Britain during the
time of the
legendary King Arthur
was a state in peril. Rome's ability to provide
protection, already in question, had been degraded in 402 CE when
Imperial troops were redeployed to the mainland by Flavius Stilicho
guardian of Emperor Honorius and de facto commander-in-chief of the
Empire's western armies.
The problems the island faced were
further compounded in 407 when Flavius Claudius Constantinus, Roman
general of what few legionaries remained, was declared Emperor of the
West (Constantine III) by his men, following which, garrison in tow, he
crossed to Europe where he was recognized as co-emperor by a weakened
and desperate Honorius (Stilicho having been murdered following the
mutiny of the loyalist Roman army). His rule was to be short lived,
however, and in 411 he was beheaded by his enemies.
Britain now virtually defenseless was open to invasion the province
fragmenting into pre-Roman kingdoms. Gildas, a contemporary British
cleric, states that a council was convened by Vortigern (Vortigen) a
fifth century warlord to plan for the island's defense and in keeping
with Roman tradition a decision was made to allow barbarians, in this
case Saxons, Angles and Jutes, to settle and help defend the civilized
south against the barbaric northern Picts. However, as is often the
case, even the best laid plans can go awry, and soon the supposed
allies, constantly demanding more land, proved to be worse neighbors
than those they were helping defend against. The Romano-British, after
some initial success at holding back the Germanic interlopers, were
pushed westward into Wales and Cornwall others fleeing to Brittany.
is Gildas in his “De Excidio Britanniae” (Concerning the Ruin of
Britain) who spoke of a military leader of Romano-British descent named
Ambrosius Aurelianus as the leader of British resistance (his dominance
occurring only a few years after Vortigern). Some medieval historians
(Nennius, a ninth century Welsh monk, in his “Historia Brittonum”
[History of the Britons] was the first to mention Arthur by name in a
heroic sense.) believed that if Arthur did exist he might have been
either the son of Aurelianus or perhaps even Aurelianus himself.
the legend surrounding King Arthur  is derived from not just one
source but from many each with slight variations on a common theme.
Other connected persons, places and objects are likewise embellishment
or exaggeration added over the centuries by any number of contributors:
sword Excalibur  is a case in point. In one version, taken from
Robert de Boron’s “Merlin,” a young Arthur obtained the sword by
pulling it from a crevice, in a stone, where it had been wedged years
earlier (his father Uther Pendragon, witnessed by Merlin, having
declared before he died that only a true king would be able to withdraw
it). A second version, favored by Sir Thomas Malory, sees Arthur
receiving the sword from the hand of the Lady of the Lake  after his
original sword Caliburn was broken in battle.
In his “Le Morte
D’Arthur” (The Death of Arthur) Malory has Arthur, severely wounded,
instruct Sir Bedivere to return the sword by casting it back into the
lake. When the knight reluctantly complies a hand rises from the water
grasps the sword and draws it beneath the surface. The wounded king is
then floated by barge down the river to Avalon from which it is alleged
he will return in time of need.
Camelot, later to become
Arthur’s celebrated seat of power, was first mentioned (briefly) in
Chrétien de Troyes’ poem “Lancelot, le Chevalier de la Charrette”
(Lancelot, the Knight of the Cart), though Chrétien, along with others
such as Geoffrey of Monmouth, a medieval cleric, in his
pseudo-historical, circa 1136 “Historia Regum Britanniae” (History of
the Kings of Britain) places Arthur’s chief court at Caerleon in Wales.
 It wasn’t until 1485 and “Le Morte D'Arthur” (based on thirteenth
century French romances) that Malory firmly entrenched Camelot (which
he identified with Winchester) in ascendancy.
recognized today is essentially the wizard depicted by Geoffrey of
Monmouth. He is based primarily on Myrddin Wyllt, a figure from Welsh
legend alleged to have lived in the mid sixth century and described as
a mad prophet living a miserable existence in the depths of the
forest, his time spent ruminating on his life prior to the passing of
King Gwenddoleu at the battle of Arfderydd. Later authors added
further ornamentation, his character becoming endowed with supernatural
powers, a grey beard, conical hat, long gown and scepter.
Knights of the Round Table were warriors (basically professional
soldiers) at King Arthur’s court ostensibly representing the highest
ideals of chivalry; twelve or more in number they met as equals around
a table designed with neither head nor foot. In later tales the table
said to be a wedding gift from Leodegrance, the king of Cameliard, to
Arthur, and created by Merlin, is instrumental in initiating the Grail
quest, while earlier stories depict its origins in different more
simple ways, the shape a response to squabbles concerning seating
arrangements or perhaps merely a reference to early Celtic custom in
which warriors attending their king sit in a circle.
is queen consort to King Arthur and daughter of King Leodegrance. In
the most popular version of the story it is her adulterous affair with
Lancelot, a Knight of the Round Table, which leads to Camelot’s
downfall and the death of Arthur.
Morgan Le Fay  (Morgana) is
a powereful enchantress in the Arthurian legend. Alternately healer
then antagonist to Arthur (in some accounts Arthur is a blood relation)
her role is one of constant change, from benevolent, one of the nine
magical sisters closely associated with Avalon, to adversarial, enemy
to Guinevere and the Round Table, to eventual reconciliation.
also known as the “Isle of Apples” is first mentioned in the “Historia
Regum Britanniae” as the magical island where Excalibur was forged and
Arthur was taken to be healed. Its purported location ranges from
Glastonbury, to Cornwall, to Sicily and beyond.
 Regions the
length and breadth of Britain have claimed a connection to the
Arthurian legend, perhaps the earliest full stories two Welsh tales
from the 11th century "Culhwch and Olwen" and the "Dream of Rhonabwy."
Geoffrey of Monmouth records Arthur to have been High King of Britain.
The Clan Campbell trace their lineage back to "Arthur ic Uibar"
(Arthur, son of Uther).
Excalibur has many names, from the Welsh Caledfwlch it was Latinized to
Caliburnus or Caliburn and then further altered to Excalibur, a
derivation drawn from the Latin phrase Ex calce liberatus, in English
"liberated from the stone." In some versions of the legend, Caliburn
and Excalibur are seperate swords.
 Many lakes such as Llyn
Llydaw, The Loe (Loe Pool), Dozmary Pool and Loch Arthur claim an
association with the Lady of the Lake.
 It was a characteristic of medieval kings to hold court in
different towns, cities and castles (with one predominant).
A fay, fae or fairy is a mythological being, human in appearance,
endowed with supernatural powers and known euphemistically as the wee,
fair or good folk.
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