King Arthur - Fact or Fiction?
The question that everyone asks - was King Arthur Fact or Fiction? Did the legendary King Arthur actually exist or were the stories surrounding King Arthur a figment of a writer's imagination? There is no real historical evidence about King Arthur. The Arthurian legends were based on the books written by the clerics of the Medieval era or the Middles Ages. The stories of many Welsh Celtic legends and Myths surrounding King Arthur provide the Welsh with a claim to the sovereignty of the whole kingdom of Britain. These legends and myths about "the one, true King of the Britons" were used by Kings of England to authenticate their claims to the both the Welsh and English thrones! King Edward I used these Arthurian legends and myths when he conquered Wales. Connections between Caernarvon, King Arthur, Merlin, Prophecies and even Stonehenge were made. The Tudors used the same ploy! These Kings of England used the legends of King Arthur to give them credibility. It was convenient for them to turn the legends and myths about King Arthur into hard facts!
The Sources of the Legend and Myths of King Arthur
The main source of information about King Arthur was written by a Welsh cleric called Geoffrey of Monmouth. In 1136 Geoffrey of Monmouth wrote a book called Historia Regum Britanniae - the History of the King's of Britain. Further credence was given to the stories about King Arthur by the 'Black Book of Caernarvon' (Welsh: Llyfr du Caerfyrddin). This book was written, in Welsh, in 1250 and contained stories and poems relating to the heroes of Britain in the Dark Ages including those connected with the legend of Arthur and Merlin. The Historia Brittonum by Nennius, the Annales Cambriae, the Chronicon Anglicanum and the Welsh Mabinogion also make references to the myths and legends of King Arthur. The later Kings of England turned these myths and legends to their advantage and Fiction was turned into Fact for political purposes!
Geoffrey of Monmouth and the legend of King Arthur
The Historia Regum Britanniae - the History of the King's of Britain detailed the old Kings and history dating from the Roman era and climaxing with the reign of King Arthur. The story of King Arthur was based on a prophecy - it was foretold that Arthur would become the 'one, true King' of the Britons. King Arthur was believed to have united all the people of Britannia under his leadership. The elements of the story included Magic, Prophecy, Druids, Merlin, Gallant Knights, Fair ladies, the Age of Chivalry and even the search for the Holy Grail. And this story had been written in the book by Geoffrey of Monmouth, the Historia Regum Britanniae - the History of the King's of Britain. The information detailed in the book was believed to have been an accurate record - Fact not Fiction!
Who was the real King Arthur?
The story of King Arthur was documented by Geoffrey of Monmouth. The story of the mythical King Arthur could, however, have been based on some factual elements. One candidate was Magnus Maximus, Prince Macsen, the Macsen Wledig of Welsh legend who was one of the greatest figures in Britain towards the end of the Roman Empire. General Magnus Clemens Maximus was a Celt. He was the uncle of the Welsh King, Coel Godhebog "the Magnificent" (Old King Cole of the Nursery Rhyme) by marriage. Coel Godhebog's daughter married Emperor Constantius Chlorus. The capital of the Roman Empire transferred from Rome to Constantinople in 330AD. We now have a connection between the Imperial Roman Emperors, the great city of Constantine and the Welsh Royal family. The base of Magnus Maximus, the Macsen Wledig of Welsh legend was Carmarthen see Caernarvon Castle and Welsh Mythology for more details .
Another candidate for the basis of the King Arthur myth may have been a supreme Roman Commander of Britain (the Dux Bellorum) in the late fifth century. This great military leader was called Ambrosius Aurelianus who was the second son of the Emperor Constantine. This Roman name could have been changed over the course of time to Artorius and then Arthur. Was this Roman commander the real King Arthur?
The Story of King Arthur and the Medieval 'Spin Doctors'
The story of King Arthur was clearly used by the Medieval 'Spin Doctors' to strengthen the claims of Medieval Kings to both the English and Welsh thrones. It is easy to see how much advantage and credibility could be gained by these Kings to connect their lineage to this magnificent hero of the past - the Great King Arthur - "the one, true King of the Britons"! These Medieval 'Spin Doctors' were absolute masters at this political game! The connections with these legends and myths provided the people with:
- Ancient Prophecies (fulfilled by the King of the moment!)
- Connections to the old Religions - Druids, magicians and wizards
- A link to the enigmatic Stonehenge
- Connections to the Roman Emperors
- A King whose rule was based on Honour, Honesty, Loyalty, Chivalry and Valour
- The one, true King of the Britons
- A romantic story of love, fair ladies, brave knights and triumphant battles
- Christianity, the crusades and the search for the Holy Grail
- And of course lineage to King Arthur and justification for their reign
The Legend of King Arthur
The legend of King Arthur lives on. We are just as enthralled by the stories of King Arthur, Magic, Prophecy, Merlin, Gallant Knights, Fair ladies, the Age of Chivalry and Camelot as were the people of the Medieval era, the Middle Ages. The Myth and Legend of King Arthur is so strong that we look in vain for reference to him in our list of Medieval Kings and Queens of England. Our knowledge of history has become confused because, despite the lack of historical evidence, we still want to believe that King Arthur actually existed.