Arthur is a fabled Britishking who figures in many legends. He appears as the ideal of kingship both in war and peace; even in modern times he has been ranked as one of the 100 Greatest Britons of all times. Over time, the popularity of the stories of King Arthur have captured interest far beyond his being the legendary hero of one nation. Countless new legends, stories, revisions, books, and films have been produced in Europe and the United States of America that unabashedly enlarge on and expand the fictional stories of King Arthur.
The historical basis of King Arthur is a source of considerable debate among historians. The King Arthur of Arthurian legend appears in many legends but it has not been decisively established whether his origin was entirely mythical or whether he was based on one or more historical figures.
A popular view holds that Arthur was a real person. By most theories, and in line with the traditional cycle of legends, he was a Romano-British leader fighting against the invading Anglo-Saxons some time between the late 5th century and early 6th century. Archaeological studies show that during Arthur's alleged lifetime, the Anglo-Saxon expansions do seem to have been halted for a whole generation. If he existed, his power base would probably have been in the Celtic areas of Wales, Cornwall and the West Country, the Brythonic 'Old North' (covering modern northern England and southern Scotland) or possibly Brittany. However, controversy over the centre of his supposed power and the extent and kind of power he would have wielded continues to this day.
There are only three early sources that mention Arthur. The earliest, by date of composition, is a British poem, "Gododdin", which was probably composed around the year 600. It refers to a warrior who "glutted black ravens [i.e. killed many men] on the rampart of the stronghold, though he was no Arthur". The earliest surviving manuscript of this poem dates from about the 11th century, however, so it is possible that this line is a later addition.
The next reference comes from the Historia Brittonum, usually attributed to Nennius, a Welsh ecclesiastic who was probably active in the early ninth century. Nennius lists a dozen battles fought by Arthur, and gives him the title of "dux bellorum", which can be translated as "war commander". Nennius also says that Arthur fought "alongside the King of the Britons", rather than saying that Arthur was himself king. One of the battles Nennius lists appears to be the same as a great British victory mentioned by Gildas in an earlier history, the battle of Mons Badonicus, though Gildas does not give the name Arthur. (read more . . . )
The illegitimacy angle was introduced in the Lancelot-Grail (Vulgate) Cycle, and has been taken up in most subsequent versions. In those versions, the incest is usually accidental; the participants are ignorant of their kinship. In one version Morgause mistakes Arthur for her husband visiting her in the night. In another Arthur rapes his sister, dominated by lust for her. In any case the discovery of the incest is usually disastrous; after hearing a prophecy that a child born on May Day (as Mordred was) will destroy him and his kingdom, Arthur rounds up all the noble babies born during May and sends them away on a rickety ship. The ship sinks, and the only child to survive is Mordred, who is rescued and eventually returned to his parents. (read more . . . )