Connecting Swords with Medieval Literature Battles:
(A description of swords, battles, and Medieval Literature)
Slashing and stabbing with equal speed, the sword was the most effective weapon. As a result, skilled practitioners of martial arts emerged, giving rise to illustrious swordsmen and spawning the creation of fighting manuals like Fiore dei Liberi’s Flos Duellatorum (1410). Military historian Michael Loades says the sword “gives hope that skill can triumph over brute force.”
The sword’s widespread acceptance was due to other factors as well. Swords were initially pricey and exclusive due to the difficulties inherent in crafting them from metal. The sword’s portability and aesthetic appeal made it an ideal symbol of rank both on and off the battlefield. The lance, used in combat by mounted men-at-arms, was the other prestigious weapon. Extreme force was concentrated at the tip of a lance, harnessing all the energy of a galloping horseman. But it was a one-hit wonder that frequently shattered on impact and was useless at close quarters. Though deadly on its own, it was not a decisive blow in a conflict (Knighton).
When going to battle, Anglo-Saxon warriors did it on foot. They had bows, arrows, spears, axes, and swords. In Anglo-Saxon times, the spear was the most prevalent weapon, and the sword was the most prized. A skilled blacksmith could spend hours shaping an iron sword. Two-edged, straight, flat blades were used in Anglo-Saxon swords, and the handle (or hilt) featured a guard at both the top and bottom (Peck).
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Definitions and Dates:
These next set of terms apply to our study of Old English literature
Anglo-Saxon – (1) Historically, the term refers to a group of Teutonic tribes who invaded England in the fifth and sixth centuries following the departure of Roman legions in 410 CE. These tribes, the Angles, the Saxons, and the Jutes, came from the northern parts of Europe and gave their name (Angle-Land) to England, driving the native Celtic peoples into the farthest western and northern regions of Britain. We can also refer to the time-period of 410 CE up until about 1066 CE as the “Anglo-Saxon” historical period in Britain. In linguistics, the term Anglo-Saxon is also used to refer to Old English, the language spoken by these tribes and the precursor of Middle English and Modern English. See Old English. (2) In colloquial usage, the term Anglo-Saxon is often used to distinguish people of “English” ethnicity in Great Britain, Canada, and the United States–hence acronyms like “WASP” (White Anglo-Saxon Protestant). (Bonafede)
Anglo-Saxon Chronicle – This national chronicle, or annual record of events, was originally compiled around 890 during the reign of King Alfred the Great. It was the first attempt to give a systematic year-by-year account of English history, and it was later maintained, and added to, by generations of anonymous scribes until the middle of the 1100s. (Bonafede)
Annal – Another term for a chronicle, a brief year-by-year account of events. (Bonafede)
Heroic Ideal – Determined by the culture that produced the literature, especially the epic, the heroic ideal represents the aspects of an epic hero that the culture upholds as representing its cultural ideal. (Bonafede)
Hubris – pride or arrogance, often the downfall of a character. (Bonafede)
Kennings – A form of compounding in Old English, Old Norse, and Germanic poetry. In this poetic device, the poet creates a new compound word or phrase to describe an object or activity. Specifically, this compound uses mixed imagery (catachresis) to describe the properties of the object in indirect, imaginative, or enigmatic ways. The resulting word is somewhat like a riddle since the reader must stop and think for a minute to determine what the object is. (Bonafede)
Mead-hall – Communal feasting (men’s) hall, the center of society, a symbol of community and civility–of oath taking, flyting, treasure giving, storytelling, and sleeping.(Bonafede)
Ring, gift or treasure bearer – the king or leader, typically of the warband, whose social duty it is to bestow treasure to enlist loyalty and service in times of strife. (Bonafede)
Peace-weaver – a wife, specifically a wife betrothed for an alliance between two formally hostile tribes. (Bonafede)
Epithets – A short, poetic nickname–often in the form of an adjective or adjectival phrase–attached to the normal name. Frequently, this technique allows a poet to extend a line by a few syllables in a poetic manner that characterizes an individual or a setting within an epic poem. (Bonafede)
Maxim – A proverb, a short, pithy statement or aphorism believed to contain wisdom or insight into human nature. In much of the dialogue in Viking sagas, for instance, the characters will quote short maxims to each other to make a point. (Bonafede)
Metonym – a figure of speech in one thing is used to designate something with which it is commonly associated (closely linked, but not part of it). Ex. the crown is a metonym for royalty or the royal family. (Bonafede)
Synecdoche – a figure of speech in which part of something is used to designate a whole. Ex. All hands on deck when the entire sailor is required. (Bonafede)
Comitatus – (Latin: “companionship” or “band”): The term describes the tribal structure of the Anglo-Saxons and other Germanic tribes in which groups of men would swear fealty to a hlaford (lord) in exchange for food, mead, and heriot, the loan of fine armor and weaponry. The men who swore such an oath were called thegns (roughly akin to modern Scottish “thane”), and they vowed to fight for their lord in battle. It was considered a shameful disaster to outlive one’s own lord. The comitatus was the functional military and government unit of early Anglo-Saxon society. The term was first coined by the classical historian Tacitus when he described the Germanic tribes north of Rome. (Bonafede)
Homosocial bond – The concept of homosociality describes and defines social bonds between persons of the same sex. It is, for example, frequently used in studies on men and masculinities there defined as a mechanism and social dynamic that explains the maintenance of hegemonic masculinity.(Bonafede)
Patriarch/Patrilocality/Patrilineal Descent – In anthropology, the head of a family, lineage, or nation. Patrilocality means residence that is taken with the male’s kin-group, often women marry into this new kin group. Patrilineal descent is when inheritance falls through the kin on the father’s line.(Bonafede)
Dates: 937 AD The Battle of Brunanburh
Synopsis of The Battle of Brunanburh:
The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle has a 73-line Old English song about the Battle of Brunanburh in its entry for the year 937. The Saxon king Athelstan defeated an invasion force led by Olaf Guthfrithson, king of Dublin and a pretender to the throne of York, which included Norse and Scottish allies. There is a good chance that the poem was written as a panegyric in honor of Athelstan after his triumph. It recounts the number of slain kings and earls and depicts the Norsemen sneaking back to Dublin on their ships as ravens and wolves feast on their dead sons. According to the poem, this was the most significant war in English history.
Various English monasteries contributed to what is now known as the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle. They may be traced back to a collection of annals that were first written down around the time of King Alfred of Wessex (890) and continued up until the year 1154. There are currently nine extant copies of the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, all of which diverge significantly from one another. Beginning with a brief introduction to the indigenous peoples of England, the Chronicle goes on to detail the evolution of the British Isles from the reign of Julius Caesar onward. King Alfred’s claim to the throne is buttressed by this document, which details his lineage in great detail. The history, older annals, works in glorification of princes, and saga literature used in the chronicle cover the years 890 and earlier. Short descriptions of events that took place the previous year, as well as records of deaths, begin appearing in the annals around the year 892, and are occasionally coupled with more oblique reports of political and military events. Independently developed versions of the chronicle emerge over time, eventually reaching a conclusion in the eleventh or twelfth century.
The Battle of Brunanburh
The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle Poems
The Battle of Brunanburh
In this year, King Æthelstan, lord of earls,
ring-giver of warriors, and his brother as well,
Eadmund ætheling achieved everlasting glory
in battle, with the edges of swords
near Brunanburh. They cleaved the massed shields,
hewed the battle-wood, the relics of hammers,
of the heir of Eadweard, as it suited
their heritage, so that they often in battle
defended their lands, treasures, and homesteads
against every one of the hateful— (1-10a)
Foemen were felled, the Scottish people,
the ship-sailors fated were destroyed,
the fields grew slickened with the blood of men,
after the sun passed upwards over the earth.
in the morning-time, the remarkable star,
the bright candle of God, the Eternal Lord,
until that noble creation sank to its rest. (10b-17a)
There lay many warriors, seized by the spear,
the northern men, over their arrowed shields,
likewise the Scottish also were weary, saddened by war.
The West-Saxons in their ranks rode down
the long long day the hateful people,
chopping down the battle-fleers from behind
so sorely with sharply ground swords. (17b-24a)
The Mercians did not deny any of those warriors
their hard hand-playing, those who had sought
their land with Anlaf across the blending of oars
upon the bosom of the sea, fated to fighting.
Five young kings lay slain on the battlefield,
put to sleep by the sword—likewise seven more
of the earls of Anlaf, and an uncountable army,
their sailors and Scots. There the lord of the Northmen
was put to flight, driven by need to the stem
of his ship, with but a little army—
the ship pressed into the water, the king departed there
onto the fallow flood, sparing his spirit. (24b-36)
Likewise there also the aged man came into the sea
into his northern homeland, Constantinus,
the hoary battle-warrior, having no need to cry out
about the match of his pairing—his might was slashed,
deprived of his friends upon the folk-stead,
smitten in battle, and losing his son
upon the slaughter-field, ground down by wounds,
the young man at war. (37-44a)
There was no need to boast for the blond warrior
of the sword-slaying, old and devious, nor Anlaf any more—
among their battle-leavings they had no need to laugh
about how they were better in battle-works
upon the fighting-field, under the flaring flags,
at the conclave of spears, the meeting of men,
the exchange of weapons, after they upon the killing-field,
playing against the heir of Eadweard. (44b-52)
Those North-men departed into their nailed barques,
the dreary leavings of the spear upon the Irish Sea
across the deep water seeking Dublin,
and Ireland abashed in mind.
Likewise those brothers both together,
king and his nobleman, sought that country,
West-Saxon-land, exultant in warfare. (53-59)
They left them behind to divide up the carrion,
the dusky-plumed fowl, that darkened raven,
horn-beaked and that hazel-feathered eagle,
white behind it, enjoying the slain,
the greedy war-hawk and that grey beast,
the wolf in the wold. Nor was there a greater slaughter
upon this island ever yet, the people slain
before these edges of swords, of which the books speak,
the elder historians, after the Angles and the Saxons
arrived up from the east hither over the broad sea
seeking Britain, the haughty war-smiths,
overwhelming the Welsh, men eager for glory
obtaining their new homeland. (60-73)
(Old English Poetry Project)
One of the many Anglo Saxon poems to mix an ancient heroic tone with historical detail is The Battle of Brunanburh. History of the Battle of Brunanburh, fought in 937 between the English and a coalition of Scots, Vikings, and Britons, recorded in a 73-line poem. This panegyric, written in Old English verse, employs a wide range of tried-and-true classical heroic devices. In the Battle of Brunanburh, for instance, the employment of epithets deepens the meaning of the text by providing a more vivid depiction of the individuals. The premodified noun phrase “grey-haired warrior” represents Constantinus in his old age through the usage of the epithet “grey-haired.” The use of the term emphasizes his age associated to vulnerability and weakness rather than strength and heroism, which is ironic given that noble and heroic soldiers were reported to survive to exceptionally old ages and were still represented as valiant and brave.
When comparing the heroic tone of this poem to that of other Anglo-Saxon poetry, it’s important to note that, unlike in earlier heroic poetry, the hero’s geographical origin is not emphasized here; rather, after performing heroic deeds, the hero is claimed by the people of the country in which they find themselves. This is in contrast to traditional epic poetry, in which a person’s place of birth played a significant role: without ties to one’s birthplace, one is nothing but a lost foreigner and a wanderer, and xenophobia was widespread. “In this year, King Æthelstan, lord of earls, ring-giver of warriors, and his brother as well, Eadmund ætheling achieved everlasting glory in battle, with the edges of swords
near Brunanburh” (Old English Poetry Project). Athelstan, king of the West Saxons, and his brother, Edmund, were celebrated for their valor at the Battle of Brunanburh because their victory over the combined Viking and Scottish forces strengthened the political position of Wessex, which eventually came to exert influence over all of England. The song’s lyrics are an eloquent tribute to the king and his brother for successfully safeguarding “the land, the fortune crowd, and the dwellings,” recalling an impressive military victory and praising the pioneer spirit of West Saxony.
The Warriors of Medieval Britan
The lance (angon), the oval shield (targan), and the sword were the Saxon soldier’s primary weapons. The leather covered, iron skeleton of the conical helmet protected the wearer’s head and a protective nasal or nose guard was included (Johnson).
( Echols, Bo)
Saxon warrior in around 869AD (time of King Edmund)
The Battle of Hastings 1066
British Heritage Travel is published by Irish Studio, Ireland’s largest magazine publishing company.
Definitions and Dates:
Myth – While common English usage often equates “myth” with “falsehood,” scholars use the term slightly differently. A myth is a traditional tale of deep cultural significance to a people in terms of etiology, eschatology, ritual practice, or models of appropriate and inappropriate behavior. The myth often (but not always) deals with gods, supernatural beings, or ancestral heroes. The culture creating or retelling the myth may or may not believe that the myth refers to literal or factual events, but it values the mythic narrative regardless of its historical authenticity for its (conscious or unconscious) insights into the human condition or the model it provides for cultural behavior. See also folklore, legend, mythography, mythos, and mythology.(Bonafede)
Mythographer – Someone who collects and writes down myths and legends.(Bonafede)
Prose (heroic) epic – An epic in its most specific sense is a genre of classical poetry. Instead of the traditional poetic verse, this epic is written in prose. Like classical epic, It is a poem that is (a) a long narrative about a serious subject, (b) told in an elevated style of language, (c) focused on the exploits of a hero or demi-god who represents the cultural values of a race, nation, or religious group (d) in which the hero’s success or failure will determine the fate of that people or nation. Usually, the epic has (e) a vast setting; it covers a wide geographic area, (f) it contains superhuman feats of strength or military prowess, and gods or supernatural beings frequently take part in the action. The poem begins with (g) the invocation of a muse to inspire the poet and, (h) the narrative starts in medias res (see above). (i) The epic contains long catalogs of heroes or important characters, focusing on highborn kings and great warriors rather than peasants and commoners.(Bonafede)
Epic hero – The main character in an epic poem–typically one who embodies the values of his or her culture.(Bonafede)
Heroic ideal – Determined by the culture that produced the literature, especially the epic, the heroic ideal represents the aspects of an epic hero that the culture upholds as representing its cultural ideal.(Bonafede)
Breton lai – A short narrative or lyrical poem, usually in octosyllabic couplets, intended to be sung. Helen Cooper called the genre the “mini-Romance” since the typical theme and content deals with courtly love and the other concerns of medieval romance. Unlike the medieval romance, however, the lais are not designed in an episodic manner, i.e., they are not meant to be told in a series of short tales that can be combined and stacked in a single sequential narrative. The main traits individual lais have in common with each other is a particular geographic origin and self-identification as being a lai. Geographically, they are based on older Celtic legends imported to northwestern France by the Bretons. The oldest narrative lais, usually referred to as the contes or les lais de Marie de France, were composed by an Anglo-Norman woman named Marie. (In spite of her common scholarly epithet, she appears to have lived in England.) Her exact identity is a matter of much scholarly discussion. The oldest Old French lais outside of Provençal were written by Gautier de Dargiès (early 1200s). The term “Breton lay” was applied to English poems in the 1300s that were set in Brittany and were similar to those of Marie de France. A dozen or so examples of the Breton lays survive in English, the best known examples being Sir Orfeo, Havelok the Dane, Sir Launfal, and Chaucer’s “Franklin’s Tale” and “Wife of Bath’s Tale.” (Bonafede)
Troubadour – (Provençal “finder, inventor”): A medieval love poet of southern France between 1100-1350 who wrote and sang about the theme of fin amour (courtly love). Troubadours were noteworthy for their creativity and experimentation in metrical forms. They wrote in langue d’oc, (Occitan) and they profoundly influenced Dante, Petrarch, and the development of the love lyric in Europe. Often men called joven (youth) who belonged to lower orders of knighthood, with aspirations to advance to high nobility.(Bonafede)
Canso lyric – In general, the term has three meanings. (1) It refers generally to the words of a Provençal or Italian song. (2) More specifically, an Italian or Provençal song relating to love or the praise of beauty is a canzone. (3) Poems in English that bear some similarity to Provençal lyrics are called canzones. Other themes include wooing the lady, the love lament of the poet, wishing illness on his adversaries, and the “I” of the single troubadour announces the objective of his group as a subjective one, and social distance is sometimes substituted with geographical distance.(Bonafede)
Folklore: Sayings, verbal compositions, stories, and social rituals passed along by word of mouth rather than written down in a text. Folklore includes superstitions; modern “urban legends”; proverbs; riddles; spells; nursery rhymes; songs; legends or lore about the weather, animals, and plants; jokes and anecdotes; rituals at births, deaths, marriages, and yearly celebrations; and traditional dance and plays performed during holidays or at communal gatherings. Many works of literature originated in folktales before the narratives were written down.(Bonafede)
Folkloric motifs: Recurring patterns of imagery or narrative that appear in folklore and folktales. Common folkloric motifs include the wise old man mentoring the young warrior, the handsome prince rescuing the damsel in distress, the “bed trick,” and the “trickster tricked.” Others include “beheading games,” “the exchange of winnings,” and the loathly lady who transforms into a beautiful maiden (all common in Celtic folklore). These folkloric motifs appear in fabliaux, in fairy tales, in mythology, in archetypal stories (see archetype), and in some of Shakespeare’s plays.(Bonafede)
Motif – A conspicuous recurring element, such as a type of incident, a device, a reference, or verbal formula, which appears frequently in works of literature. For instance, the “loathly lady” who turns out to be a beautiful princess is a common motif in folklore, and the man fatally bewitched by a fairy lady is a common folkloric motif appearing in Keats’ “La Belle Dame sans Merci.” In medieval Latin lyrics, the “Ubi sunt?” [where are . . .?] motif is common, in which a speaker mourns the lost past by repeatedly asking, what happened to the good-old days? (“Where are the snows of yesteryear?” asks Francois Villon.) The motif of the “beheading game” is common in Celtic myth, and so on. Frequently, critics use the word motif interchangeably with theme and leit-motif. See also folkloric motif.(Bonafede)
Liminal space – (Latin limin, “threshold”): A liminal space is a blurry boundary zone between two established and clear spatial areas, and a liminal moment is a blurry boundary period between two segments of time. Most cultures have special rituals, customs, or markers to indicate the transitional nature of such liminal spaces or liminal times. Examples include boundary stones, rites of passage, high school graduations, births, deaths, marriages, carrying the bride over the threshold, etc. These special markers may involve elaborate ceremonies (wedding vows), special wardrobe (mortarboard caps and medieval scholar’s gown), or unusual taboos (the custom of not seeing the bride before the wedding). Liminal zones feature strongly in folklore, mythology, and Arthurian legend. See the Other World for further information. For in-depth discussion, see Victor Turner’s Drama, Fields, and Metaphors: Symbolic Action in Human Society.(Bonafede)
Chivalry – An idealized code of military and social behavior for the aristocracy in the late medieval period. The word “chivalry” comes from Old French cheval (horse), and chivalry literally means “horsemanship.” Normally, only rich nobility could afford the expensive armor, weaponry, and warhorses necessary for mounted combat, so the act of becoming a knight was symbolically indicated by giving the knight silver spurs. The right to knighthood in the late medieval period was inherited through the father, but it could also be granted by the king or a lord as a reward for services.
The tenets of chivalry attempted to civilize the brutal activity of warfare. The chivalric ideals involve sparing non-combatants such as women, children, and helpless prisoners; the protection of the church; honesty in word and bravery in deeds; loyalty to one’s liege; dignified behavior; and single-combat between noble opponents who had a quarrel. Other matters associated with chivalry include gentlemanly contests in arms supervised by witnesses and heralds, behaving according to the manners of polite society, courtly love, brotherhood in arms, and feudalism. See knight for additional information.(Bonafede)
cortes amor – (courtly love) (Medieval French: fin amour or amour courtois): Possibly a cultural trope in the late twelfth-century, or possibly a literary convention that captured popular imagination, courtly love refers to a code of behavior that gave rise to modern ideas of chivalrous romance. The term itself was popularized by C. S. Lewis’ and Gaston Paris’ scholarly studies, but its historical existence remains contested in critical circles. The conventions of courtly love are that a knight of noble blood would adore and worship a young noble-woman from afar, seeking to protect her honor and win her favor by valorous deeds. He typically falls ill with love-sickness, while the woman chastely or scornfully rejects or refuses his advances in public but privately encourages him. Courtly love was associated with (A) nobility, since no peasants can engage in “fine love”; (B) secrecy; (C) adultery, since often the one or both participants were married to another noble who was unloved; and (D) paradoxically with chastity, since the passion should never be consummated due to social circumstances, thus it was a “higher love” unsullied by selfish carnal desires or political concerns of arranged marriages. In spite of this ideal of chastity, the knightly characters in literature usually end up giving in to their passions with tragic results–such as Lancelot and Guenevere’s fate, or that of Tristan and Iseult.(Bonafede)
cortesia – (ideal of the moral and also social perfection of people in a feudal society)(Bonafede)
fin’amor – (noble, pure love, distilled love; can bring a courtly character to perfection)(Bonafede)
mezura – (self-discipline, moderation of one’s passion, pursuit of adulterous love)(Bonafede)
demezure – (lack of self-discipline, over demonstration of one’s passion, pursuit of adulterous love)(Bonafede)
larguenza – (largesse; key quality required by people in power = spread the wealth)(Bonafede)
obediensa – (obedience to one’s lady or midon)(Bonafede)
pretz – (pris, valor, personal merit or courtly worth)(Bonafede)
Caritas – The love that is between knights, lords, and his ladies that is not sexual but is based upon the amount of pain that the man must go through to show loyalty.(Bonafede)
Cupiditas – Eros Love, Sexualized form of Love. The love that is bedded within the physical act of sexual intercourse/lust between two peoples.(Bonafede)
Homosocial Bond – the bond of loyalty, love, and service between men, especially knights and their kings in medieval romance.(Bonafede)
Enjambment – (French, “straddling,” in English also called “run-on line,” pronounced on-zhahm-mah): A line having no pause or end punctuation but having uninterrupted grammatical meaning continuing into the next line.(Bonafede)
On October 14, 1066, the Norman Conquest of England began with the Battle of Hastings between the Norman-French army of William, Duke of Normandy, and the English army led by the Anglo-Saxon King Harold Godwinson.
Historians have been interested in King Arthur for decades. Geoffrey of Monmouth’s History of the Kings of Britain, written in the 12th century by a British monk, is the only surviving primary source for Arthur’s life and times, and this fact continues to fascinate modern historians. As we shall see, Geoffrey’s writings had an impact well into the sixteenth century and beyond the twelve hundred that he lived in. Modern forms of Arthurian media, like as films, TV shows, and books, all demonstrate Geoffrey’s influence and expansion of the Arthur mythos. Although Geoffrey’s tales were challenged by many readers over the centuries, they still left an indelible imprint on the genre of medieval romance and the legend of King Arthur.
An idealized medieval king, Arthur has taken on a life of his own in popular culture. Geoffrey inspired other authors, poets, and storytellers to build upon his original conception of the Arthurian legend.
The “golden period” of Britain was during Arthur’s rule. After freeing and uniting all of Britain, Arthur of Geoffrey’s legend also conquered Ireland, Brittany, Norway, Denmark, and Gaul (France), and he even made it to Spain to kill a giant. Mordred, Arthur’s nephew, seduced Arthur’s wife, seized power, and welcomed the Saxons back to England while Arthur was in Italy seeking to capture Rome. After returning, Arthur slew Mordred, but was mortally wounded and later transported to Avalon while still alive. Though Geoffrey never said so directly, Arthur did not return.
After Arthur’s downfall, a brief portion describes the lives of the kings who succeeded him and how God punished each for some kind of pride. Cadwallader, the last monarch of the United Kingdom, left the island rather than face God’s wrath.
Arthurian Passages from The History of the Kings of Britain
from: Six Old English Chronicles, of Which Two Are Now First Translated from the Monkish Latin Originals (Pp. 173)
CHAP. IV.–Dubricius’s speech against the treacherous Saxons. Arthur with his own hand kills four hundred and seventy Saxons in one battle. Colgrin and Baldulph are killed in the same.
When he had done speaking, St. Dubricius, archbishop of Legions, going to the top of a hill, cried out with a loud voice, “You that have the honour to profess the Christian faith, keep fixed in your minds the love which you owe to your country and fellow subjects, whose sufferings by the treachery of the pagans will be an everlasting reproach to you, if you do not courageously defend them. It is your country which you fight for, and for which you should, when required, voluntarily suffer death; for that itself is victory and the curse of the soul. For he that shall die for his brethren, offers himself a living sacrifice to God, and has Christ for his example, who condescended to lay down his life for his brethren. If therefore any of you shall be killed in this war, that death itself, which is suffered in so glorious a cause, shall be to him for penance and absolution of all his sins.” At these words, all of them, encouraged with the benediction of the holy prelate, instantly armed themselves, and prepared to obey his orders. Also Arthur himself, having put on a coat of mail suitable to the grandeur of so powerful a king, placed a golden helmet upon his head, on which was engraven the figure of a dragon; and on his shoulders his shield called Priwen; upon which the picture of the blessed Mary, mother of God, was painted, in order to put him frequently in mind of her. Then girding on his Caliburn, which was an excellent sword made in the isle of Avallon, he graced his right hand with his lance, named Ron, which was hard, broad, and fit for slaughter. After this, having placed his men in order, he boldly attacked the Saxons, who were drawn out in the shape of a wedge, as their manner was. And they, notwithstanding that the Britons fought with great eagerness, made a noble defence all that day; but at length, towards sunsetting, climbed up the next mountain, which served them for a camp: for they desired no larger extent of ground, since they confided very much in their numbers. The next morning Arthur, with his army, went up the mountain, but lost many of his men in the ascent, by the advantage which the Saxons had in their station on the top, from whence they could pour down upon him with much greater speed, than he was able to advance against them. Notwithstanding, after a very hard struggle, the Britons gained the summit of the hill, and quickly came to a close engagement with the enemy, who again gave them a warm reception, and made a vigorous defence. In this manner was a great part of that day also spent; whereupon Arthur, provoked to see the little advantage he had yet gained, and that victory still continued in suspense, drew out his Caliburn, and, calling upon the name of the blessed Virgin, rushed forward with great fury into the thickest of the enemy’s ranks; of whom (such was the merit of his prayers) not one escaped alive that felt the fury of his sword; neither did he give over the fury of his assault until he had, with his Caliburn alone, killed four hundred and seventy men. The Britons, seeing this, followed their leader in great multitudes, and made slaughter on all sides; so that Colgrin, and Baldulph his brother, and many thousands more, fell before them. But Cheldric, in this imminent danger of his men, betook himself to flight.
Geoffrey talks about Arthur’s family history, including his grandpa Constantine and father Utherpendragon. Vortigern, a local chieftain, takes power in between these two reigns and turns to magicians for assistance, which is how Merlin is introduced to the story. Part 6 is a recount of Merlin’s prophecies that causes Geoffrey to divert from his kingly history. The predictions, with their sometimes obtuse allusions, are reminiscent of the book of Revelations from the New Testament. Geoffrey shifts his focus back to the royal family in Book 6, this time focusing on the conflict between Vortigern and Aurelius Ambrosius, the son of Constantine (and Arthur’s uncle). Upon Aurelius Ambrosius’s death, Utherpendragon ascended to the throne. After defeating his foes, Utherpendragon celebrates at home with a feast, where he meets and falls in love with Ygerna, whose husband is a duke in the British nobility. Together, Utherpendragon and Merlin trick Ygerna into having a baby, and the resulting child is Arthur.
Part 7 focuses on the prosperous reign of King Arthur. Arthur, who was crowned king at the age of 15, defied Roman requests for tribute, defeated local adversaries, rebuilt churches destroyed by heathen Saxons, and wed Guinevere. “Arthur, provoked to see the little advantage he had yet gained, and that victory still continued in suspense, drew out his Caliburn, and, calling upon the name of the blessed Virgin, rushed forward with great fury into the thickest of the enemy’s ranks; of whom (such was the merit of his prayers) not one escaped alive that felt the fury of his sword; neither did he give over the fury of his assault until he had, with his Caliburn alone, killed four hundred and seventy men”(Monmouth). After Arthur’s army had defeated the Romans, the king had planned to launch an attack on the city of Rome itself. However, he changes his mind after learning that his nephew Mordred has declared himself king and begun an adulterous connection with his wife, Guinevere. Arthur fights and kills Mordred as he races back home. After doing his duty and being mortally wounded, Arthur moves to the Isle of Avalon.
One thing that distinguishes commoners from aristocrats is the sword.
No evidence suggests that the lance or spear was a widespread weapon among Norman nobles. While the majority of infantrymen carried only spears, most cavalrymen also had a sword. The weapon’s cross-shaped hilt added to the mystery by giving it a false religious overtone. The universal worship of the sword is mirrored in Saxon and Viking literature and is one of the most enduring legacies of the Middle Ages.
Lances and spears were mainly considered expendable items, broken or otherwise made worthless during the war, whereas swords were valued belongings, trusted defenders typically passed down from generation to generation. Many people believed that giving their sword a memorable name would bring divine intervention or the protection of a saint. Religious inscriptions were frequently engraved onto the blade, and relics were sometimes concealed in the pommel.
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