the figure at the heart of the Arthurian legends. He is said to be the
Uther Pendragon and Igraine of Cornwall. Arthur is a near mythic figure
Celtic stories such as Culhwch and Olwen. In early
chronicles he is presented as a military leader, the dux bellorum.
later romance he is presented as a king and emperor.
One of the questions that has occupied those interested in King Arthur
whether or not he is a historical figure. The debate
The Enthroned Arthur, from Lancelot
du Lac (French, early fourteenth century)
raged since the Renaissance
when Arthur's historicity was
vigorously defended, partly because the Tudor monarchs traced their
Arthur and used that connection as a justification for their reign.
scholarship has generally assumed that there was some actual person at
heart of the legends, though not of course a king with a band of
shining armor--though O.J. Padel in "The
Nature of Arthur" argues that "historical
attributes of just the
kind that we find attached to Arthur can be associated with a figure
not historical to start with."
If there is a historical basis to the character, it is clear that he
as a warrior battling the Germanic
invaders of the late fifth and early sixth centuries. Since there is no
conclusive evidence for or against Arthur's historicity, the debate
But what can not be denied is the influence of the figure of Arthur on
literature, art, music, and society from the Middle Ages to the
there have been numerous historical novels that try to put Arthur into
sixth-century setting, it is the legendary figure of the late Middle
has most captured the imagination.
It is such a figure, the designer of an order of the best knights in
that figures in the major versions of the legend from Malory to
Tennyson to T.
H. White. Central to the myth is the downfall of Arthur's kingdom. It
undermined in the chronicle tradition by the treachery of Mordred. In
romance tradition that treachery is made possible because of the love
Lancelot and Guinevere.
The Marriage of King Arthur and Guinevere.
The name Arthur may be (and according to K. H. Jackson certainly is) a
Artorius, a Roman gens name, but, according to J. D. Bruce, it is
Celtic origin, coming from artos viros (bear man) - see
Welsh arth gwyr (T. R.
Davies). Bruce also suggests the
possibility of a connection with Irish art (stone).
An outline of the hero's life is given by Geoffrey of Monmouth (twelfth
century) in his Historia Regum Brittaniae - History of the Kings of Britain.
Just how much of this life was Geoffrey's
invention and how much was
culled from traditional
material is uncertain. He tells us that
King Arthur was the son of Uther and defeated the barbarians in a dozen
battles. Subsequently, he conquered a wide empire and eventually went
with the Romans. He returned home on learning that his nephew Mordred
raised the standard of rebellion and taken Guinevere, the queen. After
his final battle took place.
The saga built
up over the centuries and Celtic
traditions of Arthur reached the Continent via Brittany. Malory's Le Morte D'Arthur
become what many considered the standard 'history' of Arthur. In this,
told of Arthur's conception when Uther approached Igraine who was made,
Merlin's sorcery, to resemble her husband. The child was given to Ector
raised in secret. After Uther's death there was no king ruling all England.
Merlin had placed a sword in a stone, saying that whoever drew it out
king. Arthur did so and Merlin had him crowned. This led
rebellion be eleven rulers which Arthur put down. He married Guinevere
father gave him the Round Table as a dowry; it became the place where
knights sat, to avoid quarrels over precedence. A magnificent reign
Arthur's court becoming the focus for many heroes. In the war against
Romans, Arthur defeated the Emperor Lucius and became emperor himself.
his most illustrious knight, Lancelot, became enamoured of Guinevere.
for the Holy Grial began and Lancelot's intrigue with the Queen came to
Lancelot fled and Guinevere was sentenced to death. Lancelot rescued
took her to him realm. This led Arthur to crossing the channel and
on his former knight. While away from Britain, he left Mordred in
Mordred rebelled and Arthur returned to quell him. This led to Arthur's
battle on Salisbury Plain, where he slew Mordred, but was himself
wounded. Arthur was then carried off in a barge, saying he was heading
vale of Avalon. Some said he never died, but would one day return.
grave was supposedly discovered at Glastonbury
in the reign of Henry II (1154-89).
Given to the
Knights by King Arthur
make you a good man and fail not of beauty. The Round Table was founded
patience, humility, and meekness.Thou art never to do outrageousity,
murder, and always to flee treason, by no means to be cruel, and always
ladies, damosels, and gentle women succour. Also, to take no battles in
wrongful quarrel for no law nor for no world's goods.
Thous shouldst be for all ladies and fight for their quarrels, and ever
courteous and never refuse mercy to him that asketh mercy, for a knight
courteous and kind and gentle has favor in every place. Thou shouldst
hold a lady or gentle woman against her will.
Thou must keep thy word to all and not be feeble of good believeth and
Right must be defended against might and distress must be protected.
know good from evil and the vain glory of the world, because great
bobauce maketh great sorrow. Should anyone require ye of any quest so
is not to thy shame, thou shouldst fulfil the desire.
Ever it is a worshipful knights deed to help another worshipful knight
seeth him a great danger, for ever a worshipful man should loath to see
worshipful man shamed, for it is only he that is of no worship and who
with cowardice that shall never show gentelness or no manner of
he seeth a man in any danger, but always a good man will do another man
would have done to himself.
It should never be said that a small brother has injured or slain
brother. Thou shouldst not fail in these things: charity, abstinence
No knight shall win worship but if he be of worship himself and of good
and that loveth God and dreadeth God then else he geteth no worship
ever so hardly.
An envious knight shall never win worship for and envious man wants to
worship he shall be dishonoured twice therefore without any, and for
men of worship hate an envious man and
will show him no favour.
Do not, nor slay not, anything that will
in any way dishonour the fair name of
only by stainless and honourable lives and not by prowess and courage
final goal be reached. Therefore be a good knight and so I pray to God
may be, and if ye be of prowess and of worthiness then ye shall be a
the Table Round
Emblem of the Knights
The emblem of the Knights of
the Round Table worn round the necks of all the Knights was given to
King Arthur as part of the ceremony of their being made a knight.
idea was the love of God, men, and noble deeds.
cross in the
emblem was to remind them that they were to live pure and stainless
stive after perfection and thus attain the Holy Grail. The Red Dragon
Arthur represented their allegiance to the King. The Round Table was
illustrative of the Eternity of God, the equality, unity, and
the Order, and singleness of purpose of all the Knights.
the heart of all of the Arthurian legend
is the Land itself. To walk through the land is to feel the legends and
has two kinds of geography: the outer, visible one of hills, valleys,
rivers, and plants; and the inner, mysterious, myth-haunted one which
of places that
often no more than names, like Camelot,
Camlan, the supposed site of Arthur's last battle, or Badon, the site
greatest fight against the Saxons.
of ink have been spilled by various
commentators in their efforts to identify these places, many of which
remained undiscovered for the simple reason that they were never a part
world at all, but myth and legend. This is not to say that they never
only that the physical places ascribed to them are as often as not
to a local tradition, in the ground below
the great outcrop of sandstone, known
Above Alderley Edge is a bearded, weather-beaten face.
Under it is written, Drink of this and take thy fill, for the water falls by
the wizard's will.
as the Edge, there is a cave
in which Arthur and his knights
lie sleeping. The story goes that a farmer was on his way to market at
nearby town of Macclesfield
when he was stopped by an old man who offered to buy the white horse he
planning to sell. Refusing the low offer, the farmer rode on. Despite
interest, no one bought the horse at the market. On the way back, the
mysterious man appeared and this time the farmer accepted the offer.
him to the hillside, the old man laid a hand on some rocks, which
reveal iron gates at an entrance into the hill. Within the hill, the
farmer saw the great king and his knights, together with their mounts,
in a vast