Arthur: From Celtic Warrior to English King

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    Talking about Arthur in Ireland
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    Most of what people think they know about King Arthur is based on the medieval French version or Victorian English version of the legends and tales about him. Most people think of him as being English and not knowing that he was a Celtic figure. He was not a king, but rather a warrior in his original characterization. He originated in the fallouts of the Roman Empire’s occupation of England during the early 5th century. His Celtic figure is notable because he defeated the English, contrary to the well-known versions manipulated for political purposes.
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    To understand the origin where the Arthur figure came from, we must differentiate between the British and the English. The term British is a generic name that the Romans used to refer to the Celts that lived in Britain, whereas the English refer to the Anglo-Saxons (Germanic tribes).
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    The first usable reference in relation to Arthur is a work called “Stories of Atonement” written in Latin dates to the early 9th century, in which he is said to be a British warrior who helped defeat the Anglo-Saxons (English). He was not a king but instead a military server who helped kings.
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    He received magical elements from poems which made him legendary. What is known of him suggests that he was well-known to the British.
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    Some of his most well-known features such as the Round Table and Merlin weren't in his original stories. Sometimes he was portrayed as having a Welsh wife Guinevere, a ruler, or a military man. There are different versions of Arthur’s character. The earliest version has disappeared and was only known for the Celtic period. Jeffrey of Monmouth’s version is the most prominent version. His work “History of the Kings of Britain '' in 1136 based Arthur on the Celtic stories in part while adding new elements such as his relations with Merlin. Jeffery’s most important introduction to Arthur’s story is his relation to the island of Avalon. It was believed by others that he would return one day to Avalon. His origins and where he would return contain an important political message because his story was considered history back then.
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    Political manipulation by the English affected the figure of Arthur. The Normans who had conquered Britain in 1066 were at odds with the Welsh. The Welsh view of Arthur creates paranoia as Arthur was believed to return to help the Welsh. In 1191, the monks of Glaston Abbey claimed they found the body of Arthur. The story of Arthur’s death in Glastonbury can be attributed to Gerald of Wales who might have had relations among the monks. His account of this was taken seriously by the public. This helps the English narrative because Arthur could not return to help the Welsh because he was dead. Arthur became more important to the English than to the Welsh. In the late 13th Century, King Edward 1st who conquered the Welsh pushed the transition from the Welsh Arthur to the English Arthur. In 1278, Edward 1st attended a ceremony honouring Arthur’s body and forged his connection to Arthur’s legacy by taking his crown to legitimize his claim on the Welsh since Arthur conquered the Welsh according to Jeffery. This symbolized absorption of Arthur by the English culture.
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    In 1286 Alexander the 3rd, King of Scotland died without children, so they turned to Edward to rule. No one knew who had the right to rule Scotland. They consulted the monks in the English monasteries who all referred to Jeffery’s history where Arthur conquered everywhere. Scotland, although accepting Jeffery’s history, argued that Arthur had been illegitimate to rule them. But into the 14th century, the Kings of England claimed they had the right to succeed Arthur. Around 1330, the relations between England and Scotland worsened. His grandson Edward the 3rd visited Arthur’s grave in Glastonbury and brought his connection to Arthur further by claiming to be a descendant of Arthur. The chronicles recorded this relation as well. In 1334, he attempted to reestablish the Order of the Round Table. But 4 years later, he lost interest in that as the relationship with Scotland had improved. He re-established the Order of the Garter.
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    The origins of Edward the 3rd’s Round Table is also an interesting topic. This enormous table is nowadays displayed at Winchester Castle. Research suggests that it was built around the 1250s to 1350s during which times, the kings of England were interested in taking on the mantle of King Arthur. It is unknown whether the English intentionally built this fraudulent table or they just wanted this furniture as symbolism. If it were intentionally built for deception, this undermines the assumption that people fully believed in Arthur’s stories back in the day. Regardless, people accepted this table as authentic. As the Welsh reclaimed their land, Henry Tudor’s reign was regarded as the return of Arthur. He took on this belief and named his first son Arthur. /Mic Break/
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    One of the last English stories of Arthur was written by Thomas Malory, for which the author needed to argue for its validity because people’s faith in it had been weakened. The story of Arthur received numerous doubts and criticisms in the late 15th Century. The first prominent criticism of Arthur’s validity is by an Italian clerk named Virgile in the 16th century. He questioned: if the stories of Arthur’s conquests are true, how come there be no records of him in the countries that he supposedly conquered? Also, how could he have been buried in a monastery before it was built? Eventually, the overwhelming lack of evidence led to the conclusion that Arthur’s existence is a myth. The line between British and English people also started to fade, and the association between Arthur and England deepened.
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    During World War I, Arthur represented nobility and romanticism in British war propaganda, whereas his Celtic origins faded away.
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    Lecture ends, applause and questions follow
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    SIDE B ENDS