Where is Arthur? Camlann and Beyond

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The BBC's Lake of Avalon with the Sidhe's island home rising from the waters.

In all of this talk of the Heptarchy and the ascendancy of the Roman Church, we have seen precious little of the Welsh and Scots and, most especially, of Arthur. Where is he? Why is he not mentioned in writings of the time?

The primary reason he is not listed in Anglo-Saxon writings of the time is that the Angles and Saxons didn’t write much down. This has been seen earlier. The people who were writing things down at this point in time were the monks and others in the Christian Church, and not a whole lot of them wanted to have anything to do with the Arthur story in the first place. They were far too busy selling their religion to worry about what could be construed as another cult.

Arthur, it will be remembered, set the Saxon invasions back a generation with his smashing victory at the Battle of Badon Hill. After that, the years fade into obscurity until we hear of him again at Camlann.

Where is Arthur? Camlann and Beyond This, of course, is Arthur’s last battle, at which he is supposed to have been mortally wounded. The Annales Cambriae, or Annals of Wales, say this happened in 539. This dating is most curious given the fact that no place is listed. Still, it fits in with the general chronology that dates Badon Hill to anywhere from 480 to 520. The Annales Cambriae say of Camlann that it was the place “where Arthur and Medraut fell.”

Now, the word “fell” is usually taken to mean “died,” especially when being read in the context of a battle. Yet, we have Geoffrey of Monmouth centuries later talking about Arthur’s being taken to the Isle of Avalon for rehabilitation or whatever. Geoffrey, it seems, didn’t believe that Arthur died at Camlann. We also see in Geoffrey the idea that Medraut (whom Geoffrey calls Mordred, the first use of this name) had a hand in Arthur’s death, perhaps even being the instrument.

But where was Camlann? No one knows. Was it on the River Cam, which runs near Cadbury, thought to have been Camelot? Was it the River Camel, in Cornwall? What of the word itself? Camlann is a Welsh derivation of Camboglanna, which means “crooked bank.” As such, it could be anywhere. A fort along Hadrian’s Wall has the Roman name of Camboglanna. Could this be Camlann? If so, it means that Arthur fought his last battle far to the north of what is supposed to have been his kingdom. (There are, of course, a host of historians who believe that Arthur was exclusively a northern figure.)

What does all this have to do with the Angles and Saxons, who by the time of the Synod of Whitby were fighting among themselves? Plenty, actually.

The infighting that typified this period of British history should, in theory, have made the Germanic settlements ripe for invasion by Welsh and Britons and Scots and Picts. It should have been relatively easy for a ruler of Arthur’s stature to unite the non-Germanic peoples of Britannia for an assault to win back their homeland. Yet, such an invasion didn’t come.

The story of Arthur itself was disappearing, even from the writings of the Welsh. And the more the Germanic tribesmen dominated the Island and continued their practice of non-writing, the further into memory the story of Arthur receded. It would take a miracle to bring Arthur back to prominence in the minds of the residents of Britannia. Just such a miracle was on its way, even if the Angles and Saxons didn’t know it. We are talking, of course, of Nennius, the 9th century monk who singlehandedly revived interest in Arthur the King. But that would have to wait.