of the Arthurian accounts
written after the 11th century
name 'Camlann' as
the location where Arthur fought his last battle against the forces of his
rebellious son Mordred (the Cornish version of the name), and where Arthur was mortally wounded and then carried
off to his final burial on the Isle of Avalon. Was this a historical
event or just the stuff of legend ? And if historical, where did the
conflict occur ?
the historical leader, is understood to have lived in the late 5th
or early 6th
century and the conflict at
Camlann is variously placed between 515 and 542.
The above entry (early 12th century copy of 6th century entries) is the
earliest historical mention we have of the name,
and is now accepted by most scholars as authentic. The next mentions
of 'Camlan' are in the Welsh Tales Culhwch and Olwen
(after 950) and The Dream of Rhonabwy (after 1200).
The actual name is not used by other medieval writers,
who nevertheless write extensively about the battle.
location is debated among scholars. Locals want to claim Arthur for their own benefit, and writers compete to establish their theory, based on very
slim evidence. But early accounts give no indication: the
Annales, (below) for example, do not even say whether Arthur and
Mordred were on the same or opposing sides.
of Monmouth (c.1136) locates the battle 'towards Cornwall . . . [at]
the River Camblam'.2
This location, said to be
at Slaughter Bridge, is proposed in some of the medieval
romances, but the only archeological evidence of a battle here was for one
fought in 823 between Saxons and Cornish Britons. The
geographical location, Arthur's birth region, and the name of the river,
are the main 'evidence' for this site.
Crawford, in the 19th century proposed Birdoswald in Scotland,
west of Hadrian's wall: the Roman Camboglanna,
based mostly on a suggested Welsh translation of the Roman
name as Camlan ('crooked glen or bank'), but which may have
been a common place name. Three locations in Wales, for
example, are still called Camlan. Rodney Castleden
has recently supported a Welsh Camlann location, by the River
candidate for the site is at South Cadbury, in Somerset. The River Cam flows between Cadbury and Sparkford, at the foot of
an impressive iron age hill fort, which excavations in the 1960s showed
was re-fortified around 470 A.D., making it a prime candidate for
an Arthurian stronghold, if not the original 'Camelot' of the medieval
romances. Indeed, there is a long tradition in Cadbury associating
the hill with Arthur: a legend that Arthur sleeps under the
hill; a mention by the historian William Camden in the late 1500s
that the villagers referred to the hill as 'Arthur's Palace'.
is the area we have chosen for our village setting. It has
archeological, traditional, and place name associations with Arthur.
We want to re-create a typical medieval village, not a particular one, and
the fact that the historical Camlann location is uncertain, and that
Arthurian romances were very popular in the 14th century, were two good reasons
for us to choose the name for our project. At some point we will
construct a 'typical village history', going back to the battle of
Camlann, to be spun out by a village story-teller, which will allow us to
illustrate how villages changed and developed, and were passed on by
different owners, over the 1000 years of the
Britain, pp.45-7, Leslie Alcock, Penguin Press, 1971
Regum Britanniae, (History of the Kings of Britain), London Folio
King Arthur, the truth behind the
legend, Routledge, NY, 2000