King Arthur
Overview
 
King Arthur is a legendary British
Britons (historical)
The Britons were the Celtic people culturally dominating Great Britain from the Iron Age through the Early Middle Ages. They spoke the Insular Celtic language known as British or Brythonic...

 leader of the late 5th and early 6th centuries, who, according to Medieval histories and romances
Romance (genre)
As a literary genre of high culture, romance or chivalric romance is a style of heroic prose and verse narrative that was popular in the aristocratic circles of High Medieval and Early Modern Europe. They were fantastic stories about marvel-filled adventures, often of a knight errant portrayed as...

, led the defence of Britain against Saxon invaders in the early 6th century. The details of Arthur's story are mainly composed of folklore
Folklore
Folklore consists of legends, music, oral history, proverbs, jokes, popular beliefs, fairy tales and customs that are the traditions of a culture, subculture, or group. It is also the set of practices through which those expressive genres are shared. The study of folklore is sometimes called...

 and literary invention, and his historical existence is debated and disputed by modern historians. The sparse historical background of Arthur is gleaned from various sources, including the Annales Cambriae
Annales Cambriae
Annales Cambriae, or The Annals of Wales, is the name given to a complex of Cambro-Latin chronicles deriving ultimately from a text compiled from diverse sources at St David's in Dyfed, Wales, not later than the 10th century...

, the Historia Brittonum, and the writings of Gildas
Gildas
Gildas was a 6th-century British 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 Sapiens...

.
Encyclopedia
King Arthur is a legendary British
Britons (historical)
The Britons were the Celtic people culturally dominating Great Britain from the Iron Age through the Early Middle Ages. They spoke the Insular Celtic language known as British or Brythonic...

 leader of the late 5th and early 6th centuries, who, according to Medieval histories and romances
Romance (genre)
As a literary genre of high culture, romance or chivalric romance is a style of heroic prose and verse narrative that was popular in the aristocratic circles of High Medieval and Early Modern Europe. They were fantastic stories about marvel-filled adventures, often of a knight errant portrayed as...

, led the defence of Britain against Saxon invaders in the early 6th century. The details of Arthur's story are mainly composed of folklore
Folklore
Folklore consists of legends, music, oral history, proverbs, jokes, popular beliefs, fairy tales and customs that are the traditions of a culture, subculture, or group. It is also the set of practices through which those expressive genres are shared. The study of folklore is sometimes called...

 and literary invention, and his historical existence is debated and disputed by modern historians. The sparse historical background of Arthur is gleaned from various sources, including the Annales Cambriae
Annales Cambriae
Annales Cambriae, or The Annals of Wales, is the name given to a complex of Cambro-Latin chronicles deriving ultimately from a text compiled from diverse sources at St David's in Dyfed, Wales, not later than the 10th century...

, the Historia Brittonum, and the writings of Gildas
Gildas
Gildas was a 6th-century British 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 Sapiens...

. Arthur's name also occurs in early poetic sources such as Y Gododdin
Y Gododdin
Y Gododdin is a medieval Welsh poem consisting of a series of elegies to the men of the Britonnic kingdom of Gododdin and its allies who, according to the conventional interpretation, died fighting the Angles of Deira and Bernicia at a place named Catraeth...

.

The legendary Arthur developed as a figure of international interest largely through the popularity of Geoffrey of Monmouth
Geoffrey of Monmouth
Geoffrey of Monmouth was a cleric and one of the major figures in the development of British historiography and the popularity of tales of King Arthur...

's fanciful and imaginative 12th-century Historia Regum Britanniae
Historia Regum Britanniae
The Historia Regum Britanniae is a pseudohistorical account of British history, written c. 1136 by Geoffrey of Monmouth. It chronicles the lives of the kings of the Britons in a chronological narrative spanning a time of two thousand years, beginning with the Trojans founding the British nation...

 (History of the Kings of Britain). Some Welsh
Welsh people
The Welsh people are an ethnic group and nation associated with Wales and the Welsh language.John Davies argues that the origin of the "Welsh nation" can be traced to the late 4th and early 5th centuries, following the Roman departure from Britain, although Brythonic Celtic languages seem to have...

 and Breton
Breton people
The Bretons are an ethnic group located in the region of Brittany in France. They trace much of their heritage to groups of Brythonic speakers who emigrated from southwestern Great Britain in waves from the 3rd to 6th century into the Armorican peninsula, subsequently named Brittany after them.The...

 tales and poems relating the story of Arthur date from earlier than this work; in these works, Arthur appears either as a great warrior defending Britain from human and supernatural enemies or as a magical figure of folklore, sometimes associated with the Welsh Otherworld, Annwn
Annwn
Annwn or Annwfn was the Otherworld in Welsh mythology. Ruled by Arawn, or much later by Gwyn ap Nudd, it was essentially a world of delights and eternal youth where disease is absent and food is ever-abundant. It later became Christianised and identified with the land of souls that had departed...

. How much of Geoffrey's Historia (completed in 1138) was adapted from such earlier sources, rather than invented by Geoffrey himself, is unknown.

Although the themes, events and characters of the Arthurian legend varied widely from text to text, and there is no one canonical version, Geoffrey's version of events often served as the starting point for later stories. Geoffrey depicted Arthur as a king of Britain who defeated the Saxons and established an empire over Britain
Great Britain
Great Britain or Britain is an island situated to the northwest of Continental Europe. It is the ninth largest island in the world, and the largest European island, as well as the largest of the British Isles...

, Ireland
Ireland
Ireland is an island to the northwest of continental Europe. It is the third-largest island in Europe and the twentieth-largest island on Earth...

, Iceland
Iceland
Iceland , described as the Republic of Iceland, is a Nordic and European island country in the North Atlantic Ocean, on the Mid-Atlantic Ridge. Iceland also refers to the main island of the country, which contains almost all the population and almost all the land area. The country has a population...

, Norway
Norway
Norway , officially the Kingdom of Norway, is a Nordic unitary constitutional monarchy whose territory comprises the western portion of the Scandinavian Peninsula, Jan Mayen, and the Arctic archipelago of Svalbard and Bouvet Island. Norway has a total area of and a population of about 4.9 million...

 and Gaul
Gaul
Gaul was a region of Western Europe during the Iron Age and Roman era, encompassing present day France, Luxembourg and Belgium, most of Switzerland, the western part of Northern Italy, as well as the parts of the Netherlands and Germany on the left bank of the Rhine. The Gauls were the speakers of...

. Many elements and incidents that are now an integral part of the Arthurian story appear in Geoffrey's Historia, including Arthur's father Uther Pendragon
Uther Pendragon
Uther Pendragon is a legendary king of sub-Roman Britain and the father of King Arthur.A few minor references to Uther appear in Old Welsh poems, but his biography was first written down by Geoffrey of Monmouth in his Historia Regum Britanniae , and Geoffrey's account of the character was used in...

, the wizard Merlin
Merlin
Merlin is a legendary figure best known as the wizard featured in the Arthurian legend. The standard depiction of the character first appears in Geoffrey of Monmouth's Historia Regum Britanniae, written c. 1136, and is based on an amalgamation of previous historical and legendary figures...

, Arthur's wife Guinevere
Guinevere
Guinevere was the legendary queen consort of King Arthur. In tales and folklore, she was said to have had a love affair with Arthur's chief knight Sir Lancelot...

, the sword Excalibur
Excalibur
Excalibur is the legendary sword of King Arthur, sometimes attributed with magical powers or associated with the rightful sovereignty of Great Britain. Sometimes Excalibur and the Sword in the Stone are said to be the same weapon, but in most versions they are considered separate. The sword was...

, Arthur's conception at Tintagel
Tintagel Castle
Tintagel Castle is a medieval fortification located on the peninsula of Tintagel Island, adjacent to the village of Tintagel in Cornwall, United Kingdom. The site was possibly occupied in the Romano-British period, due to an array of artefacts dating to this period which have been found on the...

, his final battle against Mordred
Mordred
Mordred or Modred is a character in the Arthurian legend, known as a notorious traitor who fought King Arthur at the Battle of Camlann, where he was killed and Arthur fatally wounded. Tradition varies on his relationship to Arthur, but he is best known today as Arthur's illegitimate son by his...

 at Camlann and final rest in Avalon
Avalon
Avalon is a legendary island featured in the Arthurian legend. It first appears in Geoffrey of Monmouth's 1136 pseudohistorical account Historia Regum Britanniae as the place where King Arthur's sword Excalibur was forged and later where Arthur was...

. The 12th-century French writer Chrétien de Troyes
Chrétien de Troyes
Chrétien de Troyes was a French poet and trouvère who flourished in the late 12th century. Perhaps he named himself Christian of Troyes in contrast to the illustrious Rashi, also of Troyes...

, who added Lancelot
Lancelot
Sir Lancelot du Lac is one of the Knights of the Round Table in the Arthurian legend. He is the most trusted of King Arthur's knights and plays a part in many of Arthur's victories...

 and the Holy Grail
Holy Grail
The Holy Grail is a sacred object figuring in literature and certain Christian traditions, most often identified with the dish, plate, or cup used by Jesus at the Last Supper and said to possess miraculous powers...

 to the story, began the genre of Arthurian romance that became a significant strand of medieval literature
Medieval literature
Medieval literature is a broad subject, encompassing essentially all written works available in Europe and beyond during the Middle Ages . The literature of this time was composed of religious writings as well as secular works...

. In these French stories, the narrative focus often shifts from King Arthur himself to other characters, such as various Knights of the Round Table. Arthurian literature thrived during the Middle Ages but waned in the centuries that followed until it experienced a major resurgence in the 19th century. In the 21st century, the legend lives on, not only in literature but also in adaptations for theatre, film, television, comics and other media.

Debated historicity

The historical basis for the King Arthur legend has long been debated by scholars. The first datable mention of King Arthur is in a 9th century Latin
Latin
Latin is an Italic language originally spoken in Latium and Ancient Rome. It, along with most European languages, is a descendant of the ancient Proto-Indo-European language. Although it is considered a dead language, a number of scholars and members of the Christian clergy speak it fluently, and...

 text. One school of thought, citing entries in the Historia Brittonum  (History of the Britons) and Annales Cambriae
Annales Cambriae
Annales Cambriae, or The Annals of Wales, is the name given to a complex of Cambro-Latin chronicles deriving ultimately from a text compiled from diverse sources at St David's in Dyfed, Wales, not later than the 10th century...

 (Welsh Annals), sees Arthur as a genuine historical figure, a Romano-British
Romano-British
Romano-British culture describes the culture that arose in Britain under the Roman Empire following the Roman conquest of AD 43 and the creation of the province of Britannia. It arose as a fusion of the imported Roman culture with that of the indigenous Britons, a people of Celtic language and...

 leader who fought against the invading Anglo-Saxons
Anglo-Saxons
Anglo-Saxon is a term used by historians to designate the Germanic tribes who invaded and settled the south and east of Great Britain beginning in the early 5th century AD, and the period from their creation of the English nation to the Norman conquest. The Anglo-Saxon Era denotes the period of...

 sometime in the late 5th to early 6th century. The Historia Brittonum, a 9th-century Latin
Latin
Latin is an Italic language originally spoken in Latium and Ancient Rome. It, along with most European languages, is a descendant of the ancient Proto-Indo-European language. Although it is considered a dead language, a number of scholars and members of the Christian clergy speak it fluently, and...

 historical compilation attributed in some late manuscripts to a Welsh cleric called Nennius
Nennius
Nennius was a Welsh monk of the 9th century.He has traditionally been attributed with the authorship of the Historia Brittonum, based on the prologue affixed to that work, This attribution is widely considered a secondary tradition....

, lists twelve battles that Arthur fought. These culminate in the Battle of Mons Badonicus
Battle of Mons Badonicus
The Battle of Mons Badonicus was a battle between a force of Britons and an Anglo-Saxon army, probably sometime between 490 and 517 AD. Though it is believed to have been a major political and military event, there is no certainty about its date, location or the details of the fighting...

, or Mount Badon, where he is said to have single-handedly killed 960 men. Recent studies, however, question the reliability of the Historia Brittonum as a source for the history of this period.

The other text that seems to support the case for Arthur's historical existence is the 10th-century Annales Cambriae, which also link Arthur with the Battle of Mount Badon. The Annales date this battle to 516–518, and also mention the Battle of Camlann
Battle of Camlann
The Battle of Camlann is best known as the final battle of King Arthur, where he either died in battle, or was fatally wounded fighting his enemy Mordred.-Historicity:...

, in which Arthur and Medraut
Mordred
Mordred or Modred is a character in the Arthurian legend, known as a notorious traitor who fought King Arthur at the Battle of Camlann, where he was killed and Arthur fatally wounded. Tradition varies on his relationship to Arthur, but he is best known today as Arthur's illegitimate son by his...

 (Mordred) were both killed, dated to 537–539. These details have often been used to bolster confidence in the Historia's account and to confirm that Arthur really did fight at Mount Badon. Problems have been identified, however, with using this source to support the Historia Brittonums account. The latest research shows that the Annales Cambriae was based on a chronicle begun in the late 8th century in Wales
Wales
Wales is a country that is part of the United Kingdom and the island of Great Britain, bordered by England to its east and the Atlantic Ocean and Irish Sea to its west. It has a population of three million, and a total area of 20,779 km²...

. Additionally, the complex textual history of the Annales Cambriae precludes any certainty that the Arthurian annals were added to it even that early. They were more likely added at some point in the 10th century and may never have existed in any earlier set of annals. The Mount Badon entry probably derived from the Historia Brittonum.

This lack of convincing early evidence is the reason many recent historians exclude Arthur from their accounts of sub-Roman Britain
Sub-Roman Britain
Sub-Roman Britain is a term derived from an archaeological label for the material culture of Britain in Late Antiquity: the term "Sub-Roman" was invented to describe the potsherds in sites of the 5th century and the 6th century, initially with an implication of decay of locally-made wares from a...

. In the view of historian Thomas Charles-Edwards
Thomas Charles-Edwards
Thomas Mowbray Charles-Edwards FRHistS FLSW FBA is an academic at Oxford University. He holds the post of Jesus Professor of Celtic and is a Professorial Fellow at Jesus College....

, "at this stage of the enquiry, one can only say that there may well have been an historical Arthur [but ...] the historian can as yet say nothing of value about him". These modern admissions of ignorance are a relatively recent trend; earlier generations of historians were less sceptical. Historian John Morris
John Morris (historian)
John Robert Morris was an English historian who specialised in the study of the institutions of the Roman Empire and the history of Sub-Roman Britain...

 made the putative reign of Arthur the organising principle of his history of sub-Roman Britain and Ireland
Ireland
Ireland is an island to the northwest of continental Europe. It is the third-largest island in Europe and the twentieth-largest island on Earth...

, The Age of Arthur (1973). Even so, he found little to say about a historical Arthur.

Partly in reaction to such theories, another school of thought emerged which argued that Arthur had no historical existence at all. Morris's Age of Arthur prompted archaeologist Nowell Myres to observe that "no figure on the borderline of history and mythology has wasted more of the historian's time". Gildas
Gildas
Gildas was a 6th-century British 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 Sapiens...

' 6th-century polemic De Excidio et Conquestu Britanniae
De Excidio et Conquestu Britanniae
De Excidio et Conquestu Britanniae is a work by the 6th-century British cleric Gildas. It is a sermon in three parts condemning the acts of Gildas' contemporaries, both secular and religious, whom he blames for the dire state of affairs in sub-Roman Britain...

 (On the Ruin and Conquest of Britain), written within living memory of Mount Badon, mentions the battle but does not mention Arthur. Arthur is not mentioned in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle
Anglo-Saxon Chronicle
The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle is a collection of annals in Old English chronicling the history of the Anglo-Saxons. The original manuscript of the Chronicle was created late in the 9th century, probably in Wessex, during the reign of Alfred the Great...

 or named in any surviving manuscript written between 400 and 820. He is absent from Bede
Bede
Bede , also referred to as Saint Bede or the Venerable Bede , was a monk at the Northumbrian monastery of Saint Peter at Monkwearmouth, today part of Sunderland, England, and of its companion monastery, Saint Paul's, in modern Jarrow , both in the Kingdom of Northumbria...

's early 8th-century Ecclesiastical History of the English People
Historia ecclesiastica gentis Anglorum
The Historia ecclesiastica gentis Anglorum is a work in Latin by Bede on the history of the Christian Churches in England, and of England generally; its main focus is on the conflict between Roman and Celtic Christianity.It is considered to be one of the most important original references on...

, another major early source for post-Roman history that mentions Mount Badon. Historian David Dumville has written: "I think we can dispose of him [Arthur] quite briefly. He owes his place in our history books to a 'no smoke without fire' school of thought ... The fact of the matter is that there is no historical evidence about Arthur; we must reject him from our histories and, above all, from the titles of our books."

Some scholars argue that Arthur was originally a fictional hero of folklore—or even a half-forgotten Celtic deity
Celtic mythology
Celtic mythology is the mythology of Celtic polytheism, apparently the religion of the Iron Age Celts. Like other Iron Age Europeans, the early Celts maintained a polytheistic mythology and religious structure...

—who became credited with real deeds in the distant past. They cite parallels with figures such as the Kentish
Kingdom of Kent
The Kingdom of Kent was a Jutish colony and later independent kingdom in what is now south east England. It was founded at an unknown date in the 5th century by Jutes, members of a Germanic people from continental Europe, some of whom settled in Britain after the withdrawal of the Romans...

 totemic horse-gods Hengest
Hengest
Hengist and Horsa are figures of Anglo-Saxon, and subsequently British, legend, which records the two as the Germanic brothers who led the Angle, Saxon, and Jutish armies that conquered the first territories of Great Britain in the 5th century AD...

 and Horsa, who later became historicised. Bede ascribed to these legendary figures a historical role in the 5th-century Anglo-Saxon
Anglo-Saxons
Anglo-Saxon is a term used by historians to designate the Germanic tribes who invaded and settled the south and east of Great Britain beginning in the early 5th century AD, and the period from their creation of the English nation to the Norman conquest. The Anglo-Saxon Era denotes the period of...

 conquest of eastern Britain. It is not even certain that Arthur was considered a king in the early texts. Neither the Historia nor the Annales calls him "rex": the former calls him instead "dux
Dux
Dux is Latin for leader and later for Duke and its variant forms ....

 bellorum" (leader of battles) and "miles" (soldier).

Historical documents for the post-Roman period are scarce, so a definitive answer to the question of Arthur's historical existence is unlikely. Sites and places have been identified as "Arthurian"
Sites and places associated with Arthurian legend
The following is a list and assessment of sites and places associated with King Arthur and the Arthurian legend in general. Given the lack of concrete historical knowledge about one of the most potent figures in British mythology, it is unlikely that any definitive conclusions about the claims for...

 since the 12th century, but archaeology can confidently reveal names only through inscriptions found in secure contexts. The so-called "Arthur stone
Arthur stone
The Artognou stone, sometimes incorrectly referred to as the Arthur stone, is an archaeological artifact uncovered in Cornwall, England, United Kingdom. It was discovered in 1998 in securely dated sixth-century contexts among the ruins at Tintagel Castle in Cornwall, a secular, high status...

", discovered in 1998 among the ruins at Tintagel Castle
Tintagel Castle
Tintagel Castle is a medieval fortification located on the peninsula of Tintagel Island, adjacent to the village of Tintagel in Cornwall, United Kingdom. The site was possibly occupied in the Romano-British period, due to an array of artefacts dating to this period which have been found on the...

 in Cornwall
Cornwall
Cornwall is a unitary authority and ceremonial county of England, within the United Kingdom. It is bordered to the north and west by the Celtic Sea, to the south by the English Channel, and to the east by the county of Devon, over the River Tamar. Cornwall has a population of , and covers an area of...

 in securely dated 6th-century contexts, created a brief stir but proved irrelevant. Other inscriptional evidence for Arthur, including the Glastonbury cross, is tainted with the suggestion of forgery. Although several historical figures have been proposed as the basis for Arthur, no convincing evidence for these identifications has emerged.

Name

The origin of the name Arthur remains a matter of debate. Some suggest it is derived from the Roman nomen gentile (family name)
Roman naming conventions
By the Republican era and throughout the Imperial era, a name in ancient Rome for a male citizen consisted of three parts : praenomen , nomen and cognomen...

 Artōrius
Artorius
Artorius was the family name of a Roman gens of obscure and contested etymology.Several Italian scholars consider the name to be of Messapic origin, connecting it with the Messapic gens name Artorres, likely a derivative of the Messapic name Artas , of uncertain meaning.An alternate etymology...

, of obscure and contested etymology (but possibly of Messapic or Etruscan origin). Some scholars have suggested it is relevant to this debate that the legendary King Arthur's name only appears as Arthur, or Arturus, in early Latin Arthurian texts, never as Artōrius (though it should be noted that Classical Latin Artōrius became Arturius in some Vulgar Latin dialects). However, this may not say anything about the origin of the name Arthur, as Artōrius would regularly become Art(h)ur when borrowed into Welsh
Welsh language
Welsh is a member of the Brythonic branch of the Celtic languages spoken natively in Wales, by some along the Welsh border in England, and in Y Wladfa...

.

Another possibility is that it is derived from a Brittonic patronym *Arto-rīg-ios (the root of which, *arto-rīg- "bear-king" is to be found in the Old Irish personal name Art-ri) via a Latinized form Artōrius. Less likely is the commonly proposed derivation from Welsh arth "bear" + (g)wr "man" (earlier *Arto-uiros in Brittonic); there are phonological difficulties with this theory—notably that a Brittonic compound name *Arto-uiros should produce Old Welsh *Artgur and Middle/Modern Welsh *Arthwr and not Arthur (in Welsh poetry the name is always spelled Arthur and is exclusively rhymed with words ending in -ur - never words ending in -wr - which confirms that the second element cannot be [g]wr "man").

An alternative theory, which has gained only limited acceptance among professional scholars, derives the name Arthur from Arcturus, the brightest star in the constellation Boötes
Boötes
Boötes is a constellation in the northern sky, located between 0° and +60° declination, and 13 and 16 hours of right ascension on the celestial sphere. The name comes from the Greek Βοώτης, Boōtēs, meaning herdsman or plowman...

, near Ursa Major
Ursa Major
Ursa Major , also known as the Great Bear, is a constellation visible throughout the year in most of the northern hemisphere. It can best be seen in April...

 or the Great Bear. Classical Latin
Classical Latin
Classical Latin in simplest terms is the socio-linguistic register of the Latin language regarded by the enfranchised and empowered populations of the late Roman republic and the Roman empire as good Latin. Most writers during this time made use of it...

 Arcturus would also have become Art(h)ur when borrowed into Welsh, and its brightness and position in the sky led people to regard it as the "guardian of the bear" (which is the meaning of the name in Ancient Greek
Ancient Greek
Ancient Greek is the stage of the Greek language in the periods spanning the times c. 9th–6th centuries BC, , c. 5th–4th centuries BC , and the c. 3rd century BC – 6th century AD of ancient Greece and the ancient world; being predated in the 2nd millennium BC by Mycenaean Greek...

) and the "leader" of the other stars in Boötes.

A similar first name is Old Irish
Irish language
Irish , also known as Irish Gaelic, is a Goidelic language of the Indo-European language family, originating in Ireland and historically spoken by the Irish people. Irish is now spoken as a first language by a minority of Irish people, as well as being a second language of a larger proportion of...

 Artúr, which is believed to be derived directly from an early Old Welsh or Cumbric Artur. The earliest historically attested bearer of the name is a son or grandson of Áedán mac Gabráin
Áedán mac Gabráin
Áedán mac Gabráin was a king of Dál Riata from circa 574 until his death, perhaps on 17 April 609. The kingdom of Dál Riata was situated in modern Argyll and Bute, Scotland, and parts of County Antrim, Ireland...

 (d. AD 609).

Medieval literary traditions

The creator of the familiar literary persona of Arthur was Geoffrey of Monmouth
Geoffrey of Monmouth
Geoffrey of Monmouth was a cleric and one of the major figures in the development of British historiography and the popularity of tales of King Arthur...

, with his pseudo-historical Historia Regum Britanniae
Historia Regum Britanniae
The Historia Regum Britanniae is a pseudohistorical account of British history, written c. 1136 by Geoffrey of Monmouth. It chronicles the lives of the kings of the Britons in a chronological narrative spanning a time of two thousand years, beginning with the Trojans founding the British nation...

 (History of the Kings of Britain), written in the 1130s. The textual sources for Arthur are usually divided into those written before Geoffrey's Historia (known as pre-Galfridian texts, from the Latin form of Geoffrey, Galfridus) and those written afterwards, which could not avoid his influence (Galfridian, or post-Galfridian, texts).

Pre-Galfridian traditions

The earliest literary references to Arthur come from Welsh and Breton sources. There have been few attempts to define the nature and character of Arthur in the pre-Galfridian
Geoffrey of Monmouth
Geoffrey of Monmouth was a cleric and one of the major figures in the development of British historiography and the popularity of tales of King Arthur...

 tradition as a whole, rather than in a single text or text/story-type. One recent academic survey that does attempt this, by Thomas Green, identifies three key strands to the portrayal of Arthur in this earliest material. The first is that he was a peerless warrior who functioned as the monster-hunting protector of Britain from all internal and external threats. Some of these are human threats, such as the Saxons he fights in the Historia Brittonum, but the majority are supernatural, including giant cat-monsters
Cath Palug
Cath Palug, also Cath Paluc, Cath Balug, Cath Balwg, Chapalu, Capalu, or Capalus, literally "Palug's cat", or maybe from the Welsh 'palug,' meaning 'clawing,' was a monstrous cat in French and Welsh legend. It was said to haunt the Isle of Anglesey, and to have killed and eaten nine score warriors...

, destructive divine boars
Twrch Trwyth
Twrch Trwyth is an enchanted wild boar in the Arthurian legend. The hunt for Twrch Trwyth by King Arthur was the subject of a popular stock narrative in medieval Welsh literature...

, dragons, dogheads
Cynocephaly
The condition of cynocephaly, having the head of a dog — or of a jackal— is a widely attested mythical phenomenon existing in many different forms and contexts.-Etymology:...

, giants
Giant (mythology)
The mythology and legends of many different cultures include monsters of human appearance but prodigious size and strength. "Giant" is the English word commonly used for such beings, derived from one of the most famed examples: the gigantes of Greek mythology.In various Indo-European mythologies,...

 and witches. The second is that the pre-Galfridian Arthur was a figure of folklore (particularly topographic or onomastic folklore) and localised magical wonder-tales, the leader of a band of superhuman heroes who live in the wilds of the landscape. The third and final strand is that the early Welsh Arthur had a close connection with the Welsh Otherworld, Annwn
Annwn
Annwn or Annwfn was the Otherworld in Welsh mythology. Ruled by Arawn, or much later by Gwyn ap Nudd, it was essentially a world of delights and eternal youth where disease is absent and food is ever-abundant. It later became Christianised and identified with the land of souls that had departed...

. On the one hand, he launches assaults on Otherworldly fortresses in search of treasure and frees their prisoners. On the other, his warband in the earliest sources includes former pagan gods, and his wife and his possessions are clearly Otherworldly in origin.

One of the most famous Welsh poetic references to Arthur comes in the collection of heroic death-songs known as Y Gododdin
Y Gododdin
Y Gododdin is a medieval Welsh poem consisting of a series of elegies to the men of the Britonnic kingdom of Gododdin and its allies who, according to the conventional interpretation, died fighting the Angles of Deira and Bernicia at a place named Catraeth...

 (The Gododdin), attributed to the 6th-century poet Aneirin
Aneirin
Aneirin or Neirin was a Dark Age Brythonic poet. He is believed to have been a bard or 'court poet' in one of the Cumbric kingdoms of the Old North or Hen Ogledd, probably that of Gododdin at Edinburgh, in modern Scotland...

. In one stanza, the bravery of a warrior who slew 300 enemies is praised, but it is then noted that despite this "he was no Arthur", that is to say his feats cannot compare to the valour of Arthur. Y Gododdin is known only from a 13th-century manuscript, so it is impossible to determine whether this passage is original or a later interpolation, but John Koch's view that the passage dates from a 7th-century or earlier version is regarded as unproven; 9th- or 10th-century dates are often proposed for it. Several poems attributed to Taliesin
Taliesin
Taliesin was an early British poet of the post-Roman period whose work has possibly survived in a Middle Welsh manuscript, the Book of Taliesin...

, a poet said to have lived in the 6th century, also refer to Arthur, although these all probably date from between the 8th and 12th centuries. They include "Kadeir Teyrnon" ("The Chair of the Prince"), which refers to "Arthur the Blessed", "Preiddeu Annwn
Preiddeu Annwfn
Preiddeu Annwfn or Preiddeu Annwn is a cryptic early medieval Welsh poem of sixty lines found in the Book of Taliesin. The text recounts an expedition with King Arthur to Annwfn or Annwn, a Welsh otherworld...

" ("The Spoils of Annwn"), which recounts an expedition of Arthur to the Otherworld, and "Marwnat vthyr pen[dragon]" ("The Elegy of Uther Pen[dragon]"), which refers to Arthur's valour and is suggestive of a father-son relationship for Arthur and Uther that pre-dates Geoffrey of Monmouth.
Other early Welsh Arthurian texts include a poem found in the Black Book of Carmarthen
Black Book of Carmarthen
The Black Book of Carmarthen is thought to be the earliest surviving manuscript written entirely or substantially in Welsh. Written in around 1250, the book's name comes from its association with the Priory of St. John the Evangelist and Teulyddog at Carmarthen, and is referred to as black due to...

, "Pa gur yv y porthaur?" ("What man is the gatekeeper?"). This takes the form of a dialogue between Arthur and the gatekeeper of a fortress he wishes to enter, in which Arthur recounts the names and deeds of himself and his men, notably Cei
Sir Kay
In Arthurian legend, Sir Kay is Sir Ector's son and King Arthur's foster brother and later seneschal, as well as one of the first Knights of the Round Table. In later literature he is known for his acid tongue and bullying, boorish behavior, but in earlier accounts he was one of Arthur's premier...

 (Kay) and Bedwyr
Bedivere
In Arthurian legend, Sir Bedivere is the Knight of the Round Table who returns Excalibur to the Lady of the Lake. He serves as King Arthur's marshal and is frequently associated with Sir Kay...

 (Bedivere). The Welsh prose tale Culhwch and Olwen
Culhwch and Olwen
Culhwch and Olwen is a Welsh tale about a hero connected with Arthur and his warriors that survives in only two manuscripts: a complete version in the Red Book of Hergest, ca. 1400, and a fragmented version in the White Book of Rhydderch, ca. 1325. It is the longest of the surviving Welsh prose...

 (c. 1100), included in the modern Mabinogion
Mabinogion
The 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...

 collection, has a much longer list of more than 200 of Arthur's men, though Cei and Bedwyr again take a central place. The story as a whole tells of Arthur helping his kinsman Culhwch
Culhwch
Culhwch , in Welsh mythology, is the son of Cilydd son of Celyddon and Goleuddydd, a cousin of Arthur and the protagonist of the story Culhwch and Olwen...

 win the hand of Olwen
Olwen
In Welsh mythology, Olwen is the daughter of the giant Ysbaddaden and cousin of Goreu. She is the heroine of the story Culhwch and Olwen in the Mabinogion....

, daughter of Ysbaddaden
Ysbaddaden
; "Ysbaddaden, Chief of Giants," is the primary antagonist of the Welsh romance Culhwch ac Olwen. A vicious giant residing in a nigh on unreachabe castle, he is the father of Olwen and uncle of Goreu fab Custennin...

 Chief-Giant, by completing a series of apparently impossible tasks, including the hunt for the great semi-divine boar Twrch Trwyth
Twrch Trwyth
Twrch Trwyth is an enchanted wild boar in the Arthurian legend. The hunt for Twrch Trwyth by King Arthur was the subject of a popular stock narrative in medieval Welsh literature...

. The 9th-century Historia Brittonum also refers to this tale, with the boar there named Troy(n)t. Finally, Arthur is mentioned numerous times in the Welsh Triads
Welsh Triads
The Welsh Triads are a group of related texts in medieval manuscripts which preserve fragments of Welsh folklore, mythology and traditional history in groups of three. The triad is a rhetorical form whereby objects are grouped together in threes, with a heading indicating the point of likeness...

, a collection of short summaries of Welsh tradition and legend which are classified into groups of three linked characters or episodes in order to assist recall. The later manuscripts of the Triads are partly derivative from Geoffrey of Monmouth and later continental traditions, but the earliest ones show no such influence and are usually agreed to refer to pre-existing Welsh traditions. Even in these, however, Arthur's court has started to embody legendary Britain as a whole, with "Arthur's Court" sometimes substituted for "The Island of Britain" in the formula "Three XXX of the Island of Britain". While it is not clear from the Historia Brittonum and the Annales Cambriae that Arthur was even considered a king, by the time Culhwch and Olwen and the Triads were written he had become Penteyrnedd yr Ynys hon, "Chief of the Lords of this Island", the overlord of Wales, Cornwall and the North.

In addition to these pre-Galfridian Welsh poems and tales, Arthur appears in some other early Latin texts besides the Historia Brittonum and the Annales Cambriae. In particular, Arthur features in a number of well-known vitae ("Lives") of post-Roman saint
Saint
A saint is a holy person. In various religions, saints are people who are believed to have exceptional holiness.In Christian usage, "saint" refers to any believer who is "in Christ", and in whom Christ dwells, whether in heaven or in earth...

s, none of which are now generally considered to be reliable historical sources (the earliest probably dates from the 11th century). According to the Life of Saint Gildas
Gildas
Gildas was a 6th-century British 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 Sapiens...

, written in the early 12th century by Caradoc of Llancarfan
Caradoc of Llancarfan
Caradoc of Llancarfan was a Welsh cleric and author who was associated with Llancarfan in Wales during the 12th century. He is generally accepted to be the author of a Life of Gildas and of a Life of Saint Cadog in Latin....

, Arthur is said to have killed Gildas' brother Hueil and to have rescued his wife Gwenhwyfar from Glastonbury. In the Life of Saint Cadoc
Cadoc
Saint Cadoc , Abbot of Llancarfan, was one of the 6th century British Christian saints. His vita twice mentions King Arthur. The Abbey of Llancarfan, near Cowbridge in Glamorganshire, which he founded circa 518, became famous as a centre of learning...

, written around 1100 or a little before by Lifris of Llancarfan, the saint gives protection to a man who killed three of Arthur's soldiers, and Arthur demands a herd of cattle as wergeld for his men. Cadoc delivers them as demanded, but when Arthur takes possession of the animals, they turn into bundles of ferns. Similar incidents are described in the medieval biographies of Carannog
Carantoc
Saint Carantoc was a confessor and abbot of the early 6th century in Wales and what is now the English West Country.His early vita takes the form of a short homily...

, Padarn
Padarn
Saint Padarn is the eponymous founder of St Padarn's Church. Llanbadarn Fawr, near present day Aberystwyth, Ceredigion, Wales, in the early 6th century...

 and Eufflam, probably written around the 12th century. A less obviously legendary account of Arthur appears in the Legenda Sancti Goeznovii
Goeznovius
Goeznovius , also known as Goueznou, was a Cornish-born Bishop of Léon in Brittany, who is venerated as a saint in the region around Brest and the diocese of Léon...

, which is often claimed to date from the early 11th century although the earliest manuscript of this text dates from the 15th century. Also important are the references to Arthur in William of Malmesbury
William of Malmesbury
William of Malmesbury was the foremost English historian of the 12th century. C. Warren Hollister so ranks him among the most talented generation of writers of history since Bede, "a gifted historical scholar and an omnivorous reader, impressively well versed in the literature of classical,...

's De Gestis Regum Anglorum and Herman's De Miraculis Sanctae Mariae Laudensis, which together provide the first certain evidence for a belief that Arthur was not actually dead and would at some point return
King Arthur's messianic return
King Arthur's messianic return is an aspect of the legend of King Arthur, the mythical 6th-century British king. Few historical records of Arthur remain, and there are doubts that he ever existed, but he achieved a mythological stature that gave rise to a growing literature about his life and deeds...

, a theme that is often revisited in post-Galfridian folklore.

Geoffrey of Monmouth

The first narrative account of Arthur's life is found in Geoffrey of Monmouth
Geoffrey of Monmouth
Geoffrey of Monmouth was a cleric and one of the major figures in the development of British historiography and the popularity of tales of King Arthur...

's Latin work Historia Regum Britanniae
Historia Regum Britanniae
The Historia Regum Britanniae is a pseudohistorical account of British history, written c. 1136 by Geoffrey of Monmouth. It chronicles the lives of the kings of the Britons in a chronological narrative spanning a time of two thousand years, beginning with the Trojans founding the British nation...

 (History of the Kings of Britain). This work, completed c. 1138, is an imaginative and fanciful account of British kings from the legendary Trojan exile Brutus
Brutus of Troy
Brutus or Brute of Troy is a legendary descendant of the Trojan hero Æneas, known in mediæval British legend as the eponymous founder and first king of Britain...

 to the 7th-century Welsh king Cadwallader
Cadwaladr
Cadwaladr ap Cadwallon was King of Gwynedd . Two devastating plagues happened during his reign, one in 664 and the other in 682, with himself a victim of the second one. Little else is known of his reign...

. Geoffrey places Arthur in the same post-Roman period as do Historia Brittonum and Annales Cambriae
Annales Cambriae
Annales Cambriae, or The Annals of Wales, is the name given to a complex of Cambro-Latin chronicles deriving ultimately from a text compiled from diverse sources at St David's in Dyfed, Wales, not later than the 10th century...

. He incorporates Arthur's father, Uther Pendragon
Uther Pendragon
Uther Pendragon is a legendary king of sub-Roman Britain and the father of King Arthur.A few minor references to Uther appear in Old Welsh poems, but his biography was first written down by Geoffrey of Monmouth in his Historia Regum Britanniae , and Geoffrey's account of the character was used in...

, his magician advisor Merlin
Merlin
Merlin is a legendary figure best known as the wizard featured in the Arthurian legend. The standard depiction of the character first appears in Geoffrey of Monmouth's Historia Regum Britanniae, written c. 1136, and is based on an amalgamation of previous historical and legendary figures...

, and the story of Arthur's conception, in which Uther, disguised as his enemy Gorlois
Gorlois
Gorlois was a Duke of Cornwall and Igraine's first husband before her marriage to Uther Pendragon, according to the Arthurian legend...

 by Merlin's magic, sleeps with Gorlois's wife Igerna
Igraine
Igraine , in Arthurian legend, is the mother of King Arthur. She is also known in Latin as Igerna, in Welsh as Eigyr, in French as Igerne, in Thomas Malory's Le Morte d'Arthur as Ygrayne— often modernized as Igraine—and in Wolfram von Eschenbach's Parzival as Arnive...

 at Tintagel
Tintagel
Tintagel is a civil parish and village situated on the Atlantic coast of Cornwall, United Kingdom. The population of the parish is 1,820 people, and the area of the parish is ....

, and she conceives Arthur. On Uther's death, the fifteen-year-old Arthur succeeds him as King of Britain and fights a series of battles, similar to those in the Historia Brittonum, culminating in the Battle of Bath. He then defeats the Pict
PICT
PICT is a graphics file format introduced on the original Apple Macintosh computer as its standard metafile format. It allows the interchange of graphics , and some limited text support, between Mac applications, and was the native graphics format of QuickDraw.The original version, PICT 1, was...

s and Scots
Scoti
Scoti or Scotti was the generic name used by the Romans to describe those who sailed from Ireland to conduct raids on Roman Britain. It was thus synonymous with the modern term Gaels...

 before creating an Arthurian empire through his conquests of Ireland, Iceland
Iceland
Iceland , described as the Republic of Iceland, is a Nordic and European island country in the North Atlantic Ocean, on the Mid-Atlantic Ridge. Iceland also refers to the main island of the country, which contains almost all the population and almost all the land area. The country has a population...

 and the Orkney Islands
Orkney Islands
Orkney also known as the Orkney Islands , is an archipelago in northern Scotland, situated north of the coast of Caithness...

. After twelve years of peace, Arthur sets out to expand his empire once more, taking control of Norway
Norway
Norway , officially the Kingdom of Norway, is a Nordic unitary constitutional monarchy whose territory comprises the western portion of the Scandinavian Peninsula, Jan Mayen, and the Arctic archipelago of Svalbard and Bouvet Island. Norway has a total area of and a population of about 4.9 million...

, Denmark
Denmark
Denmark is a Scandinavian country in Northern Europe. The countries of Denmark and Greenland, as well as the Faroe Islands, constitute the Kingdom of Denmark . It is the southernmost of the Nordic countries, southwest of Sweden and south of Norway, and bordered to the south by Germany. Denmark...

 and Gaul
Gaul
Gaul was a region of Western Europe during the Iron Age and Roman era, encompassing present day France, Luxembourg and Belgium, most of Switzerland, the western part of Northern Italy, as well as the parts of the Netherlands and Germany on the left bank of the Rhine. The Gauls were the speakers of...

. Gaul is still held by the Roman Empire
Roman Empire
The Roman Empire was the post-Republican period of the ancient Roman civilization, characterised by an autocratic form of government and large territorial holdings in Europe and around the Mediterranean....

 when it is conquered, and Arthur's victory naturally leads to a further confrontation between his empire and Rome's. Arthur and his warriors, including Kaius
Sir Kay
In Arthurian legend, Sir Kay is Sir Ector's son and King Arthur's foster brother and later seneschal, as well as one of the first Knights of the Round Table. In later literature he is known for his acid tongue and bullying, boorish behavior, but in earlier accounts he was one of Arthur's premier...

 (Kay), Beduerus
Bedivere
In Arthurian legend, Sir Bedivere is the Knight of the Round Table who returns Excalibur to the Lady of the Lake. He serves as King Arthur's marshal and is frequently associated with Sir Kay...

 (Bedivere) and Gualguanus
Gawain
Gawain is King Arthur's nephew and a Knight of the Round Table who appears very early in the Arthurian legend's development. He is one of a select number of Round Table members to be referred to as the greatest knight, most notably in Sir Gawain and the Green Knight...

 (Gawain), defeat the Roman emperor Lucius Tiberius
Lucius Tiberius
Lucius Tiberius is a fictional Roman Emperor from Arthurian legend appearing first in Geoffrey of Monmouth's Historia Regum Britanniae. No Roman Emperor of that name ever existed; Geoffrey either heard of him from folk tradition or made him up...

 in Gaul but, as he prepares to march on Rome, Arthur hears that his nephew Modredus
Mordred
Mordred or Modred is a character in the Arthurian legend, known as a notorious traitor who fought King Arthur at the Battle of Camlann, where he was killed and Arthur fatally wounded. Tradition varies on his relationship to Arthur, but he is best known today as Arthur's illegitimate son by his...

 (Mordred)—whom he had left in charge of Britain—has married his wife Guenhuuara
Guinevere
Guinevere was the legendary queen consort of King Arthur. In tales and folklore, she was said to have had a love affair with Arthur's chief knight Sir Lancelot...

 (Guinevere) and seized the throne. Arthur returns to Britain and defeats and kills Modredus on the river Camblam in Cornwall, but he is mortally wounded. He hands the crown to his kinsman Constantine
Constantine III of Britain
Constantine was a minor king in 6th-century sub-Roman Britain, who was remembered in later British tradition as a legendary King of Britain. The only contemporary information about him comes from Gildas, who calls him king of Damnonia and castigates him for his various sins, including the murder...

 and is taken to the isle of Avalon
Avalon
Avalon is a legendary island featured in the Arthurian legend. It first appears in Geoffrey of Monmouth's 1136 pseudohistorical account Historia Regum Britanniae as the place where King Arthur's sword Excalibur was forged and later where Arthur was...

 to be healed of his wounds, never to be seen again.

How much of this narrative was Geoffrey's own invention is open to debate. Certainly, Geoffrey seems to have made use of the list of Arthur's twelve battles against the Saxons found in the 9th-century Historia Brittonum, along with the battle of Camlann from the Annales Cambriae and the idea that Arthur was still alive
King Arthur's messianic return
King Arthur's messianic return is an aspect of the legend of King Arthur, the mythical 6th-century British king. Few historical records of Arthur remain, and there are doubts that he ever existed, but he achieved a mythological stature that gave rise to a growing literature about his life and deeds...

. Arthur's personal status as the king of all Britain would also seem to be borrowed from pre-Galfridian tradition, being found in Culhwch and Olwen, the Triads
Welsh Triads
The Welsh Triads are a group of related texts in medieval manuscripts which preserve fragments of Welsh folklore, mythology and traditional history in groups of three. The triad is a rhetorical form whereby objects are grouped together in threes, with a heading indicating the point of likeness...

 and the Saints' Lives. In addition, many of the elements that Monmouth's King Arthur includes are strong parallels to "Culhwch and Olwen." The motifs and themes of loyalty, honor, giants, gift giving, wife-stealing, and magical creatures are prominent in both stories. Furthermore, Monmouth derived many of his character's names from "Culhwch and Olwen"; Sir Kay comes from "Kai"; Sir Bedivere is derived from "Bedwyr"; and lastly Sir Gawain is "Gwalchmei" in Welsh. Also, the heroines of both tales have similar names: the meaning of Guinever is "White Phantom", while Olwen equates with "of the white track." Finally, Geoffrey borrowed many of the names for Arthur's possessions, close family
King Arthur's family
King Arthur's family grew throughout the centuries with King Arthur's legend. Several of the legendary members of this mythical king's family became leading characters of mythical tales in their own right.-Welsh literature:...

 and companions from the pre-Galfridian Welsh tradition, including Kaius (Cei), Beduerus (Bedwyr), Guenhuuara (Gwenhwyfar), Uther (Uthyr) and perhaps also Caliburnus (Caledfwlch), the latter becoming Excalibur
Excalibur
Excalibur is the legendary sword of King Arthur, sometimes attributed with magical powers or associated with the rightful sovereignty of Great Britain. Sometimes Excalibur and the Sword in the Stone are said to be the same weapon, but in most versions they are considered separate. The sword was...

 in subsequent Arthurian tales. However, while names, key events and titles may have been borrowed, Brynley Roberts has argued that "the Arthurian section is Geoffrey’s literary creation and it owes nothing to prior narrative." So, for instance, the Welsh Medraut is made the villainous Modredus by Geoffrey, but there is no trace of such a negative character for this figure in Welsh sources until the 16th century. There have been relatively few modern attempts to challenge this notion that the Historia Regum Britanniae is primarily Geoffrey's own work, with scholarly opinion often echoing William of Newburgh
William of Newburgh
William of Newburgh or Newbury , also known as William Parvus, was a 12th-century English historian and Augustinian canon from Bridlington, Yorkshire.-Biography:...

's late-12th-century comment that Geoffrey "made up" his narrative, perhaps through an "inordinate love of lying". Geoffrey Ashe
Geoffrey Ashe
Geoffrey Ashe is a British cultural historian, a writer of non-fiction books and novels.-Early life:Born in London, Ashe spent several years in Canada growing up, graduating from the University of British Columbia, Vancouver, before continuing at Cambridge.-Work:Many of his historical books are...

 is one dissenter from this view, believing that Geoffrey's narrative is partially derived from a lost source telling of the deeds of a 5th-century British king named Riotamus
Riothamus
Riothamus was a Romano-British military leader, who was active circa AD 470. He fought against the Goths in alliance with the declining Roman Empire. He is called "King of the Britons" by the 6th-Century historian Jordanes, but the extent of his realm is unclear...

, this figure being the original Arthur, although historians and Celticists have been reluctant to follow Ashe in his conclusions.

Whatever his sources may have been, the immense popularity of Geoffrey's Historia Regum Britanniae cannot be denied. Well over 200 manuscript copies of Geoffrey’s Latin work are known to have survived, and this does not include translations into other languages. Thus, for example, around 60 manuscripts are extant containing Welsh-language versions of the Historia, the earliest of which were created in the 13th century; the old notion that some of these Welsh versions actually underlie Geoffrey's Historia, advanced by antiquarians such as the 18th-century Lewis Morris, has long since been discounted in academic circles. As a result of this popularity, Geoffrey's Historia Regum Britanniae was enormously influential on the later medieval development of the Arthurian legend. While it was by no means the only creative force behind Arthurian romance, many of its elements were borrowed and developed (e.g., Merlin and the final fate of Arthur), and it provided the historical framework into which the romancers' tales of magical and wonderful adventures were inserted.

Romance traditions

The popularity of Geoffrey's Historia and its other derivative works (such as Wace
Wace
Wace was a Norman poet, who was born in Jersey and brought up in mainland Normandy , ending his career as Canon of Bayeux.-Life:...

's Roman de Brut
Roman de Brut
Roman de Brut or Brut is a verse literary history of Britain by the poet Wace. Written in the Norman language, it consists of 14,866 lines....

) is generally agreed to be an important factor in explaining the appearance of significant numbers of new Arthurian works in continental Europe during the 12th and 13th centuries, particularly in France. It was not, however, the only Arthurian influence on the developing "Matter of Britain
Matter of Britain
The Matter of Britain is a name given collectively to the body of literature and legendary material associated with Great Britain and its legendary kings, particularly King Arthur...

". There is clear evidence for a knowledge of Arthur and Arthurian tales on the Continent before Geoffrey's work became widely known (see for example, the Modena Archivolt), as well as for the use of "Celtic" names and stories not found in Geoffrey's Historia in the Arthurian romances
Romance (genre)
As a literary genre of high culture, romance or chivalric romance is a style of heroic prose and verse narrative that was popular in the aristocratic circles of High Medieval and Early Modern Europe. They were fantastic stories about marvel-filled adventures, often of a knight errant portrayed as...

. From the perspective of Arthur, perhaps the most significant effect of this great outpouring of new Arthurian story was on the role of the king himself: much of this 12th-century and later Arthurian literature centres less on Arthur himself than on characters such as Lancelot
Lancelot
Sir Lancelot du Lac is one of the Knights of the Round Table in the Arthurian legend. He is the most trusted of King Arthur's knights and plays a part in many of Arthur's victories...

 and Guenevere
Guinevere
Guinevere was the legendary queen consort of King Arthur. In tales and folklore, she was said to have had a love affair with Arthur's chief knight Sir Lancelot...

, Perceval
Percival
Percival or Perceval is one of King Arthur's legendary Knights of the Round Table. In Welsh literature his story is allotted to the historical Peredur...

, Galahad
Galahad
Sir Galahad |Round Table]] and one of the three achievers of the Holy Grail in Arthurian legend. He is the illegitimate son of Lancelot and Elaine of Corbenic, and is renowned for his gallantry and purity. Emerging quite late in the medieval Arthurian tradition, he is perhaps the knightly...

, Gawain
Gawain
Gawain is King Arthur's nephew and a Knight of the Round Table who appears very early in the Arthurian legend's development. He is one of a select number of Round Table members to be referred to as the greatest knight, most notably in Sir Gawain and the Green Knight...

, and Tristan and Isolde
Tristan and Iseult
The legend of Tristan and Iseult is an influential romance and tragedy, retold in numerous sources with as many variations. The tragic story is of the adulterous love between the Cornish knight Tristan and the Irish princess Iseult...

. Whereas Arthur is very much at the centre of the pre-Galfridian material and Geoffrey's Historia itself, in the romances he is rapidly sidelined. His character also alters significantly. In both the earliest materials and Geoffrey he is a great and ferocious warrior, who laughs as he personally slaughters witches and giants and takes a leading role in all military campaigns, whereas in the continental romances he becomes the roi fainéant, the "do-nothing king", whose "inactivity and acquiescence constituted a central flaw in his otherwise ideal society". Arthur's role in these works is frequently that of a wise, dignified, even-tempered, somewhat bland, and occasionally feeble monarch. So, he simply turns pale and silent when he learns of Lancelot's affair with Guinevere in the Mort Artu, whilst in Chrétien de Troyes
Chrétien de Troyes
Chrétien de Troyes was a French poet and trouvère who flourished in the late 12th century. Perhaps he named himself Christian of Troyes in contrast to the illustrious Rashi, also of Troyes...

's Yvain, the Knight of the Lion
Yvain, the Knight of the Lion
Yvain, the Knight with the Lion is a romance by Chrétien de Troyes. It was probably written in the 1170s simultaneously with Lancelot, the Knight of the Cart, and includes several references to the action in that poem...

 he is unable to stay awake after a feast and has to retire for a nap. Nonetheless, as Norris J. Lacy
Norris J. Lacy
Norris J. Lacy is an American scholar focusing on French medieval literature. He is the Edwin Erle Sparks Professor of French and Medieval Studies at the Pennsylvania State University. He is a leading expert on the Arthurian legend and has written and edited numerous books, papers, and articles...

 has observed, whatever his faults and frailties may be in these Arthurian romances, "his prestige is never—or almost never—compromised by his personal weaknesses ... his authority and glory remain intact."
Arthur and his retinue appear in some of the Lais of Marie de France
Marie de France
Marie de France was a medieval poet who was probably born in France and lived in England during the late 12th century. She lived and wrote at an undisclosed court, but was almost certainly at least known about at the royal court of King Henry II of England...

, but it was the work of another French poet, Chrétien de Troyes, that had the greatest influence with regard to the above development of the character of Arthur and his legend. Chrétien wrote five Arthurian romances between c. 1170 and c. 1190. Erec and Enide
Erec and Enide
Erec and Enide is the first of Chrétien de Troyes' five romance poems, completed around 1170. It is one of three completed works by the author...

 and Cligès
Cligès
Cligès is a poem by the medieval French poet Chrétien de Troyes, dating from around 1176. Cligès is the second of five Arthurian Romances; Erec and Enide, Cligès, Yvain, Lancelot and Perceval. It tells the story of the knight Cligès and his love for his uncle's wife, Fenice...

 are tales of courtly love with Arthur's court as their backdrop, demonstrating the shift away from the heroic world of the Welsh and Galfridian Arthur, while Yvain, the Knight of the Lion features Yvain
Ywain
Sir Ywain is a Knight of the Round Table and the son of King Urien in Arthurian legend...

 and Gawain in a supernatural adventure, with Arthur very much on the sidelines and weakened. However, the most significant for the development of the Arthurian legend are Lancelot, the Knight of the Cart
Lancelot, the Knight of the Cart
Lancelot, the Knight of the Cart is an Old French poem by Chrétien de Troyes. Chrétien probably composed the work at the same time as or slightly before writing Yvain, the Knight of the Lion, which refers to the action in Lancelot a number of times...

, which introduces Lancelot and his adulterous relationship with Arthur's queen (Guinevere
Guinevere
Guinevere was the legendary queen consort of King Arthur. In tales and folklore, she was said to have had a love affair with Arthur's chief knight Sir Lancelot...

), extending and popularizing the recurring theme of Arthur as a cuckold
Cuckold
Cuckold is a historically derogatory term for a man who has an unfaithful wife. The word, which has been in recorded use since the 13th century, derives from the cuckoo bird, some varieties of which lay their eggs in other birds' nests...

, and Perceval, the Story of the Grail
Perceval, the Story of the Grail
Perceval, the Story of the Grail is the unfinished fifth romance of Chrétien de Troyes. Probably written between 1181 and 1191, it is dedicated to Chrétien's patron Philip, Count of Flanders...

, which introduces the Holy Grail
Holy Grail
The Holy Grail is a sacred object figuring in literature and certain Christian traditions, most often identified with the dish, plate, or cup used by Jesus at the Last Supper and said to possess miraculous powers...

 and the Fisher King
Fisher King
The Fisher King, or the Wounded King, figures in Arthurian legend as the latest in a line charged with keeping the Holy Grail. Versions of his story vary widely, but he is always wounded in the legs or groin, and incapable of moving on his own...

 and which again sees Arthur having a much reduced role. Chrétien was thus "instrumental both in the elaboration of the Arthurian legend and in the establishment of the ideal form for the diffusion of that legend", and much of what came after him in terms of the portrayal of Arthur and his world built upon the foundations he had laid. Perceval, although unfinished, was particularly popular: four separate continuations of the poem appeared over the next half century, with the notion of the Grail and its quest being developed by other writers such as Robert de Boron
Robert de Boron
Robert de Boron was a French poet of the late 12th and early 13th centuries who is most notable as the author of the poems Joseph d'Arimathe and Merlin.-Work:...

, a fact that helped accelerate the decline of Arthur in continental romance. Similarly, Lancelot and his cuckolding of Arthur with Guinevere became one of the classic motifs of the Arthurian legend, although the Lancelot of the prose Lancelot (c. 1225) and later texts was a combination of Chrétien's character and that of Ulrich von Zatzikhoven
Ulrich von Zatzikhoven
Ulrich von Zatzikhoven was the author of the Middle High German Arthurian romance Lanzelet.Ulrich's name and his place of origin are only known definitively from the work itself...

's Lanzelet
Lanzelet
Lanzelet is a medieval romance written by Ulrich von Zatzikhoven after 1194. It is the first treatment of the Lancelot tradition in German, and contains the earliest known account of the hero's childhood with the Lady of the Lake in any language. The poem consists of about 9,400 lines arranged in...

. Chrétien's work even appears to feed back into Welsh Arthurian literature, with the result that the romance Arthur began to replace the heroic, active Arthur in Welsh literary tradition. Particularly significant in this development were the three Welsh Arthurian romances, which are closely similar to those of Chrétien, albeit with some significant differences: Owain, or the Lady of the Fountain is related to Chrétien's Yvain; Geraint and Enid, to Erec and Enide; and Peredur son of Efrawg
Peredur son of Efrawg
Peredur son of Efrawg is one of the three Welsh Romances associated with the Mabinogion. It tells a story roughly analogous to Chrétien de Troyes' unfinished romance Perceval, the Story of the Grail, but it contains many striking differences from that work, most notably the absence of the French...

, to Perceval.
Up to c. 1210, continental Arthurian romance was expressed primarily through poetry; after this date the tales began to be told in prose. The most significant of these 13th-century prose romances was the Vulgate Cycle
Lancelot-Grail
The Lancelot–Grail, also known as the Prose Lancelot, the Vulgate Cycle, or the Pseudo-Map Cycle, is a major source of Arthurian legend written in French. It is a series of five prose volumes that tell the story of the quest for the Holy Grail and the romance of Lancelot and Guinevere...

 (also known as the Lancelot-Grail Cycle), a series of five Middle French prose works written in the first half of that century. These works were the Estoire del Saint Grail, the Estoire de Merlin, the Lancelot propre (or Prose Lancelot, which made up half the entire Vulgate Cycle on its own), the Queste del Saint Graal and the Mort Artu, which combine to form the first coherent version of the entire Arthurian legend. The cycle continued the trend towards reducing the role played by Arthur in his own legend, partly through the introduction of the character of Galahad and an expansion of the role of Merlin. It also made Mordred the result of an incestuous relationship
King Arthur's family
King Arthur's family grew throughout the centuries with King Arthur's legend. Several of the legendary members of this mythical king's family became leading characters of mythical tales in their own right.-Welsh literature:...

 between Arthur and his sister and established the role of Camelot
Camelot
Camelot is a castle and court associated with the legendary King Arthur. Absent in the early Arthurian material, Camelot first appeared in 12th-century French romances and eventually came to be described as the fantastic capital of Arthur's realm and a symbol of the Arthurian world...

, first mentioned in passing in Chrétien's Lancelot, as Arthur's primary court. This series of texts was quickly followed by the Post-Vulgate Cycle
Post-Vulgate Cycle
The Post-Vulgate Cycle is one of the major Old French prose cycles of Arthurian literature. It is essentially a rehandling of the earlier Vulgate Cycle , with much left out and much added, including characters and scenes from the Prose Tristan.The Post-Vulgate, written probably between 1230 and...

 (c. 1230–40), of which the Suite du Merlin is a part, which greatly reduced the importance of Lancelot's affair with Guinevere but continued to sideline Arthur, now in order to focus more on the Grail quest. As such, Arthur became even more of a relatively minor character in these French prose romances; in the Vulgate itself he only figures significantly in the Estoire de Merlin and the Mort Artu.

The development of the medieval Arthurian cycle and the character of the "Arthur of romance" culminated in Le Morte d'Arthur
Le Morte d'Arthur
Le Morte d'Arthur is a compilation by Sir Thomas Malory of Romance tales about the legendary King Arthur, Guinevere, Lancelot, and the Knights of the Round Table...

, Thomas Malory
Thomas Malory
Sir Thomas Malory was an English writer, the author or compiler of Le Morte d'Arthur. The antiquary John Leland as well as John Bale believed him to be Welsh, but most modern scholars, beginning with G. L...

's retelling of the entire legend in a single work in English in the late 15th century. Malory based his book—originally titled The Whole Book of King Arthur and of His Noble Knights of the Round Table—on the various previous romance versions, in particular the Vulgate Cycle, and appears to have aimed at creating a comprehensive and authoritative collection of Arthurian stories. Perhaps as a result of this, and the fact that Le Morte D'Arthur was one of the earliest printed books in England, published by William Caxton
William Caxton
William Caxton was an English merchant, diplomat, writer and printer. As far as is known, he was the first English person to work as a printer and the first to introduce a printing press into England...

 in 1485, most later Arthurian works are derivative of Malory's.

Post-medieval literature

The end of the Middle Ages brought with it a waning of interest in King Arthur. Although Malory's English version of the great French romances was popular, there were increasing attacks upon the truthfulness of the historical framework of the Arthurian romances—established since Geoffrey of Monmouth's time—and thus the legitimacy of the whole Matter of Britain
Matter of Britain
The Matter of Britain is a name given collectively to the body of literature and legendary material associated with Great Britain and its legendary kings, particularly King Arthur...

. So, for example, the 16th-century humanist scholar Polydore Vergil
Polydore Vergil
Polydore Vergil was an Italian historian, otherwise known as PV Castellensis. He is better known as the contemporary historian during the early Tudor dynasty. He was hired by King Henry VIII of England, who wanted to distance himself from his father Henry VII as much as possible, to document...

 famously rejected the claim that Arthur was the ruler of a post-Roman empire, found throughout the post-Galfridian medieval "chronicle tradition", to the horror of Welsh and English antiquarians. Social changes associated with the end of the medieval period and the Renaissance
Renaissance
The Renaissance was a cultural movement that spanned roughly the 14th to the 17th century, beginning in Italy in the Late Middle Ages and later spreading to the rest of Europe. The term is also used more loosely to refer to the historical era, but since the changes of the Renaissance were not...

 also conspired to rob the character of Arthur and his associated legend of some of their power to enthral audiences, with the result that 1634 saw the last printing of Malory's Le Morte d'Arthur for nearly 200 years. King Arthur and the Arthurian legend were not entirely abandoned, but until the early 19th century the material was taken less seriously and was often used simply as vehicle for allegories of 17th- and 18th-century politics. Thus Richard Blackmore
Richard Blackmore
Sir Richard Blackmore , English poet and physician, is remembered primarily as the object of satire and as an example of a dull poet. He was, however, a respected physician and religious writer....

's epics Prince Arthur (1695) and King Arthur (1697) feature Arthur as an allegory for the struggles of William III
William III of England
William III & II was a sovereign Prince of Orange of the House of Orange-Nassau by birth. From 1672 he governed as Stadtholder William III of Orange over Holland, Zeeland, Utrecht, Guelders, and Overijssel of the Dutch Republic. From 1689 he reigned as William III over England and Ireland...

 against James II
James II of England
James II & VII was King of England and King of Ireland as James II and King of Scotland as James VII, from 6 February 1685. He was the last Catholic monarch to reign over the Kingdoms of England, Scotland, and Ireland...

. Similarly, the most popular Arthurian tale throughout this period seems to have been that of Tom Thumb
Tom Thumb
Tom Thumb is a character of English folklore. The History of Tom Thumb was published in 1621, and has the distinction of being the first fairy tale printed in English. Tom is no bigger than his father's thumb, and his adventures include being swallowed by a cow, tangling with giants, and becoming a...

, which was told first through chapbook
Chapbook
A chapbook is a pocket-sized booklet. The term chap-book was formalized by bibliophiles of the 19th century, as a variety of ephemera , popular or folk literature. It includes many kinds of printed material such as pamphlets, political and religious tracts, nursery rhymes, poetry, folk tales,...

s and later through the political plays of Henry Fielding
Henry Fielding
Henry Fielding was an English novelist and dramatist known for his rich earthy humour and satirical prowess, and as the author of the novel Tom Jones....

; although the action is clearly set in Arthurian Britain, the treatment is humorous and Arthur appears as a primarily comedic version of his romance character.

John Dryden
John Dryden
John Dryden was an influential English poet, literary critic, translator, and playwright who dominated the literary life of Restoration England to such a point that the period came to be known in literary circles as the Age of Dryden.Walter Scott called him "Glorious John." He was made Poet...

's masque
Masque
The masque was a form of festive courtly entertainment which flourished in 16th and early 17th century Europe, though it was developed earlier in Italy, in forms including the intermedio...

 King Arthur
King Arthur (opera)
King Arthur or, The British Worthy , is a semi-opera in five acts with music by Henry Purcell and alibretto by John Dryden. It was first performed at the Queen's Theatre, Dorset Garden, London, in late May or early June 1691....

 is still performed, largely thanks to Henry Purcell
Henry Purcell
Henry Purcell – 21 November 1695), was an English organist and Baroque composer of secular and sacred music. Although Purcell incorporated Italian and French stylistic elements into his compositions, his legacy was a uniquely English form of Baroque music...

's music, though seldom unabridged.

Tennyson and the revival

In the early 19th century, medievalism
Medievalism
Medievalism is the system of belief and practice characteristic of the Middle Ages, or devotion to elements of that period, which has been expressed in areas such as architecture, literature, music, art, philosophy, scholarship, and various vehicles of popular culture.Since the 18th century, a...

, Romanticism
Romanticism
Romanticism was an artistic, literary and intellectual movement that originated in the second half of the 18th century in Europe, and gained strength in reaction to the Industrial Revolution...

, and the Gothic Revival reawakened interest in Arthur and the medieval romances. A new code of ethics for 19th-century gentlemen was shaped around the chivalric
Chivalry
Chivalry is a term related to the medieval institution of knighthood which has an aristocratic military origin of individual training and service to others. Chivalry was also the term used to refer to a group of mounted men-at-arms as well as to martial valour...

 ideals that the "Arthur of romance" embodied. This renewed interest first made itself felt in 1816, when Malory's Le Morte d'Arthur was reprinted for the first time since 1634. Initially the medieval Arthurian legends were of particular interest to poets, inspiring, for example, William Wordsworth
William Wordsworth
William Wordsworth was a major English Romantic poet who, with Samuel Taylor Coleridge, helped to launch the Romantic Age in English literature with the 1798 joint publication Lyrical Ballads....

 to write "The Egyptian Maid" (1835), an allegory of the Holy Grail
Holy Grail
The Holy Grail is a sacred object figuring in literature and certain Christian traditions, most often identified with the dish, plate, or cup used by Jesus at the Last Supper and said to possess miraculous powers...

. Pre-eminent among these was Alfred Lord Tennyson
Alfred Tennyson, 1st Baron Tennyson
Alfred Tennyson, 1st Baron Tennyson, FRS was Poet Laureate of the United Kingdom during much of Queen Victoria's reign and remains one of the most popular poets in the English language....

, whose first Arthurian poem, "The Lady of Shalott
The Lady of Shalott
"The Lady of Shalott" is a Victorian ballad by the English poet Alfred, Lord Tennyson . Like his other early poems – "Sir Lancelot and Queen Guinevere" and "Galahad" – the poem recasts Arthurian subject matter loosely based on medieval sources.-Overview:Tennyson wrote two versions of the poem, one...

", was published in 1832. Although Arthur himself played a minor role in some of these works, following in the medieval romance tradition, Tennyson's Arthurian work reached its peak of popularity with Idylls of the King
Idylls of the King
Idylls of the King, published between 1856 and 1885, is a cycle of twelve narrative poems by the English poet Alfred, Lord Tennyson which retells the legend of King Arthur, his knights, his love for Guinevere and her tragic betrayal of him, and the rise and fall of Arthur's kingdom...

, which reworked the entire narrative of Arthur's life for the Victorian era
Victorian era
The Victorian era of British history was the period of Queen Victoria's reign from 20 June 1837 until her death on 22 January 1901. It was a long period of peace, prosperity, refined sensibilities and national self-confidence...

. First published in 1859, it sold 10,000 copies within the first week. In the Idylls, Arthur became a symbol of ideal manhood whose attempt to establish a perfect kingdom on earth fails, finally, through human weakness. Tennyson's works prompted a large number of imitators, generated considerable public interest in the legends of Arthur and the character himself, and brought Malory’s tales to a wider audience. Indeed, the first modernization of Malory's great compilation of Arthur's tales was published shortly after Idylls appeared, in 1862, and there were six further editions and five competitors before the century ended.

This interest in the "Arthur of romance" and his associated stories continued through the 19th century and into the 20th, and influenced poets such as William Morris
William Morris
William Morris 24 March 18343 October 1896 was an English textile designer, artist, writer, and socialist associated with the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood and the English Arts and Crafts Movement...

 and Pre-Raphaelite artists including Edward Burne-Jones
Edward Burne-Jones
Sir Edward Coley Burne-Jones, 1st Baronet was a British artist and designer closely associated with the later phase of the Pre-Raphaelite movement, who worked closely with William Morris on a wide range of decorative arts as a founding partner in Morris, Marshall, Faulkner, and Company...

. Even the humorous tale of Tom Thumb
Tom Thumb
Tom Thumb is a character of English folklore. The History of Tom Thumb was published in 1621, and has the distinction of being the first fairy tale printed in English. Tom is no bigger than his father's thumb, and his adventures include being swallowed by a cow, tangling with giants, and becoming a...

, which had been the primary manifestation of Arthur's legend in the 18th century, was rewritten after the publication of Idylls. While Tom maintained his small stature and remained a figure of comic relief, his story now included more elements from the medieval Arthurian romances, and Arthur is treated more seriously and historically in these new versions. The revived Arthurian romance also proved influential in the United States, with such books as Sidney Lanier
Sidney Lanier
Sidney Lanier was an American musician and poet.-Biography:Sidney Lanier was born February 3, 1842, in Macon, Georgia, to parents Robert Sampson Lanier and Mary Jane Anderson; he was mostly of English ancestry. His distant French Huguenot ancestors immigrated to England in the 16th century...

's The Boy's King Arthur (1880) reaching wide audiences and providing inspiration for Mark Twain
Mark Twain
Samuel Langhorne Clemens , better known by his pen name Mark Twain, was an American author and humorist...

's satiric A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court
A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court
A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court is an 1889 novel by American humorist and writer Mark Twain. The book was originally titled A Yankee in King Arthur's Court...

 (1889). Although the "Arthur of romance" was sometimes central to these new Arthurian works (as he was in Burne-Jones's The Last Sleep of Arthur in Avalon
The Last Sleep of Arthur in Avalon
The Last Sleep of Arthur in Avalon is a painting by Edward Burne-Jones, started in 1881. The massive painting measures 279 cm × 650 cm, and is widely considered to be Burne-Jones's magnum opus....

, 1881–1898), on other occasions he reverted back to his medieval status and is either marginalised or even missing entirely, with Wagner's
Richard Wagner
Wilhelm Richard Wagner was a German composer, conductor, theatre director, philosopher, music theorist, poet, essayist and writer primarily known for his operas...

 Arthurian operas providing a notable instance of the latter. Furthermore, the revival of interest in Arthur and the Arthurian tales did not continue unabated. By the end of the 19th century, it was confined mainly to Pre-Raphaelite imitators, and it could not avoid being affected by the First World War, which damaged the reputation of chivalry and thus interest in its medieval manifestations and Arthur as chivalric role model. The romance tradition did, however, remain sufficiently powerful to persuade Thomas Hardy
Thomas Hardy
Thomas Hardy, OM was an English novelist and poet. While his works typically belong to the Naturalism movement, several poems display elements of the previous Romantic and Enlightenment periods of literature, such as his fascination with the supernatural.While he regarded himself primarily as a...

, Laurence Binyon
Laurence Binyon
Robert Laurence Binyon was an English poet, dramatist and art scholar. His most famous work, For the Fallen, is well known for being used in Remembrance Sunday services....

 and John Masefield
John Masefield
John Edward Masefield, OM, was an English poet and writer, and Poet Laureate of the United Kingdom from 1930 until his death in 1967...

 to compose Arthurian plays, and T. S. Eliot
T. S. Eliot
Thomas Stearns "T. S." Eliot OM was a playwright, literary critic, and arguably the most important English-language poet of the 20th century. Although he was born an American he moved to the United Kingdom in 1914 and was naturalised as a British subject in 1927 at age 39.The poem that made his...

 alludes to the Arthur myth (but not Arthur) in his poem The Waste Land
The Waste Land
The Waste Land[A] is a 434-line[B] modernist poem by T. S. Eliot published in 1922. It has been called "one of the most important poems of the 20th century." Despite the poem's obscurity—its shifts between satire and prophecy, its abrupt and unannounced changes of speaker, location and time, its...

, which mentions the Fisher King
Fisher King
The Fisher King, or the Wounded King, figures in Arthurian legend as the latest in a line charged with keeping the Holy Grail. Versions of his story vary widely, but he is always wounded in the legs or groin, and incapable of moving on his own...

.

Modern legend

In the latter half of the 20th century, the influence of the romance tradition of Arthur continued, through novels such as T. H. White
T. H. White
Terence Hanbury White was an English author best known for his sequence of Arthurian novels, The Once and Future King, first published together in 1958.-Biography:...

's The Once and Future King
The Once and Future King
The Once and Future King is an Arthurian fantasy novel written by T. H. White. It was first published in 1958 and is mostly a composite of earlier works written in a period between 1938 and 1941....

 (1958) and Marion Zimmer Bradley
Marion Zimmer Bradley
Marion Eleanor Zimmer Bradley was an American author of fantasy novels such as The Mists of Avalon and the Darkover series. Many critics have noted a feminist perspective in her writing. Her first child, David R...

's The Mists of Avalon
The Mists of Avalon
The Mists of Avalon is a 1983 novel by Marion Zimmer Bradley, in which she relates the Arthurian legends from the perspective of the female characters.-Plot introduction:...

 (1982) in addition to comic strips such as Prince Valiant
Prince Valiant
Prince Valiant in the Days of King Arthur, or simply Prince Valiant, is a long-run comic strip created by Hal Foster in 1937. It is an epic adventure that has told a continuous story during its entire history, and the full stretch of that story now totals more than 3700 Sunday strips...

 (from 1937 onward). Tennyson had reworked the romance tales of Arthur to suit and comment upon the issues of his day, and the same is often the case with modern treatments too. Bradley's tale, for example, takes a feminist approach to Arthur and his legend, in contrast to the narratives of Arthur found in medieval materials, and American authors often rework the story of Arthur to be more consistent with values such as equality and democracy. The romance Arthur has become popular in film and theatre as well. T. H. White's novel was adapted into the Lerner
Alan Jay Lerner
Alan Jay Lerner was an American lyricist and librettist. In collaboration with Frederick Loewe, he created some of the world's most popular and enduring works of musical theatre for both the stage and on film...

-Loewe stage musical Camelot
Camelot (musical)
Camelot is a musical by Alan Jay Lerner and Frederick Loewe . It is based on the King Arthur legend as adapted from the T. H. White tetralogy novel The Once and Future King....

 (1960) and the Disney
The Walt Disney Company
The Walt Disney Company is the largest media conglomerate in the world in terms of revenue. Founded on October 16, 1923, by Walt and Roy Disney as the Disney Brothers Cartoon Studio, Walt Disney Productions established itself as a leader in the American animation industry before diversifying into...

 animated film The Sword in the Stone
The Sword in the Stone (film)
The Sword in the Stone is a 1963 American animated fantasy comedy film produced by Walt Disney and originally released to theaters on December 25, 1963...

 (1963); Camelot itself, with its focus on the love of Lancelot and Guinevere and the cuckolding of Arthur, was itself made into a film of the same name
Camelot (film)
Camelot is a 1967 film adaptation of the musical of the same name. Richard Harris stars as Arthur, Vanessa Redgrave as Guinevere, and Franco Nero as Lancelot. The film was directed by Joshua Logan.-Plot:...

 in 1967. The romance tradition of Arthur is particularly evident and, according to critics, successfully handled in Robert Bresson
Robert Bresson
-Life and career:Bresson was born at Bromont-Lamothe, Puy-de-Dôme, the son of Marie-Élisabeth and Léon Bresson. Little is known of his early life and the year of his birth, 1901 or 1907, varies depending on the source. He was educated at Lycée Lakanal in Sceaux, Hauts-de-Seine, close to Paris, and...

's Lancelot du Lac
Lancelot du Lac (film)
Lancelot du Lac is 1974 film that was written and directed by Robert Bresson. It relates the story of Lancelot and Guinevere's love as Camelot and the Round Table fall apart...

 (1974), Eric Rohmer
Éric Rohmer
Éric Rohmer was a French film director, film critic, journalist, novelist, screenwriter and teacher. A figure in the post-war New Wave cinema, he was a former editor of Cahiers du cinéma....

's Perceval le Gallois
Perceval le Gallois
Perceval le Gallois is a 1978 French film directed by Éric Rohmer. It was inspired by Chrétien de Troyes's 12th century Arthurian romance Perceval, the Story of the Grail.-Synopsis:...

 (1978) and perhaps John Boorman
John Boorman
John Boorman is a British filmmaker who is a long time resident of Ireland and is best known for his feature films such as Point Blank, Deliverance, Zardoz, Excalibur, The Emerald Forest, Hope and Glory, The General and The Tailor of Panama.-Early life:Boorman was born in Shepperton, Surrey,...

's fantasy film Excalibur
Excalibur (film)
Excalibur is a 1981 dramatic fantasy film directed, produced and co-written by John Boorman that retells the legend of King Arthur and the knights of the Round Table. Adapted from the 15th century Arthurian romance, Le Morte d'Arthur by Thomas Malory, Excalibur features the music of Richard Wagner...

 (1981); it is also the main source of the material utilised in the Arthurian spoof Monty Python and the Holy Grail
Monty Python and the Holy Grail
Monty Python and the Holy Grail is a 1974 British comedy film written and performed by the comedy group Monty Python , and directed by Gilliam and Jones...

 (1975).

Re-tellings and re-imaginings of the romance tradition are not the only important aspect of the modern legend of King Arthur. Attempts to portray Arthur as a genuine historical figure of c. 500 AD, stripping away the "romance", have also emerged. As Taylor and Brewer have noted, this return to the medieval "chronicle tradition"' of Geoffrey of Monmouth
Geoffrey of Monmouth
Geoffrey of Monmouth was a cleric and one of the major figures in the development of British historiography and the popularity of tales of King Arthur...

 and the Historia Brittonum is a recent trend which became dominant in Arthurian literature in the years following the outbreak of the Second World War, when Arthur's legendary resistance to Germanic invaders struck a chord in Britain. Clemence Dane
Clemence Dane
Clemence Dane was the pseudonym of Winifred Ashton , an English novelist and playwright.-Life and career:...

's series of radio plays, The Saviours (1942), used a historical Arthur to embody the spirit of heroic resistance against desperate odds, and Robert Sherriff's
R. C. Sherriff
-External links:**...

 play The Long Sunset (1955) saw Arthur rallying Romano-British resistance against the Germanic invaders. This trend towards placing Arthur in a historical setting is also apparent in historical
Historical novel
According to Encyclopædia Britannica, a historical novel is-Development:An early example of historical prose fiction is Luó Guànzhōng's 14th century Romance of the Three Kingdoms, which covers one of the most important periods of Chinese history and left a lasting impact on Chinese culture.The...

 and fantasy novels
Fantasy literature
Fantasy literature is fantasy in written form. Historically speaking, literature has composed the majority of fantasy works. Since the 1950s however, a growing segment of the fantasy genre has taken the form of films, television programs, graphic novels, video games, music, painting, and other...

 published during this period. In recent years the portrayal of Arthur as a real hero of the 5th century has also made its way into film versions of the Arthurian legend, most notably the TV series Arthur of the Britons
Arthur of the Britons
Arthur of the Britons is a British television show about the historical King Arthur. Produced by the HTV regional franchise, it consisted of two series, released between 1972 and 1973...

 and the feature films King Arthur
King Arthur (film)
King Arthur is a 2004 film directed by Antoine Fuqua and written by David Franzoni. It stars Clive Owen as the title character, Ioan Gruffudd as Lancelot, and Keira Knightley as Guinevere....

 (2004) and The Last Legion
The Last Legion
The Last Legion is a 2007 film directed by Doug Lefler. Produced by Dino De Laurentiis and others, it is based on a 2003 Italian novel of the same name written by Valerio Massimo Manfredi...

 (2007). The 2008 BBC series Merlin
Merlin (TV series)
Merlin is a British fantasy-adventure television programme by Julian Jones, Jake Michie, Julian Murphy and Johnny Capps. It began broadcasting on BBC One on 20 September 2008. The show is based on the Arthurian legends of the wizard Merlin and his relationship with Prince Arthur but differs from...

 is a reimagining of the legend in which the future King Arthur and Merlin are young contemporaries. Camelot
Camelot (TV series)
Camelot is a historical-fantasy-drama television series which premiered on April 1, 2011. It was co-produced by the Starz cable network and GK-TV which began production during the summer of 2010...

 (2011) is an exclusive short series of episodes which depict Arthur in ancient Briton and his struggle for the throne. Also, a recent Disney film, Avalon High
Avalon High (film)
Avalon High is a 2010 Disney Channel Original Movie starring Britt Robertson, Gregg Sulkin, Joey Pollari and Devon Graye. The movie is based on the book of the same name by Meg Cabot...

 has been released, the story about a modern day King Arthur and his knights of the round table.

Legacy as a role model

During the Middle Ages, Arthur was made a member of the Nine Worthies
Nine Worthies
The Nine Worthies are nine historical, scriptural and legendary personages who personify the ideals of chivalry as were established in the Middle Ages. All are commonly referred to as 'Princes' in their own right, despite whatever true titles each man may have held...

, a group of heroes encapsulating all the ideal qualities of chivalry
Chivalry
Chivalry is a term related to the medieval institution of knighthood which has an aristocratic military origin of individual training and service to others. Chivalry was also the term used to refer to a group of mounted men-at-arms as well as to martial valour...

. His life was thus proposed as a valuable subject for study by those aspiring to chivalric status. This aspect of Arthur in the Nine Worthies was popularised firstly through literature and was thereafter adopted as a frequent subject by painters and sculptors. Arthur has also been used as a model for modern-day behaviour. In the 1930s, the Order of the Fellowship of the Knights of the Round Table was formed in Britain to promote Christian ideals and Arthurian notions of medieval chivalry. In the United States, hundreds of thousands of boys and girls joined Arthurian youth groups, such as the Knights of King Arthur, in which Arthur and his legends were promoted as wholesome exemplars.

Legacy in popular culture

Arthur's diffusion within contemporary culture goes beyond obviously Arthurian endeavours, with Arthurian names being regularly attached to objects, buildings and places. As Norris J. Lacy has observed, "The popular notion of Arthur appears to be limited, not surprisingly, to a few motifs and names, but there can be no doubt of the extent to which a legend born many centuries ago is profoundly embedded in modern culture at every level."

See also

  • Historical basis for King Arthur
    Historical basis for King Arthur
    The historical basis of King Arthur is a source of considerable debate among historians. The first datable mention of King Arthur in a historical context comes from a Latin text of the 9th century - more than three centuries after his supposed floruit in 5th to early 6th century Sub-Roman Britain...

  • King Arthur's family
    King Arthur's family
    King Arthur's family grew throughout the centuries with King Arthur's legend. Several of the legendary members of this mythical king's family became leading characters of mythical tales in their own right.-Welsh literature:...

  • King Arthur's messianic return
    King Arthur's messianic return
    King Arthur's messianic return is an aspect of the legend of King Arthur, the mythical 6th-century British king. Few historical records of Arthur remain, and there are doubts that he ever existed, but he achieved a mythological stature that gave rise to a growing literature about his life and deeds...

  • King Arthur's weapons
    Excalibur
    Excalibur is the legendary sword of King Arthur, sometimes attributed with magical powers or associated with the rightful sovereignty of Great Britain. Sometimes Excalibur and the Sword in the Stone are said to be the same weapon, but in most versions they are considered separate. The sword was...

  • List of Arthurian characters
  • List of books about King Arthur
  • List of films based on Arthurian legend
  • Nine Worthies
    Nine Worthies
    The Nine Worthies are nine historical, scriptural and legendary personages who personify the ideals of chivalry as were established in the Middle Ages. All are commonly referred to as 'Princes' in their own right, despite whatever true titles each man may have held...

    , of which Arthur was one

External links

. An excellent site detailing Welsh Arthurian folklore.. A detailed and comprehensive academic site, which includes numerous scholarly articles, from Thomas Green of Oxford University.. The only academic journal solely concerned with the Arthurian Legend; a good selection of resources and links.. Provides texts and translations (of varying quality) of Welsh medieval sources, many of which mention Arthur.. An interesting collection of articles on King Arthur by various Arthurian enthusiasts... Provides valuable bibliographies and freely downloadable versions of Arthurian texts.. An online peer-reviewed journal that includes regular Arthurian articles; see especially the first issue.
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    • Heroes Every Child Should Know: King Arthur

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    • "Arthur and Gorlagon", translated by Frank A. Milne, notes by Alfred Nutt
      Alfred Nutt
      Alfred Trübner Nutt was a British publisher, now best known for his writing as folklorist and Celticist.-Biography:...

      . Folk-Lore. Volume 15, 1904.
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