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Posts Tagged ‘William the Conqueror’

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

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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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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.

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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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As the royal wedding approaches, it’s interesting to dig into the royal family’s claims of descent from King Arthur. Here is some information about those claims from my chapter “Arthur and the English Royal Family” in King Arthur’s Children:

Among those who have tried to claim descent from King Arthur, the most prominent and most determined have been the monarchs of England. As we have already seen, little chance exists that any of King Arthur’s children outlived him, and the only grandchildren he had were murdered by Constantine. These two grandsons could have been old enough to have had children of their own before they died, but this theory is only a surmise since no record, chronicle, or romance states they had heirs. Therefore, it is highly doubtful that King Arthur had any descendants who lived beyond the sixth century. Yet the royal family of England has claimed, at least since the time of the Plantagenets, that they are descended from King Arthur.

During the reigns of the Saxon kings in England, from the sixth century until 1066, there is no monarch known to have claimed descent from Arthur. It was not until after the Norman invasion that this idea became popular, and even then it seems to have been the result of the popularity of Geoffrey of Monmouth’s The History of the Kings of Britain, which appeared around 1136. Geoffrey ended his chronicle with King Cadwallader, whom he states probably died around 689 (289). Cadwallader has numerous descendants living today, but he is not a descendant of King Arthur; neither is he from any records I have been able to locate an ancestor to the present royal family of Britain (although DNA research suggests the odds are that he is). Geoffrey leaves unaccounted for over four hundred years, from the time his book ends until the 1100s, except for making prophecies of what will happen. However, none of these prophecies hint that Arthur’s descendants will reign over England. Since Geoffrey gives King Arthur no descendants, it is inconceivable how the Plantagenets could have claimed an Arthurian lineage.

The popularity of Geoffrey’s book gave rebirth to the tales of King Arthur and made the conquered Anglo-Saxon peoples believe King Arthur would return to rescue them, a belief that might seem strange since the Anglo-Saxons had originally been Arthur’s enemies; however, by the twelfth century, Celtic blood had so intermixed with Anglo-Saxon blood that nearly anyone in England could claim to have ancestors whom Arthur had been king over.

The belief that King Arthur would return might have made King Henry II fearful that the conquered people would become restless, and so as we have already seen, he may have staged the finding of Arthur’s body at Glastonbury. To keep the conquered under control, the royal family decided it needed to prove its members were the rightful heirs to the throne of all Britain because of their descent from King Arthur or at least his family.

Arthur's most likely Faked Grave at Glastonbury Abbey

King Henry II’s ancestors included the Counts of Anjou; his descent from William the Conqueror was through his mother, whereas it was his father who was Count of Anjou. However, William the Conqueror’s great-grandparents included a daughter of the House of Anjou, and a Duke of Brittany, both of whom could possibly have claimed an ancestry from Arthurian times. William the Conqueror’s paternal lineage from the Dukes of Normandy went back to a Scandinavian and Viking ancestry that settled in Normandy in the 800s. The House of Anjou can trace its descent back to Tertulle, Count of Anjou (born about 821), and his wife Petronilla, Countess of Anjou (born about 825), who was a granddaughter of the Holy Roman Emperor Charlemagne (Ancestral File). However, the House of Anjou would have to trace its ancestors back another three hundred years if it were to claim descent from King Arthur, and it is probably no longer possible to make genealogical connections for these families that stretch so far back in time.

Despite these loose claims, the Plantagenet and Tudor dynasties would make many more attempts to link themselves to King Arthur, and even today, both Prince Charles and Prince William have middle names that include Arthur….

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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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