Merlin is a powerful magician in the legend of King Arthur, but when it comes to romance, he is all too human. He fell in love at least twice in his life, with terrible results.
Merlin the magician fell in love with at least two women in his life, both of whom were his apprentices, and both femme fatales. One was named Morgan Le Fay, in a short-lived affair, and the other being Nimue, the Lady of the Lake, who betrayed him by using magic to imprison him.
The story of Merlin’s attempt at love can be a warning sign to all, as it’s actually pretty shocking how bad his choices of women were, once you learn the details.
Nimue: Merlins’ True Love
The most famous of Merlin’s love interests is Nimue, also sometimes called Vivien, or the Lady of the Lake. Merlin meets Nimue when she was 16 years old, and he falls deeply in love with her. She accompanies him on a journey so that she may learn magic from him, but is concerned about him making advances on her, making him promise that he will not use his magic to sleep together. In some versions of the story, they do actually sleep together as part of an agreement for her to learn magic.
Nimue was also known as Lady of the Lake
Probably based on earlier Celtic legends, the Lady of the Lake appears throughout the King Arthur legends. She raised Sir Lancelot from birth according to some versions, and also gives Arthur the magical sword Excalibur, and protects the king against several attempts at being overthrown by Morgan Le Fay (more on her in a bit), Nimue is named Lady of the Lake because she lives in a castle beneath the lake that surround the island of Avalon.
After learning from Merlin, and becoming a powerful enchantress, Nimue then turns on Merlin. He has prior prophetic knowledge of Nimue’s plot against him, but because he is so smitten by her, and consumed with lust, that he ignores the warning. Upon learning all she can from Merlon, Nimue then uses magic against him.
Love was the Demise of Merlin
The details of Nimue’s betrayal of Merlin vary, but they all involve her using one of his own spells against him. In some versions of the story, she kills Merlin, but in others, he is imprisoned in a cave, or he is trapped in a Hawthorne bush, where his voice can be heard, but he is trapped forever, slowly descending into madness. In alternative versions, Nimue actually does love Merlin, and is so infatuated with him that she imprisons him in a tower so that she can have him all to herself.
Nimue goes on to replace Merlin as Arthur’s advisor and court mage. She also goes on to marry a man named Sir Pelleas. The relationship between Merlin and Nimue was portrayed in 1893 painting Merlin and Nimue, by the Aubrey Beardsley.
Morgan Le Fay: Merlin’s Other Attempt at Love
Another of Merlin’s legendary attempts at love involve a woman named Morgan Le Fay, which means Morgan the Fairy. She is sometimes portrayed as Merlin’s lover, and other times portrayed as an unrequited love interest. She becomes a powerful healer and has the ability to shape-shift.
Morgan is the older half-sister of King Arthur, as they both have the same mother, Igraine, but Morgan’s father is Igraine’s first husband Gorlois, the Duke of Cornwall.
She is portrayed in a variety of ways in Arthurian legends, sometimes as a benevolent sorceress or witch, and the magical protector of King Arthur, but usually she is seen as being hostile towards the Knights of the Round Table. In one story she steals King Arthur’s magical sword, Excalibur, and gives it to her lover Accolon, so that together they can overthrow the king. Arthur is able to retrieve the sword, but then Morgan steals the magical scabbard, which has special healing properties, and leads to Arthur being injured in battle.
Morgan also despises Arthur’s wife Guinevere, because she is jealous. Both women are in love with Sir Lancelot, the most impressive knight of the Round Table. However, Guinevere has a secret relationship with Lancelot, since even before her marriage to Arthur. They even have a child together, named Galahad, who goes on to be the one to find the Holy Grail in some versions of the legend.
In part because of the bitter feud with Guinevere, Morgan leaves the court, and becomes Merlin’s apprentice, in order to learn magic. This is where she acquires her magical healing and shape shifting abilities.
Despite all the warning signs, and against better judgement, Merlin falls in love with his apprentice. To what extent they were involved with each other is unclear, but at best it was short lived, with Morgan seeming to not possess strong feelings for him. Merlin loves her so much he even lies to Arthur at one point to protect her, the only time Merlin was ever not honest with Arthur.
Morgan is also associated with several other lovers. There is Accolon who was mentioned earlier, as well as King Urien, an ally of Arthur’s in a neighboring kingdom, whom Morgan marries but is not happy with. She also has a lover named Guiomar, whom she has a child with.
Morgan proves to be a more complex character than at first glance, as she is also one of the women who takes Arthur to the island of Avalon for healing. Gravely wounded in the battle of Camlann, Arthur is rescued by the mysterious group of women, who take him to the magical island. Avalon is also the place where the sword Excalibur came from, according to the Arthurian legends. Morgan then goes on to become the immortal queen of the magical island Avalon.
Both Lovers are of the Femme Fatale Archetype
Both Nimue and Morgan are examples of femme fatales, which is a type of character seen often in literature. It is the idea of a beautiful, seductive woman who leads their lover to compromising and often deadly traps. The term is French for “deadly women” and it is interesting that it comes from French literature in that the bulk of the King Arthur manuscripts from the Medieval ages were also written in French.
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