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The Scots and Medieval Arthurian Legend

The Scots and Medieval Arthurian Legend

Rhiannon Purdie
Nicola Royan
Copyright Date: 2005
Edition: NED - New edition
Published by: Boydell and Brewer,
Pages: 170
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  • Book Info
    The Scots and Medieval Arthurian Legend
    Book Description:

    Scotland's importance in Arthurian legend is undeniable: it was the traditional homeland of key figures such as Gawain; its landscape is still dotted with Arthurian associations, and many modern attempts to locate a historical Arthur end up in Scotland. Nevertheless, Scotland's complex relationship with Arthurian legend has been surprisingly neglected, and this volume is the first to be dedicated to it. The essays cover the period between the appearance in ca. 1136 of Geoffrey of Monmouth's Historia Regum Britanniae and the accession of James VI to the English throne as James I in 1603 - five centuries of precarious Scottish independence during which the relationship of the Scots and the English, as refracted through Arthurian legend, is at its most turbulent and changeable. The approaches are both literary and historical, covering such topics as the direct responses of early Scottish historians to the challenges set by Geoffrey's work, Arthurian literature written in Scots, the circulation of other Arthurian material in Scotland, and the portrayal of Scotland and the Scots in English and French Arthurian texts.

    eISBN: 978-1-84615-426-3
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Acknowledgements
    (pp. vii-viii)
  4. Abbreviations
    (pp. ix-x)
  5. Introduction: Tartan Arthur?
    (pp. 1-8)

    The fact that only two actual Scots Arthurian romances survive –Golagros and Gawaneand the incompleteLancelot of the Laik– gives an entirely false impression of how important Arthurian legend was for Scotland and the Scots. If romances are few, the engagements of medieval and early modern Scottish historiographers with Arthur are many and varied. As Nicola Royan observes in her essay here: ‘Arthur remains a contested figure, a point at which the relationship between the Scots and the English is examined.’¹ As will become clear from the other essays in this volume, this statement holds equally true for English...

  6. Where Does Britain End? The Reception of Geoffrey of Monmouth in Scotland and Wales
    (pp. 9-24)

    During his campaign to establish himself in Wales, Owain Glyndŵr wrote to the Scottish king seeking his support against a common enemy. On the surface Owain had an impeccable argument. The three sons of Brutus were the basis for a native British alliance against an alien invader, and Glyndŵr’s letter provided a point of contact between Welsh and Scottish branches of the Arthurian heritage as depicted in Geoffrey of Monmouth’sHistoria Regum Britanniae. Unfortunately the letter never reached the Scottish king, and an opportunity for native British unity seemingly evaporated. However Glyndŵr’s letter¹ was not the only potential meeting of...

  7. The Testimony of Writing: Pierre de Langtoft and the Appeals to History, 1291–1306
    (pp. 25-42)

    In his account of the reign of King Edward I, towards the end of his Anglo-NormanChronicle, Pierre de Langtoft indulges in jubilation. At last, he exclaims joyfully, all problems with the Scots, who for many years had so unwisely and treacherously resisted Edward’s insistence on English overlordship, have been solved. Merlin’s prophecy that one day the two nations will be united has finally been fulfilled; Arthur himself never did better:

    Ha, Deus! Ke Merlyn dist sovent veritez

    En ses prophecyes, [si] cum ws les lisez!

    [. . .] Ore sunt les insulanes trestuz assemblez,

    Et Albanye rejoynte à les...

  8. The Fine Art of Faint Praise in Older Scots Historiography
    (pp. 43-54)

    Arthur was conceived in adultery and thus being illegitimate should not have acceded to the British throne. There were legitimate heirs to the throne, namely Modred and Gawain, sons of Uther’s legitimate daughter, Morgause, by her marriage to Lot of Lothian and Orkney. However, through a misguided desire to have a king of their own people, the Britons chose Arthur instead. This is the version of Arthur’s origins current in much late medieval Scottish historiography, and although various mitigating factors are offered to support the Britons’ choice, such as the youth of Lot’s sons or Arthur’s personal valour, Arthur’s illegitimacy...

  9. The Roman de Fergus: Parody or Pastiche?
    (pp. 55-70)

    Fergus,¹ orLe Chevalier au biel escu, ‘The Knight of the Splendid Shield’ (see lines 7008 and 6700), alternativelyFergus et Galiene, according to whichever of the precedents furnished by Chrétien de Troyes is taken as a model, is a romance about Scotland and two of its fairest inhabitants transposed to the Arthurian world established by Chrétien’s five romances. The hero is thought to reflect the historical figure of Fergus of Galloway (d. 1161, ultimately descended from the sixth-century Fergus Mor), and his sweetheart Galiene has been linked to Galiena, wife of Philip de Mowbray and relative of the lords...

  10. Lancelot of the Laik: Sources, Genre, Reception
    (pp. 71-82)

    Tony Edwards has recently discussed at some length the problem of Middle Scots romance: is there such a thing, and how should it be defined?¹ As he points out, it seems to have developed fairly late in the Middle Ages, and was obviously influenced by both English and French romances. There is considerable evidence for the circulation of the French Arthurian prose cycles in late medieval England; we do not have comparable evidence for Scotland, but presumably they were well known there too, given the close contacts with France.²Lancelot of the Laikis closely based on a French prose...

  11. Sir Lamwell in Scotland
    (pp. 83-94)

    An intriguing fragment of the Arthurian romance known asSir Lamwellis preserved in a Scottish manuscript in Cambridge University Library (Kk.5.30). Unfortunately much confusion surrounds this text, as A.S.G. Edwards indicates in his recent discussion of Middle Scots romances: ‘ Though obviously related to the English romanceSir Launfal,Sir Lamwellappears to be Scottish, but its fragmentariness makes further analysis difficult.’¹ Nonetheless, despite some undoubted difficulties, I consider it possible to carry scholarly investigation further, and to dispel some of the confusion, if not to solve all the problems posed by this text. The fragment is not part...

  12. The Search for Scottishness in Golagros and Gawane
    (pp. 95-108)

    Golagros and Gawaneis a translation of part of a French romance: so two recent surveys (of ‘Middle Scots Romance’ and Scotland’s ‘Alliterative Revival’ respectively) inform us without further qualification.¹ This is an unpromising start for anyone looking for a distinctive Scottish contribution to medieval Arthurian literature, but fortunately it is extremely misleading. Although the basic elements of its narrative have indeed been borrowed from part of the First Continuation of the Old FrenchPerceval, the end result is so different that some early scholars missed the debt entirely, while others were convinced that the narrative ofGolagrosmust represent...

  13. ‘Of an uncouthe stede’: The Scottish Knight in Middle English Arthurian Romances
    (pp. 109-120)

    When Malory’s Aggravayne and Mordred are recruiting a few good men to help them trap Lancelot in the queen’s bedchambers, they find willing allies among one particular group, the Scottish:

    Than sir Aggravayne and sir Mordred gate to them twelve knyghtes and hyd hemselff in a chambir in the castell of Carlyle. And these were their namys: sir Collgrevaunce, sir Mador de la Porte, sir Gyngalyne, sir Mellyot de Logris, sir Petipace of Wynchylsé, sir Galleron of Galoway, sir Melyon de la Mountayne, sir Ascamore, sir Gromeresom Erioure, sir Curselalyne, sir Florence, and sir Lovell. So thes twelve knyghtes were...

  14. Dead Butchers and Fiend-like Queens: Literary and Political History in The Misfortunes of Arthur and Macbeth
    (pp. 121-134)

    The Misfortunes of Arthur, written by Thomas Hughes and seven other members of Gray’s Inn for performance before Queen Elizabeth in 1588 and printed in the same year, offers a uniquely complicated synthesis of Scottish and Arthurian interests. The Scottishness resides in the play’s representation of Elizabeth’s handling of the Mary Queen of Scots crisis in the previous year; however subliminal, this political context instigates and transforms the Arthurian narrative, providing more than background. The ‘Scottishness’, or Scottish interest, of this Arthurian text is therefore fundamental, even if masked. Criticism of the play, however, frequently erodes this connection.¹ The emphasis...

  15. Reinventing Arthur: Representations of the Matter of Britain in Medieval Scotland and Catalonia
    (pp. 135-148)

    This well-known passage fromCurial e Güelfanot only alerts the reader to the existence of Catalan translations of Arthurian romances, but it highlights their importance as literary models for later writers in Catalan.³ This combined debt to the French Arthurian corpus (from which thematic and stylistic elements are borrowed) and to an emerging local literary tradition is also evident in the Scottish Arthurian texts. Historically, during the Middle Ages both nations were establishing the bases of their otherness in opposition to their more powerful neighbours. These social circumstances are reflected to some extent in their respective literatures. In both...

  16. Appendix: The Principal Texts Discussed in this Volume
    (pp. 149-150)
  17. Index
    (pp. 151-156)
  18. Back Matter
    (pp. 157-160)