King Arthur (in Welsh: Brenin Arthur) was a legendary British leader who, according to medieval histories and romances, led the defense of Britain against Saxon invaders in the late 5th and early 6th centuries.
The details of Arthur’s story are mainly composed of Welsh and English folklore and literary invention. The sparse historical background of Arthur is gleaned from various sources, including the Annales Cambriae, the Historia Brittonum, and the writings of Gildas. Arthur’s name also occurs in early poetic sources such as Y Gododdin.
King Arthur and Geoffrey of Monmouth
Arthur is a central figure in the legends making up the Matter of Britain written by Geoffrey of Monmouth.The legendary Arthur Pendragon developed as a figure of international interest largely through the popularity of Geoffrey of Monmouth’s fanciful and imaginative 12th-century Historia Regum Britanniae (History of the Kings of Britain).
In some Welsh and Breton tales and poems that date from before this work, Arthur appears either as a great warrior defending Britain from human and supernatural enemies or as a magical figure of folklore. Sometimes Arthur is associated with the Welsh otherworld Annwn. How much of Geoffrey’s Historia (completed in 1138) was adapted from such earlier sources, rather than invented by Geoffrey himself, is unknown.
Who was Geoffrey of Monmouth?
Geoffrey was born between about 1090 and 1100, in Wales or the Welsh Marches. He had reached the age of majority by 1129 when he is recorded as witnessing a charter.
Geoffrey refers to himself in his Historia as Galfridus Monemutensis (Geoffrey of Monmouth), which indicates a significant connection to Monmouth, Wales, and may refer to his birthplace. His works attest to some acquaintance with the place-names of the region. Geoffrey was known to his contemporaries as Galfridus Arturus or variants thereof.
Some historians have suggested that Geoffrey’s parents may have been among the many Bretons who took part in William I’s conquest and settled in the southeast of Wales. Monmouth had been in the hands of Breton lords since 1075or 1086.
Geoffrey is said to served for a while in the Benedictine Monmouth Priory, but most of his adult life appears to have been spent outside Wales. Between 1129 and 1151, his name appears on six charters in the Oxford area. He was probably a secular canon of St. George’s college. All the charters signed by Geoffrey are also signed by Walter, Archdeacon of Oxford, a canon at that church. Another frequent co-signatory is Ralph of Monmouth, a canon of Lincoln.
He appears to have died between 25 December 1154 and 24 December 1155 according to Welsh chronicles, when his successor took office.
Raglan Castle (Welsh: Castell Rhaglan) is a late medieval castle located just north of the village of Raglan in the county of Monmouthshire in south east Wales. The modern castle dates from between the 15th and early 17th centuries, when the successive ruling families of the Herberts and the Somersets created a luxurious, fortified castle, complete with a large hexagonal keep, known as the Great Tower or the Yellow Tower of Gwent. Surrounded by parkland, water gardens and terraces, the castle was considered by contemporaries to be the equal of any other in England or Wales.
However in Geoffrey of Monmouth’s lifetime, there was not a castle but a manor. After the Norman invasion of Wales (1081 – 1094) the village of Raglan was granted to William FitzOsbern, the Earl of Hereford.
Some historians suspect that an early motte and bailey castle—a fortification with a wooden or stone keep situated on a raised area of ground called a motte, accompanied by a walled courtyard, or bailey, surrounded by a protective ditch and palisade. A motte and bailey castle may have been built on the Raglan site during this period. The location had strategic importance and archaeologists have discovered the remains of a possible bailey ditch on the site.
The current Raglan Castle was begun by Sir William ap Thomas, the lesser son of a minor Welsh family who rose through the ranks of mid-15th century politics, profiting from the benefits of the local offices he held.
Did King Arthur live in the Raglan Castle?
Hmm, doubtful. Historians and mythology place Arthur in the 5th and 6th centuries. The existence of a manor is thought to date back at least as far as after the Norman invasion (1081-1094)
Geoffrey of Monmouth was born in Monmouth between 1090 and 1100. So, it’s conceivable he either lived in the manor or observed it’s construction. He may have served for a while in the Benedictine Monmouth Priory. It’s reasonable that Geoffrey might have based the Arthur’s castle on the Raglan Manor.
That’s my theory at least. What’s yours? Do you think King Arthur lived in the Raglan Castle?
Debora Ragland Buerk
The Write Stuff
Looking at life from a different POV.
P.S. More about the Raglan Castle in an upcoming post. Stay tuned for more Ragland Family History.