King Arthur as ideal representative of the middle ages Essay
King Arthur as ideal representative of the middle ages
Although there is no absolute proof that King Arthur lived, the historical and literary information has made him an ideal representative of the middle ages. The Middle Ages have always been an intriguing field of study for historians and archeologists around the world. Because of historians and archeologist, we have a history foundation that goes back to the beginning of time. However, the issue that is under debate and gives historians the most controversies is in era of the Middle Ages. The topic of debate that gives historians bring up the most about the middle ages is the legend of King Arthur. Over the past millennium, the story of King Arthur has been past down from generation to generation. From the movie Excalibur, to the famous Broadway plays about King Arthur, he has always been portrayed as the gallant king who saves the day and is undefeatable in battles.
But the truth about Arthur has come under much criticism, many of historians have argued about if he really existed or was he just a myth. In fact, there have been rumors that three Arthur’s that lived during that time frame, but which one was the true king Arthur? This is the reason why he has come under so much criticism in the past decade. Another reason why historians are skeptical to the true existence is that the dates when he had been known to live do not add up. There are different periods for battles the he supposedly fought in and had he fought in them, he would have been over a hundred years old. Historians have said that this would have been impossible due to the Black Plague and numerous other plagues going on during that time.
There is truth behind the legendary King Arthur and there is support to show that he did live, but historians are having a hard time piecing together the facts that are known. Many of writers who have dared to write about him have had to do intensive research about the legendary Arthur, with little or unknown evidence to support the truth about him. Historians have had to deal with little known information, only able to piece part of what little known fact that there are. The truth about King Arthur will be under debate long after I am gone but I would like to know the truth about the legendary King Arthur, Merlin and the truth to the lady in the lake and Excalibur.
The earliest accounts of King Arthur were discovered in the Celtic, Latin, and French resources. They show that he was from a royal bloodline. Latin sources show that his real father was King Uther Pendragon. The story tells how King Urther fell in love with Queen Igraye of Cornwall who was married. And with the aid of Merlin a Celtic magician, Uther took the form of the Duke of Cornwall and seduced Queen Igraye and so conceived Arthur. He was raised without the knowledge of his true royal ancestry and grew up as a knight’s squire. Until one day, he was required to go fetch the knight’s sword where he came upon the sword in the stone and pulled it out of the stone. The story behind the stone is that Authur’s true Dad died and Britain was without a true king and so Merlin the magician put the sword in the stone, saying that the true king of Britain will pull the sword from the stone.
” Arthur succeeded the throne at the early age of fifteen after proving his royalty and chastity by drawing the famous magic sword, Excalibur, from the stone. In his first major conquest he subdued the Saxons and expanded his control over Scotland, Ireland, Iceland, and the Orkneys, and established a period of peace for over twelve years. There is much in the pursuit of the issue if Arthur was of historical value to the middle ages. There is no absolute evidence, but it is possible that Arthur was Briton or Roman-Briton king who led the Celtics against the Anglo-Saxons in the early 8th century.” (Americana, Arthurian Romances, 1972) The kings of the medieval period were warlords that protected a particular area of land; they surrounded themselves with knights who swore allegiance in battle in exchange for gifts of gold, armor, and land.
There have been three basic charter descriptions of Arthur, which detail the characteristics of the “real” king Arthur. In the earliest descriptions he’s portrayed as a fierce, feared warrior, capable of tremendous prowess in hand to hand combat. Described by the Welsh priest, Nessius in his Latin Historia Brillonum, Arthur was “chosen twelve times to lead the Celts, Arthur carried the image of the Virgin and won twelve battles, the last being at Mt. Badon in which he killed 960 of the enemy singly handedly” (Americana).
The second image of Arthur is that of a “peripheral figure whose presence is felt mainly as a social force of arbiter of chivalric excellence”(Americana). A Welshman named Goeffrey of Monmouth was the first to describe the characters and stories we are familiar with today. In the Historia Rogum Britanniae, Geoffrey tells of Arthur’s siring through and adulterous relationship between Uther Pendragon and Igraine. He also introduces the magician Merlin and describes Arthur’s eventual resting-place on the isle of Avalon. In later treatment of Arthurian legends such s Thomas Mallory’s Le Morte Darthur, Arthur is depicted as a more two dimensional character. There is a naive side portrayed be the king, like when he refuses to see the romance between Guinevere, his wife, and Lancelot, a knight, although there are many warnings.
For instance, when the affair is revealed, Arthur’s impetuous actions begin the downfall of his court. He condemns Gueniverer to death, forcing Lancelot to save her. In rescuing Guenivere, Lancelot inadvertently kills Gwain, brother and creator of the feud between Gwain and Lancelot. Throughout it all, Arthur is blind and naive and is swept up by events outside his control. There is evidence that Arthur is lost without the advice of the magician Merlin. Arthur does not always understand the implications of the events and is unable to draw his own conclusions without Merlin’s help. Arthur is without full understanding of his actions and causes the end of Camelot and of his reign. Arthur was killed by his illegitimate son Mordred, whom Arthur fathered in an ancesturous relationship with his half -sister Morgan Le Fay.
As is presented in many of the later Arthurian stories, Arthur is duped by Mordred’s magical powers, and showing his susceptibility to trickery. The cause of it was when the Roman ambassadors arrived in Camelot demading tribute. Rejecting their offer, he set sail to confront the Roman forces, leaving his son Mordred as vice regent. After conquering the Romans, Arthur heard of news that Mordred had an uprising and his goal was to over through King Arthur. Arthur returned to Camelot where a bitter battle was fought between the rebels and the loyal subjects. The king killed Mordred, but was severely wounded himself. He was carried away secretly to the secret aisle of Avalon, the Celtic Mythology island of the blessed souls, to be healed of his wounds. Arthur returned to Camelot, but legend says he will someday come back to rule over England again.
Merlin first appears in the Middle ages as a mere prophet, but his role gradually evolved into that of a magician and advisor, active in all phases of the administration of Arthur’s kingdom. He was apparently given the name Ambrosias at his birth in Caer-Fy Riddin (Carmorthen). He later became known as Merlin a Latinized version of the Welsh word Myrddin, taken from the place of his birth. Geoffrey of Monmouth was thought to have invented the name Merlin, most likely because he invented everything else in his stories. Merlin’s was the illegitimate son of the royal princess of Dyfed. His father was Kind Meurig, who was not found in the traditional pedigrees of the kingdom and was more than likely a sub-king of the region of Coredigion. Merlin’s father was known to be an angel who had visited the royal nun and left her with a child.
Merlin’s enemies claim that his father was an evil spirit that had sex with women while they were sleeping. The evil child was to provide a counter weight to the good influence of Jesus on earth. Merlin was baptized when he was young, which is said to have negated his evil nature. The original story was presumably invented to save his mother from the scandal which would have occurred had her liaison with one Morfyn Frych, a minor price of the house of Coel, been made public knowledge. Legend has it that when Merlin grew up that he inherited his grandfather’s kingdom, but instead abandoned his land in favor of the mysterious life he has become so well known for. He was known for his aiding of Unther Pendrogon in his deception of changing him into Gorloris the Duke of Cornwall who then seduces Queen Ygerna and she conceives Arthur.
After Arthur’s birth, Merlin became the young boys tutor. In his defining moment of Arthur’s career, Merlin arranged for the Sword in the Stone contest by which Arthur becomes king. Later Merlin meets the mystic Lady of the Lake at the Fountain of Barenton and persuaded her to present the king with the magical sword Excalibur. In the Romances, Merlin’s the creator of the round table and is closely involved in aiding and directing the events of the king and the kingdom of Camelot. In the book by Geoffrey of Monmouth he is pictured at the end of Arthur’s life accompanying the wounded Arthur to the Isle of Avalon for the healing of Arthur’s wounds. According to Geoffrey’s “Vita Merlini”(c.1151) Merlin was a sixth century prophet living in the north of Britain where his career extended beyond Arthur’s. These same scholars believe that there were two Melin’s, Myrddin Emrys and Myrddin Wylt. The fact the Merlin apparently lived from “the reign of Vortigern (c420) to the reign of Riderech Huel (c580)” would certainly support this view.
Cadbury Castle is the best known and most interesting of the reported sights of Camelot. Cadbury is an absolute hill of limestone and sandstone. The summit is about 500 feet above the sea level with a wide view of central Somerset, including the Four at Glastonbury, which is12 miles away, and in clear weather Brent knoll and beyond. It had four lines of bank and ditch defense. The first known to refer to Cadbury as Camelot is John Leland in 1542. He says “At the very south, end of the church of South-Cadbri standith Camallate sometimes a famous town or castle….The people can tell nothing there but that they have heard Arthur much resorted to Camelot”. Skeptics have agrees that there was no real local tradition, or perhaps a vague tradition of Arthur only and that the evocative name is a guess of Leland prompted by the Queen Camel.
Yet he speaks of Camelot without any discussions as a recognized fact, and his spelling with an A instead of an O in the last syllable may echo a local pronunciation. Whatever the people of the neighborhood were saying in 1542 they have certainly cherished Arthurian lore since then. Cadbury hills has it’s legends, one midsummer eve or midsummer night ( opinions differ and some say it only every seven years) Arthur and his knights ride over the hilltop and down through the ancient gateway, and their horses drink at a spring besided Sutton Montis Church. Whether or not they can be seen, their hoof beats can be heard. Below the hill are traces of an old track, running toward Glatonburg, called Arthur’s lane or Hunting Causeway where a noise of spectral riders and hounds goes past on a winter’s night. Cadbury never had a castle; the fortified hill itself was the castle.
The Rev. James Bennett of south Cadbury carried out the first small excavation of Cadbury Hill. In a paper published in 1890, he told how he had cut a trench through the top rampart and judged that it was built up in layers over a long time. This was found true. In 1913, H. St. George Gray excavated again, chiefly near the southwest entrance, finding objects that showed that people were on the hill in the late Iron Age just before the Roman Conquest. The crucial step from the Arthurian point of view did not come until the middle 1950’s. Part of the enclosure was ploughed; and a local archeologist named Mrs. Mary Hartfield picked up flints and potsherds, which appeared on the surface in the upturned soil. Among these Dr. Raleigh Radford recognizes pottery of the type he had found at Tingel, which proved that somebody had lived here at about the time of Arthur, and most likely a person of wealth, who could import luxury goods.
The interest thus aroused led to the formation of the Camelot Research Committee. It became clear that British Celts of the Iron Age had not only built the earth works defense, but reconstructed the top bank several times as Bennett suspected a village flourished on the plateau for hundred of years. In a central and commanding position on the high part of the hill called Arthur’s Palace, the foundation of a timber hall came to light. It was 63ft. by 34ft. Their walls were marked by postholes cut in the bedrock. In outline, it resembled the hall of Castle Dore, but there were grounds for inferring more skillful workmanship quality rather than size. In this building the chief warriors would have assembled, feasted, listened to minstrels, planned campaigns, most important of all was the discovery which was made in the bank.
The three quarter mile perimeter of the hill, cuts through it in several places, now refilled like the entrance, revealed across section like layer cake, with strata one above another showing how the ram art had been rebuilt at various times over the centuries. The defensive system surrounding the hill made an impression in keeping with the period. The wall itself, with its timber bracing and super structure, was very like what the British Celts were building before the Roman Conquest. It incorporated fragments of Roman masonary, salvaged from derelict buildings but it was strictly a national piece of work.
The truth about the real King Arthur, is an issue that will be around until the truth is revealed about him. Historian and archeologist have debated this issue for over a millennium with no were getting to the truth about him. They have found that he did exist, but will they ever come to the agreement about him. For know we will have to live with folklore to the existence of the true King Arthur.
University/College: University of Chicago
Type of paper: Thesis/Dissertation Chapter
Date: 8 September 2017
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