The definition of sovereignty is the right to rule. This is something that played a huge role in both Arthurian legend and royal history! In ancient times sovereignty was represented as a goddess of the land, and many early myths and legends feature a marriage between kings and goddesses of sovereignty.
Within the earliest forms of Arthurian legends Arthur meets sovereignty in several forms, the first being the Lady of the Lake, who bestowed Excalibur upon him. In addition his half sister Morgan Le Fay and her rule of Avalon connects her to sovereignty. Finally, and most importantly, Arthur meets sovereignty in the form of Guinevere. The marriage of Guinevere and Arthur has been seen in many ways. I have explained the magical origins of this marriage in many posts. With Guinevere as a symbol of sovereignty, their marriage becomes the marriage of a sovereignty goddess to a king!
In Celtic belief several faerie queens were also associated with sovereignty. The Welsh Celtic goddess Rhiannon was seen as a sovereignty goddess. The story of Rhiannon is connected to Arthurian legends by the fact that both her tale and the earliest written Arthurian tales appear in the Mabinogion.
The Mabinogion was a collection of early stories of Welsh Celtic myths. The goddess Branwen is featured in the second branch of the collection. Branwen is considered to be a Celtic goddess of love and beauty! A third goddess featured in the fourth branch of the collection is Bloudeuwedd, and she was literally made of flowers and later cursed to be changed into an owl. All of these goddesses featured in the Mabinogion also feature within the Avalonian tradition of witchcraft.
In actual royal history sovereignty has been the cause of many disputes over several centuries. The Wars of the Roses were at their heart based on sovereignty. There was a question of whether the house of York or the house of Lancaster had a better claim to the throne of England. This question was only settled with Henry Tudor (of Lancaster) winning the throne from Yorkist Richard III, and most importantly marrying Elizabeth of York (daughter of Edward IV). The Tudor rose was fashioned as a symbol of the newly combined rule of Lancaster and York!
Sovereignty played a huge role in the children of Henry VIII. Edward VI had no problem ruling, as he was born in marriage and first in his father’s succession act. When he was dying Edward VI wrote his own succession act that named Lady Jane Grey as his successor (instead of Mary Tudor, as his father had stipulated). This led to Mary I raising an army and taking back her rightful throne, and executing Lady Jane! After Mary’s demise Elizabeth I became queen. She had issues with her Catholic nobles not respecting her sovereignty because they did not recognize her parents marriage (and questioned her status since she was once declared a bastard when Henry VIII annulled his marriage to her mother)!
Elizabeth I also had to contend with Catholic nobles wanting her cousin Mary Queen of Scots on the throne of England instead. After many years of keeping Mary locked away, Elizabeth signed the warrant for her execution, finally securing her sovereignty to all who would question it!
I hope that you have enjoyed learning a bit about the mythic and historic origins of sovereignty. Let me know what you thought in the comments section below!
Note on Image: The image at the top of the post is the Sovereignty card from the Arthurian Tarot. I found the image on foolsdog.com.
- The Mabinogion translated by Sioned Davies
- The Age of Chivalry by Thomas Bulfinch
- Henry VIII by Alison Weir
- Lady Jane Grey: A Tudor Mystery by Eric Ives
- Elizabeth and Mary: Cousins, Rivals, Queens by Jane Dunn