Erlandi, Iath n’Anann, Iierlande, Illande, Irlande, Irlaunde, Irlonde, Irois, Orlandeia, Uande, Yerlande, Yrland, Yrlande, Yrllande, Yrlond, Yrois
A large island lying to the west of Great Britain, from which it is separated by the Irish Sea. It consists of the provinces of Ulster, Leinster, Munster and Connacht and is, today, divided between the Republic of Ireland, or Eire, which occupies the south, central and north-west of the island, and Northern Ireland, which occupies the north-east corner and forms a part of the United Kingdom.
Historically, Ireland was divided into a number of Celtic kingdoms during the Roman and Arthurian periods. The Romans never conquered Ireland, and Celtic culture continued to flourish in Ireland after the Saxons invaded Britain. There were no Irish High Kings during the Arthurian period – the basis of the Irish political system was the independen tuatha, of which more than one hundred existed, each with its own ruler. Nevertheless, various characters called the “King of Ireland” appear in Arthurian texts.
Traditionally a part of Arthur’s kingdom. The early chronicles tend to portray the Irish as a people aligned with the barbarian Picts and Scots to oppose Arthur at the beginning of his reign. Arthurs conquest of the island and defeat of its king, Gilmaurius (the successor of Gilloman), is described by Geoffrey of Monmouth. Other sources name the king as Anguish (the father of Iseult), Elidus, Marhalt and Gurmun, while Durmart Le Gallois features a Queen of Ireland as Fenise (Fenice), and says that the gonfalonier (royal standard-bearer) of Ireland was Procides, castellan (governor) of Limerick.
Arthur overcame the Scots, who were Irish invaders in Britain. In early Medieval Latin Scotus signifies an Irishman and, in the fifth century, many Scots from Ireland were settling in the country which today bears their name. They had also settled elsewhere in Britain. As to the actual rulers of Ireland in the Arthurian period, at that time the Irish kings of Tara had no effective, and perhaps even no theoretical, supremacy. They were Niall of the Nine Hostages (generally regarded as historical, Nath I (perhaps legendary), Laoghaire, Ailill Molt and Muircheartach I, with whom the eigtheenth-century antiquary Keating, in some respects the Irish equivalent of Geoffrey, says Arthur had a treaty. The names Marhalt/Marhaus in the Tristan saga may preserve some memory of him. One of the kings of the southern Irish kingdom of Munster at this period was called Oengus – probably a different form of the name Anguish, borne by the King of Ireland in Malory.
The country features most prominently in ancient myths that later became embroidered into the Arthurian sagas, such as the battles between Bendigeid Vran and Matholwch, and Culhwch and Olwen. It seems possible that, thanks to the Otherworld themes of the Irish stories incorporated into Arthurian legend, the inclusion of Ireland in Arthur’s domain was intended to signify his rule over not just the land of the living but also the land of the dead. Ireland has a special importance in the saga of Tristram, and Malory speaks of it, along with Brittany and the Out Isles, as one of the major divisions of Britain. King Anguish of Ireland, La Beale Isoud, and Sir Marhaus are among the Irish characters of the romances. King Anguish long extracted tribute from King Mark of Cornwall.
In Irish and Welsh legend, Aedd (Áed) and his son Odgar were kings of the island, but they would have ruled some time before or after Arthur. Welsh legend typically has Ireland being invaded and plundered by the British; this occurs in Branwen and Culhwch and Olwen, and both invasions result in the capture of a magic cauldron. In Culhwch, Arthur and his party began their hunt for the boar Twrch Trwyth in Ireland. Twrch Trwyth had destroyed much of the island when the hunt commenced.
The Vulgate Estoire del Saint Graal names King Marahant as it’s ruler in Joseph of Arimathea’s time. Contemporary to Arthur, the Vulgate Cycle names its various kings as Thoas, Plarion, Sorengrieu, Rions (Ryons), Mahaglant, Margan, and Yon of Lesser Ireland. All but the last were Saxons, killed or defeated by Arthur at the beginning of his reign. In the Post-Vulgate, an unnamed King of Ireland, who is the brother of the King of Denmark, invades Britain and is slain by Arthur at the battle of the Humber. It should be noted here that French romances are often confused as to the location of Ireland; some of them seem to make the country part of Scotland, or otherwise contiguous to Britain.
In the Tristan legends, Ireland is the home of Isolde, whose father, called Gurmun the Gay or Anguish, is the king. Texts that integrate the Tristan saga with Arthur’s history deal with the issue of Ireland’s rulership uncomfortably. Malory, for instance, gives the kingdom to Anguish, Rions, and Marhalt at the same time.
Assorted romances give a wide variety of Irish rulers: Guivret the Small in Hartmann’s Erec, Cadiolant in the First Continuation of Chrétien’s Perceval, Fenice in Durmart le Gallois, Gawain in Robert de Blois’s Beaudous, Ilas in Ilas et Solvas, Caradoc in Meriadoc, Alfred in Yder, Cador and Elidus in Claris et Laris, and Angiron in Heinrich von dem Türlin’s Diu Crône.
The French tale called Les Merveilles de Rigomer is set in Ireland, described as a “strange land with broad and deep forests, marshes, and heaths”, which render it wild and almost uninhabitable. In the Didot-Perceval, Arthur’s final battle with Mordred is fought in Ireland.