This month’s journey around the Kingston Zodiac takes us across Surrey’s Sagittarian Effigy; centred on the Royal Borough of Richmond in Surrey. In Katherine Maltwood’s interpretation of the Glastonbury Zodiac, Somerset’s better known Astro-Archaeological counterpart, the sign of Sagittarius corresponds to the archetype of King Arthur in the Canon of West European Grail Mythology.
This considered, it is perhaps significant that the Arthurian Cycles provide us with definite proof that the institution of monarchy was, even in historical times, originally electoral in nature: a situation that prevailed as late as the Norman Conquest in England; the ascent of Malcolm Canmore in Scotland and the end of High Kingship in Ireland with the establishment of the Anglo-Norman Ascendancy in that country after its Mediaeval conquest and settlement.
In Malory’s ‘Morte d’Arthur’ Arthur’s ordeal involving the Sword and the Stone is effectively a distant folk memory of this now vanished electoral system. Taking this into account then it is perhaps of further significance that in old Celtic Tree Calendars the Thirteenth Lunar Month, which takes us from the end of November up until the Winter Solstice, relates to the supplanting of the old and redundant elected king and the subsequent inauguration of his successor.
In folk music, two of the better known Traditional English Ballads that preserve similarly atavistic recollections of these now vanished ritual customs are ‘Geordie’, which is examined at some length in my ‘Lay of the Last Minstrel: Sir Walter Scott and the Border Minstrel Tradition’, and ‘Please to See the King’: recorded by the original line up of ‘sixties Folk Rock band ‘Steeleye Span’ on their album of the same title.
Amongst the still surviving traditional folk plays that preserve fragments of these self same traditions are those of the celebrated Marshfield Mummers from Marshfield in Gloucester, the Antrobus Soul Cakers from Antrobus in Cheshire and the Copper Family of Rottingdean in Sussex.
Next month we visit Brentford and Sion Park in search of Kingston’s Capricorn Effigy.