522px-Arthur-Pyle The Enchanter Merlin

The Story of Merlin or Estoire de Merlin is a romance which claims to be by Robert de Boron. It provides a biography of Merlin from his conception until the beginning of the reign of Arthur.


The story appears as a sequel to Robert de Boron’s Joseph of Arimathea and contains references to that work, especially when Merlin prophecies to his master Blaise that the book which Blaise is writing, which will relate the life of Merlin and, eventually, the life of King Arthur (Micha 23.54), will be joined to the book of Joseph kept in the company of the Grail (Micha 16.111).

Like the Joseph of Arimathea, this was usually believed to have originally been in verse format. The first 502 lines of a verse version survive in the 17th century manuscript Bibl. Nat. français 20047 following the full verse version of the Joseph of Arimathea. But see Gowans (2004) for a study that indicates that the sole text occurrences of the Joseph of Arimathea and the verse Merlin are individual versifcations of the prose form of the tales. The prose versions, accoriding to these findings, are the original forms for both works.

In two manuscripts the Story of Merlin both follows the Joseph of Arimathea and also precedes a prose Perceval romance now usually known as the Didot Perceval which itself continues the Story of Merlin. The manuscripts are MS. Bib. Nat., nouv. acq. fr. 4166, and MS. 3.39 at the Estense Library in Modena, the second of these being a much better text. These three romances, intended to be understood as parts of the same larger work, are included in a single edition by Bernard Ceruiglini in his Les roman du Graal and have been translated into English by Nigel Bryant in his Merlin and the Grail. In the Introduction to his English translation, Bryant writes about his choice (p. 2):

Uncritical though some might feel this to be, it has the great virtue of presenting a medieval reality: it gives a single, complete text as it would have been experienced by a contemporary audience.
In some other medieval manuscripts, the prose Story of Merlin appears as the second part of the Arthurian Vulgate Cycle, either following the prose Joseph of Arimathea or following its later Vulgate replacement, the Estoire del Saint Graal. There it is usually followed by a long continuation in a very different style, this extended version being called the Vulgate Merlin. When found incorporated into the Arthurian Post-Vulgate Cycle, it has a very different extension, and this version is known as the Post-Vulgate Merlin. See the separate articles on these extended versions for further texts and English translations.

For his critical edition of the Story of Merlin, Alexandre Micha examined 46 complete manuscripts (including those where the Story of Merlin has either the Vulgate Merlin or Post-Vulgate Merlin extension) and 9 fragments, and chose B.N. 747 which throughout his edition he compares with other closely related families to produce his final text.

The version edited by Bernard Ceruiglini and translated by Niget Bryant contains various abridgements and lacunae, but for most uses is good enough.

Merlin as the Prophet of the GrailEdit

Merlin, in Geoffrey of Monmouth’s Historia Regum Britanniae, and in most later works closely based on it, has, to a certain extent, a dubious reputation. He has been sired by an unearthly being of some kind, and is responsible for deceiving Gorlois and Ygerne in underhanded fashion. In two later romances, the Perlesvaus and the Prose Lancelot, Merlin’s reputation has become worse. In the Perlesvaus, Arthur, Gawain, and Lancelot in a chapel at Tintagil see the tomb of Merlin, but his body is not in it for, when placed there within the church, it was mysteriously snatched away. In the Prose Lancelot, Merlin is explicitly said to have never been baptized and to have never done a good deed in his life.

However, in the Story of Merlin, Merlin is explicitly the son of a devil, fathered to be an anti-Christ, but is explicitly baptized and thereupon gains free will to reject the devil, which he does. From his devilish father, Merlin gains knowledge of all past events (and presumably some of his other powers), but it is from God, in his grace, that Merlin is given knowledge of all future events and becomes a prophet. Merlin knows about the hidden Grail community and creates the prophesied Third Table to go along with the Table of Jesus’ Last Supper, and the Table of Joseph of Arimathea: the Round Table. Merlin is aware that deceiving the Duke of Tintagil (Gorlois) and Ygerne was a sin, and is concerned to expiate that sin.

This holy Merlin, the prophet of the Grail, appears to be the inspiration for the Merlin in the later portions of the Prose Lancelot and other later romances, and the tradition of the evil Merlin vanishes.

In this story, the grail is clearly explained as the cup of Jesus Christ, not as platter or a dish.

Some ChangesEdit

The account in the Story of Merlin mostly appears to be based on the accounts of Geoffrey of Monmouth and other accounts based on Geoffrey’s work, probably mainly on the account of Wace, as this account developed once it entered oral tradition. Elements are lost or shift, in particular, names.

The focus being mainly on Merlin has meant much of Wace’s material on the kings of Britain has become lost or blurred. There is no mention made of Vortigern’s sons Vortimer, Catigern/Vortiger, or Paskent or of Hengist’s brother Horsa or of Hengist’s sons Oisc and Ebissa or of his other kinsman Eosa. Hengist’s daughter Renwein barely appears and is also unnamed. That the word wassail was introduced by Renwein into “this land” becomes mere trivia. The Germanus material is dropped. Count Eldol of Gloucester and his brother Eldadus are also unmentioned. Gorlois, Count of Cornwall, becomes an unnamed Duke of Tintagil. Anna, Gawain’s mother, is also unnamed.


Coming of MerlinEdit

Fathering of Merlin by a DevilEdit

Making Merlin the main focus results in the story of his fathering being told at the beginning of the tale instead of when Vortigern’s messengers later discover Merlin. It is a long and involved account. The devils, enraged at having lost their prey though Christ’s harrowing of Hell, plot to father a prophet of their own kin to walk the earth and win souls back to the devils through his miraculous powers. One of them claims that he knows a woman who will do well as the one on whom a devil might father a son.

There follows an account, perhaps of different origin, about a family harassed by a devil. The devil takes the wife of an unnamed rich farmer into his power and by her advice, kills much of the livestock of her husband. In his anger, the rich man says that all the livestock remaining may go to the devil, and the devil begins killing all of it, and kills the rich man’s only son. The rich man, in despair, abandons his faith in Christ. Thereupon the devil uses his power over the rich man’s wife to make her hang herself. The rich man, seeing everything he cares for being taken from him, falls ill and dies.

The devil then turns his mind to the three surviving daughters. A young man, already in the devil’s service, is encouraged to court one of the daughters. They become intimate and through the boasts of the young man this becomes known. It was then the custom, that unless a declared prostitute, an unmarried woman found to have sexual relations with a man should be put to death. The young man flees, and the woman is taken before the judges and condemned. She is buried alive.

A Christian priest, later named Blaise, attempts to counsel the two surviving daughters and perceives these apparent misfortunes must be a devil’s work. The elder of the surviving sisters takes his advice to live a holy life but the younger is less appreciative. The devil, by another woman, expresses grief that she is so forced by her over-pious sister to restrain from the joy of sexual relations with men, and suggests that, as she will not be able to be married before her sister, that she declare herself a prostitute. Eventually, because of her inheritance, when she wishes, she will find a man who will marry her. The younger sister takes this course.

Blaise advises the elder sister, who is flabbergasted by this, to protect herself from devils by making the sign of the cross every time she wakes or goes to sleep. But after two years of this, one night, the devil brings her younger sister to her house with a retinue of young men. The elder sister tries to force them to leave, but the younger sister insists that by right of inheritance, she is entitled to stay if she wishes, and the young men support her, beating the elder sister. Eventually the elder sister flees to her room, locks herself in, and lies there overcome with deep anger, which is a sin, and falls asleep without making the sign of the cross.

The devil who has brought this about, then comes to the room, is intimate with her, and the elder sister conceives in her sleep.

Birth of MerlinEdit

The following morning the elder sister awakens to find her virginity miraculously gone, although the room is still locked. She goes to Blaise for advice. Blaise suspects that the elder sister is not telling the truth and lays a heavy penance on her, including refraining from any further act of lust so long as she lives.

Eventually the elder sister begins to be obviously pregnant. When she tells how this occurred, she is not believed. She is taken before the judges. Blaise protects her from immediate execution be declaring that her unborn child to be innocent of any crime, so that it would be wrong to kill her before her child is born. Following Blaise’s advice, she is impisoned in a tower, alone but for two other women who are in charge of her until she gives birth and the child becomes old enough to be somewhat on his own.

The elder sister gives birth to a son, a very hairy child. At his mother’s will, the child is baptized and given the name Merlin, which had been the name of his grandfather, the rich man.

Although Merlin indeed has the wisdom and cunning of his father, in part because the boy’s mother’s penitence and confessions and in part because of his baptism, God provides Merlin also knowledge of the future.

Trial of Merlin’s MotherEdit

The boy Merlin occasionally speaks miraculously when his mother or another, speaks of his mother’s forthcoming death by judgment, but otherwise behave normally. Nine months after Merlin's birth, it is decided it is time that his mother should be put to death by stoning.

At the trial, the nine-month old boy miraculously declares that his mother is innocent and that there are many present who have done worse than she has been accused of doing. The judges demand that Merlin’s mother reveal who fathered him. Merlin tells one judge that he knows more about who fathered that judge than the judge knows about his own father. Agreement is reached that if Merlin can make the judge’s mother confess to adultery, that his mother will be spared from burning.

After an adjournment of fifteen days, Merlin in private with his own mother, the judge, and the judge’s mother, tells how the judge was not fathered by his mother’s husband, but the a priest, relating many circumstantial details of the relationship between the priest and the judge’s mother until the judge’s mother breaks down and admits to it. The judge declares Merlin’s mother to be innocent. Merlin prophesies that when the priest learns what has been said here, that the priest will flee in shame and drown himself in a river. So it happens.

Blaise Begins to Write His BookEdit

When Merlin is about two-and-a-half years old, Blaise begins to test him. Merlin objects, and declares that he will tell Blaise what he should do to obtain the love of Jesus Christ.

Merlin relates that he, Merlin is a faithful follower of Jesus Christ, and that Blaise should set down in book the word that Merlin will speak. Merlin promises never to encourage Blaise to do anything against God’s will and Blaise agrees to write the book.

Merlin then tells Blaise the story of Joseph of Arimathea and Joseph’s nephew Alain the Stout as told in the Joseph of Arimthea. He prophecies that he, himself, will go to the West because his blood is believed to be needed. But when they see Merlin, they will no longer desire his blood. Blaise will go to the hidden company of those who keep the Grail, and his book will there be joined to the book about Joseph of Arimathea.

Kings Before Merlin Becomes ActiveEdit

King ConstantEdit

King Constant rules “England” when Christianity is newly arrived and there have yet been few Christian kings. This is the king whom Wace calls Constantine. His seneschal is a good knight named Vortigern, whom Wace calls Vortiger and does not introduce until the following reign. After reigning a good while, Constant dies.

King MonkEdit

The people make Constant’s eldest son king in his place. His name is Monk (Moine(s)), in a few place called “the Monk”. He corresponds to Wace’s King Constant who was a monk who was taken out of his monastery by Vortiger to become king but is not a good king, because he has not been trained to reign in the monastery. The Story of Merlin tells nothing of this, only that Constant’s youth and inexperience leads him to fail.

The Saxons and many from the Roman Empire war against the Britons. But the Britons are victorious, mainly through the efforts of Vertigier. Wace does not mention this war.

Vertigier, seeing his superiority, becomes over-proud and refuses to aid the king any further. The next time the Saxons attack, they defeat the Britons, and many blame King Monk’s inexperience. Some barons ask Vertigier to become king in King Monk’s place, but Vertigier refuses, as long as King Monk is alive.

In Wace's Roman de Brut, it is a band of Picts, not British barons, to whom Vortigern announces his desire to cease aiding the king, and to whom he says he will not take the kingship so long as the king lives.

The Story of Merlin now relates that the barons call their friends to a council. The council decides they will assassinate King Monk and give the crown to Vertigier. Twelve are appointed to kill King Monk, which they do, and then tell King Vertigier what they have done. In Wace’s account, the Picts kill the king and bring his head to Vortiger.

Vertigier/Vortiger feigns to be shocked, and turns over the admitted assassins to be executed. According to Wace, the Picts are beheaded but the Story of Merlin tells that the guilty barons are executed by being dragged behind live horses.

King VertigierEdit

Vertigier is now king. But the keepers of the dead king Monk’s two brother take the children away to the eastern land from which the keepers have come. The barons who were friends to those executed recognize Vertigier’s treachery and rebel against him. Vertigier wars against the rebels and finally drives them from his land, but is so cruel in his actions that most of the people now rise against him. In Wace’s account the Pictish people, realizing that Vortiger’s Picts had been tricked, make war on his kingdom. Vortiger also fears that the two younger brothers of the former king, who have fled to Little Britain will soon attack him.

In Wace, the Saxon Hengist by chance happens to land when Vortiger happens to be nearby in Kent. Vortiger takes Hengist and his Saxons into his service and the Picts are defeated in battle, mainly through the Saxons’ prowess. Vortiger then has Hengist send for more of his people. In the Story of Merlin, to put down the rebellion, Vertigier makes a peace treaty with the Saxons, whereupon one of them, named Engis, enters Vertigier’s service. With the aid of Engis and his men, Vertigier is victorious.

The Story of Merlin does not tell most of the rest of the reign of Vortiger, only relating that Vertigier marries “a daughter” of Engis, and that through her the word “wassail” first came “to this kingdom”. The British people are now enraged that their king has married a pagan woman. Vertigier decides to raise a tower to defend himself from his enemies. Missing from this story is the entire account of the wars against the Saxons, Hengist’s treachery at Amesbury, and how Vertigier, to save his life, gave much land to the Saxons and fled to the west to build a tower of defense.

The Fatherless BoyEdit

Search for the Fatherless BoyEdit

As in Wace, when Vertigier/Vortiger tries to have his tower built, it tumbles down. A council of learned clerks/wizards is summoned and they announce that the blood of a child fathered by no earthly man must be mixed with the mortar used in building the tower.

The Story of Merlin gives a longer version of the debate by the clerks. The first council decides that only those who know astronomy can explain the problem. Two clerks who claim to know that art are delegated to summon others, and a group of seven astronomers start to work. Mone of them is able to find the truth. Vertigier becomes impatient. The clerks obtain a respite of eleven days. The wisest of them suggests each of them tell him in secret whatever they have found. All of them have seen a seven-year-old child born of a woman but with no earthly father. This child will cause their deaths. The leader suggests that each of them will say to Vertigier that the blood of that child is needed to make the tower stand, and so the clerks will be saved from the prophesied fate.

They separately tell this to Vertigier, and also tell him the if his messengers find the child, they must not let the child speak to them but kill the child at once and take his blood.

In both versions Vertigier/Vortiger sends out the messengers in couples. In the Story of Merlin there are twelve messengers.

Two of the messengers find the child. Wace alone names the place as Carmarthen.

In the Story of Merlin, the boy saves his life by telling them exactly why he is being sought and agreeing to be taken back to the king by the amazed messengers. The messengers are given hospitality in Merlin’s mother’s residence in a nunnery. Blaise also is at the supper. Merlin tells him what has happened. He directs Blaise to leave and go to live in the forests of Northumberland, there to work on his book. Merlin will visit him often and will tell him what to write. That book will give Blaise great joy in this life and eternal life in the world to come. The book will be heard with gratitude as long as the world lasts. The book will contain material from the fourth reign following the current reign, and the king will be named Arthur. (This is the first mention of Arthur’s name in the Story of Merlin. Wace also has Merlin prophesy of Arthur, but slightly later, when Merlin is prophesying to Vortiger.) Blaise, after his book is complete, will go to dwell with the company of the Grail. After Blaise’s death, his book will be known as The Book of the Grail.

Merlin leaves with the two messengers.

The Two LaughsEdit

The Story of Merlin continues with material not found in Wace. The story tells how Merlin laughs two times at events that occur during the journey to Vertigier.

Merlin laughs when a peasant tells him that he is going on a pilgrimage and has bought leather to repair his shoes when they wear out. Questioned by the messengers, Merlin explains that the peasant will die soon and never use the leather. Some of the party (apparently the messengers have servants) follow the peasant to see what happens, and the peasant suddenly collapses and falls down dead in the road.

Merlin laughs when he sees the funeral of a child, and a man bitterly weeping at the funeral. Questioned by the messengers, Merlin explains that the child is not really the son of the weeping man, who is generally believed to be his father, but is son to the priest who is singing in the procession. The messengers question the dead child’s mother privately, and she admits that this is true, but begs them not to tell her husband.

A similar story appears told of Merlin in the Vita Merlini. Merlin laughs when he sees Rhydarch pull a leaf from the Queen’s hair, little realizing that it signifies a meeting with her lover. Merlin laughs again when he sees a beggar and knows that the beggaar is sitting on buried treasure, and a third time when he sees a young man buying new shoes, unaware that he will soon be drowned.

In the later Vulgate Merlin, Merlin, disguised as a wildman, is captured by Grisandoles. Merlin smiles or laughs four times. Once Merlin smiles when considering Grisandoles, once he smiles when considering poor folk who are waiting for alms outside an abbey, once he laughs when a squire three times strikes his master for no reasons that can be seen, and once he laughs at the Empress of Rome and her supposed twelve maidens. The wildman explains that Grisandoles is really a woman disguised as a man, that there is treasure worth more than the abbey and its possessions secretly buried under the feet of the poor folk waiting for alms, that there is treasure buried under the feet of the squire which (apparently supernaturally) affected him with the evils of wealth which in reality poorly affect many people, and that the apparent twelve maidens accompanying the Empress of Rome are really her twelve lovers disguised as maidens.

Merlin Prophesies to VertigierEdit

The Story of Merlin tells, as not found in Wace, that Merlin prophesies to the two messengers that if they tell Vertigier that that have brought him her alive, they will come to no harm. Vertigier, agrees to meet with the boy if he can reveal why the tower never falls. If he cannot, then both messengers will be killed.

Merlin tells Vertigier that the clerks have lied on the matter of his blood. Vertigier takes Merlin before the clerks. When Merlin tells them their plot, they are flabbergasted and admit their sin. They only ask not to be killed until they can see why the tower falls. Merlin agrees.

As in Wace, the earth is removed and the pool uncovered and orders are given for ditches to be dug to drain the pool. The Story of Merlin here has Vertigier summon his chief men of his kingdom to see how the dragons will fight. The men come. Merlin prophesies to Vertigier and only four of Vertigier’s men that the white dragon will triumph over the red. And indeed, as Merlin had said, after battling until the following day at noon, the white dragon consumes the red dragon in flames, but then lives only three days after. Merlin tells Vertigier he can now build his tower without fear.

Merlin tells the clerks he will spare their lives if they will agree to give up the practice of astronomy, abandon sin, and do penance. They agree.

Where Wace explains that the red dragon represents the Britons and the white dragon represents the Saxons, in the Story of Merlin, as Merlin explains, the red dragon represents Vertigier and the white dragon the two brothers of King Monk who will overcome him. Wace has this same prophecy, but unconnected to the dragons. Wace has Merlin say that the ships of the brothers are now on the sea and will land tomorrow while in the Story of Merlin it is said that they will land in three months at the port of Winchester. (In realty Winchester is not a seaside city.) Merlin tells Vertigier that just as the red dragon was burned up by the white dragon, so he will be burned with fire by the King Monk’s brothers.

Merlin then departs to visit Blaise in Northumberland.

Vertigier, seeing he has time, summons his army to Winchester, but does not tell them who they will be fighting.

King PendragonEdit

Death of VertigierEdit

Wace, following Geoffrey of Monmouth, names the two brothers Aurelius Ambrosius and Uther. The Story of Merlin names them Pendragon and Utier(s). The deeds that Wace ascribes to Aurelius Ambrosius are mostly ascribed by the Story of Merlin to Pendragon. As to why really only the name is very different, see the article Aurelius Ambrosius (king).

The Story of Merlin has the Britons rebel against Vertigier when they realize that it is Pendragon and Uther who are attacking. In both Wace and the Story of Merlin, Vortiger/Vertigier flees to a castle which the brothers besiege and burn, along with Vortiger/Vertigier. The Story of Merlin as usual drops all geographical information.

Merlin Becomes Councillor to King PendragonEdit

Wace tells how King Ambrosius defeats the Saxons at Caer Conan, with Hengist being captured in battle by Edof (Edol) and then executed. The remainder of the Saxons have fled to York.

The Story of Merlin concentrates instead on Merlin, not even mentioned in this part of Wace.

King Pendragon and Uther have been besieging Engis in a castle for half a year without achieving victory. Some of their advisers who were present at the battle of the red and white dragons suggest that the brothers should seek counsel from Merlin.

Pendragon seeks Merlin by messengers, one of whom meets Merlin in disguise in Northumberland, and is told that Pendragon must come himself. Merlin, at this point in the story, revels in the enjoyment of tricking the two brothers with various disguises, attempting to win their loyalty by amazing them.

Pendragon, after meeting with Merlin in several disguises, knowingly meets Merlin. Merlin tells him that Hengist was plotting to kill Pendragon’s brother Uther by trickery and warned Uther, in the guise of a white-haired, old man, and warned him that Hengist would walk through the battle lines that night, alone, planning to assassinate Uther in his pavilion. Uther believed the seeming old man, stayed awake in his tent all night. Hengist entered, unarmed, knife in hand, intending to kill Uther in his sleep. Hengist did not see Uther and so started to depart, when Uther, who was armed, came upon Hengist and killed him immediately.

Merlin tells Pendragon that he may tell Uther that the old man was Merlin, but may tell no-one else and that he will speak to Pendragon again, along with Uther, in ten days.

Meanwhile Pendragon comes to Uther and tells him that he knows exactly how Uther had killed Hengist and about the white-haired old man, about which Uther thought no-one but himself had knowledge. On the eleventh day, Merlin comes to Uther again disguised as the white-haired, old man. At the white-haired man’s request, King Pendragon is summoned, but claims not to recognize him. When Pendragon leaves, Merlin sends Uther to fetch him again, then transforms himself into a young boy. Uther returns with Pendragon and is very puzzled that the white-haired man is not in his tent but that a young boy is. Uther leaves to ask the guards about this. Pendragon just laughs, for he realizes this is Merlin playing games.

The two of them pull the switch again to enjoy Uther’s bewilderment. Then Merlin changes shape from boy to old man in Uther’s sight, and Pendragon tells Uther that this is Merlin.

Merlin tells them that he will always come to their aid when needed and from thenceforth will appear openly in his own form. Then Merlin departs again, and turns into his own shape, as a seven-year old boy. Those who had seen Merlin in that shape when Merlin conversed with Vertigier recognized him and went running to the king to tell him Merlin has come. Pendragon comes to greet Merlin, pretending it is the first time he has met him.

Truce with the SaxonsEdit

Wace tells how Ambrosius and Uther besieged the remaining Saxons in York, until the Saxons lost hope and Oisc, Hengist’s son and many of the other unconditionally surrendered. By the advice of Bishop Eldadus the Saxons are given lands in Scotland.

The Story of Merlin relates that three days after Merlin’s arrival in camp, Pendragon holds a council and asks Merlin advise on how they may capture the castle and drive the Saxons out of the land. Merlin responds that since the death of Hengist, the Saxons desire to leave. All Pendragon has to do is send messengers to the Saxons to ask for a truce, escort the Saxons from the land, and provide them with ships to leave.

Ulfin is sent to arrange a truce. The Saxons agree to discuss it among themselves, but knowing that they do not have food enough for the three-month truce asked, instead they suggest that they yield up the castle and agree to pay tribute.

Merlin advises that the Britons reject the offer, apparently because the Saxons will then still have their possessions in the land. Instead the Saxons must give up the castle and accept ships and boats to sail to other lands. Merlin says that the Saxons will take this offer, because they are only expecting death.

Merlin’s advice is taken and the Saxons sail away. Merlin is now recognized as King Pendragon’s chief counselor.

The Triple DeathEdit

A baron is jealous of Merlin's influence on King Pendragon and tells King Pendragon that all Merlin’s knowledge comes only from the Devil. He asks permission to test Merlin in order to prove that Merlin’s knowledge is false. King Pendragon agrees with this, as long as the baron does not annoy Merlin.

The baron asks Merlin how he, the baron, will die. Merlin tells the baron that the baron will die in a fall from a horse in which the baron’s neck will break. The baron disguises himself as a sick man and again asks Merlin how he, the disguised sick man, will die. Merlin says that the supposed sick man will be found hanging on the day he dies. Then the baron disguises himself as a sick monk and King Pendragon, following the wishes of the disguised baron, brings Merlin to him. But Merlin tells King Pendragon and Uther that he is not fooled and sees through these disguises. When the abbot asks Merlin whether the sick monk can ever be cured, Merlin responds that the sick monk can well get up now if he wishes; he is just wasting Merlin's time. But, in the end, the pretend monk will die in the two ways that Merlin has already told, and will also die by drowning.

The baron claims this prophesy of three deaths is nonsense. Afterwards, when riding on a bridge over a river, the baron indeed falls from his horse and breaks his neck, and as his body falls into the river, it catches on a jagged bridge support, so that it is hanging from the support, feet in the air and head and shoulders in the water. So all Merlin’s prophecies are fulfilled.

A variant of this story is found in the Vita Merlini, where Merlin's sister tests Merlin's power by having him predict the death of a boy, twice in disguise. Merlin prophecies death from falling from a high rock, violent death in a tree, and death in a river. Many years later, after the boy has become a man, when out hunting, this man’s horse falls from a high rock, one of the falling man's feet catches in the branches of a tree below so that his body hangs uside-down, his head submerged in a stream that runs by the tree.

In the late 15th century Laloiken and Kentigern, a naked, hairy madman Lailoken (said by some to be called Merlynum) prophesies that he will die a triple death. The shepherds of King Meldred capture the madman, beat him with clubs and then cast him into the river Tweed where his body is pierced by a stake, thus fulfilling his prophecy.

The medieval Irish story of Suibne Gelt is based on the earlier British Laloiken/Myrddin stories. Grag kills the mad prophet Suibne, and is cursed by St. Molling to die himself through his own weapon, by fire, and by drowning. Grag dies when, in a tree, he accidentally stabs himself with his javelin, falls from the tree into a fire, and then rolls into water where he drowns.

Battle of SalisburyEdit

Wace, at this point, tells a complicated tale. King Aurelius Ambrosius has many buildings restored that had been destroyed by the Saxons. The Story of Merlin does not mention this. Then Wace tells the story of the building of Stonehenge, which the Story of Merlin tells later in its account of the reign of Uther Pendragon.

Next Wace relates how Paskent, son of Vortiger, battles Ambrosius and Uther until, defeated, Paskent flees to King Guillomer of Ireland who supports him in a second war against the Britons, seeking vengeance for the defeat that Uther had given Guillomer when Uther sought to take the stones from Ireland. Ambrosius is ill at Winchester, so Uther leads the troops to fight the Irish at Menevia (St. Davids). A Saxons named Eopa sent by Paskent in the guise of a physician, treacherously poisons Ambrosius. A comet in the heavens containing the image of a dragon reveals this to Merlin who tells of Ambrosius’ death to Uther, tells him of his future descendants (including Arthur) and bids Uther to fight bravely, for both Paskent and Guillomer will be killed. That is what happens.

The Story of Merlin gives, instead of the above, one great battle with the Saxons which it places by Salisbury, presumably because that name had stuck in tradition from its importance in the the story of Hengist’s treacherous killing of the British barons by Amesbury and the subsequent Stonehenge story.

Merlin prophesies that the Saxons will make war against Britain, seeking vengeance for Hengist’s death. They will arrive IN June at the gates of Salisbury with an army twice that of the British. The brothers must by then be ready to oppose the Saxons. The two brothers are to allow the Saxons to land, and then station half their army between the Saxons and the river.

The brothers ask if either will die in this battle. Merlin otells them that everyone must die, that they should religiously prepare themselves for death, for one of them will indeed die in the battle, and the survivor must build a great cemetery for all those who die there.

The Saxons disembark and are allowed to rest for eight days. When, on the ninth day, the Saxons take to their horses, Merlin tells King Pendragon to order Uther with his men to move between the Saxons and the river so that the Saxons will be forced to make a fortified camp. On the thirteenth day, King Pendragon is to attack as soon as he sees a red dragon flying through the air between earth and heaven. (This would be a memory of the dragon-comet in Geoffrey of Monmouth and in Wace.)

All occurs as Merlin has prophesied. In the Battle of Salisbury itself, King Pendragon is killed, but Uther triumphs and every last one of the Saxons are either slain or drown in the river.

Uther has all the Christian bodies buried in a cemetery, the bodies of King Pendragon and his retinue being buried separately, Pendragon’s higher than the rest, but with no name carved on his tomb, for only a fool would not know that this was Pendragon’s tomb.

King Uther PendragonEdit

Uther Takes the Surname PendragonEdit

In Wace, Uther is now made king. Uther has two golden images of dragons, created according to his barons’ advice, inspired by the dragon comet. One of these images he has carried before him in battle and the other is set up in the main church in Winchester. Therefore, Uther becomes known as Uther Pendragon, Pendragon, that being a word in the British tongue meaning ‘Dragon's-head’

In the Story of Merlin, Uther is crowned king in London. On the fifteenth day after Uther’s coronation, Merlin comes to court and tells Uther that the people are to be told that Merlin had predicted the end of the Battle of Salisbury and that Uther must fulfill the oaths which he and King Pendragon had made at Merlin’s advice. Merlin tells King Uther that the red dragon seen at the Battle of Salisbury came as a sign indicating King Pendragon’s death and Uther’s succession. Therefore Uther is thenceforth called King Uther Pendragon.


In Geoffey and Wace, Stonehenge is built in Ambrosius’ reign as a monument near Amesbury to mark the cemetery where those are buried who were betrayed by Hengist’s treachery. Stonehenge is built from stones taken from Ireland in a battle waged in Ireland by Uther against King Gilloman of Ireland. According to Wace, Merlin transports them to Britain and raises them by magic.

In the Story of Merlin, Stonehenge is erected instead to mark the cemetery which has been created for those Britons who died in the Battle of Salisbury. King Uther Pendragon, on Merlin’s advice, sends Merlin with a navy to Ireland to obtain the stones. Merlin points them out, but the men find them too large and weighty to get them onto their ships. Thereupon Merlin, who has returned to Britain separately, magically has the stones transported to where they are to be set up, in the cemetery by Salisbury. No-one has seen how Merlin accomplished this. Then Merlin sets up the stones on end.

The Round TableEdit

Wace first mentions, in surviving works, that the Round Table was ordained by Arthur, and that since by reason of its shape it had neither head nor foot, all who sat at it could be accounted equal.

The Story of Merlin places the founding of the Round Table during King Uther Pendragon’s reign.

Merlin relates to King Uther Pendragon how Jesus Christ and his disciples sat at a table when they ate the Last Supper. When, after the resurrection of Christ, Joseph of Arimathea was in danger of starvation, he and his people, God ordered that Joseph create a table in imitation of the table of the Last Supper. Joseph placed the Grail on the table, and only those who were worthy could sit there and be supernaturally fed. One of the seats at the table, representing the seat of Judas Iscariot at the Last Supper, was to remain void, until God should seat another man there to make up the number of the Twelve Apostles.

Merlin advises King Uther Pendragon to have a third table made, in the name of the Trinity, which the three tables will represent.

King Uther Pendragon asks that Merlin take full charge of creating this table, which is set up in Carlisle on the Feast of Pentecost. Merlin chooses fifty of the best knights to sit at the table, but leaves one seat empty.

The fifty knights find that, although many of them have not known one another before, they now miraculously love one another more than they love even their families, and decide to remain resident in Carlisle with the table and have their families move there with them.

Merlin tells Uther Pendragon that the empty seat is destined to be filled by the son of Alain the Stout, who is now in this country. Alain has not yet taken a wife and does not know that he is destined to father that knight.

This mention of Alain by name, which is not in agreement with the story in the Vulgate Cycle is missing from most manuscripts of the Story of Merlin. Manuscripts mostly only say that the one who will fulfill the seat is not yet conceived.

Merlin relates that the empty seat will not be filled during Uther Pendragon’s life, but during the life of the king who will succeed to Uther Pendragon. Merlin announces that he will not be in Carlisle at then next feast, for he does not want to be blamed for what will happen.

Then follows, in most manuscripts, but not present in the version edited by Bernard Cerquiglini and translated by Nigel Byrant, the story of a man who attempts to sit in the empty seat.

At Carlisle at Christmas, some of those at court who hate Merlin suggest that someone should try the empty seat. If Merlin can really know things from a great distance, Merlin should be able to know this and put a stop to it if they are wrong. Uther Pendragon finally allows that the empty seat may be tried at Pentecost. Merlin does know of this, but tells Blaise that he will only go to court on the eleventh day after Pentecost, so that he may not be accused of disturbing the court.

Those who hate Merlin spread the false news that Merlin has been slain by peasants and even King Uther, because Merlin has not come to court for such a long time, believes it. At Pentecost, one of the men who hates Merlin determines to test the seat. But no sooner has he put his thighs onto the seat, then he melts away and vanishes utterly.

When Merlin comes to court and is told what has happened, he blames Uther Pendragon for allowing anyone to sit in the empty seat. No-one should test the empty seat again, but should honor the table. Merlin refuses to say what has happened to the man who vanished, only advises the king to continue to hold his feasts in Carlisle in honor of the table.

Fathering of ArthurEdit

The Story of Merlin here follows Wace’s account closely.

The main differences:

{|cellspacing="0" |width=48%| |width=4%| |width=48%| |-valign="top" |Wace’s Roman de Brut | |Story of Merlin |-valign="top" |Ygerne’s husband is Gorlois, Count of Cornwall. Tintagel is one of his fortresses. In Geoffrey of Monmouth, Gorlois is Duke of Cornwall. | |Ygerne’s husband is the Duke of Tintagel. |-valign="top" |
Uther Pendragon holds court at Christmas in London, where Uther falls in love with Ygerne. Uther begins to press Ygerne, greeting her by his page and giving her a gift. | |
Uther Pendragon holds court at Carlisle, where Uther falls in love with Ygerne. Uther holds another court at Pentecost at which Ygerne realizes that Uther is in love with her. A year later, Uther holds a third court and sends his counselor Ulfin to attempt to persuade Ygerne. Uther forces Ygerne to accept a gold cup as a present. Ygerne threatens Ulfin that she will tell her husband of Uther’s proposition. |-valign="top" |
Gorlois sees what is going on. In anger he leads his lady from the hall before all assembled and prepares to depart without the king’s leave. Uther sends a messenger asking Gorlois not to depart, but Gorlois ignores the request and rides with his wife and their folk to Cornwall. | |
The Duke of Tintagel finds Ygerne weeping about the pressure Uther is putting on her and she reveals to him what has been happening. In secrecy, the Duke departs with Ygerne and his folk and rides back to his own land. Uther sends a message to Tintagel, demanding that the Duke return. The Duke refuses. |-valign="top" |
Gorlois has Ygerne sealed up with a garrison in Tintagel. He goes with the rest of his knights to his other great castle (which Geoffrey calls Dimilioc) to defend himself against Uther. | |
Uther asks his barons to join him in avenging the Duke of Tintagel’s insult. They agree, if Uther will first formerly challenge the Duke with forty days’ grace. The Duke places Ygerne in a castle, later said to be Tintagel, and himself prepares to resist Uther in another castle. |-valign="top" |
Uther crosses the Severn and besieges the Gorlois for seven days. Gorlois expects help from Ireland. | |
Uther besieges the Duke. |-valign="top" |
Uther complains of his love for Ygerne to Ulfin. Uther thinks he will die if he cannot get Ygerne. Ulfin suggests they send for Merlin, who is with the host, to seek his advice. | |
Uther complains of his love for Ygerne to Ulfin. Uther thinks he will die if he cannot get Ygerne. Ulfin notes that Merlin would give good advice if Merlin were here. Uther replies that he has not seen Merlin for a long time, and that Merlin has forbidden Uther to send for him. The king continues to besiege the castle for a great while. One day, Ulfin meets an old man who tells Ulfin that he has just been at Tintagel where men accuse Uther of lusting for Ygerne. For a reward, the old man will get another man whom he knows to arrange for the king to meet Ygerne. Ulfin tells the king, who suspects that the old man is Merlin. The following day, Uther and Ulfin ride to meet the old man. A cripple meets them and declares that he will grant Uther’s dearest wish if Uther will give him a reward. Uther, laughing, orders Ulfin to give himself to the cripple. The cripple tells Ulfin return to the king, who tells him that the cripple is the old man whom Ulfin had spoken to the day before, and that man is Merlin. Merlin then arrives at the king’s tent in his own shape. |-valign="top" |
Uther complains of his love for Ygerne to Merlin and says he will give Merlin any reward in return for Ygerne. Merlin promises that the king will have Ygerne. | |
Merlin agrees to help Uther if Uther and Ulfin will swear to give Merlin anything Merlin will ask for in return. Relics are brought in on a book, and both Uther and Ulfin swear. |-valign="top" |
Merlin says that he will transform Uther to look exactly like Gorlois, himself to look like Jordan, and Ulfin to look like Brithael, Jordan and Brithael being Gorlois’ closest friends. So disguised, they can enter Tintagel. Uther gives command of his army privily to a lord he loves and they set out with Merlin who transforms them through his arts. | |
Merlin says that he will transform Uther to look exactly like the Duke of Tintagel, himself to look like Brithael, and Ulfin to look like Jordan, Brithael and Jordan being knights who are especially close to the Duke. So disguised, they will be able to have the gate of Ygerne’s castle opened to them. |-valign="top" |
The three companions set off. On the way, Merlin performs the transformations through his arts. They enter Tintagel and are greeted joyfully. After supper, Uther lies with Ygerne and Arthur is begotten. | |
The three companions set off. As they approach Tintagel, Merlin gives Uther an herb to rub on his face to transform him. Merlin and Ulfin are also transformed. They enter Tintagel. As soon as Ygerne hears that her lord has come, Ygerne takes to her bed. Uther lies with Ygerne and Arthur is begotten. |-valign="top" |
Uther’s men, weary of the siege, and knowing that Uther is off about some private business, take arms and storm the castle furiously. Gorlois is slain and the castle is taken. A few who have escaped flee to Tintagel with the news. Uther, hearing the shouting and mourning of these fugitives, comes forth from the bedchamber and says the rumor of his death is false, merely assumed because none of his men knew he had secretly come to Tintagel. Uther says he will now go to the king and seek peace, which he believes the king will grant. Uther embraces Ygerne when he leaves her. After the three companions have ridden for a while, Merlin transforms them back to their own shapes. | |
In the morning, news comes to Tintagel that the Duke is dead and his castle has been taken. Merlin and Ulfin rouse Uther and hustle him out of Tintagel with all possible speed. Uther embraces Ygerne when he leaves her. After the three companions have reached the open fields, Merlin transforms them back to their own shapes. |-valign="top" | | |
Merlin now tells Uther that Uther has fathered an heir that night and, by the oath which Uther has sworn, that child is to be given up to Merlin. Uther concurs. Merlin also tells Uther that Ygerne must never know that Uther was the one who lay with her and fathered the child, for then it will be easier for Merlin to acquire the child. Then Merlin takes leave of the king and returns to Blaise in Northumberland. |-valign="top" |
Uther feigns to be sorry about the death of Gorlois, for his deeds had not warranted death. Uther then marches to Tintagel. The castellans, seeing no hope, surrender the castle. Uther marries Ygerne immediately and makes her his queen. Ygerne gives birth to Arthur. Uther fathers a second child on Ygerne, a daughter named Anna, who is later given in marriage to King Loth of Lothian and becomes the mother of Gawain. | |
Uther’s barons advise him to make peace with the widowed Duchess of Tintagel. Uther’s messengers are sent to Tintagel and tell Ygerne and her men that the Duke is now dead, through his own misdeeds, but that the king is sorry, and wishes to make peace according to whatever the duchess’s men advise, this peace to be made within fifteen days. In fifteen days, Ygerne and her men come to a peace council. Uther agrees to accept whatever terms his own barons think good. The barons obtain Ulfin to advise them. Ulfin suggests that the death of the Duke of Tintagel by force was wrong, for whatever the Duke had done, he had not deserved death. Ygerne has been left pregnant, her land has been laid waste, and the Duke’s other kindred have suffered great loss by the Duke’s death. To make amends, the King should take Ygerne as his wife and her daughter should be married to King Loth of Orcanie. The barons, including King Loth, agree with this. So do Ygerne and her supporters. King Loth of Orcanie marries one of the Duke of Tintgel’s three daughters and she is later mother of Gawain, Guerrehet, Gaheriet, and Mordred. (Some manuscripts add Agravain.) Another daughter is married to King Neutre of Garlot. (In some manuscripts she is said to be an illegitimate daughter. See Duke of Tintagel’s Daughters). The third daughter, Morgain, is to be raised in a nunnery where she eventually learns so much of the secret arts that she becomes known as Morgain the Fay. The king also made arrangements for the other children of the Duke of Tintagel. |}
The Story of Merlin then relates that before Arthur is born, Uther asks Ygerne who is the father of the child with whom she is pregnant. Ygerne weeps, because she does not know. Merlin says that Ulfin is absolved of his sin in arranging to bring Uther Pendragon and Ygerne together by help to arrange their marriage, but that he, Merlin, is not yet absolved. Merlin wants the child with which Ygerne is pregnant to be turned over to be raised by a worthy knight named Antor who is about to have a son of his own. Antor’s own son should be nursed by another woman than his mother and Antor and his wife should accept Ygerne’s child as though he were their own son, to be suckled by Antor’s wife. Uther Pendragon arranges this with Antor but tells him nothing of the child’s origins.

When Ygerne is about to give birth, Merlin comes to court secretly and tells the king to let Ygerne know that she will bear the child tomorrow after midnight and give it up to the first man she finds outside her chamber. So it happens. The man is Merlin in disguise who takes the infant boy to Antor. (In some manuscripts Merlin tells Antor that he is Merlin, that the boy is Uther Pendragon’s son and will in time be king of the land.) Antor is to have the boy baptized with the name Arthur. So Arthur is taken into Antor’s house and nursed by his wife.

Death of Uther PendragonEdit

The Story of Merlin in this place tells a very simplified version of Uther Pendragon’s last war against the Saxons and his late battle. Dropped are the names of the Saxon chiefs, details of the war and how the Britons disrespect Loth, and the place of battle. The story does remember that Uther was ill, and was carried to war in a litter to inspire his men. It attributes this to Merlin’s advice.

Merlin has prophesied that Uther will win the battle, but then will die. Uther’s wife Ygerne has already died and Uther is believed to have no heir. Merlin tells Uther that Uther’s son is fine and well. Uther will only see Merlin one more time.

After the battle, Uther Pendragon returns to the city of Logres. Uther is not poisoned as in Geoffrey and Wace. Rather Uther’s illness renews itself. Uther gives away all his wealth, preparing for death. He becomes so ill that for three days he does not speak.

Now Merlin appears and promises that he will make the king speak. Merlin opens all the windows. The king seems to recognize Merlin. Merlin whispers in Uther’s ear that Uther has made a good end and that his son, Arthur, will be lord of the kingdom after Uther and will complete the Round Table. Thereupon Uther Pendragon says his last words:

Merlin, ask him to pray to Jesus Christ for my sake.
Merlin announces that Uther will never speak again. That night, Uther Pendragon dies.

The Sword in the StoneEdit

The Coming of the Sword in the StoneEdit

According to Wace, upon Uther Pendragon’s sudden death by poison, the bishops and barons send messages to Uther’s son, Arthur, who is then fifteen years old, that he nay be crowned at Cirencester.

But in the Story of Merlin, Uther Pendragon has left no known heir. The barons meet in council the day after Uther’s death but cannot decide who should be king. Merlin suggests that, since Christmas is near, they should pray to God to send a sign that will show who should be king. If they will do this, Merlin promises a true sign will appear.

The barons agree. Merlin departs and says he will not return until after the choosing.

Meanwhile, Arthur is being brought up by Antor, much loved and unaware that Antor is not his father. Sommer's manuscript makes Arthur to be sixteen year old. Antor had made his true son Kay a knight at All Saints and comes to Logres at Christmas along with many other knights. (Some manuscripts write London here and following, instead of Logres.)

At Christmas Eve, in a church in Logres, they pray to God to send them a man for king fit to uphold Christianity. As soon as the unnamed archbishop has made the offering, as day began to break, a great block of stone miraculously appears outside the church. On the stone is an anvil and in the anvil is fixed a sword.

The archbishop sprinkles the stone with holy water. He notices that on the sword is written that whoever could draw the stone from the stone would be king of the land by the choice of Jesus Christ. The archbishop announces these words to the people and they set a guard over the stone and return to the church, singing “Te Deum Laudamus”.

The archbishop indicates that the hundred most worthy men should try to draw the sword. When all of them fail to draw it, he opens the contest to any who wish to try. None succeeds.

Arthur Draws the SwordEdit

On the feast of the Circumcision, eight days following Chrisitmas, some knights begin a tourament which grows into a great mêlée. Many people of the town come armed to take part. Kay, son of Antor, sends his supposed brother, Arthur, back to their lodgings to get his sword so that he may take part. But Arthur finds the chamber where the sword lies to be locked. On his way back, Arthur passes the church, sees the sword fixed in the stone, and rides up and, still mounted, takes it without difficulty. Arthur slips the sword under his coat and returns to Kay.

Arthur tells Kay he could not get Kay’s own sword but has got another from the stone outside the church. Kay immediately takes the sword and runs to show it to his father. “Where did you get it?” asks Antor

“From the stone outside the church,” says Kay.

“Don’t lie to me; I will know it if you do, and I will never love you again,” says Antor.

“Arthur gave it to me when I sent him for my sword. I don’t know how he got it,” says Kay.

Antor takes the sword, gives it back to Arthur, and tell him to replace the sword. Arthur does so. Antor now asks Kay to draw the sword, but Kay cannot. Antor asks what good Arthur will do to Antor if Antor makes Arthur king. Arthur says he will treat Antor as befits a father. Then Antor reveals that he is not Arthur’s father but had only fostered him and knows nothing of Arthur’s true parents. Arthur weeps.

Then Antor asks that Arthur make Kay his seneschal, and that Kay should keep that office despite any wrong that he might do. For Kay’s nature must have come from the milk of the peasant woman who nursed him, and that was for Arthur’s sake.

Antor tells the archbishop that his son, Arthur, has asked to try to draw the sword, although Arthur is not yet a knight. Then, in the sight of the archbishop and many barons, Arthur openly draws the sword.

Many barons and common folk, astonished by this, insisting that they would not accept a common boy as lord. The archbishop says that if God alone stands for the boy, the boy will be king. He asks that Arthur return the sword to the stone. He then asks the barons to try again. None of them can succeed. But they request that the sword remain in the stone until Candelmas and that another attempt be made then.

At Candelmas again the barons fail to draw the sword and Arthur succeeds. The common people begin to weep. But the rich men ask that another test be held at Easter. If Arthur again is the only one who succeeds, then they will accept him as king.

At the archbishop’s request, Arthur then appoints men to be his chief officers, including Kay as his seneschal.

At Easter, the rich men who had been opposed to Arthur say that they need time to get to know this child and to test him before they accept him as their king. They wish to postpone the coronation until Pentecost. Again, in the test of pulling the sword, only Arthur is able to perform the act. The rich barons request that Arthur delay being anointed as king and crowned until Pentecost. Arthur agrees.

But in the meantime, Arthur rules with the power of a king and the rich barons are amazed by Arthur’s generosity and how wisely he redistributes the gifts that are given to him.

Arthur is Made King at PentecostEdit

On the Eve of Pentecost Arthur is made a knight by the archbishop.

On the day of Pentecost, the people, including those who had opposed Arthur, all avow that they accept Arthur as their king. Arthur forgives all who have opposed him. The archbishop asks Arthur to draw the sword from the stone once again. When Arthur has done so, he is lead to the high altar where he places the sword. Then Arthur, with great ceremony, is anointed and crowned king.

The stone has vanished.

And so it was that Arthur was chosen and made king of the kingdom of Logres; and he held the land and the kingdom in peace.



Surviving Fragment of Verse Version:Edit

Prose Version:Edit

In French only:Edit
  • Cerquiglini, Bernard (Ed.). (1981). In Le roman du Graal: Manuscript de Modene: par Robert de Boron. Paris: Union generale d’editions. ISBN 2264003367 ISBN 9782264003362
  • Micha, Alexandre (Ed.). (1979). Merlin: Roman du XIIIe siècle. Geneva: Libraire Droz. ISBN 2600004289
English Translations:Edit

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