Monday 30 November 2015

Sir Bedivere

Back to my knights!
Like Sir Kay, Sir Bedivere, is one of the original Knights of the Round Table.

Excalibur into the Water. Illustration by Aubrey Beardsley, 1894.

Who was the great Sir Bedivere?

The first mention of him is in the 10th Century poem Pa Gur. This is how the poet describes Bedivere.

They fell by the hundred
before Bedwyr of the Perfect-Sinew.
On the shores of Tryfrwyd
fighting with Garwlwyd
furious was his nature
with sword and shield.

We can also find him in the story of Culhwch and Olwen. In this he is described as being a good friend of Culhwch (Sir Kay) and helps Culhwch with his quests to win the hand of Olwen. Bedivere is later given the title, Duke of Neustria.

 He is also described as being very handsome, although not as handsome as Arthur, and he had a magic lance -- like you do!

Monmouth portrays him as the most loyal of men, to which no one ever seems to despite. His reputation is left untarnished in future accounts.

He is one of only a handful of knights that survive the Battle of Camlann -- the battle where Arthur fought Mordred -- and he was the last person to see Arthur alive.

But what he is remembered for the most happened after the Battle of Camlann.

The Battle of Camlann leaves Arthur mortally wounded. Arthur commands Bedivere to throw Excalibur (his magical sword) back into the lake. However, Bedivere is reluctant to do so, for the sword is very valuable and is a symbol of Arthur's reign. So he decides to lie to his King, but Arthur can see right through the lie and tells him he must throw the sword into the lake. Once again Bedivere lies and Arthur looses his temper, telling him the sword must go back. Realising that his King will not die peacefully if he does not do as he is told, Bedivere reluctantly throws the sword back into the lake -- what happens next is unbelievable -- The Lady of the Lakes' hand reached out from the depths of the water and catched the sword mid-air, before disappearing back into the water again, taking the sword with her. Bedivere tells Arthur of what he saw and Arthur is comforted.

What happened to Sir Bedivere after Arthur died?

Some say Sir Bedivere died on the Roman Campaign, by which time he only had one hand.

But many of these medieval story tellers had a bit of thing for putting all these noble knights into religious orders and that is what many of them did with Sir Bedivere. He enters the hermitage led by Mordred-ousted Bishop of Canterbury. Ironically, it is the same hermitage Lancelot also ends up in. I hope it was a silent order, I cannot imagine the two of them having much to talk about.

...Perhaps I should do that with my stories, if a character is getting on my nerve I can stick them in a hermitage -- now there's a thought...

The one other thing that Sir Bedivere is remembered for is his logic and if any of you are fans of Monty Python, then you will know what I am talking about!

Friday 27 November 2015

Arthur Pendragon and Glastonbury Abbey

"Have you ever stopped and listened to the peasants when they tell stories of him?"
The Du Lac Chronicles - Pitchfork Rebellion

I was going to blog about one of the other knights tonight, but after reading the latest news from Glastonbury Abbey, I decided I needed to take timeout from my knights and write about the Abbey instead.

Not so long ago I blogged about the monks of Glastonbury Abbey, finding Arthur's grave and digging him up.

When I started researching Arthur, I was more than a little suspicious about this claim. It was just too convenient. The Welsh were revolting - and Arthur was being used as a kind of figure head for them, someone to inspire the men. After all, Arthur would never let his people suffer. He would come to the aid of his countrymen, no matter what.

And then there was this small issue of Glastonbury Abbey's coffers. There had been a fire and they needed the money a huge influx of pilgrims would bring.

I have visited Glastonbury Abbey countless times, and I have listened to the storytellers as they describe the moment the tomb was discovered. The story they weave is very fitting with the Arthurian legend - it could almost make you believe in Merlin and his magic.

But, I wonder now if things will change. I can not help but think that Glastonbury Abbey has made a terrible mistake. For the last four years archaeologists have "comprehensively demolished" ( The Guardian) all of the wonderful stories and myths that were associated with the Abbey.

I think the myths and the stories were a big part of the Abbey's appeal - I certainly loved listening to them, and when you are stood there amongst the ruins listening to the stories, you can almost believe them. It is as if the ruins of the Abbey itself wants you to believe them, is willing you to. How are they going to tell those stories now? With comedy? "I am sorry to say, but the story I just told just that...a story, no truth in it whatsoever." Everyone may laugh, "Oh those monks, they were naughty!"

Will it make the place any less holy, if the stories we all took as truth...maybe with the preverbal pinch of salt...are actually well, lies?

Why would we want to visit the Abbey to see Arthurs last known resting place, now that we know the truth...he probably isn't there...he probably was never there.

The discovery, if you can call it that, has put the Abbey back in the spotlight, but I fear for the wrong reasons. Of course, if they had discovered that Arthur had been there, then of course, I would probably be writing something very different. But I fear that it is a gamble they took, that they may have just lost. I do hope I am wrong.

This new knowledge would not stop me from visiting the Abbey. It is the most tranquil and beautiful of places. I just wished they had kept the fantasy alive for a little bit longer.

But, when I think about this new knowledge, I cannot help but smile, because maybe the Welsh of the 12th Century get to have the last laugh. Their Arthur was not a man who could be dug up...He was and is The Once and Future King.

Tuesday 24 November 2015

Sir Percival

"Shall we begin like David Copperfield? "I am born...I grew up." (Anne Rice Interview with a Vampire (movie quote))

I know this is a strange quote to start a blog on a famous Knight of the Round Table, but hey, I like it, and Percival does not do anything particularly remarkable as a child....he didn't pull a sword out of a stone, for example.

Percival was the son of someone noble - two names are often put forward as Percival's father -  Alain le Gros and King Pellinore. But I can not tell you if either of these men have a claim on this remarkable boy. He may have been a son of a knight, Sir Percival senior perhaps? And he was probably Welsh.

Or, shock horror, he may be just another fictional character.
What? Surely not?! I hear you gasp.

I am afraid it is highly plausible...He seems to be the invention of the French poet, Chrétien de Troyes's and is first mentioned in de Troyes unfinished story Perceval, the Story of the Grail.

Back to the story...

Percival's father died, he was possibly killed by the Red Knight, and his mother, heartbroken and determined that her son will not share the fate of his father, runs to the safety of the forest, where she raises him alone and away from worldly temptations.

"In the woods should he be.
There should he nothing see
But the leaves on the tree
And the groves so gray,
And with the wild beasts play."
(Page-Esquire-Knight Marion Lansing)

Percival becomes an exceptional tracker and hunter.

But, Percival is destined for great things. When he was 15 years old, he caught sight of some of Arthur's noble knights riding through the wood. He had never seen a knight before, he had probably never seen a horse before either. He knew nothing of the outside word, for his mother had sheltered him from it.

But he was intrigued by these knights, they looked so chivalrous and he so wanted to be one of them. He leaves his mother...the poor woman had tried so hard to shield her son from the glamour of court, but like his father, Percival heard the call and had to answer it. It is said that she died of heartbreak.

Tom Hopper played Percival in the BBC adaptation Merlin

Percival's dream comes true and he is knighted, but he is not just any ordinary knight. In the story, Perceval, the Story of the Grail, Percival meets the crippled Fisher King and becomes a welcomed guest at his castle. Percival sees a vision of the Grail procession and he is curious as to what it means, but he has been told that it is rude to ask too many questions. Unfortunately, the only way the Fisher King can be cured is if Percival asks questions...oh the irony! Realising his mistake, he vows to find the Grail and fulfil his quest.....And that is where the story breaks off.  But it is all right, because Wolfram von Eschenbach's Parzival, the German poet, takes it up again, as does a whole host of other poets and storytellers.

 In Sir Thomas Malory's Le Morte d'Arthur, Percival is one of the three Grail knights....the others being Galahad and Bors. In later text such as Tennyson's The Holy Grail, Percival gives way to Galahad as the top Grail Knight, but he still holds onto his place as one of the chosen few who get to see the Grail.

He has even made it into Richard Wagner's opera Parsifal.

He was portrayed as a strong, but loyal subject of King Arthur, in the BBC drama, Merlin. After a noble, selfless act, Arthur knights him - despite the long tradition of Knights having to be of noble birth.

All in all, he didn't do too badly, for a man bought up in a woods and away form civilisation.

Friday 20 November 2015

Sir Kay -- A Misunderstood Knight?

In my search for Arthur, I discovered a universal truth - most of it is made up. But hey, the stories are fascinating and timeless. Take a moment to think how old these stores are...they have stood the test of time for hundreds of years. Why is that? I think we need Arthur and his knights. They teach us so much in their stories. Chivalry, honour, equality, loyalty and faith, above everything else faith -  faith and belief in something better. Arthur tried to make something better than what had gone before. He shook things up - maybe he was more than a little radical.

Isn't there an old saying about truth being stranger than fiction? Maybe there is something in that.

Today we are going to look at Sir Kay. He may not be as well known as Lancelot or Gawain, but his story is worth telling. 

Sir Kay is one of the earliest recorded Knights of the Round Table -- and there is a great deal of literature in the form of stories and poems, about him -- there is certainly too much to talk about in one blog. But I shall do my best to give you some idea as to who Kay was....

In order to understand Kay's beginnings we need to head across the border to Wales, and look at some ancient Welsh folklore.  In particular a tale called Culhwch and Olwen.

In the poem Culhwch (Kay?) is cursed by his evil step-mother (what is it with evil step-mothers?) The curse means that Culhwch will fall in love with the giants daughter -- I guess it wasn't the done thing to love a giant?! Culhwch ask's his powerful cousin, Arthur, to help him. Arthur agrees -- for who is he to stand in the way of true love? -- and they all go on a quest until they find her. Luckily for Culhwch, Olwen falls in love with him as well, but they cannot marry unless her father agrees to the match.

Her father, Ysbaddaden's is not impressed, because if Olwen marries, he dies. So he issues Culhwch with around forty impossible challenges. My favourite of which is that Culhwch has to cut Ysbaddadens's hair and beard -- which isn't as easy as it sounds.

But that is not a problem. Culhwch is extraordinarily strong, he can also hold his breath under water for nine days and nine nights and he can also go without sleep for the same amount of time -- although I am not sure why he would want to do this?! Arthur, Gawain, and a fair few others, help Culhwch with these impossible challenges. In the end Culhwch is able to cut Ysbaddaden's hair and he shaves his beard to the bone and Ysbaddaden dies.

And they all live happily ever after....

Then we head to the 10th Century and look at a poem called Pa Gur.  This time the poem is all about Cai (Kay). Have a read....and see what you think.

Prince of the plunder,
The unrelenting warrior to his enemy;
Heavy was he in his vengeance;
Terrible was his fighting.
When he would drink from a horn,
He would drink as much as four;
When into battle he came
He slew as would a hundred.
Unless God should accomplish it,
Cei's death would be unattainable.
Worthy Cei and Llachau
Used to fight battles,
Before the pain of livid spears [ended the conflict].
On the top of Ystarfingun
Cei slew nine witches.
Worthy Cei went to Ynys Mon
To destroy lions.
Little protection did his shield offer
Against Palug's Cat 
(In case you were wondering Palug's cat was a terrifying man eating cat in Welsh folklore.)

Kay comes across in Welsh literature as having a fiery temper, who could drink any man under the table! He wasn't a man that you would want to cross. However, his loyalty to Arthur is unquestionable.

In later works, Geoffrey of Monmouth, makes Kay the count of Anjou and King Arthur's steward, which kind of stuck from there on in.

After that, things took a turn for the worse for out worthy knight. Chrétien de Troyes, the late 12th Century French poet, turns Kay into a troublemaker, with little honour -- a complete contrast to Lancelot or Gawain -- perhaps that is why he did it. Kay enrages Perceval  so much that Perceval ends up breaking his shoulder. Kay is not chivalrous, he hits women rather than protect them, and comes across as a traitor.

Wolfram von Eschenbach, a German poet, agrees with de Troyes, but he argues that Kay acted like this to keep order. Umm...I am not convinced by his excuse for Kay's behaviour!

We then head into modern literature. Now, I could list all the movies that he has been portrayed in, but I think that could become just ever so slightly tedious. But the general theme in most of these films is that he is a hot-headed idiot. But, his loyalty to Arthur is always unquestionable.

Isn't it strange how stories become twisted and changed. If Sir Kay really did exist, I very much doubt he was anything like he is portrayed in literature. But then again - who knows. To quote Hartley (who is one of my favourite authors, ) 'The past is a foreign country, they do things differently there.'

Mary xx

Monday 16 November 2015

Sir Gawain

Sir Gawain is one of my favourite knights -- I think I might have said that before. Why do I like him so much? Oh come on, he took up a challenge issued by the Green Knight. And when I say green, I mean the knight was green. We are talking green skin, green!

Apart from that very odd quest, what do we know about him?

It is said he was Arthur's nephew. He was the son of Arthur's sister Morgause and King Lot of Orkney. His brother was Mordred. He is a true friend to Lancelot and an all round good egg.

Eoin Macken - played Gawain in Merlin

Gawain is everything Lancelot is - without falling in love with the wrong person and therefore causing war and mayhem. He is courageous and strong. Fierce to his enemies, but kind to the weak. A friend to young knights and a defender of women. He is also next in line to Arthur's throne -- not that he would ever consider challenging Arthur for it.

Now, Lancelot may have had the Holy Grail Quest and the affair, but Gawain, as I have already alluded to, had the Green Knight. I don't think you can get better than the Green Knight. It is my favourite Arthurian tale and comes from a late 14th Century chivalric romance, called...wait for it...Sir Gawain and the Green Knight. It is written in verse, by that famous poet anon (although the poet is commonly referred to as the Pearl Poet), and is one of four narrative religious poems all of which are written in the North West Midland dialect of Middle England...all very J.J.R Tolkein -- but I think Gawain had it a lot worse than Frodo Baggins -- as Gawain had to do this quest all on his own without the help of Elfs and such...

For those who are not familiar with the tale, I shall share with you a very abridge version of events

Camelot, New Years Day,

The New Year celebrations are interrupted by a Green Knight, on a green horse, who challenges the knights to a friendly contest. He asks if any knight of Arthurs' is brave enough to chop off his head. It is a slightly odd challenge, but Gawain takes him up on the offer and chops his head off. But the Green Knight does not die, instead he picks up his head and tells Gawain to meet him at the Green Chapel this time next year so he can return the favour.

Gawain, unsurprisingly, is ever so slightly concerned, but he is a knight and he never goes back on his word. As the year ends he set out to find the Green Chapel. He discovers a rather spectacular castle and he meets Bertilak de Hautdesert and his beautiful wife. Bertilak assures him that the Chapel is two miles away and welcomes him into his castle, for it is a honour to have a Knight of the Round Table as a guest.

The next day Bertilak goes hunting, but he tells Gawain to give him whatever he might gain during the day. Bertilak's wife then tries her best to seduce him, he allows her one kiss, which he then gives back to Bertilak. The next day he gives her two and he gives Bertilak what he gains. The third day she gives him a girdle of green and gold silk -she tells him if he wears it he will stay safe from harm. She then gives him three kisses. That evening he gives Bertilak three kisses but keeps the girdle for himself.

The follow day he sets out to meet the Green Knight. He finds him sharpening his blade. Gawain bears his neck, although he flinches on the first swing and is berated by the Green Knight. The second time he holds still, but the Green Knight only nicks his skin. The challenge is over and the Green Knight reveals himself as Bertilak and they part on good terms. He returns home to Camelot a hero.

"When bold Sir Gawain got back home
they bought out cake and ale
and huddled round a roaring fire
to hear him tell his tale."
Sir Gawain and the Green Knight. Tony Milton and Arthur Robins

Is there any truth in the tale? Oh, why not! If Arthur can defeat 960 men in one charge at Badon Hill, then I am sure we can allow Gawain's rather bazar beheading game with someone who is green.

Take Care

Mary xx

Friday 13 November 2015

Lancelot du Lac

Okay, you got me. I write about Lancelot ( well, his sons...Lancelot does get a mention now and then) in my forthcoming book The Du Lac Chronicles, out early 2016. I am very excited. But you are not here to hear me waffle on about my book...if you are...please correct me...I can blog about it all day, if you like! You are here to read my take on Lancelot, so let's begin.

Now, what do we know of Lancelot?

He was Arthur's best friend.
He was chivalrous.
Pretty good at the joust.
Even better at the sword.
Went on a quest to find the Holy Grail.
Bit of a ladies man.
Had an affair with Guinevere.
Fell out with Arthur...Unsurprisingly.
Caused a Civil War.
And was responsible for the downfall of Arthur, the knights, Camelot, and consequently the whole of Britain.

He had a really busy life!

Santiago Cabrera -played Lancelot in the BBC drama Merlin 

But surprisingly, until the 12th Century, Lancelot was virtually unknown. Chrétien de Troyes immortalised him in  Le Chevalier de la Charette. Here he is portrayed as Arthur's greatest knight, the most saintly of men, who so happens to have had an affair with the Queen.

I wonder if de Troyes had any idea how influential his work would become when he wrote it?

Lancelot tries so hard to be a good knight, but his world comes crashing down around him simply because he cannot help himself when it comes to love. 

But that doesn't seem to stop us all from loving him. I think if he had not had that affair he would probably make us all feel slightly queasy. You can't be that good - all of the time.

Now it is often said that there are no new stories -- all the stories have already been written...what do they know? It has been suggested that the love affair between Lancelot and Guinevere is a poor mans tale of Tristan and Isolde, and I think they are probably right, but that doesn't matter and I don't think we should become too hung up about it.

I cannot not (sorry for the double negative) talk about the Grail when it comes to Lancelot. We need to look at a 13th Century French text called Prose Lancelot which began this whole idea of an Arthurian quest for the Holy Grail and it expands on the love affair between Lancelot and Guinevere as well. Lancelot eventually finds the Grail, but he cannot look on it for very long, for he has sinned.

I am always intrigued by the fact that although we all love Arthur -- who is noble, worthy and everything a King should be -- we can't seem to help ourselves when it comes to Lancelot. He is just so likeable.

So let me give you a brief rundown of Lancelot's life.

He was the son of King Ban of Benwick. He end up in the care of the Lady of the Lake...hence his name du Lac..of the lake... The Lady of the Lake then sends him to Arthur's court where he becomes a knight, meets the Queen and falls in love. He battles twenty knights successfully -- is meant to battle the Copper Knight, but the Copper Knight flees from his home, Dolorous Guard. Lancelot takes the castle and renames it Joyous Guard.  Elaine of Corbenic pretends she is Guinevere, tricks Lancelot and he begets a child with her... they name the child Galahad. Guinevere banished Lancelot from court because she is so enraged by his betrayal?! Lancelot looses his mind for a bit, is eventually summoned back to court by Guinevere. Goes on the hunt for the Holy Grail, finds it. Arthur dies, the Queen wants nothing more to do with him. He becomes a hermit and finally becomes a priest.

Of course there are various different version of his tale. I very much doubt there is little truth in any of them...but like the stories of Arthur, there is something about the man that captures our attention and we cannot help ourselves. I know I will always have a kind of love affair with Lancelot. If it wasn't for him and his stories, I wouldn't be writing this.

See you soon

Mary xx

Tuesday 10 November 2015

Arthur and his Knights of the Round Table.

Before you read on any farther I want you to have a quick go at naming as many of King Arthur's knights as you can......

First Knight, 1995

How many did you name?

If you reached ten or more then I would be impressed. The number of Knights Arthur had depends on what you read. But there is roughly 150. No small number...he must have had a really big table.

Right, lets think about the ones that roll off the tongue, so to speak. Lancelot being the most obvious I guess. Then we have the likes of Galahad and Gawain (my youngest should be very thankful, he almost got called Gawain...he is one of my favourite knights), Tristan, Bors, Percival, Kay, Bedivere the list goes on, but these are the ones that seem to be remembered.

What did you have to do to become a knight?

I have no idea. But, in the Middle Ages that question needed a definite answer. Let me introduce you to Sir Thomas Malory an English writer. Malory wrote Le Morte d'Arthur and in this book he introduced Malory the code of chivalry. 

This is what he said.

To be a knight one must -

1. Never do outrage nor murder.

That is pretty self explanatory. I don't think I need to explain that.

2. Always to flee treason.

Do not commit treason.

3.To by no means be cruel but to give mercy unto him who asks for mercy.

Always be merciful and to grant mercy to those who ask for it. No mindless killing on the battlefield if the enemy is surrendering

4. To always do ladies, gentlewomen and widows succor.

In other words a knight must help a high born woman if they need it - I hope that applies to women born in the peasantry as well.

5. To never force ladies, gentlewomen or widows.

I am getting really concerned about lowly birthed women now.

6. Not to take up battles in wrongful quarrels for love or worldly goods.

Unless it is for God or for your King, forget it, you are not fighting.

God SpeedEdmund Leighton 1900
That all sounds rather chivalrous but remember, this code was written in the Middle Ages. I like to think that the knights had a code, but whether they did or not, I guess we will never know. The logical thing to do next would be to look at some of these knights in more detail. I shall pick a handful and talk about them over the next few blogs.

See you soon.

Mary xx

Mordred - Noble Knight of Evil Villain?

The traitor who brought down the greatest Kingdom and the greatest King of all times.

Okay, so most of us have heard of Mordred. He did, along with Lancelot, play a pinnacle part in the fall of Arthur at the Battle of Camlann.

Mordred was the son of Morgause - Arthur's sister -  but there is debate as to who his father was. Some say his father was Morgauses' husband, King Lot of Orkney, which would make Gawain his brother. While others say he was Arthur's illegitimate son, begot with his sister. Poor kid, no wonder he was so messed up

Alexander Vlahos - played Mordred in Merlin

But what else do we know of him?

Firstly, Mordred is mentioned really early on in the tales of Arthur and his knights.

"Gueith Camlann in qua Arthur et Medraut corruerunt."

   ("The strife of Camlann, in which Arthur and Medraut fell.")

This was what was written in Annales Cambriae for the year 537.

The Annales Camriae was written between the years 960 - 970. Although they cannot be counted as a primary source, they do however draw on older stories - probably verbal - of the telling of this great battle. If you have not already noticed, the quote above says nothing about Arthur fighting Mordred at Camlann. It states that both men fell (died) at Camlann - has Mordred therefore been wronged in the later telling of the tale? 

So let's assume that Mordred was a knight, who fought bravely by Arthur's side and died next to him in battle. This begs the question..who is responsible for turning Mordred into a villain?

Come on, can't you guess??!!

Yes, that's right. Geoffrey of Monmouth strikes again.

It is Monmouth who suggests that it was Mordred, who was left in charge of Camelot while Arthur crossed the channel to rage war on Emperor Lucius of Rome. It is Monmouth who states that Mordred saw this as an opportunity to take Arthur's throne. It is Monmouth who states that Mordred not only took the kingdom, but also forced Guinevere to marry him. It is Monmouth who states that Mordred and Arthur met at Camlann. 

And we believed him.

 Sir Mordred  H.R Ford (1902)

In the ancient Welsh texts Mordred is associated with Camlann. The two seem to go hand in hand. But Monmouth's casting of Mordred as the villain was soon accepted as the truth and others  expanded upon this story making Mordred something of an Anti-Christ - or an Anti-Arthur. 

Time passes and the story changes. Lancelot enters the tale and some of Mordred's villainous activities are passed on to Lancelot - such as the affair with Guinevere. Malory goes as far as saying that Guinevere fled from Mordred's disgusting proposal and hid in the Tower of London, which I always found considerably clever of her, considering the Tower was not built until after the Norman invasion! But hey, anything is possible in Arthur's Britain.

In the Lancelot-Grail Cycle, Mordred was succeeded by his sons. The sons, like their father, have treachery running through their veins. In older text it is Constantine who tracks the brothers down and kills them. In later versions it is Lancelot and Bors.

But the extent of Mordred's treachery does not end there.

"...him who, at one blow, had chest and shadow / shattered by Arthur's hand..."
                                 (Canto XXXII)
This quote is from Dante's Inferno. If you seek Mordred you would find him in the lowest circle of Hell - a place set aside for traitors.

Mordred is cast as a magically Druid boy in the BBC show Merlin (2008 - 2012). He becomes a Knight of Camelot and has no notion of treachery until his beloved is sentenced to death. Ironically, if Merlin had accepted Mordred as a source of good, then Arthur would never have died - but hey, what kind of story would that have made?

 So there we have it. Of all the knights, I think Mordred is probably the least understood and the most wronged. Monmouth needed a villain and Mordred was it. I like to think that Mordred did not turn against Arthur, but fought by his side at Camlann - sacrificing his life, for his King. What do you think? Be sure to leave a comment below.