Arthur and Guinevere. Even before Lancelot arrives in the 12th century, there was Arthur. And Guinevere. And… Guinevere. And… Guinevere? Yeah, as you’ll read in my tweet thread below. In the Welsh Triads, some of the earliest known manuscripts that mention Arthur, our old king had three different wives named Guinevere. He also had three “favorite” mistresses, predicating the existence of “not-favorite” mistresses.
Guinevere gets a lot of flack. But she’s one of the oldest figures in Arthurian tradition. Some translate her name to “white witch” or “white wave” in Welsh.
And if you have trouble spelling her name, no big deal. You’d not be the first. Her are just some historical variants on Guinevere: Gweynhwyfar, Guennuuar, Guennimar, Ganhumara, Wenhauer, Gwenayfer, Genoivre, Gahunmare, Wenneureia, Guenievre, Gueneure, Gaynour, Waynour, Genure, Guenore, Gwenever, Gwendoloena, Ginover, Ginevra, Gweynnever, and Gwenever. And the modern name Jennifer comes from it.
In Queen of NOne I made a big, nerdy joke about Guinevere. In the Welsh Triads, there are THREE Guineveres. All wives to Arthur. That’s a bit much but… I made 3 sisters: Gweynevere, Hwyfar, and Mawra. All are based on the same name. Two marry him at one point, and the other is briefly betrothed to Arthur. This is my favorite portrait of her, by John Collier. So basically she’s Stevie Nicks…
Now, as to Arthur — check the twitter thread below for more!
Let’s talk #KingArthur, shall we? He’s the one that inspired the term Arthuriana.
The first mention of Arthur is not as a king, but a warlord. We’re talking about c. 800 here. He was listed as a “dux bellorum” — war chief or leader, who kicked Saxon butt.
The name “Arthur” is sort of… up for debate? No one can really agree on what it means, though some indicate it could be “bear” but could also be “war-leader” — so that would mean he was like… Warlord Warlord.
Anyway, T.H. White called him Wart. And that’s my favorite.
The first full-fledged Arthur as king, complete with Guinevere, Excalibur, Avalon, Tintagel, was Geoffrey of Monmouth’s Historia Regum Britanniae…
Which, consequently, is also where Anna (from my book QUEEN OF NONE) appears. We’re talking the 1130s, here.
But then, as I mentioned last night when I was talking about the growth of Arthuriana and names and language, Camelot/Carelon becomes an amoeba.
We get more Latin tales, more French tales, and that’s when the love triangle and the real, deep chivalric themes show up.
And, as @fugitivehistor1 points out — all of this is highly political. Norman influences change Arthur. He becomes a Fisher king almost. His story ceases to be the central tale, save for his betrayal, the incestuous affair he has with Morgaine, and his going away to Avalon.
In some ways, Arthur’s narrative really struggles in subsequent retellings–he becomes a plot point.
But there are some VERY good Arthurs out there. In particular, as I said, Wart from T.H. White’s “Once and Future King” is just about perfect.
I am also very, VERY attached to Sir Richard Harris’ Arthur in CAMELOT (which is also a retelling of T.H. White–and so is the Disney SWORD IN THE STONE).
Bernard Cornwell’s WINTER KING Arthur is also neat, and the warlord version they tried to do in that awful KING ARTHUR film
The Arthur of QUEEN OF NONE is gay. In this, I wanted to pay homage to T.H. White, who was also queer.
This Arthur is used to getting what he wants, when he wants. He’s the golden child, after all. But he is a bit simple, dazzled by what he’s inherited and built.
As Lance puts it in the book:
“[Arthur] is a man of contradiction. A man half in love with life yet resigned to the gruesome truth of death and decay. He worries a great deal that his grasp will fail, and he will cease to be all he has been prophesied.”