Arthurian Romances

The World Pertaining to King Arthur


Middle Ages

Great References of King Arthur Online

King Arthur Conquers Cyberspace


King Arthur: Legends go back hundreds of years
Ancient manuscripts telling the story of the legendary King Arthur are set to go online.

The British Library is to make computer images of its priceless parchments for the Arthurian Heritage Trust.

They include the 11th century writings of Geoffrey of Monmouth and Sir Thomas Malory’s Morte D’Arthur, published in the 15th century.

The Trust aims to make them available in a digital archive for use by schools, academics and others at its Cornwall base.

And Daniel Parsons, director of the Trust’s project, said the archive could then be transferred to its internet site, making it a global resource for research and interpretation of the material.

He told BBC News Online: “The Arthurian legends are some of the most important cultural traditions in Europe and we want to make them more widely available.”

The Trust is still trying to raise £1.6m to complete the project, dubbed Camelot.

And it is negotiating the purchase of an ancient Cornish manor house at Slaughterbridge, near Camelford, to house the archives and become a permanent centre for the Trust.

The house is close to the site of what some scholars have identified as Camlann, scene of Arthur’s final battle with his treacherous nephew Mordred.

The British Library already makes manuscripts of the Magna Carta and other historical items available on its internet site.

But the Trust hopes to embellish its Arthurian material with interpretations and music.

Special provision will be made for children at the centre where schools will be encouraged to participate in visits and computer links with other schools in Britain and overseas.

There will also be programmes of residential lectures, seminars and workshops on Arthurian and related themes.

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Arthurian Quote from Le Morte d’Arthur

Now I have warned thee of thy vain glory and of thy pride, that thou hast many times erred against thy Maker. Beware of everlasting pain, for of all earthly knights I have most pity of thee, for I know well thou hast not thy peer on any earthy sinful man.

A recluse to Launcelot, 713

These words, spoken during the quest for the Sangreal, touch on Lancelot’s spiritual failings, and help to define the epic’s shift into a more Christian work. On the quest for the Sangreal, Lancelot has a hard time accepting the idea that he might not achieve his goal. After all, he has always been the world’s greatest knight. However, this pride is precisely what keeps him from fulfilling the goal. Finding the Sangreal requires spiritual fortitude, not just physical strength. The recluse’s words reveal to Lancelot that his best path is to repent of his sins. Redemption, another major theme of Le Morte d’Arthur, proves quite important to Lancelot’s story arc. Here, we see the beginning of Lancelot’s spiritual trial.

10 Important Medieval Dates

10 medieval dates you need to know…

Don’t know the battle of Bosworth from the battle of Bannockburn? Confused between Magna Carta and the Domesday Book? We’ve got you covered. Here we bring you 10 key medieval dates you need to know…

Tuesday 22nd March 2016    Submitted by: Ellie Cawthorne  from BBC History Extra
GettyImages-142083925 2
Detail from the Bayeux tapestry. (DeAgostini/Getty Images)
Detail from the Bayeux tapestry, which depicts the Norman conquest of England in 1066. (DeAgostini/Getty Images)


1066: The battle of Hastings and the Norman conquest

The Norman conquest of 1066 marked a dramatic and irreversible turning point in English history. Events began with the battle of Hastings, in which the Anglo-Saxon king Harold II attempted to defend his realm from the Norman invasion forces of William, Duke of Normandy (later known as William the Conqueror).

Harold’s English troops numbered around 5,000, compared to a well-equipped Norman force of 15,000 infantry, archers and cavalry. Although the English had some initial success using shield-wall tactics, they proved no match for William, who was a formidable warlord. English defences were eventually broken down and King Harold was killed. His crushing defeat and gory death on the battlefield is famously recorded in the Bayeux tapestry, which was completed in the 1070s.

Following William’s success at the battle of Hastings – dubbed by Andrew Gimson the “most durable victory of any monarch in English history”– William the Conqueror set about transforming the face of Anglo-Saxon England. He skillfully secured his hold on the lands he had invaded, replacing the English ruling class with Norman counterparts and building defensive fortresses at strategic points throughout the kingdom.

Under William the feudal system [a hierarchical system in which people held lands in return for providing loyalty or services to a lord] was introduced, the church reorganised and England’s links to Europe strengthened. The legacy of 1066’s Norman conquest can still be seen today in Britain’s language, culture and social structure.


William I

A portrait of William the Conqueror from the ‘Historia Anglorum, Chronica majora’. (Fine Art Images/Heritage Images/Getty Images)


1085: The Domesday Book is completed

The Domesday Book is England’s earliest surviving public record, unsurpassed in depth and detail until the introduction of censuses in the 19th century.

Towards the end of the 11th century England came under threat from Danish invaders. William the Conqueror (who had himself been an invader two decades earlier) realised the need to catalogue the country’s financial resources in order to assess how much taxation he could reap from the land to fund a potential war. He therefore commissioned a massive survey of England’s landholdings and financial assets. The monumental resulting document, the Domesday Book, extensively catalogues the kingdom’s taxable goods and records the identities of England’s landholders at the time.

The Domesday Book is significant because it provides a unique and remarkably rich historical source for medievalists. Its vast amount of information offers historians, geographers, linguists and even lawyers invaluable insights into the nature of England’s government, landscape and social structure at the time.

The book now survives in two volumes: Great Domesday and Little Domesday.

1095: The First Crusade is decreed

Pope Urban II’s official call for “holy war” in 1095 heralded the beginning of centuries of religious conflict. The crusades were a significant and long-lasting movement that saw European Christian knights mount successive military campaigns in attempts to conquer the Holy Land. Religious conflict peaked during the 12th and 13th centuries and its impact can be traced throughout the Middle Ages.

Muslims in the Holy Land were not the only target of the crusades. Crusade campaigns were directed against a variety of people viewed as enemies of Christendom. Military campaigns against the Moors in Spain and Mongols and pagan Slavs in Eastern Europe have now also been recognised by historians as part of the crusade movement.

The crusades had a huge impact on medieval life in Britain. People from all walks of life were involved – everyone from peasant labourers to lords and kings took up the fight for Christendom. Richard the Lionheart (r1189–99) considered the quest to conquer the Holy Land to be so important that he was absent from England for many years of his reign, waging war in the Middle East.

These intercontinental military expeditions also had a much wider impact on global relations. They led to an unprecedented interaction between east and west, which had an enduring influence on art, science, culture and trade. Meanwhile the shared fight for Christendom arguably also helped to foster ideological unity within Europe. In the words of historian Linda Paterson, the crusades “transformed the western world and left a profound legacy in inter-cultural and inter-faith relations nationally and worldwide”.



A battle during the crusades. Miniature from the ‘Historia’ by William of Tyre, 1460s. (Fine Art Images/Heritage Images/Getty Images)


1170: Thomas Becket is murdered

Bloody proof of overflowing tensions in the ongoing power struggle between the medieval church and crown, the murder of Thomas Becket in 1170 has gone down in history for its shocking brutality.

In 1155, after enjoying a successful career in the clergy, Becket (1120–70) became chancellor to King Henry II. Friendship and rapport developed between the two men and in 1161 Henry appointed Becket as archbishop of Canterbury.

However, following Becket’s appointment as archbishop, his harmonious relationship with the king was short-lived. Trouble began to emerge as it became clear that Becket would now fight for the interests of the church, often in opposition to the wishes of the crown.

Becket began to challenge the king over a wide range of issues and their turbulent disagreements lasted several years. Their relationship disintegrated to such an extent that between 1164 and 1170 Becket lived in France to avoid Henry’s wrath. He returned to Canterbury in 1170 but was soon in conflict with the king again, this time over the excommunication of high-ranking clerics.

This dispute was the final straw for Henry. According to popular legend he lost his temper with the archbishop, asking “Who will rid me of this troublesome priest?” Believing this to mean that the king wished Becket dead, four knights travelled to Canterbury to seek out the archbishop. On 29 December 1170 they brutally murdered Becket in his own cathedral.

In 1173, three years after his death, Becket was canonised. His murder transformed him into a martyr figure and his shrine at Canterbury Cathedral became a major European pilgrimage site. The priest’s murder was extremely damaging to Henry’s reputation and in 1174 Henry visited Becket’s tomb to pay penance for his actions.

Thomas Becket

A late 12th-century illustration of the murder of Thomas Becket in 1170. (CM Dixon/Print Collector/Getty Images)


1215: Magna Carta is signed

Sealed by King John at Runnymede on 15 June 1215, Magna Carta (meaning ‘great charter’) has become one of the founding documents of the English legal system.

At the time of its creation, however, the document’s long-lasting significance was not immediately recognised. Following a period of political and military upheaval in England, John was reluctantly forced to sign Magna Carta as part of peace negotiations with rebel barons. Drafted as part of a peace treaty, the initial document contained specific grievances dealing expressly with King John’s rule. At the time the agreement had little impact, as King John swiftly backtracked on its promises, prompting civil war.

Magna Carta’s real significance lay elsewhere. Buried within its many clauses were certain adaptable core values that ensured its influential legacy in English history. As the first document to establish that everyone, including monarchs, was subject to the law, Magna Carta laid the foundation for legally limiting the power of the sovereignty. Its 39th clause, meanwhile, ensured the right of all ‘free men’ to a fair trial.

The fundamental principles laid down in these clauses proved central to the establishment of the English legal system. The original document was adapted several times in subsequent years and three of the clauses from the original Magna Carta still remain on the statute books today. These establish the liberties of the English Church (Clause 1), the privileges of the City of London (Clause 13) and the right to trial by jury (Clauses 39 & 40).


1314: The battle of Bannockburn

The battle of Bannockburn saw Scottish leader Robert the Bruce take on the English king Edward II in a pivotal conflict in Scotland’s fight for independence.

In 1296 Anglo-Scottish tensions spilled over into open warfare when English forces under Edward I invaded Scotland. By 1314 the Scottish Wars of Independence had been raging for many years and Edward II’s hold over Scotland had begun to crumble. In an attempt to restore his grasp on the kingdom Edward II amassed a large body of troops to relieve Stirling Castle, which had been besieged by the forces of Robert the Bruce. However, Edward’s attempt to regain control backfired, as the Scots prepared to face the English forces head-on in what became the battle of Bannockburn.

The battle took place on 23 and 24 June 1314. Although the English force boasted greater numbers, the Scottish were well trained and well led, fighting on land they were motivated to defend. Their knowledge of the local land also worked in their favour, as they tactically targeted terrain that would be difficult for Edward’s heavy cavalry to operate on. English casualties were heavy and Edward was forced to retreat.

Bannockburn dealt a significant blow to English control over Scotland and Edward’s withdrawal left swathes of northern England vulnerable to Scottish raids and attacks. Robert the Bruce’s victory proved decisive for Scotland, solidifying the country’s independence and strengthening his grip over his kingdom. In 1324 Robert finally gained papal recognition as king of Scotland.


1348: The Black Death comes to Britain

The summer of 1348 saw the first outbreak of the bubonic plague in England, leading to an epidemic of huge proportions. The disease is estimated to have killed between a third and a half of the population – a devastating and unprecedented death rate.

Known as the Black Death, the bubonic plague was caused by a bacterium now know as yersinia pestis. Without any knowledge of how it was transmitted the disease spread like wildfire, particularly in urban areas. The writer Boccaccio saw the plague ravage Florence in 1348 and described the symptoms in his book The Decameron: “The first signs of the plague were lumps in the groin or armpits. After this, livid black spots appeared on the arms and thighs and other parts of the body. Few recovered. Almost all died within three days, usually without any fever”.

The dramatic death toll had a significant impact on the social and economic landscape of Britain in the following decades. Writing for History Extra, Mark Ormrod has argued that in the long-run the epidemic led to a “real improvement in the quality of life” for medieval people. He suggests that “the drop in the population resulted in a redistribution of wealth – workers could demand higher wages, and tenant farmers could demand lower rents, giving the poor more expendable income”.


Death strangles plague victim

Death strangling a victim of the plague. From the 14th-century Stiny Codex.(Fine Art Images/Heritage Images/Getty Images)

1381: The Peasants’ Revolt

The first large-scale uprising in English history, the Peasants’ Revolt of 1381 threatened to overturn the existing social structure and undermine the country’s ruling elite.

The revolt was prompted by the introduction of a third poll tax (raised to fund the war against France), which had a particularly damaging effect on the poor. Unrest began in Essex, spreading rapidly to East Anglia, St Albans, Bury St Edmunds and London. As events escalated, government ministers were attacked and their homes destroyed. The chaos reached a peak as rioters captured and executed the king’s treasurer and the archbishop of Canterbury.

Soon, the rioters’ demands extended far beyond abolishing the third poll tax. They called for the abolition of serfdom and outlawry, and the division of lordship among all men. They also railed against the corruption of the church, demanding that its wealth be distributed among the people.

Faced with the threat of escalating violence in his capital city, the 14-year-old King Richard II met with one of the central figures of the revolt, Wat Tyler, to discuss the rioters’ grievances. However, violence broke out at the meeting and Tyler was murdered by William Walworth (Lord Mayor of London). Following Tyler’s death, government troops sought out and executed those who had rebelled, and resistance soon died out.

Peasants revolt

A 15th-century image depicting the meeting between Wat Tyler and the revolutionary priest John Ball during the Peasants’ Revolt. (Prisma/UIG/Getty Images)

1415: Henry V defeats the French at Agincourt

Soon after becoming king of England in 1413, the ambitious young Henry V turned his attention to expanding his realm. During his father’s reign he had pushed for an invasion of France, and as the country was undergoing a period of political turmoil under its elderly monarch, Charles VI, it was the perfect time to launch an assault on the vulnerable kingdom.

After landing in France on 13 August 1415 and besieging the town of Harfleur, Henry’s troops marched on Calais. The French army met them at Agincourt and Henry’s men found themselves outnumbered as a bloody battle ensued. Despite this the French death toll was significant and Henry claimed victory.

Agincourt has gone down in history as a legendary victory for England and for Henry. However, historian Ralph Griffiths suggests that it was in fact a close-run and far from decisive battle. He argues that contemporaries exaggerated Henry’s achievements in France.

However, patriotic Agincourt propaganda undoubtedly had sticking power in the Middle Ages. The defeat proved devastating to French morale, while Henry’s reputation on the continent was enhanced dramatically. Henry was welcomed back to Dover with triumph and the story of his illustrious victory at Agincourt was celebrated for centuries to come.



A 15th-century image of the Battle of Agincourt. (DeAgostini/Getty Images)


1485: Richard III is defeated at the battle of Bosworth

The last significant clash of the Wars of the Roses, the battle of Bosworth saw the Lancastrian Henry Tudor (the future Henry VII) defeat Richard III in a bloody fight for the English throne.

Following Richard’s deposition of Edward V in 1483, Henry challenged the Yorkist king as a usurper. In August 1485 Henry launched an attack on Richard in an attempt to seize control of England. Richard’s army of 15,000 vastly outnumbered that of Henry, who had only 5,000 men. Confident of defeating his challenger, Richard was reportedly overjoyed at Henry’s arrival in England and even delayed facing his troops in order to celebrate with a feast day.

However, once the battle began, Richard’s strong initial position was undermined by the desertion of his troops and the defection of Lord Stanley (who had previously fought on the Yorkist side and commanded significant troops). The Yorkist forces were defeated and Richard was killed on the battlefield.

The discovery of Richard’s skeleton in Leicester in 2012 has told us much about how the defeated king met his death. Writing for History Extra, Chris Skidmore states that “several gouge marks in the front of the skull seem to have been caused by a dagger, perhaps in a struggle. The two wounds that would have killed Richard include the back part of his skull being sheathed off; if this did not kill him, a sword blade thrust from the base of the skull straight through the brain certainly would have done the job”.

As the last major conflict of the Wars of the Roses and one that heralded the end of the Plantagenet dynasty, the battle of Bosworth marked a significant turning point in British history. It signalled the end of the medieval era and beginning of the Tudor period.

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What Historians say about King Arthur (This is a long one but very informative for anyone who needs to research this topic!)

King Arthur: Commentary

What the Historians and Writers Say About Him


Below, you’ll read what over 80 historians, writers and commentators (some mainstream, some not) across nearly 1500 years have written about the historical Arthur.



Gildas – “On the Ruin of Britain” (De Excidio Britanniae, 25-6; c. 540)

“…that they might not be brought to utter destruction, took arms under the conduct of Ambrosius Aurelianus, a modest man, who of all the Roman nation was then alone in the confusion of this troubled period by chance left alive. His parents, who for their merit were adorned with the purple, kind been slain in these same broils, and now his progeny in these our days, although shamefully degenerated from the worthiness of their ancestors, provoke to battle their cruel conquerors, and by the goodness of our Lord obtain the victory. After this, sometimes our countrymen, sometimes the enemy, won the field, to the end that our Lord might this land try after his accustomed manner these his Israelites, whether they loved him or not, until the year of the siege of Bath-hill [ed. note: Mount Badon, mons badonicus], when took place also the last almost, though not the least slaughter of our cruel foes, which was (as I am sure) forty-four years and one month after the landing of the Saxons, and also the time of my own nativity.”


[ed. note: the significance of Gildas is that he is our one near-contemporary source for the times that King Arthur would have flourished, and we find that he is totally silent concerning him. Gildas allows for a King Arthur to have been the victor of the battle of Mount Badon, but doesn’t mention him by name. Many take that silence to mean that Arthur didn’t exist. That argument, persuasive to some, is countered by the fact that Gildas didn’t mention Vortigern by name, either, but no one doubts Vortigern’s existence, for that same reason.]


Aneirin – “Y Gododdin, Stanza 98” (c. 600.)

He thrust beyond three hundred, most bold, he cut down the centre and far wing.

He proved worthy, leading noble men; he gave from his herd steeds for winter.

He brought black crows to a fort’s wall, though he was not Arthur.

He made his strength a refuge, the front line’s bulwark, Gwawrddur.


[ed. note: The original poem is believed to have been written around 600, although extant copies date only from 13th C. It is not known whether the mention of Arthur was part of the original; it may be a late addition. If so, Y Gododdin is invalidated as a useful Arthurian source. We must also question which Arthur is the subject of this stanza of Aneirin’s poem. Arthur, son of Aedan of Dalriada lived in close proximity in time and space to the place where this battle took place [Catraeth, Catterick] and he was a local hero, so it could be he that Aneirin is praising, here. .]


Bede, the Venerable – “Ecclesiastical History” (Historia Ecclesiae, 731)

“They had at that time for their leader, Ambrosius Aurelianus, a man of worth, who alone, by chance, of the Roman nation had survived the storm, in which his parents, who were of the royal race, had perished. Under him the Britons revived, and offering battle to the victors, by the help of God, gained the victory. From that day, sometimes the natives, and sometimes their enemies, prevailed, till the year of the siege of Badon-hill, when they made no small slaughter of those enemies, about forty-four years after their arrival in England. But of this hereafter. ”


[ed. note: Like Gildas, whom he used as a source, Bede, one of most careful and respected of the early historians, also makes no mention of Arthur.]


Nennius – “History of the Britons” (Historia Brittonum, c. 829-30)

“Then it was, that the magnanimous Arthur, with all the kings and military force of Britain, fought against the Saxons. And though there were many more noble than himself, yet he was twelve times chosen their commander, and was as often conqueror.”


[ed. note: Arthur doesn’t become a king until Geoffrey of Monmouth makes him one. If the date of 1019 can be believed for the writing of the Legend of St. Goeznovious – see below – then the idea of Arthur as king of the Britons cannot be attributed to Geoffrey.]


Unknown chronicler/compiler – “Annals of Wales” (Annales Cambriae; c. late 10th C.)

Entry for year 516 – The Battle of Badon, in which Arthur carried the Cross of our Lord Jesus Christ for three days and three nights on his shoulders and the Britons were the victors. Entry for year 537 – The Battle of Camlann, in which Arthur and Medraut fell: and there was plague in Britain and Ireland.


William, Chaplain to Bishop Eudo of Leon – “Legend of St. Goeznovius, preface” (c. 1019)

“In the course of time, the usurping king Vortigern, to buttress the defence of the kingdom of Great Britain which he unrighteously held, summoned warlike men from the land of Saxony and made them his allies in the kingdom. Since they were pagans and of devilish character, lusting by their nature to shed human blood, they drew many evils upon the Britons. Presently their pride was checked for a while through the great Arthur, king of the Britons. They were largely cleared from the island and reduced to subjection. But when this same Arthur, after many victories which he won gloriously in Britain and in Gaul, was summoned at last from human activity, the way was open for the Saxons to go again into the islane, and there was great oppression of the Britons, destruction of churches and persecution of saints. This persecution went on through the times of many kings, Saxons and Britons striving back and forth. In those days, many holy men gave themselves up to martyrdom; others, in conformity to the Gsopel, left the greater Britain which is now the Saxon’s homeland, and sailed across to the lesser Britain [ed. note: Brittany].”


[ed. note: There are enough similarities with Geoffrey’s “History” that some have questioned whether Goeznovious might be of later date, i.e. post-Geoffrey. But, unless William’s original source, “Ystoria Britannica,” is found and proves otherwise, we have to consider the possibility that Geoffrey may have used Goeznovious as a source.]


William of Malmesbury – “The Deeds of the Kings of England (De Gestis Regum Anglorum)” (c. 1125)

“When he [ed. note: Vortigern’s son, Vortimer] died the strength of the Britons diminished and all hope left them. They would soon have been altogether destroyed if Ambrosius, the sole survivor of the Romans who became king after Vortigern, had not defeated the presumptuous barbarians with the powerful aid of the warlike Arthur. 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.”


Henry of Huntingdon – “History of the English” (Historia Anglorum, c. 1130)

“The valiant Arthur, who was at that time the commander of the soldiers and kings of Britain, fought against [the invaders] invincibly. Twelve times he led in battle. Twelve times was he victorious in battle. The twelfth and hardest battle that Arthur fought against the Saxons was on Mount Badon, where 440 of his men died in the attack that day, and no Briton stayed to support him, the Lord alone strengthening him.”


Geoffrey of Monmouth – “History of the Kings of Britain” (Historia Regum Britanniae; c. 1136)

“And even the renowned king Arthur himself was mortally wounded; and being carried thence to the isle of Avalon to be cured of his wounds, he gave up the crown of Britain to his kinsman Constantine, the son of Cador, duke of Cornwall, in the five hundred and forty-second year of our Lord’s incarnation.”


Gerald of Wales (Giraldus Cambrensis) – “On the Instruction of a Prince” (De principis instructione, c. 1193)

“The memory of King Arthur, that most renowned King of the Britons, will endure for ever…In our own lifetime, Arthur’s body was discovered at Glastonbury, although the legends had always encouraged us to believe that there was something otherworldly about his ending, that he had resisted death and had been spirited away to some far-distant spot.”


Alain de Lille – (12th C.)

“Whither has not the flying fame spread and familiarized the name of Arthur the Briton, even as far as the empire of Christendom extends? Who, I say, does not speak of Arthur the Briton, since he is almost better known to the peoples of Asia than to the Britanni, as our palmers returning from the East inform us? The Eastern peoples speak of him, as do the Western, though separated by the width of the whole earth . . .Rome, queen of cities, sings his deeds, nor are Arthur’s wars unknown to her former rival Carthage, Antioch, Armenia, Palestine celebrate his acts.”


William of Newburgh – “History of English Affairs” (Historia rerum Anglicarum, c. 1198)

“For the purpose of washing out those stains from the character of the Britons, a writer in our times has started up and invented the most ridiculous fictions concerning them, and with unblushing effrontery, extols them far above the Macedonians and Romans. He is called Geoffrey, surnamed Arthur, from having given, in a Latin version, the fabulous exploits of Arthur, drawn from the traditional fictions of the Britons, with additions of his own, and endeavored to dignify them with the name of authentic history.”


[ed. note: Amid the near universal chorus of hosannas heard throughout Europe for Geoffrey of Monmouth and his “History of the Kings of Britain,” William of Newburgh stands out as, perhaps, the first and certainly his most ardent critic. In fact, the full preface to his ‘History’ is taken up with ever-crescendoing criticsm, of which the above quote is only the opening salvo. CLICK HERE to read William of Newburgh’s full preface.]


Gervase of Tilbury – “Imperial Leisure” (Otia Imperialia, c. 1211)

“Arthur was mortally wounded, although he had destroyed all his enemies. After this, according to a popular British tradition, he was carried off to the Isle of Avalon to be healed of his wounds, which break open again every year, by Morgan the fairy’s restorative cure. The British foolishly believe that he will return to his kingdom after a period of time.”


[ed note: Arthur’s return, not his existence is questioned. See Monk of Malmesbury entry, below.]


Walter of Coventry – “The Historical Collections of Walter of Coventry” (late 13th C.)

“On the fourth day, the king of Sicily sent many great gifts in both gold and silver, as well as horses and silk garments, to the English king; but he received nothing in return except a little ring, which he accepted as a token of mutual friendship. Moreover, the king of England gave to King Tancred an excellent sword called Caliburn, formerly belonging to King Arthur of England. Then Tancred fave to the King of England four great ships, called ‘Ursers’, and fifteen galleys.”


[ed. note: Tancred is Tancred I of Sicily and the English king is Richard I. This is an account of Richard’s visit to Sicily in 1191, shortly after the discovery of Arthur’s body at Glastonbury. This indicates that, at least in those days, there was no doubt about Arthur’s prior existence.]


Pierre de Langtoft – “Chronicle” (early 14th C.)

“In ancient histories we find written,

What kings and what kingdoms King Arthur conquered,

And how he shared largely his gain.

There was not a king under him who contradicted him,

Earl, duke or baron, who ever failed him

In war or in battle, but each followed him.”


[ed. note: Langtoft was here contrasting the stinginess of Edward I with Arthur’s generosity. Once again, he evidences not a hint of doubt about Arthur’s reality.]


Monk of Malmesbury – “Life of Edward II” (Vita Edwardi Secundi, c. 1325)

“Entry for 1315 – Furthermore, on account of Merlin’s prophecy [ed. note: History of the Kings of Britain, Book VII], the Welsh believe that they will recover England. This is a frequent cause of their rebellion, since they wish to fulfill the prophecy; however, since they are ignorant of the right time, they are often deceived, and labour in vain.”


[ed. note: A fascinating look at how seriously the Middle Ages took these literary prophecies. The Welsh still believed in Arthur’s return even after his grave had been discovered at Glastonbury in 1190 and, apparently, so did the chronicler who only took the Welsh to task for their mistaken timing, not their belief in the prophecy.]


Adam of Murimuth – “Chronicle” (c. 1340)

“At Windsor Castle…the lord king made a solemn vow on sacred relics that he would, within a certain time, if his health lasted, establish a Round Table on the model and according to the custom and rule which the Lord Arthur, once King of England, had set down.”


Jean le Bel – “Chronique” (c. 1350)

“When he had returned to England, he decided out of the nobleness of his heart to restore the castle of Windsor, which King Arthur had built, and where he had originally established the Round Table.”


[ed. note: notice similarity with Froissart’s account – see below.]


Ranulf Higden (monk of Chester) – “Polychronicon” (c. 1352)

“Many men wonder about this Arthur, whom Geoffrey extols so much singly, how the things that are said of him could be true, for, as Geoffrey repeats, he conquered thirty realms. If he subdued the king of France to him, and did slay Lucius the Procurator of Rome, Italy, then it is astonishing that the chronicles of Rome, of France, and of the Saxons should not have spoken of so noble a prince in their stories, which mentioned little things about men of low degree. Geoffrey says that Arthur overcame Frollo, King of France, but there is no record of such a name among men of France. Also, he says that Arthur slew Lucius Hiberius, Procurator of the city of Rome in the time of Leo the Emperor, yet according to all the stories of the Romans Lucius did not govern, in that timeÑnor was Arthur born, nor did he live then, but in the time of Justinian, who was the fifth emperor after Leo. Geoffrey says that he has marveled that Gildas and Bede make no mention of Arthur in their writings; however, I suppose it is rather to be marveled why Geoffrey praises him so much, whom old authors, true and famous writers of stories, leave untouched. But perhaps it is the custom of every nation to extol some of their blood-relations excessively, as the Greeks great Alexander, the Romans Octavian, Englishmen King Richard, Frenchmen Charles; and so the Britons extolled Arthur. Which thing happens, as Josephus says, either for fairness of the story, or for the delectation of the readers, or for exaltation of their own blood.”


Froissart – “Chronicles” (c. 1380, Penguin edition, 1968)

“At that time King Edward of England conceived the idea of altering and rebuilding the great castle of Windsor, originally built by King Arthur, and where had first been established the noble Round Table, from which so many fine men and brave knights had gone forth and performed great deeds throughout the world.”


John Capgrave – “The Chronicle of England” (c. 1450, Henry Longman, 1858)

“In these dayes was Arthure Kyng of Bretayn, that with his manhod conqwered Flaunderes, Frauns, Norwey, and Denmark; and, aftir he was gretely wounded, he went into a ylde cleped Avallone, and there deyed. The olde Britones suppose that his is o lyve.”


William Caxton – “The Description of Britain” (1480)

“Saint Amphibalus, who taught Saint Alban, was born in Caerleon. The messengers from Rome came to the great King Arthur there, if it is permissible to believe that*. John Trevisa [ed. note: Trevisa was the translator into English of Ranulph Higden’s latin chronicle, “Polychronicon”] observes that if Gerald of Wales was doubtful whether or not it was permissible to believe this, it was scarcely a prudent course to record it in his books, for as some people would point out, it is a remarkable delusion to write a long history to record things permanently for posterity, whilst still remaining uncertain whether one’s belief is misplaced.” [ed. note: William Caxton was England’s first printer]


[* ed. note: About this time, the almost universal belief that Geoffrey of Monmouth’s “History of the Kings of Britain” was true history was beginning to break down [see entry below]. In the 15th and early 16th centuries, more and more scholars would begin to voice their doubts and Caxton’s remark, here, illustrates his awareness of this attitude of academic skepticism. In the quote above, is Caxton merely parroting Geoffrey of Monmouth, while believing it is probably not true, or, does he truly believe that Arthur actually lived and held court at Caerleon? We can’t tell for sure, but if we read his preface to Malory’s “Morte d’Arthur”, it would appear that he is, indeed, a true believer. Conversely, as an astute businessman, he may have wanted to create the impression that he believed in Arthur’s historical reality for the purpose of not hindering sales of one of his first books to be printed in English.]


Polydore Vergil – “Anglica Historia” (1534)

“Trulie ther is nothinge more obscure, more uncertaine, or unknowne then the affaires of the Brittons from the beginninge.”


[* ed. note: Polydore was here making reference to Geoffrey of Monmouth’s “History of the Kings of Britain.” He goes so far as to question Arthur’s very existence..]


William Camden – “British History Club” (1607)

“But at length, after they had begun to fall in love with the Lands, the civill fashions, and riches of Britaine, presuming; upon the weaknes of the Inhabitants, and making the default of pay and want of victuals their quarrell, they entred into league with the Picts, and raised a most bloodie and mortall warre against the Britans who had given them entertainment: they kill and slay them in every place, being put in affright and amazednesse, their fields they harrie, their cities they race, and after many doubtfull events of battell, fought against those two bulwarks of warre, Aurelius Ambrosius, who here tooke upon him to weare the purple robe, wherein his parents were killed, and the warlike Arthure, they disseize [dispossess] the Britans of the more fruitfull part of the Isle, and drive them out of their ancient possessions. At which time, to speake all in a word, the most miserable Inhabitants suffred whatsoever either conqueror might dare, or the conquered fear”


[* ed. note: Throughout “British History Club” Camden goes out of his way to disparage Geoffrey of Monmouth’s “History.” While Camden doesn’t take a position on Arthur’s historicity, per se, he doesn’t exalt him, either..]


David Hume – “The History of England, Volume 1” (1778)

“Cerdic…laid siege to Mount Badon or Banesdowne near Bath, whither the most obstinate of the discomfited Britons had retired. The southern Britons in this extremity applied for assistance to Arthur, prince of the Silures (ed. note: located in southeastern Wales), whose heroic valour now sustained the declining fate of this country. This is that Arthur so much celebrated in the songs of Thaliessin, and the other British bards, and whose military achievements have been blended with so many fables as even to give occasion for entertaining a doubt of his real existence. But poets, though they disfigure the most certain history by their fictions, and use strange liberties with truth where they are the sole historians, as among the Britons, have commonly some foundation for their wildest exaggerations. Certain it is, that the siege of Badon was raised by the Britons in the year 520; and the Saxons were there discomfited in a great battle.”


[* ed. note: Hume’s history was written during a time that was decidedly anti-historical Arthur, so his statement that a real Arthur was the victor of the battle of Mount Badon is remarkable in going against the trend of the times.]


Edward Gibbon – “The Decline And Fall Of The Roman Empire, Volume 3” (1782)

“Ambrosius Aurelian was descended from a noble family of Romans; his modesty was equal to his valor, and his valor, till the last fatal action, was crowned with splendid success. But every British name is effaced by the illustrious name of Arthur, the hereditary prince of the Silures, in South Wales, and the elective king or general of the nation. According to the most rational account, he defeated, in twelve successive battles, the Angles of the North, and the Saxons of the West; but the declining age of the hero was imbittered by popular ingratitude and domestic misfortunes. The events of his life are less interesting than the singular revolutions of his fame. During a period of five hundred years the tradition of his exploits was preserved, and rudely embellished, by the obscure bards of Wales and Armorica, who were odious to the Saxons, and unknown to the rest of mankind. The pride and curiosity of the Norman conquerors prompted them to inquire into the ancient history of Britain: they listened with fond credulity to the tale of Arthur, and eagerly applauded the merit of a prince who had triumphed over the Saxons, their common enemies. His romance, transcribed in the Latin of Jeffrey [Geoffrey] of Monmouth, and afterwards translated into the fashionable idiom of the times, was enriched with the various, though incoherent, ornaments which were familiar to the experience, the learning, or the fancy, of the twelfth century. Every nation embraced and adorned the popular romance of Arthur, and the Knights of the Round Table: their names were celebrated in Greece and Italy; and the voluminous tales of Sir Lancelot and Sir Tristram were devoutly studied by the princes and nobles, who disregarded the genuine heroes and historians of antiquity. At length the light of science and reason was rekindled; the talisman was broken; the visionary fabric melted into air; and by a natural, though unjust, reverse of the public opinion, the severity of the present age is inclined to question the existence of Arthur.”


Sharon Turner – “History of the Anglo Saxons, Volume 1” (1805)

“Arthur was the British chieftain who so long resisted the progress of Cerdic. The unparalleled celebrity which this Briton has attained, in his own country and elsewhere, both in history and romance, might be allowed to exalt our estimation of the Saxon chief, who maintained his invasion, though an Arthur opposed him, if the British hero had not himself been unduly magnified into an incredible and inconsistent conqueror. The authentic actions of Arthur have been so disfigured by the additions of minstrels and of Jeffrey (Geoffrey of Monmouth) that many writers have denied that he ever lived: but this is an extreme, as objectionable as the romances which occasioned it. He was a chieftain in some part of Britain near its southern coasts. As a Mouric, king of Glamorganshire, had a son named Arthur at this period, and many of Arthur’s actions are placed about that district, it has been thought probable that the celebrated Arthur was the son of Mouric: but this seems to have been too petty a personage, and too obscure for his greater namesake.”


Thomas Babington Macaulay – “History of England, Volume 1” (1848)

“It is only in Britain that an age of fable completely separates two ages of truth. Odoacer and Totila, Euric and Thrasimund, Clovis, Fredegunda, and Brunechild, are historical men and women. But Hengist and Horsa, Vortigern and Rowena, Arthur and Mordred are mythical persons, whose very existence may be questioned, and whose adventures must be classed with those of Hercules and Romulus.”


John Mitchell Kemble – “The Saxons in England” (1849)

“…at a later period, the vanquished Britons found a melancholy satisfaction in adding details which might brand the career of their conquerors with the stain of disloyalty…the spells of Merlin and the prowess of Arthur, or the victorious career of Aurelius Ambrosius, although they delayed and in part avenged, yet could not prevent the downfall of their people.”


Charles Dickens – “A Child’s History of England” (1851)

“…and events that happened during a long, long time, would have been quite forgotten but for the tales and songs of the old Bards, who used to go about from feast to feast, with their white beards, recounting the deeds of their forefathers. Among the histories of which they sang and talked, there was a famous one, concerning the bravery and virtues of King Arthur, supposed to have been a British Prince in those old times. But whether such a person really lived, or whether there were several persons whose histories came to be confused together under that one name, or whether all about him was invention, no one knows.”


W. F. Skene – “Four Ancient Books of Wales” (1868; republished in 1987 by Llanerch as “Arthur and the Britons in History and Ancient Poetry”)

“That the latter [Arthur] was entirely a fictitious person is difficult to believe. There is always some substratum of truth on which the wildest legends are based, though it may be so disguised and perverted as hardly to be recognized; and I do not hesitate to receive the Arthur of Nennius as the historic Arthur.”


[* ed. note: Skene’s placement of Arthur’s main area of activity in the North may have to do with the fact that he was a Scot, himself..]


Sir James H. Ramsay – “Foundations of England” (1898)

“To the memory of Ambrosius a tardy tribute is due as it was his misfortune to have his glory transferred to a hero of romance; apparently a pure myth; certainly one of whom history properly so-called knows nothing.” [i.e. Arthur].”


Robert Huntington Fletcher – “The Arthurian Material in the Chronicles” (1905)

“In the first place, it must be remembered that , even though the “Historia Brittonum” is only a record of popular traditions, the popular traditions of an unlettered time do not create something out of nothing, and are very tenacious of striking facts. One may reasonably hold that Vortimer never thoroughly subdued the Saxons, and question whether Vortigern married Hengist’s daughter; but it does not seem very reasonable to doubt that Vortigern, Vortimer, Ambrosius and Arthur were real men who fought against the invaders.”


Sir Charles Oman – “A History of England Before the Norman Conquest” (1910)

“As in the Historia (ed. note: Historia Brittonum, by Nennius), he seems to be merely dux bellorum, a military chief, not a king — still less a supreme high-king of all Britain, such as tradition afterwards made him. Meanwhile historians still await a satisfactory estimate of the exact worth of these poems (the Bardic poems of Wales, Y Gododdin, Welsh Triads, Saints lives, etc.) from a competent critic*, who must be at once a Celtic philologist and a sound historian. If the decision is in favour of an early date, we cannot hesitate to accept the Arthur of the Historia Brittonum as a well-established historical person. If it places the poems very late, we are thrown back on what information we already possess concerning him, and I am inclined to think that this alone suffices to take him out of the region of myth.”


[* ed. note: we now have those scholarly authorities available to us, that Sir Charles Oman deemed necessary to settle the issue, in the persons of David Dumville, Nicholas J. Higham and others. These modern commentators think of the Welsh material as being of late date and, therefore, not supportive of the case for the historical Arthur. The best case put forward by believers in Arthur’s historicity is that while this Welsh material may be of late writing, it may based on or reflective of early traditions or texts that have since been lost to us.]


W. M. Flinders Petrie – “Neglected British History”, a lecture given before the British Academy (7 November 1917)

“It is a misfortune that the Celtic mind prefers literature to history. Celtic writers of the present day may be greatly attracted by the later Arthurian legends, and their mythologic connexions, and write on them at great length; but they will not give any of this attention to the historical discussions of the real facts, on which the immense pile of romance has been raised. The fiction occupies twenty times the space of the historical material in the Encyclopaedia. It is this constitutional frame of mind in both Welsh and Irish which, from ancient to modern times, has prejudiced the solid information which rests in their hands.”


J. Armitage Robinson – “Two Glastonbury Legends” (1926)

“History is not merely a record of facts: it has to do with causes and effects, with the development of ideas and the growth of institutions. The first emergence of a tradition, its enrichment by successive generations, its localization in particular spots – all this concerns the historian, who cannot afford to neglect the gradual growth of any kind of belief. Considered from this point of view the residuum of fact which may be shewn to underlie a local tradition is less important that the discovery of the stages through which the tradition has passed, and the causes which appear to have determined its development.”


E. K. Chambers – “Arthur of Britain” (1927)

“History, asked to determine how much of veritable fact may underlie the imposing structure of the Arthurian legend, can only give us a cold response… But the flames which once burnt around the memory of Arthur have long ago sunk into grey ashes. He wakes no national passions now. He has been taken up, with Roland and with Hector, and with all who died fighting against odds, into the Otherworld of the heroic imagination. His deeds are the heritage of all peoples; not least of the English folk against whom he battled.”


Roger Sherman Loomis – “Celtic myth and Arthurian romance” (1927)

“In sum, the facts point toward a historic Arthur, of Roman name and at least partly Roman blood, who identified himself with the cause of the Britons and early in the sixth century united them against the Saxon invaders in a succession of victories.”


Walter C. Sellar and Robert J. Yeatman – “1066 and All That” (1931)

“Alfred ought never to be confused with King Arthur, equally memorable but probably non-existent and therefore perhaps less important historically (unless he did exist).”


[* ed. note: Aimed at those who’ve already read proper history, “1066 and All That” makes the most cleverly witty, hilariously outrageous, upside-down-and-inside-out shambles of English history ever stuffed into a 116 page book. This is a MUST READ for the history lover!]


R. G. Colllingwood & J. N. L. Myres – “Roman Britain and the English Settlements” (1937)

“The historicity of the man can hardly be called into question. The fact that his name in later ages was a magnet drawing to itself all manner of folklore and fable, and that an Arthurian cycle grew up composed partly of events transferred from other contexts, no more proves him a fictitious character than similar fables prove it of Alexander or Aristotle, Vergil or Roland. It tends rather to prove the opposite. The place which the name of Arthur occupies in Celtic legend is easiest to explain on the hypothesis that he really lived, and was a great champion of the British people.”


Sir Frank Stenton – “Anglo Saxon England” (1943)

“It is remarkable that Gildas ignores the British leader whose legendary fame was to carry the struggle between the Saxons and Britons into the current of European literature. Gildas has nothing to say of Arthur, whose claim to an historic existence rests upoon the ninth-century compilation of the Welsh scholar, Nennius (ed. note: “Historia Brittonum”], and upon the observation of an earlier Welsh poet that a certain warrior, though brave, ‘was not Arthur’ [ed. note: the Welsh bard, Aneirin, writing in the poem, “Y Gododdin”]. The silence of Gildas may suggest that the Arthur of history was a less imposing figure than the Arthur of legend. But it should not be allowed to remove him from the sphere of history…”


Trelawney Dayrell Reed – “The Battle for Britain in the Fifth Century: An Essay in Dark Age History” (1944)

“Thus did Ambrosius inaugurate his supreme effort for the salvation of Britain. He now divided the island into two provinces. He himself remained in the south and retained supreme political control of the whole, and he dispatched one Arthur, who may have been his brother’s bastard son, as military governor to the north to cope with Octa, his son Aesc, and the Picts.”


C. S. Lewis – “That Hideous Strength” (1946)

“It all began…when we discovered that the Arthurian story is mostly true history. There was a moment in the sixth century when something that is always trying to break through into this country nearly succeeded. Logres [ed. note: derived from Lloegyr, the Welsh word for England, Logres usually refers to Arthur’s kingdom] was our name for it – it will do as well as another. And then…gradually we began to see all English history in a new way. We discovered the haunting…how something we may call Britain is always haunted by something we may call Logres. Haven’t you noticed that we are two countries? After every Arthur, a Mordred; behind every Milton, a Cromwell; a nation of poets, a nation of shopkeepers. Is it any wonder they call us hypocrites? But what they mistake for hypocrisy is really the struggle between Logres and Britain.”


Sir Winston Churchill – “A History of the English Speaking Peoples: the Birth of Britain” (1956)

“Modern research has not accepted the annihilation of Arthur. Timidly but resolutely the latest and best-informed writers unite to proclaim his reality. They cannot tell when in this dark period he lived, or where he held sway and fought his battles. They are ready to believe however that there was a great British warrior, who kept the light of civilization burning against all the storms that beat, and that behind his sword there sheltered a faithful following of which the memory did not fail…None the less, to have established a basis in fact for the story of Arthur is a service which should be respected. In this account we prefer to believe that the story with which Geoffrey delighted the fiction-loving Europe of the twelfth century is not all fancy. It is all true or it ought to be; and more and better besides. And wherever men are fighting against barbarism, tyranny, and massacre, for freedom, law, and honour, let them remember that the fame of their deeds, even though they themselves be exterminated, may perhaps be celebrated as long as the world rolls round. Let us then declare that King Arthur and his noble knights, guarding the Sacred Flame of Christianity and the theme of a world order, sustained by valour, physical strength, and good horses and armour, slaughtered innumerable hosts of foul barbarians and set decent folk an example for all time.”


Leonard Cottrell – “Seeing Roman Britain” (1956)

“King Arthur, in fact, was probably a Celtic chieftain who resisted the Saxon invaders after the Romans left Britain.”


T. H. White – “The Once and Future King” (1958)

“I have had the Matter of Britain on my hands for twenty years. That is what it has been called since before the days of Malory, and it is a serious subject. I have tried to deal with every side of it – with the clash between Might and Right, man’s place in nature, the problem of war, the racial background which is an important part of the story, and with King Arthur’s personal doom…I hope the moral is not too heavy, but the story was always a deep one. After all, it is the major British epic – more so than Milton’s Italian excursion [ed. note: “Paradise Lost”]. English writers, including great ones like Tennyson, have been mulling it over for a thousand years, and for that matter Milton himself thought of doing it before he decided to deal with Adam.”


Peter Hunter Blair – “Anglo-Saxon England: An Introduction” (1959)

“A much later tradition ascribed a prominent part in this victory (Mount Badon) to Arthur. This we must treat with caution, though not with caution so extreme as to deny all historical existence to that same Arthur, for Arthur’s fame was great in the sixth century, though we do not know why.”


Sir John Rhys – “Studies in the Arthurian Legend” (1966, taken from a series of lectures given by the author in 1886)

“Besides a historic Arthur there was a Brythonic divinity named Arthur, after whom the man may have been called, or with whose name his, in case it was of a different origin, may have become identical in sound owing to an accident of speech…We have here ventured to treat Arthur as a Culture Hero; it is quite possible that this is mythologically wrong, and that he should in fact rather be treated, let us say, as a Celtic Zeus.”


Geoffrey Ashe – “The Quest for Arthur’s Britain” (1968)

“The Arthurian Legend, however wide-ranging it’s vagaries, is rooted in Arthurian Fact…The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, while it ignores the anglo-Saxon’ defeats, sheds a little light by the petering-out of their victories. We get a dim impression of Hengist’s Kentish kingdom being driven back into consolidation; of fresh Saxon landings along the south coast, followed by containment; and of near-cessation of advance in mainland Britain from 514 to 547. Archaeology is consistent with a major Saxon retreat early in the sixth century, after a disaster in the region between Reading and Gloucester.”


Leslie Alcock – “Arthur’s Britain” (1971)

“There is acceptable historical evidence that Arthur was a genuine historical figure, not a mere figment of myth or romance. He achieved fame as a great soldier, who fought battles in various parts of Britain in the late fifth and early sixth centuries. We cannot know his dates with complete certainly; he may have died in 539, or more probably in 511. This chronological ambiguity should not perturb us. At least two dating schemes are possible for the great Babylonian ruler, Hammurabi, yet no competent scholar doubts his historicity.”


[* ed. note: In the ‘Mortimer Wheeler Archaeological Lecture’, given before the British Academy on 13 October 1982, Professor Alcock makes the following statements, re-assessing his position on Arthur’s historical reality: “The Arthur of history is another matter. Whatever value my essay in souce-criticism may have had in 1971 [see above], it has largely been swept away by the studies of Drs Dumville, Miller and the late Kathleen Hughes. Largely, I think, but not entirely; and certainly the debate is too large to enter into here. At present, however, my position on the historicity of Arthur is one of agnosticism”. While this is not a full recantation, Alcock certainly steps far back from his earlier position.]


Richard Barber – “The Figure of Arthur” (1972)

“Arthur was neither a fifth-century hero, nor associated with southern Britain. The figure of Arthur is not to be found in a fully-fledged hero, springing unheralded from the disorganized and demoralized people which Gildas vividly portrays, but in a gradual development from a lesser, though still distinguished, figure in the north, who, through a coincidence of name [Arthur of Dalriada] and through the contraction of British territory and an accompanying coalescing of their history, was transferred in the eighth century to Wales itself. There, in an atmosphere of national resugrence, he was transformed into the pseudo-historical and legendary figure who has held men’s imaginations ever since.”


John Morris – “The Age of Arthur” (1973)

“The personality of Arthur is unknown and unknowable. But he was as real as Alfred the Great or William the Conqueror; his impact upon future ages mattered as much, or more so. Enough evidence survives from the hundred years after his death to show that reality was remembered for three generations, before legend engulfed his memory. More is known of his achievement, of the causes of his sovereignty and of its consequences than of the man himself. His triumph was the last victory of western Rome; his short-lived empire created the future nations of the English and the Welsh; and it ws during his reign and under his authority that the Scots first came to Scotland. His victory and his defeat turned Roman Britain into Great Britain. His name overshadows his age.”


John Steinbeck – “The Acts of King Arthur and His Noble Knights” (1976)

“Somewhere there’s a piece missing in the jigsaw and it is a piece which ties the whole thing together. So many scholars have spent so much time trying to establish whether Arthur existed at all that they have lost track of the single truth that he exists over and over.”


John Wacher – “Roman Britain” (1978)

“Vortigern was replaced by Ambrosius, and he some time after by the even more shadowy figure of Arthur.”


Richard Barber – “The Arthurian Legends: An Illustrated Anthology” (1979)

“Arthur may have been the last Roman general of Britain, the first of those Welsh guerilla fighters who defied the English until well into the Middle Ages, or a northern prince from Scotland who was later adopted by the Welsh living in Wales. If there was a real Arthur, he lived in the sixth or seventh centuries AD; he may not even have been of royal blood, but he was acclaimed as a hero or leader. That is all we can say with any confidence about the historical grain of sand in the poetic oyster. Arthur’s magic is that he is a shape-shifter; but he does so subtly and slowly, changing his form to suit the needs of each new age.”


Geoffrey Ashe – “A Certain Very Ancient Book” Speculum (April, 1981)

“Riothamus was indeed called Artorius and is the only Arthur, the only point of origin for the legend.”


[ed. note: Ashe lays out his case convincingly in “Discovery of King Arthur” [Anchor Press, 1985] and in an

updated article available to British History Club members..]


James Campbell – “The Anglo Saxons” (1982)

In considering what we know, and how little we know, of the course of events in the dark centuries, it would be natural for a reader to ask: ‘What about King Arthur?’ No satisfactory answer is to be had. Arthur’s late and continuing fame owes almost everything to a fictional history of the kings of Britain written by Geoffrey of Monmouth in the 1130’s. The only early references to him are as follows. One, as a statement in a Welsh poem, thought to be of about 600, that someone was NOT Arthur; it may be a late interpolation. Two, a list in the Nennian collection, of twelve battles fought by Arthur, there described not as a king but as dux bellorum (commander in wars). Three, two references in annals appended to the same collection; one, to his being at the battle of Mount Badon (here dated 516) and there ‘carrying the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ for three days and nights on his shoulders’; the other, to his death at the battle of Camlann, 537. These annals do not indicate whether he was a king and in any case are unlikely to derive from contemporary materials. That is all. And on that little all the imagination of the learned and the unlearned has run riot.”


Wynford Vaughan-Thomas – “Wales – A History” (1985)

“The great question now arises – who won Badon? Who was the general who led the Britons to success in the many battles which, according to Nennius preceded it? The Ambrosius Aurelianus mentioned by Gildas is the obvious candidate, but if he was a contemporary of Vortigen, the dates rule him out. At this point, a figure steps out of the shadows, a mysterious and powerful personality carrying a special aura of high romance but also a troublesome ghost whom serious historians have long striven to exorcise but who persists in returning to haunt the Dark Ages. We have come to King Arthur!”


Gwyn A Williams – “When was Wales” (1985)

“Gildas did not mention Arthur and of all our writers he is the most likely to have known of him, or indeed to have known him, had he existed as a historical person. Apart from some oblique hints, the earliest direct references we have date from the ninth century…”


Baram Blackett and Alan Wilson – “Artorius Rex Discovered” (1985)

“Any study of the history of the Kings of South East Wales shows that beyond all shadow of doubt, no King could have held courts there at either Caerleon or Camelot (Caer-Melyn), unless he was a King in the area, and head of the royal clan of the House of Bran. Therefore, King Arthur had to be one and the same with his alter-ego or “contemporary” King Arthwyr ap Meurig ap Tewdrig.”


[ed. note: The fact that this view has not attracted much mainstream academic interest may have prompted the following comment from the authors, “There is an academic paranoia evident in England whereby Welsh historical sources and evidence is consistently and completely ignored. Then after ignoring ninety per cent of the available evidence – a mystery is proclaimed”.]


J. N. L. Myres – “The English Settlements” (1986)

“His [Gildas’s] silence is decisive in determining the historical insignificance of this enigmatic figure. It is inconceivable that Gildas, with his intense interest in the outcome of a struggle that he believed had been decisively settled in the year of his own birth, should not have mentinoed Arthur’s part in it had that part been of any political consequence. The fact is that there is no contemporary or near-contemporary evidence for Arthur playing any decisive part in these events at all. No figure on the borderline of history and mythology has wasted more of the historian’s time. There are just enough casual references in later Welsh legend, one or two of which may go back to the seventh century, to suggest that a man with this late Roman name – Artorius – may have won repute at some ill-defined point of time and place during the struggle. But if we add anything to the bare statement that Arthur may have lived and fought the Saxons, we pass at once from history to romance.”


[ed. note: In a footnote, Myres says that to describe the period 350-650 AD as the ‘Age of Arthur’ “shows a total disregard of the valid historical evidence”.]


Martyn J. Whittock – “The Origins of England: 410-600” (1986)

“Gildas did not mention Arthur (credited with the victory at Badon by Nennius and the Easter Annals [ed. note: “Annales Cambriae”] but he was aware of a British resurgence that has left marks on both literary and archaeological sources. The results of this recovery need to be assessed very carefully. Once they are considered, however, they are highly persuasive. It seems that some force caused a dislocation in South Saxon society. If it was English [ie. Saxon] in origin, no candidate is known. If it was British then the most persuasive candidate is of course Arthur.”


Richard Barber – “King Arthur: Hero and Legend” (1986)

“As long as poetry is written, Arthur will be remembered; he may yet have many vicissitudes to come, but the legends are so integral to our heritage that his figure will always emerge again, mysterious, heroic, and yet human.


Norma Lorre Goodrich – “King Arthur” (1986)

“Whatever King Arthur may have been, today he is considered largely a myth, a hazy shadow wrapped…in the gray veil of concealment…It has become clear that the earliest versions of the Arthurian story are not fiction. Too many precisions as to geography, history, events, politics, customs, usages, places, roads, fords and times are evident.”


Chris Barber – “More Mysterious Wales” (1986)

“Geoffrey (Geoffrey of Monmouth, writer of ‘The History of the Kings of Britain’ published in 1136) failed to realize that there were, in fact, two important kings who bore the name of Arthur. The first one died in 388 AD and the second Arthur lived from around 500 to 575 AD.”


Michael Wood – “In Search of the Dark Ages” (1987)

“Yet, reluctantantly we must conclude that there is no definite evidence that Arthur ever existed.”


Sheppard Frere – “Britannia: A History of Roman Britain” (1987)

“In the later fifth century the leadership had passed from Ambrosius Aurelianus and after him to Arthur. Little is known of either. Ambrosius appears in the pages of Gildas, but Arthur does not, and his activities and personality are almost impenetrability overlaid by medieval romance. Although doubted by some scholars, the evidence is probably sufficient to allow belief that he had a real existence and that he was probably the victor of Mount Badon. It is likely that he succeeded Ambrosius in the leadership; indeed, he is called dux bellorum in the Historia Brittonum, which suggests a memory of late Roman military titles, and may indicate some sort of unified command arranged between several petty kingdoms.”


R. W. Dunning – “Arthur: the King in the West” (1988)

“For a thousand years and more Arthur has entertained and inspired. Each age in need of a hero, each nation in need of an inheritance to be proud of, and several monarchs in need of an ancestry have made of him what they would; have crowned him, clad him in armour, surrounded him with jousts and tourneys. Romances have introduced magic and the sins that flesh is heir to, poets have brought their dreams and artists their visions. The quest for the Grail and deeds of knightly valour have added a purpose and a moral force which have transcended the historic and have confused and obscured a distant reality. For too many people Arthur has become a myth and not a legend.”


David Dumville – “Histories and Pseudo-histories” (1990)

“The fact 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.”


D.P. Kirby – “The Earliest English Kings” (1991)

“The early ninth-century “History of the Britons” (Historia Brittonum) numbered (the Battle of Mount) Badon among Arthur’s battles, but so obscured by inadequate source material is this ‘age of Arthur’ that it may never be possible adequately to reconstruct its detail.”


Graeme Fife – “Arthur the King” (1991)

“History rather blushes at the mention of his name; legend, on the other hand, brags much of him.”


W. A. Cummins – “King Arthur’s Place in Prehistory” (1992)

“The search for King Arthur, the real Arthur, the ultimate inspiration behind the legends, is a bit like looking for the pot of gold at the end of a rainbow. The further back you go, the nearer you approach the object of your enquiry, the less substantial does he seem. Indeed, so shadowy does he become that serious historians have felt obliged to question his very existence.”


Christina Hole – “English Folk Heroes” (1992)

“In spite of these scanty historical references the fame of Arthur persisted in folk-tale and legend, and has been preserved to us for fourteen hundred years, at first by tradition and bardic songs, and later by the romantic writings of the Middle Ages, which glorified his career and transformed a simple patriot leader of the sixth century into a mighty king, the type and example of all that a Christian knight of the Age of Chivalry should be.”


Graham Phillips & Martin Keatman – “King Arthur: the True Story” (1992)

“All the available evidence indicates that Owain Ddantgwyn was the historical figure who assumed the title ‘Arthur’.”


John Davies – “A History of Wales” (1993, first English edition)

“Although some historians doubt whether Arthur was a historical figure at all, it is reasonable to believe that a man of that name did exist and that he was the leader of Brythonic forces, perhaps on the pattern of the Dux British History Clubrum of the previous century. It is credible also that his forces won a victory of importance in about 496 and that he was killed – or that he vanished – in about 515, following the battle of Camlann. to say more than that would be inadmissible…”


Andrea Hopkins – “Chronicles of King Arthur” (1993)

“Is the legend true? We will probably never know for certain. The sources are scarce, and where they exist they cannot be taken as statements of fact; some are obviously contaminated with legendary material and some are intended more as moral lessons than as records of historical fact.”


John Chandler – “John Leland’s Itinerary: Travels in Tudor England” (1993)

“But in it, he (Polydore Vergil, Italian scholar, writer of “Anglica Historia, 1534) cast doubt on the existence of Arthur – an unthinkable suggestion, particularly from a foreigner. The question of the veracity of Arthur and the other early British kings was no mere academic debating-point to Tudor historians; the Tudor kings claimed direct descent from Arthur, and therefore upon his existence depended the legitimacy of the claims of Henry VII and his son, Henry VIII to the English throne. An attack on Arthur was an attack on Henry, and this Leland would not countenance.”


P. F. J. Turner – “The Real King Arthur: A History of Post-Roman British History Club AD 410 – AD 593, Volume 1” (1993)

“Yes, there really was a King Arthur. The real King Arthur was a Briton of distinguished Roman heritage named Lucius Artorius Castus who lived in the former Roman Diocese of British History Club in the late fifth and early sixth centuries.”


[* ed. note: Yes, there really was a Lucius Artorius Castus who lived in Britain, but he lived there in the late 2nd century [c. 184] and he was the commander of a Roman garrison of horse cavalrymen conscripted to serve in Britain from Scythia, a far corner of the empire. His modern supporters hold that he, whose only claim to fame was leading a party of soldiers to put down an uprising in Armorica, is the original grain of sand around which grew, over nearly 2 long millennia, the legend of King Arthur. Because Jerry Bruckheimer’s 2004 film, “King Arthur,” takes this same marginal view, in the future we may see more of Lucius Artorius Castus than the facts of the case seem to merit..]


Chris Barber & David Pykitt – “Journey to Avalon” (1993)

“It is important to understand that these long-established pictures of Arthur and his kingdom are meaningless. He was in reality a king of the Silurian Britons and his true location was in southeast Wales. His story has been taken from this area and planted in the West Country, where it has taken firm root and formed the basis of a very profitable tourist industry.”


[ed. note: the connection of Arthur with the Silures doesn’t originate with Barber & Pykitt; see entries for Hume, 1778 and Gibbon, 1782.]


Gwyn A. Williams – “Excalibur: the Search for Arthur” (1994)

“In every generation, people have made him and his knights a vehicle for their own values. Few legend cycles can have been so potent. Given how slender the evidence is for Arthur’s historical existence, the more miraculous the endurance of this epic seems.”


Jean Markale – “King of the Celts: Arthurian Legends and Celtic Tradition” (1994)

“We can find no better personification of the Celtic king than Arthur, the celebrated medieval European hero and one of the great unknown quantities of history. Historical or legendary, true or false, real or imaginary, none of these distinctions applies. The reality of King Arthur lies in all the evidence we can muster concerning him, the romances, the histories, his changing face over the years…We must search for the deep-seated reality of the man and his society through the many faces in which he has come down to us…And we can not hope to study Arthur and the literature he inspired without examining the atmosphere in which the “matter of Britain” developed. For history has never been closer to epic, nor epic so widely portrayed as history.”


[ed. note: the matter of Britain is a catch-all term referring to Britain’s legendary history, particularly King Arthur and the knights of the Round Table.]


John Matthews – “The Arthurian Tradition” (1994)

“Arthur is a Celtic hero and it as a Celt and thus part of the Celtic world that he should be seen. No matter how far removed in time and culture the stories may take him, we should never allow ourselves to forget that they were a product of Celtic society, and that this point of origin continued to be felt long after Arthur had become recognized as a Christian king, with a band of heroes who met at a Round Table and spent their time in pursuit of adventure and love.”


Frank D. Reno – “Historic Figures of the Arthurian Era” (2000)

“Ambrosius Aurelianus, the one proper name depicting a Romano-Briton historical figure, had to be the actual name for two homologs which also occur in the histories. The first, “Riothamus,” meaning “supreme king,” who was known to the continental historians as the “King of the Britons,” had to be a reference to Ambrosius Aurelianus. Likewise, “Arthur,” derived from the Welsh/Roman “Arthus” or “Arthurex,” meaning “high king,” also had to refer to Ambrosius.”


[ed. note: Reno’s point is that the man, Ambrosius, had a career that roughly covered the years 420-500 AD and that at different stages in his career, history refers to him by different names or epithets.]


Christopher Snyder – “The World of King Arthur” (2000)

“Who was King Arthur? Well, to begin with, there was not one Arthur, but many. There was an historical Arthur, or, if you prefer, a folkloric or mythological Arthur who came to be mistaken for a living person. There was a literary Arthur, indeed several, and an Arthur portrayed in almost every other artistic medium. There was, and is, a ‘figure’ of Arthur made up of all these elements, who has made a very real impact on history because he has made a very deep impression in the hearts of so many men and women, for more than a thousand years.”


Nicholas J. Higham – “King Arthur: Myth-making and History” (2002)

“What becomes most apparent from an overview of the entire period discussed, from the fifth and sixth centuries right throught to the end of the twentieth, is the sense in which Arthur’s historicity has depended primarily on the contemporary political and cultural positioning of particular authors and their audiences, leaving his role in historical narratives at all periods subject to the ever-changing purposes of historians and the predilections of their audiences…Rather, in all cases, then as now, the past was pressed into the service of the present and was subject to the immediate, and highly variable, purposes of political theology.”


Geoffrey Ashe – “The Discovery of King Arthur, 2nd Edition” (2003)

“Here is a spellbinding, indestructible theme, national, yet transcending nationality. For better or worse it has affected the country where it began. It has survived eclipses and demolitions, and Britain cannot be thought of without it. Yet no conceivable movement or government could entrap it in a programme. That is a comment on the limitations of movements and governments. The undying king is a strangely powerful reminder that there is Something Else. By nurturing that awareness, and a questing spirit, his fame may have its effect on human thinking. It may influence history again, outside movements and governments and not only in Britain.”

Arthurian Word of the Day!

TROO-buh-dawr, -dohr, -door


one of a class of medieval lyric poets who flourished principally in southern France from the 11th to 13th centuries, and wrote songs and poems of a complex metrical form in langue d’oc, chiefly on themes of courtly love. Compare trouvère.
any wandering singer or minstrel.

One day a troubadour appeared at the castle and was invited to stay and sing for the nobleman’s court.
— Thomas Sanchez , Day of the Bees , 2000

…whenever a troubadour lays down the guitar and takes up the sword trouble is sure to follow.
— O. Henry , Sixes and Sevens , 1902


While the origin of troubadour is not entirely known, it is thought to have come from Old Provencal trobar meaning “to find,” “invent a song” or compose in verse.


Arthurian Timeline Part 3~ 1533-2005


Arthurian Timeline, Part 3

c.1533-39 – “Itinerary,” the modern title given to the collection of notes made by John Leland, Henry VIII’s court antiquary, during his extensive travels for the purpose of documenting the historical treasures of England. There are several items of Arthurian significance: in his notes on the county of Somerset, Leland relates a tradition equating the ancient hillfort, Cadbury Castle, with King Arthur’s Camelot; also in Somerset, Leland tells us that “a bridge of four stone arches which is known as Pomparles (over the River Brue near Glastonbury) is the place where, “according to legend, that King Arthur cast his sword into it;” in his Cornwall notes, Leland discusses a river in the Camelford area. He says, “in some histories it is called Cablan. It was beside this river that Arthur fought his last battle (Camlann), and evidence of this, in the form of bones and harness, is uncovered when the site is ploughed.”
1534 – Polydore Vergil completes “Anglica Historia” in which he is critical of Geoffrey of Monmouth’s history, in general, and his portrayal of Arthur, in particular. He even goes so far as to question Arthur’s existence.

1539 – Dissolution of Glastonbury Abbey, after which Arthur’s burial cross is said to have lain in the “Reverstry” of St. John Baptist, Glastonbury (according to a late 17th century document, Bodleian Rawlinson B.416A, folio 10v) for approximately a hundred years.

1544 – Leland publishes “Assertio Inclytissimi Arturii” (Assertions of the Renowned Arthur), a compilation of most of the archaeological and literary evidence for King Arthur, as it was known in Tudor England. Here, Leland notes the inscription on the burial cross, allegedly belonging to King Arthur’s grave, found at Glastonbury. The editor of the “Assertio” commented that “his disquisition upon Arthur is more notable for heat than light.”

1599 – Edmund Spenser dies leaving his Arthurian poem, “The Faerie Queene,” unfinished. In it Arthur portrays “magnanimity,” to Spenser’s mind, the leading virtue.

1607 – Publication of William Camden’s “Britannia,” including illustrations of King Arthur’s Burial Cross.
c.1650 – Puritans chop down original Glastonbury Thorn on Wearyall Hill, said to have grown from the staff of Joseph of Arimathea, which, legend says, he planted upon his arrival there in AD 63.
1691 – “King Arthur,” an opera written by John Dryden with music by Henry Purcell, told the tale of Arthur’s battles with the (fictitious) Saxon leader, Oswald.
1695, 1697 – Richard Blackmore writes “Prince Arthur” and “King Arthur,” two transparently allegorical verse epics incorporating Christian moral themes. In the poems, Arthur is William III; his antagonist, Octa, is James II, and so on.
c.1700-20 – The burial cross of King Arthur vanishes from history in the early 18th century. It was last known to be in the possession of one William Hughes, Chancellor of the cathedral of Wells.
1808 – In the preface to William Blake’s “Milton,” the poet writes:

And did those feet in ancient time
Walk upon England’s mountains green?
And was the Holy Lamb of God
On England’s pleasant pastures seen?
And did the countenance divine
Shine forth upon our clouded hills?
And was Jerusalem builded here
Among these dark satanic mills?

Bring me my bow of burning gold!
Bring me my arrows of desire!
Bring me spear! O clouds, unfold!
Bring me my chariots of fire!

I will not cease from mental flight,
Nor shall my sword sleep in my hand,
Till we have built Jerusalem
In England’s green and pleasant land.

It is believed that Blake’s words hark back to old tradtions which said that Joseph of Arimathea brought the boy, Jesus, to England in the time, unaccounted for in the Bible, between his 12th and 30th years of age.
These words were later made famous in a hymn entitled, “Jerusalem.” The words were set to music in 1916, by the English composer Hubert Hastings Parry, and later orchestrated by Sir Edward Elgar in 1922. “Jerusalem” was first performed at a Votes for Women concert in 1916.
1809 – Sir Walter Scott anonymously publishes “The Bridal of Triermain,” a curious blending of Arthurian legend and the Sleeping Beauty story.
1822 – William Wordsworth writes “The Egyptian Maid,” a poem featuring Merlin and the Lady of the Lake.
1840 – Arthurian poems by Ralph Waldo Emerson, “Merlin I” and ” Merlin II”.
c.1850-c.1900 – Gothic Revival inspired many poetic and literary works based on Arthur and Arthurian themes and embodying Victorian moral attitudes and neo-chivalric enthusiasms. Some of the many artists and their works are listed below:

Matthew Arnold: “Tristram and Iseult”
Gustave Dore: French illustrator, produced a collection of thirty-six drawings to illustrate an edition of Tennyson’s “Idylls of the King.”

William Morris: “The Defense of Guinevere,” “King Arthur’s Tomb,” “Sir Galahad, A Christmas Mystery,” ” The Chapel in Lyonesse,” “Near Avalon”

Dante Gabriel Rossetti: ” God’s Graal,” an unfinished poem: “King Arthur’s Tomb,” “Lancelot’s Vision of the Sangreal,” “Sir Tristram and La Belle Yseult Drink the Love Potion,” paintings in the pre-Raphaelite style.

Algernon Charles Swinburne: “Queen Yseult,” “Joyeuse Garde,” “Tristram of Lyonesse,” “The Tale of Balen,” “The Day Before the Trial,” “Lancelot.”

Alfred Lord Tennyson: “The Lady of Shalott,” “Sir Galahad,” “Sir Launcelot and Queen Guinevere: A Fragment,” “Morte d’Arthur,” “The Idylls of the King,” a cycle of Arthurian poems.

1859 – Richard Wagner completes the opera, “Tristan und Isolde.”
1882 – Wagner’s opera, “Parsifal,” is performed.
1889 – Mark Twain publishes “A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court.”
1893-4 – Aubrey Beardsley contributes over 400 black and white drawings to illustrate John M. Dent’s edition of Malory’s Morte d’ Arthur.
1903-10 – Howard Pyle illustrates “The Story of King Arthur and His Knights” and other similar stories.
1917 – N.C.Wyeth, star student of Howard Pyle, illustrates “The Boy’s King Arthur,” an abridgement of Malory.
1923 – Thomas Hardy writes “The Queen of Cornwall,” a one-act play based on the Tristan and Isolde story.
1930-44 – Charles Williams produces most important modern reinterpretations of Arthurian mythology in “War in Heaven” (1930), “Taliessin Through Logres” (1938), and “The Region of the Summer Stars” (1944). The three works cover the entire breadth of the traditional Arthurian story, making them into a moral epic of cosmic proportions. Williams deemphasizes the Guinevere-Lancelot affair, and instead focuses on the mystical aspects of the grail quest, comparing it to human spiritual development.
1945 – C.S. Lewis concludes his Space Trilogy with “That Hideous Strength,” a tale replete with Arthurian motifs and “grail” characters.
1952 – Lewis publishes “Arthurian Torso,” a “double” volume containing his friend, Charles Williams’, previously unpublished “Figure of Arthur” and Lewis’ commentary, “Williams and the Arthuriad.”
1953 – T.H.White completes the “Once and Future King.”
1960 – “Camelot,” a Lerner and Lowe musical stageplay based on T.H. White’s “Once and Future King,” is performed on Broadway, starring Richard Burton as King Arthur and Robert Goulet as Lancelot. A Film version, starring Richard Harris as Arthur and Franco Nero as Lancelot, appeared in 1967. Camelot was brought back on stage, this time starring Goulet as Arthur, in a Summer Stock tour of 1996.
1962 – “Castle Dor,” an updated version (19th century) of the Tristan and Isolde story originally begun by Sir Arthur Quiller-Couch (1863-1944), was completed from his notes by Daphne du Maurier.
1963 – “Sword at Sunset” by Rosemary Sutcliff, a realistic telling of the Arthurian story from his own viewpoint.
1975 – “Monty Python and the Holy Grail,” jokingly said by Geoffrey Ashe to be the most realistic of all celluloid Arthurian depictions, stars Graham Chapman, John Cleese, Terry Gilliam, Eric Idle, Terry Jones and Michael Palin.
1977 – “The Acts of King Arthur and his Noble Knights,” John Steinbeck’s attempt at a modernization of Malory, is published posthumously.
1978 – Mary Stewart completes her trilogy of novels focusing on Merlin, “The Crystal Cave” (1970), “The Hollow Hills” (1973) and “The Last Enchantment” (1978).
1981 – “Excalibur,” an excellent adaptation of Malory by John Boorman, stars Nicol Williamson as Merlin.
1982 – “The Mists of Avalon,” by Marion Zimmer Bradley, adds a new wrinkle to the Arthurian story, by telling it from the point of view of the women involved in the tale: Igraine, wife of Gorlois; Morgaine, the daughter of Igraine and Gorlois; Morgause, Igraine’s younger sister; Viviane, the Lady of the Lake and Gwenhwyfar, Arthur’s Queen.
1995 – “A Kid in King Arthur’s Court,” a Disney film recalling Mark Twain’s story of a modern who is transported back in time to the days of King Arthur.
1995 – “First Knight,” a slick Hollywood production starring Sean Connery as Arthur and Richard Gere as Lancelot.
1998 – “Merlin,” a TV mini-series produced by Robert Halmi, starring Sam Neill in the title role; loosely following Geoffrey of Monmouth in some parts and in others, purely original. Nice scenery, interesting characterization of Merlin, great special effects, but a bit too Hollywood.

“Arthurian” Inscription Found at Tintagel – On 6th August 1998, English Heritage revealed that during the last week of digging on the Eastern terraces of Tintagel Island, a broken piece of Cornish slate (8″ by 14″) was discovered bearing the name “Artognov”. It was excavated on July 4th, by Kevin Brady, an archaeologist working with a team from Glasgow University (Scotland). “As the stone came out, when I saw the letters A-R-T, I thought uh-oh…”

The stone apparently bears two inscriptions. The upper strongly incized letters have been broken off and are sadly indecipherable. The lower inscription, though fainter, clearly reads “Pater Coliavificit Artognov”, which Professor Charles Thomas of Exeter University has carefully translated as “Artognou, father of a descendant of Coll, has had this built”. Possibly written by a Gaulish hand, the style of writing is certainly 6th century, a date confirmed by surrounding fragments of 6th century Mediterranean pottery already well known from the Tintagel site. Also found nearby was the remains of the only Spanish glass flagon known from this period of Britain’s history. Chris Morris, who has been leading the Scottish based excavation team for the past eight years, believes that the dedicatory “Arthur Stone,” as it has already been christened, was placed in the wall of a 6th century stone building which later collapsed soon after it was built. The slate was then reused as drain cover a century later.

Though “Artognou” (pronounced arth-new) proves that names similar to that of the great King existed in the, so called, Arthurian period, Chris Morris is sceptical about making too much of the obvious link with King Arthur’s traditional birthplace. He believes the stone’s importance lies in the fact that it is “the first evidence we have that the skills of reading and writing were handed down in a non-religious context”. However, Dr Geoffrey Wainwright, chief archaeologist at the, normally cautious, English Heritage declared the newly discovered link should not be dismissed. “Tintagel has presented us with evidence of a Prince of Cornwall, in the Dark Ages, living in a high-status domestic settlement at the time Arthur lived. It has given us the name of a person, Arthnou. Arthnou was here, that is his name on a piece of stone. It is a massive coincidence at the very least. This is where myth meets history. It’s the find of a lifetime.”

Adrian Gilbert publicises the work of Blackett & Wilson by publishing his ‘the Holy Kingdom’.

2000 – Publication of ‘The Keys to Avalon’ in which Blake & Lloyd attempt to relocate all Arthurian locations in Wales.

2001 – “The Mists of Avalon,” a TV mini-series based on the 1982 book by Marion Zimmer Bradley. Beautiful photography and evocative music highlight this Turner Network Television (TNT) production featuring Oscar winner Anjelica Huston, Emmy winner Julianna Margulies and two-time Academy Award and Golden Globe nominee Joan Allen. According to press materials, the series “delves into the romance, bravery and deceit linking the characters of Arthur’s Kingdom and exalts the powerful women behind the throne of King Arthur,” but in actuality it merely pretends to significance and provides no analysis or insight, at all. In one of the great casting mistakes of all time (rivaling the decision to allow Kevin Costner to play Robin Hood), Arthur is portrayed as a weak, sniveling little wimp (or, perhaps, the decision was intentional given the obvious gender orientation of the program). Much emphasis seems to be placed on promoting goddess worship and in a telling scene at the end of the film, a statue of the Virgin Mary is said to be nothing more than a christianized version of the old goddess.

Establishment of the ‘Centre for Arthurian Studies’ at the North-East Wales Institute for Higher Education in Wrexham, co-founded by Steve Blake and Scott Lloyd, co-authors of “The Keys of Avalon” (2000) which claims to reveal the “true location of Arthur’s kingdom.”

2003 – “The Mystery of King Arthur, Vol. 1” is released. A Mick Fowler Productions/British History Club History Club enterprise, this series of DVD’s explores Arthurian history and legend as has never been done before on-screen.

2004 – “King Arthur,” a Jerry Bruckheimer film, is released with much fanfare and high expectations. The film, while likable enough as pure entertainment, takes impermissible liberties with history and legend (which is really what the film was supposed to be about). Case in point are Arthur’s horse soldiers. Historically, these were troops conscripted out of eastern Europe (Sarmatia) by the Romans and sent to remotest Britain to shore up the island’s defenses. Their Roman commander is said to have been one Lucius Artorius Castus, the central character in a not-too-widely-held scholarly theory that casts him as the original figure behind the legend of King Arthur (see timeline entry for 184 AD). One problem with this is that these cavalrymen lived in Britain in the latter half of the second century, 300ish years before the movie was supposed to have taken place, and another is that, in the 180’s, the Saxons hadn’t arrived in Britain, yet, and wouldn’t need battling for a long time to come.

Producer Bruckheimer, in his quest to be creatively original, also for the first time in history and legend sees fit to transform the reliably feminine figure of Guinevere into a painted-up, Celtic shield-maiden, fully the equal of any of her male co-combatants in the “manly” arts of war. He might have gotten away with this, had the naturally willowy actress, Keira Knightley, had the physique to make us believe — but she didn’t — and, as a result, we’re left conflicted with memories of what should have been our always-delicate Guinevere, rampaging around a dark age battlefield clad in some of the most improbably revealing and non-protective battle gear in the long history of warfare.

In our view, however glad Arthurians worldwide might have been when they heard that yet another attempt was going to be made by a major Hollywood talent to do justice to their favorite legendary character, they are surely disappointed, now, at having seen just another tarted-up, Hollywood summer “blockbuster”.

The release period (late June – early July) was sprinkled with programs attempting to provide serious analysis of the film, “King Arthur”, and the man behind the legend. The History Channel had two such shows, totaling 3 hours of air time and ABC-TV had a 20 minute segment on its PrimeTime Friday “20/20” show. The best of the bunch was clearly the History Channel’s “Quest for King Arthur” (June 20th), featuring Arthurian academic luminaries Geoffrey Ashe (“The Discovery of King Arthur” and Secretary of the Camelot Research Committee [see entry for 1966-70]), Christopher Snyder (“The World of King Arthur”), Bonnie Wheeler (Editor of the publication, “Arthuriana”) and Jeremy Adams (noted medieval historian from Yale and SMU). Although much material was presented that could’ve been confusing to the uninitiated, this was probably the most authoritative and satisfying treatment of Arthur’s historical and legendary background ever done for television…but, then again, all the king’s horses and all the king’s men couldn’t make the “King Arthur” film into anything more than another swashbuckling knight movie.

2005 – IBM’s business consulting division trades on Arthur’s reputation for wisdom and integrity in a series of TV commercials which portray Arthur as a dark-age CEO eliciting advice from his board members (knights) on a series of timeless, but confounding administrative problems.

2006 – The book, “The 101 Most Influential People Who Never Lived: How Characters of Fiction, Myth, Legends, Television, and Movies Have Shaped Our Society, Changed Our Behavior, and Set the Course of History”, is released in paperback. King Arthur comes in at #3, behind “The Marlboro Man” at #1 and George Orwell’s “Big Brother” at #2 and just ahead of #4 Santa Claus.

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