King Arthur is one of the most well known historical figures of all time. One of the most interesting debates surrounding the legends and tales of King Arthur is whether or not he truly existed. The debate has its roots in the Renaissance time when Arthur’s existence was defended as the basis for the Tudor monarchs to trace their ancestry back to King Arthur as a way to hold onto their reign. Modern historians argue that a King Arthur may have existed though he was not the same King Arthur in the much loved legends and tales that have been passed down from generation to generation.
This debate will continue as there has been no logical proof that King Arthur did actually exist (The Camelot Project, 1). At the same time, the influence of King Arthur will remain an important part of history as well. King Arthur has had a significant influence on literature, art, music and society as far back as the Middle Ages.
The legend of Arthur projects him as a great legendary British king born to Uther Pendragon and Igraine. Some versions of the legend also include information regarding three half sisters of Arthur.
Arthur married Guinevere and legend says they had no children together although Arthur did father children. Some versions of the Arthur legend contend that Perlesvaus was fathered by Arthur and Guinevere but other versions say this is not so (Joe, 1). Further, in various versions of the legend, Arthur’s son had different names. One legend states that Arthur killed his son while another says his son died after being attacked by a wild boar (Joe, 1). These ancestorial facts are unclear and vary across different versions of the legends which is perhaps one reason why the existence of a real King Arthur is so heavily debated.
There has been no archeological evidence that a real King Arthur ever existed. Without absolute proof it is difficult to separate potential facts from the many legends that surround King Arthur (Joe, 1). Perhaps the reason why the legend of King Arthur is so popular is because King Arthur was a bright light in the face of treachery and darkness (Snell, 1). King Arthur brought peace to his land by defending it from every danger and also expanding his empire to encompass great amounts of land.
Under the command of King Arthur, a group of knights helped the helpless, battled evil and scoured the land for holy relics. The courageous nature of King Arthur makes him a true hero that many generations of people have looked up to. He gave people hope in sorrowful times by being the type of ruler that looked out for the weak and the poor. Despite the fact that King Arthur is so loved and admired, he remains a legend. There is no existing proof that can provide without a doubt that King Arthur is a true historical figure. Instead, the legend of King Arthur will remain a legend (Snell, 1).
The vast amount of literature and other media that focus on King Arthur may cause some people to assume that these stories are based in part on fact. However, there is no evidence that any of the facts surrounding the legend of King Arthur are true. Part of the reason why so many people assume that King Arthur is a true historical figure may be based on The History of the Kings of Britain which details the life and rule of the exalted King Arthur (Snell, 1). This historical document provides so many in depth details about King Arthur that many find it hard to argue with.
However, the reference for this document has never been found so the facts included within cannot be proven. Further, some are of the opinion that the author of this document, Geoffrey of Monmouth, wrote the history in order to make others view his people in a more positive light (Snell, 1). There are many scholarly facts that aid in disproving the actual existence of King Arthur. These are the facts that enable King Arthur to keep his place in history as one of the most noble and well loved kings of all time.
Legend holds that King Arthur was able to single handedly lead an assault that left nine hundred dead and allowed him to reign as king for nearly one hundred years. Legend also holds that King Arthur fought giants and strange beasts and was led by a red dragon (Ogden-Korus, 1). Since none of these mythological creatures or fantastic feats are possible, it can be assumed that King Arthur is a legend as well. This leads to the goal of many scholars. They wish to uncover facts that may prove whether there really was a King Arthur behind all the folklore (Ogden-Korus, 1).
So far, they have been unsuccessful in proving that King Arthur ever did exist so he remains a legend to this day. In order to find proof of King Arthur, many archeologists have attempted to find concrete evidence that can be directly traced to the legendary king. There is very little evidence in Britain that can be traced back to the time of King Arthur. For example, the primary building tool during King Arthur’s time was wood, which completely decomposes over time and would not provide any proof of the existence of King Arthur. Further, the field of archeology cannot deal with specifics (Ogden-Korus, 1).
Instead, archeologists analyze existing evidence and make educated guesses regarding ancient history. With regards to the place and times of King Arthur, these educated guesses have led to the conclusion that King Arthur is simply a legend. One of the most common associations with King Arthur is Camelot and the Knights of the Round Table. However, this connection cannot be considered fact. The legend of King Arthur is said to have lived during the sixth century but the creation of Camelot did not come into existence until the twelfth century when it became a part of literature (Ogden-Korus, 1).
There are other more compelling discoveries that have aided in spreading the opinion that King Arthur did once exist. However, this evidence, while compelling, is not concrete. For example, Tintagel Castle, the alleged birthplace of King Arthur was a thirteenth century castle so it could not have existed during the time of King Arthur. However, in 1998, an archeological dig at Tintagel Castle uncovered a sixth century fort underneath the castle (Giger, 1). This evidence alone does not point to the existence of King Arthur.
There are many sixth century forts in England and Wales and the discovery of this one does not provide concrete evidence that King Arthur ever existed – only that a sixth century fort existed where legend says that King Arthur was born (Giger, 1). This type of evidence is exciting and motivates historians and scholars to continue their search for evidence that King Arthur did exist. However, at this time no concrete evidence has been discovered to prove the King Arthur was anything more than a legend. Despite the fact that there is no definitive proof that King Arthur ever existed, there have been many myths that surround his name.
Camelot is the perhaps the most well known myth that surrounds the legend of King Arthur. As previously discussed, Camelot did not come into existence until it was included in literature in the twelfth century (Ogden-Korus, 1). Camelot is the most well known and famous castle associated with King Arthur. Experts agree that Camelot is most likely a fictional place because its exact location is unknown. “Camelot, located no where in particular, can be anywhere” (Lacy, 67). The myth of Camelot has been allowed to spread because of how much people respect and admire the legend of King Arthur.
The various versions of the myths surrounding King Arthur often contradict one another but people are willing to overlook such discrepancies because the writings about King Arthur are so captivating and entertaining (Miller, 1). People want to believe that such a magnificent person could really have existed so they get caught up in the myths surrounding King Arthur and begin to believe that he was a real person. Another myth that the legend of King Arthur has influenced is the legend of Lancelot, one of the Knights of the Round Table.
Sir Lancelot is considered one of the best and one of the worst knights in the court of King Arthur (Sir Lancelot Online, 1). Lancelot is a creation of literature that emerged at the same time that Camelot did. In this portrayal, Lancelot becomes the most valuable knight of King Arthur. He was chivalrous and brave and accomplished many important tasks including rescuing Guinevere from Meleagant and once again rescuing her from being burned to death for committing adultery with him (Sir Lancelot Online, 1).
Sir Lancelot helped contribute to the myths surrounding King Arthur because his heroic deeds made King Arthur look good. Ultimately, Lancelot betrays King Arthur by committing adultery with Guinevere but this too makes King Arthur look good because people pity him for the wrongs committed against him. Another important and famous myth surrounding King Arthur that has contributed to the admiration of many is his sword, Excalibur. Excalibur is said to have magical powers.
Part of the reason why the myth of Excalibur makes King Arthur so admired is because some versions of the myth discuss how King Arthur pulled the sword from a stone thus making himself appear magical and strong. However, other versions of the myth keep Excalibur and the Sword in the Stone separate. The myth that includes King Arthur pulling the sword from the stone provides some with evidence that he was a true king because only a true king would be able to even pull the sword out of the stone. Other versions say that Excalibur was a sword the King Arthur obtained through Merlin from the Lady of the Lake (Ford, 1).
The fact that King Arthur used such powerful weapons also provides a compelling reason why so many people believe in the power of King Arthur. These weapons are also part of the reason why King Arthur has survived throughout history as one of the most revered kings of all time. One final aspect of the legend of King Arthur that has enabled him to live throughout history is the myth of Merlin. Merlin is a well known wizard that mentored King Arthur. Merlin had supernatural powers and abilities and is said to have engineered the birth of King Arthur through his magical powers (Briggs, 440).
The magical powers that surrounded Merlin were of enormous benefit to King Arthur because they enabled him to accomplish great things. These great things are what has allowed King Arthur to become as legendary as he remains today. King Arthur is a real historical figure in that many people truly believe that he actually existed. This belief has been passed down from generation to generation so that the legend of King Arthur has become real to so many people. The fantastic accomplishments that are credited to King Arthur make him a much loved and respected ruler.
At the same time, the magic and mystic that surround King Arthur provide a sense of mystery that captivates people into believing the myths. These myths have allowed King Arthur to rise in prestige and remain so popular. However, there is no historical or archeological proof that King Arthur ever existed. If such proof is out there it has yet to be discovered. The fact that the legend of King Arthur is so well known and loved has allowed the myths associated with the legendary king to become valid parts of the King Arthur legend.
For example, most people do not realize that Camelot and Lancelot are fictional creations that came into existence some five hundred years after the time of King Arthur. These myths have provided King Arthur with a reputation of greatness that cannot be based on historical fact. At the same time, there is no harm in allowing people to believe that King Arthur was real because in the hearts of many King Arthur was real. There is no definitive data to back this assumption up but this does not deter many people from believing in the existence of King Arthur.
In the end, history has not proven that King Arthur truly existed but literature and movies have created a character that is so loved that he has become “real” and he will remain “real” as long as people continue to be captivated by the legend of the King Arthur and the myths that surround him. Briggs, Katharine Mary. An Encyclopedia of Fairies, Hobgoblins, Brownies, Boogies and Other Supernatural Creatures. New York: Pantheon Books, 1976. 440. Ford, David Nash. “Excalibur. ” Brittania. 2000. 17 Feb 2009 <http://britannia. com/history/arthur/excalibur. html>.
Giger, Remus. “In Search of… King Arthur. ”
Associated Content. 2007. 17 Feb 2009 <http://www. associatedcontent. com/article/382688/in_search_of_king_arthur_pg4. html? cat=37>. Joe, Jimmy. “King Arthur. ” Timeless Myths. 1999. 17 Feb 2009 <http://www. timelessmyths. com/arthurian/arthur. html#Arthur>. Lacy, Norris J. “Camelot. ” The New Arthurian Encyclopedia. New York: Garland, 1991. 67. Miller, Michael D. “The True Story. ” Camelot: The True Story. Moffat, CO: Rideout Publishing, 2008. Ogden-Korus, Erin. “An Archeological Quest for the ‘Real’ King Arthur.
1999. 17 Feb 2009 <http://www. uiweb. uidaho. edu/student_orgs/arthurian_legend/england/arch/>. Sir Lancelot Online. “Sir Lancelot of the Lake. ” 17 Feb 2009 <http://www. sir-lancelot. co. uk/index. htm>. Snell, Melissa. “The Truth of Arthur. A Legendary King. ” About. com: Medieval History. 1999. 17 Feb 2009 <http://historymedren. about. com/od/historicalarthur/a/truthofarthur. htm>. The Camelot Project. “Historical Arthur. ” King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table. 2001. 17 Feb 2009 <http://www. kingarthursknights. com/arthur/historical. asp>.