Did King Arthur really exist?

Did King Arthur really exist? And how much of the story can be historically validated, or is it pretty much “legend”?

I personally believe that it’s pretty much a legend, but with a real Celtic warlord at the bottom of it. Here is a link which links to many other sites, allowing you to form your own opinion.


I don’t have the book with me at the moment but according to Wace and Lawman (One of the earlier editions of the King Arthur books that I am aware of anyway) there was a King Arthur around 900 AD. Again, I don’t have the book with me currently to double check the date. It was said that the mythological King Arthur was based off of him in that book but most of the stories were just myths.

As a celtophile mythographer (I love making new words) I can tell you that many of the stories follow an early mythological base most notably Galahad and the Green Knight (aka the Green Man, the Horned God, Cernunos, etc). Many of the stories in the Arthurian Mythos are in the mode of parables. The Green Knight story is actually the story of Pwyll the Prince of Dyfed (from the Mabonigean) but retold to make it more relavant to the times.

So a simple answer is that the mythological Arthur didn’t exist, but there was probably a real king whom he was based from and then exagerated to fit into a mythological context.

The only historical evidence is mentioned in a British chronliclers account of the Battle of Mons Badonicus; where a Romano-British warlord defeated an Anglo-Saxon army circa 6th century AD. Although Arthur is not directly referenced in the chroniclers work ( who wrote about 50 years after the battle,) Mons Badonicus is mentioned as Artur’s climatic victory in several later sources. This leads some to believe that the Arthurian legend is built up around the victorious warlord at Mons Badonicus.

I have been seeing promos on TLC for a show on King Arthur that will air on August 5th. They are talking about legends from the fifth century.

900AD is much too late to give rise to the Arturian legends as he is mentioned in sources before this date. Are you sure you don’t mean King Alfred (the Great) I can’t think of any King Arthur’s of this period (plus Alfred claimed suzerainity of all of the lesser British/English ‘kings’ at this time).

“Rto” (bear) was a not-uncommon name among Britannic people near and at the end of the Roman occupation, and it could be possible that an Rto ap Utr (Arthur son of Uther or Arthur the Fierce) led some locals in few victories. However, the vast majority of the “King Arthur” stories are medieval in origin. For example Lancelot du Lac did not figure highly until Crestiens des Troyes (to give the medieval spelling of his name) wrote his works. Galahad was a very late addition. Up until Malory’s version, every generation reinvented Arthur in their own image. He didn’t become a “period piece” until after Malory.

Over the past twenty years or so there have been half a dozen books purporting to identify King Arthur with an actual person. Each of these books spends the first part telling you how all the previous books are wrong. Me, I’m amazed that we even know the names of half a dozen candidates fronm that far back.

I can’t recall all the books right now – one of them is The Discovery of King Arthur by perennial Arthur historian Geoffrey Ashe (in collaboration with Burke’s Peerage). He identified Arthur with one Riothamus, but he had to re-arrange a few dates to have it work out. Later writers raked him over the coals for that.

I can give a few oither books when I get home tonight. If you’re interested, I list them in the first chapter of my book.

I don’t know about Arthur, but his approximate contemporary Tristan seems to be plausible, if this ancient stone is any indication;

it seems likely that some of the characters from the earliest stories existed, in one form or another, but no details will be forthcoming after all this time.

I did mention I wasn’t sure of the date as my Wace and Lawman book is at home. They could have tried to bastardize Alfred, I am not really sure. However, I can double check what the book says when I get home in the evening. The first half of the Wace Lawman book is simply a giant timeline and a real drag to read since it isn’t really character influenced. Even with the date wrong, the information still coincides with yours, and the mythological influence is definately there as shown specifically with the use of Galahad and the Green Knight with Pwyll prince of Dyfed.

I think King Arthur was just a table server at Camelot.

Small nitpick: Sir Gawain encountered the Green Knight. Galahad was the one who pursued the Holy Grail.

Here’s another: Norma Lorre Goodrich’s Arthur


And here’s the Amazon sirte for Ashe:


And here’s another one I hadn’t even heard of until now, P.F.J. Turner’s The Real King Arthur:


There are a few more of these, I know.

Aha! Another one – Barber and Pykitt’s Journey to Avalon: The Final Discovery of King Arthur. So you know these guys think they found the absolutely real basis for Arthur, and the don’t want any guff from Ashe, Goodrich, and the rest:


But fear not, there are lots of other books like this!

Thanks Miss Mapp, it has been quite a long time since I have read through the stories.

I’ve read Baber and Pykitt’s book. It’s a pretty good read. Some chapters are boring but most are pretty interesting. Anyway they sure sound convincing. And as a bonus they explain why Ashe, Blackett & Wilson, Dr. Goodrich and Keatman & Phillips are wrong. They claim Arthur is Athrwys ap Meurig. They aren’t the first to do so, they list about 29 sources over the last 1000 years which they say link Arthur and Athrwys.

I’d sure like to see a good Historian go over their work and review it. You never really know till you get a good review.

Further nitpick–SGGK traces its basic story ultimately not to the Mabinogion but to an Irish story, Bricriu’s Feast, where Cuchulainn is the hero. Cite–A Companion to the Gawain Poet, edited by Derek Brewer, p. 245. An interesting read all around, but then I love SGGK and even named my son Gawain.
And it’s Wace and Layamon.

Oh, to be clear, the beheading game does turn up in Perlesvaus, but it’s probably derived from Fled Bricrend, or other medieval romances that got it from there.

This site, which isn’t linked to from the site suggested by Carl_A_Norris, includes a detailed discussion of state-of-play on the issue.