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8 Things You Didn’t Know About The Legend of King Arthur

Arthur Draws the Sword form the Stone, 1911. The young Arthur pulls the sword from the stone to become King of England. Frontispiece of Stories of the Knights of the Round Table by Henry Gilbert, first edition, 1911

#1 Camelot wasn’t part of the original legend

The existence of Camelot was only added to the legend in the 11th century by a poet named DeTroyes. Prior to this, there was no mention of Camelot in any Arthurian fables or folklore. 

#2 Etymology of the name Arthur

The origin of King Arthur’s name is generally thought to be the Roman name Artorius. However, other theories suggest that the name may have had a Celtic origin. Overall, the precise etymology remains unclear.

#3 First mention of Arthur

The first mention of Arthur is in Ninnius’ History of the Britons, written in 830, which describes Arthur as a fierce general and warrior. In this account, Arthur is said to have fought twelve battles and slain one thousand men. No writing prior to this book has ever once mentioned the legend of King Arthur, despite the fact that the legend is said to stretch back to the Dark Ages, and therefore solid proof that the Arthur of legend did not exist beyond folklore and fables.

#4 There are many variations to the legend

Many start similarly, with the prophecy of England’s king being chosen by a sword in the stone, and a young man named Arthur who would come forward to pull free the sword and prove the prophecy true. Through time however, the precise details of the story have become diluted and many additions and amendments have been made to subsequent versions. For example, while Arthur is said to have died at the tragic Battle of Camlann against his nephew Mordred in most earlier versions of the tale, later interpretations write that he survived and continued to rule England until much later.

#5 The legend inspired chivalry

Many aspects of Medieval chivalry, particularly in Britain, can trace their origin back to the principles established in the legend of King Arthur. The heroic deeds of the valiant Knights of the Round Table and the praiseworthy virtues by which they conducted themselves in the Arthurian romances inspired many historical chivalrous traditions.

#6 First a general, not a king

The first writing that portrays Arthur as a king, rather than as a warrior general, was published in the 12th century. The legendary figure of King Arthur is said to have become popular in the early 12th century when the British chronicler Geoffrey of Monmouth published the Historia Regum Britanniae.

#7 His legend was used by the Tudors to assert their claim

The legend of King Arthur was used by the royal Tudor family of England in order to assert their rightful ownership of the throne. When Henry VII emerged victorious from the War of the Roses, he commissioned a family tree in which the Tudor family ancestry was traced back to the legendary King Arthur himself. As King Arthur was an extremely popular figure among Britons, this helped to reinforce the legitimacy of his claim to the throne.

#8 ‘Camelot’ is often compared to utopia

In comparatively recent years, the term ‘Camelot’ was referred to use to the golden days of John F. Kennedy’s presidency. Before his tragic assassination in 1966, JFK had presided over a golden age for America: a time of prosperity and great socioeconomic reforms. In a newspaper article published a week after his death, his wife remarked that, “There’ll be great presidents again… but there’ll never be a Camelot again.” From then on, Kennedy’s term was popularly referred to by his supporters as ‘Camelot’.

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