Daily Archives: December 17, 2014

The Quest for the Holy Grail (part 8)


While we’re up by the Firth of Forth, I thought we might as well unearth a few more nuggets of Dark-Age history which have been missed by the scholars. Its all quite Socratic really, for as that philosopher urged we humans to question his reality, so the modern litologist has to dig through reams of often daft scholarship in order to ascertain the truth about history. In this spirit, then, let us return to the L-G for a moment;

They spent their days in travel until they came to Arestel & found the king laying siege to the Rock, just as the maiden had said, & the rock was so strong that those in it feared nothing except being starved. It had been secretly fortified at the time Vortigern married the daughter of Hengist the Saxon


This sequence of events refers to the time when, in the wake of the Roman retreat c.450 AD, the British King Vortigern invited a group of hardy Saxon mercenaries led by Hengist to Britain. The plan was they would help the Britons fend off the brutal invasions of Picts & Scots – a plan which worked at first, but then drastically backfired when the Saxons basically turned on Vortigern & decided to stay in Britain. The HB tells us;

Hengist, in whom united craft and penetration, perceiving he had to act with an ignorant king, and a fluctuating people, incapable of opposing much resistance, replied to Vortigern, “We are, indeed, few in number; but, if you will give us leave, we will send to our country for an additional number of forces, with whom we will fight for you and your subjects.” Vortigern assenting to this proposal, messengers were despatched to Scythia, where selecting a number of warlike troops, they returned with sixteen vessels, bringing with them the beautiful daughter of Hengist. And now the Saxon chief prepared an entertainment, to which he invited the king, his officers, and Ceretic, his interpreter, having previously enjoined his daughter to serve them so profusely with wine and ale, that they might soon become intoxicated. This plan succeeded; and Vortigern, at the instigation of the devil, and enamoured with the beauty of the damsel, demanded her, through the medium of his interpreter, of the father, promising to givefor her whatever he should ask. Then Hengist, who had already consulted with the elders who attended him of the Oghgul race, demanded for his daughter the province, called in English Centland, in British, Ceint, (Kent.). This cession was made without the knowledge of the king, Guoyrancgonus who then reigned in Kent, and who experienced no inconsiderable share of grief, from seeing his kingdom thus clandestinely, fraudulently, and imprudently resigned to foreigners. Thus the maid was delivered up to the king, who slept with her, and loved her exceedingly.


National Trust; (c) Saltram; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation


Hengist, after this, said to Vortigern, “I will be to you both a father and an adviser; despise not my counsels, and you shall have no reason to fear being conquered by any man or any nation whatever; for the people of my country are strong, warlike, and robust: if you approve, I will send for my son and his brother, both valiant men who at my invitation will fight against the Scots, and you can give them the countries in the north, near the wall called “Gual.” The incautious sovereign having assented to this, Octa and Ebusa arrived with forty ships. In these they sailed round the country of the Picts, laid waste the Orkneys, and took possession of many regions, islands beyond the Fresic sea, that is, that which is between the Scots, as far as to the confines of the Picts

Big Geoff’s version gives us a bit more gloss, as in, ‘When the damsel was given unto the King as hath been told, Hengist said unto him: ‘Behold, I am now thy father, and meet is it that I be thy counsellor; nor do thou slight my counsel, for by the valour of my folk shalt thou subdue all thine enemies unto thyself. Let us invite also hither my son Octa with his brother Ebissa, for gallant warriors they be; and give unto them the lands that lie in the northern parts of Britain nigh the wall betwixt Deira and Scotland, for there will they bear the brunt of the barbarians’ assaults in such sort that thou upon the hither side of Humber shalt abide in peace.’


Bainbridge Fort Map

This essentially brings a contingent of Saxons to southern Scotland, dwelling in the area between Hadrian’s Wall & the the Antonine Wall, the latter linking the firths of Clyde & Forth, forming a fine defensive barrier. The HB shows the Saxons taking possession of regions right at the Pictish borders, by the ‘Fresic Sea’, which in those days was the Firth of Forth. The lands beside this gorgeous waterway were once known, in antiquity as ‘The Frisian Shore,’  the ‘Frisicum litus‘ of Joceline’s Vita of Saint Kentigern. This name connects the Forth to the Frisii, a tribe of Saxons who dwelt on the shores of what is today’s Holland. That Hengist & his family were Frisian was suggested by John Kemble, who wrote of, ‘Hengist, who cannot have been a Dane, is a Frisian, appears as such in the genealogy of the Kings of Kent, and is the fabled conqueror of Britain.‘ The last bit of the sentence refers to Hengist & his surly crew basically running rampant over Vortigern, inviting loads of their drunken German mates over on the booze-cruise which basically created England. Octa and Ebusa’s presence in the Firth of Forth shows that by Arthur’s time, Anglo-Saxon territory would have covered the entire eastern coast, from Kent to Stonehaven, as suggested by Skene;

The first and principal seat of them {The Frisians} appears to have been the northern shore of the Firth of Forth, and extending along the shore of Forfarshire, and perhaps Kincardine, as far as Stonehaven… This region hears the indications of a Saxon population in the peculiar term applied to the hills which is here so frequent, viz. Laws ; and the frontier range itself hears the name of the Sidlaw Hills…. The second locality in which I think we can trace them is that part of the coast of East-Lothian where it projects into the Firth, a great promontory consisting of the parishes of Dirleton and North Berwick, and where there was anciently a ferry to the opposite coast of Fife, which is here not more than eight miles distance.

That Hengist was a Frisian can also be discerned by matching his genealogy with a stone memorial found near Edinburgh. When Bede tells us Hengist was the ‘son of Vitgilsus, whose father was Vecta, son of Woden‘ we have a direct match up to an inscribed 6th century memorial called the Cat Stane, which stands in the precincts of Edinburgh Airport. It reads;

 In this tomb lies Vetta son of Victus


In an Anglo-Saxon poem known as  ‘The Fight at Finnesburh,’ Henghist & his men are described as being ‘Eotanas,‘ or ‘sons of Eotan.’ This really does suggest that Eotan was an earlier version of Woden, & that the etymology of Edinburgh – known as Etain in 638 – is actually ‘Eotan burh.‘ This of course also supports its being the ‘Saxon Rock’ of the L-G. A little extra confirmation comes through the academic concensus that Eotan was an early version of the name Jute, & the same name was applied to the Teutonic tribe which occupied Kent , which now explains how a Scotland-based Ochta should, according to the HB; ‘ after the death of his father Hengist, came from the sinistral part of the island to the kingdom of Kent, and from him have proceeded all the kings of that province, to the present period.’


The Frisians also connect to the reference of there being Cynocephali (dogheads) at Edinburgh in the Pa Gur poem. In an Old English manuscript on the Marvels of the East, the Cynocephali are glossed as ‘healf hundingas.‘ According to Scandinavian sagas, the Hundings had a feud with another tribe called the the Wulfings. Saxo Grammaticus describes how the Wulfing king, Helgo, slew Hundingus, king of Saxony, as in; “He conquered in battle Hundingus the son of Syricus, king of Saxony, at the city of Stadium (stade) and challenging him to a single combat overthrew him. For this reason he was called ‘the slayer of Hundingus,’ deriving a glorious surname from his victory.’ This places the Hundings in the region of Stade, at the mouth of the Rhine, &close enough to the Frisians to be counted among the latter’s number.

Note the proximity between Stade & East Frisia
Note the proximity between Stade & East Frisia


In light of all this information, we can see how the proto-English tribes of Angles, Saxons & Jutes controlled much more territory than historians think.  According to Skene their territory also stretched south into Galloway. It in that county’s most ancient & principle town, Dumfries, that we encounter the appropriate semantics. Skene writes; ‘It is clear the population of Dumfriesshire must have been one of the Saxon tribes. Among the cities of Britain enumerated by Nennius, there are two, Caer Breatan and Gaer Pheris; and as the first is certainly Dumbarton, and meant the city of the Britains, so, I think, the latter was Dumfries, or the city of the Frisians.’ Support comes from William of Malmesbury, who mentioned the discovery of the grave of Walwin (Gawain) in the year 1087: ‘He reigned a most renowned knight in that part of Britain which is still named Walweitha, but was driven from his kingdom by the brother and nephew of Hengist.’

With Walweitha becoming Galweithia, & then Galloway, we have deeper evidence of the arrival in Scotland of a Frisian contingent led by Octa and Ebissa, the son & nephew of Hengist. The thing is, the memory of their time in Scotland has almost been wiped from the map – & who, may we ask, did that. It was bloody King Arthur, werenit, & in doing so seems to have saved Scotland from becoming a part of England, & god bless that he did. I mean, can you imagine being a Calley Thistle fan & having to travel to Torquay for a Tuesday night game of football!

The Quest for the Holy Grail (part 7)



After his epic campaign of 509-510, Arthur goes off the radar for a few years, turning up again in c.516AD on his second campaign in Scotland. This saw two great battles/sieges – one at Edinburgh & the other at Dumbarton,  named in the HB as the Battles of Mounts Agnet & Badon respectively;

 The eleventh battle was fought on the mountain which is called Agnet. The twelfth was a most severe contest, when Arthur penetrated to the hill of Badon in which there fell in oneday 960 men from one charge by Arthur; no one but the Lord affording him assistance. 

Geoff chips in with, ‘Ebrauc also built the town of Alclud & the settlement of Mount Agned which is now called the castle of the Virgins & the Hill of Sorrows (Montem Dolosorum), facing Albany.‘ That Edinburgh was known as the Castle of Maidens back in Geoff’s day is proven in a papal bull of 1237, which names Holyrood as the ‘Monastery of the Holy Rood of the Castle of the Maidens.

Arthur’s fighting in the Edinburgh area is remembered in quite a distinctive way. On approaching the city of Edinburgh, the happy traveller will first notice from afar the wild & gigantic ruin of an ancient volcano. This compact & heathy wilderness is known as Holyrood Park, whose chief height is a soaring 800-foot high, lion-like edifice called Arthur’s Seat. During my chispological surveys in Edinburgh, I would often glance up through the windows of the National Library’s Rare-Book reading room, & gazed upon the peak as it dominated the skyline over Edinburgh’s rooftops. It was in that same & silent room, high on the 15th floor of the building, while reading through an obscure corner of Arthuriana one sunny day, that I came across the following passage in Thomas Mallory’s Morte D’Arthur;

Afore the time that Sir Galahad was born, there came in an hermit unto King Arthur, upon Whitsunday, as the knights sat at the Round Table. And when the hermit saw the seige perilous he asked the King& all the knights why the siege was void. King Arthur & all the knights answered, ‘there shall never one sit in that siee but one, but if he be destroyed.’ Then said the hermit, ‘What ye what is he?’ ‘Nay, said Arthur & all the Knights, we wot not who is he that shall sit therein.’ ‘Then wot I,’ said the hermit, ‘for he that shall sit there is unborn, & this same year he shall be born who shall sit there in that seige perilous, & he shall win the sangreal.


In medieval literature, the ‘Siege Perilous’ was a seat reserved at the Round Table for the knight who would successfully find the Holy Grail, called the ‘Sangreal’ by Mallory. Please join me for a moment high on the top floor of the National library, looking at that passage in Mallory, then looking up at Arthur’s Seat, then looking back down at the passage for a bit, & so on, for about two minutes, thinking why the hell would a chair be called a siege?

Ordering up some books on medieval orthography, I soon found out that at the time the Morte D’Arthur was composed – in the 15th century – the English language existed in some sort of lingual half-way house between the old Anglo-Saxon tongue of lets say, Beowulf, & the modern English farmed into life by Shakespeare. Inbetween these two compass points thrived a mad half-French, half-German, Latin-loving dialect known as Middle-English, under whose auspices the word ‘sege’ possessed two very different meanings, being;

(i) A prolongued military blockade of a fortified position (i.e. a siege)
(ii) A chair or throne

The first hint that Arthur fought in Edinburgh is found in a text written c.600 AD by a brilliant Welsh bard called Aneirien. In his famous & much-loved poem ‘Y Gododdin,‘ a host of warriors set off from Dun Eidyn (an old name for Edinburgh) to meet their bloody dooms in battle at a place called Catraeth. The poem contains only a single mention of Arthur, but it is the earliest record of him we have with that particular spelling, & as such is a significant treasure. Aneirin uses Arthur merely in an allusary capacity, as a comparison to the military efforts of a warrior called Gwenor.

Three centuries of soldiery lay slain
All slaughter’d from the centre to the edge
His leadership inspired & gentle glow’d
As thro harsh winters barley fill’d his horses
Now sable ravens cloak these fortress walls
Of choking fire, & there an Arthur fought
Right at the heart of warring’s weariness
Heroic pass-defender, Gwenor praise!

Gwenor is – significantly – defending a fortress, but this is far too loose a connection to make any proud claims about ‘confirming my theory.’ Saying that, just as with criminal cases, every little bit of evidence, however circumstantial, helps us paint the best possible picture of past events. All In the case of Anerin’s Arthur, we can at least raise the possibility of people in the 6th century understanding that Arthur once fought at some ‘fortress walls,’ whose efforts were later compared to a warrior from Edinburgh.

Later on in the bardic tradition of the Welsh, we encounter a more concrete association between Arthur & Edinburgh. It is found buried in a collection of poems known as ‘The Black Book of Carmarthen,‘ thought by scholars to date from the middle of the thirteenth century. In the heart of one of these poems, the charming list of obscure Arthurian battles known as Pa Gur, we are told;

On the heights of Eidyn
He fought with cynocephali.
By the hundreds they fell
To Bedwyr’s four-pronged spear.

Dunsapie Fort
Dunsapie Fort

The mention of these ‘heights’ suggests a battle fought all across Edinburgh’s seven hills. To this day, Arthur’s Seat & its surrounding uplands bear traces of Iron-Age hillforts, such as the one at Dunsapie Fort. This is definitely a potential siege-spot, but the best defense of the area would have been conducted from the summit of the ‘crag & tail’ heap of volcanic rock on which Old Edinburgh spreads like a spiky duvet. But, wherever the battle was factually ought, & whether it was a siege or not, Pa Gur clearly places our boy in Edinburgh. Another text that places Arthur in Edinburgh is the 13th century, Norman-French Lancelot-Grail cycle, that although not specifically mentioning Edinburgh by name , is clearly talking about the Scottish capital & its environs. At one point its poet declares;

The King is at Arestel in Scotland,& as soon as you reach there, you’ll find him laying siege to Saxon Rock.

 What first caught my eye was the name Arestel, which could well have lent its name to Restalrig, an area of Leith which I know very well, living as I do just off Easter Road. In fact, I’ve caught the single-decker number 25 to Restalrig many times – its usually a bit cramped but its not so bad a journey. Dropping the ‘a’ of Arestal gives us Restal, & a couple of miles from the great precipitous rock of Edinburgh lies an area called Restalrig. The ‘rig’ element comes from the Scottish world for field, as in other Edinburgh place-names such as Pilrig & Bonnyrig, rendering Restalrig as the ‘Field of Restal.’

The first record of the name is actually Lastalric (1178), which the expert on Edinburgh place names, Stuart Harris, says derives from the the Anglian lastal or lestal – i.e. marsh. In the L-G, Lancelot’s camp was said to be only guarded at the front, for to the rear, ‘the water was so deep no-one would have set foot there because of the muddy marsh.‘ This, of course, gives us a ‘lestal,’ & the water-body mentioned must have been the lake at Lochend, which covered a far greater surface area in Dark Age times than it does today. That it was once a muddy mire was still remembered in the 16th century by John Knox, but today that much-reduced body of water is just the wee center piece of a lovely little park. Its rather nice, thoug, & I occasionally find myself there downing a few beers with my mates on those rare, sunny, Scottish, summer days.

Lochend Park
Lochend Park

During the early medieval period, the same Norman poets who worked on literary works such as the LG, began to show a predilection for changing l’s to r’s, a philological process known as rhotacism, providing a perfectly plausible background to the name -hange of Lestal to Restal. As the romantic ‘Arestal,’ it is also mentioned as the place where King Lot of Lothian summoned a council of war, again supporting Restalrig as the LG’s Arestal. In addition, the romances state that Arestal was famous for its fine hunting grounds, giving us a direct connection to the hunting grounds of Holyrood Park. William Bryce records;

It appears that the wide tract of land from the western boundary of the Burgh Muir round to Holyrood was, in the twelfth century, ” ane gret forest full of hartis, hyndis, toddis (foxes), and siclike maner of beastis,” which was then known as the forest of Drumselch — the hunting hill — and now as Drumsheugh. This was the favourite hunting ground of King David when residing in the Castle.

It is fair to imagine that the Saxon Rock of the L-G is the Castle Rock of Edinburgh, with the ‘rock’ element having derived from the Alauna given by Ptolemy as a fortress of the Votadini, whose lands stretched from Lothian to Hadrian’s Wall. Alauna means ‘rock place,’ & archeologists have discovered traces of Roman & sub-roman occupation on Castle Rock. They were found amidst the ‘midden deposits’ – i.e. ancient layers of rubbish which led ST Driscoll to conclude was, ‘oblique evidence that an aristocratic household flourished there.’ Its a bit like rifling through someone’s bins & finding a receipt for John Lewis’s amidst well-packaged boxes, rather than plastic bags from the Aldi down Leith. This at least places a sub-roman presence at Edinburgh, backing-up any Arthurian siege of the place.

When the tale tells us ‘the rock was lofty… nor could one besiege it from any side,‘ we gain an excellent match for Edinburgh’s natural fortified situation. 1500 years ago, Edinburgh’s rocky loftiness would have ensured major problems for anyone trying to ascend the difficult climbs, especially when laden down with weapons. An attack against a Dark-Age Edinburgh Castle would have been channelled along only a narrow rise of land, as if they were the hordes of Persia assaulting the Spartans at Thermopylae. The city’s defenses would have been bolstered by the Nor Loch, where today’s Princes Gardens sit so splendidly today, fitting in with the LG’s, ‘on the other side, the marsh was so vast that nothing could enter it.’ The precise origins of the Nor’ Loch are much contested, but there is evidence to suggest that a large body of water existed in the ice-age-hewn valley to the north of the Castle Rock as far back as 15,000 years ago. This illustration of Edinburgh from 1460 shows the Nor Loch before it was drained;


The depressions on both sides of Castle Rock suggest that in former times the whole of Edinburgh’s Old Town, except for the causeway down to Holyrood, was surrounded by water – perhaps even in Arthur’s day. This painting by Slezer (1690) shows how the water added to the defences of Castle Rock on its northern side. We can also see in the LG the correct geographical position for Arthur’s camp having been somewhere about around Arthur’s Seat. When we are told of the, ‘gate on the side toward Arthur’s men, in the slope of the rock, just above the water,’ we gain a perfect match for Edinburgh castle’s main entrance looking out east towards Arthur’ Seat. This is some of the best evidence there is to say that – yes, Arthur did make camp on Arthur’s Seat, & yes – he did co-ordinate a siege from the safety of its slopes.


 Re-examining the evidence= for a moment, the phonetics of Agnet are more of a match for Auchendinny, the site of a dark-age hillfort a few miles to the south of Edinburgh near Penicuik. Analyzing the L-G again, one discovers that there were in fact two battles fought in the campaign the siege at Edinburgh & a massive fight in the nearby ‘Narrows of Godolente.’ This lovely name contains both the Welsh spelling of the Votadini tribe, & the Ptolemy’s Latin version, as in;

God-odin (Welsh) Ot-alini (Latin)

The full passage reads; ‘When the Saxons had fled as far as the Narrows of Godelonte, the stream that ran below the causeway changed its colour, more than 2000 plunged into the marshes & perished there.’ After this battle, the LG tells us, ‘the king’s forces pursued their enemy all the way to Malaguine, a mighty saxon fortress, & they came back with many prisoners & had killed many of their foes.’ Malaguine seems a combination of Melrose & the same Guinnion at Stow-on-Wedale where Arthur fought his eighth battle. That Auchendinny is situated in the ‘Narrows’ makes perfect sense, for these would be the several miles of fertile plains that lie between the Lammermuir & Pentland. hills.

Finally, during the L-G’s siege of Edinburgh, Arthur & his nephew Guerrehet became captives in Edinburgh castle itself. We are told how Arthur was completely enamoured with a red-hot bird called Gamille, the Maiden of the Castle, & how he & Guerrhet made a sneaky move inside the castle in order to get laid – & how after they did the business, they were taken prisoner by the Saxons. The tale tells us;

Then the King lay down with his ladylove in a splendid bed, & Guerrehet lay with a beautiful maiden in an other room. After the king had lain a long time with his ladylove & had his way with her, more than forty knights entered the tower, fully armed& with naked swords, & forced open the door to the room.


According to the LG, Gamille was a sorceress who, ‘knew more about enchantments than any other maiden in the land. She was very beautiful… She was as much in love with King Arthur as she could possibly be.’ This leads us to the following passage in the Welsh Triads;

And one Prisoner, who was more exalted than the three of them, was three nights in prison in Caer Oeth and Anoeth, and three nights imprisoned by Gwen Pendragon, and three nights in an enchanted prison under the Stone of Echymeint. This Exalted Prisoner was Arthur. And it was the same lad who released him from each of these three prisons – Goreu, son of Custennin, his cousin.

Surely we can see how Guerrehet of the LG should be Goreu of the Triads, & how Arthur’s imprisonment with the sorceress Gamille is nothing but a mirror to his imprisonment at the hands of Gwen Pendragon. The names ‘Oeth & Anoeth’ also ring highly familiar with ‘Otalini’ & ‘Agned’ & are worthy of deeper investigation.

In light of our quest, this is the first time we hear of the Grail… not directly connected to Arthur just yet, but as the chief subject of a Norman-French romance whose author seems to have both been in Edinburgh & also known uniquely recorded details about Arthur’s siege of Saxon Rock. Later on in our quest we will be returning to this very district in our search for the Grail, but before we leave for now, I think we should examine a little more the Saxon presence in Edinburgh