King Arthur, the Round Table and the Holy Grail

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King Arthur, the Round Table and the Holy Grail

Post  eddie on Sat Jun 25, 2011 5:31 pm

The Death of King Arthur by Peter Ackroyd – review

The legend of King Arthur lives on in Peter Ackroyd's vivid reworking of Malory

Nicholas Lezard guardian.co.uk, Thursday 23 June 2011 10.05 BST

Well, someone had to do it – modernise Malory, that is. The original Morte d'Arthur isn't actually that hard once you get into the swing of it, and carries within its late medieval prose the unignorable frisson, which even the sternest historian cannot resist, that Arthur and his knights actually existed, and that the archaic manner of its telling takes us back in time to this magical past more effectively than any modern retelling: "And so he handled the swerd by the handels, and lightly and fiersly pulled it out of the stone, and took his hors and rode his way untyll his broder Sir Kay and delyverd him the swerd."


The Death of King Arthur by Peter Ackroyd

That hardly needs much effort to modernise, and in fact even needs some tidying up – "handled" and "handels", and the repetition of "swerd" suggest hurried writing. Ackroyd: "So he went over to the stone and, taking the hilt with both hands, lightly and easily took out the sword." We lose "fiersly", but you can see why. After 500 years, you can't expect us to have exactly the same worldview.

The original survives, at various removes, as persistent legend, whose best modern retelling is, in my opinion, John Boorman's 1981 film Excalibur, which had the misfortune to come out after Monty Python and the Holy Grail – which itself anticipated Boorman's visual magic, and ridiculous carnage.

That whole business with the Black Knight having all his limbs chopped off – "it's only a scratch!" – is not very far at all from what knights got up to in those days. You really couldn't ride for half an hour, it seems from Malory, without being challenged by someone with a grievance, and as trial only existed by combat, the victor having proved his case according to the will of God, it wasn't easy to get out of a joust if your opponent was insistent.

There is also the plot-furthering wrinkle, which for all I know is an invention of Malory's, that you could fight someone without knowing his identity, as long as he swapped shields with someone and kept his visor down. (Best prose retelling of the Arthurian legends: TH White's The Once and Future King. I still recall the effect on me as a child of the scene of Morgan la Fay boiling a cat in order to pick out the bone that would make her invisible.)

But Malory is, in my treasured sturdy OUP hardback of 1954, 900 pages long, and all this biffing, and the (at first) rudimentary explanations of motive, and the weird geography – the action zips all over the country so quickly it is as if there is a super-efficient pre-Beeching railway network in operation – can get wearying after a bit, and his retelling of the Tristan and Isolde story is generally agreed to be far too long and confused. So Ackroyd has ditched about two-thirds of the original, but with the obvious intention of keeping its flavour.

Well, you can see from the quotations above what we have lost, and what we have gained, in the matter of style. Adam Thorpe wrote a very perceptive and informed, but also in my view somewhat harsh review of Ackroyd's Arthur in this paper, and in fact he might have been the better person to do it, and all sorts of episodes have had to go (we miss a large part of the explanation why Gareth's death at Lancelot's hands is so grievous), and at one point Lancelot wakes someone up in Ackroyd by tapping him on the head with the pommel of his sword, not in Malory, and so on; but this a perfectly forgivable intrusion of invented detail.

It is, after all, all invented detail, and Malory made very free with his French sources. (It is odd that as Malory's writing gets better, and the further he deviates from his sources – the characters have proper depth by the end, and can truly be called "characters" rather than just suits of armour with names attached to them – he makes more allusions to the French texts he's using, as if he's visibly gaining in confidence.)

It is, though, one of the great stories, a beautiful, tragic myth of love and power, and if you are not fighting back a tear by the end of it, thou hast a heart of stone, sir.

guardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media Limited 2011

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Re: King Arthur, the Round Table and the Holy Grail

Post  eddie on Sat Jun 25, 2011 7:23 pm


Purported site of Arthur and Guinevere's tomb at Glastonbury Abbey.

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Re: King Arthur, the Round Table and the Holy Grail

Post  eddie on Sat Jun 25, 2011 7:29 pm

From the damninteresting website:

*********************************************************************************



King Arthur’s Grave

Written by Stephanie Benson on 23 October 2006

This article was written by Stephanie Benson.

The legend of King Arthur is an enduring one, so popular that it has been shared for centuries. The earliest accounts are simple: A heroic king rescues his country. The story evolved over the centuries, and further elements such as Camelot, the Round Table, and Merlin were added in for flavor. Some versions of the legend state that Arthur did not truly die, but rather that he was put in an enchanted sleep– and it is said that he will return again in an hour of great need.

For hundreds of years the Arthur story has been retold in its various forms, though even ancient historians considered it nothing more than a myth. But in the twelfth century, evidence surfaced that suggested that one of history’s most popular figures might have been more than a mere legend.

In the year 1190, the monks of Glastonbury Abbey in England announced an incredible discovery. According to historical record, the monks began to experience dreams and visions about King Arthur around that time, which prompted them to consult with King Henry II (AD 1133-1189). Henry informed them of a long-kept secret of the royal family: Arthur’s remains were buried in the churchyard of St. Dunstan in Glastonbury. A search was soon commissioned.

Upon excavating the indicated area, the searchers unearthed a massive oak trunk, buried sixteen feet deep just as Henry had described. Inside was a human skeleton which confirmed that they had discovered something special. It was absolutely gigantic. It appeared to be much taller than an average man, and the space between the eye sockets was as wide as the palm of a man’s hand. Apparently, this famous king was truly larger than life.

This skeleton was not alone in its coffin. Alongside it was a second, lying next to a plait of blonde hair. The identities of the two remains were described on an archaic lead cross which was found nearby, inscribed with the Latin message “Hic jacet sepultus inclitus rex Arthurus in insula Avalonia,” meaning “Here lies interred the famous King Arthur on the Isle of Avalon.”

All in all, this was exciting stuff. Men and women flocked to Glastonbury from the surrounding regions, and King Henry II interred the ancient bones. Glastonbury soon became wealthy from the offerings and alms given by those who made the pilgrimage, and few questioned the authenticity of the find. Indeed, a few decades earlier the contemporary historian Geoffrey of Monmouth had claimed that Glastonbury was built on the site of ancient Avalon.

It turns out that Arthur’s grave was not the first historically significant discovery made by the monks of Glastonbury. In 1184, they had allegedly found the remains of St. Patrick. However, this claim failed to convince most people, since it was widely believed that St. Patrick had been buried in Ireland. Soon after this incident, the monks of the town had found the bones of famed Saint Dunstan. This discovery, too, was not widely believed. Though St. Dunstan had begun his career in Glastonbury, he ultimately relocated to Canterbury and had been buried there.

It was several years later that the monks found the grave of King Arthur. The discovery was fortuitous, because the monastery was rumored to be in financial trouble. In 1184, the monastic building and church of Glastonbury had been razed to the ground in a fire, leaving the monks of the town in dire monetary straits. However, if an abbey were in possession of a sacred relic, then it would be assured revenue. People would visit from far and wide to see pieces of the cross, clothes and objects of the saints… and bones. King Arthur was not a religious figure, but as one of the foremost heroes in legendary history, his remains attracted a great deal of medieval tourists.

While the circumstances of the discovery cast it in a suspicious light, the story was supported by King Henry II King Edward, who had succeeded Henry III and who had no need for money. But he may have had political motives in backing such a hoax; England was being ruled by Norman conquerors. The Saxons generally accepted these rulers, but those belonging to the Celtic fringes did not. Among those who revolted against the Norman invaders, it was widely believed that Arthur would one day return and fend off the invaders. With proof that the Celts’ savior was truly dead, Edward would secure a greater hold on his subjects. He interred the bones of King Arthur and Queen Guinevere, symbolically aligning his reign with that of England’s most famous hero and putting the matter to rest.

Taken all together, the evidence strongly suggests that the grave of King Arthur was just an elaborate hoax, designed to benefit several parties. Unfortunately the bones and the cross went missing centuries ago, so the evidence cannot be examined using modern techniques. But if they are ever rediscovered, even if they prove to be forgeries, these artifacts would be an interesting testament to the enduring legacy of political trickery and propaganda.

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Re: King Arthur, the Round Table and the Holy Grail

Post  pinhedz on Sun Jun 26, 2011 1:28 am

According to Nennius, in the 5th/6th centuries ...

"Then it was, that the magnanimous Arthur, with all the kings and military force of Britain, fought against the Saxons. And though there were many more noble than himself, yet he was twelve times chosen their commander, and was as often conqueror. The first battle was in the mouth of the river which is called Glein. The second and third and fourth and fifth on another river which is called Dubglas and is in the region Linnuis. The sixth battle on the river which is called Bassas. The seventh battle was in the forest of Celidon, that is Cat Coit Celidon. The eighth battle was near the fort Guinnion, where Arthur bore the image of the Holy Virgin, mother of God, upon his shoulders, and through the power of our Lord Jesus Christ, and the holy Mary, put the Saxons to flight, and pursued them whole day with great slaughter. The ninth battle was fought in the city of the Legion. He fought the tenth battle on the shore of the river called Tribruit. The eleventh battle was fought on the hill called Agned. The twelfth was a most severe contest, when Arthur penetrated to the hill of Badon. In this engagement, nine hundred and forty fell by his hand alone, no one but the Lord affording him assistance. In all these engagements the Britons were successful."

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Re: King Arthur, the Round Table and the Holy Grail

Post  eddie on Sat Jul 23, 2011 3:54 pm

The Arthurian legacy:

******************************************************************************

For Honour and Fame: Chivalry in England 1066-1500 by Nigel Saul – review

The lasting appeal of a cult of war and honour

Miri Rubin guardian.co.uk, Friday 22 July 2011 22.55 BST

Reflecting on Marie Antoinette's sorry fate, Edmund Burke lamented in his Reflections on the Revolution in France (1790): "Little did I dream that I should have lived to see such disasters fallen upon her in a nation of gallant men, in a nation of men of honour and of cavaliers! I thought ten thousand swords must have leaped from their scabbards to avenge even a look that threatened her with insult. But the age of chivalry is gone . . . "


For Honour and Fame: Chivalry in England, 1066-1500 by Dr Nigel Saul

Burke knew chivalry to have been a "mixed system of opinion and sentiment", which had its origin in "antient chivalry". Railing not only against the recent violence in France but against a century in which industry and commerce came to prevail, Burke vividly laments the loss of the civilising force of the code which warring, landowning, legislating men had called their own: chivalry, the English form of the French term, chevalerie.

The lament for chivalry lost is often accompanied by distaste for that which has come in its place – commerce, trade, bureaucracy – or those arrivistes who seek to join the ranks of chivalry through their efforts in these spheres, whom Burke calls "sophisters, economists, and calculators". Chivalry's demise is imagined as a loss to all – of courtesy, consideration towards women, generosity as well as physical style and courage. A world in which powerful men are no longer trained into chivalry is depicted as brutish and ugly. Horses against explosives, men against metal and chemicals, the lament was sounded again as the world was torn to pieces in the trenches of the first world war.

The era of chivalry was the idealised fantasy that grew out of the military superiority of the armed horseman, and which lasted roughly between the invention of the stirrup and the invention of gunpowder. Nigel Saul is just the right person to tell the story as experienced in England, with a row of academic studies as well as popular books on medieval English royals, nobles and gentry. One of the strengths of his new book is its attention to the visual and the material. The knights of England had property and wealth, and they flaunted them. Chivalry was not only a code of behaviour but a style honed both on the battlefield and in impressive residences, and it was apparent by the 11th century in the courts of northern French aristocrats.

In England the story begins with the Norman conquest, a clash between dramatically different technologies of war. The mounted warriors who accompanied Duke William – most from Normandy, but several from other French regions and Flanders – sustained this expensive and demanding form of warfare from the incomes of their estates, soon to be augmented by the lands of England. They were trained from childhood in the arts of mounted warfare, and their households were geared towards military exploits.

Behind each man fighting on horseback – each chevalier – was an elaborate set of arrangements which secured loyal service and effective help: grooms and squires, wives and daughters, stewards and chaplains, all involved in enhancing the knight's renown. The home is where much of the culture of chivalry was performed and enacted – in the tales taught the young, in the rituals of table and bed, and everywhere in the honour which was to be enhanced and preserved at all cost.

The ideology and practices developed in periods of war and conquest evolved into more sedentary, perhaps even bureaucratic forms of action. For England was a much-governed country, in which justice emanated from the king but was delivered locally by men of honour and experience, worthy of his trust. As the English state grew increasingly ambitious – not least during the active reign of Edward I (1272-1307) – forms of taxation were devised to support warfare in Wales, Scotland and France. Knights became the backbone of this representative politics, deliberating apart from the grander nobles in a separate chamber, the Lords.

This form of government in which knights were so central to debates in parliament, and to exploits on the battlefield, as well as to delivery of law and order in the shires, nurtured and elaborated the basic tenets of chivalry, the cult of honour and manly courage. Saul calls this phase "Chivalric Kingship", epitomised by the long reign of Edward III (1327-1377). The king who fought in Scotland and in France, who led the great victory at Crécy, also saw the stalemate of occupation and demoralising garrison life which followed for many Englishmen on French soil. He embraced the culture of chivalry and enhanced it by creating at Windsor the Order of the Round Table, bringing the familiar themes of the Arthurian fellowship into the lives of 14th-century men and some women. Those rituals and the Garter insignia have survived until this day, when its sovereign is the Queen, who with her heir presides over 24 knights and ladies companion, royals and remarkable others, such as Margaret Thatcher.

The games of court could not mask the dramatic challenges that faced those men who aimed to live as knights in the second half of the 14th century. The black death (1348-49) upturned the economy and shook social relations. Land lost its value and many serfs moved to towns and cities. Landlords responded like men of business, moving from arable to pasture, developing prospects in mining, fisheries, rabbit rearing and trade, above all the export and exploitation of wool.

Necessity meant that those raised to ride and wield the sword, who could conduct themselves expertly in a court of law and recite the exploits of Lancelot and Gawain, were called as never before to track the movement of prices and the demand for the produce of their lands. The knight in shining armour had more and more to do with merchants, financiers and lawyers. These professionals, in turn, rose in status and wealth; the most successful – such as the Pastons of Norfolk, of epistolary fame – rose to the ranks of knighthood. Such knights were more likely to raise quills than swords in anger.

The bloodbath that was the wars of the roses in the third quarter of the 15th century tested beyond endurance the belief that chivalry was an ethos which preserved life and limb and protected the weak and dependent. A century before Shakespeare dramatised the dysfunctional nature of the dynastic/chivalric arrangement in Henry VI Part I, another Warwickshire man, Sir Thomas Malory, offered to the world beyond chivalry a summary of its greatest moments, in his Mort d'Arthur, written in 1469-70. He was the exemplary knight of the shires for a few decades before going rogue, when he was serially tried for rape, arson, assault, theft and more. His epic was written from prison, where he dwelt – and ultimately died – as a debtor.

Malory's chivalry is not the celebratory, mythical, ritualised ethos of the round table and courtly love. Saul rightly emphasises how prosaic, indeed practical, it is. The last man standing is not the charismatic Arthur but the sound Lancelot. And Malory's sponsors were London merchants. One of them, the mercer William Caxton, saw the potential of this type of literature if circulated in print. In his prologue to the 1485 edition, he promised that readers would find therein "noble chivalry, courtesy, humanity, friendliness, hardiness, love, friendship, cowardice, murder, hate, virtue and sin".

Friendship and cowardice, virtue and sin – chivalry in England was never one without the other. Sometimes the very men who became epitomes of chivalric virtue turned away from its presumptions in disgust. In 1354 Henry of Grosmont, first Duke of Lancaster, a famous fighter, crusader and champion at jousts, wrote a devotional book in which he appealed to Christ and the Virgin Mary, seeking balm for his wounded soul. The wounds had resulted from indulgence of the senses, the life of a great knight. Sir John Clanvowe, another crusader, wrote The Two Ways in 1373, excoriating the infusion of contemporary culture with tales of knightly excess: "For the world holds them worshipful those who are great warriors and fighters, and who destroy . . . many lands and waste and give much good to those who have enough and spend outrageously on food, drink, clothing and building, and in living in ease, sloth and many other sins."

Yet it was not only such warlike and excessive knights who were celebrated. The caring knight – Robin Hood above all – was as much a hero of chivalry as were the mythical habitués of Camelot. Chivalry's code aimed to restrain vigour even as it encouraged its exercise. It is full of contradictions, hence its history is rich, and its legacy too.

Interest in chivalry was revived in the Victorian cult of things medieval, aesthetic as well as moral in scope. It inspired such initiatives as the Marquess of Queensberry's rules and the codification of laws of war, which Saul links to the later formulation of the Geneva convention. Yet lampoons of chivalry are equally powerful, as epitomised by John Tenniel's drawings of ungainly knights on horseback that illustrated Through the Looking Glass. That unyielding parody has given us the chivalry of Monty Python and Spamelot, and recently a new Camelot too. Nigel Saul's clear-sighted history makes these survivals all the more apparent, and all the more puzzling.

Miri Rubin's Mother of God: A History of the Virgin Mary is published by Allen Lane.

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Re: King Arthur, the Round Table and the Holy Grail

Post  eddie on Sun Jul 24, 2011 2:48 am

From Geoffrey Chaucer's General Prologue to the Canterbury Tales:

A KNIGHT ther was, and that a worthy man,
That fro the tyme that he first bigan
To ryden out, he loved chivalrye,
Trouthe and honour, fredom and curteisye.
Ful worthy was he in his lordes werre,
And thereto hadde he riden (no man ferre)
As wel in cristendom as hethenesse,
And evere honoured for his worthinesse.
At Alisaundre he was, whan it was wonne;
Ful ofte tyme he hadde the bord bigonne
Aboven alle naciouns in Pruce.
In Lettow hadde he reysed and in Ruce,
No cristen man so ofte of his degree.
In Gernade at the sege eek hadde he be
Of Algezir, and riden in Belmarye.
At Lyeys was he, and at Satalye,
Whan they were wonne; and in the Grete See
At many a noble aryve hadde he be,
At mortal batailles hadde he been fiftene,
And foughten for our feith at Tramissene
In listes thryes, and ay slayn his foo.
This ilke worthy knight hadde been also
Somtyme with the lord of Palatye,
Ageyn another hethen in Turkye:
And everemore he hadde a sovereyn prys.
And though that he were worthy, he was wys,
And of his port as meek as is a mayde.
He nevere yet no vileinye ne sayde
In al his lyf, un-to no maner wight.
He was a verray parfit gentil knight.
But for to tellen yow of his array,
His hors were goode, but he was nat gay.
Of fustian he wered a gipoun
Al bismotered with his habergeoun.
For he was late y-come from his viage,
And wente for to doon his pilgrimage.

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Re: King Arthur, the Round Table and the Holy Grail

Post  eddie on Tue Oct 25, 2011 10:33 pm

The Tragedy of Arthur, King of Britain by Arthur Phillips – review

Lost Shakespeare play or postmodern pastiche?

Jane Smiley
guardian.co.uk, Friday 21 October 2011 22.55 BST


Arthur Phillips … the play's the thing

"Doth mickle England want for righteous men/ As desert towns that God did burn to ash?" (Act I, scene 4)... I have to say that The Tragedy of Arthur, King of Britain, Newly Corrected and Augmented by William Shakespeare is a good-looking book. The long-lost play itself is 110 pages, a little longer than Macbeth, and not quite as long as Romeo and Juliet. But the greatest part of the book is made up of a lengthy introduction by novelist Arthur Phillips, who explains that he has shepherded the play from its discovery to publication. There are also excellent footnotes by Shakespeare expert Roland Verre - though, now you mention it, a Google search produces no scholar by that name. In the US, where it came out this spring, The Tragedy of Arthur was reviewed as an amusing pastiche by a Minneapolis-born and Harvard-educated postmodernist. The response has been quite positive, but hardly serious.


The Tragedy of Arthur
by Arthur Phillips

However, after performing an exhaustive search of the Guardian's web archive, I have managed to source a 1599 review of a play by W Shakespeare entitled The Tragedy of Arthur. I have translated it into modern parlance as follows: "At the Globe Theatre until October 4. The actors do a respectable job with episodic and not very exciting material. Author should heed the dramatic unities or confine himself to comic material. Two Stars."

This mini-review will come as a surprise to Phillips, who has had doubts about the manuscript's veracity all along. That the only copy of Shakespeare's lost play should turn up in the possession of his estranged father is suspect in itself – and his introduction, in the best Garrison Keillor tradition, is ironic, tormented, and full of drama stoically endured. But I say, why not? Stranger things have happened. If I were Phillips, I would take the money and keep smiling to the TV cameras.

Let me begin at the beginning. In the early 1960s, a pair of twins are born to a young married couple. The wife is a pretty young girl from northern Minnesota with acting ambitions; the husband is a talented painter, somewhat older, ferociously smart, uncontrollably eloquent, proudly self-educated. The twins, like Viola and Sebastian in Twelfth Night, are remarkably similar and exceptionally close. The only way in which they differ for the first 17 years of their lives is that the precocious Dana shares her father's passion for Shakespeare's plays, while Arthur fantasises about putting the Bard in his place. He daydreams that he is forced to babysit the playwright, "and explain everything (clothes dryers, air travel, vending machines, vaccinations), and it was a chore. I loathed having to look after this fifty-year-old man, his frisky mullet warming the back of his neck above the stiff collar". Irritated, he ups the game. "'Some genius,' I scoffed after I told him to cross the street on a red light and he was crushed by a truck." Arthur is unmoved by tales of Shakespeare's own twin children, while Dana is stricken by the fact that Shakespeare's boy died young, and the girl lived on alone.

One feature that Arthur's father, also named Arthur, does not share with his idol is that when Arthur Sr makes use of other people's material, it is labelled "fraud" rather than "genius", and he is sent to prison several times. Unfortunately, the local prosecutor is the father of Arthur Jr's best friend. When Arthur Sr is convicted of mischief (cutting crop circles in a farm field), he blames his son for spilling the beans.

Arthur Jr may be not guilty that time, but the fabric of lies and passions that he must negotiate for his entire childhood eventually begins to affect him – he distances himself from his father and also, painfully, from Dana. He takes refuge in Bohemia (that is, Prague). He and his wife produce twins of their own. And then, after years of perfect loyalty to his sister and perfect distrust of his father, he seems to be taken in at last. Perhaps the manuscript of a play attributed to Shakespeare that his father keeps in a box at his ageing lawyer's office is the real thing. Dana, at least, is willing to believe that it is – her father's story of how he obtained it is plausible, and she sees no harm in believing it. Arthur works hard to reject the play, but as scholars investigate and test the manuscript, he is briefly – long enough to sell it to his publishers – won over. Only when it comes to the time to write his introduction does he begin to shrink from his appointed task. But of course, confession is the trickiest discourse, as Hamlet would tell you.

Arthur Phillips may be mired in self-doubt, but as any 16-year-old knows, a tragic-comic novel with an appealing protagonist is much more compelling than a patched-together third-tier play in verse by a dead guy. As for the evidence and the money to be made – Arthur, give me a call.

Jane Smiley's Private Life is published by Faber.

© 2011 Guardian News and Media Limited or its affiliated companies. All rights re

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Re: King Arthur, the Round Table and the Holy Grail

Post  eddie on Sat Dec 10, 2011 11:53 pm

Europe u-knighted: King Arthur proves how European the British are

With the EU in turmoil, David Cameron would do well to remember that King Arthur, hero of British folklore, has in fact enjoyed a long reign in European cultural history

Jonathan Jones
The Guardian


European legend ... a detail from the round table in Winchester Great Hall shows King Arthur. Photograph: RDImages/Epics/Hulton Archive/Getty Images

King Arthur must be turning in his grave – or emerging from his cave on Snowdon to save us all. That would be cool.

Arthur of the Britons, defender of Albion against the invading hordes – don't make me laugh. Our greatest national myth is proof of how deeply European we are – and how much Britain has contributed to the idea of Europe. There may be fewer and fewer "good Europeans" left in Britain, as the EU dream apparently becomes a nightmare. But Arthur is their king.

It's a cultural degradation that so many people nowadays seek the origins of Arthur in a dark age twilight of battling Brits. The "real" chieftain Arthur, supposedly fighting Saxons in the ruins of Roman Britain, will never be found. What's more, his paltry traces are dull in comparison to the great European medieval legend of King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table.

The wonderful thing about Arthur is how a hero of British folklore (apparently originating in Wales), with his life recorded in pseudo-factual detail by Geoffrey of Monmouth in the first half of the 12th century, became a sublime artefact of European culture. The genius who made Arthur great was not British, but French. In the second half of the 12th century, Chretien de Troyes sang beautiful tales in which Arthur's court becomes a fabulous place of chivalry and love. Queen Guinevere, Gawain, and Sir Lancelot become romantic characters in his works. The tradition he founded became one of the strongest forces in gothic culture throughout Europe. In France, followers of Chretien told the stories of Lancelot and Guinevere and the pursuit of the Holy Grail in epics of eerie magic. In Britain, the French version of "our" national myth was brought home in the poem of Gawain and the Green Knight. It is no coincidence that when Thomas Malory compiled all the stories of Arthur in 15th-century English, his book was given a French title – Le Morte d'Arthur – for his sources were French.

Arthur did not stop in France. The Arthurian knight Perceval and his quest for the Holy Grail – as told by Chretien de Troyes – became the German epic Parzival. In Italy, the world of King Arthur was painted on the walls of Renaissance palaces in Mantua and Ferrara.

In 19th-century culture, Arthur continued his pan-European reign. While the pre-Raphaelites were painting Arthurian myth, Richard Wagner was dramatising it as opera. What is fascinating is that all through this long European cultural history, the scenography of the legend remained Celtic and western British. Wagner's Tristan and Isolde is set in Cornwall and Brittany, just as the tales of Chretien mix Breton place names with places such as Carleon and Tintagel.

Arthur, British and European, should remind us who we are. We are Europeans, like it or not. Even when the whole continent is sitting in the Siege Perilous.

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