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Mark Olly is a Cheshire writer and archaeologist who runs the Celtic Warrington Project Archaeological Unit. You can read about Mark's work in the 'Celtic Warrington & Other Mysteries' volumes.

 

GAWAIN, LANCELOT AND ARTHUR ARRIVE IN CHESHIRE
by
Mark Olly

 
Origin Of The Stories
Gawain & Green Knight
 
It is interesting to note that the Mersey route to the Goyt Valley into Derbyshire and Staffordshire figures as important in the tales of King Arthur and his knights, especially the Middle-English Cheshire dialect tale 'Gawain And The Green Knight' written by a Staffordshire Monk in late Medieval times (which actually relates to the 'Pagan' death and rebirth cycles of the land and the Celtic goddess as noted in her many forms). It is highly likely that the original Gawain/Arthur stories first came to the Mersey Valley and Cheshire with Welsh, Irish and French settlers and later in more developed form with the Normans. It is also significant that Sir Thomas Malory (or Malorie), who wrote probably the most famous collection of Arthurian stories 'Morte D'Arthur', and the monk who wrote 'Gawain And The Green Knight' should both have very firm geographic ties to the North West (and during the same, later period in history).
 
Thomas Malory
 
Arthurian shieldGawain, Lancelot and Arthur can also be found here. - Sir Thomas Malory, Knight and Lord of the manor of Winwick, compiled his book from early Welsh, French and English sources between the 4th March 1469 AD and 3rd March 1470 AD while in prison at Lancaster for offences committed during the 'Wars Of The Roses' (1455 AD to 1485 AD). His book was printed by William Caxton in 1485 AD but the discovery of the 'Winchester Manuscript' version indicates that both originate from Malory's (lost) original which either no longer survives or has yet to be discovered! - The Cheshire monk who constructed the 'Gawain And The Green Knight' poem some time between about 1350 AD and 1450 AD is unknown, but evidently he set out to 'Christianise' his northern Pagan surroundings and brought together many recognisable local land marks, traditions and even aspects of his Patron in the composition which exists in its original late Medieval form. - Briefly, it can be said that Lancashire has claim to Lancelot in the legends of the 'Mermaid Of Martin Mere' and the 'Conflict Of Sir Lancelot And Sir Tarquine'.
 
The Legends
 Gawain
The first legend states that Lancelot's mother came to Lancashire to escape her enemies in France and, whilst attempting to save her husband's life, left baby Lancelot by a now drained lake between Formby and Southport then called 'Martin Mere'. Here the nymph Vivian adopted Lancelot and vanished into the lake taking him with her. When he appears at Arthur's court aged eighteen he is knighted 'Lancelot Of The Lake'. At some point following this, Sir Lancelot makes his way to the ford in Medlock where he faces Arthur's enemy Sir Tarquine, beating him and capturing his castle at Manchester close by. - Current opinion also now places Arthur himself in North Wales and, therefore, also bordering and in North Cheshire, which has been often connected to Wales in Celtic times.
 

 

 

 

 
Territorial Ownerships
 
From evidence contained in place names it is thought that the Welsh once occupied Cheshire as far as the Mid Cheshire Ridge. Arthur's northern border may well have been Eddisbury and Kelsbarrow Hillforts and the hunting forests of Delamere. From this we may deduce the possible legendary survival of territorial ownerships in our area about a hundred years after the Roman withdrawal from Britain, in the Arthurian period about 510 AD. It appears that King Arthur owns Wales as far as Delamere, Sir Gawain owns the Mersey Valley, Cheshire, Derbyshire and Staffordshire and Sir Lancelot owns Lancashire including Manchester. The Wirral is recorded as a wilderness which may explain why later Viking invaders settled there. These very ancient Celtic divisions are surprisingly accurate to later known historic regional divisions (Gwynedd, Mercia, Northumbria and west Lancashire under Doomsday). Gawain and Kay (Gwalchmai and Kai) are among the foremost warriors of Arthur's court in the earliest surviving versions of the Arthur stories, with Gawain taking up more space in the adventures than any other knight including Percival and Lancelot.
 

 
ARTICLE ADAPTED FROM: CELTIC WARRINGTON & OTHER MYSTERIES -
VOLUME TWO: EAST TO SOUTH. MARK OLLY. CHURNET VALLEY BOOKS,
43 Bath Street, Leek, Staffs. (01538) 399033.

 
 
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