Morgan Le Faye, Queen of ‘Gore’

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Morgan Le Fay,
Queen of ‘Gore’
(Born c.AD 473)
(Welsh: Morgan; Latin: Morganna; English: Morgan)

The much maligned Morgan Le Fay was, to a large extent, the invention of medieval romance writers such as Sir Thomas Malory. In his “Le Morte D’Arthur” Malory tells us that Morgan was one of the half-sisters of King Arthur, daughter of Ygerna and her first husband, Gorlois. The Vulgate Cycle of Arthurian tales tells how she became Guinevere’s lady in waiting and fell in love with the King’s nephew, Giomar. Guinevere, however, put an end to the romance and, as a result, Morgan eventually betrayed the Queen’s affair with Lancelot to King Arthur. She even sent the Green Knight to Camelot in order to frighten Guinevere to death. Morgan herself took a fancy to Lancelot at one point and imprisoned him for some time before he was able to escape.

Chrétien describes Morgan as a giver of healing ointments, but the lady is usually portrayed as a wicked enchantress who learned her initial mysterious skills from her corrupt education in an early Christian nunnery. Later, Merlin helped her to extend her magical powers. The story that she enticed King Arthur into an incestuous affair from which Mordred was born is, however, a misconception derived from the desire of modern authors to merge Morgan with her more sympathetic sister, (Anna-) Morgause.

Malory shows how Morgan hated Arthur for his purity and plotted with her lover, Sir Accolon, to steal both Excalibur and the British throne. Arthur met Accolon in combat without his magical sword, but the Lady of the Lake helped him retrieve it and win the battle. In return, Morgan stole Excalibur’s scabbard and threw it into the nearest lake. She eventually escaped Arthur’s wrath by transforming her entourage into stone.

Morgan retired to Gore (North Rheged) and then to her Castle of Tauroc (possibly in North Wales). The Royal court appears to have thought her dead until Arthur came across her residence while out hunting one day. The two were immediately reconciled. In late life she moved to the Isle of Avalon, and it was to here that she and her allies, the Queens of Northgalis (North Wales) and the Wastelands, took her wounded brother to be healed after the Battle of Camlann.

Malory makes Morgan the wife of King Uriens of Gore, an actual historical mid to late 6th century monarch of North Rheged (what is now Cumberland and Westmorland in Northern Britain). Though technically this may have been just about possible, during this time period it is stretching credulity a little far. Morgan was an elder half-sister of King Arthur who fought at Mount Badon around 495-500 and traditionally died in 537. Urien was assassinated during a military campaign around 590. The earlier Vulgate Cycle, however, makes Morgan a generation younger, being the daughter of King Lot of Lothian (Gododdin). On the other hand, Welsh Tradition tells us that Urien’s wife was Modron ferch Afallach, apparently a sister-in-law of King Maelgwn Gwynedd, and it may be that two ladies have become confused.

Alternatively, this latter identification may betray the lady’s true origins as a Pagan Celtic Goddess. Modron was the name of the Celtic Mother-Goddess, often depicted in Romano-British times as having a triple personality. This may be seen in Arthurian tales through her association with the Queens of Northgalis (North Wales) and the Wastelands. The Lady of the Lake may have been another aspect of the lady. Modron’s father, Afallach, was the titular God of the Celtic Otherworld, Avalon. Morgan is said to have lived here with her nine sisters, a not insignificant group similar to the Greek Muses. Some early sources actually refer to Morgan as “the Goddess,” while her shape-shifting and healing aspects clearly indicate heavenly powers. She appears to have gradually degenerated into “Le Fay” – a fairy – who could fly through the air on enchanted wings: to this day, the Breton name for a water-nymph is a Morgan.

The lady’s wicked character appears to have been the invention of the Cistercian monks who wrote the stories of the Vulgate Cycle. Influenced by memories of the ancient Irish Goddess, the Morrighan (Phantom Queen), another triple-aspect divinity representing life & death, sexuality and conflict, they painted poor pagan Morgan as black as they could. They believed it blasphemous for a healer to be neither male nor a member of a religious order and Morgan paid dearly for her reputation.

Sources

Geoffrey Ashe (1990) Mythology of the British Isles.
Peter C. Bartrum (1993) A Welsh Classical Dictionary.
Ronan Coghlan (1991) The Encyclopaedia of Arthurian Legends.
David Day (1995) The Quest for King Arthur.
Chrétien De Troyes (1160) Erec and Enide.
Chrétien De Troyes (1170) Yvain.
Miranda J. Green (1992) Dictionary of Celtic Myth and Legend.
Phyllis Ann Karr (1997) The Arthurian Companion.
Thomas Malory (1485) Le Morte D’Arthur.
John & Caitlin Matthews (1988) The Aquarian Guide to British and Irish Mythology.
John Matthews (1994) The Arthurian Tradtion.
Geoffrey of Monmouth (1150) The Life of Merlin.

Arthurian Timeline Part 3~ 1533-2005

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Arthurian Timeline, Part 3

c.1533-39 – “Itinerary,” the modern title given to the collection of notes made by John Leland, Henry VIII’s court antiquary, during his extensive travels for the purpose of documenting the historical treasures of England. There are several items of Arthurian significance: in his notes on the county of Somerset, Leland relates a tradition equating the ancient hillfort, Cadbury Castle, with King Arthur’s Camelot; also in Somerset, Leland tells us that “a bridge of four stone arches which is known as Pomparles (over the River Brue near Glastonbury) is the place where, “according to legend, that King Arthur cast his sword into it;” in his Cornwall notes, Leland discusses a river in the Camelford area. He says, “in some histories it is called Cablan. It was beside this river that Arthur fought his last battle (Camlann), and evidence of this, in the form of bones and harness, is uncovered when the site is ploughed.”
1534 – Polydore Vergil completes “Anglica Historia” in which he is critical of Geoffrey of Monmouth’s history, in general, and his portrayal of Arthur, in particular. He even goes so far as to question Arthur’s existence.

1539 – Dissolution of Glastonbury Abbey, after which Arthur’s burial cross is said to have lain in the “Reverstry” of St. John Baptist, Glastonbury (according to a late 17th century document, Bodleian Rawlinson B.416A, folio 10v) for approximately a hundred years.

1544 – Leland publishes “Assertio Inclytissimi Arturii” (Assertions of the Renowned Arthur), a compilation of most of the archaeological and literary evidence for King Arthur, as it was known in Tudor England. Here, Leland notes the inscription on the burial cross, allegedly belonging to King Arthur’s grave, found at Glastonbury. The editor of the “Assertio” commented that “his disquisition upon Arthur is more notable for heat than light.”

1599 – Edmund Spenser dies leaving his Arthurian poem, “The Faerie Queene,” unfinished. In it Arthur portrays “magnanimity,” to Spenser’s mind, the leading virtue.

1607 – Publication of William Camden’s “Britannia,” including illustrations of King Arthur’s Burial Cross.
c.1650 – Puritans chop down original Glastonbury Thorn on Wearyall Hill, said to have grown from the staff of Joseph of Arimathea, which, legend says, he planted upon his arrival there in AD 63.
1691 – “King Arthur,” an opera written by John Dryden with music by Henry Purcell, told the tale of Arthur’s battles with the (fictitious) Saxon leader, Oswald.
1695, 1697 – Richard Blackmore writes “Prince Arthur” and “King Arthur,” two transparently allegorical verse epics incorporating Christian moral themes. In the poems, Arthur is William III; his antagonist, Octa, is James II, and so on.
c.1700-20 – The burial cross of King Arthur vanishes from history in the early 18th century. It was last known to be in the possession of one William Hughes, Chancellor of the cathedral of Wells.
1808 – In the preface to William Blake’s “Milton,” the poet writes:

And did those feet in ancient time
Walk upon England’s mountains green?
And was the Holy Lamb of God
On England’s pleasant pastures seen?
And did the countenance divine
Shine forth upon our clouded hills?
And was Jerusalem builded here
Among these dark satanic mills?

Bring me my bow of burning gold!
Bring me my arrows of desire!
Bring me spear! O clouds, unfold!
Bring me my chariots of fire!

I will not cease from mental flight,
Nor shall my sword sleep in my hand,
Till we have built Jerusalem
In England’s green and pleasant land.

It is believed that Blake’s words hark back to old tradtions which said that Joseph of Arimathea brought the boy, Jesus, to England in the time, unaccounted for in the Bible, between his 12th and 30th years of age.
These words were later made famous in a hymn entitled, “Jerusalem.” The words were set to music in 1916, by the English composer Hubert Hastings Parry, and later orchestrated by Sir Edward Elgar in 1922. “Jerusalem” was first performed at a Votes for Women concert in 1916.
1809 – Sir Walter Scott anonymously publishes “The Bridal of Triermain,” a curious blending of Arthurian legend and the Sleeping Beauty story.
1822 – William Wordsworth writes “The Egyptian Maid,” a poem featuring Merlin and the Lady of the Lake.
1840 – Arthurian poems by Ralph Waldo Emerson, “Merlin I” and ” Merlin II”.
c.1850-c.1900 – Gothic Revival inspired many poetic and literary works based on Arthur and Arthurian themes and embodying Victorian moral attitudes and neo-chivalric enthusiasms. Some of the many artists and their works are listed below:

Matthew Arnold: “Tristram and Iseult”
Gustave Dore: French illustrator, produced a collection of thirty-six drawings to illustrate an edition of Tennyson’s “Idylls of the King.”

William Morris: “The Defense of Guinevere,” “King Arthur’s Tomb,” “Sir Galahad, A Christmas Mystery,” ” The Chapel in Lyonesse,” “Near Avalon”

Dante Gabriel Rossetti: ” God’s Graal,” an unfinished poem: “King Arthur’s Tomb,” “Lancelot’s Vision of the Sangreal,” “Sir Tristram and La Belle Yseult Drink the Love Potion,” paintings in the pre-Raphaelite style.

Algernon Charles Swinburne: “Queen Yseult,” “Joyeuse Garde,” “Tristram of Lyonesse,” “The Tale of Balen,” “The Day Before the Trial,” “Lancelot.”

Alfred Lord Tennyson: “The Lady of Shalott,” “Sir Galahad,” “Sir Launcelot and Queen Guinevere: A Fragment,” “Morte d’Arthur,” “The Idylls of the King,” a cycle of Arthurian poems.

1859 – Richard Wagner completes the opera, “Tristan und Isolde.”
1882 – Wagner’s opera, “Parsifal,” is performed.
1889 – Mark Twain publishes “A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court.”
1893-4 – Aubrey Beardsley contributes over 400 black and white drawings to illustrate John M. Dent’s edition of Malory’s Morte d’ Arthur.
1903-10 – Howard Pyle illustrates “The Story of King Arthur and His Knights” and other similar stories.
1917 – N.C.Wyeth, star student of Howard Pyle, illustrates “The Boy’s King Arthur,” an abridgement of Malory.
1923 – Thomas Hardy writes “The Queen of Cornwall,” a one-act play based on the Tristan and Isolde story.
1930-44 – Charles Williams produces most important modern reinterpretations of Arthurian mythology in “War in Heaven” (1930), “Taliessin Through Logres” (1938), and “The Region of the Summer Stars” (1944). The three works cover the entire breadth of the traditional Arthurian story, making them into a moral epic of cosmic proportions. Williams deemphasizes the Guinevere-Lancelot affair, and instead focuses on the mystical aspects of the grail quest, comparing it to human spiritual development.
1945 – C.S. Lewis concludes his Space Trilogy with “That Hideous Strength,” a tale replete with Arthurian motifs and “grail” characters.
1952 – Lewis publishes “Arthurian Torso,” a “double” volume containing his friend, Charles Williams’, previously unpublished “Figure of Arthur” and Lewis’ commentary, “Williams and the Arthuriad.”
1953 – T.H.White completes the “Once and Future King.”
1960 – “Camelot,” a Lerner and Lowe musical stageplay based on T.H. White’s “Once and Future King,” is performed on Broadway, starring Richard Burton as King Arthur and Robert Goulet as Lancelot. A Film version, starring Richard Harris as Arthur and Franco Nero as Lancelot, appeared in 1967. Camelot was brought back on stage, this time starring Goulet as Arthur, in a Summer Stock tour of 1996.
1962 – “Castle Dor,” an updated version (19th century) of the Tristan and Isolde story originally begun by Sir Arthur Quiller-Couch (1863-1944), was completed from his notes by Daphne du Maurier.
1963 – “Sword at Sunset” by Rosemary Sutcliff, a realistic telling of the Arthurian story from his own viewpoint.
1975 – “Monty Python and the Holy Grail,” jokingly said by Geoffrey Ashe to be the most realistic of all celluloid Arthurian depictions, stars Graham Chapman, John Cleese, Terry Gilliam, Eric Idle, Terry Jones and Michael Palin.
1977 – “The Acts of King Arthur and his Noble Knights,” John Steinbeck’s attempt at a modernization of Malory, is published posthumously.
1978 – Mary Stewart completes her trilogy of novels focusing on Merlin, “The Crystal Cave” (1970), “The Hollow Hills” (1973) and “The Last Enchantment” (1978).
1981 – “Excalibur,” an excellent adaptation of Malory by John Boorman, stars Nicol Williamson as Merlin.
1982 – “The Mists of Avalon,” by Marion Zimmer Bradley, adds a new wrinkle to the Arthurian story, by telling it from the point of view of the women involved in the tale: Igraine, wife of Gorlois; Morgaine, the daughter of Igraine and Gorlois; Morgause, Igraine’s younger sister; Viviane, the Lady of the Lake and Gwenhwyfar, Arthur’s Queen.
1995 – “A Kid in King Arthur’s Court,” a Disney film recalling Mark Twain’s story of a modern who is transported back in time to the days of King Arthur.
1995 – “First Knight,” a slick Hollywood production starring Sean Connery as Arthur and Richard Gere as Lancelot.
1998 – “Merlin,” a TV mini-series produced by Robert Halmi, starring Sam Neill in the title role; loosely following Geoffrey of Monmouth in some parts and in others, purely original. Nice scenery, interesting characterization of Merlin, great special effects, but a bit too Hollywood.

“Arthurian” Inscription Found at Tintagel – On 6th August 1998, English Heritage revealed that during the last week of digging on the Eastern terraces of Tintagel Island, a broken piece of Cornish slate (8″ by 14″) was discovered bearing the name “Artognov”. It was excavated on July 4th, by Kevin Brady, an archaeologist working with a team from Glasgow University (Scotland). “As the stone came out, when I saw the letters A-R-T, I thought uh-oh…”

The stone apparently bears two inscriptions. The upper strongly incized letters have been broken off and are sadly indecipherable. The lower inscription, though fainter, clearly reads “Pater Coliavificit Artognov”, which Professor Charles Thomas of Exeter University has carefully translated as “Artognou, father of a descendant of Coll, has had this built”. Possibly written by a Gaulish hand, the style of writing is certainly 6th century, a date confirmed by surrounding fragments of 6th century Mediterranean pottery already well known from the Tintagel site. Also found nearby was the remains of the only Spanish glass flagon known from this period of Britain’s history. Chris Morris, who has been leading the Scottish based excavation team for the past eight years, believes that the dedicatory “Arthur Stone,” as it has already been christened, was placed in the wall of a 6th century stone building which later collapsed soon after it was built. The slate was then reused as drain cover a century later.

Though “Artognou” (pronounced arth-new) proves that names similar to that of the great King existed in the, so called, Arthurian period, Chris Morris is sceptical about making too much of the obvious link with King Arthur’s traditional birthplace. He believes the stone’s importance lies in the fact that it is “the first evidence we have that the skills of reading and writing were handed down in a non-religious context”. However, Dr Geoffrey Wainwright, chief archaeologist at the, normally cautious, English Heritage declared the newly discovered link should not be dismissed. “Tintagel has presented us with evidence of a Prince of Cornwall, in the Dark Ages, living in a high-status domestic settlement at the time Arthur lived. It has given us the name of a person, Arthnou. Arthnou was here, that is his name on a piece of stone. It is a massive coincidence at the very least. This is where myth meets history. It’s the find of a lifetime.”

Adrian Gilbert publicises the work of Blackett & Wilson by publishing his ‘the Holy Kingdom’.

2000 – Publication of ‘The Keys to Avalon’ in which Blake & Lloyd attempt to relocate all Arthurian locations in Wales.

2001 – “The Mists of Avalon,” a TV mini-series based on the 1982 book by Marion Zimmer Bradley. Beautiful photography and evocative music highlight this Turner Network Television (TNT) production featuring Oscar winner Anjelica Huston, Emmy winner Julianna Margulies and two-time Academy Award and Golden Globe nominee Joan Allen. According to press materials, the series “delves into the romance, bravery and deceit linking the characters of Arthur’s Kingdom and exalts the powerful women behind the throne of King Arthur,” but in actuality it merely pretends to significance and provides no analysis or insight, at all. In one of the great casting mistakes of all time (rivaling the decision to allow Kevin Costner to play Robin Hood), Arthur is portrayed as a weak, sniveling little wimp (or, perhaps, the decision was intentional given the obvious gender orientation of the program). Much emphasis seems to be placed on promoting goddess worship and in a telling scene at the end of the film, a statue of the Virgin Mary is said to be nothing more than a christianized version of the old goddess.

Establishment of the ‘Centre for Arthurian Studies’ at the North-East Wales Institute for Higher Education in Wrexham, co-founded by Steve Blake and Scott Lloyd, co-authors of “The Keys of Avalon” (2000) which claims to reveal the “true location of Arthur’s kingdom.”

2003 – “The Mystery of King Arthur, Vol. 1″ is released. A Mick Fowler Productions/British History Club History Club enterprise, this series of DVD’s explores Arthurian history and legend as has never been done before on-screen.

2004 – “King Arthur,” a Jerry Bruckheimer film, is released with much fanfare and high expectations. The film, while likable enough as pure entertainment, takes impermissible liberties with history and legend (which is really what the film was supposed to be about). Case in point are Arthur’s horse soldiers. Historically, these were troops conscripted out of eastern Europe (Sarmatia) by the Romans and sent to remotest Britain to shore up the island’s defenses. Their Roman commander is said to have been one Lucius Artorius Castus, the central character in a not-too-widely-held scholarly theory that casts him as the original figure behind the legend of King Arthur (see timeline entry for 184 AD). One problem with this is that these cavalrymen lived in Britain in the latter half of the second century, 300ish years before the movie was supposed to have taken place, and another is that, in the 180’s, the Saxons hadn’t arrived in Britain, yet, and wouldn’t need battling for a long time to come.

Producer Bruckheimer, in his quest to be creatively original, also for the first time in history and legend sees fit to transform the reliably feminine figure of Guinevere into a painted-up, Celtic shield-maiden, fully the equal of any of her male co-combatants in the “manly” arts of war. He might have gotten away with this, had the naturally willowy actress, Keira Knightley, had the physique to make us believe — but she didn’t — and, as a result, we’re left conflicted with memories of what should have been our always-delicate Guinevere, rampaging around a dark age battlefield clad in some of the most improbably revealing and non-protective battle gear in the long history of warfare.

In our view, however glad Arthurians worldwide might have been when they heard that yet another attempt was going to be made by a major Hollywood talent to do justice to their favorite legendary character, they are surely disappointed, now, at having seen just another tarted-up, Hollywood summer “blockbuster”.

The release period (late June – early July) was sprinkled with programs attempting to provide serious analysis of the film, “King Arthur”, and the man behind the legend. The History Channel had two such shows, totaling 3 hours of air time and ABC-TV had a 20 minute segment on its PrimeTime Friday “20/20″ show. The best of the bunch was clearly the History Channel’s “Quest for King Arthur” (June 20th), featuring Arthurian academic luminaries Geoffrey Ashe (“The Discovery of King Arthur” and Secretary of the Camelot Research Committee [see entry for 1966-70]), Christopher Snyder (“The World of King Arthur”), Bonnie Wheeler (Editor of the publication, “Arthuriana”) and Jeremy Adams (noted medieval historian from Yale and SMU). Although much material was presented that could’ve been confusing to the uninitiated, this was probably the most authoritative and satisfying treatment of Arthur’s historical and legendary background ever done for television…but, then again, all the king’s horses and all the king’s men couldn’t make the “King Arthur” film into anything more than another swashbuckling knight movie.

2005 – IBM’s business consulting division trades on Arthur’s reputation for wisdom and integrity in a series of TV commercials which portray Arthur as a dark-age CEO eliciting advice from his board members (knights) on a series of timeless, but confounding administrative problems.

2006 – The book, “The 101 Most Influential People Who Never Lived: How Characters of Fiction, Myth, Legends, Television, and Movies Have Shaped Our Society, Changed Our Behavior, and Set the Course of History”, is released in paperback. King Arthur comes in at #3, behind “The Marlboro Man” at #1 and George Orwell’s “Big Brother” at #2 and just ahead of #4 Santa Claus.