Folklore Thursday: Igraine in legend and literature
As the mother of Morgan le Fay and Arthur, Igraine is a crucial figure in Arthurian legend, but it is important to remember that she is a compelling character in her own right. In early Welsh texts, she is known as Eigyr, daughter of Amlawdd Wledig, a king of Wales, and Gwen, a princess of northern Britain. Eigyr has seven warrior brothers and two sisters: the latter are Goleuddyd, the mother of Culhwch of Culhwch and Olwen fame, whose name, meaning ‘Bright Day’, could not be more at odds with her eventual tragic fate; and Rieingulid, the mother of St Iltud. In the 13th century Arthour and Merlin, Eigyr, now known as Ygerne, has three husbands, Harinan, Hoel, and Tintagel, before she marries Uther Pendragon. With her husbands she has between one and five daughters whose names vary from account to account and some have since become conflated with each other. The most well-known names for Igraine’s daughters are Anna, Morgause, Elaine, Blasine, Belisant, Brimesent, and, of course, Morgan.
It is in Geoffrey of Monmouth’s Historia Regum Britanniae (ca. 1136) where the most famous story concerning Igraine is first told. She is the wife of Gorlois, Duke of Cornwall; Geoffrey describes her as “she, whose beauty surpasses that of all the women of Britain.” Uther Pendragon, the new High King of Britain, falls in love with her and attempts to seduce her, but Igraine will have none of it. She tells her husband of Uther’s unwanted attentions and Gorlois leaves the court immediately with Igraine, without asking Uther’s permission. Uther, furious at being defied by both Igraine and Gorlois, wages war on the Duke of Cornwall, who leaves to fight Uther with his wife safely barricaded (or so he believes) at his fortress of Tintagel Castle.
To be continued...
Igraine appears throughout the Fata Morgana Series of books