Arthurian Legends: Origins to the Nineteenth Century
To remind the reader of the early Arthurian legends, many of which were read by the four Victorian poets we discuss in this volume, we will briefly note the particular contributions of influential medieval writers. This cursory survey is intended only to show the Victorian point of departure from medieval texts. The focus is on the work of Thomas Malory, because Tennyson, Morris, and Swinburne all depended heavily upon his text. ( Arnold may not have read Malory's work until after he had written his own Arthurian story, but he was familiar with parts of it.)
If there was a real King Arthur, he lived in the sixth or the seventh century a.d., a period from which we have collected little reliable data. The early information we have does not clearly mean "that he ever became 'king' of any part of Britain. His achievements as a warrior alone are mentioned, and all that we can gather besides from Welsh tradition only serves to emphasize the fact that his renown among the British people rested mainly upon his warlike prowess" ( Jones 11). He may have been a Welsh guerrilla fighter who defended the English or one of the last Roman generals of Britain. The name Arthur is not Welsh, but probably transliterates he common Roman name Arthurius, so it seems likely that he was a Roman who helped the Celts against the Anglo-Saxons.
Arthur is first mentioned by name in a ninth-century chronicle, Historia Brittonum (c. 800), attributed to a Welsh