The Vulgate Merlin is the second romance in the completed Arthurian Vulgate Cycle, and apparently the last romance to be added to that cycle. Some manuscripts contain the Story of Merlin alone, preceding the Prose Lancelot, but more often an extended version is found in which the Story of Merlin is followed by a continuation covering the early years of Arthur's reign, from Arthur’s coronation until the birth of Lancelot.
Divisions of the Vulgate MerlinEdit
The first part of the Vulgate Merlin is the Story of Merlin, very slightly altered in respect to details regarding the son of Alain the Stout being destined to sit in the empty seat at the Round Table. These references are dropped.
Then follows the Suite de Merlin (the Merlin Continuation), known more precisely as the Vulgate Suite de Merlin (the Vulgate Merlin Continuation) to distinguish it from the very different Post-Vulgate Suite de Merlin (the Post-Vulgate Merlin Continuation). This article is mainly concerned with the Vulgate Suite de Merlin). For the Story of Merlin section of the Vulgate Merlin, see its own article.
The Continuation is almost identical in all manuscripts save MS. BN fr, 337. This gives the Vulgate Merlin up to the love affair of Guiomar and Morgain, but then jumps abruptly to Gawain and his companions attacking the city of Clarence, continuing with details of that battle. A battle against the Saxons besieging Clarence is something which the Vulgate Merlin also tells, but places long after the incident between Guiomar and Morgain, and tells it very differently, and astonishingly briefly.
MS. BN fr, 337 tells a very different story to the Vulgate Merlin, but the point where they begin to diverge is missing in this sole manuscript. It seems the copyist is missing a large amount of text at this point. Oskar Sommer named this different text Le Livre d’Artus (The Book of Arthur) in his edition, which is the only one.
But the Vulgate Merlin also jumps to a somewhat different style, at least in its short version of the Battle of Clarence and later. It is possible that somewhere after the story of Guiomar and Morgain, the Vulgate Merlin as originally written came to an abortive ending. It would then have continued by two different writers, one who was the author of the ending portions of the Vulgate Merlin known from most manuscripts and one who was the author of the Livre d’Artus.
Accordingly, the Vulgate Suite de Merlin can be divided into three sections. The first section is, except for a few words and phrases, common to both streams. This is VSM-A, which runs from the beginning of the Suite up to the end of the incident involving Guiomar and Morgain which occurs in Sommer’s edition of the Vulgate Merlin at page 337/6. VSM-B runs from page 337/7 to page 383/27 which covers, among its events, many which are referred back to in the pages of the Livre d’Artus. But from page 383/28, when the Saxons forsake the siege of Vambieres, the Vulgate Merlin Continuation can no longer be in synch with the Livre d’Artus in which the Saxons are still besieging Vambieres until the siege is broken by Arthur and his companions. This will be VSM-C and continues to the end of the romance.
This division is also useful if, in fact, the Livre d’Artus author had a truncated form of the Vulgate Merlin in front of him for which he was making up his own continuation.
Story of Merlin (pp. 3/1–88/18)Edit
For a summary, see the summary of this section as a romance be itself at Story of Merlin#Summary.
VSM-A (pp. 88/19–337/6)Edit
War with the Rebel Barons (pp. 88/19–124/17)Edit
Arthur’s Battle Against Six Rebel Kings (pp. 88/19–101/8)Edit
Arthur determines to hold high court. Five of his sub-kings come to this court, King Loth of Lothian and a part of Ocanie, King Urien of Gorre, King Neutre of Garlot, King Caradoc Stout-arm of Estrangor, King Angusel of Scotland, and King Yder of Cornwall with many of their knights. But they refuse Arthur’s gifts and defy him, ordering him to flee the country. Arthur and his men withdraw to the main fortress of Caerleon and the rebel barons hold the town below.
Merlin comes and tries to convince the barons to make peace with Arthur. Merlin tells the barons that Arthur is son to Uther Pendragon and Ygerne and tells how Arthur was fathered and brought up by Antor. This has not been known openly before now. Antor and Ulfin support what Merlin says and Ulfin provides a sealed letter written by Uther Pendragon that also confirms this. But the rebel barons say they will never accept a bastard as King of Logres.
So begins a civil war, in which Arthur only has three hundred and fifty knights to support him, along with many commoners and clerics. The rebel kings have four thousand knights. But Merlin is with Arthur, and Merlin tells Arthur, the Archbishop Dubric, Antor, Kay, Ulfin, and Brithael that Arthur need not worry. Merlin advises Arthur to serve his neighbor king Leodegan of Carmelide, to whom Uther’s Knights of the Round Table have attached themselves in his war with the invading King Rion, for if Leodegan’s land falls, so will Logres. Leodegan has a single daughter as his heir.
Merlin gives to Arthur a wonderful dragon standard to have carried before him by Kay in the form of the image of a dragon fixed on a lance. Real fire comes from the mouth of the dragon. Kay is, so long as he lives, Arthur’s standard-bearer.
The Merlin, though his magic, sets the tents of the rebel kings on fire. Arthur and his forces attack. Arthur strikes down both Neutre and Loth with his lance, and then draws the sword which he had pulled from the stone, which is named Caliburn and which shines with the light of many candles. The common folk join in on Arthur’s side, with axes, clubs, and sticks. The six kings flee.
Arthur then goes from Caerleon to Carlisle in Wales and builds up his army and fortifies his land. On the feast of Our Lady in September, when Arthur is in the city of Logres, now called London, Merlin tells Arthur of Arthur’s kinfolk, that his mother Ygerne has five daughters, two by a first husband and three by the Duke of Tintagel. King Loth is the husband of one of Arthur’s half-sister and father of fine young sons named Gawain, Agravain, Guerrehet, Gaheriet, and, last of all, Mordred who is really Arthur’s son. King Neutre has married another of Arthur’s half-sisters by whom he is father of Galeschin. King Urien has married another by whom he is the father of Yvain. King Angusel is himself Arthur’s nephew, for Angusel’s father Karadan had married another half-sister of Arthur. The fifth half-sister [Morgain] is still being brought up in a school.
Gawain and Yvain, especially, will love and serve Arthur.
Merlin tells Arthur to seek help from the two brother kings, King Ban of Benwick and King Bohort of Gaunes and beg them to come to him at All Saints. Arthur should also take them with him when Arthur goes to serve King Leodegan.
Ulfin and Brithael are sent to speak with Ban and Bohort who agree to come to Arthur along with many of their best knights.
The Brother Kings, Ban and Bohort, Pay Homage to Arthur (pp. 101/9–109/120)Edit
The two kings are treated with great honor in Britain. Lucan the Wine Steward and Girflet the son of Don, two young knights, serve them at table, along with Kay, Ulfin, and Brithael. Arthur, Ban, and Bohort, view a tournament between Arthur’s knights and their knights, along with Merlin, Archbishop Dubric, Antor, and a brother of Ban and Bohort named Guinebaut who is a very wise clerk. Kay fought well in the tourney, being a good knight but rough in his speech for the words would fly form his mouth before he thought of them. But he was very witty and a very good fellow.
Kay, Girflet, and Lucan do best in the tourney. Merlin and Guinebaut converse and Merlin says that he has never met anyone who could talk to him on so high a level, not even Blaise. Merlin teaches Guinebaut some of his magic. Merlin swears to Ban and Bohort that Arthur is indeed Uther Pendragon’s son and the two kings do homage to Arthur and become his men. Merlin asks Ban and Bohort to stay with Arthur when he goes to Carmelide to win Guenevere daughter of King Leodegan as his wife.
Merlin plans for the battle against the rebel kings to be fought in the Bedigran meadows on Candelmas. Miraculously, the very next morning Merlin is in the city of Gaunes and has Ban and Bohort’s men summoned.
Meanwhile Arthur is making for Bredigan Forest with great stealth, forbidding anyone not in Arthur’s army to ride through the countryside until after Candlemass so that none would know where Arthur is going.
The Battle of Bredigan (pp. 109/121–121/124)Edit
The rebel kings hold a meeting in a march between Gorre and Scotland. They decide to collect all their friends and allies and assemble an army in the meadows of Bredigan. The rebel alliance is joined by Duke Escant of Cambenic, King Brangoire of Estrangore, King Tradelmant of North Wales, King Clarion of Northumberland, and the King with the Hundred Kinghts. (Rupert T. Pickens, in his translation, fails to realize there are now ten rebel kings [as well as a duke] and keeps changing the number “ten” in the text to “six”.)
Merlin brings Ban and Bohort’s army inland five days until they reach Bredigan. Arthur, Ban, and Bohort are already there. They encamp for a week. During that time Merlin tells them that a great treasure is buried in the earth at that very spot and that they are to dig it up after the battle.
Merlin has the troops mount and ride slowly for two leagues to come upon the rebel lords before daylight.
During this period of time, the Saxons who dwell in Ireland and the Irish whose lands border the lands of the rebel kings, hearing that the rebel lords have left their lands to fight with Arthur, with thirty thousand men begin to plunder and invade those countries under the command of King Brangoire(a Saxon to be distinguished from the British rebel King Brangoire), King Margarit, and King Hargodabrant. These are nephews to the Saxon king Aminaduc who was uncle to Hengist. They lay siege to the city of Vambiere, here said to be in Cornwall.
Meanwhile, unsuspecting, the rebel leaders are asleep in the tent of the King with the Hundred Knights. They have no watch. King Loth has a frightening dream about a great storm and a flood. Perturbed, Loth dresses and awakens the knights who are there. Merlin comes upon the rebel army first and the rebels learn that they are under attack. Merlin sends a great wind and storm and fog against the rebels and many are slain in the confusion before they have time to arm.
Arthur and his troops fight the rebel kings at a ford, while King Ban and King Bohort go through the forest to attack them from the other side. The rebel kings, in the full light of day, see that Arthur’s forces amount to only about three thousand while the rebel forces are about twenty thousand and they take heart.
Then Ban and Bohort take the enemy by surprise from the forest behind them. Loth divides his army in two, half to fight Arthur and half to fight the troops coming from the forest, for he believes more will be killed if they flee than if the hold their position. King Yder recognizes King Bohort’s standard and shouts out who it is. Then King Ban rides forth with his standard and King Loth recognizes that all is lost. They continue to fight, for they see nothing else that they can do.
Finally, as Arthur, Ban, and Bohort, are preparing to chase the fleeing rebels across a rough bridge that their men have built, Merlin calls them to a halt, for thoroughly beating the enemy is enough.
Merlin as a Bird Catcher (pp. 121/124–124/19)Edit
Arthur’s army returns to the city of Logres. Arthur distributes the plunder and sends the men home, keeping only forty whom he plans to take with him when he goes to Carmelide. Arthur and Ban and Bohort return to Bredigan to await Merlin. Bredigan is the greatest city in Britain and Carmelide. Merlin comes, but disguised as a bird catcher and plays games with Arthur. Ulfin, from experience, recognizes that this is Merlin.
Arthur and his forty companions remain at Bredigan until mid-Lent.
By Merlin’s advice, Arthur becomes close to Lisanor, daughter of Count Sevain, who was born in Quimper-Corentin. They lie together one night and Arthur fathers on her Lohot who is later a Knight of the Round Table.
Rebel Defenses Against the Saxons (pp. 124/20–127/20)Edit
The day following their defeat at Bredigan, the rebel lords come to Sorhaut, a city belonging to King Urien. On the third day there, they are told of the Saxon invasion. After two further weeks, they hold a counsel in Urien’s great hall.
King Brangoire says that they have been weakened by their battle with Arthur and can look for no help from him. King Leodegan of Carmelide would aid them if King Leodegan were not currently being warred upon by King Rion. King Pelles of Listinois is too involved with watching over his brother King Pellinor who is sick and will not recover until the one comes who will put an end to the adventures of the Holy Grail. King Alain also lies ill until the best knight in the world comes to him and asks him where his sickness comes from and what the grail is that he is served from.
Arthur now has the allegiance of Ban and Bohort, doubtless by Merlin’s advice. That has hurt them all sorely. The rebel lords must therefore take care of their own lands without other aid.
King Tradelmant of North Wales suggests that they fortify the “lands bordering the country where the Saxons are coming from”. The others agree. The survivors from Bredigan will go to the cities of Wissant and Nantes, but first they will fortify the city of Garles.
The King with the Hundred Knights has heard that Arthur, Ban, and Bohort are going to aid King Leodegan, doubtless by Merlin’s advice. Arthur’s own land is strongly protected and Arthur has heard of the Saxon invasion of the rebel lands and so can go off all the more securely.
The rebel lords decide to fortify Nantes in Britain [Brittany?] which is near Cornwall [Cornuaille?]. King Yder goes there with 3,000 men and recruits from the people of the country until he has 8,000 or more. King Neutre goes to Wissant with 3,000 men. Under Neutre’s command, they guard the borderland so well that hardly any supplies get through to the Saxons. But when they fight the Saxons in open battle, they mostly lose.
The ‘Young Heroes’; Arthur Against Rion; Rebel Lords Against Saxons (pp. 127/21–255/29)Edit
Galeschin Wishes to Serve Arthur (pp. 127/22–128/12)Edit
Galeschin, the son of King Neutre, is 16 years old. His mother, Blasine, is half-sister to Arthur though their mother Ygerne, and her father was Duke Howel of Tintagel. Galeschin will later be made Duke of Clarence by Arthur after Arthur has married Guenevere.
Galeschin has heard that his father, King Neutre, has been fighting against King Arthur and has heard of King Arthur’s great worth. Galeschin asks his mother about his relationship to King Arthur, having heard that his mother is the daughter of the Ygerne’s first husband, the Duke of Tintagel, and Arthur is son of Ygerne’s second husband, Uther Pendragon.
(This account of Blasine’s parentage disagrees with that given above where Ygerne is said to have had two husbands before Uther Pendragon.)
Blasine confirms this and speaks well of Arthur who ought be king by God’s shown choice. Galeschin declares that he has no love to any who are against Arthur and that he wishes Arthur to make him knight.
Galeschin sends word to his first-cousin Gawain to meet with him at the new fort in Broceliande, the third day after Easter.
Mordred’s Parentage; Gawain Seeks to Serve Arthur (pp. 128/32–131/11)Edit
King Loth is the next to leave Sorhaut, with 3,000 men and is welcomed joyfully in the city of Orcanie. Loth raises an army of more than 10,000 men to battle the raiding Saxons and allows the knights keep all the spoils that they take in their battles.
Loth’s wife, also half-sister to Arthur, has four sons by her husband, but her youngest son, Mordred, is the son of Arthur. This occurred when the barons of the kingdom of Logres had gathered in Carlisle [sic] to chose a king. Antor, Arthur’s foster-father, with his son Kay, happened to be lodging in the same hall as King Loth. Loth treated Antor very honorably when he found out that Antor was a knight, and had Arthur, who was still a squire, sleeping quarters in a corner near to the door of King Loth’s room.
One night, King Loth left his chamber as quietly as he could, without even his wife knowing, for he was going to a secret meeting with some other barons at the Black Cross. Arthur, who was stricken by the beauty of King Loth’s wife, seeing her husband leave, slipped into the chamber and crept into bed with her. Arthur dared do no more until, King Loth’s wife half-awakened and turned to Arthur and embraced him. That night Arthur fathered Mordred on King Loth’s wife who thought that Arthur was her husband. Then Arthur went back very quietly to his own bed.
The following day, when serving in the hall, Arthur thanked King Loth’s wife for her grace to him. When she asked what he meant, and swore tell no-one what had happened, Arthur revealed to her what had occurred the previous night.
By the time that her child was to be born, it was commonly known that Arthur would be king. In her heart, King Loth’s wife continued to love Arthur but dared not show it, especially because of the war between King Loth and King Arthur.
King Loth’s sons by her are Gawain, Agravain, Guerrehet, and Gaheriet. Gawain is the most handsome man ever seen with the strength of the best knight in the world. This strength doubles at the dawn hour and redoubles again at mid-morning. At mid-day Gawain’s strength returns to normal and so continues through mid-afternoon and throughout the night.
Seeing Gawain returning from the hunt, his mother weeps. When Gawain asks why, she replies that Gawain and his brothers behave foolishly when they should already be knights at King Arthur’s court. The war made against Arthur by barons who ought to be serving him is a disgrace and Gawain and his brothers should be working to bring peace between the two sides of Gawain’s family, not fooling around with greyhounds.
Gawain swears that he will neither sword in his belt nor helm on his head until he is knighted by King Arthur. Gawain and his brothers will go to King Arthur’s court and help defend King Arthur’s land. Never again will Gawain, after he has left, return to his father’s house until there is peace between King Loth and King Arthur.
Gawain’s three brothers arrive and Gawain tells them what he has decided to do. Agravain agrees with Gawain. Their mother promises to fit them out with horses and armor.
Young Sagremor; Dispersal of the Rebel Lords (pp. 131/12–133/16)Edit
King Clarion of Northumberland took 3,000 knights and came to one of his cities, named Belande.
The King of the of Hundred Knights, said in manuscript 105 and 1025 to be named Aguigniez), to 3,000 knight to the city of Malahaut which was ruled by a lady. This city bordered on his land, but he went there instead of to his own country because this was closer to the way that the Saxons were coming and the other lords had asked him to go there.
King Tradelmant of North Wales took 3,000 men and went to the city of North Wales which was along the way to the Saxon Rock which was causing much distress to its inhabitants.
King Brangoire took 3,000 men and went to his main stronghold of Estrangor, because it was close to the Saxon Rock.
Brangoire had married a lady who was the daughter of Hadrian, the Emperor of Constantinople. Her first husband had been the King of Vlask and Hungary, who had died five years after she married him. By this first husband, she had born a very handsome son named Sagremor. He is now 15 years old and heir to the entire empire. His grandfather, the Emperior Hadrian wishes Sagremor to be knighted, but Sagremor has heard of the glory of King Arthur and told his grandfather than he would never become a knight unless it was through Arthur’s hand. After much persuasion, King Hadrian concurred and had Sagremor sent to Britain to be knighted by Arthur.
King Caradoc takes 3,000 men and goes to Estrangor, his main stronghold.
King Angusel of Scotland, who is the richest of the kings, and also the youngest, goes off to Corentes in Scotland which is only twenty leagues from Vambiere which the Saxons are besieging. Angusel gathers his men until he has about 10,000 in Corentes and fights many battles with the Saxons.
Escant, the Duke of Cambenic, arrives at his stronghold of Cambenic with 4,000 armed men on foot and on horse. There were already 4,000 men in the city. The duke sought far and wide for fighting men until at last he has 8,000 besides those garrisoned in the city.
The countryside is ravaged so that there is no wheat harvest for five years. The only wheat is what the Saxons and Christians steal from one another, except for the occasional merchant ship.
Galeschin and King Loth’s Sons Battle with Saxons (pp. 133/17–137/38)Edit
Gawain and his brother receive Galeschin’s messenger at Wales on the border of the land of Orcanie. They are the new fortress on the third day after Easter, as requested. Galeschin and Gawain are overjoyed that they are thinking alike. Back home, Galeschin gathers 200 squires and knights and set out in secret. He waits at the new fortress until Gawain and his brothers arrive with 500 knights and squires, or whom only 9 were knights.
Galeschin, Gawain and his brothers, and the other squires wear iron helmets like foot soldiers and swords hanging from their saddle horns because they have not yet been knighted and are not entitled to wear helms or to have their swords attached to their belts.
It is the beginning of May. They are going to Logres, King Arthur’s chief city.
They encounter a party of Saxons led by five kings who are wasting the land and gathering plunder. Some peasants tell Gawain and his party that King Arthur left for Carmelide in mid-Lent, but had previously well fortified the country. But the Saxon are laying waste to the land outside the forts. The peasants join with the squires to attack the Saxon convoy. Gawain fights with an axe and Galeschin is always with him. Ten of the Saxons escape to go running to their cavalry who are unarmed because of the heat.
A third of the Saxon horsemen are not able to arm, because their armor was with the convey, now on its way to Logres under the control of the peasants. Gawain and Galeschin kill two of the Saxon kings and then Gawain rescues Gaheriet who has been taken and is close to being slain.
Gawain and His Brothers Defeat the Saxons (pp. 137/39–141/4)Edit
The battle is being fought only four Scottish leagues from the city of Logres so the peasants arrive soon with the convoy. The eagerly tell about Gawain and Galeschin. Don, Girflet’s father, is in charge while Arthur is gone. Don sets out with 5,000 men and quickly comes to the place of battle. Gawain with his axe has been fighting wonderfully.
The battle has lasted from first light until evening when Gawain rescues Don from the Saxon King Medelant and splits Medelant’s head to the teeth with his axe. Then the pursuit begins. Of the 12,000 Saxons that had been there at the begining, only 3,000 escape. Gawain, Don, and the Britons return to the city of Logres with great plunder which Don divides among the people.