King Arthur - Legend or Historical Accuracy?

Statue of King Arthur by Albrect Durer in Innsbruck, Austria.
Statue of King Arthur by Albrect Durer in Innsbruck, Austria. | Source
Sketch of good King Arthur.
Sketch of good King Arthur. | Source
The wizard Merlin on the left.
The wizard Merlin on the left. | Source

Romantic Chivalry

I am so enamored of castles in Germany, fairy tales, and charming little German villages that it is not a large leap to tell you I adore the Romantic Age of Chilvary, which actually began with the stories of King Arthur and Camelot.

So, when studying British literature in college, I so enjoyed reading and discussing Morte d'Arthur written by Sir Thomas Malory and, of course, my education would not be complete without reading Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, in which King Arthur plays a part. I could daydream for hours of the medieval days of chivalry and the good King Arthur, naturally, was the ultimate hero. He was very British, very handsome, very strong, and very just. He created the Knights of the Round Table, and ruled with an honest and just hand as he ruled his British subjects, all in the 5th and 6th centuries A.D. But, could this ideal image in my daydreams be real? Is there any historical evidence that King Arthur really did exist?

King Arthur's historical existence has been debated and disputed by modern historians over the years. Most believe him to be a folklore and literary invention. King Arthur has always been credited with leading a defense of Britain against the Saxon invaders in the early 6th century. Well, if King Arthur really doesn't exist, then who did ultimately run the Saxons out of England?

We first hear of King Arthur inGeoffrey of Monmouth's, Historia Regum Brittanniae, (History of the Kings of Britain) around the 1130's A.D. This is the earliest of written records recording the Kings of England, and is used as the definitive source of information on this topic. No one canonical written version of King Arthur exists, but Geoffrey definitely depicted Arthur as king of Britain who defeated the Saxons and established an empire over Britain, Ireland, Iceland, Norway and Gaul.

Many elements and incidents that are part of the Arthurian lore appear in his Historia. These include the following people or characters surrounding King Arthur. Mentioned in the Historia are Uther Pendragon, Arthur's father; Merlin, the wizard who mentored and protected Arthur; Guinevere, Arthur's wife and Queen; Excalibur, the name given to Arthur's sword; Tintagel, where Arthur was conceived; Mordred, Arthur's mortal enemy and who Arthur had his last battle against; and Avalon, the final resting place of King Arthur. According to Geoffrey's tome, these are facts about King Arthur.

Also, in the 12th century, a French writer, Chietien de Troyes, added Lancelot and the Holy Grail to the story, as well as the Knights of the Round Table. De Troyes began the genre of the Arthurian story and romance that became so popular in medieval literature. Now, which part of the King Arthur story was fact and which part romantic exaggeration?

Arthurian literature and the story thrived during the medieval period and then waned. There was a resurgence of the King Arthur story in the 19th century and now in the 21st century the legend lives on. But is the story just a legend?


The Annales Canmbriae in which King Arthur is written as a genuine historical figure.
The Annales Canmbriae in which King Arthur is written as a genuine historical figure. | Source

Historical Basis for King Arthur

In the 9th century A.D. there were two historical records written that see Arthur as a genuine historical figure, a Romano-British Ruler over the Britons. The Historia Brittonum (History of the Britons) is a Latin text. And, Annales Cambriaeis a Welsh Annals text. King Arthur is mentioned in both as a true, living ruler of Britain. Both texts list twelve battles Arthur fought during his lifetime, and specifically describe the Battle of Mount Badon, in which he took part. (516-518 A.D.) Both texts also describe the Battle of Camlann in which both Arthur and Mordred are killed. (537-539 A.D.)

Arthur has NOT been mentioned in other early records of British kings, such as the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle (400-820 A.D.) or the Ecclesiastical History of the English People (8th century). Lack of convincing evidence in these two texts are why historians today believe Arthur is just a legend.

What about archaeological findings? Archeology has only revealed names connected with the Arthurian legend only through inscriptions found in secure contexts. The bones of King Arthur or anyone connected with him have never been discovered. In 1998, an inscription describing Arthur was found among the ruins at Tintagel Castle in Cornwall dating back to the 6th century. But, nothing definitive of Arthur has been found here. A Glastonbury Cross was dug up with inscriptional evidence of Arthur, but today it is believed by modern historians to be a forgery.

The King Arthur legend is so ephemeral. In my romantic dreams. King Arthur, Queen Guinevere, Lancelot and the Kings of the Round Table do exist - I want to believe they were real human beings - perhaps that is why I enjoy the story of King Arthur so much. King Arthur is suppose to have given us our democratic ideas and ideals of justice that we practice today. Could what we believe today be just a legend, a fabulous bedtime story we heard as children? I like to believe King Arthur is real and did exist so many years ago in Britain. I like to believe the shining light of Camelot really did exist. Once, there was a good and pure time, and once there was a good and pure city.

King Arthur's last battle and death at the hands of Mordred.
King Arthur's last battle and death at the hands of Mordred. | Source

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Comments 22 comments

Nell Rose profile image

Nell Rose 4 years ago from England

Hi, suzette, this is brilliant! I love our King Arthur and you added a few things that I didn't know. I do remember them finding a piece of slate with Arturo written on it as you say, and I think they believe its genuine. My opinion is that he was real, but more of a warlord king, or just a king of a certain region. back then there were kings dotted all around England, and maybe he was just one of those, and thats why he wasn't in some of the literature at the time. taking away all the romantic side of the story I do believe he was a great king and united the countries, hopefully one of these days they will find definite proof, rated and shared! cheers nell


suzettenaples profile image

suzettenaples 4 years ago from Taos, NM Author

Thanks Nell! I have always been fascinated by the King Arthur story so this was really a labor of love for me. I hope that someday difinitive proof will be found that he really did live. I think it is a pretty good chance that he was a real king too, as you say, maybe of just a region or part or England. Thank you for your support!


Cagsil profile image

Cagsil 4 years ago from USA or America

Hey Suzette, a very nice read. I like the story about King Arthur and always have. Do I believe it? I am on the side that I don't need to believe it. I read a little bit about King Arthur and aside from the religious aspects, it's a nice ideology. I haven't done the digging to see what I could find to proven King Arthur was real and I'm glad that you did. I'm sure you learned a lot. It shows. :) Voted up! :)


Curiad profile image

Curiad 4 years ago from Lake Charles, LA.

This is an awesome Hub! You wrote it very well and filled it with a great amount of information!

Voted Up!


Hyphenbird profile image

Hyphenbird 4 years ago from America-Broken But Still Beautiful

For once I where off you spoke! The days and legends of King Arthur and the people surrounding him have always fascinated me too. So I have studied anything I can get my hands on. You wrote this very well Suzette. It makes me feel excited to recall these days of daring chivalry and valor.


Movie Master profile image

Movie Master 4 years ago from United Kingdom

Hi suzette, I find the stories of King Arthur fascinating, I didn't know that Merlin was his father!

Well written article, really enjoyed reading and voted up.

Best wishes Lesley


suzettenaples profile image

suzettenaples 4 years ago from Taos, NM Author

Cagsil, you are sooo cool! You are just you in this world. You don't need fairytales, God, or too much to believe in in this world. You just believe in you in this world. I just havent' reached that enlighted level yet. Someday . . . LOL. I am such a romantic at heart it is probably sickening, but oh, well, I guess I haven't figured out the simplicity yet. I have always been fascinated by King Arthur and have always wondered if he could be real. I don't lose sleep over this, but it is fun to think of times back when. Thanks for stopping by and reading and commenting. I always enjoy your input.


suzettenaples profile image

suzettenaples 4 years ago from Taos, NM Author

Curiad: Thank you for taking the time to read this. This was fun to research and write. I just love the literature from that period and all the lore that goes with it. Thanks for stopping by.


suzettenaples profile image

suzettenaples 4 years ago from Taos, NM Author

Hi Hyphen: I am such a romantic daydreamer that like you I am always reading anything I can get my hands on about King Arthur. Although, I do realize that shining white knights on horses do not exist and never will. But, the chivalry code of that time has always interested me. Past times always look better in nostalgia.


suzettenaples profile image

suzettenaples 4 years ago from Taos, NM Author

Hi Lesley: Thank you and your comments mean alot coming from a Brit! Merlin was the wizard, I think Uther Pendragon was his father - maybe how I worded it was confusing. But, thanks for stopping by and reading.


Alastar Packer profile image

Alastar Packer 4 years ago from North Carolina

Suzette this is an awesome article on King Arthur, you've really done some excellent research and presented it so well. I believe there was a King Arthur and the legend has some basis in fact. I also believe there is alot more behind the story than what has come down to us. I won't tell you who I think Merlin really was but you can imagine from some of my interests lol.


suzettenaples profile image

suzettenaples 4 years ago from Taos, NM Author

Alastar: Thank you so much! Your comments mean so much to me because of the great historian you are. King Arthur is just something I have always been interested in and of course the romantic in me loves the love story part. LOL. Do tell . . . who do you really think Merlin was? I have always accepted the conventional story he was a wizard and helped and protected Arthur from childhood. Now, I don't really believe in wizards, but I think he was someone interested in magic, the occult, or pagan rituals of some kind. Now, you have me pondering and wondering about Merlin. I'll have to do some more research. Thanks for stopping by!


Alastar Packer profile image

Alastar Packer 4 years ago from North Carolina

Now, now, Suzette, a magician historian should never give away their secrets lol. However, seeing it's such an eminent King Arthur fan and researcher such as yourself I will say this. Your intuition is on good ground as concerns the mighty Merlin, why, a man like that might have connections all over the space, er, I mean place. Always a pleasure over your way my friend!


suzettenaples profile image

suzettenaples 4 years ago from Taos, NM Author

Alastar, you are a riot! After reading your shape-shifter hub, Merlin could be anything or anybody. Who knows? HMMMM and what about you?


JKenny profile image

JKenny 4 years ago from Birmingham, England

Hi Suzette, fascinating hub. I'd love to believe the King Arthur story, but I'm very skeptical, same as I'd love to believe in Robin Hood too. I do remember reading about a legend that if England were ever invaded, that the likes of King Arthur and Robin Hood would return to come to our aid, pretty cool eh?


Alastar Packer profile image

Alastar Packer 4 years ago from North Carolina

Only my hairdresser knows for sure!


suzettenaples profile image

suzettenaples 4 years ago from Taos, NM Author

JKenny: Yes, very cool. I think they came out during WWII - the British never, never give up. That's what I like about them. They never surrender! Robin Hood, from what I have read, was suppose to be

Sir Robin of Lochslee, a real person. But, like King Arthur there is much scepticism. I love romanticism.


suzettenaples profile image

suzettenaples 4 years ago from Taos, NM Author

Good answer, Alastar!


Richawriter profile image

Richawriter 4 years ago from On Top of the World

A very nice, well written hub here on one of my favorite topics - History!

Like you, I'm also a hopeless romantic, both in love 'and' in day dreams such as this Arthurian legend you have so beautifully described here.

I want it to be true so much so, that it IS true. There is no evidence to concretely justify our belief in it but wonderfully, there is no evidence to disprove it either! Therefore, let's continue to do what hsps do best - dream and imagine the best most admirable, honorable people came before us to chisel yet more steps for mankind to ascend.

I LOVE the movie - Excalibur - have you seen it? Take a look herehttp://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UMJPhXrTotw if not. Truly inspiring, touching movie. Makes my hairs stand on end just thinking of it! haha

Peace.


suzettenaples profile image

suzettenaples 4 years ago from Taos, NM Author

Yes, I have seen Excalibur - I didn't even think of it as I was writing this article. Thank you! I'm so glad you enjoyed this piece and King Arthur. It is nice to have a legend to look up to - ah , those days of chivalry, knights, kings, queens, and damsels in distress! lol. In reality is was a tough time to live - but we love our romantic stories. Thanks so much for stopping by to read!


Lee Cloak 21 months ago

Great history hub, very well written and very interesting, thanks!


suzettenaples profile image

suzettenaples 21 months ago from Taos, NM Author

Lee: Thank you so much for stopping by to read this. The King Arthur legend is one of my favorite stories and I do hope one day it is proved he really did exist. Thanks for your interest.

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