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Alternate Names

Modred, Medraut (Welsh)

Appears In

Geoffrey of Monmouth's History of the Kings of Britain, Thomas Malory's Le Morte d'Arthur


Son of King Arthur and Morgause

Character Overview

Mordred was the illegitimate son of King Arthur and his half-sister Morgause (pronounced mor-GAWZ). Mordred is best remembered for his betrayal of Arthur and for launching the battle that led to Arthur's demise. He appears in even the earliest versions of Arthurian legend, though the specifics of his life vary widely.

According to legend, Morgause and Arthur shared the same mother, though they did not know it. Mordred was conceived when the two had an affair, and was raised by his mother and her husband, King Lot, along with her other children. Another of her sons, Gawain (pronounced gah-WAYN), was admired for his bravery and became a knight of King Arthur's Round Table. Mordred used the connections of his brother Gawain to secure himself a position as one of Arthur's trusted knights as well. Though Mordred developed a reputation for womanizing and treachery, Arthur—who by then knew himself to be Mordred's uncle, but not his father—left Mordred in charge of his kingdom while he ventured on a campaign against Roman forces.

Mordred immediately seized control of Arthur's kingdom and attempted to take Arthur's wife Guinevere (pronounced GWEN-uh-veer) as his own. Guinevere fled to the Tower of London, and Arthur immediately returned to reclaim his throne. Mordred and Arthur's armies clashed in battle at Camlann, where Arthur killed Mordred—but not before being mortally wounded by him. According to legend, Arthur did not die but was taken from the battlefield to recover on the island of Avalon, where he still remains. Arthur's battle against Mordred marks the fall of Camelot , and with it the end of the Knights of the Round Table.

Mordred in Context

Although Mordred is almost universally viewed as a villain by those familiar with basic Arthurian legend, many lesser known sources tell a different story. Considering the early references to Mordred in several Welsh texts, Mordred may have been an historical figure from Welsh nobility. In fact, he is portrayed as courteous and brave in some early writings—quite the opposite of the Mordred of legend. The first mention of his presence at the Battle of Camlann merely indicates that he fought there and does not state that he fought against Arthur. In fact, some sources suggest that the battle was brought about by a dispute between Queen Guinevere and her sister.

Key Themes and Symbols

A central theme in the myth of Mordred is the vengeance of the illegitimate son. Though Arthur had an affair with a woman he did not know to be his sister, and later believed himself to be Mordred's uncle, the legends suggest that the final clash between the two was fated to occur. Mordred represents all of Arthur's secret flaws, unseen by most of the Knights of the Round Table, but which ultimately played an important part in the failure of his seemingly perfect kingdom.

Mordred in Art, Literature, and Everyday Life

Mordred is a key figure in nearly all versions of Arthurian legend. He is present even in the earliest documented portions of the myth, found in The Annals of Wales, and in Geoffrey of Monmouth's History of the Kings of Britain. Mordred is also found in Thomas Malory's Le Morte dArthur and in newer works such as The Once and Future King by T. H. White and The Mists ofAvalon by Marion Zimmer Bradley.

Read, Write, Think, Discuss

The Winter Prince (2003) by Elizabeth Wein offers a fresh vision of Arthurian legend from the point of view of a young Medraut (Mordred). Medraut is a gifted boy who uses his powers of healing to help his sickly younger brother, Lieu, who is destined to become the next king—something Medraut, the illegitimate son of King Artos (Arthur), cannot do. When his cunning mother Morgause attempts to pit the boys against each other for her own wicked ends, the two brothers seem destined to either grow closer through understanding, or destroy each other through envy.

SEE ALSO Arthur, King; Arthurian Legends

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