Historia Regum Britanniae

Histories of the Kings of Britain

Geoffry of Monmouth
translated by Sebastian Evans

First published in 1904.

web edition published by eBooks@Adelaide


Book 9

Chapter 12

Arthur at Caerleon, The glories of Caerleon, Guests at Court

When the high festival of Whitsuntide began to draw nigh, Arthur, filled with exceeding great joy at having achieved so great success, was fain to hold high court, and to set the crown of the kingdom upon his head, to convene the Kings and Dukes that were his vassals to the festival so that he might the more worshipfully celebrate the same, and renew his peace more firmly amongst his barons. Howbeit, when he made known his desire unto his familiars, he, by their counsel, made choice of the City of Legions wherein to fulfil his design. For, situate in a passing pleasant position on the river Usk in Glamorgan, not far from the Severn sea, and abounding in wealth above all other cities, it was the place most meet for so high a solemnity. For on the one side thereof flowed the noble river aforesaid whereby the Kings and Princes that should come from oversea might be borne thither in their ships; and on the other side, girdled about with meadows and woods, passing fair was the magnificence of the kingly palaces thereof with the gilded verges of the roofs that imitated Rome. Howbeit, the chiefest glories thereof were the two churches, one raised in honour of the Martyr Julius, that was right fair graced by a convent of virgins that had dedicated them unto God, and the second, founded in the name of the blessed Aaron, his companion, the main pillars whereof were a brotherhood of canons regular, and this was the cathedral church of the third Metropolitan See of Britain. It had, moreover, a school of two hundred philosophers learned in astronomy and in the other arts, that did diligently observe the courses of the stars, and did by true inferences foretell the prodigies which at that time were about to befall unto King Arthur. Such was the city, famed for such abundance of things delightsome, that was now busking her for the festival that had been proclaimed. Messengers were sent forth into the divers kingdoms, and all that owed allegiance throughout the Gauls and the neighbour islands were invited unto the court. Came accordingly Angusel, King of Albany, that is now called Scotland; Urian, King of them of Moray; Cadwallo Lewirh, King of the Venedotians, that now be called the North Welsh; Sater, King of the Demeti, that is, of the South Welsh; Cador, King of Cornwall, the Archbishops of the three Metropolitan Sees, to wit, of London and York, and Dubric of the City of Legions. He, Primate of Britain and Legate of the Apostolic See, was of so meritorious a piety that he could make whole by his prayers any that lay oppressed of any malady. Came also the Earls of noble cities; Morvid, Earl of Gloucester; Mauron of Winchester; Anaraut of Salisbury; Arthgal of Carguet, that is also called Warguit; Jugein from Leicester; Cursal from Caistor; Kimmare, Duke of Dorobernia; Galluc of Salisbury; Urgen from Bath; Jonathal of Dorchester; Boso of Ridoc, that is Oxford. Besides the earls came champions of lesser dignity, Danant map Papo; Cheneus map Coil; Peredur map Elidur; Guisul map Nogoit; Regin map Claut; Eddelein map Cledauc; Kincar map Bagan; Kimmare; Gorbonian map Goit; Clofaut; Rupmaneton; Kimbelim map Trunat; Chatleus map Catel; Kinlich map Neton, and many another beside, the names whereof be too long to tell. From the neighbour islands came likewise Guillamur, King of Ireland; Malvasius, King of Iceland; Doldavy, King of Gothland: Gunvasius, King of the Orkneys; Lot, King of Norway; Aschil, King of the Danes. From the parts oversea came also Holdin, King of the Ruteni; Leodegar, Earl of Boulogne; Bedevere the Butler, Duke of Normandy; Borel of Maine; Kay the Seneschal, Duke of Anjou; Guitard of Poitou; the Twelve Peers of the Gauls whom Guerin of Chartres brought with him; Hoel, Duke of the Armorican Britons, with the barons of his allegiance, who marched along with such magnificence of equipment in trappings and mules and horses as may not easily be told. Besides all these, not a single Prince of any price on this side Spain remained at home and came not upon the proclamation. And no marvel, for Arthur’s bounty was of common report throughout the whole wide world, and all men for his sake were fain to come.


Michael Cronin as Geoffrey

See The Arthurian Game of Origins by Carl Pyrdum.

I’ve obliquely mentioned several times the game that Geoffrey of Monmouth was playing, the outrageousness of his fabrications and his amazing success putting them across, but I’ve not yet gone into precisely what he did. So I guess now’s as good a time as any. So let us meet this Geoffrey of Monmouth head on….

In part, my reticence to dive into the whole story is due to its familiarity, at least among the critical set. The vast majority of the facts that compose the scandal de Monmouth have been known for almost a century, and very little has been added to them in the last fifty. Each new generation of critics takes the scattered remnants that history has offered up about Geoffrey’s life and work, arranges them into clever and interesting patterns, some more compelling and plausible than others, and and pits the new patterns against the earlier iterations. This is not to say that good work has not been done, just that no matter how good the work, it has been done done with the same inadequate supply of raw material as the work that it’s displacing.

Depending on which piece of this raw material we chose to put the emphasis upon we might safely assert, as others have already, that Geoffrey was either a Welsh rabble-rouser, a Cornish patriot, a Breton sympathizer, or a Norman apologist; that during the Anarchy that followed the death of Henry I a supporter of Empress Matilda, or of her rival King Stephen, or a peace-broker between the two; that he was either a sober historian in the model of St. Augustine, Virgil, or Boethius; or that he was merely a faithful compiler, a parodist, or an inveterate liar who lied out of an inordinate love of lying…