Some 9,000 years ago small groups of hunter-gatherers discovered the benefits of bonding together in villages sustained by crop cultivation and trade. I have often heard of Wales, but had to secretly consult a map to get a visual of its location. I was inclined to put it further north than it really is. In fact, the Irish have been waving across the sea at a Welsh society since the Roman withdrawal from Briton in the fifth century. The people of Wales weren’t annexed under the English crown until the 16th century. Between those times, there was a lot of blood spilled. According to the great Wikipedia, the Welsh have “retained their distinct cultural identity” and most are bilingual since their native language is “spoken by the majority of the population in the north and west.” Tough folks.
So to hear that a family in my NC neighborhood has a home seat established in the 1100’s in this faraway spot sounds impressive to someone like me who has trouble finding ties to great grandparents. What little girl hasn’t dreamed of a castle in her background? According to www.wales.com, this country of 8,000 square miles, about the size of Massachusetts, boasts “more castles per square mile than anywhere else in the world.” This is the home of the King Arthur and Merlin legend, for which a library of 2,000 volumes was gathered into a library at Mold. (Yes, that’s a city.)
There have been disagreements about the reign of King Arthur who, according to the Annales Cambriae (Welsh Annals), was a great warrior of the late 5th and early 6th centuries. He organized troops to defend his country against the Saxon invaders. In the 12th century, the legend developed through the popular tales of Geoffrey of Monmouth’s Historia Regum Britanniae which portrayed King Arthur as a warrior defending Briton from men led by supernatural enemies. According to Wiki, “how much of Geoffrey’s Historia (completed in 1138) was adapted from earlier sources rather than invented by Geoffrey himself is unknown.” In other words, it is left to our discretion to separate fact from fiction when enjoying heroic tales about the wizard Merlin, Lady Guinevere, the sword Excalibur, and the noble intentions of the Knights of the Round Table.
This oral heritage thrived in the Middle Ages when a belief in the power of good overcoming evil was needed to counteract despair. (I can recommend Ken Follett’s The Pillars of the Earth for vivid description of this era.)Their popularity decreased through man’s successful renaissance, but flourished again in the 19th century when the legend of King Arthur was recreated in different formats. (A nod to the printing press and the works of Sir Thomas Mallory (15th c) and Alfred, Lord Tennyson (Idylls of the King).
However, as a self-proclaimed connoisseur of literature, I cannot exclude the first writer to mention a charming Camelot. In the 1170’s a French romance writer, Chretien de Troyes, chose the setting of his poem “Lancelot, The Knight of the Cart,” in Caerleon, a former Roman fortress from 300 AD, situated on the River Usk in Wales. And the rest is history.
In 1973 John Morris wrote The Age of Arthur and made the battles of Arthur the history of revolt against Roman occupancy by a united Britain and Ireland.
Another school of thought is there is no historical evidence of any kind of Arthur.(www.ask.com/wiki/King_Arthur)
Speaking for myself, I have no trouble believing in a King Arthur. I have done my research, but realize that all information is processed with individual filters. Even from the great Wiki. Having read journalistic reports of current events that are later proven to be false or misleading, I have to believe the intent of the heart has a lot to do with historical records. And interpretation of that is above my pay grade.
And today there is the added distraction of Arthur Uther Pendragon, born in 1954, “a neo-Druid leader, media personality and self-declared reincarnation of King Arthur.” If you have time: www.wiki/Arthur_Uther_Pendragon.
The charm of ancient stories is preserved in today’s symbols. Edward, “the Black Prince” of Wales in the 1340’s, was so popular that thousands of his countrymen joined him to fight as archers and spearmen in the French wars. Feathers representing this allegiance are on the logo worn by today’s National Rugby Union team of Wales.
The national instrument of Wales is the harp. (Does the US have a national instrument?) They have an unusual triple harp with three rows of strings, and every year HRH Prince Charles makes an appointment for a Welsh Royal Harpist scholarship.
Then there’s the flag. They have a red dragon on perhaps the oldest national flag in existence. Previously flown by a real King Arthur and other ancient Celtic leaders. Watch for it at the Olympics. Competition may have changed from jousting to soccer, but the Welsh have always loved their games. Wales has over 200 golf courses and the largest stadium in Europe with a fully retractable roof.
The point I am trying to make is that the Welsh have historical roots that they honor. From an outsider’s point of view, they appear to embrace the past without apology and air brushing. I haven’t seen their public school textbooks.
The Nanney family who lives near me, Wade on Bracket Town Road, and several relatives over the county line on Nanney Town Road, first settled here in the late 1700’s, and many are still here. Some of the family went North and some West, but they have a huge reunion every August at the Round Hill Baptist Church in Union Mills, NC., to which I was invited last summer. I was captivated by their heritage. Every once in awhile one of the American Nanneys/Yanceys will travel to Wales and come back with lots of photos which are displayed at the gathering along with lots of good southern food.
Wade tells me that a second cousin made a genealogical chart that starts with Adam, showing King Arthur was four generations down from Cynan, the great grandson of Constantine. That sets him around 450 AD in another Briton invasion. I look forward to seeing this chart myself, although I’m sure it will have to spread across a floor to read.
Let’s start the Nanney saga in Wales and follow them to the hollers on the county line shared by Rutherford and McDowell.
Today, January 25, is St. Dwynwen’s Day. She is the Welsh patron saint of lovers. This honor dates back to the 5th century when she fell in love with Prince Maelon Dafodrill. Her father had other plans to persuade her to marry a man she detested. So she prayed. An angel arrived with a potion that made her forget Maelon but it turned him into a block of ice. According to the story, the angel also gave her three wishes. Dwynwen wished 1) that Maelon would thaw 2) that God would watch over the hopes and dreams of true lovers and 3) she wished she would never have to marry. And she didn’t. Dwynwen devoted the rest of her life to God, founding a convent on the island of Llanddwyn where the ruins still mark her commitment.
I find it interesting that the #2 emblem of Wales is the daffodil, which sounds like the rejected Dafodrill. Is there a connection?
The #1 emblem is the leek! In celebration of the astute advice of St. David (died 589 AD)who advised the Britons to wear a leek on their caps in a successful battle against the Saxons. The green onion was abundant and served the purpose of distinguishing friend from foe. So now you know why they needed a second choice for a national symbol. Like I said, tough folks.
I suspect this was a gender decision.
Next post: Nannau estate. Wade said an aerial shot of the place reminds him of the local Linville Gorge area. Steep and green.