The True History of Merlin the Magician Anne Lawrence-Mathers

Publication date:
14 Apr 2020
Yale University Press
272 pages: 197 x 127mm
10 b-w illus.
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Who was the historical Merlin?

Merlin the Magician has remained an enthralling and curious individual since he was first introduced in the twelfth century though the pages of Geoffrey of Monmouth’s Historia Regum Britanniae.  But although the Merlin of literature and Arthurian myth is well known, Merlin the "historical" figure and his relation to medieval magic are less familiar. In this book Anne Lawrence-Mathers explores just who he was and what he has meant to Britain.

The historical Merlin was no rough magician: he was a learned figure from the cutting edge of medieval science and adept in astrology, cosmology, prophecy, and natural magic, as well as being a seer and a proto-alchemist. His powers were convincingly real—and useful, for they helped to add credibility to the "long-lost" history of Britain which first revealed them to a European public. Merlin’s prophecies reassuringly foretold Britain’s path, establishing an ancient ancestral line and linking biblical prophecy with more recent times. Merlin helped to put British history into world history.

Lawrence-Mathers also explores the meaning of Merlin’s magic across the centuries, arguing that he embodied ancient Christian and pagan magical traditions, recreated for a medieval court and shaped to fit a new moral framework. Linking Merlin’s reality and power with the culture of the Middle Ages, this remarkable book reveals the true impact of the most famous magician of all time.

Anne Lawrence-Mathers is professor of medieval history at the University of Reading.

'Lawrence-Mathers's book dispels any belief that the figure of Merlin is of interest only within the realm of literary history. Instead the book paints a remarkable picture of a figure whose political and social influence has been so extensive that we should consider him a central figure in the shaping of British identity and history.' - Philip Carr-Gomm, author of The Book of English Magic

'This highly readable and erudite book places the histories of Merlin, derived from the tweifth-century writings of Geoffrey of Monmouth, in their literary and cultural context. The story of how the image of Merlin as political prophet, magician and half-demon evolved in the Middle Ages is as fascinating as any romance.' - Euan Cameron, author of Enchanted Europe: Superstition, Reason, and Religion, 1250-1750

'Anne Lawrence-Mathers has given us a fascinating portrait of Merlin firmly set in history and free from the usual methologising theories. As such it is to be warmly recommended.' - Peter Maxwell-Stuart, author of Wizards: A History

"This book is more informative on the subject as a whole than any other I’ve seen. Merlin, though inseparable from Arthur, is a major character in his own right, and he fits in with magical and mystical interests that are still active."—Geoffrey Ashe, author of The Discovery of King Arthur