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A lot of bad King Arthur movies have been made over the years. Fortunately, Arthur and Merlin: Knights of Camelot (2020) is far from the worst of them, though it’s not one of the good ones either. Overall, I would give the film a C+ because it does a few interesting things, despite the pacing being slow, the picture often dark and dreary, and the story, as usual, not following the tradition.

First off, the film is badly titled. Merlin makes an appearance, but it’s pretty brief and not super-integral to the plot. If he had been left out it, it would have been no great loss. The subtitle is ridiculous since it suggests Arthur and Merlin are Knights of Camelot, but one is a king and the other a wizard. The knights are in the film but it’s not about them either. A better title would have been Arthur and Mordred or Mordred and Guinevere.

The best thing about the film is that it tells the story of Mordred’s attempt to take over the kingdom, including marrying Guinevere. In many Arthurian films, Mordred is the villain, but this is the first one in which he tries to force Guinevere into marriage as happens in traditional versions of the legend. The film supposedly takes place in 463 AD when Arthur goes to Europe to fight the Roman Emperor, leaving Mordred at home in charge of the kingdom. The date is too early as any Arthurian scholar would know. Arthur’s journey to the continent was likely in the 520s or 530s, depending on what date you want to give his death at the Battle of Camlann, but it was definitely after Rome fell and an upstart claimed to be Roman Emperor.

While on the continent, Arthur is pretty pathetic. Honestly, I didn’t follow much of this part of the plot other than that Arthur was self-doubting of his abilities and seemed to be kind of a weenie. I would have missed a lot of what was going on if not for having read the film description on the back cover of the DVD. (I found it for $7.99 at Menards—I wouldn’t pay more for it.) The film moves slowly, and it is very dark—it’s often hard to see which man is which since many look alike and all have beards, and I admit I closed my eyes more than once and nearly napped while watching so I probably missed some plot points.

The strongest part of the film are the portrayals by Mordred and Guinevere. Mordred wants the throne for himself and he tries to force Guinevere into marriage, even telling her that if she will not marry him, he will kill her. We see him making sexual advances to her, stating the kingdom is his and that makes her body his. Sir Lancelot shows up and tries to help but ends up imprisoned and ineffective for most of the film. Nothing special about this Lancelot at all. Kind of a dud.

There are a couple of other female main characters, but honestly, I never figured out quite who they were or what they were doing. I thought one might be the Lady of the Lake, but I think they were Saxons Mordred was in league with. The dialogue is also often quiet, not necessarily hard to hear, but neither is it written so that the watcher can easily follow who is who or what their relationships are.

Time for a spoiler alert: So of course, with a little help from Merlin, Arthur quits being pathetic and decides he’ll be the king his country needs. He returns to Britain and fights Mordred. The filmmakers’ choices here are interesting but not necessarily understandable. A battle ensues fought inside Camelot, in which Lancelot is freed. Arthur battles Mordred and defeats him, but lets him go free, warning him never to show his face again. Mordred scrambles away, leaving us to wonder if he’ll live to fight another day. Was this battle in the castle meant to be the Battle of Camlann, or is it a prelude to the battle to come since Arthur and Mordred are both still alive? Arthur is left back in control of his kingdom, but he sees Lancelot and Guinevere ride off together, meaning he is basically alone. The film has played fast and loose with the chronology of the traditional events that led to the downfall of Camelot, and it’s not clear at all why the filmmakers didn’t have Mordred and/or Arthur die in the end. The result is no going off to Avalon, no hand catching the sword as it is thrown into the lake. Instead, we have a flat ending that leaves more questions than answers and no cathartic moment that the legend usually evokes.

I do give the film credit for trying. As I said, I was intrigued by the depiction of Mordred and Guinevere’s relationship, which I don’t think has been depicted in film before. Guinevere’s marriage to Mordred has always been controversial among scholars, causing debates on whether or not Guinevere was in alliance with Mordred or forced by him into marrying her. (See my previous blog “While Arthur Was Away, Did Mordred with Guinevere Play?”) In this film, it is clear Guinevere is only interested in Lancelot, not Mordred.

The other aspect of the film I enjoyed was the scenery, including the castles. Camelot appears to be on the coast of Britain, which is wrong, but while the lighting in the film made it hard to enjoy the story, it did show how light would flow through large castle windows and reflected the reality of the dinginess of the era.

All in all, I think this film may bear a rewatching so I can better follow the plot and figure out who some of the characters were. I’ll have to watch it when I’m less tired since it nearly put me to sleep. If you really are desperate for a new King Arthur movie to watch that won’t make you completely appalled, you might give Arthur and Merlin: Knights of Camelot a try.

A few other reviews of the film are a little harsher than mine, though I have to admit I agree with them about everything. If you’re still undecided whether to watch, check out:

https://readysteadycut.com/2020/07/13/arthur-merlin-knights-of-camelot-review/

https://www.empireonline.com/movies/reviews/arthur-merlin-knights-of-camelot/

You can view the trailer at: https://www.commonsensemedia.org/movie-reviews/arthur-merlin-knights-of-camelot

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Tyler Tichelaar, PhD, is the author of The Children of Arthur series, which includes the novels Arthur’s Legacy, Melusine’s Gift, Ogier’s Prayer, Lilith’s Love, and Arthur’s Bosom. He has also written the nonfiction scholarly works King Arthur’s Children: A Study in Fiction and Tradition and The Gothic Wanderer: From Transgression to Redemption, plus numerous other books. You can learn more about Tyler at www.ChildrenofArthur.com and www.MarquetteFiction.com.

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Paul McLerran’s new novel Gawain: A Novel of Arthurian Legend is a retelling of Sir Gawain’s life in one volume that sheds new light on the character, and especially his friendship with Sir Lancelot. McLerran obviously has done his homework in researching the character of Sir Gawain, and in his end notes, he discusses his sources for various parts of the novel. While largely following traditional Arthurian sources, he also makes some surprising and enjoyable changes.

Paul McLerran’s Gawain is a faithful and fun retelling about one of King Arthur’s greatest knights

The novel opens with Gawain in his youth. His father Lot was killed by King Arthur when he rebelled against him, leaving Gawain and his brothers in the care of his mother Morgause. McLerran wisely has Gaheris dead in childhood since he’s always been a rather pointless character. The other brothers, Gareth, Agravain, and Mordred, however, are all here. Morgause decides to send Gawain, Gareth, and Agravain to Camelot to a tournament early in the novel. Her purpose is to have her sons infiltrate Camelot and eventually avenge their father, but Gawain shows such skill and promise that Arthur quickly notices him and convinces him to stay at Camelot and become a Knight of the Round Table.

From there, Gawain’s story follows the traditional pattern. He quickly befriends Lancelot, and we are treated to several familiar stories, including Guinevere’s abduction by Meliagaunt and Lancelot’s rescuing of her, which Gawain doesn’t partake in, but it makes him observant of Lancelot and the queen’s relationship going forward. Other more typically Gawain-focused stories include twists on the story of Dame Ragnell, here named Raquel, and Gawain’s encounter with the Green Knight.

Ultimately, the fall of Camelot begins, and Gawain ends up waging war with King Arthur against Lancelot, due to his anger over Gareth’s death at Lancelot’s hand.

None of these stories are really surprising to fans of Arthurian legend, but they are enjoyable to read for the twists McLerran gives them. I won’t give them away and spoil the fun of reading them for yourself.

However, one departure from tradition that surprised me but also gave some new life to the legend was how Lancelot is treated as rather coarse and as a ladies’ man. In more traditional sources, Lancelot is virtuous and only just fails to achieve the Holy Grail because of his love for Guinevere, which he is usually depicted as being tormented over. Here, however, he is a bit of a man whore. Gawain also is far more virtuous, or at least virginal, than in some more medieval versions where he tends to be the one more likely to be a ladies’ man. Regardless, they become friends and nicely balance each other out in the novel.

I’ve never been a big fan of the Holy Grail stories within the legend, but I was surprised that McLerran leaves them out for the most part. The Holy Grail figures in the novel, but McLerran does not have the knights go questing for it. It has always been rather an interruption to the main tales in my opinion, but it also allows for Lancelot to be more virtuous and sympathetic, which is perhaps a reason to shy away from it in this novel. Still, I felt like a bit of the story was missing here, though it may have been too much of a distraction.

One additional clever change I liked is that McLerran makes Mordred a bit more conniving than in other versions. While Mordred has always taken advantage of the situation of Arthur’s departure, here it is clear he purposely allows Lancelot to escape from being caught with Guinevere. He does this so Arthur will go to wage war against Lancelot, thus leaving Albion and making his throne more vulnerable.

While Camelot does fall, the end of the novel is rather a surprising departure I did not see coming that added a bit of a happier ending to the story that I think readers will find satisfying.

Finally, I have to mention that I liked that McLerran stated that his depiction of Gawain as a general waiting to battle Lancelot, which starts each section of the novel, is a tribute to the frame of the play/film of Camelot that begins with Arthur as a general on the eve of battle. Anyone who wants to pay tribute to Camelot is all right in my book since it’s my all-time favorite movie.

All in all, Gawain: A Novel of Arthurian Legend is both a revealing and entertaining new interpretation of the legend and particularly the character of Gawain.

For more information about Paul McLerran and Gawain: A Novel of Arthurian Legend, visit https://paulmclerran.com/. When there, be sure to check out his blog posts where McLerran discusses more about why he wrote the novel and how he fell in love with Arthurian legend.

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Tyler Tichelaar, PhD, is the author of The Children of Arthur series, which includes the novels Arthur’s Legacy, Melusine’s Gift, Ogier’s Prayer, Lilith’s Love, and Arthur’s Bosom. He has also written the nonfiction scholarly works King Arthur’s Children: A Study in Fiction and Tradition and The Gothic Wanderer: From Transgression to Redemption, plus numerous other books. You can learn more about Tyler at www.ChildrenofArthur.com and www.MarquetteFiction.com.

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If one were in search of the worst King Arthur movie ever, while I hesitate to say this one is the worst—I really think King Arthur: Legend of the Sword (2017) takes the cake there—King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table (2017) would likely make the top ten list. That said, this poorly made and poorly conceived film does have a few—though very few—good points.

Knights of the Round Table’s descendants use machine guns – what’s not to like?

My title for this article is a tad misleading. King Arthur doesn’t end up in Thailand, but most of the film is set there. The gist of it is that King Arthur and his knights have been fighting Morgana and Mordred to the point where the king and the knights have had to go underground. In a last battle, Arthur overcomes his enemies and sends them shooting off into space in a giant rock. Fifteen hundred years later, we are introduced to the present-day descendants of King Arthur and his knights who for whatever reason are hanging out in Thailand. (I suspect it’s because Thailand was the cheapest place to make the film, which apparently had a $300,000 budget. One would think that was reason enough to make this the worst King Arthur film, but since King Arthur: Legend of the Sword’s $175 million budget couldn’t save it, it’s definitely a bigger flop.)

Anyway, Morgana and Merlin now return and fight the Arthurian descendants (How they know to go to Thailand, when it would make more sense to go to Stonehenge or Cadbury Castle or even Winchester where the fake Round Table is, is unexplained). Some of the descendants are descended from Kay, Tristram, and Lancelot, but at least one, possibly two, is descended from King Arthur. During the scuffles that follow—with some martial arts tossed in since they’re in Thailand—the Holy Grail that they have in their keeping is revealed to be Excalibur melted down. Only the rightful heir to Arthur can wield it, and he turns out to be the descendant least proud to be a descendant: Penn, who thinks he’s only Sir Kay’s descendant. (Come on, Penn. Didn’t being named Penn, short for Pendragon, give it away?) Penn has just proposed to his girlfriend Jenna (think Jenny from Camelot aka Guinevere), and we later learn Jenna is pregnant with twins, so King Arthur’s line will obviously continue.

Sara Malakul Lane as Morgana and Russell Geoffrey Banks as Mordred. Banks’ performance is the only one of any note in the film.

Mordred is forced to do most of Morgan le Fay’s dirty work during the battles, and he’s heartily sick of it, so he eventually changes sides. Of course, he gets killed during the fighting but not before he redeems himself, and so on his deathbed, Penn tells him he truly thinks of him as his friend. He also dubs him Sir Mordred, which makes no sense since Mordred is always Sir Mordred already in the legends.

But before Mordred dies, we are subjected to Morgana turning into a robotic/china doll-looking giant who destroys most of Bangkok. Think the Ghostbusters ghost/Godzilla destroying New York/Tokyo. (Yes, this film is that original.) The only good thing here was that we weren’t subjected to New York getting blown up yet again. I had enough of that with The Avengers films, and oh, maybe a dozen other films as well).

The film ends with the Arthurian and knightly descendants triumphant and calling themselves the “Knights of New Camelot.” At least one website suggests this film was intended to be the lead-in to a television series, which the final scene also suggests. Thankfully, that never happened, though the ending does feel like it stole something from The Librarians films that led to that TV series.

Penn (left), King Arthur’s descendant and Lucas, Lancelot’s descendant, face off here in their rivalry for Jenna, in a modern Arthur-Lancelot-Guinevere triangle. Only this Guinevere stays with Arthur and turns out to be fertile. (Apparently the historical one was too in this series or Penn wouldn’t exist.)

As always, I like the idea that King Arthur’s descendants live on, so that descendants of the other knights also live on and they have a fellowship is a rather cool idea. I also thought Mordred’s angst was quite well done. In fact, Mordred was the only really dynamic character in the film. Most of the other characters were fairly indescript and just remembering their names was difficult. That said, the film did do a good job of having some of the knights be female.

Thankfully, I don’t think Thailand will be on any Arthurian sites tours anytime soon just because of this film. But if you want to visit the sites traditionally associated with King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table, check out Scholarly Sojourns’ Arthurian tour.

Unless you’re a real diehard King Arthur movie buff, you can skip seeing this film. However, I’d love to hear what other movies you think might be contenders for the worst King Arthur movie ever.

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Tyler Tichelaar, PhD, is the author of The Children of Arthur series, which includes the novels Arthur’s Legacy, Melusine’s Gift, Ogier’s Prayer, Lilith’s Love, and Arthur’s Bosom. He has also written the nonfiction scholarly works King Arthur’s Children: A Study in Fiction and Tradition and The Gothic Wanderer: From Transgression to Redemption, plus numerous other books. You can learn more about Tyler at www.ChildrenofArthur.com.

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Today I was privileged to be interviewed about my Children of Arthur series by my fellow Arthurian author Nicole Evelina.

Nicole Evelina - USA Today Bestselling Author

Some of you may remember my friend, author and fellow Arthurian nut Tyler Tichelaar, from his 2012 guest post where he talked about a trip he took to Turkey and the Arthurian connections he found there. Well, now he’s back, talking about the fifth and final book in his Children of Arthur series about King Arthur and his descendants.

Tyler is an author of Arthurian nonfiction and historical fantasy and an enthusiast for, if not expert on, modern Arthurian fiction. His nonfiction book King Arthur’s Children: A Study in Fiction and Tradition, which I reviewed here, was published by Modern History Press in 2011. It explores various traditions concerning King Arthur’s children in Welsh and medieval sources, the possible historical descendants of King Arthur, and more recent creations of descendants for King Arthur in modern fiction. (It’s a great book, one that has been a resource for more than one of…

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We all know the name of St. George, and most of us know he’s the patron saint of England. We know he slew a dragon, and we may remember Shakespeare’s famous line in Henry V: “For Harry, England, and St. George.” And doesn’t it seem fitting that April 23rd, the very day Shakespeare not only was born but also died, is St. George’s Holy Day?

But St. George was not English. I knew that and that he actually was from somewhere in the Middle East, but I wasn’t quite clear on where until recently. And then in March this year, I visited Turkey and discovered St. George was from that land, although to call him a Turkish saint would not be correct either since the Turks would not reside in modern-day Turkey until centuries after his death.

St. George died in 303. The date of his birth is not known exactly, but it is generally thought to be somewhere around 275-281 A.D. That means St. George lived in Roman times. In fact, he was a Roman soldier in the Guard of the Emperor Dioceletian from Syria-Palaestinea.

What about the story of his slaying the dragon? How is that possible when dragons are mythical? The dragon has long been associated with the pagan religions. Think of St. Patrick driving the snakes out of Ireland, which was a metaphor for driving out the druids or the old religion. Snakes, serpents, and dragons are fairly interchangeable as terms for pagan religions.

You see, St. George was a Christian, but the Emperor Diocletian was one of Christianity’s greatest enemies, and he issued an order for all Christian soldiers in his army to be arrested and half to be put to death. St. George went to the emperor to protest, and being much respected by the emperor, Diocletian tried to get him to recant, but St. George refused. He was eventually put to death. His death as a martyr served as inspiration to others to convert. After all, the Christian Church is said to have been built on the blood of the martyrs. His suffering and death by decapitation are said to have so moved the empress and a pagan priest that they also converted and were put to death.

The story of the dragon evolved from this event which is believed to be fairly historical. Exactly how a literal dragon entered the story is unknown, but the Crusaders brought the story of St. George and the Dragon back to Europe with them. In the tale, a maiden is offered to the dragon, but St. George rescues her and slays the dragon. The parallel to Perseus’ rescue of Andromeda is obvious. This story became so popular that St. George became the patron saint of England. He is a popular saint in several other countries besides England, including Portugal and Georgia (although it is not named for him), and of course, Turkey. In fact, he is one of the very few Christian saints who is venerated by the Muslims.

In Turkey, St. George remains very popular, although he is best known in Christian depictions in Byzantine Christian churches in Cappadocia (which claims to be his birthplace) that date to the Middle Ages and were carved out of the rock. I visited one such church while I was there, and I purchased the lovely icon pictured here in Ephesus at the Home of the Virgin Mary.

St. George is often depicted with a red cross and riding a white horse. In Edmund Spenser’s The Faerie Queene (1590-96), the Redcrosse Knighte is an idealized version of Christianity based primarily on St. George. More recently, he was depicted in the 1962 film The Magic Sword (also known as St. George and the Dragon, St. George and the Seven Curses). You have to be a real fan of cheesy older movies to sit through this film—I have but I wouldn’t again—but it’s interesting for how a saint can become such a myth and enter popular culture. And who’s to say that, on some mythical level, St. George and King Arthur do not ride together, guarding England, or should I say Britain? For Britain was not England in Arthur’s day any more than St. George would have known a place named Turkey.

The story of St. George, be it myth or history or a little of both, will live on for years to come. I encourage you to investigate it more.Monastery/Church carved into rock in Cappadocia. St. George is depicted in such a church in the area.

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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

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The Arthurian tradition in the Middle Ages provides two separate versions of Guinevere and Mordred’s relationship.  Depending upon the text, Guinevere may willingly marry Mordred and act as his accomplice in treason against Arthur, or she may flee from Mordred and lock herself in the Tower of London.  Such a vast difference between various tellings of the legend seems extreme;  however, these differences represent a division between two separate Arthurian traditions in the Middle Ages.

Maureen Fries states that Arthurian literature is conveniently divided into two mainstreams:  the chronicle and romance traditions (“Poem” 30) .  This division can also be divided on national lines, with the chronicles written by English authors while the romances were primarily of French origin.  The English used the Arthurian legend to glorify England’s past while the French were interested in the legend as a source for romances.

Guinevere by WiIlliam Morris

Queen Guinevere by William Morris

Corresponding with this division are the separate traditions of whether Guinevere is Mordred’s willing accomplice as she is in the chronicles, or if she rejects his proposals of marriage as she does in the romances.  My argument is that the romancers could not allow Guinevere to wed Mordred because they had made two important additions to the legend:  the introduction of Lancelot and the incestuous birth of Mordred.  If Guinevere loved Lancelot, she could not be unfaithful to him by loving Mordred, and if Mordred is Arthur’s son, a marriage between Guinevere and Mordred would be incestuous, and therefore, avoided by the romancers.  To understand how these differences led to two separate traditions in Arthurian literature, we must begin with Geoffrey of Monmouth’s original treatment of Guinevere and Mordred’s relationship.

Geoffrey of Monmouth’s Historia Regum Britanniae was completed about 1136.  In this work, Arthur goes overseas to fight the Roman emperor, while leaving Mordred as Britain’s regent.  Mordred is Arthur’s nephew, the son of Arthur’s sister, and no hint of incest exists to suggest that Mordred is Arthur’s son.  Only later would the incest motif be added to the legend.  While Arthur is away, Mordred attempts to seize the kingdom and to marry Guinevere.  Guinevere’s contradictory appearances in later texts all stem from this ambiguous scene in Geoffrey.  Geoffrey gives no insight into Guinevere’s emotions regarding the marriage to Mordred.  Therefore, it is unclear whether Guinevere is forced into marriage or willingly weds her husband’s nephew.

The ambiguity regarding the marriage begins at its first mention when a messenger arrives to tell Arthur that Mordred has seized the crown, and

“What is more, this treacherous tyrant was living adulterously and out of wedlock with Queen Guinevere, who had broken the vows of her earlier marriage. About this matter, most noble Duke, Geoffrey of Monmouth prefers to say nothing (257).”

If Geoffrey had preferred to say more, later Arthurian texts would have been less contradictory, but also perhaps, less rich.  Geoffrey then has Arthur return to England to fight Mordred, while Guinevere is in York.  When Guinevere learns Mordred is marching into Winchester, “she gave way to despair.  She fled from York to the City of the Legions and there, in the church of Julius the Martyr, she took her vows among the nuns, promising to lead a chaste life” (259).

These two passages make it difficult to determine the extent of Guinevere’s guilt.  Geoffrey suggests she is guilty by stating that she broke her marriage vows, but Mordred may have forced her into marriage.  More complicated is why Guinevere flees and from whom?  She cannot be fleeing from Mordred because by going to the City of the Legions (Caerleon), she is moving closer to him.  Mordred enters Winchester after Arthur has landed and defeated him at Richborough.  Perhaps learning of Arthur’s success is what makes Guinevere fearful.  In this case, she may flee to a nunnery as a place of clemency from fear of Arthur’s wrath.  Certainly, her going to a nunnery rather than joining Mordred suggests she is more concerned about her own fate than Mordred’s.  She might also hope that if Arthur finds her in a nunnery rather than with Mordred, he might believe her innocent.  While Geoffrey seems to suggest Guinevere’s guilt, the passages are vague enough to make her motives doubtful.  Geoffrey’s successors would seek to clarify this problem.

In 1155, Wace, of Normandy, France, translated Geoffrey’s Latin text into French verse, entitling it Roman de Brut.  The name reflects his intent to present the Arthurian stories as romance rather than history.  Wace’s translation was not closely tied to the Historia Regum Britanniae, but rather it was a free rendering of the work.  Then around 1190, the English writer Layamon decided to render Wace’s book into vernacular English verse under the title Brut.  In writing of Arthur in English, Layamon was reclaiming Arthur from the somewhat romantic embellishments Wace had added.  Furthermore, because Layamon was English, he sought to glorify English history by molding the British Arthur into a model of the brave and heroic Englishman (Jones xi).

Wace and Layamon both clarified Geoffrey’s ambiguities regarding Guinevere although Wace’s style is more romantic than Layamon’s.  Wace predates Chretien’s romances with their notion of courtly love, yet Fries points out that Wace credits Mordred with a type of courtly passion for Guinevere (“Poem” 33).

He had set his heart on Guenevere, his kinswoman, but such a love brought little honour to the queen.  Mordred had kept this love close, for easy enough it was to hide, since who would be so bold as to deem that he loved his uncle’s dame?  The lady on her side had given her love to a lord of whom much good was spoken;  but Mordred was of her husband’s kin!  This made the shame more shameworthy (79).

Nevertheless, Arthur is unaware of Mordred’s feelings for the queen, so he leaves Mordred as regent when he travels overseas to fight Rome.

Wace also clarifies Guinevere’s flight from York.  “She learned also that Mordred had fled from before the king, because he might not endure against him, and durst not abide in the field” (112).  Guinevere suspects Mordred will lose the war.  Fearing Arthur, she flees to Caerleon and takes the veil in the convent.  “This she did by reason of her exceeding sorrow for her trespass, and for the sin that she had wrought” (113).  Wace leaves the reader without doubt that Guinevere is guilty of adultery with Mordred.

Layamon goes further than Wace by cursing Mordred at the first mention of his name.  Wace states that Mordred loves Guinevere, but he does not foreshadow how this love will lead to the kingdom’s destruction.  Layamon, however, introduces Mordred as “Modred, wickedest of men;  truth he had none to ever any man . . . . to the queen was his resort–that was evilly done–to his uncle he did treachery” (235).  Layamon adds that Mordred and the queen did numerous sorrows to the land, losing their lives and souls as a result (235).  Mordred’s evil deeds are again foreshadowed in one of Arthur’s dreams.  Arthur dreams he and Gawain are seated on the roof of a hall.  Mordred approaches, and with a battle-axe, he destroys the posts holding up the hall, while Guinevere pulls down the roof.  Arthur grabs his sword and beheads Mordred, then hacks Guinevere into pieces.  When Arthur awakes, a messenger arrives from Britain to tell Arthur of Mordred and Guinevere’s treachery (258-9).  The dream clarifies that Guinevere and Mordred’s guilt is equal.

Although Wace and Layamon clarified Guinevere’s guilt, their additions created different treatments of Mordred.  Wace suggests that Mordred married Guinevere out of love, while Layamon says it was out of treachery.  Furthermore, Wace explains that Mordred has kept his love secret for a long time.  This inclusion of love is a looking ahead to the Arthurian romances that would develop in writers such as Chretien de Troyes.  Therefore, Wace and Layamon, rather than clarifying the legend, opened up additional complexities, beginning the division between the romance and chronicle traditions in Arthurian literature.

The differences between French romances and English chronicles becomes significant when Chretien de Troyes introduced Lancelot into Arthurian literature in his late twelfth century romance Le Chevalier de la Charette.  In the romance, Guinevere is abducted by Meleagant, Prince of Gorre.  Lancelot makes his first appearance in Arthurian literature as Guinevere’s rescuer and lover.  Because Chretien does not mention Mordred, Fries believes Chretien replaces Mordred with Meleagant as the abductor while making Lancelot the lover (“Poem” 40).  Such a reworking almost suggests Chretien’s adoption of Layamon’s treacherous Mordred as Meleagant, while Wace’s romantic Mordred becomes Lancelot.  Chretien never writes of Mordred or of Arthur’s death because he is more interested in romance than history.  However, by creating a lover for Guinevere, Chretien would significantly influence later developments of Mordred and Guinevere’s relationship.

The next work to show major changes in Guinevere’s reactions to Mordred is the Mort Artu, part of the Vulgate Cycle and written about 1230-35.  The author of this work manipulated the legend in a way which further complicated Mordred and Guinevere’s relationship.  The Mort Artu author revised the tales of Arthur’s death, so his work would complete the narrative of the earlier works in the cycle, the Prose Lancelot and Quest del Saint Graal.  However, Chretien had created a great problem for the Mort Artu author by adding Lancelot to the legend.  Lancelot was so popular, he was the primary character in the cycle the Mort Artu was meant to complete, so he could not be omitted from the plot.  Therefore, including Lancelot and Guinevere’s love affair into the tale of Arthur’s death created complications.  If Guinevere faithfully loved Lancelot, she could not be in love with Mordred.  To resolve the difficulty created by Lancelot’s addition to the legend, the Mort Artu author found it necessary to make two additions of his own.

First, the author changed the relationship between Arthur and Mordred.  In the earlier works, Mordred was Arthur’s nephew, but now, he was turned into Arthur’s bastard son, and even worse, the child of Arthur’s sister, meaning that Arthur had committed incest.  Although Arthur is unaware that he sleeps with his own sister, he still commits a sin of lust that must be punished.  The result of lust and incest creates Mordred, who is himself lustful in his desire for his father’s crown and wife.  By making Mordred the result of Arthur’s sin, the Mort Artu author shows that in Arthur’s sin is created the punishment for that sin (Bruce, Evolution, vol. 1, 441).

Secondly, the Mort Artu author changed Arthur’s reason for leaving Britain in Mordred’s care.  In earlier works, Arthur is on a campaign against Rome.  In the Mort Artu, Arthur instead goes overseas to fight Lancelot who has committed adultery with Guinevere, and because Gawain desires revenge for the deaths of his brothers, Gareth and Agrivaine, who were slain when Lancelot rescued the queen.  During the war, Lancelot returns Guinevere to Arthur, and she is sent back to England.  There she is placed in Mordred’s care, while Arthur continues the war because Gawain refuses to stop fighting until he avenges his brothers’ deaths.

Once Guinevere returns to England, Mordred begans to solicit her affections.  Arthur’s incestuous act was repulsive, but at least it was an act committed unknowingly.  The Mort Artu author refused to allow Guinevere willingly to commit incest with her husband’s son.  Furthermore, if Guinevere truly loved Lancelot, she would not be unfaithful to him by sinning with Mordred.  In the Mort Artu, Guinevere clearly has no romantic feelings for Mordred when she is left in his safekeeping.  “The queen was very angry that she had been given over to his charge because she knew such wickedness and disloyalty in him that she was sure that suffering and ill will would come of it” (156).  Mordred, however, seeks not just power but also Guinevere’s love.  “Mordred was so often with the queen that he fell in love with her and did not see how he could fail to die of love, if his desires were not satisfied” (160).  Mordred’s romantic feelings clearly go back to Wace.  Mordred may even be considered sympathetic in his inability to control his love for Guinevere.  He attempts to trick her into marriage by forging a letter from Arthur which says the king is dying.  In the false letter, Arthur supposedly requests that Mordred marry Guinevere, because “if Lancelot knew she was not married, he would attack you and take her as his wife” (161).

Guinevere and the court believe the letter to be true.  However, Guinevere refuses to remarry, saying, “I could never have such a noble husband as I have had” (163).  Later, she tells her cousin, Labor, she will not marry Mordred because he is Arthur’s son, and “Even if he were not his son, he is so disloyal that I would not accept him for anything” (164).  Labor then helps Guinevere escape to London Tower.  The queen, hoping Arthur is not yet dead, then sends a messenger to him on the continent.  Of course, Arthur returns, and Mordred and Arthur slay each other in battle.

Guinevere in Tower besieged by Mordred

Guinevere besieged by Mordred in the Tower of London

The Mort Artu’s plot would become the standard for most future versions of the legend.  Works such as the Stanzaic Morte Arthur would also contain the Arthur/Guinevere/Lancelot love triangle, Mordred’s incestuous birth, Guinevere’s refusal to marry Mordred, and her locking herself in the Tower of London.  What makes the Stanzaic Morte Arthur important, however, is that it is an English text using the French Mort Artu as its source (Benson 2).  The author is the first English writer more interested in creating a romance than a chronicle, a sign that even in England the French romantic tradition was becoming accepted as the proper way to tell the Arthurian legend.

However, one other major English text, the Alliterative Morte Arthure,  would follow the chronicle format.  The Alliterative Morte Arthure, unlike the slightly earlier Stanzaic Morte Arthur, rejected French additions by returning to the plot of Guinevere willingly marrying Mordred.  The author of the Alliterative Morte Arthure was familiar with the French texts, but he chose to ignore them because he wanted to tell a structured history which had no room for romance (Matthews 144).  The poet first deleted the French romantic additions.  Then he added new details to Guinevere and Mordred’s relationship to make the queen’s guilt more substantial.  Like Layamon and Wace, the poet was largely clarifying Geoffrey of Monmouth’s statements.

The Alliterative Morte Arthure poet, in deleting French romantic additions, primarily reversed the work of the Mort Artu author.  He first removed Lancelot as Guinevere’s lover.  While Lancelot remains a character in the poem, he is introduced as merely one of Arthur’s “lesse men” (lines 368-81).  Mary Hamel believes that this statement early in the poem is the poet’s warning to the reader that the poem will not be concerned with the themes of the French romance tradition (King Arthur’s Death 266).  Rather than being Guinevere’s lover, Lancelot is simply one of Arthur’s many knights, who later dies in battle on the Continent.  Perhaps the poet’s only reason for even including Lancelot in the poem is to suggest that the romantic tales about Lancelot are not true.  Once Lancelot was removed as Guinevere’s lover, Arthur’s reason for leaving Britain could revert back to the original war against Rome.

The poet also deleted Mordred’s incestuous birth by simply omitting to state anywhere in the poem that Mordred is Arthur’s son;  therefore, if Guinevere marries Arthur’s nephew, it will not be as vile an act of incest.  Two passages suggest that the poet knew the tradition of Mordred’s incestuous birth, but they are too obscure to be definite proof that Mordred is intended as Arthur’s son in the poem.  In one passage, the poet refers to Mordred as “Sir Mordred the Malbranche” (line 4174), which Peck says calls attention to Mordred’s lineage as being the “mal” or ill branch of the family, and therefore, it reflects badly on Arthur as Mordred’s progenitor (173).  Benson argues that when Gawain, speaking of Mordred’s treason, says, “Of such a engendure  full little joy happens” (line 3743), that the word “engendure” might also be referring to Mordred’s incestuous origins (281).  However, both passages are too vague to determine that Mordred is Arthur’s bastard son.  Peck suggests that the poet only hints at Mordred as Arthur’s son to keep the blood tie obscure because the incest theme would be embarrassing both between Arthur and his sister, and between Guinevere and Mordred (161).  However, one might also argue that the poet is again showing, as he did by introducing Lancelot into the poem, that he knows the French romance tradition, but he is refuting it in this work.

Fries remarks that the Alliterative Morte Arthure poet even deleted any traces of romance Wace and Layamon had added (“Poem” 34), but I would argue that the Alliterative Morte Arthure is probably closer to Wace’s poem than any other text.  Despite the focus on history rather than romance, as in Wace, Mordred is in love with Guinevere, and she returns his love.  Unlike in the Roman de Brut, however, the reader does not immediately know Guinevere loves Mordred although it is clear she respects him.  When Arthur leaves England, he tells Guinevere “Sir Mordred, that thou has mikel praised,/  Shall be thy dictour, my dere,  to do what thee likes” (lines 711-2).  Only after Arthur is gone will Guinevere’s respect for Mordred turn into love.

Once the poet had removed the obstactles to Guinevere and Mordred’s love, he made some surprising additions to the legend to ensure Guinevere’s love for Mordred and her equal guilt in committing treason.  First is Mordred’s objection to being left as regent.  He does not want to remain in England when he could win glory through military deeds with the rest of Arthur’s knights.  In the Mort Artu, Mordred proposes himself as regent, and in the Stanzaic Morte Arthur, a council of knights proposes Mordred as the best candidate to be regent in Arthur’s absence.  However, when Mordred denies a desire for power in the Alliterative Morte Arthure, he appears less suspicious than in earlier works.  Nor does the author accuse Mordred of secretly wanting power despite his words, as Layamon alleges by condemning Mordred at the first mention of him.

A more striking addition in the Alliterative Morte Arthure is that Guinevere bears Mordred’s children as a sign of her and Mordred’s love for each other.  No other text makes Guinevere the mother of Mordred’s children.  Fries remarks that the poet may have been trying to explain the inclusion of Mordred’s sons in the Mort Artu, who attempt to rule the kingdom after Arthur and Mordred are dead, and who are slain by Bors and Lionel (“Poem” 38).  Fries overlooks that these sons are also mentioned in Geoffrey of Monmouth, where they are slain by Constantine (262).  Oddly enough, in both Geoffrey and the Mort Artu, Mordred’s sons are old enough to bear arms, but the time span of the  Alliterative Morte Arthure makes it impossible that Guinevere and Mordred’s sons would be old enough to bear arms immediately after Arthur and Mordred’s deaths.  Therefore, in Geoffrey and the Mort Artu, one must suspect that Mordred’s sons have a different mother than Guinevere.  To avoid confusion, the Alliterative Morte Arthure poet never mentions Mordred’s children as grown, simply that Guinevere gives birth to them.  Peck argues that the children are only included in the text to verify Guinevere and Mordred’s mutual affection (173).  Later, when Mordred warns Guinevere to flee with their children to Ireland because Arthur has returned to England (line 3907), it is because of his concern for Guinevere, but also a concern that his heirs will succeed him to create a dynasty.  Arthur orders the children slain to destroy this ambition of Mordred’s (Fries “Poem” 41).

The final addition the Alliterative Morte Arthure poet makes is to show Guinevere as aggressively committing treason against Arthur by giving Mordred Arthur’s sword, Clarent, which she has in her keeping (lines 4196-4208).  Guinevere is the only one Arthur trusted with the sword, so when she gives it to Mordred, she is actively betraying Arthur’s trust.  There is no more traitorous act she could commit than to use Arthur’s own sword against him.

Despite all Guinevere’s treason, Arthur holds no grudge against Guinevere in the poem.  He orders her children by Mordred slain, but says of her, “I forgive all gref,  for Cristes love of heven!/  If Waynor [Guinevere] have well wrought,  well her betide!” (lines 4324-5).  Guinevere, however, realizes her own guilt, so she takes the veil (Fries “Women” 31-2).  Despite Arthur’s forgiveness of Guinevere, the Alliterative Morte Arthure, unlike its many predecessors, leaves no doubt about Guinevere’s treasonous involvement with Mordred.

Mordred

Mordred

Although Malory was well versed in the French tradition, the Alliterative Morte Arthure and the Stanzaic Morte Arthur are the only English romances we know he read  (Benson 3).  In compiling the Arthurian legends into Le Morte d’Arthur, Malory used both French romances and English chronicles.  Benson argues that Malory had a preference for the English versions, for when composing the final tale of the Le Morte d’Arthur if “the English and French versions differed, he almost always preferred the English version” (3-4).  The Stanzaic Morte Arthur is one of the English versions, but because of the French influence upon it, it is more French romance than English chronicle.  Because the Le Morte d’Arthur’s ending reflects the Stanzaic Morte Arthur, I believe Malory actually preferred the French version.  Therefore, the love triangle of Lancelot/Arthur/Guinevere and Mordred’s incestuous conception were both retained while Guinevere appears innocent of any involvement with Mordred.  Malory’s work would become the standard Arthurian tradition for centuries to come, making the romance tradition dominant over the chronicle, and freeing Guinevere from any charges of adultery or treason with Mordred.

Works Cited

Alliterative Morte Arthure. King Arthur’s Death:  The Middle English Stanzaic Morte Arthur and Alliterative Morte Arthure.  Ed. Larry D. Benson. Kalamazoo, Mi.:  Medieval Institute Publications, 1994.

Benson, Larry D.  “Introduction.”  King Arthur’s Death:  The Middle English Stanzaic Morte Arthur and Alliterative Morte Arthure.  Ed. Larry D. Benson.  Kalamazoo, Mi.:  Medieval Institute Publications, 1994.  1-7.

Bruce, J.D. Evolution of the Arthurian Romance.  2 vols.  Gloucester, Mass.: Peter Smith, 1958.

Chretien de Troyes. The Knight of the Cart. The Complete Romances of Chretien de Troyes.  Trans. David Staines.  Bloomington & Indianapolis: Indiana UP, 1990.

Death of King Arthur, The.  Trans.  James Cable.  Harmondsworth, Eng.: Penguin, 1971.

Fries, Maureen.  “The Poem in the Tradition of Arthurian Literature.”  The Alliterative Morte Arthure:  A Reassessment of the Poem.  Ed. Karl Heinz Goller.  D.S. Brewer:  Cambridge, Gr. Brit., 1981.  30-43.

Fries, Maureen.  “The Characterization of Women in the Alliterative Tradition.” The Alliterative Tradition in the Fourteenth Century.  Ed. Bernard S. Levy and Paul E. Szarmach.  Kent, Ohio:  Kent State UP, 1981.  25-45.

Geoffrey of Monmouth.  The History of the Kings of Britain.  Trans. Lewis Thorpe. London, Eng.:  Penguin, 1966.

Jones, Gwyn.  “Introduction.”  1912.  Wace and Layamon:  Arthurian Chronicles. Trans. Eugene Mason.  Dent:  London, 1966.  v-xii.

Layamon.  BrutWace and Layamon:  Arthurian Chronicles.  Trans. Eugene Mason.  Dent:  London, 1966.

Malory, Thomas.  Malory Works.  Ed. Eugene Vinaver.  Oxford, Eng.:  Oxford UP, 1977.

Matthews, William.  The Tragedy of Arthur:  A Study of the Alliterative “Morte Arthure”.  Berkeley:  U of California P, 1960.

Peck, Russell A.  “Willfulness and Wonders:  Boethian Tragedy in the Alliterative Morte Arthure.”  The Alliterative Tradition in the Fourteenth Century.  Eds. Bernard S. Levy and Paul E. Szarmach.  Kent, Ohio:  Kent State UP, 1981.  153-182.

Stanzaic Morte ArthurKing Arthur’s Death:  The Middle English Stanzaic Morte Arthur and Alliterative Morte Arthure.  Ed. Larry D. Benson. Kalamazoo, Mi.:  Medieval Institute Publications, 1994.

Wace.  Roman de BrutWace and Layamon:  Arthurian Chronicles.  Trans. Eugene Mason.  Dent:  London, 1966.

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Tyler R. Tichelaar, Ph.D. is the author of King Arthur’s Children: A Study in Fiction and Tradition, available at www.ChildrenofArthur.com

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At least one attempt in recent years has been made to show that Prince William may be descended from King Arthur (Le Morte D’Arthur). Sir Iain Moncreiffe of that Ilk, in Royal Highness, a study of the ancestors of the future King of England, Prince William, conveniently states that it is very probable for King Arthur to be among the warrior chieftains of fifth and sixth century Britain from whom the Royal Family is descended (Moncreiffe 12). Finally, as Geoffrey Ashe has pointed out, Prince William’s middle name is Arthur, and should Prince William choose to use his middle name rather than William when he is crowned, he will be the next King Arthur (199).

            Still, no direct or indisputable genealogical line connects the British royal family to King Arthur. One other possibility may exist in the theory that the King Arthur of legend is the historical Riothamus. Riothamus had a son David who then had a son Budic. This Budic lived in Britain as an exile for some time. It is possible that Budic might be an ancestor of the Tudors, and a closer look at Welsh and Breton genealogies could then give us a connection between Riothamus and the British royal family (Ashe 196).

            Of course, if Cerdic is Arthur’s son, as Geoffrey Ashe has also suggested, then the British royalty would also be descended from Arthur because Cerdic was the ancestor of Alfred the Great, and through him, the British royal family. The fact that Debrett’s Peerage, the official heraldic society in Britain, backed Ashe’s book suggests that the British, if not the royal family itself, still wish to make this link between their present day monarch and King Arthur.

            If there is a link between King Arthur and Prince William, it may be years, if ever, before it will be discovered or researched thoroughly enough to be convincing. It also seems unlikely that a tradition of descent that does not seem to have begun until Henry II in the twelfth century is any more than a convenient forgery. If there is a connection, it is probably through the Welsh Tudor family, and it is there that the greatest scrutiny may need to be used.

For more about the British royal family’s many attempts over the last thousand years to claim descent from King Arthur, be sure to read my book King Arthur’s Children available at www.ChildrenofArthur.com.

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King Arthur’s Children has only been out for a couple of weeks and already it is getting great publicity.

Cheryl Carpinello, author of Guinevere: On the Eve of Legend, wrote a glowing review of it that you can read at Superior Book Promotions.

Reader Views wrote a really raving review, viewable here. I also was interviewed by Reader Views. You can read the interview at their website Reader Views.

I am still seeking reviewers for the book so if you are a reviewer or blogger about anything Arthurian, please let me know.

Keep the Dream of Camelot Alive!

Tyler Tichelaar

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Tyler R. Tichelaar, Ph.D. is the author of King Arthur’s Children: A Study in Fiction and Tradition, available at www.ChildrenofArthur.com

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