The Merlin Files 2 – Prophet

In last week’s article we touched on the Welsh legend Merlin’s penchant for enigmatic prophecy when, as a boy, in Geoffrey of Monmouth’s History of the Kings of Britain, he forecast that the Saxons would defeat the indigenous British, but that the Brits would ultimately rise again under the leadership of “the Boar of Cornwall” – widely interpreted as a reference to King Arthur.

Geoffrey originally envisaged The Prophecies of Merlin as a separate work, but instead it became inserted into his History, straight after the story of Vortigern and the dragons.

Merlin’s prophecies, as reported here, are so bizarre that one could probably fit them to all sorts of events in subsequent history (some of which had already taken place when Geoffrey was writing).

As well as the Boar and dragons, there are plenty of references to the likes of the Lion, the Ram, the Worm, the Fox and the Giant of Wickedness…

And we get such predictions as “The Hedgehog will hide its apples inside Winchester and will construct hidden passages under the earth…” and “Wild animals shall enjoy peace, but mankind will bewail the way in which it is being punished. The balance of trade shall be torn in half…” and “An Owl will nest on the walls of Gloucester and in its nest will be hatched an Ass. The Snake of Malvern will nurture this Ass and teach it many deceitful tricks…”

These could leave us wondering: What was Merlin on? And is it still available?

They also seem sometimes to be foreshadowing the style of the prophecies of Nostradamus, which were also vague enough to be capable of being fulfilled by later history.

The king was certainly impressed by Merlin’s almost endless list of soothsayings and, not surprisingly, asked the young prophet what was going to happen to Vortigern himself. Merlin explained, none too encouragingly, that it was a toss-up between Vortigern being killed either by the Saxons or the two British brothers (and claimants to the throne) whose father, Constantine, he had betrayed.

Vortigern had little time to be depressed at this news… because the two brothers, Aurelius Ambrosius and Uther Pendragon, soon arrived, set fire to Vortigern’s castle and burned him to death.

The events that followed led to Aurelius becoming king – and to his seeking out Merlin to assist him. But what Merlin agreed to do for the new king was something way beyond the powers of mere prophecy…

© Nigel Summerley

To be continued next week…

Nigel Summerley

Nigel Summerley retired from The Oldie magazine to return to freelance journalism. He previously held executive staff jobs at the London Evening Standard, The Daily Telegraph, The Sunday Telegraph and the Daily Express before freelancing for 20 years for newspapers including The Times, The Sunday Times, The Independent, The Guardian and the ‘i’ paper, plus a wide range of magazines. He continues to write about music, travel and health, and blogs at

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