Presentation on theme: "One of the questions that has occupied those interested in King Arthur is whether or not he is a historical figure. The debate has raged since the Renaissance."— Presentation transcript:
One of the questions that has occupied those interested in King Arthur is whether or not he is a historical figure. The debate has raged since the Renaissance when Arthur's historicity was vigorously defended, partly because the Tudor monarchs traced their lineage to Arthur and used that connection as a justification for their reign. Whether or not Arthur really existed, there are many sites throughout Britain connected to the legendary king. Arthurs Britain
Stonehenge stands in isolation on the undulating chalk of Salisbury Plain, west of Amesbury. Among the many legends connected with this, the best known of all megalithic sites, is one telling of its construction by Merlin. He was asked by Arthur's father, King Uther Pendragon, to construct a fitting memorial for his brother Ambrosius and the warlords of Britain felled by Saxon treachery in the massacre known as the Night of the Long Knives. Merlin journeyed to Ireland in search of the fabled Giant's Dance, a circle of huge stones which Geoffrey of Monmouth (1135) claimed were brought by a tribe of giants from Africa to Ireland. After a great battle, Merlin conveyed the stones by magic to the shore of the sea, then floated them on rafts across to Britain and set them up again on the plain near Salisbury.
Tintagel (pronounced Tin-TAJ-el) is, perhaps, the most familiar of all the sites associated with Arthur. Local tradition, founded largely on the writings of Geoffrey of Monmouth in his History of the Kings of Britain (1139), claims this as the birthplace of Arthur, from where Merlin took him to be fostered in secret. In his writings, the palace belonged to Gorlois, Duke of Cornwall, whose beautiful wife Igerna aroused the love of King Uther Pendragon. Uther besieged Tintagel and then, aided by Merlin, made his way secretly into the castle at night and seduced Igerna, who subsequently gave birth to Arthur.
Merlins Cave Tennyson made this place famous in his Idylls of the King (1888) when he described waves bringing the infant Arthur to the shore, where he was plucked out by Merlin and carried to safety. Local legend has long associated this cave with the mythic figure of Merlin. The cave passes all the way through the base of the Tintagel castle promontory. You can actually enter the cave from the cove beach and pass through. The opening is at a lower level than the entrance in the cove, so that as the tide rises, the sea flows in from that end and surges gradually up through the cave, with roaring and moaning and deluges of spray, until the entrance is blocked. It is certainly a place of considerable atmosphere and we could easily envision that scene out of Excalibur when Uther rides the mist from the shore, across the cove, and into Tintagel to seduce Ygraine.
This huge crag, which rises to a height of 250 m (823 feet) above sea-level east of Edinburgh, has been known as Arthur's Seat since the fifteenth century AD. The association of the hill with Arthur may be a matter of its being a base for military activity in the sixth century AD. This activity could have resulted in the subsequent connection with Arthur's Scottish legacy.
The Iron Age hill-fort at Badbury Rings has long been among the contenders for the site of Arthur's greatest battle against the Saxons-- Badon Hill. The claim is based primarily on the similarity in the names, but there is also a degree of incidental evidence supported by its strategic importance and the fact that it was, like Cadbury, re- fortified during the Arthurian period. Covering some 18 acres, with several outer ramparts and ditches, it commands high ground which may also account for an adjacent Romano-British settlement and the junction of several Roman roads.
Accounts differ about the origin of the Round Table, at which Arthur's knights met to tell of their deeds and from which they invariably set forth in search of further adventures. The Norman chronicler Wace says Arthur devised the idea of a round table to prevent quarrels between his barons over the question of precedence. Another writer, Layamon, adapted Wace's account adding the description of a quarrel between Arthur's lords which was settled by a Cornish carpenter who, upon hearing the problem, created a portable table which could seat 1,600 men. The large wooden table which hangs in the Great Hall at Winchester dates from between 1250 and 1280 AD, when it may have been made for King Edward III (1272-1307), a king living at the height of chivalry and whom we know to have been fascinated by legends of Arthur.
The chronicler William of Worcester, writing in 1478, says that Arthur kept the Round Table at Stirling Castle, north of Edinburg.
Before the excavation of the Roman amphitheater in Caerleon, it was buried under a mound of soil with an oval shape. This was claimed by the locals to be the "real" Round Table and accepted by the majority of Britain's medieval inhabitants. As far as they were concerned, this was the location of Arthur's Camelot, and that was that. In spite of its excavation in 1926-27 by Dr. R.E.M. Wheeler (later Sir Mortimer) and his wife, Tessa, local legend still tells of an underground chamber in the woods where a thousand of Arthur's soldiers lie sleeping, awaiting the day Britain will need them once again.
Edinburgh is identified with the Castle of Maidens in several Arthurian tales, which is probably because one of its medieval names was Castellum Puellarum (Castle of Women). In at least one version, Arthur's half-sister, the renowned 'enchantress' Morgan le Fay, is its mistress.
Dumbarton Rock has a longer recorded history as a stronghold than any other place in Britain. It also figures in Geoffrey of Monmouth's Life of Merlin (circa 1142 AD) and is maintained as the legendary birthplace of Arthur's evil nephew Modred.
King's Knot is really a series of interlinked earthworks, embankments, and paths arranged for a royal garden in 1627. The Round Table is a mound at the center some 12 to 15 meters (40-50 ft) across at the center. Evidence supports the local tradition that this mound pre-dates the royal garden, and it may well be a medieval construct.
Carlisle it is the setting for the tale of 'Sir Gawain and the Loathly Lady,' an important Arthurian romance. Malory claims it is also the scene of the clash which is the main cause of the Round Table's dissolution. After Arthur 'walks in' on Lancelot and Guinevere, she is brought to Carlisle to be burnt at the stake. Lancelot and his men save her by fighting knights faithful to Arthur. Two of Gawain's brothers are killed and he becomes Lancelot's implacable enemy.
Lancelot's castle, Joyous Garde Legend relates that it was Bamburgh Castle that Arthur gave to Sir Lancelot, in recognition of his defense of Queen Guinevere, and which Lancelot called "Joyous Garde."
Dinas Bran, a king of Britain, was killed following an invasion of Ireland, and his head was buried beneath the White Mount in London (now the site of the Tower of London). So long as the head remained buried, this Briton was safe against invasion; but King Arthur had the head exhumed, since he wished to protect the island through his strength alone. 'Bran' is the Welsh word for raven, and the story of his buried head is thought to be the motivation for the continuous, 900-year old presence of ravens at the Tower which people contend, to this day, keeps the country safe from invasion.
On the brow of the hill stand the dramatic remains of a medieval castle. It is believed by the majority of Arthurian scholars to be the original model for the Grail Castle. This is interesting, since Bran, who was wounded in the thigh by a poisoned spear, may have been the origin of the mysterious Fisher King, the Grail's Guardian, who suffered a similar wound. Just as 'Bran' means 'raven' or 'crow' in Welsh, so does 'corbin', an old French word, and the name given to the Castle of the Grail by Malory in his 15th century Morte d'Arthur. The Fisher King of the Grail Castle was, in one version of the legend, called King Bron, and more than once it has been suggested that Dinas Bran was the hiding place of the mystical Holy Grail. The thirteenth century Perlesvaus, or The High History of the Holy Grail, mentions Dinas Bran in terms which lead one to believe that Dinas Bran was indeed recognized as the Grail Castle.
Arthur's Quoit (or Coetan Arthur) is situated dramatically on St. David's Head, a rocky promontory overlooking the storm- tossed Atlantic. This is a Stone Age burial chamber perhaps 5,000 years old. The cap stone is about four meters by three meters and other standing stones support it. Dry stone walling would have once filled in between the supporting stones and then the whole structure covered with earth forming a 'barrow' where the dead were laid to rest.
Pentre Ifan constitutes one of the finest Bronze-Age burial chambers in Wales. Dating from somewhere between 4,000 and 2,000 BC, it is over 3 meters high in places and dramatically placed on low-lying land near Newport. Local legends also refer to Pentre Ifan as another 'Arthur's Quoit,' thereby adding to the collection of stones bearing his name. These stories probably all stem from stories about Arthur being a giant who threw huge boulders throughout the countryside (a figure who vanished long ago from the literature of the Arthurian heroes). The stones of Pentre Ifan would once have been covered by an earth mound, beneath which the bones of the dead were laid.
It was the sixteenth century antiquarian John Leland who first established Cadbury as being the site of Arthur's famed citadel Camelot (1542 AD). While still a much debated issue, the foundations of the extensive timber hall and what appear to be the beginnings of an unfinished church add further to the speculation, as does the closeness of the site to Glastonbury Tor. A causeway, known as the King's Track, links the two sites. Local tradition still retains a memory of Arthur and his knights sleeping under the hill.
Glastonbury Abbey has long enjoyed the reputation of being the first Christian church in Britain, reputedly being founded as early as 37 AD by Joseph of Arimathea. Not until the eleventh century, however, do we hear anything of King Arthur and his knights emerging as historical personages, and still after, of King Arthur being buried in the choir of the great church, then re-buried by Edward I in 1278 at the high altar.
Early stories tell us that Arthur was taken to the Isle of Avalon to be healed of his wounds after the Battle of Camlann. Late tradition assumes that he died and was buried there, though earlier sources indicate the whereabouts of his grave to be unknown. Hence his lying under a mysterious hill waiting to return and lead his people to victory. Avalon is traditionally identified as Glastonbury, and Arthur is thus assumed to have been buried at the ancient Abbey there.
It was not until 1191, in Richard Is time, under Abbot Henry de Soliaco, that the spot was searched, and the bodies discovered at a depth of sixteen feet. A leaden cross inscribed (according to the fullest form reported by Giraldus Cambrensis), "Here lies buried the renowned King Arthur in the Isle of Avalon with Guinevere his second wife served to identify the relics, which lay in the trunk of a hollowed oak; Queen Guineveres flaxen hair was there to be seen, but fell into dust when touched. The bones of Arthur were of gigantic size. Arthur's memorial cross disappeared in the 18th century, but a 1607 engraving by Camden survives. Unfortunately this does not show any mention of Guinevere, though this could have been engraved on the reverse. Alcock identifies the lettering to be of tenth century style and suggests the cross was placed in the grave at this date when St. Dunstan had the ground level of the cemetery raised and any standing memorials removed. Similarly dated leaden crosses have been discovered associated with burials excavated at nearby Wells Cathedral.
Glastonbury is built on high ground surrounded on all sides by the Somerset Levels, some of the flattest land in the country. Today it is a rich agricultural area due to massive drainage over the centuries. In the Dark Ages, however, the Levels were marshland and Glastonbury stood as an island towering above them. Hence, its ancient British name was Ynys Witrin, which may translate as "Island of Glass," though this is certainly disputed.
An island then, but why Avalon? Avalon was the Otherworld home of one of the Celtic Underworld Gods, Afallach. Both names relate to the Apples that grew in this mystical land of the dead and show Avalon's possible relationship to other legendary realms such as the Garden of the Hesperides from Greek Mythology. Obviously, this is where a Celtic King, such as Arthur, would go when near to death.
Glastonbury Tor The Tor, that dominates the countryside around Glastonbury, is said to be the entrance to Annwfn, the Celtic Underworld, and the Palace of Gwynn ap Nudd, the primary Underworld God (and Afallach's brother) stands within it. Beneath the Tor is said to lie a subterranean kingdom ruled over by the Lord of the Afterlife, Gwynn ap Nud. Though supposedly banished by Saint Collen, Gwynn is still believed to haunt the hills around Glastonbury. There is supposed to be a cavern which was once reached by a tunnel into the side of the hill. Nothing is now known of the tunnel, which was sealed in the 1900s. Those who found their way in were believed to go mad. Tradition holds that if you lie down on the hill and listen very closely, you can hear the sounds of Arthur and his men sleeping.
The Chalice Well at Glastonbury Abbey Current legend has it that when Joseph of Arimathea brought the Chalice of the Last Supper (or possibly the two cruets containing Christ's blood and sweat from the Crucifixion), he deposited them under the hill from which the blood spring ran. Water spills out of the Lion's Head font into a shallow bowl and is the designated spot to drink from the Chalice Well. Pilgrims come here to drink the waters which are believed to possess healing qualities.
From Edinburg in the north to Cornwall in the south, there are sites throughout Britain associated with the legendary King Arthur. If there is a historical basis to the character, it is clear that he would have gained fame as a warrior battling the Germanic invaders of the late fifth and early sixth centuries. Since there is no conclusive evidence for or against Arthur's historicity, the debate will continue. But what can not be denied is the influence of the figure of Arthur on literature, art, music, and society from the Middle Ages to the present. Though there have been numerous historical novels that try to put Arthur into a sixth-century setting, it is the legendary figure of the late Middle Ages who has most captured the imagination.