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Gwent local history


63 Autumn 1987

Gwent and the Arthurian legend

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The Historia Brittonum ("History of the Britons")-conventionally, if
erroneously, attributed to Nennius-was originally composed c829/302;
attached to it are a series of Mirabilia or "Wonders" and among them:
"There is another wonder in the country called Ergyng. There is a
tomb there by a spring, called Llygad Amr; the name of the man who
is buried in the tomb is Amr. He was a son of the warrior Arthur,
and he killed him there and buried him. Men come to measure the
tomb, and it is sometimes six feet long, sometimes nine, sometimes
twelve, sometimes fifteen. At whatever measure you measure it on
one occasion, you never find it again of the same measure, and I have
tried it myself."
Ergyng was an old Welsh cantref which now covers part of Herefordshire,
and Llygad Amr is Gamber Head some 6 miles south of Hereford itself.
The river Gamber flows from there to Trebumfrey near Langstone Court.
The note points to the existence of local legends concerning Arthur as early
as the 9th Century. Whatever the ultimate origins of the great hero, it
is obvious that Arthur was popular figure in the folklore of the landscape
by that date.
Other stories of a later date strengthen the impression of Arthur's
popularity in this area. Sometimes in the 1070's or 1080's4 a monk from
Llancarfan by the name of Lifris wrote a "biography" of St. Cadog, the
Vita Cadoci. Among the tales he tells about the saint, Lifris includes an
account of his birth. A local Gwentian king called Gwynllyw (after who
Gwynllwg (Wentloog) was named) eloped with Gwladus a daughter of
Brychan, king of Brycheiniog (Brecknock). Brychan, naturally being
somewhat put out at this unruly behaviour, gave chase with his warriors.
When he had almost caught the couple, Gwynllyw and Gwyladus came
to a hill named Boch Rhiw Cam where they met Arthur. Cei and Bedwyr
(later Kay and Bedivere) playing dice! The "three vigorous heroes" (tres
heroes strenui) promptly defeat Brychan and his men in a bloody battle
(not before Arthur has considered kidnapping Gwladus for himself). The
happy couple go on their way, and the result of their passion is the holy
St. Cadog himself. 5
It has been suggested that Bach Rhiw Cam is to be found somewhere
on Mynydd Llangatog to the north of Beaufort6. Personally I would
favour one of the cairns (carn) on Mynydd Fochriw above Rhymney,
perhaps Carn y Bugail, the largest of them. Incidentally there is an
inscribed standing stone nearby which has been dated to the 7th-9th
Century7. So here we have Arthur, Cei and Bedwyr fighting a battle above
Rhymney, at least in the imagination of an 11th Century cleric.
In another story in the same work8 Arthur and the saint are in dispute
over a general named Ligessawc who murdered some of Arthur's men.
Finally a blood-price of a hundred cows is settled for each man and the
cattle are driven to the river Usk to be handed over to Cei and Bedwyr.
Unfortunately, as the cows are led through the water they are miraculously
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