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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.

Contents

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.[1] Arthur also appears to have been assigned a sister in this material – Gwalchmei is named as his sister-son (nephew) in Culhwch, his mother being one Gwyar.[2] Rachel Bromwich and D. Simon Evans have observed that Culhwch and Olwen, the Vita Iltuti and the Brut Dingestow combine to suggest that Arthur had a mother too, named Eigyr.[3]

In addition to this immediate family, Arthur was said to have had a great variety of more distant relatives, including maternal aunts, uncles, cousins and a grandfather named Anlawd (or Amlawdd) Wledig ("Prince Anlawd"). The latter is the common link between many of these figures and Arthur: thus the relationship of first cousins that is implied or stated between Arthur, Culhwch, Illtud, and Goreu mab Custenhin depends upon all of their mothers being daughters of this Anlawd, who appears to be ultimately a genealogical construct designed to allow such inter-relationships between characters to be postulated by medieval Welsh authors.[4] Arthur's maternal uncles in Culhwch and Olwen, including Llygatrud Emys, Gwrbothu Hen, Gweir Gwrhyt Ennwir and Gweir Baladir Hir, similarly appear to derive from this relationship.[5]

Turning to Arthur's own family, his wife is consistently stated to be Gwenhwyfar, usually the daughter of King Ogrfan Gawr (variation: 'Gogrfan Gawr', "[G]Ogrfan the Giant") and sister to Gwenhwyach, 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 (Cydfan).[6] Kyduan was not the only child of Arthur according to Welsh Arthurian tradition – he is also ascribed sons called Amr (Anir),[7] Gwydre,[8] Llacheu[9] and Duran.[10]

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 Wledic 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,[11] 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 two brothers and a father,[12] while Arthur gains a sister, Morgan le Fay (first named as Arthur's sister by Chrétien de Troyes),[13] and a new son, Loholt, in Chrétien's Eric and Enide, the Perlesvaus and the Vulgate Cycle.[14]

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.[15] 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.[16]

Children and grandchildren

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 – and I myself have put this to the test.[17]

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.[18] 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.[19] 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?.[20] 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.[21] Taken together, it is generally agreed that all these references indicate that Llacheu was a figure of considerable importance in the early Arthurian cycle.[22] 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".[23] 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,[24] 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[25]

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.[26]

Notes

  1. ^ T. Green, Concepts of Arthur (Stroud: Tempus, 2007), pp.145–51; P. Sims-Williams, "The Early Welsh Arthurian Poems" in R. Bromwich, A.O.H. Jarman and B.F. Roberts (edd.) The Arthur of the Welsh (Cardiff: University of Wales Press, 1991), pp.33–71 at pp.53-4
  2. ^ R. Bromwich, Trioedd Ynys Prydein: the Welsh Triads (Cardiff: University of Wales, 1978), pp.372–3
  3. ^ R. Bromwich and D. Simon Evans, Culhwch and Olwen. An Edition and Study of the Oldest Arthurian Tale (Cardiff: University of Wales Press, 1992), pp.44-5
  4. ^ R. Bromwich and D. Simon Evans, Culhwch and Olwen. An Edition and Study of the Oldest Arthurian Tale (Cardiff: University of Wales Press, 1992), pp.44-5
  5. ^ These maternal uncles are named at lines 251-2, 288-90: R. Bromwich and D. Simon Evans, Culhwch and Olwen. An Edition and Study of the Oldest Arthurian Tale (Cardiff: University of Wales Press, 1992)
  6. ^ See T. Green, Concepts of Arthur (Stroud: Tempus, 2007), pp.151–5; R. Bromwich and D. Simon Evans, Culhwch and Olwen. An Edition and Study of the Oldest Arthurian Tale (Cardiff: University of Wales Press, 1992), pp.76–7, 107-08 -- the latter note that the sons of Iaen appear to have been kinsmen of Arthur on their father's side, not Arthur's father's side, i.e. they were Arthur's in-laws via their sister
  7. ^ Historia Brittonum, 73 and also the romance Geraint and Enid, which mentions an "Amhar son of Arthur"
  8. ^ R. Bromwich and D. Simon Evans, Culhwch and Olwen. An Edition and Study of the Oldest Arthurian Tale (Cardiff: University of Wales Press, 1992), lines 1116-7
  9. ^ R. Bromwich, Trioedd Ynys Prydein: the Welsh Triads (Cardiff: University of Wales, 1978), pp.416–8
  10. ^ J. Rowland, Early Welsh Saga Poetry: a Study and Edition of the Englynion (Cambridge, 1990), pp.250–1
  11. ^ B. F. Roberts, "Geoffrey of Monmouth, Historia Regum Britanniae and Brut Y Brenhinedd" in R. Bromwich, A. O. H. Jarman and B. F. Roberts (edd.) The Arthur of the Welsh (Cardiff: University of Wales Press, 1991), pp.98–116 at pp.112–3
  12. ^ Geoffrey of Monmouth, Historia Regum Britanniae Book 8.1
  13. ^ Arthurian Romances trans. W. Kibler and C. W. Carroll (Harmondsworth, Penguin, 1991)
  14. ^ Arthurian Romances trans. W. Kibler and C. W. Carroll (Harmondsworth, Penguin, 1991); The High Book of the Grail: A translation of the thirteenth century romance of Perlesvaus trans. N. Bryant (Brewer, 1996); Lancelot-Grail: The Old French Arthurian Vulgate and Post-Vulgate in Translation trans. N. J. Lacy (New York: Garland, 1992-6), 5 vols.
  15. ^ Lancelot-Grail: The Old French Arthurian Vulgate and Post-Vulgate in Translation trans. N. J. Lacy (New York: Garland, 1992-6), 5 vols.
  16. ^ See A. Varin, "Mordred, King Arthur's Son" in Folklore 90 (1979), pp.167–77 on Mordred's birth, its origins and Arthur's reaction to his dream.
  17. ^ Historia Brittonum, 73
  18. ^ T. Jones and G. Jones, The Mabinogion (London: Dent, 1949), p.231
  19. ^ R. Bromwich and D. Simon Evans, Culhwch and Olwen. An Edition and Study of the Oldest Arthurian Tale (Cardiff: University of Wales Press, 1992), lines 1116–7 and note on Gwydre; T. Jones and G. Jones, The Mabinogion (London: Dent, 1949), pp.132, 134
  20. ^ R. Bromwich, Trioedd Ynys Prydein: the Welsh Triads (Cardiff: University of Wales, 1978), no. 4; P. Sims-Williams, "The Early Welsh Arthurian Poems" in R. Bromwich, A.O.H. Jarman and B.F. Roberts (edd.) The Arthur of the Welsh (Cardiff: University of Wales Press, 1991), pp.33–71 at p.43
  21. ^ O. J. Padel, Arthur in Medieval Welsh Literature (Cardiff: University of Wales Press, 2000), pp.55–6, 99; P. Sims-Williams, "The Early Welsh Arthurian Poems" in R. Bromwich, A.O.H. Jarman and B.F. Roberts (edd.) The Arthur of the Welsh (Cardiff: University of Wales Press, 1991), pp.33–71 at p.44
  22. ^ T. Green, Concepts of Arthur (Stroud: Tempus, 2007), pp.168-9
  23. ^ J.B. Coe and S. Young, The Celtic Sources for the Arthurian Legend (Llanerch, 1995), p.125
  24. ^ The High Book of the Grail: A translation of the thirteenth century romance of Perlesvaus trans. N. Bryant (Brewer, 1996)
  25. ^ J. Rowland, Early Welsh Saga Poetry: a Study and Edition of the Englynion (Cambridge, 1990), pp.250-1
  26. ^ Geoffrey of Monmouth, Historia Regum Britanniae Book 11.2-4

Bibliography

  • Bromwich, R. Trioedd Ynys Prydein: the Welsh Triads (Cardiff: University of Wales, 1978)
  • Bromwich, R. and Simon Evans, D. Culhwch and Olwen. An Edition and Study of the Oldest Arthurian Tale (Cardiff: University of Wales Press, 1992)
  • Bryant, N. The High Book of the Grail: A translation of the thirteenth century romance of Perlesvaus (Brewer, 1996)
  • Coe, J. B. and Young, S. The Celtic Sources for the Arthurian Legend (Llanerch, 1995).
  • Green, T. "The Historicity and Historicisation of Arthur", Arthurian Resources, retrieved on 22-06-2007
  • Green, T. "Tom Thumb and Jack the Giant Killer: Two Arthurian Fairytales?" in Folklore 118.2 (August, 2007), pp.123-40
  • Green, T. Concepts of Arthur (Stroud: Tempus, 2007) ISBN 978-0-7524-4461-1 [1]
  • Higham, N. J. King Arthur, Myth-Making and History (London: Routledge, 2002).
  • Jones, T. and Jones, G. The Mabinogion (London: Dent, 1949)
  • Kibler, W. and Carroll, C. W. Arthurian Romances (Harmondsworth, Penguin, 1991)
  • Lacy, N. J. Lancelot-Grail: The Old French Arthurian Vulgate and Post-Vulgate in Translation (New York: Garland, 1992-6), 5 vols
  • Padel, O. J. Arthur in Medieval Welsh Literature (Cardiff: University of Wales Press, 2000) ISBN 978-0-7524-4461-1
  • Roberts, B. F. "Geoffrey of Monmouth, Historia Regum Britanniae and Brut Y Brenhinedd" in R. Bromwich, A.O.H. Jarman and B.F. Roberts (edd.) The Arthur of the Welsh (Cardiff: University of Wales Press, 1991), pp.98-116
  • Rowland, J. Early Welsh Saga Poetry: a Study and Edition of the Englynion (Cambridge, 1990)
  • Sims-Williams, P. "The Early Welsh Arthurian Poems" in R. Bromwich, A.O.H. Jarman and B.F. Roberts (edd.) The Arthur of the Welsh (Cardiff: University of Wales Press, 1991), pp.33-71

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