BBC 2 documentary last week...King Arthur’s Britain:The Truth Unearthed billed as “In this landmark history film, Professor Alice Roberts uses exciting new archaeological discoveries to decode the myths and medieval fake news, piecing together a very different story of this turning point in Britain's history”.
Presented by Professor Alice Roberts as revelatory, overturning a supposed accepted narrative. Summarising towards the end she stated with certainty that Arthur did not exist.
IMO I found it long winded, it didn’t really set out anything that was fundamentally new and it’s certainty about Arthur’s non existence seemed wrong to me.
The program put particular emphasis for the origin of the legend of King Arthur that we have today upon Geoffrey of Monmouth 12th century work Historia regum Britanniae(History of the King’s of Britain. This book indeed contains the basic elements of the story that thereafter developed into the full blown romance that we have today.
However, there are several references to Arthur or notable events associated with Arthur(here I deliberately say Arthur rather than King Arthur) long predate Geoffrey’s work;
1. Gildas’ De Excidio Britanniae(On the Destruction of Britain) written circa 500Ad. Reference to the victory by the British over the Saxons at Mount Badon but no mention of Arthur.
2. Bede’s Ecclesiastical History of the English People c 731. Again refference to the victory by the British over the Saxons at Mount Badon but no mention of Arthur.
3. Nennius’ Historia Brittonum(History of the Britons) c 829.....
..... thereafter follows an account of 11 battles, and then the 12th....Then Arthur fought against them in those days, with the kings of the Britons, but he himself was leader in the battles.
Two particular points about the passage. Firstly Arthur is not described as a king within the context with reference to kings.....he seems to be of lower rank than a king. Secondly the reference to Arthur killing 960 men has been taken by many to mean that he personally killed that number single handedly and thereby such and account superhuman capability consigns the rest of the account to the realms of fantasy. However, the account can just as easily be read within the context of the reference the ‘kings of the Britons’ working in conjunction with Arthur to distinguish the work of Arthur’s men from those of the ‘kings’.The 12th Battle was made on the hill of Badon, in which 960 men fell in one charge by Arthur. And no one laid them low save he himself. And in all the battles he emerged the victor.
4. Annales Cambriae(Annals of Wales) c 977. references to Arthur and Battle of Mount Badon.
I know I am biased, I would sincerely like to believe that there is at least some factual basis to the story of Arthur.
What do you think?
Ref....The Reign of Arthur. . Christopher Gidlow, 2004.