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The Public and Private Boundaries of Motherhood: Queen Igraine in Geoffrey of Monmouth’s Historia and Laȝamon’s Brut’

Queen IgraineThe Public and Private Boundaries of Motherhood: Queen Igraine in Geoffrey of Monmouth’s Historia and Laȝamon’s Brut’

Phoebe C. Linton

Hortulus ~ The Online Graduate Journal of Medieval Studies, Volume 10, Number 1, (2013)

Abstract

Igraine is King Arthur’s mother and so the first Arthurian woman. Despite the fact that Igraine plays a pivotal role in founding the new kingdom which sees the warring regions of Cornwall and England united, her voice in events which lead to the birth of Arthur is left largely unnarrated. This is partially decided by genre, as she first appears in chronicles of the twelfth century before Arthurian myths are taken up by concurrent early medieval romance, a form able to develop female roles through their increased emphasis on interiority. Igraine’s value is predominantly determined by her public impact; therefore, this study aims to further understanding of how a public sublimation of Igraine’s private identity creates areas of ambiguity within texts. Igraine’s inchoate form in early Arthurian literature impinges on the degree to which her voice is identifiable.

Two sections of text discussed here – the prose chronicle Arthurian portions of Geoffrey of Monmouth’s Historia Regum Britanniae, written c.1136-8, and Laȝamon’s Brut c. 1197-1215 – illustrate these ideas.[2] Geoffrey’s work has been maintained in both Latin and Welsh manuscripts as Ygerna and Eigr respectively. I concur with Siân Echard, who argues that ‘Geoffrey of Monmouth’s Historia regum Britannie may not be the very first Arthurian narrative, but it is clearly one of the most influential’.[3] Geoffrey’s Historia focuses on the matter of Britain, which follows the development of the British patrilineal system based on the law of male primogeniture, and therefore in most cases queens are accorded less importance than kings. An Anglo-Norman writer of the 1150s, Wace, wrote his Roman de Brut based loosely on Geoffrey’s text. The next Arthurian chronicle after Wace to include a sequence with Igraine was Laȝamon’s Brut.[4] This chronicle was written in Early Middle English, and will be compared with Geoffrey’s text in order to illustrate nuances of characterisation the process of translation enables.

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