of Castle Killibury's Arthurian
David Nash Ford
C A S T L E
K I L L I B U R Y
Arthur's First Home?
concept of King Arthur's Capital is epitomised by the
medieval Camelot, yet some of the earliest references
to his court refer instead to the City of Celliwig, a
name now associated with Killibury in Egloshayle,
Tradition: According to the Mabinogion tale
of Culhwch & Olwen, King Arthur's Royal
Palace was at Celliwig in Cornwall. From here, one of
his Warband, Drem, could see a gnat as far away as
Scotland; while another, Medyr, could shoot an arrow
through the legs of a wren in Ireland! The Welsh
Triads tell how "Medrod came to Arthur's Court
at Celliwig in Cerniw; he left neither food nor drink
in the court that he did not consume. And he dragged
Gwenhwyfar from her Royal chair, and then he struck a
blow upon her". They, furthermore, state that
this place was one of the "Three Tribal Thrones
of the Island of Britain":
as Chief Prince in Mynyw (or Aberffraw), and Dewi as
Chief Bishop, and Męlgwn Gwynedd as Chief Elder;
as Chief Prince in Celliwig in Cerniw, and Bishop
Bytwini as Chief Bishop, and Caradog Freichfras as
as Chief Prince in Pen Rhionydd in the North, and
Gerthmwl Wledig as Chief Elder, and Cyndeyrn Garthwys
as Chief Bishop."
Archaeology: Castle Killibury or Kelly
Rounds is a small banked and ditched fort with a
defended Eastern entrance. Lesser associated
earthworks stand both to the North and the South. It
may be either of Iron or Dark Age Construction.
Small-scale excavations have uncovered several sherds
of imported Mediterranean pottery from the latter
period, indicating that the site was, at least,
refortified during the 5th and 6th centuries.
Interpretations: The site of Celliwig has
many Cornish claimants: Callington, Callywith, Gweek
Wood, Barras Nose and Willapark. A place called
Celliwig certainly once existed in Cerniw as a
Cornishman named Thomas de Kellewik is recorded in
1302. Opinion, however, varies as to whether this can
be identified as the Caellwic which St.
Dunstan records as having been given to the
Diocese of Sherborne, by King Egbert, in 830.
Killibury's parish, Egloshayle, is named after the Church-of-St.Hail,
a supposed son of King Brychan
of Brycheiniog (though this is too disputed).
It is less impressive than other supposed Royal
Dark Age sites from Western Britain. However, pottery
imports from the Middle East would still indicate an
important chief lived there. An Arthurian association
seems unlikely though, and a closer look at the Welsh
Triad entry indicates an alternative site for Celliwig.
For, unlike the other two Tribal Thrones,
Celliwig is associated with men from outside the area
in which it was supposed to have lain. Bishop Bydwini
is thought to have been an early Bishop of Llandaff
who gave his name to the Bedwin Sands, off the Gwent
Freichfras is, of course, the notorious King
of Gwent. Both are many of South Wales, and thus it
would appear that Celliwig lay not in Cerniw
(Cornwall), but in Cernyw (Glamorgan)! Barber
& Pykitt argue, convincingly, that
Celliwig is the hillfort of Llanmelin, near Caerwent,
previously called Llan-y-Gelli.