Worlds of Arthur: Facts and Fictions of the Dark Ages

Worlds of Arthur: Facts and Fictions of the Dark Ages

Guy Halsall

Language: English

Pages: 384

ISBN: 019965817X

Format: PDF / Kindle (mobi) / ePub

King Arthur is probably the most famous and certainly the most legendary medieval king. From the early ninth century through the middle ages, to the Arthurian romances of Victorian times, the tales of this legendary figure have blossomed and multiplied. And in more recent times, there has been a continuous stream of books claiming to unlock the secret or the truth behind the "once and future king."

The truth, as Guy Halsall reveals in this fascinating investigation, is both radically different--and also a good deal more intriguing. Broadly speaking, there are two Arthurs. On the one hand is the traditional "historical" Arthur, waging a doomed struggle to save Roman civilization against the relentless Anglo-Saxon tide during the darkest years of the Dark Ages. On the other is the Arthur of myth and legend, accompanied by a host of equally legendary people, places, and stories: Lancelot, Guinevere, Galahad and Gawain, Merlin, Excalibur, the Lady in the Lake, the Sword in the Stone, Camelot, and the Round Table.

The big problem with all this, notes Halsall, is that "King Arthur" might well never have existed. And if he did exist, it is next to impossible to say anything at all about him. As this challenging new look at the Arthur legend makes clear, all books claiming to reveal "the truth" behind King Arthur can safely be ignored. Not only the fanciful pseudo-historical accounts--Merlin the Magician, the Lady in the Lake--but even the "historical" Arthur is largely a figment of the imagination. The evidence that we have, whether written or archeological, is simply incapable of telling us anything detailed about the Britain in which he is supposed to have lived, fought, and died.


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Freedom from West Saxon overlordship and the institution of his own imperium. The kings of East Anglia and of Essex are described as being subservient to Æthelberht until his death (616). This might have meant the fracturing of a larger Saxon kingdom in the south, whose existence is proposed in the preceding chapters. That suggested realm was based further west, growing out of early Saxon settlement on the edge of the villa-zone, possibly associated with or, alternatively, taking over the polity.

Record a ‘Saxon’ conquest of Powys in 822. Indeed, their account of the late eighth and early ninth centuries is one of repeated English attacks. This period begins roughly with the construction of Offa’s Dyke, believed to have been a response to a phase of Welsh inroads into Mercia. Perhaps this was a time when a Welsh historian might have felt the need to invent a great figure from the past who smote the Saxons left, right, and centre, to rally his countrymen in a difficult period. Its author.

Life cycle. Marriage and other kinship-creating links formed a web of alliances within a community. When an individual died a certain stress was produced within local politics. If, for example, a man died before his male children had established their own social position, this could cause tension as the heirs attempted to inherit his status. Similarly, the death of a young adult woman dissolved a marriage alliance between families, and added problems might be caused if there were young children.

Later piled upon his very basic account. Looking at the historical section in its entirety shows what Gildas’ point was. The introductory section describes Britain’s ‘green and pleasant land’ before showing how the Britons are faithless and rebellious but never have the courage of their convictions. The Roman Empire easily conquers them and, though the Britons rebel under Boudicca when the Romans are distracted, they flee when the legions return. Gildas then passes on to his Christian Section.

Leaves unexplained the HB’s other date for the adventus saxonum, in Gratian’s reign, and why he thought it took place in Vortigern’s fourth regnal year. The ‘Gratianic’ date is a simple error. We’ve seen how the author could slip from one dating system to the other and convert dates from AP to AD the wrong way. We’ve also noted that at one point he mistakenly calculated that 429 years had passed between the adventus and the current year. Such a calculation would place the adventus in the year.

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