Please note that this is not a scientific work!
This overview is just what I found out, based on a lot of sources in the net and historical literature about Arthur, because I was interested to find out more about the theme Arthur. Now I can say for me: What the really truth is, nobody can say. We can think either Arthur really existed based on the sources or he didn’t exist because there is no proof.
I just want to give a simple overview about the origin and further stages of the Arthurian legend to understand why Arthur today is what he is.
In fact King Arthur is only a legend, made by literature. There is no real proof for the existence of king Arthur, his knights, Camelot or the round table.
All of these things are added by and by in historical stories about Arthur.
The only things we real know is that after the pullback of the Romans from Britannia, because they couldn’t hold Britannia against the invasion of the Saxons, the Saxons conquered big areas in the south and the east of Britannia. So it could be expected that they would conquer the whole isle, because the British population was not able to defeat them without the Roman armed force, and there were coming more and more Saxons. But fact is there was a point about 500 AD, where the Saxons where stopped and boundaries were made so that the old Britons in the centre of Britannia and in the north remain alive.
At this point the historian explorer expect that there had to be a great leader who was able to join all the small kingdoms of Britain and defeat the Saxons so that the expansion of the Saxons could be prevented.
This suggestion is reinforced through the tradition of old welsh poems and songs. These tell from a great king who defeated the Saxons and give the Britons freedom and peace. But the name Arthur was not mentioned in the first told stories neither the names of his knights nor the round table. These things all were made by literature to give the hero a name and a story.
Early references as can be seen below gave the authors the basis for creating new characters and tales in many works counting on old traditions and stories.
In the early Literature the authors produced the common characters around arthur, like Gyniviere or the knights and added all the wellknown arthur belongings like the round table, the holy Grail or Excalibur.
Literature and movies on the
other side most uses the characters
and places from the early literature giving the characters new life and
up new adventures.
The first assumption is given by a letter to Riothamus from Sidonius Apollinaris, Bishop of Clermont-Ferrand, expecting by some Riothamus to be the original of King Arthur. In this letter the bishop is speaking to Riothamus about the Britons, and some accept Riothamus as the original Arthur.
Letter to Riothamus, c.470
The first telling about the dark times were Arthur has had to be lived was from the monk Gildas in the “De Excidio Britanniae” circa 540. But he was not a historian, rather a praising the raoman way of life. He speaks about a great person as leader and the Siege of Mount Badon, but did not mention the name Arthur at all. In assumption that the real King Arthur is Rhiothamus, this makes sense. But here at the first time there is a telling about a great leader.
De Excidio Britanniae, c.540
Another reference to Riothamus is given in an Excerpt from Jordanes' sixth century "Gothic History". It is telling of a vain attempt on the part of Riothamus, "king of the Brittones," and 12,000 men to help the Roman Emperor, Anthemius, in his struggle with the Visigoths
The Battle of Llongborth, c.480 is an English translation of a sixth century Welsh poem, called "Elegy for Geraint," found in the book "Black Book of Carmarthen“, mentions Arthur. But there is not a real mention, rather a mention, which indicate the appearance of him.
The real first appearance of the great Arthur is in the in the “history of the Britons” (Historia Brittonum), c.830 where ‘Nennius’, a Welsh historian, gives us a gather of facts, myths and fables about the history of Britain written in ninth century. But in fact this was written about 200 hundred years later than Arthur was alive. So the really existence of Arthur cannot be proofed.
Chronicle, 9th C. mentions also Arthur relating facts,
but from the point of view of the Anglo-Saxons, and they were of course
interested to represent the Anglo-Saxons as successful emperors and so
should be read casting doubt on.
The” Battle of Badon“, and "The Strife of Camlann“ are two references who mention King Arthur hiomself in the Annales Cambriae, c. 970. But it is not really clear when they were written, but for some it is the proof of his historicity.
In the Legend of St. Goeznovius, c. 1019, Arthur is called "King of the Britons." But it cannot be proofed that this was written really at this time.
In 1193 The Exhumation of Arthur's Body, describes the opening of King Arthur's grave at Glastonbury Abbey.
Also a notice for the opening of Arthur's grave in 1191 is an entry in the "Chronicon Anglicanum" (English Chronicle) by Ralph of Coggeshall, c.1220
A notice of the discovery of Arthur's body can be found in the Margam Abbey Chronicle, c.1300, n excerpt from the chronicle of a Welsh monastery
The Dream of Rhonabwy, c.1200, an excerpt from a tale of the Welsh Mabinogion, mentions Arthur as "Emperor," in the Battle of Camlann.
Also Arthur is mentioned in a lot of Welsh poems and verses. His appearance is manifoldly, he comes as a warrior, a leader or a ruffian, but he is almost never a king. Most of these verses are twelfth to fourteenth century copies, but are believed to have been originally composed much earlier.
Through the Ages
In my opinion Geoffrey of Monmouth made King Arthur fit for literature, because after his "History of the Kings of Britain", ca. 1136, different authors started up to invent stories and tales regarding king Arthur. But this was written about 600 years later than Arthur has lived and how can he know without any notes about this time, because at this time it was not common, to notate historical events. Only the Romans were made notes, but they were already disappeared. If there would be existing notes form this time, then we wouldn’t today guess about the existence of king Arthur.
Of course a French poet, in fact
Chrétien de Troyes, presented for the first time king Arthur in
a romantically manner, with introducing Lancelot, Yvain, Percevale and
step by step a lot of the other characters known today. Also he made up
the Holy Grail in “Count of the Grail”. Also he transformed the names
of Geoffrey's characters from Welsh to the medieval French used today.
From this point the originally Celtic myth were lost and the Arthurian
legend became more and more literary fantasy, due to fact as that
neither Lancelot nor the Holy Grail were part of the Arthurian legend
Robert de Boron extended the work
Chrétien's, adding new character by writing Le Roman de
I'Estoire dou Graal (or Joseph d'Arimathie), the Merlin and Pereceval
and brought up the connection beetween the holy grail and St. Joseph of
The well-known Sir Thomas Malory's 15th century work, "Le Morte d'Arthur" establishes the Romantic Age of Chivalry, taking the old stories from Boron and Geoffrey and telling them in a new way. As a result Arthur's Court was not more in the Dark Age, yet it is set to be in the medieval times. That’s what we often forget that the time of Arthur is originally in the Dark Age, and all what written in literature about the knights, the chivalry and the knights code, as soon as braveness, nobility and romance is rather improbable happened at Arthur’s time. Nevertheless it was very popular and even today as a classic work of literature.
Here I want to give just an overview of fiction telling adventures and stories around the arthurian legend. I don’t want to give a complete list, because this is not the matter of this page and you can a big index on http://www.io.com/~tittle/books/arthurian.html#fic
Ashley, Mike, The Pendragon Chronicles
Ashley, Mike. The Camelot Chronicles.
Van Asten, Gail. The Blind Knight.
Bradley, Marion Zimmer, The Mists of Avalon A female oriented and positive rendition of the Arthurian legend. Considerably more sympathetic to pagan religions (although depicted as modern neopaganism) than to Christianity.
Bradley, Marion Zimmer, The Forest House. Prequel to the Mists of Avalon.
Bradley, Marion Zimmer, The Lady of Avalon. Prequel to the Mists of Avalon.
Bradshaw, Gillian, Hawk of May, Kingdom of Summer, In Winter's Shadow
Burnham, Jeremy, and Trevor Ray. Raven.
Edwards, Rex. Arthur of the Britons.
Griffiths, Paul. The Lay of Sir Tristam.
Hawke, Simon [Nicholas Yermakov], The Wizard of 4th Street (1987), The Wizard of Whitechapel (1988), The Wizard of Sunset Strip (1989), The Wizard of Rue Morge (1990), The Samurai Wizard (1991), The Wizard of Santa Fe (1991), The Wizard of Camelot (1993).
Hollick, Helen. Kingmaking, Pendragon's Banner, a third book due in June 1997 to complete the trilogy.
Humble, William F. A Tale of Arthur
Johnson, Barbara Ferry. Lionors.
Jones, Mary J., Avalon
Lawhead, Stephen, Taliesin, Merlin, Arthur
Lerner, Alan J. and Frederick Lowe. Camelot. 1961.
McKenzie, Nancy. The Child Queen.
Meany, Dee Morrison. Iseult. Lionors, King Arthur's Uncrowned Queen.
Monaco, Richard, Parsival or a Knight's Tale, The Grail War, The Final Quest (1983), Blood and Dreams (1985)
Percy, Walker. Lancelot.
Powers, Tim, The Drawing of the Dark. Ambrosius and the Fisher-King.
Powers, Tim. Last Call.
Powys, John Cowper. A Glastonbury Romance.
Price, Robert, The Last Pendragon Telling of Bedwyr, last of the Knights after the Fall, and Irion, son of Mordred, and the Saxon threat to what's left of old Britain. Arthur himself appears only in the prolog. "Tactics" oriented.
Sampson, Fay, Daughter of Tintagel. This is a omnibus volume of 5 separate volumes: Wise Woman's Telling, White Nun's Telling, Black Smith's Telling, Taliesin's Telling, Herself. Here's what the book jacket reads: The bards have sung this tale the length and breadth of Britain. The story of the momentous birth of the legendary Arthur - the story of the fear, hate and love between him and his half-sister Morgan the Fay. But never before have there been five tellings, each by a witness to the mythical events: Gwennol Far-Sight, Morgan's childhood nurse and a wise woman in the ways of sacred pagan magic. Luned, the young white nun, who fears her own soul has been contamined by Morgan's passions. Teilo, who was once a proud and powerful Smith of the Old Religion, condemned to live as a woman amongst Morgan's maids, because of his unwise ambition. The bard Taliesin, bred to sing of war and red slaughter and glorious death. And finally Morgan the Fay herself speaks, the Goddess, the witch, whose story has shape-shifted down the centuries, a force for destruction or a force for healing...?
Stafford, Greg, and others. King Arthur Pendragon. Other books in the same series: The Boy King, by Greg Stafford, The King Arthur Companion, by Phyllis Ann Karr, Knights Adventurous, by Greg Stafford, This is part of an excellent role playing game, but the books are worth reading by themselves as well. There are several books the game is made of, purchaseable separately. Most of it is a very detailed glossary of people in the various versions of the saga (with primacy to Mallory's), but almost half of it is spent on similar glossaries of notable places, of special "things", and many other fascinating tidbits, such as an attempt at a self-consistent chronology of Arthur's reign, and so on.
Stewart, Mary, The Crystal Cave, The Hollow Hills, The Last Enchantment, and The Wicked Day (Fawcett Crest.) A modern retelling of the legend, almost classic in their own right. The first three are narrated by Merlin, and the last in third person.
Stone, Brian, translater. Sir Gawain and the Green Knight.
Sutcliff, Rosemary. Tristan and Iseult.
Twain, Mark, A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court (many editions).
White, Terence Hanbury, The Once and Future King and The Book of Merlin A retelling of the legend from the earliest stories. More comedic than some of the other versions. Be warned, The Book of Merlin was published in 1977, 13 years after T.H. White's death and it contradicts and rehashes many themes and stories from TOFK.
White, T.H. The Sword in the Stone (orig. published in 1938). The first book in TOFK. This is followed by The Witch in the Wood, The Ill-Made Knight, and last The Candle in the Wind. All these together comprise TOFK; the last was never published separately.
Wolf, Joan, The Road to Avalon A romantic retelling, casting familiar characters into startlingly different relationships.
"Guinevere Jones" (2002) TV Series
"Adventures of Sir Lancelot, The" (1956) TV Series
"Adventures of Sir Lancelot, The" (1956) TV Series
"Sir Gadabout" (2002) TV Series
"Prince Valiant" (1991) TV Series
Resources on the Internet - a good guide by John J. Doherty
good site by Thomas Green
an overview how the Arthurian stories have been developed over the centuries, contains also other legends like Beowulf or Robin Hood
Project Main Menu
THE CAMELOT PROJECT at the University of Rochester, contains sources and bibliographies and a lot of information about Arthurian related characters and stories
Camelot Project Bibliographies
ARTHURIANA / CAMELOT PROJECT BIBLIOGRAPHIES
|http://labyrinth.georgetown.edu/||the labyrinth: Arthurian Studies a link collection for Arthur related information, like locations, authors or collection of historical materials|
|http://jan.ucc.nau.edu/~jjd23/arthurian.htm||Arthurian stuff a personal website with articles about Arthur and Arthurian Links|
|http://www.britannia.com/history/artbios.html||Britannia British history includes a lot of Arthur related information and guided overview of sources|
Arthur on Earlybritishkingdoms contains a lot information about the
basics, aspects, people and sources of the Arthurian legend
Avalon Project provides an overview and links of historical documents
sorted by time
Arthur’s knights History, Legend and Everything in between, a big
exploration from the historical Arthur to the fictional Arthur
of Camelot tries to find out who is the real Arthur and who is the
fictional Arthur by means of different sources
collection of sources, books and articles relating the early middle
ages, includes King Arthur related links
Text Collections, sorted by location, includes Europe: The Middle Ages
Index differenced by Fiction, Poetry, Medieval and Early Texts,
Arthurian references, Celtic Fiction and Organizations
Handlist of Arthurian Science Fiction and Fantasy, 1980-1989 by John J.
Doherty, now at the Camelot Project. New URL.