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Merlin Musings

This started out as a simple musing and quickly became a small essay of which has no real importance outside my interest of Mary Stewart’s Arthurian Saga.

Since picking up the volume of the first three books in my sophomore year of high school, I have been utterly convinced that Mary Stewart’s Arthurian Saga (The Merlin Trilogy, The Wicked Day, and the companion novel The Prince and the Pilgrim) is by far the best adaptation of the Arthurian legends. In them, Stewart sets the scene of sub-roman Britain with the romantic air so often associated with the more medieval adaptions of the legends.

Throughout The Merlin Trilogy (The Crystal Cave, The Hollow Hills, and The Last Enchantment), no specific dates are given; however, through given months, ages, and time spans, I have estimated that Merlin is aged 52 years by the end of the trilogy. In The Prince and the Pilgrim, one certain date is given: 523 A.D. Until I have finished The Wicked Day (which I have only recently acquired), I cannot, in certainty, give the date of King Arthur’s death according to Stewart. I can, however, give an overall time range of the entire series. Based off of many character ages and the date of 523, I estimate The Merlin Trilogy begins (from conception of Merlin to Battle of Camlann) in 464 and ends in the range of 527 to 532 A.D. However, in her struggle to build a believable (though, highly fictional) historical account of Merlin life story and Arthur’s legendary fall, Mary Stewart caused historical contradiction.

Aurelius Ambrosius is, by some legends, the brother of Uther Pendragon and uncle of Arthur. Stewart also used this connection in her adaptation, as well as the relation to Constans, son of Constantine the III, or Constantine of Britian. Historically, Constantine reigned as co-emperor in the west for a short time, three years, before being captured and beheaded en route to Ravenna, Italy. This occurred in 411, and his son shortly followed within the year. In legend it is said that Constans was ruling as King in Britain when Vortigern, his seneschal, murders him and Ambrosius and Uther escape to Brittiany. Unfortunately, in Stewart’s saga, I estimate Uther’s birth around the year of 456, Uther hardly a newborn babe when they flee to Brittiany. Aerulius, ten or eleven, must have been born about 446; three decades too late to be the son of Constantine of Britain.

Perhaps it is this reason Stewart never gave a name to Aerulius’ father, or gave no specific dates in The Merlin Trilogy. Or perhaps, as well, Stewart gave room for other’s to build of her work as she, and many others, did Geoffrey Monmouth’s. As quoted from her notes in the The Merlin Trilogy (volume print, 2004), Stewart wrote: “. . . I can hope, in all humility, that my Merlin trilogy may be, for some new enthusiast, a beginning.” So, who could the real father of Stewart’s three royal children Constans, Aurelius, and Uther be? I, an inspired enthusiast, have selected one particular candidate based on a key description given in traditional legend.

First, it is given that Ambrosius’ family had “worn the purple”. So an Augustus or senatorial position, or perhaps of the military or a bishop. Constantine himself was a military soldier as well a co-emperor. It is also given in an account by Gildas: “Certainly his parents, who had worn the purple, were slain in it. His descendants in our day have become greatly inferior to their grandfather's” – ‘avita’ in original text – “excellence.” In my attempt to find a suitable replacement for Constantine, I found that Eparchius Avitus Augustus fits my expectations.

Avitus was a Gallo-Roman who lived from 380-395 to 456, or early 457 (born in Clermont, France. There are several key reasons behind my choice. The first simply this: he had worn the purple. Not only had he been Augustus (emperor), but he was also a senator, a high-ranking officer in the civil and military administrations, and the Bishop of Piacenza. Not to mention the coincidence of his name and the use of ‘avita’ to describe an ancestor.

One of the many positions he held in his life was Praetorian prefect of Gaul, who’s power encompassed five dioceses: Gaul, Britannia, Germania, Africa, and Hispania. This is significant in terms to Stewart’s Arthur, who contained ancestors and relations from at least three of the five. His cousin Hoel of Kerrec (Carnac, France); his distant ancestor Magnus Maximus, a Roman emperor of Spanish birth; and, of course, some sort of ancestral connection to Britain. As well some might have perceived the position as a kingship due to its power over finance and served as a supreme administrative and juridical official. But, of course, as this is an attempt to connect a real person to a fictional history, one must do as Monmouth did: write fiction into the gaps. Avitus fits well for this because of certain aspects of his life.

First: only his father is known, or rather, presumed. Flavius Julius Agricola, a consul in 421. Whatever his true ancestry, I take to assume his father’s name, Flavius, is the connection to Magnus Maximus (Flavius Magnus Maximus Augustus) that is important to Arthur’s own ancestry. In Stewart’s story, she writes that legend says Maximus’ men return to Britain carrying his sword, of which becomes Caliburn, or Excalibur. It is possible, because of his influence that his descendants married into or regained some sort of a foothold in the Western Empire. Second: Avitus had at least two sons. It is recorded he also had at least one daughter, perhaps more, but for fiction, they are easily written off as illegitimate. As for the missing son; easily regarded as forgotten or unrecorded. It is noted that one of Avitus’ sons was recorded alive in 455 and was still living by 507. As I stated before, Uther was born about 456 and, by my estimation, died 502. As for the other son, he was born around 420 and disappeared from record after 475, he was Ecdicius Avitus. Again, though years are off, close enough to fit Aerulius lifespan, 446 to about 482. And at last: the fall and death of Avitus. Several high-ranking officers had rebelled against Avitus, which they founded on the prestige of past victories and the discontent of the empire. Avitus was defeated and compelled to put aside the “purple”, ironically to take it up again as a bishop. The manner and date of his death is not clear, though there are several stories. One says that the Roman senate condemned him to death and he fled to Gaul under the guise of bringing donations to the basilica of Saint Julian in Avernia. Gregory of Tour writes he died on his journey. Other stories claim him to have been starved to death or strangled on the orders of his predecessor. It is known though that he died in 457, or late 456 and was buried in Brioude next to the tomb of Saint Julian.

For Stewart’s Merlin Trilogy, Avitus would fit well as Ambrosius and Uther’s father. He either is, in the story, the descendant or married the descendent of Magnus Maximus and delivers the ancestry to the Pendragon family. When he is condemned to death, he attempts to return to Gaul under the guise of religious donations to Saint Julian basilica (for I find it unlikely the children of a Christian would worship Mithras), but is killed on his journey. The news reaches Vortigern, whose own ambition to become High King of Britain leads to the murder of Constans, a son to fade into history, and the remaining royal family flee to Gaul are reared by cousins so they may one day retake Britain.

But alas, it is only my musings that have brought me to this conclusion, and none of it to be taken as any sort of real hypothesis. As well, I have yet to cement my estimated dates, and any correlation with Avitus might be off. As I had stated before, Stewart likely could explain no such connection to Constantine of Britain and left the gap for others to wander at.
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