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  Vortigern Studies > Faces of Arthur > Arthurian Articles > August Hunt (6)

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August HuntVisit August Hunt's website: The Quest for Arthur's Grave

August Hunt, (1960), published his first short stories in his high school newspaper, THE WILDCAT WIRES. These were followed by stories and poems in THE PHOENIX literary magazine of Clark Community College, where he received a writing scholarship. Transferring to THE EVERGREEN STATE COLLEGE in Olympia, WA, he continued to publish pieces in local publications and was awarded the Edith K. Draham literary prize. A few years after graduating in 1985 with a degree in Celtic and Germanic Studies, he published "The Road of the Sun: Travels of the Zodiac Twins in Near Eastern and European Myth". Magazine contributions include a cover article on the ancient Sinaguan culture of the American Southwest for Arizona Highways. His first novel, "Doomstone", and the anthology "From Within the Mist" are being offered by Double Dragon (ebook and paperback). August, a member of the International Arthurian Society, North American Branch, has most recently had his book "Shadows in the Mist: The Life and Death of King Arthur" accepted for publication by Hayloft Publishing. Now being written are "The Cloak of Caswallon", the first in a series of Arthurian novels that will go under the general heading of "The Thirteen Treasures of Britain", and a work of Celtic Reconstructionism called "The Secrets of Avalon: A Dialogue with Merlin". 

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Arthurian Articles
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Gawain and the Green Chapel

August Hunt


Another Arthurian site has always intrigued me; that of the Green Chapel in the 14th century romance Sir Gawain and the Green Knight. The source leaves no doubt as to what the Green Chapel really is:

"... a hillock of sorts, A smooth-surfaced barrow on a slope beside a stream... All hollow it was within, only an old cavern..." (Lines 2171-82)

This chambered barrow is "hardly two miles" from the castle of the Green Knight, who calls himself Bertilak of Hautdesert (High Desert). The directions to this castle are unknown; we are only told that Gawain is going north by way of the Gwynedd coast opposite Anglesey and the Wirral Peninsula. After this the description of his route becomes increasingly vague. The fact that Morgan le Fay is said to reside with Bertilak would seem to be major clue, for Morgan resided in Avalon, a site wrongly identified with Glastonbury. Unfortunately, the description of the terrain Gawain encounters, together with the castle itself and the barrow two miles distant, does not fit Glastonbury.

 

Because there is general agreement among scholars that the writer of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight hailed from SE Cheshire or NE Staffordshire, and because, in the words of translator Brian Stone, the "Peak District and the Staffordshire moorlands have been mooted [as the location of the Green Chapel], as these are the nearest high regions to the Wirral, the last known place named in Gawain's journey", Hautdesert as a French rendering of an English castle name has been sought in this region.

R.W.V. Elliot (in The Times, 21 May 1958) guessed at Ludchurch, the Roaches and Swythamley Park in Staffordshire, M.J. Bennett of "the weird trysting-place on the eastern borders of Cheshire" (in Journal of Medieval History 5, 1979), while J. Phillip Dodd ("Sir Gawain, the Green Knight and the Green Chapel", copy of article courtesy Adrian Tindall, Cheshire County Council, and Ken Smith, Peak District National Park Authority) relied upon a tradition recorded in 1547 which placed the Green Chapel in the parish of Frodsham, this evidently being a reference to the chapel at Alvanley (Alvaldeleh, c. 1220, "Aelfwald's Ley", Aelfwald being "Elf-ruler"; information courtesy Alex Woolf of Lampeter, citing Ekwall). Unfortunately, Hautdesert cannot be a French rendering on any of these placenames.

Only three or so miles from Alvanley, however, is the Eddisbury hill-fort, a double-ditched site in the midst of Delamere Forest (see Hautdesert's double-ditches and forest location). Eddisbury was originally Eadesbyrig (Ekwall, cited by Alex Woolf of Lampeter) or "Eade's fort". I propose that Eade was taken for Haut (pronounced "Oh"), while bury was linked to OFr. berrie, which had the meaning of "desert". Eddisbury thus became Hautdesert. This is the home of Bertilak the Green Knight.

As for Bertilak himself, Loomis believed that this name derived from the "bachlach" of the Irish tale Bricriu's Feast, the churlish disguise assumed by CuRoi son of Daire in a beheading contest.

However, I should mention that Bertilak appears to represent the Bertholais of the Arthurian VULGATE. Indeed, the English translation of the Vulgate renders Bertholais as Bertelak (information courtesy Marcella McCarthy, Assistant Editor of the Oxford English Dictionary, citing Hulbert, "The Name of the Green Knight Bercilak or Bertilak" in Manley Anniversary Studies, Chicago, 1923, 12-19). This Bertholais is associated with Gawain, but does not bear any of the characteristics later ascribed to Bertilak. In the Vulgate, Bertholais and the False Guinevere (whose champion the former was) are exiled to the hinterlands. The suggestion has been made that Bertilak's beautiful wife, the temptress of Gawain, is actually the False Guinevere. Because the poet put Morgan le Fay in Bertilak's house, it is also possible that the Green Knight's wife is an aspect of "Morgan the goddess".

Speaking purely from a phonological standpoint, Bertholais may owe his name to the Britaelis of Geoffrey of Monmouth's History. Significantly, Britaelis was Gorlois's servant whose form was assumed by none other than Merlin in the story of Ygerna's seduction by Uther. If Bertholais is Merlin, it may be significant that the _Life of St. Kentigern_ has Lailoken/Myrddin/Merlin buried "not far from the green chapel where the brook Pausayl flows into the River Tweed."  In other words, this southern "Green Chapel" may be a relocation of the Northern Merlin's supposed grave. 

I might hazard a guess that the Green Knight was green because the Bert-portion of his name, given that B- and V- were interchangeable in Welsh, was related to OFr. vert, verd, "green" (cf. L. viridis).

gawain and the Green Chapel is Copyright 2005, August Hunt. All rights reserved. Used with permission.

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