Legends of King Arthur and the knights of the round table have persisted throughout the centuries, informing various works of fiction through the modern era. The tales of adventure, sacrifice, whimsy, and romance have remained influential and admired for roughly a millennia. There is plenty of debate regarding the historical authenticity of the legends as well as the period in which the legendary king lived, but what cannot be denied is how significant the tales have been for literature, art, and society.
Geoffrey of Monmouth
Known as one of the most prolific authors of an Arthurian tale, Geoffrey of Monmouth provided one of the first accounts of King Arthur’s exploits, detailed in an extensive chapter of a book on British kings which he began writing in 1136. The legendary figure of Arthur had existed in prior accounts, but Geoffrey was the first to depict him as a king of Britain’s past. In his book, Geoffrey included Arthur under the claim that he had found a secret manuscript describing the life and death of the fabled hero, but he gave no one but himself access to the documents, leading to accusations and widespread beliefs that Geoffrey’s Arthurian chapter is mostly myth.
Doubting Other Historical Accounts
Since the first alleged records of Arthur’s adventures surfaced, there have been innumerable recollections and retellings of the legends, each taking liberties and deviating from the literary canon that had been previously established. The conflicted nature of these individual stories have led to the belief that none of them are in fact true.
One example of this comes from the account of Nennius, a Welsh historian, who drew from poetry and recounted the details of twelve of Arthur’s battles that were depicted therein. While the source material could immediately cause suspicion regarding the validity of these accounts, the details of the battles themselves cast similar doubt. The dates and locations of these battles were both erratic and conflicting, rendering it impossible for one individual to have participated in all of them.
Arturius, Son of Aidan
In seeking the truth of the matter, historians sought a suitable, verified historical figure who could align with the proposed life of King Arthur. The most promising individual to date is Arturius, a son of the Scottish king Aidan. Aside from the obviously similar names, Arturius and Arthur were both princes who fought in wars against the Saxons; as it has been estimated Arthur lived and died in the fifth and sixth centuries, the timelines do seem to align.
Whether the Arthur of legend was a real historical figure will likely remain a mystery. However, the influence of the myths surrounding this individual, regardless of his true identity, remains prevalent to this day.
Jorge J. Perez is an attorney in South Florida. He is a self-professed history buff. Visit JorgeJPerez.net often to learn more.