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  1. King Arthur had children other than just Mordred.
  2. Arthur traditionally had three children in Welsh tradition, including Amr, whose story resembles Mordred’s, while Mordred (Medraut) is not Arthur’s child in Welsh legend.
  3. The Scots believe Mordred was the good guy at the Battle of Camlann.
  4. King Arthur’s descendants may include the Scottish Clan Campbell.
  5. Mordred had two sons of his own who tried to take over the kingdom after his death.
  6. Both Arthur and Mordred may have had daughters. Ever hear of Tortolina?
  7. Constantine, inheritor of Arthur’s throne, may have been the true villain, not Mordred.
  8. The British Royal Family claims to be descended from King Arthur in numerous and suspicious ways.
  9. Modern novelists have invented many new fictional children for King Arthur.
  10. If King Arthur really lived, DNA and mathematical calculations reveal that YOU are his likely descendant.

Find out the Fact from the Fiction and Far More in:

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

by

Tyler R. Tichelaar, Ph.D.

 Available at:

www.ChildrenofArthur.com

www.Amazon.com

www.BarnesandNoble.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

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Today, May 1st, May Day, or Beltane as it was known to the ancient Celtic people, is Mordred’s birthday. He is the greatest villain, or perhaps the most misunderstood in Arthurian legend. So in his honor, I am posting Chapter 5 from my book King Arthur’s Children, so we can have a closer look at his true character, or at least, what we may discern about it.

Chapter 5

The Character of Mordred 

            The name of Mordred is synonymous with traitor to those familiar with the Arthurian legends. If ever a cursed figure has existed in literature, it is Mordred, for how can one feel sorry for him when he is the murderer of King Arthur, the greatest, most noble king Britain ever had? Yet Mordred was not always an evil character in the legends. In the Welsh tradition, he was even honorable and admired.

The earliest written source we have for Mordred is the tenth century Annales Cambriae where it states that Arthur and Mordred fell at Camlann in 539, but no mention is made of their relationship or their being on opposite sides. Mordred may only be mentioned as falling with Arthur because he was one of the highest and greatest members of King Arthur’s court.

Sir Mordred

            The Welsh tradition describes Mordred as one of the three kingly knights of Arthur’s court, and it states that no one could deny him anything because of his courtliness. The curious qualities to which his persuasive powers were due were his calmness, mildness, and purity (Guest, Mabinogion, 344). Loomis also states that in a Welsh Triad Mordred is mentioned along with Nasiens, King of Denmark, as “men of such gentle, kindly, and fair words that anyone would be sorry to refuse them anything” (Loomis, Celtic Myth, 146-7). When the Welsh had such nice things to say about Mordred, we can hardly expect him to have become a traitor.

Whether Mordred was actually Arthur’s nephew before Geoffrey of Monmouth’s writings cannot be determined; in “The Dream of Rhonabwy,” he is mentioned as Arthur’s nephew (Jones, Mabinogion, 140), but this Welsh tale could have been influenced by Geoffrey of Monmouth since it was not written down until the fourteenth century. Furthermore, we must notice that Mordred is described in the above passage as a “kingly” knight, and later he is grouped with the King of Denmark. “Kingly” would seem to mean that Mordred was himself a king, or at least of royal blood. He would be royal if he were the son of Arthur’s sister and King Lot; possibly, he would have even inherited a kingdom upon his father’s death. In some later versions of the legend, he was supposed to inherit Arthur’s throne, as will be further discussed in Chapter 9; therefore, the hint that Mordred may have been a king could be well founded.

Mordred’s ability to persuade people so that none could refuse him may need to be looked at a little more hesitantly. It sounds almost as if he were capable of manipulating people, but this interpretation may be false reading between the lines in an attempt to find sarcasm where it was not intended. Such a negative interpretation was often used by the later romancers in their portraits of Mordred. They may have simply been misinterpreting what the Welsh had said of Mordred, or the person who wrote these Welsh traditions down may have been fusing the Welsh traditions with other more recent concepts of Mordred’s character.

One quality attributed to Mordred that we cannot overlook is his purity. Mordred is perhaps the last character in the legends one would expect to have been pure. In Geoffrey of Monmouth, Mordred is so far from purity that he is trying to force Guinevere into marriage with him. However, the sin of marrying his father’s wife is a sin Mordred originally seems innocent of having committed since it is not mentioned in any of the earlier Welsh versions of the legend.

One final clue to what may have been Mordred’s true character is that the Welsh Triads give two reasons for the Battle of Camlann. One of these is the blow Gwenhyvar struck to Gwenhwyvach, said to be her sister in “Culhwch and Olwen” (Jones, Mabinogion, 106). The other, surprisingly enough, is the blow Arthur gave to Mordred (Guest, Mabinogion, 343). Here it appears as if Mordred is not even at fault, but rather Arthur! Does this statement mean Mordred is the good guy or on the right side in the battle? This interpretation may seem impossible, but we must keep it in mind because it will need to be further explored when we discuss the Battle of Camlann. Since the passage does not give Arthur’s reason for striking Mordred, it could also be interpreted that Mordred started the trouble and Arthur was merely retaliating.

Although the Welsh tales do depict Mordred as rebelling against Arthur, it is strange that if they were influenced by Geoffrey of Monmouth, they would have said so many nice things about Mordred which Geoffrey does not credit to Mordred. The writing of the Welsh tales may have been influenced by Geoffrey of Monmouth’s The History of the Kings of Britain, but they may have also been drawing on independent Welsh traditions from which Geoffrey may have also drawn. Perhaps Geoffrey only borrowed the negative aspects of Mordred’s character, while The Mabinogion presents Mordred as a more rounded and realistic character.

Geoffrey of Monmouth’s portrayal of Mordred as completely evil allowed Geoffrey’s successors to exaggerate this wickedness to extremes. Mordred’s character became darkest when the author of the Mort Artu (1205) decided to make him the child of incest. As we have seen, this incestuous birth may have been an almost forgotten tradition about Mordred; however, it also could have been invented to degrade Mordred further. A person born of incest was viewed as being nothing short of a devil by the Christian writers of the Middle Ages; these writers viewed Mordred’s incestuous birth as an act of lust, and through this act of lust, even greater lust was conceived; therefore, Mordred became the most despicable, lustful character in the romances, quickly losing his last good characteristic, his purity.

A few examples of the lustful deeds attributed to Mordred during the Middle Ages can be found in the Huth Merlin and Claris et Laris. In the former, Mordred is so lacking in gratitude toward his host that he seduces the girl who is his host’s amie (Bruce, Evolution vol. 2, 345). Even worse than seducing maidens, in Claris et Laris, Mordred attempts to rape a girl, but she is rescued before he can succeed. Later in the romance, he again attempts to rape a girl, but he is foiled in his attempt when the girl turns out to be a knight in disguise (Bruce, Evolution vol. 2, 271, 273). And of course Mordred is guilty of making attempts against Guinevere, which will be further explored in Chapters 6 and 7.

One reason why all this evil may have been attributed to Mordred could go back to our earlier discussion of his name origins. The Welsh form of Mordred’s name was Medraut or Medrawt, but it was later changed to Mordred, the Mor part of his name suggesting connotations to various European words for the sea. The stories of Mordred’s connection to the sea may have caused writers to believe he had some connection to death, specifically by drowning—hence his rescue from drowning at birth, so they borrowed from this new suggestive meaning in his name to depict him as evil. Of course, it could be that the name change was the result of writers wanting a name that more accurately depicted his already established evil character. In any case, Mordred’s character makes a change for the worse at approximately the same time as his name passes from the form of Medraut to Mordred.

Mordred’s wickedness, rather than growing into a more grotesque depiction, has received more sympathy from modern writers. We now live in an age of psychology where we look at the environment of the child that formed the adult. Consequently, trying to understand Mordred’s villainous behavior has provided him with a degree of sympathy; after all, how can he help hating his father, when that father tried to drown him, and furthermore, he must deal with the knowledge that he is the child of incest?

In some of the modern fiction, Mordred even appears to be regretful of his evil ways prior to the Battle of Camlann. Often he appears to be the victim of fate, trapped in a situation he is unable to avoid (Lacy, Arthurian Encyclopedia, 394). Even when he is not a sympathetic character, some writers depict him as not being completely at fault for the Battle of Camlann. Writers over the centuries, from Sir Thomas Malory to Mary Stewart in her novel The Wicked Day (1983), have arranged a meeting between Arthur and Mordred before the Battle of Camlann. In The Wicked Day, it is decided that Mordred will be king after Arthur’s death and have lands of his own until that time. In both Malory and Stewart, the Battle of Camlann begins during this meeting. While Mordred and Arthur are negotiating, one of their soldiers steps on an adder, which then attacks him; the soldier’s reflex is to draw his sword and kill the snake. The flash of the sword, at the same time Arthur happens to raise his arm, is interpreted by the two armies as the sign to start the battle, and so the wicked day begins. Here Mordred, although desiring the kingdom, was at least trying to make peace with Arthur so there need be no more battles, but it is Mordred and Arthur’s fate to slay each other, as Merlin predicted would happen when Mordred was born.

Occasionally in the modern texts, Mordred is even seen as having a purpose besides his own selfish desires for the throne. In The Mists of Avalon (1982), he is the arm of his mother, Morgan le Fay, sent to punish King Arthur for betraying the Isle of Avalon and forgetting his vows to the Goddess. Although Morgan seems a little fanatical at times in this work, the reader always sympathizes with her and so Mordred comes out on what is viewed as the side of good.

Perhaps the most unusual view of Mordred lies not so much in whether he was a good or an evil person, but in the theory that he, and not Arthur, was the rightful King of Britain, which would give a new understanding to his actions, making them merely an attempt to regain what was rightfully his. This interesting theory will be discussed more fully in Chapter 9. First, let us follow our chronological scheme of study and see what lies behind the tale of Mordred’s abduction of Guinevere since that is generally one of the causes for the Battle of Camlann.

For more information about Mordred or to purchase a copy of King Arthur’s Children, 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

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This final volume of Helen Hollick’s trilogy took me a little while to get into, and I thought it dragged a bit in the middle, but while reading the last couple of hundred pages, I didn’t want to put it down as I waited to find out how it would all turn out, and despite my not being crazy about the writing style, overall, I felt satisfied with the ending, and it certainly fulfilled my interest in depictions of King Arthur’s children.

When the previous volume, Pendragon’s Banner, ended, Arthur and Gwenhwyfar’s three sons were all dead but Gwenhwyfar was pregnant. When this novel opens, Arthur and Gwenhwyfar have a little girl, Archfedd.

Arthur has two other children (not counting all the bastards he apparently has who don’t figure in the story): Medraut, who lives with his mother, Morgaine, and is just a small child; and Cerdic, son to Winifred (Arthur’s divorced first wife), who is entering his teen years.

Arthur goes to Gaul to fight for Rome, and in the process, gets involved with a woman named Mathild. He is then believed to have been killed in battle, and his own men believe him dead, but some women realize the king is still breathing so they bring him to Morgaine, who cares for him but then also drugs him so he stays with her. Arthur has no desire to leave her anyway because just before his battle, he had heard in a letter from his uncle Ambrosius that Gwenhyyfar had died. He doesn’t know that Gwenhwyfar recovered from her illness, so his spirit is broken and he has no desire to return to Britain to reclaim his throne. Everyone in Britain assumes he has died and Ambrosius rules the country now.

Meanwhile, Mathild, whom Arthur had an affair with, returns to Britain and immediately marries Arthur’s son, Cerdic. She soon after has a child named Cynric, whom it is believed is really Arthur’s, not Cerdic’s. When Cerdic’s mother, Winifred, accuses Mathild of the child being Arthur’s and not Cerdic’s, Mathild reveals that Arthur is not dead. This news spreads to Gwenhwyfar, who travels to Gaul to find her husband and try to understand why he has never returned to Britain. She, in the meanwhile, has taken Bedwyr as her lover because she has believed Arthur to be dead.

This section of the story where Arthur doesn’t return home and they search for him drags on for a couple of hundred pages, and although it is revealed Morgaine is drugging Arthur, I still found it hard to understand why he has no desire to return home. Of course, once Arthur and Gwenhwyfar meet, he decides to return to Britain and being king, taking his son Medraut with him.

What interested me from this point was how everything would turn out and whether Arthur’s children would outlive and succeed him. Cerdic has by this time turned against Arthur and they end up waging war against each other. Meanwhile, Archfedd taunts Medraut that he will never be king, and even when he marries, he doesn’t have any children. Archfedd marries a man named Natanlius, by whom she has first a son named Constantine and then other children. While the text doesn’t state so at the end, obviously Constantine is the successor taken from most endings of the story although his role is never stated to be significant in this novel.

Meanwhile, Cynric also grows up and has three bastard daughters as well as a wife who gets pregnant. He and Cerdic have a falling out in regards to waging war on Arthur, but nevertheless, it is obvious that Hollick intends them to be depictions of the historical Cerdic and Cynric, founders of the royal house of Wessex.

Hollick ends the novel with a Battle of Camlann. While she changes around some things, in the end, Arthur dies and his descendants do live on. (I have left out a lot of the story details here so as not to give it all away but simply to discuss how Hollick treats Arthur’s children.)

Significantly, this novel makes Arthur’s descendants the future royalty of England. The royal family of England has, at least since the twelfth century, tried to claim descent from King Arthur (I have an entire chapter about these claims in my book King Arthur’s Children). Geoffrey Ashe proposed more than a quarter century ago that Cerdic might be the son of Arthur-Riothamus (a contender for the historical King Arthur). Cerdic’s Celtic rather than Saxon name has been a reason for such suggestions. Cerdic doesn’t appear in the early versions of the legend, but he is of the correct historical period so such suggestions are plausible. Hollick is the first novelist to take these suggestions and apply them to her fiction.

Because King Arthur’s descendants become the established royal family of Britain, I think Hollick’s trilogy is significant for that reason. In addition, while I didn’t care for the writing style, the characters are quite interesting and well-developed. Hollick’s versions of Winifred and Cerdic are two of the strongest villains I have encountered in Arthurian literature, and while Arthur is not very likeable—really Gwenhwyfar was the only character in all the books I did like—she creates some very interesting characters and twists upon traditional characters. It probably isn’t a series I would read again, but it is worth reading.

For more information about Helen Hollick and her Arthurian novels, visit www.HelenHollick.net

________________________

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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Pendragon’s Banner: Book Two of The Pendragon’s Banner Trilogy by Helen Hollick

(published by Sourcebooks Landmark 2009; ISBN 978-1402218897)

In this second volume of The Pendragon’s Banner Trilogy, Helen Hollick continues her historical portrayal of the Arthurian legend. Arthur is now firmly established as King of Britain, although he has plenty of opposition, including his ex-wife Winifred, who seeks what is best for her son by him, Cerdic, as well as his own people who oppose his making peace with various of the Saxon peoples.

But in my interest in how modern fiction writers treat King Arthur’s children, I think the results here are fairly predictable for his children based on Welsh tradition, all of whom are Arthur’s children by Gwenhywfar in this novel, namely Gwydre, Amr, and Llacheu. Hollick, following their traditional stories, more or less, has each of them die before Arthur.

In legend, Amr usually dies in battle with Arthur—he is believed to have been the original version of Mordred, but Hollick has other plans for Mordred, named “Medraut” in her story, she can’t allow Amr to have the same ending as Medraut so she has him fall into the river and drown when he’s about two years old (p. 98-102). Amr’s death causes hostility between Arthur and Gwenhwyfar, who blames Arthur for not watching him closely.

During Arthur and Gwenhwyfar’s time fighting following Amr’s death, Arthur ends up bedding his cousin, Elen, the daughter of one of Uthr’s sisters. She is demanding and manipulative and claims she is pregnant with Arthur’s child. She also wants more from him than just a fling on the side. When they have a disagreement, Elen pulls a knife on Arthur, resulting in his kicking her in the stomach in defense. It’s unclear whether he’s caused her to miscarry their child, and if so whether intentionally, but it does not matter since she becomes despondent and soon after slips off a cliff. However, as I said in my earlier blog about The Kingmaking, Hollick’s Arthur has few if any qualities that make him likeable.

Arthur and Gwenhwyfar soon after reconcile, but then she loses a son of Arthur’s in childbirth.

The fate of Arthur and Gwenhwyfar’s sons continues to be ill. When Hueil of Alclud, a lover to Morgause, accuses Gwenhwyfar and Bedwyr of adultery, Arthur does battle with Hueil, and in the battle, Llacheu is accidentally stabbed by Hueil. He manages to recover, but soon after eight-year old Gwydre is gored to death during a boar hunt, leaving only Llacheu alive of Arthur and Gwenhwyfar’s children.

When Llacheu becomes deathly ill, Arthur seeks out the Lady of the Lake, Morgaine, desperate not to lose his and Gwenhwyfar’s last son. Morgaine uses her skills to keep the child alive, but Arthur has no idea she is Morgause’s daughter, or that Morgause has ordered her to hurt Arthur. Neither Morgaine nor Arthur know she is also Uthr’s daughter, and therefore, Arthur’s half-sister. Morgaine tells Arthur her mother orders her to sleep with him, although Arthur interprets what she says to mean the Mother Goddess. They sleep together and Morgaine soon after gives birth to Medraut.

Despite Arthur’s bargain with Morgaine, Llacheu ends up being killed in battle when Morgause is involved in a plot to overthrow Arthur. The novel ends with all of Arthur and Gwenhwyfar’s children dead, but Gwenhwyfar pregnant.

Arthur is left with two living sons, Cerdic, by his first wife, Winifred, and Medraut, by his half-sister Morgaine.

Doubtless, Medraut will be a key player, and perhaps the traditional villain in the final book of the trilogy Shadow of the King, but what about Cerdic? My guess is he’ll end up ruling the kingdom when all is said and done and being ancestor to the Wessex royalty that will eventually rule all of England, but I’ll have to read the third book to find out how it all actually turns out.

For more information about Helen Hollick and her Arthurian novels, visit www.HelenHollick.net

________________________

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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