Trojans at Totnes and Giants on Plymouth Hoe: The Legendary Origins of Britain

John Clark, formerly curator of the medieval collections at the Museum of London, investigates the legendary origins of Britain and the reputed landing place in Devon of Trojan refugees after the destruction of Troy by the Greeks.

Our story begins in the 1130s, when Geoffrey of Monmouth wrote a fraudulent ‘History of the Kings of Britain’, which tells how Trojan settlers, fleeing after the destruction of Troy by the Greeks, arrived in an island then called Albion. They found it inhabited by giants, whose leader was ‘Goemagog’. The Trojans renamed the land ‘Britain’ after their leader Brutus – and slaughtered the giants. Brutus’s comrade Corineus hurled Goemagog to his death from a cliff at a place still called (according to Geoffrey of Monmouth) ‘Goemagog’s Leap’ – but where was ‘Goemagog’s Leap’, and where exactly did the Trojans land? And Geoffrey never explained why the land had been called ‘Albion’, or where the giants came from. For that we have to wait till the early 14thcentury, when an anonymous English poet writing in Anglo-Norman French provided a prequel to Geoffrey’s history, and explained the origins of the name Albion and the giants.

John Clark, for many years curator of the medieval collections at the Museum of London, has long been interested in byways of medieval history, and in particular the way ‘real’ history relates to and interacts with legends and folklore. His book The Green Children of Woolpit: Chronicles, Fairies and Facts in Medieval England, subject of a previous talk, is due to be published in August 2024.

Your curator and host for this event will be the writer Edward Parnell, author of Ghostland: In Search of a Haunted Country. Edward lives in Norfolk and has an MA in Creative Writing from the University of East Anglia. He is the recipient of an Escalator Award from the National Centre for Writing and a Winston Churchill Travelling Fellowship. Ghostland (William Collins, 2019), a work of narrative non-fiction, is a moving exploration of what has haunted our writers and artists – as well as the author’s own haunted past; it was shortlisted for the PEN Ackerley 2020 prize, an award given to a literary autobiography of excellence. Edward’s folklore-strewn first novel The Listeners (2014), won the Rethink New Novels Prize. For further info see:

Don’t worry if you miss or can’t attend the event live on the night – the next day we will send ticketholders a recording that will be valid for two weeks.

[Image: 15th-century image from the Bodleian Library (MS Laud 733) – showing Albina and her sisters arriving in the land she called ‘Albion’.]

Date: Thursday 14 November 2024. Time: 7.30pm – 9.00pm (London time)

£5 – £10, & by donation