King Arthur: The Truth behind the Legend

King Arthur: The Truth behind the Legend

King Arthur: The Truth behind the Legend

King Arthur: The Truth behind the Legend


King Arthur is often written off as a medieval fantasy, the dream of those yearning for an age of strong, just rulers and a contented kingdom. Those who accept his existence at all generally discard the stories that surround him. This exciting new investigation argues not only that Arthur did exist, as a Dark Age chieftain, but that many of the romantic tales - of Merlin, Camelot and Excalibur - are rooted in truth.
In his quest for the real King Arthur, Rodney Castleden uses up-to-date archaeological and documentary evidence to recreate the history and society of Dark Age Britain and its kings. He revives the possibility that Tintagel was an Arthurian legend, and proposes a radical new theory - that Arthur escaped alive from his final battle. A location is even suggested for perhaps the greatest mystery, the whereabouts of Arthur's grave.
King Arthur: The Truth Behind the Legend offers a more complete picture of Arthur's Britain and his place in it than ever before. The book's bold approach and compelling arguments will be welcomed by all readers with an interest in Arthuriana.


It was in 1984 that I received a picture postcard from Cornwall, signed ‘King Arthur’ below the command ‘WRITE ABOUT ME NEXT’. Just that. Something made me doubt its authenticity; it was partly the lack of sixth-century orthography that aroused my suspicions, partly that I did not see the King using a biro, still less a second-class Queen Elizabeth stamp. This bowshot from the past nevertheless found its target and some years afterwards I floated the idea to Routledge of a modest treatment of the Arthur theme, a re-examination of the archaeological evidence for Arthur as a Cornish king, prompted mainly by Charles Thomas’s convincing re-interpretation of Tintagel as a royal stronghold.

I am grateful to my editors at Routledge past and present, Andrew Wheatcroft and Vicky Peters, for their enthusiasm for this project. Andrew Wheatcroft argued that reviewing the ‘matter of Britain’ in its awesome entirety would not only make my hypothesis more persuasive, and make a better book, but that the time was right to take a comprehensive look at the Arthurian problem. By coincidence, in the 1970s, it was Andrew who had been the editor of John Morris’s The Age of Arthur, a ground-breaking work then and still powerfully convincing, still the standard work on the subject, and he saw me as the right person to attempt to replace it. Whether I have lived up to that expectation I cannot say: not just through self-doubt, but because I have lived so close to the data and the whole complex of interweaving controversies that I can no longer judge whether someone coming new to the issues will be able easily to understand what is at stake.

There is a curious stand-off by scholars with regard to sixth-century Britain. The Arthurian legend is so powerful and magnificent, with a dynamic of its own, that it actually deters many of them from looking at the period at all. Studies of Roman and subRoman Britain tend to peter out into generalities around the middle of the fifth century; studies of Anglo-Saxon England deal with the fifth and sixth centuries as a kind of thinly documented preamble. Only a few brave spirits like Ken Dark tackle the Celtic Britain of AD 450–600 with any determination to get at the truth in the way that historians attack later centuries. If he lived at all, Arthur lived during that period. The pursuit of Arthur as an historical figure necessarily involves reconstructing that lost century and a half of British history, which was and is as real as any other century and a half of history. The stakes are therefore high. I thank Andrew and Vicky most warmly for encouraging me to make the project more ambitious than I originally intended. Reconstructing what was going on in Britain as a whole was an exercise of incalculable value, and led me to conclusions more exciting than I could ever have imagined.

I also thank Brian McGregor and his staff at the Ashmolean Library in Oxford, and John and Celia Clarke for their generous hospitality during my Oxford reading weeks. It was entirely fortuitous that my friend Diana Cooke acquired a cottage on a mountain side . . .

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