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Although there are innumerable variations of the Arthurian legend, the basic story has remained the same. Arthur was the illegitimate son of Uther Pendragon, king of Britain, and Igraine, the wife of Gorlois of Cornwall. After the death of Uther, Arthur, who had been reared in secrecy, won acknowledgment as king of Britain by successfully withdrawing a sword from a stone.
Merlin, the court magician, then revealed the new king’s parentage. Arthur, reigning in his court at Camelot, proved to be a noble king and a mighty warrior. He was the possessor of the miraculous sword Excalibur, given to him by the mysterious Lady of the Lake. At Arthur’s death Sir Bedivere threw Excalibur into the lake; a hand rose from the water, caught the sword, and disappeared. Another sword, sometimes mistakenly identified with Excalibur, was drawn from a stone by Arthur to prove his royalty.
Of Arthur’s several enemies, the most treacherous were his sister Morgan le Fay and his nephew Mordred. Morgan le Fay was usually represented as an evil sorceress, scheming to win Arthur’s throne for herself and her lover. Mordred (or Modred) was variously Arthur’s nephew or his son by his sister Morgause. He seized Arthur’s throne during the king’s absence. Later he was slain in battle by Arthur, but not before he had fatally wounded the king. Arthur was borne away to the isle of Avalon, where it was expected that he would be healed of his wounds and that he would someday return to his people.
Two of the most invincible knights in Arthur’s realm were Sir Tristram and Sir Launcelot of the Lake. Both of them, however, were involved in illicit and tragic love unions – Tristram with Isolde, the queen of Tristram’s uncle, King Mark; Sir Launcelot with Guinevere, the queen of his sovereign, King Arthur. Other knights of importance include the naive Sir Pelleas, who fell helplessly in love with the heartless Ettarre (or Ettard) and Sir Gawain, Arthur’s nephew, who appeared variously as the ideal of knightly courtesy and as the bitter enemy of Launcelot.
Also significant are Sir Balin and Sir Balan, two devoted brothers who unwittingly slew one another; Sir Galahad, Launcelot’s son, who was the hero of the quest for the Holy Grail; Sir Kay, Arthur’s villainous foster brother; Sir Percivale (or Parsifal); Sir Gareth; Sir Geraint; Sir Bedivere; and other knights of the Round Table.
|King Arthur’s Castle, Tintagel, Cornwall
Tinted view of castle ruins
(Francis Frith postcard – 1904)
Tinted view of the Valley
(Francis Frith postcard – 1895)
|King Arthur’s Castle Doorway, Tintagel, Cornwall
(Francis Frith postcard – 1908)
Formerly, it was thought that the Arthurian legend was the work of several inventive poets and romancers of the Middle Ages. The generally accepted theory now is that Arthurian legend developed out of stories of Celtic mythology. The most archaic form in which these occur in British sources is the Welsh Mabinogion, but much of Irish mythology is palpably identical with Arthurian romance. It is not certain how or where (in Wales or in those parts of northern Britain inhabited by Brythonic-speaking Celts) this legend originated or whether the figure Arthur was based on an historical person.
It is possible that traditional Irish hero stories of the iron age fused in Britain with those of the Welsh, the Cornish, and the Celts of North Britain. The resultant legend with its hero, Arthur, was transmitted to their Breton cousins on the Continent probably by the year 1000 AD, but possibly as early as the mid 6th-century (see Getica below). The Bretons, famous as wandering minstrels, followed Norman armies over Western Europe and used the legend’s stories for their repertory. By 1100 AD, therefore, Arthurian stories were well known even in Italy.
An Anglo-saxon Tale : Lady Godiva http://www.bbc.co.uk/history/ancient/anglo_saxons/godiva_01.shtml
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