And this tale Sir Bedivere, knight of the Table Round, made to be
Yet some men say that King Arthur is not dead, but hid away into
another place, and men say that he shall come again and reign over
England. But many say that there is written on his tomb this
"Hie facet Arthurus, Rex quondam, Rexque futurus."
Here Arthur lies, King once and King to be.
And when Queen Guenever understood that King Arthur was slain, and
all the noble knights with him, she stole away, and five ladies
with her; and so she went to Almesbury, and made herself a nun,
and ware white clothes and black, and took great penance as ever
did sinful lady, and lived in fasting, prayers, and alms-deeds.
And there she was abbess and ruler of the nuns.
"And when she came to Almesbury she spake
There to the nuns, and said, 'Mine enemies
Pursue me, but, O peaceful Sisterhood,
Receive, and yield me sanctuary, nor ask
Her name to whom ye yield it, till her time
To tell you;' and her beauty, grace and power
Wrought as a charm upon them, and they spared
To ask it."
Now turn we from her, and speak of Sir Launcelot of the Lake.
When Sir Launcelot heard in his country that Sir Modred was
crowned king of England, and made war against his own uncle, King
Arthur, then was Sir Launcelot wroth out of measure, and said to
his kinsmen: "Alas, that double traitor, Sir Modred! now it
repenteth me that ever he escaped out of my hands." Then Sir
Launcelot and his fellows made ready in all haste, with ships and
galleys, to pass into England; and so he passed over till he came
to Dover, and there he landed with a great army. Then Sir
Launcelot was told that King Arthur was slain. "Alas!" said Sir
Launcelot, "this is the heaviest tidings that ever came to me."
Then he called the kings, dukes, barons, and knights, and said
thus: "My fair lords, I thank you all for coming into this country
with me, but we came too late, and that shall repent me while I
live. But since it is so," said Sir Launcelot, "I will myself ride
and seek my lady, Queen Guenever, for I have heard say she hath
fled into the west; therefore ye shall abide me here fifteen days,
and if I come not within that time, then take your ships and your
host, and depart into your country."
So Sir Launcelot departed and rode westerly, and there he sought
many days; and at last he came to a nunnery, and was seen of Queen
Guenever as he walked in the cloister; and when she saw him she
swooned away. And when she might speak she bade him to be called
to her. And when Sir Launcelot was brought to her she said: "Sir
Launcelot, I require thee and beseech thee, for all the love that
ever was betwixt us, that thou never see me more, but return to
thy kingdom and take thee a wife, and live with her with joy and
bliss; and pray for me to my Lord, that I may get my soul's
health." "Nay, madam," said Sir Launcelot, "wit you well that I
shall never do; but the same destiny that ye have taken you to
will I take me unto, for to please and serve God." And so they
parted, with tears and much lamentation; and the ladies bare the
queen to her chamber, and Sir Launcelot took his horse and rode
And at last Sir Launcelot was ware of a hermitage and a chapel,
and then he heard a little bell ring to mass; and thither he rode
and alighted, and tied his horse to the gate, and heard mass. And
he that sang the mass was the hermit with whom Sir Bedivere had
taken up his abode; and Sir Bedivere knew Sir Launcelot, and they
spake together after mass. But when Sir Bedivere had told his
tale, Sir Launcelot's heart almost burst for sorrow. Then he
kneeled down, and prayed the hermit to shrive him, and besought
that he might be his brother. Then the hermit said, "I will
gladly;" and then he put a habit upon Sir Launcelot, and there he
served God day and night, with prayers and fastings.
And the great host abode at Dover till the end of the fifteen days
set by Sir Launcelot, and then Sir Bohort made them to go home
again to their own country; and Sir Bohort, Sir Hector de Marys,
Sir Blamor, and many others, took on them to ride through all
England to seek Sir Launcelot. So Sir Bohort by fortune rode until
he came to the same chapel where Sir Launcelot was; and when he
saw Sir Launcelot in that manner of clothing he, prayed the hermit
that he might be in that same. And so there was an habit put upon
him, and there he lived in prayers and fasting. And within half a
year came others of the knights, their fellows, and took such a
habit as Sir Launcelot and Sir Bohort had. Thus they endured in
great penance six years.
And upon a night there came a vision to Sir Launcelot, and charged
him to haste toward Almesbury, and "by the time thou come there,
thou shalt find Queen Guenever dead." Then Sir Launcelot rose up
early and told the hermit thereof. Then said the hermit, "It were
well that ye disobey not this vision." And Sir Launcelot took his
seven companions with him, and on foot they went from Glastonbury
to Almesbury, which is more than thirty miles. And when they were
come to Almesbury, they found that Queen Guenever died but half an
hour before. Then Sir Launcelot saw her visage, but he wept not
greatly, but sighed. And so he did all the observance of the
service himself, both the "dirige" at night, and at morn he sang
mass. And there was prepared an horse-bier, and Sir Launcelot and
his fellows followed the bier on foot from Almesbury until they
came to Glastonbury; and she was wrapped in cered clothes, and
laid in a coffin of marble. And when she was put in the earth Sir
Launcelot swooned, and lay long as one dead.
And Sir Launcelot never after ate but little meat, nor drank; but
continually mourned. And within six weeks Sir Launcelot fell sick;
and he sent for the hermit and all his true fellows, and said,
"Sir hermit, I pray you give me all my rights that a Christian man
ought to have." "It shall not need," said the hermit and all his
fellows; "it is but heaviness of your blood, and to-morrow morn
you shall be well" "My fair lords," said Sir Launcelot, "my
careful body will into the earth; I have warning more than now I
will say; therefore give me my rights." So when he was houseled
and aneled, and had all that a Christian man ought to have, he
prayed the hermit that his fellows might bear his body to Joyous
Garde. (Some men say it was Alnwick, and some say it was
Bamborough.) "It repenteth me sore," said Sir Launcelot, "but I
made a vow aforetime that in Joyous Garde I would be buried." Then
there was weeping and wringing of hands among his fellows. And
that night Sir Launcelot died; and when Sir Bohort and his fellows
came to his bedside the next morning they found him stark dead;
and he lay as if he had smiled, and the sweetest savor all about
him that ever they knew.
And they put Sir Launcelot into the same horse-bier that Queen
Guenever was laid in, and the hermit and they altogether went with
the body till they came to Joyous Garde. And there they laid his
corpse in the body of the quire, and sang and read many psalms and
prayers over him. And ever his visage was laid open and naked,
that all folks might behold him. And right thus, as they were at
their service, there came Sir Hector de Maris, that had seven
years sought Sir Launcelot, his brother, through all England,
Scotland and Wales. And when Sir Hector heard such sounds in the
chapel of Joyous Garde he alighted and came into the quire. And
all they knew Sir Hector. Then went Sir Bohort, and told him how
there lay Sir Launcelot, his brother, dead. Then Sir Hector threw
his shield, his sword, and helm from him. And when he beheld Sir
Launcelot's visage it were hard for any tongue to tell the doleful
complaints he made for his brother. "Ah, Sir Launcelot!" he said,
"there thou liest. And now I dare to say thou wert never matched
of none earthly knight's hand. And thou wert the courteousest
knight that ever bare shield; and thou wert the truest friend to
thy lover that ever bestrode horse; and thou wert the truest
lover, of a sinful man, that ever loved woman; and thou wert the
kindest man that ever struck with sword. And thou wert the
goodliest person that ever came among press of knights. And thou
wert the meekest man, and the gentlest, that ever ate in hall
among ladies. And thou wert the sternest knight to thy mortal foe
that ever put spear in the rest." Then there was weeping and dolor
out of measure. Thus they kept Sir Launcelot's corpse fifteen
days, and then they buried it with great devotion.
Then they went back with the hermit to his hermitage. And Sir
Bedivere was there ever still hermit to his life's end. And Sir
Bohort, Sir Hector, Sir Blamor, and Sir Bleoberis went into the
Holy Land. And these four knights did many battles upon the
miscreants, the Turks; and there they died upon a Good Friday, as
it pleased God.
Thus endeth this noble and joyous book, entitled "La Morte
d'Arthur;" notwithstanding it treateth of the birth, life, and
acts of the said King Arthur, and of his noble Knights of the
Round Table, their marvellous enquests and adventures, the
achieving of the Sangreal, and, in the end, le Morte d'Arthur,
with the dolorous death and departing out of this world of them
all. Which book was reduced into English by Sir Thomas Mallory,
Knight, and divided into twenty-one books, chaptered and imprinted
and finished in the Abbey Westmestre, the last day of July, the
year of our Lord MCCCCLXXXV.
Caxton me fieri fecit.
It has been well known to the literati and antiquarians of Europe
that there exist in the great public libraries voluminous
manuscripts of romances and tales once popular, but which on the
invention of printing had already become antiquated, and fallen
into neglect. They were therefore never printed, and seldom
perused even by the learned, until about half a century ago, when
attention was again directed to them, and they were found very
curious monuments of ancient manners, habits, and modes of
thinking. Several have since been edited, some by individuals, as
Sir Walter Scott and the poet Southey, others by antiquarian
societies. The class of readers which could be counted on for such
publications was so small that no inducement of profit could be
found to tempt editors and publishers to give them to the world.
It was therefore only a few, and those the most accessible, which
were put in print. There was a class of manuscripts of this kind
which were known, or rather suspected, to be both curious and
valuable, but which it seemed almost hopeless to expect ever to
see in fair printed English. These were the Welsh popular tales
called Mabinogeon, a plural word, the singular being Mabinogi, a
tale. Manuscripts of these were contained in the Bodleian Library
at Oxford and elsewhere, but the difficulty was to find
translators and editors. The Welsh is a spoken language among the
peasantry of Wales, but is entirely neglected by the learned,
unless they are natives of the principality. Of the few Welsh
scholars none were found who took sufficient interest in this
branch of learning to give these productions to the English
public. Southey and Scott, and others, who like them, loved the
old romantic legends of their country, often urged upon the Welsh
literati the duty of reproducing the Mabinogeon. Southey, in the
preface of his edition of "Moted'Arthur," says: "The specimens
which I have seen are exceedingly curious; nor is there a greater
desideratum in British literature than an edition of these tales,
with a literal version, and such comments as Mr. Davies of all men
is best qualified to give. Certain it is that many of the round
table fictions originated in Wales, or in Bretagne, and probably
might still be traced there."
Again, in a letter to Sir Charles W. W. Wynn, dated 1819, he says:
"I begin almost to despair of ever seeing more of the Mabinogeon;
and yet if some competent Welshman could be found to edit it
carefully, with as literal a version as possible, I am sure it
might be made worth his while by a subscription, printing a small
edition at a high price, perhaps two hundred at five guineas. I
myself would gladly subscribe at that price per volume for such an
edition of the whole of your genuine remains in prose and verse.
Till some such collection is made, the 'gentlemen of Wales' ought
to be prohibited from wearing a leek; ay, and interdicted from
toasted cheese also. Your bards would have met with better usage
if they had been Scotchmen."
Sharon Turner and Sir Walter Scott also expressed a similar wish
for the publication of the Welsh manuscripts. The former took part
in an attempt to effect it, through the instrumentality of a Mr.
Owen, a Welshman, but, we judge, by what Southey says of him,
imperfectly acquainted with English. Southey's language is
"William Owen lent me three parts of the Mabinogeon, delightfully
translated into so Welsh an idiom and syntax that such a
translation is as instructive as an original." In another letter
he adds, "Let Sharon make his language grammatical, but not alter
their idiom in the slightest point."
It is probable Mr. Owen did not proceed far in an undertaking
which, so executed, could expect but little popular patronage. It
was not till an individual should appear possessed of the
requisite knowledge of the two languages, of enthusiasm sufficient
for the task, and of pecuniary resources sufficient to be
independent of the booksellers and of the reading public, that
such a work could be confidently expected. Such an individual has,
since Southey's day and Scott's, appeared in the person of Lady
Charlotte Guest, an English lady united to a gentleman of property
in Wales, who, having acquired the language of the principality,
and become enthusiastically fond of its literary treasures, has
given them to the English reader, in a dress which the printer's
and the engraver's arts have done their best to adorn. In four
royal octavo volumes containing the Welsh originals, the
translation, and ample illustrations from French, German, and
other contemporary and affiliated literature, the Mabinogeon is
spread before us. To the antiquarian and the student of language
and ethnology an invaluable treasure, it yet can hardly in such a
form win its way to popular acquaintance. We claim no other merit
than that of bringing it to the knowledge of our readers, of
abridging its details, of selecting its most attractive portions,
and of faithfully preserving throughout the style in which Lady
Guest has clothed her legends. For this service we hope that our
readers will confess we have laid them under no light obligation.
The earliest inhabitants of Britain are supposed to have been a
branch of that great family known in history by the designation of
Celts. Cambria, which is a frequent name for Wales, is thought to
be derived from Cymri, the name which the Welsh traditions apply
to an immigrant people who entered the island from the adjacent
continent. This name is thought to be identical with those of
Cimmerians and Cimbri, under which the Greek and Roman historians
describe a barbarous people, who spread themselves from the north
of the Euxine over the whole of Northwestern Europe.
The origin of the names Wales and Welsh has been much canvassed.
Some writers make them a derivation from Gael or Gaul, which names
are said to signify "woodlanders;" others observe that Walsh, in
the northern languages, signifies a stranger, and that the
aboriginal Britons were so called by those who at a later era
invaded the island and possessed the greater part of it, the
Saxons and Angles.
The Romans held Britain from the invasion of Julius Caesar till
their voluntary withdrawal from the island, A.D. 420, - that is,
about five hundred years. In that time there must have been a wide
diffusion of their arts and institutions among the natives. The
remains of roads, cities, and fortifications show that they did
much to develop and improve the country, while those of their
villas and castles prove that many of the settlers possessed
wealth and taste for the ornamental arts. Yet the Roman sway was
sustained chiefly by force, and never extended over the entire
island. The northern portion, now Scotland, remained independent,
and the western portion, constituting Wales and Cornwall, was only
Neither did the later invading hordes succeed in subduing the
remoter sections of the island. For ages after the arrival of the
Saxons under Hengist and Horsa, A.D. 449, the whole western coast
of Britain was possessed by the aboriginal inhabitants, engaged in
constant warfare with the invaders.
It has, therefore, been a favorite boast of the people of Wales
and Cornwall that the original British stock flourishes in its
unmixed purity only among them. We see this notion flashing out in
poetry occasionally, as when Gray, in "The Bard," prophetically
describing Queen Elizabeth, who was of the Tudor, a Welsh race,
"Her eye proclaims her of the Briton line;"
and, contrasting the princes of the Tudor with those of the Norman
race, he exclaims:
"All hail, ye genuine kings, Britannia's issue, hail!"
THE WELSH LANGUAGE AND LITERATURE
The Welsh language is one of the oldest in Europe. It possesses
poems the origin of which is referred with probability to the
sixth century. The language of some of these is so antiquated that
the best scholars differ about the interpretation of many
passages; but, generally speaking, the body of poetry which the
Welsh possess, from the year 1000 downwards, is intelligible to
those who are acquainted with the modern language.
Till within the last half-century these compositions remained
buried in the libraries of colleges or of individuals, and so
difficult of access that no successful attempt was made to give
them to the world. This reproach was removed after ineffectual
appeals to the patriotism of the gentry of Wales, by Owen Jones, a
furrier of London, who at his own expense collected and published
the chief productions of Welsh literature, under the title of the
Myvyrian Archaeology of Wales. In this task he was assisted by Dr.
Owen and other Welsh scholars.
After the cessation of Jones' exertions the old apathy returned,
and continued till within a few years. Dr. Owen exerted himself to
obtain support for the publication of the Mabinogeon or Prose
Tales of the Welsh, but died without accomplishing his purpose,
which has since been carried into execution by Lady Charlotte
Guest. The legends which fill the remainder of this volume are
taken from this work, of which we have already spoken more fully
in the introductory chapter to the First Part.
THE WELSH BARDS
The authors to whom the oldest Welsh poems are attributed are
Aneurin, who is supposed to have lived A.D. 500 to 550, and
Taliesin, Llywarch Hen (Llywarch the Aged), and Myrddin or Merlin,
who were a few years later. The authenticity of the poems which
bear their names has been assailed, and it is still an open
question how many and which of them are authentic, though it is
hardly to be doubted that some are so. The poem of Aneurin
entitled the "Gododin" bears very strong marks of authenticity.
Aneurin was one of the Northern Britons of Strath-Clyde, who have
left to that part of the district they inhabited the name of
Cumberland, or Land of the Cymri. In this poem he laments the
defeat of his countrymen by the Saxons at the battle of Cattraeth,
in consequence of having partaken too freely of the mead before
joining in combat. The bard himself and two of his fellow-warriors
were all who escaped from the field. A portion of this poem has
been translated by Gray, of which the following is an extract:
"To Cattraeth's vale, in glittering row,
Twice two hundred warriors go;
Every warrior's manly neck
Chains of regal honor deck,
Wreathed in many a golden link;
From the golden cup they drink
Nectar that the bees produce,
Or the grape's exalted juice.
Flushed with mirth and hope they burn,
But none to Cattraeth's vale return,
Save Aeron brave, and Conan strong,
Bursting through the bloody throng,
And I, the meanest of them all,
That live to weep, and sing their fall."
The works of Taliesin are of much more questionable authenticity.
There is a story of the adventures of Taliesin so strongly marked
with mythical traits as to cast suspicion on the writings
attributed to him. This story will be found in the subsequent
The Triads are a peculiar species of poetical composition, of
which the Welsh bards have left numerous examples. They are
enumerations of a triad of persons, or events, or observations,
strung together in one short sentence. This form of composition,
originally invented, in all likelihood, to assist the memory, has
been raised by the Welsh to a degree of elegance of which it
hardly at first sight appears susceptible. The Triads are of all
ages, some of them probably as old as anything in the language.
Short as they are individually, the collection in the Myvyrian
Archaeology occupies more than one hundred and seventy pages of
double columns. We will give some specimens, beginning with
personal triads, and giving the first place to one of King
Arthur's own composition:
"I have three heroes in battle:
Mael the tall, and Llyr, with his army,
And Caradoc, the pillar of Wales."
"The three principal bards of the island of Britain: -
Merlin the son of Mprfyn, called also Merlin the Wild,
And Taliesin, the chief of the bards."
"The three golden-tongued knights of the court of Arthur: -
Gawain, son of Gwyar,
Drydvas, son of Tryphin,
And Ehwlod, son of Madag, ap Uther."
"The three honorable feasts of the island of Britain: -
The feast of Caswallaun, after repelling Julius Caesar from this
The feast of Aurelius Ambrosius, after he had conquered the
And the feast of King Arthur, at Carleon upon Usk."
"Guenever, the daughter of Laodegan the giant,
Bad when little, worse when great."
Next follow some moral triads:
"Hast thou heard what Dremhidydd sung,
An ancient watchman on the castle walls?
A refusal is better than a promise unperformed."
"Hast thou heard what Llenleawg sung,
The noble chief wearing the golden torques?
The grave is better than a life of want."
"Hast thou heard what Garselit sung,
The Irishman whom it is safe to follow?
Sin is bad, if long pursued."
"Hast thou heard what Avaon sung,
The son of Taliesin, of the recording verse?
The cheek will not conceal the anguish of the heart."
"Didst thou hear what Llywarch sung,
The intrepid and brave old man?
Greet kindly, though there be no acquaintance."
THE LADY OF THE FOUNTAIN
King Arthur was at Caerleon upon Usk; and one day he sat in his
chamber, and with him were Owain, the son of Urien, and Kynon, the
son of Clydno, and Kay, the son of Kyner, and Guenever and her
handmaidens at needlework by the window. In the centre of the
chamher King Arthur sat, upon a seat of green rushes, [Footnote:
The use of green rushes in apartments was by no means peculiar to
the court of Carleon upon Usk. Our ancestors had a great
predilection for them, and they seem to have constituted an
essential article, not only of comfort, but of luxury. The custom
of strewing the floor with rushes is well known to have existed in
England during the Middle Ages, and also in France.] over which
was spread a covering of flame-covered satin, and a cushion of red
satin was under his elbow.
Then Arthur spoke. "If I thought you would not disparage me," said
he, "I would sleep while I wait for my repast; and you can
entertain one another with relating tales, and can obtain a flagon
of mead and some meat from Kay." And the king went to sleep. And
Kynon the son of Clydno asked Kay for that which Arthur had
promised them. "I too will have the good tale which he promised
me," said Kay. "Nay," answered Kynon; "fairer will it be for thee
to fulfil Arthur's behest in the first place, and then we will
tell thee the best tale that we know." So Kay went to the kitchen
and to the mead-cellar, and returned, bearing a flagon of mead,
and a golden goblet, and a handful of skewers, upon which were
broiled collops of meat. Then they ate the collops, and began to