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Myths and legends

King Arthur

A young King ArthurA young King Arthur King Arthur was a legendary ruler of Britain. Tales of his life and deeds are known as Arthurian legends. They tell the story of a great king who brought peace to a war-torn land. The original legends may have been based on a real person who lived in the 5th or 6th centuries AD, but no one knows who he was. The medieval king who appears in the best-known legends was created centuries later. The most detailed account of King Arthur’s life was written by Geoffrey of Monmouth, who lived between about 1100 and 1155. His History of the Kings of Britain drew upon Welsh folklore, but Arthur, the conquering hero, was largely a fictional character made up by Geoffrey. French writer Chrétien de Troyes wrote poems about Arthur between 1155 and 1185. He introduced the character Sir Lancelot as well as the quest for the Holy Grail. A work by Sir Thomas Malory (died 1471), Le Morte D'Arthur (The Death of Arthur), became the best-known account of the legendary king. Modern versions are mostly based on Malory's story.

King ArthurKing Arthur

Was there a real Arthur?

Some scholars have suggested that “King Arthur” may have been based on a Celtic ruler called Artorius, who defended his people from the Anglo-Saxon invaders after the Romans left Britain in AD 410. According to some accounts, Artorius fought a number of battles against the Saxons between 500 and 537. Another researcher claims that a British king named Riothamus, who led a British army against France in about 460, may have been the source of the Arthur legend.

The Celts mixed stories of Arthur the great warrior with those of much older mythical figures, such as Gwydion, a Welsh priest-king. Some myths even claim that Arthur was descended from Aeneas, the Trojan hero who was said to be an ancestor of Romulus and Remus, the legendary founders of Rome.

According to legend, Arthur and his queen, Guinevere, were buried near the abbey church in Glastonbury. It is said that King Henry II ordered the tomb opened in 1150 and that it contained Arthur's skeleton and his sword.

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