The Merlin Files 3 – Magician

When Aurelius became king of Britain around 1,500 years ago, he was keen to mark the burial place of hundreds of his warriors who had been treacherously assassinated by the Saxons near Kaercaradduc (later known as Salisbury).

As recounted in last week’s article in this series, Aurelius knew that Merlin was a formidable (if somewhat enigmatic) prophet, and he learned that he was also renowned for having great mechanical skills.

Merlin, who seems to have had a habit of disappearing, was found near Winchester, brought to the king and asked for his advice on construction of a memorial to the honourable dead.

According to Geoffrey of Monmouth’s History of the Kings of Britain, Merlin came up with a novel suggestion that would live through the ages: why bother to come up with your own idea when you can steal someone else’s?

He explained that there was a gigantic stone circle on Mount Killaraus in Ireland that would be the perfect monument for Salisbury Plain – all that was needed was to go and get it.

The king’s brother, Uther Pendragon, along with 15,000 men plus Merlin sailed over, slaughtered the Irish resistance and then set about the task of moving the stones.

Perhaps not surprisingly, this proved near impossible until Merlin “placed in position all the gear which he considered necessary and dismantled the stones more easily than you could ever believe. Once he had pulled them down, he had them carried to the ships…”

Geoffrey gives no more detail of how the removal was carried out – or how the reconstruction on Salisbury Plain was achieved. Merlin’s magic seems to have defied description…

Modern opinion is that the large outer stone circle of Stonehenge came from local sandstone quarries – Merlin, on the other hand, claimed that a race of giants had moved these healing stones from Africa to Ireland before they were purloined for use in Wiltshire.

Besides all this, we do know that the smaller inner ring of bluestones at Stonehenge originated in Pembrokeshire. And relatively recently, two sites in the Preseli Hills have been identified as places where they are likely to have been quarried: Carn Goedog, three miles west of Crymych; and Craig Rhos-y-felin, a mile to the north-west of Brynberian.

Of course, if the legend recounted by Geoffrey of Monmouth is to be believed, then Merlin was not only a magician but also someone who saw no harm in robbery with violence.

But what he was prepared to do next was perhaps much more shocking…

© Nigel Summerley

To be continued next week…

Nigel Summerley

Nigel Summerley

Nigel Summerley retired from The Oldie magazine to return to freelance journalism. He previously held executive staff jobs at the London Evening Standard, The Daily Telegraph, The Sunday Telegraph and the Daily Express before freelancing for 20 years for newspapers including The Times, The Sunday Times, The Independent, The Guardian and the ‘i’ paper, plus a wide range of magazines. He continues to write about music, travel and health, and blogs at

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