Morgause /mɔːrˈɡz/, also known as Morgawse and other spellings and names, is a character in later Arthurian traditions. In some versions of the legend, including Thomas Malory's 15th-century text Le Morte d'Arthur, she is the mother of Gawain and Mordred, both key players in the story of King Arthur and his downfall. Mordred is the offspring of Arthur's inadvertent incest with Morgause, the king's estranged half-sister.[Notes 1] She is furthermore a sister of Morgan le Fay and the wife of King Lot of Orkney, as well as the mother of also Gareth, Agravain, and Gaheris, the last of whom murders her.

Matter of Britain character
OccupationPrincess, queen
Significant otherLamorak
ChildrenMordred, Gawain, Gareth, Agravain, Gaheris
RelativesIgraine, Gorlois, Arthur, Morgan, Elaine

Earlier counterparts

The corresponding character of Arthur's sister in Geoffrey of Monmouth's 12th-century Latin chronicle Historia Regum Britanniae is named Anna, and is depicted as a daughter of Uther Pendragon and Igraine. In Wolfram von Eschenbach's Parzival, Anna is replaced by Sangive (whom the poet Der Pleier calls Seife), while her parallel in Arthour and Merlin (late 14th century) is Belisent (Bellicent) and the mother of Gawain's Welsh forerunner, Gwalchmei ap Gwyar, is thought to be Gwyar (a name meaning "gore").[Notes 2]

Medieval literature

The earliest known form of Morgause's name is Orcades, given in the First Continuation of Chrétien de Troyes' Perceval (the former of which was once attributed to Wauchier de Denain and dated c. 1200), in which she is the mother of her sons Gawain, Agravain, Gaheris, Gareth and Mordred, and her daughters Clarissant and Soredamor. As Morcades she also appears in Les Enfances Gauvain (early 13th century) and again in Heinrich von dem Türlin's Diu Crône (c. 1230). It appears her name was originally a place name, as "Orcades" coincides with the Latin name for the Orkney Islands, the land traditionally ruled by Gawain's parents. Medievalist Roger Sherman Loomis suggests that this toponym was corrupted into "Morcades" (or Morchades, Morcads) and finally "Morgause" due to the influence of the name "Morgan".[7]

Le Morte d'Arthur

Her character is fully developed in Thomas Malory's 1485 compilation of Arthurian legends Le Morte d'Arthur, in which Morgause (Margawse) is one of three daughters born to Gorlois of Tintagel, Duke of Cornwall, and the Lady Igraine. According to Malory, her mother is widowed and then remarried to Uther Pendragon, after which she and her sisters, Elaine and Morgan ("le Fay", later the mother of Yvain), are married off to allies or vassals of their stepfather. Morgause is wed to the Orcadian King Lot and bears him four sons, all of whom go on to serve Arthur as Knights of the Round Table: Gawain, one of his greatest knights; Agravain, a wretched and twisted traitor; Gaheris; and Gareth, a gentle and loving knight.

Years later, her spouse joins the failed rebellions against Arthur that follow in the wake of King Uther's death and the subsequent coronation of his heir. Shortly after her husband's defeat, Morgause visits the young King Arthur in his bedchamber, ignorant of their familial relationship, and they conceive Mordred. Her husband, who has unsuspectingly raised Mordred as his own son, is slain in battle by King Pellinore. Her sons depart their father's court to take service at Camelot, where Gawain and Gaheris avenge Lot's death by killing Pellinore, thereby launching a blood feud between the two families.

Nevertheless, Morgause has an affair with Sir Lamorak, a son of Pellinore and one of Arthur's best knights. Her son Gaheris discovers them in flagrante and swiftly beheads Morgause in bed, but spares her unarmed lover. Gaheris is consequently banished from court of Arthur (though he reappears later in the narrative, eventually being slain by Lancelot). In Malory's original source, the Post-Vulgate Cycle, Gaheris' brothers Gawain and Agravain initially plot to kill him in revenge for Morgause's death until they are persuaded to end the bloodshed by Gareth and Bors.

Modern fiction

In modern Arthuriana, the character of Morgause is often conflated with that of Morgan le Fay; in John Boorman's film Excalibur (1981), for instance, Morgause's role as the mother of Mordred is transferred to "Morgana". According to E. R. Huber, "What becomes clear on reading Le Morte d'Arthur and its medieval predecessors is that Morgause was not a villain until the modern period."[8]

  • Morgause is the title character of T.H. White's novel The Queen of Air and Darkness (1939), the second of four books in his series The Once and Future King. She hates Arthur due to his father killing her father and raping her mother and raises her children, known as the Orkney clan, to hate the Pendragons. She seduces Arthur through magic, siring Mordred. As in Malory, she is found in bed with Lamorak, but here it is Agravaine who kills her. Due to Mordred being raised by her alone, he is left damaged and hateful, blaming Arthur for his mother's death.
  • In her Merlin novels, Mary Stewart characterises Morgause unflatteringly as an ambitious and resentful young princess who wants to learn magic from Merlin, but he refuses her. She seduces Arthur in the hope that she can later use it against him.
  • A sorceress with authority over dark powers, Morgawse is a central figure in Hawk of May (1980) and its sequel, Kingdom of Summer (1982), the first two novels in Gillian Bradshaw's Down the Long Wind series. In Kingdom of Summer, she and her husband ("King Lot of The Orcades") intrigue with King Maelgwn of Gwynedd, whom she takes as a lover.
  • Marion Zimmer Bradley in her influential novel The Mists of Avalon (1983) makes Morgause a younger sister of Igraine and Viviane and aunt of Morgaine. After her niece gives birth to Mordred, Morgause adopts the newborn and rears him for Morgaine, the birth mother. In the novel's film adaptation (2001), Morgause tricks Morgaine into revealing her son's paternity, then decides to raise him as her own, thus assuming her traditional role of mother to Mordred.
  • She appears in The Keltiad series of novels by American neopagan Patricia Kennealy-Morrison as the evil Marguessan, would-be usurper of the Throne of Scone and an evil twin sister of Morgan.
  • A main antagonist in the BBC television series Merlin (2008–2012), Morgause is portrayed by actress Emilia Fox as a powerful, Lady Macbeth-like sorceress. She is fiercely loyal to her half-sister Morgana, whom she seeks to make queen of Camelot.
  • A character based on Morgause appears in Robert Jordan's The Wheel of Time novel series, Morgase Trakand, the queen of Andor, whose daughter Elayne takes the throne after her apparent death. Morgase has two sons: Gawyn and Galad.

See also


  1. Dr Caitlin R. Green of notes: "In the later Vulgate Mort Artu, Morguase – Arthur's supposed half-sister – is made to be Medraut [Mordred]'s mother and this incest motif is preserved in the romances based upon the Mort Artu (for example, Malory's Morte Darthur). Both this parentage and the incest motif are, however, clearly inventions of the Mort Artu, despite their modern popularity, and in all unrelated accounts the portrayal of Medraut is solidly Galfridian."[1]
  2. In later Welsh Arthurian literature, Gawain is considered synonymous with the native champion Gwalchmei; Gwyar (meaning "gore"[2] or "spilled blood/bloodshed"[3]) is likely the name of Gwalchmei's mother, rather than his father as is the standard in the Welsh Triads.[4] Matronyms were sometimes used in Wales, as in the case of Math fab Mathonwy and Gwydion fab Dôn, and were also fairly common in early Ireland.[4] Gwyar is named as a female, a daughter of Amlawdd Wledig, in one version of the hagiographical genealogy Bonedd y Saint, while the fourteenth-century Birth of Arthur substitutes Gwyar for Geoffrey's Anna as Gwalchmei/Gawain's mother.[5] Other sources do not follow this substitution, however, indicating that Gwyar and Anna/Morgause originated independently.[6]


  1. Green, Caitlin. "Pre-Galfridian Arthurian Characters". Retrieved 29 November 2012.
  2. Pughe, p.195
  3. Rhys, p. 169
  4. Bromwich, p. 369.
  5. Bromwich, pp. 369–370.
  6. Bromwich, p. 370.
  7. R. S. Loomis, Scotland and the Arthurian Legend. Retrieved 26 January 2010.
  8. Huber, Emily Rebekah. "Morgause: Background". The Camelot Project at The University of Rochester. Retrieved 3 December 2012.


  • Bromwich, Rachel (2006). Trioedd Ynys Prydein: The Triads of the Island of Britain. University of Wales Press. ISBN 0-7083-1386-8.
  • Pughe, William Owen (1832). A Dictionary of the Welsh Language, Explained in English. London.
  • Rhys, John (2004). Studies in the Arthurian Legend. Kessinger Publishing. ISBN 0-7661-8915-5.
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