King Arthur, Merlin, and the Prophecy of the Six Kings.
By Anne O’Brien
Where does this intriguing prophecy come from?
It is said that King Arthur asked Merlin this question:
'What will be the adventures of the last rulers of this Kingdom, and how will this Kingdom end?'
This Prophecy of the Six Kings is said to be Merlin's reply to Arthur.
The true origins of this prophecy are very much under a cloud. It is thought to have was written down in the year approximately 1312, at the time of the birth of King Edward III. It was certainly the most popular prophecy of the 14th century when men conjectured about the coming years.
The six kings who would follow King John were, according to Merlin, likened to six beasts.
Henry III a lamb out of Winchester with a white tongue
Edward I a dragon
Edward II a goat
Edward III a bear
Richard II a lamb
Henry IV a moldewarpe (mole) cursed of God's mouth
As Edward III's reign progressed, the accuracy of the prophesy seemed to be confirmed. Spain would tremble, the bear would sharpen its teeth on the gates of Paris, the bear would regain all the lands of his ancestors, and more. With Edward as King of England, all seemed to happen as was foretold. Spain was defeated in a naval battle, Edward's major successes against the French at Crecy and Poitiers need no further explanation. Thus in a superstitious age many accepted the prophecy as a framework for God's plan for the English monarchy. But although in Edward III's reign all was glory and achievement, Englishmen might begin look at the rest of the prophecy with some foreboding.
Edward III would be followed by a lamb. Hardly the Black Prince who had shown less than lamb-like characteristics in his military career on the field of Crecy and Poitiers and in his campaign in Castile. It would certainly be a more fitting description for his ten-year-old son Richard II.
Here the prophesy falls in a convoluted style which is difficult to interpret with events of Richard's reign. Within a year this lamb would build a great city. But then there would be a civil war and the lamb would lose part of his kingdom to a hideous wolf. Eventually he would recover his lands and give them to an eagle who would govern well in the King's name until overcome by pride At this point the eagle would be murdered by his brother and the lamb (Richard) would die, leaving his lands once more at peace. He would be succeeded by the next king, a mole under whose rule the kingdom would be wrenched apart and plunged again into civil war between three warring factions.
Merlin's prophecy for Richard's reign with its idea of an eagle and a wolf taking part is less than clear when matched with actual events. On the other hand Richard's death and Henry IV's succession is clear enough, as well as the period of civil war which followed Henry's accession.
The sixth king after King John - Henry IV - would be a 'moldewarp', Merlin had said, with a rough skin like a goat. Henry might well consider this to be true for himself, when he was struck down by a severe skin complaint. It was described as leprosy, and although this is now thought to be unlikely, Henry certainly suffered from some skin disease, which again would help to give credence to the whole prophecy.
Early in Henry's reign, so Merlin said:
A dragon shall rise up in the north which shall be full fierce and shall move war against the 'moldewarp' and shall give him battle upon a stone. This dragon shall gather again into his company a wolf that shall come out of the west that shall begin war against the moldewarp on his side, and so shall the dragon and he bind their tails together. Then shall come a lion of of Ireland that shall fall in company with them, and then shall England tremble ... the moldewarp shall flee for dread and the dragon, the lion and the wolf shall drive him away ... and the land shall be partitioned in three parts; to the wolf to the dragon and to to the lion, and so it shall be for evermore.
Can we see this in the history of the reign? Who were the dragon, the lion and the wolf? We can indeed recognise this vicious trio. The Earl of Northumberland was the dragon. Sir Edmund Mortimer was the lion out of Ireland. Owain Glyn Dwr was the wolf from the west, out of Wales.
Together these three men made the Tripartite Indenture, to oust Henry and divide England between them. Merlin said that England would be called the Land of Conquest.
Historically, the dragon, lion and wolf were unsuccessful in overcoming Henry. They were defeated and Henry held on to his throne. Nor did Henry die from drowning in a flood as Merlin predicted, his descendents becoming homeless in a strange land. Henry's descendant was the famous warrior King Henry V who kept a firm hold of his crown, although the same can not be said of his son Henry VI who fell foul of the vicissitudes of the Wars of the Roses.
But this does not detract in any way from the magical nature of Merlin's prophecy, and the fact that medieval men might look for its fulfilment. We cannot wonder that both Richard and Henry felt the pressure of ancient prophecies on their shoulders.
What should not surprise us is that the drama and mysticism surrounding King Arthur and Merlin was as keenly sought in medieval times as it is today. The stories of the chivalric knights, layered with courage and death, with betrayal and supernatural power, continue to appeal, and I expect they always will.
Anne O’Brien was born in West Yorkshire. After gaining a BA Honours degree in History at Manchester University and a Master’s in Education at Hull, she lived in East Yorkshire for many years as a teacher of history.
She now lives with her husband in an eighteenth-century timber-framed cottage in the depths of the Welsh Marches in Herefordshire, on the borders between England and Wales, where she writes historical novels. The perfect place in which to bring medieval women back to life.
The Queen of the North
To those around her she was a loyal subject.
In her heart she was a traitor.
1399: England’s crown is under threat. King Richard II holds onto his power by an ever-weakening thread, with exiled Henry of Lancaster back to reclaim his place on the throne.
For Elizabeth Mortimer, there is only one rightful King – her eight-year-old nephew, Edmund. Only he can guarantee her fortunes, and protect her family’s rule over the precious Northern lands bordering Scotland.
But many, including Elizabeth’s husband, do not want another child-King. Elizabeth must hide her true ambitions in Court, and go against her husband’s wishes to help build a rebel army.
To question her loyalty to the King places Elizabeth in the shadow of the axe.
To concede would curdle her Plantagenet blood.
This is one woman’s quest to turn history on its head.
Available for Pre-Order
Released 31st May 2018