Francia, Fraunce, Frauns, Gaul, Gallia
France becomes the playing field for a number of important events in Arthurian romance. In most legends, France is used synonymously with Gaul or Gallia.
Before Rome subjugated Gaul in the first century BC, France was a collection of independent territories ruled by Celtic clans. There were literally hundreds of different tribes of varying origins. The lack of a Gaulish “high king”, or centralized ruler, was to Rome’s advantage. Caesar oversaw the conquest of France in 58 BC. Rome ruled France for the next 500 years, building a vast infrastructure and protecting the territory from barbarian invasions. With the collapse of the Roman empire in the fifth century came legions of Frankish, Gothic, and Burgundian invaders. France was splintered, united, and splintered again.
During the Arthurian period, the Franks, from whom its present name is derived, had established themselves as the most prominent rulers by about AD 457. These included King Childeric I, whom ruled until about AD 481, when he was succeeded by his son King Clovis I, possibly the King Claudas of Arthurian tales. The latter ruled from 481 to 511, which would place him in the “Arthurian period”. After Clovis’s death his son divided the kingdom and France again collapsed into numerous territories that were not re-united until the time of Charlemagne in the eighth century.
Pharamond (Faramon), who perhaps comes originally from Frankish tradition, is the King of France in some Arthurian sources. Culhwch mentions two French kings, Paris and Iona, at Arthur’s court.
This must have included more or less the area of present-day France, with a few sub-kingdoms unsubjugated or imperfectly subjugated, like Benwick. Malory confuses as to whether France was one small subkingdom of Gaul, or vice versa, or whether they were in fact completely interchangable names.
The interesting King Claudas may have been trying to bring France under one crown. Malory mentions another French monarch, King Faramon of France, in the story of Tristram; according to Vulgate V. Faramon appears to have been a sort of high king of France during Uther Pendragon’s time.
According to Geoffrey of Monmouth, Arthur conquered France from Frollo during his reign. A number of other texts likewise tell us that it was under the rule of Arthur, and indeed, it seems that Arthurian heroes spent as much time here as anywhere. Many knights and kings that owed allegiance to Arthur came from Brittany. King Ban of Benoic, King Bors of Gannes, King Claudas of the Land Laid Waste, and the knights Lancelot, Hector, Blamor of Gannes (Blamore de Ganis), and Bleoberis of Gannes, as well as many others, all came from French lands. Arthur fought his war with the Lucius the Roman on French soil, in Normandy and Burgundy. The Prose Tristan features a King Faramon of France who apparently owed his allegiance to Uther Pendragon. In the Stanzaic Morte Arthur and in Malory, the country seems to belong to Lancelot, since he appoints Lionel its king when Arthur and Lancelot go to war.
In Welsh legend, three of Arthur’s warriors are named as the “King of France”: Iona, Paris, and Gwilenhin. Arthur apparently has command of the country, for he summons all France’s warriors before the epic hunting of Twrch Trwyth. Der Pleier calls France’s king Linefles.