King Arthur (?)King Arthur (?) - Is King Arthur truly an historical figure or merely a myth? Because of the time in which he supposedly lived and lack of written records which exist from that period and shortly thereafter, not to mention the fact that his story has been popularized by a work based on accounts full of legend, which were written centuries after he was said to have lived, it is logical to assume that the person known as King Arthur is completely fictional. And yet, despite this, when all the legendary layers are peeled back, a credible case for the actual existence of a figure on which the story of Arthur is based, might be made. Let's start at the end and work our way back to the beginning. The story of King Arthur which became widely known to the general public was first made famous by Sir Thomas Malory in his work, Le Morte D'Arthur (The Death of Arthur). Published in 1485 by William Caxton, it is not an original work, but a compilation of earlier writings collected from various sources, all of which deal with the Arthurian tale. A large chunk of that account comes from Geoffrey of Monmouth's Historia Regum Britanniae (History of Britian's monarchs) from 1136 which deals extensively with King Arthur. It encompasses most of the usual suspects in the Arthurian legend, including his parents, Uther Pendragon and Igraine, the wizard Merlin, Arthur's wife Guinevre, the final Battle of Camlann against Mordred, the famous castle Tintagel and Arthur's final resting place, Avalon. Malory turned to outside sources, mainly Old French romances for other aspects of the narrative including Lancelot, Excalibur and the Holy Grail. The Knights of the Round Table first appear in a Norman poem by Wace called Roman de Brut. But as mentioned above, it is difficult to tell from Monmouth's account where history ends and legend begins (see Anglo-Saxon Invasions above). Based on this information alone, there does not exist sufficient evidence to declare Arthur an historical figure.


King Arthur (?)So let's go back even earlier to the first document that makes any mention of the character of Arthur. That would be Nennius' (attributed) Historia Brittonum (History of the Britons) written around 828. The reason this document does not receive as much attention as Monmouth's is because the references are few, but important nonetheless. It mentions an Arthur, not as king, but as dux bellorum (warlord). He is mentioned along with King Vortigern who has pretty much been nailed down as historical. So this lends weight to the historical Arthur theory. He is listed as the victor of twelve battles, the final one being the famous Battle of Mount Badon in which the Britons were victorious over the invading Anglo-Saxons around the year 500; briefly halting the invaders expansion in England. Also mentioned in the Historia Brittonum is the character Ambrosius. Monmouth's work identifies Ambrosius as the brother of Uther Pendragon and, therefore, the uncle of Arthur. Working against his historicity is the fact that there is no mention of him in Gildas' De Excidio Britanniae, which is roughly contemporary to the supposed life of Arthur. There is a reference to the Battle of Badon Hill, as well as Ambrosius; however his name is Ambrosius Aurellianus suggesting a Roman background (or perhaps an adoptive name). But this is not particularly troublesome considering Gildas' letter was not written as history. More worrisome, though, is the absence of Arthur's name in Bede's work Historia ecclesiastica gentis Anglorum (The Ecclesiastical History of the English People) which is considered the most credible historical account for the period in question. Again, Mount Badon is referred to, but not Arthur. Neither is there any reference to him in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicles, although he was not Anglo-Saxon, so this can probably be excused (particularly if he beat them in battle). In fact, it's thought that Arthur, if he did exist, was not Latin (as in Roman Briton), but Welsh, based on his name. This also offers a possible explanation as to why he is mentioned in the Historia Brittonum, written by a Welsh monk, and not the other works...So what's your verdict?