The Legends of Glastonbury: 'Eternal truths' and 'historical facts'

  • David Philip Ball

Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis

Abstract

The town of Glastonbury in Somerset has, from the medieval period onwards, accumulated a large number of myths and legends around itself. Historical and archaeological accounts of Glastonbury's past have generally dismissed the historicity of these legends. However, there is a significant body of alternative texts which draw upon the same documentary and material evidence, but reach very different conclusions. The purpose of this thesis is to undertake a detailed examination and comparison of these academic and alternative literary traditions, specifically in relation to the history of Glastonbury, in order to investigate what their conflicting views reveal about their respective natures, and the relationship between them. It also considers what these conflicts suggest about the relationship between the writers of the alternative texts and mainstream society as a whole, and why it is at Glastonbury in particular that such a phenomenon has arisen.
The approach adopted involves comparing and contrasting the purposes and methods of the academic and alternative traditions, together with the evidence that they draw upon and the conclusions that they reach. It takes into account both the arguments explicitly put forward within the texts themselves, and also the intertextual effect of other existing literature, which influences not only how authors develop the arguments within their texts, but also how readers interpret them. As such, this thesis provides a detailed case study which supplements existing research on the relationship between academic and alternative history and archaeology in general, and the alternative movement at Glastonbury in particular.
The conclusions of this thesis are that alternative accounts of Glastonbury's past act as a form of literary heterotopia, which sets itself up in opposition to the accounts provided by mainstream academic scholarship. However, it is also argued that, rather than being regarded as simple opposites, academic and alternative texts should instead be viewed as lying along a spectrum, with the position of each individual text depending upon the purposes and methods of its author.
As such, they reflect the alternative movement's desire to challenge the mainstream, seeking to both imitate and overthrow it at the same time. It is further suggested that it is the ambiguous nature of Glastonbury's historical and archaeological record which has provided a fertile environment in which both the legends, and these conflicting interpretations of the past, have been able to flourish.
These conclusions are consistent with the findings of previous researchers, but this thesis provides a detailed analysis of textual evidence specific to Glastonbury's history in support of their more general conclusions. It also offers a number of suggestions regarding some of the underlying social forces and processes which have given rise to the alternative movement at Glastonbury.
Date of Award9 Feb 2015
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • University of Winchester
SupervisorAnna King (Supervisor) & Michael Hicks (Supervisor)

Keywords

  • Glastonbury
  • history
  • archaeology
  • legend
  • heterotopia

Cite this

The Legends of Glastonbury: 'Eternal truths' and 'historical facts'
Ball, D. P. (Author). 9 Feb 2015

Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis