Igraine (also Ygerne, Arnîve, Eigyr) is the mother of King Arthur in medieval Arthurian tales. She was formerly, in most accounts, the wife of Gorlois, Duke of Cornwall, whom Uther Pendragon attempted to seduce. Eventually Uther lay with her disguised as Gorlois by Merlin's magic and so fathered Arthur. She becomes the wife of King Uther, and his queen consort of Britain.
Some romances tell how Igraine departed from Logres after Uther's death, or even before, to live in an enchanted castle.
The Birth of ArthurEdit
In the Pseudo-Historical TextsEdit
In Geoffrey of Monmouth’s Historia Regum BritanniaeEdit
Geoffrey of Monmouth tells in his Historia Regum Britanniae that King Uther Pendragon held a court at London on Easter Day. Among those present was Duke Gorlois of Cornwall who brought his wife Igraine. Igraine was the most beautiful woman in Britain. Uther immediately desired her, bestowed numerous gifts and favors on her, and kept forcing himself on her in conversation.
Gorlois, seeing this, withdrew himself and his wife from the court without taking leave. Uther became angry and ordered Gorlois to return and to apologize for the insult. Gorlois refused. So the King swore an oath that he would ravage Gorlois’ lands until he obtained satisfaction from Gorlois.
King Uther attacked Cornwall. Gorlois, having the smaller army, mostly stayed in his castles, awaiting help from Ireland. He had Igraine placed in the castle of Tintagel on the coast, while Gorlois and his army took up their position at Dimilioc.
King Uther besieges Dimilioc, but after a week, no closer to victory, he asks advice from his friend Ulfin, who suggests seeking Merlin’s help. Merlin, amazed at the strength of Uther’s passion, says he will use drugs to disguise Uther as Gorlois and so bring him to Igraine.
So it is done. Uther is made to resemble Gorlois, Ulfin is made to resemble Brithael, one of the Duke’s men, and Merlin himself takes on the appearance of Jordan, another of the Duke’s men. The three of them arrive at Tintagel in the twilight and are admitted. Uther lies all night with Igraine and sires Arthur.
Meanwhile, the king’s men, finding that Uther is not present, take on themselves to attack Dimilioc. Gorlois sallies forth to fight but is among the first to be killed. Messengers are sent at once to Tintagel to tell the news. They arrive to find, to their astonishment, a man who looks exactly like Gorlois with Igraine. This man is, of course, Uther, who pretends still to be Gorlois and says that the defeat of his people saddens him and that he will depart and go out to meet Uther to make peace with him.
Uther sets forth, abandons his disguise, and enters his own camp as Uther Pendragon. Uther’s forces capture Tintagel and Uther takes Igraine as his wife.
In Other Pseudo-Historical TextsEdit
Other Pseudo-Historical texts say much the same.
Lawman’s Brut expands on Ulfin’s search for Merlin and tells that Elves took Arthur as soon as he was born and gave him three gifts: to be the best of knights, to be the richest of kings, and to have long life. They also gave to him virtues, especially generosity.
The Welsh adaptations of Geoffrey name Ygerne as Eigyr, and say that she is daughter of Amlawdd Wledig, as is Arthur’s unnamed mother in Culhwch and Olwen.
The Gesta Regum Britanniae, a 13th century Latin metrical version of Geoffrey relates that for the begetting of Arthur, it was necessary that Uther should remain with Ygerne three days and three nights.
The Flores Historiarum removes all mention of Uther’s entry into Tintagel to sire Arthur. Uther simply marries Ygerne after Gorlois’ death and Arthur is sired legitimately.
In Verse RomancesEdit
The pseudo-historical documents provide not the slightest indication that Arthur was not brought up in his fathers court and the verse romances, in the few cases where they concern themselves with Arthur’s boyhood, assume likewise.
Wolfram von Eschenbach’s Parzival mentions the young Arthur searching for his missing mother in Uther Pendragon’s time. Heinrich von dem Türlin’s tells how Uther died when Arthur was not yet six years old and how the young boy mourned his father.
The second continuation to Chrétien’s Perceval tells how three women were present at Arthur’s birth. As translated by Nigel Bryant in his Perceval: The Story of the Grail:
The mistress of the three said that Arthur would have esteem and valour and wisddom and prowess and great honour, and greater courage than any man of woman born. When Uterpandragon heard this he rejoiced in his heart, as he was bound to do for his son.
Years later, a damsel come to Uther’s court and tells how she began talking to a girl beside a spring. The girl prophesied that Uther Pendragon had a son who would be held in greater esteem and awe than his father, who is king and emperor. The damsel says she is telling Uther this so that he may cherish the child. Merlin, who is standing by, verifies what the damsel has said.
In the Story of MerlinEdit
Arthur is BegottenEdit
The Story of Merlin tells mostly the same account, with some variations.
Gorlois, Duke of Cornwall, becomes the anonymous Duke of Tintagel. When he first comes to court, to Carlisle, with his wife Ygerne, he also brings an unnamed son who is not mentioned again. Uther here also attempts to seduce Ygerne, but not so obviously that the Duke of Tintagel notices. Ygerne tries to avoid Uther, for Ygerne is as virtuous as she is beautiful and very loyal to her husband.
The same thing happens at another court which King Uther holds at Pentecost. At a third court at Carlisle, Ulfin, King Uther’s counsellor, also attempts to gain Ygerne for the king. He tells Ygerne that the King loves her totally. The following day, at a banquet, King Uther says he wishes his golden cup to be filled with wine and given to Ygerne to drink for love of him. The Duke, suspecting nothing agrees, and he has his man Brithael take the cup to Ygerne. Ygerne blushes with shame, but takes the cup and drinks to her love for Uther. Brithael then tells her that she is to keep the cup by the King’s wishes and then gives Ygerne’s thanks to King Uther, though Ygerne had not given any thanks and was not thankful.
The following day, the Duke of Tintagel finds Ygerne weeping in her chamber, and she now informs him of King Uther’s attempt to seduce her. Thereupon the Duke takes Ygerne and he and his folk depart with Uther’s leave.
The Duke will not return to court, fearing that Uther will simply take his wife and he tells his men what has happened.
The King challenges the Duke, but with forty days grace, and his army marches on Tintagel, ready for war. He places Ygerne in Tintagel and himself and his army in another unnamed castle. (Malory says that the castle was named Terrabyl.)
Meanwhile, Uther and Ulfin have sought help from Merlin, who will only do so provided that Uther will give Merlin whatever he wants in return. In this account it is Merlin, not Ulfin, who is takes the shape of Brithael and it is Ulfin, not Merlin, to whom the shape of Jordan is given.
In the morning, word comes to Tintagel that the Duke has been killed and his castle taken. Merlin and Ulfin immediately wake Uther and hustle him out of Tintagel. Then Merlin asks for what had been promised him, that the child of that night’s work will be given to him. Uther agrees.
Merlin points out that Ygerne is unaware that Uther has lain with her, and that will make it easier to obtain the child.
Unlike Geoffrey’s account, Uther does not just capture Tintagel, but has a negotiated peace arranged. Ulfin prompts Uther’s advisors to suggest that Uther should marry Ygerne, and that the eldest daughter of the Duke of Tintagel should marry King Loth of Orcanie.
This is done, and another daughter is married to King Neutre of Garlot. Text differ here. Some variants identify Neutre’s wife with Morgain the Fay while in others Morgain is a third daughter. See Duke of Tintagel’s Daughters. The upbringing of Ygerne’s other children, here unidentified, is arranged by the king.
Arthur is Born and Given to AntorEdit
When Uther first lies with Ygerne, he pretends then to first notice that she is with child, who cannot be the Duke’s child, as the Duke of Tintagel had not been with Ygerne, but in his own camp. Ygerne weeps and tells the story of the visitor who seemed to be the Duke. Uther says that this must be kept secret, for it would bring shame upon Ygerne, and that since the child is neither his nor legitimately Ygerne’s, Ygerne must give the child up to the person whom Uther will choose, and the matter afterwards be kept secret.
Merlin has Uther summon a worthy knight named Antor to court where Uthers orders that Antor is to take charge of the upbringing of a child that he will be given. Antor is to take his own nursling son and have him nurse at some other woman’s breast and give the infant which will be provided to him to his wife to nurse. Antor agrees.
Merlin tells Uther through Ulfin that when Queen Ygerne gives birth, tomorrow after midnight, she is to have one of her maid take the child to the door and give it to the first man she finds. So it is done. The man is Merlin, who then takes the child to Antor and tells him to have the boy baptized as Arthur.
Queen Ygerne is only mentioned once after this, when Merlin reminds Uther Pendragon, who is very ill, that his wife Ygerne is dead.
(Note: so says the critical edition of Alexandre Micha. Some texts omit this. The version translated by Nigel Bryant in his Merlin and the Grail is a much abridged and modified text which does not mention Ygerne’s death.)
Ygerne is Alive in an Enchanted CastleEdit
In the PercevalEdit
Chrétien de Troyes’ Perceval has the Guiromelant tell Gawain that when Uther Pendragon was buried, his wife Ygerne left Logres and came to Galloway, bringing all her treasure and she there had a castle built named the Rock of Canguin, where she still dwells. Previously the boatman has told Gawain that when the white-haired Queen of the castle, whose name he does not know, came to this country, she brought with her a clerk versed in astronomy who created enchantments in the castle so that no knight may enter and live, if he has any flaws.
Ygerne’s daughter, who is Gawain’s mother is also there. She came there pregnant after the death of King Loth, and now has a daughter, Clarissant, who is a sister whom Gawain has not known of until now.
Gawain achieves the adventure of the castle which involves lying on a Perilous Bed and killing a lion. Gawain then sends for his uncle King Arthur, who is then holding court at the castle of Orcanie. When Arthur arrives, in the first continuation to Chrétien’s Perceval, Gawain introduces him to his own mother whom he has not known for about fifty years.
Both Ygerne and Arthur are overcome with joy at this meeting.
In Wolfram von Eschenbach’s ParzivalEdit
According to Wolfram von Eschenbach’s Parzival, King Uther’s Queen, here named Arnîve, when still married to Uther Pendragon, ran off with a wizard named Clinschor. In the second book, at the tournament before Kanvoleis, Uther takes part, but his son Arthur is off searching for his mother and Uther has been without wife or son for three years.
Clinschor, was originally a prince of Capua who gained the love of Queen Iblis of Sicily, until her husband King Ibert found Clinschor in bed with his wife and castrated him. Then, in the city of Persida, Clinschor learned magic. The castle has been built by Clinschor on land given him by King Gramoflanz (= the Guiromelant) and is filled with his captives. But since Gawain has passed his tests, it now belongs to Gawain. It would appear that Arnîve (Ygerne) had been compelled by his magic to run off with Clinschor.
After achieving the adventure of the Perilous Bed and the lion as in Chrétien’s account Gawain sends for his uncle King Arthur, who is then holding court at the castle of Bems on the Korcâ in the land of Löver (Logres).
Here again, Arthur and his long-lost mother finally meet.
In Heinrich von dem Türlin’s Diu KrôneEdit
Heinrich von dem Türlin, in his Diu Krône, has Karadas, who corresponds to Chrétien’s unnamed boatman, that the castle was built by the wizard Gansguoter who had brought Ygerne to this country after Uther Pendragon’s death. For Ygerne has given up her entire inheritance for love of Gansguoter.
The castle and the hand of Klarisanz, Ygerne's granddaughter, will be given to a knight who has never done anything shameful and so will break the enchantments.
Gawain does so, achieving the adventure of the Perilous Bed and killing the lion.
After achieving the adventure Gawain sends for his uncle King Arthur, who is then holding court at the castle of Carlisle in Britain.
When Arthur arrives, Gawain tells him that Arthur’s mother is in the castle, and Arthur looks forward to meeting with his mother whom he had never seen. (No explanation is given as to why Arthur has never seen her.) Arthur, with Ygerne’s permission, bestows the castle and its land along with the hand of Klarisanz in marriage to Giremelanz (the Guiromelant). The following day, Arthur, Giremelanz, and Klarisanz and Arthur’s forces set out for Janphis in Giremelanz’s country. Then they ride to Carlisle by way of Cornwall.
In the Livre d’ArtusEdit
It seems that some tellers of this tale wished to connect this castle, which Chrétien calls the Castle of Wonders, to the Grail castle. In the Welsh Peredur, the castle of the mysterious plate and bleeding spear is known as the Castle of Wonders, and Peredur finds Gwalchmei (Gawain) already there. In the Prose Lancelot, Gawain encounters a Perilous Bed in the Grail Castle and has a vision of a lion.
But Ygerne is mentioned distinctly in the Livre d’Artus (page 244 of H. Oskar Sommer’s edition):
... mes si tost come li rois Pel[l]inor sot que tuit si . xiiij . fil estoient mort si ne uost onques puis estre en son recet einz sen ala seiorner u Chastel de la Marueille avec la mere au roi Artus que Merlins i avoit portee mes nu sauoient nules gens fors cil qui la Saintisme Graal auoient en garde . But as soon as King Pellinor knew that all his fourteen sons were dead, he no longer wished to stay in his dwelling but wished to go and dwell in the Castle of the Wonder with King Arthur’s mother whom Merlin had brought there. But no folk knew this save those who had the Holy Grail in their keeping.
Nothing more is said of King Arthur’s mother. The Castle of the Wonder is mentioned once earlier in the Livre d’Artus as being on the way to the dwelling of Agloval’s parents (page 236 of H. Oskar Sommer’s edition):
... & puis monterant en lor cheuls & se mistrent en lor chemin tout droit a aler uers la terre sa mere . Si cheuucherent tant par lor iornees que il uendrent deuant le Chastel de la Merueille . si touerent le pais gaste & essillie & les viles arses & robees que li rois Agripes i auoit coru ne onques ne trouerent en tout le pais qui au deuant lor alast de chose nule que faire i uolsissent . And then they mounted on their horses and set out on their way to go directly to his mother’s land. They rode so far, day by day, that they came before the Castle of the Wonder. They found the country wasted and devastated and the villages burned and plundered which King Agrippe had overrun. Nor did they find in all the country which lay before them anything which pleased them. Quant Agloual & si compaignon uoient la destruction de la terre si en sunt molt dolent & molt corricie . ne ne trouerent home ne femme en tout le pais car tuit sen estaoient foiz as chastias & as cites & as forteresces . & lors recoillent lor uoie & uont tant & de ior & de nuit que il uendrent au recet la out la mere Agloual manoit en la Gaste Forest Soutaine que molt estoit forz de murs & de torneles & de fossez granz & parfonz en pleins deieu . When Agloval and his companions saw the destruction of the land, they were greatly sadened and greatly angered by it. They found no man nor woman in all the land; for they had all fled to castles and to cities and to fortresses. They proceded on their way and went so far, by day and night, that they came to the dwelling where Agloval's mother dwelt in the Wild and Solitary Forest, which dwelling was strong with walls and towers and large and deep moats filled with water.
On the following page, Agloval’s brothers tell him:
... & dautre part nos auons une molt ogueilleuse ligniee pres dici enuiron le Chastel de la Merueille qui onques ne se uost concorder a nostre ligniee cest Li Giromelanz qui molt est riches hom & ne se uuelt crosler por uoisin quil ait ne luj aidier . Ainz uoudroit a bone foi que tuit si uoisin fussent destruit . Cil ne uuelt eissir hors de forteresce ne hom quil ait por ce que sa terre est forz & que len ne li puet riens forfaire . Si ne se fait gaber non de ses uoisins . And on the other side we have a very proud lineage near here, round about the Castle of the Wonder, who will not make peace with our lineage: it is the Guiromelant, who is a very rich man who refuses to stir for any neighbor, nor give him aid. Rather he wishes, in good faith, that all his neighbors were destroyed. He will not issue from his fortresses, nor will any man whom he has, because his land is strong and no-one may infringe on it. None of his neighbors take him as any sort of joke.
In the Vulgate MerlinEdit
In the Vulgate Merlin, Merlin relates to King Arthur (as translated by Rupert T. Pickens in Norris J. Lacy’s Lancelot-Grail with names changed to the forms normally used in this encyclopedia):
... how Ulfin thought up the way Uther could wed the duchess Ygerne, who had five daughters, three by her hushand the duke, and two by her first husband, one of whom King Loth took as his wife, King Neutre another, King Urien the third, and Karadan, who was father of King Angusel of Scotland, the fourth, who had died, while the fifth was in school in Logres.
According to this account, it would appear that King Loth’s wife and King Neutre’s wife were the eldest and were not daughters of the Duke of Tintagel, but daughters of an earlier husband of Ygerne. However, according to the account in the Story of Merlin, King Loth married the eldest daughter of the Duke of Tintagel.
(Note that Nigel Bryant’s translation in his Merlin and the Grail is taken from a manuscript which is much abridged and lacks this information.)
Later the Vulgate Merlin relates that King Neutre’s wife was Blasine, the half-sister of Arthur and daughter of Howel (in the text, “Hoel”), Duke of Tintagel. This indicates, if one takes the two passages in the Vulgate Merlin to be in agreement with one another, that Ygerne’s first husband was named Howel, and that this Howel was also the Duke of Tintagel, by rank. The name Howel here may possibly derive from a marginal note attached to Morcades, reading something like “By her first husband, Hoel”. This would indicate that Howel was the son of Morcades by her first husband, as in the Welsh adaptations of Geoffrey of Monmouth. But if the reader instead connected the note to Ygerne, the note could be read to indicate that Morcades’ father was Ygerne’s first husband, named Howel.
Possibly the passages are not in agreement. Galeschin, the son of Neutre in the Vulgate Merlin, asks his mother (as translated by Rupert T. Pickens in Norris J. Lacy’s Lancelot-Grail with names changed to the forms normally used in this encyclopedia):
Dear mother, weren’t you the daughter of the Duke of Tintagel and Queen Ygerne? Her second husband was King Uther Pendragon, who fathered on her, as I have heard it told, his offspring whose name is King Arthur.
Here Uther Pendragon is Ygerne’s “second husband”, so the Duke of Tintagel would be Ygerne’s first husband and there is now no earlier husband. Howel is just the name of the single Duke of Tintagel.
In the English Arthour and MerlinEdit
This work identifies Howel with Ygerne’s first husband and also identifies Howel with the King Aramont surnamed Howel who is King of Little Britain at the beginning of the Prose Lancelot. Ygerne’s second husband is named Tintagel, Duke of Cornwall who rebels against King Uther Pendragon. Uther Pendragon becomes Ygerne’s third husband.
Arthour and Merlin calls the King of Little Britain Harnan, instead of Aramont, and says that Harnan was Ygerne’s first husband, and that she later married Duke Hoel of Cornwall. This appears to he garbled, as Hoel ought to be another name of Harnan. Later in the romance Harnan and Hoel appear to be properly identified.
Ygerne’s first husband, King Hoel has died. Ygerne has remarried. Her new husband is a baron named Tintagel, Duke of Cornwall. Tintagel remains his personal name in this work.
When the time comes for the council at which Uther Pendragon agrees to wed Ygerne, this version relates that three of Ygerne’s daughters were begotten by Hoel: Belisent who becomes the wife of King Loth and mother of Gawain, Blasine who becomes the wife of King Neutre, and a third daughter who becomes the wife of King Urien of Shoreham. This third daughter is later named Hermesent. In the French Vulgate Merlin she is Brimesent.
Arthour and Merlin then relates that the other daughters of Ygerne were Ygerne’s offspring by Tintagel.
The author here understands that the first three of Ygerne’s daughters are fathered by her supposed first husband, rather than the first two daughters.
An Unnamed SonEdit
The Story of Merlin tells that the Duke of Tintagel brought his son with him to Uther’s court when he first came, but this son is never again mentioned in the Story of Merlin. In the Prose Lancelot, when relating the descent of Morgain, the story mentions that the Duke of Tintagel had a son by a marriage previous to his marriage to Ygerne, and that Uther Pendragon gave the Duke's lands to this son.
In Culhwch and OlwenEdit
The list of Arthur’s men in Culhwch and Olwen includes (as translated by Gywn Jones and Thomas Jones in their The Mabinogion):
... Gormant son of Rica (brother to Arthur on his mother’s side, his father the chief elder of Cornwall), ...
It appears that Rica may here play the part that Gorlois and the Duke of Tintagel play in the French romances. However, the Welsh adaptations of Geoffrey of Monmouth render Gorlois as Gwrleis. Gormant here may be the same as Gornemant of Gohort who appears in some romances.
Ygerne Recognizes Arthur in the Post-Vulgate MerlinEdit
King Arthur meets Merlin, who tells him his parentage which he had not previously known. Merlin undetakes to show the people that Arthur is Uther Pendragon’s son. Merlin asks Arthur to send for all the barons who dwell up to three days journey in all directions to come to court at Carlisle a week from Sunday. Arthur should also send word to Uther Pendragon’s queen, Ygerne, to come, with her daughter Morgain.
Ygerne fears that this new king wishes to take her lands, so she sends for King Loth and her other kinfolk to also come to court to aid her if she needs it.
Merlin also asks that Antor make sure that those of his neighbors who know the date and time when he was first given Arthur will be at the court.
Then, at the court, as preplanned, Ulfin comes forward and accuses Queen Ygerne of treason. Arthur feigns to be amazed. Ulfin then formally accueses Queen Ygerne of bearing a child to Uther Pendragon, but then disposing of the child.
Then Ygerne curses Merlin, by whose orders the child was taken from her. Merlin, in disguise, says that indeed Merlin carried off the child, and wishes that Ygerne swear on relics that she will not lie about what he will now say. Ygerne, suspicious now of this stranger, says she will do so only if he reveals his true name. Merlin takes on his true from and Ygerne recognizes him.
Merlin then says that Ygerne has been wrong to accuse him of treason, for what he did with the child was by the command of King Uther Pendragon. King Arthur pretends to want assurance that this is really Merlin. Merlin claims the name and many of the barons say they recognize him.
Then Merlin tells how he took the child which had been promised to him and gave it to people with whom the child would be safe. Merlin then asks Antor to return to him this child. Antor replies that he cannot, because the child is no longer his, but that he can show him to Merlin. Antor indicates that King Arthur was the child.
Merlin asks for proof. Antor’s neighbors swear that this is true, and that it will soon be fifteen years since the child was brought to Antor. The chaplin who baptized Arthur tells how the child was baptized and named by Antor’s command, and the name Arthur was the name that Antor said he had been directed to name the child.
Then Merlin asks if he has been cleared of Ygerne’s charge of treason. The barons say that Merlin is cleared. Then Merlin says to Ygerne that he now gives the child back to her. Merlin states that Arthur is son of Uther Pendragon and Ygerne, offspring of the first night they lay together and the barons should no longer despise him.
Arthur embraces his mother and the barons are joyful.
Sir Thomas Malory provides a much abridged version of this account in his Le Morte d’Arthur (Book I, chapter XXI).
Some Name VariationsEdit
FRENCH: Ygerne, Igerne, Iguerne, Ugerne, Yguerne, Egerne, Ygraine, Yverne, Iverme; LATIN: Ygerna; ENGLISH: Ygerne, Ygerna, Ygærne, Ygæna, Ygerne, Igerne, Ygwerne, Ygwerne, Igwerne, Ygrine, Agyana; MALORY: Igrayne, Igrayn, Irayne; GERMAN: Igern, Arnîve; SPANISH: Iguerna; HEBREW: Izerna; WELSH: Eigyr.