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 five hundred 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 457 AD. These included King Childeric I, whom ruled until about 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.

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 Prose Tristan, appears to have been a sort of high king of France and owed his allegiance to Uther Pendragon.

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.

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 BrittanyKing Ban of BenoicKing Bors of GannesKing Claudas of the Land Laid Waste, and the knights LancelotHectorBlamor 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. 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”: IonaParis, 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.

Culhwch and Olwen | Late 11th century
Historia Regum Britanniae | Geoffrey of Monmouth, c. 1138
Brut | Layamon, late 12th century to mid-13th century
Prose Tristan | 1230-1240
The Stanzaic Le Morte Arthur | 14th century
Le Morte Darthur | Sir Thomas Malory, 1469-1470