Ashe Geoffrey - King Arthur

Author : Ashe Geoffrey
Title : King Arthur The dream of a golden age
Year : 1990

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Arthur, as a quasi-historical king, is the creation of one writer. Geoffrey of Monmouth was a cleric, of Welsh or possibly Breton descent. Little is known about him beyond the fact that he was teaching at Oxford between 1129 and 1151. Towards 1138 he produced a Latin work misleadingly titled Historia Regum Britanniae, The History of the Kings of Britain. He may have had sources unknown to us, as well as some that we do know, but his own imagination was predominant. The so-called History which it shaped was one of the most important books of the Middle Ages. It begins in the twelfth century bc after the fall of Troy, with a wandering Trojan prince named Brutus, who, according to a legend older than Geoffrey, conducted a party of Trojans to this island. Geoffrey presents Brutus and his companions as the original Britons. He continues through a long series of kings and queens. A few are historical. A few more may be. Others have their origin in Celtic mythology. Others are persons taken from early Welsh genealogies and blithely depicted as ancient monarchs. After the phase of Roman rule, reduced to a protectorate with the royal line going on, Geoffrey moves towards the Arthurian climax. Britain, parted from the Empire early in the fifth century ad, falls into the power of an unscrupulous noble called Vortigern, who usurps the crown and drives two rightful princes abroad. Heathen Saxons arrive from across the North S.ea, led by the brothers Hengist and Horsa, and Vortigern makes a disastrous treaty with them, allowing them and further Saxons to settle in Britain as auxiliary troops. Many more pour into the country, get out of hand, massacre Vortigern's lords, and overrun and devastate much of Britain. Vortigern flees to Wales, where he meets the young seer Merlin, who performs marvellous feats and foretells a king who will save Britain, but also foretells that before then the princes will return and Vortigern will be slain. This duly happens. The elder prince, Aurelius Ambrosius, becomes king and wins a victory over the Saxons, only to be poisoned by one of them after a short reign. His brother Uther (called the Pendragon or 'Foremost Leader') succeeds him, and continues to contain the heathen, though still without decisive success. Both brothers have kept in touch with Merlin, whom they respect for his gift of prophecy and his secret arts. At Easter, Geoffrey tells us, King Uther held a banquet in London. Among the guests were Gorlois, Duke of Cornwall, and his lovely wife Ygerna. Uther was filled with violent and obvious desire for her. Gorlois withdrew from the court without asking leave and went back to Cornwall with his wife. Uther took this act as ah insult, and followed with an army to ravage the ducal lands. Gorlois lodged Ygerna in his castle of Tintagel, on a rocky headland approachable only by a narrow isthmus, in the belief that the King could not reach her there. Then he marched off to meet the royal forces. Unfortunately for him, Merlin was with them. By his arts he transformed Uther into a replica of the Duke, enabling him to pass the guards at Tintagel, who assumed him to be their master returning. Thus he spent a night with Ygerna and begot Arthur, destined to be the national deliverer whom Merlin had prophesied. Gorlois had fallen in battle, so Uther could revert to his real appearance and make Ygerna his queen. ...

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