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Matter of Britain character
King Uther and Igraine after Gorlois's death, from Uther and Igraine by Warwick Deeping, illustration by Władysław T. Benda, 1903
First appearanceHistoria Regum Britanniae
Created byGeoffrey of Monmouth
In-universe information
OccupationDuchess, queen
SpouseUther Pendragon, Gorlois
ChildrenElaine, Morgan, Morgause (with Gorlois), Arthur (with Uther)

In the Matter of Britain, Igraine (/ˈɡrn/) is the mother of King Arthur. Igraine is also known in Latin as Igerna, in Welsh as Eigr (Middle Welsh Eigyr), in French as Ygraine (Old French Ygerne or Igerne), in Le Morte d'Arthur as Ygrayne—often modernised as Igraine or Igreine—and in Parzival as Arnive. She becomes the wife of Uther Pendragon, after the death of her first husband, Gorlois.

Geoffrey of Monmouth and Welsh tradition

In Geoffrey of Monmouth's Historia Regum Britanniae, Igerna enters the story as the wife of Gorlois, Duke of Cornwall. In Thomas Malory's Le Morte d'Arthur, her daughters by Gorlois are Elaine, Morgause and Morgan le Fay.[1] In the Brut Tysilio, Cador of Cornwall is their son. John Hardyng's Chronicle calls Cador Arthur's brother "of his mother's syde".

Merlin taking away the infant Arthur from Igraine. An illustration by N. C. Wyeth for The Boy's King Arthur (1922): "So the child was delivered unto Merlin, and so he bare it forth."
Merlin taking away the infant Arthur from Igraine. An illustration by N. C. Wyeth for The Boy's King Arthur (1922): "So the child was delivered unto Merlin, and so he bare it forth."

Geoffrey describes her as one "whose beauty surpassed that of all the women of Britain."[2] King Uther Pendragon falls in love with her and attempts to force his attentions on her at his court. She informs her husband, who departs with her to Cornwall without asking leave. This sudden departure gives Uther Pendragon an excuse to make war on Gorlois. In Layamon's Brut, Igraine "was sorry and sorrowful at heart / that so many men should be lost for her".[2]

Gorlois conducts the war from the castle of Dimilioc but places his wife in safety in Tintagel Castle. Disguised as Gorlois by Merlin, Uther Pendragon is able to enter Tintagel to satisfy his lust. He manages to rape Igraine by deceit – she believes that she is lying with her husband and becomes pregnant with Arthur. Her husband Gorlois dies in battle that same night.[1] Geoffrey does not say, and later accounts disagree, as to whether Gorlois died before or after Arthur was begotten. Uther Pendragon later marries Igraine. Geoffrey says "from that day on they lived together as equals, united by their great love for each other".[3] Geoffrey does not indicate whether Igraine ever learned of Uther's deception.[3] Layamon says "Uther greeted Ygaerne, noblest of wives, and sent her token what they had spoken in bed; he commanded her that she should give up the castle quickly – there was no other way, for her lord was dead."[2]

Malory has Arthur, who had been raised by Sir Ector, meet his mother for the first time after he had grown to manhood and become king.[4]

According to Geoffrey, Igraine also bore a daughter, Anna, to Uther Pendragon,[1] and this Anna later becoming the mother of Gawain and Mordred.

Other medieval accounts

Igraine first appears as "Eigyr" in the medieval Welsh text Culhwch and Olwen as one of several children of Amlawdd Wledig.[5] Her siblings include Rieingulid, the mother of St. Illtud.

Arthur's conception in the 13th-century prose version of Merlin (c. 1280–1290)
Arthur's conception in the 13th-century prose version of Merlin (c. 1280–1290)

In Robert de Boron's poem Merlin, Igraine's previous husband is an unnamed Duke of Tintagel and it is by him that she becomes the mother of two unnamed daughters. One marries King Lot and by him becomes the mother of Gawain, Mordred, Gaheriet, and Guerrehet. A second daughter, also unnamed in some variants but in some named Morgaine, is married to King Nentres of Garlot, who is identified with Budic II of Brittany. According to Robert de Boron, Igraine died before her second husband. A third illegitimate daughter of the Duke of Tintagel is sent to a school and there learns so much, she becomes the great sorceress Morgan the Fairy (no other medieval accounts state that Morgan is illegitimate and therefore, as in this version, Arthur's stepsister).

In the Lancelot-Grail cycle's Vulgate Merlin, Igraine is provided with two earlier husbands, one named Hoel who is the father of two daughters: Gawain's mother and a daughter named Blasine[5] who marries King Nentres of Garlot. After Hoel's death, Ygraine marries the Duke of Tintagel and by him becomes mother of three more daughters: a third daughter who marries a King Briadas and becomes mother of King Angusel of Scotland (in no other extant text made Arthur's nephew), a fourth daughter named Hermesent who marries King Urien of Rheged and becomes mother of Ywain the Great, and a fifth daughter, Morgan. In other accounts, Ywain is not Arthur's nephew, although sometimes, he is Gawain's cousin when their respective fathers are presented as brothers.

Le Morte d'Arthur names the first daughter Margawse, the second Elayne and the third Morgan. Lancelot is the son of Arthur's sister Clarine in Ulrich von Zatzikhoven's Lanzelet, Caradoc is Arthur's sister's son in the Prose Lancelot, Percival is son of Arthur's sister Acheflour in the English romance Syr Percyvelle. Arthurian tales are not consistent with one another and sisters of Arthur seem to have been created at desire by any storyteller who wished to make a hero into Arthur's nephew.

Some romances show her alive after Uther's death. In Chrétien de Troyes' Perceval, the Story of the Grail she and her daughter Gawain's mother are discovered by Gawain in an enchanted castle named the Castle of Marvels, after he had thought both his mother and grandmother to be long dead. This same account appears in Wolfram von Eschenbach's Parzival and in Heinrich von dem Türlin's Diu Crône. In both of these, it is explained that Igraine was abducted (and it is hinted that she was willingly abducted) by the magician who has enchanted the castle. In the French Livre d'Artus, an incomplete alternate conclusion to the French Vulgate Merlin, it is mentioned that Ygraine dwells hidden in Corbenic, the castle of the Holy Grail. This is apparently a version of the same tradition since in the late Lancelot-Grail, the enchantments of the Grail castle are very similar to and seem to be based on the enchantments found in Chrétien's Castle of Marvels.

Modern fiction

See also


  1. ^ a b c Lupack, Alan. "Igraine", The Camelot Project, University of Rochester
  2. ^ a b c Linton, Phoebe C., "The Public and Private Boundaries of Motherhood: Queen Igraine in Geoffrey of Monmouth’s Historia and Laȝamon’s Brut", Hortulus
  3. ^ a b Lopez, Teresa. "Uther and Igraine", The Camelot Project, University of Rochester
  4. ^ The Arthurian Tales, (Ernest Rhys, ed.), Norrœna Society, 1907, p.24
  5. ^ a b Bruce, Christopher W., The Arthurian Name Dictionary, Taylor & Francis, 1999 ISBN 9780815328650