Sweet Lands of Liberty
By D Fowler
Part 11 – King Arthur in Love – Separating Fact from Fiction
Not only writers of legends, but writers of love stories put their generation’s touch on the courtship of King Arthur through the ages. For instance, a modern love song’s chorus:
Cheer up, Mags darling, You mean everything,
to a daydream believer of a Medieval king.
There is a hint of truth to that – Arthur was something of a dreamer, inspired to do so by the Arthurian legends and his belief that anything was possible, bolstered by becoming King at such a young age. His future wife, Margaret of Scotland, was a constant sounding board when he felt frustrated later by the difficulty of fulfilling some of those dreams for England. And, they did end up with a very happy marriage. However, the truths – and its origins - are more complicated.
The King of Scotland and his wife had had trouble having children. Finally, the first of four – Margaret – was born in 1193. Once Tancred’s daughters were no longer an option, Arthur spoke of making, through dynastic marriage, a peaceful realm including England, Scotland, and Wales. On New Years’ Day, 1202, the fifteen-year-old inquired of the King of Scotland about Margaret.
King William was more than happy to consider it, though he – and Margaret – could be headstrong. His intention was to find a king for Margaret. She was initially opposed, but she was told the legends of the old King Arthur. They piqued her interest enough, when they met in the early spring, as they spoke, she did worship him as a hero of sorts. (She certainly did not develop a “crush” on him like certain modern writers like to portray, though. She was only 8 or 9, just over half Arthur’s age, when they first met; one common trope is to make her about 15.)
The movie Arthur gets that hero worship down pretty well without the crush; Margaret was taken by how big and brave he was. However, they have Arthur more sure of himself than he probably could have been at his age. He’d been pushed to do this by aides – his mother had died in childbirth recently – and he was a little uncertain how to treat this girl; he wanted to ensure it would be a perfect fit first.
Also, while he explained salvation by grace through faith, and urged Margaret to pray that they be right for each other, he almost surely didn’t wax as poetic as these lines:
Arthur had told her about his early life of sleeing, as they rode horses. She was in awe. “What is a Waldensian?” she asked.
Arthur stopped to gaze at the countryside. “It is one who believes salvation must be by grace alone, and not by a man’s rules. One who believes in secular authority being separate from Church authority, while maintaining the same truths the Church holds. It is one that believes in Right triumphing, in all receiving justice.”
Arthur told Margaret some of his dreams, and more of his adventures, but his vision of how to replace the church’s authority only emerged over the next five or six years. It was mostly his adventures that Margaret was amazed by.
William of Scotland had gotten the Pope, after much hassle, to accept the Scottish Church could be separate from Kent – which turned into a blessing later, when Arthur announced that the English Church would be totally separate from Rome. Scottish Catholics didn’t feel as threatened by it, once Arthur assured them that Catholics would be allowed to worship freely in England. William approved of Arthur; most get this right. It was Arthur who was unsure about Margaret, but not because she got too possessive; he was unsure mostly because of the age issue – that need for certainty that influenced him because of his upbringing.
This delay disappointed Margaret – and William. The couple sent messages back and forth. However, Margaret just wanted to “share the adventure,” a part of her headstrong nature that is easy to become overblown for writers. Especially when Arthur rebelled against the Catholic Church – Arthur ordered her kept away from the front, in case England did get invaded, intending to protect her as much as possible. Reportedly, he did tell her that “absence simply makes the heart grow fonder.” Margaret was not by his side as he made his famous “We shall fight them…” speech near the shores of England.
In order to have a potential heir, Arthur eventually married Margaret late in 1204. There was a rift, for a time with William, after Arthur brought a Waldensian in as Archbishop of Canterbury and to create a new Church of England. However, the rift was not nearly as bad as people like to write. William could not have kept Margaret away because they were already married by this time. The rift over the Church healed slowly, with William making peace with Arthur shortly before his death in 1214, as “He has been a model husband and King to Margaret.” But, the rift kept Alexander, William’s son, from heavily considering marriage to Arthur’s youngest sister. (She married an English nobleman, had one child, and died young.) Arthur had his political marriage with Scotland, though, and would have one with Wales, as Llewelyn the Great’s only legitimate son married one of Arthur and Margaret’s daughters in 1232, in exchange for some protection for Anglicans in his lands and, especially, help in keeping his throne, which didn’t drain England’s budget much.
Arthur and Margaret had tried without success to have a child immediately after the marriage; it didn't happen. With things so busy, they saw little of each other till the threat of war ended in 1208, so she didn’t bear a child till she bore a daughter in 1210; she would eventually bear three children, one a son who succeeded him. Margaret was by Arthur’s side through many later crises, including the famine in 1235.
Both King and Queen lived happily, past the year 1250. The closing scenes are always at least a little overblown in these movies, too. Arthur really had started to feel comfortable with Margaret by 1208, when the age difference wasn’t as noticeable and he wasn’t as worried about war. They likely never talked about being “soulmates, unlike when movies and plays bother to show them in what – to them – was old age. However, they almost certainly felt true love by then.
Perhaps the best description comes from one of several books produced about the king. It features a scene where Arthur is ensuring that churches are doing their part by helping the poor and needy in the famine, and making it as easy as possible on the peasants, though it was still difficult. Margaret is there with him, and as they look at each other, Margaret has a look of incredible admiration and respect for Arthur.
“I still can see some of that wide-eyed hero worship in your eyes, even now, decades after we first met,” Arthur remarked. “I wish I was half the King you think I am.”
“Aye, we are not perfect. But, you mean everything to these people. You are a symbol of goodness in a dark, despairing world. You may not be able to provide everything. But, they know you have given your best. And for that, they will always be grateful,” she encouraged him.
Arthur and Margaret’s wasn’t a perfect love story, nor did it have the drama that some include. But, it was a good one, the likes of which weren’t often seen. They took time to grow into a great couple. But, the comparison with things that were elsewhere meant they stood out in a difficult time, and made the Arthurian legends more vibrant.
One final thought. Don’t believe those who say Arthur invented the printing press, or ordered it done, like one early, infamous movie does. The inventor was actually someone who had heard about it from someone who had heard the concept from a traveler on the Silk Road; this fellow had come back from a pilgrimage and had told his friend. It had spread to England by 1220 and was very helpful in allowing the Waldensians to get their beliefs out. However, the inventor not only wasn’t Arthur, he wasn’t even English. It was a Frenchman who invented the printing press. And, he’d been working on it for a few years, as a way to provide printed books; it was just that his friend helped provide the missing part that helped him put it all together.
Part 12 – Reform of England, Growth of France and Savoy
Before we look at the Middle East for a bit, it’s good to continue looking at the reforms of King Arthur the Great.
As noted, Arthur believed that ecclesiastical authority should be separate from secular authority to the extent possible for the Middle Ages. However, that is often taken too far by modern scholars. He still believed his barons and others must live with a code of conduct that pleased God – the idea that there was an absolute right and wrong, and that the might of someone didn’t make them right. “The notion of Right as an absolute,” one later writer said, “seemed at its height with Arthur the Great.”
He’d been influenced a lot by the common people. He provided an elected Parliament a few years after his agreement with the barons in 1204, but it was still very slow going, with the peasantry having only a little voice, and with barons expected to help them, something preached by the Waldensians in place of what could have been a “give everything to the poor” message.
Still, the logistics of a Parliament needed to be considered, as priests were removed and ones appointed who would present the “proper view of things.” Arthur saw a hierarchy was crucial for doing so, hence the need for a statewide Church.
Finally, on June 15, 1215, the first ever English Parliament met. The king still held lots of authority, but it was the beginning of a great tradition. However, the Peasants’ Council struggled, and a century later, rebellion would occur that would lead to reactionary attitudes before, in the late 1300s, a quasi-democratic House of Commons would exist, along with the House of Lords.
He also worked to organize secular courts and administration for local areas. Much of this was trial and error, which greatly bothered Arthur. While they had the ideas of the Greek city-states and the Roman Republic after a number of years - thanks to people researching and gathering this information at Arthur’s request – Arthur soon discovered that such work was very slow and tedious.
A later author wrote:
“Arthur the Great was lucky in two areas. He lived a long time, and he faced no wars, except for a tiny bit to help his sin-in-law in Wales. He began the tradition of not being embroiled in politics on the Continent….Some wonder why he didn’t go further, but the mindset was such that he did as much as he could, considering the times. Even then, it took a quarter of a century to really get things set up and running smoothly.”
The English Famine of 1235 proved that Arthur’s system could work. This first major test saw many suffering, and thousands died. However, partly due to Church provisions, partly due to Arthur using the royal treasury to buy food from France, and partly due to the Church even having the desire to be a safety net for the peasants, it wasn’t nearly as hard as it would have been. The same writer says:
“Europe could look at the English and say, ‘It works for them.’ It was peculiar to them, though, and since peasants didn’t really hear about it, there wasn’t demand elsewhere. France was a Catholic nation which was also doing very well, and the Pope pointed to it and as a “model Christian nation.” However, privately, the Pope disliked the French compromising in allowing the Waldensians. He saw potential in the Hapsburgs, though – they’d killed or chased all the Waldensians out of their tiny holdings in the Alps - to maybe be Holy Roman Emperors in the future. France was compromising and Frederick II was just plain uninterested in religious things. The Catholic Church still had the Inquisition, too. Waldensians still could face persecution, if things went the wrong way.”
Over in France, Louis VIII had married Eleanor of Brittany, who while a few years older than he was cemented two things – Brittany as a semi-independent, French possession, and a number of issue from the marriage.
There were several surviving ones, including Louis IX, born in 1210. He was influenced by his mother toward kindness and gentleness, and toward helping the poor. He became king on Louis VIII’s death in 1227, and his mother assisted him in reigning till her death in the 1250s; it’s said her heart gave way when he was captured on a Crusade, and she only held on till he returned, in 1255. Louis IX married the oldest daughter of the ruler of Provence, with the provision that Waldensians be allowed to worship freely in the region once more. Louis IX’s second daughter would be married to the Count of Savoy, too.
Louis IX, while heavily influenced by his Waldensian mother – who was Catholic in name only - remained Catholic himself, part of the peacemaking nature his mother taught him. The “English Way,” as some called it – basically a “don’t ask, don’t tell” system - started to be grudgingly accepted in France, though the Catholic Church became more reactionary, as the Inquisition was given the right, in the early 1230s, to transfer people to Rome itself. There were not only smaller nobles, but also actual kings now, who accepted Waldensianism, so the Church was afraid this would lead to even more schisms.
Louis IX, like his two predecessors, went on a couple Crusades, but he was mostly a man of peace, who tried hard to repair the breach, and bring the Protestants, as they were becoming known, into the Catholic fold. However, there had been too much damage. The best he could hope for was grudging acceptance of Protestants in other realms, and even that was often in word only. By the late 1250s, Church officials spoke of trying to put an even tighter hold on nations of Central and Eastern Europe, to prevent Protestantism from growing any further, and to possibly stamp it out in some realms.
As if signaling a shift, the first Hapsburg Holy Roman Emperor was crowned the year Louis IX died.
Savoy, meanwhile, had grown under Pietro II, Humbert’s son (named after Peter Waldo). They’d faced some opposition, and Pietro’s successor, like him, had to fight a few battles against Holy Roman Empire forces. Savoy and Piedmont had had to be places of refuge after an attack by HRE forces in 1218 drove Waldensians out of Provence. However, Waldensian believers had been buoyed by Waldo’s martyrdom, and they began to assert themselves as an independent people. Pietro II did this, too. After Arthur broke from Catholicism; Pietro declared himself a Protestant ruler.
While one might have thought this would make it hard for his children to find spouses among the nobility, it didn’t. The regions which would make up the original Swiss Confederation remained on friendly terms, as did Geneva. Not only this, but Provence had still been friendly to Pietro; Savoy still allowed Catholics to worship freely, after all. So it was that one of Pietro’s sons, who would eventually become Pietro III, was married to one of the daughters of the ruler of Provence.
By the 1240s, an uneasy peace continued among Catholics and Proestants, Waldensians and Arthurians, as some called them, though the name Presbyterian would more often be used after Arthur’s death. Concern was more centered on the advancing Mongol hordes, although the death of the Great Khan caused them to retreat, and the Hungarians had at least given them a very bloody nose in a rather indecisive battle.
By the 1250s, there was talk of a dynastic merger between Provence and Savoy, as Pietro III had become ruler of both, with his father-in-law having no surviving male issue.
The transition between Arthur and the next king of England went smoothly, and while the Inquisition took place, Louis IX’s accepting of Waldensians – with restrictions – as well as various peace treaties – where the Waldensian nations promised not to take up arms against Catholic ones – had left Europe in a relative state of peace. For now.
One writer on the era noted,
“The Protestant movement was helped by a number of things. Humbert getting his male heir, Richard’s death, their being able to influence Arthur, France, and so on, and a Holy Roman Emperor in Frederick II who really didn’t care much about the religious aspect of things….Still, the Papacy had areas that it did control extensively, and they wanted to expand that….”
(1) Similar to Alix of OTL dying in childbirth, similar genetic makeup is likely. Llewlyn can’t marry John’s illegitimate daughter, and would be way too old, even in these times, for a child of Arthur and Margaret. However, this is realistic, as Arthur would want to try to consolidate treaties with marriage, and yet might want to wait a little while, too, not forcing them at such a young age.