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Where is Orkney? The Conceptual Position of Orkney in Middle English Arthurian Literature
John D. Shafer

Journal of the North Atlantic, Special Volume 4 (2013): 189–198

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189 J.D. Shafer 2013 Journal of the North Atlantic Special Volume 4 Following the first several thousand years of their human habitation, the Orkney islands were invaded and settled by Norsemen and tributary to Scandinavian lands between the early 9th century and the late 15th, when the marriage of the Danish king’s daughter to King James III of Scotland precipitated Orkney’s transfer to Scottish rule, “pawned” in place of part of her dowry. When the redeeming money failed to materialize, Orkney “became” Scottish. But of course, Orkney was never culturally isolated from the peoples of its largest neighboring island, and political, social, and religious interactions between Norse Orkney and Viking Age and medieval Britain were regular and intricate.1 Scandinavia and Britain each produced a vast and vibrant body of literature throughout the medieval period, and the Orkney islands figure in both their literatures. The question this paper was originally written to address, then, is where Orkney was located in the medieval English and Scandinavian conceptual geographies of the northern world, as evidenced in the literature they produced. At the simplest, the question is whether Orkney was perceived as part of Britain or Scandinavia by those inhabiting the British Isles on the one hand and the Scandinavians on the other. Is Orkney “us” or “them?” Due to time constraints in this paper’s delivery at the Inaugural St. Magnús Conference and length constraints in this published version, the original intent of a balanced analysis of Orkney’s conceptual position has had to be abandoned in favor of an exclusive examination of the Middle English material. It is hoped and expected that the Norse material will be published in the near future to complement the present paper and restore the balance somewhat.2 Besides the interesting points of comparison and contrast between the conceptual Orkneys of the two literatures, a fascinating convergence of material exists in the Dalhousie manuscript (also known as the Panmure Codex), an Orcadian-Scottish manuscript preserving medieval texts almost equally balanced in coverage of Scandinavian and Scottish affairs. It is also the sole manuscript of the Historia Norwegiae, the early “synoptic” history of Norway with an apparently keen interest in asserting the importance of Orkney (see, e.g., Chesnutt 1985, Ekrem 2003 throughout). For the present, however, we reserve ourselves to medieval British texts.3 In medieval English literature, then, Orkney is used most extensively in the Arthurian romances which formed so great a part of the Middle English— and indeed the medieval European—literary landscape.4 These romances innovated and imagined the location according to the tastes and needs of their individual narrative contexts, but they also drew their inspiration and information from earlier, historiographical narratives, whose intent was less literary than scholarly. We will first turn our attention to Orkney’s portrayal in these earlier British historical works and their direct and indirect contributions to later romance traditions. The 6th-century Brythonic moralist Gildas (1978) does not mention Orkney by name, though he does remark that the Picts of the north, along with the Irish (Scoti) of the northwest, are an “overseas” (transmarinus) nation who attack Britain from time to time by means of coracles (§§14, 15, 19) and are said to reside at the extreme end of the island (§21)—as precise a description of Pictish Orkney as one could hope for from a historian as unconcerned with exact names as Gildas (see Loomis 1959:3). The 9th-century Historia Brittonum associated with the Welsh monk Nennius (1934) is the first to give a reasonably historical account of Arthur, but it does not connect Orkney with its meager pieces of information about him. It follows Gildas in its account of the ravaging northern foreigners, but it adds the name Orcades to the region the Picts Where is Orkney? The Conceptual Position of Orkney in Middle English Arthurian Literature John D. Shafer* Abstract - In T.H. White’s The Once and Future King, the “Orkney faction” of Morgause and her sons consistently opposes King Arthur’s centralizing power and stands for the old, mystical “Celtic” power of the British Isles against Arthur’s progressive, rational “Englishness”. In White’s medieval sources, the name represents a distant, possibly exotic power and, again, frequently antagonistic to Arthur’s British affairs. This paper analyzes selected accounts of Orkney in Middle English narrative texts, primarily Arthurian romances, illustrating how conceptual “Orkneys” develop in the literature overall but also serve the literary needs of each individual narrative. The ultimate aim of the analysis will be to determine “where” Orkney is in the conceptual cultural geography created by these medieval writers of Great Britain: “here” or “elsewhere”. Across the Sólundarhaf: Connections between Scotland and the Nordic World Selected Papers from the Inaugural St. Magnus Conference 2011 Journal of the North Atlantic *University of Nottingham, Nottingham, UK; john.shafer@nottingha m.ac.uk. 2013 Special Volume 4:189–198 J.D. Shafer 2013 Journal of the North Atlantic Special Volume 4 190 inhabit and identifies it as an island group (Nennius 1934:§12, Vatican 1989:§5). In Nennius’ account, even non-Pictish enemies use the distant northern islands as the starting point for their invasion; e.g., when Hengist instructs the Briton prince Vortigern to invite Hengist’s continental kinsmen to come fight the Scots and Picts for him, the Anglo-Saxons first invade and occupy Orkney before they begin creeping southward (§38, Vatican §24). Curiously, in Nennius’ initial geographical description of the British Isles, Orkney is singular (Orc) rather than plural, one of Great Britain’s three major circumjacent islands, along with Man and Wight (§8, Vatican §3). Both Nennius and the Venerable Bede, writing about a century earlier, relate that the Roman Emperor Claudius adds Orkney to his British tributary possessions during a campaign of British subjugation (Bede 1969:I.iii, Nennius §21, Vatican §10). There are two points of interest regarding Orkney presented in William of Malmesbury’s chronicle of the kings of England, written about 1125 and showing knowledge of the traditions represented by both Nennius’ Historia and Welsh annals (Loomis 1959:4–5). The first is in the list of bishops William identifies as subject to the Archbishop of York, which includes “all the bishops on the farther side of the Humber” and “all the bishops of Scotland and the Orkneys” (III:293). But Orkney’s bishop was from the earliest period until the late 15th century subject, as were all Scandinavian bishops, initially to the archbishop of Hamburg-Bremen and later to the Scandinavian archbishops of first Lund and later Niðaróss (Trondheim)—in all cases a northern bishop for a northern church. Yet here William conceives of Orkney as under the spiritual authority of the English church. A possible explanation for this discrepancy lies in the specific time period in which William was writing. The first Orcadian bishop about whom we have reliable historical information, William the Old, was consecrated to the position around 1100 and maintained the position for half a century or more (Crawford 2004). Around 1114, however, one Radulf or Ralph Nowell was consecrated Bishop of Orkney by the Archbishop of York, the third bishop known to have been consecrated to that see by York, though there is no evidence that Radulf ever carried out any acts as Bishop or even visited the islands (Cooke 2004). Bishop William, by contrast, was heavily involved in the Norse affairs of the islands, being largely responsible for the canonization of Orkney’s patron saint Magnús soon after his martyrdom and overseeing the transferral of his relics to Kirkwall in 1138. If William of Malmesbury received his information about the sees of the north from York, it may be that the internecine disputes that were producing English as well as Norse bishops for the islands went discreetly unmentioned, and that this is the reason for William’s blithe confidence that the Orcadians were spiritually—if not politically— among Britain’s flock. As to the reason why York was consecrating bishops of Orkney in the first place, there is certainly context for this within the archdiocese’s ongoing struggle for primacy with its elder sibling Canterbury, in which each metropolitan strove to maintain a full complement of diocesans, building to a distinct climax in the earliest years of the 12th century before its papal resolution in 1127.5 A suffragan bishop of the northern islands would be a welcome addition to York’s arsenal, howsoever slim the real-world claim to spiritual authority might be, and the Orcadian bishop whose purpose is merely to swell the archbishop’s ranks for pitched ecumenical battles could certainly facilitate this better in York than in Kirkwall. The basis of this arrangement and its consequences lies in Pope Gregory’s plan for the bishoprics of the northern and southern halves of Great Britain and its satellite islands—twelve sees apiece—to be gathered under two metropolitans, one in London (though the archdiocese ultimately stayed in Canterbury) and the other in York (Bede 1969:I. xxix; see also Brooks 1984:9–14). The second point of interest in William’s chronicle likewise associates Orkney with England, though here Norway’s political authority over the islands is explicitly stated. In a passage celebrating the greatness and popularity of King Henry I of England, sandwiched between accounts of the Irish King Murcard’s subjugation to Henry and of the wonders from foreign lands Henry enjoys collecting, it is said that Earl Paul of Orkney is subject to the king of Norway but so anxious to obtain Henry’s friendship and favor that he continually sends him gifts (William of Malmesbury 1847:V:443). In this way, Orkney is shown to be truly medial, politically subject to Norway but eager to secure the favor of England. Orkney’s ambivalent conceptual position is also suggested by what comes before and after in the narrative: like Ireland, Orkney is a satellite island of Britain but, like the foreign lands from which Henry obtains leopards, camels, etc., it is also a land distant and exotic enough to make Paul’s (unidentified) gifts interesting to the English king. Elsewhere, William’s Orkney is consistent with the other early histories, as in the account of the Norwegian king Magnús Bareleg’s campaign against Britain’s “circumjacent islands”, among which Orkney is explicitly named (ibid:IV.i). The historian whose works proved most influential to the Arthurian traditions, however, is Geoffrey of Monmouth, whose 12th-century Historia Regum Brittaniae truly sows the seeds of what Orkney will develop into in the later French and Middle English 191 J.D. Shafer 2013 Journal of the North Atlantic Special Volume 4 romances. Like Nennius and Bede, Geoffrey relates the story of Claudius’ conquest of the islands, and he also includes a curious self-contained episode in which an early British ruler meets several shiploads of Basque refugees among the Orkneys and helps them settle in the previously uninhabited Ireland (Geoffrey of Monmouth 2007:IV.xiv, III.xii). The Orkney of these early episodes is clearly an island group somewhere near or among the British Isles but also on the sea-route between Denmark and Britain. It is, however, the extensive Arthurian material Geoffrey invented that earned his Historia its position of staggering influence in medieval European literature, and Geoffrey incorporates Orkney into this narrative as well. In the tenth chapter of the ninth book, Arthur goes on a conquering voyage to the islands near his realm, defeating the Irish and Icelandic kings and subjugating their countries. Geoffrey (2007:IX.x:205) continues: Exin, diuulgato per ceteras insulas rumore quod ei nulla prouintia resistere poterat, Doldauius rex Godlandiae et Gunuasius rex Orcadum ultro uenere promissoque uectigali subiectionem fecerunt.6 The implications of this episode are that Orkney is one of several islands sufficiently within Britain’s “neighborhood” that Arthur can conquer and see himself as a legitimate ruler of, and that among these islands are Ireland, Iceland, and “Gothland,” that is, Sweden. It should also be noted that though Orkney was under British rule when we last heard of it in the narrative, it is independent again (or behaving as such) at the beginning of this episode. Orkney, then, is associated both with the British Isles and with Scandinavia, the latter point driven further home by the sections preceding and following this one in the narrative concerning Lot(h) of Lothian’s claim to Norway, which Arthur conquers for him along with Denmark. As we will see, Lot becomes more closely associated with Orkney in the development of Arthurian romance. Orkney’s medial position between the British Isles and Scandinavia is indicated elsewhere in Geoffrey’s Historia in its position in lists of lands. The list of foreign dignitaries of Britain’s “neighboring islands” (Ibid:210) who attend Arthur’s Whitsun celebration includes, in order, the kings of Ireland, Iceland, Gothland, Orkney, Norway, and Denmark (IX.xii).7 When Arthur marshals support from his colonies and allies for his flamboyant conflict against Rome, Geoffrey (2007:IX.xix:221)observes: At reges ceterarum insularum, quoniam non duxerant in morem milites habere, pedites quot quisque debebat promittunt, ita ut ex sex insulis, uidelicet Hiberniae, Islandiae, Godlandiae, Orcadum, Norguegiae atque Daciae, sexies .xx. milia essent annumerata.8 The islanders’ practice of doing battle on foot rather than mounted on horses may indicate their conceptual “otherness” from Arthur’s British knights, that they are a different kind of people from “normal”. The Irish at least are said elsewhere in the Historia to fight the British “naked and unarmed” (IX.x). At the same time, the particular form this military alterity takes, failure to use horses in battle and fighting “unarmed”, may also reflect a degree of awareness evident in other contemporary historians of certain realities concerning the Celtic opponents of the English in that time. The chroniclers of the Anglo-Scottish wars of 1136–1138 note the Scots’ lack of horses and the “nakedness” or lack of armor of particular factions within the Scottish forces that form part of Aelred of Rievaulx’s narrative of the battle. The oration of Walter before the battle also highlights the English force’s superior armor against the Scots’ bare hides (Aelred of Rievaulx. 1884– 1889:187–188, also Bliese 1988 throughout, cf. the account of John of Hexham). In his metrical chronicle of the war of 1174, Jordan Fantosme (1981:37, 45) also occasionally notes the Scots’ lack of armor. Thus Geoffrey’s literary construction of Orcadians’ “otherness” seems to be consistent with the presentation of other northern “others” in the works of other contemporary and near-contemporary writers. One important point to note about Geoffrey’s Orkney is that it is so often said to be conquered by the British. Besides the examples given above, Geoffrey (2007:XII.viii) informs that in the battle in which the British King Cadwalla defeats and kills the English King Edwin, Edwin’s ally King Godboldus of Orkney is also killed.9 The recurrent re-conquering of Orkney is especially notable because there are no intervening episodes of any non-Brythonic peoples—Pictish, Scandinavian, or otherwise—taking back the islands in between the intermittent accounts of its British subjugation. Orkney thus seems to be regarded as a kind of unruly outlying colony of Britain, never under the specific authority of any foreign power, but distant enough from the center of British political activity to be continually dropping quietly into a state of rebellion—and therefore being frequently in need of re-conquest. This portrayal is a crucial influence on what Orkney comes to represent in the later romances, the home of a familial and political faction nominally allied to Arthur but also constantly antagonistic to his regime. We now turn our attention to these romances. The Norman poet Wace based his mid-12th-century Roman du Brut directly on Geoffrey’s Historia, and Laзamon’s Middle English Brut from the end of the same century is a direct adaptation or paraphrase J.D. Shafer 2013 Journal of the North Atlantic Special Volume 4 192 of Wace’s romance. Though Laзamon’s Orkney maintains an association with Scandinavia, and in primarily the same way as in Geoffrey’s Historia (i.e., Orkney’s position in lists), Laзamon associates the islands more closely with Great Britain, and with Scotland in particular. During his conflict with Arthur, the Saxon King Childric captures northern lands and distributes them among his followers: Childric gon wende: зeon þan norð ende. & nom on honde: muchæl dal of londe. Al Scot-þeode: he зaf hiſ ane þeine. & al Norð-humberlond: he ſette hiſ broðer an hond. Galeweoie & Orcaneie: he зaf hiſ ane eorle.10 (Laзamon 1847:lines 20,413–20,422, Cotton Caligula A ix) Childric began to travel, going then to the northern end, and took into his possession a great portion of land. All Scotland he gave to his own thane, and all of Northumbria he put into his brother ’s possession. Galloway and Orkney he gave to his own earl. Orkney is then, presumably, somewhere near Northumbria, Scotland, and especially Galloway, the “bridge to Gaelic Scotland” associated in the 12th century with Gawain (Barron 1987:159). We will see elsewhere that Orkney’s connection with Gawain can associate it with other regions with which Gawain is conceptually connected. It is worth observing, though it may be coincidence, that the rank of person to whom Childric grants Orkney is earl. When Arthur re-takes the northern lands, another list is given: Arður wes bi norðe: and noht her of nuſte. ferde зeōd al Scotlond: & ſette hit an hiſ a зere hond Orcaneie & Galeweie: Man & Murene. and alle þa londes: þe þer to læien. (Laзamon. 1847:ll. 21,043–21,050, Cotton Caligula A ix) Arthur was near the north and knew nothing thereof; he travelled all over Scotland and put it into his own hand. Orkney and Galloway, Man and Moray and all those regions that lie alongside them. In the Cotton Otho manuscript, the lands are given in a slightly different order, and in particular Orkney is paired with the Isle of Man rather than the Scottish mainland region of Galloway, but in both recensions the geographical implication is clear: Orkney is a region or island in or adjacent to Scotland, one which in the narrative belongs naturally to Arthur’s British realm. Elsewhere in Laзamon’s Brut, additional details are given that create a more precise cultural and geographical profile of Orkney. When we meet a king of Orkney, Gonway (Geoffrey’s Gunuasius), he is said to be heathen, and his realm is said to consist of thirty-two islands; learning from a soothsayer that Arthur is on his way to subjugate the islands, Gonway pre-empts him by making his realm over to Arthur (Ibid:ll. 22,525–22,540). Note that there has been no episode between this one and the last relating that Orkney has ceased to be Arthur’s possession— as often in Geoffrey’s history, Orkney has simply silently fallen away from Britain in the intervening narrative. An approximate size of the Orkney population is given when Arthur is compelled to marshal the support of tributary and allied lands to retake his kingdom, and the numbers of knights from each land are related (Ibid:ll. 23,357–23,382). The list, in order, is Norway and Denmark with 9000 knights each; Orkney with 1100; Moray with 3000; Galloway with 5000; Ireland with 11,000; 30,000 of Arthur’s own British knights; Gothland (Sweden) with 10,000; either Frisia (Caligula MS) or Iceland (Otho MS) with 5000; and from Britanny, only one, Howel the Bold. Note again Orkney’s position listed between Scandinavian lands and Scottish regions (and see also the similar lists at ll. 22,615–22,624 and ll. 23,815–232,834). In a final muster of Arthur’s supporting forces at ll. 25,415–25,426, Orkney is again listed with Scandinavian and British lands (here between Denmark and Man), and here the forces are said to be well-weaponed “in hire londes wiſe”, showing the same recognition evident in Geoffrey’s Historia that Orkney and other tributary lands have their own distinctive battle practices and manners of arming themselves. They are politically allied to Britain, but culturally foreign. The alliterative Morte Arthure from the turn of the 15th century loosens Orkney’s association with Scandinavian lands still further in its scant treatment of the islands, but joins Laзamon in assigning to Orkney a heathen identity. Early in the poem, a list of Arthur’s lands is given, emphasizing the 193 J.D. Shafer 2013 Journal of the North Atlantic Special Volume 4 success and the breadth of his conquests. The list begins: “Argayle and Orkney and all thēse outeīles, / Īreland utterly, as Ōcēan runnes, / Scāthel Scotland by skill hē skiftes as him līkes / And Wāles of war hē wзn at his will” (Ibid:ll. 26–29)—“Argyle and Orkney and all those outer isles, the outermost Ireland, where the Ocean11 washes, dangerous Scotland—he shares them out as it pleases him, and with war he won Wales as he desired.” French and continental lands follow, and the Scandinavian countries do not appear until the end of this lengthy list. “Oute iles” gives the clue to Orkney’s conceptual geography; it is one of Great Britain’s circumjacent isles, as in the histories, and thus integrally connected with Britain rather than elsewhere. Yet Orkney is at the edge of the British Isles and firmly included among the Celtic lands—Britain’s old familiar “others”, from the perspective of its later English settlers and their descendents. The same is true of the final, climactic battle in the poem, in which Arthur’s knights take on the amassed might of the treacherous British lands from which he has been absent. Sir Ewain and Sir Errak are said to fight against “the hęthenes of Orkney and Īrish kinges” (Ibid:l. 4161). Heathenism is of course the most powerful form of “otherness” to be found in medieval English literature, and Arthur makes the animosity explicit and defines his heathen foes in a speech he makes earlier in the battle lamenting the spilling of his British men’s blood: “Hęthenes of Argyle and Īrish kinges Enverounes our avauntward with venomous bernes, Peghtes and paynimes with perilous wēpens, With spęres dispitously despoiles our knightes And hewed down the hendest with hertly dintes!” (Ibid:ll. 4123–27). “Heathens of Argyle and Irish kings envelop our vangaurd with venomous menat- arms; Picts12 and pagans with perilous weapons violently ransack our knights with spears and hewed down the noblest ones with fervent blows!” So “heathens” to Arthur’s British are Scots, Irish, Picts, and “paynims” (pagans), and this is the company of which Orkney is a part. Here again Orkney seems to have nothing to do with Scandinavia: the passage describing the Scandinavians in battle is elsewhere, in ll. 3745–3769. The only possible association of Orkney with Scandinavia in the poem is light: when Arthur surveys an earlier field of battle, the slain of Argayle, Orkney, and Ireland are listed immediately before those of Norway, Denmark, and Sweden (Ibid:ll. 3934–3937). The Merlin Group is a significant body of Middle English Arthurian romance adapted from French sources (primarily the Vulgate Merlin) and largely written in the early to mid-15th century. The earliest representative of this group, however, was written in the second half of the 13th century (Barron 1987:152; Loomis 1959:480, 482). Arthour and Merlin (AM) is a rhyming romance of some 10,000 lines in which we first see Orkney attached to King Lot and Lothian, an association that through a combination of factors will result in Orkney’s drifting to regions as far afield as Wales and Cornwall (see below).13 In a long list of combatants gathering together against Arthur, Lot is first introduced as “King Lot, þat held londes tvo, / Leonis & Dorkaine al so” (AM 1890:ll. 3745–3746)—“King Lot, who possessed two lands, Lothian and Orkney.” As Brugger (1924:159–163, 186) shows, “Leonis” is ultimately a mistake for the original French “Loenois”, which was the normal French, Anglo-Norman name for the region called in English Lothian; the region is made adjacent to Cornwall in the prose Tristan due to mistaking the British regions for two adjacent Breton provinces with the same names (Ibid:184– 185). In AM (1890:ll. 4235–4244), Orkney itself is associated with Cornwall, when these two are the first regions of Arthur’s British realms invaded by Saracens. This may indicate only that Orkney, like Cornwall, is a place sufficiently at the edge of the kingdom to be first overrun by Saracens, but Brugger (1924:165, 184) informs that, strange as it may seem, in the Vulgate Galahad Grail cycle—and possibly the Vulgate Merlin as well, from which AM is adapted—“Cornouaille” is situated in Scotland. So perhaps here too Cornwall and Orkney are thought to be in or near Scotland. The allied British leaders soon resolve to retake their invaded lands: þis conseyl þai deden þo & senten after mani mo, Kniзtes, swains, man, þat wold Winnen siluer oþer gold, For to loke, wiþ outen asoine, Al þe marches of Galoine & of Cornwaile þe pleines & eke þe place of Dorkains & of Gorre al so, ich say, & eke þe entres of Galeway. (AM 1890:ll. 4347–4356) Then they followed this counsel and then sent many more— knights, squires, men— who wished to win silver or gold, in order to search, with out delay, all throughout the marches of Galoine and the plains of Cornwall J.D. Shafer 2013 Journal of the North Atlantic Special Volume 4 194 at Newerk: “The messenger iourneyed forth till he com in to walis, in the marche af Orcanye, and spake with Gawein and his bretheren” (PM 189; cf. HLM ll. 12,879–12,881)—“The messenger journeyed forth until he arrived in Wales, in the region14 of Orkney, and spoke with Gawaine and his brothers.” As absurd as this may seem—Orkney here and in Lovelich’s Merlin being explicitly placed in Wales rather than merely mentioned alongside it— there is a tangible reason for the association, one entirely characteristic of medieval use of sources and folk etymologies. Brugger (1924:185) concludes a section about the development of the (originally Celtic) name of Gawain’s father Lot through the French and Welsh traditions with observations about Gawain himself: Loth being in Geoffrey’s Historia and the French romances the father of Walwen (Gauvain), the latter, who in his turn was connected (on account of the similarity of names) both with Wallia (Wales) and with Walweitha (Galloway), thus became indirectly also a Pict of Lothian. But Orkney has already been added to Lothian as a possession of Gawain’s father in the Vulgate Merlin (and so in AM), so Gawain himself seems here to have “inherited” the “city” of Orkney associated (like him) with Lothian and seen it become one of his residences in his country, Wales. Elsewhere in both the Lovelich and prose versions of Merlin, Orkney is indeed inside Lot’s Lothian—or perhaps Lothian is inside it (see HLM ll. 17,301–17,304; PM 254, 294–295, 643)—and the process by which Orkney settles onto Gawain and Lot’s other children and becomes their place of origin and the name of their (somewhat antagonistic) faction, as it does in Malory (1967) and T.H. White (1958) after him, continues in the prose Merlin with the description of the tournament at Logres, in which Gawaine joins the “knyghtes of Orcanye” fighting against those of the Round Table (495–496). Herry Lovelich’s History of the Holy Grail (HG), a translation of the French Vulgate Estoire del Saint Graal, adds an interesting dimension in a legendary story of Orkney’s founding and naming after an originary king, Orcaws15, and also provides a reason why the Orkney of the English material drawn from the Vulgate cycle is so often conceptualized as a city. Following the Christian knight Piers’ shipwreck on the coast of an unnamed pagan land where Orcaws is king, there is some intrigue with the visiting Irish king, and the result is a tournament to be held in London and arbitrated by King Luce of Great Britain. So this mystery land Orcaws rules is associated with Ireland, is heathen, and is (somewhat) under the authority of the British king, which accords and also the land of Orkney and also of Gorre, I tell you, and also the approaches of Galloway. Besides the two lands Orkney has been associated with before, Cornwall and Galloway, Galoine is probably in Wales (Ackerman 1952a:98) and Gorre’s location is unknown, though Glastonbury in Somerset is sometimes posited (Ibid:108). Glastonbury is close to both Wales and the real-world Cornwall, so Scotland may not be the unifying location for these individual sites. In fact, with the exception of Orkney, all these sites are located on or near the western coast of Great Britain, suggesting perhaps the direction from which the Saracens have invaded (recalling that in the medieval geographical model, “Africa” ran to the western edge of the world) and also that Orkney may be visualized in AM as a mainland Scottish region adjacent to the eastern side of Galloway (southwest Scotland) and the western side of Lothian. Wace provides some precedent for this relocation of Orkney by moving Moray, a region with which Orkney has been associated in Laзamon’s Brut, from the northeast of Scotland to the southwest (see AM 1890:ll. 9421–9434, Pickens 2006:223). Orkney and Cornwall are also conceptually connected by their invasion by Saracens in the other two, much later Merlin group romances that mention the islands, the verse Merlin of the London skinner and amateur translator Herry Lovelich (1904–1932; HLM), written about 1430, and the prose Merlin (1899; PM), adapted from more or less the same French material about twenty years later (Barron 1987:152, Loomis 1959:481). Both versions relate that messengers come to the city of Sorhant, where eleven British petty kings have taken refuge following their defeat in a battle against Saxons, bearing the bad news that Cornwall and Orkney have been invaded by Saracens and that the castle of Vandebere is besieged (HLM ll. 11,813–11,820; PM 172). Whether the two locations are thought to be contiguous is ambiguous; the third location, Vandebere, is ordinarily a castle in Scotland, but it also seems occasionally to have been confused with the castle of Vandaler, which, naturally, is in Cornwall (Ackerman 1952b:238). The prose narrative goes on to narrate the kings’ and their warriors’ retaking of the beleaguered lands, naming together the marches of Galloway, Gorre, Orkney, Galoine, and Cornwall and rendering the same geographical problems we saw in AM (PM 176). The next mention of Orkney in both the Lovelich and the prose Merlin gives it its most surprising location yet. When Arthur’s nephew Galeshene learns of their kinship, he immediately sends a messenger to his brother Gawaine to ask his brothers to meet him 195 J.D. Shafer 2013 Journal of the North Atlantic Special Volume 4 kynne, other well-wyllers to hys brother” (Ibid:XX. ii). This circumstance is probably best interpreted in light of all the material that has gone before in this paper, in which “Orkney” in its many incarnations in medieval British literature manages to migrate from its true location off the northeastern tip of Great Britain all over Scotland and the rest of the isles. As is pointed out in the chapter “Arthurian geography” in the Cambridge companion to Arthur’s legends: “Thomas Malory adds a significant layer of realism to his text when he mentions places he knows from his own career and times [...] but such realism complicates the multiple layers of ill-understood names which he inherited from centuries of conflicting tradition” (Archibald and Putter 2009:219). From these sources it is clear that in Middle English Arthurian literature, there are two Orkneys: one a fairly colorless island or island group off the north coast of Great Britain and associated in real and conceptual “distance” with its other outer islands (which can include the Channel islands, Ireland, Iceland, and Scandinavian lands); the other a city or region somehow associated with Scotland, but also possibly in Cornwall or Wales. This body of literature is of course substantially based on French romances, and in the French sources these conceptual differences between the two Orkneys are so great that the editor of the indices of names in French Arthurian verse and prose romances provides two separate entries for Orkney: “Orquenie,” an island group near Britain, and “Orcanie,” a city named after the originally pagan king Orcant (West 1969:126, 1978:238–39). Each text’s own sources—both French and English—determine to a large extent which Orkney its characters travel to or originate from, and the conceptual “drift” of Orkney from a vaguely known outer island to a (possibly mainland) location firmly attached to a particular family can no doubt be attributed to the range of interpretations, misunderstandings, embellishments and other such narrative adaptations that naturally accumulate around any narrative node. Malory’s position at the end of the long medieval tradition, he the last and greatest amalgamating agent, may ultimately explain his silence on Orkney’s conceptual position: his many sources showed clearly that Orkney had, through Morgause and her sons, a large part to play in the grand narrative of Arthur’s Britain, but the sources also simply did not agree on where or what it was. And so in Malory’s Arthurian cycle, the name is bare in detail but may connote or represent a distant, possibly exotic power (perhaps vaguely “Norse” in its connection through King Lot of Norway), but certainly one dealing closely in the affairs of Britain and antagonistic to Arthur. It was this portrayal that well with other presentations of Orkney (HG:Ch. 52:275–277). When Orcaws is baptized with the name “Lamet”, his earlier name does not disappear: Thanne, for the love Of the kyng, they Of the Contre Maden gret Beldyng, And A Cyte they gonne to Make, And “Orkanye” It Clepyd for his sake. (Ibid:ll. 981–984) Then, for the love of the king, those of that country engaged in a great deal of construction, and they began to build a city, and they called it “Orkney” on account of him. Piers is later married and ultimately buried in this city of Orkney, in the Church of St. Philip (Ibid:ll. 1029–1030, 1079–1082). I do not know what the significance of this church’s dedication may be, unless it is that St. Philip the Evangelist was a converter of heathens (cf. New Testament:Acts Ch. 8). Alternatively, there may be a connection with a later son of Orkney: St. Philip the Apostle’s feast day is May 1st, the day on which Mordred is born according to the prophecy that instigates King Arthur’s terrible setting adrift at sea of all the children born on May Day.16 In Sir Thomas Malory’s great consolidation and adaptation of the Arthurian material, as in the Merlin group romances, “Orkney” is a name attached to King Lot and his wife Morgause, and by extension to their children and the faction they form in opposition to Lancelot. In Malory, unlike those earlier romances, this is all the name is. None of the action of the story takes place in Orkney, no one is said to go there or come from there, and there is no sense of what Orkney might be like as a place. Morgause is often identified not by name but simply as “the Queen of Orkney” (see Mallory 1967:VII.xxv/ xxvi, xxvii, xxviii, xxxiv), which may be regarded as oddly impersonal in the scene in which she is caught in bed with a man and beheaded by her son (Ibid:X.xxiv). The sole hint of geography is the one instance in which King Lot is called “kynge Lotte of the Ile of Orkeney,” and this occurs just before Lot is slain by Pellinore and “the oste of Orkeney fledde” (Ibid:II.x), but there is no occurrence of the name “Orkney” in Malory unattached to Lot, Morgause, or their children. As such Malory’s Orkney does not seem to have any location at all, though its pervasive identification with Lot and Lothian alone makes it more Scottish than anything else. The twelve knights who lie in wait with Agravain and Mordred to catch Lancelot and Guenevere in adultery are all said to be “of Scotlonde, other ellis of sir Gawaynes J.D. Shafer 2013 Journal of the North Atlantic Special Volume 4 196 established itself as the “canon” version for many years afterward, influencing White’s 20th-century re-imagining of the story The Once and Future King (1958), in which he calls the Morgause-Gawaine- Mordred family consistently opposing King Arthur and his centralizing power “the Orkney faction”, “Orkney” thus sitting in direct, balanced opposition to “Camelot” and standing for all the atavistic, mystical power of the old “Celtic” of the British Isles against Arthur’s progressive, rational—and, in White’s deliberately anachronistic account, Norman—“Englishness”. This was my first literary exposure to Orkney and set in motion the long chain of effects that led to this paper and me shaping from the medieval sources my own “conceptual Orkney”, to which I was then privileged to add my personal experiences of the real one. Literature Cited EETS/O = Early English Text Society, Original Series (London) EETS/X = Early English Text Society, Extra Series (London) SATF = Société des Anciens Textes Français (Paris: Librairie de Firmin Didot et C ie) Primary Sources Aelred of Rievaulx. 1884–1889. Relatio de Standardo. In Richard Howlett (Ed.). Chronicles of the Reigns of Stephen, Henry II, and Richard I. 4 vols. Rolls Series 82. Arthour and Merlin (AM). 1890. E. Köbling (Ed.). Altenglische Bibliothek 4. Reisland, Leipzig, Germany. Bede. 1969. Bede’s Ecclesiastical History of the English People (Historia ecclesiastica gentis Anglorum). B. Colgrave and R.A.B. Mynors (Ed. and Trans.). Clarendon, Oxford, UK. Breta sögur. 1892–1896. Hauksbók. 2 vols. E. Jónsson and F. Jónsson (Eds.). Copenhagen: Thiele, Copenhagen, Denmark. Pp. 231–302. Fantosme, J. 1981. Jordan Fantosme’s Chronicle. Edited with Introduction, Translation, and Notes by R.C. Johnston. Oxford : Clarendon, Oxford, UK. Gaimar, G. 1960. L’Estoire des Engleis. A. Bell (Ed.). Oxford: Blackwell, Oxford, UK. Geoffrey of Monmouth. 2007. The History of the Kings of Britain: An Edition and Translation of De Gestis Britonum (Historia Regum Britanniae). M.D. Reeve (Ed.) and N. Wright (Trans.). Boydell and Brewer, Woodbridge, UK. Gildas: The Ruin of Britain and Other Works. 1978. M. Winterbottom (Ed. and Trans.). Phillimore, London and Chichester, UK. The Historia Brittonum (Vatican). 1985. Vol. 3 The “Vatican” Recension. D.N. Dumville (Ed.). Brewer, Cambridge, UK. Historia Norwegie. 2003. I. Ekrem and L.B. Mortensen (Eds.) and P. Fisher (Trans.). Museum Tusculanum Press, Copenhagen, Denmark. John of Hexham. 1885. Historia XXV. annorum. Thomas Arnold (Ed.). Symeonis monachi opera. 2 vols. Rolls Series 75. Laзamon. 1847. Brut. 3 vols. Sir Frederic Madden (Ed.). Society of Antiquaries of London, London, UK. Lovelich, H. (HG). 1905. The History of the Holy Grail. D. Kempe (Ed.). EETS/X 20, 24, 28, 30, and 95. Lovelich, H. (HLM). 1904–1932. Merlin. E.A. Kock (Ed.). EETS/X 93 and 112, EETS/O 185. Malory, Sir Thomas. 1967. The Works of Sir Thomas Malory. 3 vols. E. Vinaver. (Ed.). Clarendon, Oxford, UK. Merlin, or The Early History of King Arthur: A Prose Romance (PM). 1899. H.B. Wheatley (Ed.). EETS/O 10, 21, 36, and 112. Merlin, Roman en Prose du XIIIe Siècle. 1886. 2 vols. G. Paris and J. Ulrich (Eds.). SATF 23. Nennius. 1934. Nennius et L’Historia Brittonum. F. Lot (Ed.). Honoré Champion, Paris, France. Wace. 1999. Wace’s Roman de Brut, A History of the British. J. Weiss (Ed. and Trans.). Exeter: University of Exeter Press, Exeter, UK. William of Malmesbury. 1847. William of Malmesbury’s Chronicle of the Kings of England. J.A. Giles (Trans.). Bohn, London, UK. Secondary Sources Ackerman, R.W. 1952a. An Index of the Arthurian Names in Middle English. Stanford University Publications, University Series, Language and Literature 10. Stanford, CA, USA. Ackerman, R.W. 1952b. Herry Lovelich’s Merlin. Publications of the Modern Language Association of America 67(4):473–484. Archibald, E., and A. Putter. 2009. The Cambridge Companion to the Arthurian Legend. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, UK. Barron, W.R.J. 1987. English Medieval Romance. Longman, London, UK and New York, NY, USA. Bliese, John R.E. 1988. Aelred of Rievaulx’s rhetoric and morale at the Battle of the Standard, 1138. Albion 20.4 (1988):543–556. Blumenthal, U. 1988. The Investiture Controversy: Church and Monarchy from the Ninth to the Twelfth Century. University of Pennsylvania Press, Philadelphia, PA, USA. Brett, M. 1975. The English Church under Henry I. Oxford University Press, Oxford, UK. Brooks, N. 1984. The Early History of the Church of Canterbury: Christ Church from 597 to 1066. Leicester University Press, London, UK. Brugger, E. 1924. Loenois as Tristan’s home. Modern Philology 22(2):159–191. Chesnutt, M. 1985. The Dalhousie Manuscript of the Historia Norvegiae. Opuscula 8. Bibliotheca Arnamagnæana 38. København (Copenhagen): Reitzels. 54–95. Cooke, A.M. 2004. Ralph (d. in or after 1151). Revised B.E. Crawford. Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. Oxford University Press, Oxford, UK. Crawford, B.E. 1987. Scandinavian Scotland. Leicester University Press, Leicester, UK. Crawford, B.E. 2004. William (d. 1168). Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. Oxford University Press, Oxford, UK. 197 J.D. Shafer 2013 Journal of the North Atlantic Special Volume 4 Endnotes 1On the political transfer of the islands, see Ch. 12 of Thomson’s History of Orkney (1987:esp. pp. 107–115). On the intermingled political, social, and religious affairs of Norse Orkney and Britain, see Thomson’s preceding chapters, as well as Ch. 7 “Scandinavian Scotland” of Woolf (2007:esp. pp. 300–310 on Orkney) and relevant passages throughout Oram (2011). Of the marriage treaty, Thompson remarks: “This sordid transaction was only a step in a very lengthy process of Scottish penetration, beginning long before 1468 and, five hundred years later, hardly yet complete” (107). 2Additionally, Jan Ragnar Hagland’s plenary paper for this conference, included in this collection, addresses the conceptual geography of Orkney in Old Norse literature. My thanks are due to the organizers of the conference for providing me a forum in which to discuss these ideas, and I am also grateful to the anonymous reviewers of this article, whose suggestions and critiques have been most helpful. 3In this article, I characteristically use “British” to mean “pertaining to the British Isles” or “from Great Britain”. Where I refer to real-world Britons and things pertaining to them, I use the terms “Briton” and “Brythonic”. 4The name “Orkney”, indeed, seems to appear nowhere else in English earlier than the 15th century—besides in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicles, in which it undergoes the change from native “Orcaneg” to “Orcanie” under the influence of French sources (Sykes 1899:61; OED “Orkney”). Though there is a great deal of critical literature on Middle English Arthurian texts and on medieval Arthurian material in general, there is none, to my knowledge, that specifically discusses Orkney’s role in it. Robert Allen Rouse and Cory James Rushton’s chapter on Arthurian geography in Archibald and Putter (2009:218–234) does not once mention Orkney, and other similar works that provide excellent introductions to British and English Arthuriana and their place in medieval literature in general and romance in particular (Fulton 2009, Lupack 2005) also fail to take note of Orkney, as does Echard (1998) in her book on the Arthurian Latin tradition. (Fulton [2009:191–192] briefly discusses the history of the Orkney islands in its chapter on Scandinavian versions of Arthurian romance.) Recent articles investigating the “Scottishness” of Orkney knights in Malory and other Middle English Arthurian romances discuss the islands briefly and tangentially (Mapstone 2011, Royan 2005) or not at all (Rushton 2005). I am grateful to Nicola Royan (University of Nottingham, Nottingham, UK) for consultation on these subjects. 5On this long-running dispute, see Blumenthal (1988) throughout, and on the granting of the Scottish bishoprics to York’s authority, see Brett (1975:15). 6“As the news spread through the islands that no one could stop Arthur, kings Doldauius of Gotland and Gunuasius of the Orkneys came unbidden to submit and promised to pay tribute” (trans. Neil Wright, p. 204). 7An indication of the far-reaching and all-pervasive influence Geoffrey’s Historia enjoyed is given by its Icelandic translation Breta sögur, preserved in the early 14th-century manuscript Hauksbók. There the Icelandic scribe follows Geoffrey in naming an Icelandic king, despite knowing perfectly well from their own literary Echard, S. 1998. Arthurian Narrative in the Latin Tradition. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, UK. Ekrem, I. 2003. Essay on date and purpose. Pp. 155–225, In I. Ekrem and L.B. Mortensen (Eds.). P. Fisher (Trans.). Historia Norwegie. Museum Tusculanum Press, Copenhagen, Denmark. Fulton, H. 2009. A Companion to Arthurian Literature. Blackwell, Oxford, UK. Loomis, R.S. 1949. Arthurian Tradition and Chrétien de Troyes. Columbia University Press, New York, NY, USA. Loomis, R.S. (Ed.). 1959. Arthurian Literature in the Middle Ages. Clarendon, Oxford, UK. Lupack, A. 2005. The Oxford Guide to Arthurian Literature and Legend. Oxford University Press, Oxford, UK. Kurath, H., and S.M. Kuhn (Eds.). 1952–1999. Middle English Dictionary. 14 vols. University of Michigan Press, Ann Arbor, MI, USA. Mapstone, S. 2011. Malory and the Scots. Pp. 107–120, In D. Clark and K. McClune (Eds.). Arthurian Literature 28. Blood, Sex, Malory: Essays on the Morte Darthur. Brewer, Woodbridge, UK. Meyer, P., and A. Longnon (Eds.). 1882. Raoul de Cambrai, Chanson de Geste. SATF 17. Oram, R. 2011. Domination and Lordship: Scotland 1070– 1230. Edinburgh University Press, Edinburgh, UK. Phelpstead, C. 2001. Introduction and notes. In C. Phelpstead (Ed.). Devra Kunin (Trans.). A History of Norway and The Passion and Miracles of the Blessed Óláfr. The Viking Society for Northern Research, London, UK. Pickens, R.T. 2006. Arthurian time and space: Chrétien’s Conte del Graal and Wace’s Brut. Medium Ævum 75(2):219–246. Royan, N. 2005. The fine art of faint praise in older Scots historiography. Pp. 43–54, In R. Purdie and N. Royan (Eds.).The Scots and Medieval Arthurian Legend. Brewer, Woodbridge, UK. Rushton, C. 2005. “Of an uncouth stede”: The Scottish knight in Middle English Arthurian romances. Pp. 109–120, In R. Purdie and N. Royan (Eds.).The Scots and Medieval Arthurian Legend. Brewer, Woodbridge, UK. Sykes, F.H. 1899. French Elements in Middle English: Chapters Illustrative of the Origin and Growth of Romance Influence on the Phrasal Power of Standard English in its Formative Period. Oxford University Press, Oxford, UK. Thomson, W.P.L. 1987. History of Orkney. Mercat Press, Edinburgh, UK. Vinaver, E. 1967. Introduction and Notes. The Works of Sir Thomas Malory. 3 vols. Clarendon, Oxford, UK. West, G.D. 1969. An Index of Proper Names in French Arthurian Verse Romances, 1150–1300. University of Toronto Press, Toronto, ON, Canada. West, G.D. 1978. An Index of Proper Names in French Arthurian Prose Romances. University of Toronto Press, Toronto, ON, Canada. White, T.H. 1958. The Once and Future King. Collins, London, UK. Woolf, A. 2007. From Pictland to Alba, 789–1070. Edinburgh University Press, Edinburgh, UK. J.D. Shafer 2013 Journal of the North Atlantic Special Volume 4 198 and historiographical traditions that Iceland did not have and never had a king (Ch. 39, p. 291). This is as clear a cautionary tale as any against assuming a medieval author or scribe does not know a fact simply because they choose to represent it otherwise. 8“The kings of the neighboring islands, who did not employ cavalry, promised their full complement of infantry, a total of one hundred and twenty thousand men from the six lands of Ireland, Iceland, Gotland, the Orkneys, Norway, and Denmark” (trans. Neil Wright, p. 220). Note that Wright’s “six lands” translates sex insulis—“six islands”—of the Latin original. 9In his account of these events, Bede mentions no Orcadian ruler allied to either king (II.xx). 10Translations of Middle English throughout this paper are my own, with thanks to Clare Wright (University of Kent, Kent, UK) for checking them and suggesting improvements. 11This “Ocean” is the ring of waters encircling the inhabited world. Here Ireland is not merely “by the sea” but “out at the margin, washed by the Ocean at the edge of world.” 12The word is also used of pygmies, though this probably does not affect the sense here. “Violently” of the next line can also be “insultingly”, “in a vile way”. 13The addition of Orkney to Lot’s realm of Lothian is an innovation of the Vulgate cycle poets, perhaps arising out of a confusion either of the 10th-century earl of Orkney named Liot (Mapstone 2011:119, Crawford 1987:63–67) or of Welsh sources (see Loomis 1949:71–73). The other two influential Arthurian authors, Wace and Chrétien de Troyes, do not associate Orkney with Lot, even when the opportunity readily presents itself (see Pickens 2006:227–228). The possibility that the French adopted “Orcanie” as a corruption of the ancient Caspian Sea region of Hyrcania is dismissed as unlikely by Meyer and Longnon (1882:372). 14The “march” of Orkney is a little ambiguous in meaning, “region” being probably the most neutral sense. Possibilities of more specific connotation are “borderland” and “district”. See Kurath and Kuhn’s (1952–1959) Middle English Dictionary entry “march(e)” (2). 15Historia Norwegiae also gives Orkney an originary leader unknown from any other source, Earl Orkan (MS Orchanus), probably the author’s invention (Phelpstead 2001:83). Orkan is possibly included in HN in order to legitimize the text and Orkney itself in line with other Scandinavian historical narratives tracing countries’ origins to a legendary figure. The introductory material in HN itself, for example, mentions King Nórr of Norway, who is known from contemporary Icelandic historiographical and legendary texts. 16Malory’s is the only English text to narrate this episode (I.27), but his source here is the French prose Merlin, which was Herry Lovelich’s source for his own Merlin (see Merlin, Roman en Prose 1886:I.203–210, Vinaver 1967:1302–1303).