The Arthurian Legend

See also King Arthur and St Petroc's Church, Bodmin


The Legend

King Arthur

Although there are innumerable variations of the Arthurian legend, the basic story has remained the same. Arthur was the illegitimate son of Uther Pendragon, king of Britain, and Igraine, the wife of Gorlois of Cornwall. After the death of Uther, Arthur, who had been reared in secrecy, won acknowledgment as king of Britain by successfully withdrawing a sword from a stone.

Merlin, the court magician, then revealed the new king's parentage. Arthur, reigning in his court at Camelot, proved to be a noble king and a mighty warrior. He was the possessor of the miraculous sword Excalibur, given to him by the mysterious Lady of the Lake. At Arthur's death Sir Bedivere threw Excalibur into the lake; a hand rose from the water, caught the sword, and disappeared. Another sword, sometimes mistakenly identified with Excalibur, was drawn from a stone by Arthur to prove his royalty.

How Sir Bedivere cast the sword Excalibur into the water by Aubrey Beardsley (1894)

Of Arthur's several enemies, the most treacherous were his sister Morgan le Fay and his nephew Mordred. Morgan le Fay was usually represented as an evil sorceress, scheming to win Arthur's throne for herself and her lover. Mordred (or Modred) was variously Arthur's nephew or his son by his sister Morgause. He seized Arthur's throne during the king's absence. Later he was slain in battle by Arthur, but not before he had fatally wounded the king. Arthur was borne away to the isle of Avalon, where it was expected that he would be healed of his wounds and that he would someday return to his people.

Two of the most invincible knights in Arthur's realm were Sir Tristram and Sir Launcelot of the Lake. Both of them, however, were involved in illicit and tragic love unions - Tristram with Isolde, the queen of Tristram's uncle, King Mark; Sir Launcelot with Guinevere, the queen of his sovereign, King Arthur. Other knights of importance include the naive Sir Pelleas, who fell helplessly in love with the heartless Ettarre (or Ettard) and Sir Gawain, Arthur's nephew, who appeared variously as the ideal of knightly courtesy and as the bitter enemy of Launcelot.

Also significant are Sir Balin and Sir Balan, two devoted brothers who unwittingly slew one another; Sir Galahad, Launcelot's son, who was the hero of the quest for the Holy Grail; Sir Kay, Arthur's villainous foster brother; Sir Percivale (or Parsifal); Sir Gareth; Sir Geraint; Sir Bedivere; and other knights of the Round Table.

King Arthur's Castle, Tintagel, Cornwall Tintagel, Cornwall King Arthur's Castle Doorway
King Arthur's Castle, Tintagel, Cornwall
Tinted view of castle ruins
(Francis Frith postcard - 1904)
Tintagel, Cornwall
Tinted view of the Valley
(Francis Frith postcard - 1895)
King Arthur's Castle Doorway, Tintagel, Cornwall
(Francis Frith postcard - 1908)

The Link to Celtic Mythology


Formerly, it was thought that the Arthurian legend was the work of several inventive poets and romancers of the Middle Ages. The generally accepted theory now is that Arthurian legend developed out of stories of Celtic mythology. The most archaic form in which these occur in British sources is the Welsh Mabinogion, but much of Irish mythology is palpably identical with Arthurian romance. It is not certain how or where (in Wales or in those parts of northern Britain inhabited by Brythonic-speaking Celts) this legend originated or whether the figure Arthur was based on an historical person.

It is possible that traditional Irish hero stories of the iron age fused in Britain with those of the Welsh, the Cornish, and the Celts of North Britain. The resultant legend with its hero, Arthur, was transmitted to their Breton cousins on the Continent probably by the year 1000 AD, but possibly as early as the mid 6th-century (see Getica below). The Bretons, famous as wandering minstrels, followed Norman armies over Western Europe and used the legend's stories for their repertory. By 1100 AD, therefore, Arthurian stories were well known even in Italy.

The 6th-century historian Jordanes, in his work Getica, [4] includes mention of the campaign in Gaul of Riotimus (Riothamus) "King of the Brettones" later confused with a Latin name, Artorius, and is the earliest known reference to King Arthur. Riothamus was a Romano-British military leader, who was active circa 470 AD. He fought against the Goths in alliance with the declining Roman Empire. He is called "King of the Britons" by Jordanes, but the extent of his realm is unclear. Riothamus is a Latinisation of the Brythonic personal name "Rigotamos", meaning 'king-most', 'supreme king' or 'highest king'. Though it is still a matter of debate, several scholars consider his life to have been one of the possible sources for the King Arthur legend.

It is not clear whether Jordanes' "Britons" refers to the Britons of Great Britain or of Armorica, which was undergoing significant British settlement and later came to be known as Brittany. The Bretons retained strong links to Britain, as is reflected in the names Kernow (now Cornwall) and Dumnonia (now Devon) being found as Cornouaille and Domnonée in Armorica. The distinction between insular and continental Britons may not have had very much meaning at the time, as ecclesiastics such as St. Winwaloe were associated with Brittany and Great Britain alike, and King Mark ('Hound of the Sea') apparently ruled Britons/Bretons on both sides of the English Channel.

Riothamus has been identified as a candidate for the historical King Arthur by some recent writers and scholars, notably the academic Léon Fleuriot and popular historian Geoffrey Ashe. These authors further note that Riothamus' last known position was near the Burgundian town of Avallon, which they suggest is the basis for the Arthurian connection to Avalon. Riothamus' activities in Gaul may be the seed whence grew the tradition (first recorded by Geoffrey of Monmouth in his Historia Regum Britanniae) that Arthur crossed the English Channel from Britain and attacked Rome. Geoffrey Ashe has also suggested a link between Riothamus' betrayal by Arvandus and Arthur's betrayal by Mordred in the Historia Regum Britanniae.

Léon Fleuriot contends that

"De Origine Actibusque Gothorum" or "Getica" (The Origin and Deeds of the Getae\Goths) (551 AD) Jordanes, Chapter XLV at sections 237 & 238

Section 237: Now Euric, king of the Visigoths, perceived the frequent change of Roman Emperors and strove to hold Gaul by his own right. The Emperor Anthemius heard of it and asked the Brittones for aid. Their King Riotimus came with twelve thousand men into the state of the Bituriges by the way of Ocean, and was received as he disembarked from his ships.

Eurichus ergo, Wisigotharum rex, crebram mutationem Romanorum principum cernens, Gallias suo jure nisus est occupare.

Now Aiwa-reik (who lived circa 440 to 484), king of the Visigoths, seeing the frequent change of Roman Emperors, strove to take control of Gaul by his own right.

Quod comperiens, Anthemius Imperator Brittonum solacia postulavit.

The Emperor (of the West) Anthemius (467 to 472 AD) heard of it and asked the Bretons for aid.

Quorum rex Riotimus cum duodecim milibus veniens in Biturigas civitatem Oceano, e navibus egressus susceptus est.

Their King Riotimus (or Riothamus, from Celtic Rigo-tamos "King-most" the origin of King Arthur), coming with twelve thousand men to the city of Bourges by way of Ocean, was taken in as soon as he got off his ships (470 AD).

Section 238: Euric, king of the Visigoths, came against them with an innumerable army, and after a long fight he routed Riotimus, king of the Brittones, before the Romans could join him. So when he had lost a great part of his army, he fled with all the men he could gather together, and came to the Burgundians, a neighboring tribe then allied to the Romans. But Euric, king of the Visigoths, seized the Gallic city of Arverna; for the Emperor Anthemius was now dead.

Ad quos rex Wisigotharum Eurichus innumerum ductans advenit exercitum, diuque pugnans, Riotimum, Brittonum regem, antequam Romani in ejus societatem conjungerentur, effugavit.

Aiwa-reik, king of the Visigoths, arrived leading an innumerable army against them, and after a long fight routed Riotimus, king of the Bretons, before the Romans could join forces with him.

Qui, ampla parte exercitus amissa, cum quibus potuit fugiens, ad Burgundionum gentem vicinam Romanisque in eo tempore faederatam advenit.

After losing a great part of his army, he fled with all the men he could gather together and went to the neighbouring people of the Burgundians (to the place then called Avallon (Appleton), in Arthurian legend "Avalon"), then allied to the Romans.

Eurichus vero, rex Wisigotharum, Arvernam, Galliae civitatem, occupavit, Anthemio principe jam defuncto.

But Aiwa-reik, king of the Visigoths, seized the Gallic district of Auvergne; for the Emperor Anthemius was now dead (472 AD).

Assumptions that a historical Arthur led Welsh resistance to the West Saxon advance from the middle Thames are based on a conflation of two early chroniclers, Gildas and Nennius, and on the Annales Cambriae of the late 10th century.

The 9th century Historia Brittonum of Nennius records twelve battles fought by Arthur against the Saxons, culminating in a victory at Mons Badonicus. The Arthurian section of this work, however, is from an undetermined source, possibly a poetic text. The Annales Cambriae (circa 1150) also mention Arthur's victory at Mons Badonicus (516) and record the Battle of Camlann (537), "in which Arthur and Medraut fell". Gildas' De excidio et conquestu Britanniae (mid 6th century) implies that Mons Badonicus was fought in about 500 but does not connect it with Arthur.

Another speculative view, put forward by R.G. Collingwood in Roman Britain and the English Settlements (1936) [1], is that Arthur was a professional soldier, serving the British kings and commanding a cavalry force trained on Roman lines, which he switched from place to place to meet the Saxon threat.

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Early Welsh literature, however, quickly made Arthur into a king of wonders and marvels. The 12th century prose romance Culhwch and Olwen associated him with other heroes, this conception of a heroic band, with Arthur at its head, doubtless leading to the idea of Arthur's court.

Medieval Sources

The Battle of Badon Hill - in which, according to the Annales Cambriae, Arthur carried the Cross of Jesus on his shoulder (more probably his shield as the words for "shoulder" and "shield" are similar in Old Welsh: scuit - shield and scuid - shoulder) but not Arthur's name, is mentioned (circa 540) by Gildas. The earliest apparent mention of Arthur in any known literature is a brief reference to a mighty warrior in the Welsh poem Y Gododdin (circa 600). Arthur next appears in Nennius (circa 800) as a Celtic warrior who fought (circa 600) twelve victorious battles against the Saxon invaders.

These and several subsequent references indicate that his legend had already developed into a considerable literature before Geoffrey of Monmouth wrote his Historia Regum Britanniae (circa 1136), in which he elaborated on the feats of King Arthur whom he represented as the conqueror of Western Europe. After Geoffrey's Historia came Wace's Roman de Brut (circa 1155), which infused the legend with the spirit of chivalric romance. The Brut (circa 1190 to 1215) of Layamon, modeled on Wace's work, gives one of the best pictures of Arthur as a national hero.

Chrétien de Troyes, a 12th century French poet, wrote five romances dealing with the knights of Arthur's court. His Perceval, le Conte du Graal probably written between 1135 and 1190, contains the earliest extant literary version of the quest of the Holy Grail. Two medieval German poets important in the development of Arthurian legend are Wolfram von Eschenbach and Gottfried von Strassburg. The latter's Tristan (circa 1210) was the first great literary treatment of the Tristram and Isolde story.

After 1225 no significant medieval Arthurian literature was produced on the Continent. In England, however, the legend continued to flourish. Sir Gawain and the Green Knight (circa 1370), one of the best Middle English romances, embodies the ideal of chivalric knighthood.

The last important medieval work dealing with the Arthurian legend is the Le Morte d'Arthur of Sir Thomas Malory, first published in 1485, whose tales have become the source for most subsequent Arthurian material. Many writers have used Arthurian themes since Malory, notably

Clan Arthur


The current chief of Clan Arthur is John Alexander MacArthur of that Ilk. The chief bears the undifferenced arms of the name MacArthur, and is the only person legally entitled to these arms under Scots law. The blazon of the chief's armorial shield is Azure, three antique crowns Or and corresponds to one of the attributed arms of the legendary King Arthur.

According to the legendary account of the Highland clans in early Gaelic manuscripts, given by William Forbes Skene in his Celtic Scotland, a History of Ancient Alban (1876 - 1880) [2], Cailean Mór Caimbeul, also known as Sir Colin Campbell (died after 1296), from whom the modern chiefs of the Campbells take their patronymic name, was the grandson of Dubgaill Cambel from whom came the name of Campbell. Dubgaill's great-great-grandfather was Duibne who was great-grandson of Arthur, son of Uther Pendragon, son of Ambrosius - the legendary King Arthur. Elsewhere in his Celtic Scotland Skene has shown that the historic King Arthur fought his battles, not in the south of Wales, as modern readers of Tennyson, Swinburne, Morris and Arnold suppose, but in the lowlands of Scotland and on the fringes of the Highlands, on Loch Lomondside, and the northern district of Northumberland. [3]

The claim of the ancient Gaelic manuscripts for an Arthurian origin of the Clan Arthur and Clan Campbell is not unlikely. There are many enduring memorials of the great King Arthur in Scotland, including some two hundred place-names, from Arthur's Seat in Midlothian to Ben Arthur in Argyll and the ancient Highland Clan Arthur which had its seat under the shadow of Ben Arthur itself on the shore of Loch Fyne.

[2] Celtic Scotland, a History of Ancient Alban, William Forbes Skene, Volume 3 (1880) at pages 339, 340, 458, 459 & 460

Chapter IX

The Clans and their Genealogies

Analysis of the Irish Pedigrees

The first group consists of the Clan Calin or Campbells, and the Clan Leod or MacLeods, who are brought from a mythic personage, viz., Fergus Leith Berg, son of Nemedh, who led a colony of Nemedians from Ireland to Scotland. This Nemedian colony belongs to the older legendary history of Scotland before the Chronicles were corrupted, and may therefore indicate these clans as forming part of the older inhabitants of the districts they occupy. On examining the genealogy of the Campbells we may consider it as authentic as far back as Duncan, son of Gilleaspie, son of Gillacolum, son of Duibne, who is certainly the Duncan M'Duibhn mentioned in one of the Argyll charters as possessing Lochow and Ardskeodnich, and who was contemporary with Alexander the Second. As the Campbells were undoubtedly known in Gaelic as the Clan O'Duibne, the genealogy as far back as that eponymus of the race is probably authentic; but as soon as we pass that link we find ourselves in contact with Arthur and Uthyr Pendragon, and the other heroes of the Arthurian legend.

Appendix 8

Legendary Descent of the Highland Clans, According to Irish MSS


CLANS supposed to be descended from FERGUS LEITH DERG, son of Nemedh, who led the Nemedian colony to Ireland. Genealogy of the Clan Colin or Campbells, now Campbells.

Sir Colin Cambell of Lochaw (chr. in 1407) son of
Sir Archibald Cambell (has a chr. in 1368 of lands as freely as his progenitor Duncan Mac Duine) son of
Sir Colin Cambell of Lochow son of
Sir Neill Cambell of Lochaw son of
Sir Colin Mor Cambell of Lochaw son of
Gillespie Cambell (1266, Exch. Rolls) son of
Dugald Cambel, from whom came the name of Cambell, son of
Duncan son of
Gillespie son of
Malcolm, called Mac Duine, son of
Duibhne, from whom the name is taken, son of
Fearadoig son of
Smeroie son of
Arthur son of
Uibher, king of the world (Uther Pendragon), son of
Ambrosius son of
Constantine son of
Amgcel son of
Toisid son of
Conruirg son of
Constantine son of
Arthur of the hand, son of
Laimlin son of
Arthur Redhand son of
Bene Briot son of
Arthur son of
Allardoid son of
Arthur of the long church, son of
Lamdoid son of
Findlay son of
Arthur the young, son of
Firmara or the man of the sea, son of
Arthur the great, son of
Bene Briot son of
Briotus son of
Briotan, from whom came the Britons, son of
Fergus Redside, son of

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[3] Celtic Scotland, a History of Ancient Alban, William Forbes Skene, Volume 1 (1876) at pages 152, 153 & 154

Chapter III

Britain after the Romans

War with Octa and Ebissa's colony

Gildas records no events between the victory, which he attributes to the leader of the Roman party, Ambrosius Aurelianus, and the siege of Mount Badon in 516. Nennius, who connects Ambrosius with the Roman power, and alludes to a discord between him and Guitolin, of which he gives no particulars, but which he places in the year 437, fills up this interval with the exploits of Arthur.

The Arthur of Nennius was, however, a very different personage from the shadowy and mythic monarch of the later Welsh traditions, and of the Arthurian romance. He is described by Nennius as merely a warrior who was a military commander in conjunction with the petty British kings who fought against the Saxons. The Saxons referred to were those whom Nennius had previously described as colonising the regions in the north under Octa and Ebissa, and it is to that part of the country we must look for the sites of the twelve battles which he records. The first was fought at the mouth of the river Glein. The second, third, fourth, and fifth, on another river called Dubglas, in the region of Linnius, and this brings us at once to the Lennox, where two rivers called the Douglas, or Dubhglass, fall into Loch Lomond. This was certainly one of the districts about the wall called 'Guaul' which had been occupied by Octa's colony; and Nennius tells us elsewhere that Severus' wall, which passed by Cairpentaloch to the mouth of the river Clyde, was called in the British speech 'Guaul'. The sixth battle was fought at a river called Bassas. The seventh in the Caledonian wood, which again takes ue to the north for the site of these battles. The eighth in the fastness of Guinnion, which is connected by an old tradition with the church of Wedale, in the vale of the Gala Water. The ninth at the City of the Legion. The tenth on the strand of the river called Tribruit. The eleventh in the mount called Agned, which again brings us to the north for these battles, as there can be no doubt that Edinburgh, called by the Welsh Mynyd Agned, is the place meant, and this battle appears to have been directed against the Picts, who were in league with the Saxons. The twelfth was the battle at Mount Badon, in which Nennius tells us that 960 men of the enemy perished in one day from the onslaught of Arthur, and that he was victorious in all of these battles. Nennius adds that while watches for men the Saxons were defeated in all of these battles, they were continually seeking help from Grermany, and being increased in numbers, and obtaining kings from Germany to rule them till the reign of Ida, son of Eobba, who was the first king in Bernicia, with which sentence he closes his narrative, and this still further tends to place these events in the north. So we may accept Arthur as a historic person, and this account of his battles as based on a genuine tradition. The chronicle attached to Nennius tells us that he was slain twenty-one years afterwards in the battle of Camlan, fought in 537 between him and Medraud. As Medraud was the son of Llew of Lothian, this battle again takes us to the north for its site.

Mr. Nash, in his introduction to Merlin or the Early History of King Arthur (Early English Text Society, 1845) makes a statement which appears to me well founded: 'Certain it is,' he says, 'that there are two Celtic - we may perhaps say two Cymric - localities, in which the legends of Arthur and Merlin have been deeply implanted, and to this day remain living traditions cherished by the peasantry of these two countries, and that neither of them is Wales or Britain west of the Severn. It is in Brittany and in the old Cumbrian kingdom south of the Firth of Forth that the legends of Arthur and Merlin have taken root and flourished.' To Cumbria, however, may be added Cornwall, where the Arthurian romance places the scene of many of its adventures; and it is rather remarkable that we should find in the second century a tribe termed Damnonii, possessing Cornwall, and a tribe of the same name occupying the ground which forms the scene of his exploits in the north.

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  1. Merlin: magician, seer, and teacher at the court of King Vortigern and later at the court of King Arthur. He was a bard and culture hero in early Celtic folklore. In Arthurian legend he is famous as a magician and as the counselor of King Arthur. In Tennyson's Idylls of the King Merlin is imprisoned eternally in an old oak tree by the treacherous Vivien (Lady of the Lake or Nimue), when he reveals the secrets of his knowledge to her.
  2. Morgan le Fay
  3. Lady of the Lake was the ruler of Avalon in the Arthurian legend - a misty, supernatural figure endowed with magic powers, who gave the sword Excalibur to King Arthur. According to one legend she kidnapped the infant Launcelot after the death of his father and brought him to her castle where he lived until manhood. Different writers give her name as Morgan le Fay (Morgaine), Nimue, Viviane (Vivien), Elaine, Niniane, Nivian, Nyneve, and Evienne. However, the poem The Lady of the Lake, by Sir Walter Scott, is based on a totally different legend.
  4. Avalon: in Celtic mythology, the blissful otherworld of the dead. In medieval romance it was the island to which the mortally wounded King Arthur was taken, and from which it was expected he would someday return. Avalon is often identified with Glastonbury in Somerset, England.
  5. Guinevere, wife of King Arthur. Her illicit and tragic love for Sir Launcelot, which foreshadowed the downfall of Arthur's kingdom, ends with her retirement to a convent. She also figures in several early romances and Celtic legends, her name appearing in various forms (e.g., Guanhamara, Gvenour, and Gwenhwyfars). In different versions of the Arthurian story her name appears as Guenevere and Guinever.
  6. Ettarre: (1) In Malory's Le Morte d'Arthur, Pelleas is a knight who loves Ettarde. After he wins a tournament and declares her the fairest woman, she scorns him. Just so that he can see her, Pelleas lets himself be taken prisoner by her knights even though he has defeated them. Gawain offers to help Pelleas by pretending to have killed him and thereby, presumably, forcing Ettarde to realize that she cares for him. Instead, she is glad to hear he is dead; and Gawain betrays his comrade by sleeping with Ettarde. When Pelleas discovers them together, he places his sword across their throats. Nyneve helps Pelleas by curing his love for Ettarde and at the same time enchanting Ettarde so that she loves him. Eventually, Ettarde dies because of that love, and Pelleas and Nyneve become lovers. Malory writes that Pelleas was one of the four knights who achieved the Grail, a strange statement since in his account and in his source only three of Arthur's knights succeed in the quest and Pelleas is not one of them. Perhaps this statement indicates an early intention to give Pelleas a wider role in the Morte. (2) In his Pelleas and Ettarre idyll, Tennyson recounts Pelleas' love and Gawain's betrayal, which becomes one of several signs of the moral decline of Camelot. Without the assistance and love of Vivien, who is herself a wicked and deceitful figure in Tennyson's poems, Pelleas is driven mad by the betrayal. (3) Pelleas is the narrator of Godfrey Turton's The Emperor Arthur, in which he has a brief affair with Ettard before finding true love with Vivian. In this novel, he is one of Arthur's knights and fights with him at Badon and at Camlan, where he slays Mordred just as Mordred is wounding Arthur.
  7. Sir Launcelot was the bravest and most celebrated knight at the court of King Arthur. He was kidnapped as an infant by the mysterious Lady of the Lake, from whom he received his education and took his title, Launcelot of the Lake. As a young man he went to the court of King Arthur, where he was knighted and became one of the most feared warriors in all Christendom. Launcelot was the lover of Guinevere, his sovereign's queen. He was also loved by Elaine (the daughter of King Pelles), by whom he was the father of Sir Galahad, and by Elaine, the Lily Maid of Astolat, who died for love of him. Launcelot's name sometimes appears as Lancelot.
  8. Round Table, is the table at which King Arthur and his knights held court. It was allegedly fashioned at the behest of Arthur to prevent quarrels among the knights over precedence. According to one version it was given to Arthur as a wedding gift by his father-in-law. A round table of undetermined antiquity hangs now in the castle at Winchester. Traditionally King Arthur's, it may be a relic of one of the medieval jousts also called round tables.
  9. Mabinogion is the title given to a collection of eleven prose stories collated from medieval Welsh manuscripts. The tales draw on pre-Christian Celtic mythology, international folktale motifs, and early medieval historical traditions. While some details may hark back to older Iron Age traditions, each of these tales is the product of a highly developed medieval Welsh narrative tradition, both oral and written. Lady Charlotte Guest in the mid 19th century was the first to publish English translations of the collection, popularising the name "Mabinogion" at the same time.
  10. Celtic mythology is the mythology of Celtic polytheism, the religion of the Iron Age Celts. Like other Iron Age Europeans, the early Celts maintained a polytheistic mythology and religious structure. It is mostly through contemporary Roman and Christian sources that their mythology has been preserved. The Celtic peoples who maintained either their political or linguistic identities (such as the Gaels, Picts, and Brittonic tribes of Great Britain and Ireland) left vestigial remnants of their ancestral mythologies, put into written form during the Middle Ages.
  11. Gildas, (circa 500 to 570), was a 6th century British historian and cleric. He is one of the best documented figures of the Christian church in the British Isles during this period. His renowned learning and literary style earned him the designation "Gildas the Wise", or Gildas Sapiens. His most well known work is De Excidio et Conquestu Britanniae, which recounts the sub-Roman history of Britain, and which is the only substantial source for history of this period written by a near-contemporary.
  12. Nennius was a Welsh monk of the 9th century and a student of Elvodugus, commonly identified with the bishop Elfodd who convinced British ecclesiastics to accept the Continental dating for Easter, and who died in 809 according to the Annales Cambriae. Nennius is believed to have lived in the area made up by present day Brecknockshire and Radnorshire counties in Powys, Wales. He lived outside the Anglo-Saxon kingdoms, isolated by mountains in a rural society. Because of the lack of evidence concerning the life of Nennius he has become the subject of legend himself. He has traditionally been attributed with the authorship of the Historia Brittonum (circa 830), based on the prologue affixed to that work, which attribution is widely considered a secondary (10th century) tradition. The Historia Brittonum was highly influential, becoming a major contributor to the Arthurian legend. It also includes the legendary origins of the Picts, Scots, St. Germanus and Vortigern, and documents events associated with the Anglo-Saxon invasion of the 7th century as contributed by a Northumbrian document. Evidence suggests that this medieval literature was a compilation of several sources, some of which are named by Nennius while others are not. Some experts say that this was not the first compiled history of the Britons and that it was largely based on Gildas' De Excidio et Conquestu Britanniae written some two centuries before.
  13. Mons Badonicus, also known as the Battle of Badon, Battle of Badon Hill or Mount Badon, is a battle thought to have occurred between a force of Britons and an Anglo-Saxon war band in the late 5th or early 6th century. Chiefly known today for the supposed involvement of King Arthur, it is credited in medieval British and Welsh sources as a major political and military event but seems to have passed unremarked in the Anglo-Saxon histories. Because of the limited number of sources, there is no certainty about the date, location, or details of the fighting.
  14. Battle of Camlann, (Welsh: Cad Camlan or Brwydr Camlan) is reputed to have been the final battle of King Arthur, in which he either died or was fatally wounded fighting his enemy Mordred (who was, in some later versions of the tale, his son or his nephew).
  15. Chivalry: a system of ethical ideals that arose from feudalism and had its highest development in the 12th and 13th centuries. Chivalric ethics originated chiefly in France and Spain and spread rapidly to the rest of the Continent and to England. They represented a fusion of Christian and military concepts of morality and still form the basis of gentlemanly conduct. Noble youths became pages in the castles of other nobles at the age of 7; at 14 they trained as squires in the service of knights, learning horsemanship and military techniques, and were themselves knighted, usually at 21. The chief chivalric virtues were piety, honor, valor, courtesy, chastity, and loyalty. The knight's loyalty was due to the spiritual master, God; to the temporal master, the suzerain; and to the mistress of the heart, his sworn love. Love, in the chivalrous sense, was largely platonic; as a rule, only a virgin or another man's wife could be the chosen object of chivalrous love. With the cult of the Virgin Mary, the relegation of noblewomen to a pedestal reached its highest expression. The ideal of militant knighthood was greatly enhanced by the Crusades. The monastic orders of knighthood, the Knights Templar and the Knights Hospitalers, produced soldiers sworn to uphold the Christian ideal. Besides the battlefield, the tournament was the chief arena in which the virtues of chivalry could be proved. The code of chivalrous conduct was worked out with great subtlety in the courts of love that flourished in France and in Flanders. There the most arduous questions of love and honor were argued before the noble ladies who presided (see courtly love). The French military hero Pierre Terrail, seigneur de Bayard, was said to be the last embodiment of the ideals of chivalry. In practice, chivalric conduct was never free from corruption, increasingly evident in the later Middle Ages. Courtly love often deteriorated into promiscuity and adultery and pious militance into barbarous warfare. Moreover, the chivalric duties were not owed to those outside the bounds of feudal obligation. The outward trappings of chivalry and knighthood declined in the 15th century, by which time wars were fought for victory and individual valor was irrelevant. Artificial orders of chivalry, such as the Order of the Golden Fleece (1423), were created by rulers to promote loyalty; tournaments became ritualised, costly, and comparatively bloodless; the traditions of knighthood became obsolete. Medieval secular literature was primarily concerned with knighthood and chivalry. Two masterpieces of this literature are the Chanson de Roland (circa 1098; see Roland) and Sir Gawain and the Green Knight. Arthurian legend and the chansons de geste furnished bases for many later romances and epics. The work of Chrétien de Troyes and the Roman de la Rose also had tremendous influence on European literature. The endless chivalrous and pastoral romances, still widely read in the 16th century, were satirised by Cervantes in Don Quixote. In the 19th century, however, the romantic movement brought about a revival of chivalrous ideals and literature. [See B. E. Broughton, Dictionary of Medieval Knighthood and Chivalry (1986); M. Keen, Chivalry (1984); H. Chickering and T. H. Seiler, ed., The Study of Chivalry (1988).]
  16. Undifferenced arms (or plain arms) are coats of arms which have no marks distinguishing the bearer by birth order or family position. In the Scottish and English heraldic traditions, these plain coats of arms are legal property transmitted from father to eldest male heir, and are used only by one person at any given time. The other descendants of the original bearer could bear the ancestral arms only with some difference.
  17. Attributed arms are coats of arms given to legendary figures, or to notable persons from times before the rise of heraldry. Beginning in the 12th century, arms were assigned to the knights of the Round Table, and then to biblical figures, to Roman and Greek heroes, and to kings and popes who had not historically borne arms.

The Last Sleep of Arthur in Avalon
Edward Burne-Jones (1881)


The History Files A review of the 14 principal Celtic cultures claiming King Arthur as their own: Breton, Riothamus, Dumnonian, Cumbrian, Pennine, Elmet, Saxon Ally, Merionydd, Scotti, Powysian, Rhos, Dyfed, Glamorgan, St Arthmael and Roman.

The Deadliest Blogger: Military History Page A thirteen part examination of Britain in the "Age of Arthur" - the 5th through the mid-6th centuries A.D. - being a period when the classical age of Greece and Rome gave way to the Germanic "Dark Ages".

Arthurian Legend Comprehensive Arthurian Legend website with search engine exclusively devoted to the Arthurian Legend

Arthurian Archaeology Article detailing the controversial link between legend and history.

Discovery of King Arthur's Tomb - Medieval Sourcebook Excerpt of a 1228 document by Gerald of Wales tells of the purported discovery of Arthur's body at the monastery in Glastonbury.

Melkin's Prophesy Document makes reference to a Celtic soothsayer's prophesy that locates the grave of Joseph of Arimathea, an Arthurian figure.

Time-line of Arthurian Britain Chronology includes both the events in Britain after the Roman exit, and the documentary evidence for Arthur's existence.

What Do Modern Historians Think of King Arthur ? Eighteen scholars from different backgrounds give their opinions as to the validity of historical claims for Arthur's existence.

Arthuriana Scholarly online journal about King Arthur and his era. Research dates and places, peruse the reading list, or access the newsletter and related links.

Celtic Twilight, The Resource dedicated to the legends and mythology of the Round Table. Find renderings of various tales, poetry, and an artist's gallery.

Early British Kingdoms Excerpts from the Britannia Travels as related to King Arthur and his court. Find a narrative history, an Arthurian time-line, and texts.

King Arthur - texts, images, and introductions Learn the background of King Arthur and other characters. Also offers a vast index of writings that examine and perpetuate the legend.

King Arthur on Britannia Link to sites entitled Tom Green's Arthurian Pages, Legends - King Arthur and the Matter of Britain, The Saxon Shore, and Llys Arthur.

The Labyrinth - Arthurian resources Contains links to 27 online sources including the Camelot Project, Arthuriana, the Oxford Arthurian Society and Avalon.

[1] Roman Britain and the English Settlements, 1936, 515 pages, Robin George Collingwood, John Nowell Linton Myres, Biblo & Tannen Publishers, 1936. English history from the Roman to Anglo Saxon period.

[4] "De Origine Actibusque Gothorum" or "Getica" (The Origin and Deeds of the Getae\Goths) (551 AD), is described as an obituary of the Gothic nation: "… to condense in my own style in this small book the twelve volumes of (Cassiodorus) Senator on the origin and deeds of the Getae (Goths) from olden times to the present day" per Jordanes in his Preface.