Everyone knows about the story of King Arthur, the gallant hero, and the Knights of the Round Table. A lot of this knowledge however, will derive from media and various glorified film depictions, which hold Arthur as one of England’s great underdogs, a man who rose up out of the most unlikely of places and whose bravery saved the country at a time of political turmoil and social struggle. But the question is, how much of this legend comes from historical fact, and how much simply stems from the imagination of storytellers and enthusiasts of the tales?
This has been an issue which has both enthused and perplexed historians and forced them to question both Arthur’s position, and role in medieval Britain. Was he a king? Did he act as a leader in battles against the Anglo Saxons in the 6th Century? Or was he merely one of many men who became, by default involved in battles which encapsulated Britain in this period?
Perhaps the most fundamental of all questions which the historian must tackle is…did Arthur exist at all?! The origins of the legend which dominate popular consciousness today can be traced back to the works Geoffrey of Monmouth’s Historia Regum Britanniae.
This works created, in the eyes of many, a historically inaccurate portrayal of Arthur. It created a legend and myth which dominated history and its literature, and thus has clouded historical interpretation.
Historians who seek to prove the existence of Arthur, cite the more frequent use of his name during the 6th century as evidence that descendants of a British Arthur existed. This supports the existence of Arthur, as one must surely exist to produce descendants. Others put forward the suggestion that Arthur was merely one of many war leaders acting against the Anglo-Saxon invaders in the 6th century, rather than a King.
It is evident that the debate concerning Arthur is one which is both interesting and complex in nature. Consensus among historians over the nature of his existence is rare, yet many, accept there may be an exaggeration of events concerning Arthur and his victories during this period.
This brief outline of the historical debate surrounding King Arthur has perhaps left many of you are as baffled as ever, a feeling encountered by most when tackling this subject. However, one could ask is it really significant if Arthur is man or legend?! Generations to come will no doubt indulge in the idea and stories which encompass King Arthur and his extravagant deeds and accomplishments. These stories are sure to remain an integral part of our culture and society….and will no doubt outlive us all!