Have you ever wondered where the name of Albion, as the Isles of Britain were once known, came from?
Well I will tell you all the same.
Albion, these isles were called in times of old. By the Greeks and the Romans, by those who sailed the seas before them. A mysterious place on the edge of civilisation, forever liminal, of blue-painted warriors, druids and giants where hang the mists of time. It is a place of folklore, white cliffs and monsters. A myth from the very beginning.
But why Albion..?
We could explore the etymology of the word and come up with two possibilities. That the root of the world originally meant ‘white’, handy given those famed cliffs, or it came from ‘the world above’ (as opposed to the world below). Now if I was to ascribe to either one of these, I’d choose the second. It has more magical connotations. But no, there is the third option. It is nothing to do with word origins and everything to do with legend and folklore.
A tale like no other.
It’s said the name comes from the Syrian Queen called Albine; she who landed the fair shores with thirty one of her sisters in exile. Now this is much more like it. There is a quite a wordy version of the tale to be found in 'A Collection of the Chronicles and Ancient Histories of Great Britain, Now Called England (Volume I)' and I would encourage you to read it. What follows though is my much simpler take on it.
In the times of the Greek Kings, Hercules and Jason, Albine was eldest daughter to a great and powerful King of Syria and Mesopotamia, one King Diodicias. With four wives he sired thirty three daughters. In time he was encouraged to marry his daughters to lesser nobles, important generals and high ranking officials of the time; much as has been the case throughout history. He achieved this in one single event, and so acquired thirty three son-in-laws.
However the girls were not best pleased with their husbands. Albine it was who made a plan they should refuse to succumb to the men’s desires. It is said the husbands did try their best, with a mix of compliment, persuasion and even assault, but the sisters thwarted all efforts to make them do as they were told and made the men to look like fools.Unable to break the girls down, their husbands wrote in desperation to King Diodicias.
The King, upset his daughters did not want to please the husbands he’d chosen, summoned all of them together. In private audience he ordered his daughters do as they were told, to be obedient to their men and make the husbands happy.
It wasn’t going to happen.
His daughters pretended to acquiesce. They fawned obedience until they left their father's court, but in secret Albine and her sisters did hatch a far more ruthless plan. Upon returning to Albine’s palace in Damascus, the girls did lure husbands into a false sense of security, with wine and want, drugged them with a sleeping potion given by Albine, and led them happy to the bedchamber. There the men fell asleep, and the wives did slit their throats.
All bar the youngest who fell in love with her man.
She it was who fled the palace of Albine, and with her love escaped. Together they told her father of all that had happened. King Diodicias, furious at the treachery, did banish Albine and all the others of his thirty one daughters. They were set adrift on a ship with no mast and provisions to survive just six months.
Tall women, strong and beautiful, emboldened by tales of the Amazons and with Albine as Queen, they took fate into their own hands. They sailed the Mediterranean, journeyed beyond the Pillars of Hercules into the great ocean and landed on the fertile shores of these distant islands. In honour of their eldest sister and Queen, they chose to call the islands Albion, and so came its name. It was a land of plenty, green and bountiful.
Here they did flourish.
(and here in the reading, I sense a Medievel Holiness that creeps in to highlight the wrongdoings of such prideful, sinful and powerful women. They who went against the wishes of fathers and men)
...the Devil sensing carnal desires at being so alone did come among them as a man. He did live and sleep wanton with the girls for many years. So it was a race of giants was conceived of sin. Men and women sired, sons and daughters of the Sisters of Albine and a Daemon. It is they, these giants, who inhabited these shores until the coming of Brute of Troy.
Personally though, I prefer to think of Albine and her sisters as the epitomy of womanly power in a time of male dominance and female servitude; an echo of today in telling. Together they refused to kneel or bow, stood strong and made good with the tribes and people that already inhabited these shores. It may be Albine and her sisters are why the Celts of Britain do celebrate the strength and ferocity of womanhood. It is an ancestry to be proud of.
To Albine and her Albion!