King Arthur's Camelot
...the rain may never fall till after sundown.
At eight AM the fog must disappear.
In short there's simply not,
a more congenial spot, for a
happily-ever-aftering, than here in Camelot...
Alan Jay Lerner-Fredrick Loewe
The Arthurian Legends about Camelot, the Knights
of the Round Table, and the quest for the Holy Grail,
have been the inspiration to poets and writers from Mark
Twain (A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court)
to Alfred Lord Tennyson (Idylls of the King) to
T. H. White (Once and Future King) to the comedy
troupe of Monty Python (Monty Python and the Holy Grail).
Was there a real King Arthur that ruled from his castle
We know Arthur first appeared in a Welch poem
written by Gododdin around 600 AD. Later he is mentioned
by the Welch chronicler Nennius at about 800 AD. By the
12th century he was considered a national hero to the
English with dozens of folk tales to his credit.
If there was a real Arthur he could have lived
no later than the 6th century, just before the first epics
of his adventures appeared. It seems likely Arthur was
probably a Celtic British King who fought against Saxon
invaders. He apparently won several great battles, culminating
in a victory at Badon. While Arthur was unable to stop
the Saxons in the long run, he did delay their conquest.
This, in turn, enabled the Celtics to preserve themselves
in England as a distinct racial entity.
Arthur's battles occurred after the Romans,
who had held Briton as a province for 400 years, withdrew
following the sacking of Rome by the Goths in 410 AD.
Arthur was probably a Romanized Briton of mixed ancestry
who had been educated and trained in Roman military techniques.
Unfortunately some of the most intriguing
stories about King Arthur, like his ascension to the throne
as a boy after magically removing a sword thrust through
a stone, and his knight's pursuit of the Holy Grail, are
clearly inventions of later chroniclers.
What about Camelot? Some would suggest that
this also was an invention of poets to give Arthur a home
base. One 14th century author, John Leland, though, claimed
that the name came out of local tradition. Leland claimed
that while visiting the village of Somerset he was told
that 'Camalat' was the name of a hill by the village of
South Cadbury and that King Arthur had 'much resided there.'
Examination of the hill, which rises 250 feet
above the surrounding land, has shown that around the
summit fortifications some 3,600 feet in circumference
lay in ruins. As recently as 1723 the locals referred
to the hill as 'Camelot Castle.'
In the 1950's a recognized expert on Dark
Age Britain, Dr. Raleigh Radford, examined some
pottery and coins found on the hill and determined that
they belonged to Arthur's period. This lead to the formation
of the Camelot Research Committee in 1965.
Under the direction of Leslie Alcock
the hill was excavated. At the south-western gate exploration
disclosed several successive chronological layers. The
top levels were identified by pottery and coin to be Saxon.
Digging in the lower level unearthed the bones of some
thirty men, women and children jumbled together along
with burnt weapons, pottery and Roman coins. The hill
was apparently the sight of a massacre in the first century
A.D. when the Romans attacked and overcame a number of
hill forts in Briton.
In between the pre-Roman and Saxon layers
were the remains of a fortress built in the Celtic style.
The castle had been built around 450 to 500 A.D. during
the Saxon advance across Britain. It had a number of large
buildings suggesting it was an important center of commerce.
The largest structure, a rectangular hall some 63 feet
long and 34 feet wide, could have served as the feasting
hall and home of a great Celtic chieftain, like Arthur.
No definite link between the hill at Cadbury
and Camelot and Arthur has been found, but some of the
circumstantial evidence is impressive. Nearby the hill
is the river Cam, possibly the site of "Camlann," the
battle where Arthur received his fatal wound. Twelve miles
to the north is the abbey at Gastonbury Tor which is considered
the traditional resting place of Arthur and his Queen
Guinevere. There, in 1190, the reputed bones of the King
and Queen were found enclosed in a hollow tree in a grave
of great depth. The inscription found on a leaded cross
above the grave read "Here lies the famous King Arthur,
buried in the isle of Avalon."
These relics were lost when the abbey was
dispersed during The Reformation, but according to accounts
the man's bones were of great size in keeping with accounts
of Arthur's height.
Despite this, local tradition has it that
Arthur wasn't in the abbey, but somewhere in a hidden
cave in the hill at Cadbury. Legend has it that twice
a year, on Midsummer Eve and Christmas Eve, you can hear
him rise and ride down from Camelot to drink from the
ancient spring that bears his name.
Lee Krystek 1997. All Rights Reserved.