From medieval literature to Monty Python, the legend of King Arthur has existed in the British national consciousness for a very long time. You’ve probably heard the name a hundred times in movies and cartoons, and may even know a little about his exploits. Hollywood has retold his story over and again, most recently in the 2017 movie. But much of his past remains surrounded in mystery. Who was this legendary King of the Britons? Was he a real person or a myth? What does he mean to the people of the UK?
Who was King Arthur? Well, today we have the answers. Let’s learn a little bit about what makes King Arthur such a fascinating hero of the ancient past and why he is still talked about today.
Man or myth?
Arthur was a legendary British King who was said to have led the defense of Britain against Saxon invaders in around the 5th Century BC. There are countless stories that surround his name, from tales of pulling the sword Excalibur from a stone to his dealings with the wizard Merlin and his Knights of the Roundtable. Most of these tales are pure myth and, though there is some dispute amongst historians, many agree that the King himself most likely did not exist.
However, the verdict is far from out, and there are many accounts of King Arthur’s life and deeds written alongside texts that we know to be historically accurate. Some believe that he may have been based on a real King that ruled England long ago.
The Birth of a Legend
King Arthur was the heir to the throne of the Britons, named Prince Arthur Pendragon. However, at the time of his birth, the throne was beset by enemies and the King had the boy hidden far away by the wizard Merlin. Thus began the epic tale of King Arthur’s rise and eventual victory over the Saxons.
The Sword from the Stone
King Arthur would not be much of a King without his legendary sword, Excalibur. Called Caledfwlch in the original Welsh, the sword was said to have magical powers and could only be wielded by the King of the Britons. The first reference to the ‘sword in the stone’ comes from Robert de Boron’s epic poem Merlin. In it, he describes the young King’s quest to find the sword after Merlin had it set in stone. Upon it, Arthur would find the inscribed words “Whoso pulleth out this sword of this stone is the rightwise born king of all England”.
The Knights of the Roundtable
Original versions of the legend of the roundtable say that, upon becoming King, Arthur commissioned the table from a Cornish carpenter. However, the wizard Merlin cast a spell on the table that meant that it could seat over 1600 knights of the realm at any one time. Interestingly, the story of the roundtable seems to stem from the real historical account of a knight who, together with a band of riders, fought a heroic battle against the Saxons in the Thames Valley.
The Holy Grail
Arthur’s greatest quest was said to be his search for the holy grail – the Chalice used by Christ himself. It is said that Arthur rode forth with all 150 of his Knights after receiving a divine mandate. The search for the grail would eventually be a success, but the cost was great. Only three knights survived to find the chalice and Arthur’s rule was so weakened that it left the crown open to the challenge of the King’s illegitimate son. These days, the quest for the holy grail is most well-known for Monty Python’s inimitable reproduction.
We hope that’s given you a little insight into this fascinating legend. If you’d love to explore a little more about the history of ancient Britain, you simply can’t miss out on a visit to Stonehenge. Check out our fantastic tours today.