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King Arthur ( cy, Brenin Arthur, kw, Arthur Gernow, br, Roue Arzhur) was a
legendary
legendary
British British may refer to: Peoples, culture, and language * British people The British people, or Britons, are the citizens of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, the British Overseas Territories, and the Crown dependenc ...
leader who, according to medieval histories and romances, led the defence of Britain against
Saxon The Saxons ( la, Saxones, german: Sachsen, ang, Seaxan, osx, Sahson, nds, Sassen, nl, Saksen) were a group of early Germanic * * * * peoples whose name was given in the early Middle Ages to a large country (Old Saxony Old Saxony is the ori ...

Saxon
invaders in the late 5th and early 6th centuries. The details of Arthur's story are mainly composed of
Welsh Welsh may refer to: Related to Wales * Welsh, referring or related to Wales * Welsh language, a Brittonic Celtic language of the Indo-European language family, indigenous to the British Isles, spoken in Wales ** Patagonian Welsh, a dialect of Wels ...
and
English folklore English folklore consists of the myths and legends of England England is a Countries of the United Kingdom, country that is part of the United Kingdom. It shares land borders with Wales to its west and Scotland to its north. The Irish S ...
and literary invention, and modern historians generally agree that he is unhistorical.Tom Shippey, "So Much Smoke", ''review'' of , ''London Review of Books'', 40:24:23 (20 December 2018) The sparse historical background of Arthur is gleaned from various sources, including the ''
Annales Cambriae 250px , ''Annales Cambriae'': page view from MS. A ''Annales Cambriae'' (Latin Latin (, or , ) is a classical language belonging to the Italic languages, Italic branch of the Indo-European languages. Latin was originally spoken in the area arou ...
'', the ''
Historia Brittonum ''The History of the Britons'' ( la, Historia Brittonum) is a purported history of the indigenous British (Brittonic Brittonic or Brythonic may refer to: *Common Brittonic, or Brythonic, the Celtic language anciently spoken in Great Britain *Britt ...
'', and the writings of
Gildas Gildas ( Breton: ''Gweltaz''; c. 500 – c. 570) — also known as Gildas the Wise or ''Gildas Sapiens'' — was a 6th-century Britons (historic), British monk best known for his scathing religious polemic ''De Excidio et Conquestu Britanniae'', ...
. Arthur's name also occurs in early poetic sources such as ''
Y Gododdin ''Y Gododdin'' () is a medieval Welsh poem consisting of a series of elegies to the men of the Brittonic kingdom of Gododdin and its allies who, according to the conventional interpretation, died fighting the Angles The Angles ( ang, Æ ...
''. Arthur is a central figure in the legends making up the
Matter of Britain The Matter of Britain is the body of medieval literature and legendary material associated with Great Britain and Brittany, and the list of legendary kings of Britain, legendary kings and heroes associated with it, particularly King Arthur. It ...
. The legendary Arthur developed as a figure of international interest largely through the popularity of
Geoffrey of Monmouth Geoffrey of Monmouth ( la, Galfridus Monemutensis, Galfridus Arturus, cy, Gruffudd ap Arthur, Sieffre o Fynwy; c. 1095 – c. 1155) was a British cleric and one of the major figures in the development of British historiography and the popularit ...
's fanciful and imaginative 12th-century ''
Historia Regum Britanniae ''Historia regum Britanniae'' (''The History of the Kings of Britain''), originally called ''De gestis Britonum'' (''On the Deeds of the Britons''), is a pseudohistorical account of British history, written around 1136 by Geoffrey of Monmouth. It ...
'' (''History of the Kings of Britain''). In some
Welsh Welsh may refer to: Related to Wales * Welsh, referring or related to Wales * Welsh language, a Brittonic Celtic language of the Indo-European language family, indigenous to the British Isles, spoken in Wales ** Patagonian Welsh, a dialect of Wels ...
and
Breton Breton most often refers to: *anything associated with Brittany Brittany (; french: link=no, Bretagne ; br, Breizh, or ; Gallo language, Gallo: ''Bertaèyn'' ) is a peninsula and cultural region in the west of France, covering the western part ...
tales and poems that date from before this work, Arthur appears either as a great warrior defending Britain from human and supernatural enemies or as a magical figure of folklore, sometimes associated with the Welsh otherworld
Annwn Annwn, Annwfn, or Annwfyn (in Middle Welsh, ''Annwvn'', ''Annwyn'', ''Annwyfn'', ''Annwvyn'', or ''Annwfyn'') is the Celtic Otherworld, Otherworld in Welsh mythology. Ruled by Arawn (or, in King Arthur, Arthurian literature, by Gwyn ap Nudd), it ...
. How much of Geoffrey's ''Historia'' (completed in 1138) was adapted from such earlier sources, rather than invented by Geoffrey himself, is unknown. Although the themes, events and characters of the Arthurian legend varied widely from text to text, and there is no one canonical version, Geoffrey's version of events often served as the starting point for later stories. Geoffrey depicted Arthur as a king of Britain who defeated the Saxons and established a vast empire. Many elements and incidents that are now an integral part of the Arthurian story appear in Geoffrey's ''Historia'', including Arthur's father
Uther Pendragon Uther Pendragon (; cy, Uthyr Pendragon, Uthyr Bendragon), also known as King Uther, is a legendary king of sub-Roman Britain and the father of King Arthur King Arthur ( cy, Brenin Arthur, kw, Arthur Gernow, br, Roue Arzhur) was a leg ...
, the magician
Merlin The Multi-Element Radio Linked Interferometer Network (MERLIN) is an interferometer array of radio telescopes spread across England England is a Countries of the United Kingdom, country that is part of the United Kingdom. It shares land bor ...

Merlin
, Arthur's wife
Guinevere Guinevere ( ; cy, Gwenhwyfar ; br, Gwenivar, kw, Gwynnever), also often written as Guenevere or Guenever, is the legendary wife and queen of King Arthur King Arthur ( cy, Brenin Arthur, kw, Arthur Gernow, br, Roue Arzhur) was a legen ...
, the sword
Excalibur Excalibur () is the legendary sword of King Arthur King Arthur ( cy, Brenin Arthur, kw, Arthur Gernow, br, Roue Arzhur) was a legendary Celtic Britons, British leader who, according to Historians in England during the Middle Ages, medie ...

Excalibur
, Arthur's conception at
Tintagel Tintagel () or Trevena ( kw, Tre war Venydh meaning ''village on a mountain'') is a civil parish In England, a civil parish is a type of administrative parish used for local government. It is a territorial designation which is the lowest ...

Tintagel
, his final battle against
Mordred Mordred or Modred (; Welsh: ''Medraut'' or ''Medrawt'') is a character who is variously portrayed in the Arthurian legend. The earliest known mention of a possibly historical Medraut is in the Welsh chronicle ''Annales Cambriae'', wherein he an ...
at
Camlann The Battle of Camlann ( cy, Gwaith Camlan or ''Brwydr Camlan'') is a legendary final battle of King Arthur King Arthur ( cy, Brenin Arthur, kw, Arthur Gernow, br, Roue Arzhur) was a legendary Celtic Britons, British leader who, according ...
, and final rest in
Avalon Avalon (; la, Insula Avallonis, cy, Ynys Afallon, Ynys Afallach; kw, Enys Avalow; literally meaning "the isle of fruit
r apple R, or r, is the eighteenth letter Letter, letters, or literature may refer to: Characters typeface * Letter (alphabet) A letter is a segmental symbol A symbol is a mark, sign, or word that indicates, signifies, or is understood as r ...
trees"), sometimes written ''Avallon'' or ''Avilion'', is a legendary island featured in the Arthurian legend. It ...
. The 12th-century
French writer Chronological list of French language authors (regardless of nationality), by date of birth. For an alphabetical list of writers of French nationality (broken down by genre), see :French writers, French writers category. Middle Ages * Turold (e ...
Chrétien de Troyes Chrétien de Troyes (Modern ; fro, Crestien de Troies ; 1135?–1185?, 1160–1191) was a French poet and trouvère known for his writing on King Arthur, Arthurian subjects, and for first writing of Lancelot, Percival and the Holy Grail. Chré ...

Chrétien de Troyes
, who added
Lancelot Lancelot du Lac (French for Lancelot of the Lake), also written as Launcelot and other variants (such as early German ''Lanzelet'', early French ''Lanselos'', early Welsh ''Lanslod Lak'', Italian ''Lancelotto'', Spanish ''Lanzarote del Lago'', ...

Lancelot
and the
Holy Grail The Holy Grail (french: Saint Graal, br, Graal Santel, cy, Greal Sanctaidd, kw, Gral) is a treasure that serves as an important motif in Arthurian literature. Different traditions describe it as a cup, dish or stone with miraculous powers tha ...

Holy Grail
to the story, began the
genre Genre () is any form or type of communication in any mode (written, spoken, digital, artistic, etc.) with socially-agreed-upon conventions developed over time. In popular usage, it normally describes a Category of being, category of literature, m ...

genre
of Arthurian romance that became a significant strand of
medieval literature Medieval literature is a broad subject, encompassing essentially all written works available in Europe and beyond during the Middle Ages (that is, the one thousand years from the fall of the Western Roman Empire ca. AD 500 to the beginning of th ...
. In these French stories, the narrative focus often shifts from King Arthur himself to other characters, such as various
Knights of the Round Table The Knights of the Round Table ( cy, Marchogion y Ford Gron, kw, Marghekyon an Moos Krenn, br, Marc'hegien an Daol Grenn) are the Knight, knights in the fellowship of King Arthur in the literary cycle of the Matter of Britain, a French-derive ...
. Arthurian literature thrived during the
Middle Ages In the history of Europe, the Middle Ages or medieval period lasted approximately from the 5th to the late 15th centuries, similarly to the Post-classical, Post-classical period of global history. It began with the fall of the Western Roma ...
but waned in the centuries that followed, until it experienced a major resurgence in the 19th century. In the 21st century, the legend continues to have prominence, not only in literature but also in adaptations for theatre, film, television, comics and other media.


Historicity

The historical basis for King Arthur has been long debated by scholars. One school of thought, citing entries in the ''
Historia Brittonum ''The History of the Britons'' ( la, Historia Brittonum) is a purported history of the indigenous British (Brittonic Brittonic or Brythonic may refer to: *Common Brittonic, or Brythonic, the Celtic language anciently spoken in Great Britain *Britt ...
'' (''History of the Britons'') and ''
Annales Cambriae 250px , ''Annales Cambriae'': page view from MS. A ''Annales Cambriae'' (Latin Latin (, or , ) is a classical language belonging to the Italic languages, Italic branch of the Indo-European languages. Latin was originally spoken in the area arou ...
'' (''Welsh Annals''), saw Arthur as a genuine historical figure, a Romano-British leader who fought against the invading
Anglo-Saxons The Anglo-Saxons were a Cultural identity, cultural group who inhabited England. They traced their origins to the 5th century settlement of incomers to Britain, who migrated to the island from the North Sea coastlands of mainland Europe. However ...
some time in the late 5th to early 6th century. The ''Historia Brittonum'', a 9th-century Latin historical compilation attributed in some late manuscripts to a Welsh cleric called
Nennius Nennius – or Nemnius or Nemnivus – was a Welsh monk of the 9th century. He has traditionally been attributed with the authorship of the ''Historia Brittonum'', based on the prologue affixed to that work. This attribution is widely considered ...
, contains the first datable mention of King Arthur, listing twelve battles that Arthur fought. These culminate in the
Battle of Badon The Battle of Badon also known as the Battle of Mons Badonicus ( la, obsessioBadonici montis, "Blockade/siege of the Badonic Hill"; ''Bellum in monte Badonis'', "Battle on Badon Hill"; ''Bellum Badonis'', "Battle of Badon"; Old Welsh: ''Bado ...
, where he is said to have single-handedly killed 960 men. Recent studies, however, question the reliability of the ''Historia Brittonum''. The other text that seems to support the case for Arthur's historical existence is the 10th-century ''Annales Cambriae'', which also link Arthur with the Battle of Badon. The ''Annales'' date this battle to 516–518, and also mention the
Battle of Camlann The Battle of Camlann ( cy, Gwaith Camlan or ''Brwydr Camlan'') is a legendary final battle of King Arthur, in which Arthur either died or was fatally wounded while fighting either with or against Mordred, who also perished. The original legend ...
, in which Arthur and Medraut (Mordred) were both killed, dated to 537–539. These details have often been used to bolster confidence in the ''Historia'''s account and to confirm that Arthur really did fight at Badon. Problems have been identified, however, with using this source to support the ''Historia Brittonum''s account. The latest research shows that the ''Annales Cambriae'' was based on a chronicle begun in the late 8th century in Wales. Additionally, the complex textual history of the ''Annales Cambriae'' precludes any certainty that the Arthurian annals were added to it even that early. They were more likely added at some point in the 10th century and may never have existed in any earlier set of annals. The Badon entry probably derived from the ''Historia Brittonum''. This lack of convincing early evidence is the reason many recent historians exclude Arthur from their accounts of
sub-Roman Britain Sub-Roman Britain is the period of late antiquity on the island of Great Britain Great Britain is an island in the North Atlantic Ocean off the northwest coast of continental Europe. With an area of , it is the largest of the British I ...
. In the view of historian
Thomas Charles-Edwards Thomas Mowbray Charles-Edwards (born 11 November 1943) is an emeritus academic at Oxford University Oxford () is a city in England. It is the county town and only city of Oxfordshire. In 2017, its population was estimated at 152,450. It is n ...
, "at this stage of the enquiry, one can only say that there may well have been an historical Arthur ut ...the historian can as yet say nothing of value about him". These modern admissions of ignorance are a relatively recent trend; earlier generations of historians were less sceptical. The historian
John MorrisJohn or Johnny Morris may refer to: Art and culture *John Morris (piper) (), Irish piper *John Morris (composer) (1926–2018), film composer often employed by Mel Brooks *John Chester Brooks Morris (1901–1970), better known as Chester Morris, A ...
made the putative reign of Arthur the organising principle of his history of sub-Roman Britain and Ireland, ''The Age of Arthur'' (1973). Even so, he found little to say about a historical Arthur. Partly in reaction to such theories, another school of thought emerged which argued that Arthur had no historical existence at all. Morris's ''Age of Arthur'' prompted the archaeologist
Nowell MyresJohn Nowell Linton Myres (27 December 1902 – 25 September 1989) was a British archaeologist and Bodley's Librarian at the Bodleian Library in Oxford from 1948 until his resignation in 1965; and librarian of Christ Church, Oxford, Christ Church bef ...
to observe that "no figure on the borderline of history and mythology has wasted more of the historian's time".
Gildas Gildas ( Breton: ''Gweltaz''; c. 500 – c. 570) — also known as Gildas the Wise or ''Gildas Sapiens'' — was a 6th-century Britons (historic), British monk best known for his scathing religious polemic ''De Excidio et Conquestu Britanniae'', ...
's 6th-century polemic ''
De Excidio et Conquestu Britanniae ''De Excidio et Conquestu Britanniae'' (Latin Latin (, or , ) is a classical language belonging to the Italic languages, Italic branch of the Indo-European languages. Latin was originally spoken in the area around Rome, known as Latium. Through ...
'' (''On the Ruin and Conquest of Britain''), written within living memory of Badon, mentions the battle but does not mention Arthur. Arthur is not mentioned in the ''
Anglo-Saxon Chronicle The ''Anglo-Saxon Chronicle'' is a collection of annals in Old English, chronicling the history of the Anglo-Saxons. The original manuscript of the ''Chronicle'' was created late in the 9th century, probably in Wessex, during the reign of Alfre ...
'' or named in any surviving manuscript written between 400 and 820. He is absent from
Bede Bede ( ; ang, Bǣda , ; 672/326 May 735), also known as Saint Bede, The Venerable Bede, and Bede the Venerable ( la, Beda Venerabilis), was an English Benedictine The Benedictines, officially the Order of Saint Benedict ( la, Ordo Sanc ...

Bede
's early-8th-century ''
Ecclesiastical History of the English People The ''Ecclesiastical History of the English People'' ( la, Historia ecclesiastica gentis Anglorum), written by the Venerable Bede Bede ( ; ang, Bǣda , ; 672/326 May 735), also known as Saint Bede, The Venerable Bede, and Bede the Venerabl ...
'', another major early source for post-Roman history that mentions Badon. The historian
David Dumville David Norman Dumville (born 5 May 1949) is a British medievalistMedieval studies is the academic interdisciplinary study of the Middle Ages In the history of Europe, the Middle Ages or medieval period lasted from the 5th to the late 15 ...
wrote: "I think we can dispose of him rthurquite briefly. He owes his place in our history books to a 'no smoke without fire' school of thought ... The fact of the matter is that there is no historical evidence about Arthur; we must reject him from our histories and, above all, from the titles of our books." Some scholars argue that Arthur was originally a fictional hero of folklore—or even a half-forgotten Celtic deity—who became credited with real deeds in the distant past. They cite parallels with figures such as the
Kentish
Kentish
Hengist and Horsa Hengist and Horsa are Germanic peoples, Germanic brothers said to have led the Angles, Saxons and Jutes in their invasion of Great Britain, Britain in the 5th century. Tradition lists Hengist as the first of the Jutish kings of Kingdom of Kent, ...

Hengist and Horsa
, who may be totemic horse-gods that later became historicised. Bede ascribed to these legendary figures a historical role in the 5th-century Anglo-Saxon conquest of eastern Britain.; ; , chapters five and seven. It is not even certain that Arthur was considered a king in the early texts. Neither the ''Historia'' nor the ''Annales'' calls him "''rex''": the former calls him instead "''
dux ''Dux'' (; plural: ''ducēs'') is Latin Latin (, or , ) is a classical language belonging to the Italic languages, Italic branch of the Indo-European languages. Latin was originally spoken in the area around Rome, known as Latium. Through the ...
bellorum''" (leader of wars) and "''miles''" (soldier). The consensus among academic historians today is that there is no solid evidence for his historical existence. However, because historical documents for the post-Roman period are scarce, a definitive answer to the question of Arthur's historical existence is unlikely. Sites and places have been identified as "Arthurian" since the 12th century, but archaeology can confidently reveal names only through inscriptions found in secure contexts. The so-called " Arthur stone", discovered in 1998 among the ruins at
Tintagel Castle Tintagel Castle ( kw, Dintagel) is a medieval fortification located on the peninsula of Tintagel Island adjacent to the village of Tintagel (Trevena), North Cornwall in the United Kingdom. The site was possibly occupied in the Romano-British ...

Tintagel Castle
in
Cornwall Cornwall (; kw, Kernow ) is a Historic counties of England, historic county and Ceremonial counties of England, ceremonial county in South West England. It is recognised as one of the Celtic nations, and is the homeland of the Cornish people. ...

Cornwall
in securely dated 6th-century contexts, created a brief stir but proved irrelevant. Other inscriptional evidence for Arthur, including the Glastonbury cross, is tainted with the suggestion of forgery.
Andrew Breeze Andrew Breeze FRHistS FSA (born 1954), has been ''profesor de filología'' at the University of Navarra , image = UNAV.svg , latin_name = Universitas Studiorum Navarrensis , established = 17 October 1952 , type = ...
has recently argued that Arthur was historical, and claimed to have identified the locations of his battles as well as the place and date of his death, (in the context of the
Extreme weather events of 535–536 The extreme weather events of 535–536 were the most severe and protracted short-term episodes of cooling in the Northern Hemisphere in the last 2,000 years. The event is thought to have been caused by an extensive atmospheric dust veil, possibly r ...
) but his conclusions are disputed. Several historical figures have been proposed as the basis for Arthur, ranging from
Lucius Artorius CastusLucius Artorius Castus ( fl. 2nd century AD) was a Roman military commander. A member of the ''gens In ancient Rome, a gens ( or ), plural gentes, was a family consisting of individuals who shared the same Roman naming conventions#Nomen, nomen and ...
, a Roman officer who served in Britain in the 2nd or 3rd century, to sub-Roman British rulers such as Riotamus,
Ambrosius Aurelianus Ambrosius Aurelianus ( cy, Emrys Wledig; Anglicised Linguistic anglicisation (or anglicization, occasionally anglification, anglifying, or Englishing) is the practice of modifying foreign words, names, and phrases to make them easier to spell, ...
,
Owain DdantgwynOwain Danwyn (floruit, fl. 440) was a king of Rhos (North Wales), Rhos in Gwynedd, Wales, in the mid-5th century. He was the son of Einion Yrth and the father of Cynlas Goch, probably the Cuneglasus excoriated by Gildas. Very little is known of his l ...
, the Welsh king Enniaun Girt, and
Athrwys ap Meurig Athrwys ap Meurig (c. 605–655) was a prince, and possibly king, of Kingdom of Gwent, Gwent and Glywysing in Wales. He was the son of King Meurig ap Tewdrig and the father of the later king Morgan ab Athrwys. It is possible he died before his fath ...

Athrwys ap Meurig
. However, no convincing evidence for these identifications has emerged.David, Brian, Review of Nicholas J. Higham, ''King Arthur: The Making of the Legend'' in ''Comitatus: A Journal of Medieval and Renaissance Studies'' 50:221-222 (2019)


Name

The origin of the Welsh name "Arthur" remains a matter of debate. The most widely accepted etymology derives it from the Roman ''
nomen gentile The (or simply ) was a hereditary name borne by the peoples of ancient Italy and later by the citizens of the Roman Republic and the Roman Empire. It was originally the name of one's (family or clan) by Patrilineality, patrilineal descent. However ...
'' (family name) Artorius. Artorius itself is of obscure and contested etymology, but possibly of Messapian or
Etruscan__NOTOC__ Etruscan may refer to: Ancient civilisation *The Etruscan language, an extinct language in ancient Italy *Something derived from or related to the Etruscan civilization **Etruscan architecture **Etruscan art **Etruscan cities **Etruscan ...
origin. Linguist Stephan Zimmer suggests Artorius possibly had a Celtic origin, being a Latinization of a hypothetical name ''*Artorījos'', in turn derived from an older
patronym A patronymic, or patronym, is a component of a personal name Image:FML names-2.png, 300px, First/given, middle and last/family/surname with John Fitzgerald Kennedy as example. This shows a structure typical for the Anglosphere, among others. ...
'' *Arto-rīg-ios'', meaning "son of the bear/warrior-king". This patronym is unattested, but the root, ''*arto-rīg'', "bear/warrior-king", is the source of the Old Irish personal name ''Artrí''. Some scholars have suggested it is relevant to this debate that the legendary King Arthur's name only appears as ''Arthur'' or ''Arturus'' in early Latin Arthurian texts, never as ''Artōrius'' (though Classical Latin Artōrius became Arturius in some Vulgar Latin dialects). However, this may not say anything about the origin of the name ''Arthur'', as ''Artōrius'' would regularly become ''Art(h)ur'' when borrowed into Welsh. Another commonly proposed derivation of ''Arthur'' from Welsh ''arth'' "bear" + ''(g)wr'' "man" (earlier ''*Arto-uiros'' in Brittonic) is not accepted by modern scholars for
phonological Phonology is a branch of linguistics that studies how languages or dialects systematically organize their sounds (or constituent parts of signs, in sign languages). The term also refers to the sound or sign system of any particular language vari ...

phonological
and orthographic reasons. Notably, a Brittonic compound name ''*Arto-uiros'' should produce Old Welsh ''*Artgur'' (where ''u'' represents the short vowel /u/) and Middle/Modern Welsh ''*Arthwr'', rather than ''Arthur'' (where ''u'' is a long vowel /ʉː/). In Welsh poetry the name is always spelled ''Arthur'' and is exclusively rhymed with words ending in ''-ur''—never words ending in ''-wr''—which confirms that the second element cannot be '' r'' "man". An alternative theory, which has gained only limited acceptance among professional scholars, derives the name Arthur from
Arcturus , - bgcolor="#FFFAFA" , Note (category: variability): , , H and K emission vary. Arcturus, designation α Boötis ( Latinized to Alpha Boötis, abbreviated Alpha Boo, α Boo), is the brightest star A star is an ...

Arcturus
, the brightest star in the constellation
Boötes Boötes is a constellation A constellation is an area on the celestial sphere in which a group of visible stars forms a perceived outline or pattern, typically representing an animal, mythological person or creature, or an inanimate objec ...

Boötes
, near
Ursa Major Ursa Major (; also known as the Great Bear) is a constellation in the Northern Celestial Hemisphere, northern sky, whose associated mythology likely dates back into prehistory. Its Latin name means "greater (or larger) she-bear," referring to and ...

Ursa Major
or the Great Bear. Classical Latin ''Arcturus'' would also have become ''Art(h)ur'' when borrowed into Welsh, and its brightness and position in the sky led people to regard it as the "guardian of the bear" (which is the meaning of the name in Ancient Greek) and the "leader" of the other stars in Boötes.


Medieval literary traditions

The familiar literary persona of Arthur began with
Geoffrey of Monmouth Geoffrey of Monmouth ( la, Galfridus Monemutensis, Galfridus Arturus, cy, Gruffudd ap Arthur, Sieffre o Fynwy; c. 1095 – c. 1155) was a British cleric and one of the major figures in the development of British historiography and the popularit ...
's pseudo-historical ''
Historia Regum Britanniae ''Historia regum Britanniae'' (''The History of the Kings of Britain''), originally called ''De gestis Britonum'' (''On the Deeds of the Britons''), is a pseudohistorical account of British history, written around 1136 by Geoffrey of Monmouth. It ...
'' (''History of the Kings of Britain''), written in the 1130s. The textual sources for Arthur are usually divided into those written before Geoffrey's ''Historia'' (known as pre-Galfridian texts, from the Latin form of Geoffrey, ''Galfridus'') and those written afterwards, which could not avoid his influence (Galfridian, or post-Galfridian, texts).


Pre-Galfridian traditions

The earliest literary references to Arthur come from Welsh and Breton sources. There have been few attempts to define the nature and character of Arthur in the pre-Galfridian tradition as a whole, rather than in a single text or text/story-type. A 2007 academic survey led by Caitlin Green has identified three key strands to the portrayal of Arthur in this earliest material. The first is that he was a peerless warrior who functioned as the monster-hunting protector of Britain from all internal and external threats. Some of these are human threats, such as the Saxons he fights in the ''Historia Brittonum'', but the majority are supernatural, including giant cat-monsters, destructive divine boars, dragons, dogheads, giants, and witches. The second is that the pre-Galfridian Arthur was a figure of folklore (particularly
topographic Topography is the study of the forms and features of land surfaces. The topography of an area could refer to the surface forms and features themselves, or a description (especially their depiction in maps). Topography is a field of geoscience ...
or
onomastic Onomastics or onomatology is the study of the etymology, history, and use of proper names. An ''wikt:orthonym, orthonym'' is the proper name of the object in question, the object of onomastic study. Onomastics can be helpful in data mining, with ap ...
folklore) and localised magical wonder-tales, the leader of a band of superhuman heroes who live in the wilds of the landscape. The third and final strand is that the early Welsh Arthur had a close connection with the Welsh Otherworld,
Annwn Annwn, Annwfn, or Annwfyn (in Middle Welsh, ''Annwvn'', ''Annwyn'', ''Annwyfn'', ''Annwvyn'', or ''Annwfyn'') is the Celtic Otherworld, Otherworld in Welsh mythology. Ruled by Arawn (or, in King Arthur, Arthurian literature, by Gwyn ap Nudd), it ...
. On the one hand, he launches assaults on Otherworldly fortresses in search of treasure and frees their prisoners. On the other, his warband in the earliest sources includes former pagan gods, and his wife and his possessions are clearly Otherworldly in origin. One of the most famous Welsh poetic references to Arthur comes in the collection of heroic death-songs known as ''
Y Gododdin ''Y Gododdin'' () is a medieval Welsh poem consisting of a series of elegies to the men of the Brittonic kingdom of Gododdin and its allies who, according to the conventional interpretation, died fighting the Angles The Angles ( ang, Æ ...
'' (''The Gododdin''), attributed to 6th-century poet
Aneirin Aneirin or Neirin was an early Medieval The Early Middle Ages or Early Medieval Period, sometimes referred to as the Dark Ages, is typically regarded by historians as lasting from the late 5th or early 6th century A century is a period of ...
. One stanza praises the bravery of a warrior who slew 300 enemies, but says that despite this, "he was no Arthur" – that is, his feats cannot compare to the valour of Arthur. ''Y Gododdin'' is known only from a 13th-century manuscript, so it is impossible to determine whether this passage is original or a later interpolation, but John Koch's view that the passage dates from a 7th-century or earlier version is regarded as unproven; 9th- or 10th-century dates are often proposed for it. Several poems attributed to
Taliesin Taliesin ( , ; 6th century AD) was an early Britons (Celtic people), Brittonic poet of Sub-Roman Britain whose work has possibly survived in a Middle Welsh manuscript, the ''Book of Taliesin''. Taliesin was a renowned bard who is believed to h ...

Taliesin
, a poet said to have lived in the 6th century, also refer to Arthur, although these all probably date from between the 8th and 12th centuries. They include "Kadeir Teyrnon" ("The Chair of the Prince"), which refers to "Arthur the Blessed"; "
Preiddeu Annwn ''Preiddeu Annwfn'' or ''Preiddeu Annwn'' ( en, The Spoils of Annwfn) is a cryptic poem of sixty lines in Middle Welsh, found in the Book of Taliesin. The text recounts an expedition with King Arthur to Annwfn or Annwn, the Welsh mythology, Welsh ...
" ("The Spoils of Annwn"), which recounts an expedition of Arthur to the Otherworld; and "Marwnat vthyr pen ragon ("The Elegy of Uther Pen ragon), which refers to Arthur's valour and is suggestive of a father-son relationship for Arthur and Uther that pre-dates Geoffrey of Monmouth. Other early Welsh Arthurian texts include a poem found in the ''
Black Book of Carmarthen The Black Book of Carmarthen ( cy, Llyfr Du Caerfyrddin) is thought to be the earliest surviving manuscript A manuscript (abbreviated MS for singular and MSS for plural) was, traditionally, any document written by hand – or, once practical ...
'', "
Pa gur Poem 31 of the Black Book of Carmarthen, a mid-13th century manuscript, is known from its first line as ''Pa gur yv y porthaur?'' (meaning "What man is the gatekeeper?") or ''Pa gur'', or alternatively as ''Ymddiddan Arthur a Glewlwyd Gafaelfaw ...

Pa gur
yv y porthaur?" ("What man is the gatekeeper?"). This takes the form of a dialogue between Arthur and the gatekeeper of a fortress he wishes to enter, in which Arthur recounts the names and deeds of himself and his men, notably Cei (Kay) and Bedwyr (Bedivere). The Welsh prose tale ''
Culhwch and Olwen ''Culhwch and Olwen'' ( cy, Culhwch ac Olwen) is a Welsh-language literature, Welsh tale that survives in only two manuscripts about a hero connected with King Arthur, Arthur and his warriors: a complete version in the Red Book of Hergest, c. 140 ...
'' (), included in the modern ''
Mabinogion The ''Mabinogion'' () are the earliest prose stories of the literature of Britain. The stories were compiled in Middle Welsh in the 12th–13th centuries from earlier oral traditions. There are two main source manuscripts, created c. 1350–141 ...
'' collection, has a much longer list of more than 200 of Arthur's men, though Cei and Bedwyr again take a central place. The story as a whole tells of Arthur helping his kinsman
Culhwch Culhwch (, with the final consonant sounding like Scottish "loch"), in Welsh mythology, is the son of Cilydd, Cilydd son of Celyddon and Goleuddydd, a cousin of King Arthur, Arthur and the protagonist of the story ''Culhwch and Olwen'' (the earlies ...

Culhwch
win the hand of
Olwen In Welsh mythology Welsh mythology consists of both folk traditions developed in Wales Wales ( cy, Cymru ) is a country that is Countries of the United Kingdom, part of the United Kingdom. It is bordered by England to the Wales–England bor ...
, daughter of
Ysbaddaden ; "Ysbaddaden, Chief of Giants," is the primary antagonist An antagonist is a character in a story who is presented as the chief foe of the protagonist. Etymology The English word antagonist comes from the Greek ἀνταγωνιστής – ...
Chief-Giant, by completing a series of apparently impossible tasks, including the hunt for the great semi-divine boar
Twrch Trwyth Twrch Trwyth (; also Trwyd, Troynt (MSS.''HK''); Troit (MSS.''C1 D G Q''); or Terit (MSS. ''C2 L'')) is an enchanted wild boar The wild boar (''Sus scrofa''), also known as the "wild swine", "common wild pig", or simply "wild pig", is a suid ...
. The 9th-century ''Historia Brittonum'' also refers to this tale, with the boar there named Troy(n)t. Finally, Arthur is mentioned numerous times in the
Welsh Triads The Welsh Triads ( cy, Trioedd Ynys Prydein, "Triads of the Island of Britain Britain usually refers to: * United Kingdom, a sovereign state in Europe comprising the island of Great Britain, the north-eastern part of the island of Ireland and many ...
, a collection of short summaries of Welsh tradition and legend which are classified into groups of three linked characters or episodes to assist recall. The later manuscripts of the Triads are partly derivative from Geoffrey of Monmouth and later continental traditions, but the earliest ones show no such influence and are usually agreed to refer to pre-existing Welsh traditions. Even in these, however, Arthur's court has started to embody legendary Britain as a whole, with "Arthur's Court" sometimes substituted for "The Island of Britain" in the formula "Three XXX of the Island of Britain". While it is not clear from the ''Historia Brittonum'' and the ''Annales Cambriae'' that Arthur was even considered a king, by the time ''Culhwch and Olwen'' and the Triads were written he had become ''Penteyrnedd yr Ynys hon'', "Chief of the Lords of this Island", the overlord of Wales, Cornwall and the North. In addition to these pre-Galfridian Welsh poems and tales, Arthur appears in some other early Latin texts besides the ''Historia Brittonum'' and the ''Annales Cambriae''. In particular, Arthur features in a number of well-known ''vitae'' (" Lives") of post-Roman
saint In religious belief, a saint is a person who is recognized as having an exceptional degree of Q-D-Š, holiness, likeness, or closeness to God. However, the use of the term "saint" depends on the context and Christian denomination, denomination. ...

saint
s, none of which are now generally considered to be reliable historical sources (the earliest probably dates from the 11th century). According to the ''Life of Saint
Gildas Gildas ( Breton: ''Gweltaz''; c. 500 – c. 570) — also known as Gildas the Wise or ''Gildas Sapiens'' — was a 6th-century Britons (historic), British monk best known for his scathing religious polemic ''De Excidio et Conquestu Britanniae'', ...
'', written in the early 12th century by
Caradoc of Llancarfan Caradoc of Llancarfan ( Welsh: ''Caradog o Lancarfan'') was a Welsh cleric and author associated with Llancarfan in Wales Wales ( cy, Cymru ) is a country that is Countries of the United Kingdom, part of the United Kingdom. It is bordered b ...
, Arthur is said to have killed Gildas's brother Hueil and to have rescued his wife Gwenhwyfar from Glastonbury. In the ''Life of Saint
Cadoc Saint Cadoc or Cadog ( lat-med, Cadocus; also cy, Cattwg; born or before) was a 5th–6th-century Abbot Abbot (from Aramaic: ''Abba'' "father") is an ecclesiastical title A title is one or more words used before or after a person's name ...

Cadoc
'', written around 1100 or a little before by Lifris of Llancarfan, the saint gives protection to a man who killed three of Arthur's soldiers, and Arthur demands a herd of cattle as ''
wergeld Weregild (also spelled wergild, wergeld (in archaic/historical usage of English), weregeld, etc.), also known as man price (Blood money (restitution), blood money), was established on a person's life, paid as a Composition (fine), fine or Damages, ...
'' for his men. Cadoc delivers them as demanded, but when Arthur takes possession of the animals, they turn into bundles of ferns. Similar incidents are described in the medieval biographies of
Carannog Saint Carantoc ( cy, Carannog; ga, Cairnech; br, Karanteg; la, Carantocus), also anglicization of names, anglicized as Carantock, Carannog and by other spellings, was a 6th-century abbot, Confessor of the Faith, confessor, and list of Welsh sain ...
,
Padarn Padarn ( la, Paternus, Padarnus; ? – 550 AD) was an early 6th century sanctified British Christian abbot-bishop who founded St Padarn's Church in Ceredigion, Wales Wales ( cy, Cymru ) is a country that is Countries of the United Kingdom, ...
, and Eufflam, probably written around the 12th century. A less obviously legendary account of Arthur appears in the ''Goeznovius, Legenda Sancti Goeznovii'', which is often claimed to date from the early 11th century (although the earliest manuscript of this text dates from the 15th century and the text is now dated to the late 12th to early 13th century). Also important are the references to Arthur in William of Malmesbury's ''De Gestis Regum Anglorum'' and Herman's ''De miraculis sanctae Mariae Laudunensis, De Miraculis Sanctae Mariae Laudunensis'', which together provide the first certain evidence for a belief that Arthur was not actually dead and would at some point King Arthur's messianic return, return, a theme that is often revisited in post-Galfridian folklore.


Geoffrey of Monmouth

Geoffrey of Monmouth's ''Historia Regum Britanniae'', completed , contains the first narrative account of Arthur's life. This work is an imaginative and fanciful account of British kings from the legendary Trojan exile Brutus of Troy, Brutus to the 7th-century Welsh king Cadwaladr, Cadwallader. Geoffrey places Arthur in the same post-Roman period as do ''
Historia Brittonum ''The History of the Britons'' ( la, Historia Brittonum) is a purported history of the indigenous British (Brittonic Brittonic or Brythonic may refer to: *Common Brittonic, or Brythonic, the Celtic language anciently spoken in Great Britain *Britt ...
'' and ''
Annales Cambriae 250px , ''Annales Cambriae'': page view from MS. A ''Annales Cambriae'' (Latin Latin (, or , ) is a classical language belonging to the Italic languages, Italic branch of the Indo-European languages. Latin was originally spoken in the area arou ...
''. He incorporates Arthur's father
Uther Pendragon Uther Pendragon (; cy, Uthyr Pendragon, Uthyr Bendragon), also known as King Uther, is a legendary king of sub-Roman Britain and the father of King Arthur King Arthur ( cy, Brenin Arthur, kw, Arthur Gernow, br, Roue Arzhur) was a leg ...
, his magician advisor
Merlin The Multi-Element Radio Linked Interferometer Network (MERLIN) is an interferometer array of radio telescopes spread across England England is a Countries of the United Kingdom, country that is part of the United Kingdom. It shares land bor ...

Merlin
, and the story of Arthur's conception, in which Uther, disguised as his enemy Gorlois by Merlin's magic, sleeps with Gorlois's wife Igraine, Igerna (Igraine) at Tintagel, and she conceives Arthur. On Uther's death, the fifteen-year-old Arthur succeeds him as King of Britain and fights a series of battles, similar to those in the ''Historia Brittonum'', culminating in the Battle of Bath. He then defeats the Picts and Scoti, Scots before creating an Arthurian empire through his conquests of Ireland, Iceland and the Orkney Islands. After twelve years of peace, Arthur sets out to expand his empire once more, taking control of Norway, Denmark and Gaul. Gaul is still held by the Roman Empire when it is conquered, and Arthur's victory leads to a further confrontation with Rome. Arthur and his warriors, including Sir Kay, Kaius (Kay), Bedivere, Beduerus (Bedivere) and Gawain, Gualguanus (Gawain), defeat the Roman emperor Lucius Tiberius in Gaul but, as he prepares to march on Rome, Arthur hears that his nephew Mordred, Modredus (Mordred)—whom he had left in charge of Britain—has married his wife Guinevere, Guenhuuara (Guinevere) and seized the throne. Arthur returns to Britain and defeats and kills Modredus on the river Camblam in Cornwall, but he is mortally wounded. He hands the crown to his kinsman Constantine III of Britain, Constantine and is taken to the isle of
Avalon Avalon (; la, Insula Avallonis, cy, Ynys Afallon, Ynys Afallach; kw, Enys Avalow; literally meaning "the isle of fruit
r apple R, or r, is the eighteenth letter Letter, letters, or literature may refer to: Characters typeface * Letter (alphabet) A letter is a segmental symbol A symbol is a mark, sign, or word that indicates, signifies, or is understood as r ...
trees"), sometimes written ''Avallon'' or ''Avilion'', is a legendary island featured in the Arthurian legend. It ...
to be healed of his wounds, never to be seen again. How much of this narrative was Geoffrey's own invention is open to debate. He seems to have made use of the list of Arthur's twelve battles against the Saxons found in the 9th-century ''Historia Brittonum'', along with the battle of Camlann from the ''Annales Cambriae'' and the idea that Arthur was King Arthur's messianic return, still alive. Arthur's status as the king of all Britain seems to be borrowed from pre-Galfridian tradition, being found in ''Culhwch and Olwen'', the Welsh Triads, and the saints' lives. Finally, Geoffrey borrowed many of the names for Arthur's possessions, King Arthur's family, close family, and companions from the pre-Galfridian Welsh tradition, including Kaius (Cei), Beduerus (Bedwyr), Guenhuuara (Gwenhwyfar), Uther (Uthyr) and perhaps also Caliburnus (Caledfwlch), the latter becoming
Excalibur Excalibur () is the legendary sword of King Arthur King Arthur ( cy, Brenin Arthur, kw, Arthur Gernow, br, Roue Arzhur) was a legendary Celtic Britons, British leader who, according to Historians in England during the Middle Ages, medie ...

Excalibur
in subsequent Arthurian tales. However, while names, key events, and titles may have been borrowed, Brynley Roberts has argued that "the Arthurian section is Geoffrey's literary creation and it owes nothing to prior narrative." Geoffrey makes the Welsh Medraut into the villainous Modredus, but there is no trace of such a negative character for this figure in Welsh sources until the 16th century. There have been relatively few modern attempts to challenge the notion that the ''Historia Regum Britanniae'' is primarily Geoffrey's own work, with scholarly opinion often echoing William of Newburgh's late-12th-century comment that Geoffrey "made up" his narrative, perhaps through an "inordinate love of lying". Geoffrey Ashe is one dissenter from this view, believing that Geoffrey's narrative is partially derived from a lost source telling of the deeds of a 5th-century British king named Riotamus, this figure being the original Arthur, although historians and Celticists have been reluctant to follow Ashe in his conclusions. Whatever his sources may have been, the immense popularity of Geoffrey's ''Historia Regum Britanniae'' cannot be denied. Well over 200 manuscript copies of Geoffrey's Latin work are known to have survived, as well as translations into other languages. For example, 60 manuscripts are extant containing the ''Brut y Brenhinedd'', Welsh-language versions of the ''Historia'', the earliest of which were created in the 13th century. The old notion that some of these Welsh versions actually underlie Geoffrey's ''Historia'', advanced by antiquarians such as the 18th-century Lewis Morris, has long since been discounted in academic circles. As a result of this popularity, Geoffrey's ''Historia Regum Britanniae'' was enormously influential on the later medieval development of the Arthurian legend. While it was not the only creative force behind Arthurian romance, many of its elements were borrowed and developed (e.g., Merlin and the final fate of Arthur), and it provided the historical framework into which the romancers' tales of magical and wonderful adventures were inserted.


Romance traditions

The popularity of Geoffrey's ''Historia'' and its other derivative works (such as Wace's ''Roman de Brut'') gave rise to a significant numbers of new Arthurian works in continental Europe during the 12th and 13th centuries, particularly in France. It was not, however, the only Arthurian influence on the developing "
Matter of Britain The Matter of Britain is the body of medieval literature and legendary material associated with Great Britain and Brittany, and the list of legendary kings of Britain, legendary kings and heroes associated with it, particularly King Arthur. It ...
". There is clear evidence that Arthur and Arthurian tales were familiar on the Continent before Geoffrey's work became widely known (see for example, the Modena Archivolt), and "Celtic" names and stories not found in Geoffrey's ''Historia'' appear in the Arthurian romances. From the perspective of Arthur, perhaps the most significant effect of this great outpouring of new Arthurian story was on the role of the king himself: much of this 12th-century and later Arthurian literature centres less on Arthur himself than on characters such as
Lancelot Lancelot du Lac (French for Lancelot of the Lake), also written as Launcelot and other variants (such as early German ''Lanzelet'', early French ''Lanselos'', early Welsh ''Lanslod Lak'', Italian ''Lancelotto'', Spanish ''Lanzarote del Lago'', ...

Lancelot
and
Guinevere Guinevere ( ; cy, Gwenhwyfar ; br, Gwenivar, kw, Gwynnever), also often written as Guenevere or Guenever, is the legendary wife and queen of King Arthur King Arthur ( cy, Brenin Arthur, kw, Arthur Gernow, br, Roue Arzhur) was a legen ...
, Percival, Galahad, Gawain, Ywain, and Tristan and Iseult. Whereas Arthur is very much at the centre of the pre-Galfridian material and Geoffrey's ''Historia'' itself, in the romances he is rapidly sidelined. His character also alters significantly. In both the earliest materials and Geoffrey he is a great and ferocious warrior, who laughs as he personally slaughters witches and giants and takes a leading role in all military campaigns, whereas in the continental romances he becomes the ''roi fainéant'', the "do-nothing king", whose "inactivity and acquiescence constituted a central flaw in his otherwise ideal society". Arthur's role in these works is frequently that of a wise, dignified, even-tempered, somewhat bland, and occasionally feeble monarch. So, he simply turns pale and silent when he learns of Lancelot's affair with Guinevere in the ''Mort Artu'', whilst in ''Yvain, the Knight of the Lion'', he is unable to stay awake after a feast and has to retire for a nap. Nonetheless, as Norris J. Lacy has observed, whatever his faults and frailties may be in these Arthurian romances, "his prestige is never—or almost never—compromised by his personal weaknesses ... his authority and glory remain intact." Arthur and his retinue appear in some of the ''Lais of Marie de France, Lais'' of Marie de France, but it was the work of another French poet,
Chrétien de Troyes Chrétien de Troyes (Modern ; fro, Crestien de Troies ; 1135?–1185?, 1160–1191) was a French poet and trouvère known for his writing on King Arthur, Arthurian subjects, and for first writing of Lancelot, Percival and the Holy Grail. Chré ...

Chrétien de Troyes
, that had the greatest influence with regard to the development of Arthur's character and legend. Chrétien wrote five Arthurian romances between and 1190. ''Erec and Enide'' and ''Cligès'' are tales of courtly love with Arthur's court as their backdrop, demonstrating the shift away from the heroic world of the Welsh and Galfridian Arthur, while ''Yvain, the Knight of the Lion'', features Ywain, Yvain and Gawain in a supernatural adventure, with Arthur very much on the sidelines and weakened. However, the most significant for the development of the Arthurian legend are ''Lancelot, the Knight of the Cart'', which introduces Lancelot and his adulterous relationship with Arthur's queen
Guinevere Guinevere ( ; cy, Gwenhwyfar ; br, Gwenivar, kw, Gwynnever), also often written as Guenevere or Guenever, is the legendary wife and queen of King Arthur King Arthur ( cy, Brenin Arthur, kw, Arthur Gernow, br, Roue Arzhur) was a legen ...
, extending and popularising the recurring theme of Arthur as a cuckold, and ''Perceval, the Story of the Grail'', which introduces the
Holy Grail The Holy Grail (french: Saint Graal, br, Graal Santel, cy, Greal Sanctaidd, kw, Gral) is a treasure that serves as an important motif in Arthurian literature. Different traditions describe it as a cup, dish or stone with miraculous powers tha ...

Holy Grail
and the Fisher King and which again sees Arthur having a much reduced role. Chrétien was thus "instrumental both in the elaboration of the Arthurian legend and in the establishment of the ideal form for the diffusion of that legend", and much of what came after him in terms of the portrayal of Arthur and his world built upon the foundations he had laid. ''Perceval'', although unfinished, was particularly popular: four separate continuations of the poem appeared over the next half century, with the notion of the Grail and its quest being developed by other writers such as Robert de Boron, a fact that helped accelerate the decline of Arthur in continental romance. Similarly, Lancelot and his cuckolding of Arthur with Guinevere became one of the classic motifs of the Arthurian legend, although the Lancelot of the prose ''Lancelot'' () and later texts was a combination of Chrétien's character and that of Ulrich von Zatzikhoven's ''Lanzelet''. Chrétien's work even appears to feed back into Welsh Arthurian literature, with the result that the romance Arthur began to replace the heroic, active Arthur in Welsh literary tradition. Particularly significant in this development were the three Welsh Arthurian romances, which are closely similar to those of Chrétien, albeit with some significant differences: ''Owain, or the Lady of the Fountain'' is related to Chrétien's ''Yvain''; ''Geraint and Enid'', to ''Erec and Enide''; and ''Peredur son of Efrawg'', to ''Perceval''. Up to , continental Arthurian romance was expressed primarily through poetry; after this date the tales began to be told in prose. The most significant of these 13th-century prose romances was the Lancelot-Grail, Vulgate Cycle (also known as the Lancelot-Grail Cycle), a series of five Middle French prose works written in the first half of that century. These works were the ''Estoire del Saint Grail'', the ''Estoire de Merlin'', the ''Lancelot propre'' (or Prose ''Lancelot'', which made up half the entire Vulgate Cycle on its own), the ''Queste del Saint Graal'' and the ''Mort Artu'', which combine to form the first coherent version of the entire Arthurian legend. The cycle continued the trend towards reducing the role played by Arthur in his own legend, partly through the introduction of the character of Galahad and an expansion of the role of Merlin. It also made Mordred the result of an King Arthur's family, incestuous relationship between Arthur and his sister Morgause and established the role of Camelot, first mentioned in passing in Chrétien's ''Lancelot'', as Arthur's primary court. This series of texts was quickly followed by the Post-Vulgate Cycle (), of which the ''Suite du Merlin'' is a part, which greatly reduced the importance of Lancelot's affair with Guinevere but continued to sideline Arthur, and to focus more on the Grail quest. As such, Arthur became even more of a relatively minor character in these French prose romances; in the Vulgate itself he only figures significantly in the ''Estoire de Merlin'' and the ''Mort Artu''. During this period, Arthur was made one of the Nine Worthies, a group of three pagan, three Jewish and three Christian exemplars of chivalry. The Worthies were first listed in Jacques de Longuyon's ''Voeux du Paon'' in 1312, and subsequently became a common subject in literature and art. The development of the medieval Arthurian cycle and the character of the "Arthur of romance" culminated in ''Le Morte d'Arthur'', Thomas Malory's retelling of the entire legend in a single work in English in the late 15th century. Malory based his book—originally titled ''The Whole Book of King Arthur and of His Noble Knights of the Round Table''—on the various previous romance versions, in particular the Vulgate Cycle, and appears to have aimed at creating a comprehensive and authoritative collection of Arthurian stories. Perhaps as a result of this, and the fact that ''Le Morte D'Arthur'' was one of the earliest printed books in England, published by William Caxton in 1485, most later Arthurian works are derivative of Malory's.


Decline, revival, and the modern legend


Post-medieval literature

The end of the Middle Ages brought with it a waning of interest in King Arthur. Although Malory's English version of the great French romances was popular, there were increasing attacks upon the truthfulness of the historical framework of the Arthurian romances – established since Geoffrey of Monmouth's time – and thus the legitimacy of the whole
Matter of Britain The Matter of Britain is the body of medieval literature and legendary material associated with Great Britain and Brittany, and the list of legendary kings of Britain, legendary kings and heroes associated with it, particularly King Arthur. It ...
. So, for example, the 16th-century humanist scholar Polydore Vergil famously rejected the claim that Arthur was the ruler of a post-Roman empire, found throughout the post-Galfridian medieval "chronicle tradition", to the horror of Welsh and English antiquarians. Social changes associated with the end of the medieval period and the Renaissance also conspired to rob the character of Arthur and his associated legend of some of their power to enthrall audiences, with the result that 1634 saw the last printing of Malory's ''Le Morte d'Arthur'' for nearly 200 years. King Arthur and the Arthurian legend were not entirely abandoned, but until the early 19th century the material was taken less seriously and was often used simply as a vehicle for allegories of 17th- and 18th-century politics.; Thus Richard Blackmore's epics ''Prince Arthur'' (1695) and ''King Arthur'' (1697) feature Arthur as an allegory for the struggles of William III of England, William III against James II of England, James II. Similarly, the most popular Arthurian tale throughout this period seems to have been that of Tom Thumb, which was told first through chapbooks and later through the political plays of Henry Fielding; although the action is clearly set in Arthurian Britain, the treatment is humorous and Arthur appears as a primarily comedic version of his romance character. John Dryden's masque ''King Arthur (opera), King Arthur'' is still performed, largely thanks to Henry Purcell's music, though seldom unabridged.


Tennyson and the revival

In the early 19th century, medievalism, Romanticism, and the Gothic Revival reawakened interest in Arthur and the medieval romances. A new code of ethics for 19th-century gentlemen was shaped around the chivalry, chivalric ideals embodied in the "Arthur of romance". This renewed interest first made itself felt in 1816, when Malory's ''Le Morte d'Arthur'' was reprinted for the first time since 1634. Initially, the medieval Arthurian legends were of particular interest to poets, inspiring, for example, William Wordsworth to write "The Egyptian Maid" (1835), an allegory of the
Holy Grail The Holy Grail (french: Saint Graal, br, Graal Santel, cy, Greal Sanctaidd, kw, Gral) is a treasure that serves as an important motif in Arthurian literature. Different traditions describe it as a cup, dish or stone with miraculous powers tha ...

Holy Grail
. Pre-eminent among these was Alfred, Lord Tennyson, Alfred Tennyson, whose first Arthurian poem "The Lady of Shalott" was published in 1832. Arthur himself played a minor role in some of these works, following in the medieval romance tradition. Tennyson's Arthurian work reached its peak of popularity with ''Idylls of the King'', however, which reworked the entire narrative of Arthur's life for the Victorian era. It was first published in 1859 and sold 10,000 copies within the first week. In the ''Idylls'', Arthur became a symbol of ideal manhood who ultimately failed, through human weakness, to establish a perfect kingdom on earth. Tennyson's works prompted a large number of imitators, generated considerable public interest in the legends of Arthur and the character himself, and brought Malory's tales to a wider audience. Indeed, the first modernisation of Malory's great compilation of Arthur's tales was published in 1862, shortly after ''Idylls'' appeared, and there were six further editions and five competitors before the century ended. This interest in the "Arthur of romance" and his associated stories continued through the 19th century and into the 20th, and influenced poets such as William Morris and Pre-Raphaelite artists including Edward Burne-Jones. Even the humorous tale of Tom Thumb, which had been the primary manifestation of Arthur's legend in the 18th century, was rewritten after the publication of ''Idylls''. While Tom maintained his small stature and remained a figure of comic relief, his story now included more elements from the medieval Arthurian romances and Arthur is treated more seriously and historically in these new versions. The revived Arthurian romance also proved influential in the United States, with such books as Sidney Lanier's ''The Boy's King Arthur'' (1880) reaching wide audiences and providing inspiration for Mark Twain's satire ''A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court'' (1889). Although the 'Arthur of romance' was sometimes central to these new Arthurian works (as he was in Burne-Jones's "The Sleep of Arthur in Avalon", 1881–1898), on other occasions he reverted to his medieval status and is either marginalised or even missing entirely, with Richard Wagner, Wagner's Arthurian opera—Parsifal—providing a notable instance of the latter. Furthermore, the revival of interest in Arthur and the Arthurian tales did not continue unabated. By the end of the 19th century, it was confined mainly to Pre-Raphaelite imitators, and it could not avoid being affected by World War I, which damaged the reputation of chivalry and thus interest in its medieval manifestations and Arthur as chivalric role model. The romance tradition did, however, remain sufficiently powerful to persuade Thomas Hardy, Laurence Binyon and John Masefield to compose Arthurian plays, and T. S. Eliot alludes to the Arthur myth (but not Arthur) in his poem ''The Waste Land'', which mentions the Fisher King.


Modern legend

In the latter half of the 20th century, the influence of the romance tradition of Arthur continued, through novels such as T. H. White's ''The Once and Future King'' (1958), Mary Stewart (novelist), Mary Stewart's ''The Crystal Cave'' (1970) and its four sequels, Thomas Berger (novelist), Thomas Berger's tragicomic ''Arthur Rex'' and Marion Zimmer Bradley's ''The Mists of Avalon'' (1982) in addition to comic strips such as ''Prince Valiant'' (from 1937 onward). Tennyson had reworked the romance tales of Arthur to suit and comment upon the issues of his day, and the same is often the case with modern treatments too. Stewart's first three Arthurian novels present the wizard Merlin as the central character, rather than Arthur, and ''The Crystal Cave'' is narrated by Merlin in the first person, whereas Bradley's tale takes a feminist approach to Arthur and his legend, in contrast to the narratives of Arthur found in medieval materials, and American authors often rework the story of Arthur to be more consistent with values such as equality and democracy. In John Cowper Powys's ''Porius: A Romance of the Dark Ages'' (1951), set in Wales in 499, just prior to the Saxon invasion, Arthur, the Emperor of Britain, is only a minor character, whereas Myrddin (Merlin) and The Lady of the Lake, Nineue, Tennyson's Vivien, are major figures. Myrddin's disappearance at the end of the novel is "in the tradition of magical hibernation when the king or mage leaves his people for some island or cave to return either at a more propitious or more dangerous time" (see King Arthur's messianic return). Powys's earlier novel, ''A Glastonbury Romance'' (1932) is concerned with both the Holy Grail and the legend that Arthur is buried at Glastonbury. The romance Arthur has become popular in film and theatre as well. T. H. White's novel was adapted into the Lerner and Loewe stage musical ''Camelot (musical), Camelot'' (1960) and Walt Disney's animated film ''The Sword in the Stone (1963 film), The Sword in the Stone'' (1963); ''Camelot'', with its focus on the love of Lancelot and Guinevere and the cuckolding of Arthur, was itself made into a Camelot (film), film of the same name in 1967. The romance tradition of Arthur is particularly evident and in critically respected films like Robert Bresson's ''Lancelot du Lac (film), Lancelot du Lac'' (1974), Éric Rohmer's ''Perceval le Gallois'' (1978) and John Boorman's ''Excalibur (film), Excalibur'' (1981); it is also the main source of the material used in the Arthurian spoof ''Monty Python and the Holy Grail'' (1975). ''The Crystal Cave'' was adapted as a TV series by the BBC in 1991, starring George Winter as Merlin. Retellings and reimaginings of the romance tradition are not the only important aspect of the modern legend of King Arthur. Attempts to portray Arthur as a genuine historical figure of , stripping away the "romance", have also emerged. As Taylor and Brewer have noted, this return to the medieval "chronicle tradition" of Geoffrey of Monmouth and the ''Historia Brittonum'' is a recent trend which became dominant in Arthurian literature in the years following the outbreak of the Second World War, when Arthur's legendary resistance to Germanic enemies struck a chord in Britain. Clemence Dane's series of radio plays, ''The Saviours'' (1942), used a historical Arthur to embody the spirit of heroic resistance against desperate odds, and R. C. Sherriff, Robert Sherriff's play ''The Long Sunset'' (1955) saw Arthur rallying Romano-British resistance against the Germanic invaders. This trend towards placing Arthur in a historical setting is also apparent in historical and fantasy novels published during this period. Arthur has also been used as a model for modern-day behaviour. In the 1930s, the Order of the Fellowship of the Knights of the Round Table was formed in Britain to promote Christian ideals and Arthurian notions of medieval chivalry. In the United States, hundreds of thousands of boys and girls joined Arthurian youth groups, such as the Knights of King Arthur, in which Arthur and his legends were promoted as wholesome exemplars.; However, Arthur's diffusion within modern culture goes beyond such obviously Arthurian endeavours, with Arthurian names being regularly attached to objects, buildings, and places. As Norris J. Lacy has observed, "The popular notion of Arthur appears to be limited, not surprisingly, to a few motifs and names, but there can be no doubt of the extent to which a legend born many centuries ago is profoundly embedded in modern culture at every level."


See also

*Arthur's O'on *Artus Court *Historicity of King Arthur *King Arthur's family *King Arthur's messianic return *List of Arthurian characters *List of books about King Arthur *List of films based on Arthurian legend *List of legendary kings of Britain *Nine Worthies, of which Arthur was one


References


Citations


Sources

*. *. *. *. *. *. *. * *. *. *. 2nd ed. *. *. *. *. *. *. *. 2nd. ed. *. *. *. *. *. *. *. *. *. *. *. *. *. *. *. *. *. *. (EBSCO subscription required.) *. *. *. *. *. *. *. *. *. *. *. *. *. *. *. 5 vols. *. *. *. *. *. *. *. *. *. *. *. *. (JSTOR subscription required.) *. *. *. *. *. *. *. *. *. *. *. *. *. *. * *. *. *. 5 vols. *. *. *. *. *. *. *. *. *. *. *. *. *. *. *. *. *. *. *. 3rd ed., revised. *. *. *. *. *. *. *. *. *.


Further reading

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External links


International Arthurian Society
*. An excellent site detailing Welsh Arthurian folklore. *. A detailed and comprehensive academic site, which includes numerous scholarly articles.
Arthuriana: The Journal of Arthurian Studies, published by Scriptorium Press for Purdue University, US
The only academic journal solely concerned with the Arthurian Legend; a good selection of resources and links. *. Provides texts and translations (of varying quality) of Welsh medieval sources, many of which mention Arthur. *.
The Camelot Project, The University of Rochester
Provides valuable bibliographies and freely downloadable versions of Arthurian texts.
The Heroic Age: A Journal of Early Medieval Northwestern Europe
An online peer-reviewed journal that includes regular Arthurian articles; see especially the first issue.
''Of Arthour and of Merlin''
translated and retold in modern English prose, the story from Edinburgh, National Library of Scotland MS Advocates 19.2.1 (the Auchinleck MS) (from the Middle English of the Early English Text Society edition: O D McCrae-Gibson, 1973, ''Of Arthour and of Merlin'', 2 vols, EETS and Oxford University Press).
Alliterative ''Morte Arthure''
translated and retold in modern English alliterative prose, from Lincoln Cathedral MS 91, the Lincoln Thornton Manuscript. {{DEFAULTSORT:Arthur, King Arthurian legend British male characters in television Burials at Glastonbury Abbey Characters in works by Geoffrey of Monmouth English folklore King Arthur's family Knights of the Round Table, Legendary British kings Male characters in animation Male characters in film Male characters in literature Mythological swordfighters People whose existence is disputed