BLOG Reginald Francis

NWR Issue 115

The Arthurian Place Names of Wales

As part of the National Library of Wales’ Arthur and Welsh Mythology exhibition, writer and Arthurian scholar, Scott Lloyd gave a lunchtime lecture about his recently published work, The Arthurian Place Names of Wales.

Once everyone had gathered in the auditorium and rustled out of their dripping raincoats, Scott began by introducing us to his life’s work. When Lloyd was a boy growing up in the hills of north Wales, he ‘knew’ that his home was the land of King Arthur. In Flintshire, Excalibur was said to be buried beneath some rocks, the Penbedw stone circle was erected in memory of the battle of Guinnion and right on the English border was Arthur’s Hill. When Lloyd began reading the legends, however, he could not find any reference to these place names.

So where was Excalibur? Where did the battle of Guinnion take place, and where was Camlann, Camelot and Avalon? There are counties all over Wales, England, Scotland and northern Europe that claim to be these places.

Arthur’s grave, for example, seems to ‘pop up’ everywhere. In 1190, monks at Glastonbury Abbey claimed to have found Arthur’s bones, and ever since then, the Abbey has been a popular spot for pilgrims and tourists alike. A handful of archaeologists are convinced that the battle of Camlann (allegedly Arthur’s last) was in Shropshire and are currently seeking funding to dig up a section of road in search of his body. In 2011, a Wales Online article revealed that a five-bedroom property worth £1.3 million in Gwent has the King’s remains buried in the garden.

The topic of King Arthur clearly generates a great deal of scholarly and commercial attention. For over a thousand years people and places have claimed to have connections with the legends, not only across Wales, but all over Britain and parts of northern Europe, resulting in an extremely convoluted legacy of Arthurian associations based in oral storytelling, literature, archaeological discovery, urban legend and commercial gimmicks. Lloyd decided, therefore, to produce a catalogue of every place in Wales that claims an Arthurian connection. In doing so, he has had to work through ‘a whole lot of nonsense’ in order to get behind each claim and find its origin.

As Lloyd went through his findings, he detailed some amusing and occasionally bizarre additions to the Arthurian canon. I particularly enjoyed the story of King Arthur’s stone. One day in north Wales, during the height of Arthur’s reign, Huail, son of a chieftain, took an interest in one of Arthur’s mistresses. Arthur, being jealous, attacked Huail and, in the course of battle, injured his knee. They called a truce on the condition that, on pain of death, Huail must never mention Arthur’s injury to anyone. Many years passed and one evening Arthur was dressed as a woman, enjoying himself dancing with a young woman of whom he was very fond. Huail was also present but was unaware he was in the company of the King. Huail innocently observed that the woman dancing with the young maiden appeared to have a limp. Arthur took this as a breach of their agreement and immediately beheaded Huail upon a stone which then became known as King Arthur’s stone and sits, to this day, in St Peter’s Square in Ruthin, Denbighshire.

The enormity of Lloyd’s task might seem overwhelming, encompassing as it does research across medieval texts, eighteenth century pamphlets and modern newspapers. The author ploughed through millions of words of pages to find the source of each legend and place them geographically with coordinates that are accurate down to a meter square. He hopes to continue his work in England, Scotland and Northern France.

Having a centralised catalogue of each place is intrinsically valuable, whether you are an Arthurian scholar, an amateur enthusiast, or just a lover of stories and history, like myself. Lloyd’s book is for sale at the National Library of Wales as well as online, and is certainly worth taking with you on a journey across Wales in order to see these places for yourself.

Reginald Francis is an MA candidate in Literary Studies at Aberystwyth University.

Arthur and Welsh Mythology runs at the National Library of Wales until 16 December.


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