“An Unhappy Knight”: The Diffusion and Bastardization of Mordred in Arthurian Legends from Select Works of the Sixth through the Fifteenth Centuries
By Emerson Richards
University of Florida: Journal of Undergraduate Research, Volume 10, Issue 3 (2010)
Introduction: From the earliest incarnations of Arthurian legend, the figure of Mordred was a constant. His character has been carried from Wales, where he initially and ambiguously appeared in the Annales Cambriae, into the national literatures of Italy, Germany, and France. Thus, despite the frequent characterization of Arthurian legend as particularly English, Arthurian legend is more accurately pan-European. Once Arthurian legend had diffused throughout Europe, authors began to use the legend’s well-known set of figures, such as Lancelot, Guinevere, Mordred, and Arthur, in a propagandistic way. The English Malory’s Le Morte d’Arthur presents Mordred in a highly vilified way, whereas the Scottish Fordun’s Chronica Gentis Scottorum suggests that Arthur robbed Mordred and his half-brother Gawain of the throne. A comparison of the use of Mordred as a politically allegorical figure in Malory’s Le Morte d’Arthur and Fordun’s Chronica gentis scottorum demonstrates the later importance that the effect of literary diffusion had on the character. These texts, though composed contemporaneously and on the same island, present Mordred in vastly different capacities.
This study, therefore, will consider the transformation of Mordred from the fifth century through the fifteenth century through a comparison of geographically and temporally distinct texts. The main focus will be on two texts, Le Morte d’Arthur and Chronica gentis scottorum; auxiliary texts in use include Gervase of Tilbury’s Otia imperialia and Geoffrey of Monmouth’s Historia regum britanniae, concluding with a brief consideration of a twentiethcentury use of Mordred and Arthurian legend as presented in T. H. White’s The Once and Future King.