Igraine is the mother of Arthur, formerly Duchess of Tintagel and later the Queen of England. According to the Welsh tradition, her name was Eigyr or Eigr. She’s the daughter of a prince. She also has a son named Gormant and seven brothers and two sisters. In the English tradition she had three husbands before Uther: Harinan, Hoel and the Duke of Tintagel, Gorlois. She had various daughters in the course of her marriages, Morgan le Fay is the most known. They were Arthur’s half-sisters. Igraine’s family tree is more or less a mess.
led a few hours before a man with his face went to her bed. Uther compelled her to marry him and be his Queen, which seemed the only option she had: Nobody was left to fight for her. Not much time after that, her two eldest daughters were married to kings, and Morgan (the youngest) was sent to a nunnery, were she took up necromancy (communicating with the dead). She ended up marrying a king. When Igraine’s pregnancy was advanced, Uther confesses to her. Malory describes her reaction as joyful, a fact that has been put in perspective of doubt: being tricked into intercourse with a man she refused, then having the resulting child taken from her after his birth, without even being allowed to name him doesn’t seems like a very joyful situation to be in.
Malory’s version of the Arthurian legends does not mention Hoel. In his version, she is the Duchess of Cornwall and is married to Gorlois, having three daughters with him: Morgan, Morgause and Elaine (not the Elaine related to Lancelot). Also, it is told that she is an extraordinarily beautiful woman (as expected from medieval stories and legends). Her beauty was enough to catch the attention of King Uther.
Uther met her during a feast in his court. He instantly fell in love with her, but Igraine rejected his advances, telling her husband to leave the feast and return to their castle immediately: “I suppose that we were sent for that I should be dishonored; wherefore, husband, I counsel you, that we depart from hence suddenly, that we may ride all night into our own castle.” Uther was enraged, and he decided to invade Cornwall, besieging the castle and killing the Duke. Merlin disguised Uther as Gorlois to fool the Duchess, and that night Arthur was engendered.
Later, Igraine discovers that her husband was kil
Depictions of Igraine
Descriptions of Uther and Igraine’s relationship vary a lot. In the earliest stories, their union is driven by Uther’s lust. Monmouth, Hardyng, and Malory describe his feelings as the desire to simply lie with her. Moreover, this is also true in latest versions: In Boorman’s Excalibur, Uther stares at Igraine with lust. When he finally gets her, his desires are portrayed as “animalistic lustful”. The Uther of Whyte’s story desires very much to be with Igraine, and “his one downfall is his quick temper and his tendency towards savageness.” Uther is driven to impress his grandfather, his father and his mother who dreads his savageness. He has deep internalized battles with his civilized and barbaric upbringings, hence the lustful and animalistic description of his character. He engages in a physical relationship while Igraine is held captive and love is only discussed when she discovers that she is pregnant.
In some novels their love is kind in nature. Warwick Deeping depicts their love as a blossoming one during their journey. She loves his caring and self-sacrificing nature, and he loves the fearless and gentle attitude of hers. Even in Monmouth’s chronicles there is some hints that they really had feelings for each other. The tales of Uther and Igraine are not as popular as the Arthurian stories that follow, but the story prevails throughout time. It is an important part of the legend, since they are the legendary king’s parents. They are the beginning of the legend.
The portrayals of her character changes from author to author. Most of them chose to not give her much depth. Monmouth only describes her as beautiful. It is John Hardyng that describes her as a virtuous and faithful woman in his chronicles. Malory portrays her as a good and a fair woman. Deeping is one of the very few that characterizes her in depth. She leads the nuns and the novices of Avangel to safety during the Saxons chronicles. She seems independent and very self-reliant. Marion Zimmer Bradley also shows in greater depth the reality of Igraine’s spirit: she’s very lonely and isolated during the beginning. She married Gorlois at the orders of her sister. In the end, she accepts her love for Uther and becomes a very devoted and loyal wife.
In Malory’s version of the legend, it is overlooked that Igraine was still around during the first years of Arthur’s reign. Arthur had simply assumed that she had been dead during his reign. She should have been the Queen Dowager after Uther’s death, and later recognized as Queen mother. Arthur sent Merlin to search for Igraine to learn the truth about his birth, whom in very short words, told Arthur’s enemies the truth about his parentage but kept Arthur himself and his sisters in the dark. In Malory’s Death of Arthur, he meets his mother when Sir Ulfius brings her, accusing her of treason. Chretien de Troyes, writer of “Story of the Grail”, sheds light on what might have been her destiny. He says that Igraine hadn’t seen Arthur in sixty years. She was living in the enchanted castle of “the Rock of Champguin” with one of her daughters. In the story of “First Grail Continuation”, Gawain, the daughter or Morgause, reunites Arthur with his mother in the castle and the enchantment is finally broken.
Igraine is more than a wife, a mother and a queen. She was wronged, but her spirit couldn’t be broken even by Gorlois’ cruelness. She is a woman of many myths who outlived her misfortunes and conquered her fears.
Jason is the editor-in-chief of ArthurLegends.com and the primary author of the Arthurian Shared Universe. He has a deep love of British history and mythology, especially relating to Celtic and Arthurian traditions (obviously). He spends most of his days in made-up worlds.