Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Posts Tagged ‘genealogy’

Marion Zimmer Bradley’s vision of Avalon continues through Diana Paxson’s pen in another prequel to The Mists of Avalon.

Marion Zimmer Bradley's Ravens of Avalon by Diana L. PaxsonI have had mixed feelings about this series, as have many readers. The Mists of Avalon is my favorite Arthurian novel of all time, perhaps my favorite novel of all time, and after thirty years since its publication, it is doubtless a classic that has heavily influenced the numerous writers of Arthuriana who have followed. That said, the rest of the series really adds nothing to Arthurian literature because the novels are all prequels about Avalon. I found both The Forest House and Lady of Avalon to be boring and disappointing, but Priestess of Avalon, about the Emperor Constantine’s mother, Helena, was fairly enjoyable and even moving in places. Then Ancestors of Avalon had a plot that seemed to be going nowhere despite an intriguing opening as it traced the flight from Atlantis to the new Avalon. I ended up skimming a good part of it, and it paled in comparison to Stephen Lawhead’s Atlantis depiction in Taliesin. Therefore, it took me nearly two years to get around to reading the next book in the Avalon series, Ravens of Avalon.

Before I read this book, I made the mistake of reading the reviews at Amazon, including complaints that the characters were dull and flat, and that may be why I had difficulty getting through the first hundred pages. I don’t think the characters are dull or flat, but I think some people probably had a hard time getting into the book because the cast of characters is a bit overwhelming—there are pages of them in the listing at the front of the book, and most of them have names with strange spellings that make it difficult to keep track of them. However, really there are only a few characters you need to keep track of—Lhiannon the priestess, Ardanos, the priest she loves, Boudica, and Boudica’s later husband Prasutagos.

Once I sat down and focused on the book, I found myself unable to put it down. Ravens of Avalon has redeemed the series for me and now makes me anxious to read Sword of Avalon. Also, it should be noted that if anyone else wants to read this series, there is no order in which to read it. Priestess of Avalon takes place around 300 A.D. while Ravens of Avalon takes place around 40-60 A.D. and Sword of Avalon, although I have not read it, takes place at the end of the Iron Age and deals with descendants of ancient Troy apparently. All the novels are prequels to The Mists of Avalon—I wish Paxson would consider a sequel because I want to know what happened to Morgan le Fay after the book ended.

Ravens of Avalon retells the story of the iconic and historic Queen Boudica of Britain. The basics of her story are well known. The Romans raped her and her daughters, causing her to seek revenge by raising an army against the Romans, an army eventually defeated. A difficulty many historical novelists have is that the reader already knows how the story is going to turn out; even though I knew Boudica would die in the end, I kept reading, wanting to know how Paxson would twist the ending. The end is tragic; Paxson does not change it in any surprising way, but she makes Boudica come alive and for the reader to understand and follow her motivations.

The details of Boudica’s life and what led to her battling the Romans is largely lost to history, but Paxson does an admirable job of depicting what could have been Boudica’s life as she is schooled on Avalon, and she eventually settles for life being a queen, through a dynastic marriage, rather than being a priestess. Her marriage is especially well-depicted as she gets to know a husband who seems standoffish at first until their story becomes a great love story.

Of course, Avalon is sort of the spectacle of the novel, and the powers of the priests and priestesses are impressive and fascinating as they engage in magic, including raising mists to hide themselves from the Romans, or have visions of the future, or feel the spirit of a goddess enter them to aid them in battle. I am usually a sucker for this kind of magical realism, the possibility that the Druids knew how to use their minds in ways we have since forgotten.

I was very moved especially by Boudica’s dialogues with herself or with the Raven or the goddess who enters her as she tries to understand her need to battle the Romans and what it will all mean and that in the end it is for the greater good. One passage in particular struck me:

*

“Men are no different from any other creature,” said the Raven. “When one group is stronger they conquer, and when they weaken, another comes and feeds on them in turn. Conflict and competition are necessary. The fury passes through like a great fire, burning weakness away, and in its light the essence is revealed. The strongest in both groups survive. Blood and spirit are blended and what grows from them is stronger still.”

“Is this the only way?” Boudica cried.

“This is the way you must follow now,” came the reply. “Britannia is a mingling of many bloods already, from peoples that strove against each other as they came to these shores. In time more will come and today’s victor will fail, leaving his own strength in the land.”

“That is a hard teaching,” Boudica said.

“It is my truth—the Raven’s Way. One way or another the cycle must continue. The balance must be maintained. And there is more than one kind of victory…”

*

I’m a sucker for a passage like this as well, and it points to the most significant thing I have learned from my fascination with genealogy. The Raven states that “Britannia is a mingling of many bloods,” and nothing could be more true. I have traced my British ancestors more closely than any others back throughout the Middle Ages, and in one ancestor, Thomas Dudley (1576-1653), the second governor of the Massachusetts Bay Colony, a descendant of the Barons Dudley and King Edward III of England, I can trace my family tree back to ancestors from every country in Europe, as well as back to ancient Egypt, China, India, Persia, etc. The truth then is that race does not matter. As the Raven above says, the blood is mixed from those who strove against each other. I am descended from both William the Conqueror and Harold Godwinson who fought each other at the Battle of Hastings in 1066, and from both Celtic Britons and Saxons who settled in Britain—in fact, I can claim descent from King Caratacus of Britain, whose rebellion against Rome precedes Boudica’s and is depicted in Ravens of Avalon. I may upset some by taking this a step farther, but in a thousand years, people who died on September 11th will have descendants also descended from some of the terrorists who led the attacks. It is the way of the world, we intermarry until race and anger are forgotten. In fact, race does not really exist.

Whether you agree with my reasons for enjoying Ravens of Avalon, or you simply like stories of Avalon or druids or Roman and British history, I think Ravens of Avalon is well worth taking the time to read. After The Mists of Avalon, it is the best in the series. I have no doubt that Queen Boudica will live in my thoughts for a long time to come.

My review of Sword of Avalon will be forthcoming.

For more on Arthurian genealogy, visit www.ChildrenofArthur.com

________________________

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

Advertisements

Read Full Post »

Recently, I received a comment on one of my previous posts Is the British Royal Family Descended from King Arthur? where the respondent said, “So please take haste in removing such a travesty from the eyes that would believe.” In other words, he feared my readers would believe that King Arthur was real and the royal family descended from King Arthur. Obviously, I didn’t remove the post. The theories that the British Royal Family might be descended from King Arthur are so old that I doubt my post will make any difference; when generations of scholars and hopeful royals have tried to prove such a connection, I’m certainly not going to be able to find the missing evidence.

But the idea of Arthurian genealogy and a link to the British royal family is more important than just a matter of whether it is true or not. What really matters is that people want to believe in King Arthur and claim a connection to him. Back in the Middle Ages, the English royalty wanted to make such a claim to legitimize somehow their right to rule. Of course, if King Arthur did live, scholars are pretty certain he was more likely a warrior chief of some sort and not the ruler over all of Britain.

The Irish have a saying, “We are all the sons and daughters of kings.” The British and all people might as well have the same saying because it’s true. Anyone interested in genealogy knows that it is not difficult to find a link between oneself and a royal family. Sometimes it’s easier than other times, but usually if you can go back far enough and the records exist, then you can find that link. I have found such links. I am twice over descended from John of Gaunt, Duke of Lancaster, son to King Edward III (r. 1327-1377). Edward III was one of those Arthurian enthusiasts who reputedly had the Round Table at Winchester built to support his claim to being Arthur’s descendant. And once you find you are related to one royal, you are pretty much related to all of them since all the royal houses intermarried with one another.

The Round Table at Winchester Castle

The Round Table at Winchester Castle

Whether being related to royals is something to be proud of is another thing–many people start working on their family trees in the hopes to find royalty in their background, but the truth is most of those old kings and queens acted like monsters, constantly fighting one another, usurping thrones from their parents, brothers, sisters, burning people at the stake, spurning one wife or husband for another, basically acting like spoiled children – trust me, a royal lineage is not something to be wildly proud of.

Furthermore, DNA and mathematical calculations make it clear that today, anyone of European descent can claim to be descended from anyone who lived in Europe prior to the year 1200 AD who had children. That means everyone who is of European descent is descended from King Arthur, as well as people we know are historical including Charlemagne, William the Conqueror, El Cid, Clovis, King of the Franks, and a host of others. And our African and Asian brothers are close to the same category. If an African went to Europe around the year 1200 and intermarried with a white person and they had children, then we are all descended from that African as well, which means we are probably descended from all the ancients of the African world from the Pharoahs of Egypt and onward. In my own family tree, I have found Maharajahs of India, Chinese and Byzantine emperors and kings from every house in Europe.

Cardinal Beaufort Tomb Winchester Cathedral

Tomb of my ancestor Cardinal Beaufort, son of John of Gaunt - I am descended from his illegitimate daughter Lady Jane Beaufort, whose mother was the Archbishop of Canterbury's niece. Not only did Cardinal Beaufort have a child out of wedlock, but he also was responsible for burning Joan of Arc at the stake - obviously a member of the royal family whose descendant I am proud to be.

How is this possible? Do the math. You have 2 parents, 4 grandparents, 8 great-grandparents, 16 great-great grandparents, and so on. Each generation back the number of your ancestors double: 32, 64, 128, 256, 512, 1024, 2048, 4096, 8192, 16384, 32768 – do you think you’d ever be able to document all 32,768 ancestors who make up your 13-greats grandparents? That generation would have probably lived in the 1500s–the time of Henry VIII, the Spanish Inquisition, Michelangelo – think how many people you might be descended from and just another half dozen back and you have over 1,000,000 ancestors, which would be about 1400 A.D. and another six generations back to about the mid-1200s and you have 64 million ancestors – there weren’t even that many people living in Europe at that time, which means most of the Europeans alive at that time are your ancestors numerous times over. For example, I know of at least 28 different ways I am descended from King Alfred the Great of England (reigned 871-899 A.D.) through various of his children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren.

If this is the case, then if King Arthur lived, of course he is the British Royal Family’s ancestor – and he is also your ancestor.

But more importantly, not only are you descended from royalty, but you are descended from thousands of ancient peoples from every culture and nation, and that means, racism is ridiculous because race does not really exist. You have ancestors from England, Italy, Finland, Russia, Hungary, Spain, Egypt, Mesopotamia, India, China, Ethiopia, and in some cases, maybe even from the ancient peoples of North and South American, Oceania, Australia.

What does this mean? It means we are all closely connected. It means the human story in all its aspects is our story. It means we are all the sons and daughters of kings and queens and farmers and goatherders and merchants and traders and slaves and peasants and dukes and knights and millers and barons and mariners and princesses. It means we should get along because we are all human and all not that far from being the same.

King Arthur’s Camelot was that bright shining moment we can aspire to. We have so many ancestors that we can never learn about them all, never remember all their names, so let us hang onto King Arthur and try to live by the ideals that Camelot inspires. To believe in such a glorious ancestry may have a tad of a fictional element to it, but it is also to aspire to a world where we are all a community–to see a person as a human, not a Jew, not a Christian, not a Muslim, not white or black, not British or Indian or Libyan but human–a brother or a sister–a family member.

________________________

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

Read Full Post »

My new book King Arthur’s Children: A Study in Fiction and Tradition is now available in hardcover, paperback, and kindle editions. For more information, visit www.ChildrenofArthur.com.

King Arthur's Children: A Study in Fiction and Tradition

Below is the Introduction to King Arthur’s Children:

Introduction

            The subject of King Arthur’s children is not widely known even to the legend’s most avid readers. Mention of these children may make readers pause for a moment, say to themselves, “What children?” and then add, “Well, of course there’s Mordred, but sometimes he is King Arthur’s nephew rather than his son.”

My reaction was similar when I first found mention of King Arthur having any children other than Mordred. The fact is, however, that King Arthur has traditionally had children almost since the legends were first told. Over the centuries, these children were lost amid the continually increasing number of new stories, many springing up without any source in the tradition, only to be added to the legend, while the original Celtic stories were largely forgotten. Occasionally, when scholars came across obscure references to one of Arthur’s children in the earlier sources, they were unsure what to make of this curiosity. As Arthurian studies have progressed, particularly over the last century, however, efforts have been made to understand the historical time period in which King Arthur lived, around the fifth to early sixth centuries; this research has resulted in many discoveries and even more theories, some of which will now allow us to make more accurate statements about King Arthur’s forgotten children.

With the continual increase of interest in the Arthurian legends, it is time that a study finally be made of King Arthur’s children. If we wish to discover who the historical King Arthur was, perhaps we might find out something about him by studying his children. The need to study King Arthur’s children is almost as important as the study of King Arthur himself because King Arthur’s children, as we will see, are what help connect us to King Arthur’s time period. The concept of King Arthur and the golden age he established fulfills a psychological yearning for many people. Comfort and satisfaction can be derived from believing in King Arthur’s ethical code. People have a need to believe in a golden age as we saw during John F. Kennedy’s presidency when attempts were made to compare Kennedy and the United States to King Arthur and Camelot. By discovering Arthur’s children and descendants, we find a link between the age of Arthur and our own time.

At the end of The Discovery of King Arthur, Geoffrey Ashe asks why the spell of King Arthur continues to excite us and capture our imaginations (189). Ashe suggests King Arthur’s popularity in the United States may be based in Americans’ tendency to speak about their “roots.” But then he comments, “I doubt if this is the whole answer, since most Americans are not British descended” (189).

Actually, estimates of Americans of British (English, Irish, Scottish, and Welsh) descent run from 50-80% depending on the study. The number of studies and results on the Internet of how many Americans have British ancestry is too many to detail, but they can easily be found. Even people who identify themselves as African American often have Caucasian blood—and those descended from slaves with white blood will generally find that the Southern white slave owner in the family tree was of British descent. If we consider that King Arthur likely lived about the year 500 A.D. and we then consider how many descendants he had and how they migrated across the globe over fifteen hundred years, it is not much of a stretch to suggest that nearly everyone on earth can potentially be a descendant of King Arthur—provided he lived and did have children. DNA analysis recently has proven that everyone of European descent alive today can claim descent from anyone who lived in Europe prior to the year 1200 A.D. In fact, as Steve Olson demonstrates in Mapping Human History: Discovering the Past Through Our Genes, if we go back just ten generations, we each would have 1024 ancestors, so thirty generations ago that number would be 1024 x 1024 x 1024, which equals over one billion. Since that many people did not live in the world thirty generations ago—estimates for the year 1400 were 375 million—many of our ancestors repeat, meaning our ancestors married distant cousins and shared similar ancestors. In any case, we can probably all claim descent from such famous ancient people as Confucius, Queen Nefertiti, and Julius Caesar (Olson 46-47). Furthermore, even people today of predominantly Asian or African descent could be descended from King Arthur. African-American poet Elizabeth Alexander, for example, is a descendant of King John of England (reigned 1199-1216 A.D.), as recently revealed on the PBS show Faces of America with Henry Louis Gates, Jr. broadcast in 2010. As Steve Olsen notes, “suppose an emissary from Ethiopia married a woman in the court of Henry II and had children. Today, all Europeans are descended from that Ethiopian” (46).

Anyone interested in genealogy knows that “race” does not really exist. In researching my own ancestry, I have found myself descended not only from people in every country in Europe but even China, India, and Persia. The human race is itself a melting pot. With these statistics, based in fact, not merely fancy, if King Arthur were a historical person, he is very likely ancestor to all of us. Our descent from King Arthur is obviously through his children, so we should learn more about them.

My own interest in King Arthur began when I first read The Boy’s King Arthur at the age of fourteen. At twenty-one, I also began to take an interest in genealogy and traced my family back to King Edward III of England, among whose ancestors, of course, was Cerdic, King of Wessex, credited with being one of Arthur’s greatest enemies. Imagine my surprise and interest when I read Geoffrey Ashe’s suggestion that Cerdic was a possible son of King Arthur (199). If this relationship were true, then I would be a direct descendant of King Arthur! Something of a boyish pride swelled up in my heart, something that perhaps non-genealogists or non-lovers of Arthurian literature would not understand, but who would not like to claim descent from King Arthur? Later, I will discuss whether or not Cerdic is a possible son of King Arthur, but Geoffrey Ashe’s suggestion was enough to spark my interest, especially when I learned King Arthur also had other children. The descendants of these other children must have multiplied so that by the 1600s, when Americans’ British ancestors began journeying to the New World, several of them may have been carrying Arthurian blood over the seas with them. Not only I, but thousands if not millions of other Americans, would therefore be descendants of King Arthur!

If there were a King Arthur, then his descendants are probably more numerous than can ever be thoroughly traced. We may never know whether Arthur’s descendants are living among us (or are us), as we may never know whether Arthur was a real person. However, both are pleasant thoughts, and I personally believe both may be more than just possibilities.

Even if it is not through blood, then through culture Americans are the descendants of Arthur and his times. The popularity of Arthurian literature can quickly transport anyone who reads a book or watches a film back to the Arthurian age. The ideals with which we credit Arthurian times, whether the period received those ideals from our time, or our time from the past, still serve to connect us.

Arthur’s children are of interest to us, whether it is through genealogy or by cultural heritage. In King Arthur’s Daughter, Vera Chapman makes this point nicely when she writes about the growth of Arthur’s descendants:

“Not by a royal dynasty but by the spreading unknown and unnoticed, along the distaff line—mother to daughter, father to daughter, mother to son. Names and titles shall be lost, but the story and the spirit of Arthur shall not be lost. For Arthur is a spirit and Arthur is the land of Britain.” (144)

Anyone who would be a descendant of King Arthur need not have a fifteen hundred-year-old pedigree to prove it; we need to tell the tales about Arthur, and when people hear these stories, he will then live on in their hearts and his line and descendants will continue to grow.

In the following pages, I will attempt to explore all the figures said to be descended from King Arthur, from the legend’s earliest versions to the most modern novels. Often these modern novels are based on earlier traditions, or they are making their own interpretations of what could have happened. Arthurian studies always leave us the problem of trying to separate what is fact from fiction, and even the most respected Arthurian stories of the Middle Ages often become as suspect as the modern novels, and the modern novels today often try to be more authentic than their medieval counterparts; therefore, we must consider all interpretations and possibilities considering Arthur’s children, whether they appear believable or not. In many cases, we will discover that what might have happened if Arthur were a historical person is not as important as how people have chosen to interpret or even rewrite Arthurian literature.

This book represents the first time King Arthur’s children will all be assembled together, along with the various tales about them, as the subject of study. After looking more closely at the children of King Arthur, we will come to a better understanding of the purpose Arthurian literature has served over the centuries and perhaps we will even become more closely connected to King Arthur and his times.

________________________

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

Read Full Post »