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Myths & Legends

Marilyn Floyde 2007


Tintagel Castle in relation to Avallon, Burgundy, France
Tintagel Castle

This is Geoffrey of Monmouth’s bare-bones storyline. (iii)
In The History of the Kings of Britain, Arthur’s story begins in the 5thC AD. Geoffrey tells us that Arthur was conceived as the result of Merlin’s magic spell that transformed Uther Pendragon, Arthur’s father, and enabled him to seduce the beautiful Ygerna at Tintagel Castle in Cornwall.

The young King Arthur spent the first years of his reign putting Britain, Ireland, Scotland and Scandinavia in order. His main enemies were the Saxons, Picts and Scots. He successfully overcame them.

Buoyed up by his triumphs he then decided to conquer France. He went there with his greatest ally, his cousin King Hoël of Brittany, and was victorious over Frollo, a Roman Tribune, in Paris.

Arthur then spent no less than 9 years with Hoël away in France -– away from Britain – away from his new queen Guinevere - putting Gaul in order. We know that Hoël went south to Aquitaine and Gascony, and that Arthur stayed in central and northern France and Burgundy. What did he do in all that time?

Years later when he returned to Britain covered in glory, he threw a right royal party for all his noble allies at home and from abroad. But the celebrations were cut short. Arthur had to answer a new audacious challenge from Rome.

He was quick to cross the Channel again, this time with even more men, landing at Barfleur in Normandy, where armies from all over Gaul came to join him. After a mercy-dash to Mont-Saint-Michel where he killed a rapacious and murderous giant, he was soon on his way back to Burgundy, and the celebrated city of Autun where the Romans were waiting for him. This time the victory was not so easy, and many thousands were slaughtered. Arthur triumphed in the end and spent another year in Burgundy subduing the cities. We have no more detail. All we know is that Arthur had planned to continue onwards to conquer Rome when bad news came from Britain. His nephew Mordred and Queen Guinevere, who he had left jointly in charge of the kingdom, were having an affair and Mordred had, like Vortigern of old, resorted to the hated Saxons and invited them in to Britain once again.

In a fury Arthur returned home. He fought Mordred at his final battle of Camblan and received a mortal wound. The last thing that Geoffrey of Monmouth tells us about him is that:

“he was carried off to the Isle of Avalon, so that his wounds might be attended to.”

In his other great work, Vita Merlini (iv) (The Life of Merlin 1152 AD), Geoffrey elaborates on Arthur’s demise. Merlin is talking to Morgan le Fay – Arthur’s half-sister - about her role in that last battle:

Oh, how great was the slaughter of men and the weeping
Of mothers whose sons had perished there in the battle!
There also the king, struck by a mortal wound,
Abandoned his kingdom, and carried over the sea with you,
As you said before, he came to the court of maidens.

So, after his wounding Arthur was taken by his half-sister Morgan le Fay, on a long sea journey to Avalon - a healing sanctuary run by women. Geoffrey tells us more about this Avalon:

The island of apples, which is called the Fortunate island has its name because it produces all things for itself………..

On its own the island produces fertile crops and grapes and native apples by means of its own trees in the cropped pastures………..

There nine sisters give pleasant laws to those who come from our parts to them, and of those sisters, she who is higher becomes a doctor in the art of healing and exceeds her sisters in excellent form.
Morgen is her name, and she has learned what usefulness all the herbs bear so that she may cure sick bodies.

Also that art is known to her by which she can change shape and cut the air on new wings in the manner of Dedalus. When she wishes……. she glides out of the air onto your lands. They say that this lady has taught mathematics to her sisters Moronoe, Mazoe, Gliten, Glitonea, Gliton, Tyronoe, and Thiten the most noteworthy on the cither.

To that place after the battle of Camblan we brought Arthur, hurt by wounds, with Barinthus leading us, to whom the waters and the stars of the sky were known.

With this guide for our raft we came to that place with our leader, and with what was fitting Morgen did honor to us, and in her rooms she placed the king upon a golden couch and with her own honorable hand she uncovered his wound and inspected it for a long time, and at last she said that health could return to him, if he were with her for a long time and wished to undergo her treatment.
Therefore rejoicing we committed the king to her and returning gave sails to the assisting winds.

"There never has been an ‘Isle of Avalon’ in Britain. But since 1190 AD ‘Avalon’ has been associated with the town of Glastonbury in Somerset, England."

There never has been an ‘Isle of Avalon’ in Britain. But since 1190 AD ‘Avalon’ has been associated with the town of Glastonbury in Somerset, England. There is, however, a very ancient town of Avallon in Burgundy, France. There is new and gripping evidence to suggest that it is here that Arthur found his last resting place.

But surely, King Arthur is a legend? He didn’t really exist – so what is the relevance of where Avalon may or may not have been, when the whole thing is a fabrication anyway?

Well that’s the problem. The whole thing isn’t quite a fabrication. Geoffrey’s work is scattered with just enough elements, people and places – facts in amongst the fantasy - to make us sit up and listen. There are clues to be found throughout his work that King Arthur’s story did not simply come from Geoffrey’s imagination. And see how quick and easy it is to be drawn into the Did Arthur Really Exist argument! The fact is, that unless some new document is miraculously discovered – or unless the clearly-labelled and authenticated body of Arthur is dug up – and preferably a combination of the two, then we shall never be certain. It’s an argument that has fought its way across enough pages already, and an argument that will never be won. So, we’re moving on from there.

There are many eminent Arthurian scholars who have spent a lifetime of research trying to throw some light on why Arthur, fabulous King of the Britons, who was so bold, brave and beguiling, does not get a significant mention in the whole canon of medieval history sources until the 12th Century. If all this scholarship is to mean anything, then there has to come a time when valid, knowledgeable opinion becomes acceptable and provides us with a new departure point. As far as the research into Arthur’s France is concerned there are a few highly-respected contemporary academics whose views have been taken into account for King Arthur’s French Odyssey and used as a springboard.

Next - Arthur Riothamus

© Marilyn Floyde

King Arthur's French Odyssey in Burgundy(iii) My apologies to Geoffrey for summarising his writing – it does his work no justice – please read the whole book – version as above

(iv) Both extracts from Vita Merlini, Geoffrey of Monmouth, translated by Emily Rebekah Huber at The Camelot Project, University of Rochester

2016: King Arthur's French Odyssey - Avallon in Burgundy by Marilyn Floyde, has now been republished with fresh findings. Your can order it from www.islandofavallon.co.uk. Now also translated into French.