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Matter of Britain character
Uther and Igraine.jpg
"Shall I not be your wife?" King Uther and Igraine after Gorlois's death, from Uther and Igraine by Warwick Deeping, illustration by Władysław T. Benda, 1903
First appearanceHistoria Regum Britanniae
Created byGeoffrey of Monmouth
In-universe information
OccupationDuchess, queen
SpouseUther Pendragon, Gorlois
ChildrenElaine, Morgan, Morgause (with Gorlois), Arthur (with Uther)

In the Matter of Britain, Igraine (/ˈɡrn/) is the mother of King Arthur. She becomes the wife of Uther Pendragon, but her first husband was Gorlois; her daughters by Gorlois are Elaine, Morgause and Morgan le Fay. Igraine is also known in Latin as Igerna, in Welsh as Eigr (Middle Welsh Eigyr), in French as Ygraine (Old French Ygerne or Igerne), in Le Morte d'Arthur as Ygrayne—often modernised as Igraine or Igreine—and in Parzival as Arnive.

Geoffrey of Monmouth and Welsh tradition[edit]

Merlin taking away the infant Arthur from Igraine. An illustration by N. C. Wyeth for The Boy's King Arthur (1922): "So the child was delivered unto Merlin, and so he bare it forth."

In Geoffrey of Monmouth's Historia Regum Britanniae, Igerna enters the story as the wife of Gorlois, Duke of Cornwall. King Uther Pendragon falls in love with her and attempts to force his attentions on her at his court. She informs her husband, who departs with her to Cornwall without asking leave. This sudden departure gives Uther Pendragon an excuse to make war on Gorlois. Gorlois conducts the war from the castle of Dimilioc but places his wife in safety in Tintagel Castle. Disguised as Gorlois by Merlin, Uther Pendragon is able to enter Tintagel to satisfy his lust. He manages to rape Igraine by deceit – she believes that she is lying with her husband and becomes pregnant with Arthur. Her husband Gorlois dies in battle that same night. Geoffrey does not say, and later accounts disagree, as to whether Gorlois died before or after Arthur was begotten (something that might be important in determining whether or not a child could be made legitimate by a later marriage to its true father). Uther Pendragon later marries Igraine.

According to Geoffrey, Igraine also bore a daughter, Anna, to Uther Pendragon, and this Anna later becoming the mother of Gawain and Mordred. Yet Geoffrey also refers to King Hoel of Brittany as Arthur's nephew and presents a prophecy that to Uther's daughter will be born a line of seven kings, something true if Hoel is Anna's son, but not true if only Gawain or Mordred are Anna's sons. There is confusion here, especially as Welsh genealogies name an Anna as Hoel's mother, but one not connected to Uther Pendragon.

In medieval Welsh literature and genealogical tracts, Eigr is one of several children of Amlawdd Wledig. Her siblings include Gwyar, the mother of Gwalchmai (Gawain), who is mentioned in Culhwch and Olwen. The same source mentions Gormant son of Rica, older half-brother to Arthur on his mother's side, while his father is the chief elder of Cornwall.

Other medieval accounts[edit]

Arthur's conception in the 13th-century prose version of Merlin (c. 1280–1290)

In Robert de Boron's poem Merlin, Igraine's previous husband is an unnamed Duke of Tintagel and it is by him that she becomes the mother of two unnamed daughters. One marries King Lot and by him becomes the mother of Gawain, Mordred, Gaheriet, and Guerrehet. A second daughter, also unnamed in some variants but in some named Morgaine, is married to King Nentres of Garlot, who is identified with Budic II of Brittany. According to Robert de Boron, Igraine died before her second husband. A third illegitimate daughter of the Duke of Tintagel is sent to a school and there learns so much, she becomes the great sorceress Morgan the Fairy (no other medieval accounts state that Morgan is illegitimate and therefore, as in this version, Arthur's stepsister).

In the Lancelot-Grail cycle's Vulgate Merlin, Igraine is provided with two earlier husbands, one named Hoel who is the father of two daughters: Gawain's mother and a daughter named Blasine who marries King Nentres of Garlot. (It is possible this Hoel derives from Geoffrey's confused statement that Igraine's eldest daughter had by her first husband Howel which was misunderstood to refer instead to a supposed first husband of Igraine named Howel/Hoel.) After Hoel's death, Ygraine marries the Duke of Tintagel and by him becomes mother of three more daughters: a third daughter who marries a King Briadas and becomes mother of King Angusel of Scotland (in no other extant text made Arthur's nephew), a fourth daughter named Hermesent who marries King Urien of Rheged and becomes mother of Ywain the Great, and a fifth daughter, Morgan.

In the Post-Vulgate Cycle and Thomas Malory's Le Morte d'Arthur, it is Morgan le Fay who becomes the wife of King Urien and mother of Ywain (and Malory adds this information). In other accounts, Ywain is not Arthur's nephew, although sometimes, he is Gawain's cousin when their respective fathers are presented as brothers.

In the Brut Tysilio, Duke Cador of Cornwall is the son of Gorlois, one would guess by Igraine. The same appears in John Hardyng's Chronicle where Cador is called Arthur's brother "of his mother's syde". Opposing views appear in Layamon's Brut where Cador appears first as a leader who takes charge of Uther's host when they are attacked by Gorlois while Uther is secretly lying beside Igraine in Tintagel. In the English Alliterative Morte Arthure, Cador is continually called Arthur's "cousin".

Le Morte d'Arthur names the first daughter Margawse, the second Elayne and the third Morgan (with no mention of Morgan's illegitimacy). Lancelot is the son of Arthur's sister Clarine in Ulrich von Zatzikhoven's Lanzelet, Caradoc is Arthur's sister's son in the Prose Lancelot, Percival is son of Arthur's sister Acheflour in the English romance Syr Percyvelle. Arthurian tales are not consistent with one another and sisters of Arthur seem to have been created at desire by any storyteller who wished to make a hero into Arthur's nephew.

The Lancelot-Grail relates that when Igraine became Uther's wife she left behind in the dukedom of Tintagel a son of the Duke of Tintagel by a previous marriage. Some romances show her alive after Uther's death. In Chrétien de Troyes' Perceval, the Story of the Grail she and her daughter Gawain's mother are discovered by Gawain in an enchanted castle named the Castle of Marvels, after he had thought both his mother and grandmother to be long dead. This same account appears in Wolfram von Eschenbach's Parzival and in Heinrich von dem Türlin's Diu Crône. In both of these, it is explained that Igraine was abducted (and it is hinted that she was willingly abducted) by the magician who has enchanted the castle. In the French Livre d'Artus, an incomplete alternate conclusion to the French Vulgate Merlin, it is mentioned that Ygraine dwells hidden in Corbenic, the castle of the Holy Grail. This is apparently a version of the same tradition since in the late Lancelot-Grail, the enchantments of the Grail castle are very similar to and seem to be based on the enchantments found in Chrétien's Castle of Marvels.

Modern fiction[edit]

  • Jack Whyte's A Dream of Eagles portrays Igraine as the daughter of Athol, a ruler from Ireland. She is married off to Lot, the Duke of Cornwall. She flees the cruel Lot for his arch enemy, Uther Pendragon. She is killed by Derek, king of Ravenglass, one of Lot's allies, shortly after he kills Uther. She dies telling Merlyn, Uther's cousin and commander of the forces of Camulod, of her son by Uther, Arthur Pendragon.
  • In the BBC series Merlin (S02 E08: "The Sins of the Father"), Ygraine is the wife of Uther, but dead for many years by the time the events of the series begins. She could not conceive, and so Uther asked for the help of the sorceress Nimueh so that they could have a child. Igraine gives birth to Arthur, but because magic was invoked in his conception, Uther had to pay the price of asking for a life from magic—that of losing the life of someone he treasured equally, his wife. It is Igraine's death that sparks Uther's hatred and persecution of all magic users within his kingdom.
  • In the 2017 film King Arthur: Legend of the Sword, Igraine is portrayed by Poppy Delevingne. At the beginning, when she attempts to escape with her husband Uther by row boat during a coup set up by her brother-in-law Vortigan, she is killed by a spear thrown by Vortigan in his demon knight form.

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