“The History of the Kings of Britain” by an unknown 15th century artist. Wikimedia Commons.
by Rebecca McRee
Geoffrey of Monmouth was born around 1100 and died likely in 1155, though neither date is certain. His birthplace was in or near Monmouth in Wales, hence his demonym. Considered anywhere from a genuine but flawed historian to a rhetorical historian to a “pseudohistorian,” the veracity of Geoffrey’s historical writing was, to him, unquestionable (“Geoffrey of Monmouth ”). Geoffrey claimed that the ancient text from which he gleaned his translations was given to him by a man he had befriended at the university, an archdeacon of Oxford.
The History of the Kings of Britain (Historia regum Britanniae) was likely completed around 1138 during a tumultuous period of civil war in England. After the death of King Henry I’s only legitimate heir in 1135, and an attempt to install his daughter Matilda on the throne, Henry’s nephew, a man named Stephen de Blois, snatched the throne. The question of which relative should rule divided those royally adjacent and sparked civil unrest that dragged for nearly two decades. The political upheaval influenced Geoffrey of Monmouth’s motivations in penning his book as well as its future editions – over the years of publication, the dedication was edited to show allegiance to figures from either side of the conflict (Keller). One consistency across all iterations is Geoffrey’s insistence that the stories are not his, but the direct translation of “a very old book in the British language,” meaning Welsh (Keller). The claim is meant to lend credence to Geoffrey’s historical accuracy, but the ancient text has never been recovered, nor has proof of its existence ever been established.
Contemporary experts have established that much of the historical writing from the twelfth century was embellished and even theatrical at times because “history was seen as a branch of literature” rather than a discipline requiring precision and evidence (Robertson). Geoffrey of Monmouth saw his work as distinct from his peers. He dismissed historians who believed that Britain’s history was a continuation of Roman history and instead promoted the narrative that the British and Welsh were Trojan in origin (Robertson). Such historical adornment stoked the commoner’s secret yearning for a sense of pride in origin and ancestor.
The History of the Kings of Britain opens with a lush description of the island of Britain’s beauty and abundance of resources. Geoffrey asserts that of the island’s five past inhabitants – Britons, Romans, Saxons, Picts, and Scots – only the Britons “formerly possess[ed] the whole island from sea to sea.” Geoffrey tells of Brutus, founder of Britain and descendant of exiles driven from Troy after the Trojan War.
Geoffrey describes the struggle and heartache of King Lier, whose tale would be retold by Shakespeare in his famous work of the same name, King Lear. Following Lier, Roman rule in Britain is fleshed out. Tyranny, regicide, power vacuums, and an increasingly begrudging Roman obligation to the island led to chaos. Soon after, Constantine was placed upon the throne. He sired three sons: Constans, Aurelius Ambrosius, and Uther Pendragon, the latter two being potential heirs. But after Constantine’s death, another man named Vortigern crowns himself, enraging his people and his neighbors. In desperation, he accepts aid from two brothers of Saxony (Germanic) origin, which goes well for Vortigern and even better for the Saxons, but their alliance crumbles quickly. Ultimately, Aurelius Ambrosius defeats Vortigern. Brothers Aurelius and Uther join to defeat the Saxon hordes.
Merlin is introduced, interpreting a prophecy that predicts Aurelius’s death, Uther’s taking of the throne, and the birth of two legendary children: Arthur and Anne. Merlin later helps an enthroned Uthar to win the heart of a married woman. She later gives birth to the prophesied children. When Arthur is just 15, his father dies, invigorating the Saxon’s determination to wipe out the Briton people. Following are many lengthy descriptions of Arthur’s victories. He looks to challenge Rome but is pulled back home to tend to his traitorous nephew, Modred. The final confrontation between Arthur’s Britons and Modred’s hybrid army of Saxons, Picts, and Scots held untold tragedy and death, including the mortal wounding of Arthur himself.
The book ends with the final British king, known as Cadwallader, who eventually abandons his land to the Anglo-Saxons. A plague has rendered the island desolate and inhospitable. Lamenting that it’s not God’s will that his people retain the land, a dying and defeated Cadwallader is encouraged to send his son Ivor and his nephew Ini back to govern the Britons. For nearly 50 years the pair waged war against the Anglo-Saxons. So overrun by barbarism were the Britons that they could no longer be called such – instead, they were Gualenses, or Welshmen. Geoffrey ends his work by saying he will leave the Saxon kings to the Saxon historians and recommends his contemporaries do the same: “I advise them to be silent concerning the kings of the Britons.”
“Geoffrey of Monmouth.” Encyclopedia of World Biography Online, Gale, Detroit, MI, 12 Dec. 1998. Gale In Context: World History, link-gale-com.lsproxy.austincc.edu/apps/doc/K1631002475/WHIC?u=txshracd2487&sid=WHIC&xid=dcc3de95. Accessed 21 Apr. 2020.
Keller, Hans-Erich. “Geoffrey of Monmouth.” Dictionary of the Middle Ages, edited by Joseph R. Strayer, Charles Scribner’s Sons, New York, NY, 1989. Gale In Context: World History, link-gale-com.lsproxy.austincc.edu/apps/doc/BT2353100602/WHIC?u=txshracd2487&sid=WHIC&xid=586c108a. Accessed 21 Apr. 2020.
Robertson, Kellie. “Geoffrey of Monmouth and the Translation of Insular Historiography.” Arthuriana, vol. 8, no. 4, 1998, pp. 42–57. JSTOR, www.jstor.org.lsproxy.austincc.edu/stable/27869398. Accessed 21 Apr. 2020.
- Do you think Geoffrey of Monmouth set out with the intent to create an apocryphal history for people of Briton to stake their pride upon? Or do you think he truly had an alternate theory regarding the idea of the Trojan origin?
- When the two Saxon brothers offer aid to Vortigern, do you think they were telling the truth about being peacefully exiled from their prosperous nation? Were they lying to gain foothold on the island?
- What did you think of the speech given to the Briton people by the Romans as the Romans were leaving the island to once again fend for itself? Were you surprised that the Romans implored the Britons to find courage and “defend [their] liberties”?
- Why do you think Arthur set his eyes upon Rome as his next challenge?
- Where do you see Geoffrey of Monmouth’s attempts to pacify real-world Norman leadership of the time to offset this piece extolling the virtues of being purely of Briton stock?
- A YouTube clip from a BBC Documentary Arthur: The Once and Future King specifically discussing Geoffrey’s History.
- A TEDed video “Is there any truth to the King Arthur legends?”
- A webpage from the University of Rochester’s “Project Camelot” which isolates the Arthurian passages from Geoffrey’s History.
Reading: History of the Kings of Britain (Selections)
Book I (excerpt)
Britain, the best of islands, is situated in the Western Ocean, between France and Ireland, being eight hundred miles long, and two hundred broad. It produces every thing that is useful to man, with a plenty that never fails. It abounds with all kinds of metal, and has plains of large extent, and hills fit for the finest tillage, the richness of whose soil affords variety of fruits in their proper seasons. It also has forests well stocked with all kinds of wild beasts; in its lawns cattle find good change of pasture, and bees variety of flowers for honey. Under its lofty mountains lie green meadows pleasantly situated, in which the gentle murmurs of crystal springs gliding along clear channels, give those that pass an agreeable invitation to lie down on their banks and slumber. It is likewise well watered with lakes and rivers abounding with fish; and besides the narrow sea which is on the Southern coast towards France, there are three noble rivers, stretching out like three arms, namely, the Thames, the Severn, and the Humber; by which foreign commodities from all countries are brought into it. It was formerly adorned with eight and twenty cities, of which some are in ruins and desolate, others are still standing, beautified with lofty church-towers, wherein religious worship is performed according to the Christian institution. It is lastly inhabited by five different nations, the Britons, Romans, Saxons, Picts, and Scots; whereof the Britons before the rest did formerly possess the whole island from sea to sea, till divine vengeance, punishing them for their pride, made them give way to the Picts and Saxons. But in what manner, and from whence, they first arrived here, remains now to be related in what follows.
After the Trojan war, Aeneas, flying with Ascanius from the destruction of their city, sailed to Italy. There he was honourably received by king Latinus, which raised against him the envy of Turnus, king of the Rutuli, who thereupon made war against him. Upon their engaging in battle, Aeneas got the victory, and having killed Turnus, obtained the kingdom of Italy, and with it Lavinia the daughter of Latinus. After his death, Ascanius, succeeding in the kingdom, built Alba upon the Tiber, and begat a son named Sylvius, who, in pursuit of a private amour, took to wife a niece of Lavinia. The damsel soon after conceived, and the father Ascanius, coming to the knowledge of it, commanded his magicians to consult of what sex the child should be. When they satisfied themselves in the matter, they told him she would give birth to a boy, who would kill his father and mother, and after travelling over many countries in banishment, would at last arrive at the highest pitch of glory. Nor where they mistaken in their prediction; for at the proper time the woman brought forth a son, and died of his birth; but the child was delivered to a nurse and called Brutus.
At length, after fifteen years were expired, the youth accompanied his father in hunting, and killed him undesignedly by the shot of an arrow. For, as the servants were driving up the deer towards them, Brutus, in shooting at them, smote his father under the breast. Upon his death, he was expelled from Italy…
[Brutus wanders collecting followers and showing his prowess as a leader, eventually reaching “Albion.”]
The island was then called Albion, and inhabited by none but a few giants. Notwithstanding this, the pleasant situation of the places, the plenty of rivers abounding with fish, and the engaging prospect of its woods, made Brutus and his company very desirous to fix their habitation in it. They therefore passed through all the provinces, forced the giants to fly into the caves of the mountains, and divided the country among them according to the directions of their commander. After this they began to till the ground and build houses, so that in a little time the country looked like a place that had been long inhabited. At last Brutus called the island after his own name Britain, and his companions Britons; for by these means he desired to perpetuate the memory of his name. From whence afterwards the language of the nation, which at first bore the name of Trojan, or rough Greek, was called British. But Corineus, in imitation of his leader, called that part of the island which fell to his share, Corinea, and his people Corineans, after his name; and though he had his choice of the provinces before all the rest, yet he preferred this country, which is called in Latin Cornubia, either from its being in the shape of a horn (in Latin cornu), or from the corruption of the said name. For it was a diversion to him to encounter the said giants, which were in greater numbers there than in all the other provinces that fell to the share of his companions. Among the rest was one detestable monster, named Goëmagot, in stature twelve cubits, and of such prodigious strength that at one shake he pulled up an oak as if it had been a hazel wand. On a certain day, when Brutus was holding a solemn festival to the gods, in the port where they at first landed, this giant with twenty more of his companions came in upon the Britons, among whom he made a dreadful slaughter. But the Britons at last assembling together in a body, put them to the rout, and killed them every one but Goëmagot. Brutus had given orders to have him preserved alive, out of a desire to see a combat between him and Corineus, who took a great pleasure in such encounters. Corineus, overjoyed at this, prepared himself, and throwing aside his arms, challenged him to wrestle with him. At the beginning of the encounter, Corineus and the giant, standing, front to front, held each other strongly in their arms, and panted aloud for breath, but Goëmagot presently grasping Corineus with all his might, broke three of his ribs, two on his right side and one on his left. At which Corineus, highly enraged, roused up his whole strength, and snatching him upon his shoulders, ran with him, as fast as the weight would allow him, to the next shore, and there getting upon the top of a high rock, hurled down the savage monster into the sea; where falling on the sides of craggy rocks, he was torn to pieces, and coloured the waves with his blood. The place where he fell, taking its name from the giant’s fall, is called Lam Goëmagot, that is, Goëmagot’s Leap, to this day.
Brutus, having thus at last set eyes upon his kingdom, formed a design of building a city, and, with this view, traveled through the land to find out a convenient situation, and coming to the river Thames, he walked along the shore, and at last pitched upon a place very fit for his purpose. Here, therefore, he built a city, which he called New Troy; under which name it continued a long time after, till at last, by the corruption of the original word, at came to be called Trinovantum. But afterwards when Lud, the brother of Cassibellaun, who made war against Julius Caesar, obtained the government of the kingdom, he surrounded it with stately walls, and towers of admirable workmanship, and ordered it to be called after his name, Kaer-Lud, that is, the City of Lud. But this very thing became afterward the occasion of a great quarrel between him and his brother Nennius, who took offence at his abolishing the name of Troy in this country. Of this quarrel Gildas the historian has given a full account; for which reason I pass it over, for fear of debasing by my account of it, what so great a writer has so eloquently related.
After Brutus had finished the building of the city, he made choice of the citizens that were to inhabit it, and prescribed them laws for their peaceable government. At this time Eli the priest governed in Judea, and the ark of the covenant was taken by the Philistines. At the same time, also, the sons of Hector, after the expulsion of the posterity of Antenor, reigned in Troy; as in Italy did Sylvius Aeneas, the son of Aeneas, the uncle of Brutus, and the third king of the Latins.
Book II (excerpt)
[Geoffrey proceeds to discuss the genealogy and history of many of the kings of England, including the legend- ary King Leir—whose story appears here in a rather different form than Shakespeare gives it in King Lear.]
After this unhappy fate of Bladud, Leir, his son was advanced to the throne, and nobly governed his country sixty years. He built, upon the river Sore a city, called in the British tongue Kaerleir, in the Saxon, Leircestre. He was without male issue, but had three daughters, whose names were Gonorilla, Regau, and Cordeilla, of whom he was dotingly fond, but especially of the youngest, Cordeilla. When he began to grow old, he had thoughts of dividing his kingdom among them, and of bestowing them on such husbands as were fit to be advanced to the government with them. But to make trial who was worthy to have the best part of his kingdom, he went to each of them to ask which of them loved him most. The question being proposed, Gonorilla the eldest, made answer “That she called heaven to witness, she loved him more than her own soul.” The father replied, “Since you have preferred my declining age before your own life, I will marry you, my dearest daughter, to whomsoever you shall make choice of, and give with you the third part of my kingdom.” Then Regau, the second daughter, willing, after the example of her sister, to prevail upon her father’s good nature, answered with an oath, “That she could not otherwise express her thoughts, but that she loved him above all creatures.” The credulous father upon this made her the same promise that he did to her eldest sister, that is, the choice of a husband, with the third part of his kingdom. But Cordeilla, the youngest, understanding how easily he was satisfied with the flattering expressions of her sisters, was desirous to make trial of his affection after a different manner. “My, father,” said she, “is there any daughter that can love her father more than duty requires? In my opinion, whoever pretends it, must disguise her real sentiments under the veil of flattery. I have always loved you as a father, nor do I yet depart from my purposed duty; and if you insist to have something more extorted from me hear now the greatness of my affection, which I always bear you, and take this for a short answer to all your questions; look how much you have, so much is your value, and so much do I love you.” The father, supposing that she spoke this out of the abundance of her heart, was highly provoked, and immediately replied, “Since you have so far despised my old age as not to think me worthy the love that your sisters express for me, you shall have from me the like regard, and shall be excluded from any share with your sisters in my kingdom. Notwithstanding, I do not say but that since you are my daughter, I will marry you to some foreigner, if fortune offers you any such husband; but will never, I do assure you, make it my business to procure so honourable a match for you as for your sisters; because, though I have hitherto loved you more than them, you have in requital thought be less worthy of your affection than they.” And, without further delay, after consultation with his nobility he bestowed his two other daughters upon the dukes of Cornwall and Albania, with half the island at present, but after his death, the inheritance of the whole monarchy of Britain.
It happened after this, that Aganippus, king of the Franks, having heard of the fame of Coredeilla’s beauty, forthwith sent his ambassadors to the king to demand her in marriage. The father, retaining yet his anger towards her, made answer, “That he was very willing to bestow his daughter, but without either money or territories; because he had already given away his kingdom with all his treasure to his eldest daughters, Gonorilla and Regau.” When this was told Aganippus, he, being very much in love with the lady, sent again to king Leir, to tell him, “That he had money and territories enough, as he possessed the third part of Gaul, and desired no more than his daughter only, that he might have heirs by her.” At last the match was concluded; Coredeilla was sent to Gaul, and married to Aganippus.
A long time after this, when Leir came to be infirm through old age, the two dukes, on whom he had bestowed Britain with his two daughters, fostered an insurrection against him, and deprived him of his kingdom, and of all regal authority, which he had hitherto exercised with great power and glory. At length, by mutual agreement, Maglaunus, duke of Albania, one of his sons-in-law, was to allow him a maintenance at his own house, together with sixty soldiers, who were to be kept for state. After two years’ stay with his son-in-law, his daughter Gonorilla grudged the number of his men, who began to upbraid the ministers of the court with their scanty allowance; and, having spoken to her husband about it, she gave orders that the numbers of her father’s followers should be reduced to thirty, and the rest discharged. The father,resenting this treatment, left Maglaunus, and went to Henuinus, duke of Cornwall, to whom he had married his daughter Regau. Here he met with an honourable reception, but before the year was at an end, a quarrel happened between the two families, which raised Regau’s indignation; so that she commanded her father to discharge all his attendants but five, and to be contented with their service. This second affliction was insupportable to him, and made him return again to his former daughter, with hopes that the misery of his condition might move in her some sentiments of filial piety, and that he, with his family, might find a subsistence with her. But she, not forgetting her resentment, swore by the gods he should not stay with her, unless he would dismiss his retinue, and be contented with the attendance of one man; and with bitter reproaches she told him how ill his desire of vain-glorious pomp suited his age and poverty. When he found that she was by no means to be prevailed upon, he was at last forced to comply, and, dismissing the rest, to take up with one man only. But by this time he began to reflect more sensibly with himself upon the grandeur from which he had fallen, the miserable state to which he was now reduced, and to enter upon thoughts of going beyond sea to his youngest daughter. Yet he doubted whether he should be able to move her commiseration, because (as was related above) he had treated her so unworthily. However, disdaining to bear any longer such base usage, he took ship for Gaul. In his passage he observed he had only the third place given him among the princes that were with him in the ship, at which, with deep sighs and tears, he burst forth into the following complaint:—
“O irreversible decrees of the Fates, that never swerve from your stated course! why did you ever advance me to an unstable felicity, since the punishment of lost happiness is greater than the sense of present misery? The remembrance of the time when vast numbers of men obsequiously attended me in the taking of cities and wasting the enemy’s countries, more deeply pierces my heart than the view of my present calamity, which has exposed me to the derision of those who were formerly prostrate at my feet. Oh! the enmity of fortune! Shall I ever again see the day when I may be able to reward those according to their deserts who have forsaken me in my distress? How true was thy answer, Cordeilla, when I asked thee concerning thy love to me, ‘As much as you have, so much is your value, and so much do I love you.’ While I had anything to give they valued me, being friends, not to me, but to my gifts: they loved me then, but they loved my gifts much more: when my gifts ceased, my friends vanished. But with what face shall I presume to see you my dearest daughter, since in my anger I married you upon worse terms than your sisters, who, after all the mighty favours they have received from me, suffer me to be in banishment and poverty?”
As he was lamenting his condition in these and the like expressions, he arrived at Karitia, where his daughter was, and waited before the city while he sent a messenger to inform her of the misery he was fallen into, and to desire her relief for a father who suffered both hunger and nakedness. Cordeilla was startled at the news and wept bitterly, and with tears asked how many men her father had with him. The messenger answered, he had but one man, who had been his armour-bearer, and was staying with him without the town. Then she took what money she thought might be sufficient, and gave it to the messenger, with orders to carry her father to another city, and there give out that he was sick, and provide for him bathing, clothes, and all other nourishment. She likewise gave orders that he should take into his service forty men, well clothed and accoutred, and that when all things were thus prepared he should notify his arrival to king Aganippus and his daughter. The messenger quickly returning, carried Leir to another city, and there kept him concealed, till he had done every thing that Cordeilla had commanded.
As soon as he was provided with his royal apparel, ornaments, and retinue, he sent word to Aganippus and his daughter, that he was driven out of his kingdom of Britain by his sons-in-law, and was come to them to procure their assistance for recovering his dominions. Upon which they, attended with their chief ministers of state and the nobility of the kingdom, went out to meet him, and received him honourably, and gave into his management the whole power of Gaul, till such time as he should be restored to his former dignity.
In the meantime Aganippus sent officers over all Gaul to raise an army, to restore his father-in-law to his kingdom of Britain. Which done, Leir returned to Britain with his son and daughter and the forces which they had raised, where he fought with his sons-in-law and routed them. Having thus reduced the whole kingdom to his power, he died the third year after. Aganippus also died; and Cordeilla, obtaining the government of the kingdom, buried her father in a certain vault, which she ordered to be made for him under the river Sore, in Leicester, and which had been built originally under the ground to the honour of the god Janus. And here all the workmen of the city, upon the anniversary solemnity of that festival, used to begin their yearly labours.
Book VI (excerpt)
[This book is largely concerned with Britain at the end of the Roman period (when Rome held only a tenuous grasp of much of the island), and the period immediately following the withdrawal of Roman forces.]
. . .Gratian Municeps, hearing of the death of Maximian, seized the crown, and made himself king. After this he exercised such tyranny that the common people fell upon him in tumultuous manner and murdered him. When this news reached other countries, their former enemies returned back from Ireland, and bringing with them the Scots, Norwegians, and Dacians, and made dreadful devastations with fire and sword over the whole kingdom, from sea to sea. Upon this most grievous calamity and oppression, ambassadors are despatched with letters to Rome, to beseech, with tears and vows of perpetual subjection, that a body of men might be sent to revenge their injuries, and drive out the enemy from them. The ambassadors in a short time prevailed so far, that, unmindful of past injuries, the Romans granted them one legion, which was transported in a fleet to their country, and there, speedily encountered the enemy. At last, after the slaughter of a vast multitude of them, they drove them entirely out of the country, and rescued the miserable people from their outrageous cruelty. Then they gave orders for a wall to be built between Albania and Deira, from one sea to the other, for a terror to the enemy, and safeguard to the country. At that time Albania was wholly laid waste, by the frequent invasions of barbarous nations; and whatever enemies made an attempt upon the country, met with a convenient landing-place there. So that the inhabitants were diligent in working upon the wall, which they finished partly at the public, partly upon private charge.
The Romans, after this, declared to the Britons, that they should not be able for the future to undergo the fatigue of such laborious expeditions; and that it was beneath the dignity of the Roman state to harass so great and brave an army, both by land and sea, against base and vagabond robbers; but that they ought to apply themselves to the use of arms, and to fight bravely in defending to the utmost of their power, their country, riches, wives, children, and, what is dearer to them than all these, their liberty and lives. As soon as they had given this exhortation, they commanded all the men of the island that were fit for war, to appear together at London, because the Romans were about to return home. When, therefore, they were all assembled, Guithelin, the metropolitan of London, had orders to make a speech to them, which he did in these words:—
“Though I am appointed by the princes here present to speak to you, I find myself rather ready to burst into tears, than to make an eloquent oration. It is a most sensible affliction to me to observe the weak and destitute state into which you are fallen since Maximian drew away with him all the forces and youth of this kingdom. You that were left were people wholly inexperienced in war, and occupied with other employments, as tilling the ground, and several kinds of mechanical trades. So that when your enemies from foreign countries came upon you, as sheep wandering without a shepherd, they forced you to quit your folds, till the Roman power restored you to them again. Must your hopes, therefore, always depend on foreign assistance? And will you never use yourselves to handle arms against a band of robbers, that are by no means stronger than yourselves, if you are not dispirited by sloth and cowardice? The Romans are now tired with the continual voyages wherewith they are harassed to defend you against your enemies: they rather choose to remit to you the tribute you pay to them than undergo any longer this fatigue by land and sea. Because you were only the common people at this time when we had soldiers of our own, do you therefore think that manhood has quite forsaken you? Are not men in the course of human generation often the reverse of one another? Is not a ploughman often the father of a soldier, and a soldier of a ploughman? Does not the same diversity happen in a mechanic and a soldier? Since then, in this manner, one produces another, I cannot think it possible for manhood to be lost among them. As then you are men, behave yourselves like men: call upon the name of Christ, that he may inspire you with courage to defend your liberties.”
No sooner had he concluded his speech, than the people raised such a shout, that one would have thought them on a sudden inspired with courage from heaven.
After this the Romans encouraged the timorous people as much as they could, and left them patterns of their arms. They likewise commanded towers, having a prospect towards the sea, to be placed at proper distances along all the south coast, where their ships were, and from whence they feared the invasions of the barbarians. But, according to the proverb, “It is easier to make a hawk of a kite, than a scholar of a ploughman”; all learning to him is but as a pearl thrown before swine. Thus, no sooner had the Romans taken their farewell of them, than the two leaders, Guanius and Melga, issued forth from their ships, in which they had fled over into Ireland, and with their band of Scots, Picts, Norwegians, Dacians, and others, whom they had brought along with them, seized upon all Albania as far as the very wall. Understanding likewise that the Romans were gone, never to return any more, they, now, in a more insolent manner than before, began their devastations in the island. Hereupon the country fellows upon the battlements of the walls sat night and day with quaking hearts, not daring to stir from their seats, and readier for flight than making the least resistance. In the meantime the enemies ceased not with their hooks to pull them down headlong, and dash the wretched herd to pieces upon the ground; who gained at least this advantage by their speedy death, that they avoided the sight of that most deplorable calamity, which forthwith threatened their relations and dearest children. Such was the terrible venegeance of God for that most wicked madness of Maximian, in draining the kingdom of all its forces, who, had they been present, would have repulsed any nation that invaded them; an evident proof of which they gave, by the vast conquests they made abroad, even in remote countries; and also by maintaining their own country in peace, while they continued here. But this it happens when a country is left to the defence of country clowns. In short, quitting their high wall and their cities, the country people were forced again to fly, and to suffer a more fatal dispersion, a more furious pursuit of the enemy, a more cruel and more general slaughter than before; and like lambs before wolves, so was that miserable people torn to pieces by the merciless barbarians.
Again, therefore, the wretched remainder send letters to Agitius, a man of great power among the Romans, to this effect. “To Agitius, thrice consul, the groans of the Britons.” And after some few other complaints they add:—”The sea drives us to the barbarians, and the barbarians drive us back to the sea: thus we are tossed to and fro between two kinds of death, being either drowned or put to the sword.” Notwithstanding this most moving address they procured no relief, and the ambassadors returning back in great heaviness, declared to their countrymen the repulse which they had suffered.
“Your majesty can be no stranger to the misery which we your Britons, have suffered (which may even demand your tears), since the time that Maximian drained our island of its soldiers, to people the kingdom which you enjoy, and which God grant you may long enjoy in peace. For against us the poor remains of the British race, all the people of the adjacent islands have risen up, and made an utter devastation in our country, which then abounded with all kinds of riches; so that the people are now wholly destitute of all manner of sustenance, but what they can get in hunting. Nor had we any power or knowledge of military affairs left among us to encounter the enemy. For the Romans are tired of us, and have absolutely refused their assistance. So that now, deprived of all other hope we come to implore your clemency, that you would furnish us with forces, and protect a kingdom, which is of right your own, from the incursions of barbarians. For who but yourself ought, without your consent, to wear the crown of Constantine and Maximian, since the right your ancestors had to it is now devolved upon you? Prepare your fleet, and go with me. Behold! I deliver the kingdom of Britain into your hands.”
To this Aldroen made answer: “There was a time formerly when I would not have refused to accept the island of Britain, if it had been offered me; for I do not think there was anywhere a more fruitful country while it enjoyed peace and tranquility. But now, since the calamities that have befallen it, it is become of less value, and odious both to me and all other princes. But above all things the power of the Romans was so destructive to it, that nobody could enjoy any settled state or authority in it without loss of liberty, and bearing the yoke of slavery under them. And who would not prefer the possession of a lesser country with liberty, to all the riches of that island in servitude? The kingdom that is now under my subjection I enjoy with honour, and without paying homage to any superior; so that I prefer it to all other countries, since I can govern it without being controlled. Nevertheless, out of respect to the right that my ancestors for many generations have had to your islands I deliver to you my brother Constantine with two thousand men, that with the good providence of God, he may free your country from the inroads of barbarians, and obtain the crown from himself. For I have a brother called by that name, who is an expert soldier, and in all other respects an accomplished man. If you please to accept of him, I will not refuse to send him with you, together with the said number of men; for indeed a larger number I do not mention to you, because I am daily threastened with disturbance from the Gauls.” He had scarcely done speaking before the archbishop returned him thanks, and when Constantine was called in, broke out into these expressions of joy: “Christ conquers; Christ commands; Christ reigns: behold the king of desolate Britain! Be Christ only present, and behold our defence, our hope and joy.” In short, the ships being got ready, the men who were chosen out from all parts of the kingdom, were delivered to Guithelin.
When they had made all necessary preparations, they embarked, and arrived at the port of Totness; and then without delay assembled together the youth that was left in the island, and encountered the enemy; over whom, by the merit of the holy prelate, they obtained the victory. After this the Britons, before dispersed, flocked together from all parts, and in a council held at Silchester, promoted Constantine to the throne, and there performed the ceremony of his coronation. They also married him to a lady, descended from a noble Roman family, whom archbishop Guithelin had educated and by whom the king had afterwards three sons, Constans, Aurelius Ambrosius, and Uther Pendragon. Constans, who was the eldest, he delivered to the church of Amphibalus in Winchester, that he might there take upon him the monastic order. But the other two, viz. Aurelius and Uther, he committed to the care of Guithelin for their education. At last, after ten years were expired, there came a certain Pict, who had entered in his service, and under pretence of holding some private discourse with him, in a nursery of young trees where nobody was present, stabbed him with a dagger.
Upon the death of Constantine, a dissension arose among the nobility, about a successor to the throne. Some were for setting up Aurelius Ambrosius; others Uther Pendragon; others again some other persons of the royal family. At last, when they could come to no conclusion, Vortigern, king of the Gewisseans, who was himself very ambitious of the crown. . .
[Here follows an extended recounting of the machinations of Vortigern to win the throne.]
Now Vortigern, seeing nobody to rival him in the kingdom, placed the crown on his own head, and thus gained the pre-eminence over all the rest of the princes. At last his treason being discovered, the people of the adjacent islands, whom the Picts had brought into Albania, made insurrection against him. For the Picts were enraged on account of the death of their fellow soldiers, who had been slain for the murder of Constans, and endeavoured to revenge that injury upon him. Vortigern therefore was daily in great distress, and lost a considerable part of his army in a war with them. He had likewise no less trouble from another quarter, for fear of Aurelius Ambrosius, and his brother Uther Pendragon, who, as we said before, had fled, on his account, into Lesser Britain. For he heard it rumoured, day after day, that they had now arrived at man’s estate, and had built a vast fleet, with a design to return back to the kingdom, which was their undoubted right.
In the meantime there arrived in Kent three bringandines, or long galleys, full of armed men, under the command of two brothers, Horsa and Hengist. Vortigernwas then at Dorobernia, now Canterbury, which city he used often to visit; and being informed of the arrival of some tall strangers in large ships, he ordered that they should be received peaceably, and conducted into his presence. As soon as they were brought before him, he cast his eyes upon the two brothers, who excelled all the rest both in nobility and gracefulness of person; and having taken a view of the whole company, asked them of what country they were, and what was the occasion of their coming into his kingdom. To whom Hengist (whose years and wisdom entitled him to precedence), in the name of the rest, made the following answer:—
“Most noble king, Saxony, which is one of the countries of Germany, was the place of our birth; and the occasion of our coming was to offer our service to you or some other prince. For we were driven out of our native country, for no other reason, but that the laws of the kingdom required it. It is customary among us, that when we come to be overstocked with people, our princes from all the provinces meet together, and command all the youths of the kingdom to assemble before them; then casting lots they make choice of the strongest and ablest of them, to go into foreign nations, to procure theselves a subsistence, and free their native country from a superfluous multitude of people. Our country, therefore, being of late overstocked, our princes met, and after having cast lots, made choice of the youth which you see in your presence, and have obliged us to obey the custom which has been established of old. And us two brothers, Hengist and Horsa, they made generals over them, out of respect to our ancestors, who enjoyed the same honour. In obedience, therefore, to the laws so long established, we put out to sea, and under the good guidance of Mercury have arrived in your kingdom.
The king, at the name of Mercury, looking earnestly upon them, asked them what religion they professed. “We worship,” replied Hengist, “our country’s gods, Saturn and Jupiter, and the other deities that govern the world, but especially Mercury, whom in our language we call Woden, and to whom our ancestors consecrated the fourth day of the week, still called after his name Wodensday. Next to him we worship the powerful goddess, Frea, to whom they also dedicated the sixth day, which after her name we call Friday.” Vortigern replied, “For your credulity, or rather incredulity, I am much grieved, but I rejoice at your arrival, which, whether by God’s providence or some other agency, happens very seasonably for me in my present difficulties. For I am oppressed by my enemies on every side, and if you will engage with me in my wars, I will entertain you honourably in my kingdom, and bestow upon you lands and possessions.” The barbarians readily accepted his offer, and the agreement between them being ratified, they resided at his court. Soon after this, the Picts, issuing forth from Albania, with a very great army, began to lay waste the northern parts of the island. When Vortigern had information of it, he assembled his forces, and went to meet them beyond the Humber. Upon their engaging, the battle proved very fierce on both sides, though there was but little occasion for the Britons to exert themselves, for the Saxons fought so bravely, that the enemy, formerly so victorious, were speedily put to flight.
Vortigern, therefore, as he owed the victory to them, increased his bounty to them, and gave their general, Hengist, large possessions of land in Lindesia, for the subsistence of himself and his fellow soldiers. Hereupon Hengist, who was a man of experience and subtlety, finding how much interest he had with the king, addressed him in this manner:
“Sir, your enemies give you disturbance from all quarters, and few of your subjects love you. They all threaten you, and say they are going to bring over Aurelius Ambrosius from Armorica, to depose you, and make him king. If you please, let us send to our country to invite over some more soldiers, that with our forces increased we may be better able to oppose them. But there is one thing which I would desire of your clemency if I did not fear a refusal.” Vortigern made answer, “Send your messengers to Germany, and invite over whom you please, and you shall have no refusal from me in whatever you shall desire.” Hengist, with a low bow, returned him thanks, and said, “The possessions which you have given me in land and houses are very large, but you have not yet done me that honour which becomes my station and birth, because, among other things, I should have had some home town or city granted me, that I might be entitled to greater esteem among the nobility of your kingdom. I ought to have been made a consul or prince, since my ancestors enjoyed both those dignities.” “It is not in my power,” replied Vortigern, “to do you so much honour, because you are strangers and pagans; neither am I yet so far acquainted with your manners and customs, as to set you on a level with my natural born subjects. And, indeed, if I did esteem you as my subjects, I should not be forward to do so, because the nobility of my kingdom would strongly dissuade me from it.” “Give your servant,” said Hengist, “only so much ground in the place you have assigned me, as I can encompass with a leathern thong, for me to build a fortress upon, as a place of retreat if occasion should require. For I will always be faithful to you, as I have been hitherto, and pursue no other design in the request which I have made.” With these words the king was prevailed upon to grant him his petition; and odered him to despatch messengers to Germany, to invite more men over speedily to his assistance. Hengist immediately executed his orders, and taking a bull’s hide, made one thong out of the whole, with which he encompassed a rocky place that had been carefully made choice of, and within that circuit began to build a castle, which, when finished, took its name from the thong wherewith it had been measured; for it was afterwards called, in the British tongue, Kaercorrei; in Saxon, Thancastre, that is, Thong Castle.
In the meantime, the messengers returned from Germany, with eighteen ships full of the best soldiers they could get. They also brought along with them Rowen, the daughter of Hengist, one of the most accomplished beauties of that age. After their arrival, Hengist invited the king to his house, to view his new buildings, and the new soldiers that were come over. The king readily accepted of his invitation, but privately, and having highly commended the magnificence of the structure, enlisted the men into his service. Here he was entertained at a royal banquet; and when that was over, the young lady came out of her chamber bearing a golden cup full of wine, with which she approached the king, and making a low courtesy, said to him, “Lauerd king wacht heil!” The king, at the sight of the lady’s face, was on a sudden both surprised and inflamed with her beauty; and calling to his interpreter, asked him what she said, and what answer he should make her. “She called you ‘Lord King,'” said the interpreter, “and offered to drink your health. Your answer must be, Drinc heil!” Vortigern accordingly answered, “Drinc heil” and bade her drink; after which he took the cup from her hand, kissed her, and drank himself. From that time to this, it has been the custom in Britain, that he who drinks to any one says, Wacht heil!, and he that pledges him answers Drinc heil! Vortigern being now drunk with the variety of liquors, the devil took this opportunity to enter into his heart, and make him in love with the damsel, so that he became suitor to her father for her. It was, I say, by the devil’s entering into his heart, that he, who was a Christian, should fall in love with a pagan. By this example, Hengist, being a prudent man, discovered the king’s levity, and consulted with his brother Horsa, and the other ancient men present, what to do in relation to the king’s request. They unanimously advised him to give him his daughter, and in consideration of her to demand the province of Kent. Accordingly the daughter was without delay delivered to Vortigern, and the province of Kent to Hengist, without the knowledge of Gorangon, who had the government of it. The king the same night married the pagan lady, and became extremely delighted with her; by which he quickly brought upon himself the hatred of the nobility, and of his own sons. For he had already three sons, whose names were Vortimer, Catigern, and Pascentius.
Book VIII (excerpt)
[Vortigern, unpopular because of his Saxon ties, is eventually challenged for the kingdom by his son Vortimer, who has the people’s support, but after Vortimer is poisoned, Vortigern regains his throne. Ultimately, however, he is defeated by Aurelius Ambrosius, who in this account is the brother of Uther Pendragon and the uncle of Arthur. He and Uther jointly fight off the Saxon hordes and their allies.]
During these transactions at Winchester, there appeared a star of wonderful magnitude and brightness, darting forth a ray, at the end of which was a globe of fire in form of a dragon, out of whose mouth issued forth two rays; one of which seemed to stretch out itself beyond the extent of Gaul, the other towards the Irish Sea, and ended in seven lesser rays.
At the appearance of this star, a general fear and amazement seized his people; and even Uther, the king’s brother, who was then upon his march with his army into Cambria, being not a little terrified at it, was very curious to know of the learned men, what it portended. Among others, he ordered Merlin to be called, who also attended in this expedition to give his advice in the management of the war; and who, being now presented before him, was commanded to discover to him the significance of the star. At this he burst out into tears, and with a loud voice cried out, “O irreparable loss! O distressed people of Britain! Alas! the illustrious prince is departed! The renowned king of the Britons, Aurelius Ambrosius, is dead! whose death will prove fatal to us all, unless God be our helper. Make haste, therefore, most noble Uther, make haste to engage the enemy: the victory will be yours, and you shall be king of all Britain. For the star, and the fiery dragon under it, signifies yourself, and the ray extending towards the Gallic coast portends that you shall have a most potent son, to whose power all those kingdoms shall be subject over which the ray reaches. But the other ray signifies a daughter, whose sons and grandsons shall successively enjoy the kingdom of Britain.”
Uther, though he doubted the truth of what Merlin had declared, pursued his march against the enemy, for he was no come within half a day’s march of Menevia. When Gillomanius, Pascentius, and the Saxons were informed of his approach, they went out to give him battle. As soon as they were come within sight of each other, both amies began to form themselves into several bodies, and then advanced in a close attack, in which both sides suffered a loss of men, as usually happens in such engagements. At last, towards the close of the day, the advantage was on Uther’s side, and the death of Gillomanius and Pascentius made a way for complete victory. So that the barbarians, being put to flight, hastened to their ships, but were slain by their pursuers. Thus, by the favour of Christ, the general had triumphant success, and then with all possible expedition, after so great a fatigue, returned back to Winchester: for he had now been informed, by messengers that arrived, of the king’s sad fate, and of his burial by the bishops of the country, near the convent of Ambrius, within the Giant’s Dance, which in his lifetime he had commanded to be made. For upon hearing the sad news of his death, the bishops, abbots, and all the clergy of that province, had met together at Winchester, to solemnize his funeral. And because in his lifetime he had given orders for his being buried in the sepulchre which he had prepared, and therefore carried his corpse thither, and performed his exsequies with royal magnificence.
But Uther his brother, having assembled the clergy of the kingdom, took the crown, and by universal consent was advanced to the kingdom. And remembering the explanation which Merlin had made of the star above-mentioned, he commanded two dragons to be made of gold, in likeness of the dragon which he had seen at the ray of the star. As soon as they were finished, which was done with a wonderful nicety of worskmanship, he made a present of one the cathedral church of Winchester, but reserved the other for himself, to be carried along with him to his wars. From this time, therefore, he was called Uther Pendragon, which in the British tongue signifies the dragon’s head; the occasion of this appellation being Merlin’s predicting, from the appearance of a dragon. . .
. . .The Easter following he ordered all the nobility in the kingdom to meet at that city, in order to celebrate that great festival, in honour of which he designed to wear his crown. The summons was everywhere obeyed, and there was a great concourse from all cities to celebrate the day. So the king observed the festival with great solemnity, as he had designed, and very joyfully entertained his nobility, of whom there was a very great muster, with their wives and daughters, suitably to the magnificence of the banquet prepared for them. And having been received with joy by the king, they also expressed the same in their deportment before him. Among the rest was present Gorlois, duke of Cornwall, with his wife Igerna, the greatest beauty in all Britain. No sooner had the king cast his eyes upon her among the rest of the ladies, than he fell passionately in love with her, and little regarding the rest, made her the subject of all his thoughts. She was the only lady that he continually served with fresh dishes, and to whom he sent golden cups by his confidants; on her he bestowed all his smiles, and to her addressed all his discourse. The husband, discovering this, fell into a great rage, and retired from the court without taking leave: nor was there any body that could stop him, while he was under fear of losing the chief object of his delight. Uther, therefore, in great wrath commanded him to return back to court, and make him satisfaction for this affront. But Gorlois refused to obey; upon which the king was highly incensed, and swore he would destroy his country, if he did not speedily compound for his offence. Accordingly, without delay, while their anger was hot against each other, the king got together a great army, and marched into Cornwall, the cities and towns thereof he set on fire. But Gorlois durst not engage with him, on account of the inferority of his numbers; and thought it a wiser course to fortify his towns till he could get succour from Ireland. And as he was under more concern for his wife than himself, he put her into the town of Tintagel, upon the sea-shore, which he looked upon as a place of great safety. But he himself entered the castle of Dimilioc, to prevent their being both at once involved in the same danger, if any should happen. The king, informed of this, went to the town where Gorlois was, which he besieged, and shut up all the avenues to it. A whole week was now past, when, retaining in mind his love to Igerna, he said to one of his confidants, named Ulfin de Ricaradoch: “My passion for Igerna is such that I can neither have ease of mind, nor health of body, till I obtain her: and if you cannot assist me with your advice how to accomplish my desire, the inward torments I endure will kill me.”—”Who can advise you in this matter,” said Ulfin, “when no force will enable us to have access to her in the town of Tintagel? For it is situated upon the sea, and on every side surrounded by it; and there is but one entrance into it, and that through a straight rock, which three men shall be able to defend against the whole power of the kingdom. Notwithstanding, if the prophet Merlin would in earnest set about this attempt, I am of opinion, you might with his advice obtain your wishes.” The king readily believed what he was so well inclined to, and ordered Merlin, who was also come to the siege, to be called. Merlin, therefore, being introduced into the king’s presence, was commanded to give his advice, how the king might accomplish his desire with respect to Igerna. And he, finding the great anguish of the king, was moved by such excessive love, and said, “To accomplish your desire, you must make use of such arts as have not been heard of in your time. I know how, by the force of my medicines, to give you the exact likeness of Gorlois, so that in all respects you shall seem to be no other than himself. If you will therefore obey my prescriptions, I will metamorphose you into the true semblance of Gorlois, and Ulfin into Jordan of Tintagel, his familiar friend; and I myself, being transformed into another shape, will make the third in the adventure; and in this disguise you may go safely to the town where Igerna is, and have admittance to her.”
The king complied with the proposal, and acted with great caution in this affair; and when he had committed the care of the siege to his intimate friends, underwent the medical applications of Merlin, by whom he was transformed into the likeness of Gorlois; as was Ulfin also into Jordan, and Merlin himself into Bricel; so that nobody could see any remains now of their former likeness. They then set forward on their way to Tintagel, at which they arrived in the evening twilight, and forthwith signified to the porter, that the consul was come; upon which the gates were opened, and the men let in. For what room could there be for suspicion, when Gorlois himself seemed to be there present? The king therefore stayed that night with Igerna, and had the full enjoyment of her, for she was deceived with the false disguise which he had put on, and the artful and amourous discourses wherewith he entertained her. He told her he had left his own place besieged, purely to provide for the safety of her dear self, and the town she was in; so that believing all that he said, she refused him nothing which he desired. The same night therefore she conceived the most renowned Arthur, whose heroic and wonderful actions have justly rendered his name famous to posterity.
In the meantime, as soon as the king’s absence was discovered at the siege, his army unadvisedly made an assault upon the walls, and provoked the besieged count to a battle, who himself also, acting as inconsiderately as they, sallied forth with his men, thinking with such a small handful to oppose a powerful army; but happened to be killed in the very first brunt of the fight, and had all his men routed. The town also was taken; but all the riches of it were not shared equally among the besiegers, but every one greedily took what he could get, according as fortune or his own strength favoured him. After this bold attempt, came messengers to Igerna, with the news both of the duke’s death, and of the event of the siege. But when they saw the king in the likeness of the consul, sitting close by her, they were struck with shame and astonishment at his safe arrival there, whom they had left dead at the siege; for they were wholly ignorant of the miracles which Merlin had wrought with his medicines. The king therefore smiled at the news, and embracing the countess, said to her: “Your own eyes may convince you that I am not dead, but alive. But notwithstanding, the destruction of the town, and the slaughter of my men, is what very much grives me, so that there is reason to fear the king’s coming upon us, and taking us in this place. To prevent which, I will go out to meet him, and make my peace with him, for fear of a worse disaster.” Accordingly, as soon as he was out of the town, he went to his army, and having put off the disguise of Gorlois, was Uther Pendragon again. Then he returned to the town of Tintagel, which he took, and in it, what he impatiently wished for, Igerna herself. After this they continued to live together with much affection for each other, and had a son and daughter, whose names were Arthur and Anne. . .
Book XIV (excerpt)
Uther Pendragon being dead, the nobility from several provinces assembled together at Silchester, and proposed to Dubricius, archbishop of Legions, that he should consecrate Arthur, Uther’s son, to be their king. For they were now in great straits, because, upon hearing of the king’s death, the Saxons had invited over their countrymen from Germany, and, under the command of Colgrin, were attempting to exterminate the whole British race. They had also entirely subdued all that part of the island which extends from the Humber to the sea of Caithness. Dubricius, therefore, grieving for the calamities of his country, in conjunction with the other bishops, set the crown upon Arthur’s head. Arthur was then fifteen years old, but a youth of such unparalleled courage and generosity, joined with that sweetness of temper and innate goodness, as gained him universal love. When his coronation was over, he, according to usual custom, showed his bounty and munificence to the people. And such a number of soldiers flocked to him upon it, that his treasury was not able to answer that vast expense. But such a spirit of generosity, joined with valour, can never long want means to support itself. Arthur, therefore, the better to keep up his munificence, resolved to make use of his courage, and to fall upon the Saxons, that he might enrich his followers with their wealth. To this he was also moved by the justice of the cause, since the entire monarchy of Britain belonged to him by hereditary right. . .
[Here follows a long series of battles in which Arthur defeats enemies foreign and domestic, ending with the Scots, who beg for mercy.]
The king, after his general pardon granted to the Scots, went to York to celebrate the feast of Christ’s nativity, which was now at hand. On entering the city, he beheld with grief the desolation of the churches; for upon the expulsion of the holy Archbishop Sanxo, and all of the clergy there, the temples of which were half burned down, had no longer divine service performed in them: so much had the impious rage of the pagans prevailed. After this, in an assembly of the clergy and the people, he appointed Pyramus his chaplain metropolitan of that see. The churches that lay level with the ground, he rebuilt, and (which was their chief ornament) saw them filled with assemblies of devout persons of both sexes. Also the nobility that were driven out by the disturbances of the Saxons, he restored to their country.
There were three brothers of royal blood, viz. Lot, Urian, and Augusel, who, before the Saxons had prevailed, held the government of those parts. Being willing therefore to bestow on these, as he did on others, the rights of their ancestors, he restored to Augusel the sovereignty over the Scots; his brother Urian he honoured with the sceptre of Mureif; and Lot, who in the time of Aurelius Ambrosius had married his sister, by whom he had two sons, Walgan and Modred, he reestablished in the consulship of Londonesia, and the other provinces belonging to him. At length, when the whole country was reduced by him to its ancient state, he took to wife Guanhumara, descended from a noble family of Romans, who was educated under duke Cador, and in beauty surpassed all the women of the island. . .
Thus having settled the peace of the cities and countries there, he returned back in the beginning of spring to Britain.
Upon the approach of the feast of Pentecost, Arthur, the better to demonstrate his joy after such triumphal success, and for the more solemn observation of that festival, and reconciling the minds of the princes that were now subject to him, resolved, during that season, to hold a magnificent court, to place the crown upon his head, and to invite all the kings and dukes under his subjection, to the solemnity. And when he had communicated his design to his familiar friends, he pitched upon the City of Legions as a proper place for his purpose. For besides its great wealth above the other cities, its situation, which was in Glamorganshire upon the river Usk, near the Severn sea, was most pleasant, and fit for so great a solemnity. For on one side it was washed by that noble river, so that the kings and princes from the countries beyond the seas might have the convenience of sailing up to it. On the other side, the beauty of the meadows and groves, and magnificence of the royal palaces with lofty gilded roofs that adorned it, made it even rival the grandeur of Rome. It was also famous for two churches; whereof one was built in honour of the martyr Julius,a nd adorned with a choir of virgins, who had devoted themselves wholly to the service of God; but the other, which was founded in memory of St. Aaron, his companion, and maintained a convent of canons, was the third metropolitan church of Britain. Besides, there was a college of two hundred philosophers, who, being learned in astronomy and the other arts, were diligent in observing the courses of the stars, and gave Arthur true predictions of the events that would happen at that time. In this place, therefore, whcih afforded such delights, were preparations made for the ensuing festival. Ambassadors were then sent into several kingdoms, to invite to court the princes both of Gaul and all the adjacent islands. Accordingly came Augusel, king of Albania, now Scotland; Urian, king of Mureif; Cadwallo Lewirh, king of the Venedotians, now called the North Wales men; Sater, king of the Demetians, or South Wales men; Cador, king of Cornwall, also the archbishops of the three metropolitan sees, London, York, and Dubricius of the City of Legions. This prelate, who was primate of Britain, and legate of the apostolical see, was so eminent for his piety that he could cure any sick person by his prayers. There came also the consuls of the principal cities, viz. Morvid, consul of Gloucester; Mauron, of Worcester; Anaraut, of Salisbury; Arthgal, of Cargueit or Wargueit; Jugein, of Legecester; Cursalen, of Kaicester; Kinmare, duke of Dorobernia; Galluc, of Salisbury; Urgennius, of Bath; Jonathal, of Dorchester; Boso, of Ridoc, that is, Oxford. Besides the consuls, came the following worthies of no less dignity: Danaut map Papo, Cheneus map Coil; Peredur map Eridur; Guiful map Nogoit; Regin map Claut; Eddelein amp Cledauc; Kincar map Bagan;Kimmare; Gorboroniam map Goit; Clofaut; Rupmaneton; Kimbelim map Trunat; Cathleus map Catel; Kinlich map Neton; and many others too tedious to enumerate. From the adjacent islands came Guillamurius, king of Ireland; Malvasius, king of Iceland; Doldavius, king of Gothland; Gunfasius, king of the Orkneys; Lot, king of Norway; Aschillius, king of the Dacians. From the parts beyond the seas, came Holdin king of Ruteni; Leodegarius, consul of Bolonia; Bedver, the butler, duke of Normandy; Borellus of Cenomania; Caius, the sewer, duke of Andegavia; Guitard, of Pictavia; also the twelve peers of Gaul, whom Guerinus Carnotensis brought along with him; Hoel, duke of the Armorican Britons, and his nobility, who came with such a train of mules, horses, and rich furniture, as it is difficult to describe. Besides these, there remained no prince of any consideration on this side of Spain, who came not upon this invitation. And no wonder, when Arthur’s munificence, which was celebrated over the whole world, made him beloved by all people.
When all were assembled together in the city, upon the day of the solemnity, the archbishops were conducted to the palace, in order to place the crown upon the king’s head. Therefore Dubricius, inasmuch as the court was kept in his diocese, made himself ready to celebrate the office, and undertook the ordering of whatever related to it. As soon as the king was invested with his royal habiliments, he was conducted in great pomp to the metropolitan church, supported on each side by two archbishops, and having four kings, viz. of Albania, Cornwall, Demetia, and Venedotia, whose right it was, bearing four golden swords before him. He was also attended with a concert of all sorts of music, which made most excellent harmony. On another part was the queen, dressed out in her richest ornaments, conducted by the archbishops and bishops to the Temple of Virgins; the four queens also of the kings last mentioned, bearing before her four white doves according to ancient custom; and after her there followed a retinue of women, making all imaginable demonstrations of joy. When the whole procession was ended, so transporting was the harmony of the musical instruments and voices, whereof there was a vast variety in both churches, that the knights who attended were in doubt which to prefer, and therefore crowded from the one to the other by turns, and were far from being tired with the solemnity, though the whole day had been spent in it. At last, when the divine service was over at both churches, the king and queen put off their crowns, and putting on their lighter ornaments, went to the banquet; he to one palace with the men, and she to another with the women. For the Britons still observed the ancient custom of Troy, by which the men and women used to celebrate the festivals apart. When they had all taken their seats according to precedence, Caius the sewer, in rich robes of ermine, with a thousand young noblemen, served up the dishes. From another part, Bedver the butler was followed with the same number of attendants, in various habits, who waited with all kinds of cups and drinking vessels. In the queen’s palace were innumerable waiters, dressed with variety of ornaments, all performing their respective offices; which if I should describe particularly, I should draw out the history to a tedious length. For at that time Britain had arrived at such a pitch of grandeur, that in abundance of riches, luxury of ornaments, and politeness of inhabitants, it far surpassed all other kingdoms. The knights in it that were famous for feats of chivalry, wore their clothes and arms all of the same colour and fashion: and the women also no less celebrated for their wit, wore all the same kind of apparel; and esteemed none worthy of their love, but such as had given a proof of their valour in three several battles. Thus was the valour of the men an encouragement for the women’s chastity, and the love of the women a spur to the soldier’s bravery.
As soon as the banquets were over, they went into the fields without the city, to divert themselves with various sports. The military men composed a kind of diversion in imitation of a fight on horseback; and the ladies, placed on the top of the walls as spectators, in a sportive manner darted their amorous glances at the courtiers, the more to encourage them. Others spent the remainder of the day in other diversions, such as shooting with bows and arrows, tossing the pike, casting of heavy stones and rocks, playing at dice and the like, and all these inoffensively and without quarrelling. Whoever gained the victory in any of these sports, was rewarded with a rich prize by Arthur. In this manner were the first three days spent; and on the fourth, all who, upon account of their titles, bore any kind of office at this solemnity, were called together to receive honours and preferments in reward of their services, and to fill up the vacancies in the governments of cities and castles, archbishoprics, bishoprics, abbeys, and other posts of honour. . .
[Into this happy scene come Roman ambassadors, demanding tribute from Arthur. He refuses, deciding instead to attempt to defeat Rome. He assembles a fleet to sail across to the continent, and war ensues.]
Book X (excerpt)
After the necessary dispositions were made, upon the kalends of August, the Romans began their march towards Britain, which when Arthur had intelligence of, he committed the government of the kingdom to his nephew Modred, and queen Guanhumara, and marched with his army to Hamo’s Port, where the wind stood fair for him. But while he, surrounded with all his numerous fleet, was sailing joyfully with a brisk gale, it happened that about midnight he fell into a very sound sleep, and in a dream saw a bear flying in the air, at the noise of which all the shores trembled; also a terrible dragon flying from the west, which enlightened the country with the brightness of its eyes. When these two met, they began a dreadful fight; but the dragon with its fiery breath burned the bear which often assaulted him, and threw him down scorched to the ground. Arthur upon this awaking, related his dream to those that stod about him, who took upon them to interpret it, and told him that the dragon signified himself, but the bear, some giant that should encounter with him; and that the fight portended the duel that would be between them, and the dragon’s victory the same that would happen to himself. But Arthur conjectured it portended something else, and that the vision was applicable to himself and the emperor. As soon as the morning after this night’s sail appeared. They found themselves arrived at the mouth of the river Barba. And there they pitched their tents, to wait the arrival of the kings of the islands and the generals of the other provinces.
In the meantime Arthur had news brought to him, that a giant of monstrous size was come from the shores of Spain, and had forcibly taken away Helena, the niece of duke Hoel, from her guard, and fled with her to the top of that which is now called Michael’s Mount; and that the soldiers of the country who pursued him were able to do nothing against him. For whether they attacked him by sea or land, eh either overturned the ships with cast rocks, or killed them with several sorts of darts, besides many of them that he took and devoured half alive. The next night, therefore, at the second hour, Arthur, taking along with him Caius the sewer, and Bedver the butler, went out privately from the camp, and hastened towards the mountain. For being a man of undaunted courage, he did not care to lead his army against such monsters; both because he could in this manner animate his men by his own example, and also because he was alone sufficient to deal with them. As soon as they came near the mountain, they saw a fire burning upon the top of it, and another on a lesser mountain, that was not far from it. And being in doubt upon which of them the giant dwelt, they sent away Bedver to know the certainty of the matter. So he, finding a boat, sailed over in it first to the lesser mountain, to which he could in no other way have access, because it was situated in the sea. When he had begun to climb up to the top of it, he was at first frightened by a dismal howling cry of a woman from above, and imagined the monster to be there: but quickly rousing his courage, he drew his sword, and having reached the top, found nothing but the fire which he had before seen at a distance. He discovered also a grave newly made, and an old woman weeping and howling by it, who at the sight of him instantly crie out in words interrupted with sighs, “O unhappy man, what misfortune brings you to this place? O the inexpressible tortures of death that you must suffer! I pity you, I pity you, because the detestable monster will this night destroy the flower of your youth. For that most wicked and odious giant, who brought the duke’s niece, whom I have just now buried here, and me, her nurse, along with her into this mountain, will come and immediately murder you in a most cruel manner. O deplorable fate! This most illustrious princess, sinking under the fear her tender heart conceived, while the foul monster would have embraced her, fainted away and expired. And when he could not satiate his brutish lust upon her, who was the very soul, joy, and happiness of my life, being enraged at the disappointment of his bestial desire, he forcibly committed a rape upon me, who (let God and my old age witness) abhorred his embraces. Fly, dear sir, fly, for fear he may come, as he usually does, to lie with me, and finding you here most barbarously butcher you.” Bedver, moved at what she said, as much as it is possible for human nature to be, endeavoured with kind words to assuage her grief, and to comfort her with the promise of speedy help: and then returned back to Arthur, and gave him an account of what he had met with. Arthur very much lamented the damsel’s sad fate, and ordered his companions to leave him to deal with him alone; unless there was an absolute necessity, and then they were to come in boldly to his assistance. From hence they went directly to the next mountain, leaving their horses with their armour-bearers, and ascended to the top, Arthur leading the way. The deformed savage was then by the fire, with his face besmeared with the clotted blood of swine, prt of which he already devoured, and was roasting the remainder upon spits by the fire. But at the sight of them, whose appearance was a surprise to him, he hastened to his club, which two strong men could hardly lift from the ground. Upon this the king drew his sword, and guarding himself with his shield, ran with all his speed to prevent his getting it. But the other, who was not ignorant of his design, had by this time snatched it up, and gave the king such a terrible blow upon his shield, that he made the shores ring with the noise, and perfectly stunned the king’s ears with it. Arthur, fired with rage at this, lifted up his sword, and gave him a wound in the forehead, which was not indeed mortal, but yet such as made the blood gush out over his face and eyes, and so blinded him; for he had partly warded off the stroke from his forehead with his lub, and prevented its being fatal. However, his loss of sight, by reason of the blood flowing over his eyes, made him exert himself with greater fury, and like an enraged boar against a hunting-spear, so did he rush in against Arthur’s sword, and grasping him about the waist, forced him down upon his knees. But Arthur, nothing daunted, slipped out of his hands, and so exerted himself with his sword, that he gave the giant no respite till he had struck it up to the very back through his skull. At this the hideous monster raised a dreadful roar, and like an oak torn up from the roots by the winds, so did he make the ground resound with his fall. Arthur, bursting out into a fit of laughter at the sight, commanded Bedver to cut of his head, and give it to one of the armour-bearers, who was to carry it to the camp, and there expose it to public view, but with orders for the spectators of this combat to keep silence. He told them he had found none of so great strength, since he killed the giant Ritho, who had challenged him to fight, upon the mountain Aravius. This giant had made himself furs of the beards of kings he had killed, and had sent word to Arthur to carefully cut his beard and send it to him; and then, out of respect to his pre-eminence over other kings, his beard should have the honour of the principal place. But if he refused to do it, he challenged him to a duel, with this offer, that the conqueror should have the furs, and also the beard of the vanquished for a trophy of his victory. In his conflict, therefore, Arthur proved victorious, and took the beard and spoils of the giant: and, as he said before, he had met with none that could be compared to him for strength, till his last engagement. After this victory, they returned at the second watch of the night to the camp with the head; to see which there was a great concourse of people, all extolling this wonderful exploit of Arthur, by which he had freed the country from a most destructive and voracious monster. But Hoel, in great grief for the loss of his niece, commanded a mausoleum to be built over her body in the mountain where she was buried, which, taking the damsel’s name, is called Helena’s Tomb to this day. . .
[Several more encounters between British and Roman forces ensue, and Geoffrey tells of a British victory in a major battle fought in “a lowland by the name of Saussy” near the town of Autun.]
Arthur, after he had completed his victory, gave orders for separating the bodies of his nobility from those of the enemy, and preparing a pompous funeral for them; and that, when ready, they should be carried to the abbeys of their respective countries, there to be honourably buried. But Bedver the butler was, with great lamentation of the Neustrians, carried to his own city Bajocae, which Bedver the first, his great grandfather, had built. There he was, with great solemnity, laid close by the wall, in a burying-place on the south side of the city. But Caius was carried, grievously wounded to Chinon, a town which he had himself built, where in a short time he died of his wounds, and was buried, as became a duke of Andegavia, in a convent of hermits, which was in a wood not far from the town. Also Holdin, duke of Ruteni, was carried to Flanders, and buried in his own city Terivana. The other consuls and noblemen were conveyed to the neighbouring abbeys, according to Arthur’s orders. Out of great clemency, also, he ordered the country people to take care of the burial of the enemy, and to carry the body of Lucius to the senate, and tell them, that was the only tribute which Britain ought to pay them. After this he stayed in those parts till the next winter was over, and employed his time in reducing the cities of the Allobroges. But at the beginning of the following summer, as he was on his march towards Rome, and was beginning to pass the Alps, he had news brought to him that his nephew Modred, to whose care he had entrusted Britain, had by tyrannical and treasonable pracitices set the crown upon his own head; and that queen Guanhumara, in violation of her first marriage, had wickedly married him.
Book XI (excerpt)
Of the matter now to be treated of, most noble consul, Geoffrey of Monmouth shall be silent; but will, nevertheless, though in a mean style, briefly relate what he found in the British book above mentioned, and heard from that most learned historian, Walter, archdeacon of Oxford, concerning the wars which this renowned king, upon this return to Britain after this victory, waged against his nephew.
As soon, therefore, as the report, of this flagrant wickedness reached him, he immediately desisted from his enterprise against Leo, king of the Romans; and having sent away Hoel, duke of the Armoricans, with the army of Gaul, to restore peace in those parts, returned back with speed to Britain, attended only by the kings of the islands, and their armies. But the wicked traitor, Modred, had sent Cheldric, the Saxon leader, into Germany, there to raise all the forces he could find, and return with all speed: and in consideration of this service, had promised him all that part of the island, which reaches from the Humber to Scotland, and whatever Hengist and Horsa had possessed of Kent in the time of Vortigern. So that he, in obedience to his commands, had arrived with eight hundred ships filled with pagan soldiers, and had entered into a covenant to obey the traitor as his sovereign; who had also drawn to his assistance the Scots, Picts, Irish, and all others whom he knew to be enemies of his uncle. His whole army, taking pagans and Christians together, amounted to eighty thousand men; and with the help of whom he met Arthur just after his landing at the port of Rutupi, and joining battle with him, made a very great slaughter of his men. For the same day fell Augusel, king of Albania, and Walgan, the king’s nephew, with innumerable others. Augusel was succeeded in his kingdom by Eventus, his brother Urian’s son, who afterwards performed many famous exploits in those wars. After they had at last, with much difficulty, got ashore, they paid back the slaughter, and put Modred and his army to flight. For, by long practice in war, they had learned an excellent way of ordering their forces; which was so managed, that while their foot were employed wither in an assault or upon the defensive, the horse would come in at full speed obliquely, break through the enemy’s ranks, and so force them to flee. Nevertheless, the perjured usurper got his forces together again, and the night following entered Winchester. As soon as queen Guanhumara heard this, she immediately, despairing of success, fled from York to the City of Legions, where she resolved to live a chaste life among the nuns in the church of Julius the Martyr, and entered herself one of their order.
But Arthur, whose anger was now much more inflamed, upon the loss of so many hundreds of fellow soldiers, after he had buried his slain, went on the third day to the city, and there besieged the traitor, who, notwithstanding, was unwilling to desist from his enterprise, but used all methods to encourage his aderent, and marching out with his troops prepared to fight his uncle. In the battle that followed hereupon, great numbers lost their lives on both sides; but at last Modred’s army suffered most, so that he was forced to quit the field shamefully. From hence he made a precipitate flight, and, without taking any care for the burial of his slain, marched in haste towards Cornwall. Arthur, being inwardly grieved that he should so often escape, forthwith pursued him into that country as far as the river Cambula, where the other was expecting his coming. And Modred, as he was the boldest of men, and always the quickest at making an attack, immediately placed his troops in order, resolving either to conquer or to die, rather than continue his flight any longer. He had yet remaining with him sixty thousand men, out of whom he composed three bodies, which contained each of them six thousand six hundred and sixty six men: but all the rest he joined in one body; and having assigned to each of the other parties their leaders, he took the command of this upon himself. After he he had made this disposition of forces, he endeavoured to animate them, and promised them the estates of their enemies if they came off with victory. Arthur, on the other side, also marshalled his army, which he divided into nine square companies, with a right and left wing; and having appointed to each of them their commanders, exhorted them to make a total rout of those robbers and perjured villains, who, being brought over into the island from foreign countries at the instance of the arch-traitor, were attempting to rob them of all their honours. He likewise told them that a mixed army composed of barbarous people of so many different countries, and who were all raw soldiers and inexperienced in war, would never be able to stand against such brave veteran troops as they were, provided they did their duty. After this encouragement given by each general to his fellow soldiers, the battle on a sudden began with great fury; wherein it would be both grievous and tedious to relate the slaughter, the cruel havoc, and the excess of fury that was to be seen on both sides. In this manner they spent a good part of the day, till Arthur at last made a push with his company, consisting of six thousand six hundred and sixty-six men, against that in which he knew Modred was; and having opened a way with their swords, they pierced quite through it, and made a grievous slaughter. For in this assault fell the wicked traitor himself, and many thousands with him. But notwithstanding the loss of him, the rest did not flee, but running together from all parts of the field maintained their ground with undaunted courage. The fight now grew more furious than ever, and proved fatal to almost all their commanders and their forces. For on Modred’s side fell Cheldric, Elasius, Egbrict, and Bunignus, Saxons; Gillapatric, Gillamor, Gistafel, and Gallarius, Irish; also the Scots and Picts, with almost all their leaders: on Arthur’s side, Olbrict, king of Norway; Aschillius, king of Dacia; Cador Limenic Cassibellaun, with many thousands of others, as well Britons as foreigners, that he had brought with him. And even the renowned king Arthur himself was mortally wounded; and being carried thence to the isle of Avallon to be cured of his wounds, he gave up the crown of Britain to his kinsman Constantine, the son of Cador, duke of Cornwall, in the five hundred and forty-second year of our Lord’s incarnation.
Book XII (excerpt)
[Having recounted the fates of the kings who followed Arthur, Geoffrey turns to the subject of the Britons’ decline and the fall of Cadwallader, the last British king.]
During his sickness, the Britons, (as we said before), quarreling among themselves, made a wicked destruction of a rich country; and this again was attended with another misfortune. For this besotted people was punished with a grievous and memorable famine; so that every province was destitute of all sustenance, except what could be taken in hunting. After the famine followed a terrible pestilence, which in a short time destroyed such multitudes of people, that the living were not sufficient to bury the dead. Those of them that remained, flying their country in whole troops together, went to the countries beyond the sea, and while they were under sail, they with a mournful howling voice sang, “Thou hast given us, O God, like sheep appointed for meat, and hast scattered us among the heathen.” Also Cadwallader himself, in his voyage, with his miserable fleet to Armorica, made this addition to the lamentation, “Woe to us sinners, for our grievous impieties, wherewith we have not ceased to provoke God, while we had space for repentance. Therefore the revenge of his power lies heavy upon us, and drives us out of our native soil, which neither the Romans of old, nor the Scots or Picts afterwards, nor yet the treacherous Saxons with all their craft, were able to do. But in vain have we recovered our country so often from them; since it was not the will of God that we should perpetually hold the government of it. He who is the true Judge, when he saw we were by no means to be reclaimed from our wickedness, and that no human power could expel our race, was willing to chastise our folly himself; and hss turned his anger against us, by which we are driven out in crowds from our native country. Return, therefore, ye Romans; return, Scots and Picts; return, Ambrons and Saxons: behold, Britain lies open to you, being by the wrath of God made desolate, which you were never able to do. It is not your valour that expels us; but the power of the supreme King, whom we have never ceased to provoke.”
With these dolorous complaints he arrived at the Armorican coast, and went with his whole company to king Alan, the nephew of Salomon by whom he was honourably received. So that Britain, being now destiture of its ancient inhabitants, excepting a few in Wales that escaped the general mortality, became a frightful place even to the Britons themselves for eleven years after. Neither was it at the same time more favourable to the Saxons, who died in it without intermission. Notwithstanding the remainder of them, after this raging plague was ceased, according to their old custom sent word over to their countrymen, that the island of Britain was now freed of its native inhabitants, and lay open to them, if they would come over and inhabit it. As soon as they had received this information, that odious people, gathering together an innumerable multitude of men and women, arrived in Northumberland, and inhabited the provinces that lay desolate from Albania to Cornwall. For there was now nobody to hinder them, excepting the poor remains of the Britons, who continued together in the thickets of the woods of Wales. From that time the power of the Britons ceased in the island, and the Angles began their reign.
After some time, when the people had recovered strength, Cadwallader, being mindful of his kingdom, which was now free from the contagion of the pestilence, desired assistance of Alan towards the recovery of his dominions. The king granted his request; but as he was getting ready a fleet, he was commanded by the loud voice of an angel to desist from his enterprise. For God was not willing that the Britons should reign any longer in the island, before the time came of which Merlin prophetically foretold Arthur. It also commanded him to go to Rome to pope Sergius, where, after doing penance, he should be enrolled among the saints. It told him withal, that the Britons, by the merit of their faith, should again recover the island, when the time decreed for it was come. But this would not be accomplished before they should be possessed of his reliques, and transport them from Rome into Britain. At the same time also the reliques of the other saints should be found, which had been hidden on account of the invasion of pagans; and then at last would they recover their lost kingdom. When the holy prince had received the heavenly message, he went straight to king Alan, and gave him an account of what had been told him.
Then Alan had recourse to several books, as the prophesies of the eagle that prophesied at Shaftesbury, and the verses of Sibyl and Merlin; and made diligent search in them, to see whether the revelation made to Cadwallader agreed with those written oracles. And when he could find nothing contradictory to it, he admonished Cadwallader to submit to the divine dispensation, and laying aside the thoughts of Britain, perform what the angelical voice had commanded him. But he urged him to send his son Ivor and his nephew In over into the island, to govern the remainder of the Britons; lest a nation, descended of so ancient a race, should lose their liberty by the incursions of barbarians. Then Cadwallader, renouncing worldly cares for the sake of God and his everlasting kingdom, went to Rome, and was confirmed by pope Sergius: and being seized with a sudden illness, was, upon the twelfth before the kalends of May, in the six hundred and eighty-ninth year of our Lord’s incarnation freed from the corruption of the flesh, and admitted into the glories of the heavenly kingdom.
As soon as Ivor and Ini had got together their ships, they with all the forces they could raise, arrived in the island, and for forty-nine years together fiercely attacked the nation of the Angles, but to little purpose. For the above-mentioned mortality and famine, together with the inveterate spirit of faction that was among them, had made this proud people so much degenerate, that they were not able to gain any advantage of the enemy. And being now also overrun with barbarism, they were no longer called Britons, but Gualenses, Welshmen; a name derived either from Gualo their leader, or Guales their queen, or from their barbarism. But the Saxons managed affairs with more prudence, maintained peace and concord among themselves, tilled their grounds, rebuilt their cities and towns, and so throwing off the dominance of the Britons, bore sway over all Loegria, under their leader Athelstan, who first wore a crown amongst them. But the Welshmen, being very much degenerated from the nobility of the Britons, never after recovered the monarchy of the island; on the contrary, by quarrels among themselves, and wars with the Saxons, their country was a perpetual scene of misery and slaughter.
But as for the kings that have succeeded among them in Wales, since that time, I leave the history of them to Caradoc of Lancarvan, my contemporary; as I do also the kings of the Saxons to William of Malmesbury, and Henry of Huntingdon. But I advise them to be silent concerning the kings of the Britons, since they have not that book written in the British tongue, which Walter, archdeacon of Oxford, brought out of Brittany, and which being a true history, published in honour of those princes, I have thus taken care to translate.
Thompson, Aaron and J.A. Giles. History of the Kings of Britain. Wikisource, 30 Jan 2019, is licensed under no known copyright.