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Arthur

Arthur. King Arthur and his circle are creations of medieval writers drawing on history, folklore, mythology, and imagination. Though British in his historical dimension, as a figure of legend and romance Arthur belongs to European culture and has been transplanted to that of America. Arthurian material has been continually reshaped and developed, reflecting aspects of contemporary life, morality, and aspirations. The literature is vast, embracing literary scholarship, historical and archaeological investigations of British responses to the Anglo-Saxon invasions, fiction, and enthusiastic attempts to identify sites and persons.

The ‘real’ Arthur is a hero referred to in the British poem the Gododdin (c.600), in the 9th-cent. Nennius' Historia Brittonum (as victorious ‘leader of battles’, including Mount Badon, against Anglo-Saxons), and in two entries in the 10th-cent. Annales Cambriae. The original warlord, who defies identification, was developed by the 9th- and 10th-cent. Welsh into a great Welsh victor. British tradition from areas conquered by the Anglo-Saxons had migrated to unconquered Wales, and the 9th and 10th cents. saw both Welsh cultural revival and a prospect of Welsh success against the English. An inspirational national figure was needed. His manufacture both used and influenced early Welsh poetry. Arthur grew into a ruler and hero, possibly absorbing other heroes.

Welsh tradition in turn contributed to oral traditions in Cornwall, and in Brittany, where it came to be believed that he still lived. It was probably Breton bards who were responsible for the Round Table motif.

But Arthur and his world were definitively formed in the 1130s by Geoffrey of Monmouth in his fictional History of the Kings of Britain. In this, Arthur is the ideal king, conqueror of much of Europe, attacking even Rome. Finally defeated and mortally wounded, he is borne to Avalon. Geoffrey's purposes perhaps included justifying the desire of the current rulers of England to be independent of France, and consoling the Welsh for English domination by giving them a glorious history.

Arthur's court proved a magnet for heroes and their deeds, and in much Arthurian material Arthur's own profile is low, his function that of a reference point. The legend of Tristan and Isolde, one of the most popular, was tacked on to Arthur's. Other tales, however, developed out of it. The Grail element, combining Celtic traditions of magical testing-vessels and blessed food-producing horns with Christian sentiment, first crystallized in French. Chrétien of Troyes in the 1170s and 1180s also introduced courtly love, made the Round Table a centre of chivalry, and identified Arthur's capital as Camelot. The first treatment in (Middle) English was Layamon's Brut (late 12th cent.), which introduced the element of faerie. The greatest English production was the late 14th-cent. Sir Gawain and the Green Knight.

The cult of chivalry was a European phenomenon. Arthurian romances portrayed its ideals, and some of its organization and trappings. Arthurian characters and deeds were emulated in tournaments, sometimes in Arthurian dress, and in ceremonial, as in Edward III's foundation of the Order of the Garter. The material had a religious element, yet the ethos was not ecclesiastical; the lesson was that the path of the Christian knight could lead to salvation, and one of its implicit ideas was that of crusade. Arthurian matters could be politically useful. Honour paid by Edward I to what were apparently bones of Arthur and Guinevere, at Glastonbury in 1278, was flattering to the Welsh, while emphasizing that hope for a Messianic delivery from him was pointless.

In the early modern period the popularity of Arthurian material declined. Changes in war, government, and economy made the chivalrous, aristocratic knight obsolete and the Renaissance made classical literature more popular. It survived in the English-speaking world because of Sir Thomas Malory. His work, completed about 1469, retailed the story as a tragedy. It was printed in 1485 by Caxton, who saw it as a moral, didactic work, as the Morte Darthur.

Henry VII exploited Welsh interest, naming his elder son Arthur, and making him prince of Wales in 1489, but Arthur's significance under the Tudors was chiefly in pageantry and in literature. He featured in some pageant decorations, but there was little attempt to connect him with Tudor monarchs. There was some drama and poetry, and Arthur was taken up by Edmund Spenser in his Faerie Queene. Shakespeare, however, gave him no attention.

Arthur's historicity had not been accepted by everyone. William of Newburgh, Gerald of Wales, and Ranulf Higden were openly critical of Geoffrey of Monmouth's history, but Geoffrey carried the day until the late 16th cent. The Italian Polydore Vergil had sparked controversy in his Anglica historia, written at Henry VII's request and published in 1534. John Leland defended Arthur against him in 1544. Scottish perception was subtly different. Hector Boece's History of the Scots (1526) incorporated some reworkings, mostly to Arthur's detriment, as if Arthur were an Englishman and offensive to Scottish pride. The development of historical scholarship was fuelled in part by perceptions that Anglo-Saxon history might yield support for protestantism and the break with Rome, and that the ancient British might have been rather like the indigenous people of the recently discovered New World.

Arthurian romance was next popular in the 19th cent., though Dryden wrote a play which was set to music by Purcell. Sir Walter Scott and William Wordsworth wrote some Arthurian material, but the boom began with Tennyson's poems, from 1832, based on Malory. Tennyson's characters often symbolize particular qualities, and his works are moralizing. Other Arthurian writers include Algernon Swinburne, William Morris, Matthew Arnold, and (satirically) the American Mark Twain.

Emphases similar to those in literature have been apparent in the visual arts. Most Arthurian art has been in the Gothic style, with a consistent range of images. The medieval period generated manuscript illumination, sculptured decoration of churches, tiles, misericords, caskets, embroidery, objets d'art, and frescos, in England and on the continent. Tristan and Isolde was the most popular legend, particularly with women in convents. The Round Table now in Winchester castle was built probably for Edward I, and painted for Henry VIII. Above a Tudor rose is Arthur, originally with Henry's face, and royal symbols. Early modern art preferred secular, contemporary themes, and neglected the elements with Roman catholic implications, the Grail quests.

Nineteenth-cent. didacticism found numerous expressions, including the decoration (1851–64) of the Queen's Robing Room in the new palace of Westminster with Arthurian scenes, in fresco, to illustrate moral qualities. Arthurian scenes were also used for the Oxford Union murals in 1857, undertaken by a group of Pre-Raphaelite artists, who produced many Arthurian works. In general Arthur seldom appears; he is eclipsed as a hero by Galahad and Lancelot, and the most influential of Tennyson's poems were The Lady of Shalott and Elaine.

In the 20th cent. Arthurian settings and circles proved an enduring theme for novelists and poets of very different kinds. British musical treatments include works by Boughton, Bax, Parry, and Elgar. There have been a number of films.

Many attempts have been made to identify Arthurian sites. Through the ages Camelot has been located at Cadbury (where an Iron Age hill-fort was a centre of British power in the late 5th cent.), Caerleon, Colchester, Winchester, Tintagel, and, recently and controversially, near Stirling. The origin of Arthur's association with Cornwall is not clear. According to Welsh tradition, Kelliwic, possibly Killibury castle, was his base. Dozmary Pool and Loe Pool are associated with the Lady of the Lake. Castle Dore and Tintagel (with their late 5th- and early 6th-cent. secular aristocratic dwellings) are ‘identified’ as settings for Tristan and Isolde. Glastonbury (where the Tor was occupied in the Dark Ages) was associated in the mid-12th cent. with an abduction of Guinevere, and became identified with Avalon. In 1190 or 1191 the monks ‘discovered’, fraudulently, the burial of Arthur and Guinevere, and in the mid-13th cent. they added Joseph of Arimathea, with whom the Holy Grail was associated, to their history. The enduring resonance of Arthurian romance was underlined in the hopeful application to John F. Kennedy's presidency of the USA of the name of Camelot.

A. E. Redgate

Bibliography

Barber, R. , King Arthur: Hero and Legend (Woodbridge, 1986);
Morris, R. , The Character of King Arthur in Medieval Literature (Cambridge, 1982);
Whitaker, M. , The Legends of King Arthur in Art (Woodbridge, 1990).

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Arthur

Arthur a legendary king of Britain, historically perhaps a 5th or 6th century Romano-British chieftain or general. Stories of his life, his court at Camelot, the exploits of his knights such as Lancelot and the quest for the Holy Grail, were developed by Malory, Chrétien de Troyes, and other medieval writers.

According to the traditional stories Arthur, son of Uther Pendragon, was brought up in ignorance of his birth, but proved his identity as the king's son when he pulled the sword (Excalibur) from the stone. Guided by Merlin, he ruled Britain wisely, but in the end his leadership was fatally weakened by the adulterous love of his wife Guinevere and friend Lancelot, and Arthur himself was forced to fight a last battle against his nephew Mordred and his supporters. Fatally wounded, he was taken by barge to Avalon, so that his body was never found; he is thus one of the legendary heroes who may return to his kingdom should the need arise.
Arthur's Seat is a hill overlooking Edinburgh from the east, traditionally associated with Arthur.

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Arthur

Arthur Legendary British king who was said to rule the Knights of the Round Table. Two medieval chroniclers, Gildas and Nennius, tell of Arthur's fighting against the invading West Saxons and his final defeat of them at Mount Badon (possibly Badbury Hill, Dorset) in the early 6th century. However, some consider these sources unreliable and a modern view is that Arthur was a professional soldier in service to the British kings after the Roman occupation. Geoffrey of Monmouth's 12th century Historia Regum Brittaniae, based on Nennius and Welsh folklore, gave the legend – with the Round Table, Camelot, Lancelot, Guinevere, and the Holy Grail – the form in which it was transmitted through the Middle Ages. Malory's Morte D'Arthur (1470) was based on Monmouth's version.

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Arthur

Arthur, king of Britain: see Arthurian legend.

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"Arthur." The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.. . Encyclopedia.com. 24 Sep. 2017 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

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Arthur

Arthur •Cather • naphtha •anther, panther, Samantha •Arthur, MacArthur, Martha •ether, Ibiza •Tabitha • Hiawatha • author • Gotha •Luther • Gunther • Agatha • Golgotha •Bertha, Jugurtha

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