It certainly is difficult to uncover facts about this period in
British history! It has been a very interesting piece of research,
despite the lack of contemporary written sources, and I was pleased to
find information about Queen Marcia Proba, though no evidence that
anyone thought of her as a goddess until quite recently.
Long before the Romans arrived in Britain, there is said to have been
a Celtic king called Guithelin or Guteline. When he died, his son and
heir, Sisillius, was still young and so Guteline's wife Marcia, or
Martia, held the throne for him as regent.
She offered her people such well thought-out justice that centuries
later she was given the name Proba, meaning upright or virtuous. Her
laws have been called the Martian statutes and are believed to have
influenced English law down the centuries via King Alfred and the
Now, a historian would want to know what evidence we have for this.
After finding a couple of references pointing to the Elizabethan
writer Raphael Holinshed, I turned to Holinshed's Chronicles, an
important source for history and legend about ancient Britain.
(Shakespeare used these chronicles as inspiration for some of his
plays, so the text is available online.)
Holinshed appears to have got his information about Martia from John
Leland, who travelled around England looking for old manuscripts
surviving in monasteries. Both Holinshed and Leland were 16th century
English scholars searching for information about the ancient history
of their country.
It was probably Leland who introduced the Latin title Proba for
Martia. Both men would have thought of Latin as a natural language for
The "History of the Kings of Britain", written by in Latin in the
twelfth century by Geoffrey of Monmouth, seemed like an obvious place
to look next, and indeed he also discusses Queen Martia or Marcia.
There appears to be no surviving record of the Queen before the
"History of the Kings of Britain". Furthermore, there is a lack of
certainty about Geoffrey's sources (see below), and in particular the
legal side of the story is unclear. At least I can tell you that
"marcia proba" does not mean "long march".
Next I will offer you excerpts and links to the information I
discovered, and hope you find it as interesting as I did!
From Geoffrey of Monmouth's "History of the Kings of Britain",
'Historia Regum Brittaniae' [about 1136]:
"Guithelin [ruled the kingdom] liberally and temperately all his life
through. His wife was a noblewoman called Marcia, who was skilled in
all the arts. Among the many extraordinary things she used her natural
talent to invent was a law she devised which was called the Lex
Martiana by the Britons. King Alfred translated this along with other
laws; in his Saxon tongue he called it the Mercian Law. When Guithelin
died the government of the kingdom remained in the hands of this Queen
and her son, who was called Sisillius. Sisillius was then only seven
years old and his youth prevented him from taking the kingship into
his own hands.
For this reason his mother, who was extremely intelligent and most
practical, ruled over the entire island."
Translated by Lewis Thorpe
Published by Penguin Classics in 1966
An online translation calls the Mercian law "marchitle Lage."
"According to Geoffrey, Queen Marcia deserves to rule because of her
outstanding wisdom. She rules 'benigne et modeste' ['liberally and
moderately'] just as her late husband Guithelinus did. She is
Geoffrey's model of the learned law-giver who devises the 'lex
Marcia's nobility .. and learnedness . . enable her to rule well 'quia
consilio et sensu pollebat imperium totius insule optinuit? [?because
she was strong in counsel and power of perception, she held the entire
island?] Although Marcia ascends the throne because of her husband?s
death and her son?s infancy, she is clearly more qualified to rule
than many a king Geoffrey describes."
From Holinshed's Chronicles [about 1577]
"After Dunwallon, the next lawgiver was Martia, whome Leland surnameth Proba.
Shee was wife unto Guteline king of the Britons; and being made
protectrix of the realme, after hir husbands deceasse in the nonage of
hir sonne, and seeing manie things dailie to grow up among hir people
worthie reformation, she devised sundrie and those verie politike
lawes, for the governance of hir kingdome, which hir subjects when she
was dead and gone, did name the Martian statutes. Who turned them into
Latine, as yet I do not read,
to the same Alfred caused those of this excellentlie well learned
ladie (whom diverse commend also for hir great knowledge in the Greeke
tong) to be turned into his owne language, whereupon it came to passe
that they were daillie executed among his subjects, afterward allowed
of (among the rest) by the Normans, and finallie remaine in use in
these our daies, notwithstanding that we cannot dissever them also
verie readilie from the others."
"Of the lawes of England"
Martia's husband appears in Holinshed's "Catalog of Kings and Princes"
Title Page for Holinshed's Chronicles
"The foundation of old common law seems traceable to Martia, the widow
of Guilliame, left regent of her husband's kingdom, comprising a part
of Britain. two hundred years prior to the christian era. This queen
directed her attention to framing a system of laws which acquired for
her the surname of "Proba," or "The just."
WOMAN, CHURCH AND STATE:
By Matilda Joslyn Gage.
"Martian Laws (not Mercian, as Wharton gives it in his Law Dictionary)
are the laws collected by Martia, the wife of Guithelin great-grandson
of Mulmutius who established in Britain the ?Mulmutian Laws?. Alfred
translated both these codes into Saxon-English, and called the Martian
code Pa Marchitle Lage. These laws have no connection with the kingdom
of Mercia.?Geoffrey: British History, iii. 13 (1142).
Guynteline, ? whose queen, ? to show her upright mind,
To wise Mulmutius? laws her Martian first did frame.
?Drayton: Polyolbiox, viii. (1612)."
"Observed by Coke: "356 years before the birth of Christ, Martia Prova
...wrote a book on the laws of England ? in the British language.
Wrote the Elizabethan chronicler Raphael Holinshed of that Ancient-Brythonic
Queen: "Martia was a woman expert and skilful in several sciences....
She devised and established profitable and convenient
laws...afterwards...called 'Martian laws'....
Alfred...[the A.D. 880f] King of England translated them out of the
British [or Celto-Brythonic] tongue into the English Saxon speech.
A glance at this A.D. 887f Dome-Book or 'Book of Deemings' reveals that King
Alfred extracted his laws for England from the Mosaic Pentateuch, the
Sermon on the Mount, and the Acts of the Apostles. He also
incorporated the codes of the Brythonic Queen Martia Prova; the
Anglo-Jutish King Aethelbehrt of Kent; and the Anglo-British Kings
Offa of Mercia and Ina of Wessex."
King Alfred's Mercian Law is online here:
More information on Mercian Law here:
"Geoffrey draws from Gildas, Nennius, and Bede in his History, and he
admits as much throughout the book. But he claims to have an advantage
which neither the historians of yore nor his contemporary rivals have:
possession of "a certain very ancient book written in the British
language." That very ancient book, Geoffrey assures his reader, was
"attractively composed to form a consecutive and orderly narrative"
which "set out all the deeds of these men, from Brutus, the first King
of the Britons, down to Cadwallader, the son of Cadwallo." The book
was lent to him by his friend Walter, the Archbishop of Oxford, who
was also considered to be learned in the field of history. It was at
Walter's request, Geoffrey tells us in the dedication of his History,
that he endeavored to translate the book from "the British language"
(most historians understand this to mean Welsh) into Latin.
Equipped with Archbishop Walter's book, Geoffrey had in his hands a
complete and continuous history of the island--or so he said. That
very ancient book is the center of a controversy that has clung to
Geoffrey since his own time. There is no surviving manuscript of the
book. Most historians confess that there is very little (if any) firm
evidence to support the belief that a book like this ever existed, but
many of them are loath to give up the quest."
"JOHN LELAND (c1503 - 1552)
Leland, first of modern English antiquaries, became the first and last
King's Antiquary in 1533, and travelled the country retrieving ancient
documents from monasteries and colleges. In 1547, Leland became
insane, always a danger for obsessional compilers, and this work
remained in note form only (published as the Itinerary in 1710-12).
Nevertheless, it was an invaluable mine of information for later
topographers and historians like Holinshed and Camden."
Holinshed (died around 1580)
"Queen Martia Proba of a Celtic Tribe (United Kingdom)
Her seat of power was in London, and she was holding the reins of
government so wisely as to receive the surname of Proba, the Just. She
especially devoted herself to the enactment of just laws for her
subjects, the first principles of the common law tracing back to her;
the celebrated laws of Alfred, and of Edward the Confessor, being in
great degree restorations and compilations from the laws of Martia,
which were known as the "Martian Statutes"."
(Please note that the picture's alternate text says "Unnamed Celtic Lady")
I hope you find this interesting, even though the emphasis is a little
different from the Celtic goddess information given on various
websites. Please feel free to make a "request for clarification" if
you'd like to ask me about any of this answer.
Best Wishes - Leli
Martia the Just
Monmouth "History of the Kings of Britain"