Who inspired King Arthur to be the great leader of ancient Britannia, a fierce but fair warrior and a king whose exploits would be venerated fifteen hundred years after his death? Many people would say it was Merlin who inspired Arthur and I think they would be partly right. But his father, Uther Pendragon, is a man who leaps out of history and demands to be reckoned with. He towered over his age. At six foot three, Uther was always the tallest in every room he ever entered, with his golden beard and matching shoulder-length hair he glowed like treasure. But when he walked into a gathering and shook your hand, it crumpled under his strength. And when he spoke, his voice boomed and the whole room hushed to hear what he had to say. This was a man who was sunnily self-assured, thunderous, and bombastic in his opinions and changeable in his desires but very well suited to the weather of the country that would be called Great Britain. This is a man who fathered an illegitimate son whom he had to guide and protect so he would be able to claim his throne and govern Britannia like his father.
Uther was the third son of Constantinius, the Dux of the Roman legion guarding Hadrian’s Wall from the marauding Picts. He should not have been a king but for the wholesale arsenic poisoning of all his family by the agents of Vortigern. First, his father King Constantine, then his eldest brother Constans who was a monk and finally his second brother, King Ambrosius Aurelianus. The horrific deaths of these three men allowed the bitter throne of Britannia to become vacant yet again and for its still warm crown to be placed on Uther’s head by the Arch-Druid Ambrosius Cotta, also known as Merlin. Uther’s father wore purple, the sign of a Roman who had the right to sit in the Senate. His Uncle Audren was the king of Brittany and Uther as a boy. Together with his older brother known to his family as Aurelius, he was sent to his court to learn how to be regal and how to rule. Once King Audren was satisfied that the brothers had learned the basics, they were both sent to war in Gaul to learn how to be men.
Meanwhile, his mother, a Frank, sought a suitable royal bride for Uther from within the Frankish kingdom. It was to be a marriage made in hell. Within a few weeks of the wedding, a man broke into the castle in York and assaulted the fourteen-year-old bride resulting in her mind fracturing. She never recovered from her derangement. While Uther treated her tenderly and visited her whenever he was in York, he was advised by the Archbishop that he could not put her aside to re-marry not even to father an heir. She probably outlived him. During that time, Uther scattered his seed far and wide until he met Ygern, wife of Gorlois, the violent War Lord and Duke of Cornwall. Ygern, a childhood sweetheart of Merlin, was gentle, wise, and indescribably beautiful with hair the colour of ice. She lived in a hillfort called the Rumps where she mothered two daughters with Gorlois, named Morgana and Morgause. At age five, both girls were placed in a convent at Glastonbury as was the custom at the time to protect the children from abduction. From the moment Uther met Ygern he became tumescent with lust and pestered Merlin to arrange an assignation for him. Merlin delayed as long as he could until he was satisfied that Ygern wanted to meet with Uther as much as he wanted to meet with her.
Cornwall was famous for its tin and just as famous for its tinners. They were the men who tunneled beneath the county and in doing so allowed smuggling to thrive beside its mining. A former owner of the Rumps had a tunnel constructed by the tinners to allow the owners to escape in the event of an attack from their enemies. Merlin knew of the tunnel and smuggled Uther through it into the castle at the auspicious time of a February Blood Moon. The rest was history. Except that Merlin made up the most outrageous story: he removed the location of the tryst up the coast to Tintagel Castle where there was no underground access, claiming he had enchanted Ygern so that she believed that the six foot three, red-haired, thin as a rail Uther was her dark-haired, five foot six, overweight Gorlois. Her protests that the story was unbelievable went unheard by Merlin. He knew not only that the myth-making of a great hero always began with his conception and his birth - but that was not his real intent. His intent, Merlin assured her, was more practical to protect her well-admired purity and her good name and not to inflame her husband’s violent temper.
In November, when Ygern held her newly born son for the first time, he opened his eyes and glared at her, sternly, like a bear. She would call him Artoris, the bear. His father Uther would take him outside to show him the moon and reassure him that his name was strong and frightening enough to scare his enemies. He would teach Artoris how to be a great warrior. Uther would live another twenty-three eventful years and my third novel will re-imagine that time.