Britain during the time
the legendary King
Arthur was a state in peril. Rome's ability to provide
protection, already in
question, had been degraded in 402 CE when Imperial troops were
redeployed to the mainland by Flavius Stilicho guardian of Emperor
Honorius and de
facto commander-in-chief of the Empire's western armies.
The problems the
island faced were further compounded in 407 when Flavius Claudius
Constantinus, Roman general of what
few legionaries remained, was
declared Emperor of the West (Constantine III) by his men, following which,
garrison in tow, he
crossed to Europe where he was recognized as co-emperor by a weakened
Honorius (Stilicho having been murdered following the
mutiny of the loyalist Roman army). His rule was to be short
lived, however, and in 411 he was beheaded by his enemies.
Roman Britain now
defenseless was open to invasion
province fragmenting into pre-Roman kingdoms. Gildas, a contemporary
British cleric, states that a
council was convened by Vortigern (Vortigen) a fifth century warlord to
plan for the island's defense and in keeping with Roman tradition a
decision was made to allow barbarians, in this case Saxons,
and Jutes, to settle and help
defend the civilized south against the barbaric northern
is often the
case, even the best laid plans can go awry, and soon the supposed
allies, constantly demanding more land, proved to be worse neighbors
than those they
were helping defend against. The Romano-British, after some initial
holding back the Germanic interlopers, were pushed westward into
Wales and Cornwall others fleeing to Brittany.
It is Gildas in
his “De Excidio Britanniae” (Concerning the Ruin of Britain) who spoke
of a military leader of Romano-British descent named Ambrosius
Aurelianus as the leader of British resistance (his dominance occurring
only a few years after Vortigern). Some medieval historians (Nennius, a
century Welsh monk, in his “Historia Brittonum” [History of the
Britons] was the first to mention Arthur by name in a heroic sense.) believed that if
Arthur did exist he might have been either the son of Aurelianus or
perhaps even Aurelianus himself.
Indeed, the legend
surrounding King Arthur  is derived from not just one source but
from many each with slight variations on a common theme. Other
connected persons, places and objects are likewise embellishment or
exaggeration added over the centuries by any number of contributors:
sword Excalibur  is a case in point. In one version, taken from
Robert de Boron’s “Merlin,” a young Arthur obtained the sword by
pulling it from a crevice, in a stone, where it had been wedged years
earlier (his father Uther Pendragon, witnessed by Merlin,
before he died that only a true king would be able to withdraw it). A
second version, favored by Sir Thomas Malory, sees Arthur receiving the
sword from the hand of the Lady of the Lake  after his original
sword Caliburn was broken in battle.
In his “Le Morte
D’Arthur” (The Death of Arthur) Malory has Arthur, severely wounded,
Bedivere to return the sword by casting it back into the lake. When the
knight reluctantly complies a hand rises from the water grasps the
sword and draws it beneath the surface. The wounded king is then
by barge down the river to Avalon from which it is alleged he will
in time of need.
Camelot, later to
become Arthur’s celebrated
seat of power, was first mentioned (briefly) in Chrétien de Troyes’
“Lancelot, le Chevalier de la Charrette” (Lancelot, the Knight of the
Cart), though Chrétien, along with others such as Geoffrey of Monmouth,
a medieval cleric,
in his pseudo-historical, circa 1136 “Historia Regum Britanniae”
(History of the Kings of Britain) places Arthur’s chief court at
Caerleon in Wales.  It wasn’t until 1485 and “Le Morte D'Arthur”
(based on thirteenth century French romances) that Malory
firmly entrenched Camelot (which he identified with Winchester) in
recognized today is essentially the wizard depicted by
Geoffrey of Monmouth. He is based primarily on Myrddin Wyllt, a figure
from Welsh legend alleged to have lived in the mid sixth century and
described as "a mad prophet living a miserable existence in
of the forest,
his time spent ruminating on his life prior to the passing of King
Gwenddoleu at the battle of
Arfderydd". Later authors added further ornamentation, his
character becoming endowed with supernatural powers, a grey beard,
conical hat, long gown and scepter.
The Knights of
Table were warriors (basically professional soldiers) at King Arthur’s
court ostensibly representing the highest ideals of chivalry; twelve or
in number they met as equals around a table designed with
neither head nor
In later tales the table said to be a wedding gift from Leodegrance, the king of
Cameliard, to Arthur, and created by Merlin, is instrumental in
the Grail quest, while earlier stories depict its origins in different
simple ways, the shape a response to squabbles concerning seating
arrangements or perhaps merely a reference to early Celtic custom in
which warriors attending their king sit in a circle.
is queen consort to King Arthur and daughter of King Leodegrance. In
popular version of the story it is her adulterous affair with Lancelot,
a Knight of the Round Table, which leads to Camelot’s downfall and the
death of Arthur.
Morgan Le Fay
 (Morgana) is a powereful enchantress in the Arthurian legend. Alternately healer then
antagonist to Arthur (in some accounts Arthur is a blood
relation) her role is one of constant change, from benevolent, one of
sisters closely associated with Avalon, to adversarial,
enemy to Guinevere and the Round Table, to eventual reconciliation.
also known as the “Isle of Apples” is first mentioned in the “Historia
Regum Britanniae” as the magical island where Excalibur was forged and
Arthur was taken to be healed. Its purported location ranges from
Glastonbury, to Cornwall, to Sicily and beyond.
 Regions the
length and breadth of Britain have claimed a connection to the
Arthurian legend, perhaps the earliest full stories two Welsh
tales from the
11th century "Culhwch and Olwen" and the "Dream of Rhonabwy."
Arthur to have been High King of Britain.
The Clan Campbell
trace their lineage back to "Arthur ic Uibar" (Arthur, son of Uther).
Excalibur has many names, from the Welsh Caledfwlch it was Latinized to
Caliburnus or Caliburn and then further altered to Excalibur, a derivation drawn from
the Latin phrase Ex calce liberatus in English "liberated
the stone." In some versions of the legend, Caliburn and Excalibur are
 Many lakes
such as Llyn Llydaw, The Loe (Loe Pool), Dozmary Pool and Loch Arthur
association with the Lady of the Lake.
 It was a
characteristic of medieval kings to hold court in
different towns, cities and castles (with one predominant).
 A fay, fae or
fairy is a mythological being, human in appearance, endowed with
supernatural powers and
known euphemistically as the wee, fair or good folk.
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