Uther Pendragon, the Prophecy of Merlin and the Making of a King

The legendary Uther Pendragon was the father of Arthur Pendragon, who was destined to become the greatest King of the Britons. Arthur would drive out the invading Saxons, bring peace to the country and build an empire in Europe. Uther was usually seen as a strong king and a great warrior but could also be vain, quick tempered, impulsive and ungrateful at times. This impulsiveness and ingratitude came to the fore when he fell passionately in love with Igraine, the young wife of one of his oldest and most loyal nobles, Gorlois, the Duke of Cornwall. Gorlois had served the king bravely and faithfully and through his wisdom had turned a likely defeat into a resounding victory for Uther, who may have been expected to show his thanks and gratitude. Nevertheless, when love strikes as it struck Uther, the result can be devastating. Uther’s burning passion for Igraine unleashed a violent and bloody war to win the object of his lust, aided by the subtle arts and magic of Merlin. This work draws mostly from Geoffrey of Monmouth, Gildas and Wace, and brings together the elements of lust, violence, deception and the magic of Merlin. It was from this mix that King Arthur, the great defender and savior of the Britons from the Saxons, would be conceived, and eventually come to power to save his people.

The Prophecy of Merlin

Uther became King of the Britons of the island of Britain after the death of his brother King Aurelius Ambrosius from poisoning. As Aurelius lay seriously ill in Winchester, word came that Pascentius, the son of Vortigern, and Gillomanius the King of Ireland had landed with an invading army. With Aurelius incapacitated, Uther, accompanied by Merlin, led the army of the Britons to meet the invaders, having no idea of the treachery that would befall his brother.

On his way to the battle, Uther saw a most remarkable spectacle in the skies. There appeared a star of such magnitude and brilliance that it was seen both day and night. The star emitted a single ray of light that created a fiery mass resembling the body and head of a dragon. Shining from the mouth of the dragon came two rays of light. One extended out across the skies of Britain and over Gaul. The other extended out over the Irish Sea culminating in seven lesser beams of light. Such was its magnitude, it could be seen all across Britain and beyond, and filled the people with fear and dread not knowing what it might portend.

On seeing it, Uther called Merlin to him and asked its meaning. Merlin looked up at the sky and cried out in sorrow,

“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.” (1)

Uther, although undoubtedly impressed by the heavenly display, doubted Merlin’s interpretation. Maybe he did not want to believe his brother was dead and maybe he did not want to be distracted by thoughts of taking the crown. Maybe the prophecy that his son would build a great empire and from his daughter would come the future Kings of the Britons was too much of a distraction. Whatever the future might bring, the immediate peril lay before him and he was determined not to fail. He was now less than half a day’s march from Pascentius and Gillomanius who presented a real threat that could not be ignored or postponed. Therefore, with great determination, he pushed on to meet them head to head in battle.

The two sides attacked each other on sight, and a furious and bloody fight ensued that raged unchecked throughout the day. Eventually, Uther and the Britons gained the advantage and when Pascentius and Gillomanius were killed, the Irish and Saxons fled the field, making for their ships. Uther gained a stunning victory, confirming the accuracy of the first part of Merlin’s prophecy. The next day, as Uther and his troops were savouring their victory, a messenger arrived from Winchester with the grievous news of the death of his brother, King Aurelius Ambrosius. The messenger told how he had been buried in the Giant’s Dance, the monument he had caused Uther and Merlin to bring to Britain, thus, sadly confirming another part of the prophecy.

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Aurelius Ambrosius, Legendary King of the Britons

This post was first published on #FolkloreThursday.com on 18th April 2018 titled, British Legends: Aurelius Ambrosius, Legendary King of the Britons

 British Legends: Aurelius Ambrosius, Legendary King of the Britons

This is the story of the legendary Aurelius Ambrosius, a King of the Britons in the 5th century AD.  According to some medieval writers such as Geoffrey of Monmouth, he was the uncle of the famous King Arthur, who would later take the crown.  Most accounts say he was a modest, just, and determined man who exercised self-discipline in all of his ways.  He was a skilled warrior both on horseback and on the ground; an inspiring leader of men and an outstanding military tactician and general. Aurelius harbored a burning hatred for King Vortigern, who had usurped the crown of the Britons from his family.  Vortigern had, however, been betrayed by his Saxon allies, resulting in the deaths of many of the ruling Britons in an incident known as “The Treachery of the Long Knives.”  With the Britons defeated and under Saxon tyranny, Aurelius Ambrosius with his brother Uther returned to free their countrymen and reclaim the crown of the Britons.  Presented here and drawn from several sources listed below is the story of how Aurelius defeated Vortigern and the Saxons led by Hengist to become King of the Britons, restore law and order, and begin the process of rebuilding a wounded and shattered nation.

The Burning of Vortigern

While the Saxon takeover of Britain was unfolding, in exile, Aurelius Ambrosius was making a name for himself in the battles of Armorica, and his fame spread across Europe.  Finally, after meticulous preparation, he arrived on the shores of Britain at Totnes with his younger brother Uther, at the head of a powerful invasion force of Armorican cavalry and footmen.  Word of the coming of Aurelius and his brother spread rapidly across Britain.   The few war leaders and nobles that were left after ‘The Treachery of the Long Knives had been scattered and leaderless, but were now united under the banner of Aurelius, burning for vengeance.  They came together from all parts of Britain to join with him and brought together the clergy, who anointed him the King of the Britons.

The Britons wanted to attack Hengist immediately but Aurelius overruled them.  Instead he was intent on first wreaking vengeance on Vortigern, and led the Britons to his last stronghold. Aurelius was joined by Eldol, the Duke of Gloucester, the only British noble of those present, apart from Vortigern, to have survived ‘The Treachery of the Long Knives.  Once his army had taken up their positions, Aurelius gave the command for the great siege engines to set to work.  Though these laboured long and hard, they could not break through the walls.  After all attempts had failed, Aurelius gave the order to burn the tower. Ordering wood to be piled around it and set on fire,  his archers fired burning arrows into the stronghold, where they found plenty of fuel.  There was no escape for Vortigern: along with his wives and followers, he perished in the flames.

The Return of Aurelius Ambrosius

The arrival of Aurelius Ambrosius to take the throne of the King of the Britons put fear into the hearts of Hengist and his Saxons, who was well aware of his reputation.   Hengist knew full well that, being the rightful heir to the throne of Britain, Aurelius had right on his side. He also knew all about his prowess as a warrior and military strategist and he feared Aurelius above all his other enemies.

As Aurelius made his way north, Hengist realised he had to fight.  He urged his warriors not to fear Aurelius,  telling them his Armorican horsemen were few and that the army of the Britons numbered less than ten thousand, while pointing to their own superiority in numbers. Having greatly motivated his men,  Hengist set them in battle formation at a place he knew Aurelius would have to pass through, thinking to catch him by surprise and unprepared.  Aurelius anticipated this however, and instead of being caught out,  marched his men with more vigour to meet the Saxons and provoke open conflict. He gave each regiment their orders and would himself lead the Armorican cavalry into a frontal attack on the Saxon line.

For Eldol, the Duke of Gloucester, this was the moment he had been waiting for. Ever since the mass murder of the British nobility, he had been hoping to engage Hengist in single combat where there would only be one winner.  All of the Britons in that battle had scores to settle. They were determined to avenge the wrongs done to their homeland by the Saxons — who were still a formidable and dangerous fighting force — and drive them out of their country.  The scene was set for a grim and bloody battle for supremacy, with the prize being the control of the island of Britain.

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Argentine Folklore: The Legend of the Origin of the Carau

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File:Crying bird2.jpeg – CC BY-SA 3.0 – Source

The Carau

The carau (Aramus guarauna), is a bird found in the wetlands of Argentina and other countries in the Americas.  It is also known as the crying bird, limpkin, carrao or courlan and is looks like a cross between a crane and a rail.  From the northeastern part of Argentina comes a legend about its origin which also warns about the dangers of disrespecting one’s mother.

The Legend of the Origin of the Carau

The story tells how a mother suffering from a terrible illness sent her son to fetch medicine for her from a nearby village which she desperately needed.   Her son was a young man who was perhaps not too bright and more than a little selfish and he set off walking to the next village to get the medicine. On the way he heard the distant sound of an accordion playing.  Intrigued by the music he followed the sound and came to a place where a country dance was in full swing. Like many young men he liked to dance and liked nothing better than dancing with a pretty girl.  Searching out  the prettiest girl he asked her to be his partner and was soon completely taken up with dancing with her.

He was enjoying himself so much he forgot his poor, sick mother was waiting for him to return with her medication. He danced and caroused with her all through the afternoon and as evening began to fall one of his friends tapped him on his shoulder and said,

“Please accept my condolences on the death of your poor mother.  I am very sad and very sorry for you.”

“It matters not that my mother has died, I will have time to grieve later. Right now I am enjoying myself” he replied and carried on dancing through the night.  As dawn was breaking he asked the girl if he could go home with her.  She looked at him with disbelief and anger and said,

“My home is far away and if it were near I would never allow one such as you who has no love for his mother to pass through the door!”

This shocked the young man and broke his heart as he suddenly realized what he had done and he went home crying bitter tears.  God looked down and as punishment for his callousness towards his poor sick mother turned him into a large bird wearing the black feathers of mourning. Ever since his lamenting cry will be heard at dusk, through the night and at dawn, as a warning to all young men to respect their mothers, until God sees fit to pardon him.

© 05/09/2018 zteve t evans

References, Attributions and Further Reading

Copyright August 9th, 2018 zteve t evans

Petrification Myths: The Legend of the Creation of the Iguazú Falls

A Wonder of the World

The Iguazú Falls are a natural wonder of the world situated on the Iguazi River on the border of Argentina and Brazil.   In the Guarani/Tupi language, Iguazú, means big water and the Iguazú waterfall system is the largest in the world. People lived around the Iguazú Falls long before the arrival of the Spanish having their own long held beliefs and religion.  One of their most important rituals was the annual sacrifice of a virgin to M’Boi, the Serpent God who lived in the Iguazú River and was the son of Tupa, the Supreme God.

Naipi and Taruba

In a village on the banks of the Iguazú lived a very beautiful maiden named Naipi who was to be married to a great warrior named Taruba from a nearby tribe.  The two of them were deeply in love and looked forward to the blessed day with excitement and anticipation. One day before her wedding Napi went walking along the banks of the river and as M’Boi passed along the river he looked up and saw her.  Never had he seen a maiden of such grace and beauty before and he fell in love with her. He decided he must have her and went to the Guarani elders telling them of his desire and demanding they give her to him in the sacred ritual.

A Desperate Plan

The elders were frightened of M’Boi and rather than upset him they decided that Naipi would be sacrificed to him the day before her wedding.  Of course poor Naipi was frightened and upset and Taruba was furious and determined that she would not face such a terrible death. They knew that if the elders found out they would stop them and if M’Boi found out they would both die, but decided that death together would be better than death apart.  Therefore, they decided they would run away together and set a time and place of rendezvous to carry out their desperate plan. As Naipi and Taruba were setting off in a canoe to go down river the Serpent God saw them and chased after them furiously.

M’Boi’s Anger

Taruba rowed with all of his strength and managed to keep a few feet ahead of the angry god.  M’Boi became so angry that his serpent body expanded to the width of the river. As he twisted and turned he created new curves in the river making the canoe rock dangerously two and fro but this only increased the anger and determination of Taruba who rowed even harder refusing to give up.   Suddenly, M’Boi became so filled with rage he caused the very earth to split asunder causing the river to plummet wildly into the chasm he had created taking the vessel with it, causing it to spin uncontrollably around. The sheer force sent Taruba flying from the canoe to land onto the bank.  Trapped in the falling canoe Naipi watched helplessly as the bottom of the chasm opened up under her. As she was about to smash into the bottom M’Boi transformed her into massive rock to stop her escaping him.

Rainbow

On seeing his beloved turn to stone, Taruba attempted to climb down to her but M’Boi pulled his hands into the earth and as he stretched out his fingers to try and take hold they turned into roots and Taruba turned into a palm tree on the Brazilian side of the falls  that was forever rooted to the place above the newly formed waterfall. From this position Taruba could see Naipa on the Argentine side of the falls and she could see him but they could never ever touch, kiss or embrace. To make sure this never happens the jealous Serpent God watches them from a deep part of the river called the Devil’s Throat. Nevertheless, although Naipa and Taruba can never be reunited their love can be seen forming a rainbow from the palm tree on Brazilian side of the falls to the rock that is Naipa on the Argentine side.

© 29/08/2018 zteve t evans

References, Attributions and Further Reading

Copyright August 29th, 2018 zteve t evans

Havelock the Dane: Hero-King of Two Realms

Havelock the Dane

Havelock the Dane is a story from English medieval romance centered on the theme of the persecuted heir and the cruel guardian.  It first appeared as a narrative poem written in Norman French in the 13th century and may possibly have had a Welsh origin. There are many versions of the poem and it is included in the Matter Of Britain.  Different versions also have different ways of spelling the names of the main characters and although there are differences in the story, they all share the same basic plot and final denouement.

 The story reveals the attitudes towards social status of the times contrasting the differences between the social classes of the day.  Royalty and nobility are examined for their righteousness and found wanting, while the lower classes reveal a steadfast acceptance of their own low place in society while displaying unquestioning loyalty to their lords.  Great emphasis is placed on the acceptance of the value of hard work, loyalty and obeying the laws of God and King, especially towards the lower classes.  However, it is the nobility that is revealed as greedy and corrupt.

Essentially, the narrative reveals the story of two young heirs; Prince Havelock and Princess Goldboru who were cruelly treated and had their royal inheritance stolen from them by their wicked guardians at the death of their respective fathers.  After enduring much shame and hardship and a forced marriage they find love together.  Eventually both their lost stolen rights are returned to them and Havelock rules over both Denmark and England with Goldeboru as his queen.  Presented here is my version of the story of Havelock the Dane influenced by Maud Isabel Ebbutt and a number of other sources provided in the Bibliography, Attributions and Further Reading section.

Havelock the Dane:  Hero-King of Two Realms

Kindle Edition Available Here

Brazilian Folktales: Domingo’s Cat

 

Magical Animal Helpers and Tricksters

Humans have always had a long and beneficial association with animals and animal helpers appear in many fairy tales from around the world.  Sometimes they are tricksters as in this story and sometimes they are teachers or guides that take the hero through difficult situations and very often they are magical.  Presented below is a retelling of a Brazilian fairy tale from Tales of Giants from Brazil, by Elsie Spicer Eells, illustrated by Helen M. Barton, called Domingo’s Cat and has much in common with Charles Perrault’s “The Master Cat, or Puss in Boots, from the 17th century.”

The Story of Domingo’s Cat

The story begins with a man named Domingo who fell upon hard times and had to sell everything he owned just to buy enough food to keep from starving.   After all his possessions had finally been sold he had nothing left in the world except his cat which he loved dearly.  He vowed that come what may he would never sell his cat and that he would rather starve before he let any harm come to it. As it sat upon his lap he told it,  “Have no fear my only friend, I will never let you go or let harm come to you, I will die of starvation first.”

The cat rubbed its head against him and replied, “My good master Domingo, while you have me I will never let you starve.  I am going to go out into the wide world and find both our fortunes. You must put your trust in me.”

Treasure for the King

With that Domingo’s cat jumped down from his master’s lap and ran off into the jungle.  Presently, he stopped and began digging a hole in the ground with his fore paws. He dug furiously throwing up the earth all around and mixed in with the earth were many silver pieces. He gathered some of these up and took them home and gave them to Domingo to buy food.  Then he went back to the jungle collecting the remaining silver pieces and took them to the king.

The next day the cat went out into the jungle and began digging more holes  and this time mixed in with the dirt were pieces of gold. He gathered these up and took them to the king who again was very pleaded with it.   The following day the cat went out into the jungle and again began digging a hole but this time the earth was mixed with many shiny diamonds which he took along to the king.  Again, the king was surprised and very happy with the cat and asked him where he was getting all these riches from.

“It is not me, it is Domingo my master,”  replied the cat.

The Wedding

The king was very impressed and thought that Domingo must be very rich.  Indeed, he thought he must probably be richest man in all his kingdom and therefore just the man to marry his beautiful daughter whom he had been looking for a suitable husband for. Therefore, he suggested to the cat that his master may like to marry her. The cat took the news back to Domingo who agreed he would like to marry the king’s daughter but pointed out that he did not have any clothes anywhere near fine enough to wear to a wedding let alone as the bridegroom to the king’s daughter.

“Don’t worry about that or anything else,”  the cat told him, ” I will take care of everything and make all the necessary arrangements.  Just leave it all to me.” 

The Wedding Suit

The cat ran back to the king and said,  “Your Majesty, I have bad news.  A terrible fire broke out in the tailor’s shop where my master, Domingo was having his wedding suit made and the tailor and his assistants were all burnt to death.  Now everything in the shop is nothing but ashes including Domingo’s wedding suit. I wonder if perhaps you could find him something suitable for such a grand wedding from your own wardrobe.”

The king readily agreed and himself chose the finest clothes and sent them with a servant to Domingo.   After Domingo had put the clothes on he looked very smart and perfectly dressed for such an important wedding but he realized there was a problem.

“I look very fine but I have no splendid palace to take my wife home to after we are married,”  he told his cat.

“Leave it to me,” said his cat, “I will see to it at once.”   and ran off into the jungle until he came to a huge and magnificent castle where a great giant lived.  He banged on the door until the giant came and answered it and then said, “Great giant, will you lend your castle to my master Domingo, please, just for a while?”

The giant snorted and shouted angrily “What me lend my castle to that pauper Domingo? Certainly not!  Go away!”

“I will not go away and I will have your castle,” said the cat and in the blinking of an eye changed the giant into a mouse and pounced upon it and ate it.

The Giant’s Castle

The giant’s  castle was indeed very wonderful and had a beautiful and stately palace. There were rooms marvelously decorated with wonderful words of art and adorned with gold, silver, diamonds, emeralds and rubies and much, much more.  Outside the palace, inside the castle walls, was a beautiful garden filled with wonderful flowers and singing birds and it was indeed a most fitting place for Domingo to bring his new bride home to.

After the wedding a stately carriage took Domingo and his wife to the caste and when they arrived they saw his cat sitting in the window watching for them, but that was the last they ever saw of him because he disappeared into the jungle to look for another kind, penniless master to make rich.  Maybe one day he may find you and then – well, who knows?

© 22/8/2018 zteve t evans

References, Attributions and Further Reading

Copyright August 22nd, 2018 zteve t evans

The Rule of Vortigern, Legendary King of the Britons

This post was first published on #FolkloreThursday.com on 18th March, 2018, titled, British Legends: Treachery, Murder, Lust and Rowena – The Rule of Vortigern

hamilton_vortigern_26_rowena

Rowena and Vortigern By William Hamilton [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

British Legends: Treachery, Murder, Lust and Rowena – The Rule of Vortigern

Vortigern was legendary 5th century King of the Britons featured in the work of early British writers such as Gildas, Nennius, Bede, Geoffrey of Monmouth and others. There is a debate over whether Vortigern was a term for a high king who was chosen by a form of consensus to rule or whether it was the name of a person such as a warlord, lesser king, or political leader. This work takes it as the name of a person of high status who through his ruthless cunning and experience took over the rule of the Britons during dangerous times. 

Vortigern is usually presented in a bad light, as a man of immoral and selfish character who used duplicity and deception to rise to the top of the British establishment of his day. He is usually blamed for encouraging the arrival of the Saxon and Germanic invaders to Britain. At first, these were employed as his mercenaries to support his own power and to fight against the Picts and Scots but later he was to find he could not control them. Some scholars say the ruling elite of the Britons may deserve at least an equal share of the blame through their own weakness and disarray in facing their enemies. It may be that as far as the defense of realm was concerned, he did the best he could with the resources he had available to him which had been seriously depleted by the actions of earlier rulers. Yet questions are posed by some of the early writers about his morality and behaviour. Indeed, acts of lust, intrigue, murder, duplicity, and treachery are usually seen to be the hallmarks of his reign. This work presents a brief overview of the rule of Vortigern, looking at some of these alleged acts and incidents some of which resonate through the ages to the present and are the very stuff of legends.

Vortigern Takes the Crown

According to Geoffrey of Monmouth, Vortigern set up Constans, the eldest of the sons of King Constantine II who had been assassinated, to rule the Britons because he rightly believed he could control him and eventually take over the crown. After arranging for his murder, he usurps the crown to find that one day a cleverer and more ruthless man would appear on the scene. That man was Hengist, the leader of the Saxons, Angles, and Jutes in Britain.

After the assassination of Constans by Pict mercenaries controlled by Vortigern, there was no one of suitable status, experience or age to take his place. The rightful heirs to the throne of the Briton were Aurelius Ambrosius and his younger brother Uther, who were the sons of King Constantine II and the younger brothers of Constans, but they were just children and deemed too young to take the throne. Vortigern was the most experienced political figure of the Britons at the time and very ambitious. Insidiously, he had wormed his way into becoming the chief advisor of Constans, while all the time working secretly to promote his own ambitions and quietly gaining power, authority, and the king’s trust.

With the murder of Constans that he carefully and covertly set up, he stepped forward and seized the crown for himself. Not all of the British lords were friends of Vortigern, and some of these, fearing for the safety of the two young heirs, sent them into exile to Armorica for their own safekeeping. There they grew up safely and were taught the arts of royalty and leadership while all the time preparing to return one day and claim back the crown of the Britons.

Having seized the throne, Vortigern would find the rule of the kingdom was far from an easy task. In the north, Picts and Scots made frequent raids into his realm, but there was also another impending and growing threat that he feared. As the years passed by, he was aware of the maturing and coming of age of the royal brothers. He received reports of the building of a vast fleet and the mustering of a great army, and his spies confirmed his fears that they were intent on taking back their rightful inheritance. Taking stock of the situation, he found he was desperately short of men at arms to defend the kingdom.

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