Civilizations have always developed a system of myths and legends that the people have taken to heart. This is true for the English people, whose hero and legends are King Arthur and his romantic tales of adventure.
Arthur was established as the King of Briton as a young boy. From...
then under the tutelage of Merlin, he became a great king. Arthur’s wish was to have a utopian society.
The first stories about Arthur and his knights began in the sixth century. However, it was not until the twelfth century that the stories evolved into true legends and were actually written down.
The most important of these writers was Geoffrey of Monmouth, who lived and worked between about 1100 and 1155. His History of the Kings of Britain contains the most detailed account of King Arthur written up to that time.
The other writers each added their own flavor to the stories.
- Twelfth Century- French poet and monk, Chretien de Troyes advanced the legend, adding new tales of chivalrous knights as well as the tragic romance of Lancelot and Guinevere.
- Fifteenth Century-Sir Thomas Mallory rewrote the tales into a long epic prose work, Le Morte d’Artur.
- Nineteenth Century-Alfred Lord Tennyson brought the legend back to life with his poetic work, Idylls of the King.
- Twentieth Century- T. H. White created his popular work The Once and Future King.
It further depended on what was happening in the writer’s society as to how he changed or added to the stories.
The basics of an Arthurian legend depend on the chivalric code further developed by Mallory.
Knightly chivalry is the backbone of the most of the legends.
- King Arthur and his mystic background
- The Knights of the Round Table
- The Knights’ code of honor
The chivalric code involved how the knights were to behave with regard to those beneath them; to ladies; to God; to their king; and to their country. The virtues of integrity and honor over greed and pride were the solemn oaths that the knights were to follow. In addition, the elements of chivalry were incorporated into their training which began at childhood: honor, devotion piety, and humility.
- In the legends, there is always a lady in distress. She has a problem that only an Arthurian knight can solve.
- Often, an element of the supernatural is interjected: Merlin’s powers, wizards, dragons—these were the fodder for the writers.
- A quest is usually involved in the story. It may be to take back lands that have been stolen. The greatest quest of the Arthurian legend was to find the Holy Grail, which was the cup of Jesus Christ at the last supper.
- Good usually triumphs over evil. As the stories evolved, that was not the case. Even Arthur is killed in the later stories.
Might does not make right. This was a lesson taught to Arthur by Merlin that Arthur passed along to his knights. A knight has the power, but he must use it wisely. Also, having more soldiers to conquer some land or people does not make it the right thing to do.
There are a host of wonderful stories that tell the story of Arthur and his knights. The characters are unforgettable: Launcelot, Guinevere, Galahad, Gawain, Kay, Mordred, Morgana, Merlin. The reader of an Arthurian legend will not be disappointed because the story will involve chivalry, love, wizardry, and an unforgettable adventure.