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Full Online Book HomeNonfictionsThe Age Of Chivalry - A. KING ARTHUR AND HIS KNIGHTS - Chapter II. The Mythical History of England
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The Age Of Chivalry - A. KING ARTHUR AND HIS KNIGHTS - Chapter II. The Mythical History of England Post by :cultureshocker Category :Nonfictions Author :Thomas Bulfinch Date :January 2011 Read :1375

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The Age Of Chivalry - A. KING ARTHUR AND HIS KNIGHTS - Chapter II. The Mythical History of England

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."

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