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As all that is solid melts to air and everything holy is profaned...

Sunday, December 31, 2017

No Grave for King Galdus

Cairnholy I- King Galdus' Grave?

Torhouse stone circle -King Galdus' Grave ?

No Grave for King Galdus

William of Malmesbury wrote in 1125 that 'King Arthur's grave is nowhere seen, whence antiquity of fables still claims that he will return'.  Around the same time, but far from the mists of Avalon, another graveless king was forging a kingdom. The king was Fergus and the kingdom he made is still called Galloway. It lies in the deep south-west of what is now called Scotland. Galloway may yet, under the cloak of a National Park, become a kingdom once more.

Fergus died in exile at Holyrood Abbey (Edinburgh) in 1161. Probably he is buried there, but no-one knows. Fergus was forced into exile by Malcolm IV of Scotland who invaded Galloway in 1160.

I have been looking for any Galloway folktales, legends or traditional songs which mention King Fergus, but there are none. The people of Fergus’ kingdom were Gaelic speakers. Gaelic survived in Galloway for 400 years after Fergus death, but the Gaelic of Galloway was an oral culture. Once the language died, all the stories and songs, the myths and legends of Gaelic Galloway, passed over into silence.

Then I remembered King Galdus. Torhouse stone circle in Wigtownshire and the Cairnholy chambered cairns in the Stewartry of Kirkcudbright are both supposed to have been the burial place of King Galdus. The stories linked to his graves say that Galdus was a king who fought against the Romans and drove them out of Galloway, which takes its name from him.

Perhaps, I wondered, had the shift from Gaelic to Scots in Galloway turned the historic Fergus into the mythical Galdus?

I have now researched King Galdus. It turns out that he is not the creation of Galloway folklore, but a literary invention. In 1527, Hector Boece published the Historia Gentis Scotorum (History of the Scottish People). In this work Galdus appears for the first time as a Scottish king who fought against the Romans.

What Boece did was take Calgacus, who features as a leader of the Caledonians in Tacitus’ history of his father-in-law Agricola’s invasion of Scotland in the first century AD and makes him into a Scottish king. Boece included sections of Tacitus narrative and then added a ’what happened next’ section in which Galdus becomes king of Scotland  for 35 years and drives the Romans out.

Calgacus may not have existed, but even if he did, he never became king of Scotland and did not drive out the Romans.

Boece wrote in Latin, but his book was translated into Scots verse and Scots prose. It was also translated into English by Holinshed. I have also found a modern translation into English. The various versions of Boece’s text concerning King Galdus’ death can be found below.

What Boece says is that after he reigned for 35 years, Galdus died in 131 AD and was buried in an elaborate  tomb.  He then says that the province of Brigantia was renamed Galdia in his honour and that, garbled over the years, this became Galloway.

It is not clear that the tomb is in Galloway, but Boece then says that Galdus’ grandson Mogallus became king of Scotland and visited his grandfather’s tomb in Galdia, that is Galloway. (See final quotation form Boece at end)

It seems likely then that what happened was that  readers of Boece in Wigtownshire looking for the remains of an elaborate tomb decided that the Torhouse stone circle best fitted his description. Readers in the Stewartry of Kirkcudbright decided that Cairnholy I was the better location. By the 1660, this literary detective work had become part of Galloway’s popular history and the two locations were both described as King Galdus’ grave.

As late as 1841, William Mackenzie included the Galdus story in his ‘History of Galloway’. As folklore, the story of King Galdus and his Grave(s) still survives. However, in 1926 R C Reid wrote ‘The Legend of King Galdus’ [DGNHAS Transactions] which established that the stories were a literary invention based on readings of Hector Boece as the creator of Galdus, rather than local folk tradition.

What follows from this deconstruction of King Galdus and his grave(s) is the possibility/ probability that the language shift from Gaelic to Scots in Galloway led to the loss of  anything which might be called a ‘people’s history of Galloway’. That any tales and stories, songs and poetry which may have existed in the Gaelic oral heritage of Galloway did not survive the transition to Scots as the language of Galloway’s people. By the seventeenth century, the people of Galloway knew their Bible history but not their own.

This leads on to a key question. The story of King Galdus and his grave(s) shows that at least some people in Galloway were familiar with the Scottish history of Hector Boece by the seventeenth century. Along with Galdus, as ‘Angus, Thane of Galloway’, Fergus of Galloway is mentioned by Boece, along with Fergus’ son Gilbert (Gille Brigte), Alan of Galloway, King Edward Balliol and Archibald the Grim as Lord of Galloway. But how far did familiarity with such narratives extend?

1. The oral culture of Gaelic Galloway is lost.
2. The oral culture of Scots Galloway, apart from fragments in Symson from 1684, was not recorded until the late eighteenth / early nineteenth centuries.
3. Even by Symson’s time, what might appear to be authentic folk traditions turn out to be drawn from Scottish historical writings accessible only by an educated elite.

From this it seems likely that the people of Galloway lost any direct contact with their own history. Then, through a ‘top-down’  process, references to Galloway in histories written from a Scottish perspective, were transferred back into popular awareness in Galloway. The several stories involving Robert the Bruce in Galloway [ discussed  previously  http://greengalloway.blogspot.co.uk/2017/12/regional-romanticism-and-invention-of.html ] fit into this suggestion.

The transfer of Scottish histories to Galloway has made it difficult for people living in Galloway to understand their history. For histories written from a Scottish perspective, the story of Galloway is rarely significant.

Henceforth King Galdus ruled for a number of years with wonderful happiness, having overcome the fortune that had been so savage to himself. Finally, after the wars had been finished and he had painstakingly devoted himself to making the Scottish commonwealth more bright and noble, its people equipped with better manners, having been undermined by a protracted spell of ill health, dearer than life itself to his nobles and commoners, and superior to all his ancestors in the greatness of his accomplishments, in the thirty-fifth year of his reign he died at Epiacum. This was about the third year of the principate of the emperor Hadrian, the year 5502 of Creation, and the year 132 of our Salvation.

 His body was borne in full estate, formal and sorrowful, with many men in deep mourning, to a nearby field, where, in accordance with the instructions he had given in life, a very ornate tomb was built for him, constructed in the national manner from great stones, on the largest of which was carved his image with an inscription telling how he had freed his nation from Roman arms. Many obelisks were set up next to the tomb, as was the custom then, as a memorial of his excellent virtue in war. So that the memory of so great a king might never fade from men’s minds, as a way of reminding posterity of the excellent achievements of Galdus, by decree of the elders. the name of the district of Brigantia was changed, and henceforth called Galdia in his honour, for it was there that he made an ending to the Roman war, which had been protracted for so many years. With a slight change in the word (as happens with old things), the name of this district endures in our time, for it is called Galloway.

Source :  http://www.philological.bham.ac.uk/boece/

Of the Deith of King Galdus.
Syne gude Galdus, this nobill worthie king,
Efter threttie and fyve leir of his ring,
Ane hundreth als and threttie efter oure Lord,
At Epiac, in pece and gude concord
He tuke his leif and bad thame all gude nycht.
For wo of him thair weipit mony knycht,
And mony ladie quliit as quhalis bane,
The lordis all and commonis als ilkane.
Syne till his graif thai haif him grathit sone,
With all honour sould till ane king be done ;
With sence and singing, and sic sacrifice,
Solempnitlie as that tyme wes the gyiss.
The lordis all, as to thair cheif and heid,
So greit honour did him efter his deid,
Tha landis all callit Brigantia,
Efter his name is callit Galdia.
So that his name most knychtlie till advance,
Sail euer remane in till rememberance.
To signifie efter to euerie man,
Into that place the Romanis last he wan ;
As le ma reid quha lykis for to luke.
Loving to God, heir endis the ferd buke.

Source : https://archive.org/details/buikofcronicliso01boec

Galdus ragne mony yeris efter in gret felicite, and occupyit his pepill in virtewis laubouris and exercition ; and deceissit at Epiak, the XXXV yeir of his regne, maist vailyeant prince that evir rang above the Scottis : fra the incarnation of God, cm yeris; fra the beginning of the warld, v.m.ccc.ii yeris. His body was buryit beside Epiak, with funerall pompe, and gret lament of pepill. To quhome ane maist precius sepulture was rasit : in quhilk was ingravin, how he recoverit his realme, be soverane manheid, fra the Romanis. Mony huge pillaris war rasit about his sepulture, to testify his precellent virtew, and glore of chevalry ; and, that his memory sail nevir peris, be decreit of Parliament was commandit, that tlie landis namit afore Brigance, sal be callit, in time cumming, Galdia ; becaus this nobil prince maid ane end of all his weris in thay partis. In our dayes, that region is callit Galvidia, be corruption of langage ; that is to say, Galloway.

Source : https://archive.org/details/historychronicle01boec

Thus Galdus applieng all his studie and diligence to aduance the common-wealth and quiet state of his countrie, lined manie yeeres so highlie in the feuour of all his subiects, that the like hath beene but seldome heard of: finallie, to their great griefe and displeasure he ended his life, more deere to them than their owne, at Epiake, in the 35 yeere of his reigne, which was about the 15 yeere of the empire of Adrian, the 4098 yeere after the worlds creation, and from the birth of our Sauiour LSI, and was buried with great lamentation in most pompous maner, and laid in a goodlie toome which was raised with mightie huge stones, hauing a great number of obelisks set vp round about it according to the maner. Furthermore, to the end his memorie should euer indure, the countrie where he fought last with the Romans was called Galdia, after his name, which by addition of a few letters is now called Galloway, and before that time Brigantia, as the Scots doo hold : but how that seemeth to agree with a truth, ye may read in the historie of England.

Source : https://archive.org/details/chroniclesofengl05holiuoft

 Stung by this insult, Mogallus called on the gods to witness that the treaty had been broken and his embassy disdained, and prayed that they turn the destruction of this war against those who had fomented it. Not much later, having collected those things he would need on the march, he moved from Siluria, where a multitude assembled from all Scottish districts had assembled, to Galdia. When he had arrive there, as a gesture of respect for the dead he joined his nation’s elders in a visit to the tomb of his illustrious grandfather King Galdus. And there performing the rites of the dead with the help of the Druids, who presided over religious matters in those parts, and had solemnly uttered many pious prayers in accordance with national tradition, he sank to the ground and said, “Galdus, invincible king, you who with such great exertion restored the ill-starred kingdoms of the Scots and Picts who all but destroyed by the Romans’ unjust arms, and, thanks to the gods’ kindness, overcame our enemy, the most wealthy conquerors of the world, and by your bravery and excellence drove them from these homes of ours, having cast off the yoke of servitude, we embraced you in life with a indescribably great love. And now we come to this your tomb, an enduring place of refuge for all Scotsmen in times of adversity, and fall at your dead feet (or rather, we prostrate ourselves before your shade), praying with our querulous voices that you will supply us with your help, since we are placed in great danger. For we are being harried by the same enemies you once conquered, and we earnestly pray, if you have any virtue or any power among the gods, when it comes to a fight you not allow the victory to fall to those desecrators of the pubic faith, since we, your posterity, are being beset in this very impious war. Nor will you allow these unjust enemies, conquered by you so often, freely to depart, in possession of their lives and fortunes. For your name cannot help but be a terror to them.”
6. When King Mogallus had pronounced these words, the surrounding multitude addressed the same prayers to the gods with much confused shouting. They clung to the statue of King Galdus, which was decorated with many garlands, as was the pagan custom, and offered many pious prayers and rituals for a happy departure and return. And fanatic women assisted at the ceremonies, scourging themselves with lashes, and joined with the Druid priests in spewing forth dire imprecations with their hands raised to high heaven, greatly cursing Caesar’s person and his Roman empire.

Source :  http://www.philological.bham.ac.uk/boece/


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