The Legend





Ancient Britain


Arthur and Guinevere

Arthur is a semilegendary king of the Britons who fought against the invading Anglo-Saxons. Although some historians consider him a mythical figure, there is reason to believe that a historical Arthur may have led the long resistance of the Britons against the invaders.

According to the legend, Arthur was the son of Uther Pendragon, high king of Britain. He was kept in obscurity during his childhood, and was suddenly presented to the people as their king. He proved a wise and valiant ruler. He gathered a great company of knights in his court; problems of precedence were avoided by the use of a round table at gatherings (the also legendary Knights of the Round Table).

With his queen, Guinevere, he maintained a magnificent court at Caerleon-upon-Usk (perhaps this was the legendary Camelot) on the southern border of Wales, where the Britons maintained their hold for the longest time.

His wars and victories extended to the continent of Europe, where he successfully defied the forces of the Roman Empire until he was called home because of the acts of his nephew Mordred, who had rebelled and seized his kingdom. In the final battle of Camlan, in southwestern England, the king and the traitor both fell, pierced by each other's spears. Arthur was mysteriously carried away to the mythical island of Avalon to be healed of his "grievous wound."

The first allusion to Arthur is in the Welsh poem Y Gododdin (circa 600). He is again mentioned in Historia Britonum (c. 850) of the Welsh historian Nennius (flourished about 800); the Annales Cambriae, in a 10th-century manuscript, mentions him, giving 537 as the date of his death; and the fully developed legend appears in the Historia Regum Britanniae (c. 1139) of the English chronicler Geoffrey of Monmouth.

Guinevere (Welsh: Gwenhwyfar), is the wife of the semi-legendary King Arthur of Britain. She appears in the 12th-century Historia cycle of Arthurian romances by the English chronicler Geoffrey of Monmouth as Gwanhumara, a beautiful woman who became a nun after the defeat of King Arthur by Mordred. In the 12th century romance Le chevalier ŕ la charette (The Knight of the Cart), the French poet Chrétien de Troyes introduced the story of the tragic love affair between Guinevere and Sir Lancelot du Lac. The same story was treated by later English writers, notably by Sir Thomas Malory in Le morte d'Arthur (1485) and by Alfred, Lord Tennyson in Idylls of the King (1859-85).

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