Queen Cordelia of the Britons


Cordelia by William Frederick Yeames – Public Domain

According to Geoffrey of Monmouth, the legendary Queen Cordelia was the youngest daughter of King Leir, of the Britons.  She was unfairly rejected by her father for telling him a truth he should have known.  Instead, he bestowed his favor upon her two sisters who falsely proclaimed their love for him for personal gain.  It’s a story of how love, loyalty and forgiveness triumph over lies, deceit and greed and how a woman took up arms to fight in support of the father she loved and became one of the legendary warrior women of the Britons.  

The daughters of Leir

Geoffrey tells us that King Leir had three daughters, Goneril, Regan and the youngest was Cordelia who was his favorite.  As he approached old age he decided he would marry off his daughters and divide his kingdom up between them.  Calling his advisors to him he asked for their advice and they told him to give his kingdom to those who loved him the most.  Leir called his daughters to him and asked how much they loved him.  Goneril and Regan fawned before him and flattered him greatly exaggerating their love for him.

Cordelia’s refusal

When Cordelia, his youngest and favorite daughter came before him she refused to do the same as her sisters, insisting that he should not need such false proof of her great love for him which she showed every day.  However, Leir’s advisors counseled him to divide his kingdom between Goneril and Regan and give Cordelia nothing as she would not answer him and furthermore refuse to find her a husband.  Leir listened to them and did what they suggested and married Goneril and Regan to the Dukes of Cornwall and Albany giving both a huge wedding dowry.  Goneril married Duke Maglanus of Albany and Regan married the Duke of Cornwall.

Cordelia’s punishment

Cordelia got nothing and when Aganippus who was the King of the Franks courted her and asked for her hand in marriage Leir refused to pay a wedding dowry.  Aganippus told Leir his love for Cordelia was not dependent on a dowry or anything else he could give as he loved her anyway.  All he wanted was his permission, which was granted.  So Cordelia left her father and married Aganippus and moved to his court in France and they lived there happily.

Goneril and Regan betray Leir

When Goneril and Regan married they received half of Leir’s kingdom and his wealth between them. They would get the other half on his death but their husbands usurped the throne taking all for themselves.  Marglanus gave Leir a retinue of sixty knights but his daughter, Goneril, halved this after two years.  Leir went to Regan thinking she would support him better but she cut his retinue further to five men.   Disappointed, Leir went back to Goneril to plead for more but she reduced his retinue to a single man to protect him.

Leir goes to Cordelia

With his own daughters abusing and humiliating him in this way Leir fears for his life and goes to France to seek out Cordelia.   Arriving outside of her court and not knowing what kind of reception to expect after his own treatment of her he sends her a message of his arrival asking to see her.  Cordelia, rather than being vengeful at his treatment of her in the past welcomes him and has him bathed and dressed in Royal fashion.   She gives him a large retinue of men to support him and he is received with honor by her husband, Aganippus, the King of France.  Aganippus, makes him a regent of France and promises along with other French nobles to restore his throne to him.

Cordelia the warrior

King Aganippus raises an army and along with Cordelia and Leir lead it into battle against the usurpers of Leir’s realm, Regan and Goneril and their husbands.  They successfully defeat them and win back Leir’s realm.   Although Leir had previously left half his kingdom to Regan and Goneril with them getting the other half when he died this was revoked.

Leir’s death

Leir ruled his kingdom for three more years before dying and when her husband died Cordelia returned to Britain.  She was crowned Queen and succeeded him.  She buried Leir in a shrine underneath the River Soar dedicated to Janus and held a feast every year in his honor.

Queen Cordelia

Cordelia was to rule as queen for five years in peace but her two sister’s sons Marganus and Cunedagius came of age and inherited their father’s dukedoms.  They resented Cordelia because she had defeated their fathers and because she was a woman.  They claimed that if anyone should rule it should be them and they took to war to defeat her. Although a woman, Cordelia was a warrior and fought many battles.  She led her own army against them fighting herself on many occasions.

Cordelia’s death

Eventually, her nephews defeated, captured and imprisoned her where she died.  She was succeeded by her nephews who split the realm into two.  Cunedagius ruled the country southwest of the River Humber and Marganus ruled the country to the northeast of the River Humber.  Eventually, they fought against each not being satisfied with what they got and Cunedagius defeated and killed Marganus.


Although the works of Geoffrey of Monmouth are not regarded as reliable historical evidence today they were highly thought of in his time and into the 16th century before it became discredited.  Whatever the historical facts may be it is the human characteristics demonstrated by Cordelia of love, loyalty and forgiveness and her willingness to go to war for her father despite his foolishness, set against the failings of Goneril and Regan that resonate through the ages.

© 29/06/2016 zteve t evans

References and Attributions

Copyright June 29th 2016 zteve t evans