Longsword by David Pilling

Wednesday, 12 June 2013

Arthur's (other) children

 King Arthur and Sir Mordred duel to the death at Camlann

Many with a passing knowledge of the Arthurian legend will be aware that Arthur is finally betrayed and killed by his own son, Sir Mordred, at the Battle of Camlann, thus closing the circle of treachery and incest that began when Arthur's father, Uther Pendragon, betrayed Duke Gorlois and slept with his wife Igraine (it's a cheerful tale). 

Mordred is usually portrayed in modern versions of the legend as Arthur's only son, the product of an unfortunate one-night stand with his own half-sister, Morgana. Dig a little deeper into other versions of the legend, and you will find that Arthur sired many more children. One of them, the strangely-named Sir Borre le Cure Hardy, appears briefly in Malory's La Morte D'Arthur as the result of another of Arthur's illicit unions, this time with an earl's daughter named Sanam. The horny young monarch 'had ado with her', apparently, and the result was Borre. He grew to be a 'good knight', but not so good as to be mentioned more than twice in the whole of Malory's very long tale.   

The 'Twrch Trwyth', a savage and gigantic boar hunted by Arthur's warriors

Switching to the Welsh tales, we find that Arthur has three sons: Gwydre, Amhar and Llacheu. All three come to sticky ends. Gwydre is slaughtered by the monstrous wild boar, the 'Twrch Trwyth', along with two of Arthur's maternal uncles. Llacheu is killed at the Battle of Llongborth, as recounted by the following stanza (translated from the Welsh):

"I was there where Llacheu fell,
Arthur's son renowned in song,
When ravens flocked on the gore..."

In later legend Llacheu appears as Sir Loholt, and is treacherously slain by the envious Sir Kay. 

Amhar is possibly the most interesting of the three, for he is slain by none other than Arthur, his own father. Nennius says the following in  the Historia Brittonum (written c.800AD):

“There is another wonder in the country called Ergyng. There is a tomb there by a spring, called Llygad Amhar; the name of the man buried in the tomb was Amhar. He was the son of the warrior Arthur, who killed him there and buried him.”

Incredibly, no explanation is given why Arthur killed his own son. Fertile ground for fiction here, and from this seed was born the idea for my latest book, "Caesar's Sword." I provide my own explanation for Amhar's death, as described by his son and Arthur's grandson, Coel. 

Coel has an extremely hard time of it. After the tragedy of Camlann he and his mother are forced to flee to the Continent, and from hence to Constantinople and the Eastern Empire...

I should say a big 'thank you' to Tyler Tichelaar for his fantastic book, "King Arthur's Children", which provides lots of eye-opening information about the tangled history of Arthur and his offpsring through the ages. 

1 comment:

  1. Alison Bahmüller12 June 2013 at 11:43

    Absolutely fascinating article...not so much the romantic Arthur, the ideal of chivalry.