STRIFE AT CAMLANN
Because King Arthur’s historicity is not connected with the fifth century, the strife at Camlann–not recorded in the battlelist of The Historia Brittonum–should likewise be ascribed to Ambrosius Aurelianus.
As with several other sites such as Camelot, Avalon, and Badon, the location of King Arthur’s battle (that is, Ambrosius Aurelianus’s battle) at Camlann is also controversial . As the HTML on this site mentions, one common location is on Hadrian’s Wall at Birdoswald overlooking the River Irthing. Etymological clues, although at times they are unreliable and inaccurate, offer suppositions of Camlann’s geographic location. However, Camboglanna is outside Ambrosius’s’s arena if one accepts the Historia Brittonum‘s declaration that Ambrosius–not Arthur–was fighting against Hengist and the Anglians. What makes more sense is that Arthur’s battle-list is more logically attributed to Lucius Artorius Castus, with the Battle of Badon being an exception. In The Heroic Age Linda Malcor, based on the assumption that the battle-list attributed to Arthur in the Historia Brittonum should rightly be credited to Lucius Artorius, traces his itinerary to the north along Hadrian’s Wall and to the overlook of the River Irthing, Lucius Artorius’s battleground, not Ambrosius’s.
In The Quest for King Arthur, Geoffrey Ashe puts forth two different possibilities in his presentation of Camlann which I quoted in The Historic King Arthur. First, “The River Camel [in Cornwall near Slaughter Bridge] is often stated to be the scene of the battle of Camlann.” Then, on the very next page, he selects–as the best of three possibilities for the Camlann site–Camboglanna in Cumberland, “better than the other two etymologically but perhaps not historically.” The first is a reference to literary tradition and Geoffrey of Monmouth, the second a speculation offered by a number of different scholars.
In a different book, The Discovery of King Arthur, which embraces the thesis that Arthur was a fifth- rather than a second- century figure, Ashe follows the same pattern of mixing literary tradition and historical speculation without making a clear distinction. After some initial hesitation, he becomes more explicit about the location of Camlann, voicing a different possibility from that in The Quest for Arthur’s Britain:
The real location is not clear. Camlann probably means “crooked bank,.” and more than one river has the “crooked” element in its name. The only place called Camlan today is a valley in Merioneth in northwestern Wales with a small river flowing down it.
More than likely, he meant that Camboglanna (not Camlann) should be defined as “crooked bank,” and that Merioneth is the territory adjacent to Gwynedd. He refers to a valley by the name of Camlann–spelled with one “n” rather than two–unlocatable on modern maps, although there is an Afon Gamlan about five miles north of Dolgellau.
Ashe then offers a novel proposal, linking an Arthur–but not the Arthur–to a Camlann 50 or 60 years after the death of the Arthur. His disclaimers of Camlann appear in several passages:
- It [Camlann] hangs in a void, with nothing to show where it came from, no means of checking it against history, and an almost incredible date.
- No linkage of Arthur’s name with Camlann–indeed no Camlann–can be proved before the Annals in the tenth century.
- Here [in Camlann] if anywhere is the case for a second, lesser Arthur, who came to be confused with the first.
From a different perspective, Steve Blake and Scott Lloyd contend that the fifth-century Celtic Arthur most likely fought the Battle of Camlann near the Afon Gamlan to the north of Dolgellau. They write:
From various Welsh sources it is possible to build up a picture of what took place on the battlefield at Afon Gamlan: the Brut details the people killed and the events of the battle, one of the Triads describes the dividing of Arthur’s army on three occasions, and the references to the battle in the native bardic poetry all suggest that it was a ferocious encounter and a turning point in the history of the Kingdom of Prydein.
Initially, before I had visited and inspected the site at Nevern. I was ambivalent about the geographic location of Camlann, even though in my first book I devoted an entire chapter to “The Geography of Camlann.” I didn’t enthusiastically promote a particular site but instead remained more objective in evaluating others’ conjectures. In my second book I once again devoted a chapter to “The Strife of Camlann,” after hotel proprietors Ralph and Beatrix Davies in Fishguard, Wales, convinced me to change my itinerary and investigate a church called Saint Brynach’s at Nevern. The elucidation of artifacts and geographic location led me to new perspectives about Camlann. St. Brynach’s Church is seemingly inconspicuous and modest, but it bears treasures beyond belief for those interested in the fifth century and Arthuriana.
A pamphlet distributed by the vicar, churchwardens and parishioners, independent of any reference to Arthur or the strife of Camlann, offers astounding information which, unbeknownst to them, establishes the most probable site for the strife of Camlann.
A “Walk Round the Outside” is described in this manner:
Celtic Chieftains and Priests were of similar status and it was customary for the chieftain to grant to the Priest a piece of ground as sacred ground or “Llan,” a rill of water forming a convenient boundary between them. The water was used also for both sacred and secular purposes. This particular brook flows behind the back tower and separates the church and sacred llan, from the Chieftain’s hillfort beyond the back trees. The brook is called Caman Brook and the “Llan” comprises the ground within the wall of the old graveyard, separating it from the Chieftain’s stronghold. This in itself seems beyond coincidence, sacred ground called llan in Welsh, separated by a brook named Caman. Caman Llan, Camlann, Ambrosius’s last strife.
Photo: A bridge across Caman Brook, Galen R. Fryringer | www.galenfrysinger.com/wales_nevern.htm
There is no historic evidence indicating that King Arthur existed in the fifth century. Neither Gildas Badonicus in the fifth century nor Bede in the eighth century mention a historic King Arthur. The copyist Nennius records a list of twelve battles fought by Arthur, who is not given the title of king, but Nennius no doubt accepted the Arthur mentioned in Aneirin’s poem of the sixth century to be King Arthur of the fifth century, for some reason ignoring that there was no such king recorded by Gildas and Bede. Nennius attributes the final battle in that battlelist–the battle of Badon–to the wispy shadow of Arthur, but he gives no information about Camlann, the internecine strife which Gildas touches upon in his castigation of Constantine.
One brief notice is given about Camlann in the Annales Cambriae, that “Arthur and Medraut fell.” Medraut becomes a new name recorded in Arthuriana, vaguely touched upon by Gildas in Section 28, who assumes a major role in the Brut Tysilio and Monmouth’s History of the Kings of Britain. Even though these latter two works cannot be classified as history, the only other option is that Ambrosius Aurelianus is the sole figure who can be linked to both the Battle of Badon, the strife of Camlann, and the continental war against Euric the Visigoth. Ambrosius is
- noted by Gildas and Bede as a historical figure of the fifth century;
- labeled as a “great king among all the kings of Britain” by Nennius;
- the opponent of the Anglians, specifically Hengist, Horsa, and Octha as identified in the Historia.
- recorded in The Historia Brittonum’s “Tale of Emrys” which relates that
- a. his father (Constantius III) was of Roman extraction and twice was a consulibus with Emperor Honorius;
b. he had extraordinary powers and was characterized as a magus;
5 under the protection of Guithelinus/Vitalinus, who is recorded in British history;
- the “Briton king from across Ocean,” whose epithet was Riothamus.
What further verifies Ambrosius’s veracity is a gravemarker honoring Vitalianus as his guardian, and the memorial slab for Maglocunus ap Clutor whose clan was probably Ambrosius’s adversary. Click here to see the Guithelinus-Cyhelin-Vitalinus page for further details.
Inside St. Brynach Church
Entry into St. Brynach Church
At lower center is the
top segment of the
Galen R. Frysinger
The Norman church tower, bounded by Caman Brook.
St. Brynach’s Churchyard. Caman Brook flows behind the back tower.