Thursday, 27 March 2014

On The Trail of my 13th Century Ancestors

In the beginning there was the Domesday

I was in Cornwall at the beginning of the week and today I have whizzed across the boarder into the County of Devon, to the tiny village of Meavy in search of my thirteenth century ancestors. The spelling of Meavy's varies but its appears originally as Mewy and it is this spelling I am interested in. Alice Mewy added this manor, which had been held by her family under the Lordship of the Pomeroy family since 1236, to that of the lands of her husbands family which within two generations takes me back to sunny Cornwall.


After the conquest of England, the Manor of Meavy was given to Robert the Bastard, who some claim to be the illegitimate son of the Conquer, but I am not convinced. Mewy at Domesday is listed as having:

Taxable units: Taxable value 0.5 geld units.
Value: Value to lord in 1086 £0.4. Value to lord c. 1070 £0.3.
Households: 2 smallholders. 1 slave.
Ploughland: 2 ploughlands (land for). 1 lord's plough teams.
Other resources: 0.25 lord's lands. Meadow 2 acres. Pasture 0.5 league * 2 furlongs mixed measures. Woodland 0.5 acres.

Just waiting to hear from the Devon Records Office then I start my travels forward in time keeping you informed along the way and will be posting my full Mewy family history at some point on my genealogy page

I'll start at the beginning with this image of Meavy in the Domesday book.

Sunday, 9 March 2014

Excalibur, Arthur Pendragon's Story set in Stone.

                            The Sword in the Stone

Excalibur, Arthur Pendragon's mighty blade, did this hero of romantic legend have such a sword and if he did, where did its story begin?
I should point out, before you read on, that most people think that the sword which King Arthur pulls from the stone is the mythical Excalibur, it isn't, there were two swords. Excalibur was given to Arthur by the Lady in the Lake toward the end of his life, and as Arthur's story ends it is thrown back to where it came, a hand rising from the lake to catch it and then it disappears. The drawing of the sword from the stone takes place before Arthur is king and is not, I don't think, ever mentioned again. It is in Thomas Malory's story La Morte D'Arthur, written in the late fifteen century, that both swords are merged into one and called Excalibur and this is the reason we think of only one sword today. So where does the story of the Sword in the Stone originate? 

Lying inside Rotonda di Montesiepi or Montesiepi's Hermitage in Tuscany, there is what is known as St.Galgano's Sword, it has been embedded in a stone for over eight hundred years which is around the time that Geoffrey of Monmouth was writing is Historia Regum Britanniae, it is in this work that we get the first glimpses of the legendary Arthur. Was it from this sword we see below that Monmouth got his inspiration?


St Galgano's sword

The tale of King Arthur's sword appears in the twelfth century work by Geoffrey of Monmouth called, as just mentioned, Historia Regum Britanniae. The sword was named Caliburnus, from the Welsh word Caledfwlch. Monmouth got his inspiration for his work from three men, Bede, Nennius and Gildas and it is Gildas that is of interest here. Gildas was a six century cleric, his work is an important source for those interested in the legend of Arthur because he wrote of the events and the people of his own time and this fact makes him a contemporary of King Arthur. Four centuries later, Gildas, or the followers of Gildas are mentioned in the tenth century Annales Cambriae or Annals of Wales where these followers rose up against King Arthur, refusing to acknowledge him as king. We can place Gildas in the early history of Cornwall, and we know that he did have many followers living Cornwall after his death. My 5x great grandmother was Patience Tregilgas whose family I have traced to a piece of land just outside Mevagissy in Cornwall called Tregilgas. Tre is Cornish for home and therefore this piece of land is the ancient settlement of some of the followers of Gildas.

Photograph of the settlement of Gildas taken by me in 2005
If Gildas talks of a powerful Cornish tribal leader then Monmouth would have based his Arthurian story on Gildas accounts probably embellishing the facts and here we see the very beginnings of an English legend.


       Geoffrey of Monmouth story of Arthur in his Historia Regum Britanniae

As we know in the legend, Arthur's sword is set deep a large stone and, as we have seen, the Sword of St Galgano too is embedded in a rock, but the similarity between this sword's story and that of Arthur's ends there. Arthur's sword is representative of his future kingship and glory this will bring, Galgano's sword, however, is a symbol of brutality and piety. Arthur's takes his sword from the stone, Galgano places his in the stone, Arthur's story and that of St Galgano's are a mirror image of each other. All the known facts that make up Arthur's story, Geoffrey of Monmouth had put together from what he read in the writing of Gildas, and probably what he read of his Cornish followers in the Annales of Wales, it is unlikely that Gildas wrote of a Cornish tribal leader who a embedded a sword in a stone. If it wasn't from Gildas that Monmouth gets his idea of a mythical sword it would be wonderful to think that Monmouth's idea of Excalibur comes from the story of St Galgano's sword, but it sadly it does not.

However, whose to say that it was not the other way around, after all Arthur's and Galgano's tale is a mirror image of each others, they both occur at almost the same time, could it be that Monmouth's Caliburnus, was used by the people of Tuscany to explain their sword and Arthur's Sword in the Stone tale begins here.

Saint Galgano was born Galgano Guidotti in 1148 in Chiusdino, a village in what is now the modern province of Siena in Italy. Galango was said to have been a medieval Tuscan knight, the son of a feudal lord. Galgano had a reputation for selfishness and being somewhat of a rebel in his youth. Galgano, after have a vision of the Archangel Michael, saw the error of his ways, abandoning his old life for that of a hermit at Rotonda di Montesiepi. To prove his total commitment to his new cause Galgano plunged his sword into a large stone forcing it through the rock up to its hilt, thus changing the sword into a cross a symbol of his new found piety. Galgano died here on 30 November 1181 and since then pilgrims have arrived in large numbers and miracles have been performed. A papal commission was set up in 1185, after which Galgano was canonised in 1190. For centuries the sword was thought to be a fake, but researchers revealed in 2001 that the sword is in fact, twelfth century. The University of Pavia, who tested the metal of the sword also used ground penetrating radar analysis and revealed that beneath the sword there was a cavity in which is thought to be the body of Galgano. Incidentally, in the church, there are two mummified hands and these too are twelfth century. A local legend says that anyone who tried to remove the sword from the stone had their arms ripped off.


                                                       Galgano Guidotti vision of the Archangel Michael  

With such a story as this, do we really want to believe that this real and unusual occurrence on a small Tuscan hillside plays no part in the Arthurian legend?

Geoffrey of Monmouth wasn't the only one writing of the legend of King Arthur in the twelfth century, French writer Chretien de Troyes wrote of the legend too. Where then did Troyes get his inspiration? It was Troyes who introduced the tales of Lancelot and Sir Percival, both these knights are never mentioned by Monmouth, so Monmouth wasn't where Troyes got his ideas, in fact no one really knows where he got them. There was another writer whose stories were written a little later than Monmouth and Troyes named Robert de Boron. Boron wrote The Grail Story of Joseph d'Arimathe and the story of Merlin and it is here in Borons tales that for the first time that we may have our answer. Boron's predecessors only wrote of Excaliber but it is here that we first hear of Arthur actually pulling out a sword. Boron's sword was not drawn from a stone but from an anvil which is placed upon a stone, it is interesting that Boron's tale appears only a few decades after Galgano's canonisation.
Robert of Boron's  tale sets Arthur's story in stone. 

In Monmouth's history, we witness the birth of a heroic leader, a bold adventurer who lays conquest over many lands, a leader who slays a Cornish giant and who heads for the Isle of Avalon to heal his wounds. Cretien de Troyes may have picked up some threads of Monmouth's history and Malory's, Morte d'Arthur, published in 1485 by Caxton, would have been a book devoured by the medieval world and we know for certain that Henry VII read it. He was fascinated by the tale, and why wouldn't he, after all he was desperate to be a king like Arthur, here was a king to aspire too. Henry VII named his first born son Arthur and insisted that his wife give birth at Winchester, the spiritual home of Arthur's Round Table. So were doe's Galgano appear in this tale? Did the pilgrims talk of the story of Arthur when they saw the sword, was it a clever marketing ploy to attract more visitors? and was Robert de Boron inspired by Monmouth's stories and St Galgano's embedded stone to write what we have come to know as the tale of King Arthur and the Sword in the Stone.