It Takes the French to Know That the English Spun Welsh King Arthur into One of Their Own; Arthurian Historian Claims Wales Is Missing out on Tourism Bonanza

Western Mail (Cardiff, Wales), July 1, 2008 | Go to article overview

It Takes the French to Know That the English Spun Welsh King Arthur into One of Their Own; Arthurian Historian Claims Wales Is Missing out on Tourism Bonanza


Byline: Darren Devine

FRENCH historians have suggested King Arthur was indeed a Welshman despite years of English "spin" claiming the mythical figure as their own.

As part of a major conference into the legend, academics saythat if the king ever existed he was probably from Wales with strong links to Brittany, in northern France.

And far frombeing English - a ploy, they say, to appeal to nationalist sentiment - he would actually have been the sworn enemy of the Anglo-Saxons.

The organisers of the event at Rennes University, in Brittany, say the fable of Arthur and Camelot has been continually updated by English nationalists keen to bring back the Age of Chivalry.

Being held next month, the conference and exhibition - King Arthur a Legend in theMaking-will suggest English historians, artists and writers conspired to create a fictitious national hero.

Curator of the Rennes exhibition Sarah Toulouse said: "These stories deal with universal themes.

The earliest fragments of the tales can be traced back to Wales in the seventh century.

"But by the 13th century stories based on the Arthurian legends were being told right across Europe."

When the British Empire was at its zenith, writers like theVictorian poet laureate Alfred Lord Tennyson depicted King Arthur as an upstanding Englishman whose masculine virtues saw him try to create heaven on earth.

Mrs Toulouse added: "King Arthur is a mythical figure who was invented at a certain point in history for essentially political reasons."

The tales of Camelot, Excalibur and Arthurian derring-do have long been popular throughout Europe, with the earliest images of the king found in Italy, dating from about 1120. They also quickly spread as far apart as Iceland and found particular popularity in rural Brittany, although French historians have not gone as far as trying to claim the king as French. "It would be out of the question for us to say that," said Mrs Toulouse.

Alan Wilson, a Welsh authority on Arthur, agreed with many of the conference's claims, even claiming he has discovered evidence the monarch famed for his Knights of the Round Table lived and died here.

Hesays the nation is missing out on a tourism bonanza by ignoring our connections to the legendary leader.

In the early 1980s Mr Wilson, along with Arthurian co-author Baram Blackett, found what they claimed was the King's memorial stone at the small ruined church of St Peter-super-Montem on Mynydd-y-Gaer, near Bridgend.

A decade later, after using deep ground metal detection equipment, the two say that a cross weighing 2.5lb with an inscription reading "Pro Anima Artorius" (For The Soul Of Arthur) was among several articles discovered. They say the National Museum of Wales was offered both items for analysis, but the offer was declined.

Mr Wilson said despite writing to Culture Minister Rhodri Glyn Thomas about the strength of Wales' claims on King Arthur, his work is being ignored here. …

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