Medieval Mondays: King Arthur

Excalibur

How many books, television shows, documentaries, and movies have been made about King Arthur and his Knights? Too many to count! Some of the most famous include: Sir Thomas Malory’s Le Mort d’Arthur, T.H. White’s The Once and Future King, and Marion Zimmer Bradley’s The Mists of Avalon. The legend of Arthur, the Round Table, Excalibur, Guinivere, Lancelot, Morgan Le Fay, and the Holy Grail have been told and retold.

Personally, the story never gets old. However, over the years, historians have determined that it is hard to decipher which portions of the Arthurian legend are merely stories and which are actually based on fact. Where does history end and myth begin? Was there a historical figure named Arthur, and what courageous acts led him to father such a legend?

One of the main theories regarding the personhood of King Arthur comes from a battle which took place in the 400’s. The Battle of Mt. Badon or The Battle of Badon Hill was fought between the Britons and a force of Anglo-Saxons. Up until this point, Roman forces had occupied portions of Britain, but the last remaining troops had pulled out, leaving the Britons at the mercy of Angles, Saxons, Jutes, and other savage tribes. Records indicate that at this battle, a man named Arthur bravely led the Britons and defeated the opposing army.

Hundreds of years later, legends and stories were being told about a King Arthur, his band of knights, and their daring acts of chivalry. Could the two actually be one in the same? Could the real warrior Arthur have inspired his people so much that they created this larger-than-life identity?

If you want this novice’s opinion, I think so. I think that the Britons desperately needed something or someone to believe in. They had been occupied for years by the Roman Empire. A fierce people, full of fighting spirit, historians say that the isle of Britain was one of the hardest places for Rome to keep control over. They were always quelling rebellions. When they left, the Britons were once again at the mercy of an invading force. They refused to merely surrender, and their fighting spirit paid off.

I like to believe that when this noblehearted Arthur led his men to victory at Badon Hill, the spirit of the Britons soared. They had found their hero. They had found the one who was going to lead them into a brighter future, and they began to use words to craft this future for themselves. They created a place of beauty–a place where nobility and honor reigned. They created stories where their leader was not only fierce in battle, but also merciful with the law. They created a symbol of equality (the round table), where every man, no matter his station, would be heard and valued. They created a legend.

And I, for one, am sure glad they did!

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