Study Guide

Le Morte D'Arthur Book 1

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Book 1

How Uther Pendragon Gate the Noble Conqueror Kyng Arthur

Part 1

  • When our story begins, Uther Pendragon, King of England, calls the Duke of Cornwall to him in order to form a peace agreement.
  • Naturally, the Duke brings his wife Igrayne along, too. Bad move. Upon seeing her, Uther falls madly in love. But the poor woman refuses him and asks the Duke to take her away as quickly as possible. Tough luck, Uther.
  • An angry Uther orders the Duke and his wife to return to him, but the Duke refuses. So Uther tells him to get ready for a fight. Apparently Uther is used to getting his way.
  • The Duke places his wife in the fortress of Tintagel and himself at Terrabyl. There, Uther lays siege against him. All this over a woman.
  • During the siege, Uther grows sick from anger at the Duke and love for Igrayne, so one of his knights, Sir Ulfius, fetches the wizard Merlin to try and cure the king.
  • Uther swears upon the Gospel that he will give Merlin whatever he wants in exchange for Igrayne. So Merlin asks Uther to give him the child he conceives with Igrayne to do with as he wishes, and Uther figures that's plenty reasonable.
  • Merlin, who turns out to be totally sneaky, tells Uther he will transform him into the Duke and that he and Sir Ulfius will accompany him to Tintagel in the likeness of some of the Duke's knights.
  • The real Duke sees Uther riding away from the siege and rides out at night to meet him. In the battle, he dies.
  • Just three hours after the Duke's death, Uther enters Tintagel looking exactly like the Duke and sleeps with an unsuspecting Igrayne.
  • Afterwards, Uther's barons entreat him and Igrayne to marry. They agree.
  • Igrayne's sisters also make good marriages, with Morgause marrying King Lot of Orkney, and Elayne ending up with King Nentres of Garlot. Another sister, Morgan le Fay, is sent to school in a nunnery where she becomes a great sorceress. Afterward, she marries Uriens of Gore.
  • Keep those names on the back burner, because they just might come in handy later.

Part 2

  • Uther informs Igrayne that he's the father of her child. We bet that was a bit of a shock.
  • Merlin arranges to have the future child fostered by Sir Ector, one of Uther's knights, so after the baby's birth, Merlin has Arthur christened and delivered to Sir Ector's wife for nursing.
  • King Uther grows ill and his enemies take advantage of his weakness to attack his kingdom. Merlin advises him to go into battle himself, and Uther's presence there brings about a victory.
  • But after the celebration, Uther takes to his bed again, poor guy. In the presence of all his barons, he declares Arthur his heir, and then dies.
  • After Uther's death, his kingdom falls into disarray, with every strong lord fighting for the now empty crown.
  • Merlin counsels the Archbishop of Canterbury to tell all the great lords of the realm to arrive in London at Christmas, during which time the Christ-child will work some sort of miracle.
  • The lords come to London and, as they're busy praying in the cathedral, a sword appears in the churchyard, stuck in a stone bearing the inscription "Whoso pulleth oute this swerd of this stone and anvyl is rightwys kynge borne of all Englond." In other words, if you can yank this sword out of this rock, you're king. Sounds like a miracle to Shmoop.
  • Although many men try to pull the sword out, none of them manages. The Archbishop sets ten knights to guard the sword.
  • On New Year's Day, there's a joust. As Arthur, his foster-brother Sir Kay, and Sir Ector ride to it, Kay realizes that he's forgotten his sword. Uh-oh. He sends Arthur back to their lodgings to look for it.
  • Major moment alert: Finding the house empty and locked, Arthur rides to the churchyard and pulls the sword out of the stone. Gasp.
  • When Kay and Ector see it, they recognize it and understand that Arthur must be the king. Ector swears his loyalty to Arthur and asks him to make Kay his seneschal, to which Arthur agrees.
  • On Epiphany (a Christian holiday), the barons assemble and find that none of them can withdraw the sword from the stone except Arthur. Angry at the prospect of being ruled by a complete nobody, they propose to put off the decision until a month later, and then until Easter, and then until Pentecost.
  • Finally, at Pentecost, the common people decide enough is enough and declare their allegiance to Arthur. At this, most of the lords of the kingdom go with the crowd and also swear allegiance to him.

Part 3

  • Arthur schedules a feast in Carlyon for the next Pentecost, to celebrate his coronation.
  • To this feast comes an alliance of six great kings, who declare hostile intentions toward Arthur.
  • Despite learning from Merlin that Arthur is Uther's legitimate son, the kings refuse to submit to Arthur, and instead fight a great battle with him and his forces. These Englishmen are always stirring up trouble, huh?
  • So Arthur forces the six kings to withdraw, then travels to London where he calls his barons to council.
  • Merlin advises the council to seek the help of brothers Ban and Bors of Gaul in exchange for helping them defend their kingdom against a King Claudas. So the council sends messengers to summon them.
  • Ban and Bors arrive in London around All Hallows' Day, and join in the feasting and jousting. They make an alliance with Arthur and send messengers to summon their forces to join the fight.
  • Meanwhile, the force opposing Arthur has grown by five kings and includes fifty thousand mounted knights and ten thousand footmen. They besiege the castle of Bedgrayne, then withdraw, leaving only a few men there to continue the siege.
  • Arthur's forces set upon their encampment and a long battle begins. Both sides fight bravely and it looks like the battle could last for a long time.
  • Merlin advises Arthur to withdraw, predicting that the eleven kings will have their hands full with Saracen invaders for the next three years and won't be a problem for Arthur for the foreseeable future.
  • Arthur withdraws, rewarding his knights and Ban and Bors richly with the spoils of battle.
  • Meanwhile, an earl named Saman shows up with his daughter, Lyonors, to pay homage to Arthur. Arthur promptly sleeps with Lyonors and conceives a son named Borce with her.
  • Then, Arthur, Ban, and Bors help King Lodegreaunce of Camylard defend his Kingdom against King Ryons of Wales. While there, Arthur meets a girl named Gwenyvere for the first time. Ah, so this is the famous Gwenyvere.
  • Ban and Bors return to their kingdoms, and sure enough, as Merlin has predicted, the lands of the opposing alliance are invaded by Saracens and the eleven kings are too busy defending their kingdoms to attack Arthur's.

Part 4

  • Arthur returns to Carlyon, where King Lot's wife, Morgause, soon arrives. Apparently, she's there to deliver a message, but in reality, she just wants to spy on Arthur's court.
  • Arthur sleeps with her, too, and conceives a son, Mordred.
  • After this, Arthur dreams that griffins and serpents come into his lands and fight with him, but he kills them in the end. Gee, we wonder what inspired that dream…
  • To get his dream out of his mind, Arthur goes hunting. He chases a hart (a deer) but it gets away. Then Arthur sits down by a fountain to think, and boy, does he have a lot to think about.
  • The questing beast, an animal whose belly makes a great noise like the sound of thirty baying hounds (just roll with it), passes by, followed by a man named King Pellynore in hot pursuit. Pellynore argues with Arthur about which one of them should pursue the beast further, then steals Arthur's horse, the jerk.
  • Later, Merlin, in the guise of a young child, tells Arthur that his father was Uther and his mother was Igrayne. Then, in the guise of an old man, he tells Arthur that he has conceived a child with his sister, and that that child will destroy his kingdom. Oops.
  • Arthur wants to know if this is true, so he asks Ector, who backs up Merlin. Then Arthur sends for Igrayne and has a joyful reunion with his mother. Aww.
  • Meanwhile, a squire brings the body of his master to Arthur's court and tells how a knight in the forest killed him. He asks for a good burial, and revenge.
  • A very young guy named Gryfflet asks to be made a knight so he can undertake the challenge. But when he fights with the knight in the woods, he's defeated. He returns to Arthur's court, badly wounded, and good doctors heal him.
  • Twelve knights arrive from the Emperor of Rome, demanding homage, or a show of respect. Arthur's totally not having that. He offers instead to give them homage with a sharp sword or spear. Oh snap.
  • Arthur rides out to avenge Sir Gryfflet and engages the mysterious knight, who turns out to be Sir Pellynore. Just as Sir Pellynore is about to kill Arthur, Merlin appears and enchants him into a deep sleep. Nice timing, Merlin.
  • Merlin takes Arthur to a lake. As creepy as it sounds, they see an arm clothed in white samite, rising out of the water, holding a sword. A woman boating on the lake tells Arthur that the sword is hers, but that he can have it if he promises to give her whatever she asks – a favor she'll cash in at a later time.
  • That sounds fair, so Arthur and Merlin ride out on a barge to the middle of the lake and take the sword from the woman.
  • After that, Arthur returns to court, passing an enchanted Sir Pellynore, who fails to recognize him, on the way.
  • King Royns of North Wales sends a message to Arthur, saying he has defeated and taken the beards of the alliance of eleven knights, and wants Arthur's beard, too. Um, gross. Arthur refuses to pay him homage. He's pretty stubborn, our Arthur.
  • At Merlin's advice, Arthur acts on the mother of all bad ideas and has all the babies in the land who were born on May Day put out to sea in the hope of destroying Mordred, who, you'll remember, was predicted to destroy Arthur's kingdom. All the babies die in a shipwreck except for Mordred, who is fostered by a good man until he is fourteen.
  • King Royns receives Arthur's message and gets crazy angry.

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