We love a good legend here in Wales and are proud to claim King Arthur as our own – though we don’t mind sharing him with our neighbours in the West Country!
The “real” base of the legend - deduced from documentation and archaeology -is a 5th century warrior chief who protected his Celtic people from the Saxon invaders in the lawless years after the Romans left Britain in the 5th century.
Arthur was first mentioned as a warrior in a history written by a welsh monk in 830AD. Other earlier Welsh literature talks about the King Arthur, but the actual surviving documents date from the time after the legend was firmly established.
Arthurian legend idealises a past with a society based on loyalty, honour and trust. So it’s no surprise that adding to the myth has suited everyone from medieval monarchs to post-Kennedy politicians. From early bards through the Romantic Poets to Mark Twain; from pre-Raphaelite painters to modern Hollywood and Monty Python – everyone has written their little bit.
Geoffrey of Monmouth (1136) started it all off detailing Arthur’s birth, childhood, ascension to the throne, military conquests, and death. French authors in the late 12th century added the chivalry bits involving Lancelot and his affair with Guinevere, Excalibur (the sword), The Holy Grail, Camelot, and the Round Table. Thomas Malory carried on the embroidery in the 15th Century, as did Tennyson in the 19th Century.
What's What & Who's Who
Objects include Excalibur and the magical goblet of the Holy Grail and mythical places include the idyllic town of Camelot and the isle of Avalon where Arthur went to die. Everyone knows the major characters - Guinevere, Lancelot, Merlin but it might be helpful to have a guide to more minor characters linked with welsh sites:
- Uther Pendragon, (Chief Dragon) was Arthur’s father. Uther Pendragon was brother to Ambrosius and they were sons of Constantine a Romanised king of Britain.
- Vortigern could have ruled Britain during 400s having grabbed the British throne from Constantine. He was demonised as the Celtic king who invited the Saxons in to rid Wales of the Irish – of course they never went back home again!
- Huail, an early twelfth century account has King Arthur wounded in the thigh in a fight over a lady.
- The Lady of the Lake originally gave King Arthur Excalibur and then took it back when the knight, Sir Bedivere threw it back into the lake.