John Leland's Itinerary


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John Leland
An Excerpt from his "Itinerary" on South Cadbury, Somerset

John Leland (his gravestone was reported to have recorded another spelling of the name as Leyland) was an English scholar whose active life coincided almost exactly with the reign of Henry VIII. During a period of time spent in Paris studying on a "royal scholarship," which he recieved in 1526, Leland began to develop the interest in ancient documents, particularly, and in antiquarian studies, generally, which would be the basis for the greatest work of his life, the writing of his "Itinerary."

Leland received a posting as a "sub-librarian" in one of Henry's royal libraries in 1530. Three years later, in 1533, he wrote poems celebrating the coronation of Anne Boleyn, which were read at the coronation ceremony. Later in that year, perhaps as a gratuity for having written the poems, Leland received a royal commission "to make a search after England's Antiquities, and peruse the Libraries of all Cathedrals, Abbies, Priories, Colleges, etc. as also all places wherein Records, Writings and secrets of Antiquity were reposed."

This commission amounted to a guaranteed admission ticket to virtually every place in the realm where documents and historical treasures were kept. His "Itinerary" is a record of his travels, and Leland's notes are usually the earliest descriptions that we have of places in England at the end of the middle ages. One of his trips through England took him to South Cadbury in the county of Somerset, where he encountered a hill with a tradition associating it with Camelot, the legendary headquarters of King Arthur.

The description, below, is presented in the English of the Tudor era, which is similar enough to our own language that it should be fairly easy to follow.

.............................................................

At the very south ende of the chirch of South-Cadbyri standith Camallate, sumtyme a famose toun or castelle, upon a very torre or hill, wunderfully enstrengtheid of nature, to the which be 2. enteringes up by very stepe way: one by north est and another by south west.

The very roote of the hille wheron this forteres stode is more then a mile in cumpace. In the upper parte of the coppe of the hille be 4. diches or trenches, and a balky waulle or yerth betwixt every one of them. In the very toppe of the hille above al the trenchis is magna area or campus of 20. acres or more by estimation,.wher yn dyverse places men may se fundations and rudera of walles. There was much dusky blew stone that people of the villages therby hath caryid away.

This top withyn the upper waulle is xx. acres of ground and more, and hath bene often plowid and borne very good corne. Much gold, sylver and coper of the Romaine coynes hath be found ther yn plouing : and lykewise in the feldes in the rootes of this hille, with many other antique thinges, and especial by este. Ther was found in hominum memoria a horse shoe of sylver at Camallate. The people can telle nothing ther but that they have hard say that Arture much restorid to Camalat.

The old Lord Hungreford was owner of this Camallat. Now Hastinges the Erle of Huntendune by his mother. Diverse villages there about bere the name of Camalat by an addition, as Quene-Camallat [Queen's Camel], and other.

The hylle and the diches depe well now viij. shepe. Al the ground by south west and west of Camalat lyith in a vale, so that one of 2. wayes it may be sene far of.





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