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At the heart of British identity, interwoven with strands of re-imagined histories, political positioning and burgeoning myths, lies the complex set of tales known as the Arthurian Legend(s).
Current historical theory posits that the “real” Arthur was a 5th century warlord by the name of Ambrosius Aurelianus. The march of the centuries (and a continent) expanded his exploits and his companions. Merlin, the wise and mysterious druid/mage, the knights of the round table, from Kay to Percival and of course the quest for the Holy Grail. He also acquired two swords, the sword given by the Lady of the Lake known as Excalibur (a French take on Calibus/Caliburn which came from an older Welsh source) and the Sword in the Stone, by which he became king when he pulled it out of said block of granite.
So influential was the legend that post-Norman conquest, the new French/Viking kings of England claimed to be direct descendants from Arthur thus tying their claims of power to the Britons/Anglo-Saxons kings of old. It also incorporated several recurring themes such as chivalry, courtly love, the knight errant, the transition from paganism to Christianity and a Golden Age encapsulated in the tale of Camelot.
The legends went dormant in the 17th century but were revived by the Romantics in the early 19th century, looking for the same connection to a mythical past as the monarchs of the late Middle Ages and Early Modern Age. Led by Alfred Lord Tennyson and illustrated by the Pre-Raphaelites , the legend roared back to life.
Today Arthurian themes permeate popular culture, well beyond the fantasy genre. These stories fascinate us still and we re-interpret them as did the authors of the past.
A story for the ages still to come.