Legends & Romances of Brittany
by Lewis Spence
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Although the folk-tales and legends of Brittany have received ample attention from native scholars and collectors, they have not as yet been presented in a popular manner to English-speaking readers. The probable reasons for what would appear to be an otherwise incomprehensible omission on the part of those British writers who make a popular use of legendary material are that many Breton folk-tales strikingly resemble those of other countries, that from a variety of considerations some of them are unsuitable for presentation in an English dress, and that most of the folk-tales proper certainly possess a strong family likeness to one another.

But it is not the folk-tale alone which goes to make up the romantic literary output of a people; their ballads, the heroic tales which they have woven around passages in their national history, their legends (employing the term in its proper sense), along with the more literary attempts of their romance-weavers, their beliefs regarding the supernatural, the tales which cluster around their ancient homes and castles—all of these, although capable of separate classification, are akin to folk-lore, and I have not, therefore, hesitated to use what in my discretion I consider the best out of immense stores of material as being much more suited to supply British readers with a comprehensive view of Breton story. Thus, I have included chapters on the lore which cleaves to the ancient stone monuments of the country, along with some account of the monuments themselves. The Arthurian matter especially connected with Brittany I have relegated to a separate chapter, and I have considered it only fitting to include such of the lais of that rare and human songstress Marie de France as deal with the Breton land. The legends of those sainted men to whom Brittany owes so much will be found in a separate chapter, in collecting the matter for which I have obtained the kindest assistance from Miss Helen Macleod Scott, who has the preservation of the Celtic spirit so much at heart. I have also included chapters on the interesting theme of the black art in Brittany, as well as on the several species of fays and demons which haunt its moors and forests; nor will the heroic tales of its great warriors and champions be found wanting. To assist the reader to obtain the atmosphere of Brittany and in order that he may read these tales without feeling that he is perusing matter relating to a race of which he is otherwise ignorant, I have afforded him a slight sketch of the Breton environment and historical development, and in an attempt to lighten his passage through the volume I have here and there told a tale in verse, sometimes translated, sometimes original.

As regards the folk-tales proper, by which I mean stories collected from the peasantry, I have made a selection from the works of Gaidoz, Sebillot, and Luzel. In no sense are these translations; they are rather adaptations. The profound inequality between Breton folk-tales is, of course, very marked in a collection of any magnitude, but as this volume is not intended to be exhaustive I have had no difficulty in selecting material of real interest. Most of these tales were collected by Breton folk-lorists in the eighties of the last century, and the native shrewdness and common sense which characterize much of the editors' comments upon the stories so carefully gathered from peasants and fishermen make them deeply interesting.

It is with a sense of shortcoming that I offer the reader this volume on a great subject, but should it succeed in stimulating interest in Breton story, and in directing students to a field in which their research is certain to be richly rewarded, I shall not regret the labour and time which I have devoted to my task.

L. S.


CHAPTER PAGE I The Land, the People and their Story 13 II Menhirs And Dolmens 37 III The Fairies of Brittany 54 IV Sprites And Demons of Brittany 96 V World-Tales in Brittany 106 VI Breton Folk-Tales 156 VII Popular Legends of Brittany 173 VIII Hero-Tales of Brittany 211 IX The Black Art and Its Ministers 241 X Arthurian Romance in Brittany 254 XI The Breton Lays of Marie De France 283 XII The Saints of Brittany 332 XIII Costumes and Customs of Brittany 372 Glossary and Index 392


PAGE Graelent and the Fairy-Woman Frontispiece Nomenoe 23 The Death of Marguerite in the Castle of Trogoff 34 Raising a Menhir 44 The Seigneur of Nann And the Korrigan 58 Merlin And Vivien 66 The Fairies of Broceliande Find the Little Bruno 72 Fairies in a Breton 'Houle' 81 The Poor Boy And the Three Fairy Damsels 88 The Demon-Dog 102 N'Oun Doare And the Princess Golden Bell 112 The Bride of Satan 144 Gwennolaik and Nola 170 The Devil in the Form of a Leopard appears before the Alchemist 179 The Escape of King Gradlon from the Flooded City of Ys 186 A Peasant Insurrection 197 Morvan returns to his Ruined Home 214 The Finding of Silvestik 232 Heloise as Sorceress 250 King Arthur and Merlin at the Lake 257 Tristrem and Ysonde 268 King Arthur and the Giant of Mont-Saint-Michel 276 The Were-Wolf 288 Gugemar comes upon the Magic Ship 294 Gugemar's Assault on the Castle of Meriadus 300 Eliduc carries Guillardun to the Forest Chapel 312 Convoyon and his Monks carry off the Relics of St Apothemius 336 St Tivisiau, the Shepherd Saint 339 St Yves instructing Shepherd-boys in the Use of the Rosary 352 Queen Queban stoned to Death 369 Modern Brittany 377 The Souls of the Dead 385


The romantic region which we are about to traverse in search of the treasures of legend was in ancient times known as Armorica, a Latinized form of the Celtic name, Armor ('On the Sea'). The Brittany of to-day corresponds to the departments of Finistere, Cotes-du-Nord, Morbihan, Ille-et-Vilaine, and Loire-Inferieure. A popular division of the country is that which partitions it into Upper, or Eastern, and Lower, or Western, Brittany, and these tracts together have an area of some 13,130 square miles.

Such parts of Brittany as are near to the sea-coast present marked differences to the inland regions, where raised plateaux are covered with dreary and unproductive moorland. These plateaux, again, rise into small ranges of hills, not of any great height, but, from their wild and rugged appearance, giving the impression of an altitude much loftier than they possess. The coast-line is ragged, indented, and inhospitable, lined with deep reefs and broken by the estuaries of brawling rivers. In the southern portion the district known as 'the Emerald Coast' presents an almost subtropical appearance; the air is mild and the whole region pleasant and fruitful. But with this exception Brittany is a country of bleak shores and grey seas, barren moorland and dreary horizons, such a land as legend loves, such a region, cut off and isolated from the highways of humanity, as the discarded genii of ancient faiths might seek as a last stronghold.

Regarding the origin of the race which peoples this secluded peninsula there are no wide differences of opinion. If we take the word 'Celt' as describing any branch of the many divergent races which came under the influence of one particular type of culture, the true originators of which were absorbed among the folk they governed and instructed before the historic era, then the Bretons are 'Celts' indeed, speaking the tongue known as 'Celtic' for want of a more specific name, exhibiting marked signs of the possession of 'Celtic' customs, and having those racial characteristics which the science of anthropology until recently laid down as certain indications of 'Celtic' relationship—the short, round skull, swarthy complexion, and blue or grey eyes.

It is to be borne in mind, however, that the title 'Celtic' is shared by the Bretons with the fair or rufous Highlander of Scotland, the dark Welshman, and the long-headed Irishman. But the Bretons exhibit such special characteristics as would warrant the new anthropology in labelling them the descendants of that 'Alpine' race which existed in Central Europe in Neolithic times, and which, perhaps, possessed distant Mongoloid affinities. This people spread into nearly all parts of Europe, and later in some regions acquired Celtic speech and custom from a Celtic aristocracy.

It is remarkable how completely this Celtic leaven—the true history of which is lost in the depths of prehistoric darkness—succeeded in impressing not only its language but its culture and spirit upon the various peoples with whom it came into contact. To impose a special type of civilization upon another race must always prove a task of almost superhuman proportions. To compel the use of an alien tongue by a conquered folk necessitates racial tact as well as strength of purpose. But to secure the adoption of the racial spirit by the conquered, and adherence to it for centuries, so that men of widely divergent origins shall all have the same point of view, the same mode of thought, manner of address, aye, even the same facies or general racial appearance, as have Bretons, some Frenchmen, Cornishmen, Welshmen, and Highlanders—that surely would argue an indwelling racial strength such as not even the Roman or any other world-empire might pretend to.

But this Celtic civilization was not one and undivided. In late prehistoric times it evolved from one mother tongue two dialects which afterward displayed all the differences of separate languages springing from a common stock. These are the Goidelic, the tongue spoken by the Celts of Scotland, Ireland, and the Isle of Man, and the Brythonic, the language of the Welsh, the Cornish, and the people of Brittany.

The Breton Tongue

The Brezonek, the Brythonic tongue of Brittany, is undoubtedly the language of those Celtic immigrants who fled from Britain the Greater to Britain the Less to escape the rule of the Saxon invaders, and who gave the name of the country which they had left to that Armorica in which they settled. In the earliest stages of development it is difficult to distinguish Breton from Welsh. From the ninth to the eleventh centuries the Breton language is described as 'Old Breton.' 'Middle Breton' flourished from the eleventh to the seventeenth centuries, since when 'Modern Breton' has been in use. These stages indicate changes in the language more or less profound, due chiefly to admixture with French. Various distinct dialects are indicated by writers on the subject, but the most marked difference in Breton speech seems to be that between the dialect of Vannes and that of the rest of Brittany. Such differences do not appear to be older than the sixteenth century.[1]

The Ancient Armoricans

The written history of Brittany opens with the account of Julius Caesar. At that period (57 B.C.) Armorica was inhabited by five principal tribes: the Namnetes, the Veneti, the Osismii, the Curiosolitae, and the Redones. These offered a desperate resistance to Roman encroachment, but were subdued, and in some cases their people were sold wholesale into slavery. In 56 B.C. the Veneti threw off the yoke and retained two of Caesar's officers as hostages. Caesar advanced upon Brittany in person, but found that he could make no headway while he was opposed by the powerful fleet of flat-bottomed boats, like floating castles, which the Veneti were so skilful in manoeuvring. Ships were hastily constructed upon the waters of the Loire, and a desperate naval engagement ensued, probably in the Gulf of Morbihan, which resulted in the decisive defeat of the Veneti, the Romans resorting to the stratagem of cutting down the enemy's rigging with sickles bound upon long poles. The members of the Senate of the conquered people were put to death as a punishment for their defection, and thousands of the tribesmen went to swell the slave-markets of Europe.

Between A.D. 450 and 500, when the Roman power and population were dwindling, many vessels brought fugitives from Britain to Armorica. These people, fleeing from the conquering barbarians, Saxons, Picts, and Scots, sought as asylum a land where a kindred race had not yet been disturbed by invasion. Says Thierry, in his Norman Conquest: "With the consent of the ancient inhabitants, who acknowledged them as brethren of the same origin, the new settlers distributed themselves over the whole northern coast, as far as the little river Coesoron, and southward as far as the territory of the city of the Veneti, now called Vannes. In this extent of country they founded a sort of separate state, comprising all the small places near the coast, but not including within its limits the great towns of Vannes, Nantes, and Rennes. The increase of the population of this western corner of the country, and the great number of people of the Celtic race and language thus assembled within a narrow space, preserved it from the irruption of the Roman tongue, which, under forms more or less corrupted, was gradually becoming prevalent in every other part of Gaul. The name of Brittany was attached to these coasts, and the names of the various indigenous tribes disappeared; while the island which had borne this name for so many ages now lost it, and, taking the name of its conquerors, began to be called the land of the Saxons and Angles, or, in one word, England."


One of these British immigrants was the holy Samson, who laboured to convert pagan Brittany to Christianity. He hailed from Pembrokeshire, and the legend relates that his parents, being childless, constructed a menhir[2] of pure silver and gave it to the poor in the hope that a son might be born to them. Their desire was fulfilled, and Samson, the son in question, became a great missionary of the Church. Accompanied by forty monks, he crossed the Channel and landed on the shores of the Bay of Saint-Brieuc, a savage and deserted district.

As the keel of his galley grated on the beach the Saint beheld a man on the shore seated at the door of a miserable hut, who endeavoured to attract his attention by signs. Samson approached the shore-dweller, who took him by the hand and, leading him into the wretched dwelling, showed him his wife and daughter, stricken with sickness. Samson relieved their pain, and the husband and father, who, despite his humble appearance, was chief of the neighbouring territory, gave him a grant of land hard by. Here, close to the celebrated menhir of Dol, he and his monks built their cells. Soon a chapel rose near the ancient seat of pagan worship—in later days the site of a great cathedral.

Telio, a British monk, with the assistance of St Samson, planted near Dol an orchard three miles in length, and to him is attributed the introduction of the apple-tree into Brittany. Wherever the monks went they cultivated the soil; all had in their mouths the words of the Apostle: "If any would not work, neither should he eat." The people admired the industry of the new-comers, and from admiration they passed to imitation. The peasants joined the monks in tilling the ground, and even the brigands from the hills and forests became agriculturists. "The Cross and the plough, labour and prayer," was the motto of these early missionaries.

Wax for Wine

The monks of Dol were renowned bee-farmers, as we learn from an anecdote told by Count Montalembert in his Moines d'Occident. One day when St Samson of Dol, and St Germain, Bishop of Paris, were conversing on the respective merits of their monasteries, St Samson said that his monks were such good and careful preservers of their bees that, besides the honey which the bees yielded in abundance, they furnished more wax than was used in the churches for candles during the year, but that the climate not being suitable for the growth of vines, there was great scarcity of wine. Upon hearing this St Germain replied: "We, on the contrary, produce more wine than we can consume, but we have to buy wax; so, if you will furnish us with wax, we will give you a tenth of our wine." Samson accepted this offer, and the mutual arrangement was continued during the lives of the two saints.

Two British kingdoms were formed in Armorica—Domnonia and Cornubia. The first embraced the Cotes-du-Nord and Finistere north of the river Elorn, Cornubia, or Cornouaille, as it is now known, being situated below that river, as far south as the river Elle. At first these states paid a nominal homage to their native kings in Britain, but on the final fall of the British power they proclaimed a complete independence.

The Vision of Jud-Hael

A striking story relating to the migration period is told concerning a Cambrian chieftain of Brittany, one Jud-Hael, and the famous British bard Taliesin. Shortly after the arrival of Taliesin in Brittany Jud-Hael had a remarkable vision. He dreamt that he saw a high mountain, on the summit of which was placed a lofty column fixed deeply in the earth, with a base of ivory, and branches which reached to the heavens. The lower part was iron, brilliantly polished, and to it were attached rings of the same metal, from which were suspended cuirasses, casques, lances, javelins, bucklers, trumpets, and many other warlike trophies. The upper portion was of gold, and upon it hung candelabra, censers, stoles, chalices, and ecclesiastical symbols of every description. As the Prince stood admiring the spectacle the heavens opened and a maiden of marvellous beauty descended and approached him.

"I salute you, O Jud-Hael," she said, "and I confide to your keeping for a season this column and all that it supports"; and with these words she vanished.

On the following day Jud-Hael made public his dream, but, like Nebuchadnezzar of old, he could find no one to interpret it, so he turned to the bard Taliesin as to another Daniel. Taliesin, says the legend, then an exile from his native land of Britain, dwelt on the seashore. To him came the messenger of Jud-Hael and said: "O thou who so truly dost interpret all things ambiguous, hear and make clear the strange vision which my lord hath seen." He then recounted Jud-Hael's dream to the venerable bard.

For a time the sage sat pondering deeply, and then replied: "Thy master reigneth well and wisely, O messenger, but he has a son who will reign still more happily even than himself, and who will become one of the greatest men in the Breton land. The sons of his loins will be the fathers of powerful counts and pious Churchmen, but he himself, the greatest man of that race, shall be first a valiant warrior and later a mighty champion of heaven. The earlier part of his life shall be given to the world; the latter portion shall be devoted to God."

The prophecy of Taliesin was duly fulfilled. For Judik-Hael, the son of Jud-Hael, realized the bard's prediction, and entered the cloister after a glorious reign.


Taliesin ('Shining Forehead') was in the highest repute in the middle of the twelfth century, and he was then and afterward, unless we except Merlin, the bardic hero of the greatest number of romantic legends. He is said to have been the son of Henwg the bard, or St Henwg, of Caerleon-upon-Usk, and to have been educated in the school of Cattwg, at Llanvithin, in Glamorgan, where the historian Gildas was his fellow-pupil. Seized when a youth by Irish pirates, he is said, probably by rational interpretation of a later fable of his history, to have escaped by using a wooden buckler for a boat. Thus he came into the fishing weir of Elphin, one of the sons of Urien. Urien made him Elphin's instructor, and gave him an estate of land. But, once introduced into the Court of that great warrior-chief, Taliesin became his foremost bard, followed him in his wars, and sang his victories. He celebrates triumphs over Ida, the Anglian King of Bernicia (d. 559) at Argoed about the year 547, at Gwenn-Estrad between that year and 559, at Menao about the year 559. After the death of Urien, Taliesin was the bard of his son Owain, by whose hand Ida fell. After the death of all Urien's sons Taliesin retired to mourn the downfall of his race in Wales, dying, it is said, at Bangor Teivi, in Cardiganshire. He was buried under a cairn near Aberystwyth.

Herve the Blind

There is nothing improbable in the statement that Taliesin dwelt in Brittany in the sixth century. Many other British bards found a refuge on the shores of Britain the Less. Among these was Kyvarnion, a Christian, who married a Breton Druidess and who had a son, Herve. Herve was blind from birth, and was led from place to place by a wolf which he had converted (!) and pressed into the service of Mother Church.

One day, when a lad, Herve had been left in charge of his uncle's farm, when a ploughman passed him in full flight, crying out that a savage wolf had appeared and had killed the ass with which he had been ploughing. The man entreated Herve to fly, as the wolf was hard upon his heels; but the blind youth, undaunted, ordered the terrified labourer to seize the animal and harness it to the plough with the harness of the dead ass. From that time the wolf dwelt among the sheep and goats on the farm, and subsisted upon hay and grass.


Swarms of Irish from Ossory and Wexford began to arrive about the close of the fifth century, settling along the west and north coasts. The immigrants from Britain the Greater formed by degrees the counties of Vannes, Cornouaille, Leon, and Domnonee, constituted a powerful aristocracy, and initiated a long and arduous struggle against the Frankish monarchs, who exercised a nominal suzerainty over Brittany. Louis the Pious placed a native chief, Nomenoe, at the head of the province, and a long period of peace ensued. But in A.D. 845 Nomenoe revolted against Charles the Bald, defeated him, and forced him to recognize the independence of Brittany, and to forgo the annual tribute which he had exacted. A ballad by Villemarque describes the incident. Like Macpherson, who in his enthusiasm for the fragments of Ossianic lore 'reconstructed' them only too well, Villemarque unfortunately tampered very freely with such matter as he collected, and it may even be that the poem on Nomenoe, for which he claims authority, is altogether spurious, as some critics consider. But as it affords a spirited picture of the old Breton chief the story is at least worth relating.

The poem describes how an aged chieftain waits on the hills of Retz for his son, who has gone over to Rennes to pay the Breton tribute to the Franks. Many chariots drawn by horses has he taken with him, but although a considerable time has elapsed there is no indication of his return. The chieftain climbs to an eminence in the hope of discerning his son in the far distance, but no sign of his appearance is to be seen on the long white road or on the bleak moors which fringe it.

The anxious father espies a merchant wending slowly along the highway and hails him.

"Ha, good merchant, you who travel the land from end to end, have you seen aught of my son Karo, who has gone to conduct the tribute chariots to Rennes?"

"Alas! chieftain, if your son has gone with the tribute it is in vain you wait for him, for the Franks found it not enough, and have weighed his head against it in the balance."

The father gazes wildly at the speaker, sways, and falls heavily with a doleful cry.

"Karo, my son! My lost Karo!"

The scene changes to the fortress of Nomenoe, and we see its master returning from the chase, accompanied by his great hounds and laden with trophies. His bow is in his hand, and he carries the carcass of a boar upon his shoulder. The red blood drops from the dead beast's mouth and stains his hand. The aged chief, well-nigh demented, awaits his coming, and Nomenoe greets him courteously.

"Hail, honest mountaineer!" he cries. "What is your news? What would you with Nomenoe?"

"I come for justice, Lord Nomenoe," replies the aged man. "Is there a God in heaven and a chief in Brittany? There is a God above us, I know, and I believe there is a just Duke in the Breton land. Mighty ruler, make war upon the Frank, defend our country, and give us vengeance—vengeance for Karo my son, Karo, slain, decapitated by the Frankish barbarians, his beauteous head made into a balance-weight for their brutal sport."

The old man weeps, and the tears flow down his grizzled beard.

Then Nomenoe rises in anger and swears a great oath. "By the head of this boar, and by the arrow which slew him," cries he, "I will not wash this blood from off my hand until I free the country from mine enemies."

Nomenoe has gone to the seashore and gathered pebbles, for these are the tribute he intends to offer the bald King.[3] Arrived at the gates of Rennes, he asks that they shall be opened to him so that he may pay the tribute of silver. He is asked to descend, to enter the castle, and to leave his chariot in the courtyard. He is requested to wash his hands to the sound of a horn before eating (an ancient custom), but he replies that he prefers to deliver the tribute-money there and then. The sacks are weighed, and the third is found light by several pounds.

"Ha, what is this?" cries the Frankish castellan. "This sack is under weight, Sir Nomenoe."

Out leaps Nomenoe's sword from the scabbard, and the Frank's head is smitten from his shoulders. Then, seizing it by its gory locks, the Breton chief with a laugh of triumph casts it into the balance. His warriors throng the courtyard, the town is taken; young Karo is avenged!

Alain Barbe-torte

The end of the ninth century and the beginning of the tenth were remarkable for the invasions of the Northmen. On several occasions they were driven back—by Salomon (d. 874), by Alain, Count of Vannes (d. 907)—but it was Alain Barbe-torte, 'Alain of the Twisted Beard,' or 'Alain the Fox' (d. 952), who gained the decisive victory over them, and concerning him an ancient ballad has much to say. It was taken down by Villemarque from the lips of a peasant, an old soldier of the Chouan leader Georges Cadoudal.

In his youth Alain was a mighty hunter of the bear and the boar in the forests of his native Brittany, and the courage gained in this manly sport stood him in good stead when he came to employ it against the enemies of his country, the hated Northmen. Rallying the Bretons who lurked in the forests or hid in the mountain fastnesses, he led them against the enemy, whom he surprised near Dol in the middle of the night, making a great carnage among them. After this battle the Scandinavian invaders were finally expelled from the Breton land and Alain was crowned King or Arch-chief in 937.

A free translation of this ballad might run as follows:

Lurks the Fox within the wood, His teeth and claws are red with blood.

Within his leafy, dark retreat He chews the cud of vengeance sweet.

Oh, trenchant his avenging sword! It falls not on the rock or sward,

But on the mail of Saxon foe: Swift as the lightning falls the blow.

I've seen the Bretons wield the flail, Scattering the bearded chaff like hail:

But iron is the flail they wield Against the churlish Saxon's shield.

I heard the call of victory From Michael's Mount to Elorn fly,

And Alain's glory flies as fast From Gildas' church to every coast.

Ah, may his splendour never die, May it live on eternally!

But woe that I may nevermore Declaim this lay on Armor's shore,

For the base Saxon hand has torn My tongue from out my mouth forlorn.

But if my lips no longer frame The glories of our Alain's name,

My heart shall ever sing his praise, Who won the fight and wears the bays![4]

The Saxons of this lay are, of course, the Norsemen, who, speaking a Teutonic tongue, would seem to the Celtic-speaking Bretons to be allied to the Teuton Franks.

Bretons and Normans

During the latter half of the tenth and most of the eleventh century the Counts of Rennes gained an almost complete ascendancy in Brittany, which began to be broken up into counties and seigneuries in the French manner. In 992 Geoffrey, son of Conan, Count of Rennes, adopted the title of Duke of Brittany. He married a Norman lady of noble family, by whom he had two sons, Alain and Eudo, the younger of whom demanded a share of the duchy as his inheritance. His brother made over to him the counties of Penthievre and Treguier, part of the old kingdom of Domnonia in the north. It was a fatal transference, for he and his line became remorseless enemies of the ducal house, with whom they carried on a series of disastrous conflicts for centuries. Conan II, son of Alain, came under the regency of Eudo, his uncle, in infancy, but later turned his sword against him and his abettor, William of Normandy, the Conqueror.

Notwithstanding the national enmity of the Normans and Bretons, there existed between the Dukes of Normandy and the Dukes of Brittany ties of affinity that rendered the relations between the two states somewhat complicated. At the time when Duke Robert, the father of William of Normandy, set out upon his pilgrimage, he had no nearer relative than Alain, Duke of Brittany, the father of Conan II, descended in the female line from Rollo, the great Norse leader, and to him he committed on his departure the care of his duchy and the guardianship of his son.

Duke Alain declared the paternity of his ward doubtful, and favoured that party which desired to set him aside from the succession; but after the defeat of his faction at Val-es-Dunes he died, apparently of poison, doubtless administered by the contrivance of the friends of William. His son, Conan II, succeeded, and reigned at the period when William was making his preparations for the conquest of England. He was a prince of ability, dreaded by his neighbours, and animated by a fierce desire to injure the Duke of Normandy, whom he regarded as a usurper and the murderer of his father Alain. Seeing William engaged in a hazardous enterprise, Conan thought it a favourable moment to declare war against him, and dispatched one of his chamberlains to him with the following message: "I hear that you are ready to pass the sea to make conquest of the kingdom of England. Now, Duke Robert, whose son you feign to consider yourself, on his departure for Jerusalem left all his inheritance to Duke Alain, my father, who was his cousin; but you and your abettors have poisoned my father, you have appropriated to yourself the domain of Normandy, and have kept possession of it until this day, contrary to all right, since you are not the legitimate heir. Restore to me, therefore, the duchy of Normandy, which belongs to me, or I shall levy war upon you, and shall wage it to extremity with all my forces."

The Poisoned Hunting-Horn

The Norman historians state that William was much startled by so hostile a message; for even a feeble diversion might render futile his ambitious hopes of conquest. But without hesitation he resolved to remove the Breton Duke. Immediately upon his return to Conan, the envoy, gained over, doubtless, by a bribe of gold, rubbed poison into the inside of the horn which his master sounded when hunting, and, to make his evil measures doubly sure, he poisoned in like manner the Duke's gloves and his horse's bridle. Conan died a few days after his envoy's return, and his successor, Eudo, took especial care not to imitate his relative in giving offence to William with regard to the validity of his right; on the contrary, he formed an alliance with him, a thing unheard of betwixt Breton and Norman, and sent his two sons to William's camp to serve against the English.

These two youths, Brian and Alain, repaired to the rendezvous of the Norman forces, accompanied by a body of Breton knights, who styled them Mac-tierns.[5] Certain other wealthy Bretons, who were not of the pure Celtic race, and who bore French names, as Robert de Vitry, Bertrand de Dinan, and Raoul de Gael, resorted likewise to the Court of the Duke of Normandy with offers of service.

Later Brittany became a bone of contention between France and Normandy. Hoel, the native Duke, claimed the protection of France against the Norman duchy. A long period of peace followed under Alain Fergant and Conan III, but on the death of the latter a fierce war of succession was waged (1148-56). Conan IV secured the ducal crown by Norman-English aid, and gave his daughter Constance in marriage to Geoffrey Plantagenet, son of Henry II of England. Geoffrey was crowned Duke of Brittany in 1171, but after his death his son Arthur met with a dreadful fate at the hands of his uncle, John of England. Constance, his mother, the real heiress to the duchy, married again, her choice falling upon Guy de Thouars, and their daughter was wed to Pierre de Dreux, who became Duke, and who defeated John Lackland, the slayer of his wife's half-brother, under the walls of Nantes in 1214.

French Influence

The country now began to flourish apace because of the many innovations introduced into it by the wisdom of its French rulers. A new way of life was adopted by the governing classes, among whom French manners and fashions became the rule. But the people at large retained their ancient customs, language, and dress; nor have they ever abandoned them, at least in Lower Brittany. On the death of John III (1341) the peace of the duchy was once more broken by a war of succession. John had no love for his half-brother, John of Montfort, and bequeathed the ducal coronet to his niece, Joan of Penthievre, wife of Charles of Blois, nephew of Philip VI of France. This precipitated a conflict between the rival parties which led to years of bitter strife.

The War of the Two Joans

Just as two women, Fredegonda and Brunhilda, swayed the fortunes of Neustria and Austrasia in Merovingian times, and Mary and Elizabeth those of England and Scotland at a later day, so did two heroines arise to uphold the banners of either party in the civil strife which now convulsed the Breton land. England took the side of Montfort and the French that of Charles. Almost at the outset (1342) John of Montfort was taken prisoner, but his heroic wife, Joan of Flanders, grasped the leadership of affairs, and carried on a relentless war against her husband's enemies. After five years of fighting, in 1347, and two years subsequent to the death of her lord, whose health had given way after his imprisonment, she captured her arch-foe, Charles of Blois himself, at the battle of La Roche-Derrien, on the Jaudy. In this encounter she had the assistance of a certain Sir Thomas Dagworth and an English force. Three times was Charles rescued, and thrice was he retaken, until, bleeding from eighteen wounds, he was compelled to surrender. He was sent to London, where he was confined in the Tower for nine years. Meanwhile his wife, Joan, imitating her rival and namesake, in turn threw her energies into the strife. But another victory for the Montfort party was gained at Mauron in 1352. On the release of Charles of Blois in 1356 he renewed hostilities with the help of the famous Bertrand Du Guesclin.

Bertrand Du Guesclin

Bertrand Du Guesclin (c. 1320-80), Constable of France, divides with Bayard the Fearless the crown of medieval French chivalry as a mighty leader of men, a great soldier, and a blameless knight. He was born of an ancient family who were in somewhat straitened circumstances, and in childhood was an object of aversion to his parents because of his ugliness.

One night his mother dreamt that she was in possession of a casket containing portraits of herself and her lord, on one side of which were set nine precious stones of great beauty encircling a rough, unpolished pebble. In her dream she carried the casket to a lapidary, and asked him to take out the rough stone as unworthy of such goodly company; but he advised her to allow it to remain, and afterward it shone forth more brilliantly than the lustrous gems. The later superiority of Bertrand over her nine other children fulfilled the mother's dream.

At the tournament which was held at Rennes in 1338 to celebrate the marriage of Charles of Blois with Joan of Penthievre, young Bertrand, at that time only some eighteen years old, unhorsed the most famous competitors. During the war between Blois and Montfort he gathered round him a band of adventurers and fought on the side of Charles V, doing much despite to the forces of Montfort and his ally of England.

Du Guesclin's name lives in Breton legend as Gwezklen, perhaps the original form, and approximating to that on his tomb at Saint-Denis, where he lies at the feet of Charles V of France. In this inscription it is spelt "Missire Bertram du Gueaquien," perhaps a French rendering of the Breton pronunciation. Not a few legendary ballads which recount the exploits of this manly and romantic figure remain in the Breton language, and I have made a free translation of the following, as it is perhaps the most interesting of the number:


Trogoff's strong tower in English hands Has been this many a year, Rising above its subject-lands And held in hate and fear. That rosy gleam upon the sward Is not the sun's last kiss; It is the blood of an English lord Who ruled the land amiss.

"O sweetest daughter of my heart, My little Marguerite, Come, carry me the midday milk To those who bind the wheat." "O gentle mother, spare me this! The castle I must pass Where wicked Roger takes a kiss From every country lass."

"Oh! fie, my daughter, fie on thee! The Seigneur would not glance On such a chit of low degree When all the dames in France Are for his choosing." "Mother mine, I bow unto your word. Mine eyes will ne'er behold you more. God keep you in His guard."

Young Roger stood upon the tower Of Trogoff's grey chateau; Beneath his bent brows did he lower Upon the scene below. "Come hither quickly, little page, Come hither to my knee. Canst spy a maid of tender age? Ha! she must pay my fee."

Fair Marguerite trips swiftly by Beneath the castle shade, When villain Roger, drawing nigh, Steals softly on the maid. He seizes on the milking-pail She bears upon her head; The snow-white flood she must bewail, For all the milk is shed.

"Ah, cry not, pretty sister mine, There's plenty and to spare Of milk and eke of good red wine Within my castle fair. Ah, feast with me, or pluck a rose Within my pleasant garth, Or stroll beside yon brook which flows In brawling, sylvan mirth."

"Nor feast nor flowers nor evening air I wish; I do entreat, Fair Seigneur, let me now repair To those who bind the wheat." "Nay, damsel, fill thy milking-pail: The dairy stands but here. Ah, foolish sweeting, wherefore quail, For thou hast naught to fear?"

The castle gates behind her close, And all is fair within; Above her head the apple glows, The symbol of our sin. "O Seigneur, lend thy dagger keen, That I may cut this fruit." He smiles and with a courteous mien He draws the bright blade out.

She takes it, and in earnest prayer Her childish accents rise: "O mother, Virgin, ever fair, Pray, pray, for her who dies For honour!" Then the blade is drenched With blood most innocent. Vile Roger, now, thine ardour quenched, Say, art thou then content?

"Ha, I will wash my dagger keen In the clear-running brook. No human eye hath ever seen, No human eye shall look Upon this gore." He takes the blade From out that gentle heart, And hurries to the river's shade. False Roger, why dost start?

Beside the bank Du Guesclin stands, Clad in his sombre mail. "Ha, Roger, why so red thy hands, And why art thou so pale?" "A beast I've slain." "Thou liest, hound! But I a beast will slay." The woodland's leafy ways resound To echoings of fray.

Roger is slain. Trogoff's chateau Is level with the rock. Who can withstand Du Guesclin's blow, What towers can brave his shock? The combat is his only joy, The tournament his play. Woe unto those who would destroy The peace of Brittany!

In the decisive battle of Auray (1364) Charles was killed and Du Guesclin taken prisoner. John of Montfort, son of the John who had died, became Duke of Brittany. But he had to face Oliver de Clisson, round whom the adherents of Blois rallied. From a war the strife degenerated into a vendetta. Oliver de Clisson seized the person of John V and imprisoned him. But in the end John was liberated and the line of Blois was finally crushed.

Anne of Brittany

The next event of importance in Breton history is the enforced marriage of Anne of Brittany, Duchess of that country in her own right, to Charles VIII of France, son of Louis XI, which event took place in 1491. Anne, whose father, Duke Francis II, had but recently died, had no option but to espouse Charles, and on his death she married Louis XII, his successor. Francis I, who succeeded Louis XII on the throne of France, and who married Claude, daughter of Louis XII and Anne, annexed the duchy in 1532, providing for its privileges. But beneath the cramping hand of French power the privileges of the province were greatly reduced. From this time the history of Brittany is merged in that of France, of which country it becomes one of the component parts in a political if not a racial sense.

We shall not in this place deal with the people of modern Brittany, their manners and customs, reserving the subject for a later chapter, but shall ask the reader to accompany us while we traverse the enchanted ground of Breton story.


[1] Consult E. Ernault, Petite Grammaire bretonne (Saint-Brieuc, 1897); L. Le Clerc, Grammaire bretonne (Saint-Brieuc, 1908); J. P. Treasure, An Introduction to Breton Grammar (Carmarthen, 1903). For the dialect of Vannes see A. Guillevic and P. Le Goff, Grammaire bretonne du Dialect de Vannes (Vannes, 1902).

[2] Lit. 'long stone,' a megalithic monument. See Chapter II, "Menhirs and Dolmens." Students of folk-lore will recognize the symbolic significance of the offering. We seem to have here some connexion with pillar-worship, as found in ancient Crete, and the adoration of the Irminsul among the ancient Saxons.

[3] Charles the Bald.

[4] For the Breton original and the French translation from which the above is adapted see Villemarque, Barzaz-Breiz, p. 112.

[5] 'Sons of the Chief.' MacTier is a fairly common name in Scotland to-day.


In the mind of the general reader Brittany is unalterably associated with the prehistoric stone monuments which are so closely identified with its folk-lore and national life. In other parts of the world similar monuments are encountered, in Great Britain and Ireland, Scandinavia, the Crimea, Algeria, and India, but nowhere are they found in such abundance as in Brittany, nor are these rivalled in other lands, either as regards their character or the space they occupy.

To speculate as to the race which built the primitive stone monuments of Brittany is almost as futile as it would be to theorize upon the date of their erection.[6] A generation ago it was usual to refer all European megalithic monuments to a 'Celtic' origin, but European ethnological problems have become too complicated of late years to permit such a theory to pass unchallenged, especially now that the term 'Celt' is itself matter for fierce controversy. In the immediate neighbourhood of certain of these monuments objects of the Iron Age are recovered from the soil, while near others the finds are of Bronze Age character, so that it is probably correct to surmise that their construction continued throughout a prolonged period.

What Menhirs and Dolmens are

Regarding the nomenclature of the several species of megalithic monuments met with in Brittany some definitions are necessary. A menhir is a rude monolith set up on end, a great single stone, the base of which is buried deep in the soil. A dolmen is a large, table-shaped stone, supported by three, four, or even five other stones, the bases of which are sunk in the earth. In Britain the term 'cromlech' is synonymous with that of 'dolmen,' but in France and on the Continent generally it is exclusively applied to that class of monument for which British scientists have no other name than 'stone circles.' The derivation of the words from Celtic and their precise meaning in that tongue may assist the reader to arrive at their exact significance. Thus 'menhir' seems to be derived from the Welsh or Brythonic maen, 'a stone,' and hir, 'long,' and 'dolmen' from Breton taol, 'table,' and men, 'a stone.'[7] 'Cromlech' is also of Welsh or Brythonic origin, and is derived from crom, 'bending' or 'bowed' (hence 'laid across'), and llech, 'a flat stone.' The allee couverte is a dolmen on a large scale.

The Nature of the Monuments

The nature of these monuments and the purpose for which they were erected were questions which powerfully exercised the minds of the antiquaries of a century ago, who fiercely contended for their use as altars, open-air temples, and places of rendezvous for the discussion of tribal affairs. The cooler archaeologists of a later day have discarded the majority of such theories as untenable in the light of hard facts. The dolmens, they say, are highly unsuitable for the purpose of altars, and as it has been proved that this class of monument was invariably covered in prehistoric times by an earthen tumulus its ritualistic use is thereby rendered improbable. Moreover, if we chance upon any rude carving or incised work on dolmens we observe that it is invariably executed on the lower surface of the table stone, the upper surface being nearly always rough, unhewn, often naturally rounded, and as unlike the surface of an altar as possible.

Recent research has established the much more reasonable theory that these monuments are sepulchral in character, and that they mark the last resting-places of persons of tribal importance, chiefs, priests, or celebrated warriors. Occasionally legend assists us to prove the mortuary character of menhir and dolmen. But, without insisting any further for the present upon the purpose of these monuments, let us glance at the more widely known of Brittany's prehistoric structures, not so much in the manner of the archaeologist as in that of the observant traveller who is satisfied to view them as interesting relics of human handiwork bequeathed from a darker age, rather than as objects to satisfy the archaeological taste for discussion.

For this purpose we shall select the best known groups of Breton prehistoric structures, and shall begin our excursion at the north-eastern extremity of Brittany, following the coast-line, on which most of the principal prehistoric centres are situated, and, as occasion offers, journeying into the interior in search of famous or interesting examples.


Dol is situated in the north of the department of Ille-et-Vilaine, not far from the sea-coast. Near it, in a field called the Champ Dolent ('Field of Woe'), stands a gigantic menhir, about thirty feet high and said to measure fifteen more underground. It is composed of grey granite, and is surmounted by a cross. The early Christian missionaries, finding it impossible to wean the people from frequenting pagan neighbourhoods, surmounted the standing stones with the symbol of their faith, and this in time brought about the result desired.[8]

The Legend of Dol

A strange legend is connected with this rude menhir. On a day in the dark, uncharted past of Brittany a fierce battle was fought in the Champ Dolent. Blood ran in streams, sufficient, says the tale, to turn a mill-wheel in the neighbourhood of the battlefield. When the combat was at its height two brothers met and grappled in fratricidal strife. But ere they could harm one another the great granite shaft which now looms above the field rose up between them and separated them.

There appears to be some historical basis for the tale. Here, or in the neighbourhood, A.D. 560, met Clotaire, King of the Franks, and his son, the rebel Chramne. The rebellious son was signally defeated. He had placed his wife and two little daughters in a dwelling hard by, and as he made his way thence to convey them from the field he was captured. He was instantly strangled, by order of his brutal father, in the sight of his wife and little ones, who were then burned alive in the house where they had taken refuge. The Champ Dolent does not belie its name, and even thirteen centuries and a half have failed to obliterate the memory of a savage and unnatural crime, which, its remoteness notwithstanding, fills the soul with loathing against its perpetrators and with deep pity for the hapless and innocent victims.

A Subterranean Dolmen Chapel

At Plouaret, in the department of Cotes-du-Nord, is a curious subterranean chapel incorporating a dolmen. The dolmen was formerly partially embedded in a tumulus, and the chapel, erected in 1702, was so constructed that the great table-stone of the dolmen has become the chapel roof, and the supporting stones form two of its sides. The crypt is reached by a flight of steps, and here may be seen an altar to the Seven Sleepers, represented by seven dolls of varying size. The Bretons have a legend that this structure dates from the creation of the world, and they have embodied this belief in a ballad, in which it is piously affirmed that the shrine was built by the hand of the Almighty at the time when the world was in process of formation.


Camaret, on the coast of Finistere, is the site of no less than forty-one standing stones of quartz, which outline a rectangular space 600 yards in length at its base. Many stones have been removed, so that the remaining sides are incomplete. None of these monoliths is of any considerable size, however, and the site is not considered to be of much importance, save as regards its isolated character. At Penmarch, in the southern extremity of Finistere, there is an 'alignment' of some two hundred small stones, and a dolmen of some importance is situated at Tregunc, but it is at Carnac, on the coast of Morbihan, that we arrive at the most important archaeological district in Brittany.


The Carnac district teems with prehistoric monuments, the most celebrated of which are those of Plouharnel, Concarneau, Concurrus, Locmariaquer, Kermario, Kerlescant, Erdeven, and Sainte-Barbe. All these places are situated within a few miles of one another, and a good centre from which excursions can be made to each is the little town of Auray, with its quaint medieval market-house and shrine of St Roch. Archaeologists, both Breton and foreign, appear to be agreed that the groups of stones at Meneac, Kermario, and Kerlescant are portions of one original and continuous series of alignments which extended for nearly two miles in one direction from south-west to north-east. The monolithic avenue commences quite near the village of Meneac, stretching away in eleven rows, and here the large stones are situated, these at first rising to a height of from 10 to 13 feet, and becoming gradually smaller, until they attain only 3 or 4 feet. In all there are 116 menhirs at Meneac. For more than three hundred yards there is a gap in the series, which passed, we come to the Kermario avenue, which consists of ten rows of monoliths of much the same size as those of Meneac, and 1120 in number.

Passing on to Kerlescant, with its thirteen rows of menhirs made up of 570 individual stones, we come to the end of the avenue and gaze backward upon the plain covered with these indestructible symbols of a forgotten past.

Carnac! There is something vast, Egyptian, in the name! There is, indeed, a Karnak in Egypt, celebrated for its Avenue of Sphinxes and its pillared temple raised to the goddess Mut by King Amenophis III. Here, in the Breton Carnac, are no evidences of architectural skill. These sombre stones, unworked, rude as they came from cliff or seashore, are not embellished by man's handiwork like the rich temples of the Nile. But there is about this stone-littered moor a mystery, an atmosphere no less intense than that surrounding the most solemn ruins of antiquity. Deeper even than the depths of Egypt must we sound if we are to discover the secret of Carnac. What mean these stones? What means faith? What signifies belief? What is the answer to the Riddle of Man? In the words of Cayot Delandre, a Breton poet:

Tout cela eut un sens, et traduisit Une pensee; mais cle de ce mystere, Ou est elle? et qui pourrait dire aujourd'hui Si jamais elle se retrouvera?[9]

A Vision

Over this wild, heathy track, covered with the blue flowers of the dwarf gentian, steals a subtle change. Nor air nor heath has altered. The lichen-covered grey stones are the same. Suddenly there arises the burden of a low, fierce chant. A swarm of skin-clad figures appears, clustering around a gigantic object which they are painfully dragging toward a deep pit situated at the end of one of the enormous alleys of monoliths. On rudely shaped rollers rests a huge stone some twenty feet in length, and this they drag across the rough moor by ropes of hide, lightening their labours by the chant, which relates the exploits of the warrior-chief who has lately been entombed in this vast pantheon of Carnac. The menhir shall serve for his headstone. It has been vowed to him by the warriors of his tribe, his henchmen, who have fought and hunted beside him, and who revere his memory. This stone shall render his fame immortal.

And now the task of placing the huge monolith in position begins. Ropes are attached to one extremity, and while a line of brawny savages strains to raise this, others guide that end of the monolith destined for enclosure in the earth toward the pit which has been dug for its reception. Higher and higher rises the stone, until at last it sinks slowly into its earthy bed. It is held in an upright position while the soil is packed around it and it is made secure. Then the barbarians stand back a space and gaze at it from beneath their low brows, well pleased with their handiwork. He whom they honoured in life rests not unrecognized in death.

The Legend of Carnac

The legend of Carnac which explains these avenues of monoliths bears a resemblance to the Cornish story of 'the Hurlers,' who were turned into stone for playing at hurling on the Lord's Day, or to that other English example from Cumberland of 'Long Meg' and her daughters. St Cornely, we are told, pursued by an army of pagans, fled toward the sea. Finding no boat at hand, and on the point of being taken, he transformed his pursuers into stones, the present monoliths.

The Saint had made his flight to the coast in a bullock-cart, and perhaps for this reason he is now regarded as the patron of cattle. Should a bullock fall sick, his owner purchases an image of St Cornely and hangs it up in the stable until the animal recovers. The church at Carnac contains a series of fresco paintings which outline events in the life of the Saint, and in the churchyard there is a representation of the holy man between two bullocks. The head of St Cornely is said to be preserved within the edifice as a relic. On the 13th of September is held at Carnac the festival of the 'Benediction of the Beasts,' which is celebrated in honour of St Cornely. The cattle of the district are brought to the vicinity of the church and blessed by the priests—should sufficient monetary encouragement be forthcoming.


In the neighbourhood is Mont-Saint-Michel,[10] a great tumulus with a sepulchral dolmen, first excavated in 1862, when late Stone Age implements, jade celts, and burnt bones were unearthed. Later M. Zacharie Le Rouzic, the well-known Breton archaeologist, tunnelled into the tumulus, and discovered a mortuary chamber, in which were the incinerated remains of two oxen. To this tumulus each pilgrim added a stone or small quantity of earth, as has been the custom in Celtic countries from time immemorial, and so the funerary mound in the course of countless generations grew into quite a respectable hill, on which a chapel was built, dedicated to St Michael, from the doorway of which a splendid prospect of the great stone alignments can be had, with, for background, the Morbihan and the long, dreary peninsula of Quiberon, bleak, treeless, and deserted.


Near Carnac is the great dolmen of Rocenaud, the 'cup-and-ring' markings on which are thought by the surrounding peasantry to have been made by the knees and elbows of St Roch, who fell upon this stone when he landed from Ireland. When the natives desire a wind they knock upon the depressions with their knuckles, murmuring spells the while, just as in Scotland in the seventeenth century a tempest was raised by dipping a rag in water and beating it on a stone thrice in the name of Satan.

Cup-and-Ring Markings

What do these cup-and-ring markings so commonly discovered upon the monuments of Brittany portend? The question is one well worth examining at some length, as it appears to be almost at the foundations of Neolithic religion. Recent discoveries in New Caledonia have proved the existence in these far-off islands, as in Brittany, Scotland, and Ireland, of these strange symbols, coupled with the concentric and spiral designs which are usually associated with the genius of Celtic art. In the neighbourhood of Glasgow, and in the south-west of Scotland generally, stones inscribed with designs closely resembling those on the New Caledonian rocks have been found in abundance, as at Auchentorlie and Cockno, Shewalton Sands, and in the Milton of Colquhoun district, where the famous 'cup-and-ring altar' was discovered. At Shewalton Sands in particular, in 1904, a number of stones were found bearing crosses like those discovered in Portugal by Father Jose Brenha and Father Rodriguez. These symbols have a strong resemblance to certain markings on the Breton rocks, and are thought to possess an alphabetic or magical significance. In Scotland spirals are commonly found on stones marked with ogham inscriptions, and it is remarkable that they should occur in New Caledonia in connexion with a dot 'alphabet.' The New Caledonian crosses, however, approximate more to the later crosses of Celtic art, while the spirals resemble those met with in the earlier examples of Celtic work. But the closest parallel to the New Caledonian stone-markings to be found in Scotland is supplied by the examples at Cockno, in Dumbartonshire, where the wheel symbol is associated with the cup-and-ring markings.

The cup-and-ring stones used to be considered the peculiar product of a race of 'Brythonic' or British origin, and it is likely that the stones so carved were utilized in the ritual of rain-worship or rain-making by sympathetic magic. The grooves in the stone were probably filled with water to typify a country partially covered with rain-water.[11]

From these analogies, then, we can glean the purpose of the cup-and-ring markings upon the dolmens of Brittany, and may conclude, if our considerations are well founded, that they were magical in purpose and origin. Do the cup-shaped depressions represent water, or are they receptacles for rain, and do the spiral symbols typify the whirling winds?

The Gallery of Gavr'inis

Nowhere are these mysterious markings so well exemplified as in the wonderful tumulus of Gavr'inis. This ancient place of sepulture, the name of which means 'Goat Island,' lies in the Morbihan, or 'Little Sea,' an inland sea which gives its name to a department in the south of Brittany. The tumulus is 25 feet high, and covers a fine gallery 40 feet long, the stones of which bear the markings alluded to. Whorls and circles abound in the ornamentation, serpent-like figures, and the representation of an axe, similar to those to be seen in some of the Grottes aux Fees, or on the Dol des Marchands. The sculptures appear to have been executed with metal tools. The passage ends in a square sepulchral chamber, the supports of which are eight menhirs of grained granite, a stone not found on the island. Such of the menhirs as are carved were obviously so treated before they were placed in situ, as the design passes round the edges.

The Ile aux Moines

The Ile aux Moines ('Monks' Island') is also situated in the Morbihan, and has many prehistoric monuments, the most extensive of which are the circle of stones at Kergonan and the dolmen of Penhapp. On the Ile d'Arz, too, are megalithic monuments, perhaps the best example of which is the cromlech or circle at Penraz.

The folk-beliefs attached to the megalithic monuments of Brittany are numerous, but nearly all of them bear a strong resemblance to each other. Many of the monuments are called Grottes aux Fees or Roches aux Fees, in the belief that the fairies either built them or used them as dwelling-places, and variants of these names are to be found in the Maison des Follets ('House of the Goblins') at Cancoet, in Morbihan, and the Chateau des Paulpiquets, in Questembert, in the same district. Ty en Corygannt ('The House of the Korrigans') is situated in the same department, while near Penmarch, in Finistere, at the other end of the province, we find Ty C'harriquet ('The House of the Gorics' or 'Nains'). Other mythical personages are also credited with their erection, most frequently either the devil or Gargantua being held responsible for their miraculous creation. The phenomenon, well known to students of folk-lore, that an unlettered people speedily forgets the origin of monuments that its predecessors may have raised in times past is well exemplified in Brittany, whose peasant-folk are usually surprised, if not amused, at the question "Who built the dolmens?" Close familiarity with and contiguity to uncommon objects not infrequently dulls the sense of wonder they should otherwise naturally excite. But lest we feel tempted to sneer at these poor folk for their incurious attitude toward the visible antiquities of their land, let us ask ourselves how many of us take that interest in the antiquities of our own country or our own especial locality that they demand.[12]

Fairy Builders

For the most part, then, the megaliths, in the opinion of the Breton peasant, are not the handiwork of man. He would rather refer their origin to spirits, giants, or fiends. If he makes any exception to this supernatural attribution, it is in favour of the saints he reverences so profoundly. The fairies, he says, harnessed their oxen to the mighty stones, selected a site, and dragged them thither to form a dwelling, or perhaps a cradle for the infant fays they were so fond of exchanging for human children. Thus the Roches aux Fees near Saint-Didier, in Ille-et-Vilaine, were raised by fairy hands, the elves collecting "all the big stones in the country" and carrying them thither in their aprons. These architectural sprites then mounted on each other's shoulders in order that they might reach high enough to place the mighty monoliths securely in position. This practice they also followed in building the dolmen near the wood of Rocher, on the road from Dinan to Dol, say the people of that country-side.

But the actual purpose of the megaliths has not been neglected by tradition, for a venerable farmer at Rouvray stated that the fairies were wont to honour after their death those who had made good use of their lives and built the dolmens to contain their ashes. The presence of such a shrine in a country-side was a guarantee of abundance and prosperity therein, as a subtle and indefinable charm spread from the saintly remnants and communicated itself to everything in the neighbourhood.[13] The fairy builders, says tradition, went about their work in no haphazard manner. Those among them who possessed a talent for design drew the plans of the proposed structure, the less gifted acting as carriers, labourers, and masons. Apron-carrying was not their only method of porterage, for some bore the stones on their heads, or one under each arm, as when they raised the Roche aux Fees in Retiers, or the dolmen in La Lande Marie.[14] The space of a night was usually sufficient in which to raise a dolmen. But though 'run up' with more than Transatlantic dispatch, in view of the time these structures have endured for, any charge of jerry-building against their elfin architects must fall to the ground. Daylight, too, frequently surprised the fairy builders, so that they could not finish their task, as many a 'roofless' dolmen shows.

There are many Celtic parallels to this belief. For example, it is said that the Picts, or perhaps the fairies, built the original church of Corstorphine, near Edinburgh, and stood in a row handing the stones on, one to another, from Ravelston Quarry, on the adjacent hill of Corstorphine. Such is the local folk-tale; and it has its congeners in Celtic and even in Hindu myth. Thus in the Highland tale of Kennedy and the claistig, or fairy, whom he captured, and whom he compelled to build him a house in one night, we read that she set her people to work speedily:

And they brought flags and stones From the shores of Cliamig waterfall, Reaching them from hand to hand.[15]

Again, the Round Tower of Ardmore, in Ireland, was built with stones brought from Slieve Grian, a mountain some four or five miles distant, "without horse or wheel," the blocks being passed from hand to hand from the quarry to the site of the building. The same tradition applied to the Round Tower of Abernethy, in Perthshire, only it is in this case demonstrated that the stone of which the tower is composed was actually taken from the traditional quarry, even the very spot being geologically identified.[16] In like manner, too, was Rama's bridge built by the monkey host in Hindu myth, as recounted in the Mahābhārata and the Rāmāyana.

Tales, as apart from beliefs, are not often encountered in connexion with the monuments. Indeed, Sebillot, in the course of his researches, found only some dozen of these all told.[17] They are very brief, and appear for the most part to deal with fairies who have been shut up by the power of magic in a dolmen. Tales of spirits enclosed in trees, and even in pillars, are not uncommon, and lately I have heard a peculiarly fearsome ghost story which comes from Belgium, in which it is related how certain spirits had become enclosed in a pillar in an ancient abbey, for the saintly occupants of which they made it particularly uncomfortable. Mr George Henderson, in one of the most masterly and suggestive studies of Celtic survivals ever published, states that stones in the Highlands of Scotland were formerly believed to have souls, and that those too large to be moved "were held to be in intimate connexion with spirits." Pillared stones are not employed in building dwellings in the Highlands, ill luck, it is believed, being sure to follow their use in this manner, while to 'meddle' with stones which tradition connects with Druidism is to court fatality.[18]

Stones that Travel

M. Salomon Reinach tells us of the Breton belief that certain sacred stones go once a year or once a century to 'wash' themselves in the sea or in a river, returning to their ancient seats after their ablutions.[19] The stones in the dolmen of Esse are thought to change their places continually, like those of Callernish and Lewis, and, like the Roman Penates, to have the gift of coming and going if removed from their habitual site.

The megalithic monuments of Brittany are undoubtedly the most remarkable relics of that epoch of prehistoric activity which is now regarded as the immediate forerunner of civilization. Can it be that they were miraculously preserved by isolation from the remote beginnings of that epoch, or is it more probable that they were constructed at a relatively late period? These are questions of profound difficulty, and it is likely that both theories contain a certain amount of truth. Whatever may have been the origin of her megaliths, Brittany must ever be regarded as a great prehistoric museum, a unique link with a past of hoary antiquity.


[6] That it was Neolithic seems undoubted, and in all probability Alpine—i.e. the same race as presently inhabits Brittany. See Dottin, Anciens Peuples de l'Europe (Paris, 1916).

[7] But tolmen in Cornish meant 'pole of stone.'

[8] Ostensibly, at least; but see the remarks upon modern pagan survivals in Chapter IX, p. 246.

[9] Which might be rendered:

All here is symbol; these grey stones translate A thought ineffable, but where the key? Say, shall it be recovered soon or late, To ope the temple of this mystery?

[10] Not to be confused, of course, with the well-known island mount of the same name.

[11] A Scottish sixteenth-century magical verse was chanted over such a stone:

"I knock this rag wpone this stone, And ask the divell for rain thereon."

[12] The writer's experience is that unlettered British folk often possess much better information concerning the antiquities of a district than its 'educated' inhabitants. If this information is not scientific it is full and displays deep personal interest.

[13] Collectionneur breton, t. iii, p.55.

[14] See Comptes rendus de la Societe des Antiquaries de France, pp. 95 ff. (1836).

[15] J. G. Campbell, Superstitions of the Scottish Highlands.

[16] Small, Antiquities of Fife.

[17] Traditions de la Haute-Bretagne, t. i, p. 26.

[18] Henderson, Survivals in Belief among the Celts (1911).

[19] Cultes, Mythes, et Religiones, t. iii, pp. 365-433.


Whatever the origin of the race which conceived the demonology of Brittany—and there are indications that it was not wholly Celtic—that weird province of Faery bears unmistakable evidence of having been deeply impressed by the Celtic imagination, if it was not totally peopled by it, for its various inhabitants act in the Celtic spirit, are moved by Celtic springs of thought and fancy, and possess not a little of that irritability which has forced anthropologists to include the Celtic race among those peoples described as 'sanguine-bilious.' As a rule they are by no means friendly or even humane, these fays of Brittany, and if we find beneficent elves within the green forests of the duchy we may feel certain that they are French immigrants, and therefore more polished than the choleric native sprites.


Of all the many localities celebrated in the fairy lore of Brittany none is so famous as Broceliande. Broceliande! "The sound is like a bell," a far, faery chime in a twilit forest. In the name Broceliande there seems to be gathered all the tender charm, the rich and haunting mystery, the remote magic of Brittany and Breton lore. It is, indeed, the title to the rarest book in the library of poetic and traditional romance.

"I went to seek out marvels," said old Wace. "The forest I saw, the land I saw. I sought marvels, but I found none. A fool I came back, a fool I went; a fool I went, a fool I came back; foolishness I sought; a fool I hold myself."[20]

Our age, even less sceptical than his, sees no folly in questing for the beautiful, and if we expect no marvels, nor any sleight of faery, however desirous we are, we do not hold it time lost to plunge into the enchanted forest and in its magic half-gloom grope for, and perchance grasp, dryad draperies, or be trapped in the filmy webs of fancy which are spun in these shadows for unwary mortals.

Standing in dream-girt Broceliande of a hundred legends, its shadows mirrored by dim meres that may never reflect the stars, one feels the lure of Brittany more keenly even than when walking by its fierce and jagged coasts menaced by savage grey seas, or when wandering on its vast moors where the monuments of its pagan past stand in gigantic disarray. For in the forest is the heart of Arthurian story, the shrine of that wonder which has drawn thousands to this land of legend, who, like old Wace, trusted to have found, if not elfin marvels, at least matter of phantasy conjured up by the legendary associations of Broceliande.

But we must beware of each step in these twilit recesses, for the fays of Brittany are not as those of other lands. Harsh things are spoken of them. They are malignant, say the forest folk. The note of Brittany is scarce a joyous one. It is bitter-sweet as a sad chord struck on an ancient harp.

The fays of Brittany are not the friends of man. They are not 'the good people,' 'the wee folk'; they have no endearing names, the gift of a grateful peasantry. Cold and hostile, they hold aloof from human converse, and, should they encounter man, vent their displeasure at the interruption in the most vindictive manner.

Whether the fairies of Brittany be the late representatives of the gods of an elder day or merely animistic spirits who have haunted these glades since man first sheltered in them, certain it is that in no other region in Europe has Mother Church laid such a heavy ban upon all the things of faery as in this strange and isolated peninsula. A more tolerant ecclesiastical rule might have weaned them to a timid friendship, but all overtures have been discouraged, and to-day they are enemies, active, malignant, swift to inflict evil upon the pious peasant because he is pious and on the energetic because of his industry.

The Korrigan

Among those forest-beings of whom legend speaks such malice none is more relentless than the Korrigan, who has power to enmesh the heart of the most constant swain and doom him to perish miserably for love of her. Beware of the fountains and of the wells of this forest of Broceliande, for there she is most commonly to be encountered, and you may know her by her bright hair—"like golden wire," as Spenser says of his lady's—her red, flashing eyes, and her laughing lips. But if you would dare her wiles you must come alone to her fountain by night, for she shuns even the half-gloom that is day in shadowy Broceliande. The peasants when they speak of her will assure you that she and her kind are pagan princesses of Brittany who would have none of Christianity when the holy Apostles brought it to Armorica, and who must dwell here under a ban, outcast and abhorred.

The Seigneur of Nann[21]

The Seigneur of Nann was high of heart, for that day his bride of a year had presented him with two beautiful children, a boy and a girl, both white as May-blossom. In his joy the happy father asked his wife her heart's desire, and she, pining for that which idle fancy urged upon her, begged him to bring her a dish of woodcock from the lake in the dale, or of venison from the greenwood. The Seigneur of Nann seized his lance and, vaulting on his jet-black steed, sought the borders of the forest, where he halted to survey the ground for track of roe or slot of the red deer. Of a sudden a white doe rose in front of him, and was lost in the forest like a silver shadow.

At sight of this fair quarry the Seigneur followed into the greenwood. Ever his prey rustled among the leaves ahead, and in the hot chase he recked not of the forest depths into which he had plunged. But coming upon a narrow glade where the interlacing leaves above let in the sun to dapple the moss-ways below, he saw a strange lady sitting by the broken border of a well, braiding her fair hair and binding it with golden pins.

The Seigneur louted low, begged that he might drink, and bending down set his lips to the water; but she, turning strange eyes upon him—eyes not blue like those of his bride, nor grey, nor brown, nor black, like those of other women, but red in their depths as the heart's blood of a dove—spoke to him discourteously.

"Who are you who dare to trouble the waters of my fountain?" she asked. "Do you not know that your conduct merits death? This well is enchanted, and by drinking of it you are fated to die, unless you fulfil a certain condition."

"And what is that?" asked the Seigneur.

"You must marry me within the hour," replied the lady.

"Demoiselle," replied the Seigneur, "it may not be as you desire, for I am already espoused to a fair bride who has borne me this very day a son and a daughter. Nor shall I die until it pleases the good God. Nevertheless, I wot well who you are. Rather would I die on the instant than wed with a Korrigan."

Leaping upon his horse, he turned and rode from the woodland as a man possessed. As he drew homeward he was overshadowed by a sense of coming ill. At the gate of his chateau stood his mother, anxious to greet him with good news of his bride. But with averted eyes he addresses her in the refrain so familiar to the folk-poetry of all lands:

"My good mother, if you love me, make my bed. I am sick unto death. Say not a word to my bride. For within three days I shall be laid in the grave. A Korrigan has done me evil."

Three days later the young spouse asks of her mother-in-law:

"Tell me, mother, why do the bells sound? Wherefore do the priests chant so low?"

"'Tis nothing, daughter," replies the elder woman. "A poor stranger who lodged here died this night."

"Ah, where is gone the Seigneur of Nann? Mother, oh, where is he?"

"He has gone to the town, my child. In a little he will come to see you."

"Ah, mother, let us speak of happy things. Must I wear my red or my blue robe at my churching?"

"Neither, daughter. The mode is changed. You must wear black."

Unconscious in its art, the stream of verse carries us to the church, whence the young wife has gone to offer up thanks for the gift of children. She sees that the ancestral tomb has been opened, and a great dread is at her heart. She asks her mother-in-law who has died, and the old woman at last confesses that the Seigneur of Nann has just been buried.

That same night the young mother was interred beside her husband-lover. And the peasant folk say that from that tomb arose two saplings, the branches of which intertwined more closely as they grew.

A Goddess of Eld

In the depths of Lake Tegid in our own Wales dwelt Keridwen, a fertility goddess who possessed a magic cauldron—the sure symbol of a deity of abundance.[22] Like Demeter, she was strangely associated with the harmless necessary sow, badge of many earth-mothers, and itself typical of fertility. Like Keridwen, the Korrigan is associated with water, with the element which makes for vegetable growth. Christian belief would, of course, transform this discredited goddess into an evil being whose one function was the destruction of souls. May we see a relation of the Korrigan and Keridwen in Tridwan, or St Triduana, of Restalrig, near Edinburgh, who presided over a certain well there, and at whose well-shrine offerings were made by sightless pilgrims for many centuries?

Many are the traditions which tell of human infants abducted by the Korrigan, who at times left an ugly changeling in place of the babe she had stolen. But it was more as an enchantress that she was dreaded. By a stroke of her magic wand she could transform the leafy fastnesses in which she dwelt into the semblance of a lordly hall, which the luckless traveller whom she lured thither would regard as a paradise after the dark thickets in which he had been wandering. This seeming castle or palace she furnished with everything that could delight the eye, and as the doomed wretch sat ravished by her beauty and that of her nine attendant maidens a fatal passion for her entered his heart, so that whatever he cherished most on earth—honour, wife, demoiselle, or affianced bride—became as naught to him, and he cast himself at the feet of this forest Circe in a frenzy of ardour. But with the first ray of daylight the charm was dissolved and the Korrigan became a hideous hag, as repulsive as before she had been lovely; the walls of her palace and the magnificence which had furnished it became once more tree and thicket, its carpets moss, its tapestries leaves, its silver cups wild roses, and its dazzling mirrors pools of stagnant water.

The Unbroken Vow[23]

Sir Roland of Brittany rides through gloomy Broceliande a league ahead of his troop, unattended by squire or by page. The red cross upon his shoulder is witness that he is vowed to service in Palestine, and as he passes through the leafy avenues on his way to the rendezvous he fears that he will be late, most tardy of all the knights of Brittany who have sworn to drive the paynim from the Holy Land. Fearful of such disgrace, he spurs his jaded charger on through the haunted forest, and with anxious eye watches the sun sink and the gay white moon sail high above the tree-tops, pouring light through their branches upon the mossy ways below.

A high vow has Roland taken ere setting out upon the crusade—a vow that he will eschew the company of fair ladies, in which none had delighted more than he. No more must he mingle in the dance, no more must he press a maiden's lips with his. He has become a soldier of the Cross. He may not touch a lady's hand save with his mailed glove, he must not sit by her side. Also must he fast from dusk till dawn upon that night of his setting forth. "Small risk," he laughs a little sadly, as he spurs his charger onward, "small risk that I be mansworn ere morning light."

But the setting of the moon tells him that he must rest in the forest until dawn, as without her beams he can no longer pursue his way. So he dismounts from his steed, tethers it to a tree, and looks about for a bed of moss on which to repose. As he does so his wandering gaze fixes upon a beam of light piercing the gloom of the forest. Well aware of the traditions of his country, he thinks at first that it is only the glimmer of a will-o'-the-wisp or a light carried by a wandering elf. But no, on moving nearer the gleam he is surprised to behold a row of windows brilliantly lit as if for a festival.

"Now, by my vow," says Roland, "methought I knew well every chateau in this land of Brittany, nor wist I that seigneur or count held court in this forest of Broceliande."

Resolved to view the chateau at still closer quarters, he draws near it. A great court fronts him where neither groom nor porter keeps guard, and within he can see a fair hall. This he enters, and immediately his ears are ravished by music which wanders through the chamber like a sighing zephyr. The murmur of rich viols and the call of flutes soft as distant bird-song speak to his very soul. Yet through the ecstasy comes, like a serpent gliding among flowers, the discord of evil thoughts. Grasping his rosary, he is about to retire when the doors at the end of the hall fly open, and he beholds a rapturous vision. Upon a couch of velvet sits a lady of such dazzling beauty that all other women compared with her would seem as kitchen-wenches. A mantle of rich golden hair falls about her, her eyes shine with the brightness of stars, her smile seems heavenly. Round her are grouped nine maidens only less beautiful than herself.

As the moon moving among attendant stars, so the lady comes toward Roland, accompanied by her maidens. She welcomes him, and would remove his gauntlet, but he tells her of the vow he has made to wear it in lady's bower, and she is silent. Next she asks him to seat himself beside her on the couch, but he will not. In some confusion she orders a repast to be brought. A table is spread with fragrant viands, but as the knight will partake of none of them, in chagrin the lady takes a lute, which she touches with exquisite skill. He listens unmoved, till, casting away her instrument, she dances to him, circling round and round about him, flitting about his chair like a butterfly, until at length she sinks down near him and lays her head upon his mailed bosom. Upward she turns her face to him, all passion-flushed, her eyes brimming with love. Sir Roland falters. Fascinated by her unearthly beauty, he is about to stoop down to press his lips to hers. But as he bends his head she shrinks from him, for she sees the tender flush of morning above the eastern tree-tops. The living stars faint and fail, and the music of awakening life which accompanies the rising of the young sun falls upon the ear. Slowly the chateau undergoes transformation. The glittering roof merges into the blue vault of heaven, the tapestried walls become the ivied screens of great forest trees, the princely furnishings are transformed into mossy banks and mounds, and the rugs and carpets beneath Roland's mailed feet are now merged in the forest ways.

But the lady? Sir Roland, glancing down, beholds a hag hideous as sin, whose malicious and distorted countenance betrays baffled hate and rage. At the sound of a bugle she hurries away with a discordant shriek. Into the glade ride Roland's men, to see their lord clasping his rosary and kneeling in thanksgiving for his deliverance from the evils which beset him. He had been saved from breaking his vow!

The nine attendant maidens of the Korrigan bring to mind a passage in Pomponius Mela[24]: "Sena [the Ile de Sein, not far from Brest], in the British Sea, opposite the Ofismician coast, is remarkable for an oracle of the Gallic god. Its priestesses, holy in perpetual virginity, are said to be nine in number. They are called Gallicenae, and are thought to be endowed with singular powers. By their charms they are able to raise the winds and seas, to turn themselves into what animals they will, to cure wounds and diseases incurable by others, to know and predict the future. But this they do only for navigators, who go thither purposely to consult them."

Like the sylphs and salamanders so humorously described by the Abbe de Villars in Le Comte de Gabalis,[25] the Korrigans desired union with humanity in order that they might thus gain immortality. Such, at least, is the current peasant belief in Brittany. "For this end they violate all the laws of modesty." This belief is common to all lands, and is typical of the fay, the Lorelei, countless well and water sprites, and that enchantress who rode off with Thomas the Rhymer:

For if you dare to kiss my lips Sure of your bodie I shall be.

Unlike the colder Sir Roland, 'True Thomas' dared, and was wafted to a realm wondrously described by the old balladeer in the vivid phrase that marks the poetry of vision.

Merlin and Vivien

It was in this same verdant Broceliande that Vivien, another fairy, that crafty dame of the enchanted lake, the instructress of Lancelot, bound wise Merlin so that he might no more go to Camelot with oracular lips to counsel British Arthur.

But what say the folk of Broceliande themselves of this? Let us hear their version of a tale which has been so battered by modern criticism, and which has been related in at least half a score of versions, prose and poetic. Let us have the Broceliande account of what happened in Broceliande.[26] Surely its folk, in the very forest in which he wandered with Vivien, must know more of Merlin's enchantment than we of that greater Britain which he left to find a paradise in Britain the Less, for, according to Breton story, Merlin was not imprisoned by magic art, but achieved bliss through his love for the fairy forest nymph.

Disguised as a young student, Merlin was wandering one bright May morning through the leafy glades of Broceliande, when, like the Seigneur of Nann, he came to a beautiful fountain in the heart of the forest which tempted him to rest. As he sat there in reverie, Vivien, daughter of the lord of the manor of Broceliande, came to the water's edge. Her father had gained the affection of a fay of the valley, who had promised on behalf of their daughter that she should be loved by the wisest man in the world, who should grant all her wishes, but would never be able to compel her to consent to his.

Vivien reclined upon the other side of the fountain, and the eyes of the sage and maiden met. At length Merlin rose to depart, and gave the damsel courteous good-day. But she, curious and not content with a mere salutation, wished him all happiness and honour. Her voice was beautiful, her eyes expressive, and Merlin, moved beyond anything in his experience, asked her name. She told him she was a daughter of a gentleman of that country, and in turn asked him who he might be.

"A scholar returning to his master," was the reply.

"Your master? And what may he teach you, young sir?"

"He instructs me in the magic art, fair dame," replied Merlin, amused. "By aid of his teaching I can raise a castle ere a man could count a score, and garrison it with warriors of might. I can make a river flow past the spot on which you recline, I can raise spirits from the great deeps of ether in which this world rolls, and can peer far into the future—aye, to the extreme of human days."

"Would that I shared your wisdom!" cried Vivien, her voice thrilling with the desire of hidden things which she had inherited from her fairy mother. "Teach me these secrets, I entreat of you, noble scholar, and accept in return for your instruction my most tender friendship."

Merlin, willing to please her, arose, and traced certain mystical characters upon the greensward. Straightway the glade in which they sat was filled with knights, ladies, maidens, and esquires, who danced and disported themselves right joyously. A stately castle rose on the verge of the forest, and in the garden the spirits whom Merlin the enchanter had raised up in the semblance of knights and ladies held carnival. Vivien, delighted, asked of Merlin in what manner he had achieved this feat of faery, and he told her that he would in time instruct her as to the manner of accomplishing it. He then dismissed the spirit attendants and dissipated the castle into thin air, but retained the garden at the request of Vivien, naming it 'Joyous Garden.'

Then he made a tryst with Vivien to meet her in a year on the Vigil of St John.

Now Merlin had to be present at the espousal of Arthur, his King, with Guinevere, at which he was to assist the archbishop, Dubric, as priest. The festivities over, he recalled his promise to Vivien, and on the appointed day he once more assumed the guise of a travelling scholar and set out to meet the maiden in the forest of Broceliande. She awaited him patiently in Joyous Garden, where they partook of a dainty repast. But the viands and the wines were wasted upon Merlin, for Vivien was beside him and she alone filled his thoughts. She was fair of colour, and fresh with the freshness of all in the forest, and her hazel eyes made such fire within his soul that he conceived a madness of love for her that all his wisdom, deep as it was, could not control.

But Vivien was calm as a lake circled by trees, where no breath of the passion of tempest can come. Again and again she urged him to impart to her the secrets she so greatly longed to be acquainted with. And chiefly did she desire to know three things; these at all hazards must she have power over. How, she asked, could water be made to flow in a dry place? In what manner could any form be assumed at will? And, lastly, how could one be made to fall asleep at the pleasure of another?

"Wherefore ask you this last question, demoiselle?" said Merlin, suspicious even in his great passion for her.

"So that I may cast the spell of sleep over my father and my mother when I come to you, Merlin," she replied, with a beguiling glance, "for did they know that I loved you they would slay me."

Merlin hesitated, and so was lost. He imparted to her that hidden knowledge which she desired. Then they dwelt together for eight days in the Joyous Garden, during which time the sage, to Vivien's delight and amaze, related to her the marvellous circumstances of his birth.

Next day Merlin departed, but came again to Broceliande when the eglantine was flowering at the edge of the forest. Again he wore the scholar's garments. His aspect was youthful, his fair hair hung in ringlets on his shoulders, and he appeared so handsome that a tender flower of love sprang up in Vivien's heart, and she felt that she must keep him ever near her. But she knew full well that he whom she loved was in reality well stricken in years, and she was sorrowful. But she did not despair.

"Beloved," she whispered, "will you grant me but one other boon? There is one secret more that I desire to learn."

Now Merlin knew well ere she spoke what was in her mind, and he sighed and shook his head.

"Wherefore do you sigh?" she asked innocently.

"I sigh because my fate is strong upon me," replied the sage. "For it was foreseen in the long ago that a lady should lead me captive and that I should become her prisoner for all time. Neither have I the power to deny you what you ask of me."

Vivien embraced him rapturously.

"Ah, Merlin, beloved, is it not that you should always be with me?" she asked passionately. "For your sake have I not given up father and mother, and are not all my thoughts and desires toward you?"

Merlin, carried away by her amorous eloquence, could only answer: "It is yours to ask what you will."

Vivien then revealed to him her wish. She longed to learn from his lips an enchantment which would keep him ever near her, which would so bind him to her in the chains of love that nothing in the world could part him from her. Hearkening to her plea, he taught her such enchantment as would render him love's prisoner for ever.

Evening was shrouding the forest in soft shadows when Merlin sank to rest. Vivien, waiting until his deep and regular breathing told her that he was asleep, walked nine times around him, waving her cloak over his head, and muttering the mysterious words he had taught her. When the sage awoke he found himself in the Joyous Garden with Vivien by his side.

"You are mine for ever," she murmured. "You can never leave me now."

"My delight will be ever to stay with you," he replied, enraptured. "And oh, beloved, never leave me, I pray you, for I am bespelled so as to love you throughout eternity!"

"Never shall I leave you," she replied; and in such manner the wise Merlin withdrew from the world of men to remain ever in the Joyous Garden with Vivien. Love had triumphed over wisdom.

The Arthurian version of the story does not, of course, represent Vivien as does the old Breton legend. In Geoffrey of Monmouth's book and in the Morte d'Arthur she is drawn as the scheming enchantress who wishes to lure Merlin to his ruin for the joy of being able to boast of her conquest. In some romances she is alluded to as Nimue, and in others is described as the daughter of Dyonas, who perhaps is the same as Dylan, a Brythonic (British) sea-god. As the Lady of the Lake she is the foster-mother of Lancelot, and we should have no difficulty in classing her as a water deity or spirit very much like the Korrigan.


But Merlin is a very different character, and it is probable that the story of his love for Vivien was composed at a comparatively late date for the purpose of rounding off his fate in Arthurian legend. A recent hypothesis concerning him is to the effect that "if he belongs to the pagan period [of Celtic lore] at all, he was probably an ideal magician or god of magicians."[27] Canon MacCulloch smiles at the late Sir John Rhys's belief that Merlin was "a Celtic Zeus," but his later suggestion seems equally debatable. We must remember that we draw our conception of Merlin as Arthurian archimagus chiefly from late Norman-French sources and Celtic tradition. Ancient Brythonic traditions concerning beings of much the same type as Merlin appear to have existed, however, and the character of Lailoken in the life of St Kentigern recalls his life-story. So far research on the subject seems to show that the legend of Merlin is a thing of complex growth, composed of traditions of independent and widely differing origin, most of which were told about Celtic bards and soothsayers. Merlin is, in fact, the typical Druid or wise man of Celtic tradition, and there is not the slightest reason for believing that he was ever paid divine honours. As a soothsayer of legend, he would assuredly belong to the pagan period, however much he is indebted to Geoffrey of Monmouth for his late popularity in pure romance.

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