Tales Of King Arthur Since the romanticizing of the Arthurian legends by Geoffery of Monmouth, the historian, during the twelfth century, the legendary 'king of England' has been the source of inspiration for kings, poets, artists and dreamers alike. The most famous work is probably Sir Thomas Malory's Le Morte d'Arthur, completed around 1470, and published in many abridged and complete versions. Malory's work contains in one the legend that had been continually added to over the years by many different writers who introduced such elements as Sir Galahad, and the ill-fated love affair between Lancelot and Guinevere. Geoffery of Monmouth had been the first to put the legends surrounding Arthur into literary form in his History of the Kings of Britain. He described Arthur's genealogy as the son of Uther Pendragon and Igerna, or Igraine, wife of the Duke of Cornwall, and brought in Merlin the magician, who disguised Arthur as the Duke in order to romance Igerna at Tintagel Castle while the real Duke was away.
Geoffery also introduced Arthur's famed court (placed at Caerleon-on-Usk) and his final battle and defeat at the hands of Modred, his treacherous nephew. Artos Of The Celts It is almost certain that Arthur did exist, although it is unlikely he was a king. He is more likely to have been a warrior and Celtic cavalry leader. The Saxon invaders, who were unmounted, would have been at a considerable disadvantage against the speed with which the Celtic company were able to move around the country, which would make possible the dozen victories up and down the country that have been attributed to the shadowy figure of Arthur. Around the fifth century, a resistance movement against Britain's invaders, including Saxons and Angles from the continent, Picts from the North, and Irish from the West, was being led which maintained a British hold on the South and West. Around this time, a man named Artos was beginning to be written of as a powerful soldier who united the leaders of the small British kingdoms against the invading armies.
It seems likely that he was a noble Celt. The first mention of his victory in battle was written down around 600 AD, in a set of church annals called the Annales Cambria e. He must have been a glimmer of hope to the Britons, and it is not surprising that he might have been thought of as a king. Guinevere And The Court At Camelot In the earliest tales of Arthur, there is no mention of his queen, Guinevere; she was introduced by later writers, possibly to illustrate how the dream world of Camelot fell from grace. When Guinevere first appears in early Welsh stories, she is the daughter of a giant, but later she becomes the daughter of King Leodegrance of the West Country. In her original Welsh form of Gwenhwyfar, she was an folk figure before being connected to Arthur, and may originally have been a lesser goddess.
Geoffery located Camelot at the very real Roman town of Caerleon in South Wales; Malory placed it at Winchester, which was the headquarters of the kings of Wessex and remained a royal seat after the Norman invasion. Other stories place it near Arthur's supposed birthplace at Tintagel. Cadbury Castle in Somerset has been named as another possible location of Camelot, which has been revealed during excavations to have been occupied during the time of Arthur and to have been the headquarters of a leader, if not a king. The real Arthur may have been buried at Glastonbury Abbey, which lays around twelve miles north-west of the castle.
It is said to have been a secret burial, so the news of his death would not raise Saxon morale; the mystery may have given rise to the rumors that he still lived on. In 1190, the monks of Glastonbury Abbey reported that they had dug up a coffin made from a hollow log, and a lead cross inscribed with the name of Arthur, or Artos. Within were a man's bones, and a woman's skeleton and mass of yellow hair found in the same grave were said to belong to his queen, Guinevere. The Knights Of The Round Table The legend says that King Arthur chose the round table to ensure that no one knight would have obvious authority over another. An earlier addition to the story adds that the original table was part of Guinevere's dowry when she was married to Arthur. The Great Hall at Winchester castle actually contains a round table, this one constructed around the fourteenth century, and thought to have been built for Arthurian tournaments held by King Edward.
The first mention of the Round Table in literature are found in the writings of the poet Robert Wace in 1155, but he refers to it as famous, and it seems to assume that the readers would already know of that part of the story. So the actual years in which the Round Table was introduced are unsure. Arthur created the Order of the Round Table; an order of knights whose vows were to live nobly and fight valiantly. King Edward was so inspired by the tales that he founded the Order of the Garter from a wish to revive the loyalty, bravery and comradeship of the Round Table. The tales of Arthur's individual knights were added somewhat later that the element of the Round Table itself.
His most famous and loyal knight, Lancelot, who would eventually betray him by the conducting of an illicit affair with Guinevere, is not mentioned in any part of the Celtic material. He is first found as the central hero in the French Vulgate Cycle, written between 1215 and 1230. Sir Thomas Malory went to the last three parts of this to find the material for his own work; Lancelot which follows the knight's lone adventures, the Quest del Saint Graal, and the Mort A rtu from which he took the romance of Lancelot and Guinevere and how it brought the downfall of Arthur and Camelot. Tristram also enters Malory's saga from much the same source, another French collection of tales again from around 1230, called the Prose Tristan. From here also comes the romance of Lancelot and Elaine of Corbin, daughter of King P elles, which resulted in the birth of the perfect knight, Galahad. It was Galahad who was to succeed in what his father had failed in pursuing, the mystical Holy Grail.
Malory draws again from the French work for the other Elaine, Elaine le Blank, the maid of Astolat, who died for love of Lancelot after finding he was willing to be no more than her friend. Tennyson made her sad tale one of his Arthurian poems, and his other work, The Lady Of Shallot, is also based upon Elaine, who requested that after her death, her family place her body in a barge and float it down the river, with a letter in her hand to tell Lancelot and the royal court of the reason for her death. The Faerie Queen Morgan le Fay may be the figure present in the Arthurian saga with the oldest history. The earliest form of her name is found as the Morrigan, an Irish goddess of war appearing to heroes on the battlefields.
As Morgan, she is a goddess of healing in the early literature, who rules over the magical island of Avalon, which seems then to be an afterworld and place of rebirth. Geoffery of Monmouth made her an enchantress, one of the ladies who took Arthur away to be healed after his final battle at Camlan. Malory made her Arthur's half-sister, one of the three daughters of Igerna by her first husband the Duke of Cornwall, and the mother of Modred, Arthur's son, fathered in an incestuous affair. From almost her first entrance, she is a dark figure bent on the ruin of Arthur. Strangely, her last appearance is one of the three queens who, with Niue, the Lady of the Lake, Arthur's good fairy, bears him away to Avalon. Out Of Life And Into Legend The mysterious Isle of Avalon emerged as a legend of it's own in early Celtic writings.
It was again Geoffery of Monmouth who first drew it's name into prominence again by merging it into the Arthurian story. The most popular location of Avalon has been at Glastonbury in Somerset; years previously, the hills in the center there were made an island by the sea flow of the sea into the flat land, and the marshes still exist. The flooding was later brought under control, and by the time of the late fourteenth century poem, Le Morte Arthur, Avalon was referred to as a vale. According to the legend, Arthur's nephew or son, Modred, used the exposed affair of Lancelot and Guinevere to begin civil war, and Arthur himself was seriously wounded at the battle of Camlan. He was carried away to Avalon to have his wounds tended. Here can be seen the strongest remaining influence of the other, older story that became confused with the legend of Arthur; that of a Celtic god who was said to lay sleeping in a cave on a remote Western Island.
This god had once ruled over a peaceful and happy kingdom, but had been overthrown. One day he would rise again and return to rule. There are stories of this ilk that explicitly name Arthur, such as the Wizard of Alderley edge, in which Merlin the magician guards Arthur and his knights, who lay sleeping in a cavern there until England once again needs them. Malory writes that after Arthur sailed for Avalon, he died, and was buried in some other place - but that over his grave is written the words, Here lays Arthur: the once and future king..