Medieval Lore: Des Grantz Geanz, or Of the Great Giants

Artist: William Blake – (Public Domain) Source

Des Grantz Geanz, Of the Great Giants

During the Middle Ages a very strange and very popular story appeared that told how the island today known as Britain was first named as  Albion. It appeared as an anonymous Anglo-Norman poem called Des Grants Geanz (Of the Great Giants) ca 1333-34  and often appeared as a prologue in the Brut chronicles, or Prose Brut.  This was the collective name for a number of medieval works written in Anglo-Norman chronicling the history of Britain from its mythological founding  by Brutus of Troy to the Plantagenet period.

The poem should be read as an allegorical work and tells how a Greek or Syrian princess named Albina and her twenty eight sisters were sent into exile arriving on the shores of an unknown country and with supernatural assistance created a new society.  When it first appeared it was largely accepted as being true despite the highly fantastic elements that were featured in the story. There were several versions which varied slightly in detail depending who was doing the telling and where they were found.  Presented her is a retelling of the story from more than one source followed by a brief discussion of some of the main questions and themes.

The Story of Albina and her Sisters

This story begins 3,970 years after the world began.  In Greece there was a king who was the most powerful king on Earth and more powerful than all of the other kings combined.  This king was exceptionally tall and married a beautiful wife who was also exceptionally tall. She bore him thirty daughters who were all very beautiful and very straight and tall like their parents.  There names are not known except for the oldest and tallest whose name was Albina.

The king and queen brought their daughters up ensuring they were taught all the royal protocols that behooved their status.  When they reached an appropriate age their father decreed they should all be married to rich and powerful kings and with their marriage they became queens.  They were very proud of their status as the daughters of the most powerful king on Earth and that with marriage they had become queens but there was a resentment that festered within each of them.  After the marriages the sisters contrived to meet together as one group. In this group the sisters discussed a common grievance they saw as an unjust part of the femmine fate which in their eyes put them at an unfair disadvantage in their society.  

The Murderous Plot

In the discussion that ensued it was agreed that not one of them would allow her husband to have sovereignty over her and furthermore, each would bind their husband to their own will.  They believed that being daughters of the most powerful king on Earth they themselves should not be subjected to the dominion of their husbands or any man. For this reason they were adamant that they would be ruled by no man or allow their own status and standing to be challenged or diminished by anyone.   This philosophy was agreed by each and everyone of them and to ensure this desire should reach fruition they devised a murderous plot. They took powerful oaths swearing that on a certain day they would murder their husbands while they were locked in close embrace in bed unless they should agree to obey the will of their wife in all of their doings.

With the plan of action agreed the sisters each returned to their respective husbands intent on carrying it out. However, the youngest sister had secretly not fully embraced the plan.  Although she had sworn an oath with the others it was because she was terrified of them and feared her sisters would kill her. Upon returning home she realised she loved her husband more than anything and could not find it in herself to do him harm.

The Plot Unmasked

Although she tried to hide her grief and fear from her husband he loved her greatly and saw through her and asked her what the problem was.  At this she broke down before him and revealed the extent of her sister’s conspiracy and begged his forgiveness for having gone along thus far with it.  Her husband took her in his arms and comforted her for he understood her fear of her sisters and knew full well how much she loved him. In his caring embrace she calmed down and her heart filled with love for him.  After reassuring her further he took her to see her father, the king, to disclose to him the full treachery of her sisters. Her father was both astounded at the plot and appalled. Once he understood completely the full magnitude of what his daughters were planning he had them  brought before him accompanied by their husbands and confronted them.  

The Trial

At first they denied the plot but he persisted with his questioning and with his perseverance the murderous plot was slowly unveiled to the horror of their husbands.  The king put them before independent judges who listened to their denials but investigated wisely. Eventually they found all the sisters with the exception of the youngest guilty of the intended murder of their husbands.  She was held to have initially agreed to the plot under fear of her sisters and because it was her who had revealed it to her husband she was fully cleared of guilt.

Punishment

The guilty sisters were imprisoned until a fitting punishment could be devised for them. Although such a crime usually warranted the death penalty it was decided that because they were all children of the most powerful king on Earth and his noble queen and indeed queens themseves they should be spared.  Instead of execution a large ship was prepared for them. This would be deprived of rudder or means of navigation and furnished with no food, water or any kind of comfort. Once the sisters had been escorted on board the ship was towed out to the open sea where it was left at the mercy of the waves, currents, wind and the mercy of the gods.  When this was done there was no one who pitied them for they had shown no regret or remorse only vexation that they had been found out and grief and sorrow for their own fate.

The Storm at Sea

The ship drifted with the currents for a few days before the wind began to blow hard and the sea became wild.  While at one moment the ship rode the crest of a wave, the next it plunged into its trough and the women were thrown from side to side trying to desperately to find something solid to cling to.  At any time the women could have been thrown overboard or the ship overwhelmed by the waves.  

At last all the women could do was huddle together in the bottom of the ship, hungry, thirsty and terrified while lamenting their present state of wretchedness.  Once they had they been royal queens and feasted on the best food and victuals and had servants at their beck and call. Now they were wretched and terribly afraid of their fate which was firmly in the hands of the gods.  Many days and nights passed in this way and at last the women passed out through hunger, fatigue and sea sickness. For three days and nights they lay insensible to the world while all the time the ship was driven wildly across the seas.

An Unknown Land

At last the storm abated and the ship gently floated to the shore of a land that is now called Britain but in those times had no name for there were no human inhabitants.  The sisters awoke from their sleep to find the ship had come to rest upon a fair and pleasant land. Greatly relieved and overjoyed they quickly followed Albina the eldest sister in stepping onto solid ground again.  Being famished they were greatly relieved to find an abundance of nuts, fruit and berries to satisfy their hunger and they quenched their thirst from the pure springs of water of which there were many. After rest and refreshment they began to explore the unknown shore venturing further inland.  They roamed the length and breadth of the land discovering it was in fact an island and were delighted to find many streams of clean fresh water and rivers and lakes abundant in fish and water birds. The land was home to plentiful game and there were many fruit and nut trees. Herbs and roots were easily found on the ground and they found rich, fertile meadows suitable for cultivation of vegetables and grain.  Although the land appeared to be able to host great cities full of people with enough farms to feed them they saw no sign of human occupation or that it had ever been settled. 

Albion

Although it was clear they would never again be queens the abundance of animals and birds greatly reassured them.  After their exploration Albina called her sisters together saying,

“We must face that we as exiles cannot return to our native land and regain our former status as queens even if we could find our way back.  Therefore, lets us see that we are indeed fortunate and fortune has delivered us to this island. I propose that with myself being the oldest of us it would be right that I take the rule and lordship of this land and you should all accept my command  and because I was the first to set foot upon this land took seisin in doing so.”

When her proposition had been approved by all and Albina was made the leader over them with her authority recognised and accepted she named the land “Albion” after herself, so people in the future would remember her.

Although the land provided an abundance of fruit, nuts and plants to eat the women began to crave meat.  They were clever and resourceful women and quickly learned how to make hooks and nets to catch fish and fashioned traps to catch birds and animals.  They learnt how to make fire from flints and how to roast the game they caught. They used the skins for clothing and bones for needles and tools and learnt how to make flint knives, arrowheads and spears.  In this way they feasted upon the bounty of the land and drank from its pure waters. 

They feasted so well that they grew fatter and stronger their sexual desire grew and they yearned to satisfy their carnal needs but there were no men and no other humans.  Nevertheless what they did not know was that the air over the land was inhabited by demon spirits known as incubuses who fed off the women’s basest desires and emotions. They came to the women at night in the shape of men and impregnated them  with their demon seed and then vanished.

The Giants of Albion

Although the women could not see the men they all experienced the male presence and each gave birth to male offspring that was both gigantic in size and grotesquely resembled human beings.  When their sons reached maturity they mated with their mothers who produced males and females. Brother mated with sister to produce a new generation of monstrous giants huge in physique and grotesque in appearance. These were the descendants of Albina and her sisters who had grown huge and abhorrent themselves and the incubi .   In this way monsters mated with monsters and gave birth to monsters and abhorrent things mated with abhorrent things begetting abhorrent things that were gigantic in stature. The giants of Albion bred and populated the land and made for themselves underground dwellings or fortified the hills with great walls and stitches, some of which can still be seen today scattered across the ancient landscape though many have decayed over the ages.

Brutus of Troy

The giants lived peacefully for many years until the arrival to Albion of Brutus of Troy with an  army of Trojans exiles. The Trojans arrived on Albion 1,136 years before the birth of Christ, while Albina and her sisters had arrived 260 years before them.   On arrival Brutus set about exterminating the giants and claimed Albion as his own renaming it Britain after himself, so that people in the future would remember him.  The last of the giants was named Gogmagog and was the largest and strongest of his race and their leader.   After the slaughter of his kin the Brutus kept him alive to fight his lieutenant Corinieus, in single combat and was defeated and thrown him from a cliff to die in the sea.

This, according to the ancient texts was the beginning of the nation known after Brutus of Troy as the British who took control of the entire island after the extermination of the brood of giants.

Questions and Themes

This story still raises many questions and there is much more to it than a simple story.  The narrative reveals the tension between male and female – patriarchal society and that of matriarchy –  in the Middle Ages. This is seen in the initial rejection by Albina and her sisters of male dominance not just in marriage but in society and status.  It was not equality the sisters allegedly sought but sovereignty over themselves and over their husbands wanting to rule them and all others to their will. In short they wanted mastery of themselves, their bodies and their lives for themselves while ruling over males.

Murder would have been bad enough but dominance and control over men threatened patriarchal authority and could not be tolerated hence their exile.  In the medieval patriarchal view the family was a microcosm of the state and anything that threatened the status quo within it also threatened the state and male dominated society.

On arrival on to Albion it is noticeable that the already tall sisters grew fatter and stronger and their mating with incubus resulted in a monstrous gigantic brood of giants.  Not only was their new matriarchal society unnaturally created it was unnaturally perpetuated by incest between mothers and sons and sons and sisters. 

it is also worth noting that there was also a clash of Greek philosophies that were held important during the Middle Ages: the first was that of Aristotle and the second was that of  Galen. These were important to how women were seen and also the state.

It also highlights another theme that occured in the prose and literature of the Middle Ages that was the question of what women really want which is also related to the various forms of sovereignty.  This theme was found in the anonymous poem of The Marriage of Gawain and Dame Ragnalle and Geoffrey Chaucer’s, The Wife of Bath.  These and other issues will be discussed in further articles concerning Albina and her Sisters and Des Grantz  Geanz.

© 24/07/2019 zteve t evans

References, Attributions and Further Reading

Copyright July 24th 2019 zteve t evans

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The Murderous Plot of Albina and her Sisters and the Origin of Albion

Image 1 Slider
Jerusalem The Emanation of The Giant Albion – The William Blake Archive [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons (cropped and digitally altered)
This article was first published on #FolkloreThursday.com February 22, 2018 as British Legends: The Origin of Albion and the Bloodlust of Albina and her Sisters written by zteve t evans

Of the Great Giants

According to British medieval legend and myth, the island now known as Britain was once named Albion after an exiled queen named Albina.   She was the eldest of a family of sisters who had been exiled from their homeland in Greece, though some versions of the story say Syria.   How this came to be is an outlandish and in many ways disturbing story, found in the 14th century poem, Des Grantz Geanz (“Of the Great Giants”) which was popular in its time and probably best read as an allegorical work.  British traditions of the Middle Ages were heavily influenced by the work of Geoffrey of Monmouth in his book Historia regum Britanniae  (The History of the Kings of Britain) written about 1136 that tells that when Brutus of Troy arrived on the island that that been revealed to him in the Prophecy of Diana, he found it was just as she had described, being a green and fertile land populated by only a few giants.  Brutus and his Trojans fought the giants until at last the biggest and strongest of them was  the only one left alive. His name was Gogmagog and Brutus had deliberately saved him to fight his own champion Corineus who thrilled at such challenge.

Geoffrey of Monmouth never said where the giants had come from or why the island was called Albion.  This perplexed medieval scholars and a story evolved that attempted to explain this discrepancy. According to medieval tradition, before the fight began Brutus was said to have asked Gogmagog who he was and of the origin of his people.  Gogmagog was said to have given the Trojan a fantastic tale revealing the origin of the giants and how the island had been named, “Albion”.  Presented next is a retelling of the story Gogmagog allegedly told Brutus and has been sourced from several medieval and Anglo-Norman accounts and more recent works.

Albina and her Sisters

According to Gogmagog the story of the origin of the giants of Albion began 3,970 years after the world began.  In a country now called Greece there ruled a very powerful king.  This king was very noble and very righteous and the head of a strict patriarchal state and society.  His queen was a very beautiful woman and they had a very happy marriage and were blessed with thirty beautiful daughters who were said to be very tall in some accounts.  The giant confessed he did not know all their names but knew the eldest, tallest and most influential of these was named Albina.

He told Brutus, that in accordance with the custom of the time and of their society the king decided that their daughters had come of sufficient age to marry. He then decided without consulting his daughters which daughter would marry which of the many kings, princes and rulers that would be a good political match for his realm.  All thirty of the daughters were then married to their allotted husbands with much ceremony and fanfare.

However, his daughters were said to be very proud and strong-willed women who wanted their own well-being and desires met. They were fiercely independent and hated the idea of being married to men who were not of their own choosing and did not love. To them it was an indignity and an insult to have to be subjugated in any way to any man regardless of how rich and powerful he was or whatever benefits it might bring for their father’s kingdom.

A Murderous Plot

They vowed they would be no man’s possession and instead would be the rulers of all men regardless of their status.  To further these vows they plotted together in secret and hatched a most extreme plan.

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The Legend of Gogmagog and the Giants of Albion

This article was originally posted on #FolkloreThursday.com called British Legends: Gogmagog and the Giants of Albion by zteve t evans on 25 January 2018.

According to British legend, Gogmagog was the last survivor of a mythical race of giants that ruled the island of Albion before the arrival of Brutus of Troy and his Trojan followers. Geoffrey of Monmouth, in The Historia Regum Britanniae (‘The History of the Kings of Britain’) written about 1136, tells the story of how the Trojans came into conflict with Gogmagog and the giants of Albion. 

Although Geoffrey made it clear where Brutus and the Trojans originated, he revealed nothing of the history of Gogmagog and the giants of Albion. Later writers promoted several versions of a story of the origin of the giants. One tells more about Gogmagog and how he returned to haunt the descendants of the Trojans, taking over a ruined hilltop fortress in Wales now known as Dinas Brân. 

This article attempts to tie the threads together to reveal more of the story of Gogmagog and the giants of Albion. It begins by briefly recalling the voyage of Brutus of Troy and the prophecy of the goddess Diana, and then the conflict between the Trojans and the giants of Albion. We then move forward in time to later centuries to the time of William the Conqueror, when a Norman knight by the name of Payn Peverel confronts the demonically possessed Gogmagog on Dinas Brân, forcing him to reveal his history and purpose and foretelling the future of Peverel and his descendants. 

Brutus of Troy

According to Geoffrey of Monmouth, after the fall of Troy some of the survivors of the sack of the city, led by the Trojan hero Aeneas, fled to Italy and settled there. Their descendants began building a new civilization. One of the descendants of Aeneas in Italy was a young man who became known as Brutus of Troy. After killing his father in a hunting accident, Brutus was punished by being exiled. He left Italy and making his way to Greece, where he found many descendants of the survivors of Troy still held in slavery by a Greek king. Leading the Trojans in revolt, he won their release and led them on an epic sea voyage searching for new land to settle and rebuild their lives.

While at sea, Brutus came to an abandoned island named Leogecia and found a temple dedicated to Diana, Jupiter, and Mercury, and after performing the appropriate rites he asked the goddess for guidance. Diana appeared to him in a dream and told him of a rich and fertile island populated only by a few giants. She prophesied that he would be the first of a long line of kings that would rule the island and spread across the world. When Brutus finally arrived on the island it was called Albion, and he found it was as Diana had told him. The giants were few in number, and the tallest and most powerful was named Gogmagog.

Gogmagog and the Giants of Albion

After Brutus and the Trojans, arrived they explored the island and found it very much to their liking. Individually, the giants were much bigger and for the most part stronger than the Trojans. Only Corineus, one of the Trojan captains, could match them. However, there were only twenty-four of them and they could not match the Trojan weaponry, armour, and numbers, and the Trojans battled the giants seeking to claim Albion as their own.

One day, Brutus decided to hold a festival of thanksgiving to the gods. During the festival, with many games and events underway, Gogmagog and the giants launched an attack hoping to take the Trojans by surprise. Although the giants at first had the upper hand killing many, Brutus rallied his men and in the battle all of the giants, except their leader Gogmagog, were killed. He was spared by Brutus specifically to fight Corineus, who defeated him. With Albion now free of giants, Brutus shared out the land among his captains and followers as he saw fit. In legend, Brutus became the founder and first king of Britain and Corineus became the founder and first ruler of Cornwall.

Although Gogmagog was killed, he was to return centuries later during the Norman Conquest of Britain by King William the Conqueror. This story is told in the medieval legends or “ancestral romance” of The History of Fulk Fitz-Warine, a mixture of legend, romance, and imagination by an unknown author or compiler in about 1325-40.

Dinas Brân

According to this text, Gogmagog reappeared when William the Conqueror was travelling around Britain surveying his new domain. As he travelled in the wild hills and valleys, he came across a prominent hill that was crowned by a ruined town enclosed in wide stone walls that for a long time had lain desolate and empty. Today, the hill is called Dinas Brân and overlooks Llangollen in Wales, but the ruins that crown its top are those of a later castle and not those that intrigued William which had been built many centuries before his arrival.

As the day was drawing to a close, he decided to pitch his tents on a level plain that lay below the imposing ruins. Curious and not a little awed, he asked about the place from a local Briton and was told the following story:

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Brutus of Troy, the Prophecy of Diana and the Founding of Britain

This article was first published on 14th December 2017 on #FolkloreThursday.com titled British Legends — The Founding of Britain: Brutus of Troy and the Prophecy of Diana by zteve t evans

Harley1808-f030-Brutus

Public Domain

Brutus of Troy

Brutus of Troy was a legendary Trojan exile who some medieval chroniclers claimed was responsible for the founding of Britain. They maintained that he was the first King of Britain and named the island, its people, and its language after himself. He built the city that would eventually become London, and gave laws to allow people to live in peace. The story of Brutus of Troy first appears in the work Historia Britonum or The History of Britons (ca AD 829), which is often attributed to the medieval chronicler Nennius. He is also mentioned later in more detail in Historia Regum Britanniae or History of the Kings of Britain, written in about 1136 by Geoffrey of Monmouth. There are some significant differences in the stories the two present, though Geoffrey’s work provides more information. Geoffrey dates the arrival of Brutus on the island, which was then called Albion, to 1115 BC. Although his work is not given much credence today, from its creation up until the 17th century, when it fell from favour, it was very popular. It is still an important medieval text, and a central piece in the collective works known as The Matter of Britain. Despite being discounted as a reliable history book, The History of the Kings of Britain remains of great interest to many people today. Many scholars think that Geoffrey drew on existing legends, myths, and traditions which he included in his work. It is Geoffrey’s work that this article draws chiefly from to present a version of the mythical founding of Britain by Brutus of Troy.

The Birth of Brutus

The story of Brutus begins in Italy, where the Trojan exiles resided. When his wife fell pregnant, Silvius asked a sorcerer what sex the unborn child would be and what its future would hold. The sorcerer predicted a boy would be born and this proved correct. He also predicted that the boy would be exiled after causing the death of both of his parents. Finally, he predicted that when he reached adulthood he would travel through many countries and would fulfill many great achievements. Not all these predictions were to the liking of Silvius, who killed the sorcerer. However, his wife died during the birth of the boy, who was named Brutus, and when he reached the age of 15 he accidentally killed his father, shooting him with an arrow while hunting. As punishment, Brutus was exiled from Italy and traveled to several islands before reaching Greece. The unfortunate seer was proved correct about the first two parts of his prophecy, and the rest was beginning to unfold.

Trojans Enslaved in Greece

Whilst in Greece, Brutus met a group of Trojans living in slavery and led them in rebellion against Pandrasus, the Greek king. He was successful, and after defeating and capturing Pandrasus he held him hostage. Although he had him at his mercy, he realized that there would be a continuing war with the Greeks which the Trojans could not win. Therefore, instead of killing Pandrasus, Brutus made a bargain with him. He freed Pandrasus, in return for him freeing the Trojans from slavery and providing Brutus and his band of followers with enough ships and supplies to sail from Greece in search of a new home. Pandrasus also gave his daughter, Ingoge, in marriage, who sailed with Brutus and his company in search of a place they could settle and live in peace.

The Prophecy of Diana

Brutus set out from Greece in command of a powerful group of armed Trojans, and whilst at sea his small fleet came across a deserted island. He decided to land and explore. On the island, he found a long-disused temple dedicated to the goddess Diana, Mercury, and Jupiter. Seeking some kind of sign, Brutus paid homage to Diana by completing the necessary rituals.

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Sir Gawain and the Green Knight: Synopsis

 

gawain_and_the_green_knight

Sir Gawain and the Green Knight – See page for author [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Sir Gawain and the Green Knight is a Middle English alliterative poem from the 14th century. It is a chivalric romance that uses the folkloric motifs of the beheading game and the exchange of winnings. The poem is from a single surviving manuscript known as Cotton Nero A.x which also hold three other narrative poems called; Pearl, Purity, and Patience. These three poems are of a Christian religious nature as is the Sir Gawain poem while many people see it as also containing pagan allusions. The author of the manuscript is unknown but generally referred to as either the Gawain Poet or the Pearl Poet. There are many different ways to interpret Sir Gawain and the Green Knight but what is provided here is a brief synopsis of the poem.

Brutus of Troy and the Founding of Britain

The poem begins by mentioning the mythical founding of Britain by Brutus of Troy in the Historical Prologue and tells how after the fall of Troy the descendants of the exiles founded new cities and countries.  According to the poem, Rome was founded by Romulus, Tuscany by Tiscius, Langoberde begins the settlement of the country later called Lombardy and Brutus became the founder of Britain.  This information is designed to give Camelot political significance and legitimacy and introduces King Arthur the noblest and greatest king and leader of the country.  This also gives him historical significance and legitimacy while also linking the poet’s own text with such classics as Virgil’s Aeneid, providing a literary link to those ancient times.

The Appearance of the Green Knight

The story begins in Camelot on the feast of New Year’s Day with the members of Arthur’s court giving and receiving presents from one another when Arthur requests to see or hear of a thrilling experience of exploit from someone before the feast commences. Apparently, in answer to this request there rides into the hall upon a massive green horse the huge figure of a knight.  He is not dressed for battle wearing and not wearing armor but his clothing and even his skin and hair are all green. In one hand he holds a most splendid battle axe while in the other he holds a branch of holly.

The Christmas Game

The Green Knight refused to enter into combat with anyone declaring there was no one present who could match him.  Instead he invited any who dared to take part in a special Christmas game. Explaining the rules he tells them that someone must strike him one blow with his axe but within one year and a day they must themselves take a blow from him. Whoever decides to play can keep the axe. On hearing these terms all the knights present at first refused to play but when it appeared that no one had the courage Arthur agreed. However, The youngest knight present, Sir Gawain, offered to step in and play the game for him which Arthur and the Green Knight accepted.

The Green Knight knelt and bows his head to receive a blow which is duly given by Sir Gawain severing the head from the body in one stroke. After the blow is delivered to the shock of all present the Green Knight is not killed but picking up his severed head mounts his horse. Holding the severed head to face Queen Guinevere the lips speak reminding Gawain and all those present that the two players in the game must meet again at the Green Chapel within the agreed space of time. The Green Knight then wheels his horse around and carrying his severed head aloft rides from the hall leaving the bemused Gawain, Arthur and his knights with little else to do other than admiring the battle axe left with Gawain. They made fun of the strange event, laughing while encouraging Guinevere to make light of the matter.  Life at Camelot soon returned to normal but time marched on.

Gawain’s Quest for the Green Chapel

With the approach of the allotted time and with only a few days left for the game to resume Gawain sets off to find the Green Chapel to keep his promise to the Green Knight. On his way, he has many adventures which he overcomes but is severely tested by the cold and bitter weather of winter. On Christmas morning he prays he might find somewhere to hear mass and finds a beautiful castle. The lord of the castle is a knight named Bertilak de Hautdesert who has a beautiful wife and both are highly honored to have Gawain as a guest in their castle. There is also a female guest present at the castle who although being old and ugly was treated with great respect and reverence by the lord and lady.

The Castle of Sir Bertilak de Hautdesert

Gawain explains to them about the game with the Green Knight telling them he is due to meet up with him on New Year’s Day and has only a few days left to find the Green Chapel.  Bertilak reveals that the Green Chapel is less than two miles away and suggests Gawain rests for the remaining time at his castle.  Gawain, after his long hard journey, is only too pleased to accept this proposition.

Bertilak tells Gawain he is going  hunting in the morning and that he should stay and rest himself in bed after his long and arduous journey.  He then proposed they make a pact with each other. Whatever he gains in the hunt he will bring home and give to Gawain. Whatever Gawain gains the next day by staying in the castle he will give to his host on his return. Gawain accepts the pact and goes to bed.

Gawain’s Pact with Bertilak

With Bertilak out hunting Gawain remains in bed in the castle and Lady Bertilak goes to his bedchamber and attempts to seduce him. Gawain though greatly tempted does not wish to betray Bertilak and at the same time does not wish to offend the lady.  Gently and politely he refuses her advances, but in doing so accepts a single kiss from her.  Bertilak has a successful day out hunting catching a deer which when he returns he fulfills his side of the bargain and gives it to Gawain. Gawain to fulfill his part gives Bertilak a kiss but does not reveal where he got it from pointing out that was not part of their pact.

lady_tempt_gawain

Sir Gawain and Lady Bertilak – By Anonymous (http://gawain.ucalgary.ca) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

The next morning Bertilak again goes hunting leaving Gawain in his castle. Again Lady Bertilak tries to seduce him and although greatly tempted all he will accept is a kiss. Later that day Lady Bertilak tries again but  he will courteously only accept another kiss. When Bertilak returns he gives Gawain the head of a boar he has killed and receives from Gawain two kisses and again the source of these is not revealed.

On the third morning, Bertilak once again goes off hunting leaving Gawain in the castle with Lady Bertilak. She asks him for a small gift or keepsake to remember him by but he tells her he has no such thing worthy of her. Again Lady Bertilak tries to seduce Gawain while offering him a gold ring to remember her by. Gawain courteously refuses the gift but she begs him to accept the green and gold girdle of silk she wears telling him it is magical and wearing it will keep him safe from all physical harm.  Gawain is mindful that the next day he must face the Green Knight in the Green Chapel to complete their game which he does not expect to survive and accepts the gift.

This time when Bertilak returns from hunting he has caught a fox which he gives to Gawain as agreed.  In return, Gawain gives him the three kisses he had received again not revealing where he got them from but withheld Lady Bertilak’s gift of her girdle saying nothing about it at all.

The Green Knight at the Green Chapel

The next morning Gawain wraps the girdle twice around his body and sets off with a guide provided by Bertilak to take him to the Green Chapel to play the final part of the strange and grim game with the Green Knight. When they draw near the guide tells Gawain that if he should decide to give up the game and ride away he would tell no one. Gawain is determined to keep his promise to the Green Knight.  The guide tells him that he is too afraid to go further himself that shows Gawain the way who rides on alone. When he arrives at the Green Chapel he finds the Green Knight already there sharpening a massive battle-axe.

Gawain dismounts and kneels and bows his head to receive a blow from the Green Knight. As the Green Knight prepares to bring down the axe on his neck Gawain flinches slightly as he swings. This cause the Green Knight to stop and berate him for cowardice. This shames Gawain who then waits unflinchingly for the blow but the Green Knight swings again but holds it from the final blow telling Gawain he is testing his nerve. Gawain, now angry berates the Green Knight insisting he gets on with it. This time the Green Knight does bring the axe down on his neck but at the last instant withholds force, causing only minor wound to Gawain’s neck and with this, the game is over.

Gawain then arms himself preparing to fight but the Green Knight reveals himself to be none other than Bertilak de Hautdesert who had been magically transformed into the Green Knight. Bertilak then explains that the entire game was a trick caused by the old ugly woman who had been his other guest and that she was the sorceress, Morgan le Fay in an attempt to frighten Queen Guinevere to death and create a test for Arthur and his knights.

Return to Camelot

After this revelation, Gawain is ashamed and tells Bertilak about the gift of the girdle. Birtilak laughs and absolves Gawain of any guilt calling him the most blameless knight in all the land. The two part as friends and Gawain returns to Camelot where he tells Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table of his adventure. Arthur and the knights also absolve him of the blame for not revealing the gift of the girdle and in an act of solidarity with him, all agree to wear a green sash to remind them to keep their integrity.

© 20/09/2017 zteve t evans

References, Attributions and Further Reading

Copyright September 20th, 2017 zteve t evans

The legendary King Leir

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KIng Lear and his daughters – Public Domain

The legend of King Leir

The legend of King Leir and his daughters has been a popular theme throughout the ages and was most famously used by William Shakespeare in his play King Lear. The story of the aging king and his daughters has also inspired many other works and has been used in plays, literature, films, operas and art by many different writers and artists and holds an important part in modern British culture.

In the History of the Kings of Britain, by Geoffrey of Monmouth, Leir became king after his father, Bladud was killed in an attempt to fly using artificial wings.   Leir is supposed to have ruled for sixty years, one of the longest serving British monarchs and according to Geoffrey was the founder of the English city of Leicester.  He was said to be the last male heir from the dynastic line of the legendary Brutus of Troy.  According to Geoffrey, Brutus was the first king of the Britons in about the 8th century BCE.  A brief summary of the legend is provided followed by what truth there maybe in the legend and conclude by discussing the redeeming factors and impact of the story.

The daughters of Leir

Leir was the father of three daughters; Regan, Goneril and Cordelia.  As he drew close to death he decided to divide his kingdom between them.  His two eldest daughters Goneril and Regan, in a calculated bid to gain more from their father flattered and exaggerated their love for him. His youngest daughter, Cordelia, was the king’s favorite and feeling that she should not need to prove her love because she demonstrated it daily, refused to use false flattery to deceive him.

On the advice of his counselors he decide his two eldest daughters should marry the dukes of Albany and Cornwall  and his kingdom should be split between them when he died.  His counselors had said that because she had refused to show her love when asked, Cordelia should receive no land to rule or marriage dowry.  Despite this Aganippus, a King of the Franks married Cordelia even though Leir refused to pay a dowry, and she went to live in Gaul.

Leir is humiliated

Leir also gave Goneril and Regan half his kingdom, while he lived and the rest would be inherited by them on his death.  However encouraged by their wives, his son-in-laws usurped him and took the entire kingdom for themselves while he lived. They did not kill him though and the Duke Maglaurus of Albany gave Leir a retinue of sixty knights but Goneril reduced this.  Feeling sleighed Leir went to Regan, who had married the Duke of Cornwall and she reduced it further to a mere five knights.  Leir then went back to plead with Goneril for a greater retinue but what he had was reduced from five to one to serve his needs.

Cordelia

This left Leir humiliated and in fear of his daughters and their husbands and he went to Cordelia who was now living in Gaul with were husband.  Arriving outside her court at Kartia he sent her a message asking to see her.  Cordelia bore him no malice despite his mistreatment of her had him bathed and gave him fine clothing befitting his status.  She then assigned him an appropriate number of retainers to befit his status. She made sure he was properly received by her husband, King Aganippus as was made regent of the Franks.

Cordelia persuade her husband and the Frankish nobles to back an invasion to restore Leir’s kingdom to him.   Their backing was agreed and an army was raised with Leir, Cordelia and her husband leading it.  They successfully defeated the usurper dukes of Cornwall and Albany, his son-in-laws, and restored Leir to the throne.  He ruled for three years before dying and was succeeded by Cordelia.  She buried her father with great honour in a shrine said to be below the River Soar dedicated to the god Janus and a feast was held annually in his remembrance.

Truth in the legend

From the 17th century historians did not take Geoffrey as a bona fide historian some even accused him of making it up himself. Many scholars think he may have drawn upon old Celtic and other pagan gods and legends for his stories as there is little if any real evidence to support his version of history.

There was a pagan god called Leir who is mentioned in a number of ancient texts such as the Triads of the Isle of Britain or Ynys Prydein, a set of manuscripts of medieval origin preserving parts of history, mythology and folklore of Wales.  In this Leir is a water god who has three children and one defeats the other two in a battle to retake his land. Some scholars think the names Lir and Leir are variations of a Celtic deity, with Leir evolving into a fabled king of Britain that was associated with the area we call Leicester today.

Cordelia the redeemer

Maybe it’s the righting of a wrong done to someone who himself was shown to be devoid of good judgment and gratitude that makes the story popular.  His treatment of Cordelia certainly wins him few friends. Yet even though we may feel that he gets his just desserts by the way his daughters and son-in-laws treat him there is still a degree of sympathy for his foolishness.  It is his loyal and loving daughter Cordelia who is the redeemer of a sorry tale by taking up his cause and restoring him to his former glory despite the wrong he did to her.  Her act of forgiveness and Leir’s treatment of her because she refused to flatter and exaggerate her love shows that action speaks louder than words, especially false words. While the historical accuracy of  Geoffrey of Monmouth’s work may be open to question the impact it has had on British culture is still considerable as shown in the example of King Leir.

© 22/03/2016 zteve t evans

References and Attributions

Copyright March 22nd, 2016 zteve t evans

The legendary necromancer, King Bladud

Geoffrey of Monmouth and King Bladud

An extraordinary and very short account, of King Bladud, one of the early legendary Celtic kings of the Britons, is written in the Historia Regum Britanniae, by Geoffrey of Monmouth. This very briefly tells the story of a king who practiced necromancy and built himself a pair of wings in an attempt to fly.  Geoffrey says of him:-

Next succeeded Bladud, his son, and reigned twenty years. He builtn Kaerbadus, now Bath, and made hot baths in it for the benefit of the public, which he dedicated to the goddess Minerva; in whose temple he kept fires that never went out nor consumed to ashes, but as soon as they began to decay were turned into balls of stone. About this time the prophet Elias prayed that it might not rain upon earth; and it did not rain for three years and six months. This prince was a very ingenious man, and taught necromancy in his kingdom, nor did he leave off pursuing his magical operations, till he attempted to fly to the upper region of the air with wings which he had prepared, and fell upon the temple of Apollo, in the city of Trinovantum, where he was dashed to pieces. (1) (Chapter 10, page 28)

There is also a later legend about how he was cured of leprosy while working as a swineherd which also links him to the ancient founding of the city of Bath.

Descendant of Brutus of Troy

Bladud, or Blaiddyd, was a Celtic king of the Britons who was the son of  King Rud Hud Hudibras, and the tenth ruler from the line of the legendary Brutus of Troy, first King of Britain.  Bladud was supposed to have ruled for about twenty years somewhere between 863 and 500 BC.  Except for the accounts of Geoffrey there is little if any real evidence of either king’s actual existence and Geoffrey is not widely accepted as an accurate historical source by most historians.  Later writers further added to and embellished legends about him.  However, rather than an all powerful, warrior as many kings of the age were presented he is more the scholar, magician, or even the eccentric inventor, which was to lead to his final downfall.

Bladud the scholar

The legend tells how Bladud in his youth was sent by his father to be educated in Athens.  On the death of his father he was said to have returned home bringing with him four philosophers and founding a university in what is now Stamford, Lincolnshire.   This university was alleged to have taught heresies and necromancy and was later closed by Saint Augustine of Canterbury.

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Statue of king Bladud at the Roman Baths, Bath, England – by Smalljim – CC BY-SA 3.0

King Bladud’s leprosy

When Bladud returned home from his studies in Athens it was found that he was suffering from a severe skin condition that was taken as leprosy.  Because of this he had to leave the Royal court and became an outcast.  He lost his status as heir to the throne and was forced to make his way in the world the best way he could.

The legend says that before he left the court his mother gave him a gold ring.  This was as a keepsake and also a means to identify himself should there become a need. Sadly, everywhere he went he was shunned and forced to move on as people did not want to risk catching his disease.  To support himself the took a job as a swineherd at a place about two miles from Bath known today as Swainswick.  With pigs as his only company he took to watching them closely and after a while  he noticed the pigs were also beginning to be afflicted by his skin condition.

Fearing the worst and to prevent his employer from finding out he drove the pigs across a river.  There he noticed the pigs were attracted to a boggy area of ground wallowing in mud which was warm because the area was fed by warm water springs.  According to the story when the pigs came out of bog he scraped them clean and discovered their skin condition was cured.

With nothing at all to lose Bladud decided to try the warm mud himself and bathed in it. To his great joy he found that this also cured his skin condition.  Bladud returned to court where he was identified by the gold ring his mother had given him.  He later became king and built a temple  and spa baths ingratitude on the site so that others may benefit from the mud.

the_prodigal_son_tending_the_swine

Public Domain

Another version tells how while tending the pigs he noted that during cold weather the pigs would go to a bog and come back covered in black mud which he discovered was warm.  From observing them he saw that they appeared to like the warmth. He also noticed that it appeared to work wonders for their skin as they suffered no blemishes or disease as pigs that did not use it suffered. With nothing much to lose he tried it for himself and found the warm mud cured his leprosy, or skin condition.  Returning to his home his father restored him to be his heir and he founded the spas at Bath to benefit others with skin conditions.

Bladud and the founding of Bath

According to legend Bladud was strongly linked to the founding of the spa town of Bath in Somerset.  The Romans developed the famous spa baths calling them Aquae Sulis, which means Waters of Sullis,  after thermal springs dedicated to the Celtic goddess, Sulis whom Romans identified with Minerva.  In later times as it grew it became known as Bath.

There is a legend that it was Bladud who founded the city and created the the thermal springs the city is famous for by magic. Geoffrey says that undying fires were lit whose flames transformed into balls of stone as they died with new flames springing from them to take their place (2).  This may have been a description of how coal was used as a source of fuel for the flames in the temple altars.

Necromancy and flying

According to legend Bladud practiced and encouraged necromancy and trying to communicate with the dead.  From this came the inspiration to built a pair of wings for himself.  He tried them out but collided with the temple of Apollo in Trinovantum, now known as London and reputedly founded by his ancestor Brutus of Troy.  He fell to earth and was killed. The legend tells he was buried in Trinovantum and succeeded by his son Leir, who William Shakespeare wrote his famous play about.

King Bladud’s Pigs in Bath

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Sally – Image by Trish Steel –  CC BY-SA 2.0

In more modern times the people of Bath have celebrated their legendary founder in a brilliantly creative way.  In 2008, a public art event called King Bladud’s Pigs in Bath celebrated the legendary origins of Bath.  More than one hundred beautifully decorated pig sculptures were displayed throughout the summer around the Bath area.  Later they were auctioned off to contribute funds towards the city’s Two Tunnels Project, which seems like something the eccentric king would approve!

© 09/02/2016 zteve t evans

References and Attributions

Copyright February 9th, 2016 zteve t evans