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Book 8 2004 Mordredís Diary

At Prep School Mark relates to Mordred, son of a brilliant father. Arthur excels at everything, drawing swords out of stones, married to the most beautiful lady in Britain. Mark will learn like Mordred he must never give up. One day his time will come.


The Once and Future King

Most of us familiar with at least some of the following stories:

              King Arthur and Merlin the Magician; Uther Pendragon and Queen Yslaine;
                     King Lot who brought up Arthur and his sons including Sir Gawain;
       the Sword in the Stone when Arthur was fifteen; Excalibur and the Lady of the Lake;
          Sir Lancelot and the Knights of the Round Table; Camelot and Queen Guinevere;
    Prince Mordred and Morgan Le Fay; the Last Battle between King Arthur and Mordred;
                                              Arthur's burial in the Vale of Avalon.

From our time looking back to 500 AD, the outline of Arthur's life is 'almost visible'. There was evidence, there were references, like Gildas who in 540 AD condemns the immoral British leaders and the decline of the nation back into anarchy, harking back to the time when he was young, when after years of defeat and retreat, the British regained much of their lands.

Gildas described 'the years of Arthur' without specific mention of Arthur. But Britain was at last quietened into peace and disgruntled tribes of dispirited Saxons emigrated from Britain, back to the continent, arguably to resettle empty Frankish lands that became known as Saxony.


The Romans were called away to Europe in 410 AD. The British leader, Vortigern, in about 425 AD recruited the Saxons Hengist and Horsa against the Picts and Irish. The Irish were seafaring imperialists and had already made substantial conquests in Cornwall and Devon. 

In the south west of Wales, the Kingdom of Demetia was an Irish kingdom. The Saxons, who were the third enemy, seemed to be the answer. Vortigern took a wife from Hengist's family, and gave Hengist the Kingdom of Kent. But 'in that time the Saxons strengthened in multitude and grew in Britain. On the death of Hengist, Octha his son, passed from the northern part of Britain to the kingdom of the Kentishmen, and from him arise the kings of the Kentishmen.'

Then Arthur fought against them in those days with the kings of the Britons, but he himself was the Leader of Battles.' - Nennius.

The earliest sources were clearly set out:                                                                                      




The monk Gildas:

On the Ruin and Conquest of Britain'


The monk Bede:

'The Ecclesiastical History of the English People'


The monk Nennius:

'Historia Brittonum'


Ballads and legend:

Early Welsh Irish Manx and Breton stories and poems


Annales Cambriae:

'The Annals of Wales'


Wm of Malmesbury:

'Acts of the Kings of the English'


Geoffrey of Monmouth

'History of the Kings of Britain'



Vita Merlini or The Life of Merlin





Nennius himself had also written:
                 'I have heaped together all that I found, from the Annals of the Romans,
              the Chronicles of the Holy Fathers, the writings of the Irish, and the Saxons,
                                           and the traditions of our own wise men.'  

Many recent commentators consider that Arthur lived from about 475 to 515 AD, dying about fifteen years before the monk Gildas was writing. Nennius reported that in his youth Arthur fought and won 12 battles. He listed them in detail and concluded with Badon Hill. The Annals of Wales also wrote of

'the Battle of Badon in which Arthur carried the Cross of our Lord Jesus Christ on his shoulders for three days and nights, and the Britons were victorious.'

While the Annals of Wales dates the Battle of Badon at 518 AD, the Welsh dating of years is different to ours. It is now thought it may have been earlier, perhaps 493 - 518 AD. The references to Arthur start with Nennius but Geoffrey of Monmouth makes the biggest impact. Writing in Latin in about 1135, his book, the 'History of the Kings of Britain' relied heavily on sources like Gildas and Nennius.

Monmouth's predecessor, William of Malmesbury, ten years before, had agreed that Arthur had aided Ambrosius in holding back the advancing Angles now well established on the East Coast of Britain. But it was Geoffrey who really put Arthur on the map, producing his 'History' and the companion book the 'Life of Merlin'. But Geoffrey did not write of the battle of Camlann.

It is the 'Annals' that told us of 'the strife of Camlann, in which Arthur and Medraut (Mordred) perished, and there was plague in Britain and Ireland.'

Bede wrote in 731, his 'Ecclesiastical History of the English People', Gildas in 540. Gildas proudly called his study 'On the Ruin and Conquest of Britain' which is not so much a history as a sermon. He criticises his fellow countrymen who allowed the Saxons to seize so much territory. He mentions Ambrosius with admiration, and verifies the victory of the Britons at the Battle of Badon Hill. But where was the pivotal battle of Badon and if in southern England was the war leader Arthur really there?

Nennius also wrote of Arthur's reputation for cruelty, even in boyhood, that he was difficult to control and warlike. In a premonition of the death of Mordred, we come across the reference to a tomb next to the fountain known as 'Licat Amir'. And 'the man who is buried in the mound is Amir or Amir the Great; the name of the son of Arthur the Soldier. And he killed him in this very spot and buried him there.' Was it here that Arthur killed Mordred?

When did the Development of the Romance begin? There were always legends of Arthur. At first they were written in Welsh, Irish, Breton, and Manx, until the 'times of anarchy', when many books and extensive records were lost. Thankfully, Nennius was able to collect some of them.

One of the earliest confusions was the interface between Arthur and post Roman British tribes, including the Cornish King Mark and Duke Howell (Hoel) of Brittany. Wandering minstrels sang ballads of ‘Tristan and Ysolde' and aspects of that legend which has its discoverable foundation in Cornish history, were added into the growing collection of Arthurian fables. But if Geoffrey of Monmouth awoke the medieval English world to the excitement of the stories of King Arthur, it was the contemporary French writers, especially Wace and Chretien de Troyes, who took the fantastic spirit of Monmouth's History further into the realm of Romantic Literature.

Wace, a Jersey poet, added 'the Round Table', said to seat 50 Knights and to promote Equality. Wace used the name 'Guinevere' for Arthur's Queen and 'Excalibur' for Arthur's sword, from Caliburn meaning steel. In Chretien's stories written between 1160 and 1180, he superimposed the medieval ideas of 'Chivalry' and 'Courtly Love' onto the Post Roman British warriors. He created new knights including 'Sir Lancelot' who loved Guinevere, and recast 'Morgan le Fay' as Arthur's sister. He wrote about the 'Holy Grail', thought up 'Camelot' for Arthur's modern Castle and Court, some 600 years ahead of its time.

The list of the later authors, and what they contributed to the Romance, shows how far we have come from the original history:


Wace - Jersey Poet – French – 1155 - used the name Guinevere - introduced the Round Table of 50 Knights and Excalibur from Caliburn

Chretien de Troyes – French – 1160 - Chivalry and Courtly Love -new knights including Sir Lancelot de Lac - Guinevere and Arthur's Court as Camelot; Morgan le Fay is Arthur's sister - the Holy Grail - Lancelot loved Guinevere

Layamon - Priest – English – 1190 - wrote in English -depicted Arthur as stern and fatherly, a Messiah Figure - The Isle of Avalon

Robert de Boron – Burgundy – 1190 - Trilogy : Merlin half human half demon - the Holy Grail at the Last Supper, Joseph of Aramathea - brought to Avalon - Sword in the Stone, a fair sword naked by the point. Round Table built for Uther Pendragon by Merlin

Beroul and others – French – 1100 – 1400; Tristan and Isolde; Tristan is a Knight of the Round Table - he brings the future wife of his uncle (the King of Cornwall) from Ireland to Cornwall and on the way falls in love with her

Morte d'Arthur- French          - Unknown source, allegedly an English monk

Marie de France - French 1189 - Half sister to Henry II and thought to be the Abbess of Shaftesbury near Glastonbury

Sir Thomas Malory - English            1470    Le Morte d' Arthur. Arthur becomes a Medieval - King more like Richard the Lion Heart - Medieval - Court and Castle - Quests and Jousting

Alfred Lord Tennyson - 1859 - Poetry - Idylls of the King - Prince Albert

TH White School Teacher -1938 - The Once and Future King - Modern Version

The Vulgate Cycle- unknown - 1215 - anonymous Religious Propaganda - probably Cistercians


It bothered me that the greatest adventure story, knights fighting each other, saving beautiful ladies from horrible dragons, should turn out to be some awful grown up story of Sex and Divorce. Magic, Fighting and Dragons, the Red Dragon of Wales versus the White Dragon of the Saxons was exciting. Especially if we identify with the Red Dragon of King Arthur and know he is going to win. But what was the Holy Grail? Joseph of Aramathea helped Jesus carry the Cross. But what had that to do with 'King Arthur' and why was Joseph visiting Britain? Was he lost? Shipwrecked? He must have been at least 500 years old. I could accept Arthur with Queen Guinevere as his beautiful Queen, even Sir Lancelot as the best knight in the world. So long as it didn't get like the sad sort of films our mothers went to see.

In the Second World War, the concept of 'Propaganda' was being developed. Today we talk about 'spin doctors'. But it seemed really strange that anybody would need to develop a programme of misinformation against King Arthur. Who needed to destroy the leading characters around him? And could we get a clue from who wanted to fight Arthur at that last Battle of Camlann? Not just the Irish who had been beaten, and the Picts who had been contained, or even more Saxons who once again came back from Germany? According to some, the last battle featured Arthur's wicked son or nephew, Mordred.

Here was part of the answer: In 1190, Henry II was the English Monarch. Henry was morbidly superstitious about the legendary British King Arthur, a strong anti Arthur source commissioning stories from Marie de France, who may have been the Abbess of Shaftesbury. Known as the story of 'The Once and Future King', many British still clung to the belief that King Arthur would one day appear from the eternal Isle of Avalon, to reconquer Britain for the Welsh.

The 'Vulgate Cycle' is a difficult concept to understand. It was a set of religious propaganda exercises, anonymously written between 1215 and 1235. The five long romances were called:

                                     The History of the Holy Grail; Merlin; Lancelot;
                                the Quest of the Holy Grail; and the Death of Arthur.

Queen Guinevere, Merlin, the knights Kay, Bedivere, Gawain and Yvaine, were common to both Welsh and French version of the stories. Were they real characters in the beginning?

Sadly we know now that our Merlin is a later figure called up by Geoffrey, based on a poet called Myrddin, and back dated from the future to help the boy king. Morgan le Fay (also called Morganna) seems drawn from 'Morrigan', the Celtic Earth Mother, and Goddess of Hearth and Healing. She was the leader of Avalon's Holy Order of Nine Women, skilled in wisdom and healing, and was now transformed into an evil sorceress, despising Guinevere, seducing Lancelot, and recast as Arthur's sister. Only three of the original Arthurian cast are known to be real people, Arthur, Mordred (Medraut) and later Merlin.

Tristan and Ysolde and King Mark of Cornwall have a strong claim to historical truth but from a separate if contemporary story which somehow was entangled with Arthur, Lancelot and Guinevere.

1. Guinevere replaced 'Ganhumara', supposedly Arthur's first story book wife, the daughter of a noble Roman family. And Guinevere resembled another Celtic Goddess, Epona, the White Spirit, worshipped widely in pre-Christian Northern Europe. She is portrayed as the 'White Horse' or 'White Lady' and may have been the inspiration for a brand of whisky.

2. Gawain is a fictional French hero who was taken from Eleventh Century manuscripts.

3. From the mists of antiquity emerge two pre-Celtic or Celtic heroes, Cei and Bedwyr, who became Sir Kay and Sir Bedivere. Bedwyr was a skilled one handed spearman. Cei was a river god, breathing under water and riding a salmon, both brought by Chretien de Troyes.

4. Galahad, Lancelot, and Perceval, were later literary inventions and French folk heroes.

5. The 'Vulgate Cycle' planned to discredit prominent pagan heroes. Christianity was competing for the hearts and minds of Europe. To underpin the basic faith of Christianity, churches were built on pagan sites, pagan spirits converted into Christian Saints. Pagan festivals like Easter and Yuletide were absorbed into the Christian calendar.

6. The Cistercian Monks were a zealous order who denied the existence of female souls. The concept of Morgan le Fay, a female priestess with her 'Order of Nine Holy Women of Avalon' was close to blasphemy. Morgan le Fay, their leader must be specially discredited and debased. An allegation of incest would do for a start. Morgan or her sister Morgause would be accused of sleeping with Arthur who must therefore become their brother. Better still, if there were a child, let's call him Mordred, he could grow up hovering over Arthur's future, fruit of the worst imaginable sin, and one day cause Arthur's justified downfall.

7. The idea of a second notorious liaison between Arthur's wife, Guinevere, and his strongest, most Perfect Knight, Sir Lancelot, was breathtaking. Arthur's original sin would now be punished by his wife's infidelity. And as a daughter of Eve, she was herself reciprocating in sin by seducing the noble Lancelot from his vows so he could never obtain the Holy Grail. What was the Grail? A vision of the bowl or chalice used at the Last Supper; a symbol of a Christian Standard of Goodness to which all Christian knights should aspire.

8. The inevitable rift between Arthur and Lancelot became the cause of rebellion which destroyed the kingdom and cleverly gave Britain to the Saxons. What a moral. The Good King Arthur and his exemplary Round Table of Knights destroyed by their own inherent evil.

9. Galahad the Perfect Knight, was introduced to emphasise that though conceived out of Lancelot's sin with the Lady Elaine, thanks to God's Goodness, man could still expect one favourable result. Galahad was pure. Galahad would be the knight to achieve the Sangrail.

10. Mordred the damned would usurp his father's throne while Arthur and Gawain were away fighting Lancelot. Nothing could be too wicked. Mordred might even seduce his step mother. All this embellishment, romantic or politically inspired counterplot, grew from one Post Roman British General freeing, for a space of twenty years, his country from Saxon oppression. To most he is the star of an enormous saga, with honest and mischievous Romantic elements embodied. The real Arthur is absolutely unrecognisable.