The Arthurian Realm: The Abductions of Guinevere

Coveting Guinevere

The theme of the abduction of Queen Guinevere runs throughout Arthurian tradition and is taken up by numerous medieval writers.  Caradoc of Llancarfan mentions it in his version of the Life of Gildas, as does Geoffrey of Monmouth, in Historia Regum Brittaniae, (History of the Kings of Britain).  The theme is also taken up by medieval French poets Chrétien de Troyes and Robert de Boron, and in the work of Sir Thomas Malory, Le Morte d’Arthur.   Here we look in brief at various versions of the abduction and then discuss ideas about how they may have been influenced by pagan elements and may be distant echoes of the dramas of ancient gods and goddesses before the arrival of Christianity.

Caradoc of Llancarfan

Probably one of the earliest examples of the abduction of Guinevere comes from The Life of Gildas, By Caradoc of Llancarfan (c.1130-1150).  Guinevere’s abductor is the evil King Melwas of the Summer Country, or Somerset. He may have been an early prototype for Chrétien de Troyes Méléagant, and Malory’s Meliagrance.   In this story Guinevere is abducted and violated and Arthur, who is referred to as a tyrant, spends an entire year seeking her out.  Finally learning she was being in held by King Melwas in Glastonia, or Glastonbury. He raises a vast army intending to free his wife but as the two sides were about to clash, the cleric, Gildas and the clergy step between them. Gildas persuaded the two kings to parley and negotiated that Guinevere be returned to Arthur in peace and goodwill preventing a bloody battle to free her.

Geoffrey of Monmouth

Geoffrey of Monmouth names Mordred, Arthur’s nephew and illegitimate son, as the villain who attempts to covet  Guinevere. Arthur had left Britain in Mordred’s stewardship while he went off fighting the Procurator of Rome, Lucius Hiberius, leaving Guinevere at home.   While he was out of the country with most of his army, Mordred seduced Guinevere and claimed the crown from Arthur forcing him to return to Britain and fight.  This culminated in the catastrophic Battle of Camlann where Mordred was killed and the badly wounded Arthur taken across the sea to Avalon to recover and the end of the Arthurian realm.

Chrétien de Troyes

In Lancelot, Le Chevalier de la Charrette, also known as Lancelot, the Knight of the Cart, by Chrétien de Troyes, Lancelot is the hero of the story who saves Guinevere from the Méléagant, the evil son of King Bagdemagus.  In this story he races to the rescue of Guinevere having a series of adventures along the way. These include having to suffer the indignity, for a knight, of riding in a horse and cart driven by a dwarf that was carrying criminals to their execution.  He then had to scramble over a sword bridge whose edge was turned upright and razor sharp. Although sustaining serious wounds crossing the bridge he was still ready to combat Méléagant, but Guinevere at the request of King Bagdemagus stopped the fight.

Later he was forced to fight Méléagant after the  badly wounded Sir Kay was accused of raping Guinevere while she slept.  Sir Kay was too bad wounded and had no strength available for such exertions and had been wrongly accused.  Blood had been found on her sheets and because he was laid recuperating in the same room as her, he was blamed.  In fact the blood was from Lancelot who had kept an illicit tryst with the queen and slept with her. Lancelot, knowing, but not admitting the truth, stepped in to fight and clear Sir Kay who was too weak to defend himself.

Malory’s, Le Morte d’Arthur

In Malory’s, Le Morte d’Arthur,  wehn the month of May came, Guinevere decided she would participate in the age old tradition of a-Maying in the woods and fields of Westminster.  Therefore, she set off with a party of ladies-in-waiting, along with servants and ten lightly armed Knights, who she insists wear all wear green. Sir Meliagrance, a name probably derived from the Méléagant in Chrétien de Troyes work,  had long lusted after the queen and with 160 men-at-arms attacked the small company. Although her knights fight valiantly they are lightly armed and hopelessly outnumbered. To prevent their slaying she agreed to surrender provided they are spared and remain by her side.  Meliagrance agrees but she manages to send a messenger boy to Lancelot telling of her abduction and requesting his aid.

On hearing the news Lancelot immediately set off in pursuit.  Meliagrance, realising he would follow, set a trap for him and archers killed his horse.  Lancelot was forced to hijack a horse and cart carrying wood for the fires of Meliagrance’s castle.  From this he was given the name, Knight of the Cart. On arrival at the castle gates he shout for Meliagrance demanding he come down and face him.  On learning Lancelot is at his gates Meliagrance begs Guinevere her forgiveness for his behaviour and begs that she protect him from the enraged knight.  She agrees and persuades Lancelot to put his sword away. Lancelot agrees and she leads him to the chamber where the ten knights are kept.

They are both so glad to see each other they agree on a secret midnight tryst. Lancelot appears at her window at midnight and Guinevere tells him she would prefer it if he was inside with her.  Although the window is barred Lancelot pulls the bars out cutting himself in the process and climbs in through the window. The two slept together that night and Lancelot stole away before Sunrise, replacing the bars of the window as he left.

The next morning Meliagrance seeing blood on the sheets of Guinevere’s bed accuses her of sleeping with one, or more, of her wounded knights.  Lancelot, without revealing the truth, challenges Meliagrance to a fight to clear the queen’s name. Meliagrance brings a charge of treason against Guinevere believing she had slept with one or more of the knights.  Although innocent of this accusation, Guinevere had slept with Lancelot which is not revealed to him, but he was not one of the individuals accused. The case is brought before King Arthur and he reluctantly agrees she must be burnt at the stake unless Lancelot proves her innocence by defeating Meliagrance. In the resulting duel Lancelot slays Meliagrance proving her innocence of the charges brought against her and freeing her.

Mordred’s Attempted Abduction

In Le Morte d’Arthur, Mordred, Arthur’s illegitimate son and nephew by his sister Morgause, covets Guinevere, but does not quite manage to abduct her.  Mordred lied to Guinevere telling her4 Arthur had been killed by Lancelot and claimed the throne for himself intending to marry her. Guinevere persuaded Mordred to  allow her to go to London so she could procure all the things a wedding needed but instead locked herself in the Tower of London with her entourage.  Although Mordred tried to persuade her to come out his efforts were cut short by the news that Arthur had arrived back in Britain with his army.  Consequently, he was forced to leave Guinevere and confront Arthur, resulting in his own death and Arthur being severely wounded and taken to Avalon.

Gods of the Round Table

Some scholars of Arthurian legend and romance see many of the stories of King Arthur and his knights, in legend and medieval romance, as being dramatizations of the adventures of Celtic gods and important natural events. They believe there was a special relationship between the king and the gods and the king and the land and to ensure the fertility of the land the king was wedded to the goddess of the land.

David Dom, in his book King Arthur and the Gods of the Round Table proposes that Arthur, Guinevere and the main companions of the Round Table to be a the distant and distorted memories of the old Celtic gods and Arthur is seen as representing a Solar God.  To complicate matters, these stories were overwritten, or influenced by various culture over time, including Roman, English, French and European medieval Christianity and modern thinking. It centers around the idea that Arthurian legends and stories originally were dramatizations of the deeds and adventures of ancient pagan gods with the King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table making up the pantheon, being a part of it.

Pagan Origins

There is an intriguing idea that the stories of the abduction of Guinevere are echoes of earlier pagan traditions centered around the annual cycle of the seasons in Northern Europe. One of the ways this annual cycle may have been dramatized was in that the seasonal changes were due to the activities and adventures of the gods. In both Malory’s version and that  of Chrétien de Troyes, Guinevere is abducted in the spring, and in Malory’s it is while she is celebrating May Day, or Beltane, the time of the renewal of vegetation. Many scholars see this as evidence that the kidnapping was originally a season myth with Guinevere being a goddess and her abductor a god. In the original versions by Chrétien de Troyes , after being abducted Guinevere was take across water – an indication that she was leaving the Earthly world for the Otherworld – and her rescuers had to cross the water to reach her in that world.  After her rescue Guinevere and Lancelot became lovers which also happened in the spring, around Beltane.

This comes after the bleak barren days of winter and is seen to represent the marriage of the god and goddess heralding the end of the dark, bleak period of winter and the greatly looked forward to renewal of vegetation and fertility to the Earth.  In the Chrétien de Troyes version the entire episode takes place over one year, tying it further to the annual seasonal cycle. The abduction stories while only hinting at pagan influence on the surface have been heavily overwritten with Christian influences which tend to cover up the inherent pagan elements of the loves and romances of the gods.  To pursue this further it is worth taking a look at the annual cycle of seasons for Northern Europe and what follows is a very simplified version of one of the many versions

Winter

In winter the days are cold, dark and short.  Vegetation dies and crops do not grow and food becomes in short supply.   In some pagan northern European societies winter was thought of as the imprisonment of the eternally young, Earth goddess in the depths of the Earth by the aging winter solar god.  As winter progressed the power of the Sun god waned as the Sun rode low in the sky. As his power waned he became more like a malignant god of the underworld and feared the arrival of a young, potent Sun god who would steal the Earth goddess from him.  Desperate to preserve his own power and survive, he imprisoned the Earth goddess in the underworld to prevent anyone from stealing her. The imprisonment of the Earth Goddess resulted in a loss of fertility and renewal being withdrawn from the Earth, causing dramatic and disastrous consequences for humanity.

Spring

In spring the young Sun god arrives and takes a higher path across the sky providing longer days, more daylight and warmer weather.  His youth, strength and virility defeats and supplants the aging Sun god and frees the Earth goddess from imprisonment.  With a  more agreeable climate and the freeing of the goddess the Earth returns to life and seeds germinate, plants bud and grow and animals breed. The young Sun god takes the eternally young Earth goddess for his bride around the time of the festival of Beltane, commonly held on the 1st of May, or halfway between the March, or vernal equinox and the summer solstice, or midsummer,  when the Sun’s power is at its height.

Summer

As the  days grew longer and warmer, with the marriage of the Sun god and the Earth goddess the Earth is fertilized, plants grow and thrive and harvest time arrives which is the product of this marriage.  The young Sun god has reached the heights of his power at midsummer and the coming days will see his power decline.

Autumn

With the decline of power of the now aging Sun god there is a steadily decrease in sunlight and warmth, the days grow steadily shorter, vegetation begins to shrivel and die.  The cycle of the previous years repeats and slowly and inevitable the aging Sun god loses his strength, vigor and virility just as his predecessors had and just as those who come after him will.

Winter Returns

As his strength and potency diminish he appears lower in the sky, days become shorter and darker as winter sets in.  In a desperate attempt to keep his beautiful and eternally young wife he imprisons her in the underground. The Sun god reaches his lowest and weakest point at midwinter, or the Winter Solstice and is defeated by the young Sun god who frees and marries the Earth goddess.  This cycle must continue eternally to bring fertility, renewal and growth to the Earth.

In the version of the abduction of Guinevere by Chrétien de Troyes the drama was played out over one year with Meleagant, Guinevere’s abductor representing the doomed and aging Sun god and Lancelot the virile and potent, young Sun god.

Goddess of Sovereignty

There is also an idea that Guinevere was either an ancient Goddess of Sovereignty, or a representative of one.  A Goddess of Sovereignty was an aspect or servant of the Earth goddess, also known as the Earth Mother or Mother Earth and Goddess of the Land, in some cultures.

Those who follow this idea point to the fact that the story begins in May which is around the festival of Beltane.  It is at this time of year the everywhere is green and fertile and in celebration Malory tells how Queen Guinevere decides she will go a-Maying.  Those who see Arthurian characters as divinities, see Guinevere as representing a Goddess of Sovereignty that bestows the sovereignty of the land onto the King, who in this case is Arthur. As such his role is taking care of the land and inhabitants ensuring it remains fertile.  To do this she needs a strong, virile king but in these stories Arthur is usually portrayed as aging and losing power. Lancelot being the younger and more potent of the two may be seen by a Goddess of Sovereignty as an ideal replacement, but despite his love for Guinevere he remains loyal to Arthur not wanting the crown.

It may also be the case that simply being in possession of a representative of the goddess would be enough to give authority to the claim of kingship. This would make Guinevere a valuable prize for anyone who would be king and helps explain her numerous abductions, especially Mordred’s interest in her.  It also explain why, for the most, part Arthur appears reluctant to acknowledge, or deal with the situation of her affair with Lancelot until he is forced into it.

The affair with Lancelot may not have been about Guinevere’s alleged sexual promiscuity but more about her fulfilling her role as representing a Goddess of Sovereignty. Furthermore her abductions may not necessarily have been about love, lust or desire for her as a woman, but more about possessing the representative of the goddess. For all of that these are just ideas and theories and it is up to each person to decide what it means to them.

© 20/11/2018 zteve t evans

References, Attributions and Further Reading

Copyright November 20th, 2018 zteve t evans

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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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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

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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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Breton folktales: The Cursed Comorre

Triphine2

Breton Folktales

Breton folktales have much in common with other European folktales and yet still retain their own unique characteristics.  The rugged forests and heaths with the mysterious standing stones and the ancient towns and villages, the wild sea coast, the church and paganism all bleed into one another creating incredible stories of morals to live by, adventure, life and death passing through wildness and darkness into light.

This is a folktale from Brittany I have curated, edited and adapted from a number of sources but the major influence has been Folk Tales of Brittany, by Elsie Masson, [1929], and the story of The Castle of Comorre a Breton folktale which she collected.  It tells of the plight of Tréphine, the daughter of the King of Vannes who had the misfortune to marry Comorre, also known as Conomor a Breton nobleman with an evil reputation.   Comorre is thought to one of the original sources of the Bluebeard character in folk tales.  Although the story is clearly fictional  the main characters do have a degree of historical basis.  Tréphine was a semi-legendary saint and the daughter of Waroch I who was the King of Vannes, who was a contemporary of Comorre, so there is so historical basis to the story though it has been embellished and exaggerated over the centuries and this is my version.

The Cursed Comorre

The King of Vannes daughter

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Pixabay – ClkerFreeVectorImages – Public Domain

There was once a king who ruled over the land of white corn and lived in his castle in the town of Vannes in Brittany. He had an only daughter that he loved with all of his heart.  Her name was Tréphine and called the white dove and she was the most beautiful princess in the whole of Brittany.  She was as pure as snow and had never, ever committed a mortal sin.  To her father she was everything and he would have given away all of his riches, castles and land and everything he owned rather than see his Tréphine unhappy.

There came a day when messengers came to him from the nearby land of the black corn that was ruled by a rich and powerful Count by the name of Comorre.   The messengers bowed low and presented the King with many gifts of honey and fine cloths, animals and jewels and then solemnly informed the King of Vannes that the Count Comorre desired the hand of his daughter, the Princess Tréphine, in marriage.  They told him that when the last festival was held in Vannes the Count had disguised himself as an ordinary soldier and mingled and mixed with the people of Vannes as they celebrated.  During those celebrations he had see the Princess Tréphine for the first time and had fallen deeply in love with her.

Count Comorre

The King of Vannes was devastated and filled with grief for although he knew she would one day marry, he hoped it would be to a man she loved.  Count Comorre although rich and powerful had a bad reputation and known for his cruelty and found joy in doing evil.  Even as a child his cruelty was legendary and when he was going into the town his own mother would ring the castle bells to warn the townsfolk he was on his way. The older he got the more cruel and evil he became. He rejoiced in wickedness of all kinds and his subjects were terrified of him and hated him, always avoiding him for fear he should pick on them.  When he grew into a young man he had four wives in quick succession each of whom he quickly tired of and were found dead in strange circumstances.

So when Count Comorre’s messengers stood before the King of Vannes asking for his daughter’s hand in marriage the King was filled with fear for his daughter. He did not want her to marry him of all men.  The King politely told the messengers that he thought his daughter much too young to marry hoping this would be enough.  Count Comorre’s messengers were prepared for such a reply and had received their orders from the Count himself. Roughly and rudely they told the King that permission must be granted immediately and the Princess Tréphine was to return with them to the Count without delay or a state of war would exist between them.  They warned him that  Count had assembled a vast and mighty army and would fall upon Vannes and take the Princess Tréphine for his wife and the crown of the city too.  Then they taunted the King telling him to refuse if he dared.

War is threatened

Now the King of Vannes knew Count Comorre was not bluffing and that his army was no match for such a fight,  Nevertheless anger flared in his heart and he bravely refused the request defying the evil Count  Comorre.  The messengers turned and rode furiously back to their lord with the King’s reply.

Three days past and then news came to the King of Vannes that a vast army led by  Count Comorre was approaching the city to attack.  The King mustered his knights, cavalry and foot soldiers and marched out to meet him.

Saint Gildas

Saint Gildas the Christian holy man, saw this and was alarmed at the sight of these two armies preparing to make war and slay each other.  The cloak the saint wore had once covered the boat that had brought him over the sea to Brittany and the staff he carried was made from its mast and a halo glowed around his head.  He went looking for the princess and found her praying and he begged her to stop the battle. Fearfully he told her that many men from both sides would die unless she agreed to the marriage and she could save many Christians by marrying Comorre despite his evil ways.

“If only I were a beggar girl I could marry any beggar of my choice,” she cried, “this tyrant will surely kill me like he has killed all his other wives!”

“Have no fear,” said Saint Gildas, “ I will give you this silver ring and it will warn you if there is a plot against you for it will turn as black as night.  Take it and save your fellow Christians from death!” He told her.

The wedding

So to save so much death and bloodshed she took the ring and consented to marry Count Comorre.  Saint Gildas rode at once to the battle and riding between the two armies he stopped them before the fight had begun, telling Count Comorre and the King of Vannes that Princess Tréphine had consented to the marriage.  The King  was devastated and would gladly have died rather than allow it.  Comorre was ecstatic and promised the King that his behavior would change for the better and that he loved Tréphine with all his heart. At last the King agreed and the wedding went ahead.  The most lavish wedding and feast was given and Comorre carried off his innocent young wife back to his castle like a hawk may carry a pure white dove in its talons.

During the first few months of marriage a great change came over the Count and he grew gentler and less wicked.  His dungeons were emptied and not once did he put anyone to death.  His subjects were surprised and pleased commenting at the change and thinking it would not last, but those who knew waited and kept their tongues.  Tréphine went to the chapel every day to pray on the burial vaults of his four previous wives.  She prayed to God for them and for herself not to suffer their fate.

Comorre leaves for Rennes

It was at this time that a messenger came to the Count telling him that all the rulers of Brittany had been summoned to a meeting in Rennes and he would be expected to attend as was his duty.  Comorre did not really want to go but felt compelled by his position to attend.  Just before he left he called Tréphine to him and handed to her the keys to the entire castle and told her to go and do as she liked within the castle. With that he left for Rennes with a retinue of his best knights.

Comorre returns

Comorre was kept at Rennes for six months and during that time thought of Tréphine constantly and missed her greatly.  On his return he hurried up to her chambers and entering her room was shocked to find her making a satin hood which she was embroidering with silver thread for a baby. When he saw what she was doing he grew pale and asked, “And whose child is that for?”

Tréphine looked up from her work and smiled thinking he would be pleased and said, “Why ours of course for I am with child!”

The ghosts of Comorre’s wives

Cormorre glared at her darkly and turned and abruptly left the room without another word.  Tréphine felt a strange sensation on her finger and looked down at the ring and to her fear saw it had turned as black as night.  Terror entered into her heart and she knew she was now in mortal danger.    As silently and stealthily as she could she made her way to the chapel and there prayed beside the burial vaults of her murdered predecessors. Hiding herself between the vaults she knelt in prayer while the chapel clock struck the hours and after what seemed like an age midnight struck  As the last stroke struck and to her terror she saw four black wraiths rising from the vaults.  Tréphine backed slowly away but the ghosts advanced and in fear she dropped to her knees.

alexandre_iii_28dictionnaire_infernal29The ghosts speak

One of the ghosts pointed at her and in a voice from beyond the grave said, “Beware, lost creature, Beware!  Count Comorre seeks your death!”

“But what have I done to deserve death?” Tréphine said trembling.

“You will be the mother of his child very soon and the prophecy foretells that the son of Count Comorre will destroy his father!” Answered the deathly voice.

“God above, is there no escape for me!” She cried.

“Return to your father in the land where the white corn grows,” replied the ghost.

“But how could I ever get across the courtyard with those great guard dogs Comorre has on the loose at nights?”

“Give the dogs this poison that killed me!” said the wraith handing her a vial,

“And how am I to get over the castle wall?”

“Use this rope that throttled me!” said another ghost handing her a rope.

“How will I find my way in this black night?”

“Use this fire that burnt me!” said the third.

“And how shall I walk so far when I am trembling with fear?”

“Lean on this staff that broke my skull!” said the fourth placing the staff in her hand.

Escape

So with the poison the rope, the fire and the staff she made her way to the courtyard. Throwing the poison for the dogs to devour she then made her way across the dark courtyard using the fire  and climbed over the castle wall using the rope.  Once over the wall she made off down the road towards her father’s city of Vannes using the staff for support.

The search for Tréphine

Commore had spent the night brooding about the prophecy and in the morning sent his servants to fetch Tréphine to him.  They searched high and low but no trace of her could they find.  Furious, Comorre ran to the top of his highest tower and looked out to where the four winds blew. Towards the midnight he saw a raven.  Looking towards sunrise he saw a swallow flying.  He looked toward midday and saw a seagull soaring so he turned towards sunset, There he saw a white dove fleeing and he knew it was Tréphine and where she was going.  Running to the stables he quickly saddled his horse and calling his servants to follow with hounds rode off in pursuit.

The shepherd’s hut

Tréphine had reached the edge of the forest that surrounded Comorre Castle but seeing the ring on her finger had turned black she knew Comorre was in close pursuit.  Running across a moor looking for shelter she came across an old shepherd’s hut.  Tentatively she knocked on the door but when no answer came she softly opened the door and looked in. All she could see was an old magpie in a cage on a shelf on the wall.

Tréphine stayed in the hut for the rest of the day but when night fell she left the hut and made her way across fields of flax guided by the fire and aided by the staff that the wraiths had given her.   For two days Comorre searched high and low but could not find her along the road.  Finally he found the shepherd’s hut and saw the old magpie and heard it imitating Tréphine’s voice crying and praying and he knew she had been there.

A baby is born

Telling his servants to loose the dogs they soon picked up her scent and ran yelping after her.  Leaping on his horse Comorre followed them with his servants coming along behind. With fear driving her on Tréphine ran for her life knowing she was nearing Vannes, her father’s castle but the exertion of the run was telling on her now and she knew she had to rest.  Finding a glade in the woods she stopped and rested and there to her absolute joy the most beautiful baby boy was born.  She named him Trémeur and he would live to be a holy saint and a great king but her time on earth at that moment was not so certain.

The falpsm_v51_d613_rough_legged_hawkcon

As she rested in the glade with the baby boy in her arms she saw a falcon swoop down and perch of on a nearby branch. Seeing it wore a ring of gold on one foot she knew it to be one of her father’s and she knew it by name and called it down to her. The bird flew down to land close beside her. Taking off her silver ring she gave it to the falcon who took it in its claw and she said, “Take this to my father as swift as you can.  Give it to my father and he will know my life is in grave danger.  Guide him back to me quickly for I fear my life will be ended as soon Comorre finds me!”

The falcon understood and flew like an arrow straight to King of Vannes.  The King was eating breakfast with Saint Gildas and the falcon flew in through the window  and dropped the ring into his drinking cup.  The king seeing the ring and knowing it urged the falcon to lead him to his daughter.

The death of Tréphine

But at that moment in the glade one of Comorre’s hounds picked up her trail and yelped and Tréphine knew her time was short.  Wrapping the baby boy in her cloak she hid him in the hollow of a tree and stepped back into the glade to face Comorre.  The dogs came yelping into the glade and Comorre followed on a great black horse.  Seeing her he cried out in anger and spurred his horse forward and sweeping out his sword cut her head off with one blow.  Riding round her headless body with a smile of satisfaction on his face he then turned and spurred his horse for home.

The King finds his daughter

Back in the castle in Vannes the King saw the ring and told the Saint that something terrible was happening to his daughter and they had to hurry to save her.   Telling his servants to raise his knights and saddle their horses he begged Gildas to come with him.

Gildas readily agreed and the company followed the falcon to the glade.  There the King of Vannes saw the terrible sight he had feared.  Lying in the glade was the headless body of his daughter.  Dismounting and falling to his knees the king cried and mourned for his daughter and all the rest of the company formed a protective ring around their king and his dead daughter. Gildas called them all to be silent and the sound of a crying baby was heard.  H went to the hollow tree and brought out the baby giving it to the King.

Gildas resurrects Tréphine

“On your knee and pray with me!” commanded Gildas and the entire company dropped to their knees in prayer.  When he had finished he motioned for them to stay kneeling and he rose and placed the severed head of Tréphine on to her neck and again prayed and then commanded, “Rise up whole,”  and to everyone’s surprise and delight she returned to life whole and one.  Tréphine rose and Gildas then gave her the baby and told her they must now return to the castle of Comorre for there was a task that had now to be done.

Tréphine was given a horse and she carrying the baby rode at the head of the company to Comorre.  The company rode like thunder but none could overtake Tréphine and her son and they soon reached the castle of Count Comorre.

Comorre had seen them coming from afar and had ordered that the drawbridge be brought up.   The company stopped outside the gates unable to enter and Gildas now rode to the head.  He dismounted and stood before the gates and cried, “Comorre!  See, I bring you back your wife and son that God in his grace has given you!  Will you take them back?

The prophecy is fulfilled

But no answer came from the castle and Gildas repeated the words twice more.  Still no answer came from the castle.  Then Gildas took the new born baby from Tréphine and placed  him standing upon the ground and a second miracle was seen.  The child strode towards the edge of the moat stooped and taking a handful of sand threw it against the castle and then raising his hands and looking up to heaven he called out “Justice shall be done!”  Instantly the skies resounded like thunder and the walls of the castle cracked and the walls disintegrated into a heap of rubble before their eyes and the once mighty stronghold of Count Comorre was reduced to ruin burying him and all those who followed him under rubble.  With Comorre and his followers now dead the King of Vannes took his daughter, Tréphine and his grandson with Gildas back safely to his castle now glad of heart that evil had been vanquished.  So the great fear of the prophecy that drove Comorre to kill his wives finally caught up with him and was now fulfilled by his own son.

© 26/04/2016 zteve t evans

References and Attributions

Copyright 26/04/2016 zteve t evans