Back to top

Uther and Igraine

                         "the narrative is a whole, and it deals with the reasons why the young man came to grief at the end . . . It is a tragedy, the Aristotelian and comprehensive tragedy, of sin coming home to roost."

                             —The Once and Future King by T. H. White
Arthur Pendragon was the greatly prophesized and long awaited man who would be a great king. Everything about Arthur screams of mystical intervention and divine predestination, especially his conception. In most chronicles, books, and movies, the parents of Arthur are Uther (Uter, Vter, Vther) Pendragon and Igraine (Igerne, Igrayne, Igerna, Ygraine, Ygerna, Ygerne, Eigyr) of Cornwall. The general story is that while Igraine is married to the Duke of Cornwall Uther greatly desires to be with her. Through some trickery of Merlin, Uther enters the castle Tintagel and satiates his desire for Igraine, conceiving Arthur. The two are the conduits for the coming of Arthur. Their magical consummation is the beginning of the entire Arthurian saga.

There are many movies, novels, plays, poems, romances, comic books, and children's books that deal with the affair between Uther and Igraine. Characterizations vary from story to story, as does the relationship between the characters. Not all of the stories of Uther and Igraine follow the basic pattern. Some delve into matters of love between the two and others point to the lack of anything but lust. Sometimes the story is changed or cleaned up and even excludes a connection between Uther and Igraine. In some variations, the illicitness and the sinfulness of their union is a great issue.

Descriptions of Uther vary throughout the many versions of the story. The chronicle of Geoffrey of Monmouth is one of the first accounts of King Arthur and his father Uther Pendragon. Uther is described as a great warrior. He fights valiantly and even when poisoned and near death he marches into battle against the Saxons. He is, however, characterized as having a short temper. Depictions of Uther usually make him a strong warrior with a tendency towards anger and an impatient nature. Warwick Deeping differs from this characterization in the novel Uther and Igraine. Disguised as Pelleas, a wandering knight, Uther shows his compassion for others when he saves Igraine. He is also a depicted as warm natured and pious. Even when he knows that Igraine loves him, he will not let her make the decision to leave the convent he believes she entered. Gentle and kind, Uther's longing for Igraine drives him into being a great leader in battle. Uther's childhood and training are presented in Jack Whyte's Uther. In this story, Uther is determined and very intelligent. His one downfall is his quick temper and his tendency towards savageness. Uther has internalized battles with his civilized and barbaric upbringings. He is driven to impress his father, grandfather, and his mother who fears his savageness. These three depictions represent most of the characterizations of Uther.

The portrayals of Igraine, like those of Uther, vary from author to author. Most choose not give her character much depth. Geoffrey describes Ygerna only as beautiful. It is not until John Hardyng's chronicle that Igerne is depicted as faithful and virtuous woman who believed her affair with Uther "was so done in clene spousage" (line 475, p. 78). Thomas Malory describes Igrayne as a good and a fair woman. One of the few authors to characterize Igraine very deeply is Warwick Deeping. Igraine courageously leads the nuns and novices of Avangel to safety and holds back the Saxons by herself. She is very self-reliant and extremely independent. Her spirit cannot be broken even by her cruel husband, Gorlois. Marion Zimmer Bradley's The Mists of Avalon creates a more in depth picture of Igraine as well. Igraine is a very lonely and isolated character in the beginning. She has followed the orders of her sister and married Gorlois, ultimately she fights against the fate revealed to her. When she finally accepts her love for Uther, she is an extremely devoted and loyal wife.

Descriptions of Uther and Igraine's relationship varies much more greatly than their characterizations. In the earliest accounts, their union is driven by Uther's lust. Geoffrey of Monmouth, John Hardyng, and Thomas Malory describe his feelings as a great desire to lie with her. But this is true not only in early accounts. In John Boorman's Excalibur, Uther stares at Igraine with lust in his eyes. When he finally has her, he is impatient and takes her in an almost animalistic way. The Uther of Jack Whyte's story strongly desires to be with Ygraine. The two engage in a physical relationship while she is held captive. Love is not discussed until Ygraine finds herself pregnant.

On the other hand, some of the stories show how great their love can be. Deeping's novel depicts the great love that blossoms between the two on their journey. Even when separated for years, they still long to be together. John Conlee's article highlights the fact that neither Igraine nor Pelleas is aware of the other's true identity. They both fall in love with each other's true selves. Uther loves the fearless and gentle nature of Igraine and Igraine loves Uther's caring and self-sacrificing attitude. The story ends with the reunion of Uther and Igraine without describing a consummation. Marion Zimmer Bradley portrays the love of Uther and Igraine as so great that it follows them throughout their lives. Inexplicably drawn to one another, Igraine thinks that her feelings for Uther are some trick of Viviane's to push her into fulfilling her destiny. It is not until she dreams of life long past, that Igraine realizes that she and Uther were great loves in another life. Even in Geoffrey's chronicle there is some hint that the two really did have feelings for one another. The account of Uther and Ygerna ends by saying "from that day on they lived together as equals, united by their great love for each other" (208). Perhaps they had the kind of love that grew over time. One thing, however, that is not mentioned in most stories, is whether or not Igraine discovers Uther's deception and how she feels about it.

An interesting thing about some stories is the way in which the relationship between Uther and Igraine is cleaned up. In children's books like King Arthur and His Knights of the Round Table by Henry Frith, Uther does fall in love with Igraine who is already married to the Duke of Cornwall. However, he does not attempt to be with her until the Duke is slain in battle. The same thing happens in Sir James Knowles King Arthur and His Knights. The basic problem that requires Merlin's assistance is the fact that Igerna is locked up in Tintagel. It is for this that Merlin helps Uther and Uther promises his first-born son. While it is mostly children's books that clean up the story for their audiences, other works change the story in a similar fashion. Lord Alfred Tennyson's Idylls of the King suggests a completely different origin for Arthur. Tennyson's version has Merlin finding baby Arthur who is brought to the shore by the ninth wave that crashes down aflame in the dark night. This variation makes Arthur a much more divine and mystical character. Perhaps Tennyson devised this story because of the illicitness of the affair seemed a bit too shocking to Victorian readers.

Within most of the accounts of the affair of Uther and Igraine, there is usually some reference to the legitimacy of their union or of the Arthur's birth. Some stories say that Gorlois died before Uther lies with Igraine while others claim he was not slain until after his wife was deceived into making love to Uther. Often, at the same time that Uther comes to Igraine, Gorlois is killed in battle. Deeping's novel differs quite a bit from most other accounts in this regard. Uther does not trick Igraine into thinking he is Gorlois. In fact, it is Gorlois who uses Merlin's magic to look like Pelleas and fools Igraine into marrying him. Gorlois is killed before the pair are reunited. In the Scottish chronicle of John of Fordun, Arthur's conception is declared illegitimate and, thus, Anna and Loth's sons are the rightful heirs to the throne. In his article on the Scottish Chroniclers, Karl Goller mentions the prevalence of this opinion among Scottish chroniclers. He writes that there were very few chroniclers in Scotland who believed in Arthur's right to be king. By presenting Arthur's birth as illegitimate, they defend the rebellion of Mordred as an attempt to claim the throne that was rightfully his.

One element of the tale of Uther and Igraine has important ramifications for some authors. Gorlois, the Duke of Cornwall, is slain and his wife and land are taken from him because of Uther's desire for Gorlois's wife. Some authors suggest that effect of the unfair treatment of the Duke can be felt throughout Arthur's life. The reign of King Arthur, who is the product of what is sometimes called an illicit and sinful affair, ends in tragedy because of the offense against Gorlois. Michael Fraley's comic book Arthur: King of Britain follows the text of Geoffrey of Monmouth's chronicle. At the end of the first book of his series, he writes that it that Uther and Ygerne were haunted by the death of Gorlois. T. H. White tells the story of Uther and Igraine in an interesting way. The young sons of Lot tell the story to one another and swear to avenge their wronged granny. The eerie storytelling seems to foreshadow the ultimate defeat of King Arthur. Thomas Hughes's tragic play The Misfortunes of Arthur opens with the ghost of Gorlois telling his sorrowful tale and calling for revenge. The play depicts Arthur's tragic fall, which results from Gorlois's curse. At the end of the play, Arthur and Mordred fight in Cornwall, the same place where Gorlois was betrayed. The sin of Uther had come back to his son and led to his ultimate demise.

Although tales of Uther and Igraine are not as common as some Arthurian stories, the story prevails throughout time. There are several reasons why this story remains an important part of the Arthurian legend. First, it is an intriguing story with sex and violence. Great battles rage on between Gorlois and the armies of Uther while Uther deceives Igraine into to sleeping with him. Another reason is that this beginning to the tale of Arthur is the cause for the king's tragic end. The basis of Thomas Hughe's play is the revenge of the wronged Gorlois on the son of Uther Pendragon. Arthur pays the price for his father's sins. Most importantly, the story of Uther and Igraine is where the legend begins. Without their encounter, King Arthur would not exist nor would the wealth of stories about him.

This project was an Undergraduate Research Internship at the University of Rochester in the Spring of 2002 by sophomore and English major Teresa Lopez. Supervised and guided by Alan Lupack, director of the Robbins Library, she undertook this project to increase her knowledge of Arthurian legends as well as her experience with literary research and web page design. Additonal assistance for this project was provided by the Sibley Music Library at the University of Rochester, Rosemary Paprocki, and Anne Zanzucchi.



Geoffrey of Monmouth [1100-1155]. The History of the Kings of Britain. Trans. Lewis Thorpe. New York: Penguin Books, 1966.
Geoffrey of Monmouth's The History of the Kings of Britain is an epic chronicle of the rulers of England. Within the work, there is a reference to the relationship between Uther and Igraine, parents to King Arthur. Uther becomes king after the poisoning and death of his brother Aurelius by a Saxon named Eopa. The death of his brother causes another uprising of the Saxons lead by Octa, the son of Hengist. In an attempt to stop the advancing and destructive Saxons, Uther calls together all of the British leaders and princes to form a plan of attack. The opinion of Gorlois, Duke of Cornwall, is highly valued by Uther because he is "a man of great experience and mature years" (203). With his advice, the Saxons are defeated and Octa is captured. A victorious celebration ensues at Eastertide. All the British nobles gather including Gorlois with his wife Ygerna "who was the most beautiful woman in Britain" (205). Upon seeing her, Uther is immediately filled with desire for her. Gorlois notes the flirtatious attention Uther bestows on his wife and leaves the court without permission. Enraged, Uther vows to destroy Gorlois' land until he gets "satisfaction for the way in which he had been insulted" (205). Hiding away his beautiful wife at Tintagel, Gorlois leaves to battle against his king. Consumed with desire for Ygerna, Uther seeks advice from Merlin. The magician helps Uther by changing him into the likeness of Gorlois. Easily gaining entrance into the castle, Uther goes to Ygerna "and satisfied his desire by making love with her" (207). Arthur is conceived that night and meanwhile the Duke is killed in a siege of his camp. Uther leaves and learns of the death of Gorlois. He returns to Tintagel and seizes it and Ygerna at the same time. Geoffrey writes, "from that day on they lived together as equals, united by their great love for each other" (208). It is interesting to note that there is no discussion of Ygerna's feelings until after she is married to Uther. Indeed, there is no mention of love on either part until they are married. Uther's first feelings for Ygerna are described as lust. This last line about the relationship seems to suggest that there was true love between the two and their marriage was based on more than desire and political gain.


Lacy, Norris, ed. Launcelot-Grail: The Old French Arthurian Vulgate and Post-Vulgate in Translation. New York and London: Garland Publishing, Inc., 1993.
When Uther sees Ygraine at a gathering of all his most noble barons and knights, he falls deeply in love with her. Ygraine, who is married to the duke of Tintagel, takes note of his increased attention of her, but she is utterly faithful to her husband and avoids Uther. The King sends jewels to all the ladies at court, but Ygraine knows the presents were given to all the women because of her. The King continues to call all his noblemen and their wives to court so that he may see Ygraine. Uther's love for Ygraine increases each time he sees her and Ygraine can sense his distress, but does not know what to do. Uther's closest friends, especially Ulfin, try to counsel their lovesick king. Ulfin journeys to Tintagel to deliver Uther's gifts to the beautiful Ygraine. Ygraine will still not yield to the king's advances and the king, impressed by her faithfulness, loves her even more for it. Ygraine tells her husband of Uther's love for her and the duke is greatly angered. The duke rides out to wage war against Uther. Ulfin brings Merlin to help Uther be with Ygraine. Disguised as her husband, Uther enters Tintagel and openly kisses Ygraine. As he and Ygraine leave to be alone, Merlin reminds him that he promised his first male child. The duke is killed as he storms Uther's camp and the king takes his castle and his wife. When it becomes apparent that Ygraine is pregnant, Uther asks her about the child's father. Ygraine tells him that a man who looked like her husband came to her, but it could not have been him because he would have already been dead. The child is born and given to Merlin, as was promised.


John of Fordun [?-1385]. John of Fordun's Chronicle of the Scottish Nation. Vol. 1. Ed. William F. Shene. Edinburgh: Llanerch Publishers, 1872.
This chronicle is a departure from the others studied because it is about Scottish history. Not much is said about Uther and Igraine, but the legitimacy of Arthur is discussed. Uther is described as a brave man who is "excessively given to stirring up civil war among his subjects" (98). The civil war may be referring to his quarrels with Gorlois over Igraine. He is poisoned by the Saxons and Arthur succeeds him to the throne. The chronicle notes here that this was not "lawfully his due" (101). The traditional Scottish view holds that Anna and, more specifically, her sons were owed the throne. Modred and Galwanus of Loth are considered to be the rightful heirs.


Hardyng, John [1378-1460]. John Hardyng's Arthur: A Critical Edition. Ed. Christine Marie Harker. Diss. University of California Riverside, 1996.
Hardyng's chronicle strongly echoes the writings of Geoffrey of Monmouth. The account of Vter and Igerne is similar to the one found in the chronicle of Geoffrey. At the Eastertide celebration, Vter sees and lusts for Igerne the wife of Gorlois, Duke of Cornwall. Gorlois leaves Vter's court, angering the King. War ensues between the Duke and the King. Merlin transforms Vter into the semblance of Gorlois so he may gain access to his castle and his wife. Hardyng's chronicle is careful to note that Igerne went to bed that night with a man she thought was her husband, "trusting it was so done in clene spousage" (line 475, pg 78). Igerne is depicted as a good and true woman. The result of their union is Arthur. In the meantime, Gorlois is killed when his camp is stormed by Vter's troops. Before his poisoning by the Saxons, Vter orders that the great Round Table be built so that all his great leaders may gather together. Nothing is said about love between Vter and Igerne. It is simply put that Vter saw Igerne and desired to be with her.


Malory, Sir Thomas [ca 1416-1471]. Caxton's Malory: A New Edition of Sir Thomas Malory's Le Morte DArthur. Ed. James Spisak. Berkley and Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1983.
In his romance about King Arthur, Thomas Malory creates a situation similar to that in Geoffrey's chronicle. The Duke of Cornwall is summoned to Uther and is asked to bring his wife, Igrayne. When they arrive, the king sees Igrayne and "desired to have lyen by her" (3). However, Igrayne is a good and loyal wife and declines his offers. Malory differs from Geoffrey in that Igrayne asks Gorlois for an immediate departure from court before she is dishonored. Malory's representation depicts Igrayne as a virtuous woman concerned about her honor. The Duke and Uther fall into great dissension over his departure, which results in a war between the two. Igrayne is kept in the castle of Tyntagil where it is thought she will be safe from the King's advances. Merlin also plays a key role in Malory's version as he transforms Uther into the appearance of the Duke. However, in this story, he requests that the child the two conceive that night be given to him. Uther agrees and enters the castle to satisfy his lust. In Malory's account, the Duke is killed three hours before Arthur is conceived, making him a legitimate child. After the birth of Arthur, Uther asks Igrayne, now his wife, who the father of the child was. She replies that a man who looked like her dead husband came to her and got her with child. The child is given over to Merlin and after the death of Uther, Igrayne only surfaces once more in the story. Igrayne reveals that Arthur and Morgause are brother and sister after Arthur has already slept with Morgause. There is little mention of love within Malory's story. Uther does tell Igrayne that he loves her no matter what when he asks her about the origins of their son, Arthur. Igrayne, however, says nothing about love to either one of her husbands. It is unknown if she even cared very much for Uther.


Hughes, Thomas [fl. 1587]. "The Misfortunes of Arthur." Early English Classical Tragedies. Comp. and Ed. John W. Cuncliffe. Oxford: At the Clarendon Press, 1912.
Hughes's tragic play takes place after King Arthur departs for France and leaves his kingdom under the command of Mordred. Mordred has taken his queen and plans to replace Arthur as the ruler of Great Britain. The interesting thing about this play is the appearance of the ghost of Gorlois, the slain Duke of Cornwall and former husband of Igerna. He gives a kind of prologue in the opening of the play, relating the events that took place before Arthur's birth that will now lead to his downfall. He says that since the "shamefull lust" (1.1.6) of Pendragon "dispolyde thee [i.e., Gorlois] erst of wife, of lande, and life" (1.1.7) his spirit shall not rest until he is avenged. His speeches seem to convey that since Uther Pendragon committed so great a sin in killing this Duke and taking his wife, Arthur's life will forever be cursed. This original sin that resulted in the birth of Arthur finally comes back to him in his confrontation with Mordred. The final battle between the two takes place in Cornwall where Uther Pendragon finally achieved his goal of possessing Igerna. Mordred is killed only after having mortally wounded Arthur. The tale of Uther and Igerna is important to the overall argument of this play, which is that sins will not be forgotten.


Tennyson, Lord Alfred [1809-1892]. Idylls of the King. London: Penguin Books, 1983.
Tennyson offers a different story about Arthur's origins in Idylls of the King. Arthur's legitimacy is questioned in the story of "The Coming of Arthur" by Tennyson. He is said to be the son of Uther Pendragon, but some do not believe he is the rightful king. Uther sees Ygerne, wife of Gorlois, and "cast upon her eyes of love" (line 192). Gorlois and Ygerne leave Uther's court immediately causing Uther to wage war against Gorlois and, eventually, killing him. Ygerne is forced to marry Uther and several months later, Uther dies. As soon as Arthur came into the family, he was taken away to be reared by Merlin. Bellicent, Arthur's sister, is questioned about her younger brother. Bellicent makes the point that she, her mother, her father, and Uther were all dark while Arthur is quite fair. She also recounts a tale that claims that while Uther was dying, he desired an heir. That night, Merlin sees a ship with the shape of dragon wings in the sky. He can see bright shining people onboard as the sea begins to rise and fall. The great waves crash onto the shore until the ninth one plunges down in flames. From the flames is born a naked baby that Merlin picks up and declares is Uther's heir. Arthur is supposedly this child who was mystically born to be king.


Frith, Henry. King Arthur and His Knights of the Round Table. 1884; rpt Philadelphia: David Mckay Publisher, 1912.
The works of Thomas Malory are the basis for this retelling of the legend of King Arthur. At an Easter celebration, King Uther Pendragon sees the beautiful Igraine and falls in love with her. She, however, is married to the Duke of Cornwall, Gorlois. When Gorlois is killed in a battle against the Saxons, Uther takes the opportunity to pursue Igraine, but his efforts fail, as he cannot reach her in Tintagil. The sorcerer Merlin comes to his aid when Uther promises to give his first-born son to him. Uther marries Igraine and together they have a child named Arthur. Arthur is given over to Merlin and shortly thereafter, his father, Uther is slain in battle.


Deeping, Warwick [1877-1950]. Uther and Igraine. New York: A. A. Knopf, 1928.
Deeping's novel takes a different approach than Geoffrey of Monmouth to the story of Uther Pendragon and Igraine. Igraine meets Uther, who calls himself Pelleas, after she must leave the abbey Avangel when it is burned down by the Saxons. Igraine shows an immense amount of bravery and pride in her flight from Avangel with the other nuns and novices of the convent. She leads the women into the forest and even holds off the heathens with a bow and arrow so that the other women may escape. She is caught, stripped naked, and tied to a tree. Her cries for help bring the wandering knight, Pelleas to her aid. Together they ride to Winchester and, in the course of their travels, the two fall in love. However, Pelleas is under the impression that Igraine is a nun. The evening before they reach Winchester, Igraine confesses her love for Pelleas. She plans on revealing in the morning that she is only a novice. Pelleas, fearful of her breaking her vows, leaves as she sleeps. Igraine makes her way to Winchester where she lives with her uncle, Radamanth. She catches the eye of the notorious Gorlois of Cornwall and he vows to make her his wife. Turned off by his selfish and proud manner, Igraine refuses his advances while she discovers that her knight Pelleas just might be the soon-to-be king, Uther. After a violent confrontation with Gorlois, Igraine flees Winchester in search of Uther. Gorlois gives chase until he discovers her hiding place. In quite a departure from the story told by Geoffrey of Monmouth, Gorlois uses the magic of Merlin to take on the guise of Pelleas to trick Igraine into marrying him. He is successful and Igraine is hidden away from the view of all men. Igraine's hate for Gorlois increases throughout the year they are married and she takes every chance to tell her husband how much she wants him dead. The war against the Saxons gives Igraine the opportunity to flee her husband and finally set eyes on Uther and recognize him as Pelleas. Uther employs Merlin to decipher his visions and in the process discovers that Igraine was not a nun. Merlin tells him of her whereabouts and he leaves at once to meet her. It is a sad welcome when he learns of the trickery that befell Igraine. Once again, he wishes to protect her honor and leaves. Gorlois finds his wife and observes the exchange between his king and his wife and assumes she must be unfaithful. Still, he will not kill her or let her go. He is determined to break her yet. Igraine is imprisoned in Tintagel and suffers extreme physical and psychological torture. However, she will not bend to Gorlois' will and remains true to her heart and love. Word reaches Uther about the treatment of Igraine and he decides to serve his heart instead of his God. He and Gorlois fight under honorable terms and Uther kills Gorlois. Igraine has already escaped her imprisonment and is not in Tintagel when Uther arrives. Searching for her, Uther hears that she has gone mad. When he finally finds her asleep by a pond, he waits until the dawn awakens her to speak. Igraine feels as if she has just woken from a horrible nightmare and that all that was so horrible has passed. She then asks Uther if she may now be his wife. Deeping makes much of the love that exists between the two. Both continually think of the other and try to remain true to their love.


Boughton, Rutland [1878-1960]. The Birth of Arthur (Uther and Igraine). Choral Drama: The Libretto. London: W. Reeves, 1914.
Merlin orchestrates the coming together of Uther and Igraine in Boughton's choral drama. He keeps Gorlois away long enough for the conception and convinces Igraine of her duty to bring Arthur into the world. The story begins with Uther watching the tower at Tintagel as he waits for the chance to storm the castle and finally take Igraine. His patience at an end, Uther implores Ulfius for help. Ulfius seeks out the magician Merlin who is said to be spurned from the devil. Merlin agrees to help Uther satiate his desires if he will promise to give Igraine's first-born son to him. He speaks to the storms and seas that guide him in his magical arts. He says, "So shall the greatest love give us the Hero" (9). As Merlin meets with Uther, Igraine sits in Tintagel speaking to Brastias of the emptiness of her heart. Gorlois prefers war over her affection and she does not know if she loves him anymore. Merlin comes to Igraine and tells her she will bear a child of great importance, but not to her husband, Gorlois. Merlin and the will of the world (which speaks to her through Merlin) reveal to Igraine that she feels love for Uther. When Uther comes to her and confesses his love for her. Igraine replies, "Nay, Uther, twas thyself thou loved'st! / For me...but full of longing" (22). The two embrace and Arthur is conceived that night.


Knowles, Sir James [1831-1908]. King Arthur and His Knights. New York: Blue Ribbon Books, 1923.
This children's book is based on the stories of Thomas Malory's Morte DArthur. Uther Pendragon, brother of Aurelius, takes over the kingship when his brother dies and fights the Saxon invasion of Great Britain. In celebration of his victories, he invites all of his noblemen for a celebration at Eastertide. It is there that he meets Igerna, wife of Gorlois the Duke of Cornwall. Uther falls in love with Igerna. Fortunately for him, Gorlois is slain in battle and he can try to marry Igerna. However, Igerna is shut up in Tintagil and cannot be reached. Uther turns to Merlin for help and the magician agrees to assist his king on one condition. Merlin wants the first-born son of Igerna and Uther. Uther agrees and successfully marries Igerna. Together, they make Arthur who is taken by Merlin to be raised by Sir Ector.


White, T. H. [1906-1964]. The Once and Future King. New York: Ace Books, 1965.
Queen Morgause sits below the bedroom of her young boys who are telling stories while she works her magic arts. The young Gawaine, Aggravaine, Gareth, and Gaheris tell the story of the disgracing of their granny, Igraine. Each takes turns telling the well-known story of Uther Pendragon, Merlin, and the trickery used to defile the Countess of Cornwall. Uther Pendragon, his advances spurned by Igraine, besieges the castles of the Earl of Cornwall. He uses the necromancy of Merlin to disguise himself as Igraine's husband and is able to enter Tintagil. The Earl of Cornwall is killed and "the chaste and beautiful Igraine" (216) is imprisoned by Uther and forced into marriage. Gawaine is the most adamant about fighting against the Pendragons, especially the young Arthur Pendragon, for the wrong committed against their family. It seems as though this moment of storytelling foreshadows the events that lead to Arthur's ruin.


Excalibur. Dir. John Boorman. With Nicol Williamson, Nigel Terry, and Helen Mirren. Warner Home Video, 1981.
Aided by the wisdom of Merlin, Uther Pendragon is able to unite Britain and make peace with the Duke of Cornwall. Uther has Excalibur, the sword of power, and is recognized as the King of Britain. However, at the celebration for this truce, Uther causes a scene when he lewdly stares at the Duke's wife, Igraine. As he watches her seductive dance, Uther declares that he must have her. The peace between the two men quickly crumbles and Uther besieges the Duke's castles. He can wait no longer and requests Merlin to help him possess Igraine. Merlin agrees to help if he can have the child that will be conceived that night. Merlin calls on "the Dragon" to fill the night with his foggy breath and transform Uther into the likeness of the Duke of Cornwall. The Duke, chasing after Uther's retreating troops, storms Uther's camp. He is thrown from his horse and pierced by spears. A young Morgana awakes and cries out that her father is dead. At that moment, Uther appears and Igraine is fooled by his appearance. However, Morgana watches with suspicious eyes as the man lies with her mother. Later on, Igraine gives birth to a child conceived with a man she thought was her husband. Merlin takes the child as Igraine screams at Uther to run after him. Uther relents and rushes off to find Merlin. He is ambushed by men loyal to the Duke and is wounded. Before dying, he plunges Excalibur into a stone. It is proclaimed that only the true king will be able to release the sword from the stone.


Bradley, Marion Zimmer [1930-1999]. The Mists of Avalon. New York: Ballantine, 1982.
Bradley's account of the Arthurian saga is the most original of the Arthurian stories. It is told from the perspective of Arthur's half sister Morgaine, daughter of Igraine and Gorlois. Through her abilities as a Seer, she can tell of things that happened even when she was not present. Her mother was the daughter of Taliesin, the Merlin, and her aunt was the Lady of the Lake, Viviane. Igraine was given to Gorlois in marriage for political reasons and she is very unhappy with her life in Cornwall. She misses her home and her only comfort is her daughter Morgaine. An unexpected visit from Viviane is the beginning of her relationship with Uther Pendragon. Viviane informs her that the future of Avalon lies with Uther and the child the two will make. Igraine accompanies her husband to see Aurelius, brother of Uther, who is dying and needs to figure out who will rule after his death. It is there that Igraine first meets Uther. The two realize that they feel a strong to pull to one another and Igraine's dreams reveal that they were lovers in a former life. Gorlois is unhappy with the attention Uther is giving his wife and departs suddenly while withdrawing his support for Uther to be king. Uther is chosen to replace Aurelius and now fights against Gorlois who will not recognize him as king. Uther uses Taliesin to gain access to Tintagel and Igraine. Igraine can see through the disguise and welcomes him into her home and bed. While the two consummate their love, Gorlois is killed in a siege on his camp. After their marriage, Igraine spends the rest of Uther's life doting on him and ignoring everything else in her life. Her love for him is so great that she even neglects her two children, Arthur and Morgan. After his death, Igraine joins a convent and she dies with only Gwenyfhar at her side.


Fraley, Michael [1963- ]. Arthur: King of Britain. Plymouth, MI: Tome Press, 1993.
Michael Fraley, writer and illustrator of this comic book, uses the chronicle of Geoffrey of Monmouth as the basis of the story of King Arthur. Uther Pendragon assembles all of his barons and knights to celebrate his coronation. The peaceful gathering is interrupted when Gorlois, Duke of Cornwall, abruptly leaves the court. Uther calls after him and orders him to stay. Gorlois refuses to remain so the king can continue making advances towards Ygerne, his wife. He storms out and Uther swears to punish him for the insult. Ygerne is frightened and does not wish for her husband to leave her. Gorlois tells her he must leave so that she will be safer. There seems to be a great amount of love and respect between the two. When Uther receives word that Gorlois has left Ygerne only in Cornwall he surrounds the castles and waits. Uther feels he cannot wait any longer to be with Ygerne and asks for the assistance of his friend Ulfin. Merlin is brought to Uther by Ulfin and says that he can help. He will transform Uther so that he appears to be Gorlois. Uther's disguise fools the guards and Ygerne. Meanwhile, Uther's troops are restless and decide to storm the camp of Gorlois. The Duke is one the first to die and messengers travel quickly to Cornwall to deliver the sad news. Much to their surprise, Gorlois/Uther emerges from the bedchambers and orders everyone to leave. Uther is saddened by the loss of such a great warrior, but still takes Gorlois's land and marries Ygerne. The comic book mentions that not much is known about Ygerne's reaction to any of this, but "we can imagine that Gorlois' death was a shadow that followed them all of their days."


Hampton, Bo, and Dan Abnett. Uther, the Half Dead King. New York: Nantier, Beal, Minoustchine, 1994.
This comic book follows the story of Uther and Igraine found in Geoffrey of Monmouth's chronicle. Uther is poisoned and dying as he reflects on his life -- from his flight from Vortigern to his possessing of Ygrain. After his brother dies fighting off the Saxons, Uther becomes king. He receives much advice from Merlin, most of which he ignores. He upsets Gorlois, his best warrior and nobleman when he stares lustfully at Gorlois's wife, Ygrain. Merlin tries to tell him to put his mind towards uniting Britain and being a good ruler, but all Uther can think about is how to get Ygrain. Merlin finally relents and helps him, thinking that he could still use Uther as a vessel to make the right king. He uses his magic to give Uther the appearance of Gorlois and Uther goes to Ygrain. Once Gorlois is dead, Uther marries Ygrain and she is pregnant with a child she believes is Gorlois's, but she feels no love for it. As Merlin speaks to Uther about the future, Uther keeps thinking about the past. Merlin is frustrated with Uther and leaves him as Uther drinks from a pond. Uther is poisoned, but he stills fights against Octa, a Saxon invader, and is killed in his weakened state. Merlin reflects that Uther was too caught up in the past when only the future matters. However, Merlin knows there will be another king.


Arthur's Quest. Dir. Neil Mandt. With Eric Christian Olsen, Arye Gross, and Zach Gallagan. Crystal Sky International, 2000.
Young Arthur is taken from his father, Uther Pendragon, and brought to the 20th century for protection against the evil Morgana. Morgana betrays Uther and joins the dark warriors in a war against the King. Uther shares a special relationship with his son, one that is not seen in most versions of the Arthurian story. Uther teaches his son the ideals of being a good king before he is seemingly killed by Morgana. Merlin takes Arthur to the future where he promises to return for the child in a few years. Ten years later, Merlin returns, but he cannot convince Artie that he truly is King Arthur. Eventually, Arthur has memories of his father and accepts his destiny. He defeats Morgana and is reunited with his father. Artie, his adoptive mother, Gwen, and Merlin return to the past.


Whyte, Jack. Uther. New York: Tom Doherty Associates, 2001.
In this novel, Uther is born to Uric of Cambria who is married to Veronica of Camulod. Uther spends half of his life in his father's country and the other half in his mother's home. Throughout his life, Uther struggles with a fear of his inner savageness and brutality. Whyte spends most of his book describing Uther's childhood and training as warrior and as a soldier. The affair between Uther and Ygraine is not discussed until the final half of the story. Ygraine is in a loveless marriage with Gulhrys Lot and has spent much of their married time away from the castle in Cornwall. Lot has been Uther's enemy since childhood and has been waging war against Cambria and Camulod since he took command of the forces in Cornwall. Ygraine meets Uther when he takes her and her escorts hostage. Ygraine joins forces with Uther in his war against Gulhrys Lot and returns to Lot as spy. Before that, she and Uther are greatly attracted to one another and end up giving into lust. It is not until Uther finds out that Ygraine is pregnant with his child that the two feel genuine love for each other. However, they both meet with a tragic end. After defeating Lot's armies and sending Ygraine home to her father, Uther is attacked by vagrants who take his armor and track down the women he was with earlier. Ygraine and her companions are violated and murdered by these men. Uther's cousin Caius Merlyn, who has just recovered from two years of amnesia watches as he sees someone he thinks is Uther commit these atrocities. Merlyn "hardly knew whether or not his cousin deserved to be avenged"; and he did not wish to add to "all the violent death he had seen in the previous few days."  So he does not fight Uther's slayer. Rather, he takes Ygraine's child, Arthur, home to Camulod.


The Mists of Avalon. Dir. Uli Edel. With Julianna Margulies, Angelica Huston, and Joan Allen. Turner Home Entertainment, 2001.
This TNT movie makes a few changes in the legend of Arthur as told in Bradley's novel. For the most part, the story of Uther and Igraine remains the same despite the exclusion of some scenes between the two. Uther and Igraine meet, as foretold by Viviane, at the council called by the dying king Aurelius. Igraine sees the symbol of the dragon on his forearms and recognizes it as the same symbol Viviane said the man of her destiny would bear. Igraine is confused and upset by this turn of events until Uther comes to her and she feels as if she knows him and Uther tells her that they must have known each other in another life. Gorlois witnesses the exchange and he takes Igraine back to Cornwall. Uther is still at war with the Saxons and requests help from Gorlois, which is flatly denied. This causes Uther to wage war on Gorlois and ultimately meet up again with Igraine. Disguised as Gorlois, Uther comes into Tintagel. It is unclear if Igraine is aware of the disguise, as she is in the novel, but she still takes him into her bed. Gorlois's body is brought to Tintagel shortly after this and Uther marries Igraine. The two seem to live happily together until Uther is killed by Saxon invaders. Igraine, filled with grief, joins a convent.


Conlee, John. "Warwick Deeping's Uther and Igraine." Arthuriana 11.4 (Winter 2001): 88-95.

Fletcher, Robert Huntington. The Arthurian Material in the Chronicles: Especially those of Great Britain and France. New York: Burt Franklin, 1973.

Goller, Karl Heinz. "King Arthur in the Scottish Chronicles." In King Arthur: A Casebook. Ed. Edward Kennedy Donald. New York: Garland Publishing, 1996. pp 173-84.

Lacy, Norris, ed. The New Arthurian Encyclopedia. New York and London: Garland Publishing, Inc., 1996.

Morris, Rosemary. "Uther and Igerne: A Study in Uncourtly Love." Arthurian Literature 4(1985): 70-93.