One of the earliest “modern” treatments of King Arthur having children comes from a play by Henry Fielding (1707-1754) who is better known for his novels Joseph Andrews (1742) and Tom Jones (1749). Fielding wrote satirical novels – he particularly liked to mock Samuel Richardson, author of what is regarded as the first novel Pamela (1740).
Fielding’s play The Tragedy of Tragedies, or the Life and Death of Tom Thumb the Great (1731) was written during a period when the Arthurian legend was rarely treated in literature. This play’s connection to the Arthurian legends is extremely distant, only containing the traditional King Arthur and Merlin. King Arthur’s wife is here named Dollallolla, and the daughter of the couple is Huncamunca. The plot includes Tom Thumb, of dwarf stature, famed for slaying giants, who must compete for Huncamunca’s hand with Lord Grizzle. After the two suitors fight, Tom Thumb wins and proceeds then to the castle to marry Huncamunca, but on the way he is swallowed by a cow, thereby meeting his end just as Merlin prophesied his death. When the messenger brings the sad news to the court, the queen, who also loved Tom Thumb, repays the messenger for his sad news by slaying him. The messenger’s wife then slays the queen in revenge. Huncamunca then slays her mother’s murderer, and a courtier named Doodle slays Huncamunca for an old grudge. In the end, everyone but King Arthur has been killed, and then he kills himself, thereby ending the foolish story.
Throughout the play, Huncamunca is unable to make up her mind whom to marry, and then decides she is willing to take two husbands; however, both she and her would-be husbands die before any marriage can take place, which means she has no children and therefore, King Arthur’s line dies out. Although Fielding was not trying to write serious Arthurian literature, but rather, he was satirizing the stage plays of his time, I for one am thankful that Fielding did not create any more ridiculous children for King Arthur. However, fans of satire and humor might enjoy the play’s comic elements.
Tyler Tichelaar, Ph.D. is the author of King Arthur’s Children: A Study in Fiction and Tradition. Visit him also at www.ChildrenofArthur.com