13. The Mantle of Arthur

The mantle of Arthur in Cornwall: whoever was under it could not be seen, and he could see everyone.’
Thirteen Treasures of the Island of Britain

We know of the atrocities
he committed when he was visible:
the headless giants, witches with cloven heads,
slaughtered dog-heads and wolves stripped of their furs.

We have seen the desolate battlefields in thisworld and Annwn.

What then of the invisible deeds behind his rise to power?

Some say Arthur walks invisibly amongst us still,
seeing everyone without being seen,
his hand guiding Empire.

Sweeping from his mantle the blade of Caledfwlch falls.

~

The Mantle of Arthur

~

Arthur was the son of Uther Pendragon and Eigr and was a legendary warlord who fought against the giants and witches of ancient Britain and carried out an infamous raid on Annwn. He also led twelve battles against the Anglo-Saxons and died at Camlan in 537. It’s odd to find Arthur’s mantle, here associated with Arthur’s court in Cornwall, in this list of northern treasures.

We find a detailed description of Arthur’s mantle, Gwen ‘White’ or ‘Blessed’, in Rhonabwy’s Dream. It is made of ‘damasced, brocaded silk’ and has ‘a reddish gold apple at each of its corners’. We are told of its attributes: ‘the person wrapped in it could see everyone yet no one could see him. And no colour would ever last on it except its own colour.’

In Culhwch and Olwen, Arthur’s mantle, along with his ship, sword, spear, shield, and dagger are listed as the only gifts that he refuses to give to Culhwch.

In ‘The Second Branch’ Caswallon, son of Beli Mawr, puts on a magic mantle in order to murder Caradog, son of Brân the Blessed, and six of his men, thus usurping the rulership of Britain. We are told ‘no one could see him killing the men – they could only see his sword.’ It may be suggested this is the same mantle and was associated with sovereignty.

As far as I am aware there are no stories about Arthur using his mantle to make himself invisible and carrying out any kind of deeds or misdeeds whilst under its protection.

Rich mantles, cloaks, and coats make frequent appearances in medieval Welsh mythology.  There is story about Arthur attempting to take Padarn’s Coat and I can’t help wondering whether these treasures are connected or the same. Culhwch wears a ‘purple, four-cornered cloak about him, with a ruby-gold ball at each corner. Each ball was worth a hundred cows.’

It seems possible that, like Padarn’s Coat, Arthur’s mantle and Culhwch’s cloak were dyed with Tyrian Purple and thus symbolic of the wealth and prestige of the Romano-British elites. Although the name of Arthur’s cloak, Gwen, suggests it may be white, I think this alludes to its blessed/magical nature. Without laundrettes and whiteners it would have been impractical to keep a garment white particularly for a warlord regularly up to his elbows in blood. One of the qualities of Tyrian Purple was its ‘resistance to weather and light’. For Arthur it would have been a blessing that his mantle kept its own colour and the countless blood stains didn’t show.

~

SOURCES

Rachel Bromwich (ed), The Triads of the Island of Britain, (University of Wales Press, 2014)
Sioned Davies (transl.), The Mabinogion, (Oxford University Press, 2007)
Tyrian Purple, Wikipedia

WANTED

King Arthur of Camelot Wikipedia Commons

ARTHUR and ARTHUR’S WARBAND for the following CRIMES against the PEOPLE OF ANNWFN –

*The murder of Diwrnarch Gawr, by beheading with his own sword, and the theft of his sword and cauldron.
*The murder of Dillus Farfog, by beheading, and the plucking out of his luxuriant red beard to make the leash that near-strangled Drudwyn, Fierce White, a Hound of Annwfn.
*The murder of Rhitta Gawr, by beheading, and the theft of his cloak of his beards.
*The murder of Ysbaddaden Bencawr, by beheading, and his torture – the shaving of his beloved hawthorn beard, the paring of his skin and flesh to the bone, and the slicing off of both his ears.
*The murder of Orddu, Very Black, Witch of Pennant Gofid, by slicing in half with a lightning-like knife and the draining of her blood into the bottles of Gwyddolwyn Gawr to grease Ysbaddaden’s beard.
*The murder of the Nine Witches of Caer Loyw by splitting their heads and helmets in twain.
*The murder of the dog-heads of Din Eidyn and cutting out of their tongues.
*The murder of Gwrgi Garwlwyd, Leader of the Dog-Heads, deviously assassinated, and the theft of his head.
*The harassment of Rhymi the she-wolf and her two whelps, driven from their sea-cave beneath Aber Daugleddyf and forced into human form.
*The harassment of Ysgithrwyn Pen Baedd, hunted across the North, and his torture as his tusk was pulled from his head to barber Ysbaddaden.
*The harassment of Twrch Trwyth, hunted from Eire to Aber Hafren, and the theft of the comb, shears and razor from between his ears to comb, trim, and shave Ysbaddaden’s beard.
*The disinterment and theft of the head of Brân the Blessed.
*The theft of the Cup of Llwyr ap Llwyrion, the Hamper of Gwyddno Garanhir, the Horn of Gwlgawd Gododdin, the Harp of Teirtu, and the Birds of Rhiannon.
*Breaking and entering into Annwfn and the unlawful docking of one white-prowed ship named Prydwen.
*The murder of the honoured and fair on the plains of Caer Vandwy.
*The theft of the Brindled Ox and his herd.
*The murder of six thousand speechless dead men on the walls of Caer Wydyr.
*The kidnapping of Gweir, Bard of Annwfn, from Caer Siddi.
*The theft of the cauldron of the Head of Annwfn.
*The attempted murder of the Head of Annwfn.

REWARDS will be paid in the FINEST ANNUVIAN GOLD.

***

This piece came to me a few days after finding out that the current exhibition at the National Library of Wales in Aberystwyth, displaying The Black Book of Carmarthen, The Book of Aneurin, and The White Book of Rhydderch, amongst other texts is titled ‘Arthur and Welsh Mythology’.

My heart sank at the mention of Arthur. How can a warlord who, in early Welsh mythology, murders, tortures, and subdues the giants, witches, ancestral animals, and pre-Christian deities associated with our ancient British underworld, Annwfn, still be revered as a national hero?

 Isn’t it time we started looking instead to the ‘colourful characters’ whose stories Arthur has eclipsed for inspiration and wisdom rooted in the deeper mythos of the pre-Arthurian world?