A Matter of Britain
Britain and Europe
In this short article, the basic geographical and political organization of your character’s world is revealed. Note that the information here represents commonly accepted estimates, not the work of trained geographers, demographers, or other technical specialists, who will not exist for perhaps a thousand years.
As you will see, your character knows little about the world outside his own homeland of Logres, less of Europe, and nothing about lands and peoples outside of Europe.
POLITICAL DIVISIONS OF BRITAIN
Britain is divided into five areas: Logres, Cambria, Cumbria, Pictland, and Cornwall. Logres is by far the most important. Furthermore, several Saxon kingdoms inhabit the eastern coastal regions.
Logres is the lowland region of Britain previously ruled by the Romans, who established many great cities. Your character’s county, Salisbury, is located here. Logres is the largest and most powerful kingdom of Britain and the home of British civilization and culture. It includes about one half of the island’s population. It is divided into several regions that are loosely based on the pre-Roman tribal areas. However, those tribal regions have been subdivided into administrative counties, each ruled by a count (though a couple of them have dukes instead). These Roman-imposed regions are stronger and more practical than the older divisions.
Logres contains several significant cities, of which London is the largest and most important.
This map of Arthurian Britain represents your character’s knowledge of the world. The roads shown are all of Roman manufacture, but are now royal roads. They are considered to be the property of the local king. However, local lords have a responsibility to maintain these major thoroughfares. Anyone who commits violence upon the roads commits treason and incurs penalty as if having violated the sanctity of the king’s own feast hall. Other Roman roads also exist in Logres, but they are not royal roads.
Two rival types of Christianity are practiced in Britain at this time.
- British Christianity is native to the island, established by immigrants four centuries ago. It has bishops and abbots, but no single figure rules over all of them. Their local kings or noblemen appoint these important leaders, who in turn are loyal to their regional lords.
- The Roman Church is part of a hierarchy that takes its orders from Rome, so the pope determines its bishops. The Roman Christian Church in Logres has one supreme churchman, the Archbishop of Carlion, a Cymric, Dubricus by name; there are also a dozen or so abbots of great houses.
Churchmen are not considered noble unless they are also landlords, which is not uncommon. Many noble families have made land grants to churches or abbeys, which in turn supply knights in the usual feudal manner.
Much of Britain is still pagan. Many farmers across Logres still make offerings to the field and weather gods, and many kingdoms outside of Logres even have kings and nobles who sacrifice to the old gods. The local kings are advised by councilors who are professed druids, a class of bardic priests and wise men who are in touch with the ancient powers of the land. The druid leaders are appointed to their positions by the local kings. A druidic network exists, but it does not have a ruling hierarchy. Instead, druids acknowledge each other’s ranks through their exercise of knowledge and power.
Merlin the Enchanter, the Archdruid, is the acknowledged leader of the pagan religion, for no one is wiser or more powerful than he. Indeed, his power dwarfs that of all other druids, who are more advisers than magicians.
Another magical organization exists whose members are not druids, but who are yet priestesses and advisors. These generally lead local covens and perform farming and fertility rites. Like the druids, they are not a single organization but acknowledge each other through recognition of power and prestige. The leader of this group is Nimue, and her organization of the Ladies of the Lake is highly respected, if only from arms’ length.
All the rest of Britain outside of Logres is foreign land. These lands are divided among five larger regions, each of which has several kingdoms within it. Many lands are inhabited by Cymric peoples, others by Irish, Saxons, or Picts.
Cambria is the western region of Britain. It is sometimes called Wales or, in the French fashion, Gales. Cambria, however, extends eastward beyond modern Wales to include a much larger region.
Two strong kings contend for power in Cambria. In the south, King Lak rules over Estregales. His subjects are generally descendants of ancient Irish raiders who settled here. He receives fealty from the lords of Escavalon, Gloucester, and Cardigan.
The lands of Gomeret and the Isles (Anglesey and the Holy Isle), including Cheshire, are ruled by King Pellinore, an ambitious and difficult king. He is a fair and just man, but his passion for the hunt sometimes overcomes his obligations to his kingdom. Still, his people love him, and he has protected the land well from Irish raiders.
The interior of Cambria is all rugged mountains and forests. Many tribesfolk live there, outside the rule of any king or civilized ways.
The people of Cumbria are often called the “northern British.” Cumbria includes all the lands north of the Humber River and south of the Pictish mountains. Much of this region is of moor-covered mountains or dense, unexplored forest.
King Lot, the King of Lothian, is the preeminent king of the north. He comes from the northern islands of the Orkneys, but rules over Lothian. He also has alliances with many Pictish tribes. Though Lot is dominant, the rulers of most of the other British kingdoms have not submitted to him.
The Kingdom of Malahaut is the strongest single kingdom, and King Uther recently saved its king, Sir Barant de Apres, from the Saxons. Barant has as many titles as King Uther does: the Centurion King, King of the Brigantes, heir of King Coel the Old, and especially King of One Hundred Knights. He rules from the city of Eburacum (York).
THE SAXON COAST
Several regions of eastern Britain have been settled by Germanic peoples from the northern mainland of Europe. Collectively, they are called Saxons, though technically not all are from Saxony. Saxons currently hold Sussex, while the Jutes hold Kent. Angles hold the northern lands of Nohaut and Diera. These regions each have their own kings.
Although they are all hostile to the Cymry, the “Saxons” are also rivals, and a rough peace is maintained through a high king called a Bretwalda, who is currently King Ælle of Sussex.
Pictland includes everything north of Cumbria. Most of it is mountain, unexplored and unknown to anyone except the wild, tattooed natives. Its rugged western coastline, called the Long Isles, is occupied by Irish from the powerful kingdom of Dal Riada.
The wild tribesmen of this region regularly raid and pillage Britain, returning home with plunder.
CORNWALL AND BRITTANY
Cornwall and Brittany are “the west.” Cornwall includes the entire southwestern peninsula of the British Isle (an area much larger than the Cornwall of modern times). It is famous for its rich tin mines and its close political connections with Brittany, whose settlers have been populating and dominating the northern half of the peninsula for a generation.
Cornwall is divided between two rulers. Neither has ever submitted to Uther. The northwestern half of it is ruled over by Duke Gorlois; his wife, Ygraine, is the most renowned beauty in Britain. The southeastern half is ruled by King Idres, who also rules most of northern Brittany.
Brittany was once a Roman province, but it was severely depopulated by barbarians and disease, and has recently been settled by emigrants from Britain. Its coastal lands are rich and thriving, although the interior is a wild and enchanted forest. Most of the north is ruled by old King Idres of Totnes, the Cornish king. King Conan of Vannetais, in the south, is the other major ruler, ambitious and troubled by a fierce hatred for the King of France.
Ireland is a barbarous island populated by many clans of notorious wildness, all divided into five great kingdoms. It has a High King, but he rules more in name than in fact. The savage tribesmen of the region regularly raid across the Irish Sea to pillage Britain.
Little is known of continental Europe in this time. The major regions are Rome (Italy), France, Ganis, Gaul, and the far-distant Byzantine Empire. The great Roman Empire of the Caesars has fallen, replaced by warring barbarian kingdoms ruled by grandsons of the ancient German war gods.
France is a large country in the north occupied by the Franks. Its king is Clovis, who does little more than oversee the many Frankish lords who continually bicker among themselves. The capital city of Paris is a squalid, fortified city.
Ganis is a powerful land in the southern coast of Biscay. Sailors of Ganis and Brittany contend for the Atlantic trade routes between Britain and the Mediterranean, along with the many Saxon pirates who ply the region.
Gaul is the southern region, more civilized and Roman than the northern French. (Most of its inhabitants can still read and write!)
Italy is dominated by the Goths, Germanic tribesfolk who try unsuccessfully to ape the Roman ways. In Rome is the pope, the leader of the Roman Christian church.
The Byzantine Empire is a powerful one, but is so far away that it is beyond concern. Every other land in Europe is a feudal or barbarian kingdom. The farther north the kingdom lies, the more barbaric it is, making the Picts and the Scandinavians the most barbaric.