King Arthur

   Semilegendary hero and king of the Britons who defended England from Anglo-Saxon invaders in the fifth or sixth century and who traditionally fought twelve battles, including the great Battle of Badon Hill (Mons Badonicus) in 516. The legendary figure of Arthur is possibly based on a historical person, who has been identified as one of a broad range of figures, including a professional mercenary, a late Roman military commander, a Welsh duke, and an Irish king in Scotland. He is best known, however, through the tales of romance composed on the basis of the old legends in the high and late Middle Ages by Geoffrey of Monmouth, Thomas Malory, and others that describe the adventures of Arthur and Merlin, Lancelot and Guinevere, and their home, the fabled Camelot.
   The origins of the legend can be found in the descriptions of invasion-era England by Gildas in the sixth century and Nennius in the ninth century, as well as in the comment of an anonymous early medieval Welsh poet who says of a certain warrior that he "was not Arthur." Although Gildas does not name his hero, he seldom does name names in his history, and he does describe the victory at Badon Hill and the brief recovery of the fortunes of the Britons after the battle-key elements in the later fame of Arthur. Nennius identifies his hero as Arthur and lists twelve battles, including Badon Hill and Camlann where Arthur died, that the great hero fought against invading Saxon armies. Although two of the battles have been located geographically and probably did occur, the other ten battles have not been located and may not have occurred, or least as Nennius described them. It is from these simple beginnings that the full-scale legend evolved in Welsh and later English sources. It was a legend of great popularity that, at the same time, made any English prince named Arthur suspect in the eyes of the ruling monarch.
   Some scholars claim to have identified Camelot, the most famous landmark of the legend of Arthur. As early as the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, Cadbury Castle in South Cadbury, Somerset, was recognized as Camelot. In the 1960s excavations discovered early fortifications that could be associated with a historical Arthur and also unearthed foundations of a church and numerous objects of everyday use of high quality. Although some scholars accept this as Arthur's castle, others reject it and argue that the documentary record of an active warrior does not support his association with the structures found at Cadbury.
   See also
   Bibliography
 ♦ Alcock, Leslie. Arthur's Britain: History and Archeology, a.d. 367-634. Harmondsworth, UK: Penguin, 1971.
 ♦ Barber, Richard. The Figure of Arthur. Totowa, NJ: Rowman and Littlefield, 1972.
 ♦ Geoffrey of Monmouth. The History of the Kings of Britain. Trans. Lewis Thorpe. Harmondsworth, UK: Penguin, 1996.
 ♦ Gildas. The Ruin of Britain and Other Works. Ed. and trans. Michael Winterbottom. London: Phillimore, 1978.
 ♦ Malory, Sir Thomas. Le Morte d'Arthur. Ed. Norma Lorre Goodrich. New York: Washington Square Press, 1966.

Encyclopedia of Barbarian Europe. 2014.

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