Book Corner: Warriors and Kings by Martin Wall

For centuries, the Celtic peoples of Britain stood fast against invasion and oppression. Theirs is a fascinating and exciting story that includes the deeds of some of the most tenacious and heroic leaders in history – from Caratacus and Boudicca to William Wallace, Owain Glyndwr and the legendary King Arthur. What was it that gave first the Britons, and then the Welsh, this fanatical will to hold out against overwhelming odds through so many centuries?

Martin Wall explores the mythology and psychology of this unyielding and insular people; their devotion to charismatic leaders they believed to be sent from God, and their stubborn determination ‘ne’er to yield’ to oppression and injustice, whether Roman, Saxon, Norman, Viking, or later, the ravages of industrialisation. This fascinating book explores Celtic Britain from before the onslaught of the Roman Empire, through rebellion and open war, to the Act of Union passed under the Tudors and on to the Victorian era.

Warriors and Kings: The 1500-year Battle for Celtic Britain is a treasure trove of information on the history  of the Celts. Charting their progress, trials and tribulations from the time of the Romans, it provides a unique, in-depth biography of the race that once occupied Britain.

Boadicea Haranguing The Britons by John Opie.

Opening with the first Roman invasion of Britain, Martin Wall takes the reader on a journey through England through the eyes of the Celts, providing a detailed and interesting analysis of their way of life, their culture and beliefs and the key points in the history of the Celtic peoples and – by extension – Britain itself. Warriors and Kings: The 1500-year Battle for Celtic Britain gives us insight into the key characters of Celtic Britain, the heroes and the villains.

Using and analysing contemporary sources Warriors and Kings: The 1500-year Battle for Celtic Britain tells the fascinating story of Boudicca’s – ultimately doomed – rebellion. The book also discusses the existence – or not – of King Arthur, offering theories and ideas as to his identity; while leaving the reader to decide for themselves who he may have been.

The real problem which has bedevilled researchers into a ‘factual’ Arthur is that his rise to power coincided with the collapse of Roman Britain and the re-emergence or revival of Celtic culture – combined with a barbarian onslaught of unprecedented intensity from the Saxons. In times so troubled few contemporary records were kept up, but a little later, after the events but close enough to them to be reliably informed, Gildas wrote his De Excidio et conquestu Britanniae, his ‘complaining book’, about the ‘ruination of Britain’

Martin Wall has produced a book that is both enjoyable and informative, providing balanced argument and analysis of all the major events and figures of Celtic Britain. Making good use of contemporary and near-contemporary literature and archaeology, the story is re-told in a fascinating chronological narrative. Drawing on historians from earliest times, such as Tacitus and Gildas, all the way to the most recent studies, Martin Wall pulls everything together in order to tell the story.

Warriors and Kings: The 1500-year Battle for Celtic Britain charts the 1500-year-long struggle for supremacy over the island of Britain, showing how the Celts have been faced with one invasion after another. Using the battles, conflicts and invasions, we follow the fate of the Celts from the Romans, through the Dark Ages and in to the reign of King Alfred. The wonderful Aethelflaed, Lady of Mercia, and her struggle with the Vikings leads into the Norman Conquest and further erosion of Celtic traditions, with the invaders pushing inexorably westwards. There are some fascinating insights into Celtic culture and history; for example, did you know that small enclaves of Celts existed in Mercia during the 5th and 6th centuries?

By the late 570s it was clear that several powerful Anglo-Saxon kings were poised ready to move westwards. In the north, King Aethelric of Deira commenced hostilities with Rheged. A bold Anglian attack thrust right over the Pennines and at Argoed Llyfein, the forest of Leven in Cumbria, Aethelric, nicknamed the ‘Flame-bearer’ by the Celtic bards (perhaps his army had marched through the mountain passes in a night attack), was confronted on a bleak Saturday morning by the mighty Urien. The Angles were soundly beaten and Urien became a legendary Brythonic hero. This did not end the war, but intensified it until it became an epic conflict – truly worthy of poetry and legend, a contest between ‘Dark Age’ super-powers.

King Arthur and his Knights have a vision of the Holy Grail a by Evrard d’Espinques

 

Warriors and Kings: The 1500-year Battle for Celtic Britain demonstrates that, despite its name, ‘Dark Age’ Britain is anything but the unknown entity as previously thought. We have a wealth of information on people and events and Martin Wall has brought all the disparate sources – legends, chronicles and poems – together to recreate and enlighten a hitherto underexposed era of British history.

The author’s analysis is clear, concise and informative. He makes it clear where his own theories and those of other historians either agree or digress, while always being respectful. There are no footnotes, but references are included as part of the text, with a bibliography at the back of the book. The sources are assessed on an individual basis, with Martin Wall giving clear views on their veracity, bias and – sometimes – exaggeration.

For fans of Bernard Cornwell, Matthew Harffy and Annie Whitehead, this book gives the historical background to their fabulous novels, explaining the origins and times of Uhtred, Beobrand and Aethelflaed (even if Uhtred and Beobrand are fictional).

Warriors and Kings: The 1500-year Battle for Celtic Britain examines every aspect of Celitc history; their language, literature, religion and, even, warfare. It charts their story through the centuries and provides some explanation of how they disappeared into legend, their enclaves getting smaller and smaller as other tribes grew in power and influence over Britain. The book is a pleasure to read and a useful addition to any book shelf – be it a fan of King Arthur, a lover of Boudicca or a general history lover.

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Pictures courtesy of Wikipedia

Warriors and Kings: The 1500-year Battle for Celtic Britain by Martin Wall is available from Amberley Publishing and Amazon.

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My book, Heroines of the Medieval World, looking into the lives of some of the most fascinating women from medieval history, will be published by Amberley on 15th September, 2017. It is now available for pre-order in the UK from both Amberley Publishing and Amazon and worldwide from Book Depository.

You can be the first to read new articles by clicking the ‘Follow’ button, liking our Facebook page or joining me on Twitter.

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©2017 Sharon Bennett Connolly

 

 

Guest Post: Bewitched by a Castle by Mary Ann Van Sickle

photo-1Today I welcome Mary Ann Van Sickle to History…the Interesting Bits to talk about her journey of discovery of her family history and her relationship with the Ducal Tower of Siedlecin:

Tell me a tale of majestic castles with beautiful princesses and gleaming knights of the round table, and I will always be enchanted. It’s not any wonder. I’m a California girl who grew up with regular visits to Disneyland and an overdose of every animated fairytale produced by Walt Disney from Cinderella to Frozen. I have yet to outgrow my affinity for all things magically medieval. Happily, I’ve watched that legacy pass from my daughter to her own daughter, Sarah. It was never more evident than just this week when our entire family spent a delightful day at the “Happiest Place on Earth.” My heart still skipped a beat as we walked through Sleeping Beauty’s Castle and heard Jiminy Cricket softly singing “When You Wish Upon a Star” over the delighted squeals of children and the calliope of King Arthur’s Carousel.  It was on the drawbridge that my daughter snapped a photo of four-year-old Sarah who had just been transformed into a princess at the Bibbidi Bobbidi Boutique. Despite the drizzling rain, she was clearly spellbound under the shadow of the beautiful castle.  I smiled recalling that I had experienced the very same enchantment some 5,000 miles away in a tiny village in Poland last summer. You see, I have a love affair with my own fairytale “castle.”

First a little history… Once upon a time there lived a Duke named Henryk I of Jawor. Early in the 14th century, he inherited his a “dukedom” (the country, territory, fief, or domain ruled by a duke or duchess) from his father Duke Bolko I Surwowy the Strict (Why he was “strict” is not quite clear to me…) The land he inherited is in Siedlęcin near Jelenia Góra in Lower Silesia, Poland which was one of the richest regions in Central Europe.  In 1313, the Duke commissioned the construction of his Ducal Tower which more than likely was built as a hunting lodge. Overlooking a primeval forest on the Bober River, the Duke and his Duchess, Agnes of Bohemia, created one of the largest and best-preserved medieval tower-houses in Central Europe which remains virtually unchanged since the 14th century.  It is one of more than fifty castles built by Bolko I and his descendants.

From the very beginning the tower was surrounded by a moat and a perimeter stone wall with the approach from a wooden drawbridge. Research has determined that in its initial design, the tower had slit windows and window seats with Gothic trefoil framings. These early medieval windows were filled with round crown glasses while the spaces between them were filled with tiny triangular pieces of glass.  The original tower contained a Great Hall, a full cellar, a “warm chamber” (a room with a fireplace), a large oven and even a primitive privy.

The most impressive level of the Keep is the second floor called The Great Hall.  Designed for ceremonial purposes, it had rich interior decoration including a beautiful wall of mural paintings of Lancelot du Lac from Arthurian legend. Commissioned in 1345 by the Duke and his Duchess, the mural on the south wall of the Great Hall occupied more than thirty-two square meters. According Dr. Przemyslaw Nocun, an archaeologist of the Jagiellonian University in Kraków, Poland, Duke Henryk was not only the first to commission Arthurian paintings in one of his castles, but he might well have founded an order of chivalry based on the legend of the Knights of the Round Table. The main subject of the murals is the romantic story of Sir Lancelot of the Lake, one of the most famous legendary knights of the Middle Ages. And it’s incredibly beautiful and mysterious and romantic. When climbing to the Great Hall on the creaky wooden stairs, you are suddenly overcome by the beautiful pastel shades of the mural. The colors seem ephemeral and dreamlike. Frozen in time, the knights on their horses and Sir Lancelot kneeling over his Guinevere appear as a momentary memory.

photo-2How could one not fall in love with this magical castle? I know I did, but it was quite by accident. In the summer of 2015 I traveled 5,000 miles in search of my grandfather, Heinrich Wilhelm Ludwig of Emmett, Idaho. But along the way, it was my chance meeting of the quaint Ducal Tower that opened up an entirely new world of discovery.

 I’ve been on the trail of my family history since 1981. The pursuit of genealogy might seem cumbersome to some, but to me it is a patchwork of people, places and stories that form the fabric of myself. Madeleine L’Engle, author of the children’s classic “A Wrinkle in Time” summed it up the best. “If you don’t recount your family history, it will be lost. Honor your own stories. The tales may not seem important, but they are what binds families together and makes each of us who we are.”

My family is not all that remarkable but I am fortunate to have come from a family of record keepers and storytellers. Ancestry was important on both sides of my family. Since Kodak introduced it’s first Brownie camera, my family has been recording traditions and celebrations, births and marriages. Letters, journals, certificates and diplomas have also found their way into boxes marked “Keepsakes.” I cherish these magical boxes which have given me countless hours of pleasure as I’ve assembled the pieces of my family history like an intricate puzzle. When my father passed away in 2009, I was made the “Keeper of Keepsakes.” I soon realized that he kept every piece of paper and photograph that would connect me to the secrets of my tree. It was my job to put them all together.

My interest has been piqued for years with my father’s humble beginnings. Born in Emmett, Idaho in 1923, he was the youngest of three sons born to Henry William (née Wilhelm Heinrich) Ludwig and Lottie Nida Belle. My grandmother was born in the Appalachian community of Salt Rock, West Virginia. My grandfather, however, was born in Germany   and immigrated to America   as a toddler. Despite having Ludwig as my maiden name, I never knew too much more about my German heritage. But I knew the name of the village he was from – Boberröhrsdorf of Lower Silesia.

photo-3Everything I knew about the Ludwig family in Germany is from the actual words of Wilhelm Heinrich Ludwig, my grandfather’s father. (My grandfather, Heinrich Wilhelm, was his father’s namesake with the names reversed.) Remarkably, Wilhelm, a Master Blacksmith kept a journal in which he wrote down his daily activities, financial transactions, gifts received from family on the birth of my grandfather Heinrich, recipes and even his favorite hymns and poetry about his love for the Prussian empire.

From 1845 to 1883, Wilhelm kept a record and the key to his life. Had he not done so, I doubt I would ever have discovered his beautiful homeland or it’s magnificent Ducal Tower. Written entirely in German, the English translation had been done long before I was born. There is no reference to who provided the translation, but it had to have been a tedious job. My Aunt Helen (the wife of the middle Ludwig son and my Dad’s older brother, Ernest) was also a determined family genealogist. She kept meticulous notes and eventually expanded the translation to include a chronological list of financial transactions, names of cities and towns mentioned with maps, detailed summaries of what was happening in Germany at that time and an alphabetized list of names mentioned in the Journal.

 Since there is not an existing photograph of Wilhelm, the contents of the Journal has become all the more precious. I was finally able to hold Wilhelm’s Journal in my very own hands for the first time last year in October. For such a priceless record of his life, I was surprised at how significantly insignificant it was. The Journal is no more than a two-by-five inch notebook with a thin cardboard cover. I thought of how easily it could have been lost or thrown away as it changed hands over the course of 170 years. The keeper of the journal is my cousin Forrest Ludwig, the son of my Uncle Marion who was the oldest of the three sons of Heinrich (later Henry and Lottie). He and his wife live beautifully secluded in the mountains near Boise, Idaho. As my cousins and I sat in his living room passing the journal from hand to hand, we all commented on the exquisite handwritten script. I attempted to photograph the pages, but because of its size and the brittle pages, it was difficult to do so adequately. Still it is a wonder to behold. I’ve had dozens of similar little notebooks I have scribbled in during my lifetime. How could Wilhelm have ever had known that 168 years later his great-granddaughter would have followed his notes and fallen so completely in love with the village he had called home. Unfortunately no photo exists of Wilhelm, so this tiny journal becomes all the more precious. And it was the translation that pointed me in the direction Germany.

photo-4As I said, the little village of my Grandfather’s birth was Boberröhrsdorf. Indeed a mouthful, I eventually even learned to spell it! But knowing the German name won’t necessarily lead you directly to it. In fact, it took me years of searching to find it. The border between Germany and Poland changed dramatically at the end of the World War II. In 1945, after the defeat of Nazi Germany, Poland’s borders were redrawn and areas which had been for many centuries been populated by ethnic Germans became part of a newly enlarged Poland. In short, tiny Boberröhrsdorf was wiped off the map and became the Polish city of Siedlęcin. In July of 2015, I took an extensive tour through Central Europe as part of a Holocaust Memorial Tour. Almost as an afterthought, I decided to extend my trip for an extra four days to try to find my Grandfather’s village.

On July 23, I made the following entry on Facebook:

As this tour ends, a new journey begins early tomorrow. I am flying to Wrocław, Poland, renting a car (!!!!), then driving (carefully) 90 minutes to my Grandpa Ludwig’s village in Boberröhrsdorf – now Siedlecin. I will be romping through cemeteries, meeting with a museum curator, knocking on church doors – and maybe knocking on some Ludwig/Schiller cousin doors as I look for a house owned by Grandpa’s half-brother, Hermann. Asked if I was nervous to travel alone, I replied, “No. I have a lot of angels traveling with me and many hearts I carry as I make my way there. Especially my Dad. He will be my co-pilot!”

With the warmth of my Dad’s spiritual encouragement, I turned off the Autostrada (Poland’s sleek version of our freeways) and drove through the breathtaking back roads of Lower Silesia. Riding shotgun in my tiny red car were my paternal grandfather Henry William Ludwig, and his parents Ernestine Schiller and Wilhelm Heinrich Ludwig. And we were all heading toward a tiny fairy tale village they had left behind more than 130 years ago….

photo-5Somehow I knew it would be beautiful. My grandfather was an artist with a God-given gift. There seems is no other explanation why a poor sawmill worker of Emmett, Idaho with no formal art training could create such majestic American Southwest landscapes in oils. His work is extraordinary with incredible detail and technique.

Beautiful desert scenes of his beloved American Southwest were his signature. But as the rolling hills of the lush Polish countryside blinded me with greens I had never seen before,I was reminded of some of his other oil paintings. One was of an inviting woodland cottage which proudly hangs in our living room.

These woodland paintings had always been my favorite. They were somehow more inviting and familiar to me than his other works. I was forever grateful when this was the painting my father gave to me. I wondered what Grandpa’s inspiration had been. It certainly did not look like Idaho where he had lived since immigrating to America as a toddler. Was it from a postcard or a book? Or was there some distant lingering memory of his distant homeland?

Within ten short miles of my destination, there seemed to be clues as the church steeples began to change form. And as I rounded the corner, I pulled over to the side of the road. My heart stopped when I saw a picturesque church spire I knew I had seen before.

photo-6I had seen it in one of Grandpa’s paintings predominantly displayed with love in the living room of my cousin Karen Ludwig Scott of Boise, Idaho. Could this familiar little Polish church more than 5,000 miles from Emmett, Idaho be the same as the one in this painting? I stood at the gates of this little church for a long time just gazing up at the steeple. I took photo after photo trying in vain to hold on to this extraordinary moment.

After thirty years of collecting and logging photos, letters, taped interviews, home movies and countless ancestral charts, my journey had actually led me to this moment of complete connection. My family history was not about the countless notebooks I had filled with facts, but rather about the very real people who lived and laughed and loved. And I was only a few miles from another door of discovery about them and myself. I took one last photo from my little red car within a tunnel trees.  Then along with my undeniable angels of family past surrounding me, we headed towards Boberöhrsdorf….

Then I saw it! I knew I had arrived home before I was even there. It was the sloping roof of the Ducal Tower through the trees.

I was absolutely in awe of the stately medieval castle keep and while looking up, I drove through the old gate that looked like the entrance but was actually the ancient remains of the moat. Unaware, my little red car got stuck when I tried to make a U-turn. I had to flag down two British visitors (one with a baby in a Snugli) and the shopkeeper of the gift shop, Monika Filipiñska. Together, we were able to free my car as I became a legendary moment in the life of the Siedleçin Ducal Tower. I became forever more “that American lady who drove on the moat.”

photo-7Relieved that I had not lost life and limb, Monika Filipińska became the gracious angel who guided me toward the discovery of the Ludwig family from Boberröhrsdorf.  She first directed me to the two cemeteries just up the hill from the Tower so I could look for any headstones with familiar names. As serene as their final resting places were, the absence of German names was overwhelming. There were only long Polish names with elaborately decorated gravestones. And oddly, none were prior to 1945. Around the periphery of the Roman Catholic cemetery, there appeared a scattering of very old headstones with German surnames, but these seemed to be either broken or illegible. I returned to the Tower and said to Monika, “There are no German names….” She asked me to sit down while she printed out several pages from her computer.

As I was about to learn, arriving in Poland and announcing your German lineage might not endear you to the locals. Following the atrocities to the Polish people during World War II, Boberröhrsdorf became a province of the Polish state. The village was “ethnically cleansed” of all Germans meaning all people of Germanic heritage were forcefully removed from their homes. Houses, property and land were immediately occupied by Polish speakers from the east of Poland and the Soviet Union, who had in many cases been displaced themselves from places their families had lived in for many generations.The language was changed from German to Polish.

What Monika had printed out for me were several pages with the names of German men and a rendering of a World War I monument which once stood in front of the Roman Catholic Church I had just visited. In halting English, Monika was able to explain that the monument had commemorated the fallen men of the village who had died during The Great War. It had originally stood in front of the very churchyard I had had just been to but in 1945, it was an Evangelical Protestant church. Sometime that year, the monument and the adjoining cemeteries had been desecrated by the new Polish villagers. Headstones and pieces of the monument were smashed and thrown into the waters of the Ducal Tower’s moat. In the summer of 2015, only two of the tablets from the base of the monument had been recovered. They were retrieved from the bottom of the moat, meticulously cleaned and placed under the Linden tree in front of the entrance to the Tower’s entrance. The rest of the names Monika had given me were the names from the tablets still yet to be found.

photo-8Monika’s story of the lost WWI Memorial, was sobering. But she looked at me with her beautiful blue eyes and said, “Do you blame them?” Only days before had I completed an emotionally draining Holocaust Memorial Tour. Beginning in Munich where the Nazi Party was born in the 1930’s, I had been immersed in the rise of the National Socialist Party from the rally grounds in Nuremberg and observed the devastation as Hitler demolished and demoralized the Jewish people through the streets of Prague and Warsaw. I saw the tragic horror of the fiery genocide of the men, women and children of Lidice. I toured the atrocities of Dachau, Thereisenstadt, Gross Rosen and Auschwitz. Germany still remains an emotionally scarred country from the tragic vision of one mad man.

“No,” I said quietly to Monika. “I do not blame them…”

But I was saddened that this tiny village I had dreamed of visiting my entire life had erased its once proud German heritage. Though my family had left long before World War II, there lives had too been erased.

Almost forgotten was the slip of paper I had prepared earlier that morning. I had pasted some photos of my grandfather and translated a “Polish script” so I could somehow communicate my questions about the Ludwig family. I handed it to Monika as I noticed two names listed with the names of the forgotten heroes of World War I. OSWALT LUDWIG and HERMANN LUDWIG. Though I would not discover the thread to my own clan for another year, my eyes filled with tears. I had found my family, my family name, my grandfather’s home. Monika blessed me by directly linking me to this beautiful Polish village. I went there in search of the Ludwig family and discovered a portal into my own identity. There were no words…

The following day I needed to return my rental car and catch a plane for home. But there was one more thing I needed to do before I left this beautiful land.  I drove back to the Tower one last time but not before I found a tiny florist shop in Jelenia Góra which was once old Hirschberg where my great-grandmother, Ernestine Schiller Ludwig had been born. Of course, her ties to this magical land are another story….

I purchased a beautiful bouquet of sunflowers which made me think of my sunny California home. This is what I wrote that last day I spent in Poland in the summer of 2015:

photo-9As I begin my journey home, the skies remain glorious over this lovely land. There is a beauty here I cannot describe. So I found my family – Our family – after all. Before I left I wanted to stand in the shadow of the beautiful medieval tower one last time. I left a bouquet of flowers on the newly discovered tablets. I said a quiet prayer for the Ludwig boys and the other lost boys from Boberröhrsdorf. And finally, I said a prayer for all victims of wars. I realized that no one has done that for more than 72 years. I feel quite blessed to have such a solid connection to the ‘ties that bind.’ This Tower cast a spell on me like no other place in the world. I’m hoping 2016 brings another visit or more ways to stay connected. I only scratched the surface. Thank you Monika, the first person I met who gifted me with more history and tales to share with my family and Przemysław who dug into the Polish archives to place me and my family in the heart of this beautiful land. The connection is strong with this one.”

Mary Ann Van Sickle has been on the trail of her family history for more than 30 years.  In the dark ages, that meant long hours in dusty libraries whirling through microfilm and sending for records from the National Archives in Washington D.C. She has made two tours to Poland to discover her family roots in Siedlecin and to visit her beloved fairytale Ducal Tower. She is the mother of four extraordinary children and five awesome grandchildren who have patiently listened to her stories their entire lives. She lives with her husband John, her greatest supporter, in North County San Diego, California. You can find more stories about her genealogical travels and family tree on her website at www.Timestepping.net.

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Looking into the lives of some of the most fascinating women from medieval history, Sharon’s book, Heroines of the Medieval World, will be published by Amberley later this year and is now available for pre-order from both Amberley Publishing and Amazon.

You can be the first to read new articles by clicking the ‘Follow’ button, liking our Facebook page or joining me on Twitter.

 

Book Corner: The Book of the Grail Edited by E.C. Coleman

51veexrtwel‘This is the history of that most sacred vessel that is named by men the Holy Grail, wherein the precious blood of Our Saviour was received on the day that He was crucified that He might redeem His followers from the pains of Hell.’

It is not known when The Book of the Grail was first written, or by whom. In this version of Percival’s quest for the Holy Grail, the world of Arthurian legend is brought alive. Predating the popular tales of Mallory and Tennyson, this forgotten account – revived by E. C. Coleman from its Middle English translation – presents us with a vivid story full of the moral import and sacred wisdom of its time of telling.

Following Chrétien de Troyes’ earlier poem, Perceval, le Conte du Graal, many surprises and deviations lie in store for those familiar with Arthurian lore. The test of the Sword in the Stone has now become a sword and an arrow, drawn from stone columns; Sir Kay is not the good knight of the other versions; Merlin makes only a brief appearance; and Queen Guinevere suffers a tragedy rather than experiencing a love affair with Lancelot. In this complete and uncorrupted version, the darkness and fears of the thirteenth century are illuminated by moments of chivalry, adventure and religious piety.

Reading E.C. Coleman’s new adaptation of the The Book of the Holy Grail by Josephus is just not enough. This book has to be devoured in its entirety. The author has taken great care in translating the story from Middle English, keeping the original atmosphere of the book while making it accessible to the modern reader. The book is pure pleasure for any lover of the Arthurian legends. All the heroes are present, battling lions, evil knights and trying always to prove their worth and follow the codes of chivalry.

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King Arthur, the Round Table and the Holy Grail

The story differs in places from the more-familiar versions of the legend. Merlin only plays a minor role and the story focuses mainly on the adventures of Gawain, Lancelot and Percival. Although the main tenet of the story is the knights’ quest to find the Holy Grail, they are faced with many challenges and smaller quests throughout their journeys.

In The Book of the Holy Grail by Josephus our heroes face some fantastical beasts, such as lions, griffons and dragons. The bad guys are knights of pure evil, who have turned from God and war upon the innocent and women and children, throwing them from their homes and castles. The evil knights live in creepy castles, ruled by cruel men and protected by strange beasts; while the good, virtuous knights are sent out into the world by King Arthur, to bring his lands back to God and to recover the Holy Grail.

The story moves at an incredible pace, with a new adventure on nearly every page. The heroes are strong, brave and wonderful fighters, always looking to prove their worth in a valiant joust. Strange damsels hold the story together, explaining events and appearing whenever the heroes need a new direction, or a new quest. The story is full of kings and lords with strange names; such as the King of Castle Mortal, the King Hermit, Clamados of the Forest of Shadows. The ladies are often given designations, rather than names, such as the Widow Lady. There are damsels who have no hair or are forced to walk everywhere, who will only be restored once the Holy Grail has been recovered.

On the morrow, when he had heard Mass, Gawain departed and rode to the fairest land he had ever beheld. The meadows were many coloured with flowers, the rivers flowed clear and full with wholesome fishes, and the forest aboundeth with wild deer and hermitages. One night he came upon a hermitage wherein the good man had not gone forth for forty years. When he seeth Gawain the hermit looked forth from the window and sayeth, ‘A good welcome to you, Sire.’

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Sir Gawain and the Green Knight

‘And may God give you joy.’ sayeth Gawain. ‘Will you give me lodging this night?’

‘I cannot, Sire, for none hath entered herein for forty years but myself and I have sworn to allow none other in but God. But, Sire, if you continue but a little further you will see a castle wherein all good knights are lodged.’

‘What is the name of this castle?’

‘It is the castle of the goof Fisher King and is surrounded by plentiful waters and is of the fairest setting under God. But they will only lodge good knights.’

‘May God grant that I may be amongst that company. Before I go thither good hermit, will you hear my confession for I must be cleansed of all sin?’

‘Gladly,’ sayeth the hermit and heard him of Gawain’s true repenting.

The hermit the continued to say, ‘Sire, if God is willing, do not forget to ask that which the other knight forgot. Be not afraid at what you see at the entrance to the chapel and ride on without fear. Worship at the holy chapel within the castle for there is where the flame of the Holy Spirit comes down each day for the most Holy Grail and the point of the lance that is presented there.’

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Percival

The flowery language adds to the atmosphere of the book and helps to recreate the Arthurian world. Gawain, Lancelot and Percival are the knights of legend we all know from Mallory; honourable, noble and great warriors. I love the way the book has them fighting their own quests, narrowly missing each other, or one not recognising the other because he has changed his shield; but once in a while, they join together to complete a greater quest, or give aid where one is wounded. The camaraderie and mutual respect of the Grail Knights and the Knights of the Round Table help to make this an amazing book.

This is the ultimate adventure story, from where all other adventure stories, stories of war and valour and of good versus evil find their origins; and this fact shines through on every page. Its a fabulous book to read – and devour – for any fan of the Arthurian Legends.

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©Sharon Bennett Connolly 2016

In Search of Sir Lancelot

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The Great Hall and Round Table in Winchester

I have always had a soft spot for the Arthurian Romances. I love the legend of King Arthur and really hope that there was a historical Arthur who inspired the original tales. His Knights of the Round Table are held up as models of chivalry throughout Europe.

And the recent discovery of some wonderful wall paintings of Lancelot du Lac in a Ducal Tower in Siedlęcin in Poland is simply incredible.

Rodengo, Schmalkalden and Siedlęcin: Where Did the Knights of the Round Table Go?

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Castel Rodengo

King Arthur is mortally wounded and taken to the isle of Avalon, the cream of the crop – his best knights dead. With their passing the age of chivalric deeds and marvelous exploits is over.

Is it really? After all, what the king and his knights have left behind is an extensive body of literature and next to Arthur himself, each of the knights has his own story to be told and retold. And their stories have been retold many times in several versions in different languages.

Some of Arthur’s knights were so celebrated that their fame spread from the literary world to the world of art, music and architecture.

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Rodengo murals (detail)

Today I am going to focus on the two of these knights, both very popular and with an enormous impact on the literary world. Yvain and Lancelot, for they are the ones, became the main characters of Chretien de Troyes’ romances and many other poets and writers that followed and based their versions on Chretien’s.

A few groups of the wall paintings, for example, presenting their deeds and exploits survive scattered across Europe. The most famous murals are certainly those painted by Sir Lancelot himself in the Prose Lancelot, but let me take a closer look at those painted on the walls of medieval castles, towers and houses.

Yvain was beside himself. everything he heard upset him, and everything he saw tormented him. He wished he were far away in a land so wild that no one would know where to look for him…
(from Yvain ou le Chevalier au lion)

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Hessenhof in Schmalkalden in the Middle Ages

One look at Castel Rodengo mounted on a hilltop covered with thick verdure is enough to give the impression that Yvain’s wish has come true, fortunately the surrounding land is not as wild as it may seem and everyone has a chance to visit and admire the wall paintings preserved inside the former castle chapel, dedicated to St Nicholas. Dating back to the 1220s, the cycle depicts the story of Ivain as told by Chretien de Troyes and Hartmann von Aue and is an “extraordinary document without known precedent: the oldest surviving representation in the monumental arts of the High Middle Ages of a profane narrative subject in the context of profane architecture”. Little wonder that the discovery of the murals in 1973 caused a great sensation.

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Schmalkalden wall paintings (detail)

The castle itself was built c.1140 near Bressanone, in the South Tirol, and is known variously as Schloss Rodenegg or Rodeneck after its first owner’s surname: Federico I di Rodank. From the late 16th century to the 1970s, the paintings remained hidden under cover of vaulting and flooring. Eleven Yvain scenes represent the episodes from the first half of the epic, with the end of the story not depicted which led to speculations that the paintings were created before Hartmann completed his poem.

In further search for Ivain we move from the north-east of Italy to the central Germany, where in the small town of Schmalkalden, Thuringia, one more fine example of the remarkable wall paintings survive in the basement of the 13th-century Hessenhof house. This cycle is more extensive than the one at Rodengo, the surviving 26 scenes having been probably created between 1220 and 1230. The knightly adventure presented in them is shown as a game and courtly leisure. The Schmalkalden murals are the oldest surviving secular wall paintings in Germany.

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Schmalkalden in Thuringia today

My lady, it’s not fitting to speak of this, but take pity on him, for he loves you more than himself; God help me, when he came I knew nothing of his thoughts except that he was afraid of being recognized, and he never revealed anything else to me. (from The Prose Lancelot)

Henry I of Jawor was the 3rd son of Bolko I The Strict and Beatrice of Brandenburg, he was born in the early 1290s. His father died while Henry was still a child and it was not until 1312 that Henry assumed control of his Duchy of Jawor. Situated in Lower Silesia, it was only Henry’s political acumen that kept Jawor independent from its larger neighbour, Bohemia, despite other Silesian Dukes were swearing fealty to Bohemia’s king, John the Blind.

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Ducal tower of Siedlęcin (sekulada.com)

After joining a coalition against King John Henry married Agnes of Bohemia, only daughter of the late king Wenceslaus II of Bohemia by his 2nd wife, Elizabeth of Poland. Although the marriage proved childless it did make Henry a rival claimant to Agnes’s half-brother, King John, for the Bohemian throne.

The Ducal Tower at Siedlecin was built by Henry shortly after he assumed control of Jawor. One of the most important medieval residences in Central Europe, the Medieval mural paintings are in the great hall, on the 2nd floor of the keep. Commissioned in 1345 by Duke Henry, they remained unfinished following the Duke’s death in 1346.

Arthurian legends were very popular in the courts of Medieval Poland and Silesia,, but these paintings are the earliest surviving examples. Sir Lancelot managed to hide unidentified in the ducal tower of Siedlęcin for almost 700 years.

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Siedlęcin wall paintings

Fortunately his true identity was revealed, for today the Siedlęcin is the only place in the world where Lancelot wall paintings have been preserved in situ. The true subject matter of these remarkable 14th-century murals was not recognised until 1990s.

Their major conservation was carried out in 2006, actually saving them, for they were in a very poor condition – they had been almost lost due to perfunctory conservation process carried out in the 1930s. The Siedlęcin group includes representations of the scenes from the Vulgate Lancelot, which were to be the main source of Sir Thomas Malory’s romances in the 15th century…….

There are 4 scenes depicting the court of Camelot. The 1st shows Arthur’s queen Guinevere with her ladies, followed by Guinevere’s kidnapping by Meleagant and her rescue by Arthur’s champion, Lancelot. Below these are representations of Lancelot and his cousin, Lionel;  Lancelot asleep under an apple tree and Lionel sleeping on guard. Then we see a duel between Lancelot and Tarquin and Lancelot with Arthur’s brother, Sir Kay.

The unfinished portion depicts a duel between Lancelot and Sagramour and the healing of Urry de Hongre…..

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Siedlęcin murals

Today Siedlęcin really is the only place in the world where you can still admire the Lancelot paintings preserved in situ.

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For more details on the Ducal Tower at Siedlecin, just click here.

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Photos courtesy of: Winchester – Wikipedia, Castel Rodengo – Valle Isarco, Rodengo murals – sentres.com, Schmalkalden – romoe.com, Hessenhof and the wall paintings – schmalkalden.com, Ducal tower od Siedlęcin – sekulada.com, Siedlęcin murals – L.Bartosik (Go Lower Silesia), Siedlęcin murals – Wojciech Pudło
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Sources: Le Gof, Jacques. The Medieval Imagination. The University of Chicago, 1992; Allaire, Gloria. The Arthur of the Italians: The Arthurian Legend in Medieval Literature and Culture. University of Wales Press, 2014; Lacy, Norris. The New Arthurian Encyclopedia; Lacy, Norris. A Companion to Chrétien de Troyes, D.S. Brewer, 2005; Witkowski, Jacek Szlachetna a wielce zalosna opowiecs o Panu Lancelocie z Jeziora; Wierssing, Johannes. Schmalkalden. Eine kleine stadt mit grosser Geschichte. 2013; Lupack, Alan. Oxford Guide to Arthurian Literature and Legend. Oxford University Press, 2007; The Norton Anthology of English Literature (Norton Topics Online); Ducal tower of Siedlęcin

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©2015 Sharon Bennett Connolly