Robert de Boron

Last updated

Robert de Boron (also spelled in the manuscripts "Roberz", "Borron", "Bouron", "Beron") was a French poet of the late 12th and early 13th centuries, notable as the reputed author of the poems Joseph d'Arimathie  [ fr ] and Merlin . Although little is known of him apart from the poems he allegedly wrote, his works and subsequent prose redactions of them had a strong influence on later incarnations of the Arthurian legend and its prose cycles, particularly through their Christian back story for the Holy Grail.



Robert de Boron wrote Joseph d'Arimathe for a lord named Gautier de Montbéliard and he took on the name Boron from a village near Montbéliard in eastern France. [1] What is known of his life comes from brief mentions in his own work. At one point in Joseph, he applies to himself the title of meisters (medieval French for "clerk"); later he uses the title messires (medieval French for "knight"). At the end of the same text, he mentions being in the service of Gautier of "Mont Belyal", whom Pierre Le Gentil identifies with one Gautier de Montbéliard (the Lord of Montfaucon), [2] who in 1202 left for the Fourth Crusade, and died in the Holy Land in 1212.

Le Gentil argues that the mention of Avalon shows that Robert wrote Joseph after 1191, when the monks at Glastonbury claimed to have discovered the coffins of King Arthur and Guinevere. His family is unknown, though the second author of the Prose Tristan claimed to be Robert's nephew, calling himself "Helie de Boron" (this is taken more as an attempt to drop a famous name than a genuine accreditation, however). Although Le Gentil describes him as a "poet endowed with boldness and piety but with mediocre talent", [2] his work was immensely successful and influential. [3] Notably, his version of the myth of the Holy Grail, originally an element of Chrétien de Troyes's unfinished Perceval , was adopted by almost all later writers of the Matter of Britain.


Robert de Boron is considered the author of two surviving poems in octosyllabic verse, the Grail story Joseph d'Arimathie  [ fr ] (also known as the Metrical Joseph and the Estoire dou Graal) and Merlin ; the latter survives only in fragments and in later version rendered in prose (possibly too by Robert himself). Both were translated into Middle English by Henry Lovelich in the mid-15th century. The two are thought to have formed either a trilogy – with a verse Perceval forming the third part – or a tetralogy – with Perceval and the short Mort Artu (Death of Arthur). Collectively it is variably known as The Grand History of the Grail (La Grant Estoire dou Graal), the Romance of the Grail (Roman du Graal), the Book of the Grail (Livre du Graal), and The Little/Lesser Grail Cycle (Le Petit Cycle du Graal), [4] [5] or simply as Robert de Boron's cycle, the Robert Cycle, or even just the "Arthurian trilogy" (trilogie arthurienne). The Didot Perceval  [ fr ], also known as the Romance of Perceval in Prose is a retelling of Percival's story similar in style and content to the other works attributed to Robert, and attached to them. It may or may not be a prosification of the lost sections, [6] [7] and contains elements from Chrétien's own unfinished Perceval and its Second Continuation. Its separate section known as Mort Artu is effectively a continuation, which seems to be in turn a source for later works such as Perlesvaus . [6] [8] Linda Gowans, however, proposed that Robert wrote only the Joseph in prose, which she also sees as the original version. [9]

Robert de Boron gave the Grail myth a Christian dimension to produce a history of the Grail. [10] According to him, Joseph of Arimathea used the Grail (the Last Supper vessel) to catch the last drops of blood from the Christ's body as he hung on the cross. Joseph's family brought the Grail to the vaus d'Avaron, the valleys of Avaron in the west, which later writers changed to Avalon, identified with Glastonbury, where they guarded it until the rise of Arthur and the coming of Percival. Robert also introduced a "Rich Fisher" variation on the Fisher King and is also credited with introducing Merlin as born of a devil and a virgin, and destined to be a redeemed Antichrist. [11] In particular, his works laid a foundation for the Vulgate Cycle and were eventually included into it in a reworked form, and then into the subsequent Post-Vulgate Cycle, formerly known as the "pseudo-Robert de Boron cycle" due to the Huth Merlin manuscript author's attribution of the entire work to Robert. [12]

As a character

Robert de Boron appears as Boron in Umberto Eco's Italian novel Baudolino (2000).

Related Research Articles

Excalibur Legendary sword of King Arthur

Excalibur is the legendary sword of King Arthur, sometimes also attributed with magical powers or associated with the rightful sovereignty of Britain. It was associated with the Arthurian legend very early on. Excalibur and the Sword in the Stone are in some versions said to be different, though in other incarnations they are either the same or at least share their name. In Welsh, it is called Caledfwlch; in Cornish, Calesvol ; in Breton, Kaledvoulc'h; and in Latin, Caliburnus. Several similar swords and other weapons also appear in this and other legends.

Holy Grail Cup, dish, or stone with miraculous powers, important motif in Arthurian literature

The Holy Grail is a treasure that serves as an important motif in Arthurian literature. Various traditions describe the Holy Grail as a cup, dish, or stone with miraculous powers: providing eternal youth, or sustenance in infinite abundance, often in the custody of the Fisher King. By analogy, any elusive object or goal of great significance may be perceived as a holy grail by those seeking it.

Merlin Legendary British wizard

Merlin is a mythical figure prominently featured in the legend of King Arthur and best known as an enchanter or wizard, among his various other roles. His usual depiction, based on an amalgamation of historic and legendary figures, was introduced by the 12th-century British author Geoffrey of Monmouth. It is believed that Geoffrey combined earlier tales of Myrddin and Ambrosius, two legendary Briton prophets with no connection to Arthur, to form the composite figure called Merlinus Ambrosius . Geoffrey's rendering of the character became immediately popular, especially in Wales. Later writers in France and elsewhere expanded the account to produce a fuller image, creating one of the most important figures in the imagination and literature of the Middle Ages.

Round Table Table in the Arthurian legend

The Round Table is King Arthur's famed table in the Arthurian legend, around which he and his knights congregate. As its name suggests, it has no head, implying that everyone who sits there has equal status. The table was first described in 1155 by Wace, who relied on previous depictions of Arthur's fabulous retinue. The symbolism of the Round Table developed over time; by the close of the 12th century it had come to represent the chivalric order associated with Arthur's court, the Knights of the Round Table.

Joseph of Arimathea Man who assumed responsibility for the burial of Jesus after his crucifixion

Joseph of Arimathea was, according to all four canonical gospels, the man who assumed responsibility for the burial of Jesus after his crucifixion. The historical location of Arimathea is uncertain, although it has been identified with several towns. A number of stories that developed during the Middle Ages connect him with Glastonbury, England and also with the Holy Grail legend.

Gawain A knight in Arthurian legends

Gawain, also known as Gawaine or Gauwaine, among other forms and spellings, is a character in Arthurian legend, in which he is King Arthur's nephew and a Knight of the Round Table. The prototype of Gawain is mentioned under the name Gwalchmei in the earliest Welsh sources. He has subsequently appeared in many Arthurian stories in Welsh, Latin, French, English, Scottish, Dutch, German, Spanish, and Italian, notably as the protagonist of the famous Middle English poem Sir Gawain and the Green Knight. Other tales featuring Gawain as the central character include De Ortu Waluuanii, Diu Crône, Ywain and Gawain, Golagros and Gawane, Sir Gawain and the Carle of Carlisle, L'âtre périlleux, La Mule sans frein, La Vengeance Raguidel, Le Chevalier à l'épée, The Awntyrs off Arthure, The Greene Knight, and The Weddynge of Syr Gawen and Dame Ragnell.

Knights of the Round Table Elite companions of King Arthur and order of chivalry in Arthurian romance

The Knights of the Round Table are the knights of the fellowship of King Arthur in the literary cycle of the Matter of Britain. First appearing in literature in the mid-12th century, the Knights are an order dedicated to ensuring the peace of Arthur's kingdom following an early warring period, entrusted in later years to undergo a mystical quest for the Holy Grail. The Round Table at which they meet is a symbol of the equality of its members, who range from sovereign royals to minor nobles.

Fisher King Character in Arthurian legend

In Arthurian legend, the Fisher King, also known as the Wounded King or Maimed King, is the last in a long bloodline charged with keeping the Holy Grail. Versions of the original story vary widely, but he is always wounded in the legs or groin and incapable of standing. All he is able to do is fish in a small boat on the river near his castle, Corbenic, and wait for some noble who might be able to heal him by asking a certain question. In later versions, knights travel from many lands to try to heal the Fisher King, but only the chosen can accomplish the feat. This is achieved by Percival alone in the earlier stories; he is joined by Galahad and Bors in the later ones.

Siege Perilous Special seat at King Arthurs Round Table

In Arthurian legend, the Siege Perilous is a vacant seat at the Round Table reserved by Merlin for the knight who would one day be successful in the quest for the Holy Grail. The English word "siege" originally meant "seat" or "throne" coming from the Old French sege ; the modern military sense of a prolonged assault comes from the conception of an army "sitting down" before a fortress.

Gaheris Fictional character

Gaheris is a knight of the Round Table in the chivalric romance tradition of Arthurian legend. A nephew of King Arthur, Gaheris is the third son of Arthur's sister or half-sister Morgause and her husband Lot, King of Orkney and Lothian. He is the younger brother of Gawain and Agravain, the older brother of Gareth, and half-brother of Mordred.

This is a bibliography of works about King Arthur, his family, his friends or his enemies. This bibliography includes works that are notable or are by notable authors.


The Lancelot-Grail, also known as the Vulgate Cycle or the Pseudo-Map Cycle, is an early 13th-century French Arthurian literary cycle consisting of interconnected prose episodes of chivalric romance in Old French. The cycle of unknown authorship, presenting itself as a chronicle of actual events, retells the legend of King Arthur by focusing on the love affair between Lancelot and Guinevere as well as the religious quest for the Holy Grail, expanding on the works of Robert de Boron and Chrétien de Troyes.

<i>Perceval, the Story of the Grail</i>

Perceval, the Story of the Grail is the unfinished fifth verse romance by Chrétien de Troyes, written by him in Old French in the late 12th century. Later authors added 54,000 more lines in what are known collectively as the Four Continuations, as well as other related texts. Perceval is the earliest recorded account of what was to become the Quest for the Holy Grail but describes only a golden grail in the central scene, does not call it "holy" and treats a lance, appearing at the same time, as equally significant.

<i>Post-Vulgate Cycle</i>

The Post-Vulgate Cycle, also known as the Post-Vulgate Arthuriad, the Post-Vulgate Roman du Graal or the Pseudo-Robert de Boron Cycle, is one of the major Old French prose cycles of Arthurian literature from the early 13th century. It is considered essentially a shortened rewriting of the earlier Vulgate Cycle, with much left out but also much added, including characters and scenes from the Prose Tristan.

<i>Prose Tristan</i> 13th-century French Arthurian romance

The Prose Tristan is an adaptation of the Tristan and Iseult story into a long prose romance, and the first to tie the subject entirely into the arc of the Arthurian legend. It was also the first major Arthurian prose cycle commenced after the widely popular Lancelot-Grail, which influenced especially the later portions of the Prose Tristan.

Josephus, also called Josephe or Josephes, is the son of Joseph of Arimathea and an early keeper of the Holy Grail in some tellings of the Arthurian legend. He makes appearances in the Quest del Saint Graal section of the Lancelot-Grail cycle, but his story is fully told in the Estoire del Saint Grail, a prequel section written somewhat later. In the Estoire he is invested as bishop by an apparition of Jesus with the implication that he was the first to receive his orders. Josephus is considered the primary holy man of the group, which is in contrast with the Lancelot-Grail's major source, Robert de Boron's Joseph d'Arimathie, in which his father is the undisputed leader. This is likely due to the authors' assertion that various great families are descended from Joseph; his virtuous son remains chaste and has no children.

Corbenic Castle in the Matter of Britain

Corbenic is the name of the Grail castle, the edifice housing the Holy Grail in Arthurian legend. It is a magical domain of the Grail keeper, often known as the Fisher King. The castle's descriptions vary greatly in different sources, and it first appears by that name in the Lancelot-Grail cycle where it is also the birthplace of Galahad.

Perlesvaus, also called Li Hauz Livres du Graal, is an Old French Arthurian romance dating to the first decade of the 13th century. It purports to be a continuation of Chrétien de Troyes' unfinished Perceval, the Story of the Grail, but it has been called the least canonical Arthurian tale because of its striking differences from other versions.

<i>Merlin</i> (poem) French epic poem

Merlin is a partly lost French epic poem written by Robert de Boron in Old French and dating from either end of the 12th or beginning of the 13th century. The author reworked Geoffrey of Monmouth's material on the legendary Merlin, emphasising Merlin's power to prophesy and linking him to the Holy Grail. The poem tells of his origin and early life as a redeemed Antichrist, his role in the birth of Arthur, and how Arthur became King of Britain. Merlin's story relates to Robert's two other reputed Grail poems, Joseph and Perceval. It introduced motifs that became popular in medieval and later Arthuriana, ensuring him a lasting place in the legend of King Arthur.

BNF fr. 113–116

Bibliothèque nationale de France fr. 113–116 is an Illuminated manuscript, now rebound as four manuscripts, commissioned by Jacques d'Armagnac, Duke of Nemours and executed by the workshop of Évrard d'Espinques around 1475. They contain the Lancelot-Grail cycle of romances, also known as the Vulgate Cycle, and constitute one of the most complete examples of Arthurian texts in prose, illuminated with 209 miniatures.


  1. Richard W. Barber (2004). The Holy Grail: Imagination and Belief. Harvard University Press. pp. 39–. ISBN   978-0-674-01390-2.
  2. 1 2 Pierre Le Gentil, "The Work of Robert de Boron and the Didot Perceval", chapter 19, in Arthurian Literature in the Middle Ages, A Collaborative History, (ed. R.S. Loomis). Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1959.
  3. Burgwinkle, William; Hammond, Nicholas; Wilson, Emma (2011). The Cambridge History of French Literature. Cambridge University Press. ISBN   9780521897860.
  4. Echard, Sian; Rouse, Robert (2017). The Encyclopedia of Medieval Literature in Britain. John Wiley & Sons. ISBN   9781118396988 via Google Books.
  5. Lacy, Norris J. (2010). The History of the Holy Grail. Boydell & Brewer Ltd. ISBN   9781843842248 via Google Books.
  6. 1 2 Pickens, Rupert T. (1984). "" Mats de çou ne parole pas Crestiens de Troies... » : A Re-examination of the Didot-Perceva"". Romania. 105 (420): 492–510. doi:10.3406/roma.1984.1722.
  7. "Didot Perceval". Retrieved 2019-06-07.
  8. "The prose romance of Perceval". Retrieved 2019-06-07.
  9. Arthurian Studies in Honour of P.J.C. Field - What did Robert de Boron really write?. ISBN   9781846152627 . Retrieved 4 August 2021.
  10. Robert (de Boron) (1990). Joseph of Arimathea: A Romance of the Grail. Rudolf Steiner Press. pp. 8–. ISBN   978-0-85440-426-1.
  11. Peter Goodrich; Norris J. Lacy (10 July 2003). Merlin: A Casebook. Taylor & Francis. pp. 11–. ISBN   978-0-203-50306-5.
  12. Dover, Carol (2003). A Companion to the Lancelot-Grail Cycle. DS Brewer. ISBN   9780859917834.

Further reading