His war with Gorlois the Duke of Tintagel had lasted far too long and Uther, the King of Britain, was looking for an end to their battles. Uther Pendragon invited Duke Gorlois to come to court, he also invited him to bring along his Cornish Duchess Igraine, who was renowned for her beauty. A great banquet was ordered. The King went to the kitchens and made sure everything was fresh and prepared to the highest standard his chefs could manage, he wanted the meal to be especially delicious. The table was well attended with knights, barons, ladies and many servants filled the hall. No one present could have failed to notice the purpose of the banquet, Uther spent the entire meal flirting with the Duchess Igraine. Draping his arm across her shoulders, he fed her the sweetest foods. He told her many tales of his adventures and even tried a bit of singing.
Now, Igraine was a good woman, loyal to her husband and she resisted the King’s advances. Igraine turned to her husband and asked him,
‘Please Gorlois, we must leave Uther’s court. Take me home to the safety of our castle.’
And so the Duke and Duchess made their excuses and left the banquet early. However, the attentions of a King are not so simple to refuse and it wasn’t long before Uther sent for Duchess Igraine and her husband to return to his court. With the war now resolved, Uther was plainly in pursuit of Igraine. He had been a strong King, proud of his accomplishments in battle but he had no wife and no heir. Igraine, with her castle on the cliffs of Cornwall, would be perfect to protect his son.
The Duke of Tintagel refused the King’s invitation at his wife’s request and they sat down together to dinner. The waves crashed against the rocks below Tintagel castle and the sea birds and winds sang along to their nightly castle songs. Angry and bereft at the loss of his prize, Uther Pendragon turned to Merlin. Uther asked Merlin for his assistance in winning Igraine. Merlin said,
‘This will be simple enough but Uther first you must grant me a wish.’
In his loved up state Uther waved away Merlin’s solemnity. ‘What is it you wish for Merlin? I can give you anything you wish. Anything.’
‘Well in this case, I wish you to give me your first born son,’ said Merlin. ‘You must give him to me unchristened. I will do with him as I wish.’
Something in Uther turned at this request. Was not a son the reason he wanted Igraine? Perhaps not, she was radiantly beautiful and Merlin must be jesting. After all, what would Merlin want with a baby? He was always disappearing, wandering the land, up to nothing of use. ‘Come Merlin,’ said Uther, ‘Let us go to Igraine.’
‘We will disguise ourselves as the Duke of Tintagel and his knights, Sir Jordanus and Sir Brastions,’ instructed Merlin.
With Merlin’s help, Uther disguised himself as Duke Gorlois of Tintagel. Merlin disguised himself as Sir Jordanus, and a knight as Sir Brastions. Together the three of them approached Tintagel. The Duke saw them coming and rode out to meet them. The Duke’s death was over in minutes. The castle accepted the imposters as its own.
Fortunately for Uther, his barons soon began discussing the eligibility of Lady Igraine. They also discussed her suitability for the unmarried King. The barons decided Igraine was perfect for Uther and suggested he propose. Uther accepted the barons’ suggestion. On the cliffs of Tintagel, Uther asked Igraine for her hand and she gave it. They were soon married. Uther had quickly gained all he desired; a castle, a queen and soon an heir. Heavy with child, Igraine held the hand of her King as they sat on new thrones in Tintagel castle. Then Uther told Igraine his story.
‘I am pleased you are the father of my child, dear King,’ she said. ‘But what of your pact with Merlin? I do not believe he is a man to forget his word and I fear very much for our baby’s safety. Pray be it a girl that she may stay with me at Tintagel.’
Igraine’s prayers went unanswered, her son was born and that very day, Merlin came to take him. ‘I will never forgive you Merlin,’ cried Igraine. ‘You have no use for a child in your watery cave.’ But Merlin did not take the baby to a cave, he didn’t walk with him through forests and cliff paths. No, Merlin had his plan perfected and he took Arthur straight to the home of Sir Ector who had a fresh baby of his own and instructed Ector to bring baby Arthur up alongside Ector’s baby. Arthur grew up without knowledge of his parents. It wasn’t until many years later, when he drew the sword from the stone,that Arthur knew he was a King.
Retold by Anna Chorlton
Le Morte D' Arthur Sir Thomas Mallory
Histories of the Kings of Britain Geoffery of Monmouth