Thursday 30 June 2016

♔ Arthurian Legend ~ was Arthur a king, a hero or a legend?

Was King Arthur a King? 
Of course, he was! Why would I even ask such a stupid question?

Let’s backtrack a little. Where does it say Arthur was a king? Do we take the works of Monmouth and Malory as factual, when they are clearly a work of fiction? That’s the problem with folklore and legends; things are not always what they seem.

The first ‘documented’ work about Arthur was by a 9th Century monk called Nennuis. His name has come up once or twice on this blog because it would be pretty hard to ignore Nennuis when searching for Arthur. In his work The History of the Britons, we get the first glimpse of what could be the actual Arthur.

However, not once does Nennuis refer to Arthur as a king. He praised his warrior abilities, but he says nothing about kingdoms and Round Tables.

Was King Arthur a Hero? 

Of course he was!

Nennuis praise for Arthur cannot be dismissed even if it is bordering on the realms of impossibility for a mere mortal man. He lists the 12 battles that Arthur fought in, and throughout Arthur is brave and courageous and almost supernatural in his abilities to bring the enemy army down to their knees. It reminds me a little of that scene in Braveheart. Where Wallace rides up to the army at Falkirk and the warriors, do not believe him when he says who he is, because they have believed the, I guess you could call it, propaganda. Perhaps Arthur could inspire men to follow him the same way Wallace did.

Here’s a clip of that said moment in Braveheart, in case you might have missed it.

Braveheart (1995) - Best scene - William Wallace's speech (HD)

I do believe this is what has happened to Arthur. After all, the more elaborate  the story, the more enchanted the listener. 

Is King Arthur just a story? 


I do not believe that Arthur is just a legend, or a made up story to entertain the masses. I think there is some truth in it. Maybe it isn't the truth that we know, but I would like to think that he was real and that he did inspire his men.

 What do you think? Was Arthur real or simply a myth?


  1. Well, soliciting comments on this topic is like opening Pandora's box. Ever since Professor Dumville trashed John Morris' master synthesis of the Age of Arthur in 1973, the official dogma in academia has been that there was no Arthur and that, by extension, nothing much happened in Britain until the Anglo-Saxons "arrived" in 455 AD. it being called by them the "Sub-Roman" era, presumably inhabited by sub-human Britons until the English took over.

    Ever since then to argue that Arthur may have existed is to risk the wrath of the Minimalists, although there are a few brave souls who have done so. More and more, however, the weight of the archaeological evidence points to no "collapse" after the end of Roman occupation in 410 and, some would argue, in some ways the Brits were better off free of the burdon of Roman tax collectors and corrupt Roman governors. Nennius has his faults and may indeed have had an agenda in the way he compiled his miscellany of documents, but then so did Gildas, the Venerable Bede and the anonymous editors of the Anglo-Saxon chronicles. The list of Battle Poems I would not regard as "fantastic" although as you note it does have some heroic exaggerations typical of oral tradition. One big argument for the Arthurian Battle list dating to the lifetime of Arthur is that, while it lists Badon, it does not list Camlann,the implication being that the battle hadn't happened yet when the list was compiled.

    For what it's worth, John Morris--"he whose name shall not be mentioned" (along with Arthur)--argued that Arthur was not "king" but Emperor. Finding their loose confederation of city states--civitates--and island wide "Senate" (Council of Elders) inadequate, the post Roman Britons resolved on electing a single "Overking" to rule them, which in Roman terms would have been Emperor. Vortigern was the first and there were at least two others besides him before the advent of their latest and greatest "Ameradaur" Arthur. So, not king, but emperor--that would be the real Arthur. But don't talk to any of Dumville's disciples about that, your ears are likely to get scorched.

    Needless to say, I disagree with the Minimalist school of historiography; I also think their chronology is completely mistaken as well, but that is whole other bag of worms.

  2. Thank you for sharing your thoughts!

    King Arthur can sometimes be a very emotive subject - and there are, as your point out, very strong opinions on whether he lived or did not. Taking into consideration the 'evidence' if you can call it that, from the secondary sources - there does not seem to be any primary sources - the nearest we can get to is The Welsh Triads, or Trioedd Ynys Prydein and that is more folklore than anything else and even Nennuis's works is fanciful in the telling.

    However, even if there isn't a grain of truth in the works, it does show us something important and that was the power of folklore.

    I think it is a shame that folklore is dismissed so readily by historians. These stories are what a nation has grown up on and they are still popular stores, particularly the stories related to Arthurian Legend. We can look at Nennuis and see how Arthur was seen around that time - he was portrayed as a superhero. A Dark Age version of Iron Man, if you will! Which I find fascinating. It seems throughout history, we always needed a hero and this is why stories such as Arthur's, are so endearing and they always will be.

    Who was the real Arthur? I think that question will always be up for debate and there are as many 'Arthur's' as there are stories about him. Was he English, Welsh, Scottish, Breton, Roman? All these nations would like to claim him as their own, which for a 5th Century warrior is incredible. Who else commands such attention from that era?

    As for Camlann, the first mention of this battle is in the Annales Cambriae ( The Annuals of Wales) which is a 10th Century work. And let's not forget that Nennuis wrote The History of the Britons in the 9th Century - Arthur supposedly lived in the 5th, if there was such a battle then why isn't it mentioned? Maybe, because, dare I say, it was fictional. The people needed to know what happened to Arthur and what better than to have him killed doing something heroic. Of course, proving this thesis would be a challenge!

    If you have the time, please check out the rest of the blog.


See you on your next coffee break!
Take Care,
Mary Anne xxx