The Historic King Arthur

There is a strong probability that something wonderful happened sometime around the year 510 A.D. This something was so wonderful that a name, Arthur, had to be attached to this event, and this name has resounded for almost two millennium in story and poem, representing the ideal of heroism and nobility. In fact, it might be that this man Arthur was one of the first of many to have, single handedly, saved England, Europe and Western Civilization.

 On the other hand, it is also quite possible that nothing happened in that year. The fact is, we don’t know, for sure, that anything happened, and we don’t know, for sure, that a man such as Arthur actually existed. This is the period known as the Dark Ages; if anyone was writing anything down, they weren’t saving it, and we have no records of what was happening in this period.

 Yet, we can infer much. For one thing, the Saxon Invaders wrote up a yearly record of their conquests, known as the ‘Anglo Saxon Chronicles.’ For a hundred years after the fall of Rome, in 410, A.D., the Saxons recorded fight after fight, victory after victory in Britain…but after 510, A.D., there was no record of any victory, much less any activity, in Britain. Someone beat them, and beat them so bad, that they did not come back for close to a hundred years.

 The story of the historic King Arthur is one of the most wonderful historical mysteries in the modern world. On the one hand, there is plenty of information available. On the other hand, most of that information is suspect, for one reason or another, and the big part of the mystery is deciding which information to accept. Over the years, there have been a plethora of books describing who Arthur really was. Each of these authors had all the same information available to them…and each of them have come to an entirely different conclusion as to the history of the period, and of the ‘true identity’ of Arthur. One author places him in Scotland, another in France, under the real, historical, name of Riothamus (which is probably a title, not a name). If you have any interest in history, this is a period that will keep you fascinated for years.

 So, what do we know?  

  • In the 6th century, a Monk named Gildas wrote about a great British hero, describes a titanic struggle on ‘Mount Badon’ where the hero, ‘bearing the image of the Holy Mother Mary on his shield’ slew 960 enemies single-handed and was the only survivor. Unfortunately, Gildas does not name this hero, and few of the battles mentioned, especially Mount Badon, can be placed in England. Gildas does state that the battle occurred ’40 years before I was born,’ and, from that, we are able to extrapolate a date for this battle.
  • In the 9th century, another Monk named Nennius, describes 12 battles fought by a man named Arthur, culminating in the battle of Mount Badon. Nennius claims to have been working from an earlier source, a source which has not been found, and few of the 12 battles can be placed in England. For all we know, Nennius was working off of Gildas’ account, as well as local legends and tales which grew up after the battle. On the other hand, Nennius has gained a reputation, over the years, for the level of his scholarship, and few doubt that he was, in fact, working off of older documents, here.
  • The medieval historian, Gerald of Wales, tells us that sometime before he died in 1189, Henry II gave a message to the monks of Glastonbury Abbey regarding the location of the grave of King Arthur. He also tells us that Henry had gotten the information from an unnamed Welsh bard. 

    Gerald’s account goes on to say that the Glastonbury monks, presumably acting on this information, had uncovered a hollowed-out log containing two bodies, while digging between two stone pyramids standing together in the abbey cemetery. The log coffin had been buried quite deep, at around 16 feet down. A stone slab cover had been found at the seven foot level, and attached to its underside was an oddly shaped cross with a Latin inscription on it, naming the occupants of the coffin as the renowned King Arthur and his queen, Guinevere.

 This is about all that can be definitely said about Arthur…that various Monks have written about a supposed history.  There is also the hearsay evidence that the name Arthur was not a common British name until after the middle of the 5th century…and a 6th century British drinking song has a verse about men fighting “like Arthur.”

 All of this is suggestive, and there is part of everyone that would like to believe that this man did, in fact, exist. A true scholar, however, can tear apart the evidence without even thinking. There are no, real, facts.

 Nevertheless, my own studies leave me little but to conclude that Arthur existed, and that he did, in fact, save England from being overrun by Saxons in the century after the fall of Rome. I have read much on the subject, and here is my own synopsis of the story of Arthur, the most logical series of events gleaned from all the sources available, as well as a list of a dozen other claimants for the title of King Arthur. Much of it can be wrong, but I feel the general trend is there, and it is a wonderful story…one that would make a great film!

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