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Myths and Legends
Geoffrey of Monmouth - Legend Maker

Detail of King Vortigern, from the Geoffrey Tapestry at Monmouth Priory
© Monmouth Priory
'The History of the kings of Britain', together with its ‘taster’, the 'Prophecies of Merlin', which was published a little earlier, purports to be a narrative of British history represented by the successes and failures of its rulers.

The introductory chapters describe the Trojan-Roman origins of the British and their coming sometime in the mists of history to the island of Albion, renamed Britannia by Brutus, the first king. The island is divided between his three sons: the eldest, Locrinus, being given Loegria (in Welsh, Lloegr is ‘England’) with its capital city, London; Albanactus received Albany (Scotland); and Camber has Cambria (Wales). There are, therefore, three kingdoms but one crown, that of London.

Geoffrey reveals the fortunes of a succession of kings, and some queens, of the Britons, the coming of the Romans, the advent of the English, and the ensuing wars until they achieve sovereignty, not so much by force of arms, as by the moral turpitude and foolishness of the Britons, whose last king, Cadwallader, recognising this is God’s will, flees to his exile in Brittany, and dies in Rome in 689.

All is not lost, however, for Merlin had prophesied to Vortigern, the naively duped king who had allowed the first English settlements, that one of Brutus’s race would return to restore British sovereignty from shore to shore.

Not by chance is this prophetic passage set in the centre of the book, immediately before the coming of the English. It was of paramount significance in the Welsh reading of the Historia, for what was for some readers a story of the moral degeneration and subsequent decline and defeat of the Britons (and their contemporary descendants, the Welsh) became for others the grounds of hope and an inspiration for the future.

Words: Brynley F Roberts

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