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King Arthur

Who was King Arthur? When was he born? Where did he live? When did he die? These and so many more questions are what we struggle with in our quest for knowledge of King Arthur.

The name of the legendary King of Britain may be a form of Artorius, which is a Roman gens name.

 

Another possibility is that it is derived from Celtic origin, meaning something like 'bearman' (in Welsh arth gwyr and in Latin artos viros).

Arthur Draws the Sword from the Stone by Walter Crane

There is a third possibility that the name comes from the Irish word art meaning a stone.

 

It is generally thought that King Arthur lived sometime in the 5th or 6th Centuries.

 

Geoffrey of Monmouth dates King Arthur's death as 542 AD. Thomas Malory puts him in the 5th Century.

 

King Arthur by Charles Ernest ButlerThere are many genealogies that have been given to King Arthur.

 

But the most common links him with the kingdom of Dumnonia (which was a British tribal area in the original Roman administrative region that encompassed Cornwall, Devon, Somerset and parts of Dorset).

 

 

King Arthur's Life . . . or was it?

 

From the written records of the 5th and 6th Centuries available to us today, there are no examples of contemporary historical accounts of King Arthur.

 

St Gildas, writing in the 6th Century, does not mention King Arthur at all, even though he speaks of the Battle of Badon (Mons Badonicus) in which King Arthur is said to have defeated the Saxons.

 

If he lived in the 5th or 6th Centuries it is from a time when little history (in our modern understanding) exists. When we step back in time, we enter of world of legends, myths, fables and legends. Arthurian Legends takes us up to the work of Thomas Malory in the 15th Century; while it is to the 19th Century that we get the rise of whatThe King ran towards Mordred, crying 'Traitor, now is thy death day come.' by N C Wyeth we can call Arthurian Literature.

 

In the 6th Century, the writer Aneirin alludes to a valiant hero named King Arthur in his poem Y Gododdin; though some think that this reference may not have been in the original text. Welsh poems of the 9th and 10th Centuries describe King Arthur as being a hero of the distant past.

 

The Black Book of Carmarthen speaks about the knights of the great king, and utters the mysterious phrase 'anoeth bit bed i Arthur' or 'the world's wonder is the grave of Arthur.'

 

Nennius, writing later in the 9th Century, says King Arthur was a warrior who came to the aid of other British tribal chiefs, and who fought in many victorious battles. In his work Historia Brittonum or The History of Britain, Nennius actually calls King Arthur dux bellorum which means 'commander of battles' or 'warleader.'

 

William of Malmsbury, writing in the 12th Century, tells his readers of this great man of Welsh legends, and commends King Arthur's bravery and stoutness of heart.

 

From Wales many of the Arthurian Legends move to Cornwall, and from Cornwall to Brittany. The Celtic peoples of the south west kept alive an important Arthurian oral tradition, and it was from here that the legends of the king were to spread to France, and then to the rest of Europe. Other writers have questioned whether King Arthur may have inhabited Wales, such as Caerleon-on-Usk, or Shropshire, and Scotland.

 

Geoffrey of Monmouth (said to be of Welsh, Cornish or Breton stock) writing in the 12th Century, is where we need to look to see the start of our modern ideas of whom King Arthur was and is.

 

His monumental work of 1138 entitled Historia Regum Brittaniae (The History of the Kings of Britain) provides us with the template for the historical and literary epic of our hero's life.

 

Within some seventy years the book was translated into French by Robert Wace, a monk from Jersey. In his work Roman de Brut, he describes the Round Table as a symbol of chivalry. Soon afterwards, a narrative verse, Erec et Eride by Chrétien de Troyes, is often thought of as the first Arthurian romance.

 

Geoffrey of Monmouth said that he gained his information about King Arthur from 'an ancient book in the British language.' No one knows to which book he refers. King Arthur life is given magnif icent prominence by Geoffrey in his amazing work of history, literature and legend. Some scoff, then as now, believing that Geoffrey was a fantasist of the most extreme kind.

 

Perhaps he did indeed have a tendency to invent a few details, here and there, or at least magnify the importance of King Arthur in the history of this country. How much came from the imagination of Geoffrey of Monmouth? How much came from traditional British sources? We would truly like to know.

 

Geoffrey of Monmouth says that King Arthur was the son of Uther Pendragon. He was a heroic Christian warrior who defeated the Saxon barbarians a dozen times in battle.

 

Creating an empire across Europe, Geoffrey says King Arthur even went to war with the Romans! Finally King Arthur returned to his homeland victorious.

 

But, while he was gone, his nephew, Mordred, had raised a rebellion against King Arthur, and had taken Guinevere, King Arthur's Queen, for his own. King Arthur, learning of his nephew's treachery, lands with his army to take back what is rightfully his.

 

Thomas Malory, writing in the 15th Century, took all the legends and literature about King Arthur, and turned them into the splendid national epic of King Arthur which we are all familiar with today.

 

In Thomas Malory's epic poem Le Morte d'Arthur, many heroic themes come together: adventure and holiness, worship and fellowship, wonder and secrecy. And yet, in all this glory and splendour, the mood remind the reader that all things will pass away, for all is vanity.

 

Magic starts with the conception of King Arthur. So that a wonderful child can be born, Merlin creates a spell which makes Uther Pendragon look like Igraine's husband, Gorlais, Duke of Cornwall. Uther readily takes Igraine to his bed. King Arthur is thus conceived a child born of magic. Merlin is both a sorcerer and a wise man for he takes the baby boy and gives him to Sir Hector for safe-keeping. The child is raised in secret. Only Merlin knows the truth. But the time will come all will know.

 

Many years later, when Arthur is a youth, the land falls into a state of disrepair. There is no king on the throne. England is desolate and vulnerable. Uther Pendragon has died. No one can be found to take his place. Many seek to challenge to take the throne for themselves. Merlin enters the scene, and makes his move.

 

Many years' past, in anticipation of this time of chaos, Merlin had placed a sword in a stone, saying that whoever could draw the sword from the stone would be the true king of England. Now, with Uther Pendragon dead, many men of noble birth step up to try to raise the sword. All fail. Sir Hector lets his sons try, but the sword will not budge.

 

It is the Sword in the Stone.

 

Then the young Arthur takes the sword in his hand. To the amazement of all, the young draws it cleanly from the stone. Merlin has Arthur crowned king of England. Eleven other tribal chiefs thought Arthur not worthy to be King and not proven in battle, so they rise up in rebellion. But Arthur, the young warrior, puts them down. Now he is king of all England.

 

Malory takes us deeper into a world of high and noble medieval romance in which King Arthur marries the beautiful and good Guinevere. For a dowry, Guinevere's father gives King Arthur the Round Table. In King Arthur's court, the knights sit around the Table as brothers in arms. No one sits at the head, or to the right hand of the king. It is a symbol of equal standing. And yet one knight, who sat with the king, was later to betray him.

 

Lancelot, the most illustrious knight of all, falls into a loving obsession with the Queen, and they meet secretly. King Arthur learns of their painful treachery.

Sir Lancelot is banished to distant lands over the seas. Igraine is disgraced. King Arthur is left alone and bereft of those he trusted most. In the name of justice, the Queen is sentenced to death.

 

But Lancelot returns from his distant lands to rescue her. King Arthur gives chase to the lovers across the sea. His kingdom is without a king. Mordred is left in charge.

 

Mordred is King Arthur’s son and also his nephew! It is another twist to the tale that arises out of incest. Mordred was conceived by Morgause, whom King Arthur does not realise is his sister because he does not understand that he himself was borne out of incest.

 

Incest is responsible for upsetting the natural order, it brings instability, uncertainty, and its presence creates an air that something in the lives of the characters is defiantly not right. It is the background of his conception that goes some way to explaining what happens in his own castle while King Arthur is away chasing his Queen.

 

Seizing his opportunity, Mordred rises up in arms against his father. King Arthur is forced to return to fight his son, and win back his lands, Father meets son in battle on Salisbury Plain. (In the 9th or 10th Century Welsh chronicles Annales Cambriae or The Annals of Wales, the battle is called the Battle of Camlann). Mordred is slain. King Arthur receives a mortal wound.

 

On 'The Day of Destiny' the dying King Arthur's sword, Excalibur, is thrown into the lake by Sir Bedivere. And there came an arm and a hand out of the water, which took the sword, shook it thrice, and then vanished with the sword into the water. When King Arthur is told of what has happened, he knows his time is nigh.

 

The dying king is borne across the misty waters on a barge to the Isle of Avalon with attendant fair ladies in black hoods. And there he is healed. And there he sleeps.

 

According to Geoffrey of Monmouth in Vita Merlini or The Life of Merlin, written in about 1145 AD, King Arthur is tended in Avalon by Morgan Le Fay and her sisters. Robert Wace, the Norman poet adds in Roman de Brut (AD 1155) that:

 

 'Arthur is still in Avalon and awaited by the Britons;

for, as they say and believe,

he will return from that place

to which he passed

and will again be alive.'

 

Some believed that King Arthur was not dead, but one day the once and future king would return.

 

Later, the English priest and poet Layamon tells us that King Arthur is not dead, but sleeping, and will one day come again to restore his Kingdom.

 

And finally Thomas Malory sums up the legend which we still know today.

 

'Yet som men say in many partys of Inglonde that kynge Arthur ys nat dede, but had by the wyll of oure Lorde Jesu into another place; and men say that he shall com agayne, and he shall wynne the Holy Crosse. Yet I woll not say that hit shall be so, but rather I wolde sey: here in thys worlde he chaunged hys lyff. And many men say that there ys wrytten uppon the tombe thys: Hic Jacet Athurus, Rex Quondam Rexque Futurus.'

 

Here lies Arthur

The King who was and the King who will be!

 

Rainbow

Love Story for Teenagers

NEW NOVEL

 

The Ironmaster

From the Weald Wood Legends

New Novel by Andrew Shaw

Guinevere

On the Eve of Legend

by

Cheryl Carpinello
At the dawn of Camelot, one young girl is about to take her place beside the greatest king in England’s history….

beyondtodayeducator.com

 

The King's Ransom

by

Cheryl Carpinello

In medieval Wales, eleven-year-old Prince Gavin, thirteen-year-old orphan Philip, and fifteen-year-old blacksmith's apprentice Bryan are brought together in friendship by one they call the Wild Man. When an advisor to the king is killed and a jewelled medallion is stolen from the king’s treasury, the Wild Man is accused of the theft and murder.

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