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Wychbury: Burial place of Arthur?

Arthur,we think, was a mobile Cavalry commander with some Roman military heritage, possibly based on Sarmatian auxiliary Cavalry based in Britain before the withdrawal of the Legions in 410, and using "Dragon" penants as standards/lances to refortify the courage of the peasantry and terrify the enemy. Apparently, the Dragon symbol arrived in Britain with these auxiliaries, and only later was it adopted as the emblem of the "Combrogi" or British resistance fighters, and ultimately of Wales). He may have travelled around the country as a travelling focus for rallying to the defence of British territory. The legend of a "great battle" at Wychbury comes from an old tract "The affairs of Hagley", a piece of Victorian antiquarianism. Granville Calder a historian, and member of the Wychbury archaeological society, has postulated that Wychbury may be the original site of Mount Badon, a theory with which I cannot concur
(see other entries on this log). However, there is undoubtedly a connection to Amrosius, the victor of Badon, in the place name of Ombersley, and Jean Markale, a Celtic Scholar suggests that Ambrosius and Arthur may have been one and the same person ("The Celts", 1976, Ch.9). As a boy I heard these tales far and wide, so either the population has learned to slavishly repeat dimly remembered tales of this sort, or there may really be some long handed down tradition. My uncle seemed to know a lot, and he grew up nearby Wychbury and lived out his life there. Someone called Kate Westwood suggests strongly that the Round hill near Wychbury is the resting place of Arthur, and an ancient legend associates the place with the tomb of some mighty warrior. She also associates the place with Guinnevere, and I think that the Arthurian mythos is code for the marriage of the King to the land (through "soverieignty" being invested in the folk Queen). Even today, Worcestershire is good horse rearing country, and of course the same is true of neighbouring Gloucestershire. If the British resistance was based on a patrician cavalry elite, as we think, it could well be that Ambrosius was a local Lord with a cavalry background. This is all quite speculative, but we do know that the British consolidated a new territory called Pengwern, based on what is now Powys, but extending well into the midlands , with a capital at Vriconium/Wroxeter. The victory at Badon bought time for the British to organize a defence in the west, but fortune was with the invaders. A terrible plague arrived in the western ports about this time, apparently, and devastated the British half of the Island, whilst leaving the Saxon half unaffected. I think this is one of the trials Gildas cites as being a punishment of God on the British for failing in their fealty to the Roman ideal. Just as when the Raj left India in 1947, so the small clan chieftains would have re emerged to try to exercise authority over their traditional Kingdoms. Pengwern was probably one such. Just as the Dobunni divided their Kingdom centuries before, Pengwern divided into 3 sub Kingdoms. The rich spoils of the Cotswolds, probably heir to an ancient tradition of Villa economy scale farming --- did not go unnoticed. The Hwicce overan Gloucester in 577, and the conquered land became independent of Wessex, and eventually merged with Mercia. We know that the war was not all one way. Morfael ap Glast a prince of Powys led a strong war band against the English and recaptured Caer-Luit-Coyt (Wall by Lichfield) and this is recorded by Welsh bards. Wychbury may not after all, have been a defensive battle, but a British base for a counter offensive? On the whole though, the feeling is that somewhere between 550--580 AD, the Hwicce made a breakthrough into Pengwern. Ironically, one way of explaining this is that the Hwicce were forced to look to the North for spoils, because of Arthur's victory at Badon. Granville Calder thought that the "Germanic incursion" into Pengwern came down the Trent, i. e from the East rather than the South East, as I prefer, and either theory is valid. In fact there could have been an attack on two fronts. There was no blow in the South West for another fifty years after this great British triumph, but this would have meant the Saxon adventurers had to look for easier prey. So, far from being one of Arthur's battles, in a roundabout way it may have been his victory further south that diverted the Hwicce to Wychbury and surrounds. The story as it was told to me by my late Uncle, a local Man, was that the English broke in somewhere nearby St. Kenelm's pass, perhaps near the place called Clatterbach, which he thought was a word recalling the noise of the battle. I was told that the English losses were so severe, that there were not enough left to garrison the new conquest, and also that the dead of both sides were buried together as a mark of mutual honour to the Warriors of both sides. The Chieftains and nobles were buried beneath the Yew groves. Any British survivors may have escaped by an ancient escape route to the west, to the fort known as "Burt (or "Burf") Castle", near Mose, Bridgnorth. Close by this place is a secret ford by means of which the refugees could have crossed the Severn to safety. If the Hwicce really were so depleted, they cannot have pressed the chase, so maybe some of the British escaped to new beginnings? These can only be speculations, of course. The Hwicce, may have been a coalition of Germanic adventurers, and British "quisling" types, co operating with them.This is not as far fetched as it may sound. Cerdic, founder of the Royal House of Wessex, has a British name, whilst Cenwealh, a later King, has a name meaning "Bold Welshman". If Hwicce means "Wise", exactly in what way? Usually, the word has connatations meaning someone who seeks directly experienced divine knowledge rather than through a rite or intermediary, (Sanskrit "Veda", Greek "Oida") and it is possible that the word meant someone who was anti Christian, literally a Witch. Wychbury may mean precisely what it says. The strange atmosphere so often mentioned by so many independent witnesses may well tap into the psychic field generated by a struggle not just for land and spoils, but for people's most sacred beliefs. I believe JRR Tolkien tapped into this when he was a lad in these parts. Arthur was mentioned as being a Christian exemplar (he took images of the virgin into battle with him), so perhaps this was a religious, as well as a patriotic war. Maybe that's why the Yew groves were planted (and Beech, on nearby Clent), the "Wisdom" of the Hwicce, was tree magic, as exemplified in Graves' "The White Goddess". Maybe that's the thread connecting the battle, Kenelm, and "Bella"? Some underground folk memory of the victory of the pagan Gods, over the British Christians? By 613 AD a coalition of British Princes under Brochfael confronted the English at Chester. Aethelfryth King of Bernicia defeated them. From then on, the issue is a power struggle between the separate English Kingdoms, with the British forced back well beyond the Severn (except for the odd Kingdom of Elmet in modern Yorkshire).

Posted by Forrester
18th April 2005ce
Edited 20th January 2006ce

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