Shakspeare has chosen this story as the subject of his tragedy of “King Lear,” varying its details in some respects. The madness of Leir, and the ill success of Cordeilla’s attempt to reinstate her father, are the principal variations, and those in the names will also be noticed. Our narrative is drawn from Milton’s “History;” and thus the reader will perceive that the story of Leir has had the distinguished honor of being told by the two acknowledged chiefs of British literature.
FERREX AND PORREX
Ferrex and Porrex were brothers, who held the kingdom after Leir. They quarrelled about the supremacy, and Porrex expelled his brother, who, obtaining aid from Suard, king of the Franks, returned and made war upon Porrex. Ferrex was slain in battle and his forces dispersed. When their mother came to hear of her son’s death, who was her favorite, she fell into a great rage, and conceived a mortal hatred against the survivor. She took, therefore, her opportunity when he was asleep, fell upon him, and, with the assistance of her women, tore him in pieces. This horrid story would not be worth relating, were it not for the fact that it has furnished the plot for the first tragedy which was written in the English language. It was entitled “Gorboduc,” but in the second edition “Ferrex and Porrex,” and was the production of Thomas Sackville, afterwards Earl of Dorset, and Thomas Norton, a barrister. Its date was 1561.
This is the next name of note. Molmutius established the Molmutine laws, which bestowed the privilege of sanctuary on temples, cities, and the roads leading to them, and gave the same protection to ploughs, extending a religious sanction to the labors of the field. Shakspeare alludes to him in “Cymbeline,” Act iii., Scene 1:
“... Molmutius made our laws; Who was the first of Britain which did put His brows within a golden crown, and called Himself a king.”
Brennus and Belinus,
The sons of Molmutius, succeeded him. They quarrelled, and Brennus was driven out of the island, and took refuge in Gaul, where he met with such favor from the king of the Allobroges that he gave him his daughter in marriage, and made him his partner on the throne. Brennus is the name which the Roman historians give to the famous leader of the Gauls who took Rome in the time of Camillus. Geoffrey of Monmouth claims the glory of the conquest for the British prince, after he had become king of the Allobroges.