I have a very philosophical bent, almost to the point of annoying optimism. Yet today I can’t shake feeling down. Yesterday I learned of the passing of Geoffrey Ashe, arguably the greatest mind in the realm of Arthurian history, legend, and more. It is his research that inspired me to write The Retreat to Avalon, which became the first book in the historical fiction series, The Arthurian Age.
Geoffrey Thomas Leslie Ashe was born in London in 1923. He lived in Canada for a time, graduating from the University of British Columbia and then Cambridge University with an English degree. As he said, history was an acquired taste, and writing became his main interest. Arthurian subjects were actually a later interest of his, but he was obviously a quick study. With at least thirty-five published books, at least a third of them have an Arthurian or British mythology focus. I think I might have all of them.
Geoffrey co-founded the Camelot Research Committee with the eminent historian and archeologist, Ralegh Radford, and in 1966 they teamed up with Leslie Alcock, another famed archeologist, to excavate the hillfort at Cadbury Castle. Cadbury Castle had a tradition dating at least to the medieval period, of being King Arthur’s “Camelot”. Of course, Camelot is the Romance version of Arthur’s castle, but for a historical Arthur, Cadbury Castle would be quite appropriate. This was proven when Alcock’s excavations revealed that the hillfort had been extensively re-fortified in Arthur’s time by someone with great resources.
Geoffrey chuckles, pointing out his “one connection to Hollywood”: when Warner Brothers made the 1967 musical film Camelot, they took his advice and during a brief glimpse of a map of Britain, you can see Camelot is in Somerset. I learned this charming anecdote after I had, myself, found his argument convincing, and placed Arthur’s stronghold at Cadbury Castle in my novels.
In 1981, Geoffrey presented the results of his research regarding the historical Arthur in Speculum, the journal of the Medieval Academy of America. As Geoffrey described, he took a new approach to considering the written records and archaeology, and that research was published in 1985 as the fantastic book, The Discovery of King Arthur. In 1987, I was a bored high school student looking for a term paper subject. I need to find the school librarian and thank her for suggesting his book, because that book inspired and intrigued me for the next three decades. I kept waiting for someone to make a movie, or write a novel based on it, until my wise and lovely bride suggested I do it.
Geoffrey has had a number of prestigious awards. In 1963, he was made a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature. In 2012, he was appointed a Member of the Order of the British Empire for Services to Heritage, and in 2015, the Glastonbury Town Council made Geoffrey an Honorary Freeman of Glastonbury “in recognition of his eminent services to the place as an author and cultural historian.” He is clearly a rock-star in Glastonbury.
Geoffrey continued his research, gave interviews (like this one), participated in talks, conducted tours and held visiting professorships at universities here in the US. That’s how he met his lovely wife, Patricia, a professor at the University of North Alabama. They married and lived at the Chalice Orchard below the peak of Glastonbury Tor. They absolutely radiated a love and appreciation for each other.
We were so honored to visit Geoffrey and Patricia in 2016, and were introduced to our first English tea experience. Love the scones with cream and jam! Or was it with jam and cream?
Geoffrey and Pat are so gracious, kind and friendly. It was fascinating to learn more about them, and to discuss history and Arthurian legend. I didn’t want to leave, but I subdued my inner-fangirl and made sure we didn’t impose on them too long. They both corresponded with me over the years, and Geoffrey even gave an endorsement for my first book. Writing a story that did his work justice was my goal, so that was the best review I could have hoped for.
I’ve had a desire to write stories since I was in grade-school. I dabbled, even wrote quite a bit on an unfinished novel based on my time working as a drug investigator in Germany. But the moment I set out to write about Arthur – Riothamus and the war in Gaul, I was consumed. It took almost five years to research and write The Retreat to Avalon. In the end, I not only completed a manuscript, but published my first novel and the publisher asked me to turn it into a trilogy. I’ve since published the second book in the series, The Strife of Camlann.
I dedicated The Strife of Camlann to Geoffrey. Without him, I may never have found the inspiration to actually become a writer. For a kid who grew up dreaming of other times and places, this is a dream come true. Thank you, so much, Geoffrey.
Pat said Geoffrey passed peacefully in his sleep after a night reading and discussing a book by C.S. Lewis with her. She also said that the last thing Geoffrey had written, about a week ago, was an email to me. Oh. Oh, my. . . I had been so ecstatic to read it, how he was pleased with the sequel, and that he looked forward to talking about it more when we next visited. We planned on seeing them both in September. I hope we can still visit Pat when the time is right. Until then, we wish all the love and comfort possible for Pat, their family, and all who loved them.
Jenn and I were only a very tiny part of Geoffrey’s beautiful world, but the little part I have been fortunate to share is one of the great blessings of my life. I will be forever thankful. God Bless, Geoffrey. I look forward to seeing you again in time. I have a feeling you’ll finally be able to tell us how you were right all along.