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King Arthur

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Look, he really did exist, here's his grave! How could that be faked?
Fiction over fact
Pseudohistory
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How it didn't happen

King Arthur was a legendary King of England or Britannia during the Dark Ages. The Arthur legends may be wholly mythical or may relate to distorted recollections of one or more real military figures or warlords who took leading roles in the Romano-British resistance to the Anglo-Saxon invasion and settlement of England in the 5th century.

The earliest traceable Arthur legends relate to an obviously supernatural figure in Welsh mythology, depicted triumphing over fabulous monsters. Later versions of these also feature Arthur fighting the Saxons. The version of the Arthur legend which is well known today was written by Geoffrey of Monmouth (1100-1155) some five centuries or so after Arthur's time and probably represents a confabulation of legends and items from his own imagination. R. F. Treherne[1] speculated that Geoffrey of Monmouth, who was of Welsh descent, wished to create a propaganda myth promoting Arthur as a Welsh hero.

In 1191 the monks of Glastonbury Abbey, Somerset, England, announced the discovery of the grave of King Arthur. This led to a large increase in revenues from curious visitors. It was also soon followed by a generous grant from King Henry II. Given that the Abbey was in sore need of funds following a disastrous fire in 1189, and that the news of the discovery of Arthur's grave undermined a Welsh rebellion against Henry II (which had been encouraged by rumours that Arthur had returned to life to lead the revolt), modern historians consider that the alleged grave was a fabrication.[1] (You don't say!)

According to the legend as written by Geoffrey of Monmouth, Arthur was the son of Uthur Pendragon,[note 1] married to Guanhumara Guineviere (or possibly three queens of the same name in succession), pulled the sword out of the stone, ran the Round Table (a fanciful replica of which can be seen at Winchester, UK), around which an assortment of knights (which would not exist for about five hundred years) told tall tales; gave employment to Merlin the Wizard, got pissed off when his missus ran off with his best mate and died in a battle with Modred - who might have been his offspring by his evil half sister Morgan Le Fay. (The original text says that Arthur and Modred died in the battle - not that they were on opposite sides.) Supposedly sent to Avalon - now known as conflated with Glastonbury, the centre of much New Agery.

Another legend says that he didn't actually die but "sleeps" under a hill somewhere from whence he will return when Britain faces danger. However, so far, the UK has had to manage events like the Battle of Britain without his help.[2]

The lake woman watery tart getting the sword back
He had a sword named Caliburn Excabil... Esclabi... Exclab... Ecksalib... well, he definitely had a sword anyhow.[note 2] He either found it stuck in a stone or was given it by a rather dodgy woman in a lake. (Possibly the solo precursor of today's synchronised swimmers.) If it was the lake woman she rather meanly demanded its return when Arthur returned from the Castle of Aughhhh died. The whole "lady of the lake" bit may be an echo of the practice of laying votive offerings (often swords) in bodies of water in ancient Britain, and our modern tradition of throwing coins in pools may be a faint echo of the latter.

See also[edit]

Notes[edit]

  1. Uther tricked the wife of his enemy Gorlois, Lady Igraine, and slept with her. Thus Arthur was a bastard.
  2. The Welsh in their wisdom know the sword as the much easier to spell and pronounce Caledfwlch.

References[edit]

  1. 1.0 1.1 Treherne, R. F. 'The Glastonbury Legends' Cresset London 1967
  2. See the Wikipedia article on Drake’s Drum.