The Legend of King Arthur
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How did it survive?

he legend of King Arthur is one that is known the world over. It is steeped in chivalry and romance. To most people it is just that, a romantic story of a king and his exploits involving magic, magicians in an age where good conquered evil. How this legend grew, will be explained. If there were no historical basis for the legend, I would not include it here. This legend however is thought to have been based on an actual person.

The legend

he development of the story of King Arthur is interesting. Like any good story, it gets better in the telling over the years. The first work that mentions Arthur, was that written by Nennius in the 9th century. It was a single paragraph written in Latin and was thought to have been taken from an even older Welsh story. This story may have been centuries old and would have been past from generation to generation verbally. The paragraph concerns itself with the twelve great battles that were fought by Arthur.

Written down

he first evidence we have concerning the stories was a collection of legends written in Brittany in their local language. Why Brittany, I have no idea. By the middle of the twelfth century the legend began to develop with the work of Geoffrey of Monmouth. His work entitled "Historia Britonum" was the first real reference to the legends connected with King Arthur. Geoffrey of Monmouth stated that the original Brittany work was the inspiration for his. Again it was translated into Latin.

Another translation

ot long after Geoffrey of Monmouth's work - the Norman chronicler Wace, translated the work into Norman French.

The culprits

owards the end of the twelfth century, a writer by the name of Walter Map took the work of Wace and others and romanticised them into French prose. It was his working of the old stories that were mainly responsible for legend we have today. Very early into the 13th century, the parish priest of early in Worcestershire wrote the poem now known as "Brut". Written in Old English, as opposed to early Anglo Saxon, he again developed the story making Arthur the hero we love to read about now. One fact that did not seem to get distorted was the original origin of Arthur. In all of the translations his Welsh, Celtic origin was acknowledged.

Sir Thomas Malory

he following three hundred years saw the working at reworking of the original story. Each version becoming more and more glossy as extra detail was added by each writer. In 1470, Sir Thomas Malory completed a work now known as "Morte Darthur" which was probably more responsible for the concept of chivalry than any other work. It is a long book and is difficult to understand, very much like certain scenes in the Bayeux Tapestry, they relates to occurrences that are not understandable by us today. This reference work was the inspiration for Tennyson's " Ideology of the Kings". 

The birth of King Arthur

t befell in the days of Uther Pendragon, when he was king of all England, that there was a mighty duke in Cornwall that held war against him a long time. And the duke was named the Duke of Tintagil. Ten miles away from his castle, called Terrabil, there was, in the castle Tintagil, Igraine of Cornwall, that King Uther liked and loved well, for she was a good and fair lady, and passing wise. He made her great cheer out of measure, and desired to have her love in return; but she would not assent unto him, and for pure anger and for great love of fair Igraine King Uther fell sick. At that time there lived a powerful magician named Merlin, who could appear in any place he chose, could change his looks as he liked, and at will could do wonderful things to help or to harm knights and ladies. So to King Uther came Sir Ulfius, a noble knight, and said, " I will seek Merlin, and he shall do you remedy so that your heart shall be pleased." So Ulfius departed, and by adventure met Merlin in beggar's array, and made him promise to be not long behind in riding to Uther's pavilion. Soon Merlin stood by the king's side and said : " I know all your heart, and promise ye shall have your desire, if ye will be sworn to fulfil my wish." This the king solemnly agreed to do, and then Merlin said: "After ye shall win Igraine as wife, a child shall be born to you that is to be given unto me to be brought up as I will; this shall be for your honour and the child's avail." That night King Uther met in battle the Luke of Tintagil, who had protected Igraine in her castle, and overcame him. Then Igraine welcomed Uther as her true lover, for Merlin had given him the appearance of one dear to her, and, the barons being all well accorded, the two were married on a morning with great mirth and joy. When the time came that Igraine should bear a son, Merlin came again unto the King to claim his promise, and he said: "I know a lord of yours in this land, a passing true man and a faithful, named Sir Ector, and he shall have the nourishing of your child. Let the young Prince be delivered to me at yonder privy postern, when I come for him." So the babe, Arthur Pendragon, bound in a cloth of gold, was taken by two knights and two ladies to the postern gate of the castle and delivered unto Merlin, disguised as a poor man, and by him was carried forth to Sir Ector, whose wife nourished him as her own child. Then within two years King Uther fell sick of a great malady. Wherefore all the barons made great sorrow, and asked Merlin what counsel were best, for few of them had ever seen or heard of the young child, Arthur. On the morn all by Merlin's counsel came before the King, and Merlin said: "Sir, shall your son Arthur be king, after your days, of this realm with all the appurtenance ? " Then Uther Pendragon turned him and said in hearing of them all, "I give him God's blessing and mine, and bid him righteously and honourably to claim the crown upon forfeiture of my blessing." Therewith he died, and he was buried as befitted a king, and the queen, fair Igraine, and all the barons made great sorrow.

From: Stories of King Arthur and his Knights ( by Waldo Cutler ).


What proof exists about King Arthur?

he development of the legend above gives some idea how stories become distorted over the years. The question is, did he really exist? I have briefly mentioned him in the main text and who he could possibly have been. Here I will attempt to go into more detail. There is not a lot of proof that he really existed but certain historical facts lead one to the conclusion that a character did exist who was involved in fighting the Saxons. 

Battle of Mount Baldon

here was a battle fought against the Saxons in 518 known as the battle of Mount Badon. This is a obscure part of British history because we do not know who was the leader of this combined Celtic force that defeated the Saxons. The first detail we have about Arthur possibly being the general in this conflict comes from Nennius . As his work was written over 300 years after the event, and considering the way information was passed to later generations, the question has to be asked. Can we trust this account. One thing remains and this is the name Arthur. If we can't categorically prove that he existed, we might be able to vouch for the authenticity of a character alive at that time who fills the criteria, that is the legend we know today. Any work later than Nennisus's or the Brittany chronicles can be discounted. 


rthur has been attributed to many areas and to many races. It seems that his reputation is such that people would like to be associated with him, or at least what he stood for. During the early stages after the evacuation of the Romans, the Saxons took the opportunity to step into their place. This could only be done by subjugating the indigenous Celts by brutal means. They were pushed north and west into Cornwall and Wales. Removed form their homelands, their situation became dire. The gains and cultural advancement made during Roman occupation dissipated in hunger and barbaric treatment. The Celtic people fought for their lives but were fighting a losing battle. This existence would have destroyed them if this new strong leader had not come along when he did.

The facts

ryt is the early name for a Briton or in other words Brythonic people are almost always associated with Celts. These people were not only form Britain but had dealings with other Celtic strains in Europe, especially Brittany in France. If Nennius whetted our appetite for this saviour, a more reliable source who was born the same year as the Battle of Mount Badon and was named Gildas, makes no mention of Arthur. When the Saxons reached their limit of advancement, the Celts of Cornwall were cut off from the Welsh strain by the Bristol Channel, who in turn were annexed from the Northern Celts. We have therefore, three separate peoples of the same racial origin, all cut off from each other on the British Mainland. The Legend of Arthur states that his castle was in Camelot. This would have made him a Cornwall Celt. The early folk stories contradict this in stating that he was from Wales. Legends of characters exist that could possibly place him between the two Roman walls in Scotland. The French like to think he came from Brittany originally. The sad part of all this is that we do not know the location of Mount Badon. If we did, we would have a better idea of his origins. We could therefore speculate that it was not Cornwall because it has no mountains.

Where Arthur was killed

rthur was said to have been killed in the Battle of Camlan in 537. Again the location of this battle is not known. It is interesting to note that the word Kambria or ( Cambria ) was used almost exclusively to mean Wales in the 12th century. Possibly, Camlan was in Wales? To avoid going round in circles through lack of evidence and to avoid repeating myself. In the section entitled "The Saxons", I have included further information on this subject with possible contenders.



copyright Glen Ray Crack - Battle - East Sussex - United Kingdom
Submitted 10th January 1998
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