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Archive for November, 2020

Weapons

Okay, so those are the characters, mostly. Now let’s get into something else–weapons.

There are a variety of weapons cited throughout the legends.

First and foremost, of course, is Excalibur (Caledfwlch in Welsh). The Welsh name translates as something like “Hard Cleft”. Caledfwlch appears in early Welsh tales.

This sword was given to Arthur by the Lady of the Lake and, in some versions, made by her especially for Arthur. In some versions, it was inscribed “Take me up” on one side and “Cast me away” on the other. Also, in some versions, when the sword was drawn in Arthur’s first battle, its blade was so bright that it blinded his enemies.

Although the story of the Sword in the Stone appears much later, that sword was never Excalibur. The Sword in the Stone was Clarent, a sword used mainly for ceremony. And, in some late versions, Mordred stole Clarent and used it against Arthur at the Battle of Camlann. None of that seems to be part of the original legend, however.

Excalibur’s scabbard has no name (at least that I’ve been able to find), but it was said to have powers of its own. Any wounds received while wearing the scabbard would not bleed so that the wearer could not be killed easily. This is interesting in light of the healing reputation both of Avalon and at least some of the Ladies of the Lake. In very late stories, such as Le Morte d’Arthur, Morgana (possibly a Lady of the Lake herself) stole the scabbard and threw it into a lake. This enabled Mordred to kill Arthur, years later.

Arthur possessed other weapons, according the Welsh traditions:

A dagger called Carnwennan (translated “Little White Hilt”), which he used to slice a witch in half in Culhwch and Olwen. Sometimes, Carnwennan is said to have the power to shroud its wielder in shadow.

A spear called Rhongomyniad (translated “Spear Striker”). Later versions simply call it Ron, meaning “Spear”.

Arthur’s shield was Wynebgwrthucher (translated “Face of Evening”).

Not a weapon, exactly, but his ship was Prydwen (“Fair Face”).

I want to mention one more weapon, though not one of Arthur’s.

Galatine was Gawain’a sword, also given to him by the Lady of the Lake. The name is clearly not Welsh, but I haven’t been able to find a Welsh name for it, which may—or may not—indicate that it’s not part of the older stories.

Galatine is strongest in sunlight. Sometimes even said to make its wielder invincible in sunlight.

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Nimuë is one of the women identified as the Lady of the Lake, who give Arthur the sword Excalibur. And also give Gawain the sword Galatine. She is also one of the women who come to the battlefield of Camlann to take Arthur to Avalon.

Sometimes, in later stories, she is depicted as Merlin’s apprentice with whom he is hopelessly in love. Often, she is the one who enchants Merlin, sealing him up in a cave or a tree, whereupon she takes his place as advisor to Arthur.

I’ve already written the first scenes with my version of Nimuë.

Morgana is also an enchantress, though generally a benevolent one, acting as a magical protector to Arthur. Usually, she is the youngest daughter of Igraine and Gorlois, making her Arthur’s half-sister.

She is especially associated with Avalon (or the Isle of Apples) where her chief role is as a healer. Avalon was associated with mystical practices early on. One possible location for Avalon is Glastonbury Tor—a conical hill rising a bit over 500 feet above the Someset levels. It would have been surrounded by a marsh, making it sort of an island. It is also the location in which Excalibur was said to have been forged.

Morgana is one of the women who come to take Arthur from Camlann to Avalon, where he will be healed, perhaps to return.

Possibly because of her association with Avalon, she is also sometimes considered a Lady of the Lake.

In some versions, she is also the reluctant wife of King Urien of Rheged, and therefore the mother of Owain (Yvain) and a daughter Morfydd, who was Owain’s twin sister.

In Geoffrey of Monmouth’s version, she is a shapeshifter who can fly on strange wings and uses her powers only for good. Hmm, I just might make use of that.

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No version of the Arthur story would be complete without Guinevere. She was Arthur’s wife, of course. In fact, the Welsh triads actually give Arthur three wives, all named Guinevere (Gwenhwyfar in Welsh).

  • Gwenhwyfar daughter of Cywryd
  • Gwenhwyfar daughter of Gwythyr ap Greidiol
  • Gwenhwyfar daughter of Ogrfan Gawr

Though, Gwenhwyfar means something like “White Enchantress”, so there could be other ways to interpret their roles.

Later traditions make her the daughter of King Leodegrance (a fairly obviously French name, not Welsh), who was possibly a king of Cornwall or of a part of Brittany with a very similar sounding name, Cornouaille.

Guinevere’s first appearance otherwise comes with Geoffrey of Monmouth in the 12th Century and it’s Chretien de Troyes who created the Arthur/Guinevere/Lancelot love triangle.

There are a few mentions of a younger sister (or half-sister) with a similar name. Sometimes this sister was married to Mordred and the enmity between the sisters was the root cause of the Battle of Camlann in which both Arthur and Mordred are killed. Or the sister was a false Guinevere, who temporarily displaced the true Guinevere through trickery.

There’s another legend concerning Mordred and Guinevere, in which they entered an adulterous relationship with each other while Arthur was across the channel in Gaul or Rome. But that one seems to me to confuse Arthur with the historical figure, Riothamus, who actually did lead troops from Britain across to Gaul in support of one of the late Western Roman Emperors. An expedition from which he never returned, because the Emperor failed to do his part. Of course, there are people who argue that Riothamus was the true Arthur. For myself, since there manifestly still were Saxons (and Angles and Jutes) in Britain, as well as contentious tribal rulers, I just can’t picture an actual Arthur taking his warriors away to fight in Gaul. And, anyway, the ending of that story about Mordred and Guinevere is barbaric and not something I intend to use.

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And now for the ladies. There aren’t as many of them, and there’s generally not as much to say about them. Hmm, I may have to do something about that in my story. I’m going to start with his birth family.

Igraine (Eigyr in Welsh), of course, is Arthur’s mother. She is the daughter of Amlawdd Wledig and Gwenwyr (Gwen ferch Cunedda).

Amlawdd was the king of Ergyng, a smallish subkingdom, probably at least partly within the area ruled by Vortigern. Most of it lay in what is now western Herefordshire between the River Monnow and the River Wye—and east of the Wye to the Roman town of Ariconium (Ergyng in Welsh) and perhaps farther. Or, in other words, just about where the word Dobunni is on the map below.

Igraine’s maternal grandfather, Cunedda was likely an historical person, probably a chieftain of the Votadini in the north near Hadrian’s wall. His grandfather, Padarn Beisrudd, seems to have gained some official Roman military rank. (Beisrudd means “Red Cloak”, like the cloaks worn by Roman officers.) Padarn, his son Edern, and then Edern’s son Cunedda seem to have been in charge of protecting against encroachments by the Picts and Scotti. Then, possibly invited by Vortigern, Cunedda and his Votadini relocated to northern Wales, in the area that would become the center of Gwynedd. Possibly this move was to protect against Irish raids in Wales.  

With either Gorlois (who doesn’t seem to have any references earlier than Geoffrey of Monmouth) or Uther, she had several children besides Arthur. Morgause and Morgana are her daughters. And another son, Madog ap Uther. Madog also had a son, Eliwlod.

Morgause:

Morgause was Arthur’s sister, daughter of Uther and Igraine. She was married to King Lot of Orkney and Lothian, and the mother of Gawain, Agravain, Gaheris, Gareth, and Mordred.

In later versions, she is beheaded by her son Gaheris when he finds her in an adulterous relationship.

Morgana:

Of course, Arthur had another sister or half-sister, Morgana. I’m going to cover her in a different post, though, because she’s important as more than just his sister.

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