June 29th Wednesday. Very hot and sultry after the chilly past few days. Geraldine for tea. Long phone call from Dai Evans with the information I asked him to get me about Catreath, the photostats to be posted off to me tomorrow. “The Men went to Catraeth” becomes more and more complex by the day now.
‘Catraeth’ has featured several times in diary entries. “The Men went to Catraeth” is perhaps the provisional title for the chapter Rosemary Sutcliff was writing at this point. In the final version of her award-winning historical novel The Shining Company,which was published in 1990, there is a chapter – this chapter? – called “The Road to Catraeth”. Set in A.D. 600, the novel was based on Y Gododdin, one of the earliest surviving examples of Welsh poetry. It was transcribed in the twelfth century but commemorated an event in the sixth: “an elegy for slain heroes and a eulogy of their excellence and bravery as fighting men” (in the words of one commentator, here). The poem begins with a fragment of poetry which speaks of Catraeth as the site of a great battle.
Gwyr a aeth Gatraeth gan wawr …
Men went to Catraeth with the dawn,
Their fears disturbed their peace,
A hundred thousand fought three hundred
Bloodily they stained spears,
His was the bravest station in battle,
Before the retinue of Mynyddog Mzvynfawr.
The story Rosemary Sutcliff tells in The Shining Company is this.
In northern Britain, Prosper becomes a shield bearer with the Companions, an army made up of three hundred younger sons of minor kings and trained to act as one fighting brotherhood against the invading Saxons. Life is secure until Prince Gorthyn arrives with his hunting party to kill the white hart. Prosper tries to save the unusual beast and, when found out, is surprised to learn that Prince Gorthyn admires his daring. Prosper asks to serve the prince, but it is not until two years later that he receives a summons: King Mynyddog is raising a war host of three hundred younger sons to fight the invading Saxons, and Gorthyn needs a second shieldbearer. Answering the call, Prosper sets out immediately to meet the prince and travel to King Mynyddog’s fortress at Dyn Eidin. For a year the three hundred men – the Companions – and their shieldbearers train until they can think and act as one fighting brotherhood. And when word reaches them that the Saxon leader has taken yet another kingdom, they set out to attack the Saxon stronghold at Catraeth. It is here that Prosper must face his greatest challenge, as treachery strikes the Companions from an unexpected source.