Morgause

I have been in mourning for my sons for many weeks now. I am glad they are reunited with my husband though. Somewhere else. I don’t really know where. I didn’t really listen in church. It was all rather dull. But the priests assure me there are in a better place. There’s also quite a lot of wine in church so I now find I quite like it there.

Well things are all going well here. Arthur is just as much an idiot as I knew he was. I’ve known it for years but apparently it’s a bit of surprise to everyone else.

He has gone on to France somewhere. I don’t really know where. I never really liked France. We went there once. King Ban of Brittany was giving my husband a bit of trouble. Trying to tax our merchants and things like that. He needed sorting out anyway. I remember there was some kind of hill coming out of the sea. A generally dull place. No snow. Who would chose to live somewhere where it never snowed? Well Arthur I suppose in Camelot-but once again I always knew he was an idiot.

Anyway so there are things happening in France. Which means Mordred is in charge here. As Arthur’s son it is only right. Especially as Guinevere couldn’t even provide him with a single child. Of course Arthur presented it as putting his nephew in charge. But everyone knows Mordred is actually his son.

Gawain is in France, off to kill Lancelot. I’m sure he will. Gawain has beaten a giant knight, heathen giants and various other monsters. His wife is a bit weird I must say. Pretty enough but can’t seem to manage a sensible conversation. Still hasn’t managed to produce any children also. I’ll need to find Mordred a wife who is fertile. It seems to be surprisingly difficult here. I’ll have to give it some thought.

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Master Robert, Arthur’s [cancelled] Master Carpenter

That Mordred character.  Best thing ever to ‘happen to this damn kingdom of ours!  I knew it was a good idea to leave ‘Im in charge.  No sooner ‘ad Arthur (god bless and all that palaver) sailed off to war, then good ‘ol Mordred takes the throne and usurps the bugger.  Y’see, few of those so-called knights appreciate the cost o’ maintainin’ a vast overseas Empire and fundin’ those vast armies ‘o his.  Now, I like a good war as well as the next man, but the taxes were getting ridiculous.  Not that they affected me o’course, heh heh.  Last time they sent a king’s tax collector down my way they found ‘I’m five weeks later (well, most of ‘im) spread across three counties of England.  The ‘ead gave the monks the best crop o’ Roses I’ve ever seen in me life, hur hur.  Anyway, the instant Arthur was gone Mordred lowered taxes, cut off support to ‘is nibs’ armies and took over the whole bloody country with ease.  Now there’s a king and an ‘alf!  He’s won my support, I can tell yer.  Plus the king ‘ad the cheek to buy all ‘is catapults from ‘Honest’ Matthews down in the old town.  Thanked me for me services and said I was too old!  I’m as fit as a flea and rugged as an ‘orse, and ‘e ‘ad the cheek to tell me that.  Asked me to make shields! Me!  I don’t know what the world’s comin’ to, but that don’t sound like no just king, not by my book.
Baker disagreed with me, but they led ‘Im off in chains and ‘ung im from the flagpole last week.  Some might call it a bit ‘arsh, but then again I never liked the bugger.  Word on the street is the king still ‘asn’t worked it out yet, but ‘ow they know is anyone’s guess.  Baker’s son reckons he’ll be back any day now with a mighty army to crush us into the mud, but I gave ‘im a cuff around the ear so that’s alright.  I don’t know ‘ow Arthur’s goin’ to try to get out o’ this.  He’s got a lot of our cash over in France payin’ the wages, and Lancy boy’s gonna wipe the floor with ‘im.  Oi reckon its time for the king to get ‘is just deserts, burnin’ up ‘is wife like that, forcing innocent carpenters to extend round tables and defraudin’ an honest tradesman out of ‘is right to make catapults and listen to the crunch of stones striking bodies.  I know she got better, but it’s the principle that counts.
Word is Mordred needs siege engines of ‘is own.  ‘Honest’ Matthews went with the king for maintnance and such, so guess who’s in the frame?  Looks like yours truly will be ‘earin the cry of well-strung catgut any day now!  We’ve got a few rebels to put down and if Arthur ‘ides in a castle we’ll want to take it back.  Trapped between us and Lancy boy, I reckon the king is goin’ down.  Made a fortune’s wheel for ‘im once.  On a throne it was.  Lovely finish.  Had some amazin’ figures of kings bein’ crushed under the wheel.  Loved that.  Used me best awl to shape up the teeth on ‘is lovely screamin’ face.   Looks like Arthur’s in that place right now.  I can just see ‘im thrashin’ about, with Lancy turnin’ that wheel like a rack.  Oh, yes.

Master Robert, Arthur’s Carpenter

Didn’t think it was possible to wake up with your face glued to a table.  On second thoughts, shouldn’t of tried to build a pyx after coming back from a bender.  Try as you might, a seven-sided top does not fit onto an eight-sided bottom and whatever that carved angel is doing to that other carved angel I really, really don’t want to know.  Maybe good old Lancy boy could learn a thing or too, hur, hur.
Finally pulled meself off the table some time mid-afternoon with the help of Roger the stableboy.  ‘E only came round for a couple a laths and a good cursin’, the poor bugger.  Left half me beard on the surface, but doubt the king’ll care.  That overprivileged git’s got other problems on ‘is mind right now.  Heard Lancy boy finally carried that Gwi, Gwena, Gerwinna… G person off, the lucky bastard.  Looks like war’s a comin’!   Saw the king ridin’ through town this eve, and he had a face so long I reckons you could measure from ‘ere to Jerusalem with that bloody chin of his.  Heh.  Or his flapping mouth.  Reports are a bit conflicted on this one.  Baker says he convicted her of adultery and tried to ‘ave ‘er burned alive.  Then down swoops that Lancy fella and carries her off into the night, like.  Pity I wasn’t around. I do likes a nice bit o’ street theerter.   The old geezer weren’t too happy about that, I reckon.  The Baker always was full of bullocks… bollocks… bullock’s bollocks, heh, though – his ‘prentice, Tom, said he was stark raving drunk all night.  ‘Parently in the the same tavern as me, not that I’d remember.  Last time we met up down the tavern we only found him three days later, mission’ ‘is two front teeth.  Wondered where those shiny new ones embedded in me fist came from, so I palmed ’em off to the Abbey, quiet like.  Reckon they could use some Apollonia relics, heh heh heh.
Anyway, others reckon ‘e just took her in the night or bust her out of jail or somethin.  Gawayne was pissed.  Understatement of the century.  The stableboy said ‘e’d sworn eternal vengeance or somein like that.  Me, I’m just happy they’ll be needin’ my expensive services again.  Nothin’ quite like a good war to get some carpentry up an goin’.  Thank God he’ll ‘ave somethin’ on ‘is mind apart from that bloody table.  Things’ve been tough since the repairs to the old castle got finished, let me tell you.  Now, though, hur hur hur… Now we’ll see some action!  Nothin’ I’d like better than to see the whole damn kingdom come crashin’ down around us!  Then there’ll be endless work for a capable carper like me!   I reckon the king’ll find ‘imself evenly matched by Lancy boy in war.  I’ve seen ‘I’m joust a couple a times, and he was somethin’ else.  ‘E mashed all t’other knights with those bulging muscles, and snagged all the ladies with those gorgeous green eyes…
Anyway, looks like it’ll be a good’un.  Can’t wait until I ‘av to raise me first batterin’ ram and tune me first catapult.   Now I’ve just got to find what I did with the animal glue…

Agravain

I’m the king’s nephew, little good that is to me. Gawain of course gets all the attention because he’s the eldest, and the perfect knight. Gareth also lives up to the ideal of knighthood as it is discussed at the court of peace, at Camelot, where true war is now a distant memory. I’m good at war, but not at court, they forget that underneath the tournaments and glittering banners and the admiration of women is the brutal reality of battle, of death. I cannot forget it. Mordred at least recognises this, knows what it is to see a plan come to fruition, and knows that in the end, power is important, not pretty words.

 

Lancelot has forgotten his vows, the rumours of his affair with my pretty aunt have reached even to Orkney. Here I’m trapped doing the work that my brothers have abandoned in favour of pretty court life. Here I must rule, yet Orkney will never be mine. When Father dies, Gawain will be lord here, no thanks will I get, but scorn as Gawain and his odd wife reluctantly leave Camelot for cold, wind-swept islands. If Mordred were king, or even named as Arthur’s heir as Arthur grows old and weak, then other, Southern lands would be mine. Maybe in the rich South Downs, or at Glastonbury? Mordred has sworn to me that he will reward me as his brother and those would be worthy of a prince.

 

I will write to the king. No, writing is too easily disbelieved. I will go myself back to Camelot, and I will see Lancelot laid low so that Mordred is Arthur’s favourite, Mordred is named as his heir, bastard though he is. It will hurt Gawain of course, he still believes in honour, in the knightly code which forbids all wrongdoing. He has not fought the Scottish wars, he has not seen what I and my father have done to keep his lands safe. With Lancelot removed from Arthur’s side, and with the Queen disgraced, who else should Arthur turn to, but his dear bastard son? With Mordred, I will rise, I will gain the rewards I should have had from my uncle. Chivalry will be shown to be a sham, and fair words will be shown to be hollow.

 

My tools will be shameful, my purpose hidden, and carried out in the shadows, but I will have great rewards. I will not make them endure war as I have endured it, but I will strip it of this false pretty play-acting. Lancelot will fall, and Mordred will take his place. The knight without reproach (ha!) shall be replaced with the fighter. A more honest power, I think.

Master Robert, Arthur’s Carpenter

I tell you, I’ve had it up to here with Arthur and his bloody table.  If he’d just stop adding knights for five minutes, then we’d all be better off.
 
Had the king’s messenger here earlier, and he ended up hollering at me a good half an hour after. I gave him a piece of my mind.  The king needs this and the the king needs that!  Chivalry and all that palaver.  Some new ponce with a sword turns up out of some legend or such and we’re expected to accommodate the bastard at table!  Does the king have any idea how hard it is to be a bespoke table manufacturer at my age?  Does he have any idea how to scribe an arc on that scale and cut the wood to match.  Bloody monarchs.
 
The king wants an extension for his table, he says, because its getting crowded.  That’s the fifth bloody time he’s asked for that this year!  Damn mess.  ‘Why can’t he just order a new table like anyone else?’  I said the first time.  Heredity and honour and all that bullshit.  Something about tradition.  ‘How in God’s name am I supposed to extend a round table?’, I asked the first time.  ‘Now, give me a nice a square table and I could extend it as long as you want, but a round one?  Why don’t you cheapskates just buy another?  I’ll make it for you, cut-price rate.  I’ll even throw in a new paint job for three.’  But, no, it has to be the same bloody table.  Five extensions.  Bloody hell.  And every time its more work, cause of circum… circ… Circly stuff, but do they pay me any more for my time?  And last time, they had the nerve to send it back, because it wasn’t large enough.  Well, how the hell am I supposed to calculate that distance?  I’m not some king’s clerk with an obsession with numbers – I’m just a carpenter.  A bloody good carpenter.  Damn straight.
 
Honestly, being a royal carpenter is the worst.  Had that Launcelot’s serving boy in here earlier about that chest I made last week.  Apparently the door was on backwards or somethin… I don’t know.  I was drunker when he came in than when I made the bloody thing, let me tell you!  Anyway, the kid reckons old Lancy boy has started joustin’ for the big G’s affections, if you know what I mean.  Heard the smith saying she’d ordered some new locks for her chambers with bolts and bars on the inside.  Hope word gets back to the king.  I reckon a good civil war’d let me clean up in the bespoke coffin and siege engine market.  Its a long time since I had to tune a catapult.  
 

Morgause

Victory!

A bittersweet victory, but a victory nonetheless. I am of course saddened by the death of my son Gareth. But he died for a good cause, as now my other four sons will never make peace with Lancelot. And so Camelot will fall.

So Lancelot and Guenevere are gone from Camelot and can now never return. Gawaine has sworn revenge and of course his brothers support him. Agravaine and Mordred are eager to avenge their brother’s death. Gaheris I expect will always do the same. He always seems to go along with them. Normally in the background though. I told him he needed to assert himself more or no one will ever remember about him.

Even Arthur appears to finally be doing the right thing. I’m very glad he sentenced Guenevere to death by fire. It was exactly what she deserved for her adultery. And especially with Lancelot. To chose someone so obvious and preening shows a lack of character with her. My Lot wasn’t the handsomest man in England but he was clever and interesting and Lancelot is neither of those. Even Gawaine is cleverer than Lancelot and that isn’t saying much. Lancelot just swans around on his horse being brave. The only interesting thing he ever did was sleep with his best friend’s wife-and then he got caught. What an idiot!

I except Lancelot and Guenever are out in the countryside starving somewhere. Guenevere could hardly look after herself. I doubt she could even pick up a sword without squealing and dropping it. What an embarassment to Arthur she must have been for all of these years. Agravaine and Mordred did him a favour really.

I suppose it also good that Arthur’s downfall comes by the plotting of his own son. His son destroys his wife. Of course none of this would necessarily have happened if Guenevere could give Arthur a son. I expect she would then focus on her son’s future and do all that she could to ensure everything was well. Like when Lot and I had four sons it was obvious that we needed to expand our kingdom to give each of them their birthrate.

Guenevere is such a failure as a woman and a wife.

Guenevere

132I was given to Arthur with a piece of furniture – a table, to be precise – as my dowry. He ended up preferring the table.

I’m quite sure he only insisted on marrying me because Merlin told him I was trouble. Arthur always did enjoy the notion of a challenge. Merlin knew, you see, and wanted to protect his precious Arthur. He knew all this would happen with Launcelot and me. The old trickster.

But Merlin, much as he saw, had a very serious blind spot when it came to Arthur’s family. It is they that he should have paid closer attention to – Arthur’s half sisters, to be precise. Arthur created a monster (and here I don’t think I’m being too severe) when he committed that most ungodly of deeds – incest – with his half sister Morgause, and she later gave birth to a son, Mordred. They think I am ignorant of this fact, but I have many eyes and ears in this court. Just looking at that boy makes me shiver with fear. He’ll be trouble, mark my words.

I never could bring myself to touch Arthur after that. But I was still young, so young! Full of life, and wild passions, yet trapped, wasted, untouched. Bought by Arthur’s great name and his little love.

But then… him. Multitudes upon multitudes of women swooned over Launcelot – for his dark beauty, his prowess and chivalry, and his mysterious fey-touched upbringing by the Lady of the Lake. They said he’d never been overcome in battle, unless by treason or enchantment. I rolled my eyes to myself when I heard tell of his reputation, determined not to be impressed (I have always been of a contrary disposition). He arrived at court and the furore was unbelievable. All over one man! No one could be that impressive.

We held a great tournament, and as predicted, Launcelot won the day. As was customary, he dedicated all of his deeds of arms to me, as his queen. His performance had been undeniably impressive and I started to understand what the fuss was about.

But it was later, when evening fell as soft as a caress: the candles had been lit and the little insects had started their chorus, that I understood the true worth of the man. On that balmy summer night, full of hinted promise, Launcelot walked with me around my gardens. Peacocks wandered underneath the trees. Alone, all of his bravado melted away, and we were just a man and a woman, talking. We laughed, and the world itself sparkled. He truly saw me – my strengths and my flaws, all. And he loved me. It is the greatest gift of my admittedly privileged life.

Words, and a few stolen kisses, were all that we enjoyed for some time. We both fought against this adulterous, treacherous fate. But fate goes ever as it must, and eventually we became lovers. Launcelot is the truest lover that ever lived. I know women constantly throw themselves at his feet, but I also know, as surely as I know my own name, that he will never love another but me, in heart, mind or body. Something I certainly never had with Arthur.

Our love is not easy. We are often apart. Admittedly, I have a tendency to caprice and whimsy, and can make Launcelot’s life difficult in many ways, but missing someone constantly can make us behave in strange ways, and he understands that as he understands me. My bigger concern is that I’m sure Arthur’s nephews know about us… They will make trouble for us one day, no doubt. I have seen Agravain watching from dark corners as Launcelot and I talk. I have seen him whispering wickedly with Mordred. But there is absolutely no way that I am going to give up the most precious part of my life. I have too few other joys.

Some say that Launcelot and I will be the downfall of Arthur and Camelot. To them I say: have you not seen the many other fractures in this place; the wicked things that go on here, and the wicked people? Launcelot and I are the purest thing in this whole wretched kingdom, and no matter what else happens, I know that we will meet a good end, because our love is true.

Gawain

I will notArthur-Pyle_Sir_Gawain let this go. My lord Arthur’s resolve weakens, but I cannot allow him to make peace with Lancelot. Lancelot killed my brother! Poor Gareth, he was always the brother I cared most about. Agravain is too close by far to Mordred. As for Mordred, while he may be my brother, I would place no trust in him. I am not even convinced that he is wholly my brother, but there is no point asking mother about this, as she is every bit as treacherous. Those fools caused all of this with their scheming and plotting. I begged them not to reveal the affair of Lancelot and Guinevere to Arthur, as it would bring nothing but trouble, but they would not listen.

Arthur’s rage knew no limits when he learned of his lady’s inconsistency. I argued that it was a consequence of Lancelot saving her life and serving as her protector, and a thing to be forgotten about, but Arthur would not be placated. He ordered that Guinevere be burned for her sins. I would do many things for my king, but I refused to take part in this use of violence against a lady. That would be no true chivalry! Instead I stayed away, to my great regret.

Lancelot came to rescue his lady, and this is when he mistakenly killed my dear brother Gareth. Lancelot is an honourable knight, who has done many brave deeds, but there can be no forgiveness for the death of my kinsman. I will avenge my brother. Though it may bring the downfall of this beloved kingdom, I will not forsake the vengeance I am owed for my brother’s death. I go now to join the fighting, and to seek out my enemy, who was once my brother in knighthood.

Morgause

Finally my youngest son has come to Camelot to join his brothers. When I last saw him he was but a child and now he is a man grown. It makes my heart glad to see him well. It also makes my heart glad to know that through him Arthur’s court will be destroyed, as predicted by my sister.

Of all his brothers he appears to be closest to Agravaine, which surprises me. Due to their similarity in ages I had expected he would be closest to Gareth. But Gareth worships Gawaine and Mordred never really got on with Gawaine. I’ve often wondered if Gawaine suspects Mordred’s true parentage. After all he was old enough when Mordred was born to be aware of what was happening. But I don’t see how he could have known anything.

From where I sit now by the fire I can see Agravaine and Mordred huddled together in the corner, talking in low voices. There appear to be plotting something. I do hope that it is Arthur’s destruction.

Although actually Agravaine has always been fairly in awe of Arthur. It is Lancelot that he hates. Jealously I expect. Lancelot is very proficent with weapons and very handsome. I’ve never been particularly attracted to him. Obviously he is a lot younger, but the main problem is that he just seems really stupid. A far cry from my late husband.

Arthur has now returned to the room, along with Gareth, Gawaine and Gaheris. And now he’s coming over here. Why does he have to do that? Doesn’t he know how much I hate him? Well actually he doesn’t because otherwise he might suspect that his own destruction is looming and do something about it. And now I must be polite and hide my hate behind sisterly love.

Diary of an anonymous outlaw, 28 November 1305

indexThe other outlaws are mocking me again about my poetry. Well, they might be content to behave like uneducated fools, but I have a point to make. My latest poem is quite impressive, if I say so myself. When the others are asleep I shall leave it by the road for a traveller to discover and hope that they spread the message. I know this is unlikely, as I am not foolish, but what else can I do but hope. God knows I cannot be the only one infuriated by these damned trailbaston commissions. They have brought nothing but misery! A man can do nothing now without fear of being taken to court and fleeced for all the money I have to avoid the jails of the corrupt sheriff. I will not tolerate it any longer! Instead, I shall live in the free woods, without wicked laws and treachery.

It is true that the company leaves much to be desired and it is not a comfortable life, but I certainly won’t admit that in my poem. I don’t really have much of a choice now anyway, as I have been falsely indicted of a range of crimes by evil liars. What infuriates me the most is that I have done more than my fair share of service for my king, and this is the gratitude I receive. I fought in Scotland, Flanders and Gascony, and now I am left with no way to look after myself. Of course, I don’t blame the king, but these false jurors are well able to care for themselves. If I get a chance and they don’t mend their ways, woe betides any who cross my path! I admit, there are some good men involved in the law, like Martin and Knoville, but men like Spigurnel and Knoville will have all of their limbs broken and their lying tongues removed if I get the chance.

The legal system is truly a joke, and not an amusing one. Not only does it punish crimes which never existed, but it also encourages people to engage in crime to turn to a life of robbery and violence outside of their communities as they are too afraid of facing false accusations to remain with their families and live honestly. They cannot rely on the law to judge them fairly as they might languish in jail for many years before their case is heard, if it ever is, and even when it is heard they will no doubt be found guilty without evidence unless they have powerful friends or money for bribes.

I don’t have the money for such a ransom, so there is no chance of me returning to my past life. This does not stop me dreaming of a pardon, though I know the only one who can save me now is Our Lord Jesus. I give up on society, with its corruption and legal bickering. Can you believe that those who I once knew have even accused me of murder? I never killed another person. At least, I didn’t kill anyone of my own will… Anyway, this ranting will do me no good, as I already know the hardships I face. I hear the others snoring, so I will go and place my poem somewhere it will hopefully be discovered.

Historical note

This diary entry is based on The Outlaw’s Song of Trailbaston, a poem which exists in an early fourteenth-century manuscript. It is written in Anglo-Norman, and appears to be a complaint about the newly introduced commissions of trailbaston. These commissions involved justices being appointed to judge and punish armed criminals who were accused to committing robbery, intimidation or assault. The named individuals in the poem were the justices William Martin, Gilbert Knovill, Henry Spigurnel and Roger Bella Fago (Belflour), who were assigned as justices of trailbaston in 1305 for the south-western counties of England. Whilst the author claims to be the outlaw of the poem, and this claim has been accepted in constructing the diary, it is equally possible that he is an individual wishing to make a political statement rather than recounting factual events. The obvious familiarity with legal terminology has led to the suggestion that the author could have been a clerk. The theme of resentment of legal developments and administrators of law and order is a common one in outlaw literature, and reflects contemporary concerns with law and order in a range of social classes.