No, not that Brutus….
Concluding our look at the mythic origins of Britain this episode we eventually find out about the link between Troy and the founding of London.
All by way of a murder packed cruise around the Mediterranean with everyone’s favourite cuddly ‘hero’ Brutus (not that Brutus). And there’s giants thrown into the mix for all (you get a giant, and you get a giant, everyone gets a giant!)
We also get yet more naming of the land you find after yourself, because narcissism I suppose.
“when Brut was an outlaw man, And Thorn of the down saw new Troy town“A Tree Song, Rudyard Kipling
Story in summary (Warning – contains spoilers!)
The story in brief, without the detail or discussion – not a transcript.
If you’ve already listened and just want a refresh, only want the bare bones of the story, or really don’t care about spoilers then please do click below to read on…
The Origins of Britain: Brutus
This is the second part of a two parter. The prologue to the last episode featured a battle on the South coast – fought between hideous giants on one side and regular looking military guys, with one none hideous looking giant, on the other.
Last episode told the origins of the hideous Giants. This one tells the story of the other side.
Two generations previous the most important city in the world had fallen to the Greeks and some Gods. That was the city of Troy.
Refugees from the invasion and its aftermath had fled throughout the Mediterranean. But some of these fleeing were all out military units. And rather than seeking sanctuary, they conquered the small places they fled to.
Such it was with Aeneas, son of Aphrodite, who conquered much of Italy. And it was there that his grandson Brutus (not that Brutus), was born.
Before his birth it was prophesied that Brutus would kill both his mother and his father. And no one seems to have taken any steps to prevent this. His mother died in childbirth, while the young man accidentally shot an arrow into this father while out hunting.
Accident or not this second was rather frowned upon and Brutus was sent into exile.
Though third generation he was very much still a Trojan by upbringing and so he sought out his own people.
There was a sizeable population in Greece – enslaved descendants of prisoners the Greeks had taken in the war. They were in bad shape. And Brutus, who’d been brought up in a martial family and had the blood of gods in his recent genetic past, saw in his exile an opportunity to make his mark on the world and with his countrymen.
He first made a name for himself as a tournament fighter and champion, becoming famed across the land with not just the Trojans but the Greeks as well.
He followed this up with some solid political Game of Thrones style machinations.
There was a half-Greek, half-Trojan by the name of Assaracus who’d fallen out with Parnassus, the Greek King. Unlike the enslaved Trojans this man had property and arms. Brutus spied an opportunity and jumped on it.
Soon Greece was in a full scale civil war – Parnassus on one side and Assaracus and Brutus leading the enslaved Trojans in revolt on the other.
This was no short conflict. There were great battles, there were minor skirmishes, there were sieges and massacres and great deeds to be told: both heroic and dastardly. Above all else there was much injury, suffering and death.
Brutus played a pivotal role as a general throughout, leading both his freed Trojans and Greek men.
There’s a lot of military history type detail that could be gone into here but for the purposes of the story we really just need to know that the war ended with King Parnassus captured by Brutus and his people, his life spared only to be used as a bargaining tool with the rest of the Greek army.
Brutus was a hero, and undisputed leader of the Trojans.
But now freedom had been won – what next? There was a debate amongst the Trojans: should they stay here in Greece where their homes were, or leave for somewhere where the Greeks couldn’t persecute them again.
In the midst of the debate a Trojan named Mempricius stood up, asked for silence and delivered a beautiful speech the gist of which was “This conflict will continue forever should we stay, for too much blood has been spilt and their sons shall hate our sons and fighting will continue between neighbours down the ages. We wish to escape from lives of slavery: we seek peace for our families and our children. The treasury of Greece has enough gold, silver and corn to fund a great voyage for us, so we should leave with a grand fleet and achieve true freedom.”
There was great applause at this call for an end to bloodshed, the cycle of revenge and the hurting of so many innocents.
“Oh and of course we should definitely abduct the daughter of the Greek king and force her to “marry” Brutus against her will.“ There were general noises of general agreement at that. “Yes, yes, of course that.”
And that final sour note in their fight for freedom is the first hint that Brutus and the freed Trojans aren’t quite the good guys here.
They sailed away from Greece as per Mempricius’s plan. Early in the voyage they encountered an uninhabited island with an abandoned temple to Diana at its centre. Brutus took a sleep there, as you do, and received a prophetic dream wherein Diana herself told him there was a place for the Trojans. A place inhabited only by Giants. And that it was their destiny to find it and make it their own.
It wasn’t known where she meant but the gods were clearly on their side. The Trojans’ voyage continued and as it did any pretence of them as people simply seeking a home was entirely discarded.
The former slaves knew violence above all else. They became a marauding pirate fleet. They ravaged the northern coasts of Africa, looted other fleets and generally caused destruction and havoc.
Along the way, somewhere in North Africa, they encountered another group of Trojan exiles. This group was ruled over by a man of prodigious size. A giant, many metres tall. Given the divine blood that ran in Trojan royal families this was perhaps less surprising than it might first appear.
His name was Corineus, and what was more surprising was that he agreed that his people would join Brutus and despite his giant nature he was perfectly ok just being second in command. This seemed like a pretty good deal to Brutus. Whoever was his current second in command was given a demotion, and the giant Corineus took his place.
Bolstered by their new additions and their considerable loot the fleet turned northwards travelling up past modern day Spain and making landfall on the coast of what is now France, and was then Gaul.
That prophecy to find a homeland had apparently been quite forgotten as rather than simply piracy they now embarked on what was essentially a full scale invasion of the country.
They defeated many Gaulish armies of a size considerably larger than theirs, time and time again. Brutus’s cunning strategies and Corineus vast bulk often came in handy in reversing the odds.
But despite their many victories people who mattered were starting to die. By which I mean Trojans.
With many armies defeated but the Gaul’s still raising more, the time came when Corineus and Brutus decided enough was enough.
“We weren’t really going to stay here anyway were we?”
“Oh no, of course not – there was that prophecy wasn’t there?”
“Oh yeah, well we best go do that then!”
“Not a retreat, no. A prophecy fulfilling!”
And they retreated.
This time when they set off in their ships they found the long-forgotten island known only as Albion but a short distance away.
An island paradise just for them. They made landfall on the south coast, at the location which is now the town of Totnes in Devon.
It was finally time for them to settle down. They’d stay here. Not pirate anyone else. Raise families. Everything looked to be working out perfectly.
There was just one slight problem. The land wasn’t quite uninhabited.
And so we return to where we began this story. Those descendants of the Syrian princess and the incubi, the giants of Albion, had united to make their final stand against the invaders.
There weren’t many of them left – just twenty four. But that’s still a lot of giants. And they were fighting for their land.
They charged the massed trojans and an epic battle ensued. The fighting was bloody and fierce but the giants, though ferocious, were in the end no match for the more numerous, disciplined and equally blood thirsty forces of the Trojans.
There was never a true question around their inevitable victory. Soon twenty three giants lay dead.
Only one remained. Their leader – Gogmagog. Stripped of his weapons he’d been allowed to live. I wish I could say it was out of some form of mercy but far from it.
Corineus, vast as he was, had always hankered an ambition to wrestle another giant. And this was to be his chance.
Gogmagog had seen all his fellows slain. There was nothing for him now, even if he should win the match. But Corineus relished it.
It was a titanic struggle between the two of them, but eventually Corineus managed to heave Gogmagog above his head, and threw him off the cliff. The giant’s body fell onto the jagged rocks below, smashing up and causing the waves to turn red with his blood, washing away the last living trace of Albina from the land.
In victory Brutus renamed the land granted to him Britain. Corineus chose to live in the area around where the boats had first landed, and that area was known as Cornwall after him.
Brutus went on to found the capital of this new land on the banks of the river Thames.
He called the city Trinovantum, New Troy. And though it was renamed there that city stands till this very day.
Not heard part 1? Start here with Albina…
This episode we take a look at the surprising mythical origins of Britain. Without giving too much away this turns out to feature Syria, giants, a host of badass princesses, a lot of murder and many other decidedly unexpected and adult elements.
Featured writer of marvels: Geoffrey of Monmouth
Most episodes we have a 19th century folklorist feature but in this case we’ve a tale that has survived the ages constantly in print, without a need for any such folklorist to find it again. So instead step forward 11th century legend Geoffery of Monmouth, cursed bane of historians and a blessed gift to story tellers.
The Unreliable Narrator – 12th century chronicler, Geoffrey of Monmouth’s “Historia Regum Britanniae” was a huge influence on British history writing for centuries to come. Unfortunately accuracy wasn’t its strongest point
Brutus’s big stones
Having two mid size stones independently associated with a character, despite his story involving nothing to do with masonry or geology seems a little odd. But they both check out as being kind of related, and you can still see them both today:
The London Stone on Canon Street, London and the Brutus Stone on Fore Street, Totnes.
“Here I stand and here I rest. And this town shall be called Totnes.“A terrible rhyme, the kind of thing Brutus (not that Brutus) would almost certainly say
So, as is discussed in the podcast there are two named giants in the story – Corineus and Gogmagog, who have a bit of a life outside this story.
In particular there are carved figures of the duo in the guildhall in London and wicker effigies of them are a key feature of the Lord Mayor’s show, a annual parade in London, and have been for many centuries.
But over time names have got confused and now the two giants are more commonly known as Gog and Magog, with poor Corineus no where to be found. The names are clearly more satisfying to say this way, but it’s just not accurate!
And by “not accurate” I mean doesn’t agree with Geoffrey’s invented nonsense.
In addition Gog and Magog have lost the rivalry aspect: being seen as the joint Guardian’s of the City of London, according to the Lord Mayor’s show website anyway. And they should know.
So they’re not quite the same Giants as in the Brutus story butrather their kinder, less murdery ancestors.
You can read more about them in the Lord Mayor’s show right here, on the official website, or simply enjoy my public domain sourced photos below.
Diana – the prophecy giver
Musical credits for Episode 8: Origins of Britain Part 2 – Brutus
Intro and outro theme from the incredibly talented Alice Nicholls Music
Other music, used under various Creative Commons licenses:
I’ve not fear
Elio contro Atlante
Andante in re minore
Ben von Wildenhaus
Lullaby for Democracy