History of the Kings of Britain

by Geoffrey of Monmouth
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What are some examples of supernatural elements in parts 4, 5, and 7 of History of the Kings of Britain?

The supernatural elements in parts 4, 5, and 7 of Geoffrey of Monmouth's The History of the Kings of Britain include references to God (which are anachronistic for pagan times), depictions of pagan sacrifices, a king's conversion to Christianity, the persecution of Christians (and its value), Vortigern's descent into magic, and Merlin's prophecy.

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The History of the Kings of Britain by Geoffrey of Monmouth chronicles the events of British history from its earliest days through Roman rule through the arrival of the Saxons and finally, through the days of King Arthur. Geoffrey's account is likely not “historical” in the way modern people write...

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The History of the Kings of Britain by Geoffrey of Monmouth chronicles the events of British history from its earliest days through Roman rule through the arrival of the Saxons and finally, through the days of King Arthur. Geoffrey's account is likely not “historical” in the way modern people write history. It also contains numerous legends, and it is woven through with supernatural elements and explanations. We'll look at some of the supernatural elements from books 4, 5, and 7.

In book 4, we read about the conflict between the British king Cassibellaun and Julius Caesar. Both are pagans, yet we find that Cassibellaun blesses and thanks God for his victory over Caesar. This is quite anachronistic, for Cassibellaun knew nothing of the one God, and this mention probably reflects Geoffrey's own Christian faith. Later in the book, however, in celebration of his second victory over Caesar, Cassibellaun sacrifices thousands of animals to the gods he worships, now apparently unmindful of the one God.

Several generations later, however, the British king Lucius converts to Christianity,

For the miracles which Christ's disciples performed in several nations wrought a conviction in his mind; so that being inflamed with an ardent love of the true faith,

he asked the pope to send someone to instruct and baptize him. The pope did so, and many of Lucius's people also converted to Christianity, so much so that paganism was nearly “extinguished” throughout Britain, and temples were replaced by churches.

Lucius left no heir, as book 5 tells us, and eventually Asclepiodotus claimed the British kingship. This king was clearly not Christian, and he allowed his general to enact a full-scale persecution upon British Christians. Geoffrey describes the situation as follows:

All the churches were pulled down, and all the copies of the Holy Scriptures that could be found were burned in the public markets. The priests who, with the believers under their care, were put to death...

Yet Geoffrey, surprisingly to readers who do not understand the value of Christian martyrdom, claims that this persecution was not necessarily a completely negative event in the supernatural scheme of things. “God therefore magnified His goodness to us,” he claims, for He, by grace, lit up

the bright lamps of the holy martyrs to prevent the spreading of gross darkness over the people of Britain.

That light kept the Christian faith of the people alive even in the midst of suffering, “inflaming” their minds with “divine love.” What seemed like the worst possible moment in a worldly sense was actually valuable and holy in a spiritual sense.

Further generations passed. More kings reigned. Christianity reasserted itself, but the troubles of the British kings were far from over. Book 6 speaks of the king Vortigern, who came to the throne by trickery and murder. He was nominally Christian, but he consulted pagan magicians to try to solve his problems, even as the bishops Germanus and Lupus worked hard to restore the true Christians' faith to Britain. Vortigern's magicians told him that the tower he was trying to build would only stand on a solid foundation if he found “a youth that never had a father,” killed him, and sprinkled the foundation with the young man's blood. The so-called “Christian” Vortigern was more than happy to stoop to human sacrifice to get what he wanted, but the plan backfired, for the young man he discovered was Merlin. Yes, the famous Merlin, who supposedly had a demon for a father.

Merlin, of course, was not especially enthused about being sacrificed. He told the king that the real problem was a pond and sleeping dragons beneath the tower site. Apparently, Merlin's assessment of the situation turned out to be true, and the king turned to him for further help, in the form of prophecy. Book 7 relates Merlin's obscure prophecies, which are filled with references to dragons, blood, and violence. Supposedly the prophecy predicted the future of Britain, and Vortigern was thrilled with it—until, of course, Merlin predicted the king's death (book 8). Would the supernatural prophecy of Merlin come true? Read the rest of Geoffrey's account to find out!

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