story is first told by Geoffrey
of Monmouth in his "History of Kings of
Britain". As a one of the two younger brothers of
the murdered King Constans, he apparently fled, at a
young age, to the Royal Court of his cousin, King Budic
I of Brittany and here he was raised. As a
young man, Uther returned to Britain with his elder
brother, Ambrosius, and together they fought for their
ancestral rights, eventually defeating the usurping Vortigern
and placing Ambrosius
on the throne.
Throughout Ambrosius' reign, Uther was his brother's
staunchest ally. He commanded the King's forces in
Ireland when, with Merlin,
he acquired the "Giant's Ring" as a memorial to
the dead of the "Night of the Long Knives".
Later, it was Uther who was victorious over the
Pasgen of Buellt & Gwerthrynion at St.
Uther took the crown under the title of "Uther
Pendragon" after a dragon-shaped comet appeared in
the sky at the time of his brother's death. Most of his
reign was taken up with campaigning against Saxon and
Irish invaders in the North of Britain, where he held
court at Pendragon Castle in Westmorland. He was, at
first unsuccessful against the Angles of Bernicia. Osla,
allied with the Jutish Octa, defeated Uther's armies at
York (Caer-Ebrauc). However, he soon turned the
tables at the ensuing Battle of Mount Damen. Uther later
travelled even further north to help the Kings of
Strathclyde pacify the Scots.
It is at this point that the most famous episode in
Uther's life is related. Returning to London (Caer-Lundein),
he met Ygerna,
the gorgeous wife of Gorlois,
Duke of Cornwall, and fell instantly in love with her.
Determined to see her again he invited the Duke to return
to the Royal Court, but Gorlois could see what was going
on and flattly refused. The two quarrelled and Gorlois
and his wife fled to Cornwall. Uther invaded the Duke's
lands, but still impatient to be with his new love, he
persuaded Merlin to use his powers to magic him into
Ygerna's bed. Thus, while Gorlois was being killed at
nearby St. Dennis (Dimilioc), Uther was
transformed into his likeness. He walked straight into
the lion's den at Tintagel Catsle (Din-Tagell)
and seduced the lovely Duchess. Sir Thomas Malory's
"Le Morte D'Arthur" claims that the price for
this deception was that Uther's son, the future King
Arthur who was conceived on that night, had
to be given to Merlin to be brought up as he saw fit.
Robert de Boron says Uther was responsible for the
founding of the Order of the Round Table.
In old age, the sick and aging Uther was drawn into a
renewed war with the Northern Angles. When his commander,
Lot of Lothian (Gododdin) was
unsuccessful, the King was carried to St. Albans (Caer-Mincip)
to besiege the Anglian Princes himself. He won through,
but the Germans poisoned the water-supply and Uther,
along with many of his men, died in the days that
Despite the popular myth to the contrary, King Uther
Pendragon was not created from the imagination of
Geoffrey of Monmouth. He appears several times in earlier
Welsh tradition, both in his own right and as father of
King Arthur. In the 10th century poem, Pa Gur
("Who is the Porter?"), one of Arthur's
companions is given as "Mabon ap Mydron, servant of
Uthir Pen Dragon". A poem in the Book of Taliesin
(some of which may date back to the 6th century) mentions
Arthur and is named after Uther himself as Marvnat
Uthyr Pen. Ymiddiddan Arthur a'r Eryr
("The Colloquy of Arthur and the Eagle"), a
poem contemporary with Geoffrey yet showing a primitive
tradition independent of him, identifies the eagle as
Eliwlat mab Madawc mab Uthyr and a nephew of Arthur.
Uther also appears in several early Triads of the
Island of Britain and the personal name is known
from other pre-Galfridian sources.
As an epithet, Pendragon can be interpreted as
something like "Foremost Leader," "Chief
Warleader" or "Chief of Warriors". In the
Cambridge version of Nennius' "History of the
Britons," there is an addition to Arthur's name of
the line "in British mab Uter, that is in Latin
terrible son, because from his youth he was cruel".
This unlikely reference to Arthur's early character, has
encouraged some researchers, to see Uthr-Pen-Dragon
as a mere title (Terrible Chief Warleader) which should
be applied to a King of another name. The most popular
suggestion appears to be King Meurig ap Tewdrig of
Glywysing and Gwent, as suggested by Blackett
& Wilson and Barber
Geoffrey Ashe (1980) A Guidebook to Arthurian
Peter C. Bartrum (1993) A Welsh Classical Dictionary.
Rachel Bromwich (1961) Trioedd Ynys
Prydein: The Welsh Triads.
Ronan Coghlan (1991) The
Encyclopaedia of Arthurian Legends.
John Gwenogvryn Evans (1906) The Black Book of
John Gwenogvryn Evans (1910) Facsimile and Text of
the Book of Taliesin.
A.O.H. Jarman (1952) Llen Cymru II.
Thomas Malory (1485) Le Morte D'Arthur.
Geoffrey of Monmouth (1136) The History of the Kings
Nennius (c.829) The History of the Britons (Cambridge
John Rous (c.1485) The History of the English Kings.
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