Tyler R. Tichelaar: Searching for King Arthur in Turkey

Note from Nicole: Today’s post comes from Arthurian scholar and historical fiction author, Tyler R. Tichelaar, Ph.D. You may remember his name from a review of his book, “King Arthur’s Children,” that I did a few months ago. I’m thrilled to have him with us because he can always be counted on for thought-provoking insight into Arthurian legend. I will be in Ireland when this post runs, but Tyler is ready to respond to any comments/questions you may have.

I am honored to be a guest on Nicole Evelina’s blog. When I told her I was going to Turkey and it had Arthurian connections, she was surprised and asked me whether I would blog about my trip and those connections when I got home.

While I did not find any legitimate evidence that King Arthur ever visited Turkey, Turkey has many connections to the Arthurian legend, including being home to King Arthur’s ancestors and to many stories and relics that later figure in the Arthurian legends. In fact, I could fill many blog posts with the connections between Arthur and Turkey, but I will just briefly hit some of the highlights here and include a few photographs from my trip.

King Arthur’s Ancestors in Turkey

The ruins of Troy (Photo by Tyler R. Tichelaar)

Who were King Arthur’s ancestors? According to Geoffrey of Monmouth, Arthur was descended from Brutus, for whom Britain was named. Brutus came to Britain from Italy where he was a descendant of Aeneas, founder of Rome. Aeneas was a survivor who escaped from Troy after the city fell. Aeneas’ tale is told in The Aeneid by Virgil, and he is also mentioned in Homer’s Iliad. Aeneas was part of the Trojan royal family. Therefore, we can say that King Arthur was a Trojan. Today, it is difficult to imagine what the city of Troy must have looked like since the ruins of Troy are hardly more than small remnants of walls that remain, but even so, I found it spine-tingling to visit those ruins and imagine what it would have been like to live in Troy. Had there been no Trojan War, perhaps there would have been no King Arthur.

King Arthur’s bloodline is also often linked to the Emperor Constantine, best known for having made Christianity the religion of the Roman Empire. Some sources claim that Constantine was father to Ambrosius Aurelianus, and some scholars think Ambrosius was the real source for King Arthur, while more typically he is depicted as King Arthur’s uncle, brother to Uther Pendragon. Since the Emperor Constantine died in 337 and Arthur traditionally is believed to have died at the Battle of Camlann circa 539, it seems unlikely that the Emperor Constantine was his grandfather, but other traditions link Arthur to Magnus Maximus who vied for the throne of Rome, and Arthur might have also been related to Constantine when it’s considered that many traditions claim Constantine’s mother, Helen, was a British noblewoman and also that Constantine was himself born in Britain. Notably, Arthur’s successor as King of Britain is also named Constantine.

Chapel built on Virgin Mary’s House near Ephesus (Photo by Tyler R. Tichelaar)

The British chroniclers of the Middle Ages linked Constantine as a descendant from Joseph of Arimathea; Joseph prominently figures in the Grail Legends and reputedly was Jesus’ uncle and may have brought Jesus to Britain where he spent his “missing” years of childhood that are not documented in the Bible.

If King Arthur were related to Constantine, and therefore, also to Joseph of Arimathea, he may have also been related to the Virgin Mary since Joseph of Arimathea is often believed to have been Mary’s uncle (so technically Jesus’ great-uncle). Mary traveled to Turkey with the apostle John some time after the Crucifixion. She made her home near Ephesus, one of the seven churches of Revelation. Today a chapel is built upon the place where once her house is believed to have stood.

The Grail Legend
What would the Arthurian legend be without the quest for the Holy Grail? One candidate for the true Holy Grail is a chalice in Spain at the monastery of San Juan de la Peña. According to Wikipedia, archaeologists say the artifact is a 1st century Middle Eastern stone vessel, possibly from Antioch in present day Turkey.

Another holy relic associated with the Grail legends is the Lance of Longinus, which pierced Christ’s side during the Crucifixion. It is often featured with the Holy Grail in the Grail legends and is one of the items carried in a procession that Percival witnesses. This spear was brought from the Holy Land to Constantinople (modern day Istanbul, Turkey) in the seventh century. It was housed in Hagia Sophia. Later it was moved to the Church of the Virgin of the Pharos. The point of the lance, which was now set in an icon, was acquired by the Latin Emperor, Baldwin II of Constantinople, who later sold it to Louis IX of France.

King Arthur and the Roman Emperor

Hagia Sophia (Photo by Tyler R. Tichelaar)

Several versions of the Arthurian legend cite Arthur’s conflict with the Roman emperor as reason for his journey to the Continent, leaving the kingdom of Britain in Mordred’s hands. Of course, Rome fell in 476 and usually Arthur is seen as living after this date. Therefore, it is more likely that it is the Byzantine Emperor who demands fealty from Arthur. The Byzantine Empire was also in decline in the 5th century but reached its greatest extent during the reign of the Emperor Justinian (527-565), placing him as emperor toward the end of Arthur’s reign, so I suspect Justinian’s increasing power may have been reason for him demanding fealty from a former Roman province such as Britain; therefore, I suspect he is the emperor with whom Arthur has a conflict. The term Byzantine was not applied until recent times by historians, while the medieval chroniclers would have thought of the Byzantine Emperor as the Roman Emperor—especially since there would have been no Holy Roman Emperor until Charlemagne in 800 A.D.

Emperor Justinian

In addition, Parke Godwin in his novel Beloved Exile (1984) about Guinevere’s life after the Battle of Camlann has her end up at the Court of the Emperor Justinian in Constantinople. Constantinople at that time would have been the most resplendent and important city in Christendom.

Anachronistic King Arthur Tales in Turkey
Believe it or not, there is a legend that claims that King Arthur piloted an ark (just like Noah did) during the Deluge (see http://stevequayle.com/Giants/articles/giants.of.Earth.html). Noah’s ark reputedly ended up on top of Mt. Ararat in modern day Turkey. There’s no word where Arthur’s ark ended up. Perhaps Arthur was a time traveler, since the Great Flood would have taken place about 6,000 years before Arthur lived.

Another interesting anachronism is the tale of “The Turke and Sir Gawain” which can be read at: http://www.lib.rochester.edu/camelot/teams/turkfrm.htm. The Turks were not known to Western Europeans really until five centuries after Arthur’s time when they entered modern day Turkey and defeated the Byzantine Emperor in 1071. They continued as an increasing threat to Christendom and Europe through their conquest of Constantinople in 1453. This poem was composed about 1500 when the Ottoman Empire ruled by the Turks was at its height and a severe threat to Christendom, so the modern day Turkish threat was cast upon the Arthurian legend.

Therefore, a good case can be made for the significant relationship between the land of Turkey and its people and their influence on the Arthurian legend. Finally, if my Turkey-King Arthur connections are not convincing enough, perhaps you would prefer some good cooking. A quick search on the Internet will find plenty of recipes for using King Arthur Flour to make various turkey dishes including turkey and dumplings: http://www.kingarthurflour.com/blog/2008/11/29/a-deft-recipe-for-dumplings-a-quest-fulfilled/

Tyler R. Tichelaar

Tyler R. Tichelaar, Ph.D. is a scholar and novelist on the Arthurian legend. You can visit him at his blog http://childrenofarthur.wordpress.com/ and his website www.ChildrenofArthur.com.

Book Review: King Arthur’s Children

I met the author of King Arthur’s Children: A Study in Fiction and Tradition, Tyler R. Tichelaar, Ph.D., while searching online for other Arthurian enthusiasts. When he asked me if I would review his new book, I jumped at the chance.

The book’s title would certainly make me pick it up off a shelf, but it doesn’t do the work justice. This interesting, impeccably researched book profiles several possible sons of Arthur, but also discusses the circumstances in various traditions influencing the actions of Guinevere, Lancelot and Constantine, as well as possible reasons for and outcomes of the battle of Camlann. Interesting twists to the legends explained in this book include:

  • Lancelot and Mordred may have been twins.
  • In some traditions, King Arthur, like the Biblical King Herod, has all the children born around the same time as Mordred drowned.
  • Mordred was not always evil; he was revered in Welsh and some Scottish tales.
  • Guinevere took many other lovers besides Lancelot, including several Knights of the Round, depending on the source.
  • The battle of Camlann may have been written as a tragedy to make the legends more interesting and memorable.
  • Mordred may have lived after Camlann or had sons who did.

King Arthur’s Children is broken up into three sections. The first discusses three possible sons of Arthur in various stories that make up the Welsh collection known as The Mabinogion. These are the likely illegitimate Gwydre; Amr, the child of Arthur’s first wife or mistress/concubine; and Llacheu, who is also mentioned the 10th century poem “Black Book of Carmarthen.” Tichelaar posits that if a historical King Arthur ever existed and had sons, these three are the most likely and were probably later combined to turn history into legend.

Part two of the book is devoted to Arthur’s most famous son, Mordred, who actually  first appeared in Arthurian legend without reference to his relationship to Arthur and then as Arthur’s nephew. Only later did he become the son spawned by incest we know today. (Tichelaar’s section on incest in the legends is uncomfortable to read, but clearly illustrates the reasons why it was once a less taboo subject.) Tichelaar does a remarkable job of showing the dizzying number of ways in which Mordred may have been influenced by or have influenced his Welsh counterparts from part 1. This is also the section where he goes into other Arthurian characters and how they may or may not have been related to Mordred. He then studies the honorable Mordred in Welsh legend, his vacillating virtue among the Scots, and the more sympathetic treatment given him by modern writers.

The conclusion to this section is the one weak spot in the book. Here, Tichelaar’s fascination with genealogy draws him away from his main subject into two chapters on how the English Royal Family and the Scottish clan Campbell both have tried to claim succession from King Arthur. I can see why Tichelaar included this – because by claiming to be descendants, these groups could arguably be King Arthur’s children – but I feel like the discussion of their forced (and possibly faked) lineage distracts from the overall point and flow of the book. However, if you’re a genealogy buff, you’ll probably like this section.

The final part of the book details how King Arthur’s children were handled by medieval, Renaissance and modern writers. Here, Tichelaar does a great job of summarizing works most people probably haven’t read or even had access to, and explaining how each successive generation of writers has added to the legend. Interestingly, he points out that the most recent writers are more likely to invent new children, especially daughters. He also gives a small preview of his own forthcoming work of fiction, King Arthur’s Legacy.

All in all, I really enjoyed this book and am proud to be able to include it on my list of resources for my contribution to the legends. King Arthur’s Children is of great value mainly because it expertly explores an area of Arthurian legend that has not (at least to my knowledge) been widely researched before. I would recommend it to anyone who already has solid knowledge of Arthurian legend. To get the most out of it you need a fairly strong background in the legends and at least a cursory knowledge of Welsh legend. My studies of Welsh legend are rudimentary, so some of his comparisons between these and Arthurian legends went over my head. But I’m sure others will be able to better appreciate them.

While Tichelaar plays with (and yearns for) the idea that King Arthur’s bloodline may still exist today, he makes one of his most moving points in reference to the always changing nature of the legends, stating: “Anyone who would be a descendant of King Arthur need not have a fifteen hundred-year-old pedigree to prove it; we need to tell the tales about Arthur, and when people hear these stories, he will then live on in their hearts and his line and descendants will continue to grow” (vi). I, for one, am proud to call myself a daughter of King Arthur in that capacity.