Igraine and the Legend of King Arthur

Updated: May 21, 2020

King Arthur - His Impact

Part of the fun of exploring myths and legends is learning about how they got started. The story of King Arthur is so famous, so well known, that it feels like it has been part of our shared cultural zeitgeist since...forever. The early medieval King, destined for greatness and betrayed by his greatest friend and his wife. We've all heard the story, in one fashion or another. The cast of characters in the King Arthur legend is long - so many Knights, his tutor, Merlin; Lancelot and Guinevere, and his parents - Uther Pendragon and the Lady Igraine. But where did all these characters come from? Their origin is almost more interesting than the legend itself.

The Origins of the Legend

Back in 12th century, hundreds of years after Arthur would have supposedly lived, a monk named Geoffrey of Monmonth wrote his famous work, History of the Kings of Britain. In this work, Geoffrey writes that Arthur lived after the Romans left Britain (so around 410 AD).

Tricked into bed

He's the first to share the tale of Arthur's conception - where magic was used to trick his mother, Igraine, into letting Uther Pendragon into her bed (she was married to poor old Gorlois, ruler of Tintagel). Despite some other references in earlier works, the tale as we know it starts with Geoffrey and whether he was leaning heavily on earlier work or making it all up over his cup of ale, who can say for sure; previous works being lost to history. He does seem to have borrowed a few names from Welsh legends but like any good reinvention, he adds his own flavor and his story inspired others down the road who added to the tale (including Chrétien de Troyes, who added the love triangle of Lancelot and Guinevere).

Who was Igraine?

But what do we know about Igraine? I mean, after all, she's the inspiration for The Dark Lady of Tintagel, and has appeared in many other Arthurian novels.

According to our pal, Geoffrey, Uther fell madly in love with her and that is why he catfished with magic to become Gorlois for a night so he could be with her. Through this rape, Arthur is conceived. Gorlois, understandably upset, battles Uther and dies, leaving Uther free to marry Igraine.

That all sure doesn't sound like a happy ending for poor Igraine. The stories vary on when she dies, if she spends time with Arthur, and what her marriage to Uther was really like.

Part of what makes Arthurian legends interesting is the women who weave throughout the tale, showing different facets and flaws.

What we can learn from her story

Igraine interests me the most because her life goes off the rails through no action on her part and she is left to pick up the pieces. How does she make peace with what was done to her? Did she love Gorlois? What hopes would she have had for her life if it hadn't been snatched away from her?

A new retelling of the myth

In The Dark Lady of Tintagel, Igraine isn't married to Gorlois - she is the daughter of the King of Cornwall and has a duty to the Kingdom, a duty that is directly at odds with her heart. She has some tough choices to make and like the original Igraine, some things happen that are out of her hands - how will she handle the deceit of others? We'll find out.

141 views0 comments

Recent Posts

See All