Facts about King Arthur
King Arthur Biography
King Arthur is one of the great mythic figures of English literature. Dozens of legends and romantic images have grown up around him: the knights of the Round Table, Merlin the wizard, and the Holy Grail, to name a few.
According to the main Arthurian legends, King Arthur wielded a magical sword, Excalibur; lived in a glorious kingdom called Camelot; was helped by the wizard Merlin; and was married to the beautiful Queen Guinevere (who in many legends has a doomed romance with Arthur’s knight Sir Lancelot). Many of the modern-day stories of King Arthur are based on Le Morte d’Arthur (“The Death of Arthur”), the collection of Arthurian tales published by Sir Thomas Malory in 1485. Another popular source for modern Arthur stories is The Once and Future King, a 1958 novel by T.H. White that borrowed from Malory’s legends.
King Arthur is a figure of legend, not a true historic ruler of England in the manner of Henry VIII or Queen Elizabeth II. The first recorded mention of King Arthur is in the ‘History of the Britons’, written in 830 and attributed to a writer or historian called Nennius, but even this first mention doesn’t really match up with known historical facts. Scholars can’t decide whether anyone like Arthur ever existed, though most now accept that the legend is very loosely based on a real historical figure; he may have been a 5th or 6th century ruler name Arturus or Riothamus.
In most legends, Arthur’s royal destiny is revealed when he alone is able to pull a magical sword from a stone (or anvil) where it’s lodged. The sword is named Excalibur. As Thomas Malory puts it in Le Morte d’Arthur, “Whoso pulleth out this sword of this stone and anvil, is rightwise king born of all England.”
Something in Common with King Arthur
4 Good Links
- Wonderfully dense guide to background materials, online and off
- The BBC's introduction to the king
- The Independent sifts the archaeological evidence
- The British Film Institute runs through the (often wacky) classics