Pendragon meaning “head of dragons” or “chief dragons” is perhaps a figurative title referring to status as a leader. It may have originally meant “Head of the soldiers”, for dragon is sometimes used metaphorically to mean a soldier. Compare Modern English dragoons. The surname is used by two legendary Kings of the Britons:
- Aurelius Ambrosius, son of King Constantine of Britain, is instead named “Pendragon” in the Story of Merlin. This may be because in Wace’s Roman de Brut Ambrosius is normally just called “the king”, but is first introduced in a line in which “Ambrosius”, “Uther” and “Pendragon” all appear. Uther and Pendragon might be interpreted as separate individuals by a hearer who did not know better and Pendragon wrongly thought to be the name of “the king”.
- Uther, brother of Aurelius and father of King Arthur, is called Uther Pendragon. In Geoffrey of Monmouth’s Historia Regum Britanniae and derived texts this is because Uther was inspired by a dragon-shaped comet. (In the Story of Merlin, Uther takes the name from his a dragon seen at the Battle of Salisbury and from his deceased brother).
King Arthur, son of Uther, is sometimes given the title Pendragon by modern authors but never bears this title in medieval works. Alfred Tennyson may have been the first writer of fiction to call Arthur “the Pendragon”.
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