Harrington on Glastonbury (1591)

The following material is an excerpt from the transcription available from the Early English Books Online website, from a note of John Harrington to his translation into English of the 4th book of Ludovico Ariosto’s Orlando Furioso. The quotation comes from a 1607 edition, but Harrington’s note probably dates from a 1591 version of this work. Harrington implies that part of Arthur’s body (perhaps that large leg-bone shown to Gerald of Wales soon after its disinterment, in the 1190s)  was still  visible “in a door” of a church at Glastonbury. Also it appears that a coffin containing the body of Guinevere was “taken up” (i.e. dug up or disinterred) at some point in the 1500s, and her face appeared mummified or preserved, whereas a report of Edward I’s visit to the tomb in 1278 (as per Adam of Domersham) refers to her and Arthur’s skulls (removed from their skeletons). Thanks to Karen Han, of the Facebook group King Arthur, and her citation of Charles T. Wood’s article, “Guenevere at Glastonbury: A problem in Translation(s),”  in Arthurian Literature XVI (ed. Carley & Riddy, 1998).

For the Historie of this booke, little is to be said of the time of Charles the great, because the booke digresseth to other matters: but whereas mention is made of Calledon forrest in Scotland, and of King Arthur his knights, I thought it not amisse, as in the former booke I told you, what I thought of Merlin that was Arthurs great counseller, so now somewhat to touch, as the space will permit, the reports that are true and probable of king Arthur. It is generally written and beleeued that this Arthur was a notable valiant and religious Prince, and that he governed this Iland in that rude age with great love of his people, and honour of forraine nations, he instituted an order of the knights of the round table onely (as it seemes) of some meriment of hunting, or some pleasant exercises. He was himself of stature very tall, as appeares by the proportion of him left (as they say here in our countrey of Somerset) in a doore of a Church by the famous Abbey of Glassenbury, in which Abbey his wife Queene Gueneuer was buried, and within our memory taken vp in a coffin, with her body and face in shew plainly to be discerned, saue the very tip of her nose, as diuers dwelling there about haue reported. But what manner of death king Arthur himselfe died, it is doubtfull, and that which they report seemes meerly fabulous, namely that he was caried away in a barge from a bridge called Pomperles, neare the said Glassenbury, and so conueyed by unknowne persons, (or by the Ladie of the Lake) with promise to bring him backe againe one day: vpon which it seems the foolish people grounded their vaine saying (King Arthur comes againe.)

For my part I confesse my selfe to haue bin more inquisitiue of such trifles then a wiser man would, and viewing that bridge and all that countrey about Glassenbury, I see good reason to guesse, that all that countrie which now we call our moores (and is reduced to profitable and fertill ground) was sometime recouered from the sea, and might be nauigable vp to Glassenbury in those times: and so I suppose the said King being drowned there by some mishap, and being well be|loued of the people, some fained (to content their minds) that he was but gone a little way, and would come again: as the Senate of Rome, hauing killed Romulus for his tyrannie, deuised a tale of I know not what to make the people beleeue he was turned to a god. M. Camden the best antiquarie of our time, writeth that king Arthurs body was taken vp at the foresaid Glassenbury in the time of king Henrie the second, which indeed is most credible, as he there proueth. But this I conclude, that this Prince was so worthy a man in his time, as not onely true histories haue greatly recommended to the posteritie, but almost all Poeticall writers that haue bin since, haue mentioned this famous Prince Arthur of England, as a person of whom no notable exploit was incredible. And thus much for king Arthur.

Arthur the Pictish general

While Arthur is usually assumed to have been a Briton leading the British kings, one medieval author refers to him as a Pictish general, from the area north of Hadrian’s Wall (i.e. present-day Scotland). This author is Lambert of St Omer, who compiled his encyclopedia Liber Floridus before 1120 (that is, before Geoffrey of Monmouth had written his History of the Kings of Britain, which made King Arthur famous). Lambert is clearly relying on the 9th-c. Historia Brittonum (“Nennius”), written in Wales, for much of his material, but he had also heard about a round “palace” in Pictland dedicated to the local hero Arthur, and he inserted information about this Arthur in a couple of places, combining it with material from Nennius and also attributing it to Bede.

The palace in question is probably the round Roman temple near Falkirk, Scotland, which was destroyed in 1743. It was known as Arthur’s O’on (Arthur’s Oven), though it had also been associated with Julius Caesar, the god Mars, etc.

I present here all the Latin texts referring to Arthur from Nennius, out of order, and the corresponding passages from Lambert. Translations below.

 From the Historia Brittonum

( Latin transcribed by Judy Shoaf from Coe & Young, Celtic Sources for the Arthurian Legend)

From ch. 73, Mirabilia Britanniae

Est aliud mirabile in regione quae dicitur Buelt. Est ibi cumulus lapidum, et unus lapis superpositus super congestum cum uestigio canis in eo.  Quando venatus est porcum Troynt, impressit Cabal, qui erat canis  Arturi militis, vestigium in lapidi, et Arthur postea congregauit congestum lapidum sub lapide in quo erat vestigium canis et uocatur Carn Cabal. Et veniunt  homines uero et tollunt lapidem in un manibus suis per spatium diei et noctis, et in crastino die inuenitur super congestum suum.

Est aliud miraculum in regione quae dicitur Ercing. Habetur ibi sepulchrum iuxta fontem qui cogniminatur Licat Amr, et viri nomen qui sepultus est in tumulo, sic uocabatur Anyr, filius Arturi militis erat et ipse occidit eum ibidem et sepeliuit. Et ueniunt homines ad mensurandum tumulum in longitudine aliquando sex pedes aliquando nouem, aliquando duodecim, aliquando quindecim, in qua mensura metieris eum in ista vice, iterum non inuenies eum in una mensura et ego solus probaui.

From Ch. 56, quoted out of order to fit with Lambert’s version.

……Tunc Arthur pugnabat contra illos in illis diebus cum regibus Brittonum sed ipse dux erat bellorum. Primum bellum fuit in ostium fluminis quod dicitur Glein. Secundum et tertium et quartum et quintum super aliud flumen quod vocatur Dubglas et est in regione Linnius. Sextum bellum super flumen quopd vocatur Bassas. Septimum fuit bellum in silua Celidonis, id est Cat Coit Celidon. Octauum fuit bellum in castello Guynon, in quo Arthur portauit imaginem sanctae Mariae perpetuae uirginis super humeros suos et pagani uersi sunt in fugam. In illo die caedes magna fuit super illos per uirtutem Domini Nostri Iesu Christi et per uirtutem sanctae Mariae Virginis genitricis eius. Nonum bellum gestum est in urbe Legionis. Decimum gessit bellum in littore fluminis quod uocatur Tribruit. Vndecimum factum est bellum in monte qui dicitur Agned. Duodecimum fuit bellum in monte Badonis, in quo corruerunt nongenti sexaginta uiri de uno impetu Arturi et nemo prostrauit eos nisi ipse solus. Et in omnibus bellis uictor erat.

[This text immediately precedes the account of Arthur’s battles quoted above.] In illo tempore Saxones inualescebant in multitudine et crescebant in Britannia. Mortuo autem Hengesto Octha filius eius transiuit de sinistrali parte Britanniae ad regnum Cantorum et de ipso orti sunt reges Cantorum. Tunc Arthur pugnabat contra illos in illis diebus cum regibus Brittonum sed ipse dux erat bellorum. [as above]

Liber Floridus of Lambert of St Omer

(Latin transcribed by Charles Gunther from an article by David Dumville)

From Ch. 52, Miranda Britannie

Est tumulus lapidum in Brittannia in prouintia Buelth, et unus lapis superpositus et uestigia canis qui uocabatur Cabal Arturi militis impressa lapidi, quando uenatus est aprum Trointh in loco qui dicitur Carmy Cabal, eo quod Artur sub lapide illo tumulum fecerit. Homines uero illius prouintie dum tollunt de tumulo lapidem et abscondunt biduo, die tercio inuenitur super tumulum.

Est sepulchrum in Brittannia in prouintia Ercing iuxta fontem Lycatanir filii Arturi militis qui uocabatur Anyr, in quo sepeliuit eum Artur. Dum autem ueniunt homines ad mensurandum sepulchrum, habet in longitudine mensuram aliquando Vque pedum aliquando VIII, aliquando XI, aliquando XV, numquam una uice sicut altera.

Est palatium, in Brittannia in terra Pictorum Arturi militis, arte mirabili et uarietate fundatum, in quo factotum bellorumque eius omnium gesta sculpta uidentur. Gessit autem bella XII contra Saxones qui Brittanniam occupauerant.  Primum bellum fuit in ostium fluminis quod dicitur Gleuy. Secundum uero et tercium et quartum et quintum super flumen Dubglas. Septimum in silua Celidonis. Octauum in Castello Guynon, in quo bello portauit Artur imaginem sancte Marie super humeros sues et pagani uersi sunt in fugam. In illa die cedes magna fuit de paganis per uirtutem Domini Nostri Iesu Christi et sancte Virginis Genitricis eius. Nonum bellum gestum est in urbe Legionis. Decimum in littore fluminis quod uocatur Tribuith. Vndecimum in monte Agned. Duodecimum in monte Badonis, in quo bello corruerunt nongenti sexaginta uiri de uno impetu Arturi auxiliante Domino Iesu Christo.

From ch. 57, Historia Anglorum a beato Beda venerabili presbitero composita.

In illo tempore Saxones inualescebant in multitudine et crescebant in Britannia. Mortuo autem Hengesto Octha filius eius transiuit de sinistrali parte Britannie ad regnum Cantorum et de ipso orti sunt reges Cantie. Tunc Arthur dux Pictorum interioris Britannia regens regna, fortis uiribus, miles acerrimus, uidens Angliam undique impugnari et bona terre diripi multosque captiuari ac redimi et ab hereditatibus expelli, cum Britonnum regibus feroci impetu Saxones aggreditur et in eos irruens pugnabat uiriliter, dux bellorum XIl eis existens ut RETRO scriptum in est VIII ue folio.


English for Historia Brittonum

(tr. J. Shoaf, in an attempt to match the Liber Floridus and show what is borrowed and what is changed):

from Ch. 73, Wonders of Britain

There is another wonder in the region which is called Buellt. There is a mass of stone and one stone placed on the top of the pile with the footprint of a dog on it.When Cabal, who was the dog of Arthur the soldier, hunted the pig Troint, he pressed his footprint into a stone, after which Arthur gathered the pile of stones underneat the stone on which was the footprint of the dog, and it was called Carn Cabal. And men come, and carry the stone in their hands for a space of a day and a night, and on the next day the stone is found on the pile.

There is another wonder in the region which is called Erging. A grave is there next to a spring which is called Llygad Amr, and the name of the man who is buried there is Amr the son of Arthur the soldier, and this same man killed him and buried him there. And men come to measure the tomb and it is sometimes 6 feet long and sometimes 9 feet, sometimes 12, sometimes 15. At whatever length you measure it at one time, you will not find it again at the same length and I myself have tested this.

from Ch. 56, out of sequence:

….Then Arthur fought against them in those days with the kings of the Britains but he himself was the leader of battles. The first battle was in the east at the river called Glein. The second, the third, the fourth, and the fifth on the river Dubglas in the region of Linnius. The sixth battle was by the river that is named Bassas. The seventh battle was in the forest of Celidon, that is Cat Coit Celidon. The eighth battle was in Castle Guinon, in which Arthur carried an image of St. Mary, the eternal virgin, on his shoulders and the pagans were turned in flight. In that day there was great slaughter of thm through the power of Our Lord Jesus Christ and and through the power of St. Mary, his Virgin Mother. The ninth battle was fought in the City of the Legion. He fought the tenth battle on the bank of the river called Tribruit. The eleventh battle was waged on the mount called Agned. The twelfth battle was on mount Badon, in which battle 960 men fell in a single attack by Arthur, and no-one brought them low except he. He proved victorious in all his battles.

[This text immediately precedes the account of Arthur’s battles quoted above.] In that time the Saxons grew strong and multiplied in Britain. At the death of Hengest, his son Octa moved from the left part of Britain to the kingdom of the Canti (Kentish) and from him arose the kings of Kent. Then Arthur fought against them in those days with the kings of the Britains but he himself was the leader of battles. [as above]

English for Liber Floridus

(tr. J. Shoaf)

from Ch. 52, Wonders of Britain

There is a mound of stones in Britain in the province of Buelth, and one stone placed on the top and the footprints of a dog called Cabal belonging to Arthur the soldier imprinted on the stone, when he came hunting the boar Trointh in the place called Carmy Cabal, and under that same stone Arthur made that mound. And it’s a fact that when men of that province take the stone from the mound and hide it for two days, on the third day it is found on top of the mound.

There is a tomb in Britain in Ercing province near the spring of Lycatanir [or Lycat Anir] which belongs to the son of Arthur the soldier who was called Anyr, in which Arthur himself buried him. Now, when men come to measure the tomb, it measures in length sometimes a total of 5 feet, sometimes 8, sometimes 9, sometimes 15, never the same one time as another.

There is a palace, in Britain in the Picts’ land, of Arthur the soldier, built with wondrous art and variety, in which may be seen sculpted all his acts both of construction and in battle. It shows in fact the 12 battles against the Saxons who had occupied Britain. The first battle was at the mouth of the river called Gleuy. The second indeed and the third and the fourth and the fifth on the river Dubglas. The seventh in the forest of Celidon. The eighth in Castle Guinon, in which battle Arthur carried an image of St. Mary on his shoulders and the pagans were turned in flight. In that day there was great slaughter of pagans through the power of Our Lord Jesus Christ and his sainted Virgin Mother. The ninth battle was fought in the City of the Legion. The tenth on the bank of the river called Tribuith. The eleventh on mount Agned. The twelfth on mount Badon, in which battle 960 men fell in a single attack by Arthur, with the help of the Lord Jesus Christ.

from Ch. 57, History of the English composed by Blessed Bede the venerable priest

In that time the Saxons grew strong and multiplied in Britain. At the death of Hengest, his son Octa moved from the left part of Britain to the kingdom of Cantus (Kent) and from him arose the kings of Kent. Then Arthur the leader of the Picts, directing kingdoms inland in Britain, with strong men, this fiercest soldier, seeing England [Anglia] everywhere beaten in battle, good lands taken away, many enslaved and redeemed and expelled from their inheritance, with the kings of the Britons he came against the Saxons with a ferocious attack and rushing upon them fought manfully, the leader in 12 battles, the same [?] as is written above on the 8th leaf [of this manuscript]








Gildas on Ambrosius Aurelianus & Badon

The following comparisons arose from a discussion on Arthurnet, in summer 2007, of the end of Ch. 25 and beginning of Ch. 26 in Gildas’s De Excidio Britanniae, the only early account we have of the Britain in which Arthur would have operated. This particular passage is crucial because it mentions the battle of Badon, and later writers claimed Arthur had led the Britons there. Also, it offers a chronological datum–44 years between two events–which would allow us to date that battle if we understood clearly what Gildas is saying. Those most active in the discussion were Keith Fitzpatrick-Matthews, Kevin Bowman, and Judy Shoaf. First comes Kevin Bowman’s translation, then 3 versions of the original Latin text, then 3 other translations, and finally a breakdown of the  Latin sentences into component parts, with translation.

Kevin Bowman’s translation

The survivors, with the Lord giving strength … (their leader being Ambrosius Aurelianus, that gentleman, who perhaps alone among the Romans survived the shock of that notable storm, in which his parents–decked in scarlet, no doubt–were killed, whose descendants now, in our times have degenerated greatly from grandfatherly excellence) regain their power, challenging the victors to battle, [and] with the Lord assenting, victory fell to them. [Ch. 26 begins] From that time, now the citizens, and now the enemy were victorious (so that the Lord, as is his usual practice, might test among this people, the latter-day Israel, whether they love him or not) right up until the year of the siege of Mount Badon, almost the last, though not the least slaughter of the villains, which year, with one month having already passed, begins as the forty-fourth (as I know), and is also the year of my birth.
Kevin’s notes (for more see the archives): This translation (which was based on Winterbottom’s) attempts to accomplish several things different than those Winterbottom strove for. First, I have tried to make the English translation reflect the grammatical construction of the Latin wherever possible…. There are, I think, basically four controversial decisions that I have incorporated into the translation.
(1) I have rendered “purpura nimirum indutis,” Gildas’ description of Ambrosius’ deceased parents as “decked in scarlet, no doubt.” Winterbottom places a different emphasis on the “certainty” conveyed by nimirum. More controversially, I have translated “purpura” as “scarlet” instead of purple. This is to emphasize the aspect of “purpura” as being the color of oxygenated blood, which Gildas relies upon elsewhere. Gildas, I believe, is making a pun regarding the circumstances of Ambrosius’ parents’ death [i.e. martyrdom], and is not, as it has conventionally been read, seriously asserting anything about the nobility of Ambrosius’ family.
(2) The relative “quique” (i.e., “qui” + the enclitic conjunction “que”) which begins the clause with the forty-forth year, I am translating with the antecedent, “annum”, the “annus”/”year” of the siege of Mount Badon.
(3) I also have treated the same “annum” as the antecedent of the relative “qui” in the last clause establishing the year of Gildas’ birth.
(4) Finally, I have interpreted the month that has passed as describing when the siege of Mount Badon occurred, not when Gildas was born.


The earliest witness we have to Gildas is the use made by the Venerable Bede of his text in the Historia Ecclesiastica Gentis Anglorum. Based on the 11th and 12th c. mss. of Gildas’s work, it is clear that Bede rewrote Gildas considerably. His version of the passage (book 1, ch. 16) in question is as follows:

AT ubi hostilis exercitus exterminatis dispersisque insulae indigenis, domum reuersus est, coeperunt et illi paulatim uires animosque resumere, emergentes de latibulis, quibus abditi fuerant, et unanimo consensu auxilium caeleste precantes, ne usque ad internicionem usquequaque delerentur. Utebantur eo tempore duce Ambrosio Aureliano, uiro modesto, qui solus forte Romanae gentis praefatae tempestati superfuerat, occisis in eadem parentibus regium nomen et insigne ferentibus. Hoc ergo duce uires capessunt Brettones, et uictores prouocantes ad proelium, uictoriam ipsi Deo fauente suscipiunt. Et ex eo tempore nunc ciues, nunc hostes uincebant, usque ad annum obsessionis Badonici montis, quando non minimas eisdem hostibus strages dabant, XLmo circiter et IIIIo anno aduentus eorum in Brittaniam.

[But when the army, the hostile natives having been exterminated or dispersed, returned home, they began a little to get back their strength and spirit, emerging from the hiding-places to which they had fled, and with one accord praying for heavenly help that they would not be killed or destroyed. They had, at that time, Ambrosius Aurelianus as their leader, a modest man, who perhaps alone of the Roman stock had survived the aforesaid tempest, in which his family, which bore a royal and distinguished name, were killed. With him leading the Britons gathered strength, and provoking the conquerors to battle, got the victory thanks to the favor of God himself. And from that time on, now the citizens, now the enemy triumphed, up to the year of the siege of Badon hill, when they administered a not inconsiderable slaughter to the enemies, about 40 and 4 years from their arrival in Britain –J.S.]

Below are two manuscript versions of this passage from the De Excidio Britanniae . A  lengthy clause modifying the subject “reliquiae” (“remnants[of the Britons]”) is italicized in the first example and omitted from others, including translations, though the full sentence is analyzed below (and also survives, much toned down, in Bede).  Texts courtesy of Keith Fitzpatrick-Matthews, supplemented from his website!

Mommsen’s edition, based on Cotton Vitellius A.vi:
roborante deo reliquiae  quibus confugiunt undique de diuersis locis miserrimi ciues, tam audie quam apes alueari procella imminente, simul deprecantes eum tot corde et, ut dicitur, innumeris ‘onerantes aethera uotis’, ne ad internicionem usque delerentur, duce ambrosio aureliano uiro modesto, qui solus forte romanae gentis tantae tempestatis collisione occisis in eadem parentibus purpura nimirum indutis superfuerat, cuius nunc temporibus nostris suboles magnopere auita bonitate degenerauit, uires capessunt, uictores prouocantes ad proelium, quis uictoria domino annuente cessit.
[Ch. 26]
ex eo tempore nunc ciues, nunc hostes, uincebant, ut in ista gente experietur dominus solito more praesentem israelem, utrum diligat eum an non; usque ad annum obsessionis badonici montis, nouissimaeque ferme de furciferis non minimae stragis, quique quadragesimus quartus, ut noui, orditur annus, mense iam uno emenso, qui et meae natiuitatis est.
Avranches Ms. [corrected by Cambridge Ff I.27]
…roborati a deo celi…
duce itaque ambrosio aureliano uiro modesto, qui solus fortis superfuerat de romana gente occisis parentibus purpura indutus in eadem collisione tante tempestatis, cuius etiam nunc nostris temporibus suboles magnopere ab auita bonitate degenerauit, uires capescunt, uictores prouocantes ad proelium, quibus uictoria domino annuente ex uoto cessit.

et ex eo tempore nunc ciues, nunc hostes, uincebant, ut in ista gente experietur dominus solito more superstitem israelem, utrum diligat eum an non; usque ad annum obsessionis Badonici montis, nouissimaeque ferme de furciferis non minimae stragis, quo quadragesimus [quartus], ut noui, or[itur] annus, mense uno iam emenso, qui et meae natiuitatis est annus.

Keith Fitzpatrick-Matthews’s comments on the various versions:

The Avranches Manuscript: Dumville has suggested it may preserve better readings, most notoriously in giving us the name of tyranno uortigerno).
It looks to me as if Bede had a manuscript of Gildas with features of both the Avranches and the Cottonian versions; does this mean that Mommsen’s text – which has become the standard – retains inferior readings because of his reliance in MS Cotton Vitallius A.vi? This might mean that we should treat the quo quadragesimus quartus… annus seriously (and the ablative quo more directly connects us with eo tempore than Mommsen’s reading).
We also need to recognise that Bede read his version of the text as implying that the siege was in the forty-fourth year after something (and he assumed that it was from the Adventus Saxonum, which I find highly implausible, knowing how Gildas felt about the Saxon furciferi!).

J. Shoaf’s comments:

The Cotton ms. version looks to me to be closer to the sentence structure Gildas would have used in the early 6th century. The Avranches version has a more relaxed, medieval/vernacular word order.  The reviser/copyist does not trust the Latin endings to convey syntactical relationships: Gildas’s “roborante deo”  and “romanae gentis” become “roborati a deo” and “de romane gente,” with prepositions to clarify what goes with what. Gildas’s “tantae tempestatis collisione” (which goes with “superfuerat,” survived) is moved after the “in eadem” (in Gildas referring to the family killed in “the same” tempest which AA survived). He/she is trying to break Gildas’s sentences down into more digestible chunks without losing anything.  Bede’s simplification is masterful, Avranche’s confused.
It is still of course possible that Avranches (or Bede) preserves elements of the original text which were for some reason omitted from the mss. with which Mommsen worked.
To repeat Keith’s points, Bede famously eliminated the reference to Gildas’s birth and placed Badon about 44 years after the coming to Britain of the Saxons. While Gildas implies that the battle of Badon was a God-given triumph of the Britons over the wicked Saxon “furciferi”, it seems possible that Bede read this backwards and is saying that the “enemies” defeated at Badon were the Britons and the virtuous “cives” were the (at that time quite uncivic) Anglo-Saxons.


These are all translations of the Mommsen (Cotton) text, omitting the italicized passage. Notes on the translations follow below. Phrases in square brackets are paraphrases.

J. A. Giles, Six Old English Chronicles, of which two are now first translated from the monkish Latin originals, 1891

[The poor remnants of our nation, being strengthened by God] …took arms under the conduct of Ambrosius Aurelianus, a modest man, who of all the Roman nation was then alone in the confusion of this troubled period by chance left alive. His parents, who for their merit were adorned with the purple, had been slain in these same broils, and now his progeny in these our days, although shamefully degenerated from the worthiness of their ancestors, provoke to battle their cruel conquerors, and by the goodness of our Lord obtain the victory. After this, sometimes our countrymen, sometimes the enemy, won the field, to the end that our Lord might in this land try after his accustomed manner these his Israelites, whether they loved him or not, until the year of the siege of Bath-hill, when took place also the last almost, though not the least slaughter of our cruel foes, which was (as I am sure) forty-four years and one month after the landing of the Saxons, and also the time of my own nativity.

J. Shoaf comment:

Giles implies that Ambrosius’s family were elevated to the purple (one possible interpretation of “clothed with purple”, emphasizing the passivity of the parents thus clothed). See Winterbottom’s note below.
Giles takes as the subject of the verbs at the end of ch. 25 AA’s degenerate descendents. The former seems to be correct, “reliquae” being a plural for the verb “capessunt” and the participle “prouocantes,”  However, while “suboles” (progeny) is singular, and the verb “capessunt” and participle “provocantes” are plural; their subject should be “reliquiae,” the “remnants” of the British.
Giles follows Bede in making  the 44 years into the time from the time of the landing of the Saxons (Gildas’s Chapter 23) until the battle, though he acknowledges Gildas’s reference to his own birth as well.

Michael Winterbottom, 1978 (transcribed by Kevin Bowman)

God gave strength to the survivors…. Their leader was Ambrosius Aurelianus, a gentlemen who, perhaps alone of the Romans, had survived the shock of this notable storm: certainly his parents, who had worn the purple, were slain in it.  His descendants in our day have become greatly inferior to their grandfather’s excellence.  Under him our people regained their strength and challenged the victors to battle. The Lord assented, and the battle went their way. From then on victory went now to our countrymen, now to their enemies: so that in this people the Lord could make trial (as he tends to) of his latter-day Israel to see whether it loves him or not.  This lasted right up to till the year of the siege of Badon Hill, pretty well the last defeat of the villains, and certainly not the least.  That was the year of my birth; as I know, one month of the forty-fourth year since then has already passed.


Notes (J. Shoaf):

This translation breaks up what is one long long sentence into shorter ones. Otherwise a meat and potatoes “classic” interpretation, including the identification of the present moment as “44 years since Badon and my birth.”

Coe & Young, Celtic Sources for the Arthurian Legend, 1995

[The survivors, strengthened by God, were led by]  a gentleman, Ambrosius Aurelianus, who perhaps alone of all the Romans had survived the impact of such a tempest; truly his parents, who had worn the purple, were overcome in it. In our times his stock have degenerated greatly from their excellent grandfather. With him our people regained their strength, challenged the victors to battle and with the lord acceding it fell to us. From then on now our citizens, and then the enemies conquered; so on this people, as the Lord is accustomed, he could make trial of his latter day Israel to see whether it loves him or not. This lasted up until the year of the seige of Badon Hill, almost the most recent defeat of the malefactors and certainly not the least. That was the year of my birth; and as I know since then 44 years and one month have already passed.


Excerpts from Winterbottom’s notes, with comments:

“CERTAINLY.  The Latin might alternatively mean ‘his parents, who had certainly worn purple’.”
(Kevin Bowman: Keith Fitzpatrick-Matthews and others have convinced me that Winterbottom probably should have gone with the alternate translation here)
“PURPLE.  /Purpuram sumere/ is the late empire term for  to ‘become emperor’;  /induere/ carries a slight suggestion of ‘assume without adequate qualification’. “
(Shoaf: this seems to be the shade of meaning that Giles was going for.)
“THE YEAR.  The battle was fought in the year of Gildas’ birth, about 43 years before he wrote.  He wrote before the death of Maelgwn, in the mid sixth century Justinian plague, in or before 550 (33.1 note); and before the monastics became a mass movement, in the 540’s (65.2 note).  The date should therefore be in the 490’s.”

Analysis & translation of the Latin text

This is based on Mommsen’s edition. Last sentence of ch. 25:

(1) phrase + clause locating the action in time (not quoted in the transcriptions above): tempore igitur interueniente aliquanto, cum recessissent domum crudelissimi praedones, [After some time had passed, when the cruel predators had withdrawn from the land,]

(2) phrase about God’s involvement: roborante deo [with God helping]

(3) subject of main clause: reliquiae, [those who were left,]

(4) “quibus” clause modifying subject: quibus confugiunt undique de diuersis locis miserrimi ciues, [to whom the miserable citizens fled, from all sides and from various places,]

(5) simile clause parallel to (4): tam avide quam apes alueari procella imminente, [as eager as bees to their hive, a storm being imminent,]

(6) phrases and clauses modifying subject of “quibus” clause: simul deprecantes eum tot corde et, ut dicitur, innumeris ‘onerantes aethera uotis’, ne ad internicionem usque delerentur, [at the same time praying with all their hearts, and, as the poet says, “loading the air with prayers,” that they would not be destroyed unto death,]

(5) adverbial phrase: duce ambrosio aureliano uiro modesto, [with Ambrosius Aurelianus, a modest man, for leader,]

(6) clause relative to Ambrosius in the preceding phrase: qui solus forte romanae gentis tantae tempestatis collisione occisis in eadem parentibus purpura nimirum indutis superfuerat, [who perhaps alone of the Roman stock survived the impact of the great storm in which his parents, who certainly wore the purple, died,]

(7) second clause relative to Ambrosius: cuius nunc temporibus nostris suboles magnopere auita bonitate degenerauit, [whose descendents now in our time have greatly degenerated from their ancestor’s goodness,]

(8) verb of main clause (subject reliquiae): uires capessunt, [gathered strength]

(9) verb phrase modifying subject (reliquiae): uictores prouocantes ad proelium: [provoking the victors to battle;]

(10) new “quibus” clause, evidently with “reliquiae” still the antecedent, and phrase about God’s involvement: quis uictoria domino annuente cessit. [to whom, with the Lord’s approval, victory fell.]

Chapter 26:

(1) phrase locating beginning of action in time: ex eo tempore [from that time on]

(2) subjectnunc ciues, nunc hostes, [now the citizens, now the enemies]

(3) verb: uincebant; [won;]

(4) clause expressing divine purpose: ut in ista gente experietur dominus solito more praesentem israelem, [so that in this people God tested, in his usual way, the Israel of today’]

(5)  clause dependent on the preceding: utrum diligat eum an non, [whether it loved him or not,]

(6) phrase locating end of action in time:  usque ad annum obsessionis badonici montis, [up until the year of the siege of Badon Hill,]

(7) phrase modifying “siege” in preceding phrase: nouissimaeque ferme de furciferis non minimae stragis, [the latest and not least slaughter of the criminals,]

(8) clause locating (6) in time: quique quadragesimus quartus, ut noui, orditur annus, [of which the 44th year, as I know, has begun,]

(9) verb phrase modifying the time in (8): mense iam uno emenso, [already a month having passed]

(10) clause relating to time: qui et meae natiuitatis est. [which is also my birthday/the year of my birth.]

–J. Shoaf


Yvain: sources and analogues

Outline of a story about a fairy lover

At the end of this outline is a table tracking the main motifs of Chretien’s Yvain.

Texts considered in the outline: Yvain, or the Knight of the Lion by Chretien de Troyes; Lanval and Guigemar, by Marie de France; three anonymous lais, Desiré, Graelant Mor, Guingamor; Three of these begin in locations in the north of Britain or lowlands Scotland (Yvain, Lanval, and Desiré). One point is noted about a story in which Perceval tries to prevent Morgan le Fay’s lover Urban from defending a ford (in the “Didot Perceval”). The association of fairy ladies with islands or bodies of water is widespread in folklore (sirens, selkies, the goddess Diana and her nymphs, Venus, etc.), and female saints are also often associated with springs or wells.

When this came up on the Arthurnet list, part of the effort was to look at how this type of story might be reflected in the story of the begetting of St. Kentigern: Owein, son of Urien (the same hero as Yvain) disguises himself as a woman in order to meet Teneu, daughter of King Leudonus (a name very similar to that of Yvain’s wife’s father, Laudunet de Landuc); Owein meets Teneu at a fountain and rapes or seduces her, begetting the saint, and then drops out of her life. In the course of her many travails while pregnant, Teneu is also thrown off a cliff and, in landing, causes a spring to start up where her foot touches it. In the stories considered here, only Desiré’s lover bears him children, though in Marie de France’s lai Yonec a married woman bears a child to a fairy lover, who comes to her disguised as a bird; she calls him Yonec, a form based on Yvain.

The hero is isolated from society.

  •    His lord’s wife tries to seduce him–Potiphar’s wife motif (Graelant Mor, Guingamor; also Lanval later in the story)
  •    He is not being heard or attended to in Arthur’s court (Lanval, Yvain)
  •    He has never known love –Narcissus motif (Guigemar, Graelant Mor, Guingamor)

The hero goes off on his own.

  •    He wanders cheerfully (Desiré)
  •    He wanders sadly (Lanval)
  •    He is on a quest (Yvain)
  •   He hunts an unusual animal (Guigemar, Graelant Mor, Guingamor)

The hero comes to a body of water

  • A fountain or spring (Yvain, Desiré, Graelant Mor, Guingamor)
  • A river or stream (Lanval)
  • The sea with a ship on it (Guigemar)
  • A ford or a fountain defended on behalf of a lady by her husband (Yvain, Didot Perceval)

He finds a woman or women

  • with basins and/or towels (Lanval, Desiré)
  • bathing–Diana motif (Graelant Mor, Guingamor)
  • associated with a castle, who helps him (Guigemar, Yvain)
  • whom he assaults:
    • tries to rape secondary woman (Desiré)
    • rapes the lady (Graelant Mor)
    • tries to steal clothes but does not rape (Guingamor)
    • causes storm which distresses lady (Yvain)

He becomes the lover or husband of the lady (all stories)

The lady exacts a promise from the hero before he leaves her.

  • Never to tell (Desiré, Graelant Mor, Lanval)
  • To remain in the area for a year (Graelant Mor)
  • To eat nothing (Guingamor)
  • To return to her within a year (Yvain) or 3 days (Guingamor)
  • To love only the woman who can undo the knot she puts in his shirt (Guigemar)

The hero breaks the promise (all stories) and suffers

  • Goes mad (Yvain)
  • Is sad and languishes (Desiré, Graelant Mor, Lanval, Guigemar)
  • Is suddenly 300 years old (Guingamor)

The lady rescues her lover

  • By coming to church or court (Desiré, Graelant Mor, Lanval)
    • Note: in Yvain, a different lady heals the hero and when he meets his own lady at a court she does not recognize him.
  • By sending her maidens to bring him back to fairyland (Guingamor)
  •  At a chance meeting (Guigemar)

The hero returns to the lady’s world

  •  Riding on the same horse (Desiré, Lanval)
  • Riding on two horses (Graelant Mor)
  • In a boat (Guingamor)
  • By returning to defend her fountain (Yvain).

 Table of motifs and their possible sources or analogues in the first half of Chretien de Troyes’ Yvain

Yvain is about 6800 lines long. Morgan le Fay’s ointment, which brings Yvain back to his senses, is applied  by line 3020.

Motif, names, etc. in Chretien’s Yvain
Possible sources/analogues
Arthur asleep at Pentecost Contradicts tradition of Arthurian display at this feast, from Geoffrey of Monmouth
Knights telling stories classical dialogues?
The ugly herdsman Custennin the son of Dyfnedig, in Culwch and Olwen? Rhetorical exercise in describing ugliness.
The marvelous fountain in Broceliande (water causes storm) Wace, Roman de Rou (direct quotation)
Birds singing in harmony Voyage of St. Brendan
Husband defending lady associated w/body of water Diana of Nemi, cf. Ovid
Desire to avenge cousin
Desire to beat Arthur to the marvel
Desire to travel to see the marvels described St. Brendan
Horse cut in two by portcullis
Room within castle wall
Yvain & Laudine & a fountain Life of St. Kentigern
Laudine difficult of access, requiring duplicity Kentigern
Ring of invisibility (stone turned in or out) Gyges story in Cicero’s De Officiis
Female bestows protective invisibility on man while he encounters hostile but desirable woman ruler Virgil’s Aeneid I
Man falls in love with woman seen through window Pyramus & Thisbe? (from Ovid or the French lai of Piramus)
Body bleeds in presence of murderer Nibelungenlied? Folklore
Hero kills eminent man, marries widow Gyges (various versions)
Hero kills defender of woman/water; becomes defender Nemi
Woman persuades widow to remarry to defend her lands Anna and Dido in the Aeneid
Widow grieves violently then bonds immediately to new man Widow of Ephesus fable (Marie de France)
Arthur comes to visit marvel Chretien’s Erec
Kay & Gauvain fight hero Chretien’s Erec and Perceval
Gauvain flirts Chretien’s Perceval
Conflict of uxoriousness and chivalry Chretien’s Erec);  Mercury rebuking Aeneas?
Protective ring of love Scottish Lai of  Desiré, Marie de France’s Yonec
Lover forgets/betrays promise, loses woman’s love Desiré, Marie de France’s Lai of Lanval 
Ring withdrawn by maiden
Lover goes mad on losing ring, becomes “wild man” Desiré; images of wild men with rings cited by Ken Waldron
Raw and cooked meat; vegetarianism Ovid’s interest in meat-eating?
Hermit cares for knight/madman Saints’ lives (e.g. Lailoken episode of life of St. Kentigern)
Ointment to recover senses
Morgan’s ointment Chretien’s Erec


Arthur, Vortigern’s Daughter

Posted on Arthurnet, May 1997
Copyright May 1997, Judith P. Shoaf

The Romance of Arthur, Vortigern’s Daughter

Part 1: Ardora and Ardurius

Vortigern, tyrant over Britain, fell in love with Renwin, daughter of the pagan Hengist, and married her.  By her he had three sons and a daughter:  Vortimer, Catigern, Paschent, and  the youngest, Ardora, so named by her mother to commemorate the passion that, she hoped, would join the British natives and Saxon colonists under these children.  Ardora grew up very fair and lovely.  When she was but thirteen she was already a woman, a fact alas proven by her father’s lust and her subsequent pregnancy.  Her parents sent her to a convent in Auxerre, under the care of St. Germanus, to await her confinement, and she gave birth to a beautiful boy.

While at Auxerre, Ardora grew in piety and sought comfort for her shame in prayer to the Virgin Mary.  She listened to St. Germain preaching and learned to read how Eve had tempted Adam, and Delilah Samson.  She found comfort for her pain by resolving never to tempt any man again; she cut off her hair and, feeling unworthy of  a nun’s dress, began to wear a harsh leather byrnie instead of soft cloth over her breasts.

Finally Germain wished to return her and her son, Faustus, to her family.  The two of them travelled to Britain to the family villa, in  a caravan of travellers, horsemen who roamed the former Empire, finding pasture for their animals and a good dinner always in exchange for news and the tools they still knew how to make. Ardora became friendly with them, particularly with a boy who admired her; he loaned her some trousers and taught her to ride like a boy, and in a few weeks she acquired a smattering of their Alan tongue. Those weeks on the road with young Lancelot, as she called him, were the happiest and freeest she had even known.

Alas, when she was delivered to her family’s villa, her father repudiated Faustus and her mother repudiated her.  She found herself cast out in the countryside with her little boy, not knowing where to turn.

Her brother Paschent, however, offered to accompany her and Faustus back to Auxerre, where she would take the veil and Faustus would be raised in the monastery.  Alas, as they were crossing the channel Paschent showed himself too much his father’s son, and lay with her on board ship.  In her fury, she fled from the party on landing and told herself that the family that had nurtured her must indeed be the enemy of all goodness, and also her own particular enemy.  From a copse she watched as Paschent took the Auxerre road with little Faustus, and resolved somehow to have revenge.

She made her way, by theft and begging, into Brittany, and found the camp of two brothers, Aurelius Ambrosius and Uther Pendragon, men whose claim to the crown was even better than her father’s, for they were of imperial Roman blood;  with them she resolved to plot. She realized soon enough that she was again pregnant, but in her passion supposed that the child in her womb might be the means of inflicting crueller pain on its father.  The two brothers welcomed her and offered her shelter; their wives and sisters and  daughters assisted her through this second labor. Again she bore a son, and called him “Morther,” in her mother’s language, “secret killing.”

Now Uther had a daughter, Morgause, who was to be married to the King of the Orkneys far away.  This young maiden took a tender interest in Ardora’s child, and offered to adopt him and take him on the journey with her. Ardora agreed, but said that the child must be brought up to hate the kings of Britain and make war on them always.  Morgause, who did not quite grasp that her own brothers meant to be kings of Britain, gave her most solemn promise.  However, not liking the child’s name, she changed it to “Moderatus,” which had a similar sound but accorded better with her own ideas of childish good fortune.

Ardora asked Uther and Ambrosius to allow her to train in swordsmanship with them and their sons, so that if ever again she tempted some man she would be able at least to prevent him from sinning.  She began to dress as a man, and when travelling in Brittany and Gaul would pose as the son, now of Ambrosius, now of Uther.  She learned to walk like a man and wield a sword and lance as well as any young man, too.  She called herself Ardurius, now, for the hardships she had undergone.  The assault on Greater Britain was now in preparation, and she was invaluable to the brothers in planning how and where to find and slay Vortigern and his sons.

The day came when they sailed their keels over the Channel and drew them up on the beach.  They landed just at nightfall and saw a warning beacon lit on the hill.  At dawn, an army was coming over the hill towards them, but Ambrosius and Uther were well prepared, and by the next evening they had marched far inland, leaving many a dead soldier on the road and swelling their number with loyal men tired of Vortigern’s tyranny.

Ambrosius was greatly excited by this first taste of victory–already he could feel the crown on his head. At the last farmhouse he had found a family whose father rushed out sword in hand, and whom he himself slew: inside were mother, son, and a daughter about twelve.  He slung the maiden over his shoulder and brought her along to the camp, where he prepared to assault her.  Arthur (as we may now call her), outraged, rushed in with her spear to prevent the rape. Arthur wounded Ambrosius in the thigh, but stood back in horror as she realized what she had done to her benefactor and general.  The frightened child scrambled away into the night.  Now Ambrosius faced Arthur, and in his madness disarmed the girl with a blow and thrust himself upon her.  Arthur thought of the child running away in the night, and of her own father’s cruelty when she was such a child; she wept but did not struggle any longer.  When Ambrosius rose and left her, Arthur also rose and crept off into the night.  She found the little girl and guided her to her mother, then set off by herself, armed and on foot, but pregnant again, into the night. The spear with which she had wounded Ambrosius she did not clean, but wrapped the head carefully and put it in a little bag.

Stay tuned to Arthurnet for Part 2 of *Arthur lived (Vortigern’s daughter)* “The Cup and the Sword.”

Part 2: The Cup and the Sword

For the next nine months, Vortigern and his sons and Uther and Ambrosius fought back and forth over the crown.  Arthur only heard the news because she had found, to her great joy, a group of travellers who spoke the same language as those Alans whom she had met so long ago, it seemed, when she had hoped to return with Faustus to her family. These people looked askance at a pregnant woman dressed like a man, but allowed her to travel with them. She proved handy both in her mastery of languages–for she spoke many British dialects, her mother’s Germanic tongue, French, Latin, and the Alan tongue as well–and in her mastery of weapons and horsemanship.

The day came when her third son was born, and the midwife asked her what its name should be:  Ambrosius Merdatus, she said, miserably, and turned away from the baby. Still, after a day or two, she took the little boy to her breast and began to feed it, thinking that this child at least she might keep by her, filling it with a milk, not of virtue as she had Faustus, or vengefulness as she had Morther, but of such wisdom as might make this child the one man in the world (except perhaps for that boy Lancelot) whom she could trust.

Now the news came, one thing and another, as young Myrddin grew–Arthur’s brother Vortimer wore the crown for a while, then  the monk Constans, elder brother of Ambrosius and Uther; now old Vortigern had again schemed to take the throne back. Paschent died in battle, and Arthur was glad to hear it; her mother also died, and Arthur felt even gladder, suddenly realizing how much she hated this woman who had not protected her from Vortigern but had thrown her out when she could not protect herself.  Few men now would have been roused to lust by Arthur, for she seemed like a beardless youth, but older than her years; her hair roughly cut like a man’s, her tender skin weathered, her hands harsh with callouses.

She heard news also of Lancelot, who was nearly her own age and had become part of a cavalry militia formed to ward off the Angles and Saxons who began to exact tribute from the towns along the coast, and even to try to settle there.  Her heart warmed towards him as it hardened towards her mother’s people.

One night, as the travellers were camping in Cornwall, she heard that the castle there by the sea was playing host to the women of Ambrosius and Uther.  She recalled their names, Ygerna, Eopa,  Morgause, Morgan, Anna–and their kindness.  Perhaps even Morther would be there, and he could meet his little brother Myrddin.  She took Myrddin and went up to the castle at dawn, and asked for admittance.  Ygerna and Eopa, the wives of Uther and Ambrosius, were there, along with Iseut the lady of the castle, but neither Morgause nor Ambrosius’s daughters Morgan and Anna.  At first the ladies had no idea who Arthur might be; she asked for a room, a bath, and  a chemise and gown, however, and emerged recognizable as the British princess whom they had helped and watched grow up in Brittany a few years earlier.

They told her Ambrosius had reported her slain, claiming he had been wounded defending her and had buried her himself. She told them the truth, and both Ygerna and Eopa were horrified.  In proof, Arthur unwrapped the spearhead with Ambrosius’s blood on it.  To prove her story, she told Eopa, Eopa should take that spearhead into Ambrosius’s presence; if the dried blood on the  spear began to flow again and Ambrosius’s old wound in the thigh also bled, Eopa would know the truth of her story.  She also gave Eopa a shallow silver dish with some ointment in it.  When Ambrosius’s wound began to bleed, Arthur said, Eopa should offer to heal it with the ointment in the gradale.  And then they would both be avenged.

Now the women began to sigh and to speak of the Britain they longed to see:  a land at peace, where every man offered his protection to every woman, where lords sat at peace with each other instead of building towers in which to hide from each other, where travellers and Germans and Britons shared the British plenty without hating each other.  Arthur spoke of Lancelot and his horseman, who were trying to subdue and contain the Germans; but she held out little hope of this unless the Alans could get the help of the British army, which Vortigern would never turn against the people of Hengist.  Myrddin spoke up then:  “Mother, you could lead them all!  You will be a mother and a father to your people, as you have been to me.”  He looked at the women gathered there, and asked:  “Do you not have some good sword for our king?”

Ygerna rose and took Arthur by the hand.  With the others following, the two women walked from the fortress and along a path into the hills, where there was a lake with a little stone chapel beside it.  Uther and Aurelius had built this chapel to commemorate a recent victory, and hung up their swords inside. Ygerna took Arthur inside, and pulled Uther’s great sword off the wall–“A sword for a king,” she said.  Arthur buckled on the scabbard and swore always to defend women and fatherless children,  and to forge a Britain all of whose peoples would live together in peace.

Now they dressed Arthur as befitted a king, not a wandering tinker, and indeed she looked like a king, young and shining with her new purpose. The sword given her by the lady at the lake hung at her side, and the travellers, admiring her, gave her the best of all their mounts to ride forth on.  Myrddin she left in the care of Ygerna and Eopa.  She rode out to find the armies that would make her king of all Britain.  First, she sought out Lancelot’s cavalry and his enemies the Saxons, fighting under Cerdic, whom she well remembered as a friend of her uncles.

In the meantime, Myrddin went to his grandfather  Vortigern and told him to lock himself in a tower, and went to his father Ambrosius and told him to come burn Vortigern in the tower, which he did.

When Ambrosius returned to his wife with the crown of Britain on his head, she had few questions to ask him.  When they were to go to bed that night, she unwrapped the spearhead and saw that it dripped blood; she went to her husband and touched his thigh and found that it also bled.  “Let me heal your old wound, dear husband, with the ointment in this silver grail,” she murmured, and spread the poison on it.  Next day, Ambrosius was found dead in his bed and Uther became king.  But Ambrosius’s daughter Morgan heard some of the news about this, and knew that the strange man who had visited her mother, whose name was Arthur, had given her the poison and the reason to kill Ambrosius. She had been very young when Arthur lived among them in Brittany, and she did not realize that Arthur was Morther’s mother, or Myrddin’s, or a woman at all; but she vowed to bring about Arthur’s downfall at some time.
Yes, there is a Part 3–hang on there, Arthurnetters, so you can be in at the Morte!

 Part 3: Morte de la belle Artu

Quid plus?  This is getting mighty long.

Arthur found Lancelot and their warm friendship was re-established.  She made a good treaty with Cerdic and the Saxons of that region,  who recognized her as the descendent of Hengist, and turned her attention to pacifying the rest of the island.  She collected the remnants of Vortigern’s army and, with the Sarmatian cavalry, the Saxon keels, and the British army, began to fight against the Angles and Jutes who were overrunning the south.  Battle after battle she fought, the last and greatest for Bath (but I am silent as to what happened between her and Lancelot when they went to wash the blood off in the Roman pools).  Now Uther, whom she had never attacked, died, and the boy Myrddin called for a new king, the king who wielded Uther’s sword.  All Britain was glad to acknowledge the victor of Bath as king, and an era of peace ensued.

Only, growing up in the North, Moderatus whose other name was Morther was bred to destroy the king of Britain; and in the south, Morgan hated Arthur and longed to avenge her father’s death.

When Arthur’s lords insisted that she find herself a wife and beget sons, she took the precaution of sending Lancelot to accompany the princess Guinevere to the wedding.  Arthur had told Lancelot the story of her former hostess Iseut, how Tristan had won her love before she married king Mark, and Lancelot undertook to protect Arthur’s secret by doing the same.  For a long time, Arthur ruled with Guinevere as queen and Lancelot at their side, and no-one supposed that a cuckold could be so happy.  Yet no son was born, and the people became restless, and Moderatus and Morgan began to spread rumors that Arthur would never have a son at all.  Myrddin denied this and tried to protect his mother, but finally Moderatus raised an army and marched against Arthur, who was holding winter court at Camlaan.

Now Moderatus, advised by Morgan, challenged Arthur to single combat.  Arthur of course did not want to fight her own son, but supposed that somehow she could save both of them and prevent the bloodshed of battle.  She took her excellent sword and strode out into the place cleared between the armies, astonished at her first sight of the son she had nursed three decades earlier. When Moderatus charged, Arthur moved to parry the blow, but her sword slipped and found its way through a seam in Moderatus’s armor. She felt him sink, his sword drop.  A great cry went up from both sides.  The young man gazed up at her in terrible pain. “Morther!” she whispered, kneeling over him and stripping off her helmet and byrnie, tearing open her shirt in grief to expose her breasts.  “Mother,” he said, and swooned, with death in his eyes.

Now the cry of the crowd turned to anger and shock at the sight of the king’s breasts.  Lancelot rode up and lifted the fainting Arthur, now wearing only a shift with her trousers, onto his horse. He rode off with her, and the people stood dazed at the sight.  They stared dumbfounded at the man lying on the field.  Now the women of Moderatus’s  family  came up to him, lifted him and also the sword that had been Uther’s, and Arthur’s helm and byrnie.  Ygerne, Eopa and Anna, Morgause his foster mother, and Morgan bore the young man’s dying body off the field. The crowds, confused by what they had seen, reported that it was Arthur who had been wounded and taken away.  Bereft of the king who had been like a father and mother to them, they mourned Arthur and yet told each other he would return.

As for Arthur…. Who shall measure the heat and violence of the king’s heart when caught and tangled in a woman’s body? She killed herself that winter’s night and lies buried at some cross-roads where the omnibuses now stop outside the Elephant and Castle.

Note from Judy–YES, I MADE THIS ONE UP  (except for most of the last sentence)!!! NONE OF IT IS TRUE, NOT PART 1, PART 2, OR PART 3!!!

Perros Relief

perros porch 1
Capital in the porch or portal of Perros church, showing a man with a sword fighting a dragon.
perros porch 2
Another view of the porch capital. Both photos courtesy of Chris Lovegrove.

Scroll down to read the Arthurian episode in the medieval Life of St. Efflam

 Arthur and/or St. Efflam fighting a dragon

It turns out that there are TWO sculptures in the Breton church of St-Jacques at Perros-Guirec which have been interpreted as Arthur and St. Efflam fighting a dragon. It is not impossible that the two sculptures, one of which represents violent conflict an the other some kind of deliverance, could be related to each other; however, their styles are quite different.

On the south portal of the church is a sculpture showing, apparently, two men attacking a dragon; in the nave is a sculpture showing a man with a crozier apparently helping a naked man away from a coiled mass which could be a dead dragon. Recently a paper was delivered at a conference by Esther Dehoux (histoire médiévale, Poitiers),”« Pour la colère du plus grand roi des Bretons» ? Arthur, l’évêque, l’apôtre et les dragons au portail de l’église de Perros-Guirec,” a title which suggests (For the anger of the greatest king of the Britons? Arthur, the bishop, the apostle, and the dragons on the Perros-Guerec church portal) that current opinion identifies the sculptures on the porch as representing Arthur, the dragon, and holy men.

De la Monneraye’s original 1849 article on the church can be read here: http://gallica.bnf.fr/ark:/12148/bpt6k2074644.image.f305.langFR . He describes both capitals, but it is the external (porch or portal) one which he identifies as the story of Efflam.

Below are three photos. two of the porch sculpture and one of the nave sculpture.

The first two are of the porch (portal) sculpture, courtesy of Chris Lovegrove. Chris’s description: “the image of a helmeted warrior with a shield with, to the viewer’s right, another figure with a sword (a squire, perhaps?), confronting a headless monster crawling around the capital.” It looks as if the monster would originally have had a head, though.

De la Monneraye’s remarks on this capital (p. 159): “Six columns take the weight of the archivolt [of the portal], two by two; they are crowned by very strongly flared capitals, decorated with people or animals. The first capital on the left represents an episode in the life of Saitn Efflam: great Arthur, head of the knights of the Round Table, had been fighting vainly against a terrible dragon which had laid waste the parish of Plestin and the whole shoreline; Efflam, recently arrived from the British coast, comes on the scene just as the warrior is about to succumb from exhaustion and the torments of a cruel thirst. Arming himself, according to the legend, with the sign of the Cross, he touches with his apostolic staff the monster, which withdraws in terror and throws itself into the sea, to disappear forever. This last part of the scene is the subject of the first capital.” Loomis indicates this page as the description of the other capital (#2, below). However, there is no question but that this is the outermost capital on the left of the portal, and therefore the one De la Monneraye identified as portaying Efflam. Oddly enough, it does not correspond very well to his description, since one sees Arthur actively fighting the dragon and the figure behind him has a sword, not something which could be interpreted as “an apostolic staff.” Perhaps there was an extension of the scene on lost portions of the capital.


Perros inside capital
Capital inside Perros church, possibly showing St. Euflamm rescuing Arthur from a dragon. My scan from the photo in Loomis, _Arthurian Legends in Medieval Art_ (1938, plate 3), with my own enhancements and labels identifying the proposed persons and things represented. –JS


The nave sculpture (above) is also a carving on a capital, this one inside the church. Loomis (p. 31) mistakenly cites De la Monneraye’s description of the portal capital (#1 above) as applying to this one, although he is aware that other scholars believe it is the portal capital which is indicated. According to Loomis, we see Arthur, having exhausted his shield and arms, being drawn away from the slain dragon by St. Efflam, identified by his crozier.

De la Monneraye’s description of this portal: On p. 160, the author enters the church (“En penetrant dans l’eglise…) and finds there more capitals, but not flared (there is no doubt a technical in English for this; anyway, the ones outside are wider at the top than at the bottom, while the ones inside are cylindrical). He remarks that the sacrifice of Abraham is carved on one of these, and then: “On another capital of the same style, we see a man whose pose and form seem to personify the Lustful, the Debauched. A second character, standing beside him and holding in his left hand a curving crozier, reaches out with his right to lift up the other man, to draw him closer and away from vice.”

As Chris Lovegrove noted on the list, the arrangement of the figures might also suggest the Harrowing of Hell (Christ, with a bishop’s crozier instead of the usual triumphant cross, drawing Adam from Hell, Hell being represented as a dragon).

Many more ( recent, color) pictures of of St-Jacques and its 12th-century capitals are available on the web.

Topic-Topos inlcudes a number of photos of the church and artifiacts inside it, though not of the two capitals in question.

Sorrento66 photostream includes 12 photos of capitals (exterior and interior) and of the church in general, including both of the capitals above.

Certif 3’s album “Visiting a few churches in Brittany and France” includes 17 photos of the church, including many nave capitals.

Renaud Camus’s photostream–nice picture of the church and another of the “Arthurian” portal capital.


Life of Efflam (also called Euflam, Eflam, Eflamm, etc.)

This life of a Breton saint may have been written as early as 1090 or so, but maybe considerably later. Its presentation of Arthur makes it clear that the author does not know anything about King Arthur.

The story so far: Efflam, born a king’s son in Ireland, has decided to leave his wife (without consummating the marriage). He finds a ship and boards it with some holy men as companions. It steers by God’s will and lands them in Brittany, on a beach near a huge cave (today’s Plestin-les-Grèves). They see a monster come out of the cave, walking backwards so that its footprints cannot be tracked (see the story of Hercules and Cacus, Aeneid VIII).

[The monster] was careful to avoid Arthur, a very strong man, who in those days was hunting monsters in that part of Brittany. Finally, by God’s will, the wicked wily thing was outsmarted. Arthur, concentrating his whole mind on its activities, tracked it down. While he was investigating the rocks where it might be hiding, he met the holy men on the shore; he expressed admiration at their courage in living in such a horrible solitary wasteland. He asked them carefully who they were and where they had come from; as he questioned them, they told him about the monster and pointed out its cave. Arthur was delighted by the arrival of the holy men and rejoiced with all his heart at the indication of the monster’s cave. So often he had gone away sad, humiliated as if the monster had beaten him, because he could not [find it to] overcome it. He armed himself therefore with a triple-knotted club; with a shield covered by a lion-skin he defended his brave chest. Then, manfully, one man fighting for all, he attacked the public enemy.
Against him, the horrible monster protected itself with its own weapons. Moreover, it attacked Arthur first, indignant that any man should come hunting it, since it had won so many battles against so many groups of people. So, attacking with all its strength, it struck Arthur’s strong shield, which it easily pierced with its sharp claws. No surprise: even the hard stones had been scratched by their points, so that the whole area bore witness by these marks. Arthur, having pulled his body back, remained unwounded, and, angry now, he struck his enemy fiercely. He could have knocked down walls with a blow like that, but the enemy, protected by its hard skin, did not receive a mortal wound. All the same, it felt to the depths of its being the terrible pain of the blow. All day they fought in this way, but the serpent did not get a lethal wound.
Arthur, realizing that night was coming, put off the battle until the next day. He went back to the holy men, tired from his work and weak from the struggle; his mouth was parched by a powerful thirst, and he asked the men for water. Efflam replied for them all: “My lord, we do not have water, and we, like you, need it; therefore it remains for us to ask our God for it.” Arthur praised the righteous advice of the good man. Bending their knees, they all knelt on the ground. Stretching out his whole body, Efflam, the voice of all his companions, prayed, saying: “God, your immutable power created everything without preexisting matter, and all things serve you according to their properties, and at your order all things change their qualities, so that hard things melt to softness and rough things are made smooth. Proclaim your strength over us, and, as you once ordered water to flow from a rock in the desert for the thirsty people when your servant Moses prayed [Exodus 17:1-7], so, Lord, deign in your great mercy to pour forth water for us.” When he had finished praying, he climbed up on a tall rock, made a little sign of the holy cross, and struck the stone. An abundance of water burst forth into the air. Giving thanks, the thirsty man [Arthur] drank this water, and then threw himself down at the feet of Saint Efflam, beseeching him with humble prayers to deign to bless him with a laying on of hands, and pray with prayers for him to God. [He needed such prayers,] since he often undertook deeds to free people where he was in doubt of his life. Efflam, that man of God, blessing him, promised him the gift of prayers.
Arthur withdrew, filled with joy, his thirst gone, his strength restored by the divine drink, fortified by the holy blessing. Confident in the strength of the holy man, he left the question of his battle with the monster up to him. The athlete of Christ [Efflam; see 1 Corinthians 9:25], armed with the weapons of faith [Ephesians 7:10-17],  ordered the horrible monster to come forth. So that he might strengthen his companions’ faith, he spoke thus with a loud voice: “Lord Jesus Christ, you gave your disciples such power that they might bind and loose whatever they wished [Matthew 16:19], and indeed you said of them, ‘they order demons to flee, and they remove serpents’ [Mark 16:17-18]. Order the departure of this serpent so that this region, freed from such a plague, will be able to give you praise and thanks.” And when they replied “Amen” the monster, which had drawn itself up on a rock, rolled its eyes in all directions and gave forth a cry mixed with a deep miserable sigh, a noise which made far-off places tremble. Then, hanging its head, it brought forth a bloody vomit from its sobbing mouth and nostrils. In witness to this miracle, the rocks in that place seem to shine red as if with recently shed blood. Then, with the holy men watching, it went down to the sea, stretching itself out on the wave, and left, never to return. By these two miracles, God wished to show the power of his servant Efflam at the beginning of his exile: that a man who left his father and mother, and renounced all he possessed in order to follow Him righteously, could have confidence in His grace.

Translations J. Shoaf


Memorial stone of Lucius Artorius Castus

The memorial of L. Artorius Castus, as it survived in two pieces used as part of the wall of the cemetery of the church of St. Martin, Postrana, Croatia. It explains that he erected this description of his career on his own behalf, at a time when he was serving in as a Roman governor (procuarator) in Liburnia, in Dalmatia, probably early in the 200s CE.. This “autobiography” outlines his various military posts and can be interpreted to show that he was stationed in Britain, presumably along Hadrian’s Wall, around the year 180.

For more information on Castus’ career, , see the article by Dr. Linda A. Malcor in Heroic Age online.

For more photos and an attempt to show the surviving letters clearly, see Chris Gwinn’s page http://www.christophergwinn.com/CelticStudies/LAC.html




Images (c) copyright 2007 Ladislav Petrus (www.petrus.sk), and are distributed under the http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/2.5/ license.

Modifications that increase readability in this chapter are allowed by the original author and are also to be distributed under the http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/2.5/ license.


Cornish Arthur motto

Patrick Roper transcribes,
‘Nyns yw marow maghtern Arthur’, Cornish for ‘King Arthur is not dead’.

Enlargement of the motto on the page below.