Home > Future Foretold > Arthur: Britain's Once and Future King

Arthur: Britain's Once and Future King

By: Paul Geraghty - Updated: 18 Aug 2010 | comments*Discuss
 
King Arthur Merlin Tintagel Ambrosius

The most obvious question in relation to King Arthur is whether or not he existed at all. Historians continue to debate this topic fiercely and there is no general consensus on the point. There are precious few references to Arthur in documents from the time in which he is believed to have lived or even in the centuries afterwards. There is a reference to King Arthur in the Annales Cambriae which describes him triumphing against the Saxons at the battle of Badon in 516 A.D. It is not clear exactly when the Annales Cambriae was written however, and some scholars believe the reference to Arthur was not contemporaneous but may have been inserted some time (possibly hundreds of years) afterwards. Another reference to Arthur occurs in the Historia Brittonum which describes twelve battles in which Arthur prevailed. The Historia Brittonum was not written until 830, however, and the work is known to blend history and myth together shamelessly so it cannot be regarded as solid proof of Arthur’s existence.

References to Arthur are also found in Welsh bardic literature. In this he is portrayed as a mythical figure, who wields magic swords and does battle against werewolves and other fabulous creatures.

Some scholars believe that the deeds of the British King Ambrosius Aurelianus formed the historical basis for the Arthur story. According to Gildas’s De Exciddio Britanniae, it was indeed Ambrosius who prevailed at the battle of Badon, providing a substantive link with the references to Arthur elsewhere.

It is possible that the Arthurian canon, as we have it today, emerged from the grafting of the real history of Ambrosius Aurelianus doing battle with the Saxons onto the traditions of Welsh mythology.

Arthur the Myth

The breakthrough moment for the legend of Arthur came with the publication of Geoffrey of Monmouth’s History of the Kings of Britain in the 11th century. Geoffrey was Welsh and had absorbed the stories of Arthur from Welsh literature. His own work was written Latin, so he was able to disseminate the legend to a broader European audience. The story of Arthur proved a hit on the continent and during the Middle Ages underwent much elaboration at the hands of French poets such as Chrétien de Troyes.

Before the modern period, the last definitive statement of the Arthurian mythos came with Thomas Malory’s Le Morte D’Arthur in 1470, written while its author was in prison! It is Malory’s version of the tale which formed the basis for Tennyson’s treatment of it in the late nineteenth century, and T.H. White’s series of novels, The Once and Future King, which appeared in the mid 20th century and have largely shaped the modern cinematic interpretations of the story.

The Return of the King

One of the most intriguing aspects of Arthurian legend is the notion that the King will one day return and reign again. The Welsh tales of Arthur mentioned that his grave could not be found. Geoffrey of Monmouth does not describe Arthur’s death. He says only that he was mortally wounded in battle with his son Mordred, then sailed away to the mystical island of Avalon to be cured of his wounds. Thomas Malory, in Le Morte D’Arthur, follows in the Monmouth tradition though he also describes a tombstone, believed to be that of Arthur, on which the following inscription appears : “Hic jacet Arthurus, Rex quondam, Rexque futurus." Translated into English, this means “Here lies Arthur, former king, and future king.” This gave rise to the notion that Arthur will one day return in Britain’s hour of need, making him The Once and Future King.

You might also like...
Share Your Story, Join the Discussion or Seek Advice..
Why not be the first to leave a comment for discussion, ask for advice or share your story...

If you'd like to ask a question one of our experts (workload permitting) or a helpful reader hopefully can help you... We also love comments and interesting stories

Title:
(never shown)
Firstname:
(never shown)
Surname:
(never shown)
Email:
(never shown)
Nickname:
(shown)
Comment:
Validate:
Enter word:
Topics
Latest Comments
  • Ange
    Re: Signs that Your House is Haunted
    So yesterday morning I found a random handmade necklace on my living room floor. I’ve never seen it before, I have no clue…
    18 November 2019
  • Ange
    Re: Signs that Your House is Haunted
    So yesterday morning I found a random handmade necklace on my living room floor. I’ve never seen it before, I have no clue…
    18 November 2019
  • BigJ
    Re: Signs that Your House is Haunted
    My mother in law passed away in 2010 so my wife kept a few of her mums stuff, one of which is a small clock that will only…
    13 November 2019
  • Glory
    Re: Signs that Your House is Haunted
    Things are turning on and off in our house by themselves. The Tv lights in my kitchen. If I turn on at night, there off in…
    12 November 2019
  • Jaek
    Re: Signs that Your House is Haunted
    I don’t even know why I’m writing this but something happened this morning im just not sure of. As I sat down for a morning…
    8 November 2019
  • greta
    Re: Signs that Your House is Haunted
    I've been living here for 1 and a half yrs now (rented house in England). I once got into a fight with my mother and usually…
    1 November 2019
  • Ebby
    Re: What to do if You Think You Have a Poltergeist
    Just bought a single bed for MY daughter new bed cheap price...I slept in it cause she was in MY bed about…
    9 October 2019
  • Believer and excepte
    Re: Signs that Your House is Haunted
    I have always been surrounded by spirits and this is known in my family. It's something that has been for conversation and…
    6 October 2019
  • Lyssy
    Re: Signs that Your House is Haunted
    Hi! I am Lyssy. This is my story about having a haunted house. When I was eight I was with my mom lots of stuff moved onto…
    28 September 2019
  • Lisaloo
    Re: Signs that Your House is Haunted
    Hi we have moved 18 months ago into a house which we bought off my husband's parents who have emigrated. We have extended it…
    24 September 2019