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THE CROWNING OF ARTHUR FROM Le Morte d’Arthur — Sir Thomas Malory — King Uther Pendragon, 1 ruler of all Britain, had been at war for many years with the Duke of Tintagil in Cornwall when he was told of the beauty of Lady Igraine, the duke’s wife. Thereupon he called a truce and invited the duke and Igraine to his court, where he prepared a feast for them, and where, as soon as they arrived, he was formally reconciled to the duke through the good offices2 of his courtiers. The Granger Collection, New York In the course of the feast, King Uther grew passionately desirous of Igraine and, when it was over begged her to become his paramour.3 Igraine, however being as naturally loyal as she was beautiful, refused him. “I suppose,” said Igraine to her husband, the duke, when this had happened, “that the king arranged this truce only because he wanted to make me his mistress. I suggest that we leave at once, without warning, and ride overnight to our castle.” The duke agreed with her, and they left the court secretly. The king was enraged by Igraine’s flight and summoned his privy council.4 They advised him to command the fugitives’ return under threat of renewing the war; but when this was done, the duke and Igraine defied his summons. He then warned them that they could expect to be dragged from their castle within six weeks. 1 Uther Pendragon Pendragon was a title used in ancient Britain to refer to a supreme chief or leader. 2 offices: services 3 paramour—lover or mistress 4 privy council—a group of advisors who serve a ruler 1 The duke manned and provisioned5 his two strongest castles: Tintagil for Igraine, and Terrabyl, which was useful for its many sally ports,6 for himself. Soon King Uther arrived with a huge army and laid siege to Terrabyl; but despite the ferocity of the fighting, and the numerous casualties suffered by both sides, neither was able to gain a decisive victory. Still enraged, and now despairing, King Uther fell sick. His friend Sir Ulfius came to him and asked what the trouble was. “Igraine has broken my heart,” the king replied, “and unless I can win her, I shall never recover.” “Sire,” said Sir Ulfius, “surely Merlin the Prophet could find some means to help you? I will go in search of him.” Sir Ulfius had not ridden far when he was accosted by a hideous beggar. “For whom are you searching?” asked the beggar; but Sir Ulfius ignored him. “Very well,” said the beggar, “I will tell you: you are searching for Merlin, and you need look no further, for I am he. Now go to King Uther and tell him that I will make Igraine his if he will reward me as I ask; and even that will be more to his benefit than to mine.” “I am sure,” said Sir Ulfius, “that the king will refuse you nothing reasonable.” “Then go, and I shall follow you,” said Merlin. Well pleased, Sir Ulfius galloped back to the king and delivered Merlin’s message, which he had hardly completed when Merlin himself appeared at the entrance to the pavilion. The king bade him welcome. “Sire,” said Merlin, “I know that you are in love with Igraine; will you swear, as an anointed7 king, to give into my care the child that she bears you, if I make her yours?” 5 provisioned—supplied 6 sally ports—gates or passages in the walls of fortifications, from which troops can make a sudden attack 7 anointed—chosen as if by divine intervention 2 The king swore on the gospel that he would do so, and Merlin continued: “Tonight you shall appear before Igraine at Tintagil in the likeness of her husband, the duke. Sir Ulfius and I will appear as two of the duke’s knights: Sir Brastius and Sir Jordanus. Do not question either Igraine or her men, but say that you are sick and retire to bed. I will fetch you early in the morning, and do not rise until I come; fortunately Tintagil is only ten miles from here.” The plan succeeded: Igraine was completely deceived by the king’s impersonation of the duke, and gave herself to him, and conceived Arthur. The king left her at dawn as soon as Merlin appeared, after giving her a farewell kiss. But the duke had seen King Uther ride out from the siege on the previous night and, in the cour

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