I came across this press piece a few days ago. It's maybe not quite as bad as it first appears: nobody seems to be suggesting that we build new houses on top of the Old Oswestry hill-fort, only on the fields immediately adjacent. But what I found most interesting about the article is what it says of the 3,000 year old hill-fort - that Old Oswestry is "said to be the birthplace of Guinevere, King Arthur's Queen."
Ooops, let's back up a bit there. "Guinevere" is a medieval invention. Or, rather, it's a Medieval French rendition of a Welsh name - Gwenhwyfar. It's just one of those Arthurian anomalies that we keep referring to the original characters by the wrong names. Forget Guinevere: she didn't exist. Let's call her Gwenhwyfar instead.
And while we're at it, let's stop saying "King Arthur", because he didn't exist either. His people remembered him as "the emperor Arthur". Or we could just call him "Arthur". But "King Arthur" is purely mythical, even though Arthur himself was real.
Anyway, there is a tradition - apparently - that Gwenhwyfar, the wife of Arthur the Emperor, was born at Old Oswestry. I was quite thrilled to read that, because in "The King Arthur Conspiracy" I endeavoured to trace Gwenhwyfar's family background, and was able to pin it down to the Flintshire region of North Wales. Oswestry, on the Welsh border, is just to the south of that part of the world, and was quite possibly part of the sub-kingdom ruled by Gwenhwyfar's father.
I identified Gwenhwyfar's father as Caradog Freichfras ("Strong-Arm"), who was initially associated with the kingdom of Glywysing, immediately to the south of Oswestry. However, along with a number of other Arthurian heroes, Caradog seems to have shifted his base of operations northwards, initially to the Tegeingl sub-kingdom of Gwynedd, immediately to the north of (and possibly incorporating) Oswestry.
The Iron Age hill-fort believed to have been Gwenhwyfar's birthplace is also pretty close to the parish of Llangollen. This was home to an individual who became known as St Collen, although I argue that he was better known as (St) Cadog - another princeling of South Wales who moved, first into North Wales and, later, into central Scotland. Cadog - or Collen - appears to have functioned as a foster-father figure to Gwenhwyfar, or perhaps as the Druidic leader of her maidenly cult, and it is rather telling to discover that a Croes Gwenhwyfar - "Gwenhwyfar's Cross" - exists at Llangollen.
In other words, there is a fair amount of evidence which places the young Gwenhwyfar in the general area of Oswestry - before she, like so many of the others, moved north into what is now Scotland - and so we cannot write off the possibility that she was indeed born in the Iron Age hill-fort of Old Oswestry.
But that's not really the point of this post. Neither, for that matter, is any hand-wringing or soul-searching over the desirability of a new housing estate next door to Gwenhwyfar's birthplace - although that issue might serve as a sort of metaphor for what this post is all about.
It's about the race against time that we're currently in. Let me explain:
We live in unprecendented times. The internet, for example, is like nothing humanity that has ever known. So much knowledge at our fingertips! Researching Arthur and his people - and, for example, narrowing down the location of his last battle, as I did in The King Arthur Conspiracy and, in more detail, in my forthcoming The Grail; Relic of an Ancient Religion - would have been immensely more time-consuming and expensive than it was.
However ... we also live in precedented times. I again cover this in The Grail, which is very much an exploration of the three "ages" of civilisation. We are currently being bullied out of the "Human age", which is characterised by liberal democracy and scientific materialism, by a resurgence of medieval "Heroic age" values, which we can characterise as dominated by religious fanaticism and extreme social inequality. This regression - the determination of some to tug us back into the kind of society which existed during the Middle Ages - is not really possible. It will lead (inevitably, I believe) to the collapse of our civilisation.
The internet is a fascinating product of our times. It is, in many ways, the ultimate "Human age" invention - possible only because of the technological infrastructure that was created by science, and thoroughly democratic, in that it is available to anybody. But the infrastructure necessary for the maintenance of a viable internet might not survive for long, and the anti-democratic instincts of those religious and political extremists who are forcing us back towards the "Heroic age" of times past are unlikely to favour the internet in its current form (although the internet is also one of the great purveyors of "Heroic age" thought, as uninformed opinion usurps the place of evidence-based logical reasoning and hysterical, paranoid memes spread like wildfire).
So, those of us who are fortunate enough to have access to the Global City which is the internet should really be using it to the best of our abilities. When it goes, it's gone - and our descendants will wonder at the race of supermen who could communicate instantaneously with millions across great distances, and who could access any information they required, just like that.
Do you really want your great-grandchildren to know that you had access to the greatest library the world has ever known, and the ability to exchange information with a massive global community - and all you did was post pictures of cats?
One of the ways in which the "Heroic age" is fighting back is through the rewriting of history. Michael Gove's cretinously empty-headed intervention in the matter of the First World War (which he seems to think was a rare old lark, sadly misreported ever since by "left-wing" academics and sit-com writers) shows that the religious-aristocractic view of the past, laced with ignorant flag-waving nationalism, is actively seeking to take control of history. Forget all those First World War poets who raged and railed against the hellish nightmare of the Western Front. No: a dimwitted politician now tells us that the war was a Good Thing, and anyone who questions that must be a "left-wing" radical.
In fact, the "Heroic age" has always rewritten history. It does so in order to cover its tracks and to pervert everyone's idea of the present. A government which is absolutely devoted to recreating the old aristocracy does not want you to think that the aristocratic officers of the First World War, or the aristocrats who sent so many millions to their deaths, were incompetent oafs. But the brainless attitude voiced by Michael Gove (Secretary of State for Education, would you believe?!) is symptomatic of a mindset that would happily send millions more to their deaths because they never learnt the lessons of history (how could they? Gove had already rewritten the book). And it's precisely that sort of thing that will undermine our civilisation.
Before we lose the internet, then - before we are banned from using it (because it's too democratic) or the infrastructure necessary to keep it going disintegrates (because it's "too expensive") - those of us who care about history really need to be making the most of our unprecedented opportunities to explore the past.
The "Heroic age" lied to us - repeatedly - about Arthur and his people. It was the "Heroic age" that invented the mythical "King Arthur" and changed the name of his wife from the authentic Gwenhwyfar to the familiar "Guinevere". And, let's face it, having lied to us before, it will lie to us again, given half a chance.
The only thing we can do is to uncover the historical truth, before the opportunity to do so is taken away from us. Arthur's last battle was fought at or near Alyth, in Scotland. A bit of determined research (internet and traditional) confirms this. But the "Heroic age" will have you believing that it happened somewhere else. Probably in the south. Evidence? Forget it. The "Heroic age" doesn't need evidence. It believes what it believes, and expects everyone else to believe it too. Evidence, be damned!
We could do our descendants a great big favour by using the internet intelligently, to challenge the foolish stories peddled by "Heroic age" propagandists. "King Arthur" never existed - he was an English invention - and the myth has always stood in the way of proper investigation. But tracing the historical Arthur is possible (and enjoyable), especially when we have all the resources of the internet at our command. Of course, the dogmatic voices of the "Heroic age" will shriek and shout and throw their little tantrums, but our great-grandchildren have the right to know what happened in the past. We have a duty to tell them, and not to let the past remain obliterated and re-engineered by fanatical demagogues, for whom everything must defend an extremist religious and/or political point-of-view.
So, in that sense, the story at the top of this post is a kind of metaphor. We are able - if we choose - to find out a great deal about Gwenhwyfar and her (possible) birthplace. But that won't last forever. Like the Iron Age hill-fort in which Arthur's wife was quite possibly born, there is a threat looming. The enemies of the truth are advancing.
There is still time to save the past from their bigoted opinions. But we do have to act.
Houses next door to Gwenhwyfar's birthplace? I'm not so worried about that, to be honest. Just so long as we succeed in uncovering and explaining who Gwenhwyfar was, while we still have the chance.