The Future of History

Thursday, 25 August 2011


I've just been revising my chapter on Arthur's last battle.  I don't want to give too much away, but the Battle of Camlan was fought along the banks of this river.

I'm a little taken aback to realise that I've known about the site of the infamous battle for nearly five years.  At first, I'd found what I thought was the right spot - based on a number of Arthurian landmarks, local traditions and the proximity of his wife's grave.

Little by little, the rest of the story came together.  Only recently have I discovered that Arthur's half-sister was born nearby.  This was land that had been annexed by his grandfather.  Arthur's military genius allowed his people to reconquer the territory (it had been lost shortly after his birth).  The final battle was fought on the very border of the region which had been ruled by Arthur.

The biggest breakthrough, though, was the realisation that a contemporary poem of the battle survives.  It's gone unnoticed for many years, not because the poem is unknown, but because scholars have misinterpreted it.  A shame, because for hundreds of years a description of Arthur's final campaign has existed and no one managed to put two and two together.  But then, that's what happens if you fool yourself into believing that Arthur must have been a warlord of southern Britain.

So for me, this was a golden opportunity.  I had a contemporary account of the last battle and had found a site which seemed appropriate.  I began to notice that certain place-names mentioned in the poem still exist, and they're right there, precisely at the very place where I'd suspected the battle was fought.

One in particular gives the game away.  This place was, without doubt, the site of Arthur's last stand.  He was mortally wounded just yards from where the photo was taken.  And the place bears his name - not once, but twice.

The awful thing is that Arthur would appear to have been winning.  His war-band was battle-weary, but they were the best around.  They faced a massive army of warriors from various different places.  A little further up the river which stretches away from the confluence shown in the photo, his principal rival was directing the enemy forces (the place, again, is marked on the map).  But Arthur had a strategy, the enemy was scared of him, and he might - just might - have come very close to victory.

And then he was attacked from the rear.  The story of Camlan is one of treachery and betrayal.  And, in the book, I will reveal who betrayed him, and why.

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