every Tuesday during October I will be shining a light on some of the women of my novels
- and inviting some other fabulous authors to do the same!
King Arthur’s ladies. In the traditional stories they all seem a bit of a bitchy lot. There’s the fickle Guinevere who bats her lashes at Lancelot – and thus destroys the whole nature of what Arthur was trying to establish at Camelot, then there’s Morgause /Morgaine/Morgan le Fey who equally tries to ruin everything by having an affair with Arthur (her own brother) and thus producing a turncoat traitor (Mordred). Add to that the ethereal Lady of the Lake who goes about swathed in white samite and waving swords about while swimming in a lake. The stuff of fairy tales and chivalric adventure.
In my Arthurian Trilogy I took a slightly different look at this gaggle of gals.
A very different look in fact.
For a start I ignored all the Courtly Tales of the later Medieval period and set my story very firmly in the mid fifth-sixth century. I ditched Merlin, Lancelot, Camelot and the Holy Grail. And threw out Gwenhwyfar’s infidelity. Why? Because IF Arthur had existed he would have been a war lord of that chaotic period between the going of the Romans and the coming of the Anglo Saxons. (And incidentally the formation of Scotland by the Scoti people who came from northern Ireland).
I never liked the Medieval tales of knights in armour, couldn’t stand Lancelot and could never figure out why ditzy Guinevere chose to muck it all up for him. Nor why Arthur, a supposed strong king, turned a blind-eye to their adultery. My Arthur would have had their heads (and Lancelots other bits!) from the first whiff of after-shave on Gwennie’s shift or her lipstick on his chain-mail.
And anyway, I wanted my Gwenhwyfar and Arthur to be lovers and soul-mates. Even if their relationship was occasionally somewhat fraught.
Early Welsh legends speak of ‘Arthur’s Sons’ – one killed by a boar, another killed by his own father (Arthur) another slain in battle – oh and remember the character Mordred, the result of that incestuous liaison? In those early tales he and Arthur fell at the battle of Camlann – but you know what? There was no mention that they were enemies. They could well have died together while fighting on the same side.
So I set out to make my Gwenhwyfar a feisty redhead who had a sword and knew how to use it. She has three sons and she is faithful to Arthur. Although when writing a novel you have to include a bit more than that, so despite they love each other very much, the pair of them frequently don’t see eye-to-eye, often fight – and often make-up afterwards.
Nor is their initial union all that straight-forward. Arthur is coerced into marrying someone else – Winifred, the daughter of the dastardly King Vortigern and his scheming Saxon wife, Rowena.
Winifred can be a bit of a cow. (I enjoyed writing her scenes). She is spoilt and wants her own way – and God help anyone who gets in it!
Then we have Morgaine /Morgause / Morgan le Fey – three women, one woman? Different tales have different angles. The consensus being that she/they are also manipulative and even magical. I made her/them into two characters, mother and daughter, Morgause and Morgaine.
Morgause is the evil one of my Trilogy. I enjoyed writing her as well because she was so delightfully nasty! Another who manipulated her way to power, starting with being the mistress of Uthr Pendragon (Arthur’s father) and ending up as Queen of the Caledonian Picts. Strewn in her wake, the men she had used for her own gain, a boy baby swapped for a girl (Morgause was determined to even have control over birth) and an unloved and abandoned daughter, Morgaine...
Even though I had no magic in my trilogy Morgaine, when she came to adulthood, was to be known as the Lady Of The Lake – but she explains to Arthur that she uses her knowledge of nature to seem mysterious: appearing from nowhere because she knows the secret paths across the flood-levels, knowing someone is coming because the birds all rise from the lake… I liked Morgaine, and felt sorry for her. All she wanted was to be loved – and she fell for Arthur the first time she saw him, (she was a little girl and he was kind to her.) Unfortunately the need to love and be loved can bring about disastrous things, for her, having sex with Arthur and bearing him a son, completely unaware – both of them – that they were half-brother and sister.
The overall result, I have always hoped, is a tale of struggle, a fight to survive, of wanting what cannot be had, and of love and loyalty. From my reviews on Amazon the 5 stars seem to conclude I’ve achieved it, while some of the 1 stars miss the point or are anti-sex / violence readers. It does amuse me that one reviewer can say I have no grasp of history / realism / writing ability while another praises the exact opposite! But there you go, you can’t please all readers all the time,
Here are a few of the comments relating to my Arthurian Ladies:
“Dirt, death, tragedy and a nicely dispassionate view of life and death keeps the books rocking along even though they are quite substantial. If I did have one criticism it was that Guinevere (spelt in the more realistic Welsh fashion in this book) was possibly a little bit more of a modern feminist action hero than I feel reasonable. But then again what is a novel without a challenging interpretation of life and love.”
“Although you'll find pretty much the usual characters as you do in other books on the Arthurian legend, what sets this one apart is Hollick's take - Arthur drinks, he wenches and when he does lead his army into battle he is a fearsome and ruthless warrior. Winifred and her equally wicked mother schemes both together and behind each other's backs in bids for power were priceless, as well as Winifred's constant plots to get herself back into Arthur's bed, and keep Gwenhwyfar out of it. Gwenhwyfar was nicely portrayed as a young girl growing up a bit of a tomboy, and while I enjoyed her portrayal as a strong woman there were times she was just a tad bit too independent and feminist.”
“ Gwenhwyfar is no gentle female, rather she is spirited and brave. As both child and woman she is an extremely attractive, strong and interesting character.”
“The Gwenhwyfar and Arthur of this tale are solid and believable”
Or the not so good praise: (oh well, you can’t win ‘em all!)
“we learn that Arthur … drinks a lot, and is a horrible womanizer. Gwen, on the other hand, is pretty cool…. The spiritual Arthur, the chivalric Arthur, the noble Arthur, the sleeping Arthur whose legend inspires hope for the British people are all gone. In their place is a greedy warlord who aspires to little more than women, power, booze, and, did I mention, women? We have no idea what Gwen sees in him, but she's a saint. The only saving grace in this story is that this Arthur is probably closer to the historical figure (if he actually existed) than most of the fictions we enjoy today.” This reviewer clearly did not like my non-Christian portrayal of Arthur, missing the point that warlords (in order to stay a warlord) were more often b*stards rather than saints – and chaps of the fifth century did drink, fight and ‘womanise’.
This reviewer didn’t like the sordid side of relationships that go wrong: “…all the women save for Gwenhwyfar (Guinevere), are apparently bitches, sluts, whores.” Well yes, that’s what made it all such fun – they weren’t simpering damsels in wispy pointy hats swooning at the feet of every knight they met along the way.
So I guess if you don't like rough men who like their drink and who fight to survive, are not keen on violence or sex my Trilogy is not for you.
Still, here are the nicer comments:
“While the relationship between Arthur and Gwenhwyfar is tempestuous, I like it. She's a match for him in strength, anger, love, and stubbornness. While there is much to love about Gwenhwyfar, there is much to hate in two other women Arthur can't seem to extricate himself from --- his ex-wife Winifred who still calls herself the Pendragon's wife, and Morgause, his father's ex-lover and his aunt. Both women cause so much pain and destruction wherever they go. They are so annoying yet so riveting.”
I like this one: yes – I agree! “Arthur can be a dolt of a man, especially with his own wife. He can't ever seem to find the words I love you or I'm sorry. He'd rather show anger than fear and while I don't like admitting it, I couldn't get enough is his debauched ways. He's not overly kind or gentle but after meeting this Arthur, I don't know if I want the old version back.”
“Arthur is charismatic, yet flawed. Gwenhwyfar, his wife, a feisty, capable and honourable woman. I found myself living in their world, caught up in their joys and sorrows. Painstakingly researched and well-plotted, Hollick delivers a believable and spellbinding tale.”
“In book two of this series, Arthur has taken up the mantel of King, Gwenhwyfar has given him sons to carry on the Pendragon title, but he still refuses to settle down preferring to fight knowing the minute he stops it might be the end of him and his reign. When tragedy pushes Arthur and Gwenhwyfar apart, he finally comes to the realization that being Supreme King may not mean anything without his wife and family.”
I wrote the Trilogy more than twenty years ago (I was accepted for publication by William Heinemann in 1993) and I admit to flaws within it (mostly inexperienced writing technique) but to re-edit and re-print would, I think, spoil the genuineness of my first published books. If you decide to read them - and to get to know my Arthur with all his flaws, the woman he loved beyond life, and the ones who were determined to destroy Arthur and Gwen (in any way possible) I look forward to seeing your comments added to Amazon (yes, even the 1 stars!)
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So that's my Arthurian women - please do visit two more lovely ladies - and their shining heroines...
Late 1960s. Sent to Berlin to investigate silver smuggling, former Praetorian Aurelia Mitela barely escapes a near-lethal trap.
Her old enemy is at the heart of all her troubles and she pursues him back home to Roma Nova but he has struck at her most vulnerable point
–her young daughter.