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Tuesday, 8 November 2011

Book Review: King Arthur's Children.

Book Review by Dane Pestano
King Arthur's Children, A Study in Fiction and Tradition.
Tyler R. Tichelaar, Ph.D.
The Reflection of Camelot Series, Modern History Press,  2011

A new book by Tyler Tichelaar raises the important question of King Arthurs children; a subject not often discussed but essential to the study of Arthuriana. In this two hundred page book he seeks to present all the material concerning the possible children of Arthur in one work, from Welsh legends and French Romancers to Scottish Genealogies and modern novels. In this he nearly succeeds and indeed he goes further by including the treatment of Arthur's children in late medieval and modern works of fiction. The original sources for Arthur’s children are as scant as they are for Arthur himself so Tyler’s undertaking is a difficult one to start with. 

Tyler first discusses the early references to the children Gwydre, Amr and llacheu. Gwydre, mentioned in the tenth century or later Welsh fairy tales, now called the Mabinogian,  as a son of Arthur takes first billing and Tyler compares this character with that of the Celtic tales of Gwri and considers the possibilities that they are one and the same.  It is an interesting comparison with some merit.  The story of Gwydre and Gwri  are also compared to that of Mordred with the suggestion that Mordred’s tales may have borrowed parts of their stories, adding perhaps a little too much to the pot of confusion early on.

Next up is Amr, the earliest known reference to a child of Arthur from the ninth century Historia Brittonum. Tyler points out the various versions of the name, Amhar being one from the later Mabinogian and details the various meanings of the names suggested by scholars with some surprising results. He then discusses the treatment of Amr in various works including the HB, Geoffrey of Monmouth’s History of the Kings of Britain and of course the Mabinogian. It is a very good look at the existing evidence but again Tyler seeks to link these tales with those of Mordred, as though all leads take us back to this character, who essentially is not really a son of Arthur at all.

The next chapter concerns LLacheu for whom there is a bit more information and meat for Tyler to get stuck into seeing as Llacheu is mentioned in the Black Book of Carmarthen, the Mabinogian and by French Romancers.  It’s a very good look at the sources and for a discussion of the meanings of the name and its forms with again some surprising and interesting information. LLacheus life and death are discussed and his links to ravens and death pointed out:

I was there where Llacheu fell,
Arthurs son renowned in song,
When ravens flocked on the gore.

Further discussion on the French links to the developing story of Llacheu are explored and the whole chapter is a great introduction to this enigmatic son of Arthur with of course the now familiar comparison of his stories with those of Mordreds. Perhaps the real title of the book should have been Mordred and the Children of King Arthur as part two of the book then discusses the main character of Mordred and the legends and tales surrounding him. 

Part II of the book, and chapters 4-10, then discusses Mordred, the most famous of Arthurs associates and the most confused in the medieval mind. Tyler does a great job of explaining all the ideas, name variations, possible meanings and so on concerning Mordred but may perhaps have left out one obvious one for the form Mordred itself which appears to mean murderer in French/German so would explain why he acquired this version of the name, which as Tyler points out originated with the French Romancers. Whether the tenth century mention of Medrawt and Arthur in the Welsh Annals (539, Battle of Camlann) is contemporary or was a later interpolation to the annals adds confusion as to whether Mordred was known before Geoffrey of Monmouth. Tyler also points out that Mordred is usually seen as Arthurs nephew and explores the various sources for this assertion and their treatment of Mordred and his relationship with Arthur and his wife Guinevere.  He also points out that it is not until the later works such as the vulgate Mort Artu and the Huth Merlin that Mordred appears as Arthur’s son.

After the introduction to Mordred, the sources and their merits, Tyler next looks at Mordred’s character in the sense of his synonymous link with being traitorous towards Arthur, not only in the battle of Camlann and his treatment by Geoffrey of Monmouth but by his association with Guinevere and the subsequent abduction tales concerning her and his desire to marry her. Here then we have a discussion of the abduction motif in Celtic and other legends and of course in Arthurian Romance and Welsh tales. This leads onto the love triangle between Mordred, Arthur and Guinevere and not forgetting the other players such as Lancelot and Kay.

Interesting in this seventh chapter is the comparison of the abduction and love triangle with those of Irish tales, such as that of Midir and Etain and he suggests that this tale may be the earliest source for the tales of  Modred and Arthurs fight for Guinevere. Again,  Irish myths, such as that of Lugh and Balor of the Evil Eye and those of Cuchulain are suggested as an early influence on the story of Arthurs and Mordreds conflict,  with some merit. All in all this chapter concerning the love triangle is an excellent look at the problem and their sources but perhaps misses out the evidence of the Modena Cathedral where an early version of the Arthurian love triangle and abduction may be depicted. A discussion of this would have been welcome.

The eighth chapter takes us onto the infamous Battle of Camlann in which Arthur and Mordred are said to have died. For me, a very interesting point here is that “In the Didot Perceval is the curious statement that Arthur’s last battle, fought against Mordred, took place in Ireland”.  He suggests that this may be due to the Irish influences that appear to permeate Arthur’s legends. Quite.  Again, this chapter is full of interesting material including a fourteenth century chronicle assertion that Arthur lived ten years after Camlann!! 

From here on in things get even better as Tyler heads up to Scotland in chapter 9 to discuss the Scottish and Gaelic material concerning Mordred and Arthur.  As to be expected, he makes a great introduction to the subject, discussing the earliest sources first and the problems inherent in them, mainly due to these sources being missing now and most of the current material only dating to the fourteenth century.  He also discusses the attachment of Uther as Arthurs father by Geofrey of Monmouth due to the Arthur mabuter entry in the HB suggesting this merely meant Arthur the terrible or some such. The Scottish material being late is suspect but the discussion is interesting in the differing angles the Scots held of the conflict between Mordred and Arthur, suggesting Mordred was seen in a better light than Arthur by the later Scots.

Next we move onto Mordred's sons which brings in a discussion of Constantine (who took power after Arthur) as well, as he is linked in by Geoffrey of Monmouth who states that Constantine went to war with Mordred's sons after the battle of Camlann. Again a very interesting discussion which leads onto a chapter concerning Constantine himself. This chapter was very interesting for me as Mac Erca is said in Irish tales to have sired Constantine and Mac Erca, as I have suggested, was the Irish version of Arthur. Tyler shows how Constantine was seen to be closely related to Arthur in various sources but never as his son.

Part III, chapters 13 to 14 move onto Arthur’s descendants and the connections with the English Royal family and discuss Arthur, Cerdic and Vortigern.  So plenty of meat here for Arthurian fans and more meat for me when I learn that there is a very late Scots tradition that Arthur married a daughter of the king of the Franks. Mac Erca is also said to have married the daughter of the king of the Franks. In the Irish tales this appears to be Clovis’s daughter. Here in the Scots tales she is said be a be a daughter of Childebert (ruled 511-558) called Elizabeth. In this section then an examination of the Scots Campbell material is undertaken – Smervie and the Clan Campbell and again it is a very interesting look at the names, sources and possibility of Smervie being a son of Arthur with some surprising twists.

Part IV moves on to the forgotten and fictional children which includes a discussion of children associated with Arthur in the middle ages and the treatment of Arthurs children in modern fiction. This discussion starts with possible sons of Arthur called Nougoy and Nennue and their dismissal from consideration when the evidence is explored. It then moves onto various foreign sources for further inventions. The discussion of Arthur’s children in modern fiction held no interest for me but others may find it useful.

The book ends with a conclusion and an appendix concerning Mordred and Modron. Overall it is an excellent, well written book and essential reading for those who would like to study the subject in more depth. Only one of Arthur’s possible children, Baedo, Queen of an early Visigothic King, Reccared, appears to be missing but that is understandable considering it is a very late Spanish tradition probably founded on nothing more than variations of Bado's name (Badon, Baedu etc) being similar to the battle of Badon and hence she is linked to Arthur. 

If you would like your book reviewed please contact me here to send your book.
Review Copyright Dane Pestano 2011.


  1. Thanks Dane, for such a detailed and analytical look at Tyler's book. We really appreciate the depth and insight you have offered.

    Victor R. Volkman
    Senior Editor
    Modern History Press

  2. Dane, For a different view of Arthur, I have written "The Revelation of King Arthur". It is on all major sites, and in fact Tyler Tichelaar gave it a three star review. It comes from a Biblical perspective concerning deception, but at the same time I believe the existance of Arthur is proven through markers found in "Revelation". Thank you, Robert Fruehling

  3. Thank you, Dane, for the very fair and balanced review of my book. I will have to check out more about Baedo and look more into those Irish connections, beginning with reading your own book. I'm honored that someone so knowledgeable took the time to review my book in such detail and found it merited reading.

    Tyler Tichelaar

  4. heey dane, ummm how many kids did king arthur have, though??? and what were their names????