The Arthurian Legend
King Arthur, the Knights of
the Round Table, Camelot,
and the Excalibur
The legend of King Arthur
and the knights of the Round
Table is the most powerful
and enduring in the western
world. King Arthur,
Guinevere, and Sir Lancelot
did not really exist, but their
names conjure up a romantic
image of gallant knights in
shining armour, elegant
ladies in medieval castles,
heroic quest for the Holy
Grail in a world of honour
and romance, and the court
of Camelot at the centre of a
royal and mystical Britain.
Historical Background
Arthur is a fabled British king figured in many legends.
The scarce historical background to Arthur is found in the
works of Nennius and Gildas and in the Annales Cambriae.
Geoffrey of Monmouth and the Welsh collection of
anonymous tales known as the Mabinogion.
Thomas Mallory's comprehensive Morte D'Arthur, published
in 1485.
Historical Background
According to the Historia Brittonum (History of the
Britons) and Annales Cambriae (‘Welsh Annals’),
Arthur was a shadowy historical figure, a Romano-British
leader fighting against the invading Anglo-Saxons
sometime in the late 5th to early 6th century.
The Annales Cambriae mentions the Battle of Camlann,
in which Arthur and Medraut (Mordred) were both killed,
dated to 537.
The text doesn’t refer to Arthur as a king, although this
may not be significant as texts often name kings without
mentioning their title.
Arthur’s Name
It is derived from the Latin family name Artorius,
meaning ‘ploughman’ (~farmer).
A derivation from Welsh arth (earlier art), meaning
‘bear’, suggesting art-ur, ‘bear-man’, is the original
Arthur's name appears as Arturus in early Latin Arthurian
texts, never as Artorius.
It is possible that in Celtic languages forms of Artorius
were pronounced as Arthur or Arturus.
Arthur’s Family
Father: Uther Pendragon (King of Britain).
Mother: Igraine (Eigr <Welsh>) (wife of Duke Gorlois of
When Uther fell in love with Gorlois' wife, Igraine, Merlin
helped the king, by transforming Uther to resemble
Gorlois. When Gorlois died, Uther married Igraine, but
she was already pregnant.
Arthur had a sister named Gwyar, who was the mother
of Gwalchmai or Gwalchmei, and of Gwalhaved.
Gwalchmai was better known in English and French
legend as Gawain or Gauvain.
The castle had been a Celtic stronghold
before becoming home to Earl of Cornwall
 The legend says this is the birthplace of
Merlin’s Cave
Mythological Figures
Lady of the Lake:
A misty, supernatural figure
endowed with magic powers,
who gave the sword Excalibur to
King Arthur. She inhabited a
castle in an underwater kingdom.
According to one legend she
kidnapped the infant Launcelot
and brought him to her castle
where he lived until manhood.
She has been identified variously
with Morgan le Fay and Vivien.
The poem The Lady of the Lake,
by Sir Walter Scott, is based on a
totally different legend.
Magician, seer, and teacher at the
court of King Vortigern and later
at the court of King Arthur. He
was a bard and culture hero in
early Celtic folklore. In
Arthurian legend he is famous as
a magician and as the counselor
of King Arthur. In Tennyson’s
Idylls of the King Merlin is
imprisoned eternally in an old
oak tree by he treacherous Vivien
(or Nimute), when he reveals the
secrets of his knowledge to her.
Sir Lancelot:
The bravest and most celebrated knight at the court of King Arthur. He
was kidnapped as an infant by the mysterious Lady of the Lake, from
whom he received his education and took his title, Launcelot of the Lake.
As a young man he went to the court of King Arthur, where he was
knighted and became one of the most feared warriors in all Christendom.
Lancelot was the lover of Guinevere, his sovereign’s queen.
She is the wife of King Arthur.
Her illicit and tragic love for Sir
Launcelot, which foreshadowed
the downfall of Arthur’s
kingdom, ends with her
retirement to a convert. Sha also
figures in several aerly romances
and Celtic legends, her name
appearing in various forms
(Guanhamara, Gvenour…). In
different versions of the
Arthurian story her name
appears as Guenevere and
Round Table: The table at which King Arthur and his knights
held court. It was allegedly fashioned at the behest of Arthur to
prevent quarrels among the knights over precedence. According to
one version it was given to Arthur as a wedding gift by his fatherin-law. A round table of undetermined antiquity hangs now in the
castle at Winchester. Tradicionally King Arthur’s, it may be a relic
of one of the medieval jousts also called round tables.
The most popular origin of the table first appears in Robert de
Boron’s Merlin, and was taken up by the later prose romances. In
it, the table was created by Merlin. In works like the LancelotGrail Cycle, the Post-Vulgate Cycle the Round Table was created
for Arthur’s father Uther Pendragon, and was kept by Uther’s
vassal Leodegrance after his death. When Arthur becomes king,
he receives the table as a gift when he marriages Leodegrance’s
daughter Guinevere.
There is no ‘head of the table’ at a round table, and so no one
person is at a privileged position. Thus the knights were all peers
and there was no ‘leader’ as there were at so many other medieval
Round Tables were an aristocratic activity throughout Europe
from the 13th century in to the 15th century.
In Christian mythology, the Holy
Grail was the dish, plate, cup or
vessel that caught Jesus' blood
during his crucifixion. It was said
to have the power to heal all
wounds. In this case, the Grail is
not an expensive, golden goblet,
but a simple dish, made of wood.
But there are other opinions, for instance that the San Grail is a kind of
stone, maybe the Philosopher’s Stone, or a piece of the Decalogue
People who drink out of the Grail, will be immortal.
Scientists say, the word San Grail comes from the Sang Raal. It means
Holy Blood. It refers to Jesus and his descendants.
At the Court of King Arthur, however, it was prophesied that the
Grail would one day be rediscovered by a descendant of St.
Joseph: the best knight in the land
Camelot is the most famous fictional castle and court associated with the
legendary King Arthur. Later romance depicts it as the fantastic capital of
Arthur’s realm, from which he fought many of the battles and quests that
made up his life. Camelot as a place is associated with ideals like justice,
bravery and truth, all the virtues Arthur and his knights embodiment in
the romances. As it is absent from the early material, and its location, if it
even existed, is unknown. Thus most modern academic scholars regard it
as being entirely fictional.
Possible Identifications:
Cadbury Castle, Caerleon,
Caerwent, Camelford,
Camelon, Carlisle, Castle
Killibury, Colchester, GraigLlwyn, Llanmelin, Slack,
Stirling, Winchester.
In 1542 John Leland reported
the locals around Cadbury
Castle in Somerset considered
it to be the original Camelot.
This theory is bolstered, or
may have derived from,
Cadbury’s proximity to the
River Cam and towns Queen
Camel and West Camel, and
remained popular enough to
help inspire a large scale
archaeological dig in the 20th
You can see Arthur’s profile defined in the cliff face
of the Island
It is an Iron Age castle
Arthur, reigning in his court at
Camelot, proved to be a noble
king and a mighty warrior. He
was the possessor of the
miraculous sword Excalibur,
given to him by the mysterious
Lady of the Lake.
 At Arthur’s death Sir Bedivere
threw Excalibur into the lake, a
hand rose from the water, caught
the sword, and disappeared.
 Another sword, sometimes
mistakenly identified with
Excalibur, was drawn from a
stone by Arthur to prove his
 Its
scabbard (hüvely)prevented the
wearer from loosing blood
The Name: The earliest Arthurian stories
give the name of King Arthur's sword as
Caladfwlch, a Welsh word derived from
Calad-Bolg meaning "Hard Lightning".
Later it developed to become the Caliburn
of Geoffrey and Monmouth and finally the
Frenchified Excalibur that we know today
Of Arthur’s several enemies, the
most treacherous were his sister
Morgan le Fay and his nephew
Mordred. Morgan le Fay was
usually represented as an evil
sorceress, scheming to win Arthur’s
throne for herself and her lover.
Mordred was varuiously Arthur’s
nephew or his son by his sister
Morgawse. He seized Arthur’s
throne during the king’s absence.
Later he was slain in battle by
Arthur, but not before he had
fatally wounded the king. Arthur
was borne away to the isle of
Avalon. Where it was expected that
ho would be healed of his wounds
and that he would someday return
to his people.
In the Celtic mythology, the
blissful otherworld of the dead.
In medieval romance it was the
island to which the mortally
wounded King Arthur was taken,
and from which it was expected
he would someday return.
Avalon is often identified with
Glastonbury in Somerset,
His Grave
There were stories that even King Henry
III himself had ordered the exhumation
 „the body at least sixteen feet beneath the
earth, not in a tomb of stone but in a
hollow oak” the reason: it might never be
discovered by the saxons
 Arthur’s tomb at Glastonbury (?)
Arthur and Guinevere’s

The Arthurian Legend