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The history of King Arthur is a fine legend, with all the adventure and excitement we could hope for. Kings and battles, magic and great knights, all placed in cliff top castles, far off places and foreign lands.

King Arthur – the story

Sometime around the beginning of the 6th century Prince Pendragon, a mighty soldier, was slain in a battle between the Saxons and the Britons. His brother, Uther Pendragon, took control, aided by the wise Merlin.

With the help of Merlin’s magic, Uther managed to seduce Igrain, by magically pretending to be her husband Gerlois (he had sent her husband into exile first). This trickery produced a child, Arthur, who was born at Tintagel.

For reasons of safety, Arthur was given to Merlin and sent to a knight called Ector for his upbringing. He discovered his magical powers only when he tried to pull a sword from a stone – and succeeded. The sword had been placed in the stone by Merlin, was only to be removed by the future king, and all previous attempts to remove it had failed.

With the help of Merlin, King Arthur ruled Britain. He also had the help of a magical sword called excalibur, a gift from the ‘lady in the lake’.

Arthur and excalibur were to be launched on a lifetime of adventures together, mostly heroic battles with his ‘Knights of the Round Table’ that were fought against the Saxons, from their castle in Camelot. Arthur was married to the beautiful Queen Guinevere, and had an evil half sister Morgan le Fay.

These battles over, more great incursions took place across Europe, until a large part of Europe also fell under Arthur’s control.

Many ‘related’ stories concern the knights, their adventures, and the quest for the Holy Grail.

All was going well until Mordred, another strong but evil knight, decided he shoule rule the kingdom. He formed his own great army and entered into battle with Arthur at the Battle of Camlann. Until now Arthur had always been protected from harm by excalibur’s scabbard, but this time it had been stolen by Morgan le
Fay.

Many were killed during the battle, which culminated in a fight between Arthur and Mordred themselves. Arthur killed Mordred, but died soon after from his own wounds.

King Arthur – the truth

The story of King Arthur as medieval hero started perhaps with Geoffrey of Monmouth in the 12th century, or perhaps with earlier stories passed from generation to generation.

The story gained momentum with Chretien de Troyes and his stories of the Arthurian legend, which entwined Arthur with other great mythical stories – above all that of Sir Lancelot, knight of the Round table – and started the idea of Arthur as the medieval hero. The story of the Holy Grail appears to have been
added to the tales shortly afterwards, by a certain Robert de Boron.

The complete story as we now know it is pretty much the same as the final 15th century version written by Sir Thomas Malory.

In truth nobody knows if any of the story is based on fact, and if so how much. Some people are convinced that there is sufficient evidence for the story to be believed, others claim that really there is no evidence at all.

There is a long gap between the 6th century and the 11th century during which there is only the sparsest ‘evidence’ of Arthur, and even after that there are tales and adventures but little or no real convincing evidence – the documents that exist tend to be later rewritings of earlier, now untraceable, records and documents and incorporating later material with no evidence

In truth it seems likely that the stories of Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table are medieval fabrications, but perhaps they were built originally around stories that were passed down over the centuries of a real great knight (or even a king) who actually existed, who really was a hero, and really did win great battles. Or perhaps around a mythical figure, invented around the camp fires of the 9th century…

Anyone who has tried to trace their own family history will know how quickly facts become suggestions and evidence becomes vague, and how quickly mis-spellings and conjecture move in on fact – so we can imagine the difficulties faced by someone in the 12th century trying to trace facts about the 5th century…

Unfortunately the real story of King Arthur is likely to always remain an mystery to which we will never know the answer.

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