King Arthur and his knights are part of a history that has achieved incomparable fame. The life of King Arthur, the mythical ruler of Britain, is possibly based on a real figure of the fifth century and, recovered years later by the Normans of England, for their aspirations both in England and in France.
The Plantagenet dynasty, reigning in England between 1154 and 1399, gave wings to the figure of King Arthur in literary works to ponder the wonders of Camelot and his court. Years later, many other writers continued with these stories, to which they added characters without which today, we would not understand the Arthurian legend.
Over time, a perfectly studied cosmos was created around the figure of King Arthur that mixes Celtic, Christian and classical traditions. The world of Arthur, his knights and his memorable deeds, were forever reflected in literature, cinema and, of course, in the memory of all.
The legend of King Arthur
To be sure, it is not known when and where the legend of King Arthur originated. Some scholars place some time after the 5th century in Wales or Britain. What is true is that it was the work written in Latin “History of the Kings of Britain” in 1136 by Geoffrey of Monmouth that caused the story of Arthur to begin to take shape. Other authors added the sword in the stone, the castle of Camelot, the round table and the search for the Grail between the 11th and 12th centuries. All these books were selected and edited as a narrative in Thomas Malory’s novel “The Death of Arthur” in 1485, which became the most complete version.
Arthur was the son of Uther Pendragon, king of post-Roman Britain, and was given to Merlin’s care during his childhood. But this one did not stay with the little one, but he gave it to Sir Hector, a good gentleman, although scarce of resources that, ignoring the true identity of the child, raised him with his son Kay. When Arthur comes of age, Uther dies and Merlin gathers all the nobility to solve the issue of succession. In front of the church in which they meet, a sword nailed to a stone or anvil appears (the data are not concrete), identified with the name of Excalibur. Whoever managed to get it out would become the new king. And as we know, Arthur was the only one who did.
Once crowned king, Arthur achieved peace in the country of Logres and established his court in Camelot. On most occasions, Arthur appears as the typical king with crown and richly dressed; but there are other images in which he is recognized by the elements that accompany him: the sword Excalibur, the lance Ron, the shield Pridwen and the helmet in the form of dragon. Arthur’s reign was considered to be one of the most just, and so many wanted to serve him. Once the court was established, Arthur summoned the knights to begin the search for the Holy Grail. This first reference to the Grail is found in a 12th-century work by Chrétien de Troyes and, from this moment on, the first controversies about what the Holy Grail really was. The only clear thing was that it could only be found by a noble-hearted gentleman.
Arthur had married Guinevere and this, having an affair with a knight of his king, triggered the end of Arthur’s life. Some versions say that Sir Mordred, Arthur’s illegitimate son, took advantage of the moment when the king left with his army to solve the dishonor, he took the throne, while others say that, after Arthur’s victory over the man who had caused him so much damage, Guinevere was sent to a convent and the disloyal knight retired to a hermitage. King Arthur, trying to regain the throne taken by his illegitimate son, Sir Mordred, fought against him and, after wounding him, received a wound with the sword that killed him. Excalibur was returned to the Lady of the Lake and the remains of King Arthur were taken to the island of Avalon.
This was not the end of Arthur. Some legends said that he was still alive on the island and that he waited for things to change in order to return to his land and be the just king he had been until then. Some people still think that the day will come when King Arthur returns to his homeland.
The legend or reality of this character has given and, continues to give, to write novels, film and maintain the enthusiasm to know those heroics that narrated the ancient writers. Much remains to be known of the people who surrounded him, of the knights who were part of the Round Table, of their attempts to find the Holy Grail and of how, all this has been reflected in the cinema, either in historical version, of adventures, cartoons and suspense.
What relationship did King Arthur have with those who cohabited with him? What was the Holy Grail really and why this eagerness for his quest? Literature and cinema have given us many versions, perhaps some are true or not. We will continue to investigate.