Continuing the saga by Mr. Griffith –Davis of his version of the real story of King Arthur.
To resume the history of Caerleon: Aurelius continued to abuse his authority as governor relentlessly until the vassal king Athrwys decided to ‘stop the rot’ and end the widespread civil unrest by marching into Caerleon with his own troops during the following year (527 A.D.), where he defeated and killed Aurelius on the spot. It was Athrwys’ 9th of his 12 battles and all of them were victorious according to the Welsh historian Nennius.
Saint Gildas did not loose any more time tramping around Ireland on his dubious mission. He returned to Caerleon immediately, where he stayed for many years until moving to the Cornish province on the western coast of Brittany (itself a Romano-British colony which Marcus Magnus had founded in Roman Armorica) and it is still called Cornualia, with the intention to become a religious hermit (as Saint Dubricius did himself in 545 A.D. when he ceded his arch-bishopric to Saint David at the Synod of Brefi, sometimes spelt Brevi). But his followers persuaded him to teach them instead, so he founded a monastery on the Rhuys Peninsula in a place that is still named after him as ‘St. Gildas de Rhuys’, where he died on 29th January, 570 A.D., leaving a son called Cenydd (Kenneth), who was also a priest and monk. Gildas’ tremendous knowledge and literary prowess had already earned him the Latin nickname of Gildas Sapiens (Gildas the Wise). His feast day is still celebrated in Cornualia every year. Incidentally, it was common for priests to marry and have children until a daft papal edict that was issued in the 12th century forbade this normal human activity!
Athrwys was immediately proclaimed king by Saint Dubricius after his victory, who crowned him in Saint Aaron’s Cathedral in 527 A.D. Athrwys’ attendant and sword-bearer at his coronation was his best friend, King Cadwys, of Din Dagelin Cornwall, who was probably a close cousin too. Athrwys ruled Caerleon and Wales (including Herefordshire and Shropshire) as well as Britania Prima (the West Country) effectively and benevolently for exactly 10 years. He was greatly admired by his people and the remembrance of him endured among the Welshpeople.
The priests (pagan Druids and Christians) and the knights (soldiers on horseback) were part and parcel of the Romano-British social structure in Wales. Gildas, Dubricius and Illtyd were among Athrwys’ knights and all of them were priests as well as nobles. (Romano-British society only permitted nobles or royalty to become priests). Illtyd was one of the King of Brittany’s sons and actually a soldier already before he migrated to Wales around 500 A.D. as a young man with the intention of joining Caerleon’s legion. He became an influential priest later on.
The Saxons returned to attack Cadbury Hill for the second time in 537 A.D. The combined armies of Athrwys and Cadwys marched there to relieve the siege: this was Athrwys’ 12th and last victorious battle against the barbaric enemy. It was called the Battle of Cad Camlan (which means ‘On the bank of the River Cam’) and it was fought in exactly the same place as the Battle of Mons Badonicus, only 1 mile north of Cadbury Hill. King Cadwys lost his life in the battle and Athrwys’ faithful nephew Mordred - who was also one of his knights - was killed in it too; no doubt defending Athrwys as his bodyguard. One must remember that Athrwys was then about 57 years old and therefore he was not as strong as he had been in his youth. The original Welsh text states that “Athrwys and Mordred fought at the Battle of Cad Camlan”, which later mediaeval historians misinterpreted to mean that they fought against each other.
Nevertheless, Athrwys was seriously wounded in the battle.He was quickly transported back to Caerleon for treatment and - hopefully - recovery. A Welsh text confirms that “Athrwys was taken up the river to be cured”. That is to say, he was transferred to a boat as soon as his naval galley arrived back in Caerleon’s large harbour (probably from Portisheadon the northern coast of Somerset) to the nearby Welsh pagan religious centre on the main island in the Afon Lwyd tributory, i.e., the Isle of Avalon. His elder half-sister Morgana was the High Priestess cum physician there. She must have tried desperately to save his life but to no avail: he died shortly afterwards and possibly from an infection rather than the wound itself. He was buried on the same holy site according to Druid custom. His sword called Caledfwlch (Excalibur in English) with its elaborately engraved hilt was interred with him (it was probably a short ‘stabbing’ sword of the so-called Pompeian type).One can imagine that a mass was also held for Athrwys in Caerleon Cathedral on the 7th day after his death, although Athrwys never converted to the Christian faith: that is easily proved by the fact that his birth name remained unchanged.
Athrwys’ only surviving son by his first marriage inherited the throne. His name was Llacheu (Lacholt in English) and he continued the struggle - one might call it a very long-term ‘rearguard action’ - against the Saxons until he himself was killed several decades later: the precise date is unknown and it could have been as late as 575 A.D. when Llacheu was about 73 years of age, while marching to, yes, Cadbury Hill once again in order to relieve the third Saxon siege. However, I believe that the date when Llacheu died was around 560 A.D., when he was about the same age as Athrwys had been. Llacheu’s army combined with the army of Geraint, Prince of Dumnonia (Devon) and this force was intercepted by the Saxons only 10 miles west of Cadbury Hill at a place called Llangborth (which means ‘ferry boat’ in Welsh), now known as Longport. The Romano-British forces lost the struggle after a ferocious fight and the Saxons returned to besieging Cadbury Hill, which eventually fell to them, following which they massacred ALL of the inhabitants (the Saxons practised ‘ethnic cleansing’ par excellence), burnt it down (the fortress was mainly built of timber, except for the stone walls on the northern ramparts that still protrude from the undergrowth) and then they abandoned it for ever. Recent excavations have uncovered the skeletons of the murdered inhabitants - men, women and children - still scattered across the site where they lay after being killed, with the peck marks of carrion crows visible on their bones.
To be continued…
John H. Griffith-Davies