Uther Pendragon

   High King of Britain and father of Arthur. Today's scholars would question his existence, or that if he existed, the person now attributed as Uther was probably synthesized and separated from either another individual that was acting war leader; or in one conjecture, Ambrosius Aurelianus or Arthur himself prior to assuming their role as king.
   As Le Morte opens, Uther Pendragon is already high king of all Britain. In the Malorian epic, he plays a small part: to father Arthur and serve as a legitimizer of Arthur's right to be high king. Malory paints Uther in the role he would have lived, a warrior first and above all. Uther is a man that takes what he wants. Here, Gorlois is not Uther's supporter but a recalcitrant duke. Forced to appear before Uther in London, Gorlois finds himself in the unenviable position of defying Uther or letting Uther sleep with his wife Igraine. Malory gives us a good Christian woman that counsels her husband to leave rather than submit. Uther thus can wage war on Gorlois because of his departure without leave and does not have to suffer his conscience for lusting after the man's wife.
   Uther must fight Gorlois in his fortress while sick from his physical need for Igraine who is sequestered in Tintagil. Merlin is summoned by Ulfius to cure the king's ills. Thus we are presented with the next moral dilemma. The legend states that for a granted favor, Uther is transformed into the likeness of Gorlois and thus can leave the battle to visit Igraine. Gorlois sees Uther leave and sallies forth from Terrabil and dies in the skirmish at Uther's camp. Uther, unaware, arrives at Tintagil and slakes his desire in Igraine's arms. Arthur is sired that night and legend is born. Malory must have been aware of the alternate versions of Arthur's begetting and chose a path that presented Igraine as a virtuous queen but still provided for a legitimate birthright for Arthur. By killing Gorlois and having Igraine marry Uther, Arthur is not just another bastard by-blow and thus tyrannus.
   In a political move, Uther not only weds Igraine at the behest of his men but also marries off her daughters to other powerful men: Morgawse to Lot, ruler of the Lothians and Orkneys; Elaine to Nentres of Garlot; and Morgan (whom Malory already calls le Fay) after a time in a nunnery to Uriens of Gore.
   Later in the year, Arthur is born and taken by Merlin and placed in the care of Ector as payment for the debt Uther owes Merlin. But Uther's time is short-lived and the years of Arthur's childhood will be plagued by civil war. After two years, Uther becomes deathly ill and his enemies, not named, take advantage and do battle. On Merlin's advice, Uther takes the battlefield carried in a litter and wins a great victory at St. Albans. Suffering a relapse, Uther returns to London and dies but not before speaking before the assembly of his men that he bestows all his kingdom on his son.
   For Malory, Uther is a place marker; a man to end the time of the passing of the old and to light the way to the real king.