I've just completed the first draft of Part IV of the Leader of Battles series. This volume will be titled Leader of Battles (IV): Drystan, and is my version of the story of Tristan and Isolde - or Drystan and Esyllt as I call them in the book.
|Tristan and Isolde as depicted by Herbert Draper|
This is one of the most famous romances and tragedies in the world, retold in many variations over the centuries. The core of the story is the adulterous affair between Tristan, a Cornish knight, and an Irish princess named Isolde. It seems to have predated (and influenced) the romance of Sir Lancelot and Queen Guinevere, and been inspired by French, Celtic and even Persian influences.
The character of Sir Tristan or Tristram himself occupies a strange place in Arthurian lore. His origins are obscure: the oldest Cornish and Breton tales are lost, though there are echoes of them in the later Anglo-Norman legends. The original tales may have been entirely separate from the Arthurian cycle, but the Tristan en Prose or Prose Tristan of the thirteenth century, one of the most popular romances of its day, made him into one of King Arthur's most distinguished knights and a member of the Round Table.
|The 'Tristan' stone|
There may be a historical basis for the legend of Tristan. Near the road leading to Fowey in Cornwall, an ancient stone, seven feet high and set in a modern concrete base, can still be seen. On one side of the stone is a worn Latin inscription that reads: :
DRUSTANUS HIC IACIT
(Drustanus lies here, son of Cunomorus)
In 1540 the antiquarian John Leland claimed to have seen a third line on the stone, now missing, that read:
CUM DOMINA OUSILLA
(With the Lady Ousilla)
It has been suggested that these were the names of the historical Tristan and his lover Ousilla (or the Brythonic Esyllt), while Cunomorus might be King Mark, Tristan's father: Cunomorus translates 'Hound of the Sea', which in some versions of the legend was Mark's nickname. Cunomorus is also the Latinised version of the Brythonic name Cynfawr, identified by the ninth-century chronicler Nennius as the historical King Mark.
|The legendary Tristan and Isolde|
As usual with Arthurian scholarship, little is certain. The veracity of the inscription on the stone is questionable, as are the historical existence of Tristan, his doomed lover and treacherous father. I chose to incorporate some of the older aspects of the story, and depict Tristan as an ambitious Dark Age princeling, greedy for power and fame. His mate Esyllt harbours similar ambitions, though she is rather more intelligent, doomed to live in a time when most women were treated slaves or brood mares.
Leader of Battles (IV) should be ready for release by early December, and I'll post further updates nearer the time.