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Arthur Pendragon (King Arthur)

Updated on December 1, 2016

Arthur was a legendary king of Britain during the Dark Ages of the A.D. 600's. The story of King Arthur and his Knights of the Round Table was popular in several western European countries in the early Middle Ages. It inspired some of the greatest literature of the period. In this literature, Arthur and his knights represent the medieval ideal of knightly chivalry — that is, bravery and courtesy. According to legend, Arthur was the son of Uther Pendragon, king of Britain. He was brought up secretly, and after his father's death, nobody knew who the king should be. Arthur won recognition as king of Britain when he pulled a sword out of a stone where it had been embedded. Merlin, the court magician, then revealed Arthur's true identity.

Reigning in his court at Camelot, Arthur proved himself to be a noble king and a great warrior. He owned a miraculous sword named Excalibur, given to him by the mysterious Lady of the Lake. Together with his knights, Arthur held court at the Round Table. He chose a round table so that his knights could not quarrel about who should sit at the head.

Arthur had several enemies. Among them were his half-sister, Morgan le Fay, and Mordred, his nephew. Morgan le Fay was an evil sorceress and schemed to win Arthur's throne for herself and her lover. Mordred seized Arthur's throne while the king was absent. Later, in a battle, Arthur killed him, but was fatally wounded himself. Arthur's body was then carried away to the magical island of Avalon. His people thought that one day he would return to rule over them again.

Two of Arthur's greatest knights were Sir Tristran and Sir Lancelot. Both of them were involved in tragic love affairs. Tristran fell in love with Isolde, who was betrothed to his uncle, King Mark. Sir Lancelot fell in love with Arthur's queen, Guinevere.

The legends about King Arthur are believed to have originated among the Celtic peoples of Wales and Ireland. By the 1100's, the legends had developed into a varied literature. One of the greatest medieval works about Arthur was Sir Thomas Malory's Morte d'Arthur (Death of Arthur) written in the 1400's.


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