King Arthur Was Arthur a king or just a battle commander?
Arthur the Battle Commander • There are Roman historical references to Arthur the warrior • Historia Brittonum, written by the monk Nennius in the 9th century tells us of 12 great battles Arthur fought.
Conceived in battle • In legend, Arthur was born during a war and died during a war. He was certainly a warrior. • He fought the Saxons at Badon Hill in southern Britain. Saxons were Northern European invaders.
Arthur in battle • He fought everywhere. He won great victories. A strong tradition has him a using Roman strategies and Celtic ferocity to rout the Saxons time and again, counting on their inexperience in fighting mounted men.
Arthur the King • But was he a king in the traditional sense? The legends name him High King of Britain, a title held by his father, Uther Pendragon, and his uncle, Ambrosius Aurelianus.
King of the Britons • Noted historian Geoffrey Ashe calls him King of the Britons . In legend, he is associated with Stonehenge, one of the seven wonders of the ancient world.
King of Wales • A recent book by Graham Phillips and Martin Keatman identifies Arthur as the King of Powys and Gwynedd, two powerful kingdoms in Wales. • And he is associated with Wroxeter located in Shropshire near Wales, which served briefly as a Legionary Fortress in the 1st century AD.
King in Scotland • The northern tradition has Arthur king of some or all of Scotland.
King or Commander? • Conclusive evidence cannot answer the question beyond a doubt • The evidence strongly suggests a warrior-king did exist
Guinevere • In legend, Guinevere is a most important character. • She does not appear in the histories, but then, few women did. • Early Welsh literature names her Gwenhwyfar, the "White Phantom" and the "first lady of the island."
Guenevere • In legends, she is often saved by Arthur from captivity of conquering warriors.
Guenevere • Later traditions have her as the daughter of Leodegrance, who gave as part of her dowry the Round Table. • In all of the legends, hers is an arranged marriage.
Guenevere • In the legends, she falls in love with Arthur’s best knight and their romance destroys Arthur’s power and kingdom. • The legend varies as to how she met Lancelot. Some sources say he escorted her to her wedding to Arthur; other sources say they met when Lancelot came to court. • Later tales have her retiring to a nunnery or being abducted by Mordred.
Lancelot • Lancelot is entirely the creation of Chretien de Troyes and is as such no part of historical investigation. • In his four romances, Chretien portrays Lancelot as the best of all the knights: skilled in arms and chivalry and courtly love and all the other qualities that make a knight successful.
Lancelot • He is the king's champion, fighting challengers and going on quests in the king's name. He is time and again the symbol of Arthur's justice. Those who question the queen's fidelity are made to pay by fighting Lancelot.
Was Gawain a great knight or a royal pain? • Arthur’s three sisters all want their sons or heirs to succeed Arthur as king. That makes them cause Arthur all kinds of problems. • In the early stories and the later historical works Sir Gawain, being the son of Lot and Morgause and, therefore, Arthur's nephew does great deeds and is a symbol of knightly prowess.
Gawain • Geoffrey tells us that he was in command of a division in Arthur's victory over the Roman Emperor Lucius at the Battle of Saussy and that Gawain attacked Lucius himself. Gawain was killed as he came back to shore to fight Modred.
Was Merlin an old magician or a young fortune-teller? • Geoffrey's Merlin is thought to be based on the Welsh Myrddin, a wise man who went mad after the battle of Arfderydd and retired to the Celidon Forest.
Merlin and the Holy Grail • Legend involves Merlin in the Quests of the knights for the Holy Grail. Before Merlin is 3 years old, he tells the story of Joseph of Arimathea and his bringing the Grail to Britain. • The Round Table is connected to the table of The Last Supper in legend.
Merlin • He also falls under the spell of Nimue or Vivien of the Lady of the Lake, depending on which version you read and is imprisoned, robbing Arthur of his wise counsel when he needs it most. • Depending on the version, Merlin is a wise and powerful force for the good Arthur, or a scheming and manipulative powermonger.
Who was the Lady of the Lake? • The Lady of the Lake doesn't really appear in historical investigations. She is thought to have been based on lake fairies in Welsh stories. • The Lady of the Lake in popular conception is the high priestess of an older religion and the woman who gave Arthur Excalibur and then took it back when Bedivere threw it back into the lake.
Was Galahad really so boring? • Galahad was Lancelot’s son. If being perfect means being boring, you could say yes. The legend has him involved in many adventures, however, including healing the wounded Grail King. • He eventually sees the Holy Grail in its full glory and dies of ecstasy after being shown the full mystery and majesty of the Grail. On the way, he does many wonderful things
Galahad • One story even has Galahad drawing his own sword out of a stone. This took place when he sat in the Siege Perilous, a seat at the Round Table that was destined for the greatest knight in the world. Separate traditions say the Siege Perilous was destined for the Grail Knight. Many stories say Galahad was both.
Did Perceval see the Grail or didn't he? • Perceval also briefly glimpses the Grail. He has many adventures, high and low. Many legends describe the grail as a serving dish rather than a cup. Perceval has a vision in which he sees a procession containing a bleeding lance and a head on a platter.
Perceval • His travels take him to the Grail Castle, where he sees a bleeding lance and a silver graal, or serving dish. Because he does not help the Grail Knight, he does not see the Grail, and the land and the man suffer anew.
The Third Grail Knight • In legend, Bors is the third Grail Knight. He returns to Camelot with the news of the realization of the Grail Quest.
Morgan Le Fey • One of Arthur’s three sisters, Morgan is the most self-serving in the legends. • Malory, especially, portrays Morgan as mortal, having to use magic to make herself appear young, and scheming through magical means to embarrass and harm Arthur and his court.
Was she a witch? • That word usually has an evil connotation. Earlier sources portray her as a healer; given the evil connotation of the word witch, we must conclude that she was not one in the earlier sources.
Was Morgause to blame for all of Arthur's troubles? • Another sister, Morgause does not appear in the historical texts. • In legend, Morgause is Arthur's half-sister, usually the wife of Lot of Lothian and/or Orkney. As such, she is perfectly situated to cause Arthur trouble.
Malevolent Morgause • Morgause herself is said to have been a constant thorn in Arthur's side, doing magic and making mischief. Bradley says she poisoned the queen so she couldn't have children.
It could be argued that Morgause was indeed the cause of all Arthur's troubles: • She was the power behind Lot, she sent her sons to make trouble for Arthur and expose the adultery of his two best-loved people, she tried herself to undo all that Arthur had done, and she was the cause and the educator of Mordred, who ultimately caused the wound that took Arthur away.
Was the Sword really in the Stone? • The idea of Arthur's drawing the Sword from the Stone and becoming king of Britain is not to be found in the historical texts.
The Sword in the Stone • And yet, one possible explanation is this: • The Latin word for stone is saxo; the English word for the Germanic invaders who took over the country is Saxon. It is quite possible that the story of Arthur had him killing a great Saxon leader and taking his sword as a symbol of prowess and renewed vigor and victory. It is also quite possible that in copying (which is what they did in those days), a scribe might have forgotten to add a letter, namely the last, to the word Saxon. Hence, "Arthur pulled the sword from the Saxon" may have become "Arthur pulled the sword from the stone."
Did the Round Table really seat 1,600 men? • Historically, theFrench monk Robert Wace, who wrote Roman de Brut, a poem based on Geoffrey of Monmouth's History of the Kings of Britain, says that Arthur's knights sat inside a round table while Arthur sat on a dais, above the Round Table. • The idea here was that the knights were all equal but Arthur was still the king. • A few years later, an Englishman named Layamon tried his hand at the story, calling his work Brut. (The idea of Brut comes from Brutus the Trojan, whom Geoffrey says founded the first kingdom in Britain.)
The Round Table • Layamon identifies Arthur's court as being at London, and places the king at the center of all the action. In Brut, the Round Table is the result of a chance meeting between Arthur and a Cornish carpenter, who offers to make for the king a table that could seat 1,600 men and be folded up and taken anywhere
The Round Table in Legend • Robert de Boron tells us how Merlin ordered Uther Pendragon to construct the table based on his vision of the Last Supper Table and Joseph of Arimathea's Grail Table. • Merlin instructed Uther to have the table accommodate 50 chairs; he also said to leave one chair blank, for the knight who would fulfill the Grail Quest. The Vulgate Cycle says the Round Table sat 250 knights.
The Round Table in Legend • The Vulgate Cycle introduces the idea of the Siege Perilous, continuing the empty-chair theory but adding to it the caveat that anyone not anointed would perish after sitting there. Galahad, of course, was the only one able to sit there; it was he who fulfilled the Grail Quest.
King Arthur • Historically, a powerful leader and warrior, Arthur inspired writers, artists, poets, and musicians. • Captured in their work, he remains a legendary and mythical figure whose stories have endured over hundreds of years.