King Arthur (historical)The great King Arthur is central to the Arthurian tales. Not many people realise that he was possibly a real person, and not just a legend.
His father was called Uther Pendragon his mother's name was Igraine of Cornwall. The Celts think of him as a near mythic figure in stories such as Culhwch and Olwen. In Latin writings he is a military leader, (the 'dux bellorum'.) In the romantic epoch he is a king and emperor.
The big question that many people ask - was Arthur real?
Since the Renaissance era people have been arguing about this, partly because the Tudor family (which the infamous King Henry VIII belonged to) tried to use the fact that they are related to Arthur as a claim to the throne.
Modern scholars have said that there was indeed a real person who the legends are based upon, though he was not the amazing king and conqueror with a group of brilliant and awesome knights in shining armour. Some critics say that the ordinary man that the legends are related to did not exist either.
If there was indeed a historical persona, he would have lived and became famous whilst fighting the Germanic invaders of the late fifth and early sixth centuries. However, since there is no strong and concrete evidence, the debate over the existence of a historical Arthur will continue.
Whether he lived or not, it cannot be denied that he has been a significant influence in the art, music and literature starting from the Middle Ages to the modern day. Though there are some historical novels which portray Arthur as a sixth century character, it is the legendary Arthur of the Middle Age literature that is the most famous, captivating and loved.
He is a person who was a great ruler and designer of the greatest order of the best knights in the world. The main theme of the legends is the destruction and downfall of his empire. The chronicle tradition blames this on the treachery of Mordred (Arthur's nephew), the romantic tradition says that another reason is the love between Guinevere, Arthur's wife, and Lancelot.
King Arthur (legend)The name Arthur could be a form of 'Artorius', a Roman name, or it could have a Celtic origin, from 'artos viros' ('bear man'; Welsh 'arth gwyr'. It is also possible that the name is linked to the Irish 'art' (meaning 'stone').
Geoffrey of Monmouth (twelfth century) writes about the life of Arthur in his Historia Regum Brittaniae - History of the Kings of Britain. No one is really sure how much he borrowed from folklore, and how much of it is a product of his own imagination. He tells that King Arthur was the son of Uther and defeated the barbarians in a dozen battles. After fighting the barbarians on his home soil, he went to war with the Romans. He had to return home when he found out that his nephew Mordred had raised a rebellion and taken his wife Guinevere. When he landed back at home he fought his last battle.
The saga of Arthur went from the Celts to the continent, to Brittany in France. The French book 'Malory's Le Morte D'Arthur' then became what most people think of as the standard version of the 'history' of Arthur. In this we are told how Arthur was conceived and born: Uther, the king and Arthur's father, fell in love with Igraine. Merlin made him look exactly like Igraine's husband, so she didn't recognise him when he came to her. She became pregnant. When the child was born he was given to a man named Ector, and was brought up in secret. When Uther died there was no king to rule England. This is when Merlin placed the legendary sword Excalibur inside of a rock and said that whoever can take it out will become king. Arthur managed it and Merlin had him crowned king. This was the reason for a rebellion, but Arthur suppressed it.
The infamous Round Table was actually given to Arthur as dowry by Guinevere's father when they got married (not many people know this); it became the place where the king and his knights sat (which meant that there would be no arguments about where people should sit - everyone is equal at the round table). Arthur was an excellent king. In the war against the Romans, Arthur defeated the Emperor Lucius and became emperor himself. Unfortunately this is when one of Arthur's knights, Lancelot, fell in love with Guinevere. During the Quest for the Holy Grail (as some of you may know there is an excellent Monty Python parody of this quest) the affair between Lancelot and Guinevere was revealed.
Lancelot had to run and Guinevere was sentenced to death. Lancelot saved her and took her away to his land. Arthur decided to go to war with Lancelot, which meant that he had to leave the country. He left his nephew Mordred in charge of England. Mordred rebelled, so Arthur needed to return to England to deal with him. This led to Arthur's last battle on Salisbury Plain (which is also the site where Stonehenge stands), where he killed Mordred, but was himself seriously wounded. Arthur was then carried off in a boat, saying he was going to the vale of Avalon. Some said he never died, and would one day return. However, his grave was supposedly found at Glastonbury during the time when Henry II (1154-89) was king.
Wouldn't it be great if Arthur really did return!?
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