Archive for December, 2016

postheadericon Who did King Arthur Have a Child With?

Prince embracing princess

The child most frequently associated with King Arthur is his wicked son–nephew, Mordred, by his half sister, Morgause. Usually, the affair is arranged by his half sister Morgan le Fay without Arthur’s knowledge. In some versions of the tale, Morgause is also ignorant of her relationship to Arthur until after the deed is done. In some versions, Morgan le Fay herself is the one who deliberately becomes pregnant with Arthur’s child.

Usually, her motives are to gain a claim to the throne for her child, or to create a worthy opponent to overthrow Arthur. Mordred is usually raised in secret and taught to hate Arthur by Morgause and Morgan le Fay. Morgause and Morgan le Fay are usually Arthur’s half sisters by his mother Ygraine and her first husband, Duke Gorlois of Cornwall, who was killed by Arthur’s father, Uther, in order to marry their mother. In some instances of the legend, Morgan le Fay’s actions are done out of revenge for what was done to their father.

In medieval literature, the illegitimate child with a claim to the throne would have been recognized as a genuine threat to Arthur’s kingship. Mordred usually ends up taking Guinevere as his wife and attempting to take Arthur’s kingdom, before the two men kill each other on the battlefield.

Mordred is first mentioned in the Annales Cambriae, in which it simply states for the year 537, “The battle of Camlann, in which Arthur and Medraut fell.” Who Medraut was, and whether he fought with, or against Arthur, is unknown. But when Geoffrey of Monmouth took up the legend in 1136, he named Mordred as Arthur’s nephew, who, with Guinevere, attempts to betray him and seize his kingdom. By the thirteenth century, Mordred is named as Arthur’s son–nephew by incest.

Sir Thomas Malory, in his Le Morte d’Arthur, widely considered to be one of the most authoritative sources on the Arthurian Legend, names another son for Arthur, Borr, by a noblewoman named Lionors. Borr is a nobleman in his own right, and a Knight of the Round Table.

Earlier Welsh sources include tales of other sons for Arthur, who were also killed. The Historia Brittonum states that Arthur had a son named Amr, whom he killed and buried, though it does not state the reason for the conflict. According to this source, Amr’s tomb was special, in that its length changed each time it was measured. The twelfth–century Culhwch and Olwen similarly states that Arthur had a son named Gwydre, who was killed by the boar Twrch Trwyth.

Historians acknowledge that Geoffrey and other writers had access to sources now lost to us when composing their renditions of the Arthurian Legend. It is possible that a tradition existed of Arthur’s son being killed, possibly by Arthur himself, or by a wild boar. It is noteworthy, also, that Arthur is referred to as the “Boar of Cornwall” in Merlin’s prophecies. When later writers picked up the tale of Mordred, they may have conflated his story with a pre–existing tradition of Arthur having killed his own son.

postheadericon Where was King Arthur Born?


According to tradition, King Arthur was born in Tintagel Castle, in Southwestern Britain. This story comes to us from Geoffrey of Monmouth, writing in 1136 A.D.

Arthur’s father, Uther Pendragon, who was the rightful king of Britain, lusted after Ygraine, wedded to Gorlois, the Duke of Cornwall. Uther pursued her relentlessly, to the outrage of her husband. A bitter war broke out between the two men. While he went to war to defend his wife, Duke Gorlois locked Ygraine up in his castle at Tintagel for safety. In desperation, Uther turned to the wizard Merlin for help. Merlin used his secret arts to transform Uther into the likeness of the Duke. Now fully disguised, Uther was able to enter Tintagel Castle and impregnate Ygraine. Afterwards, his forces killed the Duke and took Tintagel. This was where Ygraine would have stayed, and where baby Arthur would have been born nine months later.

Prior to Geoffrey’s recording of this tale in the twelfth century, Arthur was referred to frequently as a war hero, but no other record exists of his birth. The tale may have been invented by Geoffrey in order to give a magical birth to a king of great importance. About the time Geoffrey’s work was published, a new castle was built on the site of Tintagel. Remains of it still stand on the location today, and modern excavations have uncovered the remains of an earlier, Celtic monastery.

The remains of Tintagel Castle are located on a peninsula connected to the mainland only by a narrow valley. Along the peninsula, steep cliffs fall sharply to the sea. As one enters through the valley, a large, earthen bank almost completely bars passage to the main body of the peninsula. Opposite is a massive mound of rock which has been artificially cut, leaving only a narrow, ten-foot passage for entry. Excavations have found that a palisade once stood atop the earthen bank, with a man-made ditch in front.

Tintagel in Geoffrey’s time would have been a highly-defensible position for any ruler who occupied it. The recent rebuilding which had been taking place in Geoffrey’s time, coupled with the region’s historical significance, may have been what inspired Geoffrey to choose it as the setting for Arthur’s birth. The difficulty of gaining access to the castle would  have reflected Duke Gorlois’ deep desire to protect his wife in the most difficult of locations to penetrate; similarly, Uther Pendragon’s feat in gaining entry to the castle and gaining Ygraine would have represented his deep desire for her. Ygraine, in essence, was an impregnable woman locked away in an impregnable fortress, which only Uther’s determination was able to overcome.

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