Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Who Was King Arthur?

Work has left little time to write this week, so I'm re-running a post that relates in a way to my recent posts about Ragnar Lothbrok of History's Vikings.

Leading up to my next installment in my series on Medieval Fiction, I thought I’d pose some questions about one of the late Fifth Century’s most legendary figures: Who was Arthur of Britain? And was he a real person or a purely mythical figure?
Arthur vs. Mordred - One of my favorite Arthurian images!
These are questions that scholars have debated, and writers have explored, for a very long time. What Arthur most certainly was not was a king in shining plate mail who lived in a massive structure that looked something like Bodiam Castle (below) as depicted in movies like Excalibur and the ├╝ber silly First Knight (you know, the one with Richard Gere as Lancelot wearing some of the most ridiculous armor ever donned for the silver screen).
Camelot would not have looked like this!*
Massive stone castles with lots of towers, a huge curtain wall, and a moat weren’t built until the late Eleventh or Twelfth Centuries, and plate armor was not in style until the Thirteenth Century. But Arthur, if he existed, would have lived during the late Fifth or early Sixth Century. Here are just seven possible versions of Arthur from historical and literary sources (and trust me, there are many more than these!):
  • He was a Romano-British leader who fought the invading Saxons and killed 960 men at the Battle of Mount Badon (from the 9th century Historia Brittonum);
  • He was Ambrosius Aurelianus, a historical figure and one of the last Roman lords of Britain (the 2004 film King Arthur went in this direction, making Arthur a Roman cavalry officer named Artorius Castus);
  • He was the fifteen-year-old King of Britain and the son of Uther Pendragon (per Geoffrey of Monmouth who wrote the Historia Regum Britanniae c. 1138; Geoffrey’s depiction became the basis for many Arthurian legends);
  • He was a boy named Wart who pulled a sword from a stone to become King Arthur (see T.S. White’s The Once and Future King);
  • He was Arthur Pendragon, the nephew of the Roman war leader Aurelius Ambrosius and the cousin of Merlin, who would become the king to unite all of Britain (see Mary Stewart’s The Merlin Trilogy);
  • He was a Celtic king ruling from Camelot during a time of tension between the old pagan and new Christian faiths (see Marion Zimmer Bradley’s The Mists of Avalon);
  • He was not a king, but a warlord – the bastard son of Uther, High King of Britain (see Bernard Cornwell’s The Warlord Chronicles).
Sir Thomas Malory wrote Le Morte d'Arthur in the 15th Century
I’ll have more on this topic when I return to my series on Medieval Fiction, which will happen as soon as I free up some of my free time, which has been spent lately on some exciting promotional work for my novel Enoch’s Device – more on that soon!

In the meantime, let me know if you have a favorite theory as to who King Arthur really was? Or simply a favorite depiction of Arthur from Arthurian fiction?

* Bodiam Castle - Photo attribution

1 comment:

Bill said...

I enjoyed the Arthur depicted in Jack Whyte's series of books - the heir to the last of the Romans trying to preserve some of that civilization.