Thursday, 18 October 2012
Arthur's Last Battle - More Evidence
It was the battle in which Arthur's sword failed him, in which the "emperor" was mortally wounded, and which sealed the fate of Britain.
In my book, The King Arthur Conspiracy, I explain where the battle took place. It was along the River Isla in Angus. Arthur's forces occupied the south bank of the river. His opponents were ranged along the hills to the north of the Isla. Arthur was standing by a standing stone, near the village of Meigle, when he was treacherously attacked from behind. He fought his way across the hollow plain to Arthurbank, beside the River Isla, where he fell.
A Breton poem recalls something of this. It is entitled Bran, which means "Raven" or "Crow", and a translation can be found here: http://www.ancienttexts.org/library/celtic/ctexts/bran.html
In my book, I explain at some length why Bran was an alternative name for Arthur, and that the Welsh legend of Bendigeid Fran ("Blessed Raven") recalls the treachery which culminated in Arthur's last battle and his terrible wounding. The Breton poem of Bran would appear to have encapsulated the memory of those British refugees from the kingdom of Lothian who escaped to Brittany ("The Lesser Britain") after their homeland fell to the invading Angles in AD 638. They remembered their lost land as Leonais - the Land of the Lion - which, through the garbled yarns of the medieval storytellers, became the romantic "Lyonesse".
The poem tells us that "Bran the knight" was grievously wounded at "Kerloan fight". His side won, apparently - thanks, in large part, to "great Evan", who put the Saxons to flight (Evan, or Yvain, is the Frenchified version of Owain, son of Urien, who was indeed present at Arthur's last battle; he was also Arthur's nephew). But Bran - who, in the poem, is designated "Bran-Vor's grandson", reminding us that Arthur was the grandson of the "great raven" (Bran mhor) whose given name was Gabran, King of the Scots - was "captive borne beyond the sea" to the place where he died.
The Breton poem, therefore, recalled the battle at which Arthur ("Bran") was mortally wounded as "Kerloan fight".
Now, Kerloan, or Kerlouan, is a district in Brittany, a long, long way from the site of Arthur's last battle. There is good reason, however, to suppose that the name of the Kerlouan region actually came from the site of Arthur's battle. The ker prefix is the same as the Welsh caer - a fortress, castle or citadel.
When I first tried to locate a "Castle of Louan" I thought of Arthur's grandmother, Lluan or Lleian, a British princess of Strathclyde who married Gabran mac Domangairt ("Bran-Vor", in Breton tradition) and gave birth to Arthur's father. Gabran himself gave his name to the Gowrie region of Scotland, and in The King Arthur Conspiracy, I note that Arthur's half-sister, Muirgein, was born in Bealach Gabrain, the "Pass of Gabran", which I suggest was the low-lying pass or Balloch which lies beneath the Hill of Alyth in Perthshire, not far from the town of Blairgowrie ("Battlefield of Gabran's Land"). I wondered, then, whether the Hill of Alyth, or one of its neighbouring hills, such as the Hill of Loyal or Barry ("Ridge of the King") Hill, was once thought of as the "Castle of Lluan".
In fact, the louan element in the Breton Kerlouan comes from Saint Louan - or Luan, as he was known in Ireland. The Welsh form of his name - Llywan - recalls a famous pool which, in Geoffrey of Monmouth's History of the Kings of Briton, Arthur discusses with one of his comrades after they have both seen action in and around Dumbarton and Loch Lomond.
In Scotland, Luan is better known as St Moluag. He was a contemporary of Artuir mac Aedain, and is said to have held a race with St Columba to determine who should have possession of the island of Lismore, near Oban. Moluag is principally associated with Lismore, although there were churches dedicated to him throughout the Western Isles and northern Scotland (he appears to have spent a great deal of time amongst the Picts). One tradition holds that he cured the holy Molaisse (Arthur's nephew, Laisren) of an ulcer. He was mentioned in 1544 as the patron saint of Argyll - the heartland of the Scots of Dal Riata, whose king was Arthur's father - and his death is dated to AD 592.
Other versions of his name include Elvan, Elven, Lua, Lugaidh, Molloch and Murlach (the Gaelic murlach actually means a "kingfisher" or a "fishing basket"). There is only one place in Scotland at which he is remembered as Luan.
St Luan's Church stands in Alyth, Perthshire. The Alyth Arches (see photo above) are all that remain of an earlier church, built on the site of a sixth-century chapel named in honour of St Luan. Notably, as well as being the patron saint of Argyll, Luan was the patron of Alyth, and his fair - "Simmalogue Fair", a corruption of St Moluag - was held there.
Given that Moluag's chapel would appear to have existed by the time of his death in circa 592, we can presume that the "Fort of Luan" was already there when Arthur fought his last battle in the immediate vicinity in AD 594. This was the Kerlouan remembered by British refugees from Arthur's land who escaped to Brittany and named a coastal region there after the site of Luan's Citadel.
The Hill of Alyth features in a more-or-less contemporary poem of Arthur's last battle. It was a place of supreme strategic or symbolic importance - one of Arthur's earlier enemies, a king of the southern Picts named Galam Cennaleth - bore an epithet meaning "Chief of Alyth". A very ancient tradition holds that Arthur's queen, Gwenhwyfar, was held prisoner at Alyth by the "Pictish" king Mordred. The name Alyth means something like "The Height" or "The Strength". The Britons spelled it Alledd - phonetically, much the same as Alyth - and it is in this form that it occurs in the epic poem Y Gododdin:
Again the battle-shout about the Alledd,
The battle-horses and bloodied armour,
Until they shook with the passion of the great battle ...
This, then, was the scene of Arthur's final conflict. His own position was to the south of the Hill of Alyth, and is recalled at the ridge of Arthurbank (where, until the 1790s, an Arthurstone stood). Between the hill and the ridge lay the chapel, cell or monastery named after St Moluag - the Fort of Luan, patron saint of Alyth, or, as the British refugees in Brittany remembered it, Kerlouan.
The Breton poem indicates that Lord Bran (Arthur) died in a tower or keep "beyond the sea". He had despatched a messenger to summon his mother from "Leon-land" (the Land of the Lion, or Leonais, as the exiles thought of their Lothian homeland). The mother of the historical Arthur was indeed a princess of Lothian.
And, in an interesting twist on what caused Arthur's last battle, the poem suggests that Arthur's messenger was a "false sentinel" with a "mischief-working smile". But to know how that relates to Arthur's last battle, you'll just have to buy The King Arthur Conspiracy!
Anyway - the long and the short. Here, in the form of the Breton poem of Bran, we have another source for the location of Arthur's final battle. The Britons of Lothian remembered it well: in his poem, "The Gododdin", the British bard Aneirin recollected that Arthur's enemies had swarmed around the Hill of Alyth. Those of his fellow countrymen who fled to Brittany remembered that the battle had been fought around a settlement associated with Luan, patron saint of Alyth.
So, anyone looking for a place called "Camlann" where Arthur's last battle was fought is likely to find nothing, especially if they are foolish enough to go looking for it in England. The clues are unmistakeable. Arthur fell at Arthurbank in Scotland, near the Hill of Alyth and the Church of St Luan. It just so happens that, as he hacked his way towards Arthurbank, he crossed a hollow plain known, to this day, as the Mains of Camno.