Monday, December 30, 2013

The Story of the Empress Marie Louise and Count Neipperg

There is one famous woman whom history condems while at the same time it partly hides the facts which might mitigate the harshness of the judgment that is passed upon her. This woman is Marie Louise, Empress of France, consort of the great Napoleon, and archduchess of imperial Austria. When the most brilliant figure in all history, after his overthrow in 1814, was in tawdry exile on the petty island of Elba, the empress was already about to become a mother; and the father of her unborn child was not Napoleon, but another man. This is almost all that is usually remembered of her –that she was unfaithful to Napoleon, that she abandoned him in the hour of his defeat, and that she gave herself with readiness to one inferior in rank, yet with whom she lived for years, and to whom she bore what a French writer styled “a brood of bastards.”
Naturally enough, the Austrian and German historians do not have much to say of Marie Louise, because in her own disgrace she also brought disgrace upon the proudest reigning family in Europe. Naturally, also, French writers, even those who are hostile to Napoleon, do not care to dwell upon the story; since France itself was humiliated when its greatest genius and most splendid soldier was deceived by his Austrian wife. Therefore there are still many who know little beyond the bare fact that the Empress Marie Louise threw away her pride as a princess, her reputation as a wife, and her honor as a woman. Her figure seems to crouch in a sort of murky byway, and those who pass over the highroad of history ignore it with averted eyes.
In reality the story of Napoleon and Marie Louise and of the Count von Neipperg is one which, when you search it to the very core, leads you straight to a sex problem of a very curious nature. Nowhere else does it occur in the relations of the great personages of history; but in literature Balzac, that master of psychology, has touched upon the theme in the early chapters of his famous novel called “A Woman of Thirty.”
As to the Napoleonic story, let us first recall the facts of the case, giving them in such order that their full significance may be understood.
In 1809 Napoleon, then at the plenitude of his power, shook himself free from the clinging clasp of Josephine and procured the annulment of his marriage to her. He really owed her nothing. Before he knew her she had been the mistress of another. In the first years of their life together she had been notoriously unfaithful to him. He had held to her from habit which was in part a superstition; but the remembrance of the wrong which she had done him made her faded charms at times almost repulsive. And then Josephine had never borne him any children; and without a son to perpetuate his dynasty, the gigantic achievements which he had wrought seemed futile in his eyes, and likely to crumble into nothingness when he should die.
No sooner had the marriage been annulled than his titanic ambition leaped, as it always did, to a tremendous pinnacle. He would wed. He would have children. But he would wed no petty princess. This man who in his early youth had felt honored by a marriage with the almost declassee widow of a creole planter now stretched out his hand that he might take to himself a woman not merely royal but imperial.
At first he sought the sister of the Czar of Russia; but Alexander entertained a profound distrust of the French emperor, and managed to evade the tentative demand. There was, however, a reigning family far more ancient than the Romanoffs–a family which had held the imperial dignity for nearly six centuries–the oldest and the noblest blood in Europe. This was the Austrian house of Hapsburg. Its head, the Emperor Francis, had thirteen children, of whom the eldest, the Archduchess Marie Louise, was then in her nineteenth year.
Napoleon had resented the rebuff which the Czar had given him. He turned, therefore, the more eagerly to the other project. Yet there were many reasons why an Austrian marriage might be dangerous, or, at any rate, ill-omened. Only sixteen years before, an Austrian arch-duchess, Marie Antionette, married to the ruler of France, had met her death upon the scaffold, hated and cursed by the French people, who had always blamed “the Austrian” for the evil days which had ended in the flames of revolution. Again, the father of the girl to whom Napoleon’s fancy turned had been the bitter enemy of the new regime in France. His troops had been beaten by the French in five wars and had been crushed at Austerlitz and at Wagram. Bonaparte had twice entered Vienna at the head of a conquering army, and thrice he had slept in the imperial palace at Schonbrunn, while Francis was fleeing through the dark, a beaten fugitive pursued by the swift squadrons of French cavalry.
The feeling of Francis of Austria was not merely that of the vanquished toward the victor. It was a deep hatred almost religious in its fervor. He was the head and front of the old-time feudalism of birth and blood; Napoleon was the incarnation of the modern spirit which demolished thrones and set an iron heel upon crowned heads, giving the sacred titles of king and prince to soldiers who, even in palaces, still showed the swaggering brutality of the camp and the stable whence they sprang. Yet, just because an alliance with the Austrian house seemed in so many ways impossible, the thought of it inflamed the ardor of Napoleon all the more.
“Impossible?” he had once said, contemptuously. “The word ’impossible’ is not French.”
The Austrian alliance, unnatural though it seemed, was certainly quite possible. In the year 1809 Napoleon had finished his fifth war with Austria by the terrific battle of Wagram, which brought the empire of the Hapsburgs to the very dust. The conqueror’s rude hand had stripped from Francis province after province. He had even let fall hints that the Hapsburgs might be dethroned and that Austria might disappear from the map of Europe, to be divided between himself and the Russian Czar, who was still his ally. It was at this psychological moment that the Czar wounded Napoleon’s pride by refusing to give the hand of his sister Anne.
The subtle diplomats of Vienna immediately saw their chance. Prince Metternich, with the caution of one who enters the cage of a man-eating-tiger, suggested that the Austrian archduchess would be a fitting bride for the French conqueror. The notion soothed the wounded vanity of Napoleon. From that moment events moved swiftly; and before long it was understood that there was to be a new empress in France, and that she was to be none other than the daughter of the man who had been Napoleon’s most persistent foe upon the Continent. The girl was to be given–sacrificed, if you like–to appease an imperial adventurer. After such a marriage, Austria would be safe from spoliation. The reigning dynasty would remain firmly seated upon its historic throne.
But how about the girl herself? She had always heard Napoleon spoken of as a sort of ogre–a man of low ancestry, a brutal and faithless enemy of her people. She knew that this bold, rough- spoken soldier less than a year before had added insult to the injury which he had inflicted on her father. In public proclamations he had called the Emperor Francis a coward and a liar. Up to the latter part of the year Napoleon was to her imagination a blood-stained, sordid, and yet all-powerful monster, outside the pale of human liking and respect. What must have been her thoughts when her father first told her with averted face that she was to become the bride of such a being?
Marie Louise had been brought up, as all German girls of rank were then brought up, in quiet simplicity and utter innocence. In person she was a tall blonde, with a wealth of light brown hair tumbling about a face which might be called attractive because it was so youthful and so gentle, but in which only poets and courtiers could see beauty. Her complexion was rosy, with that peculiar tinge which means that in the course of time it will become red and mottled. Her blue eyes were clear and childish. Her figure was good, though already too full for a girl who was younger than her years.
She had a large and generous mouth with full lips, the lower one being the true “Hapsburg lip,” slightly pendulous–a feature which has remained for generation after generation as a sure sign of Hapsburg blood. One sees it in the present emperor of Austria, in the late Queen Regent of Spain, and in the present King of Spain, Alfonso. All the artists who made miniatures or paintings of Marie Louise softened down this racial mark so that no likeness of her shows it as it really was. But take her all in all, she was a simple, childlike, German madchen who knew nothing of the outside world except what she had heard from her discreet and watchful governess, and what had been told her of Napoleon by her uncles, the archdukes whom he had beaten down in battle.
When she learned that she was to be given to the French emperor her girlish soul experienced a shudder; but her father told her how vital was this union to her country and to him. With a sort of piteous dread she questioned the archdukes who had called Napoleon an ogre.
“Oh, that was when Napoleon was an enemy,” they replied. “Now he is our friend.”
Marie Louise listened to all this, and, like the obedient German girl she was, yielded her own will.
Events moved with a rush, for Napoleon was not the man to dally. Josephine had retired to her residence at Malmaison, and Paris was already astir with preparations for the new empress who was to assure the continuation of the Napoleonic glory by giving children to her husband. Napoleon had said to his ambassador with his usual bluntness:
“This is the first and most important thing–she must have children.”
To the girl whom he was to marry he sent the following letter–an odd letter, combining the formality of a negotiator with the veiled ardor of a lover:
MY COUSIN: The brilliant qualities which adorn your person have inspired in me a desire to serve you and to pay you homage. In making my request to the emperor, your father, and praying him to intrust to me the happiness of your imperial highness, may I hope that you will understand the sentiments which lead me to this act? May I flatter myself that it will not be decided solely by the duty of parental obedience? However slightly the feelings of your imperial highness may incline to me, I wish to cultivate them with so great care, and to endeavor so constantly to please you in everything, that I flatter myself that some day I shall prove attractive to you. This is the end at which I desire to arrive, and for which I pray your highness to be favorable to me.
Immediately everything was done to dazzle the imagination of the girl. She had dressed always in the simplicity of the school-room. Her only ornaments had been a few colored stones which she sometimes wore as a necklace or a bracelet. Now the resources of all France were drawn upon. Precious laces foamed about her. Cascades of diamonds flashed before her eyes. The costliest and most exquisite creations of the Parisian shops were spread around her to make up a trousseau fit for the princess who was soon to become the bride of the man who had mastered continental Europe.
The archives of Vienna were ransacked for musty documents which would show exactly what had been done for other Austrian princesses who had married rulers of France. Everything was duplicated down to the last detail. Ladies-in-waiting thronged about the young archduchess; and presently there came to her Queen Caroline of Naples, Napoleon’s sister, of whom Napoleon himself once said: “She is the only man among my sisters, as Joseph is the only woman among my brothers.” Caroline, by virtue of her rank as queen, could have free access to her husband’s future bride. Also, there came presently Napoleon’s famous marshal, Berthier, Prince of Neuchatel, the chief of the Old Guard, who had just been created Prince of Wagram–a title which, very naturally, he did not use in Austria. He was to act as proxy for Napoleon in the preliminary marriage service at Vienna.
All was excitement. Vienna had never been so gay. Money was lavished under the direction of Caroline and Berthier. There were illuminations and balls. The young girl found herself the center of the world’s interest; and the excitement made her dizzy. She could not but be flattered, and yet there were many hours when her heart misgave her. More than once she was found in tears. Her father, an affectionate though narrow soul, spent an entire day with her consoling and reassuring her. One thought she always kept in mind–what she had said to Metternich at the very first: “I want only what my duty bids me want.” At last came the official marriage, by proxy, in the presence of a splendid gathering. The various documents were signed, the dowry was arranged for. Gifts were scattered right and left. At the opera there were gala performances. Then Marie Louise bade her father a sad farewell. Almost suffocated by sobs and with her eyes streaming with tears, she was led between two hedges of bayonets to her carriage, while cannon thundered and all the church-bells of Vienna rang a joyful peal.
She set out for France accompanied by a long train of carriages filled with noblemen and noblewomen, with ladies-in-waiting and scores of attendant menials. The young bride–the wife of a man whom she had never seen–was almost dead with excitement and fatigue. At a station in the outskirts of Vienna she scribbled a few lines to her father, which are a commentary upon her state of mind:
I think of you always, and I always shall. God has given me power to endure this final shock, and in Him alone I have put all my trust. He will help me and give me courage, and I shall find support in doing my duty toward you, since it is all for you that I have sacrificed myself.
There is something piteous in this little note of a frightened girl going to encounter she knew not what, and clinging almost frantically to the one thought–that whatever might befall her, she was doing as her father wished.
One need not recount the long and tedious journey of many days over wretched roads, in carriages that jolted and lurched and swayed. She was surrounded by unfamiliar faces and was compelled to meet at every town the chief men of the place, all of whom paid her honor, but stared at her with irrepressible curiosity. Day after day she went on and on. Each morning a courier on a foaming horse presented her with a great cluster of fresh flowers and a few lines scrawled by the unknown husband who was to meet her at her journey’s end.
There lay the point upon which her wandering thoughts were focused–the journey’s end! The man whose strange, mysterious power had forced her from her school-room, had driven her through a nightmare of strange happenings, and who was waiting for her somewhere to take her to himself, to master her as he had mastered generals and armies!
What was marriage? What did it mean? What experience still lay before her! These were the questions which she must have asked herself throughout that long, exhausting journey. When she thought of the past she was homesick. When she thought of the immediate future she was fearful with a shuddering fear.
At last she reached the frontier of France, and her carriage passed into a sort of triple structure, the first pavilion of which was Austrian, while the middle pavilion was neutral, and the farther one was French. Here she was received by those who were afterward to surround her–the representatives of the Napoleonic court. They were not all plebeians and children of the Revolution, ex-stable boys, ex-laundresses. By this time Napoleon had gathered around himself some of the noblest families of France, who had rallied to the empire. The assemblage was a brilliant one. There were Montmorencys and Beaumonts and Audenardes in abundance. But to Marie Louise, as to her Austrian attendants, they were all alike. They were French, they were strangers, and she shrank from them.
Yet here her Austrians must leave her. All who had accompanied her thus far were now turned back. Napoleon had been insistent on this point. Even her governess, who had been with her since her childhood, was not allowed to cross the French frontier. So fixed was Napoleon’s purpose to have nothing Austrian about her, that even her pet dog, to which she clung as a girl would cling, was taken from her. Thereafter she was surrounded only by French faces, by French guards, and was greeted only by salvos of French artillery.
In the mean time what was Napoleon doing at Paris. Since the annulment of his marriage with Josephine he had gone into a sort of retirement. Matters of state, war, internal reforms, no longer interested him; but that restless brain could not sink into repose. Inflamed with the ardor of a new passion, that passion was all the greater because he had never yet set eyes upon its object. Marriage with an imperial princess flattered his ambition. The youth and innocence of the bride stirred his whole being with a thrill of novelty. The painted charms of Josephine, the mercenary favors of actresses, the calculated ecstasies of the women of the court who gave themselves to him from vanity, had long since palled upon him. Therefore the impatience with which he awaited the coming of Marie Louise became every day more tense.
For a time he amused himself with planning down to the very last details the demonstrations that were to be given in her honor. He organized them as minutely as he had ever organized a conquering army. He showed himself as wonderful in these petty things as he had in those great strategic combinations which had baffled the ablest generals of Europe. But after all had been arranged–even to the illuminations, the cheering, the salutes, and the etiquette of the court–he fell into a fever of impatience which gave him sleepless nights and frantic days. He paced up and down the Tuileries, almost beside himself. He hurried off courier after courier with orders that the postilions should lash their horses to bring the hour of meeting nearer still. He scribbled love letters. He gazed continually on the diamond-studded portrait of the woman who was hurrying toward him.
At last as the time approached he entered a swift traveling- carriage and hastened to Compiegne, about fifty miles from Paris, where it had been arranged that he should meet his consort and whence he was to escort her to the capital, so that they might be married in the great gallery of the Louvre. At Compiegne the chancellerie had been set apart for Napoleon’s convenience, while the chateau had been assigned to Marie Louise and her attendants. When Napoleon’s carriage dashed into the place, drawn by horses that had traveled at a gallop, the emperor could not restrain himself. It was raining torrents and night was coming on, yet, none the less, he shouted for fresh horses and pushed on to Soissons, where the new empress was to stop and dine. When he reached there and she had not arrived, new relays of horses were demanded, and he hurried off once more into the dark.
At the little village of Courcelles he met the courier who was riding in advance of the empress’s cortege.
“She will be here in a few moments!” cried Napoleon; and he leaped from his carriage into the highway.
The rain descended harder than ever, and he took refuge in the arched doorway of the village church, his boots already bemired, his great coat reeking with the downpour. As he crouched before the church he heard the sound of carriages; and before long there came toiling through the mud the one in which was seated the girl for whom he had so long been waiting. It was stopped at an order given by an officer. Within it, half-fainting with fatigue and fear, Marie Louise sat in the dark, alone.
Here, if ever, was the chance for Napoleon to win his bride. Could he have restrained himself, could he have shown the delicate consideration which was demanded of him, could he have remembered at least that he was an emperor and that the girl–timid and shuddering–was a princess, her future story might have been far different. But long ago he had ceased to think of anything except his own desires.
He approached the carriage. An obsequious chamberlain drew aside the leathern covering and opened the door, exclaiming as he did so, “The emperor!” And then there leaped in the rain-soaked, mud- bespattered being whose excesses had always been as unbridled as his genius. The door was closed, the leathern curtain again drawn, and the horses set out at a gallop for Soissons. Within, the shrinking bride was at the mercy of pure animal passion, feeling upon her hot face a torrent of rough kisses, and yielding herself in terror to the caresses of wanton hands.
At Soissons Napoleon allowed no halt, but the carriage plunged on, still in the rain, to Compiegne. There all the arrangements made with so much care were thrust aside. Though the actual marriage had not yet taken place, Napoleon claimed all the rights which afterward were given in the ceremonial at Paris. He took the girl to the chancellerie, and not to the chateau. In an anteroom dinner was served with haste to the imperial pair and Queen Caroline. Then the latter was dismissed with little ceremony, the lights were extinguished, and this daughter of a line of emperors was left to the tender mercies of one who always had about him something of the common soldier–the man who lives for loot and lust. ... At eleven the next morning she was unable to rise and was served in bed by the ladies of her household.
These facts, repellent as they are, must be remembered when we call to mind what happened in the next five years. The horror of that night could not be obliterated by splendid ceremonies, by studious attention, or by all the pomp and gaiety of the court. Napoleon was then forty-one–practically the same age as his new wife’s father, the Austrian emperor; Marie Louise was barely nineteen and younger than her years. Her master must have seemed to be the brutal ogre whom her uncles had described.
Installed in the Tuileries, she taught herself compliance. On their marriage night Napoleon had asked her briefly: “What did your parents tell you?” And she had answered, meekly: “To be yours altogether and to obey you in everything.” But, though she gave compliance, and though her freshness seemed enchanting to Napoleon, there was something concealed within her thoughts to which he could not penetrate. He gaily said to a member of the court:
“Marry a German, my dear fellow. They are the best women in the world–gentle, good, artless, and as fresh as roses.”
Yet, at the same time, Napoleon felt a deep anxiety lest in her very heart of hearts this German girl might either fear or hate him secretly. Somewhat later Prince Metternich came from the Austrian court to Paris.
“I give you leave,” said Napoleon, “to have a private interview with the empress. Let her tell you what she likes, and I shall ask no questions. Even should I do so, I now forbid your answering me.”
Metternich was closeted with the empress for a long while. When he returned to the ante-room he found Napoleon fidgeting about, his eyes a pair of interrogation-points.
“I am sure,” he said, “that the empress told you that I was kind to her?”
Metternich bowed and made no answer.
“Well,” said Napoleon, somewhat impatiently, “at least I am sure that she is happy. Tell me, did she not say so?”
The Austrian diplomat remained unsmiling.
“Your majesty himself has forbidden me to answer,” he returned with another bow.
We may fairly draw the inference that Marie Louise, though she adapted herself to her surroundings, was never really happy. Napoleon became infatuated with her. He surrounded her with every possible mark of honor. He abandoned public business to walk or drive with her. But the memory of his own brutality must have vaguely haunted him throughout it all. He was jealous of her as he had never been jealous of the fickle Josephine. Constant has recorded that the greatest precautions were taken to prevent any person whatsoever, and especially any man, from approaching the empress save in the presence of witnesses.
Napoleon himself underwent a complete change of habits and demeanor. Where he had been rough and coarse he became attentive and refined. His shabby uniforms were all discarded, and he spent hours in trying on new costumes. He even attempted to learn to waltz, but this he gave up in despair. Whereas before he ate hastily and at irregular intervals, he now sat at dinner with unusual patience, and the court took on a character which it had never had. Never before had he sacrificed either his public duty or his private pleasure for any woman. Even in the first ardor of his marriage with Josephine, when he used to pour out his heart to her in letters from Italian battle-fields, he did so only after he had made the disposition of his troops and had planned his movements for the following day. Now, however, he was not merely devoted, but uxorious; and in 1811, after the birth of the little King of Rome, he ceased to be the earlier Napoleon altogether. He had founded a dynasty. He was the head of a reigning house. He forgot the principles of the Revolution, and he ruled, as he thought, like other monarchs, by the grace of God.
As for Marie Louise, she played her part extremely well. Somewhat haughty and unapproachable to others, she nevertheless studied Napoleon’s every wish. She seemed even to be loving; but one can scarcely doubt that her obedience sprang ultimately from fear and that her devotion was the devotion of a dog which has been beaten into subjection.
Her vanity was flattered in many ways, and most of all by her appointment as regent of the empire during Napoleon’s absence in the disastrous Russian campaign which began in 1812. It was in June of that year that the French emperor held court at Dresden, where he played, as was said, to “a parterre of kings.” This was the climax of his magnificence, for there were gathered all the sovereigns and princes who were his allies and who furnished the levies that swelled his Grand Army to six hundred thousand men. Here Marie Louise, like her husband, felt to the full the intoxication of supreme power. By a sinister coincidence it was here that she first met the other man, then unnoticed and little heeded, who was to cast upon her a fascination which in the end proved irresistible.
This man was Adam Albrecht, Count von Neipperg. There is something mysterious about his early years, and something baleful about his silent warfare with Napoleon. As a very young soldier he had been an Austrian officer in 1793. His command served in Belgium; and there, in a skirmish, he was overpowered by the French in superior numbers, but resisted desperately. In the melee a saber slashed him across the right side of his face, and he was made prisoner. The wound deprived him of his right eye, so that for the rest of his life he was compelled to wear a black bandage to conceal the mutilation.
From that moment he conceived an undying hatred of the French, serving against them in the Tyrol and in Italy. He always claimed that had the Archduke Charles followed his advice, the Austrians would have forced Napoleon’s army to capitulate at Marengo, thus bringing early eclipse to the rising star of Bonaparte. However this may be, Napoleon’s success enraged Neipperg and made his hatred almost the hatred of a fiend.
Hitherto he had detested the French as a nation. Afterward he concentrated his malignity upon the person of Napoleon. In every way he tried to cross the path of that great soldier, and, though Neipperg was comparatively an unknown man, his indomitable purpose and his continued intrigues at last attracted the notice of the emperor; for in 1808 Napoleon wrote this significant sentence:
The Count von Neipperg is openly known to have been the enemy of the French.
Little did the great conqueror dream how deadly was the blow which this Austrian count was destined finally to deal him!
Neipperg, though his title was not a high one, belonged to the old nobility of Austria. He had proved his bravery in war and as a duelist, and he was a diplomat as well as a soldier. Despite his mutilation, he was a handsome and accomplished courtier, a man of wide experience, and one who bore himself in a manner which suggested the spirit of romance. According to Masson, he was an Austrian Don Juan, and had won the hearts of many women. At thirty he had formed a connection with an Italian woman named Teresa Pola, whom he had carried away from her husband. She had borne him five children; and in 1813 he had married her in order that these children might be made legitimate.
In his own sphere the activity of Neipperg was almost as remarkable as Napoleon’s in a greater one. Apart from his exploits on the field of battle he had been attached to the Austrian embassy in Paris, and, strangely enough, had been decorated by Napoleon himself with, the golden eagle of the Legion of Honor. Four months later we find him minister of Austria at the court of Sweden, where he helped to lay the train of intrigue which was to detach Bernadotte from Napoleon’s cause. In 1812, as has just been said, he was with Marie Louise for a short time at Dresden, hovering about her, already forming schemes. Two years after this he overthrew Murat at Naples; and then hurried on post-haste to urge Prince Eugene to abandon Bonaparte.
When the great struggle of 1814 neared its close, and Napoleon, fighting with his back to the wall, was about to succumb to the united armies of Europe, it was evident that the Austrian emperor would soon be able to separate his daughter from her husband. In fact, when Napoleon was sent to Elba, Marie Louise returned to Vienna. The cynical Austrian diplomats resolved that she should never again meet her imperial husband. She was made Duchess of Parma in Italy, and set out for her new possessions; and the man with the black band across his sightless eye was chosen to be her escort and companion.
When Neipperg received this commission he was with Teresa Pola at Milan. A strange smile flitted across his face; and presently he remarked, with cynical frankness:
“Before six months I shall be her lover, and, later on, her husband.”
He took up his post as chief escort of Marie Louise, and they journeyed slowly to Munich and Baden and Geneva, loitering on the way. Amid the great events which were shaking Europe this couple attracted slight attention. Napoleon, in Elba, longed for his wife and for his little son, the King of Rome. He sent countless messages and many couriers; but every message was intercepted, and no courier reached his destination. Meanwhile Marie Louise was lingering agreeably in Switzerland. She was happy to have escaped from the whirlpool of politics and war. Amid the romantic scenery through which she passed Neipperg was always by her side, attentive, devoted, trying in everything to please her. With him she passed delightful evenings. He sang to her in his rich barytone songs of love. He seemed romantic with a touch of mystery, a gallant soldier whose soul was also touched by sentiment.
One would have said that Marie Louise, the daughter of an imperial line, would have been proof against the fascinations of a person so far inferior to herself in rank, and who, beside the great emperor, was less than nothing. Even granting that she had never really loved Napoleon, she might still have preferred to maintain her dignity, to share his fate, and to go down in history as the empress of the greatest man whom modern times have known.
But Marie Louise was, after all, a woman, and she followed the guidance of her heart. To her Napoleon was still the man who had met her amid the rain-storm at Courcelles, and had from the first moment when he touched her violated all the instincts of a virgin. Later he had in his way tried to make amends; but the horror of that first night had never wholly left her memory. Napoleon had unrolled before her the drama of sensuality, but her heart had not been given to him. She had been his empress. In a sense it might be more true to say that she had been his mistress. But she had never been duly wooed and won and made his wife–an experience which is the right of every woman. And so this Neipperg, with his deferential manners, his soothing voice, his magnetic touch, his ardor, and his devotion, appeased that craving which the master of a hundred legions could not satisfy.
In less than the six months of which Neipperg had spoken the psychological moment had arrived. In the dim twilight she listened to his words of love; and then, drawn by that irresistible power which masters pride and woman’s will, she sank into her lover’s arms, yielding to his caresses, and knowing that she would be parted from him no more except by death.
From that moment he was bound to her by the closest ties and lived with her at the petty court of Parma. His prediction came true to the very letter. Teresa Pola died, and then Napoleon died, and after this Marie Louise and Neipperg were united in a morganatic marriage. Three children were born to them before his death in 1829.
It is interesting to note how much of an impression was made upon her by the final exile of her imperial husband to St. Helena. When the news was brought her she observed, casually:
“Thanks. By the way, I should like to ride this morning to Markenstein. Do you think the weather is good enough to risk it?”
Napoleon, on his side, passed through agonies of doubt and longing when no letters came to him from Marie Louise. She was constantly in his thoughts during his exile at St. Helena. “When his faithful friend and constant companion at St. Helena, the Count Las Casas, was ordered by Sir Hudson Lowe to depart from St. Helena, Napoleon wrote to him:
“Should you see, some day, my wife and son, embrace them. For two years I have, neither directly nor indirectly, heard from them. There has been on this island for six months a German botanist, who has seen them in the garden of Schoenbrunn a few months before his departure. The barbarians (meaning the English authorities at St. Helena) have carefully prevented him from coming to give me any news respecting them.”
At last the truth was told him, and he received it with that high magnanimity, or it may be fatalism, which at times he was capable of showing. Never in all his days of exile did he say one word against her. Possibly in searching his own soul he found excuses such as we may find. In his will he spoke of her with great affection, and shortly before his death he said to his physician, Antommarchi:
“After my death, I desire that you will take my heart, put it in the spirits of wine, and that you carry it to Parma to my dear Marie Louise. You will please tell her that I tenderly loved her– that I never ceased to love her. You will relate to her all that you have seen, and every particular respecting my situation and death.”
The story of Marie Louise is pathetic, almost tragic. There is the taint of grossness about it; and yet, after all, there is a lesson in it–the lesson that true love cannot be forced or summoned at command, that it is destroyed before its birth by outrage, and that it goes out only when evoked by sympathy, by tenderness, and by devotion.

The death of a failed warrior

There's a fascinating theme that pervades Phyllida Lloyd and Abi Morgan biopic The Iron Lady. The movie is not really about Margaret Thatcher's controversial political career, but rather about a powerful life at its tail ends. The Iron Lady is about a woman who once wielded enormous influence, but who is now settling slowly into her twilight. A quiet end to a noisy life. And it's that same feeling which comes across when looking at the final years of another iron lady, another power player, another Margaret, who died on this day in 1482.

Marguerite of Anjou was only fifty-two years old when she passed away at the chateau of Dampierre, three miles from the winding course of the River Loire. She had already outlived her husband, King Henry VI of England, who had ended his life eleven years earlier as a murdered victim of the Tower of London, and her only child, Prince Edward, who had fallen in battle against the House of York in the same year. Since then, Marguerite had been driven back to her native France, where she endured financial humiliation and poverty. Forced to abandon her household and ancestral castles because she could not afford their upkeep, she was eventually granted asylum at Dampierre by the kindly Seigneur de Morains, a friend of her late father's. 

Marguerite was, and is, a controversial queen consort. The daughter of a French princeling who had a claim to the throne of the Naples, she was married to the deeply religious and mentally-imbalanced King Henry VI when she was fifteen years old. Strikingly beautiful, Marguerite also had an iron will and tenacity that her husband lacked. More than one observer made the catty remark that the House of Lancaster might have kept the throne if the genders of the King and Queen had been reserved. Whatever Marguerite privately thought of her husband's increasingly bizarre pieties, she was never anything less than totally loyal to him. She struggled valiantly, and sometimes savagely, to hold the monarchy together when Henry became to suffer the first of his frequent nervous breakdowns and states of mental paralysis. Sensing an opportunity to advance their own power, the King's cousin, the Duke of York and his family, began to make moves through parliament and then militarily to oust Henry from the throne and put a York in his place. Marguerite fought them every single step of the way.

The Yorks lost no time in portraying the foreign-born and high-handed Marguerite as a "she-wolf," the veritable re-incarnation of the wicked Isabella of France, who had overthrown and murdered her husband Edward II back in 1327 and then brazenly ruled alongside her adulterous lover. At times, Marguerite did nothing to dispel their propaganda against her. When her armies defeated those of the Duke of York, she had his head sent back to the gates of York wearing a paper crown, grimly joking that it was the only crown he would ever wear. His son, however, got his hands on the real thing soon after and drove Marguerite and her family into exile. 

Nine years later, she was back - after orchestrating probably the most audacious allegiance-flipping coup in history - having stolen the Yorks' former chief ally, the Earl of Warwick, and returning with his army at her back. She briefly managed to put Henry back on the throne, before Edward IV and the Yorks staged a counter-coup, in which Marguerite's 17 year-old son was killed fighting and her husband was almost certainly murdered directly on Edward IV's orders. With her family dead and her forces annihilated, Marguerite crept back to France, where her life slipped quietly, and tragically, to its close. When she died, the only thing of value that she still owned were her pack of hunting dogs. They were taken after her funeral by King Louis XI, who had treated Marguerite shamefully and miserly for the last decade.

Her body was taken to the Cathedral of St.-Maurice d'Angers, where she was buried next to her father, the erstwhile King of the Naples, and her mother, the Duchess of Lorraine. Few lives offer a better picture of the political instability that shattered England in the 1400s. For centuries after her death, she was painted as a vindictive harpy who had schemed and seduced her way through English politics, dragging her pathetic but holy husband along behind her. (Much the same personality would later be transposed onto her successor, Queen Elizabeth Woodville, whose life was to end in not-dissimilar circumstances.) Politically unwise and often ruthless, Marguerite was nonetheless no more of a "monster" than any of her contemporaries - and her actions certainly compare favourably to some of those carried out by Edward IV or Richard III. 

Surrounded by a weak husband, a treacherous aristocracy, economic unrest, language barriers, misogyny and a national identity crisis after the victories of Joan of Arc, Marguerite was ultimately turned into the scapegoat for an unhappy and bloody time in English history. 

Sunday, December 29, 2013


compiled by Dee Finney
Someone should have asked the question long ago, why did Cortez expect to find gold in the Americas i
n the first place? Why did the crew on the boats of Columbus expect to find gold?
Why did the marauding Spaniards kill eight million native American Indians looking for gold.
The truth is that the royal families of England and Spain had spoken as far back as
King Arthur in 530 AD that their "treasure house" was located in the "Mericas"
(Source for this statement needed Landaff Charters from the sixth century).

The German who suggested that we named the Americas after
Amerigo Vespucci recanted his story when he found the tales
of the "Mericas" stars which lead the way to the "promised land".

King Arthur

Statue of King Arthur,Hofkirche, Innsbruck, designed by Albrecht Dürer and cast by Peter Vischer the Elder, 1520s[1]
King Arthur is a legendary British leader who, according to medieval histories and romances, led the defence of Britain against the Saxon invaders in the early 6th century. The details of Arthur's story are mainly composed of folklore and literary invention, and his historical existence is debated and disputed by modern historians.[2] The sparse historical background of Arthur is gleaned from various sources, including the Annales Cambriae, the Historia Brittonum, and the writings of Gildas. Arthur's name also occurs in early poetic sources such as Y Gododdin.[3]
The legendary Arthur developed as a figure of international interest largely through the popularity of Geoffrey of Monmouth's fanciful and imaginative 12th-century Historia Regum Britanniae (History of the Kings of Britain).[4] However, some Welsh and Breton tales and poems relating the story of Arthur date from earlier than this work; in these works, Arthur appears either as a great warrior defending Britain from human and supernatural enemies or as a magical figure of folklore, sometimes associated with the Welsh Otherworld, Annwn.[5] How much of Geoffrey's Historia (completed in 1138) was adapted from such earlier sources, rather than invented by Geoffrey himself, is unknown.
Although the themes, events and characters of the Arthurian legend varied widely from text to text, and there is no one canonical version, Geoffrey's version of events often served as the starting point for later stories. Geoffrey depicted Arthur as a king of Britain who defeated the Saxons and established an empire overBritainIrelandIcelandNorway and Gaul. In fact, many elements and incidents that are now an integral part of the Arthurian story appear in Geoffrey'sHistoria, including Arthur's father Uther Pendragon, the wizard Merlin, the sword Excalibur, Arthur's birth at Tintagel, his final battle against Mordred atCamlann and final rest in Avalon. The 12th-century French writer Chrétien de Troyes, who added Lancelot and the Holy Grail to the story, began the genre of Arthurian romance that became a significant strand of medieval literature. In these French stories, the narrative focus often shifts from King Arthur himself to other characters, such as various Knights of the Round Table. Arthurian literature thrived during the Middle Ages but waned in the centuries that followed until it experienced a major resurgence in the 19th century. In the 21st century, the legend lives on, both in literature and in adaptations for theatre, film, television, comics and other media.

Debated historicity

Arthur as one of the Nine Worthies, tapestry, c. 1385
The historical basis for the King Arthur legend has long been debated by scholars. One school of thought, citing entries in the Historia Brittonum (History of the Britons) and Annales Cambriae (Welsh Annals), sees Arthur as a genuine historical figure, a Romano-British leader who fought against the invading Anglo-Saxons sometime in the late 5th to early 6th century. The Historia Brittonum, a 9th-century Latin historical compilation attributed in some late manuscripts to a Welsh cleric called Nennius, lists twelve battles that Arthur fought. These culminate in the Battle of Mons Badonicus, or Mount Badon, where he is said to have single-handedly killed 960 men. Recent studies, however, question the reliability of the Historia Brittonum as a source for the history of this period.[6]
The other text that seems to support the case for Arthur's historical existence is the 10th-century Annales Cambriae, which also link Arthur with the Battle of Mount Badon. The Annales date this battle to 516–518, and also mention the Battle of Camlann, in which Arthur and Medraut (Mordred) were both killed, dated to 537–539. These details have often been used to bolster confidence in the Historia's account and to confirm that Arthur really did fight at Mount Badon. Problems have been identified however, with using this source to support the Historia Brittonum's account. The latest research shows that the Annales Cambriaewas based on a chronicle begun in the late 8th century in Wales. Additionally, the complex textual history of the Annales Cambriae precludes any certainty that the Arthurian annals were added to it even that early. They were more likely added at some point in the 10th century and may never have existed in any earlier set of annals. The Mount Badon entry probably derived from the Historia Brittonum.[7]
NOTE:  Joseph Ritsin, Esq, in his book on the Life of Arthur - (free book at   points to Arthur's death in 642 AD - page 21 of his book.
Avalon or Ynys Afallon in Welsh (probably from the Welsh word afal, meaning apple) is a legendary island featured in the Arthurian legend. It first appears in Geoffrey of Monmouth's 1136 pseudohistorical account Historia Regum Britanniae ("The History of the Kings of Britain") as the place where King Arthur's sword Excalibur(Caliburnus) was forged and later where Arthur was taken to recover from his wounds after the Battle of Camlann. Avalon was associated from an early date with mystical practices and people such as Morgan le Fay.
This lack of convincing early evidence is the reason many recent historians exclude Arthur from their accounts of post-Roman Britain. In the view of historianThomas Charles-Edwards, "at this stage of the enquiry, one can only say that there may well have been an historical Arthur [but …] the historian can as yet say nothing of value about him".[8] These modern admissions of ignorance are a relatively recent trend; earlier generations of historians were less sceptical. Historian John Morris made the putative reign of Arthur the organising principle of his history of sub-Roman Britain and IrelandThe Age of Arthur (1973). Even so, he found little to say of a historic Arthur.[9]
Partly in reaction to such theories, another school of thought emerged which argued that Arthur had no historical existence at all. Morris's Age of Arthurprompted archaeologist Nowell Myres to observe that "no figure on the borderline of history and mythology has wasted more of the historian's time".[10] Gildas' 6th-century polemic De Excidio Britanniae (On the Ruin of Britain), written within living memory of Mount Badon, mentions the battle but does not mention Arthur.[11] Arthur is not mentioned in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle or named in any surviving manuscript written between 400 and 820.[12] He is absent fromBede's early 8th-century Ecclesiastical History of the English People, another major early source for post-Roman history that mentions Mount Badon.[13]Historian David Dumville has written: "I think we can dispose of him [Arthur] quite briefly. He owes his place in our history books to a 'no smoke without fire' school of thought ... The fact of the matter is that there is no historical evidence about Arthur; we must reject him from our histories and, above all, from the titles of our books."[14]
Some scholars argue that Arthur was originally a fictional hero of folklore – or even a half-forgotten Celtic deity – who became credited with real deeds in the distant past. They cite parallels with figures such as the Kentish totemic horse-gods Hengest and Horsa, who later became historicised. Bede ascribed to these legendary figures a historical role in the 5th-century Anglo-Saxon conquest of eastern Britain.[15] It is not even certain that Arthur was considered a king in the early texts. Neither the Historia nor the Annales calls him "rex": the former calls him instead "dux" or "dux bellorum" (leader of battles).[16]
Historical documents for the post-Roman period are scarce, so a definitive answer to the question of Arthur's historical existence is unlikely. Sites and places have been identified as "Arthurian" since the 12th century,[17] but archaeology can confidently reveal names only through inscriptions found in secure contexts. The so-called "Arthur stone", discovered in 1998 among the ruins at Tintagel Castle in Cornwall in securely dated 6th-century contexts, created a brief stir but proved irrelevant.[18] Other inscriptional evidence for Arthur, including the Glastonbury cross, is tainted with the suggestion of forgery.[19] Although several historical figures have been proposed as the basis for Arthur,[20] no convincing evidence for these identifications has emerged.


The origin of the Welsh name Arthur remains a matter of debate. Some suggest it is derived from the Latin family name Artorius, of obscure and contested etymology.[21] Others propose a derivation from Welsh arth (earlier art), meaning "bear", suggesting art-ur (earlier *Arto-uiros), "bear-man", is the original form, although there are difficulties with this theory.[22] It may be relevant to this debate that Arthur's name appears as Arthur, or Arturus, in early Latin Arthurian texts, never as Artorius. However, this may not say anything about the origin of the name Arthur, as Artorius would regularly become Art(h)ur when borrowed into Welsh; all it would mean, as John Koch has pointed out, is that the surviving Latin references to a historical Arthur (if he was called Artorius and really existed) must date from after the 6th century.[23] An alternative theory links the name Arthur to Arcturus, the brightest star in the constellation Boötes, near Ursa Major or the Great Bear. The name means "guardian of the bear"[24] or "bear guard".[25] Classical Latin Arcturus would also have become Art(h)urwhen borrowed into Welsh, and its brightness and position in the sky led people to regard it as the "guardian of the bear" (due to its proximity to Ursa Major) and the "leader" of the other stars in Boötes.[26] The exact significance of such etymologies is unclear. It is often assumed that an Artorius derivation would mean that the legends of Arthur had a genuine historical core, but recent studies suggest that this assumption may not be well founded.[27] By contrast, a derivation of Arthur from Arcturus might be taken to indicate a non-historical origin for Arthur, but Toby Griffen has suggested it was an alternative name for a historical Arthur designed to appeal to Latin-speakers.[24]

Medieval literary traditions

The creator of the familiar literary persona of Arthur was Geoffrey of Monmouth, with his pseudo-historical Historia Regum Britanniae (History of the Kings of Britain), written in the 1130s. The textual sources for Arthur are usually divided into those written before Geoffrey's Historia (known as pre-Galfridian texts, from the Latin form of Geoffrey, Galfridus) and those written afterwards, which could not avoid his influence (Galfridian, or post-Galfridian, texts).

Pre-Galfridian traditions

A facsimile page of Y Gododdin, one of the most famous early Welsh texts featuring Arthur, c. 1275
The earliest literary references to Arthur come from Welsh and Breton sources. There have been few attempts to define the nature and character of Arthur in the pre-Galfridian tradition as a whole, rather than in a single text or text/story-type. One recent academic survey that does attempt this, by Thomas Green, identifies three key strands to the portrayal of Arthur in this earliest material.[28] The first is that he was a peerless warrior who functioned as the monster-hunting protector of Britain from all internal and external threats. Some of these are human threats, such as the Saxons he fights in the Historia Brittonum, but the majority are supernatural, including giant cat-monsters, destructive divine boars, dragons, dogheads, giants and witches.[29] The second is that the pre-Galfridian Arthur was a figure of folklore (particularly topographic or onomastic folklore) and localised magical wonder-tales, the leader of a band of superhuman heroes who live in the wilds of the landscape.[30] The third and final strand is that the early Welsh Arthur had a close connection with the Welsh Otherworld, Annwn. On the one hand, he launches assaults on Otherworldly fortresses in search of treasure and frees their prisoners. On the other, his warband in the earliest sources includes former pagan gods, and his wife and his possessions are clearly Otherworldly in origin.[31]
One of the most famous Welsh poetic references to Arthur comes in the collection of heroic death-songs known as Y Gododdin (The Gododdin), attributed to the 6th-century poet Aneirin. In one stanza, the bravery of a warrior who slew 300 enemies is praised, but it is then noted that despite this "he was no Arthur", that is to say his feats cannot compare to the valour of Arthur.[32] Y Gododdin is known only from a 13th-century manuscript, so it is impossible to determine whether this passage is original or a later interpolation, but John Koch's view that the passage dates from a 7th-century or earlier version is regarded as unproven; 9th- or 10th-century dates are often proposed for it.[33] Several poems attributed to Taliesin, a poet said to have lived in the 6th century, also refer to Arthur, although these all probably date from between the 8th and 12th centuries.[34] They include "Kadeir Teyrnon" ("The Chair of the Prince"),[35] which refers to "Arthur the Blessed", "Preiddeu Annwn" ("The Spoils of the Annwn"),[36] which recounts an expedition of Arthur to the Otherworld, and "Marwnat vthyr pen[dragon]" ("The Elegy of Uther Pen[dragon]"),[37] which refers to Arthur's valour and is suggestive of a father-son relationship for Arthur and Uther that pre-dates Geoffrey of Monmouth.

Culhwch entering Arthur's Court in the Welsh tale Culhwch and Olwen, 1881
Other early Welsh Arthurian texts include a poem found in the Black Book of Carmarthen, "Pa gur yv y porthaur?" ("What man is the gatekeeper?").[38] This takes the form of a dialogue between Arthur and the gatekeeper of a fortress he wishes to enter, in which Arthur recounts the names and deeds of himself and his men, notably Cei (Kay) and Bedwyr (Bedivere). The Welsh prose tale Culhwch and Olwen (c. 1100), included in the modern Mabinogion collection, has a much longer list of more than 200 of Arthur's men, though Cei and Bedwyr again take a central place. The story as a whole tells of Arthur helping his kinsmanCulhwch win the hand of Olwen, daughter of Ysbaddaden Chief-Giant, by completing a series of apparently impossible tasks, including the hunt for the great semi-divine boar Twrch Trwyth. The 9th-century Historia Brittonum also refers to this tale, with the boar there named Troy(n)t.[39] Finally, Arthur is mentioned numerous times in the Welsh Triads, a collection of short summaries of Welsh tradition and legend which are classified into groups of three linked characters or episodes in order to assist recall. The later manuscripts of the Triads are partly derivative from Geoffrey of Monmouth and later continental traditions, but the earliest ones show no such influence and are usually agreed to refer to pre-existing Welsh traditions. Even in these, however, Arthur's court has started to embody legendary Britain as a whole, with "Arthur's Court" sometimes substituted for "The Island of Britain" in the formula "Three XXX of the Island of Britain".[40] While it is not clear from the Historia Brittonum and the Annales Cambriae that Arthur was even considered a king, by the time Culhwch and Olwenand the Triads were written he had become Penteyrnedd yr Ynys hon, "Chief of the Lords of this Island", the overlord of Wales, Cornwall and the North.[41]
In addition to these pre-Galfridian Welsh poems and tales, Arthur appears in some other early Latin texts besides the Historia Brittonum and the Annales Cambriae. In particular, Arthur features in a number of well-known vitae ("Lives") of post-Roman saints, none of which are now generally considered to be reliable historical sources (the earliest probably dates from the 11th century).[42] According to the Life of Saint Gildas, written in the early 12th century byCaradoc of Llancarfan, Arthur is said to have killed Gildas' brother Hueil and to have rescued his wife Gwenhwyfar from Glastonbury.[43] In the Life of SaintCadoc, written around 1100 or a little before by Lifris of Llancarfan, the saint gives protection to a man who killed three of Arthur's soldiers, and Arthur demands a herd of cattle as wergeld for his men. Cadoc delivers them as demanded, but when Arthur takes possession of the animals, they turn into bundles of ferns.[44] Similar incidents are described in the medieval biographies of CarannogPadarn and Eufflam, probably written around the 12th century. A less obviously legendary account of Arthur appears in the Legenda Sancti Goeznovii, which is often claimed to date from the early 11th century although the earliest manuscript of this text dates from the 15th century.[45] Also important are the references to Arthur in William of Malmesbury's De Gestis Regum Anglorum and Herman's De Miraculis Sanctae Mariae Laudensis, which together provide the first certain evidence for a belief that Arthur was not actually dead and would at some point return, a theme that is often revisited in post-Galfridian folklore.[46]

Geoffrey of Monmouth

Mordred, Arthur's final foe according to Geoffrey of Monmouth, illustrated by H. J. Ford for Andrew Lang's King Arthur: The Tales of the Round Table, 1902
The first narrative account of Arthur's life is found in Geoffrey of Monmouth's Latin work Historia Regum Britanniae (History of the Kings of Britain).[47] This work, completed c. 1138, is an imaginative and fanciful account of British kings from the legendary Trojan exile Brutus to the 7th-century Welsh kingCadwallader. Geoffrey places Arthur in the same post-Roman period as do Historia Brittonum and Annales Cambriae. He incorporates Arthur's father, Uther Pendragon, his magician advisor Merlin, and the story of Arthur's conception, in which Uther, disguised as his enemy Gorlois by Merlin's magic, fathers Arthur on Gorlois's wife Igerna at Tintagel. On Uther's death, the fifteen-year-old Arthur succeeds him as King of Britain and fights a series of battles, similar to those in the Historia Brittonum, culminating in the Battle of Bath. He then defeats the Picts and Scots before creating an Arthurian empire through his conquests of Ireland, Iceland and the Orkney Islands. After twelve years of peace, Arthur sets out to expand his empire once more, taking control of NorwayDenmark andGaul. Gaul is still held by the Roman Empire when it is conquered, and Arthur's victory naturally leads to a further confrontation between his empire and Rome's. Arthur and his warriors, including Kaius (Kay), Beduerus (Bedivere) and Gualguanus (Gawain), defeat the Roman emperor Lucius Tiberius in Gaul but, as he prepares to march on Rome, Arthur hears that his nephew Modredus (Mordred) – whom he had left in charge of Britain – has married his wifeGuenhuuara (Guinevere) and seized the throne. Arthur returns to Britain and defeats and kills Modredus on the river Camblam in Cornwall, but he is mortally wounded. He hands the crown to his kinsman Constantine and is taken to the isle of Avalon to be healed of his wounds, never to be seen again.[48]

Merlin the wizard, c. 1300[49]
How much of this narrative was Geoffrey's own invention is open to debate. Certainly, Geoffrey seems to have made use of the list of Arthur's twelve battles against the Saxons found in the 9th-century Historia Brittonum, along with the battle of Camlann from the Annales Cambriae and the idea that Arthur was still alive.[50] Arthur's personal status as the king of all Britain would also seem to be borrowed from pre-Galfridian tradition, being found in Culhwch and Olwen, the Triads and the Saints' Lives.[51] Finally, Geoffrey borrowed many of the names for Arthur's possessions, close family and companions from the pre-Galfridian Welsh tradition, including Kaius (Cei), Beduerus (Bedwyr), Guenhuuara (Gwenhwyfar), Uther (Uthyr) and perhaps also Caliburnus (Caledfwlch), the latter becoming Excalibur in subsequent Arthurian tales.[52] However, while names, key events and titles may have been borrowed, Brynley Roberts has argued that "the Arthurian section is Geoffrey’s literary creation and it owes nothing to prior narrative."[53] So, for instance, the Welsh Medraut is made the villainous Modredus by Geoffrey, but there is no trace of such a negative character for this figure in Welsh sources until the 16th century.[54] There have been relatively few modern attempts to challenge this notion that the Historia Regum Britanniae is primarily Geoffrey's own work, with scholarly opinion often echoing William of Newburgh's late-12th-century comment that Geoffrey "made up" his narrative, perhaps through an "inordinate love of lying".[55] Geoffrey Ashe is one dissenter from this view, believing that Geoffrey's narrative is partially derived from a lost source telling of the deeds of a 5th-century British king named Riotamus, this figure being the original Arthur, although historians and Celticists have been reluctant to follow Ashe in his conclusions.[56]
Whatever his sources may have been, the immense popularity of Geoffrey's Historia Regum Britanniae cannot be denied. Well over 200 manuscript copies of Geoffrey’s Latin work are known to have survived, and this does not include translations into other languages.[57] Thus, for example, around 60 manuscripts are extant containing Welsh-language versions of the Historia, the earliest of which were created in the 13th century; the old notion that some of these Welsh versions actually underlie Geoffrey's Historia, advanced by antiquarians such as the 18th-century Lewis Morris, has long since been discounted in academic circles.[58] As a result of this popularity, Geoffrey's Historia Regum Britanniae was enormously influential on the later medieval development of the Arthurian legend. While it was by no means the only creative force behind Arthurian romance, many of its elements were borrowed and developed (e.g., Merlin and the final fate of Arthur), and it provided the historical framework into which the romancers' tales of magical and wonderful adventures were inserted.[59]

Romance traditions

During the 12th century, Arthur's character began to be marginalised by the accretion of "Arthurian" side-stories such as that ofTristan and IseultJohn William Waterhouse, 1916
The popularity of Geoffrey's Historia and its other derivative works (such as Wace's Roman de Brut) is generally agreed to be an important factor in explaining the appearance of significant numbers of new Arthurian works in continental Europe during the 12th and 13th centuries, particularly in France.[60] It was not, however, the only Arthurian influence on the developing "Matter of Britain". There is clear evidence for a knowledge of Arthur and Arthurian tales on the Continent before Geoffrey's work became widely known (see for example, the Modena Archivolt),[61] as well as for the use of "Celtic" names and stories not found in Geoffrey's Historia in the Arthurian romances.[62] From the perspective of Arthur, perhaps the most significant effect of this great outpouring of new Arthurian story was on the role of the king himself: much of this 12th-century and later Arthurian literature centres less on Arthur himself than on characters such as Lancelot and GueneverePercevalGalahadGawain, and Tristan and Isolde. Whereas Arthur is very much at the centre of the pre-Galfridian material and Geoffrey's Historia itself, in the romances he is rapidly sidelined. His character also alters significantly. In both the earliest materials and Geoffrey he is a great and ferocious warrior, who laughs as he personally slaughters witches and giants and takes a leading role in all military campaigns, whereas in the continental romances he becomes the roi fainéant, the "do-nothing king", whose "inactivity and acquiescence constituted a central flaw in his otherwise ideal society".[65] Arthur's role in these works is frequently that of a wise, dignified, even-tempered, somewhat bland, and occasionally feeble monarch. So, he simply turns pale and silent when he learns of Lancelot's affair with Guinevere in the Mort Artu, whilst in Chrétien de Troyes's Yvain, the Knight of the Lion he is unable to stay awake after a feast and has to retire for a nap. Nonetheless, as Norris J. Lacy has observed, whatever his faults and frailties may be in these Arthurian romances, "his prestige is never – or almost never – compromised by his personal weaknesses ... his authority and glory remain intact."
Pope Innocent the Third of Europe stated in the 12th century that marriage was to be celebrated in the church and that a ring must be included in the ceremony. Early rings were made of hemp, hair, leather, bone, ivory, iron, silver, gold and in the 17th century Tungsten. Gimmelengagement rings became a popular tradition in the 15th century. Representing a romance between two lovers, the ring consisted of three interlocking circles that would symbolize faith, trust and fidelity.

Arthur (top centre) in an illustration to the Middle English poem Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, late 14th century
Arthur and his retinue appear in some of the Lais of Marie de France,[68] but it was the work of another French poet, Chrétien de Troyes, that had the greatest influence with regard to the above development of the character of Arthur and his legend.[69] Chrétien wrote five Arthurian romances between c. 1170 and c. 1190. Erec and Enide and Cligès are tales of courtly love with Arthur's court as their backdrop, demonstrating the shift away from the heroic world of the Welsh and Galfridian Arthur, while Yvain, the Knight of the Lion features Yvain and Gawain in a supernatural adventure, with Arthur very much on the sidelines and weakened. However, the most significant for the development of the Arthurian legend are Lancelot, the Knight of the Cart, which introduces Lancelot and his adulterous relationship with Arthur's queen (Guinevere), extending and popularizing the recurring theme of Arthur as a cuckold, andPerceval, the Story of the Grail, which introduces the Holy Grail and the Fisher King and which again sees Arthur having a much reduced role.[70] Chrétien was thus "instrumental both in the elaboration of the Arthurian legend and in the establishment of the ideal form for the diffusion of that legend",[71] and much of what came after him in terms of the portrayal of Arthur and his world built upon the foundations he had laid. Perceval, although unfinished, was particularly popular: four separate continuations of the poem appeared over the next half century, with the notion of the Grail and its quest being developed by other writers such as Robert de Boron, a fact that helped accelerate the decline of Arthur in continental romance.[72] Similarly, Lancelot and his cuckolding of Arthur with Guinevere became one of the classic motifs of the Arthurian legend, although the Lancelot of the prose Lancelot (c. 1225) and later texts was a combination of Chrétien's character and that of Ulrich von Zatzikhoven's Lanzelet.[73] Chrétien's work even appears to feed back into Welsh Arthurian literature, with the result that the romance Arthur began to replace the heroic, active Arthur in Welsh literary tradition.[74] Particularly significant in this development were the three Welsh Arthurian romances, which are closely similar to those of Chrétien, albeit with some significant differences: Owain, or the Lady of the Fountain is related to Chrétien's YvainGeraint and Enid, to Erec and Enide; and Peredur son of Efrawg, to Perceval.[75]

The Round Table experience a vision of theHoly Grail. From a 15th century French manuscript.
Up to c. 1210, continental Arthurian romance was expressed primarily through poetry; after this date the tales began to be told in prose. The most significant of these 13th-century prose romances was the Vulgate Cycle, (also known as the Lancelot-Grail Cycle), a series of five Middle French prose works written in the first half of that century.[76] These works were the Estoire del Saint Grail, the Estoire de Merlin, the Lancelot propre (or Prose Lancelot, which made up half the entire Vulgate Cycle on its own), the Queste del Saint Graal and the Mort Artu, which combine to form the first coherent version of the entire Arthurian legend. The cycle continued the trend towards reducing the role played by Arthur in his own legend, partly through the introduction of the character of Galahad and an expansion of the role of Merlin. It also made Mordred the result of an incestuous relationship between Arthur and his sister and established the role ofCamelot, first mentioned in passing in Chrétien's Lancelot, as Arthur's primary court.[77] This series of texts was quickly followed by the Post-Vulgate Cycle(c. 1230–40), of which the Suite du Merlin is a part, which greatly reduced the importance of Lancelot's affair with Guinevere but continued to sideline Arthur, now in order to focus more on the Grail quest.[76] As such, Arthur became even more of a relatively minor character in these French prose romances; in the Vulgate itself he only figures significantly in the Estoire de Merlin and the Mort Artu.
The development of the medieval Arthurian cycle and the character of the "Arthur of romance" culminated in Le Morte d'ArthurThomas Malory's retelling of the entire legend in a single work in English in the late 15th century. Malory based his book – originally titled The Whole Book of King Arthur and of His Noble Knights of the Round Table – on the various previous romance versions, in particular the Vulgate Cycle, and appears to have aimed at creating a comprehensive and authoritative collection of Arthurian stories.[78] Perhaps as a result of this, and the fact that Le Morte D'Arthur was one of the earliest printed books in England, published by William Caxton in 1485, most later Arthurian works are derivative of Malory's.[79]

Decline, revival, and the modern legend

Post-medieval literature

The end of the Middle Ages brought with it a waning of interest in King Arthur. Although Malory's English version of the great French romances was popular, there were increasing attacks upon the truthfulness of the historical framework of the Arthurian romances – established since Geoffrey of Monmouth's time – and thus the legitimacy of the whole Matter of Britain. So, for example, the 16th-century humanist scholar Polydore Vergil famously rejected the claim that Arthur was the ruler of a post-Roman empire, found throughout the post-Galfridian medieval "chronicle tradition", to the horror of Welsh and English antiquarians.[80] Social changes associated with the end of the medieval period and the Renaissance also conspired to rob the character of Arthur and his associated legend of some of their power to enthral audiences, with the result that 1634 saw the last printing of Malory's Le Morte d'Arthur for nearly 200 years.[81] King Arthur and the Arthurian legend were not entirely abandoned, but until the early 19th century the material was taken less seriously and was often used simply as vehicle for allegories of 17th- and 18th-century politics.[82] Thus Richard Blackmore's epics Prince Arthur (1695) and King Arthur (1697) feature Arthur as an allegory for the struggles of William III against James II.[82] Similarly, the most popular Arthurian tale throughout this period seems to have been that of Tom Thumb, which was told first through chapbooks and later through the political plays of Henry Fielding; although the action is clearly set in Arthurian Britain, the treatment is humorous and Arthur appears as a primarily comedic version of his romance character.[83]

Tennyson and the revival

Gustave Doré's illustration of Arthur and Merlin forLord Alfred Tennyson’sIdylls of the King, 1868
In the early 19th century, medievalismRomanticism, and the Gothic Revival reawakened interest in the Arthur and the medieval romances. A new code of ethics for 19th-century gentlemen was shaped around the chivalric ideals that the "Arthur of romance" embodied. This renewed interest first made itself felt in 1816, when Malory's Le Morte d'Arthur was reprinted for the first time since 1634.[84] Initially the medieval Arthurian legends were of particular interest to poets, inspiring, for example, William Wordsworth to write "The Egyptian Maid" (1835), an allegory of the Holy Grail.[85] Pre-eminent among these was Alfred Lord Tennyson, whose first Arthurian poem, "The Lady of Shalott", was published in 1832.[86] Although Arthur himself played a minor role in some of these works, following in the medieval romance tradition, Tennyson's Arthurian work reached its peak of popularity with Idylls of the King, which reworked the entire narrative of Arthur's life for the Victorian era. First published in 1859, it sold 10,000 copies within the first week.[87] In the Idylls, Arthur became a symbol of ideal manhood whose attempt to establish a perfect kingdom on earth fails, finally, through human weakness.[88] Tennyson's works prompted a large number of imitators, generated considerable public interest in the legends of Arthur and the character himself, and brought Malory’s tales to a wider audience.[89]Indeed, the first modernization of Malory's great compilation of Arthur's tales was published shortly after Idylls appeared, in 1862, and there were six further editions and five competitors before the century ended.[90]
This interest in the "Arthur of romance" and his associated stories continued through the 19th century and into the 20th, and influenced poets such as William Morris and Pre-Raphaelite artists including Edward Burne-Jones.[91] Even the humorous tale of Tom Thumb, which had been the primary manifestation of Arthur's legend in the 18th century, was rewritten after the publication of Idylls. While Tom maintained his small stature and remained a figure of comic relief, his story now included more elements from the medieval Arthurian romances, and Arthur is treated more seriously and historically in these new versions.[92]The revived Arthurian romance also proved influential in the United States, with such books as Sidney Lanier's The Boy's King Arthur (1880) reaching wide audiences and providing inspiration for Mark Twain's satiric A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court (1889).[93] Although the "Arthur of romance" was sometimes central to these new Arthurian works (as he was in Burne-Jones's The Last Sleep of Arthur in Avalon, 1881–1898), on other occasions he reverted back to his medieval status and is either marginalised or even missing entirely, with Wagner's Arthurian operas providing a notable instance of the latter.[94]Furthermore, the revival of interest in Arthur and the Arthurian tales did not continue unabated. By the end of the 19th century, it was confined mainly to Pre-Raphaelite imitators,[95] and it could not avoid being affected by the First World War, which damaged the reputation of chivalry and thus interest in its medieval manifestations and Arthur as chivalric role model.[96] The romance tradition did, however, remain sufficiently powerful to persuade Thomas Hardy,Laurence Binyon and John Masefield to compose Arthurian plays,[97] and T. S. Eliot alludes to the Arthur myth (but not Arthur) in his poem The Waste Land, which mentions the Fisher King.[98]

Modern legend

The combat of Arthur andMordred, illustrated byN.C. Wyeth for The Boy's King Arthur, 1922
In the latter half of the 20th century, the influence of the romance tradition of Arthur continued, through novels such as T. H. White's The Once and Future King (1958) and Marion Zimmer Bradley's The Mists of Avalon (1982) in addition to comic strips such as Prince Valiant (from 1937 onward).[99] Tennyson had reworked the romance tales of Arthur to suit and comment upon the issues of his day, and the same is often the case with modern treatments too. Bradley's tale, for example, takes a feminist approach to Arthur and his legend, in contrast to the narratives of Arthur found in medieval materials.[100] The romance Arthur has become popular in film as well. The musical Camelot, with its focus on the love of Lancelot and Guinevere and the cuckolding of Arthur, was made into a film in 1967. The romance tradition of Arthur is particularly evident and, according to critics, successfully handled in Robert Bresson's Lancelot du Lac (1974),Eric Rohmer's Perceval le Gallois (1978) and perhaps John Boorman's fantasy film Excalibur (1981); it is also the main source of the material utilised in the Arthurian spoof Monty Python and the Holy Grail (1975).[101]
Re-tellings and re-imaginings of the romance tradition are not the only important aspect of the modern legend of King Arthur. Attempts to portray Arthur as a genuine historical figure of c. 500 AD, stripping away the "romance", have also emerged. As Taylor and Brewer have noted, this return to the medieval "chronicle tradition"' of Geoffrey of Monmouth and the Historia Brittonum is a recent trend which became dominant in Arthurian literature in the years following the outbreak of the Second World War, when Arthur's legendary resistance to Germanic invaders struck a chord in Britain.[102] Clemence Dane's series of radio plays, The Saviours (1942), used a historical Arthur to embody the spirit of heroic resistance against desperate odds, and Robert Sherriff's playThe Long Sunset (1955) saw Arthur rallying Romano-British resistance against the Germanic invaders.[103] This trend towards placing Arthur in a historical setting is also apparent in historical and fantasy novels published during this period.[104] In recent years the portrayal of Arthur as a real hero of the 5th century has also made its way into film versions of the Arthurian legend, most notably King Arthur (2004) and The Last Legion (2007).[105]
Arthur has also been used as a model for modern-day behaviour. In the 1930s, the Order of the Fellowship of the Knights of the Round Table formed in Britain to promote Christian ideals and Arthurian notions of medieval chivalry.[106] In the United States, hundreds of thousands of boys and girls joined Arthurian youth groups, such as the Knights of King Arthur, in which Arthur and his legends were promoted as wholesome exemplars.[107] However, Arthur's diffusion within contemporary culture goes beyond such obviously Arthurian endeavours, with Arthurian names being regularly attached to objects, buildings and places. As Norris J. Lacy has observed, "The popular notion of Arthur appears to be limited, not surprisingly, to a few motifs and names, but there can be no doubt of the extent to which a legend born many centuries ago is profoundly embedded in modern culture at every level."[108]