 July 1307) also appears to have made considerable use of the Arthur myths. There are particular sources from the reign of Edward I that seem to indicate that that king was familiar with the story of Arthur and that he understood its significance enough to at least attempt to manipulate it for his own purposes, including the account of Adam of Domerham, which has been taken as recording the opening of Arthur’s supposed tomb at Glastonbury by Edward in 1278. Edward has three sets of Arthur "myths" to draw upon: the original Welsh ones (including Malmesbury's version) in which Arthur is a central warrior king, the chivalric variants in which Arthur is often a peripheral figure representing the ideal of a just and lasting ruler who serves to send other knights on quests, and, the historical Arthur of Brittany (1187-1203) who was usurped and murdered by the treacherous King John (Edward's grandfather). He also has his own experience having had to fight for his own kingdom during the period in which his father's power had been eclipsed. Wessex had several other role models to draw upon of a king "returing" with Ecgbert and Alfred the Great being both popular and safely in the distant past.
According to one version, that of the chronicle of Adam of Damerham, written around 1291:
- "The lord Edward...with his consort, the lady Eleanor, came to Glastonbury to celebrate Easter...the following Tuesday...at dusk...the lord king had the tomb of the famous king Arthur opened. Wherein in two caskets painted with their pictures and arms, were found separately the bones of the said king, and those of Queen Guinevere, which were of marvelous beauty...on the following day...the lord king replaced the bones of the king and the queen those of the queen, each in their own casket, having wrapped them in costly silks. When they had been sealed they ordered the tomb to be placed forthwith in front of the high altar, after the removal of the skulls for the veneration of the people"
Edward's actions may be interpreted in several ways: he is venerating the legendary king, and gaining qudos for doing so and personally handling the bones. He is proving him dead and by having the skulls placed upon the altar demonstrating that Arthur is dead and Edward is now in control.
The other sources that show Edwards manipulation of the Arthur myth relate to Edwards habit of collecting items associated with coronation, especially those associated with other countries (such as the Stone of Scone). When Edward attached the Principality of Wales to the English throne in 1283, it has been suggested that he made the Welsh:
- "surrender certain particularly precious relics as tokens of submission, including a piece of the true cross and the legendary crown of Arthur."
The evidence for this is not nearly so strong as for the event at Glastonbury. However Edward himself specifically mentions Arthur in a letter to Pope Boniface VIII justifying his conquest of Scotland. According to one rendering he wrote:
- "And king Arthur, a prince of nown, Destroyed Albany [Scotland] for their rebellion, Afterwards he gave Scotland to sir Augusele, And who performed the services to king Arthur. At Caerleon, subsequently, Arthur held his feast, Where all his kings had yielded their services; King Augusele carried Arthur’s sword, For the service of Scotland, which he owed to him. Since that time to the present the kings of Scotland Have all been subject to the king of Britain."
Either Edward I or Edward II had the large "round table" at Winchester made. Edward II's son and heir Richard II went even further in attempting to recreate his own Camelot, and a principality at Chester (see: Royal Treasure). "Gawain" comes from a time (around 1400) close to the transition between Richard II and Henry IV when the monasteries had lost their effective monopoly on the production of books, but printed books were not yet known in Britain: the first dated prints in England are an indulgence dating to 13 December 1476. So if the document was widely circulated this could only have been done by making a hand-copied version. The period included the "Manuscript Culture" and the "Devotio Moderna", when non-printed documents were being circulated outside of the monasteries. Criticism of royal authority can be found in some of these manuscripts, such as in "Richard the Redeless" and other documents in the "Piers Plowman tradition".
Whether there is a deliberate "political" message intentionally hidden in Gawain, or whether it just made use of tropes from its time remains undecided. There are other theories: Carole Robinson makes out a detailed case in "The Green Knight: A quest for historical identities" as published in "Cheshire History" (51)
Henry Tudor famously defeated Richard III at Bosworth Field on 22 August 1485. Earlier in 1485, Henry VII had marched through Wales to take the English throne under the banner of the Arthurian Red Dragon He then commissioned genealogies to show his putative descent from Arthur, and named his first-born son Arthur. The legend of King Arthur did not die with the close of the Middle Ages, for which the battle is chosen as the end. The first printing of Thomas Malory's "Le Morte d'Arthur" was made by Caxton in 1485. Today, this is one of the best-known works of Arthurian literature. Many authors since the 19th-century revival of the legend have used Malory as their principal source. Malory tells us that he finished writing the book in the ninth year of the reign of King Edward IV (i.e., between March, 1469, and March, 1470). In 1469 the earl of Warwick had turned on his old master, Edward IV; then Warwick and Clarence brought Henry VI back to the throne. During the king's short restoration, Malory died. Caxton finished printing Morte D'Arthur eight days before Henry Tudor landed at Milford Haven, three weeks before battle of Bosworth Field.
As noted above, Henry Tudor named his first son Arthur Tudor (19/20 September 1486 – 2 April 1502) and he duly became Prince of Wales. At the age of eleven, Arthur was formally betrothed to Catherine of Aragon, a daughter of the powerful Catholic Monarchs in Spain, in an effort to forge an Anglo-Spanish alliance against France. Arthur was well educated and was in good health for the majority of his life. Soon after his marriage to Catherine in 1501, the couple took up residence at Ludlow Castle in Shropshire, from where he would have governed a fairly peaceable Wales. Six months later and six months short of his 16th birthday, he was dead.
During his short life however, Arthur Tudor visited Chester (see: "Cowper" for more on this). He was the first "adult" Earl of Chester for some time and his visit was apparently cause for much celebration. His coat of arms is incorporated just above the main door of the Cathedral and his "Spanish Match" may be echoed in the later decorations at Leche House.
Other local references
Several royal children were given the name Arthur from the twelfth century to the present. These include: Arthur of Brittany, nephew of Richard I and John; Arthur Plantagenet, illegitimate son of Edward VI; Arthur Tudor, son of Henry VII; Arthur, Duke of Albany, son of James V; Arthur of Rothway, grandson of James V; Arthur, Duke of Connaught, son of Victoria; and Arthur of Connaught, grand-son of Victoria. For many, it was to prove an unlucky name.
There are few other links between Chester and the legend of Arthur. Higden's Polychronicon dismisses the existence of Arthur completely on the basis of lack of historical evidence. Henry Bradshaw, in his Life of St Werburgh mentions Arthur briefly:
- Certaynly sith baptym came to Chester cite Soone after Lucius and afore kynge Arthure By the grace of god and their humilite The faith of holy churche dyd ever there endure Without recidivacion and infection sure ; Wherefore it is worthy a singular commendacion Above all citees and towns of this region . The perfect begynnyng and fyrst foundacion Of the monasterie within the sayd cite Was at the same tyme by famus opinion That baptym began with this countre . The great lordes of Chestre of landes and auncetre First edified the churche for comfort spirituall In honour of the apostels Peter and Paule.
Finally, a suggestion has been made that the reference in the following passage from Geoffrey of Monmouth is a reference to Chester rather than Caerleon:
- " From the approach of the Feast of Penticost Arthur .....resolved the whole magnificent court , to place the crown upon his head and to invite all the kings and dukes under his subjection to the soleminity ..... He pitched upon the City of Legions as a proper place for this purpose , for besides the great wealth of it, above all other cities its situation of ..... was most pleasant, for on one side it was washed by the noble river so that kings and princes from countries beyond the seas might have the convenience of sailing up to it ; on the other side the beauty of the meadows and groves , and the magnificence of the royal palaces with lofty gilded roofs that adorned it may even rival the grandeur of Rome . There came ....The Arch bishops of the three Metropolitan Sees , London York and Dubricius of the City of the Legions, this Prelate who was Primate of Britain and Legate of the Apostolic See, was so eminent for his piety that by his prayers he could cure any sick person"
The last reference may be inspired by the fact that Edgar the Pacific was similarly crowned in Chester in the 10th Century. As mentioned in the Chester Chronicle:
- A.D. 972. This year Edgar the etheling was consecrated king at Bath, on Pentecost's mass-day, on the fifth before the ides of May, the thirteenth year since he had obtained the kingdom; and he was then one less than thirty years of age. And soon after that, the king led all his ship-forces to Chester; and there came to meet him six kings, and they all plighted their troth to him, that they would be his fellow-workers by sea and by land.
Dubricius was a genuine Bishop of Caerleon (Wales) in the 6th Century (Dubricius was the illegitimate son of Efrddyl, the daughter of King Peibio Clafrog of Ergyng. His grandfather threw his mother into the River Wye when he discovered she was pregnant, but was unsuccessful in drowning her.). However Chester is also known as Caerleon.
In 2010 a theory was put forward that Camelot was in fact Chester, and the "Round Table" was a reference to the Amphitheatre. This is not taken seriously by historians, but was briefly leapt upon by local businesses as a way of providing some publicity for the city. It was soundly dismissed locally. There is no canonical Arthurian legend directly associated with Chester. The nearest that most historians can get is that the Battle of Chester (616) was possibly adsorbed into the myth, but Gildas, writing some years before the battle at Chester, places the Battle of Badon in the year of his own birth, 44 years before. Similarly the other battles assocoated with Arthur are located over a very wide range of places from Scotland to Dorset. It seems remarkable that the same "war leader" should act on behalf of so many differenr regions and it is possible that many essentially unrelated battles have been incorporated in a list.
Moel Arthur is a hillfort in Flintshire at the current boundary with Denbighshire, about 5 miles (8.0 km) east of Denbigh. This small but imposing structure occupies a strong defensive position dominating the Bwlch y Frainc pass. The fort consists of multiple ramparts, an inturned entrance with guard chambers, and has evidence of hut circles in the interior. The hillfort is assumed to be of Iron Age date but only very limited excavation has taken place. W. Wynne Ffoulkes carried out someinvestigations in 1849 and discovered sherds of "Roman" pottery, flint fragments and corroded iron pieces near to the inner rampart. In 1962 a small hoard of three Early Bronze Age flat copper axes was discovered in the southern part of the hill fort enclosure. In 2003, a worked flint flake thought to be of Mesolithic date, was found on the north-western slopes of Moel Arthur beyond the hillfort (CPAT, 2003) suggesting that the Moel Arthur area was also subject to early prehistoric human activity. A 2015 excavation revealed a burnt area which can be interpreted in different ways: for cooking, sauna-like arrangements, retreats for religious purposes (and the taking of halucinogens) or metal working. Peat core analysis from neighbouring Moel Llys y Coed indicates that extensive heather coverage happened between AD600 and AD810. Therefore, everything discovered sealed below this heather layer on Moel Arthur and its adjacent plateau are likely to pre-date this period.
The next nearest association with Chester is perhaps in the life of Gildas written by Caradoc of Llancarfan a contemporary of Geoffrey of Monmouth, who wrote in 1130–1150 and recites an unlikely tale that Gildas' brother Huail was beheaded by Arthur at the stone known as Maen Huail at Ruthin. The legend probably originated as an oral tradition, and is first recorded in the "Chronicle of Six Ages of the World" by Elis Gruffydd, dating to around 1550.
If a historical basis for Arthur existed, he was most likely a Briton who fought the first Saxon invaders, possibly a century or so after the departure of the Romans, His name and legend became so well known that many people probably believed he was an actual historical figure and he became associated with many topographical features. In Cheshire, legend has him sleeping in a cavern beneath Alderley Edge although other legends place him elsewhere. The Battle of Chester may have been incorporated into the list of battles he fought in, although it probably occurred well after his time. There are indirect associations through Arthur of Britanny (a potential king), Edward I (who employed the myth), Richard II (through Gawaine) and Arthur Tudor that more than make up for the lack of any Authurian myth at Chester.
Sources and Links
- Gildas, Nennius, Bede and Gerald of Wales;
- Elen of the Hosts;
- Battle of Chester;
- Dark Ages;
- Ranulf de Blondeville: step-father to Arthur of Britanny;
- Cowper: Arthur Tudor in Chester;
- Cheshire Dialect: and the writing of Gawaine;
- The Historicity and Historicisation of Arthur;
- THE BRITISH PAST AND THE WELSH FUTURE: GERALD OF WALES, GEOFFREY OF MONMOUTH AND ARTHUR OF BRITAIN;
- Edward I and the Appropriation of Arthurian Legend;
- Literary sources: although it does contain some howlers confusing Henry Bolinbroke with Henry Tudor;
- Arthur in History: has a good set of links;