Arthurian Timeline, Part 2
From 1125-1485

1125 – William of Malmesbury completes “Gesta Regum Anglorum” (Deeds of the Kings of England), in which he states,
“this is that Arthur of whom the trifling of the Britons talks such nonsense, even today; a man clearly worthy not to be dreamed of in fallacious fables, but to be proclaimed in veracious histories. as one who long sustained his tottering country and gave the shattered minds of his fellow citizens an edge for war.”
The “Gesta” is significant, not only for the information it contains, but also for the fact that in its later editions (the third edition was written in the 1130’s), William includes long passages lifted verbatim from the “De Antiquitate Glastoniensis Ecclesiae.” All original manuscripts of the “De Antiquitate” are now lost and the only ones that remain are corrupt later interpolations. These interpolations were produced with the idea of supporting Glastonbury Abbey’s connections with certain legendary characters (e.g. Joseph of Arimathea, King Arthur, Melkin, St. Patrick). From the “Gesta” we can see what William had actually written in the “De Antiquitate.”
c.1129 – William of Malmesbury in residence at Glastonbury Abbey, where he writes “De Antiquitate Glastoniensis Ecclesiae,” a history of the abbey.
1129 – Henry of Huntingdon’s “Historia Anglorum” is based on Bede, Nennius and the AngloSaxon Chronicle.
1136 – Geoffrey of Monmouth publishes the famous “Historia Regum Britanniae” (History of the Kings of Britain), in Latin. His work would be used as the standard text on British history for the next 600 years.
1139 – In a letter to Warinus, Henry of Huntingdon describes Arthur’s last battle and mentions that the Bretons say that he didn’t die and are still waiting for his return..
c.1145 – Geoffrey Gaimar publishes “Estoire des Angles” (History of the English), a French adaptation of Geoffrey’s “History,” which is now lost.
1151 – Geoffrey of Monmouth appointed to bishopric of St. Asaph in Wales, but never actually visits there.
1155 – Master (Robert) Wace completes “Roman de Brut,” a version of Geoffrey’s “History” in French. He dedicated his work to Eleanor of Aquitaine, the wife of Henry II, and is remembered as being the first writer to introduce the concept of the “Round Table” to the Arthurian cycle. Of Arthur, Wace says,
“I know not if you have heard tell the marvellous gestes and errant deeds related so often of King Arthur. They have been noised about this mighty realm for so great a space that the truth has turned to fable and an idle song. Such rhymes are neither sheer bare lies, nor gospel truths. They should not be considered either an idiot’s tale, or given by inspiration. The minstrel has sung his ballad, the storyteller told over his tale so frequently, little by little he has decked and painted, till by reason of his embellishment the truth stands hid in the trappings of a tale. Thus to make a delectable tune to your ear, history goes masking as fable.
c.1160-80 – Marie de France writes “Lais” (Lays), a collection of short poems. Two of the poems, “Chevrefueil” and “Lanval,” include Arthurian characters and themes.
c.1160-90 – Chretien de Troyes, the greatest of the medieval romance writers, makes his five contributions to the Arthurian cycle during this period. His Arthurian works are: “Eric et Enide,” “Cliges” “Le Chevalier de la Charette” (The Knight of the Cart, or Lancelot), “Yvain” (or Le Chevalier au Lion, The Knight with the Lion) and “Perceval” (Le Conte del Graal, The Story of the Graal).
Chretien’s work is noteworthy, not only for its quality, but for the introduction and further development of certain characters and themes into the Arthurian literature. He is, also, the first to apply the literary form of the romance, to the transmission of the stories of Arthur.
It is Chretien who first tells us of the Grail (Graal), but he never equated it with the cup of the Last Supper or the cup used to catch the blood of Christ. The word, grail, a commonly used term in the middle ages, simply referred to a dish or plate of a particular kind. One Helinand of Froidmont wrote in the 13th century “. . .a wide and somewhat deep dish in which expensive meats are customarily placed for the rich. . .and it is commonly called a grail” (Lacy, Norris J., ed., The Arthurian Encyclopedia, Peter Bedrick Books, New York, 1986, p.257). Chretien used the grail as a symbol of beauty and mystery, but he never presented it as an object of religious devotion (the spiritual aspect was introduced by later writers).
Chretien de Troyes is remembered as the first writer to give the name of Camelot to Arthur’s headquarters and capital city. He, also, is responsible for the introduction of the famous knights, Lancelot, Gawain and Perceval, into the literature of Arthurian legend.
c.1170 – Beroul, a French poet, writes “Roman de Tristan,” believed to be one of the earliest extant versions of the story of Tristan and Yseult, and independent of any other versions. The story, as told by Beroul, is connected with the mainstream of Arthurian legend through its chief antagonist, King Mark of Cornwall. The mention of the church of St. Samson in Cornwall, as the wedding place of Mark and Yseult, provides some basis for localizing the legend around the area of Fowey. Dating of “Roman de Tristan” is somewhat uncertain and may have been written a few years later.
c.1175 – Thomas d’Angleterre, an Anglo-Norman, writing in England, produces poem, “Tristan,” which would later inspire Gottfried von Strassburg’s poem of the same name. Thomas’ poem, with Beroul’s, is one of only two twelfth century Old French tellings of the Tristan and Yseult story.
A writer, known as the monk of Ursicampum, enlarged the chronicle of Siegebert of Gembloux and raised, perhaps for the first time, the possibility that King Arthur may have been the historical British king Riothamus. This same equation, although in far less direct terms, was made subsequently by the writers of the “Chronicles of Anjou” and the “Salzbury Annals,” and by Albericus Trium Fontium (1227-51), Martinus Polonus (c.1275), Jacques de Guise (late 14th C.) and Philippe de Vigneulles (1525). In a 1799 work called the “History of the Anglo Saxons,” Sharon Turner equates Arthur with Riothamus and in modern times, Professor Leon Fleuriot and Geoffrey Ashe are the main champions of the idea.
1184 – Great fire ravages Glastonbury Abbey destroying Old Church.
1190 – Discovery of Arthur’s grave between two pyramids in cemetary at Glastonbury Abbey.
c.1190 – Layamon (pronounced “lawmon”), a priest of Arley Regis, Worcestershire, publishes “Brut,” an English translation of Wace into alliterative verse. Although the dating of “Brut” is uncertain, his work marks the first appearance of the Arthurian story in English.
1192-3 – Gerald of Wales visits Glastonbury, reports on exhumation of Arthur’s grave in “Liber de Principis Instructione.”
c.1195-1205 – Hartmann von Aue, a German court poet, produces two Arthurian romances, “Erek” and “Iwein,” inspired by Chretien’s “Eric et Enide” and “Yvain.” Hartmann is the first to introduce Arthurian literature to Germany.
c.1198 – William of Newburgh writes “Historia Rerum Anglicarum,” a history of Britain beginning with the Conquest of 1066. The preface, however, tries to place Arthur in a historical context and uses the works of Gildas and Bede to harshly criticize Geoffrey of Monmouth’s claims for him, concluding that Arthur and Merlin are fictitious.
c.1200 – “The Dream of Rhonabwy,” last of the Mabinogion tales to be completed, takes place in the time of the historical character, Madawg, son of Maredudd, king of Powys, who died in 1159. Tale refers to Arthur as Emperor, and compares glories of his legendary kingdom with hardships of twelfth century Wales.
c.1200-10 – Wolfram von Eschenbach, the greatest of the German epic poets, produces “Parzifal,” his masterful expansion of Chretien’s “Perceval.” Wolfram’s epic would, centuries later, become the inspiration for Wagner’s 1882 opera, “Parsifal.”
c.1210 – Robert de Boron, in “Joseph d’Arimathie” and “Estoire del Saint Graal,” is responsible for transforming Chretien’s “grail” into “The Holy Grail.” Robert saw something spiritual in Chretien’s secular grail and transformed it into the cup which Joseph of Arimathea allegedly used to catch the blood dripping from Christ’s crucifixion wounds, and the object of many “Quests” undertaken by Arthur’s knights. Robert is the first to claim that Joseph and his family brought the Grail to unspecified parts of Britain. Subsequent accounts localized it in the vicinity of Glastonbury.
Gottfried von Strassburg produces, “Tristan,” the classic version of the love story, basing it on Thomas d’Angleterre’s earlier poem. Wagner would use Gottfried’s work as basis for his 1859 opera of the same name.
c.1210-30 – Vulgate (Lancelot-Grail) Cycle, a series of Arthurian tales, in French, which attempt to tell the whole history of the Grail and to recount the quests of the Grail knights. During this period, stories transition from verse to prose, and as change progresses, material takes on more historical and religious overtones. Cycle included: “Estoire del Saint Graal,” Estoire de Merlin,” “Lancelot du Lac” (also Roman du Lancelot), “Queste del Saint Graal” and “Mort Artu.”
c.1216 – Gerald of Wales writes his second, and slightly different, account of the discovery of Arthur’s grave in “Speculum Ecclesiae.”
c.1220 – Ralph of Coggeshall mentions discovery of Arthur’s grave in his “English Chronicle.”
c.1250 – Mabinogion, a collection of eleven Welsh folk tales and legends (some of which mention Arthur), takes final form, although some scholars argue for a much earlier date of c.1000. Collection includes such well-known tales as Culhwch and Olwen, “The Dream of Rhonabwy,” “Gereint and Enid,” “The Dream of Maxen” “Branwen Daughter of Llyr,” “Peredur Son of Evrawg,” etc.
“Llyfr Du Caerfyrddin” (Black Book of Carmarthen) compiled. Thought to be the work of one scribe, possibly working at the Priory of St John at Carmarthen, it contains 38 items, almost all poetry, including: Englynion y Beddau, Gereint fab Erbin, religious verses and “Merlin” poems.
Interpolated version of William of Malmesbury’s “De Antiquitate Glastoniensis Ecclesiae” written by Glastonbury monks (probably Adam of Domerham), including much questionable material never included in William’s original work.
1278 – Edward I and Queen Eleanor of Castille visit Glastonbury Abbey to officially reinter the remains of Arthur and Guinevere in the new abbey church. King Arthur’s cross is placed on top of the black marble tomb. Edward proclaims his son, Edward of Caernarvon, Prince of Wales, and positions himself as the legitimate successor of Arthur.
1300 – In Robert of Gloucester’s “Chronicle” he states that the Britons of Wales had been converted to Christianity by Phagan and Deruvian (middle 2nd Century), who had built the first church in England at Glastonbury.
c.1300 – A chronicle of Margam Abbey (Wales) tells of the discovery of Arthur’s grave.
1307 – Publication of Peter Langtoft’s “Chronicle,” which updates Geoffrey of Monmouth’s “History” through Edward I’s reign. In it he praises Arthur as the greatest of kings.
c.1325 – “Llyfr Gwyn Rhydderch” (White Book of Rhydderch), an incomplete version of Mabinogion, contains “Culhwch and Olwen,” the “Dream of Macsen Wledig” and many religious texts. A portion of the original manuscript is now lost.
c.1340 – “Joseph of Arimathie,” an alliterative poem written in English, pays particular attention to Joseph’s activities after the Resurrection of Christ and portrays him as an Apostolic evangelist as well as the keeper of the Grail.
c.1350 – “Cronica sive Antiquitates Glastoniensis Ecclesiae” (Chronicle or Antiquities of the Church of Glastonbury), by John Seen, a monk of Glastonbury, continuing the history of the abbey originally begun by William of Malmesbury 220 years before. Much Arthurian material is here, including an account of the discovery of his grave and a prophecy of Melkin, allegedly a 5th century British bard, in which the grail and the grave of Joseph of Arimathea are said to have been at Glastonbury.
c.1370-90 – Geoffrey Chaucer’s “The Canterbury Tales” are believed to have been written during this period. Two of the tales, the Squire’s and the Wife of Bath’s, make direct references to Arthurian characters or themes.
c.1400 – “Llyfr Coch Hergest” (Red Book of Hergest), the earliest complete version of the Mabinogion, is one of the most important Welsh medieval manuscripts. At 362 folios, it is the largest. The manuscript is dated between 1382 and 1410, and contains examples of many kinds of Welsh literature, excepting only the laws and religious texts. It includes: the “History of the Kings of Britain” of Geoffrey of Monmouth, “Brut y Tywysogyon,” a series of Triads, “Gereint fab Erbin”, “The Dream of Rhonabwy” and others. Its contents are similar to those of Llyfr Gwyn Rhydderch.
c.1430 – John Capgrave, a friar at King’s Lynn, Norfolk, publishes “De Sancto Joseph ab Aramathea,” in which he states, quoting from an unnamed manuscript,
“Philip sent from a Gaul a hundred and sixty disciples to assist Joseph and his companions.”
But, it was not until the third edition (composed in the late 15th c.) of his “Nova Legenda Angliae,” printed by Wynkyn de Worde in 1516, that a life of St. Joseph of Arimathea was included.
c.1450 – Herry Lovelich’s “History of the Holy Grail,” the first English translation of the French Vulgate tale, “Estoire del Saint Graal.” In the Vulgate, Josephes, Joseph’s son is the protagonist in the British portion of the tale. In Lovelich’s version, the emphasis is switched to Joseph of Arimathea and his conversion activities in Britain, but his connection with the Grail is diminished. “Llyfr Gwyn Hergest” (the White Book of Hergest) may have been a manuscript of some importance. Several descriptions of its contents indicate that it contained: “Y Bibyl Ynghymraec,” the “Laws,” a copy of the “Statute of Rhuddlan,” and strict metre poetry. It was destroyed by fire in the nineteenth century. Partial transcripts are preserved in both the British Library and the National Library of Wales.
1465 – John Hardyng completes his “Chronicle,” blending Glastonbury and Grail traditions in the process. He connects Arthur and Joseph of Arimathea, whom he credits with constructing the original Round Table. The “Chronicle” brings Joseph to Britain in 76 AD, after a 42 year period of imprisonment, and attributes to him the conversion of the land to Christianity. Hardyng’s work is an indication of the extent to which the Glastonbury traditions of Joseph and Arthur had integrated themselves into the mainstream.
1469-70 – Completion of “Morte d’Arthur” by Sir Thomas Malory of Newbold Revel, Warwichshire, while in London’s Newgate Prison. Malory’s work is the definitive English Arthurian romance and embodies many earlier French and Welsh tradtitions. He accepts Joseph of Arimathea’s association with Glastonbury, but distances him from the Grail.
1482 – “Polychronicon,” the most popular source of world history available in England, published by Ranulf Higden, a Benedictine monk from Cheshire. In it he questioned Geoffrey of Monmouth’s basis for his claims of Arthur’s continental conquests.
1485 – William Caxton’s first printing of Malory’s “Morte d’Arthu,” giving wider circulation to the Glastonbury, Arthur and Joseph traditions.
Part 3 Tomorrow!