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Today, I will be interviewing Arthurian novelist Nicole Evelina about her new novel, Camelot’s Queen, the second of three books in the Guinevere’s Tale trilogy following Daughter of Destiny. (You can also read on this blog my review of her two novels Daughter of Destiny and Camelot’s Queen and my previous interview with her about Daughter of Destiny.)

Nicole Evelina, author of "Camelot's Queen" about Guinevere's years married to King Arthur.

Nicole Evelina, author of “Camelot’s Queen” about Guinevere’s years married to King Arthur.

Nicole Evelina has spent the last fifteen years researching the Arthurian legend, Celtic Britain, and the various peoples, cultures, and religious practices that shaped the country after the withdrawal of Rome. She is a proud member of the Historical Novel Society.

Nicole holds a B.A. in English and an M.A. in media communications, as well as accreditation from the International Association of Business Communicators (IABC), a distinction that tests writing and communications skills, and is held by only 8,000 people worldwide. Her goal in writing Arthurian fiction is to create a strong female protagonist in the person of Guinevere in the series. And it looks like she’s succeeded because Daughter of Destiny has so far won:

  • Book of the Year – Chanticleer Reviews
  • Gold Medal – Next Generation Indie Book Awards
  • First Place, Legacy/legend category – 2015 Chatelaine Awards for Women’s Fiction/Romantic Fiction

Short list – 2015 Chaucer Awards for Historical Fiction

SelectedLibrary Journal’s curated SELF-e Select module

Hopefully, we’ll find out Nicole’s secret for writing great Arthurian fiction here today.

Tyler: Welcome back, Nicole. I’ve been anxious to find out what happens to Guinevere, and I wasn’t disappointed in the second book in the series. The first book, Daughter of Destiny, focused on the years leading up to Guinevere’s marriage, which are usually fairly ignored by Arthurian writers, but this second book follows the main tradition from her marriage to King Arthur until Lancelot rescues her from being burnt at the stake. Consequently, you had a lot more material to work with here, but also less license to be wholly imaginative, so would you say writing Camelot’s Queen was easier or more difficult as a result?

Nicole: Thanks for having me here again. Always a pleasure! To answer your question, it made it easier and harder. Having more source material gave me more to work with, but I also had more to cull through and in the early drafts, I had a tough time bringing focus to the book because I wanted to cover everything. It also means readers have a lot more expectations coming into this book than they do with the others, so I had to keep in mind both the story I wanted to tell with what most people would expect, and if I was going to change something, give them a darn good reason for it.

Tyler: One of the most detailed sections of the book concerns what happens when Guinevere is abducted by Malegant. You made a lot of interesting changes to the story in this section that I thought made it very powerful. What made you decide to tell the tale in the way you did here?

Nicole: I felt like it was part of the tradition that couldn’t be ignored. Here I am telling this woman’s life story from her point of view, so there’s no logical way to skip over it without the gap being really obvious. I kept in mind the tenant that “every villain is the hero of their own story” when creating Malegant and defining his personality and back story. I wanted the reader to be able to understand why he did the terrible things he did and that in his mind, he was in the right. He wasn’t just some mustache-twirling villain who was there because tradition dictated it; he had an untapped back-story, just like Guinevere.

As for the changes around Arthur and Morgan’s roles, without spoiling anything, I’ll say I did that because I wanted to do something other than have her be his sister. When I eliminated that possibility, I had to think hard about what their relationship would be and how that would impact the rest of the story. What would make these characters still act in accord with tradition? Luckily for me, Celtic law provided the perfect answer.

Tyler: Did you have a favorite scene or section in the novel that you enjoyed writing?

Nicole: The whole section around Guinevere’s kidnapping is my favorite, hands down. But I also love three of the scenes with Aggrivane: when he and Guinevere talk after he comes back to Camelot, what happens after Lancelot is invested as champion, and their scene together right before the burning.

Tyler: While most of the characters will be familiar to readers of Arthurian books, you do introduce some new characters such as Sobian. Why did you decide to create her?

Nicole: She created herself, believe it or not. Originally, she appeared when Arthur, Guinevere and a group of knights were traveling around the kingdom, visiting all of the people, much like the famous progress Queen Elizabeth I made around England every year. When she popped into my head she was very mysterious, and much like I had to do with Arthur, I had to force her to open up and give me a clue who she was. Obviously, that section evolved over various drafts, but Sobian remained. I think that it is important for you to see someone from Arthur’s past and know that he had a life, lovers, friends, before he became king. She’s also an incredibly strong woman, one who adds to the court tremendously, while also helping keep the men in check.

Tyler: I think one of my favorite scenes in the novel was how you treated the Holy Grail when it is first discovered. Will you tell our readers a little about that scene and what your goal was with it?

Nicole: Do you mean the scene where they all see it for the first time? For those who haven’t read it, the grail changes form so that everyone sees it according to their own faith or cultural tradition. So a Christian sees the traditional chalice, while a pagan sees a cauldron or a drinking horn, depending on their background, etc.

It was important to me that whatever I do, I not take away from or slight anyone’s personal idea of the grail. It has been so many things over the years—a cauldron, a drinking horn, a stone, a chalice, a cup, even Mary Magdalene—that I wanted every reader to be able to see their own beliefs reflected in it, just as the characters do. Regardless of whether or not the grail actually exists, it’s a powerful symbol to so many people and I wanted my version to represent unity through diversity.

"Camelot's Queen," the second book in Nicole Evelina's trilogy about Guinevere, covers the years of Guinevere's marriage to King Arthur.

“Camelot’s Queen,” the second book in Nicole Evelina’s trilogy about Guinevere, covers the years of Guinevere’s marriage to King Arthur.

Tyler: I was struck that Bishop Marius plays a rather villainous role in the novel. It seems quite common in Arthurian literature, at least since Bradley’s The Mists of Avalon, for Christianity to come off negatively. Do you think that’s a fair statement and why do you think the negative depictions of Christianity in the legend are so popular today?

Nicole: I love Bishop Marius. He is so much fun to write.

I do think it’s a popular way to portray Christianity. I’m not sure what reason other authors have for that, but I would guess it may have something to do with Christianity representing the establishment and people being tired of it. Therefore, they glorify the other, which in this case is paganism.

For me it was more a matter of exploring the tension between pagan religions and Christianity at the turn of the fifth/sixth century, which is when these books are set. Yes, Marius is evil, but that’s because there have always been orthodox and power-hungry men in the Church, no matter the time period (Cardinal Richelieu in the 1600s comes immediately to mind as an example of the power hungry). With the conflict between the old and new religious being what it was, there no doubt would have been those zealous souls who wanted to wipe out all trace of the old religion.

That doesn’t mean that all of them are evil, however. That’s why you see a bit of Father Dafydd, who is one of the good men of the Church. He originally had a larger part, but even with what remains in the story, I hope you can see that he represents the positive side of the Church.

Tyler: I also find Morgan a fascinating character, and I love how she continues to thwart Guinevere throughout the series. Will she continue to play a role in the third novel, and will we ever find out the secret of her parentage?

Nicole: Yes, she’s definitely in the third book. As of right now I do plan on revealing who her parents are, but because the book isn’t finished, I can’t 100% guarantee that will stay in. But I bet it does.

Tyler: I hope you do leave it in. I can’t wait to find out. You’ve also stated that you wanted to create a strong female protagonist in this series, but at times, I admit that Guinevere seems a little too hot-headed and even childish, and I think as the author you were aware of that since even Merlin tells her she’s selfish at one point. Do you feel like she’s always justified in her behavior, or is she just fallible like the rest of us?

Nicole: Oh no, she’s not always justified. She’s flawed just like the rest of us, which I hope makes her more relatable. If you think about the way she was raised, her selfishness makes sense. She was the treasured only living child of parents who suffered much disappointment and loss as they watched a dozen children die at various points in life. So from the beginning she had only to think of herself. Then she was sent to Avalon, which was an honor not bestowed upon many. Granted, while she was there she had to learn some humility and how to live with others, but not long after she leaves she becomes queen. This role elevates her above all others and helps her default selfishness kick back in again. It’s only over time that she matures and learns to see beyond her own nose.

Tyler: I know you have another book coming out soon not on an Arthurian topic but on Victoria Woodhull, the first woman to run for U.S. President, back in the nineteenth century. I admit I never heard of her until I heard about your book, so will you tell us a little about this other book and why you chose this non-Arthurian topic since I suspect you see Woodhull as not too dissimilar from Guinevere as a strong woman?

Nicole: Sure. I picked Victoria exactly because she is a strong woman and those are the type I aim to portray in my writing. I found out about her by accident. I saw a pin on Pinterest of a beautiful woman who caught my eye. When I read the caption, I knew I had my next book subject. It said “Known by her detractors as “Mrs. Satan,” Victoria Claflin Woodhull, born in 1838, married at age fifteen to an alcoholic and womanizer. She became the first woman to establish a brokerage firm on Wall Street and played an active role in the woman’s suffrage movement. She became the first woman to run for President of the United States in 1872. Her name is largely lost in history. Few recognize her name and accomplishments.”

I hadn’t learned anything about her in school, and I suspected many others hadn’t either. So I wanted to do what I could to restore her to her rightful place in history by telling her story. She’s a woman of many accomplishments including being the first woman to run a stock brokerage on Wall Street, the first woman to testify before Congress, one of the first women to run a weekly newspaper, and the first female presidential candidate. Her family is crazier and pulls more stunts than I could ever make up. (Truth really is stranger than fiction.) And while Victoria is certainly no saint, I think people will enjoy reading about her.

Tyler: Nicole, for authors, writing can be a lonely task and you work on your books for years hoping people will like them. How has your view of writing changed since you’ve now published these first two Arthurian novels and have you learned anything from the feedback you’ve received from readers?

Nicole: It’s been a while since I’ve thought of writing as lonely, thanks to the amazing writing online community, especially on Twitter. But I will admit to feeling a bit more pressure now that I know people like the first two Guinevere novels. I always wanted to end the series strong, but now I feel like I owe my readers a great story, rather than just owing it to Guinevere or myself. That’s both good and bad in that it’s motivating, but could turn paralyzing if I think about it too much.

I’ve learned from readers that there has been a thirst for stories about Guinevere that’s gone untapped for a long time. My story has been what a lot of people were looking for. But not all. That’s another thing I’m learning—no book can satisfy everyone. Readers will sometimes read things into books that aren’t there or that you don’t intend; that can color their feedback and there’s nothing as the author you can do about it.

Tyler: Thanks again for joining me today, Nicole. Before we go, will you remind us when the last book of the Guinevere’s Tale trilogy will be out, and what your website is so we can watch for it?

Nicole: Thanks again for having me! The last book in the trilogy, Mistress of Legend, will be out in early 2017. I don’t have a firm date yet. My website is http://nicoleevelina.com/. I’m always happy to hear from readers by email, snail mail or on social media.

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Since I don’t have Starz, I’ve been anxiously awaiting a chance to watch Camelot and finally found it online at http://www.watchseriesonlinehere.com/camelot-s01e01-episode-1/ thanks to a member of the Facebook King Arthur group. It’s an annoying website full of pop-ups, so if you’d rather wait to watch the show on TV, it will be airing on CBC this fall.

Camelot StarzThere is a lot to say about Camelot, so I’ll only discuss the first three episodes here. Of course, I’m eager to watch any program about the Arthurian legend, but I think this program has more marks against it than positive points, and I’m not surprised that it was announced recently that it would be cancelled, based not just on the cost to make a historical production piece but also for the flaws in the story and characters and that the episodes drag a bit. I’m not saying I dislike the show. I don’t think there’s much on TV worth watching anymore so it’s one of the better shows out there, but for lovers of the Arthurian legend, there’s much to complain about it. It’s too bad because nothing would make my TV viewing more pleasurable than a long-running Arthurian series.

Here are my issues with Camelot:

  • The actor playing King Arthur, Jamie Campbell Bower, just doesn’t do it for me, and that’s a big problem since he has the lead role. He may be a good actor, and yes, Arthur was young and naive when he became king, but Bower’s Arthur looks more like a rock star wannabe bad boy than a young man capable of becoming king. Nor is he in any way an imposing or kingly figure–his bio on IMDB says he’s six feet tall, but Guinevere looks taller. And seriously, how can we believe Guinevere would pick this Arthur over Leontes, a trained warrior, better looking, better built. I don’t mean to be offensive to Bower, but King Arthur he just is not. As I watch the show, I keep wishing Peter Mooney, who is playing Kay, were playing Arthur; he much more looks the part.
  • Arthur’s sword – why is the Sword of Mars or Sword of the Gods, or whatever they are calling it being called anything but Excalibur? I suspect because in legend, there are two sword stories–the sword pulled out of the stone which Arthur loses, and then the sword the Lady of the Lake gives him. In the second episode of Camelot, Arthur manages to release the sword, but since it’s sticking out of the middle of a waterfall, when he pulls it out he loses his balance, and consequently loses the sword when he falls and goes underwater. The whole waterfall scene is rather stupid in my opinion, but I do like that the show makes a point that Merlin planted the sword there and planned out the entire thing, much like in Malory. But a smarter Merlin wouldn’t have put the sword where Arthur was likely to lose it.
  • King Lot – he dies in episode 2. That’s a big difference from the legends since he gives Morgan le Fay (or more commonly Morgause her sister; they are often confused and one or two people depending on the version) four children, namely Gawain, Gareth, Agrivaine, and Gaheris. Not to mention being a pseudo-father for Mordred once Morgause/Morgan gets pregnant by Arthur.
  • Gawaine – obviously, he’s not Lot and Morgan’s son in this version.
  • Vivian – why is she black? Don’t get me wrong; I’m not prejudiced, and in the Merlin series, while I was surprised that Guinevere was black, at least that series is far more like fantasy. Vivian is traditionally the Lady of the Lake; instead, here she’s acting like a servant to Morgan. What’s the reason? Perhaps there will later be a Nimue as Lady of the Lake since Nimue was the original Lady of the Lake while Tennyson renamed her Viviane.
  • Merlin – I know Joseph Fiennes is a fine actor, but I like my Merlin’s to have at least a little bit of beard–just a little gray to make me believe he’s old and wise–pretty please? Never mind, obviously this Merlin isn’t very smart. As if putting the sword where Arthur will lose it isn’t enough, he makes a totally idiotic decision when he and Arthur go to visit Morgan at her castle without bringing along any guards, or even that they go at all. And of course, Morgan uses her spells on them–they couldn’t see that coming? Dumb, dumb, dumb. Did what happened at the castle make good television viewing–sure, but not at the expense of logic and characters with common sense. If this Merlin were in a slasher film, he’d play the dumb blonde girl who goes back into the house with the ax murderer.
  • The Nudity – right off we have a nude scene in the first episode – Arthur fooling around with a girl whom Kay is apparently interested in. And what’s the point? Gratuitous nudity from the start. Merlin shows up to say Arthur is the true king of Britain, and Arthur rides off, taking Kay along–poor girl got naked for no reason. She’s not spoken of again. Taking your clothes off just isn’t enough for a long-term role in Camelot apparently. Later we get a wild sex scene between Morgan and Lot, and of course, sex between Arthur and Guinevere. I’m not going to complain though when Eva Green as Morgan drops her clothes to have sex with a wolf. She’s stunning–but seriously, a wolf–I know a metaphor for some dark spirit, but still–bestiality?
  • Leontes – the number one thing people have been Googling to lead them to my blog is Leontes. Everyone wants to know who he is–is he from the legend. NO. He’s completely fictional. Why is he in the story? I don’t know. He seems to be some sort of juxtaposed Lancelot figure. Traditionally in the legend, Arthur and Guinevere are married but Guinevere is in love with Lancelot. Camelot‘s creators apparently decided to twist the storyline and have Guinevere engaged to the made-up Leontes, and then have her in love with Arthur. By episode three, Guinevere and Leontes are married, after Guinevere had sex with Arthur. I can’t wait to see how this triangle is going to work out. I’ll bet Leontes ends up dead–or worse, it won’t be resolved because the program’s already been cancelled and it was planned to be on for five seasons. I will say that Philip Winchester, who plays Leontes, is a great actor and I used to enjoy watching him in the cancelled TV series Robinson Crusoe (2008-2009) on NBC. I hope a series picks him up that will make him a success.

Okay. That’s enough of ripping on the show. There are a few things I like about it. Here they are:

  • Camelot itself – the set of the castle is stunning. I love that it’s an old ruin that Arthur will revitalize. It’s beautiful. In fact, all the scenery and sets are very well done. It’s filmed on the Guinness estate outside Dublin according to an interview with Joseph Fiennes.
  • Eva Green as Morgan – as far as I’m concerned Eva Green is the reason to watch this show. Ever since I saw her in Kingdom of Heaven (2005), one of my all time favorite movies, I’ve thought she was one of the most distinctively beautiful women I’ve ever seen. She’s incredibly sensual–who doesn’t want to watch her suck food off her fingers like Orlando Bloom enjoys doing in the film? She’s equally beautiful, if not quite as exotic, in Camelot. She’s a wonderful actress but I feel like the script may be holding her back. Her character is a bit cliched, but still it’s an interesting role, and Morgan le Fay is perhaps my favorite Arthurian character anyway.
  • It’s a TV series about King Arthur – yes, there are some bad King Arthur films, but for the most part, Camelot is a good show. It’s entertaining. The episodes may drag a little. It’s not perfect, but similarly, I now really like the Merlin series, but it took half-a-dozen episodes to win me over and go from disgust actually to appreciate the talking dragon. Will Camelot have the power to win me over as I watch the rest of the episodes? I’m a bit more skeptical if it’s been cancelled already, but I’ll keep watching. I’m sure I’ll watch it several times over.

As I watch the rest of the episodes, I’ll be posting more of my impressions and where Camelot coincides or strays from the various versions of Arthurian legend. I don’t suppose I’ll be lucky enough to see the program create a child for Arthur, so I can add another chapter to King Arthur’s Children.

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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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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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