All three Tristan Quilts are the only known surviving examples of medieval quilts.
One of my favourite tales of Middle Ages is that of Tristan and Isolde, the doomed love affair between the Cornish knight Tristan and his Irish princess Isolde, which incidentally, the Arthurian legend of Guinevere and Lancelot is thought to be based on.
The couples tale is represented on this quilted bed cover, and is made up of fourteen different scenes from their story. There are two sections of the quilt, one at the Victoria and Albert Museum and the other in the Bargello in Florence. There is a third piece, but this is held by a private owner.
All three Tristan Quilts are the only known surviving examples of medieval quilts.
The Conception of King Arthur
This rather amusing scene depicts Tintagel Castle in Cornwall. Looking over its ramparts is a very angry Ingraine, the wife of Gwrlais the Duke of Cornwall.
In the illustration there is trickery afoot, Merlin has used his magic to aid Uther Pendragon's entry into the castle. Pendragon has had his eye on the beautiful Ingraine for ages and had every intention of having his wicked way with her!
Poor Ingraine has realised that Merlin has changed Pendragon's appearance and has enabled him to take the form of Gwrlais. When Ingraine sleeps with her husband that night she is in fact really being ravaged by Uther Pendragon - the cad!
Ingraine becomes pregnant and later the legendary King Arthur is born.
Arthur, Prince of Wales
Born on the 20th September 1486, Arthur, Prince of Wales, was the boy on whom all Henry VII's hopes and dreams were pinned.
So important was it to Henry that Elizabeth give birth in the Hampshire town of Winchester, that he risked both their lives by rushing to get them there. This journey caused Elizabeth to give birth early, fortunately the queen delivered a healthy baby boy at St. Swithun’s Priory
“afore one o’clock after midnight.”
The new heir to the Tudor throne of England was named Arthur, after King Arthur the victorious fifth century warrior, who lead the Britons into battle against Saxon invaders. Henry was quick to see the parallels between himself and Arthur, after all had he not lead the true line of the blood royal in a battle against those who had no right to the English crown?
To Henry, Arthur as a perfect English hero, who Chretien de Troyes, the French poet, had written so eloquently about three centuries earlier. Henry was not the only one to be inspired by the chivalric tales of King Arthur, Thomas Malory's wrote the about this 'West Country' king and it was in his work that Winchester was the suggested site of King Arthur's Castle.
Prince Arthur was baptised four days after his birth in Winchester Cathedral, and for a while at least, Henry's new Tudor garden was filled with healthy red roses.
King Arthur, a young man destined to become a great military leader or the stuff of legends?
His heroic tale and other tales linked with Arthur, set in wild Cornish lands around Tintagel are brought to us in stories such
as the Knights of the Round Table, Quest for the Holy Grail and the wonderful tale of Tristan and Isolde.
Our imagination draws from the romantic images of Pre Raphaelite armoured heroes and damsels and the ornate drawing
of Aubrey Beardsley. All these images and words are amassed and eventually stories are blurred and the 'real' facts are forgotten. An example of this is the tale of Arthur's most famous possession, his sword, Excalibur. It is often thought that Excalibur and the Sword (in the Stone) are one and the same, but they are not, they were two separate swords.
The word Excalibur is taken from the Welsh Caledfwlch, even the words meaning is confused in the different stories.
In the early traditional tales of the Arthurian legend by authors such as Geoffrey of Monmouth and Robert Wace, Arthur's sword is called Caliburn which Thomas Malory thought meant to cut steel. Malory wrote that the sword Arthur pulled from
the stone was not Excalibur as he had broken his sword in battle and received a new one, from the Lady of the Lake,
which was named Excalibur. The story of the sword in the stone appears in Robert de Boron's French tale about Merlin who created the sword/stone as a test where only the true king and could pull out the sword.
So was King Arthur really a fifth/six century leader who defended Britain against the Saxon invader or was he just a
imaginary hero of romantic medieval literature.
Alfred the Great
I wonder how many people remember the story of Alfred burning the cakes from school? It was Rudyard Kipling who said “If history were taught in the form of stories, it would never be forgotten” and how right was he.
The retelling of the tale of Alfred's stint in a Somerset kitchen has kept him alive in our collective memories for over one thousand and nine hundred years. Alfred was, as Edward Freeman, English historian calls him "the most perfect character in history’ Alfred is an English hero, who in my opinion, is a match for Henry V and outshines Richard I by miles.
England had been over run by the dreaded Vikings, they had taken Northumbria, East Anglia and Mercia, only Alfred's
Wessex was left. Alfred's battle at Edington in 879, fought on the side of a double ditched iron age hill fort, against an uncoordinated band of Vikings under its leader Guthrum, is not often remembered. Forgotten too is that he persuaded
Guthrum to convert to Christianity. Alfred's control of these marauding Vikings paved the way for the future unity of England.
As time as passed, Alfred's popularity has waxed and waned. Over the centuries he has had to do battle with the cult of
King Arthur, whose was much loved by the Tudor King Henry VII and the Victorians. Alfred was popular during the French Wars, the opera Alfred, by Thomas Arne is about him. The opera famously ended in Rule Britannia, which isexactly what Alfred did.
Alfred the Great is not remembered for anything specific, he is remembered for his fairness and his military achievements, great achievements that lead to a kingdom being able to develop it own national identity.
King Alfred the Great died on the 26th October 899, at the age of about 50.
The Great Hall at Winchester
The Great Hall at Winchester Castle was built between 1222 and 1235 by Henry III and later extended by Edward II, it is built of flint and has, inside and out, a limestone dressings to windows and doorways. The buttresses and ancient dormers are covered with finely cut masonry and the modern open timber truss roof over the nave is covered with tiles, it is certainly an impressive medieval building.
Sadly, it is all that remains of the castle that was founded within a one year of the conquest of England.
The town itself was an important royal and administrative centre and was the seat of government before London took its place. The Treasury and the Exchequer were both based here, Empress Matilda’s army was besieged by King Stephen in 1141, Henry III was born here in 1207 and Edward I and his wife, Margaret of France were nearly killed by fire in 1302.
Today's hall houses one of the greatest items of medieval legend, King Arthur's Round Table, for it bears the names of some of the knights of Arthur's court. It was probably created for a Round Table Tournament, an event that imitated what medieval kings, such as Edward I, thought went on in the court of Arthur.
The artwork we see today was commissioned by Henry VIII to celebrate the visit, in 1522, by Charles V the Holy Roman Emperor and depicts Henry sitting in Arthur's seat above a Tudor Rose.
Removed from is position high on the wall of the Great Hall in the mid 1970's, the table was carbon dated, what they found was not a sixth century piece of workmanship, but thirteenth or fourteenth century. It is now considered to have been created during the reign of Edward I for his Round Table Tournament in 1290. A study of the kings finances for that period show a tournament was held by Edward near Winchester on April 20 of that year, the table may have been made to mark the betrothal of one of his daughters.
Excalibur, Arthur Pendragon's mighty blade, did this hero of romantic legend have such a sword and if he did, where did its story begin?
I should point out, before you read on, that most people think that the sword which King Arthur pulls from the stone is the mythical Excalibur, it isn't, there were two swords. Excalibur was given to Arthur by the Lady in the Lake toward the end of his life, and as Arthur's story ends it is thrown back to where it came, a hand rising from the lake to catch it and then it disappears. The drawing of the sword from the stone takes place before Arthur is king and is not, I don't think, ever mentioned again. It is in earlier versions of Thomas Malory's story La Morte D'Arthur, written in the late fifteen century, that both swords are merged into one and called Excalibur and this is the reason we think of only one sword today. So where does the story of the Sword in the Stone originate?
Lying inside Rotonda di Montesiepi or Montesiepi's Hermitage in Tuscany, there is what is known as St.Galgano's Sword, it has been embedded in a stone for over eight hundred years which is around the time that Geoffrey of Monmouth was writing his Historia Regum Britanniae, it is in this work that we get the first glimpses of the legendary Arthur. Was it from this sword we see below that Monmouth got his inspiration?
The tale of King Arthur's sword appears in the twelfth century work by Geoffrey of Monmouth called, as just mentioned, Historia Regum Britanniae. The sword was named Caliburnus, from the Welsh word Caledfwlch. Monmouth got his inspiration for his work from three men, Bede, Nennius and Gildas and it is Gildas that is of interest here. Gildas was a six century cleric, his work is an important source for those interested in the legend of Arthur because he wrote of the events and the people of his own time and this fact makes him a contemporary of King Arthur. Four centuries later, Gildas, or the followers of Gildas are mentioned in the tenth century Annales Cambriae or Annals of Wales where these followers rose up against King Arthur, refusing to acknowledge him as king. We can place Gildas in the early history of Cornwall, and we know that he had many followers living Cornwall after his death. My 5x great grandmother was Patience Tregilgas whose family I have traced to a piece of land just outside Mevagissy in Cornwall called Tregilgas. Tre is Cornish for home and therefore this piece of land is the ancient settlement of some of the followers of Gildas.
If Gildas talks of a powerful Cornish tribal leader then Monmouth would have based his Arthurian story on Gildas accounts probably embellishing the facts and here we see the very beginnings of an English legend.
As we know in the legend, Arthur's sword is set deep a large stone and, as we have seen, the Sword of St Galgano too is embedded in a rock, but the similarity between this sword's story and that of Arthur's ends there. Arthur's sword is representative of his future kingship and glory this will bring, Galgano's sword, however, is a symbol of brutality and piety. Arthur's takes his sword from the stone, Galgano places his in the stone, Arthur's story and that of St Galgano's are a mirror image of each other. All the known facts that make up Arthur's story, Geoffrey of Monmouth had put together from what he read in the writing of Gildas, and probably what he read of his Cornish followers in the Annales of Wales, it is unlikely that Gildas wrote of a Cornish tribal leader who a embedded a sword in a stone. If it wasn't from Gildas that Monmouth gets his idea of a mythical sword it would be wonderful to think that Monmouth's idea of Excalibur comes from the story of St Galgano's sword, but it sadly it does not.
However, whose to say that it was not the other way around, after all Arthur's and Galgano's tale is a mirror image of each others, they both occur at almost the same time, could it be that Monmouth's Caliburnus, was used by the people of Tuscany to explain their sword and Arthur's Sword in the Stone tale begins here.
Saint Galgano was born Galgano Guidotti in 1148 in Chiusdino, a village in what is now the modern province of Siena in Italy. Galango was said to have been a medieval Tuscan knight, the son of a feudal lord. Galgano had a reputation for selfishness and being somewhat of a rebel in his youth. Galgano, after have a vision of the Archangel Michael, saw the error of his ways, abandoning his old life for that of a hermit at Rotonda di Montesiepi. To prove his total commitment to his new cause Galgano plunged his sword into a large stone forcing it through the rock up to its hilt, thus changing the sword into a cross a symbol of his new found piety. Galgano died here on 30 November 1181 and since then pilgrims have arrived in large numbers and miracles have been performed. A papal commission was set up in 1185, after which Galgano was canonised in 1190. For centuries the sword was thought to be a fake, but researchers revealed in 2001 that the sword is in fact, twelfth century. The University of Pavia, who tested the metal of the sword also used ground penetrating radar analysis and revealed that beneath the sword there was a cavity in which is thought to be the body of Galgano. Incidentally, in the church, there are two mummified hands and these too are twelfth century. A local legend says that anyone who tried to remove the sword from the stone had their arms ripped off.
Geoffrey of Monmouth wasn't the only one writing of the legend of King Arthur in the twelfth century, French writer Chretien de Troyes wrote of the legend too. Where then did Troyes get his inspiration? It was Troyes who introduced the tales of Lancelot and Sir Percival, both these knights are never mentioned by Monmouth, so Monmouth wasn't where Troyes got his ideas, in fact no one really knows where he got them. There was another writer whose stories were written a little later than Monmouth and Troyes named Robert de Boron. Boron wrote The Grail Story of Joseph d'Arimathe and the story of Merlin and it is here in Borons tales that for the first time that we may have our answer. Boron's predecessors only wrote of Excaliber but it is here that we first hear of Arthur actually pulling out a sword. Boron's sword was not drawn from a stone but from an anvil which is placed upon a stone, it is interesting that Boron's tale appears only a few decades after Galgano's canonisation.
In Monmouth's history, we witness the birth of a heroic leader, a bold adventurer who lays conquest over many lands, a leader who slays a Cornish giant and who heads for the Isle of Avalon to heal his wounds. Cretien de Troyes may have picked up some threads of Monmouth's history and Malory's, Morte d'Arthur, published in 1485 by Caxton, would have been a book devoured by the medieval world and we know for certain that Henry VII read it. He was fascinated by the tale, and why wouldn't he, after all he was desperate to be a king like Arthur, here was a king to aspire too. Henry VII named his first born son Arthur and insisted that his wife give birth at Winchester, the spiritual home of Arthur's Round Table. So were doe's Galgano appear in this tale? Did the pilgrims talk of the story of Arthur when they saw the sword, was it a clever marketing ploy to attract more visitors? and was Robert de Boron inspired by Monmouth's stories and St Galgano's embedded stone to write what we have come to know as the tale of King Arthur and the Sword in the Stone.
After ten years in the workplace I became a mother to three very beautiful daughters, I was fortunate enough to have been able to stay at home and spend my time with them as they grew into the young women they are now. I am still in the position of being able to be at home and pursue all the interests I have previously mentioned. We live in a beautiful Victorian spa town with wooded walks for the dog, lovely shops and a host of lovely people, what more could I ask for.
All works © Andrea Povey 2014. Please do not reproduce without the expressed written consent of Andrea Povey.