King Arthur

THE LEGEND OF King Arthur states that he was born sometime in the fifth century AD. It is said that the great magician Merlin disguised Uther Pendragon, one of Britain’s great warriors, to look like the Duke of Tintagel, the husband of Ingraine of Cornwall. Uther seduced Ingraine at Tintagel cottage, but the child they conceived was given away at birth. He was named Arthur and was raised completely unaware of his special lineage. When Uther died, the throne was empty. Merlin set a sword called Excalibur in rock and stated that only someone of a truly royal bloodline would be able to remove Excalibur from its fixed position. When the young Arthur was the only one able to do this, he was pronounced king. Eleven other British rulers rebelled against the young leader, but Arthur quashed their uprising and began a noble and glorious reign. Arthur married Guinevere and assembled a group of courageous and honest knights at a kingdom seat in Camelot, in the Vale of Avalon. To avoid any sense of preference among the knights, Guinevere’s father provided Arthur with the fabled Round Table. Together they had great victories over Saxon invaders and the Roman Empire. Arthur is even said to have become Emperor himself and set about on a search for the Holy Grail. However, during this time one of Arthur’s most trusted knights, Lancelot, had an affair with Guinevere. This marked the beginning of the end for Arthur. The two lovers fled to Lancelot’s land in Brittany, France. Arthur decided to follow and wage war on his former friend, leaving his nephew Mordred as custodian of England. Whilst he was battling across the English Channel, Mordred rebelled, so Arthur was forced to return home. A fierce battle ensued on Salisbury Plain. Arthur managed to kill Mordred, but the king himself was also mortally wounded. On the brink of death, he returned to Avalon. He is said to have thrown Excalibur into that kingdom’s lake and then he himself disappeared into a cave, pledging he would return if ever danger threatened England.

The first historical proof we have of a Arthurian-type figure is in Gildas’ sixth century De Excidio Britanniae which refers to British soldiers being led by a man called Ambrosius Aurelianus. The name ‘Arthur’ appears in Nennius’ ninth century Historia Brittonum. However it was not until the twelfth century that the phenomenon of Arthur as an historical icon really had an impact. William of Malmesbury and Geoffrey of Monmouth produced works which sowed the seeds of our modern understanding of Athurian legend. Unfortunately their works also included many fictional details, which have subsequently obscured the true reality of Arthur’s reign. There is other evidence for his place in historical fact. Many people believe that Glastonbury in Somerset is the true site of Camelot, and in the 12th century it was claimed that Arthur’s grave had been found there. Similarly, the Isles of Scilly are said to host the remains of the great king. Certainly there are plenty of candidates for places featured in Arthurian mythology and historians have discovered many possible historical figures who could be the king himself. The historians believe that the sheer number of possibilities as to Arthur’s true identity is probably the reason that our knowledge has become so blurred, and that many individual personal histories have been actually confused and amalgamated.

What we do know is that in the sixth century many Celtic realms had leaders born who were called Arthur; this could have been in homage to the original king. Although the use of the name has clouded the original Arthur’s legend, it also points to the fact that a truly great and inspirational leader was present a generation before. Perhaps that most amazing evidence has only surfaced in recent years. In July 1998, archaeologists found a slab marked in Latin with the name ‘Artagnov’ or ‘Arthnou’ on a rocky hilltop in Tintagel, Cornwall. The slab dates to the sixth century, and proves that the name was present in the legendary Arthurian lands at the correct time, and belonged to a man of some standing. Like many historical mysteries, the damage to truth caused by passing years, is slowly being fixed by science and the application of modern interest. We may never know exactly who the legend of King Arthur represents, but with more finds like this, we can only move closer to the tantalising truth.

1 comment:

New England said...

I seen this documentary on Netflix and it's really good. But they made one point that suggested it as a 15th century, fancy. The indicate that the idea of "Knights in Shining Armor" was limited to 15th century, warfare.

This is not necessarily, the truth of the matter. Perhaps armoed "plated" etc, were of the 15th century, but "mail" has been existence since the Romans. So yes, a man in "shining armor" has been around for quite some time. The Greeks, also wore "shining armor" breastplates. We when taken for what it is, the notion, and the reality of a "knight in shining armor" or a warrior in such, is a concept much older than the legend.