What can the Arthurian stories tell us about life in Britain between 450 AD and the end of the fifteenth century?
The Arthurian stories tell us that life evolved and stabilized in Britain from 450 AD to the end of the fifteenth century. While the earliest tales show us Arthur as a sometimes bloodthirsty warrior and empire builder, the later stories reveal the growing wealth and stability of English society as their emphasis shifts to such courtly concerns as love, clothing, and good manners.
A large number of Arthurian stories exist, attesting to the popularity of the Arthurian legend. These are all fictionalized tales: they cannot tell us verifiable facts about specific historical events. However, evolution of the tales does give us hints about the evolution of social life in medieval Europe.
In the earliest sources, King Arthur is the central figure and primarily esteemed as a courageous warrior and empire builder. He exults in a sometimes bloodthirsty way in killing enemies and is not the courtly figure he will later become. What this shows us, as does the epic poem Beowulf , is the central importance of the warrior to early medieval society. In a period of breakdown as the Roman empire collapsed and stopped providing protection to former outposts, societies depended on a fierce leader who could rally other soldiers around him and defend territories that...
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