Tuesday, 10 March 2009

King Arthur's Family

King Arthur's family grew throughout the centuries with King Arthur's legend. Several of the legendary members of this mythical king's family became leading characters of mythical tales in their own right.

Welsh literature
In Welsh Arthurian literature from before the time of Geoffrey of Monmouth's Historia Regum Britanniae ("History of the Kings of Britain"), Arthur was granted numerous relations and family members. Several early Welsh sources are usually taken as indicative of Uther Pendragon being known as Arthur's father before Geoffrey wrote, with Arthur also being granted a brother (Madog) and a nephew (Eliwlod) in these texts. Similarly, as Bromwich and Evans have observed, Culhwch and Olwen, the Vita Iltuti and the Brut Dingestow combine to suggest that Arthur was assigned a mother too – Eigyr – as well as maternal aunts, uncles, cousins and a grandfather called Anlawd Wledig. Arthur would seem to have had a sister, as Gwalchmei is named as his sister-son (nephew) in Culhwch, Gwalchmei's mother being one Gwyar. Turning to Arthur's own family, his wife is consistently stated to be Gwenhwyfar, usually the daughter of Ogrfan Gawr (Ogrfan "the Giant"), although Culhwch and Bonedd yr Arwyr do indicate that Arthur also had some sort of relationship with Eleirch daughter of Iaen, which produced a son named Kyduan. Kyduan was not the only child of Arthur according to Welsh Arthurian tradition – he is also ascribed sons called Amr, Gwydre, Llacheu and Duran.

Geoffrey of Monmouth era
Relatively few members of Arthur's family in the Welsh materials are carried over to the works of Geoffrey and the romancers. His grandfather Anlawd Wledig and his maternal uncles, aunts and cousins do not appear there and neither do any of his sons or his paternal relatives. Only the core family seem to have made the journey: his wife Gwenhwyfar (who became Guinevere), his father Uther, his mother (Igerna) and his sister-son Gwalchmei (Gawain). As Roberts has noted Gwalchmei's mother – Arthur's sister – failed to make the journey, Gwyar's place being taken by Anna, the wife of Loth, in Geoffrey's account, whilst Medraut (Mordred) is made into a second sister-son for Arthur (a status he does not have in the Welsh material). In addition, new family members enter the Arthurian tradition from this point onwards. Uther is given a new family, including a brother and a father, while Arthur gains a sister, Morgan le Fay (first named as Arthur's sister by Chrétien de Troyes), and a new son, Loholt, in Chrétien's Eric and Enide, the Perlesvaus and the Vulgate Cycle.
Another significant new family-member is Arthur's half-sister Morgause, the daughter of Gorlois and Igerna and mother of Gawain and Mordred in the French romances (replacing Geoffrey of Monmouth's Anna in this role). In the Vulgate Mort Artu we find Mordred's relationship with Arthur once more reinterpreted, as he is made the issue of an unwitting incestuous liaison between Arthur and this Morgause, with Arthur dreaming that Mordred would grow up to kill him. This tale is preserved in all the romances based on the Mort Artu, and by the time we reach Malory's Le Morte D'Arthur Arthur has started to plot, Herod-like, to kill all children born on the same day as Mordred in order to save himself from this fate.

Although Arthur is given sons in both early and late Arthurian tales, he is rarely granted significant further generations of descendents; this is at least partly because of the premature deaths of his sons in these legends. Amr is the first to be mentioned in Arthurian literature, appearing in the 9th century Historia Brittonum:
There is another wonder in the region which is called Ercing. A tomb is located there next to a spring which is called Licat Amr; and the name of the man who is buried in the tomb was called thus: Amr. He was the son of Arthur the soldier, and Arthur himself killed and buried him in that very place. And men come to measure the grave and find it sometimes six feet in length, sometimes nine, sometimes twelve, sometimes fifteen. At whatever length you might measure it at one time, a second time you will not find it to have the same length . Why Arthur chose to kill his son is never made clear. The only other reference to Amr comes in the post-Galfridian Welsh romance Geraint, where "Amhar son of Arthur" is one of Arthur’s four chamberlains along with Bedwyr’s son, Amhren. Gwydre is similarly unlucky, being slaughtered by the giant boar Twrch Trwyth in Culhwch and Olwen, along with two of Arthur's maternal uncles – no other references to either Gwydre or Arthur's uncles survive. More is known of Arthur's son Llacheu. He is one of the "Three Well-Endowed Men of the Island of Britain", according to Triad number 4, and he fights alongside Cei in the early Arthurian poem Pa gur yv y porthaur?. Like his father is in Y Gododdin, Llacheu appears in 12th century and later Welsh poetry as a standard of heroic comparison and he also seems to have been similarly a figure of local topographic folklore too Taken together, it is generally agreed that all these references indicate that Llacheu was a figure of considerable importance in the early Arthurian cycle. Nonetheless, Llacheu too dies, with the speaker in the pre-Galfridian poem Ymddiddan Gwayddno Garanhir ac Gwyn fab Nudd remembering that he had "been where Llacheu was slain / the son of Arthur, awful in songs / when ravens croaked over blood". Finally, Loholt is treacherously killed by Sir Kay so that the latter can take credit for the defeat of the giant Logrin in the Perlesvaus, while another son, known only from a possibly 15th century Welsh text, is said to have died on the field of Camlann:
Sandde Bryd Angel drive the crow off the face of ?Duran [son of Arthur]. Dearly and belovedly his mother raised him. Arthur sang it Medraut/Mordred is an exception to this tradition of a childless death for Arthur's sons. Mordred, like Amr, is killed by Arthur – at Camlann – according to Geoffrey of Monmouth and the post-Galfridian tradition but, unlike the others, he is ascribed two sons, both of whom rose against Arthur's successor and cousin Constantine with the help of the Saxons. However, in Geoffrey's Historia (when Arthur's killing of Mordred and Mordred's sons first appear), Mordred was not yet actually Arthur's son.

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