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Of all the Arthurian works I have come across, one of the strangest is Rutland Boughton’s Choral Oratorio entitled “King Arthur had Three Sons.”

Those familiar with Welsh legends might assume these sons are Gwydre, Amr, and Llacheu, but Boughton wasn’t that interested in studying the Arthurian legend–yet. Instead, he adapted one of the silliest rhymes about King Arthur ever published for this work first sung about 1905. What was he thinking? Did he foresee himself as the prophet of modern Arthurian fiction where Arthur would have a prolific number of children? He was the first creator in the twentieth century of new children for Arthur, but I don’t think he had the foresight to see where the legend might go. Rather, we’ll put this one down for a fluke, with an understanding that the lyrics were actually based on an old folk song. But, here is the text so my readers can decide how worthwhile this piece of obscure Arthuriana may be (note: Old Nick is an old term for the Devil):

King Arthur had three sons

That he had

He had three sons of yore,

And he kicked ’em out of the door

Because they could not sing

Because they could not sing

Because they could not sing

That he did

He had three sons of yore,

And he kicked ’em out o’ door

Because they could not sing

The first he was a miller

That he was, that he was,

The second he was a weaver

That he was, that he was,

And the third, he was a little tailor boy,

And he was mighty clever

And he was mighty clever

And he was mighty clever

That he was

And he was mighty clever

And he was mighty clever

And he was mighty clever,

That he was

The miller stole some grist for his mill

And the weaver stole some loom

And the little tailor boy

He stole some corduroy

To keep those three rogues warm

To keep those three rogues warm

That he did

And the little tailor boy

He stole some corduroy

To keep those three rogues warm.

Oh the miller he was drowned in his dam

And the weaver he was killed at his loom

And old Nick he cut his stick with the little tailor boy

With the broad-cloth under his arm

With the broad-cloth under his arm

That he did

With the broad-cloth under his arm

And old Nick he cut his stick with the little tailor boy

With the broad-cloth under his arm

That he did.

However, as whacky as this song may be, Rutland Boughton was a great fan of Celtic and Arthurian literature and he would go on to compose an Arthurian cycle of operas as well as establishing a great musical festival at Glastonbury. Honestly, I would love to see these operas performed.

Today, I doubt most Arthurian enthusiasts or even scholars know his name, but Boughton definitely had King Arthur in his heart, and I suspect he deserves more attention than he has received. For more about Rutland Boughton, visit wikipedia or the Rutland Boughton Music Trust

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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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