Chapter 6

Chapter 6

Stories of Lovers in Underground Chambers compared with a type of stone chamber in reality

Six stories from several literary sources refer to the odd and therefore easily recognized situation of the title of this chapter and a seventh is closely related. The stories of lovers are variations on the main theme of the romances, the elopement of a king’s wife or betrothed with another man, made famous by Arthur, Guenever and Launcelot; also Mark, Isoud and Tristram; and appearing in all the combats in Chapter 9.  This theme originates in the goddess of Sovereignty’s desire for the most fertile human consort to encourage her worshippers, their livestock and food plants to reproduce by his example.  Consorts had a limited lifespan before being replaced by a more vigorous successor.  Three ways of doing this will be described below.

The stories are set out in Table 2 each in a column and in which each line represents an aspect of the stories, such as Site.   The details of the stories are listed with sources before the Table is presented. After the Table the lines will be examined to find the relationship of each aspect to the other stories.

In line Line 4 the ‘women’ whose status is disclosed are goddess or idols of them, some of stone . To match this in reality, the only unmistakable stone representations of women are the breasts and necklace motif in the covered alleys of the Late Neolithic Age in Brittany and near Paris.  This suggests the addition in Line 4 of Column (a) as a factual base to compare the rest with.

The Breasts and Necklace Motif  Column (a)

This motif appears in two eras. The examples so far shown are on free-standing slabs of stone of the Early Bronze Age.


Photo  6.1    Kerguntuil covered alley   Brittany  H.D

At this site, six examples of the motif are represented in relief on one of the stones.


Photo 6.2 Kerguntuil Five of  the six motifs in a row    HD

In this instance the necklace is below the breasts

Lanyon Quoit

Photo 6.3     Lanyon Quoit,  a dolmen, Cornwall  Don Cload

North of the English Channel dolmens replace covered alleys but without the motif and without the passage.

 The Beds of Diarmait and Grainne  Column   (b)

This Irish story dominates the Table with forty sites still given that name today.  The story is that Diarmait, nephew of Finn, the leader of the Fenians, eloped with Grainne, who was betrothed to Finn (e.g. Squire 215-221).  The ‘Beds’ where they are said to have slept while on the run from the enraged husband are the remains of portal dolmens or other chambered ‘tombs’ of neolithic origin (for the story; search for Bed of Diarmait and Grainne Oxford Index).  A covered alley is illustrated at the beginning of this chapter and a dolmen above. Legend also had it that any local woman who visited one with a stranger would be incapable of refusing an offer of love from him.  When the vengeful husband was in close pursuit of Diarmait and Grainne, Aonghus the deity of Newgrange took Grainne to safety there in a magic cloak of invisibility (Squire 221).  Aonghus and Grainne are both associated with the sun, he by residence in a solstice aligned structure and his sun-bower, and she by Markale (1982 249).  In Britain no similar myth has survived.

The Hall of Statues   Column  (c)

In The Tristan of Thomas of Britain, one of Tristram’s adventures in Brittany was to defeat a giant, who lost a leg in the conflict.  Tristram captured a cave made by the giant and had it richly embellished by him, with a statue of Isoud placed under the arch where Tristram treated her affectionately, kissing and embracing her.  Beside her there was a smaller figure of Isoud’s companion, Brangain, holding a covered cup.  This is the cup from which Isoud and Tristram drank the love potion on Midsummer Day.  A statue of the giant stood on his single leg on one side of the entrance, brandishing a club as though to protect the figure of Isoud.  A hairy goatskin cape covered his shoulders and reached only to his navel, below which he was naked (Loomis 218f).

The references to an underground chamber with access identify the scene in the Hall of Statues as a memory of the neolithic. The giant with one leg is a fomor, brought to Ireland with Cessair The descriptions of the statues suggest they are idols.

Since Isoud elopes and is fought over she and the other women who behave in the same way can be recognized to represent the goddess of Sovereignty.  Also Brangain with her cup is  the sister of the god Bran so a goddess herself.  As Ronwen, a variation on her name, she presents a cup to a newly made king, typical of the Goddess of Sovereignty (GoM VI 12).  In another romance Isoud is identified as the sun and Brangain as the moon (Tristan Hatto 185-7).  The main personages of the stories are goddesses and men. The names of the first are local names for the goddess of Sovereignty and those of the latter the local names of their male consorts for the time being.  The location of the Hall of Statues is likely to be Brittany as there are no representations of goddesses north of the Channel .

The lovers discovered  Column  (d)

When Isoud and Tristram eloped they tried to hide but were discovered by a huntsman, who reported to the king that he had seen a rare marvel, a man and a goddess sleeping in a cave.  This cave was of a kind referred to elsewhere as made by giants for privacy when they made love (Tristan Hatto 271).  The ‘giants’ in this description of a cave are the people who erected the megalithic monuments.

 Locrine and Estrildis   Column  (e)

King Locrine of Loegria (or in romances Logres) ruled the part of Celtic speaking Britain that is now England.  Although married, he kept a mistress called Estrildis in an underground chamber (London in this story is presumably a late insertion) where she was honourably served by the members of his household.  Estrildis was kept in secret for seven years.  When Locrine wished to visit her he pretended to be making hidden sacrifices to his gods (GoM II 4).  Estrildis is recognized by Welsh translators to be a distorted form of Essylt, a name rendered into French as Yseult, which is Malory’s Isoud.  Vagaries in spelling are common after much repetition not backed up by written forms.

Estrildis bore a child called Habren.  Years later Locrine deserted his wife and raised Estrildis to be queen.  On his death his wife had Estrildis and Habren thrown into the river Severn, which in Welsh still bears the name Habren (GoM II 5). In spite of its dubious provenance, parts of this story match the rest in every respect.  It looks as if Geoffrey has picked up a story of the king’s nephew eloping with his wife to be and mixed it with two other stories, one explaining the derivation of the name Logres for England, the other Habren for the name of the river Severn.

King Evelake   Column  (f)

In French romances Evelake was married to Sarracinte the goddess of Sovereignty at Sarras.  He sat by day in a sun temple at Stonehenge (as Sarras) where the moon and planets were also worshipped (St Graal ed Hucher II 130f).  At night he would copulate with a richly dressed wooden idol, which he kept in an underground chamber and loved more than any man did a woman (Hucher II 318, Sommer I 83). There are two stories here. Only the idol is of interest in the present context. This story could be a very different version of (e).  The first part is the only story which mentions Stonehenge. It must be treated as irrelevant.

The grave of two lovers and of Merlin  Column  (g)  

In a romance, Merlin met his end in the Forest of Broceliande when the Damsel of the Lake incarcerated him under a great stone in a grave where two unnamed lovers had lived and died (Paris and Ulrich II 94).  Only the chamber, the lovers, and the great stone, which Markale has suggested to be the capstone of a chambered tomb (1989 84), are of interest here. Capstone there is appropriate for the location in Brittany or the Channel Islands. British passage graves with round mounds, distinct from those in Britain with tend to have corbelled roofs.  Markale is the only author I know of who suggested the existence of any memory of a Neolithic passage grave before my book in 1994.  At that time I was unfortunately not aware of his Le roi Arthur et la societé celtique Paris 1983 so was unable to give a reference to it.

Tristram’s Tomb   Column (h)

In the early French romances there is just one instance of the astronomical alignment of a structure.  It is the tomb of Tristram, prominent here as Isoud’s lover.  Because he saved Cornwall from paying tribute to ‘Ireland’ by defeating Morholt, an ‘Irish’ champion, his tomb became the scene of an annual festival commemorating the event.  On the anniversary a ritual was performed in which the image of Tristram was crowned and his sword and shield, stored in the tomb, were worshipped like the relics of a saint.  The tomb is described as second only to Gorbaduc’s, which is said to have been worshipped by pagans before Bran (as Joseph) came to Britain, and to have been a magnificent ancient stone tomb at Launcelot’s stronghold, Joyeuse  (Sommer IV 295 & Löseth The Prose Tristan 390). This tomb was later used for the reburial of the bones of Galehot and again for the burial of Launcelot himself, access and reburials suggesting it could be a neolithic grave. Urbaduc also surfaces briefly in Geoffrey’s History as Gorbodug, an early king of Britain (GoM II 16).

In the story Tritram’s tomb was lit at dawn by the rays of the rising sun (Löseth note to 411), a feature that is restricted to passage graves at a solstice.  The sun rises on both solstices but is identified here as the summer solstice by the extreme heat on Midsummer Day that made him and Isoud drink the love potion intended for Isoud and king Mark, whom she was travelling to marry. Also his solstice-linked battle for the tribute of Cornwall is a parallel of the demand for tribute made by a delegation from ‘Rome’ on Midsummer Day.  

As Tristram’s tomb could be compared with Urbaduc’s, it was probably stone. The removal of relics shows there is access to it, confirmed by ceremonies held there, that would justify describing it as a ‘temple-tomb’.  The solstice alignment implies a long enough passage for it to be a passage grave.  There is no indication that any particular passage grave is meant.

The tomb is said to have been in the church at Tintagel but that name is a late arrival on the Arthurian scene and at Tintagel it would be difficult to find level land to build an oriented passage grave on, so it is unlikely to be the true name of the site.

The stories can now be compared by looking along the lines and extended where appropriate with information from sources outside the table. The objective of the comparison is to find if collectively the stories, with any outside associations of the individuals in them, provide information about a possible single original circumstance developed in different ways in Brittany, Ireland and Cornwall. Stories (b) to (g) are the core and all refer to goddesses or idols of them, also they mention the men who make love with the idols in underground chambers. Column (h) is a close parallel.  

Table 2

Stories of Lovers in Underground Chambers compared with stone chambers in reality.





Beds of Diarmait & Grainne


The Hall of Statues



The Lovers found


Locrine and Estrildis


Evelake (who also lived in a sun temple at Stonehenge)


A grave of two lovers

(and of



The Tomb of



1 Site       

Passage Graves, portal dolmens or covered alleys

Usually portal dolmens

A cave with access, made by a giant.


A cave of a kind made by giants to make love in.

A man-made under-


chamber with access

An under-ground chamber with access

The site

sounds like a chamb-ered tomb.

A tomb with access

2 Place



Brittany or Cornwall


As in (c)





As in (c)

3 Used  by   




A Lover



A lover


A lover

of Isoud

4 Women 

or idols of them

Breasts & necklace motif on pillars of  covered alleys

Grainne {betrothed to Finn]

Idols of Isoud and Brangain,

Isoud (betro-   thed to Mark)

Estrildis, a name of Isoud

An unnamed female idol

Not named


5 The man or men


Diarmait Finn’s nephew

Tristram &  an idol with one leg.

Tristram Mark’s nephew



Not named


6 Mention   of pagan themes



Grainne was called a female solar deity by Markale.

Isoud is s goddess of the sun, Brangain of the moon and the giant is a Fomor.

Isoud again

Isoud again, and Locrine’s hidden

sacrifices to his gods.

The descrip-tion idol and the under-ground chamber


A tomb lit at dawn by the rising sun at a solstice and used for annual ritu-als seems neolithic.


The objective of the Table is to enable the columns to be compared, line by line. The columns are set in three countries, which may account for some variations.  


Line 1   The Site
The description ‘cave’ in some columns is not unrealistic because a stone chamber with access can be regarded as an artificial cave.  Giants can be explained as the makers of megalithic structures at the time the stories were written down (eg ‘Giants Dance’ for the stones of Stonehenge). The columns are likely to refer the type of barrow rather than a single site.  All the stories in the columns in this line match Column (a).

Line 2   Place:

Except for (e) and (f) the columns are of the Atlantic coast, Column (g) as Broceliande is considered to be so as it is in the hinterland of Vannes.

Line 3   Used by:  all are ‘lovers’ but see line 5 below.

Line 4  The Women or Idols of them in the chambers:

Two of the stories, (c) and (f) refer to female idols and Tristram in Column (h) is described as kissing and caressing a representation of Isoud, an idol.  The only obviously female idols to have survived are Breton statues menhirs, decorated by a motif in relief of breasts and a necklace.  They are much later than the graves of Column (a) but the motif is identical.  In this line Isoud, by her elopement suggests the deity of the stones to be the Goddess of Sovereignty.

Drinking the love potion intended for King Mark on Midsummer Day gives Isoud a link with a solstice as she shared it with Tristram.  In addition she has been likened in an unrelated context to the sun and her mother, also called Isoud, to the bright dawn (Tristan Hatto 185-7) and the sun shone at dawn into Tristram’s tomb.  And in the text just quoted Branwen represents the moon.  These associations with astronomy suggest neolithic monuments of the Atlantic coast, where the solstice aligned structures Newgrange and Maes Howe are.

Still in Line 4 the smaller female figure in Column (c), placed next to Isoud and holding a covered cup, is Isoud’s handmaiden, Bran’s sister Brangain or Branwen.  The cup she holds is the one that held the love potion intended to be taken to ‘Ireland’ to cement Isoud’s marriage may appear in a different context as Ronwen or Rowena, regarded as other spellings of the name.  The cup she offered (GoM VI 12) is thought to identify her, like Isoud, as the goddess of Sovereignty.  Branwen is Welsh, based at Harlech in the north-western enclave of Wales and married to the king of ‘Ireland’ at Aberffraw in Anglesey in the same ‘Irish’ enclave.  The presence of two versions of the Sovereignty in the same place at the same time could be accounted for by one story being superimposed on another.

Line 5   The Men in the underground chamber: 

In Column (b) Grainne the betrothed of Finn, leader of the Fianna, eloped with Finn’s nephew, a parallel of Isoud, betrothed of King Mark eloping with Mark’s nephew Tristram in Column (d). Tristram as the lover in three columns in Line 4 has been described in more detail than the rest.

The Breton poets failed to recognise that in matriarchal times inheritance passed through a sister to her son.  The hidden reason for elopement was that becoming the consort of the Sovereignty entitled the consort to rule.  When Mordred, Arthur’s sister’s son, ran away with Arthur’s wife Guenever he also stole the country.  Perhaps as he was illegitimate he was not regarded as the heir.  In Column (c), at a stage in the story when he was separated from Isoud, Tristram kissed and embraced the idol of her as if it had been alive.  His companion was Isoud’s brother Kahedin (absent in the Hall of Statues) who was in love with Brangain.  The two young men used to go to the groves to behold the fair images. They ‘had as much pleasure from the images as from the ladies they loved’.  By day they had solace there to compensate for the loneliness they endured at night (Loomis 263).  Tristram and Kahedin were fighters and hunters. That and their behaviour with the images in the groves and Tristram’s with the images in the Hall of Statues show them to be men, not gods, and they are worshippers of the goddesses.

Mary Williams said the same 70 years ago:

‘Guenever was a goddess and Launcelot’s love for her not guilty passion but a worshipper’s adoration for the object of his cult (Speculum 13 Columbus Ohio 1938 pp 44 and 49)’. This comment applies to all the relationships between the goddess and men within the scope of this book.

The lovers in underground chambers with access are by definition restricted to covered alleys or north of the Channel dolmens. Remarkably the Sovereignty continued to be worshipped into historical times in Ireland.

The relationship of Guenever and Launcelot is an example of her worship, particularly as Williams’ comment specifically points to resemblances between Arthur and Finn, the wronged ‘husband to be’ of Grainne, but the essential feature of Table 2, the underground chamber, is missing so the story of Guenever and Launcelot cannot be included in table 2 but It belongs instead to a later era with the other stories of the same kind in Chapter 9.

Many other stories of the same kind have to be omitted from this Chapter because they are not in underground chambers. They include the Goddess of Sovereignty as the ‘Empress of Constantinople’ in the Mabinogi, Diana at Nemi, Enid of Gannes, all the women fought over in Chapter 9 and the thirty unnamed young women who sit by a spring under a tree in a glade referred to in that chapter.  The stories have survived only because troubadours turned worship of a goddess into stories with a love interest that pleased their listeners.

Though poets have preserved the stories of abductions and elopements, the inevitable sequence of deaths and replacement is rarely recorded though occasionally referred to, as in the battle between Balin and Balan (see Chapter 9).

Looked at on a wider scale Tristram and his equivalents were not the only men to feel ‘passion’ for Isoud for she and other representatives of the Sovereignty would have been worshipped by whole populations over millennia, in return for her supposed provision of prosperity in the form of fertility to humans, beasts and later, fields.

Line 6   Mention of pagan themes:

The underground chambers with access and the idols match the rest of the Table very well.  In Column (g) Markale’s identification of the great stone covering an underground chamber where Merlin was incarcerated as the capstone over a burial chamber suggests that the chambers in the Table include dolmens in addition to passage graves.  In Column (h) Tristram’s burial brings with it a description of a barrow that may be solstice aligned as the event it commemorates is a battle that took place near a solstice.  The period of the burial can be identified as neolithic by access to a tomb and its use for ceremonies. 

The factual background of Table 2

The resemblances between the stories in Table 2 are strong enough to suggest that they are all derived from a single type of pagan belief with different local names for the Goddess of Sovereignty.  She represented fertility and chose male consorts for their fecundity. This unexpected feature does not appear in the Table but is demonstrated to be fact by the Story of Niall of the Nine Hostages, a historical individual who earned his name by capturing wealthy Britons and ransoming them in about300.  

One day he and his half brothers camped at the end of a hunting expedition but were unable to find water except at a well which was guarded by a fearsome hag who demanded a kiss before she would give it. Only Niall kissed her and she turned into a beautiful woman and presented him with a cup of water. She was the sovereignty and told told him he and his sons would rule Ireland and so it came about (Cross and Slover 508-13). No doubt  the ‘prophesy’ was written after the event for it represents the truth as Niall and he and his sons left their genes in the north-west of Ireland, to an extent that today the genetic marker for a descendant of Niall is still  present  among 25% of the male population, also among Irish emigrants and their families including the author of this book.

Among Niall’a hostages was the man who would become St Patrick, who replaced the Sovereignty by Christianity.

The consorts are temporary male holders of an office, to be replaced when their strength failed by a stronger candidate.  Their names represent an office, filled by many individuals. The male consorts were replaced in three ways.  One is castration of a king whose virility faltered. This resulted in maimed kings who may have survived but were immediately replaced by a more virile successor.  They are often mentioned in romances.  Another way is annual kingship (see Chapter 8), represented by Galahad as the name of a ruler for a year.  Finally came personal combat to the death of one of the participants as at Nemi or in ‘The Countess of the Fountain’ and her equivalents in Chapter 9. These formats can be associated with particular periods in the story of Stonehenge.

Before the Table was set up Column (a) was little more than an informed guess. The lines across have all turned out to be satisfactory but the crossing of Line 4 with the columns is exceptionally informative. In Columns (c)  to (f) men either copulated with an idol or kissed and embraced one. There seems to be a memory here of male contact with stone except in Ireland where the woman was considered to be alive and where they slept together is today the remains of a stone structure.

It may not be an accident that the most detailed stories are set in Brittany where stone figures such as the Venuses of Quinipili and Guernsey, and perhaps those in the Hall of Statues, have survived into literate times.  The same may be true in Ireland.  An example there of survival from an earlier time is the  concept of a horse goddess fertilized by a man at Tyrconnel where the new king copulated with a mare in front of his assembled people at his coronation (see Chapter 7).

As a postscript to this story of idols, a modern guidebook to Guernsey says that local wedding parties at St Martin’s often have their photographs taken with the ‘Grandmother of the cemetery’ in the background.  The guidebook comments on the incongruity of having something so ugly in a wedding photograph. The writer of the guidebook has failed to realize that the statue in spite of her age may still play a part today as a charm expected to give newly married couples fertility and prosperity in the same way as the Venus of Quinipili and the other statues of the same kind would have done over 4000 years ago.

Iron Brdge

Photo 6.4 The Iron Bridge in Shropshire                  Jason Smith

Before the Venus of Le Castel lost her last worshipper, something new had happened in Britain.  At Coalbrookdale in Shropshire Abraham Darby had let a genie out of its bottle.   By 1780, the date of Ogée’s description of events at Bieuzy, the first civil engineering project of the Industrial Revolution had been completed, a bridge made of cast iron.  It still stands over the river at the small town of Ironbridge. It has survived even to carry cars but is now pedestrians only. The contrast emphasises the extraordinary hold the Venus had over her worshippers. As far as religion was concerned the Ages of Bronze and Iron seem to have passed over the heads of the Breton peasants before they relinquished belief in their stone idol.

This chapter shows the Sovereignty with local names.  It clearly sets out the distinction between goddess and human male consorts, who also have local names. The essential feature of regular replacement of consorts has been censored by narrators who could not afford to lose their heroes but does crop up occasionally for instance in the story of Balin and Balan in which the hopeless situation of the consort as a captive whose only way to escape was to die is stated clearly in one of a dozen instances of the system in Chapter 9.

The pagan theme that attracted the poets is a simple one: two men fight to be consorts of a goddess.  Table 2 sets out the ramifications of this situation in Arthurian romances.  Gantz had already pointed out in 1976 (p15) ten Welsh instances in his Introduction to the Mabinogi.  Only three of these are included in this book. Pwyll’s year end battle in the form of Arawn for the rule of Annwfn in Chapter 1a,  The Countess of the Fountain and Geraint and Enid in Chapter 9.

Archaeologists frequently find elite burials. There are scores in and within  sight of Stonehenge and the procedure continued with bog bodies into the Iron Age.  At least those inside Stonehenge and the bog bodies are likely to have been ritually murdered.


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