Morgane/Morgan le Fey/Morgana

Unlike Arthur, Gwenhwyfar, and Lancelot, the origins of Morgane are somewhat more obscure. (And given then their origins are obscure, this has to be really bad, right?)

Morgane is first mentioned in Geoffrey of Monmouth’s Life of Merlin, so right off, you know that this is going to be fantastical and historically inaccurate.  Still, he found her somewhere, most likely in Welsh mythology.  ‘Morgan’ is a man’s name in Welsh, but the creation of this character appears to have its roots in The Morrigan, the Celtic triple goddess (see who is a goddess of war among other things.  Morgane is also possibly related to Modrun, a specifically Welsh mother-goddess: The “name means “divine mother”. Often conflated with the Roman Matrona, she is the Tutelary of the Marne in Gaul. In Britain, she appears as a washerwoman, and thus there would seem to be a connection with the Morrigan. She is one of the most potent of the Celtic archetypal mother Goddess. She is also a fertility and harvest deity often equated with Greece’s Demeter or Ireland’s Danu.  She was the mother of Mabon who was stolen away from her when he was three days old and later rescued by King Arthur.”

“In the Welsh myth, before Geoffrey’s time, Morgan was identified with the goddess Modron, the daughter of Welsh god Avallach, and the mother of Mabon. In the Welsh Triads, Modron was married to Urien, king of Rheged and mother of Owain (Yvain) and a daughter named Morfudd. In the Arthurian legend, Modron and Morgan le Fay became one and the same person, because they both were married to King Urien (brother of King Lot), and both were mother of the hero Owain (Yvain). It is most likely that Modron was changed into Morgan when the legend arrived in Brittany.”

In the Welsh stories, Morgane is never the mother of Modred, nor is Modred Arthur’s illegitimate son.  Typically, that is a later French invention. Modred is the son of Morgause (also known as Anna), another sister of Arthur.  Anna is married to Lot.

‘Fey’ is, of course, a word for ‘fairy’, and throughout, Morgane is viewed as mythical, a healer.  “She is also presented as one of the women who takes Arthur in a barge to Avalon to be healed. This view of Morgan as healer has its roots in the earliest accounts of her and perhaps to her origin in Celtic mythology. In the Vita Merlini (c. 1150) Morgan is said to be the first of nine sisters who rule The Fortunate Isle or the Isle of Apples and is presented as a healer as well as a shape-changer. It is to this island that Arthur is brought (though Morgan awaits him and heals him rather than actually fetching him herself).”


Who was Guinevere?

Guinevere, or Gwenhwyfar in Welsh, was King Arthur’s wife.

That’s pretty much all that we know about her conclusively (bearing in mind that we can hardly be conclusive about King Arthur’s existence, either–see my posts here:

She is first named in the Welsh story of Culhwch and Olwen, a tale about a hero connected with Arthur and his warriors.  We have two manuscripts: a complete version in the Red Book of Hergest, ca. 1400, and a fragmented version in The White Book of Rhydderch, ca. 1325. It is the longest of the surviving Welsh prose tale and likely existed before the 11th century, making it the earliest Arthurian tale.

In it, Arthur says:   “Since thou wilt not remain here, chieftain, thou shalt receive the boon whatsoever thy tongue may name, as far as the wind dries, and the rain moistens, and the sun revolves, and the sea encircles, and the earth extends; save only my ship; and my mantle; and Caledvwlch, my sword; and Rhongomyant, my lance; and Wynebgwrthucher, my shield; and Carnwenhau, my dagger; and Gwenhwyvar, my wife. By the truth of Heaven, thou shalt have it cheerfully, name what thou wilt.”  She has two attendants, Elidyr Gyvarwydd and Yskyrdav, the Yscudydd, as well as a sister, Gwennhwyach.

Her existence is also recorded in the Welsh triads from the Red Book of Hergest. She is one of THREE Gwenhwyfar’s to whom Arthur was married:  “Gwennhwyfar daughter of Cywryd Gwent, and Gwenhwyfar daughter of Gwythyr son of Greidiawl, and Gwenhwyfar daughter of Gogfran the Giant.”

No wonder sifting out what might be real about King Arthur from what is improbable is so difficult.  In another passage, the first Gwenhwyfar is mentioned in ‘Three harmful blows to the Island of Britain’: 
“The first of them Matholwch the Irishman struck upon Branwen daughter of Llyr; The second Gwenhwyfach struck upon Gwenhwyfar: and for that cause there took place afterwards the Action of the Battle of Camlan; And the third Golydan the Poet struck upon Cadwaladr the Blessed.”

Then come the “Three unrestrained ravagings”:  “The first of them when Medrawd came to Arthur’s Court at Celliwig in Cornwall; he left neither food nor drink in the court that he did not consume. And he dragged Gwenhwyfar from her royal chair, and then he struck a blow upon her; the second Unrestrained Ravaging when Arthur came to Medrawd’s court. He left neither food nor drink in the court;  And the third Unrestrained Ravaging when Aeddan the Wily came to the court of Rhydderch the Generous at Alclud [Dumbarton]; he left neither food nor drink nor beast alive.”

That’s it.

From this point, like the rest of the King Arthur story, the person of Guinevere evolved to the story that is common knowledge today–that of an unfaithful wife who betrays Arthur with his best friend and is an accomplice in Modred’s treachery against Arthur. For a complete progression of Gwenhwyfar to the Guinevere who brings down Camelot, see: