One of the most intriguing figures of English history is King Arthur, a monarch who always generates considerable debate amongst scholars who have been unable to establish with any certainty that he actually existed.
King Arthur has the status of legend and myth rolled up together with some historians believing he was a real King and others just a make-believe figure that arose through imaginative writing.
He supposedly led the defence of England against the Saxon invaders around the time of the late 5th Century – part of the early medieval era. His story gained popularity through the writings of the British cleric Geoffrey of Monmouth – in particular his 12th century work Historia Regum Britanniae – in which King Arthur is strongly featured. In this work several of the Arthurian legends were born – Queen Guinevere, Merlin the Wizard and the magic sword Excalibur.
Although there is a distinct lack of reliable historical evidence for Arthur’s reign some historians think it likely that Arthur did exist in early medieval times but little detail of his reign remain. A more likely theory is that he was a composite fictional/real character to which numerous stories and embellishments have been added over the following years.
The legend of King Arthur was tremendously popular in medieval England but then interest faded – only to revive again in the 19th Century. The advent of the cinema, and in more modern times television and advanced computer graphics, have enabled ever more exotic and wonderfully illustrated stories to emerge that have continued to entrance the modern generations.
King Arthur and the fabulous Knights of the Round Table form one of the great and enduring stories of medieval England. They were bound by a Code of Chivalry that was laid out by the English writer Sir Thomas Malory around 1450:
- To never do outrage nor murder
- Always to flee treason
- To by no means be cruel but to give mercy unto him who asks for mercy
- To always do ladies, gentlewomen and widows succour
- To never force ladies, gentlewomen or widows
- Not to take up battles in wrongful quarrels for love or worldly goods
The supernatural and romantic nuances of Arthurian legends continue to hold considerable appeal in much of today’s world – perhaps a reaction against the ultra-realism and logic of the computer age.
Image: A tapestry depicting King Arthur, c 1385, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.