The Matter of Britain

The stories of King Arthur, Queen Guinevere and the Knights of the Round Table are familiar to almost all Britons, of any nation, at this time, passed down through oral traditions as well as written works. The debate centers on whether or not Arthur and the rest ever existed, and if so, who they were and what they did, and, most importantly, how their legacy (real or fictitious) can be used to benefit causes and inviduals today.

The following information is widely known and all characters can choose to know this:

King Arthur

The legends of Arthur, King of Britain and France and Emperor of Europe, tell of his humble beginning: illegitimate at the time of his conception, brought up in the house of a minor knight as squire to his son Sir Kay, and then the miraculous revelation of his birthright when he pulled the sword from the stone and so proved himself to be the rightful heir to the throne. His conquest of all the lands west of Rome and his philosophical conviction that Might should only be used for Right have inspired many people of both noble and ignoble birth over the centuries to take up a sword (or axe, or pike, or spade) and go out to fight for justice and truth and the rights of the common people. “Remember King Arthur!” is the second most common cry uttered by criminals on the gallows.

Arthur's legendary Round Table and the concept that all were equal despite their birthright is an aspect of the mythology which tends to be downplayed these days. A lot of Outlaws strongly believe in this but face opposition from almost everyone, especially the Church and the nobility.

The later works of Arthur and his decision to take Might out of Justice altogether by establishing the rule of law is possibly an attempt to use the legend to flatter Henry II, who was certainly a great soldier in his youth and a great lawgiver later in life. Many commoners believe Henry II was Arthur come again to set Britain on the right path, and their duty is to ensure his laws are remembered and upheld, and even improved, in the times to come.

Queen Guinevere

Both in life and after death, Queen Guinevere was the most controversial member of the court, surviving numerous scandalous episodes and keeping the favour of her husband and her lover as well as ensuring they remained the best of friends. Rumours, widely propagated by the Church, abound that she was a sorceress, a member of the Seelie Court, or an Old God in human form; it is equally possible to argue that she was a human woman out for all she could get, who brought the Kingdom to ruin when her wanton behaviour caused the rift between King Arthur and Sir Lancelot which enabled Mordred to seize the kingdom. It is argued she might even have been a fourth Orkney sister, and everything she did was intentionally designed to help Mordred and the Orkneys ultimately take control. A further reading of the Queen simply states she was the sort of person it is worth sharing and lovingly promoted happy polyamorous relationships with two people who adored each other as much as they loved her.

One thing is certain - Guinevere made a lot of enemies on the Continent. She is famed for her uncompromising stance on the Fae, the Old Gods, the European nations and the Church. Many hard-line religious sects have seen in her a model of human behaviour and there have long been rumours that attempts were made to make her a saint. Whether or not this succeeded is not known - any relics she left have been lost for centuries.


Tied with Morgan for the most powerful user of magic to walk the British Isles, Merlyn was Arthur's advisor for much of his reign, save those (frequent) times when he was banished from the kingdom or forbidden to attend Court.

It is said Merlyn turned up at Arthur's deathbed, fought Morgan for the body, lost, threw a curse so powerful it cracked open a hillside, and vanished. Unlike Arthur, or Guinevere, or Lancelot, there are no reported sightings of Merlyn after Arthur's forces lost the battle in France. Whether dead, or just.. gone, Merlyn does not appear to be active in this world any longer.

Sir Lancelot

It is entirely possible Lancelot never existed and is a mythological figure made from the legends of a number of different knights and lovers of Guinevere - Bors, Galahad and Helen are all contenders for the originator of the Lancelot legends. If he lived, he was said to have been the greatest fighter of all the Round Table (excepting Arthur, or Guinevere, or Galahad, or Glatisant - it really depends on which version of his legend you're hearing this week).

A more interesting version of the legend tells that Lancelot was a traitor to the Round Table and a spy for the heirs of Charlemagne in England. Certainly Arthur's conquest of Europe started to fail when Arthur went to war with his best friend instead of continuing his campaign of mopping up Frankish kings. Certainly if anyone had the foresight to plant spies in every kingdom he didn't control, it was Charlemagne, and Lancelot was said to have been a minor French noble before he rose to prominence in the English court.

The ruins of the Chateau de Hohenstein in France, said to have been called the Joyous Gard, still stand, but despite much searching for buried treasures, it is almost certain that nothing relating to Lancelot remains there. He was said to have gained his power from a Fae known as the Lady of the Lake; anyone searching for Lancelot could do worse than asking the Fae for details.

The Cornwall Sisters

Morgan le Fay

Morgan le Fay, the eldest daughter of the Earl and Countess of Cornwall, is said to have been either a fairy changeling or the most powerful magic user ever to have walked Britain (with the possible exception of Merlyn).

Notably Morgan does not seem to have been preoccupied with earthly powers: although the heir to the Cornish kingdom, she seemed to show no interest at all in ruling and the crown ultimately passed to her sister Helen.

Morgan's disppearance midway through the Artharian legends has many explanations: some say she was killed by Sir Bors on a quest; others that she sought the Holy Grail and was destroyed by its holy power; some that she left this world only to return when Arthur does; some that she turned up at the moment of Arthur's death and carried his body away.

Unlike most of the other legendary figures, there is quite a lot of evidence for the existence of Morgan le Fay: in particular the existence of the fabled library in Tingatel Castle, Cornwall, said to contain magical texts from all parts of Europe. Whether these scrolls and books relate to the 'magics' and religion of the Old Gods or to Seelie magics is


Born and raised in France; although technically the Queen of Cornwall, she never visited and in practice the kingdom was governed by the son of her sister Morgause. Sometimes said to be the same person as Elaine of Astolat; otherwise, a minor French noble of limited interest.


Queen of Orkney and a nasty piece of work by all accounts. Showed more love for her animals than her children, though that's not saying much. Morgause's great legend is that she and her half-brother Arthur were the parents of Mordred, though this may have been a slur upon his legitimacy put about by Mordred's enemies. Or, potentially, by Arthur's friends, as if Mordred was the legitimate child of Arthur and Guinevere, Arthur's sister Anna and her children would have had no claim on the English throne.

The Children of Morgause: the Orkney Clan


The eldest of the children of Morgause and King Lot of Orkney, and one of Arthur's closest friends. Legends tell that he was constantly drunk; however, it should be noted that some people don't need the aid of liquor to be accidentally rude and start fights from social ineptitude. Almost all legends agree he had a quick temper.

Any relics of Gawain would be powerful in a fight, but should probably be treated with caution. Gawain was loving and loyal, but pigheaded, stubborn and once angered never forgot a grudge.


Every villain needs an incompetent sidekick. It's one of those tropes bards constantly refer to when they run out of other plots. Agravaine probably never existed - he was just made up so Mordred had someone to look good next to.


The really, really nice one. Got on with everyone. Had a nice sword and used to let everyone borrow it, whether they were a knight or not.


Arthur's illegitimate child with his own half-sister. Rebelled against the King. After Arthur fell, Guinevere's forces stormed the tower where he had taken refuge and they say the Queen ripped him apart with her bare hands.

Mordred is a symbol of the inevitability of Scottish treachery. Every Scot looking at the English lands coverts them the way Mordred coverted the English throne. Every Scottish king who attempts to make an alliance against a common enemy waits to stab their friends in the back, as Mordred stabbed and killed Arthur.

To anyone wanting to make a formal alliance with Scotland, pacify the Border regions or simply not be served gristle when in Edinburgh, the legends of Mordred are prejudice and nonsense. The stories of Arthur's last battle are completely confused anyway - with Lancelot and possibly Guinevere turned against the King, and the magics of Morgan and Merlyn active, who is to say what happened? Probably Mordred was a scapegoat for whoever really killed Arthur.

Elaine of Astolat

Probably the same person as Helen, sister of Morgan and Morgause. Known for being the non-magical one who killed herself when Lancelot left her and returned to Guinevere. There's some story about her having woven a magical loom that showed you everything in the kingdom if you turned it the right way, and of her sailing down to Camelot in a magical boat that could never capsize. Given she's not said to have any magic, no-one knows where the magic loom and boat came from - probably pinched them from one of her sisters, no doubt.

Elaine mostly moped in her tower and got all upset when her son died. She's easily the most boring person in the Matter of Britain - quite a challenge, when you consider Galahad - and nobody's really bothered themselves to find anything of her that might remain. She lived on an island near Ely, in the Fens: horrible marshy land full of lights that lure you off the paths into the bogs, where you can push a tree trunk in and still not hit the bottom.

Sir Galahad

Elaine and Lancelot's kid. Found the Holy Grail by being perfect - obedient to his elders, never stole from neighbouring orchards, always went to bed on time, never went out with people of ill repute - and his reward was to find the Holy Grail and die, probably of being too good to live. Anyone with nagging parents has heard enough stories about Galahad to last several lifetimes. One would think they wanted their child to die at a young age having annoyed everyone who ever met them.

Any surviving relics of Galahad were probably melted down by people who met him and couldn't stand him. And the Holy Grail probably never existed anyway.

Sir Palomides, King Pellinore and the Questing Beast

There's some dreadful old Scottish legend about two knights who dressed up as a monster and then a real monster turned up and they chased it round and round Scotland - probably for want of anything else to do. Or it might have been one knight dressed up and then his friend fought him. Or something beginning with f, anyway.

There's a cleaner version of this story that small children play, mostly cos it's a good excuse to go running off. There's also a version of this that the Knights of St George are rumoured to play when drunk.

Every now and again some peasant bones turn up and people say the Questing Beast came out of the waters and ate him. More likely he was killed for the money he was carrying and the body eaten - no point wasting good protein, after all. That's another thing people say the Knights of St George do, when they're out in the wilderness and food gets scarce.

Anyway, King Pellinore and the Questing Beast is always a fun masque to show off at mummers' plays or to perform on Midsummer Eve to placate the fairies. There may not be a grain of truth in it, but it's a good story.

Known Relics

The Round Table

Almost certainly chopped up for firewood. Some say when they tried to burn Queen Guinevere at the stake for adultery, the timbers of the Round Table were used for the fire. Others say it was burned by forces loyal to Mordred when he revealed himself as traitor and betrayed his father. There are rumours of a Round Table at Tingatel Castle, but it's unlikely that Castle, great as it is, has a room large enough to house a table big enough to sit all of Arthur's fabled Court.

The Round Table is a symbol of equality. Both the Church and the Norman monarchs - both, interestingly, groups who claim the Arthurian tales are worn-out legends - have declared that possession of the Round Table is punishable by death, although both also claim that it probably never existed.

Interestingly, whenever the Round Table was mentioned in conversation at court, Henry II used to start laughing. Any mention of it was almost guaranteed to put him in a good mood. Asking him why, though, usually led to goblets or daggers being hurled at the questioner.

Gareth's Sword

It's a nice, shiny sword, and one of the few known genuine relics. Kept by the Scottish monarchy for hundreds of years, it was stolen by Eleanor of Aquitaine as a wedding gift for Henry II. Henry lent it back to her to take on crusade.

The Holy Grail

A cup, or bowl, or plate, and an item of great holiness. It has been sought by the Church for hundreds of years, and finding it would almost certainly qualify the finder for sainthood. Even the heretical factions of the Church dare not deny its power. To drink from the Grail would almost certainly have a significant effect on the drinker: the last known person to do this was Galahad, who has not been seen since, and is presumed to have ascended bodily to Heaven.

The Quest for the Grail took the Knights of the Round Table beyond the lands ruled by Arthur; some went south, some north, and some east. Under armed guard, Thomas Becket, when Archbishop of Canterbury, once searched the library of Tingatel for details of Galahad's journey, but apparently this was not documented by Morgan.

The Mercantile Guild are known to spread rumours that Galahad went to Jerusalem, but most dismiss this as an attempt to encourage more travellers to venture that far and to settle there, if only temporarily, while searching for the Grail.

Elaine's Loom

The castle at Ely has been searched many, many times, and no trace of any magical item has ever been found. Then again, Ely was one of the meeting places for Hereward the Wake and his outlaw allies. It's possible the followers of Hereward the Wake might know something of that loom, but they keep their secrets closely guarded.

Elaine's Boat

It is said that Elaine of Astolat died drifting down the river from her tower to Camelot, singing as she went. The explorer Mildburg of London attempted on several occasions to retrace this journey and came to the conclusion that this is pure fantasy, as no boat can drift unimpeded through the reed beds of the Fens without getting stuck in the slow, turgid rivers or tangled in the undergrowth. Undeterred, the denizens of Ely declared that Elaine had a magic boat - one that could travel through any water course without being impeded by any natural hazard, and without being steered by any human hand. The Fens are mystical enough that the story is believed by most people - Elaine had two magical sisters, and the Fens are a hotspot for Fae activity.

the_matter_of_britain.txt · Last modified: 2015/10/06 23:27 by gm_cecily
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