Was there really a King Arthur?

What’s the latest “expert” opinion on this? From the books I’ve read, there are some who think he existed and some who don’t think he existed. What is the “expert” consensus these days?

Yes, but that wasn’t his name and he didn’t do any of the things we attribute to him.

Possibly,but mainly from the fact that it’s very plausible that the legends were based on a real person.

According to tradition King Arthur was credited as being the leader of Britons at the Battle of Mons Badonicus. There’s fairly reliable infomration from a good near-contemporary source that the Battle of Mons Badonicus did actually take place. However the leader of the Britons isn’t named in this source, and it’s not until 300 years after the battle must’ve taken place that sources first name Arthur in association with the battle.

If you equate Arthur with a war-leaader at the Battler of Mons Badonicus then he almost certainly is based on a real person, but you can’t say much about him other than he was a leader of the Britons at that battle.

If that wasn’t his name and he didn’t do any of the things we attribute to him, then surely the answer is “no”?

If I refer to someone who is not called Dr Fidelius and did not post the above post, I am not referring to you, surely, by definition?

There never was a medieval King Arthur. The historical record is complete enough that we know the names of all the kings since before there was a unified English kingdom.


If you’re trying to talk about Dr. Fidelius, then even if you get every fact wrong, including his name, there’s still a real sense in which you’re referring to Dr. Fidelius.

Why would Arthur be on a list of English monarchs? He wasn’t English; in fact, he spent most of his life fighting the English.

Early references to Arthur describe as a warrior or commander but not a King, Nennius writing “And though there were many more noble than himself …”

There’s no consensus, but I think most scholars consider him mythical or, at best, semi-mythical.

One interesting theory
connects “Sword in Stone” and “Sword thrown to Lady of Lake” with Sarmatian myths, the Romans having brought Sarmatian mercenaries to Britain.

Another theory ( http://kingarthurlegend.com/ ) claims Arthur was the son of Aidan MacGabran, a 6th century King of Dalriada Scots. This theory explains some confusions (e.g. how could Arthur be a hero of both Scots and Britons?), but is 150 years later than the usual chronology.

I always found the story of Riothamus rather interesting. He’s considered a possible source of Arthurian legend.

According to Joseph Campbell, mythologists can trace how the legend of a warrior boy-king named after a bear (think Arcturus) developed and migrated through Europe. IIRC, the legend came to England through Scandinavia.

I always thought it was rather odd that he’s such a legendary hero in England when he was really on the “other side”.

I would suggest reading the wikipedia article. It’s pretty good. If that’s not good enough, you can search for several earlier threads on the subject.

I don’t think there is any real consensus on whether the legendary figure King Arthur was originally based on a historic person or if a totally mythical character later became associated with historic events.

It may be more accurate to say that if there was a historic basis for the legend of King Arthur, he would have done very few of the things attributed to him. As These are my own pants explained, there’s reason to believe that there was actually a Battle of Mount Badon sometime around the year 500. The earliest reference to Arthur as a historic figure is the 9th century Historia Brittonum, which identifies him as the leader of the Britons at the Battle of Mount Badon. (There are earlier references to the Battle of Mount Badon that do not name the man who led the troops.) Since this was written more than 300 years after the battle then it’s quite possible that “Arthur” is a corrupted or totally incorrect name for the leader in question, but if there was a Battle of Mount Badon then the Britons did presumably have a leader.

What is unclear is whether the folk hero Arthur was actually based on the leader at the Battle of Mount Badon or if the author of Historia Brittonum was conflating a folk hero and a historic figure.

I believe his work is considered somewhat controversial, but in The Origins of the British Stephen Oppenheimer argues that the Angles and Saxons did not leave much of a genetic mark on the British Isles. He says that genetic testing shows that the current population of the isles is 60-90% (depending on region) descended from the people who migrated there after the Ice Age, and that the influence of later invaders like the Angles and Saxons was primarily cultural.

I’d like to add that when you’re talking about changing stories over many centuries, then one can reasonably say that the story is ‘about’ a particular person, even after the story has evolved beyond all recognition. You might never realize that the story we tell today is about the historical figure when you just compare the story to the facts; but as historians unearth the older versions of the stories & linking up the chain, it’s possible to discover that relationship.

Santa Claus

I’ve got a collection of books from the past 25 years purporting to identify the “real” king arthur. Each subsequent book undertook to trash the choices of the previous books and put forth their own candidate. Geoffrey ashe, a noted Arethurian scholar, started it off with The Discovery of King Arthur in which he identified the real King Arthur as a character named Riotamus, who did undertake a series of conquests on the Continent, as Arthur was said to have done. He had to jigger the dates a bit to accommodate this hypothesis (which is how Ashe’s critics pilloried him), but you could make a decent case.
I don’t recall the other candidates, but the cases the books make generally seem reasonable. I’m frankly amazed that there are so many candidates we know the names of, given the paucity of records from back then. There are four or five such candidates, and I don’t know any that have a solid consensus behind them.

In any case, the historical Arthur – if he exists (AFAIK, there’s not even a consensus on that) – doesn’t closely resemble the figure from the earliest stories in all likelihood, and certainly not the Arthur of Geoffrey of Monmouth or Thomas Malory. You can forget about Merlin, Lancelot, Perceval, the Grail, and the Round Table – they’re very clearly later additions not in the earliest accounts. You might have Kay, Bedevere, and Guinevere. But don’t count on it.

Because he didn’t have shit all over him.

Doesn’t Mordred show up in the earliest stories too? I’m not sure but I seem to recall that Guinevere’s earlier role was to have an affair with Mordred. Lancelot sort of prettied up her character, since it was only a romantic affair with her husband’s best friend as opposed to the villain of the piece.

Lancelot wasn’t part of the original legends. They’ve altered significantly over the centuries. Most of what we think of as Arthurian legend has more to do with Tennyson than, say, Sir Thomas Mallory; Malory in his turn was adapting and synthesizing older stories.

There was a Saint George. He wasn’t British, or a knight, and I’m reasonably sure he never fought a dragon. The guy who was canonized was a Roman-era soldier in Palestine, and my hunch is that he killed a mad dog or somesuch. Saints have been lauded for worse.

There was a wonderful episode of Firefly where they came upon a town on a remote planet where Jayne was venerated as a hero. Jayne. Yeah, there was an actual Jayne, but…

Right, that’s what I was saying. Lancelot was a later, chivalric addition (Chretien de Troyes maybe?), who incidentally redeemed Guinevere from evil traitorious harlot to star-crossed unfortunate traitor.