King Aurelius Ambrosius
The legendary Merlin is one of the best known characters in Arthurian legend and romance and many remarkable feats are attributed to him. In The History of the Kings of Britain (Historia regum Britanniae) written about 1136 by Geoffrey of Monmouth he was an advisor, magician and prophet of kings. Presented here is a retelling of one of his prophecies inspired by a comet that reveals the death of the King of the Britons, Aurelius Ambrosius. He predicts his younger brother Uther would take the crown and from him would come a king who would be the hope and inspiration of the Britons and a daughter who would beget a line of kings. The story begins after Ambrosius had driven out the Saxons and pacified the Picts on the borderlands to establish himself as undisputed King of the Britons after a long hard fight against powerful enemies.
Even the great and the good can fall sick and Aurelius Ambrosius, the King of the Britons fell seriously ill. At this time, Pascentius, a son of his old enemy Vortigern and Gillomanius the King of Ireland both bore him a grudge and plotted together against him. Gillomanius hated him for commanding his younger brother Uther and Merlin to bring back the Giant’s Dance from Mount Killaraus in Ireland at any cost. Consequently Uther fought the Irish king in battle over the stones and defeated. Then Merlin used his arts to uproot them and transport them to a new site in Britain. Pascentius hated him for killing his father the former king and defeating him in an earlier battle and because he believed he should be king. They joined forces and landed with a powerful army at Menevia. With the king lying in his sick bed, Uther, the younger brother of Aurelius, took it upon himself to defend the kingdom against the invaders and with Merlin to advise him led his troops to meet the foe.
The Star and the Fiery Dragon
On their march to battle, Uther and his army were amazed to see in the heavens a star of such brilliance it not only lit up the night sky, but could be seen plainly in daylight. Never had Uther or any of his men seen anything like it before. They were astounded by it and also frightened. From the star there sprang a single ray of light that formed into a shape like that of a fiery dragon. From the dragon’s mouth two rays were emitted. One stretched out reaching across Britain and across the sea and into Gaul. The other stretched across the Irish Sea and divided into seven smaller rays of equal length. The whole display could be seen across all of Britain and beyond. The people were filled with fear and awe not knowing of its meaning and fearing it portended some terrible event and Uther called upon Merlin for an explanation. Merlin, who had foretold the death of Vortigern the previous king and made the Prophesy of the Two Dragons and other predictions looked upon the spectacle and then cried out,
“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)
Although Uther was also in awe of the spectacle he doubted Merlin. He was now within half a day’s march of Menevia and Pascentius and Gillomius and knew he could not return to Winchester and allow them to move inland with such a great army. Therefore, he decided to confront them as quickly as possible and pressed on.
Pascentius and Gillomanius soon became aware of the approach of Uther and ordered their own troops into battle formation and moved to meet the Britons. As soon as the two sides met battle commenced. No quarter was asked and none given by the Irish or the Britons and the fighting was bloody and fierce with much loss of life on both sides. As the day wore on the Britons gained the upper hand killing both Pascentius and Gillomanius. With the deaths of their leaders the enemy broke and scattered giving Uther absolute victory. He chased and harried the enemy back to their ships killing any that that were caught.
The Death of Aurelius
With the enemy flying before him Uther rested and savoured his victory but soon there came a messenger from Winchester that brought the sad news of the death of King Aurelius Ambrosius of the Britons. The messenger told him Aurelius had received a fitting funeral conducted by the most celebrated clergy in the land. They had deemed it proper that he be buried with all royal ceremony inside the Giant’s Dance. This had seemed the most fitting burial place for him having been obtained and built at his instigation as an everlasting memorial to commemorate the victims of the The Night of the Long Knives.
Uther is Crowned King
Although Uther had enjoyed his victory, the death of his elder brother grieved him greatly. This made him more determined to see through the great events they had been through together. With his brother dead, Uther was now the rightful heir to the kingdom of Britain. Calling together all the clergy and nobles in the land with their unanimous agreement and support he was crowned King of Britain.
Taking inspiration from the rayed star and the fiery dragon he had seen before the battle and from Merlin’s prophecy he commanded two statuettes of solid gold to be made. One he gave to Winchester Cathedral, but the second he kept for himself. From that time onward it was carried with him in all of his battles and this is how he came to be called Uther Pendragon, meaning head of the dragon. From Uther Pendragon would come a son named Arthur Pendragon, who was destined to be the great hope of the Britons and a daughter named Anna.
© 08/11/2017 zteve t evans
References, Attributions and Further Reading
Copyright November 8th, 2017 zteve t evans
(1) [PDF] History of the Kings of Britain – York University – Page 138