Portal:King Arthur

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Tapestry showing Arthur as one of the Nine Worthies, wearing a coat of arms often attributed to him (c. 1385)

King Arthur was a legendary British leader who, according to medieval histories and romances, led the defence of Britain against Saxon invaders in the late 5th and early 6th centuries. The details of Arthur's story are mainly composed of folklore and literary invention, and his historical existence is debated and disputed by modern historians. The sparse historical background of Arthur is gleaned from various sources, including the Annales Cambriae, the Historia Brittonum, and the writings of Gildas. Arthur's name also occurs in early poetic sources such as Y Gododdin.

Arthur is a central figure in the legends making up the Matter of Britain. The legendary Arthur developed as a figure of international interest largely through the popularity of Geoffrey of Monmouth's fanciful and imaginative 12th-century Historia Regum Britanniae (History of the Kings of Britain). In some Welsh and Breton tales and poems that date from before this work, Arthur appears either as a great warrior defending Britain from human and supernatural enemies or as a magical figure of folklore, sometimes associated with the Welsh Otherworld, Annwn. How much of Geoffrey's Historia (completed in 1138) was adapted from such earlier sources, rather than invented by Geoffrey himself, is unknown.

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Detail of The Last Sleep of Arthur in Avalon by Edward Burne-Jones

Avalon (probably from the Celtic word abal: apple; see Etymology below) is a legendary island somewhere in the British Isles, famous for its beautiful apples. The concept of such an "Isle of the Blessed" has parallels in other Indo-European mythology, in particular Tír na nÓg and the Greek Hesperides, the latter also noted for its apples.

According to one theory the word is an anglicisation of the Brythonic "Annwyn", the realm of fairies, or netherworld, but this would be a major corruption. Geoffrey of Monmouth interpreted the name as the "isle of apples". This is more probable, since "apple" is still aval in Breton and Cornish, and afal in Welsh, in which the letter f is pronounced [v].

Avalon is also said to be the place where the body of King Arthur is buried. The corpse was supposedly brought on a boat to Avalon by Arthur's half sister, Morgan le Fay. According to some legends, Arthur sleeps there merely to awaken at some future time.

The tradition that Arthur was buried at Glastonbury Tor appears to have taken shape from as early as the beginning of the 11th century. Before the surrounding fenland in the Somerset Levels was drained, Glastonbury Tor's high round bulk rose out of the water-meadows like an island. According to several chroniclers (including Gerald of Wales), it was during the reign of Henry II that the abbot, Henry de Blois, commissioned a search of the Tor. It was at a depth of 5 m (16 feet) that a massive oak trunk or coffin with an inscription Hic jacet sepultus inclitus rex Arthurus in insula Avalonia. ("Here lies King Arthur in the island of Avalon") was apparently discovered. The remains were reburied with great ceremony, attended by King Edward I and his queen, before the High Altar at Glastonbury Abbey, where they were the focus of pilgrimages until the Reformation. (read more . . . )

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Sir Ywain (also called Owain, Yvain, Ewain or Uwain) is a Knight of the Round Table and the son of King Urien in Arthurian legend. The historical Owain mab Urien, on whom the literary character is based, was the king of Rheged in Great Britain during the late 6th century. Ywain was one of the earliest characters associated with King Arthur, being mentioned in Geoffrey of Monmouth's Historia Regum Britanniae. He was also one of the most popular, starring in Chrétien de Troyes' Yvain, the Knight of the Lion and appearing prominently in many later accounts.

He is somewhat unusual in that he remains as Urien's son in virtually all literature he appears in; other characters based on figures from Welsh Arthurian legend lost their original familial connections in continental literature, for instance Sir Kay. Ywain's mother is often said to be Arthur's half-sister, making him Arthur's nephew. This sister is Morgan le Fay in the Post-Vulgate Cycle and Thomas Malory's Le Morte d'Arthur, but other works name another sibling. He is the nephew of Morgause and King Lot, and cousin to Gawain, Agravain, Gaheris, Gareth and Mordred. He has a half-brother (with whom he is often confused) named Ywain the Bastard, son of Urien and his seneschal's wife, and Welsh texts give him a twin sister named Morvydd. The character Calogrenant or Colgrevance from Knight of the Lion is another important cousin. (read more . . . )

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