Bernard Cornwell creates significant children for King Arthur in his trilogy “The Warlord Chronicles,” consisting of The Winter King (1996), Enemy of God (1997), and Excalibur (1997). Cornwell seeks to make his novels historical, not only providing them with a setting in a grim dark age Britain, but also attempting to incorporate the Welsh traditions by recreating Arthur’s sons Amhar, Loholt (a version of Llacheu) and Gwydre. The Mordred in the novels is Arthur’s nephew, but he is important for he is the King of Dumnonia. Mordred’s father was Arthur’s deceased half-brother, also named Mordred. Arthur and the elder Mordred were both Uther’s sons, but because Arthur was illegitimate, the throne has passed through the elder Mordred’s line to his son. The younger Mordred is in his infancy when the trilogy opens, making Arthur one of the council who govern the British kingdom of Dumnonia for Mordred.
While these novels adopt Arthur’s children from Welsh tradition, Cornwell allows the children’s personalities to deviate from the characteristics attributed to them in Welsh legend. At the opening of The Winter King, Arthur has two bastard twin sons, Amhar and Loholt, by his mistress Ailleann. Arthur is a neglectful father, and throughout the novel the children are scarcely mentioned, appearing only on pages 108, 163, and 182. When they are mentioned, they are dismissed simply as brats.
Enemy of God seeks to expand the role of Arthur’s bastard children as well as providing Arthur with a legitimate son, Gwydre, by Arthur’s marriage to Guinevere. In Welsh tradition, Amhar and Gwydre’s mother is never named, while Llacheu is sometimes the son of Guinevere, so it is strange that Cornwell picks Gwydre rather than Loholt as Guinevere’s son. Gwydre is significantly younger than his half-brothers who are already adults when he is born. Amhar and Loholt have now matured into wicked young men who hate their neglectful father. They become the followers of the cowardly, yet handsome, Lancelot, the exiled prince of Benoic. Lancelot eventually becomes King of the Belgic lands in Britain. Guinevere, who is hungry for power, wishes Arthur to declare himself King of Dumnonia, then unite and rule over all Britain. Arthur, however, refuses to usurp the throne from his nephew, Mordred. Seeing Arthur will never rule Britain, Guinevere turns her attention to Lancelot, becoming his lover and political supporter. Eventually, Arthur and Lancelot go to war, and Arthur’s twin sons, Amhar and Loholt, side with Lancelot. Amhar and Loholt claim to be great druids who have combined ancient druidic lore with the knowledge derived from other religions such as Christianity and the Cult of Isis which have come into Britain. Merlin, however, scoffs at their claims to be druids, for the greatest magical feat the twins perform are simple tricks like pulling eggs from people’s ears. During the conflict between Arthur and Lancelot, Guinevere and Gwydre become hostages in Lancelot’s castle. Arthur, wishing to regain his wife and son, attacks Lancelot’s strongholds, first defeating one held by Loholt. When Arthur asks the defeated Loholt how he could raise a hand against his own father, Loholt replies, “You were never a father to us” (387). Arthur then requests that Loholt place his right hand upon a stone. Loholt thinks he is about to take an oath of loyalty to his father, but instead, Arthur cuts off Loholt’s hand (388), then sends Loholt to Lancelot as a warning of the approach of Arthur’s army. By the novel’s end, Arthur has defeated Lancelot’s armies and rescued Guinevere and his son, Gwydre.
In the final novel of the series, Excalibur, Arthur’s three children continue to have prominent roles. The novel begins with Arthur preparing to battle the Saxons. Derfel, the narrator, travels to the court of the Saxons to bargain with them. Here, he discovers Lancelot has allied himself with the Saxons, and Lancelot’s supporters, Arthur’s two sons, Amhar and Loholt, are also present. When peace cannot be made, the Britons and Saxons battle, culminating in Arthur’s victory at Mynydd Badon. Amhar and Loholt survive the battle while Lancelot is killed. Arthur’s villainous twin sons then disappear from the novel for several pages. Meanwhile, Merlin has attempted to save Briton from the Saxons by having the Old Gods return to Britain. In order to bring about the old religion’s return, he must sacrifice the son of a ruler and throw the body into the Cauldron of Clyddno Eiddyn, one of the Treasures of Britain which is said to bring to life anyone who is sacrificed and thrown into it. Among Merlin’s intended victims is Arthur’s son, Gwydre, but Arthur rescues Gwydre before such an atrocity can be committed. As Gwydre grows up, he becomes Mordred’s rival for the throne, for Mordred and his wife, Argante, have been unable to conceive a child. Gwydre marries Derfel’s daughter, Morwenna, and has two children by her, a son Arthur-Bach (meaning Arthur the Little) and a daughter, Seren (298-9). Mordred, meanwhile, plots against Gwydre, by going to France and then spreading rumors that he is dying. Mordred suspects that Arthur and Derfel will now try to win the throne for Gwydre, and when they do so, he can accuse them of treason. Unaware of Mordred’s plan, Derfel travels south to proclaim Gwydre’s claim to the throne. Unfortunately, Derfel is captured by Mordred’s forces and taken prisoner. Here he discovers that Arthur’s twin sons have resurfaced as Mordred’s followers. Derfel manages to escape during the night when everyone is asleep, but before he leaves the castle, he runs a blade through Amhar’s neck, killing him (342). Mordred’s forces now attack Arthur. Arthur does not want war, so he tries to leave Britain for Gaul, but Mordred’s troops quickly attack Arthur, resulting in the Battle of Camlann. Loholt is killed in battle, and Arthur slays Mordred. Arthur and Mordred’s forces are both destroyed, but as the battle ends, a neighboring king, Meurig, appears with an army to claim the right to rule Dumnonia. Arthur, Gweniver, Gwydre and Morwenna, and their children manage to escape on a fishing boat and head to France. The novel ends with Derfel watching the boat depart, and stating that no one has seen Arthur since (433).
With the end of Cornwell’s trilogy, one receives the sense that Gwydre’s chance of gaining the throne is now hopeless. Arthur’s family, however, may live on in Gaul, where Gwydre’s children will marry and multiply, thus continuing Arthur’s bloodline.
The above passage is from King Arthur’s Children: A Study in Fiction and Tradition. For more information, visit http://www.ChildrenofArthur.com
Tyler R. Tichelaar, Ph.D. is the author of King Arthur’s Children: A Study in Fiction and Tradition, available at www.ChildrenofArthur.com