Bulfinch's Mythology
Thomas Bulfinch

Part 8 out of 19

Gunther, when the two women fell into a dispute about the relative
merits of their husbands. Kriemhild, to exalt Siegfried, boasted
that it was to the latter that Gunther owed his victories and his
wife. Brunhild, in great anger, employed Hagan, liegeman of
Gunther, to murder Siegfried. In the epic Hagan is described as

"Well-grown and well-compacted was that redoubted guest; Long were
his legs and sinewy, and deep and broad his chest; His hair, that
once was sable, with gray was dashed of late; Most terrible his
visage, and lordly was his gait."

--Nibelungen Lied, stanza 1789.

This Achilles of German romance stabbed Siegfried between the
shoulders, as the unfortunate King of the Netherlands was stooping
to drink from a brook during a hunting expedition.

The second part of the epic relates how, thirteen years later,
Kriemhild married Etzel, King of the Huns. After a time, she
invited the King of Burgundy, with Hagan and many others, to the
court of her husband. A fearful quarrel was stirred up in the
banquet hall, which ended in the slaughter of all the Burgundians
but Gunther and Hagan. These two were taken prisoners and given to
Kriemhild, who with her own hand cut off the heads of both. For
this bloody act of vengeance Kriemhild was herself slain by
Hildebrand, a magician and champion, who in German mythology holds
a place to an extent corresponding to that of Nestor in the Greek


This was a mythical mass of gold and precious stones which
Siegfried obtained from the Nibelungs, the people of the north
whom he had conquered and whose country he had made tributary to
his own kingdom of the Netherlands. Upon his marriage, Siegfried
gave the treasure to Kriemhild as her wedding portion. After the
murder of Siegfried, Hagan seized it and buried it secretly
beneath the Rhine at Lochham, intending to recover it at a future
period. The hoard was lost forever when Hagan was killed by
Kriemhild. Its wonders are thus set forth in the poem:

"'Twas as much as twelve huge wagons in four whole nights and days
Could carry from the mountain down to the salt sea bay;
Though to and fro each wagon thrice journeyed every day.

"It was made up of nothing but precious stones and gold;
Were all the world bought from it, and down the value told,
Not a mark the less would there be left than erst there was, I ween."

--Nibelungen Lied, XIX.

Whoever possessed the Nibelungen hoard were termed Nibelungers.
Thus at one time certain people of Norway were so called. When
Siegfried held the treasure he received the title "King of the


Though Richard Wagner's music-drama of the Nibelungen Ring bears
some resemblance to the ancient German epic, it is a wholly
independent composition and was derived from various old songs and
sagas, which the dramatist wove into one great harmonious story.
The principal source was the Volsunga Saga, while lesser parts
were taken from the Elder Edda and the Younger Edda, and others
from the Nibelungen Lied, the Ecklenlied, and other Teutonic

In the drama there are at first only four distinct races,--the
gods, the giants, the dwarfs, and the nymphs. Later, by a special
creation, there come the valkyrie and the heroes. The gods are the
noblest and highest race, and dwell first in the mountain meadows,
later in the palace of Valhalla on the heights. The giants are a
great and strong race, but lack wisdom; they hate what is noble,
and are enemies of the gods; they dwell in caves near the earth's
surface. The dwarfs, or nibelungs, are black uncouth pigmies,
hating the good, hating the gods; they are crafty and cunning, and
dwell in the bowels of the earth. The nymphs are pure, innocent
creatures of the water. The valkyrie are daughters of the gods,
but mingled with a mortal strain; they gather dead heroes from the
battle-fields and carry them to Valhalla. The heroes are children
of the gods, but also mingled with a mortal strain; they are
destined to become at last the highest race of all, and to succeed
the gods in the government of the world.

The principal gods are Wotan, Loki, Donner, and Froh. The chief
giants are Fafner and Fasolt, brothers. The chief dwarfs are
Alberich and Mime, brothers, and later Hagan, son of Alberich. The
chief nymphs are the Rhine-daughters, Flosshilda, Woglinda, and
Wellgunda. There are nine Valkyrie, of whom Brunhild is the
leading one.

Wagner's story of the Ring may be summarized as follows:

A hoard of gold exists in the depths of the Rhine, guarded by the
innocent Rhine-maidens. Alberich, the dwarf, forswears love to
gain this gold. He makes it into a magic ring. It gives him all
power, and he gathers by it a vast amount of treasures.

Meanwhile Wotan, chief of the gods, has engaged the giants to
build for him a noble castle, Valhalla, from whence to rule the
world, promising in payment Freya, goddess of youth and love. But
the gods find they cannot spare Freya, as they are dependent on
her for their immortal youth. Loki, called upon to provide a
substitute, tells of Alberich's magic ring and other treasure.
Wotan goes with Loki, and they steal the ring and the golden hoard
from Alberich, who curses the ring and lays the curse on all who
shall henceforth possess it. The gods give the ring and the
treasure to the giants as a substitute for Freya. The curse at
once begins. One giant, Fafner, kills his brother to get all, and
transforms himself into a dragon to guard his wealth. The gods
enter Valhalla over the rainbow bridge. This ends the first part
of the drama, called the Rhine-Gold.

The second part, the Valkyrie, relates how Wotan still covets the
ring. He cannot take it himself, for he has given his word to the
giants. He stands or falls by his word. So he devises an artifice
to get the ring. He will get a hero-race to work for him and
recover the ring and the treasures. Siegmund and Sieglinda are
twin children of this new race. Sieglinda is carried off as a
child and is forced into marriage with Hunding. Siegmund comes,
and unknowingly breaks the law of marriage, but wins Nothung, the
great sword, and a bride. Brunhild, chief of the Valkyrie, is
commissioned by Wotan at the instance of Fricka, goddess of
marriage, to slay him for his sin. She disobeys and tries to save
him, but Hunding, helped by Wotan, slays him. Sieglinda, however,
about to bear the free hero, to be called Siegfried, is saved by
Brunhild, and hid in the forest. Brunhild herself is punished by
being made a mortal woman. She is left sleeping on the mountains
with a wall of fire around her which only a hero can penetrate.

The drama continues with the story of Siegfried, which opens with
a scene in the smithy between Mime the dwarf and Siegfried. Mime
is welding a sword, and Siegfried scorns him. Mime tells him
something of his mother, Sieglinda, and shows him the broken
pieces of his father's sword. Wotan comes and tells Mime that only
one who has no fear can remake the sword. Now Siegfried knows no
fear and soon remakes the sword Nothung. Wotan and Alberich come
to where the dragon Fafner is guarding the ring. They both long
for it, but neither can take it. Soon Mime comes bringing
Siegfried with the mighty sword. Fafner comes out, but Siegfried
slays him. Happening to touch his lips with the dragon's blood, he
understands the language of the birds. They tell him of the ring.
He goes and gets it. Siegfried now has possession of the ring, but
it is to bring him nothing of happiness, only evil. It is to curse
love and finally bring death. The birds also tell him of Mime's
treachery. He slays Mime. He longs for some one to love. The birds
tell him of the slumbering Brunnhilda, whom he finds and marries.

The Dusk of the Gods portrays at the opening the three norns or
fates weaving and measuring the thread of destiny. It is the
beginning of the end. The perfect pair, Siegfried and Brunhild,
appear in all the glory of their life, splendid ideals of manhood
and womanhood. But Siegfried goes out into the world to achieve
deeds of prowess. He gives her the Nibelungen ring to keep as a
pledge of his love till his return. Meanwhile Alberich also has
begotten a son, Hagan, to achieve for him the possession of the
ring. He is partly of the Gibichung race, and works through
Gunther and Gutrune, half-brother and half-sister to him. They
beguile Siegfried to them, give him a magic draught which makes
him forget Brunhild and fall in love with Gutrune. Under this same
spell, he offers to bring Brunhild for wife to Gunther. Now is
Valhalla full of sorrow and despair. The gods fear the end. Wotan
murmurs, "O that she would give back the ring to the Rhine." But
Brunhild will not give it up,--it is now her pledge of love.
Siegfried comes, takes the ring, and Brunhild is now brought to
the Rhine castle of the Gibichungs, but Siegfried under the spell
does not love her. She is to be wedded to Gunther. She rises in
wrath and denounces Siegfried. But at a hunting banquet Siegfried
is given another magic draught, remembers all, and is slain by
Hagan by a blow in the back, as he calls on Brunhild's name in
love. Then comes the end. The body of Siegfried is burned on a
funeral pyre, a grand funeral march is heard, and Brunhild rides
into the flames and sacrifices herself for love's sake; the ring
goes back to the Rhine-daughters; and the old world--of the gods
of Valhalla, of passion and sin--is burnt up with flames, for the
gods have broken moral law, and coveted power rather than love,
gold rather than truth, and therefore must perish. They pass, and
a new era, the reign of love and truth, has begun.

Those who wish to study the differences in the legends of the
Nibelungen Lied and the Nibelungen Ring, and the way in which
Wagner used his ancient material, are referred to Professor W. C.
Sawyer's book on "Teutonic Legends in the Nibelungen Lied and the
Nibelungen Ring," where the matter is treated in full detail. For
a very thorough and clear analysis of the Ring as Wagner gives it,
with a study of the musical motifs, probably nothing is better for
general readers than the volume "The Epic of Sounds," by Freda
Winworth. The more scholarly work of Professor Lavignac is
indispensable for the student of Wagner's dramas. There is much
illuminating comment on the sources and materials in "Legends of
the Wagner Drama" by J. L. Weston.




The Druids were the priests or ministers of religion among the
ancient Celtic nations in Gaul, Britain, and Germany. Our
information respecting them is borrowed from notices in the Greek
and Roman writers, compared with the remains of Welsh and Gaelic
poetry still extant.

The Druids combined the functions of the priest, the magistrate,
the scholar, and the physician. They stood to the people of the
Celtic tribes in a relation closely analogous to that in which the
Brahmans of India, the Magi of Persia, and the priests of the
Egyptians stood to the people respectively by whom they were

The Druids taught the existence of one god, to whom they gave a
name "Be' al," which Celtic antiquaries tell us means "the life of
everything," or "the source of all beings," and which seems to
have affinity with the Phoenician Baal. What renders this affinity
more striking is that the Druids as well as the Phoenicians
identified this, their supreme deity, with the Sun. Fire was
regarded as a symbol of the divinity. The Latin writers assert
that the Druids also worshipped numerous inferior gods.

They used no images to represent the object of their worship, nor
did they meet in temples or buildings of any kind for the
performance of their sacred rites. A circle of stones (each stone
generally of vast size), enclosing an area of from twenty feet to
thirty yards in diameter, constituted their sacred place. The most
celebrated of these now remaining is Stonehenge, on Salisbury
Plain, England.

These sacred circles were generally situated near some stream, or
under the shadow of a grove or wide-spreading oak. In the centre
of the circle stood the Cromlech or altar, which was a large
stone, placed in the manner of a table upon other stones set up on
end. The Druids had also their high places, which were large
stones or piles of stones on the summits of hills. These were
called Cairns, and were used in the worship of the deity under the
symbol of the sun.

That the Druids offered sacrifices to their deity there can be no
doubt. But there is some uncertainty as to what they offered, and
of the ceremonies connected with their religious services we know
almost nothing. The classical (Roman) writers affirm that they
offered on great occasions human sacrifices; as for success in war
or for relief from dangerous diseases. Caesar has given a detailed
account of the manner in which this was done. "They have images of
immense size, the limbs of which are framed with twisted twigs and
filled with living persons. These being set on fire, those within
are encompassed by the flames." Many attempts have been made by
Celtic writers to shake the testimony of the Roman historians to
this fact, but without success.

The Druids observed two festivals in each year. The former took
place in the beginning of May, and was called Beltane or "fire of
God." On this occasion a large fire was kindled on some elevated
spot, in honor of the sun, whose returning beneficence they thus
welcomed after the gloom and desolation of winter. Of this custom
a trace remains in the name given to Whitsunday in parts of
Scotland to this day. Sir Walter Scott uses the word in the "Boat
Song" in the "Lady of the Lake":

"Ours is no sapling, chance sown by the fountain, Blooming at
Beltane in winter to fade;" etc.

The other great festival of the Druids was called "Samh'in," or
"fire of peace," and was held on Halloweve (first of November),
which still retains this designation in the Highlands of Scotland.
On this occasion the Druids assembled in solemn conclave, in the
most central part of the district, to discharge the judicial
functions of their order. All questions, whether public or
private, all crimes against person or property, were at this time
brought before them for adjudication. With these judicial acts
were combined certain superstitious usages, especially the
kindling of the sacred fire, from which all the fires in the
district, which had been beforehand scrupulously extinguished,
might be relighted. This usage of kindling fires on Hallow-eve
lingered in the British islands long after the establishment of

Besides these two great annual festivals, the Druids were in the
habit of observing the full moon, and especially the sixth day of
the moon. On the latter they sought the Mistletoe, which grew on
their favorite oaks, and to which, as well as to the oak itself,
they ascribed a peculiar virtue and sacredness. The discovery of
it was an occasion of rejoicing and solemn worship. "They call
it," says Pliny, "by a word in their language, which means 'heal-
all,' and having made solemn preparation for feasting and
sacrifice under the tree, they drive thither two milk-white bulls,
whose horns are then for the first time bound. The priest then,
robed in white, ascends the tree, and cuts off the mistletoe with
a golden sickle. It is caught in a white mantle, after which they
proceed to slay the victims, at the same time praying that God
would render his gift prosperous to those to whom he had given
it." They drink the water in which it has been infused, and think
it a remedy for all diseases. The mistletoe is a parasitic plant,
and is not always nor often found on the oak, so that when it is
found it is the more precious.

The Druids were the teachers of morality as well as of religion.
Of their ethical teaching a valuable specimen is preserved in the
Triads of the Welsh Bards, and from this we may gather that their
views of moral rectitude were on the whole just, and that they
held and inculcated many very noble and valuable principles of
conduct. They were also the men of science and learning of their
age and people. Whether they were acquainted with letters or not
has been disputed, though the probability is strong that they
were, to some extent. But it is certain that they committed
nothing of their doctrine, their history, or their poetry to
writing. Their teaching was oral, and their literature (if such a
word may be used in such a case) was preserved solely by
tradition. But the Roman writers admit that "they paid much
attention to the order and laws of nature, and investigated and
taught to the youth under their charge many things concerning the
stars and their motions, the size of the world and the lands, and
concerning the might and power of the immortal gods."

Their history consisted in traditional tales, in which the heroic
deeds of their forefathers were celebrated. These were apparently
in verse, and thus constituted part of the poetry as well as the
history of the Druids. In the poems of Ossian we have, if not the
actual productions of Druidical times, what may be considered
faithful representations of the songs of the Bards.

The Bards were an essential part of the Druidical hierarchy. One
author, Pennant, says, "The Bards were supposed to be endowed with
powers equal to inspiration. They were the oral historians of all
past transactions, public and private. They were also accomplished
genealogists," etc.

Pennant gives a minute account of the Eisteddfods or sessions of
the Bards and minstrels, which were held in Wales for many
centuries, long after the Druidical priesthood in its other
departments became extinct. At these meetings none but Bards of
merit were suffered to rehearse their pieces, and minstrels of
skill to perform. Judges were appointed to decide on their
respective abilities, and suitable degrees were conferred. In the
earlier period the judges were appointed by the Welsh princes, and
after the conquest of Wales, by commission from the kings of
England. Yet the tradition is that Edward I., in revenge for the
influence of the Bards in animating the resistance of the people
to his sway, persecuted them with great cruelty. This tradition
has furnished the poet Gray with the subject of his celebrated
ode, the "Bard."

There are still occasional meetings of the lovers of Welsh poetry
and music, held under the ancient name. Among Mrs. Hemans' poems
is one written for an Eisteddfod, or meeting of Welsh Bards, held
in London, May 22, 1822. It begins with a description of the
ancient meeting, of which the following lines are a part:

"... midst the eternal cliffs, whose strength defied
The crested Roman in his hour of pride;
And where the Druid's ancient cromlech frowned,
And the oaks breathed mysterious murmurs round,
There thronged the inspired of yore! on plain or height,
In the sun's face, beneath the eye of light,
And baring unto heaven each noble head,
Stood in the circle, where none else might tread."

The Druidical system was at its height at the time of the Roman
invasion under Julius Caesar. Against the Druids, as their chief
enemies, these conquerors of the world directed their unsparing
fury. The Druids, harassed at all points on the mainland,
retreated to Anglesey and Iona, where for a season they found
shelter and continued their now dishonored rites.

The Druids retained their predominance in Iona and over the
adjacent islands and mainland until they were supplanted and their
superstitions overturned by the arrival of St. Columba, the
apostle of the Highlands, by whom the inhabitants of that district
were first led to profess Christianity.


One of the smallest of the British Isles, situated near a rugged
and barren coast, surrounded by dangerous seas, and possessing no
sources of internal wealth, Iona has obtained an imperishable
place in history as the seat of civilization and religion at a
time when the darkness of heathenism hung over almost the whole of
Northern Europe. lona or Icolmkill is situated at the extremity of
the island of Mull, from which it is separated by a strait of half
a mile in breadth, its distance from the mainland of Scotland
being thirty-six miles.

Columba was a native of Ireland, and connected by birth with the
princes of the land. Ireland was at that time a land of gospel
light, while the western and northern parts of Scotland were still
immersed in the darkness of heathenism. Columba with twelve
friends landed on the island of lona in the year of our Lord 563,
having made the passage in a wicker boat covered with hides. The
Druids who occupied the island endeavored to prevent his settling
there, and the savage nations on the adjoining shores incommoded
him with their hostility, and on several occasions endangered his
life by their attacks. Yet by his perseverance and zeal he
surmounted all opposition, procured from the king a gift of the
island, and established there a monastery of which he was the
abbot. He was unwearied in his labors to disseminate a knowledge
of the Scriptures throughout the Highlands and islands of
Scotland, and such was the reverence paid him that though not a
bishop, but merely a presbyter and monk, the entire province with
its bishops was subject to him and his successors. The Pictish
monarch was so impressed with a sense of his wisdom and worth that
he held him in the highest honor, and the neighboring chiefs and
princes sought his counsel and availed themselves of his judgment
in settling their disputes.

When Columba landed on lona he was attended by twelve followers
whom he had formed into a religious body of which he was the head.
To these, as occasion required, others were from time to time
added, so that the original number was always kept up. Their
institution was called a monastery and the superior an abbot, but
the system had little in common with the monastic institutions of
later times. The name by which those who submitted to the rule
were known was that of Culdees, probably from the Latin "cultores
Dei"--worshippers of God. They were a body of religious persons
associated together for the purpose of aiding each other in the
common work of preaching the gospel and teaching youth, as well as
maintaining in themselves the fervor of devotion by united
exercises of worship. On entering the order certain vows were
taken by the members, but they were not those which were usually
imposed by monastic orders, for of these, which are three,--
celibacy, poverty, and obedience.--the Culdees were bound to none
except the third. To poverty they did not bind themselves; on the
contrary they seem to have labored diligently to procure for
themselves and those dependent on them the comforts of life.
Marriage also was allowed them, and most of them seem to have
entered into that state. True, their wives were not permitted to
reside with them at the institution, but they had a residence
assigned to them in an adjacent locality. Near lona there is an
island which still bears the name of "Eilen nam ban," women's
island, where their husbands seem to have resided with them,
except when duty required their presence in the school or the

Campbell, in his poem of "Reullura," alludes to the married monks
of Iona:

"... The pure Culdees
Were Albyn's earliest priests of God,
Ere yet an island of her seas
By foot of Saxon monk was trod,
Long ere her churchmen by bigotry
Were barred from holy wedlock's tie.
'Twas then that Aodh, famed afar,
In lona preached the word with power,
And Reullura, beauty's star,
Was the partner of his bower."

In one of his "Irish Melodies," Moore gives the legend of St.
Senanus and the lady who sought shelter on the island, but was

"O, haste and leave this sacred isle,
Unholy bark, ere morning smile;
For on thy deck, though dark it be,
A female form I see;
And I have sworn this sainted sod
Shall ne'er by woman's foot be trod."

In these respects and in others the Culdees departed from the
established rules of the Romish church, and consequently were
deemed heretical. The consequence was that as the power of the
latter advanced that of the Culdees was enfeebled. It was not,
however, till the thirteenth centurv that the communities of the
Culdees were suppressed and the members dispersed. They still
continued to labor as individuals, and resisted the inroads of
Papal usurpation as they best might till the light of the
Reformation dawned on the world.

Iona, from its position in the western seas, was exposed to the
assaults of the Norwegian and Danish rovers by whom those seas
were infested, and by them it was repeatedly pillaged, its
dwellings burned, and its peaceful inhabitants put to the sword.
These unfavorable circumstances led to its gradual decline, which
was expedited by the subversion of the Culdees throughout
Scotland. Under the reign of Popery the island became the seat of
a nunnery, the ruins of which are still seen. At the Reformation,
the nuns were allowed to remain, living in community, when the
abbey was dismantled.

Iona is now chiefly resorted to by travellers on account of the
numerous ecclesiastical and sepulchral remains which are found
upon it. The principal of these are the Cathedral or Abbey Church
and the Chapel of the Nunnery. Besides these remains of
ecclesiastical antiquity, there are some of an earlier date, and
pointing to the existence on the island of forms of worship and
belief different from those of Christianity. These are the
circular Cairns which are found in various parts, and which seem
to have been of Druidical origin. It is in reference to all these
remains of ancient religion that Johnson exclaims, "That man is
little to be envied whose patriotism would not gain force upon the
plains of Marathon, or whose piety would not grow warmer amid the
ruins of lona."

In the "Lord of the Isles" Scott beautifully contrasts the church
on lona with the cave of Staffa, opposite:

"Nature herself, it seemed, would raise
A minister to her Maker's praise!
Not for a meaner use ascend
Her columns, or her arches bend;
Nor of a theme less solemn tells
That mighty surge that ebbs and swells,
And still between each awful pause,
From the high vault an answer draws,
In varied tone, prolonged and high,
That mocks the organ's melody;
Nor doth its entrance front in vain
To old Iona's holy fane,
That Nature's voice might seem to say,
Well hast thou done, frail child of clay!
Thy humble powers that stately shrine
Tasked high and hard--but witness mine!"




On the decline of the Roman power, about five centuries after
Christ, the countries of Northern Europe were left almost
destitute of a national government. Numerous chiefs, more or less
powerful, held local sway, as far as each could enforce his
dominion, and occasionally those chiefs would unite for a common
object; but, in ordinary times, they were much more likely to be
found in hostility to one another. In such a state of things the
rights of the humbler classes of society were at the mercy of
every assailant; and it is plain that, without some check upon the
lawless power of the chiefs, society must have relapsed into
barbarism. Such checks were found, first, in the rivalry of the
chiefs themselves, whose mutual jealousy made them restraints upon
one another; secondly, in the influence of the Church, which, by
every motive, pure or selfish, was pledged to interpose for the
protection of the weak; and lastly, in the generosity and sense of
right which, however crushed under the weight of passion and
selfishness, dwell naturally in the heart of man. From this last
source sprang Chivalry, which framed an ideal of the heroic
character, combining invincible strength and valor, justice,
modesty, loyalty to superiors, courtesy to equals, compassion to
weakness, and devotedness to the Church; an ideal which, if never
met with in real life, was acknowledged by all as the highest
model for emulation.

The word "Chivalry" is derived from the French "cheval," a horse.
The word "knight," which originally meant boy or servant, was
particularly applied to a young man after he was admitted to the
privilege of bearing arms. This privilege was conferred on youths
of family and fortune only, for the mass of the people were not
furnished with arms. The knight then was a mounted warrior, a man
of rank, or in the service and maintenance of some man of rank,
generally possessing some independent means of support, but often
relying mainly on the gratitude of those whom he served for the
supply of his wants, and often, no doubt, resorting to the means
which power confers on its possessor.

In time of war the knight was, with his followers, in the camp of
his sovereign, or commanding in the field, or holding some castle
for him. In time of peace he was often in attendance at his
sovereign's court, gracing with his presence the banquets and
tournaments with which princes cheered their leisure. Or he was
traversing the country in quest of adventure, professedly bent on
redressing wrongs and enforcing rights, sometimes in fulfilment of
some vow of religion or of love. These wandering knights were
called knights-errant; they were welcome guests in the castles of
the nobility, for their presence enlivened the dulness of those
secluded abodes, and they were received with honor at the abbeys,
which often owed the best part of their revenues to the patronage
of the knights; but if no castle or abbey or hermitage were at
hand their hardy habits made it not intolerable to them to lie
down, supperless, at the foot of some wayside cross, and pass the

It is evident that the justice administered by such an
instrumentality must have been of the rudest description. The
force whose legitimate purpose was to redress wrongs might easily
be perverted to inflict them Accordingly, we find in the romances,
which, however fabulous in facts, are true as pictures of manners,
that a knightly castle was often a terror to the surrounding
country; that is, dungeons were full of oppressed knights and
ladies, waiting for some champion to appear to set them free, or
to be ransomed with money; that hosts of idle retainers were ever
at hand to enforce their lord's behests, regardless of law and
justice; and that the rights of the unarmed multitude were of no
account. This contrariety of fact and theory in regard to chivalry
will account for the opposite impressions which exist in men's
minds respecting it. While it has been the theme of the most
fervid eulogium on the one part, it has been as eagerly denounced
on the other. On a cool estimate, we cannot but see reason to
congratulate ourselves that it has given way in modern times to
the reign of law, and that the civil magistrate, if less
picturesque, has taken the place of the mailed champion.


The preparatory education of candidates for knighthood was long
and arduous. At seven years of age the noble children were usually
removed from their father's house to the court or castle of their
future patron, and placed under the care of a governor, who taught
them the first articles of religion, and respect and reverence for
their lords and superiors, and initiated them in the ceremonies of
a court. They were called pages, valets, or varlets, and their
office was to carve, to wait at table, and to perform other menial
services, which were not then considered humiliating. In their
leisure hours they learned to dance and play on the harp, were
instructed in the mysteries of woods and rivers, that is, in
hunting, falconry, and fishing, and in wrestling, tilting with
spears, and performing other military exercises on horseback. At
fourteen the page became an esquire, and began a course of severer
and more laborious exercises. To vault on a horse in heavy armor;
to run, to scale walls, and spring over ditches, under the same
encumbrance; to wrestle, to wield the battle-axe for a length of
time, without raising the visor or taking breath; to perform with
grace all the evolutions of horsemanship,--were necessary
preliminaries to the reception of knighthood, which was usually
conferred at twenty-one years of age, when the young man's
education was supposed to be completed. In the meantime, the
esquires were no less assiduously engaged in acquiring all those
refinements of civility which formed what was in that age called
courtesy. The same castle in which they received their education
was usually thronged with young persons of the other sex, and the
page was encouraged, at a very early age, to select some lady of
the court as the mistress of his heart, to whom he was taught to
refer all his sentiments, words, and actions. The service of his
mistress was the glory and occupation of a knight, and her smiles,
bestowed at once by affection and gratitude, were held out as the
recompense of his well-directed valor. Religion united its
influence with those of loyalty and love, and the order of
knighthood, endowed with all the sanctity and religious awe that
attended the priesthood, became an object of ambition to the
greatest sovereigns.

The ceremonies of initiation were peculiarly solemn. After
undergoing a severe fast, and spending whole nights in prayer, the
candidate confessed, and received the sacrament. He then clothed
himself in snow-white garments, and repaired to the church, or the
hall, where the ceremony was to take place, bearing a knightly
sword suspended from his neck, which the officiating priest took
and blessed, and then returned to him. The candidate then, with
folded arms, knelt before the presiding knight, who, after some
questions about his motives and purposes in requesting admission,
administered to him the oaths, and granted his request. Some of
the knights present, sometimes even ladies and damsels, handed to
him in succession the spurs, the coat of mail, the hauberk, the
armlet and gauntlet, and lastly he girded on the sword. He then
knelt again before the president, who, rising from his seat, gave
him the "accolade," which consisted of three strokes, with the
flat of a sword, on the shoulder or neck of the candidate,
accompanied by the words: "In the name of God, of St. Michael, and
St. George, I make thee a knight; be valiant, courteous, and
loyal!" Then he received his helmet, his shield, and spear; and
thus the investiture ended.


The other classes of which society was composed were, first,
FREEMEN, owners of small portions of land independent, though they
sometimes voluntarily became the vassals of their more opulent
neighbors, whose power was necessary for their protection. The
other two classes, which were much the most numerous, were either
serfs or villains, both of which were slaves.

The SERFS were in the lowest state of slavery. All the fruits of
their labor belonged to the master whose land they tilled, and by
whom they were fed and clothed.

The VILLIANS were less degraded. Their situation seems to have
resembled that of the Russian peasants at this day. Like the
serfs, they were attached to the soil, and were transferred with
it by purchase; but they paid only a fixed rent to the landlord,
and had a right to dispose of any surplus that might arise from
their industry.

The term "clerk" was of very extensive import. It comprehended,
originally, such persons only as belonged to the clergy, or
clerical order, among whom, however, might be found a multitude of
married persons, artisans or others. But in process of time a much
wider rule was established; every one that could read being
accounted a clerk or clericus, and allowed the "benefit of
clergy," that is, exemption from capital and some other forms of
punishment, in case of crime.


The splendid pageant of a tournament between knights, its gaudy
accessories and trappings, and its chivalrous regulations,
originated in France. Tournaments were repeatedly condemned by the
Church, probably on account of the quarrels they led to, and the
often fatal results. The "joust," or "just," was different from
the tournament. In these, knights fought with their lances, and
their object was to unhorse their antagonists; while the
tournaments were intended for a display of skill and address in
evolutions, and with various weapons, and greater courtesy was
observed in the regulations. By these it was forbidden to wound
the horse, or to use the point of the sword, or to strike a knight
after he had raised his vizor, or unlaced his helmet. The ladies
encouraged their knights in these exercises; they bestowed prizes,
and the conqueror's feats were the theme of romance and song. The
stands overlooking the ground, of course, were varied in the
shapes of towers, terraces, galleries, and pensile gardens,
magnificently decorated with tapestry, pavilions, and banners.
Every combatant proclaimed the name of the lady whose servant
d'amour he was. He was wont to look up to the stand, and
strengthen his courage by the sight of the bright eyes that were
raining their influence on him from above. The knights also
carried FAVORS, consisting of scarfs, veils, sleeves, bracelets,
clasps,--in short, some piece of female habiliment,--attached to
their helmets, shields, or armor. If, during the combat, any of
these appendages were dropped or lost the fair donor would at
times send her knight new ones, especially if pleased with his


Mail armor, of which the hauberk is a species, and which derived
its name from maille, a French word for MESH, was of two kinds,
PLATE or SCALE mail, and CHAIN mail. It was originally used for
the protection of the body only, reaching no lower than the knees.
It was shaped like a carter's frock, and bound round the waist by
a girdle. Gloves and hose of mail were afterwards added, and a
hood, which, when necessary, was drawn over the head, leaving the
face alone uncovered. To protect the skin from the impression of
the iron network of the chain mail, a quilted lining was employed,
which, however, was insufficient, and the bath was used to efface
the marks of the armor.

The hauberk was a complete covering of double chain mail. Some
hauberks opened before, like a modern coat; others were closed
like a shirt.

The chain mail of which they were composed was formed by a number
of iron links, each link having others inserted into it, the whole
exhibiting a kind of network, of which (in some instances at
least) the meshes were circular, with each link separately

The hauberk was proof against the most violent blow of a sword;
but the point of a lance might pass through the meshes, or drive
the iron into the flesh. To guard against this, a thick and well-
stuffed doublet was worn underneath, under which was commonly
added an iron breastplate. Hence the expression "to pierce both
plate and mail," so common in the earlier poets.

Mail armor continued in general use till about the year 1300, when
it was gradually supplanted by plate armor, or suits consisting of
pieces or plates of solid iron, adapted to the different parts of
the body.

Shields were generally made of wood, covered with leather, or some
similar substance. To secure them, in some sort, from being cut
through by the sword, they were surrounded with a hoop of metal.


The helmet was composed of two parts: the HEADPIECE, which was
strengthened within by several circles of iron, and the VISOR,
which, as the name implies, was a sort of grating to see through,
so contrived as, by sliding in a groove, or turning on a pivot, to
be raised or lowered at pleasure. Some helmets had a further
improvement called a BEVER, from the Italian bevere, to drink. The
VENTAYLE, or "air-passage," is another name for this.

To secure the helmet from the possibility of falling, or of being
struck off, it was tied by several laces to the meshes of the
hauberk; consequently, when a knight was overthrown it was
necessary to undo these laces before he could be put to death;
though this was sometimes effected by lifting up the skirt of the
hauberk, and stabbing him in the belly. The instrument of death
was a small dagger, worn on the right side.


In ages when there were no books, when noblemen and princes
themselves could not read, history or tradition was monopolized by
the story-tellers. They inherited, generation after generation,
the wondrous tales of their predecessors, which they retailed to
the public with such additions of their own as their acquired
information supplied them with. Anachronisms became of course very
common, and errors of geography, of locality, of manners, equally
so. Spurious genealogies were invented, in which Arthur and his
knights, and Charlemagne and his paladins, were made to derive
their descent from Aeneas, Hector, or some other of the Trojan

With regard to the derivation of the word "Romance," we trace it
to the fact that the dialects which were formed in Western Europe,
from the admixture of Latin with the native languages, took the
name of Langue Romaine. The French language was divided into two
dialects. The river Loire was their common boundary. In the
provinces to the south of that river the affirmative, YES, was
expressed by the word oc; in the north it was called oil (oui);
and hence Dante has named the southern language langue d'oc, and
the northern langue d'oil. The latter, which was carried into
England by the Normans, and is the origin of the present French,
may be called the French Romane; and the former the Provencal, or
Provencial Romane, because it was spoken by the people of Provence
and Languedoc, southern provinces of France.

These dialects were soon distinguished by very opposite
characters. A soft and enervating climate, a spirit of commerce
encouraged by an easy communication with other maritime nations,
the influx of wealth, and a more settled government, may have
tended to polish and soften the diction of the Provencials, whose
poets, under the name of Troubadours, were the masters of the
Italians, and particularly of Petrarch. Their favorite pieces were
Sirventes (satirical pieces), love-songs, and Tensons, which last
were a sort of dialogue in verse between two poets, who questioned
each other on some refined points of loves' casuistry. It seems
the Provencials were so completely absorbed in these delicate
questions as to neglect and despise the composition of fabulous
histories of adventure and knighthood, which they left in a great
measure to the poets of the northern part of the kingdom, called

At a time when chivalry excited universal admiration, and when all
the efforts of that chivalry were directed against the enemies of
religion, it was natural that literature should receive the same
impulse, and that history and fable should be ransacked to furnish
examples of courage and piety that might excite increased
emulation. Arthur and Charlemagne were the two heroes selected for
this purpose. Arthur's pretensions were that he was a brave,
though not always a successful warrior; he had withstood with
great resolution the arms of the infidels, that is to say of the
Saxons, and his memory was held in the highest estimation by his
countrymen, the Britons, who carried with them into Wales, and
into the kindred country of Armorica, or Brittany, the memory of
his exploits, which their national vanity insensibly exaggerated,
till the little prince of the Silures (South Wales) was magnified
into the conqueror of England, of Gaul, and of the greater part of
Europe. His genealogy was gradually carried up to an imaginary
Brutus, and to the period of the Trojan war, and a sort of
chronicle was composed in the Welsh, or Armorican language, which,
under the pompous title of the "History of the Kings of Britain,"
was translated into Latin by Geoffrey of Monmouth, about the year
1150. The Welsh critics consider the material of the work to have
been an older history, written by St. Talian, Bishop of St. Asaph,
in the seventh century.

As to Charlemagne, though his real merits were sufficient to
secure his immortality, it was impossible that his HOLY WARS
against the Saracens should not become a favorite topic for
fiction. Accordingly, the fabulous history of these wars was
written, probably towards the close of the eleventh century, by a
monk, who, thinking it would add dignity to his work to embellish
it with a contemporary name, boldly ascribed it to Turpin, who was
Archbishop of Rheims about the year 773.

These fabulous chronicles were for a while imprisoned in languages
of local only or of professional access. Both Turpin and Geoffrey
might indeed be read by ecclesiastics, the sole Latin scholars of
those times, and Geoffrey's British original would contribute to
the gratification of Welshmen; but neither could become
extensively popular till translated into some language of general
and familiar use. The Anglo-Saxon was at that time used only by a
conquered and enslaved nation; the Spanish and Italian languages
were not yet formed; the Norman French alone was spoken and
understood by the nobility in the greater part of Europe, and
therefore was a proper vehicle for the new mode of composition.

That language was fashionable in England before the Conquest, and
became, after that event, the only language used at the court of
London. As the various conquests of the Normans, and the
enthusiastic valor of that extraordinary people, had familiarized
the minds of men with the most marvellous events, their poets
eagerly seized the fabulous legends of Arthur and Charlemagne,
translated them into the language of the day, and soon produced a
variety of imitations. The adventures attributed to these
monarchs, and to their distinguished warriors, together with those
of many other traditionary or imaginary heroes, composed by
degrees that formidable body of marvellous histories which, from
the dialect in which the most ancient of them were written, were
called "Romances."


The earliest form in which romances appear is that of a rude kind
of verse. In this form it is supposed they were sung or recited at
the feasts of princes and knights in their baronial halls. The
following specimen of the language and style of Robert de
Beauvais, who flourished in 1257, is from Sir Walter Scott's
"Introduction to the Romance of Sir Tristrem":

"Ne voil pas emmi dire,
Ici diverse la matyere,
Entre ceus qui solent cunter,
E de le cunte Tristran parler."

"I will not say too much about it,
So diverse is the matter,
Among those who are in the habit of telling
And relating the story of Tristran."

This is a specimen of the language which was in use among the
nobility of England, in the ages immediately after the Norman
conquest. The following is a specimen of the English that existed
at the same time, among the common people. Robert de Brunne,
speaking of his Latin and French authorities, says:

"Als thai haf wryten and sayd
Haf I alle in myn Inglis layd,
In symple speche as I couthe,
That is lightest in manne's mouthe.
Alle for the luf of symple men,
That strange Inglis cannot ken."

The "strange Inglis" being the language of the previous specimen.

It was not till toward the end of the thirteenth century that the
PROSE romances began to appear. These works generally began with
disowning and discrediting the sources from which in reality they
drew their sole information. As every romance was supposed to be a
real history, the compilers of those in prose would have forfeited
all credit if they had announced themselves as mere copyists of
the minstrels. On the contrary, they usually state that, as the
popular poems upon the matter in question contain many "lesings,"
they had been induced to translate the real and true history of
such or such a knight from the original Latin or Greek, or from
the ancient British or Armorican authorities, which authorities
existed only in their own assertion.

A specimen of the style of the prose romances may be found in the
following extract from one of the most celebrated and latest of
them, the "Morte d'Arthur" of Sir Thomas Mallory, of the date of
1485. From this work much of the contents of this volume has been
drawn, with as close an adherence to the original style as was
thought consistent with our plan of adapting our narrative to the
taste of modern readers.

"It is notoyrly knowen thorugh the vnyuersal world that there been
ix worthy and the best that ever were. That is to wete thre
paynyms, three Jewes, and three crysten men. As for the paynyms,
they were tofore the Incarnacyon of Cryst whiche were named, the
fyrst Hector of Troye; the second Alysaunder the grete, and the
thyrd Julyus Cezar, Emperour of Rome, of whome thystoryes ben wel
kno and had. And as for the thre Jewes whyche also were tofore
thyncarnacyon of our Lord, of whome the fyrst was Duc Josue,
whyche brought the chyldren of Israhel into the londe of beheste;
the second Dauyd, kyng of Jherusalem, and the thyrd Judas
Machabeus; of these thre the byble reherceth al theyr noble
hystoryes and actes. And sythe the sayd Incarnacyon haue ben the
noble crysten men stalled and admytted thorugh the vnyuersal world
to the nombre of the ix beste and worthy, of whome was fyrst the
noble Arthur, whose noble actes I purpose to wryte in this person
book here folowyng. The second was Charlemayn, or Charles the
grete, of whome thystorye is had in many places both in frensshe
and englysshe, and the thyrd and last was Godefray of boloyn."



The illustrious poet, Milton, in his "History of England," is the
author whom we chiefly follow in this chapter.

According to the earliest accounts, Albion, a giant, and son of
Neptune, a contemporary of Hercules, ruled over the island, to
which he gave his name. Presuming to oppose the progress of
Hercules in his western march, he was slain by him.

Another story is that Histion, the son of Japhet, the son of Noah,
had four sons, Francus, Romanus, Alemannus, and Britto, from whom
descended the French, Roman, German, and British people.

Rejecting these and other like stories, Milton gives more regard
to the story of Brutus, the Trojan, which, he says, is supported
by "descents of ancestry long continued, laws and exploits not
plainly seeming to be borrowed or devised, which on the common
belief have wrought no small impression; defended by many, denied
utterly by few." The principal authority is Geoffrey of Monmouth,
whose history, written in the twelfth century, purports to be a
translation of a history of Britain brought over from the opposite
shore of France, which, under the name of Brittany, was chiefly
peopled by natives of Britain who, from time to time, emigrated
thither, driven from their own country by the inroads of the Picts
and Scots. According to this authority, Brutus was the son of
Silvius, and he of Ascanius, the son of Aeneas, whose flight from
Troy and settlement in Italy are narrated in "Stories of Gods and

Brutus, at the age of fifteen, attending his father to the chase,
unfortunately killed him with an arrow. Banished therefor by his
kindred, he sought refuge in that part of Greece where Helenus,
with a band of Trojan exiles, had become established. But Helenus
was now dead and the descendants of the Trojans were oppressed by
Pandrasus, the king of the country. Brutus, being kindly received
among them, so throve in virtue and in arms as to win the regard
of all the eminent of the land above all others of his age. In
consequence of this the Trojans not only began to hope, but
secretly to persuade him to lead them the way to liberty. To
encourage them, they had the promise of help from Assaracus, a
noble Greek youth, whose mother was a Trojan. He had suffered
wrong at the hands of the king, and for that reason the more
willingly cast in his lost with the Trojan exiles.

Choosing a fit opportunity, Brutus with his countrymen withdrew to
the woods and hills, as the safest place from which to
expostulate, and sent this message to Pandrasus: "That the
Trojans, holding it unworthy of their ancestors to serve in a
foreign land, had retreated to the woods, choosing rather a savage
life than a slavish one. If that displeased him, then, with his
leave, they would depart to some other country." Pandrasus, not
expecting so bold a message from the sons of captives, went in
pursuit of them, with such forces as he could gather, and met them
on the banks of the Achelous, where Brutus got the advantage, and
took the king captive. The result was, that the terms demanded by
the Trojans were granted; the king gave his daughter Imogen in
marriage to Brutus, and furnished shipping, money, and fit
provision for them all to depart from the land.

The marriage being solemnized, and shipping from all parts got
together, the Trojans, in a fleet of no less than three hundred
and twenty sail, betook themselves to the sea. On the third day
they arrived at a certain island, which they found destitute of
inhabitants, though there were appearances of former habitation,
and among the ruins a temple of Diana. Brutus, here performing
sacrifice at the shrine of the goddess, invoked an oracle for his
guidance, in these lines:

"Goddess of shades, and huntress, who at will
Walk'st on the rolling sphere, and through the deep;
On thy third realm, the earth, look now, and tell
What land, what seat of rest, thou bidd'st me seek;
What certain seat where I may worship thee
For aye, with temples vowed and virgin choirs."

To whom, sleeping before the altar, Diana in a vision thus

"Brutus! far to the west, in the ocean wide,
Beyond the realm of Gaul, a land there lies,
Seagirt it lies, where giants dwelt of old;
Now, void, it fits thy people: thither bend
Thy course; there shalt thou find a lasting seat;
There to thy sons another Troy shall rise,
And kings be born of thee, whose dreaded might
Shall awe the world, and conquer nations bold"

Brutus, guided now, as he thought, by divine direction, sped his
course towards the west, and, arriving at a place on the Tyrrhene
sea, found there the descendants of certain Trojans who, with
Antenor, came into Italy, of whom Corineus was the chief. These
joined company, and the ships pursued their way till they arrived
at the mouth of the river Loire, in France, where the expedition
landed, with a view to a settlement, but were so rudely assaulted
by the inhabitants that they put to sea again, and arrived at a
part of the coast of Britain, now called Devonshire, where Brutus
felt convinced that he had found the promised end of his voyage,
landed his colony, and took possession.

The island, not yet Britain, but Albion, was in a manner desert
and inhospitable, occupied only by a remnant of the giant race
whose excessive force and tyranny had destroyed the others. The
Trojans encountered these and extirpated them, Corineus, in
particular, signalizing himself by his exploits against them; from
whom Cornwall takes its name, for that region fell to his lot, and
there the hugest giants dwelt, lurking in rocks and caves, till
Corineus rid the land of them.

Brutus built his capital city, and called it Trojanova (New Troy),
changed in time to Trinovantus, now London;

"For noble Britons sprong from Trojans bold,
And Troynovant was built of old Troy's ashes cold" SPENSER,

Book III, Canto IX., 38.]

and, having governed the isle twenty-four years, died, leaving
three sons, Locrine, Albanact and Camber. Locrine had the middle
part, Camber the west, called Cambria from him, and Albanact
Albania, now Scotland. Locrine was married to Guendolen, the
daughter of Corineus, but having seen a fair maid named Estrildis,
who had been brought captive from Germany, he became enamoured of
her, and had by her a daughter, whose name was Sabra. This matter
was kept secret while Corineus lived, but after his death Locrine
divorced Guendolen, and made Estrildis his queen. Guendolen, all
in rage, departed to Cornwall, where Madan, her son, lived, who
had been brought up by Corineus, his grandfather. Gathering an
army of her father's friends and subjects, she gave battle to her
husband's forces and Locrine was slain. Guendolen caused her
rival, Estrildis, with her daughter Sabra, to be thrown into the
river, from which cause the river thenceforth bore the maiden's
name, which by length of time is now changed into Sabrina or
Severn. Milton alludes to this in his address to the rivers,--

"Severn swift, guilty of maiden's death";--

and in his "Comus" tells the story with a slight variation, thus:

"There is a gentle nymph not far from hence,
That with moist curb sways the smooth Severn stream;
Sabrina is her name, a virgin pure:
Whilom she was the daughter of Locrine,
That had the sceptre from his father, Brute,
She, guiltless damsel, flying the mad pursuit
Of her enraged step-dame, Guendolen,
Commended her fair innocence to the flood,
That stayed her night with his cross-flowing course
The water-nymphs that in the bottom played,
Held up their pearled wrists and took her in,
Bearing her straight to aged Nereus' hall,
Who, piteous of her woes, reared her lank head,
And gave her to his daughters to imbathe
In nectared lavers strewed with asphodel,
And through the porch and inlet of each sense
Dropped in ambrosial oils till she revived,
And underwent a quick, immortal change,
Made goddess of the river," etc.

If our readers ask when all this took place, we must answer, in
the first place, that mythology is not careful of dates; and next,
that, as Brutus was the great-grandson of Aeneas, it must have
been not far from a century subsequent to the Trojan war, or about
eleven hundred years before the invasion of the island by Julius
Caesar. This long interval is filled with the names of princes
whose chief occupation was in warring with one another. Some few,
whose names remain connected with places, or embalmed in
literature, we will mention.


Bladud built the city of Bath, and dedicated the medicinal waters
to Minerva. He was a man of great invention, and practised the
arts of magic, till, having made him wings to fly, he fell down
upon the temple of Apollo, in Trinovant, and so died, after twenty
years' reign.


Leir, who next reigned, built Leicester, and called it after his
name. He had no male issue, but only three daughters. When grown
old he determined to divide his kingdom among his daughters, and
bestow them in marriage. But first, to try which of them loved him
best, he determined to ask them solemnly in order, and judge of
the warmth of their affection by their answers. Goneril, the
eldest, knowing well her father's weakness, made answer that she
loved him "above her soul." "Since thou so honorest my declining
age," said the old man, "to thee and to thy husband I give the
third part of my realm." Such good success for a few words soon
uttered was ample instruction to Regan, the second daughter, what
to say. She therefore to the same question replied that "she loved
him more than all the world beside;" and so received an equal
reward with her sister. But Cordelia, the youngest, and hitherto
the best beloved, though having before her eyes the reward of a
little easy soothing, and the loss likely to attend plain-
dealing, yet was not moved from the solid purpose of a sincere and
virtuous answer, and replied: "Father, my love towards you is as
my duty bids. They who pretend beyond this flatter." When the old
man, sorry to hear this, and wishing her to recall these words,
persisted in asking, she still restrained her expressions so as to
say rather less than more than the truth. Then Leir, all in a
passion, burst forth: "Since thou hast not reverenced thy aged
father like thy sisters, think not to have any part in my kingdom
or what else I have;"--and without delay, giving in marriage his
other daughters, Goneril to the Duke of Albany, and Regan to the
Duke of Cornwall, he divides his kingdom between them, and goes to
reside with his eldest daughter, attended only by a hundred
knights. But in a short time his attendants, being complained of
as too numerous and disorderly, are reduced to thirty. Resenting
that affront, the old king betakes him to his second daughter; but
she, instead of soothing his wounded pride, takes part with her
sister, and refuses to admit a retinue of more than five. Then
back he returns to the other, who now will not receive him with
more than one attendant. Then the remembrance of Cordeilla comes
to his thoughts, and he takes his journey into France to seek her,
with little hope of kind consideration from one whom he had so
injured, but to pay her the last recompense he can render,--
confession of his injustice. When Cordeilla is informed of his
approach, and of his sad condition, she pours forth true filial
tears. And, not willing that her own or others' eyes should see
him in that forlorn condition, she sends one of her trusted
servants to meet him, and convey him privately to some comfortable
abode, and to furnish him with such state as befitted his dignity.
After which Cordeilla, with the king her husband, went in state to
meet him, and, after an honorable reception, the king permitted
his wife, Cordeilla, to go with an army and set her father again
upon his throne. They prospered, subdued the wicked sisters and
their consorts, and Leir obtained the crown and held it three
years. Cordeilla succeeded him and reigned five years; but the
sons of her sisters, after that, rebelled against her, and she
lost both her crown and life.

Shakspeare has chosen this story as the subject of his tragedy of
"King Lear," varying its details in some respects. The madness of
Leir, and the ill success of Cordeilla's attempt to reinstate her
father, are the principal variations, and those in the names will
also be noticed. Our narrative is drawn from Milton's "History;"
and thus the reader will perceive that the story of Leir has had
the distinguished honor of being told by the two acknowledged
chiefs of British literature.


Ferrex and Porrex were brothers, who held the kingdom after Leir.
They quarrelled about the supremacy, and Porrex expelled his
brother, who, obtaining aid from Suard, king of the Franks,
returned and made war upon Porrex. Ferrex was slain in battle and
his forces dispersed. When their mother came to hear of her son's
death, who was her favorite, she fell into a great rage, and
conceived a mortal hatred against the survivor. She took,
therefore, her opportunity when he was asleep, fell upon him, and,
with the assistance of her women, tore him in pieces. This horrid
story would not be worth relating, were it not for the fact that
it has furnished the plot for the first tragedy which was written
in the English language. It was entitled "Gorboduc," but in the
second edition "Ferrex and Porrex," and was the production of
Thomas Sackville, afterwards Earl of Dorset, and Thomas Norton, a
barrister. Its date was 1561.


This is the next name of note. Molmutius established the Molmutine
laws, which bestowed the privilege of sanctuary on temples,
cities, and the roads leading to them, and gave the same
protection to ploughs, extending a religious sanction to the
labors of the field. Shakspeare alludes to him in "Cymbeline," Act
III., Scene 1:

"... Molmutius made our laws;
Who was the first of Britain which did put
His brows within a golden crown, and called
Himself a king."


The sons of Molmutius, succeeded him. They quarrelled, and Brennus
was driven out of the island, and took refuge in Gaul, where he
met with such favor from the king of the Allobroges that he gave
him his daughter in marriage, and made him his partner on the
throne. Brennus is the name which the Roman historians give to the
famous leader of the Gauls who took Rome in the time of Camillus.
Geoffrey of Monmouth claims the glory of the conquest for the
British prince, after he had become king of the Allobroges.


After Belinus and Brennus there reigned several kings of little
note, and then came Elidure. Arthgallo, his brother, being king,
gave great offence to his powerful nobles, who rose against him,
deposed him, and advanced Elidure to the throne. Arthgallo fled,
and endeavored to find assistance in the neighboring kingdoms to
reinstate him, but found none. Elidure reigned prosperously and
wisely. After five years' possession of the kingdom, one day, when
hunting, he met in the forest his brother, Arthgallo, who had been
deposed. After long wandering, unable longer to bear the poverty
to which he was reduced, he had returned to Britain, with only ten
followers, designing to repair to those who had formerly been his
friends. Elidure, at the sight of his brother in distress,
forgetting all animosities, ran to him, and embraced him. He took
Arthgallo home with him, and concealed him in the palace. After
this he feigned himself sick, and, calling his nobles about him,
induced them, partly by persuasion, partly by force, to consent to
his abdicating the kingdom, and reinstating his brother on the
throne. The agreement being ratified, Elidure took the crown from
his own head, and put it on his brother's head. Arthgallo after
this reigned ten years, well and wisely, exercisng strict justice
towards all men.

He died, and left the kingdom to his sons, who reigned with
various fortunes, but were not long-lived, and left no offspring,
so that Elidure was again advanced to the throne, and finished the
course of his life in just and virtuous actions, receiving the
name of THE PIOUS, from the love and admiration of his subjects.

Wordsworth has taken the story of Artegal and Elidure for the
subject of a poem, which is No. 2 of "Poems founded on the


After Elidure, the Chronicle names many kings, but none of special
note, till we come to Lud, who greatly enlarged Trinovant, his
capital, and surrounded it with a wall. He changed its name,
bestowing upon it his own, so that henceforth it was called Lud's
town, afterwards London. Lud was buried by the gate of the city
called after him Ludgate. He had two sons, but they were not old
enough at the time of their father's death to sustain the cares of
government, and therefore their uncle, Caswallaun, or
Cassibellaunus, succeeded to the kingdom. He was a brave and
magnificent prince, so that his fame reached to distant countries.


About this time it happened (as is found in the Roman histories)
that Julius Caesar, having subdued Gaul, came to the shore
opposite Britain. And having resolved to add this island also to
his conquests, he prepared ships and transported his army across
the sea, to the mouth of the River Thames. Here he was met by
Cassibellaun with all his forces, and a battle ensued, in which
Nennius, the brother of Cassibellaun, engaged in single combat
with Csesar. After several furious blows given and received, the
sword of Caesar stuck so fast in the shield of Nennius that it
could not be pulled out, and the combatants being separated by the
intervention of the troops Nennius remained possessed of this
trophy. At last, after the greater part of the day was spent, the
Britons poured in so fast that Caesar was forced to retire to his
camp and fleet. And finding it useless to continue the war any
longer at that time, he returned to Gaul.

Shakspeare alludes to Cassibellaunus, in "Cymbeline":

"The famed Cassibelan, who was once at point
(O giglot fortune!) to master Caesar's sword,
Made Lud's town with rejoicing fires bright,
And Britons strut with courage."


Caesar, on a second invasion of the island, was more fortunate,
and compelled the Britons to pay tribute. Cymbeline, the nephew of
the king, was delivered to the Romans as a hostage for the
faithful fulfilment of the treaty, and, being carried to Rome by
Caesar, he was there brought up in the Roman arts and
accomplishments. Being afterwards restored to his country, and
placed on the throne, he was attached to the Romans, and continued
through all his reign at peace with them. His sons, Guiderius and
Arviragus, who made their appearance in Shakspeare's play of
"Cymbeline," succeeded their father, and, refusing to pay tribute
to the Romans, brought on another invasion. Guiderius was slain,
but Arviragus afterward made terms with the Romans, and reigned
prosperously many years.


The next event of note is the conquest and colonization of
Armorica, by Maximus, a Roman general, and Conan, lord of Miniadoc
or Denbigh-land, in Wales. The name of the country was changed to
Brittany, or Lesser Britain; and so completely was it possessed by
the British colonists, that the language became assimilated to
that spoken in Wales, and it is said that to this day the
peasantry of the two countries can understand each other when
speaking their native language.

The Romans eventually succeeded in establishing themselves in the
island, and after the lapse of several generations they became
blended with the natives so that no distinction existed between
the two races. When at length the Roman armies were withdrawn from
Britain, their departure was a matter of regret to the
inhabitants, as it left them without protection against the
barbarous tribes, Scots, Picts, and Norwegians, who harassed the
country incessantly. This was the state of things when the era of
King Arthur began.

The adventure of Albion, the giant, with Hercules is alluded to by
Spenser, "Faery Queene," Book IV., Canto xi:

"For Albion the son of Neptune was;
Who for the proof of his great puissance,
Out of his Albion did on dry foot pass
Into old Gaul that now is cleped France,
To fight with Hercules, that did advance
To vanquish all the world with matchless might:
And there his mortal part by great mischance
Was slain."



Merlin was the son of no mortal father, but of an Incubus, one of
a class of beings not absolutely wicked, but far from good, who
inhabit the regions of the air. Merlin's mother was a virtuous
young woman, who, on the birth of her son, intrusted him to a
priest, who hurried him to the baptismal fount, and so saved him
from sharing the lot of his father, though he retained many marks
of his unearthly origin.

At this time Vortigern reigned in Britain. He was a usurper, who
had caused the death of his sovereign, Moines, and driven the two
brothers of the late king, whose names were Uther and Pendragon,
into banishment. Vortigern, who lived in constant fear of the
return of the rightful heirs of the kingdom, began to erect a
strong tower for defence. The edifice, when brought by the workmen
to a certain height, three times fell to the ground, without any
apparent cause. The king consulted his astrologers on this
wonderful event, and learned from them that it would be necessary
to bathe the corner-stone of the foundation with the blood of a
child born without a mortal father.

In search of such an infant, Vortigern sent his messengers all
over the kingdom, and they by accident discovered Merlin, whose
lineage seemed to point him out as the individual wanted. They
took him to the king; but Merlin, young as he was, explained to
the king the absurdity of attempting to rescue the fabric by such
means, for he told him the true cause of the instability of the
tower was its being placed over the den of two immense dragons,
whose combats shook the earth above them. The king ordered his
workmen to dig beneath the tower, and when they had done so they
discovered two enormous serpents, the one white as milk the other
red as fire. The multitude looked on with amazement, till the
serpents, slowly rising from their den, and expanding their
enormous folds, began the combat, when every one fled in terror,
except Merlin, who stood by clapping his hands and cheering on the
conflict. The red dragon was slain, and the white one, gliding
through a cleft in the rock, disappeared.

These animals typified, as Merlin afterwards explained, the
invasion of Uther and Pendragon, the rightful princes, who soon
after landed with a great army. Vortigern was defeated, and
afterwards burned alive in the castle he had taken such pains to
construct. On the death of Vortigern, Pendragon ascended the
throne. Merlin became his chief adviser, and often assisted the
king by his magical arts.

"Merlin, who knew the range of all their arts,
Had built the King his havens, ships and halls."


Among other endowments, he had the power of transforming himself
into any shape he pleased. At one time he appeared as a dwarf, at
others as a damsel, a page, or even a greyhound or a stag. This
faculty he often employed for the service of the king, and
sometimes also for the diversion of the court and the sovereign.

Merlin continued to be a favorite counsellor through the reigns of
Pendragon, Uther, and Arthur, and at last disappeared from view,
and was no more found among men, through the treachery of his
mistress, Viviane, the Fairy, which happened in this wise.

Merlin, having become enamoured of the fair Viviane, the Lady of
the Lake, was weak enough to impart to her various important
secrets of his art, being impelled by fatal destiny, of which he
was at the same time fully aware. The lady, however, was not
content with his devotion, unbounded as it seems to have been, but
"cast about," the Romance tells us, how she might "detain him for
evermore," and one day addressed him in these terms: "Sir, I would
that we should make a fair place and a suitable, so contrived by
art and by cunning that it might never be undone, and that you and
I should be there in joy and solace." "My lady," said Merlin, "I
will do all this." "Sir," said she, "I would not have you do it,
but you shall teach me, and I will do it, and then it will be more
to my mind." "I grant you this," said Merlin. Then he began to
devise, and the damsel put it all in writing. And when he had
devised the whole, then had the damsel full great joy, and showed
him greater semblance of love than she had ever before made, and
they sojourned together a long while. At length it fell out that,
as they were going one day hand in hand through the forest of
Breceliande, they found a bush of white-thorn, which was laden
with flowers; and they seated themselves under the shade of this
white-thorn, upon the green grass, and Merlin laid his head upon
the damsel's lap, and fell asleep. Then the damsel rose, and made
a ring with her wimple round the bush, and round Merlin, and began
her enchantments, such as he himself had taught her; and nine
times she made the ring, and nine times she made the enchantment,
and then she went and sat down by him, and placed his head again
upon her lap.

"And a sleep
Fell upon Merlin more like death, so deep
Her finger on her lips; then Vivian rose,
And from her brown-locked head the wimple throws,
And takes it in her hand and waves it over
The blossomed thorn tree and her sleeping lover.
Nine times she waved the fluttering wimple round,
And made a little plot of magic ground."

--Matthew Arnold.

And when he awoke, and looked round him, it seemed to him that he
was enclosed in the strongest tower in the world, and laid upon a
fair bed. Then said he to the dame: "My lady, you have deceived
me, unless you abide with me, for no one hath power to unmake this
tower but you alone." She then promised she would be often there,
and in this she held her covenant with him. And Merlin never went
out of that tower where his Mistress Viviane had enclosed him; but
she entered and went out again when she listed.

After this event Merlin was never more known to hold converse with
any mortal but Viviane, except on one occasion. Arthur, having for
some time missed him from his court, sent several of his knights
in search of him, and, among the number, Sir Gawain, who met with
a very unpleasant adventure while engaged in this quest. Happening
to pass a damsel on his road, and neglecting to salute her, she
revenged herself for his incivility by transforming him into a
hideous dwarf. He was bewailing aloud his evil fortune as he went
through the forest of Breceliande, when suddenly he heard the
voice of one groaning on his right hand; and, looking that way, he
could see nothing save a kind of smoke, which seemed like air, and
through which he could not pass. Merlin then addressed him from
out the smoke, and told him by what misadventure he was imprisoned
there. "Ah, sir!" he added, "you will never see me more, and that
grieves me, but I cannot remedy it; I shall never more speak to
you, nor to any other person, save only my mistress. But do thou
hasten to King Arthur, and charge him from me to undertake,
without delay, the quest of the Sacred Graal. The knight is
already born, and has received knighthood at his hands, who is
destined to accomplish this quest." And after this he comforted
Gawain under his transformation, assuring him that he should
speedily be disenchanted; and he predicted to him that he should
find the king at Carduel, in Wales, on his return, and that all
the other knights who had been on like quest would arrive there
the same day as himself. And all this came to pass as Merlin had

Merlin is frequently introduced in the tales of chivalry, but it
is chiefly on great occasions, and at a period subsequent to his
death, or magical disappearance. In the romantic poems of Italy,
and in Spenser, Merlin is chiefly represented as a magical artist.
Spenser represents him as the artificer of the impenetrable shield
and other armor of Prince Arthur ("Faery Queene," Book I., Canto
vii.), and of a mirror, in which a damsel viewed her lover's
shade. The Fountain of Love, in the "Orlando Innamorata," is
described as his work; and in the poem of "Ariosto" we are told of
a hall adorned with prophetic paintings, which demons had executed
in a single night, under the direction of Merlin.

The following legend is from Spenser's "Faery Queene," Book III.,
Canto iii.:


"Forthwith themselves disguising both, in straunge
And base attire, that none might them bewray,
To Maridunum, that is now by chaunge
Of name Caer-Merdin called, they took their way:
There the wise Merlin whylome wont (they say)
To make his wonne, low underneath the ground
In a deep delve, far from the view of day,
That of no living wight he mote be found,
Whenso he counselled with his sprights encompassed round.

"And if thou ever happen that same way
To travel, go to see that dreadful place;
It is a hideous hollow cave (they say)
Under a rock that lies a little space
From the swift Barry, tombling down apace
Amongst the woody hills of Dynevor;
But dare not thou, I charge, in any case,
To enter into that same baleful bower,
For fear the cruel fiends should thee unwares devour.

"But standing high aloft, low lay thine ear,
And there such ghastly noise of iron chains
And brazen cauldrons thou shalt rumbling hear,
Which thousand sprites with long enduring pains
Do toss, that it will stun thy feeble brains;
And oftentimes great groans, and grievous stounds,
When too huge toil and labor them constrains;
And oftentimes loud strokes and ringing sounds
From under that deep rock most horribly rebounds.

"The cause some say is this. A little while
Before that Merlin died, he did intend
A brazen wall in compas to compile
About Caermerdin, and did it commend
Unto these sprites to bring to perfect end;
During which work the Lady of the Lake,
Whom long he loved, for him in haste did send;
Who, thereby forced his workmen to forsake,
Them bound till his return their labor not to slack.

"In the mean time, through that false lady's train,
He was surprised, and buried under beare,
He ever to his work returned again;
Nathless those fiends may not their work forbear,
So greatly his commandement they fear;
But there do toil and travail day and night,
Until that brazen wall they up do rear.
For Merlin had in magic more insight
Than ever him before or after living wight."

[Footnote: Buried under beare. Buried under something which
enclosed him like a coffin or bier.]



We shall begin our history of King Arthur by giving those
particulars of his life which appear to rest on historical
evidence; and then proceed to record those legends concerning him
which form the earliest portion of British literature.

Arthur was a prince of the tribe of Britons called Silures, whose
country was South Wales, the son of Uther, named Pendragon, a
title given to an elective sovereign, paramount over the many
kings of Britain. He appears to have commenced his martial career
about the year 500, and was raised to the Pendragonship about ten
years later. He is said to have gained twelve victories over the
Saxons. The most important of them was that of Badon, by some
supposed to be Bath, by others Berkshire. This was the last of his
battles with the Saxons, and checked their progress so
effectually, that Arthur experienced no more annoyance from them,
and reigned in peace, until the revolt of his nephew Modred,
twenty years later, which led to the fatal battle of Camlan, in
Cornwall, in 542. Modred was slain, and Arthur, mortally wounded,
was conveyed by sea to Glastonbury, where he died, and was buried.
Tradition preserved the memory of the place of his interment
within the abbey, as we are told by Giraldus Cambrensis, who was
present when the grave was opened by command of Henry II. about
1150, and saw the bones and sword of the monarch, and a leaden
cross let into his tombstone, with the inscription in rude Roman
letters, "Here lies buried the famous King Arthur, in the island
Avalonia." This story has been elegantly versified by Warton. A
popular traditional belief was long entertained among the Britons,
that Arthur was not dead, but had been carried off to be healed of
his wounds in Fairy-land, and that he would reappear to avenge his
countrymen and reinstate them in the sovereignty of Britain. In
Warton's "Ode" a bard relates to King Henry the traditional story
of Arthur's death, and closes with these lines.

"Yet in vain a paynim foe
Armed with fate the mighty blow:
For when he fell, the Elfin queen,
All in secret and unseen,
O'er the fainting hero threw
Her mantle of ambrosial blue,
And bade her spirits bear him far,
In Merlin's agate-axled car,
To her green isle's enamelled steep,
Far in the navel of the deep.
O'er his wounds she sprinkled dew
From flowers that in Arabia grew.

There he reigns a mighty king,
Thence to Britain shall return,
If right prophetic rolls I learn,
Borne on victory's spreading plume,
His ancient sceptre to resume,
His knightly table to restore,
And brave the tournaments of yore."

After this narration another bard came forward who recited a
different story:

"When Arthur bowed his haughty crest,
No princess veiled in azure vest
Snatched him, by Merlin's powerful spell,
In groves of golden bliss to dwell;
But when he fell, with winged speed,
His champions, on a milk-white steed,
From the battle's hurricane,
Bore him to Joseph's towered fane,
In the fair vale of Avalon;
There, with chanted orison
And the long blaze of tapers clear,
The stoled fathers met the bier;
Through the dim aisles, in order dread
Of martial woe, the chief they led,
And deep entombed in holy ground,
Before the altar's solemn bound."

[Footnote: Glastonbury Abbey, said to be founded by Joseph of
Arimathea, in a spot anciently called the island or valley of

Tennyson, in his "Palace of Art," alludes to the legend of
Arthur's rescue by the Faery queen, thus:

"Or mythic Uther's deeply wounded son,
In some fair space of sloping greens,
Lay dozing in the vale of Avalon,
And watched by weeping queens."]

It must not be concealed that the very existence of Arthur has
been denied by some. Milton says of him: "As to Arthur, more
renowned in songs and romances than in true stories, who he was,
and whether ever any such reigned in Britain, hath been doubted
heretofore, and may again, with good reason." Modern critics,
however, admit that there was a prince of this name, and find
proof of it in the frequent mention of him in the writings of the
Welsh bards. But the Arthur of romance, according to Mr. Owen, a
Welsh scholar and antiquarian, is a mythological person. "Arthur,"
he says, "is the Great Bear, as the name literally implies
(Arctos, Arcturus), and perhaps this constellation, being so near
the pole, and visibly describing a circle in a small space, is the
origin of the famous Round Table."


Constans, king of Britain, had three sons, Moines, Ambrosius,
otherwise called Uther, and Pendragon. Moines, soon after his
accession to the crown, was vanquished by the Saxons, in
consequence of the treachery of his seneschal, Vortigern, and
growing unpopular, through misfortune, he was killed by his
subjects, and the traitor Vortigern chosen in his place.

Vortigern was soon after defeated in a great battle by Uther and
Pendragon, the surviving brothers of Moines, and Pendragon
ascended the throne.

This prince had great confidence in the wisdom of Merlin, and made
him his chief adviser. About this time a dreadful war arose
between the Saxons and Britons. Merlin obliged the royal brothers
to swear fidelity to each other, but predicted that one of them
must fall in the first battle. The Saxons were routed, and
Pendragon, being slain, was succeeded by Uther, who now assumed in
addition to his own name the appellation of Pendragon.

Merlin still continued a favorite counsellor. At the request of
Uther he transported by magic art enormous stones from Ireland, to
form the sepulchre of Pendragon. These stones constitute the
monument now called Stonehenge, on Salisbury plain.

Merlin next proceeded to Carlisle to prepare the Round Table, at
which he seated an assemblage of the great nobles of the country.
The companions admitted to this high order were bound by oath to
assist each other at the hazard of their own lives, to attempt
singly the most perilous adventures, to lead, when necessary, a
life of monastic solitude, to fly to arms at the first summons,
and never to retire from battle till they had defeated the enemy,
unless night intervened and separated the combatants.

Soon after this institution, the king invited all his barons to
the celebration of a great festival, which he proposed holding
annually at Carlisle.

As the knights had obtained the sovereign's permission to bring
their ladies along with them, the beautiful Igerne accompanied her
husband, Gorlois, Duke of Tintadel, to one of these anniversaries.
The king became deeply enamoured of the duchess, and disclosed his
passion; but Igerne repelled his advances, and revealed his
solicitations to her husband. On hearing this, the duke instantly
removed from court with Igerne, and without taking leave of Uther.
The king complained to his council of this want of duty, and they
decided that the duke should be summoned to court, and, if
refractory, should be treated as a rebel. As he refused to obey
the citation, the king carried war into the estates of his vassal
and besieged him in the strong castle of Tintadel. Merlin
transformed the king into the likeness of Gorlois, and enabled him
to have many stolen interviews with Igerne. At length the duke was
killed in battle and the king espoused Igerne.

From this union sprang Arthur, who succeeded his father, Uther,
upon the throne.


Arthur, though only fifteen years old at his father's death, was
elected king, at a general meeting of the nobles. It was not done
without opposition, for there were many ambitious competitors.

"For while he linger'd there
A doubt that ever smoulder'd in the hearts
Of those great Lords and Barons of his realm
Flash'd forth and into war: for most of these
Made head against him, crying, 'Who is he
That he should rule us? who hath proven him
King Uther's son? for lo! we look at him,
And find nor face nor bearing, limbs nor voice,
Are like to those of Uther whom we knew."

--Coming of Arthur.

But Bishop Brice, a person of great sanctity, on Christmas eve
addressed the assembly, and represented that it would well become
them, at that solemn season, to put up their prayers for some
token which should manifest the intentions of Providence
respecting their future sovereign. This was done, and with such
success, that the service was scarcely ended when a miraculous
stone was discovered before the church door, and in the stone was
firmly fixed a sword, with the following words engraven on its

"I am hight Escalibore,
Unto a king fair tresore."

Bishop Brice, after exhorting the assembly to offer up their
thanksgiving for this signal miracle, proposed a law, that whoever
should be able to draw out the sword from the stone, should be
acknowledged as sovereign of the Britons; and his proposal was
decreed by general acclamation. The tributary kings of Uther, and
the most famous knights, successively put their strength to the
proof, but the miraculous sword resisted all their efforts. It
stood till Candlemas; it stood till Easter, and till Pentecost,
when the best knights in the kingdom usually assembled for the
annual tournament. Arthur, who was at that time serving in the
capacity of squire to his foster-brother, Sir Kay, attended his
master to the lists. Sir Kay fought with great valor and success,
but had the misfortune to break his sword, and sent Arthur to his
mother for a new one. Arthur hastened home, but did not find the
lady; but having observed near the church a sword, sticking in a
stone, he galloped to the place, drew out the sword with great
ease, and delivered it to his master. Sir Kay would willingly have
assumed to himself the distinction conferred by the possession of
the sword, but when, to confirm the doubters, the sword was
replaced in the stone he was utterly unable to withdraw it, and it
would yield a second time to no hand but Arthur's. Thus decisively
pointed out by Heaven as their king, Arthur was by general consent
proclaimed as such, and an early day appointed for his solemn

Immediately after his election to the crown, Arthur found himself
opposed by eleven kings and one duke, who with a vast army were
actually encamped in the forest of Rockingham. By Merlin's advice
Arthur sent an embassy to Brittany, to solicit the aid of King Ban
and King Bohort, two of the best knights in the world. They
accepted the call, and with a powerful army crossed the sea,
landing at Portsmouth, where they were received with great
rejoicing. The rebel kings were still superior in numbers; but
Merlin, by a powerful enchantment, caused all their tents to fall
down at once, and in the confusion Arthur with his allies fell
upon them and totally routed them.

After defeating the rebels, Arthur took the field against the
Saxons. As they were too strong for him unaided, he sent an
embassy to Armorica, beseeching the assistance of Hoel, who soon
after brought over an army to his aid. The two kings joined their
forces, and sought the enemy, whom they met, and both sides
prepared for a decisive engagement. "Arthur himself," as Geoffrey
of Monmouth relates, "dressed in a breastplate worthy of so great
a king, places on his head a golden helmet engraved with the
semblance of a dragon. Over his shoulders he throws his shield
called Priwen, on which a picture of the Holy Virgin constantly
recalled her to his memory. Girt with Caliburn, a most excellent
sword, and fabricated in the isle of Avalon, he graces his right
hand with the lance named Ron. This was a long and broad spear,
well contrived for slaughter." After a severe conflict, Arthur,
calling on the name of the Virgin, rushes into the midst of his
enemies, and destroys multitudes of them with the formidable
Caliburn, and puts the rest to flight. Hoel, being detained by
sickness, took no part in this battle.

This is called the victory of Mount Badon, and, however disguised
by fable, it is regarded by historians as a real event.

The feats performed by Arthur at the battle of Badon Mount are
thus celebrated in Drayton's verse:

"They sung how he himself at Badon bore, that day,
When at the glorious goal his British sceptre lay;
Two daies together how the battel stronglie stood;
Pendragon's worthie son, who waded there in blood,
Three hundred Saxons slew with his owne valiant hand."

--Song IV.


Merlin had planned for Arthur a marriage with the daughter of King
Laodegan of Carmalide. By his advice Arthur paid a visit to the
court of that sovereign, attended only by Merlin and by thirty-
nine knights whom the magician had selected for that service. On
their arrival they found Laodegan and his peers sitting in
council, endeavoring, but with small prospect of success, to
devise means of resisting the impending attack of Ryence, king of
Ireland, who, with fifteen tributary kings and an almost
innumerable army, had nearly surrounded the city. Merlin, who
acted as leader of the band of British knights, announced them as
strangers, who came to offer the king their services in his wars;
but under the express condition that they should be at liberty to
conceal their names and quality until they should think proper to
divulge them. These terms were thought very strange, but were
thankfully accepted, and the strangers, after taking the usual
oath to the king, retired to the lodging which Merlin had prepared
for them.

A few days after this, the enemy, regardless of a truce into which
they had entered with King Laodegan, suddenly issued from their
camp and made an attempt to surprise the city. Cleodalis, the
king's general, assembled the royal forces with all possible
despatch. Arthur and his companions also flew to arms, and Merlin
appeared at their head, bearing a standard on which was emblazoned
a terrific dragon. Merlin advanced to the gate, and commanded the
porter to open it, which the porter refused to do, without the
king's order. Merlin thereupon took up the gate, with all its
appurtenances of locks, bars, bolts, etc., and directed his troops
to pass through, after which he replaced it in perfect order. He
then set spurs to his horse and dashed, at the head of his little
troop, into a body of two thousand pagans. The disparity of
numbers being so enormous, Merlin cast a spell upon the enemy, so
as to prevent their seeing the small number of their assailants;
notwithstanding which the British knights were hard pressed. But
the people of the city, who saw from the walls this unequal
contest, were ashamed of leaving the small body of strangers to
their fate, so they opened the gate and sallied forth. The numbers
were now more nearly equal, and Merlin revoked his spell, so that
the two armies encountered on fair terms. Where Arthur, Ban,
Bohort, and the rest fought the king's army had the advantage; but
in another part of the field the king himself was surrounded and
carried off by the enemy. The sad sight was seen by Guenever, the
fair daughter of the king, who stood on the city wall and looked
at the battle. She was in dreadful distress, tore her hair, and
swooned away.

But Merlin, aware of what passed in every part of the field,
suddenly collected his knights, led them out of the battle,
intercepted the passage of the party who were carrying away the
king, charged them with irresistible impetuosity, cut in pieces or
dispersed the whole escort, and rescued the king. In the fight
Arthur encountered Caulang, a giant fifteen feet high, and the
fair Guenever, who had already began to feel a strong interest in
the handsome young stranger, trembled for the issue of the
contest. But Arthur, dealing a dreadful blow on the shoulder of
the monster, cut through his neck so that his head hung over on
one side, and in this condition his horse carried him about the
field, to the great horror and dismay of the Pagans. Guenever
could not refrain from expressing aloud her wish that the gentle
knight, who dealt with giants so dexterously, were destined to
become her husband, and the wish was echoed by her attendants. The
enemy soon turned their backs and fled with precipitation, closely
pursued by Laodegan and his allies.

After the battle Arthur was disarmed and conducted to the bath by
the princess Guenever, while his friends were attended by the
other ladies of the court. After the bath the knights were
conducted to a magnificent entertainment, at which they were
diligently served by the same fair attendants. Laodegan, more and
more anxious to know the name and quality of his generous
deliverers, and occasionally forming a secret wish that the chief
of his guests might be captivated by the charms of his daughter,
appeared silent and pensive, and was scarcely roused from his
reverie by the banters of his courtiers. Arthur, having had an
opportunity of explaining to Guenever his great esteem for her
merit, was in the joy of his heart, and was still further
delighted by hearing from Merlin the late exploits of Gawain at
London, by means of which his immediate return to his dominions
was rendered unnecessary, and he was left at liberty to protract
his stay at the court of Laodegan. Every day contributed to
increase the admiration of the whole court for the gallant
strangers, and the passion of Guenever for their chief; and when
at last Merlin announced to the king that the object of the visit
of the party was to procure a bride for their leader, Laodegan at
once presented Guenever to Arthur, telling him that, whatever
might be his rank, his merit was sufficient to entitle him to the
possession of the heiress of Carmalide.

"And could he find a woman in her womanhood
As great as he was in his manhood--
The twain together might change the world."


Arthur accepted the lady with the utmost gratitude, and Merlin
then proceeded to satisfy the king of the rank of his son-in-law;
upon which Laodegan, with all his barons, hastened to do homage to
their lawful sovereign, the successor of Uther Pendragon. The fair
Guenever was then solemnly betrothed to Arthur, and a magnificent
festival was proclaimed, which lasted seven days. At the end of
that time, the enemy appearing again with renewed force, it became
necessary to resume military operations. [Footnote: Guenever, the
name of Arthur's queen, also written Genievre and Geneura, is
familiar to all who are conversant with chivalric lore. It is to
her adventures, and those of her true knight, Sir Launcelot, that
Dante alludes in the beautiful episode of Francesca di Rimini.]

We must now relate what took place at and near London, while
Arthur was absent from his capital. At this very time a band of
young heroes were on their way to Arthur's court, for the purpose
of receiving knighthood from him. They were Gawain and his three
brothers, nephews of Arthur, sons of King Lot, and Galachin,
another nephew, son of King Nanters. King Lot had been one of the
rebel chiefs whom Arthur had defeated, but he now hoped by means
of the young men to be reconciled to his brother-in-law. He
equipped his sons and his nephew with the utmost magnificence,
giving them a splendid retinue of young men, sons of earls and
barons, all mounted on the best horses, with complete suits of
choice armor. They numbered in all seven hundred, but only nine
had yet received the order of knighthood; the rest were candidates
for that honor, and anxious to earn it by an early encounter with
the enemy. Gawain, the leader, was a knight of wonderful strength;
but what was most remarkable about him was that his strength was
greater at certain hours of the day than at others. From nine
o'clock till noon his strength was doubled, and so it was from
three to evensong; for the rest of the time it was less
remarkable, though at all times surpassing that of ordinary men.

After a march of three days they arrived in the vicinity of
London, where they expected to find Arthur and his court, and very
unexpectedly fell in with a large convoy belonging to the enemy,
consisting of numerous carts and wagons, all loaded with
provisions, and escorted by three thousand men, who had been
collecting spoil from all the country round. A single charge from
Gawain's impetuous cavalry was sufficient to disperse the escort
and recover the convoy, which was instantly despatched to London.
But before long a body of seven thousand fresh soldiers advanced
to the attack of the five princes and their little army. Gawain,
singling out a chief named Choas, of gigantic size, began the
battle by splitting him from the crown of the head to the breast.
Galachin encountered King Sanagran, who was also very huge, and
cut off his head. Agrivain and Gahariet also performed prodigies
of valor. Thus they kept the great army of assailants at bay,
though hard pressed, till of a sudden they perceived a strong body
of the citizens advancing from London, where the convoy which had


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