A French king who was the sworn enemy of Lancelot’s father, King Ban of Benoic, and of Ban’s brother, King Bors of Gannes. He first appears in Perlesvaus and the Second Continuation of Chrétien’s Perceval. Perlesvaus first describes him as Lancelot’s enemy, and relates how he joined with Brian of the Isles, Arthur’s treacherous seneschal, in an invasion of Scotland, which Arthur repelled. In the Second Continuation, his brother, Carras, also invades Britain but is likewise unsuccessful.
Claudas plays a major role in the Vulgate Lancelot and the Vulgate Merlin, from which Malory adapts his version of the character. The stories portray him as a noble but rather Machiavellian king. J.D. Bruce is correct in calling him “the most complex character in [the Vulgate Lancelot] – a leader of men, astute, avaricious, jealous of power, and full of ruthless energy in the prosecution of his evil ambitions, yet capable of a deep paternal tenderness and acts of generosity towards the youthful foes whom he has wronged”.
Malory mentions this important villain about a dozen times, always as an offstage menace or defeated enemy. The most significant thing Malory tells us of his character comes from Merlin’s counsel to Arthur during the first wave of rebellion after the accession:
And on these two kings [Ban and Bors] warreth a mighty man of men, the King Claudas, and striveth with them for a castle, and great war is betwixt them. But this Claudas is so mighty of goods whereof he getteth good knights, that he putteth these two kings most part to the worse...
The Vulgate gives much fuller information, calling him “brave but treacherous” and saying that his “character was a strange mixture of good and bad qualities”. In the time of Uther Pendragon, he broke faith with his overlord, King Aramont (or Hoel) of Brittany, from whom Claudas held the lands of Bourges and Berry. He transferred his allegiance to the King of Gaul and, by extension, to Rome. In response, Aramont and Uther invaded and laid waste to Claudas’s land, which became known as “La Terre Deserte” (‘the Land Laid Waste’), sparing only Bourges. This alone would be enough to explain Claudas’ antipathy to Uther’s son Arthur, as well as his attempts to gain other lands. Claudas fled and remained in exile until the deaths of Uther and Aramont, when he returned to his kingdom and began making incursions into the lands of Benoic (Benwick) and Gannes.
One can suspect that Claudas may have been trying to do in France what Arthur did in Britain: consolidate the petty kingdoms into one. Possibly the difference was that after conqueror the petty kings, Arthur was willing to incorporate those who were still alive into his own government, leaving them as rulers of their old territories with him as their liege lord, and even making them companions of the Round Table. Claudas appears to have aimed simply at annihilating the opposition.
Kings Ban and Bors allied with Arthur. In return for their assistance against the rebellious kings and the Saxons invading Britain, Arthur agreed to help them repel Claudas’s invasion. After the Saxon wars, Arthur, Ban, and Bors defeated Claudas, who had allied with Duke Frollo of Germany and the Roman Pontius Anthony, at the battle of Trebe. When Claudas attacked again, however, Arthur was preoccupied with a war in Britain and could not help the brother kings. Claudas managed to conquer both Benoic and Gannes, and Ban and Bors both perished. Claudas considered invading Arthur’s lands, but a clandestine visit to Arthur’s court convinced him to abandon the plot.
Claudas loved the wife of Phariance and for her sake made Phariance seneschal of Gannes after driving out King Bors. (Malory brings Phariance to Britain with Ban and Bors to help Arthur.) Claudas also took in King Bors’ sons Lionel and Bors the younger, but surely regretted it when they killed Claudas’ own son Dorin (who had already become quite dislikable by his death at age 15). Seraide rescued Lionel and Bors from Claudas.
Besides sending spies from time to time to Arthur’s court (the spies were quite likely to decide to stay in Logres), Claudas himself went at least once, in disguise, to spy out Arthur’s land. He was very impressed by Arthur’s good qualities.
Eventually Arthur and Guenevere declared all-out war on Claudas in the affair of Guenevere’s cousin Elyzabel, the messenger she sent to the Lady of the Lake and Claudas imprisoned. Despite the facts that Claudas accepted excellent advice, enlisted Rome as an ally, allowed those of his people who so wished to leave the country before the war started, and gave great largess to win the hearts of those who stayed, despite his excellent comanders-in-chief Claudin (his son or stepson) and Chanart, he was at least utterly routed. Count Alan of Flanders and Lord Serses of Pagon joined Claudas. In one battle near Gannes, he refused, with tears in his eyes, to leave his people in their danger on the battlefield. He might have ended the war by freeing Elyzabel after the first battle, but he refused – perhaps because it was Lionel, who had long ago killed Dorin, who asked for her release.
Claudas did arrange an exchange for prisoners taken in battle; Claudas gave each of his prisoners a meal and a good horse, while Gawaine on the other side was giving the freed prisoners a rich garment apiece and lavish entertainment. Finally, forced to decamp, Claudas told his barons they should now do whatever seemed to them best, but he himself had no hope of personally making peace with Arthur and with Lancelot, whose father’s lands he had taken so long before. Claudas then slipped out of Gannes to take refuge in Rome and his former lands fell under the control of Lancelot. No one heard from him again.
His son Claudin became a Knight of the Round Table and participated in the Grail Quest.
Claudas could not read, needing his clerks to read him. Malory mentions Clauda’s final defeat:
King Arthur had been in France, and had made war upon the mighty King Claudas, and had won much of his lands.
King Claudas’ Family and Retainers
Son or stepson
Wife of Phariance
Brumant l’Orguilleus, Chanart
Kinsman (otherwise unspecified)
Knight of Gaul
Land Laid Waste | The Legend of King Arthur
Perlesvaus | Early 13th century
Second Continuation of Chrétien’s Perceval | Attributed to Wauchier of Denain, c. 1200
Lancelot do Lac | 1215-1220
Vulgate Lancelot | 1215-1230
Vulgate Queste del Saint Graal | 1215-1230
Post-Vulgate Suite du Merlin | 1230-1240
Post-Vulgate Queste del Saint Graal | 1230-1240
Arthour and Merlin | Late 13th century
Le Morte Darthur | Sir Thomas Malory, 1469-1470