Thursday, November 30, 2017

COMING SOON: A 'terribilis miles'/Uther Dragon in Southern Wales?


In the above map, I've entered the positions of the Arthurian locations from the saints' lives, as well as Dinas Powis, a possible candidate for the fortress of Uther Pendragon (

Note that when Arthur appears at Aberystwyth in the VITA of St. Padarn, he is said to be "from foreign parts."  Also, in the VITA of St. Illtud (cousin of Arthur), once the saint has visited the king's court he travels to King Pawl Penychen.  Penychen was that part of Glamorgan between the Thaw and the Taff, wherein is situated Dinas Powis.

A discussion of my identification of Arthur's Dindraethou from the VITA of St. Carannog with the Cadbury hillfort north of Congresbury can be found in my book THE ARTHUR OF HISTORY.

The Dinas Powys and Dindraethou forts are literally directly across the Mouth of the Severn from each other.


White-Tailed Eagle, Britain

The poem "The Dialogue of Arthur and the Eagle" may, according to Professor Patrick Sims-Williams, be as early as the 12th century.

Given my new idea for Dinas Powis in the Ely (Elai/Elei) Valley as the fort of Uther Pendragon (see, I went ahead and asked Dr. Simon Rodway the following question:

Could Eliwlad could be for Elei-(g)wlad, "Elei-prince"?  See forms for the Ely River below...

I only ask because the god Mabon is placed in Elei in the Pa Gur as a 'predatory bird'.  He is also placed in death at Nantlle, which is exactly where Lleu is placed in the form of the death-eagle in an oak.  In other words, there seems to have been some attempt to identify the two gods in Welsh tradition.  I would also point out that Tremabyn and St. Mabyn are very close to the Cutmadoc place-names in Cornwall in the wooded Bodmin 'glynn', which is where the Eliwlad of the poem is placed. Eliwlad, of course, appears in spectral form as an eagle in an oak.

If we could derive Eliwlad from Eleiwlad, that would solve pretty much every problem with this name and its context.  See Ely below in 1314, and Eli and Ele later for this river.  These are from the Melville Richards Archive, but I'm not sure it is an exhaustive list.


Dr. Rodway replied succinctly with "Yes, it could."

The wood of Cornwall by the Cutmadoc place-names is doubtless a relocation for Coedcernyw not far east of the Ely Valley. 

Wednesday, November 29, 2017

Campus Elleti Vs. Elei

Llanilid Church

Years ago I tried to connect the Elei and Campus Elleti place-names.  Here I wish to clarify (and emphasize!) that these two place-names are NOT, in fact, related.

This from Celticist Dr. Graham Isaac: 

“R.J. Thomas (Enwau Afonydd a Nentydd Cymru,
[Cardiff 1938] 141) derives 'Elei, Istrat Elei'
c.1150 tentatively from *Eleg' + -i but offers no
meaning, while Ifor Williams (Enawau Lleoedd
[Liverpool 1945] 40) suggests that the root is leg
meaning dripping, slow-moving from which we
get llaith 'damp', cognate with Eng. to leak, and

However, on Elei, it would be from the same root
as Aled, Alun, Eleri, all rivers, < Celt. *al- < PIE
*h2el-, 'to shine'. They are all, in different ways, 'shining
rivers'. Elleti is not connected with these. The
form Elleti is corroborated by the instance of
'palude [Latin for “marsh” or “swamp”] Elleti' in
Book of Llan Dav (148). But since both that and
HB’s campum Elleti are in Latin contexts, we
cannot see whether the name is OW Elleti (=
Elledi) or OW Ellet (= Elled) with a Latin genitive
ending. Both are possible. My guess would be
that OW Elleti is right. As the W suffix -i would
motivate affection, so allowing the base to be
posited as all-, the same as in W ar -all 'other',
all-tud 'exile', Gaulish allo-, etc. Elleti would be
'other-place, place of the other side (of something)'.
There are certainly no grounds for thinking of a
connection between Elleti and Elei.”

Dr. Isaac agreed with me that the Elleti name, as he parsed it, would be the same as the Allitio (Alletius) name found (perhaps) connected with a god at the Corbridge Roman fort near Hadrian's Wall.  Several dedications to Mabon (Apollo Maponus) were found at Corbridge.

The following source (which discusses the Book of Llandaff) suggests that the Welsh Elleti is to be found near Llanilid:

Ilid is supposedly an otherwise unknown saint.  He (or she) was later misidentified with St Julitta.

'Pa Gur Yv Y Porthaur' and the Ruling Center of Uther Pendragon

Dinas Powys Hillfort, Glamorgan, Wales

The 'Pa Gur' poem is one of the earliest Welsh Arthurian poems (10th-11th century for its original composition).  While it already betrays heavy mythologization of the hero and his band of warriors, it is, nevertheless, an extremely important source for those studying the pre-Galfridian king.

Many years ago I set out to identify the sites mentioned in the 'Pa Gur.'  The results of this research was published in my first book THE ARTHUR OF HISTORY.  For the sake of convenience, here is the relevant material, pasted into this blog entry:
The Pa Gur Battle Sites

The Arthur presented to us in the early Welsh poem Pa Gur is a very different personage from the one we find in the battle list of Nennius' HB. In Pa Gur, Arthur numbers among his men the mythological Manawyd(an) son of Llyr. He and his men fight monsters and witches. We have clearly departed from history and have embraced the realm of the fantastic.

While the Pa Gur is, alas, a fragmentary poem, the following battles or locations are listed in the order in which they occur.



Din Eidyn


Afarnach's hall

Dwellings of Dissethach

Din Eidyn

Shore of Tryfrwyd

Upland of Ystawingun


Elei is known to be the Ely River in southern Wales.  

I have proposed above that Traeth Tryfrwyd is the shore of the trajectus at Queensferry west of Edinburgh.  

Din Eidyn, as is well known, is Edinburgh. Arthur’s opponents in this battle are the Cynbyn or ‘Dog-heads’, whom I believe to be an echo of the Venicones tribe.

Afarnach’s hall may be a reference to the Pictish capital of Abernethy. Watson discussed the etymology of Abernethy as follows:

"Thus Abur-nethige of the Pictish Chronicle, now Abernethy near Perth, has as its second part the Genitive of a nominative Nethech or Neitheach (fem.), which is Gaelicized either from Neithon directly, or from a British river name from the same root."

Witches Hole is a small cave in a rocky face on the north side of the Castle Law fort at Abernethy.  It is supposed to have been the residence of some of the Witches of Abernethy (

I would add that Neithon comes from an original Nechtan or Neachtan, which appears to be cognate with L. Neptune.

Abernethy is on the border region between the Pictish kingdoms of Fortriu and Circenn. We have seen above that the Dalriadan Arthur is said to have fought in Circenn, and the Abernethy/Afarnach battle may well be a traditional memory of the Circenn conflict. 

If Afarnach is Abernethy, we may presume that Celli, the ‘Grove’, was to be found somewhere in the region that stretched between Edinburgh and Abernethy. Unfortunately, there are many Gaelic grove place-names (coille and variants) as well as English place-name elements with similar meanings in this part of central Scotland, so it may well prove impossible to locate the Celli where Cai is said to have fought. As its being lost is emphasized in the poem (Pan colled kelli, ‘when lost was Celli’), we must assume it was a place of some importance.

I would very tentatively put forward a connection between Celli, ‘Grove’, and the Medionemeton or ‘Middle Sacred Grove’ mentioned in the Ravenna Cosmography. The Ravenna Cosmography situates the Medionemeton between the entries for the ‘Camelon’ Roman fort and the Ardoch Roman fort, and this would accord well with a Celli between Edinburgh and Abernethy. To date, two proposed identifications for the nemeton have been offered: Cairnpapple in West Lothian and the Arthur's Oven shrine which once stood near Larbert, a town across the Carron River from Camelon. Arthur's Oven is almost certainly the structure mentioned in the HB of Nennius:

Chapter 23: "The Emperor Carausius rebuilt it [the Antonine Wall] later, and fortified it with seven forts, between the two estuaries, and a Round House of polished stone, on the banks of the river Carron..."

Dissethach, where Arthur’s opponent is Pen Palach, looks like Tig Scathach, ‘House of Scathach’, and Beinn na Caillich (allowing for the difference between P- and Q- Celtic), ‘Hill of the Witch’. Dunsgiath or Dun Scathach, the ‘Fort of Scathach’, and Beinn na Caillich, are both in the southeast of the Isle of Skye. From Beatrix Faerber, CELT project manager, we learn that there is a reference in Tochmarc Emire, which incorporates the story of Cu Chulainn’s training at arms with Scathach. In this case, Scathach’s house is tig Scathgi (= Schathaigi).

The upland of (Y)stawingun, where nine witches are slain by Cei, is quite possibly Stanton Moor in Derbyshire, where we find the stone circle called the Nine Ladies. The ‘lord of Emrys’ mentioned in the poem just prior to (Y)stawingun is a known periphrasis for Gwynedd, as Ambrosius/Emrys was the traditional lord of that land. Emrys in this context may actually be a reference to the Amber river, which lies just east of Stanton Moor.

The –gun, if from an earlier –cun, could have come about by mistaking in MS. an original t for c. The middle –w- may represent a u, such as is found in Staunton, a known variant of Stanton.

Much later story substitutes the hero Peredur and transplants the witches to Gloucester, presumably because of the presence in Gloucestershire of towns named Stanton and Staunton.

There is no mystery regarding Mon, as this is the common Welsh name for the Isle of Anglesey in northwest Wales. Welsh tradition insists that Cath Palug or Cath Palug, which Cai battles on Mon, is the cat of a person called Palug. Modern scholars prefer to view palug as perhaps meaning ‘scratching’ or ‘clawing’, hence Cath Palug as the Clawing Cat.

Cath Palug is linked in line 82 of the poem to ‘lleuon’, i.e. lions. The association of lions with Arfon (where the cat is born) and Mon may have to do with the simple confusion of llew, ‘lion’, for lleu, the god who is the Lord of Gwynedd in Welsh tradition. The letters u and w readily substitute for each other.


I had discussed Elei in the possible context of Elleti (a discussion I will be revising considerably here in the near future).  But what I neglected was the fairly obvious point made by the poem's placement of the 'vythneint' ("predatory birds", a metaphor for warriors) at Elei.  Why might this placement be so important?

Because one of them, viz. Mabon son of Modron, is called the servant (guas/gwas) of Uther Pendragon.

There is an implied sense in this passage that I failed to pick up on in the past.  Simply put, if Mabon is of Elei and he is the servant of Uther, then might we not infer that Elei belonged to Uther?  In other words, Mabon was the servant of Uther at Elei.  If this is not what is meant, then it if difficult to explain why it was felt necessary to tell us that Mabon was Uther's servant.

So what, exactly, is in Elei?  Well, there is the impressive Caerau hillfort (, an oppidum of the Silures tribe.  Unfortunately, there is no evidence that this site continued to be inhabited after the Roman invasion and consolidation of the region.

However, just south of Caerau and only a couple of kilometers from the Ely River is the Dinas Powys hillfort.  The story here is completely different.  We have ample evidence for early medieval use (  It "may have been established as late as the Roman period."

Now, of course, we have to be careful here.  Mabon is a god - not a human servant.  And the 'Pa Gur' is replete with battles against monsters and supernatural entities.  These contests range all over Britain, and so are quite fabulous in nature.  And it may well be that Uther himself is a fiction. What weight, therefore, can we place on an oblique reference pertaining to Uther's residing at Dinas Powys in Ely?

There is nothing in and of itself that is marvelous about Dinas Powys - other than the fact that it was occupied during the Arthurian period.  The real question becomes "Why would the poet have placed Uther there?"

One possible reason might be that the Cadoxton River runs at the eastern foot of the hillfort.  This stream bears the name of St. Cadog, whose late 11th century (?) VITA includes a story about Arthur.  Still, Arthur is nowhere in the Life said to be related to Cadog.  

It would appear the only thing that can be said about Uther at Dinas Powys is that at the time of the composing of the 'Pa Gur' a tradition many have existed which knew of this hillfort as the fortress of Arthur's father.  If this tradition is historically sound, then the 'Pa Gur' preserves the only extant notice of Uther's geographical whereabouts.

For a nice summary of the excavations at and theories regarding Dinas Powys, see

Dinas Powis has the same name as the medieval kingdom of Powys, the Roman-period Cornovia.  Should Arthur belong to Dinas Powis, this could account for the insistence in Welsh tradition that he belonged to Cornwall (Kernyw), as Cornovia (and the tribal name Cornovii) contains the same Kernyw.  More probably, Dinas Powis means simply 'Fort of the Pagans'.

In a recent article, I hinted at the possibility that Eliwlad son of Madog son of Uther could be from Elei-wlad, 'Prince of Elei.'  Right now I'm checking with the language experts to see if this is allowable from the linguistic perspective.  

Wednesday, November 22, 2017


And a final disappointment...

I can no longer support my idea that Eliwlad is a sort of substitite term for the Ailithir epithet of Madog (Matoc) son of Sawyl Benisel of the North.


First - and most critically - the Welsh from quite early on had their own word tir, 'land, earth', etc., corresponding perfectly with the Irish word found as -thir in Ailithir.  Thus we cannot justify the use of -(g)wlad in place of -thir.  This is the one stumbling block all scholars can agree on.  There simply is no way around it.  Unless, of course, the poet has knowledge of Madog Ailithir son of Sawyl and chose to appropriate him because Uther happened to have a son named Madog. Then, to create a new character, he substituted gwlad for tir.

Second, we cannot ignore that fact that Eliwlad is presented as an eagle.  This is an important point.
What we have in the 'Dialogue of Arthur and the Eagle' are

Uther Pendragon (dragon)

Madog (fox)

Eliwlad (eagle)

Arthur (arth, bear)

This listing of animals and birds is hardly coincidental.

Furthermore, the 'eagle of Eli' of the Cynddylan poem is too perfect a match for the eagle Eliwlad.  As I've discussed before, Eliwlad is placed in the valley of the wood of Cornwall because in the Bodmin valley there is a Cutmadoc place-name.  BUT, Powys, the kingdom in which the Eagle of Eli is found, was once known as Cornovia, a tribal name who root is exactly the same as that of Cornwall (Kernyw).  I would see Eliwlad as a manufactured name 'Eli-prince'.  While gwlad is Welsh is mostly used for 'land, kingdom' and the like, there are some examples of it being used along the lines of Irish flaith, 'prince.'

Less satisfactory from a strictly philological standpoint would be to identify the eagle in the oak in Cornwall with Mabon, one of the three predatory birds (wythaint) of Elei in the PA GUR poem.  Mabon was identified with Lleu in Welsh tradition; the former's grave was situated in Nantlle, which is where Lleu took the form of the death-eagle in an oak.  I have noted the presence of Mabyn (= Mabon) place-names near Bodmin: Tremabyn a few kilometers west of Cutmadoc and St. Mabyn further to the NW.  It is not impossible, therefore, that Eliwlad is a corruption of Eleiwlad.

Much as I wanted to be able to link Eliwlad son of Madog with Madog Ailithir son of Sawyl, I now feel the former is merely another fictional character added to Arthur's family.


Have reconsidered the first several lines of the MVP.  Believe I have had a breakthrough.

The first problem is the use of gorlassar in the poem.  As you know, this has generally been thought of as gor(g)lassar, so very blue or the like.  Suggestions link it to the color of weapons.  I wondered once about woad.  But...

In Irish, we have two words:

Cite this: eDIL s.v. forlas(s)ar or
Forms: forlasrach

n (lassar) a great blaze ; great radiance: sruth tentide co forlasair fair LU 2092 ( FA 16 ). ? g s. (as attrib.) leni ... co nderginliud ōir forlasrach LU 10222 . As adj. radiant, dazzling: eo find fota f.¤ RC xiii 395.7 . Cf. techlach fial forlassuir IT i 145.6 = for lasadh ZCP v 502 . Leg. for lassair ? cf. LL 259bx ( IT i 70 ).

Cite this: eDIL s.v. forlas(s)arda or
Forms: for- lassardha

adj io-iā blazing ; radiant: tuatha finna for- lassardha , Ériu ii 130 § 99 .

Cite this: eDIL s.v. forlas(ṡ)ardacht or
Forms: f.

n ā,f. dazzling radiance: f.¤ int slōig (sc. of heaven) Ériu ii 144 § 159 .


Cite this: eDIL s.v. forglass or
adj o-ā green-surfaced (`oben-graulich' Thurn., ZCP xvii 302.4 ); very green: l. torc ... at e foliath forglasa Ériu xii 176.9 . dar in fairggi fírdomain forglais LL 235a x ( TTr. 1363 ; cf. ind ḟ.¤ úani ochorgorm 1364 ). ar ferand forglas fírdomain ... a ndéé ... Neptúin LL 224b8 ( TTr. 535 ). fér f.¤ LU 5325 ( TBC 1512 ). co lár Maige Find forglaiss, Met. Dinds. iii 452 . bruitt forglassa TBC 177 . Name of the letter n in `Mucogam,' Auraic. 5669 , 5939 . orc a cru forglaisi (letter i) 5676 . indoth forglaisi `litter of a blue ... sow' (letter r) 5673 . Cf. brec oc forglais 5934 .

Given that Uther is THE CHIEF DRAGON, and dragons are always associated with fire, I think gorlassar here as a name or descriptor is for a great fire, a blazing, radiant light.  This alone makes sense out of the following line, where the speaker of the poem calls himself the 'leader in darkness.'  He is a leader in darkness precisely because he is so bright, a blazing fire.  You can't lead in darkness unless you can be easily seen!

While the Welsh cognate of Irish lassar is lachar, I would make a case for gorlasar (a very rare word in Welsh) being a semi-borrowing of Irish forlassar (with for- replaced by gor-).  *Gorlachar does not exist in Welsh. Irish lassar occurs in the Welsh name Llassar Llaes Gyfnewid, a borrowing from Irish myth (although Llassar may here be for Laisre, a personal name derived from lassar, fire, flame).  

Now, he is also 'a second kawyl in the gloom/darkness.'  Here I would use kan(n)wyl(l), which has the primary meaning of luminary, and a figurative meaning of "leader."  As Dr. Simon Rodway made clear before, kanwyll could have become kawyl when the the copyist missed an n-stroke over the a. So, this would echo the earlier 'leader in darkness.'

All of which leads us to the intervening and very problematic line -

a'm rithwy am dwy pen kawell

I was again struck by Haycock's discussion of the poem as pertaining not to Uther, but to Taliesin.  In her words:

"The speaker of the present poem presents himself in lines 1-25 as a warrior
above all. In the second half, lines 26-35 the emphasis is on the speaker’s poetic
skill, and his ability as a harpist, piper and crowder (player on the crwth). Other
poems in this collection such as §5 Kat Godeu indicate that both martial and
artistic qualities (as well as others) coexist in the delineation of Taliesin himself,
and it is tempting to assume that he is the speaker of the whole poem.
Alternatively, the second half may have been originally a ‘Taliesin’ piece which
became attached to a soliloquy (?by Uthr) because of the very marked egocentric
nature of the two, and perhaps because Taliesin was imagined to have sung the
deathsong of Uthr (not necessarily the first part of our poem), just as he was the
putative author of Dylan’s elegy and the poem on Cunedda (§§22 and 23)."

And now I think there may be even more to this idea.  I would render pen kawell without any change whatsoever as 'chief of the basket.'  The basket in question is Taliesin's hide-covered one (see the HANES TALIESIN).  The transformation is that which he undergoes IN THE BASKET, where he goes from being Gwion Bach to Tal-iesin, the Bright/Shining/Radiant Brow that is so visible at night to Elphin.

From the GPC:

radiant, sparkling, shimmering, bright, gleaming

The Radiant Forehead of Taliesin may be akin to the luan láith ("warrior's moon"; see eDIL) of the Irish hero Cuchulainn.  The 'second luminary' of the MVP may well be the moon.  

So, I would translate the troublesome line as 'May God transform me, the Chief of the Basket.'

The entire first portion of the MVP could then be rendered thusly:

Neu vi luossawc yn trydar:
It is I who commands hosts in battle:

ny pheidwn rwg deu lu heb wyar.
I’d not give up between two forces without bloodshed.

Neu vi a elwir gorlassar:
It’s I who’s styled the great blaze/radiance

vy gwrys bu enuys y’m hescar.
my ferocity snared my enemy.

Neu vi tywyssawc yn tywyll:
It is I who’s a leader in darkness:

a’m rithwy am dwy pen kawell.
May God transform me, Chief of the Basket.

Neu vi eil kawyl yn ardu:
It’s I who’s a second luminary/leader [the moon?] in the gloom:

ny pheidwn heb wyar rwg deu lu.
I’d not give up without bloodshed [the fight] between two forces.

All of this, then, is spoken by Taliesin himself.  But, if Taliesin is speaking throughout, and about himself, why was this poem called the Death-Song of Uther Pen[dragon]?

Good question!  The notion that we can identify Taliesin with Uther Pendragon is not very tenable.  It is certainly possible, however, that whoever wrote the poem was imagining Taliesin, the great transformer/shapeshifter, as becoming Uther in death.  This strange kind of unity of poet and his subject is found in other Taliesin poems.  In fact, one might call it a hallmark of Taliesin's poetry.  In this sense, then, the dead Uther, pronouncing his own elegy, is also Taliesin.  

This is an alien concept to us nowadays.  But it may well have been understood by the audience of the time. 


We need to look more closely at the guide-title of the ‘Uther Pen’ poem.  After receiving false or conflicting or just plain confusing information on this from several sources, I finally asked Dr. Maredudd ap Huw, Manuscripts Librarian, Department of Collection Services at the National Library of Wales.

Dr. Huw’s response, in full:

“Firstly, I confirm that there is no ellipsis indicated in the manuscript, and that the gloss (or more correctly guide-title) reads 'mar. vthyr dragon.'

Secondly, on looking at the manuscript, it appears that the guide-title is written by the main scribe to inform the rubricator, who subsequently added the abbreviated title. The red ink of ‘n’ in ‘pen’ appears to cover the letter ‘d’ of ‘dragon’.

I regret that I am not in a position to speculate as to why the rubricator did not follow the exact wording offered by the scribe in the guide-title.”

This last is an important observation. The rubricator (called such because he used red ink) wrote ‘marvnat vthyr pen.’ for the main scribe’s ‘mar. vthyr dragon.’  Why?  

Uther Dragon (GPC for dragon, 'warrior, hero, war leader, chieftain, prince'), alone, makes for a perfect match with the mil uathmar, 'terrible warrior', of the Irish "Conception of Mongan" tale.  This tale provided Geoffrey of Monmouth with his story of King Arthur's birth.  But if Uther Dragon were originally the mil uathmar, why add Pen- to dragon?

The only possible explanation that I can think of is to to make Uther Dragon more distinct, and to separate him more fully from the mil uathmar.  This may have been done by Geoffrey or his source.  The original poem, written about mil uathmar, had Pen- added to the title after Geoffrey or his source made the new title fashionable.  

Sunday, November 19, 2017


The above map shows the geographical relationship of Pabo Post Prydain (of the Papcastle Roman fort in Cumbria) and his "sons" Cerwyd(d), an eponym for the Carvetii tribe, Dunot of Dentdale and Sawyl of Samlesbury near the Ribchester Roman fort.

The headwaters of the Rivers Dent and Ribble are literally right next to each other:


In the last couple of blog posts I made my case for Uther Pendragon being a title for Sawyl Benisel.  Left unfinished in those posts was a final treatment of the emended Line 7 of the "Death-Song of Uther Pen[dragon]".  In addition, I had not yet settled on my final proposed translation for the very troublesome Line 6.

Here I wish to remedy both deficiencies.  

The lines in question run as follows in the Welsh text:

a’m rithwy am dwy pen kawell.
. . . . .

Neu vi eil kawyl yn ardu:
It’s I who’s a second Sawyl in the gloom:

Once again, here are Marged Haycock's notes on these two lines:

6 a’m rithwy am dwy pen kawell G emends am dwy > an Dwy(w) ‘our Lord’,
understood as the subject of 3sg. subjunct. rithwy ‘transform’ etc., but yn adwy
‘in the breach’ or yn ardwy ‘as a defence’ would give a more regular three
syllables in the central section. Kawell ‘basket, pannier; cradle; fish-trap; creel,
cage; quiver; belly, breast’ (GPC) seems unlikely, as do cowyll ‘maidenhood-fee;
clothing, covering’ (with G s.v. coŵyll), sawell ‘chimney, kiln’ (see on §4.246),
or nawell ‘nine times better’. Cannwyll is sometimes a rhyme partner for tywyll
(e.g. AP line 88 cannwyll yn tywyll; CC 18.13; R1056.15), and would yield full
rhyme. ‘May our Lord, the guiding/chief light, transform me’ is a possibility; or
(with yn adwy) ‘May the guiding/chief light (i.e. God) transform me in the
breach’. Or is pen kawell a basket to collect up the heads he cuts off (line 18)? If
Uthr is the speaker, is vb rithaw to be connected with his transformation through
disguise (see introduction)? Obscure.

7 eil kawyl yn ardu G emends kawyl > Sawyl, the personal name (from Samuelis
via *Safwyl). Sawyl Ben Uchel is named with Pasgen and Rhun as one of the
Three Arrogant Men, Triad 23, as a combative tyrant in Vita Cadoci (VSB 58);
and in CO 344-5. Samuil Pennissel in genealogies, EWGT 12 (later Benuchel),
Irish sources, and in Geoffrey of Monmouth. Other Sawyls include a son of
Llywarch, and the saint commemorated in Llansawel: see further TYP3 496,
WCD 581 and CO 104. Ardu ‘darkness, gloom; dark, dreadful (GPC), sometimes
collocated with afyrdwl ‘sad; sadness’ (see G, GPC).

Sawyl for kawyl in Line 7 is an emendation ( ‘Kawyl T 71.11 = efallai Sawyl’, "perhaps/possibly Sawyl") by John Lloyd-Jones in his authoritative Geirfa Barddoniaeth Gynnar Gymraeg.   Sawyl is the Welsh form of the Biblical name Samuel.

The entire first portion of the poem, if we follow Haycock, would look like this:

Neu vi luossawc yn trydar:
It is I who commands hosts in battle:

ny pheidwn rwg deu lu heb wyar.
I’d not give up between two forces without bloodshed.

Neu vi a elwir gorlassar:
It’s I who’s styled ‘Armed in Blue’:

vy gwrys bu enuys y’m hescar.
my ferocity snared my enemy.

Neu vi tywyssawc yn tywyll:
It is I who’s a leader in darkness:

a’m rithwy am dwy pen kawell.
May the chief luminary transform me in the breach.
[adwy, 'breach', makes the most sense here, as lines 2 and 8 mention Uther being between two forces, i.e. in the breach or gap; GPC has 'gap, breach, fissure, crack, gateway, opening; (mountain) pass or gap, gorge' for adwy]

Neu vi eil Sawyl yn ardu:
It’s I who’s a second Sawyl in the gloom:

ny pheidwn heb wyar rwg deu lu.
I’d not give up without bloodshed [the fight] between two forces.

According to Dr. Simon Rodway, "kawell for kan(n)wyll seems possible. Perhaps the copyist missed an n-stroke over the a. We find n for nn quite often in medieval MSS, and l for ll occasionally." Furthermore, 'in the breach' not only fits the rhyme scheme, as Haycock notes, but also the martial context of Lines 2, 4 and 8.  The structure of the poem thus demands similar martial activity be found in Line 6.

Sawyl/Samuel 'in the gloom' may recall an important Bible episode.  This concerns Samuel in the Shiloh temple at night:

The LORD Calls Samuel (New International Version)

1 The boy Samuel ministered before the LORD under Eli. In those days the word of the LORD was rare; there were not many visions. 2 One night Eli, whose eyes were becoming so weak that he could barely see, was lying down in his usual place. 3 The lamp of God had not yet gone out, and Samuel was lying down in the house of the LORD, where the ark of God was. 4 Then the LORD called Samuel. Samuel answered, “Here I am.” 5 And he ran to Eli and said, “Here I am; you called me.” But Eli said, “I did not call; go back and lie down.” So he went and lay down. 6 Again the LORD called, “Samuel!” And Samuel got up and went to Eli and said, “Here I am; you called me.” “My son,” Eli said, “I did not call; go back and lie down.” 7 Now Samuel did not yet know the LORD: The word of the LORD had not yet been revealed to him. 8 A third time the LORD called, “Samuel!” And Samuel got up and went to Eli and said, “Here I am; you called me.” Then Eli realized that the LORD was calling the boy. 9 So Eli told Samuel, “Go and lie down, and if he calls you, say, ‘Speak, LORD, for your servant is listening.’ ” So Samuel went and lay down in his place. 10 The LORD came and stood there, calling as at the other times, “Samuel! Samuel!” Then Samuel said, “Speak, for your servant is listening.” 11 And the LORD said to Samuel: “See, I am about to do something in Israel that will make the ears of everyone who hears about it tingle. 12 At that time I will carry out against Eli everything I spoke against his family—from beginning to end. 13 For I told him that I would judge his family forever because of the sin he knew about; his sons blasphemed God, and he failed to restrain them. 14 Therefore I swore to the house of Eli, ‘The guilt of Eli’s house will never be atoned for by sacrifice or offering.’ ” 15 Samuel lay down until morning and then opened the doors of the house of the LORD. He was afraid to tell Eli the vision, 16 but Eli called him and said, “Samuel, my son.” Samuel answered, “Here I am.” 17 “What was it he said to you?” Eli asked. “Do not hide it from me. May God deal with you, be it ever so severely, if you hide from me anything he told you.” 18 So Samuel told him everything, hiding nothing from him. Then Eli said, “He is the LORD; let him do what is good in his eyes.” 19 The LORD was with Samuel as he grew up, and he let none of Samuel’s words fall to the ground. 20 And all Israel from Dan to Beersheba recognized that Samuel was attested as a prophet of the LORD. 21 The LORD continued to appear at Shiloh, and there he revealed himself to Samuel through his word.

Thus was Uther transformed in the darkness into a second Samuel!  NOT, as it happens, into Gorlois (the gorlassar or 'very blue' descriptor Uther uses of himself - in my opinion, a reference to him being covered in woad). 

Now, admittedly, as Haycock makes clear in her introductory comments on the 'Marwnat Vthyr Pen', it is difficult to tell when the subject of the poem is speaking and when the poet (ostensibly Taliesin) is speaking.  Taliesin was certainly credited with prophetic abilities, as well as transformative ones.  However, a person with the name Sawyl/Samuel would quite naturally have been subjected to this kind of metaphorical comparison.  After all, in a very real sense everyone who is named Samuel is, at least indirectly, named after the Biblical prophet.

In Geoffrey of Monmouth, the transformed Uther comes to Tintagel in the twilight (= ardu) and is let through the gates.  According to the GPC, adwy has several meanings, including gateway.

There is an interesting corollary to Uther's transformation in this poem.  A Sawyl in southern Wales, with whom Sawyl of the North was confused or conflated, appears in the Life of St. Cadog:

This particular Sawyl was "transformed" after being in God's monastery by having his hair and half of his beard shaven off!  The southern Sawyl appears to be identical with the saint of that name at Llansawel near Llancadog in Carmarthenshire.

Saturday, November 18, 2017

My Decision Regarding Arthur's Parentage

As my readers surely know by now, I've been somewhat obsessed (for quite a few years now!) with finding a verifiable, traceable family link for the legendary Arthur.  To date, I've not been satisfied with my efforts.  The only thing I did know for certain was that the pedigree foisted onto the hero by Geoffrey of Monmouth was patently false.  No progress could be made as long as we remained bound to that in any way.  Geoffrey's work is manifestly fiction - splendid fiction, to be sure - but if we continue to base our researches on his material we are doomed to produce nothing save regurgitations of spurious tradition. 

In my last blog post (, I put forward an old idea made new by recently discovered information.  I've continued to amend and revise that article since it was posted.  Several very notable scholars have come on board with my idea and I've pasted their valuable comments into the piece. 

I'm awaiting only one last message from Dr. Simon Rodway before I make my decision to go forward with this theory.  He has promised to send me (on Monday or Tuesday of next week) the passage from John Lloyd-Jones' magisterial Geirfa Barddoniaeth Gynnar Gymraeg that discusses the author's decision to emend the 'Marwnat Vthyr Pen' poem's kawyl to sawyl.  If I feel confident in Lloyd-Jones' rationale and am thus satisfied with the emendation, I will commit to establishing the only known historically viable pedigree for Arthur.

What this means is that Sawyl Benisel/Benuchel of Ribchester or 'Uther Pendragon' will be inserted into my earlier book THE ARTHUR OF HISTORY: A REINTERPRETATION OF THE EVIDENCE.  Short of the faulty identification of Uther as (very tentatively!) Ceidio son of Arthwys, that book remains wholly sound.  THE BEAR KING, in which I attempted to identify Arthur with Cerdic of Wessex, will be revised and offered merely as a treatment of Cerdic as Ceredig son of Cunedda.

I feel this is a very exciting time.  If I'm right about Arthur belonging to Sawyl's family, our quest to find a place to put him has finally been achieved.  No more wandering aimlessly about the Waste Forest looking for Adventure as elusive as the Questing Beast or the Holy Grail. 

In my opinion, should this lineage trace to the Men of the North prove to be valid, we can safely say that at some point in the development of Arthurian legend the hero's descent from Sawyl was forgotten.  Folklore combined with the fanciful history of Geoffrey of Monmouth at first obscured and then, ultimately, obliterated the truth.  We were left with only a few strands of poetry that provided vague, arcane clues as to his actual ancestral heritage.

Clues which remained unnoticed and undeciphered - until now. 

Thursday, November 16, 2017

The Sarmatian Dragon Rearing His Terrible Head Again?

Readers of my blog (or books) will know that I proposed an etymology for the name Eliwlad, a grandson of Uther.  A good article on this subject may be found here:

While this idea seemed great at the time, I had neglected to check on one very important thing, viz. whether such a name-form was supported by the corpus of early and medieval Welsh names.  As it turns out, such is not the case.

Eliwlad as 'Prince of [the region] Eli' or, more literally, Eli-prince, does not yield any corollaries in Welsh personal names.  Simply put, I could not find even one additional example of a place-name as an initial component, followed by a descriptor such as gwlad.  This means the proposed etymology is fatally flawed.  We would have to assume that the name was a false name, a sort of manufactured name, or that someone had accidentally joined a phrase reading "Eli (g)wlad" together.  

Technically, there is nothing wrong with Eli Gwlad as a combined personal name and epithet, of course.  We could say that Eli the Prince were the son of Madog son of Uther.  BUT...gwlad is not usually found in this context in the early Welsh sources.  We find instead the very well-attested gwledig.  Gwlad in isolation pretty much always means 'land' or 'kingdom.'  [For some exceptions, see Thomas Charles-Edwards in ‘The Date of Culhwch ac Olwen’ in Bile ós Chrannaib: A Festschrift for William Gillies, edited by Wilson McLeod, Abigail Burnyeat, Domhnall Uilleam Stiùbhart, Thomas Owen Clancy and Roibeard Ó Maolalaigh (Ceann Drochaid, 2010), pp. 45-56.).

All once again seemed lost.  Eliwlad remained unparsable.

But then two facts became known to me which I had not possessed before.  First, I discovered in early Irish sources variant spellings for Ailithir, "pilgrim, foreigner" (literally, aile + tir, 'other land'), an epithet for St. Madog son of Sawyl Penisel (or Penuchel).   One of these spellings was Elithir.  This last example satisfied the requirement of Eliwlad, the first element of which could not directly be derived from the Welsh cognate of Irish aile/eile, i.e. 'all' (although see below under  SCHOLARLY SUPPORT FOR ELIWLAD = AILITHIR/ELITHIR).  Welsh has alltud, 'other people/country', allfro, 'other land', and the late occurring allwlad, 'other country', for "foreigner."   In Welsh, ail/eil is "second."

Here are some of the books providing the spelling Elithir:

Etc. - including the actual texts alluded to in these sources, some of which are available online.

In other words, I could make an argument again for Eliwlad being 'other land', an exact equivalent of the Irish Ailithir epithet given to Madog son of Sawyl.


“Barry Lewis has pointed out that a sixteenth-century dialogue between a creiriwr [crair + -iwr in the GPC] (‘pilgrim’) and Mary Magdalene of Brynbuga (the town of Usk) is remarkably similar in both form and content to the dialogue with the Eagle…”

As this comparative treatment of the two poems appears to be accurate, and if I am right about Eliwlad being an interpretation or attempted translation of Ailithir, then we have two nearly identical poems featuring characters named ‘Pilgrim’.

This alone, however, was not sufficient for me to justify suggesting that Eliwlad was not the son of Madog, but his sobriquet, and that Uther was, as a result, Sawyl.  Yes, he latter made for an attractive Pendragon, as his kingdom was that of the ancient Setantii.  This region included Ribchester and, indeed, Samlesbury near the Roman fort at Ribchester is named for Sawyl.  The Sarmatians with their draco standard settled as veterans in the area of Ribchester, and so a 'Terrible Chief-dragon' made sense in this location.  My old idea that Pendragon translated the late Roman rank of Magister Draconum then seemed to have some currency.  But all of this was useless unless I could find some other reason for believing Uther might be Sawyl.

The Welsh material is silent regarding Madog son of Sawyl.  We only find him in the Irish sources.  Obviously, no help from that direction.  

So how could I further pursue the notion that Uther = Sawyl?

By utilizing Marged Haycock's translation of the MARWNAT VTHYR PEN, the 'Death-Song of Uther Pen[dragon].'  This is what she has in her notes to Line 7 of this elegy:

 7 eil kawyl yn ardu G emends kawyl > Sawyl, the personal name (from Samuelis
via *Safwyl). Sawyl Ben Uchel is named with Pasgen and Rhun as one of the
Three Arrogant Men, Triad 23, as a combative tyrant in Vita Cadoci (VSB 58);
and in CO 344-5. Samuil Pennissel in genealogies, EWGT 12 (later Benuchel),
Irish sources, and in Geoffrey of Monmouth. Other Sawyls include a son of
Llywarch, and the saint commemorated in Llansawel: see further TYP3 496,
WCD 581 and CO 104. Ardu ‘darkness, gloom; dark, dreadful (GPC), sometimes
collocated with afyrdwl ‘sad; sadness’ (see G, GPC).

Initially, I refused to get too excited about Uther calling himself a 'second Samuel' (the first, presumably, being the Biblical prophet of that name).  I mean, this was, after all, an emendation.  However, I asked Welsh language expert Dr. Simon Rodway of The University of Wales about the authority who made this emendation - one that was accepted by Haycock herself.  Our discussion on this matter ran as follows:

"Geirfa Barddoniaeth Gynnar Gymraeg, by John Lloyd-Jones

Cited several times by Marged Haycock in her edition of the Uther poem, and  she adopts many of his emendations.

A trustworthy, well-respected source, in your opinion?  Or is his work somewhat outdated or even obsolete?"

"It’s a very good piece of work, which I often use. It’s much more comprehensive than GPC [Geiriadur Prifysgol Cymru, 'Dictionary of the Welsh Language']."

Such an unqualified, professional academic opinion of Lloyd-Jones changed everything!

As for how the error could have occurred, Dr. Rodway suggested the following scenario:

"It can’t be a case of miscopying a letter, but it could be eye-skip - when a copyist’s eye skips inadvertently to another nearby word resulting in an error.  In this case, he would have eye-skipped to the preceding line's 'kawell' to get the /k-/ fronting what should have been 'sawyl'.  Was not an uncommon error, so quite plausible.  Also, kawell and kawyl are unlikely to be the same word.  The poets avoided repeating words in consecutive lines. In cases where this does occur (v rare) it could be scribal error."

I realized that what I had was this:

1) Eliwlad, a name I could analyze only as 'other land', one equivalent to Irish Ailithir/Elithir and

2) Uther calling himself Sawyl

Granted, as far as 2) is concerned, Sawyl in the Uther poem may denote a metaphorical meaning only.  He was "like the Biblical Samuel" in this or that respect.  The line prior to that in which Sawyl occurs reads (most likely) "May God, the chief luminary, transform me." The transformation hinted at here may have provided Geoffrey of Monmouth or his source with the idea to have Merlin transform Uther into Gorlois - Gorlois being from the gorlassar, 'very blue', Uther uses to describe himself in Line 3 of the MARWNAT VTHYR PEN.  In truth, he seems to instead be transformed into a 'second Samuel.'

If Uther = Sawyl, then all the battle sites I identified in the North for Arthur in THE ARTHUR OF HISTORY could be retained.  My later attempt in THE BEAR KING to identify Arthur with Ceredig son of Cunedda/Cerdic of Wessex would have to be abandoned.


Sawyl is variously called Penuchel or Penisel.  Most authorities seem to opt for Penisel, as it appears in a slightly earlier context, but Penuchel cannot be ruled out as the original sobriquet.  The waters are muddied by the presence in southern Wales of another Sawyl who was wrongly given the same epithet.  

Patrick Ford, in dealing with the Penuchel title given to an Arthur in a corrupt TRIAD, has preferred to render this "Overlord."  Others prefer 'high head' or 'arrogant' or the like (with Penisel being 'low head' or 'humble').  A literal translation of Penuchel would be "High Chief".  Uchel, 'high', has the same meaning as that which originally belonged to Uthr (cf. Irish uachtar).  Professor John Koch says this latter name once would have meant 'high, lofty.'  Thus at some point in their development, uchel and uthr would have been, essentially, interchangeable.

Sawyl or “Samuel” seems to have another byname in the Irish sources.  This was Cantoin or Canton (see, for example,  However, it seems fairly obvious that Canton merely preserves an attempt at the Q-Celtic cenn or cend (also cenda), cognate with the pen of Penisel/Penuchel, Sawyl’s epithet in British.  We find the latter in the Irish as Chendisil.


To quote P.C. Bartram in his "A Classical Welsh Dictionary", "He [Sawyl] is evidently the same as Samuel Chendisil the father of Matóc Ailithir and Sanctan by Deichter daughter of Muredach Muinderg, king of Ulster (MIS §1 in EWGT p.32)."

Deichter is an interesting name.  A much earlier Deichter was the mother of the famous Irish hero Cuchulainn, who was first called Sétanta. Scholars are still debating whether Sétanta should be related to the name of the Setantii tribe in Britain.  We have seen that Sawyl ruled what was once the Setantii tribal region.

If this Deichter were also Arthur's real mother, then we could once again account for why subsequent Arthurs all belonged to Irish-founded dynasties in Britain.


From A.L.F Rivet & Colin Smith’s The Place-names of Roman Britain, p 456-457:


DERIVATION. This ethnic name is mysterious; there seem to be no British roots visible, and very few analogues anywhere of names in Set-. It is tempting, in view of Ptolemy's variants which show Seg- (Seg-) both for the port-name and the river-name, to suspect some confusion with the Seg- of Segontium, a possibility that occurred to Rhys (1904) 315 with regard to the river, though eventually he wish to main tain Setantii as a proper form. The strongest argument for so doing is provided by Watson CPNS 25, who points out that the first name of the Irish hero Cuchulainn was Setanta (from an earlier *Setant(os) : 'the Setantii were an ancient British tribe near Liverpool. . . the inference is that Setanta means "a Setantian" and that Cuchulainn was of British origin'. But the relation between these two names has been questioned. There is a full exposition of the problem by Guyonvarc'h in Ogam, XIII, (1961), 587-98, with discussion of views of Mac Neill, Osborne, and others, including Brittonic-Goidelic transferences in both historical and phonetic aspects. The essence of the matter is that it is tempting to see in this name Irish sét ('path'; = British *sento-, for which see CLAUSENTUM), but *-ant- suffix (as in DECANTAE) is Brittonic only, for -nt- does not exist in Goidelic. The name might be based on a divine name *Setantios, not otherwise known, and he in turn might be related etymologically and by sense to the goddess Sentona, perhaps 'wayfarer' (see further TRISANTONA). Clearly there is an additional problem in reconciling the a/e vowels in these forms (Trisantona, Gaulish Santones) if they are indeed connected. There, for the présent, the matter rests; but it is as well to reiterate that one cannot base too much speculation on forms recorded by Ptolemy alone, particularly when, in numbers, the MSS of his work record attractive variants.

IDENTIFICATION. Presumably a minor tribe, but since they appear only as part of a 'descriptive' name in the coastal list (next entry) and not in their own right in the full list of tribes, they probably formed part of the Brigantian confederacy. If the river name seteia is directly connected with them, they should have stretched along the Lancashire coast from the Mersey to Fleetwood.”



"Your proposal to understand Eliwlad as a W 'translation' of Ir Ailithir looks quite attactive. Eli- might well stand for Ir ail(e), and tir is correctly translated as 'gwlad'. The respective range of meaning of both words is, of course, not identical.

If  'pilgrim' really is the "primary meaning" of ailithir, then this word is beyond any doubt a bahuvrîhi compound, designing somebody 'who is characterized by another [foreign] land', obviously in the sense that (s)he has visited a [remarkably] foreign land, is acquainted with it, etc.

We have to remind an alternative, however, viz. that the 'other land' referred to might be the 'Otherworld' , so that the bearer of the epithet may have been named so for assumed / desired magical qualities. Note that Rachel Bromwich, in her invaluable Trioedd Ynys Prydein (3rd ed., p. 428) has a Madawc m. Run y Kynnedvau. By the way, I trust that you have made already ample use of that magnificent book and the references found therein.

The whole story of the red Welsh Dragon (and its mischievous counterpart), including the epithed 'Uther Pendragon', may well be based on post-Roman misunderstandings of reminiscences of the Roman, originally perhaps Sarmatian, standard. But one should not overstress the Sarmatian-Alanian theory in discussing Arthurian matters. In case you read German, you may have seen what I wrote about in 'Die keltischen Wurzeln der Arthussage' (Winter: Heidelberg 2000)."

Professor Stefan Zimmer

"Irish aili- does not have a diphthong ai in the first syllable but a fronted low simple vowel [ae] (approximately as in Engl. back) followed by a palatalized -l´-. I find it quite plausible that this would have been borrowed immediately as W eli-."

Professor Doctor Peter Schrijver

“I don’t disagree with anything Zimmer or Schrijver say.”

Dr. Simon Rodway

“I think that -wlad cannot be anything else but gwlad 'country', and your idea that Eliwlad is a reinterpretation of Ailithir seems plausible to me.  If Eliwlad developed directly from the British, we would expect *Eilwlad."

Professor Ranko Matasovic

“It looks perfectly possible to me that Eliwlad represents British *Aljowlatos 'other land'.  Eliwlad/t is a plausible rendering of Eilwlad. One certainly finds occasional <e> for <ei> in MW, and metathesis is always possible. If it’s not from *aljo-, I have no idea.”

Professor Richard Coates

“First it appears to me that you you must be right in identifying gwlad as the second element. This is indeed the regular cognate of flaith in Irish, but the latter, a feminine i-stem, originally also had an abstract meaning ‘lordship, sovereignty’, and its application to a person is a secondary process in Irish (retaining the feminine gender!) for which there are several parallels, such as techt meaning not only ‘going’ but also ‘messenger’, cerd both ‘craft’ and ‘craftsman’, etc.

Your proposed adaptation of aili- to eli-, on the other hand, would have to have been purely formal, since Irish and British continue two different variants of the same word ‘other’, Ir. aile (also 'second') < *aljo- and e.g. Middle Welsh. all < *allo-. British ail, 'second', is from *aljo-.

But apart from this formal misgiving, I do admit that your derivation would make for a nice contextual fit!“

Professor Jurgen Uhlich


Madawc, a rampart of joy(?);
Madawc, before he was in the grave,
was a fortress of abundance,
of exploits and jests.
Son of Uthyr; before he was slain

he gave a pledge (?) from his hand.


It cannot be denied that Arthur and Eliwlad are situated in Cornwall.  But, it was common practice in Welsh tradition to associate Arthur and his family members with the ancient tribal territory of Dumnonia (which included, roughly, Cornwall, Devon and Somerset). As Sims-Williams indicates, the ‘glyncoet Kernyw’ of the “Dialogue” poem is likely the large, wooded Glynn valley near Bodmin.  I note here on maps a Cutmadoc Farm and Cutmadoc Newton. Cutmadoc gets a mention in Craig Weatherhill’s “Place Names in Cornwall and Scilly” as Madoc’s Wood (the prefix cut or cos appears all the time in Cornish place names and means small woodland). He also mentions an early 1320 form Coysmadok, but unfortunately doesn’t give the source.

Gover’s unpublished 1948 work on Cornish place names gives the following early forms:  Codmadok and Cudmadek in 1302, Coysmadoc in 1314, Coysmadok in 1320, Cutmadok in 1327, Cosmadeck in 1547, and also says ‘Cuit’ is a Cornish language word for wood while ‘Madoc’ is a personal name cognate with Welsh Madog.


For a nice history of Samlesbury, see

My own extensive treatment of the place-name’s etymology is as follows:

Sawyl (Samuel) Benisel ("Low-head"), another son of Pabo,  is dated c. 480.  On the Ribble, not far south of “regio Dunutinga”, is a town called Samlesbury. The place-name expert Ekwall has Samlesbury as “Etymology obscure”, but then proposes OE sceamol, “bench”, as its first element, possibly in the topographical sense of “ledge”. Mills follows Ekwall by saying that this place-name is probably derived from scamol plus burh (dative byrig). However, sceamol/scamol is not found in other place-names where a “ledge” is being designated. Instead, the word scelf/scielf/scylfe, “shelf of level or gently sloping ground, ledge” is used.

The complete history of this place-name has been kindly supplied by Mr. Bruce Jackson, Lancashire County Archivist:

A D Mills:  'A Dictionary of English Place-Names'; Oxford University Press, 1991, page 284

'Samlesbury Lancs.  Samelesbure 1188.  Probably "stronghold near a shelf or ledge of land".  Old English scamol + burh (dative byrig).'

David Mills:  'The Place Names of Lancashire';  Batsford, 1976 (reprinted
1986), page 130

'? burh on a shelf of land (OE sceamol + -es (possessive) + burh, in the
form byrig (dative)
Samerisberia 1179 (Latin)
Samelesbure 1188
Samlesbiry 1246

The original settlement was probably around the church which stands by the
R. Ribble, at the foot of the 168 foot ridge to which the first element may refer.  The derivation from OE sceamol, however, involves taking as base later forms of the name in 'sh-', such as Shamplesbiry 1246, which, though not uncommon, are far less frequent than forms in 's-'.  If the 's-' forms are original, the etymology is less certain.  There is much variation in the representation of the first element in early records - e.g. Sambisbury c.1300, Sammysburi 1524, Samsbury 1577.  There is today no village around the church; the main settlement moved to the south, to SAMLESBURY BOTTOMS, (Old English botm, 'valley bottom', here referring to the valley of the R. Darwen in which the hamlet stands), where a community grew up around the cotton mill which was built there c1784.'

Eilert Ekwall:  'The Concise Oxford Dictionary of English Place-Names';
Oxford University Press, 1960, page 403

'Samlesbury La [Samerisberia 1179, Samelesbure 1188, -bur 1212,
Schamelesbiry 1246, Scamelsbyry 1277.  Etymology obscure.  If the name originally began in Sh-, the first element may be Old English sceamol 'bench' &c. in some topographical sense such as "ledge".'

Eilert Ekwall:  'The Place-Names of Lancashire'; Manchester University
Press, 1922, page 69

'Samlesbury (on the Ribble, E. of Preston):  Samerisberia 1179, Samelesbure
1188, 1194, Samelesbur', Samelisbur' 1212, Samelesbiri 1238.  Samelesbiry,
Samelesbiri, (de Samlebir, Samlesbiry, Samplesbiry) 1246, de Samelesburi
1252, Samlisbyri 1258, Samlesbury 1267, 1311 etc., Samlisbury, Sampnelbiry,
Sampnesbiry 1278, Samesbury 1276, 1278, Samlesbur' 1332, Samsbury 1577;
Shamplesbiry, de Schamelesbiry, -byr 1246, Scamelesbyry, Shampelesbyri,
Shapnesbyri 1277.

The old chapel of Samlesbury stands on the S. bank of the Ribble, with
Samlesbury Lower Hall some way off on the river.  I take this to be the site of the original Samlesbury.  The etymology is much complicated by the variety of the early spellings.  The forms with S- are in the majority, but there are a good many with Sh-, and it is not easy to see why S- should have been replaced by Sh-, whereas S- for Sh- is easily explained by Norman influence.  If the original form had Sh-, I would compare the following names:  Shamele (hundred Kent) 1275; Shalmsford (Kent); Shamelesford 1285, Sahameleford 1275, perhaps Shamblehurst (Hants):  Samelherst, Scamelherst' 1176, Schameleshurste 1316.  All these may contain Old English sceamol "bench, stool," or some derivative of it.....The meaning of this word in topographical use is not clear, but very likely it may have been something like "ledge, shelf".....In this case the word might refer to a ledge on the bank of the Ribble.  In reality, Samlesbury Lower Hall stands on a slight ledge (c 50 ft above sea level), which stretches as far as the church.

If the spellings in Sh- are to be disregarded the etymology is much more difficult.  The first element is hardly the personal noun Samuel .  It it is a personal noun, as the early forms rather suggest, it may be a derivative of the stem Sam- found in German names.  This stem is not found in English names, but the related stem Som occurs in Old English Soemel and perhaps in the first element of Semington, Semley, Wilts.  Burh in this name, as in Salesbury, may mean "fortified house, fort" or "manor"...’

Henry Cecil Wyld and T Oakes Hirst:  'The Place Names of Lancashire';
Constable, 1911, page 226


1178-79     in Samesberia
1187-88     de Samelesbure
1189-94     Samlisburi
1227          Samlesbiri
1228          Samlesbyr
1246          Samelesbiri
1259          Samelebir

The first element is undoubtedly the Hebrew personal noun Samuel.  This does not appear to have been popular amongst the English in early times.....It is not recorded by Bjorkman [Erik Bjorkman:  'Nordische Personennamen in England'; Halle, 1910] as having been adopted by any Norseman in this country, but Rygh mentions a Norwegian place name Samuelrud ["Norske Gaardnavne Kristiana", 1897, volume ii, page 201].  In volume i the same writer records Samerud (pp 7 and 9), but says that this is possibly a Modern name.'

John Sephton:  'A Handbook of Lancashire Place-Names':  Henry Young, 1913, page 23

'A parish 4 miles east of Preston.  Early forms are Samerisberia,
Samelesbure.  First theme is the scriptural name Samuel .  Ancient Teutonic names are also found from the root Sama.....' .

I would suggest as a better etymology for Samlesbuy  “Sawyl’s fort”. There are, for example, Sawyl place-names in Wales (Llansawel, Pistyll Sawyl, now Ffynnon Sawyl).  Richard Coates, of the Department of Linguistics and English Language at The University of Sussex, says of Samlesbury as “Samuel’s Burg”:

“After a bit of extra research, it seems that all the spellings in <Sh-> and the like are from just 2 years in Lancashire assize roll entries (1246 and 1277). That makes them look more like the odd ones out and <S-> more like the norm. I'm coming round to preferring your interpretation, even though Ekwall in PN La (p. 69) simply rejects the idea it might come from "Samuel". Brittonic *_Sam(w)e:l_ (<m> here is vee with a tilde - nasalized [v]) is a good etymon for the majority of the forms, including the modern one, of course.”

Dr. Andrew Breeze of Pamplona, another noted expert on British place-names, agrees with Dr. Coates:

“I finally looked up _Samlesbury_ last night and feel sure you are right. The form surely contains the Cumbric equivalent of Welsh _Sawyl_<_Samuel_. Your explanation of this toponym in north Lancashire is thus new evidence for Celtic survival in Anglo-Saxon times.”


An excavation project within the Roman fort at Ribchester has only recently been undertaken by the archaeology department of the University of Central Lancaster:

When I wrote to Dr. Duncan Sayer, one of the directors of the dig, and asked if they had yet found any evidence for sub-Roman use of Bremetennacum Veteranorum, he replied with this exciting news:

“Yes, I believe we have identified some evidence of sub-Roman occupation within the fort at Ribchester. Certainly the abandonment date of AD370 is no longer really tenable and at this early state in the project we are reasonably convinced they have structures and workshops that relate to a later-Roman and sub Roman phase of activity.”

Saturday, November 11, 2017


Dawston Burn, with White Stones to the North

White Stones

White Stones, Satellite Aerial Shot

The Battle of Daegsastan was fought at Dawston Burn in Liddesdale.*  However, although 'Degsa's Stone' would seem to denote an important monument, no one has been able to find it.  If it was an ancient standing stone, then it is no longer extant.

I do have an idea, which I would like to offer here.

The spelling of the personal name supposedly present in Daegsastan resembles the Old English word daeg, 'day.'  When I discussed Daegsastan with noted place-name expert Alan James, he told me:

"For a modern reflex of that name, you need to be looking for something like *Dei(gh)stane, pronounced ‘Deestan’ or ‘Daystan’, or else *Dewstane – with Dawston being a phonologically reasonable variant of that. Frustratingly, Dawston could, conceivably, be < *dæġ-es-stān 'day's stone'. whatever that might mean. Which isn't far from Degsastan, and plenty of scholars have made that connection, but it's problematic."

In going to the maps for the Dawston Burn, I noticed an unusual feature called the White Stones, described thusly:

White Stones James Elliot
Archibald Stavert 039 [Situation] On the East bank of Dawston Burn
This name is applied to some loose stones, on the face of a steep brae, on the farm of Saughtree.

These stones, combined with a personal name D(a)egsa, made me think of Myrddin's sister, Gwenddydd.  Her name means, transparently, 'White Day.'**  As Myrddin's principal sphere of activity (indeed, his origin point and place of death) belong properly to the Liddesdale region, I could not but help pose the following question:

Could the White Stones of Dawston Burn be the Stone of D(a)egsa?  And could both names preserve an earlier geological feature named for Gwenddydd?***

The Norse god Dagr was "the personified day (R. Simek DICTIONARY OF NORTHERN MYTHOLOGY)." It's not impossible that the early Saxons may have had a similar deity and that he was substituted for Gwenddydd.  There are some -daeg names in the early portion of the Bernician royal pedigree (Swaefdaeg, Waegdaeg, Baeldaeg).

* NOTE 1: The battle itself was probably fought at one of these sites, as described in the entry for Dawston Rigg at CANMORE:

NY59NE 12 c.57 98.
On the face of the slope (of Dawston Rigg) looking south and over the railway, there exist three large British camps close together. One, which lies on the shoulder of the hill, has been converted into a sheepfold, and the other two (NY59NE 2) situated close to the railway, are side by side.
A D Murray 1896
The southern slope of Dawston and Hudshouse Rig was perambulated without any trace of the earthwork allegedly converted into a sheepfold.
Visited by OS (JLD) 7 October 1960

** NOTE 2: Gwen in Welsh has the secondary meaning of "holy, blessed."

*** NOTE 3:


for an account of some ancient stone crosses found at/near the Dawston Burn.  The problem with considering such a cross as a candidate for Degsa's Stone is that these particular examples appear to be boundary markers for property owned by Jedburgh Abbey - an abbey which was not founded until the 12th century.  The Battle of Daegsastan was fought in the early 7th century.

It would be more reasonable to postulate that a standing stone or stones originally dedicated to Gwendydd stood atop Abbey Knowe, and that this was replaced by Christian crosses.  Geoffrey of Monmouth has Ganieda (= Gwenddydd) construct for Myrddin a stone circle (the astronomical observatory!).  The description fits a very large structure such as Stonehenge, which Merlin is associated with, and in THE MYSTERIES OF AVALON I made a case for the Long Meg and Her Daughters circle in Cumbria.  But there is a small stone circle on Ninestone Rig less than half a dozen kilometers from Dawston Burn ( and there might well have been a similar monument atop Abbey Knowe.

There are standing stones at nearby Hermitage (Buck Stone and Graystone Hill).