King Arthur: Myth-Making and History

King Arthur: Myth-Making and History

King Arthur: Myth-Making and History

King Arthur: Myth-Making and History


This seminal new study explores how and why historians and writers from the Middle Ages to the present day have constructed different accounts of this well-loved figure.N. J Higham offers an in-depth examintaion of the first two Arthurian texts: the History of the Britons and the Welsh Annals . He argues that historians have often been more influenced by what the idea of Arthur means in their present context than by such primary sources King Arthur: Myth-making and History illuminates and discusses some central points of debate:* What role was Arthur intended to perform in the political and cultural worlds that constructed him?* How did the idea of King Arthur evolve?* What did the myth of Arthur mean to both authors and their audiences? King Arthur: Myth-making and History is fascinating reading for anyone interested in the origins and evolution of the Arthurian legend.


The candid historian must admit that the evidence on the subject … is meagre, relatively late, and almost wholly fantastic.

(Bruce 1923:1)

The past century, or so, has witnessed a considerable, and on occasion quite vehement, debate concerning whether or not King Arthur actually existed. On the one side, belief in Arthur as a real figure in real time and space has become deeply entrenched. On the other, several scholars have urged caution or even sought to argue the negative, that no historical Arthur ever existed. There is obviously a great gulf between these two positions, but not even the 'real' Arthur positivists are in any sort of agreement. Some have proposed imperial Arthurs, whose power waxed and waned over the whole island, while others offer lesser kings of petty polities at various dates and in several different regions of Britain. Lying behind this debate are a host of issues about local and regional identity and Arthur as a 'Celtic' (versus 'English' or 'Germanic') icon. Beyond those, even, is the entire mercantile perspective, within which Arthur's name, recognition and reputation are used to brand anything from lottery tickets and hotel rooms to bells and bangles - and books, of course. Arthur's Camelot has been used variously by Hollywood and by novelists, and to promote a particular cult of the White House under J. F. Kennedy. While most historical debates never impact outside of professional circles, the issue of Arthur is distinguished by its very public nature and wide resonance.

On the face of it, the longevity, robustness and popularity of this debate may seem surprising. On the basis of textual evidence, Arthur was widely considered implausible as an historical figure in the late Victorian era, when he was most often interpreted in mythological terms as a Brittonic culturehero or demi-god. Even those late nineteenth-century historians who considered Arthur potentially historical conceived of him as a figure of little relevance to the dominant historical enterprises of the day. Their principal interest in the early Middle Ages lay in seeking in the past the unique qualities of the English people and their institutions, to legitimize and underline

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