Your King Arthur Questions: The Definitive Answers

Your King Arthur Questions: The Definitive Answers

Here are the answers to the questions about King Arthur you didn’t know you wanted to ask, but Google said you did.

Was there a really a King Arthur?

Is King Arthur real? I want to quote Pitch Perfect’s Fat Amy on this one:

In all likelihood, the man we know as King Arthur did not exist. He is likely a composite of a hundred different historical and mythical characters. Evidence in the Historia Brittonum and the Annales Cambriae  points to the existence of a historical figure called Artorious who helped drive the Saxons out of Britain in the 5th & 6th centuries. But many of the acts atributed to King Arthur share similarities to others, including actual historical personages (many who came later than Arthur) and mythological figures. Ultimately, we cannot be certain. That time period was lacking in surviving historical documents.

When was King Arthur’s reign?

So, because we can’t be sure if Arthur was real, we cannot be sure of when he reigned exactly. However, it was not the medieval times we often see on film. This was because Arthur’s stories were written by medieval writers who updated them. No, Arthur’s time period was somewhere in the period known as sub-Roman Britain (383AD – 550AD), just after the Romans left, up until the Saxons invaded. Arthur is believed to have died in the Battle of Camlann which Annales Cambriae puts at AD537, making Arthur’s rule somewhere between AD470 – AD537.

Who were King Arthur’s parents?

King Arthur was the son of Uther Pendragon, who was the High King of Britain. Uther took a fancy to Igraine, the Duchess of Cornwall, who was married to the war-leader Gorlois, Duke of Cornwall. Igraine’s husband didn’t like this, so he left Uther’s court without his permission, sparking a war between them.

Uther was still hung up on Igraine so he asked Merlin to cast a spell on him. This spell made him look exactly like Igraine’s husband Gorlois, so she didn’t raise an eyebrow when Uther made his way into her bedchamber. Simultaneously, Uther’s army destroyed Gorlois’, killing the Duke of Cornwall. This left Uther free to marry Igraine. Did she want to? Nobody knows.

Who raised King Arthur?

Part of Merlin’s bargain for transforming Uther to look like Gorlois so he could hook up with Igraine was that he be allowed to foster Arthur. After Arthur was born, Merlin took him away and left him in the home of Sir Ector, a friend of Uther. Merlin would then visit the boy in various guises, and take him into the forest for lessons. Arthur had no idea he was Uther’s son, and the next king, so it all came as a shock when he pulled the sword from the stone, indicating he would succeed the late Uther.

What was King Arthur’s last name?

He probably didn’t have one. Last names are a rather modern invention. He probably would have been referred to as Arthur ap Uther (Arthur, son of Uther). Occasionally he is referred to as Arthur Pendragon, but that his not his surname. It is a title he would have inherited from his father. Pendragon is a Celtic title given to a war-leader.

Who was King Arthur’s queen?

Arthur married Guinevere, a princess from the Summer Country (modern day Somerset and the surrounding area). Guinevere gets a bit of bad rap in the myths. It is, after all, her affair with Lancelot that tears the kingdom apart, costs Arthur his wife and best friend, and allows Mordred to inch closer to usurping the throne.

She’s also a fairly inconsistently portrayed character, a devout Christian one minute, jealous and unfaithful another. This could be for one of two reasons. Firstly, the Arthurian myths were the medieval peoples’ version of Game of Thrones, they wanted the battles and they wanted the naughty bits, particularly Guinevere copping off with Lancelot at every opportunity. But in their Christian dominated society, they also wanted their characters to also be good Christians, hence how Guinevere is sometimes naughty and sometimes nice.

The second reason is a theory that Arthur had multiple wives called Guinevere. The basis for the Welsh triads, one of the early Arthur sagas, which has multiple variations of her name, parentage and origins. The original pious Guinevere might have died, and been replaced by Gwenhwyfar who was naughty. There may have even been a third Gwenevere.

What is King Arthur’s Round Table?

There are fewer famous pieces of furniture than Arthur’s Round Table. Even if someone knows nothing about King Arthur, they can surely know about his Knights of the Round Table. Essentially, the table was a wedding gift from Leodegranz, the father of Guinevere. It was a vast table, and was round, so that no man could sit at its head. In those days, your place at a table indicated your social status, so a round table meant that no one could act superior to you. Arthur used it to place all his knights on an equal footing, and demonstrate he had no favourite (who would have got to sit at his right hand). It was the closest thing feudalism got to democracy.

What was Excalibur?

King Arthur’s magic sword. When he wielded this sword, no man could defeat him in battle. It also came with a magic scabbard that prevented him from bleeding in the ultimate weaponry BOGOF deal. This was not the sword he pulled from the stone. Excalibur, sometimes called Caliburn, was given to him by the Lady of the Lake, who was a friend of Merlin and wanted to support Arthur as High King.

Did King Arthur have a son?

Yes, he did. His son’s name was Mordred, and his mother was Arthur’s half-sister Morgause. Avoiding the Lannister vibes, it turns out, because Arthur did not know he was Igraine’s son, he also didn’t know that he had a sister called Morgause, and that she was the Queen of the Orkneys. He did know she was married, but that didn’t stop him, the hound-dog.

Morgause gave birth to a boy named Mordred and raised him as Arthur’s nephew. When he was old enough, he went to live with Arthur, and may have been aware of who his real father was. He later got a bit uppity, and decided to usurp Arthur’s throne and marry Guinevere.

Other sources texts suggest Arthur had two illegitimate sons by Lady Lisanor, and a daughter named Anna by his wife.

How did King Arthur die?

King Arthur was defeated at the Battle of Camlann by his illegitimate son Mordred. Arthur was away in Europe leading a campaign, and Mordred decided to tell everyone Arthur had died and he was now king. In some sources, he tries to marry Guinevere. However, Arthur returns and leads an attack on Mordred, culminating in their battle at the Roman hill-fort of Camlann. Arthur is mortally wounded by Mordred, but not before killing his son. Legend then says that he was taken to Glastonbury, but the monks there could not save him, so three fairy queens (who may have also been his sisters) from the isle of Avalon came to take him away to their realm to put him in a healing sleep, and he will wake again when Britain needs him most, returning once more to be king.

Who were King Arthur’s enemies?

Apart from his son, Mordred, King Arthur was not short of enemies. There was always some knight coming to challenge him to a duel, or a vassal king rebelling against his rule. A knight called Mellegranz fancied Guinevere so much he kidnapped her, so he definitely counts as Arthur’s enemy.

His main enemy was his sister, the sorceress Morgan LeFay. After he killed her lover (in a fight she orchestrated), she stole his magical scabbard and threw it in a lake. Then she tried to kill him multiple times, with magic, poison and straight-up murder. When she couldn’t get to Arthur, she then plagued his Knights, and had a particular dislike for Guinevere, after she broke up Morgan’s relationship with Guiomar, Guinevere’s cousin.

Arthur, having not heard from her or seen her in yonks, thinks she’s dead. He then randomly comes upon her castle while out hunting and they become besties again. Later, when he is killed by Mordred, she comes in a magic barge to bear him away to Avalon.

Did King Arthur fight a dragon?

Nope. Arthur never fought a dragon. This is a likely conflation of the story of St George, patron saint of England who is believed to have slain a dragon. In addition, Arthur did encounter something called the Questing Beast which had the head of a snake, but he did not kill it. Instead, several of his Knights would go on quests to destroy it.

There are only two instances of dragons in the Arthurian myths that I can think of. A younger Merlin is brought to King Vortigern (three kings before Arthur) to explain why the new castle he is building keeps falling down. Merlin tells him it is because there are two dragons who live underneath it and they are fighting, causing the earthquake which makes the castle fall down.

Later, Yvain, son of Uriens and possibly Morgan, while on a quest to impress a lady he’s taken a shine to, slays a dragon, though this is one of the older Arthurian tales in terms of provenance.

Did King Arthur find the Holy Grail?

Not Arthur himself, no. In the stories, the Round Table has a vision of the Holy Grail, the cup Jesus drank from at the Last Supper and a powerful holy relic, and takes this as a sign to quest for it, but Arthur himself does not go. Lancelot’s son Galahad, Sir Bors and Sir Percival have many adventures looking for it until Galahad has another vision of its whereabouts in Britain, but with orders from God to take it into the Holy Land. They track it down and do so, whereupon the Grail is then taken up into heaven, the world too unworthy for its presence.

Was King Arthur Jesus?

Short answer – no. The historical Jesus, putting aside any debate about whether or not he was the son of God, died around AD33. We have independent, non-Christian evidence for this. The death of Jesus (or Christus, as he is referred to) is placed by Roman historian Tacitus, in his AD164 work, during the procuratorial reign of Pontius Pilate which other sources say ended in AD36. So Jesus was definitely dead by AD36.

King Arthur’s reign (see above) was much, much later than this. This postulation arises from the theories of alternate historian Ralph Ellis who argues Jesus, being a King in Egypt, could have come to England. There he would have been known as Aturii (the Egyptian), which logically could have been transformed into Arthur over the years. His book on the theory is worth the read.

Was King Arthur a Roman?

As in a person born in Rome no, but he may have been a Roman citizen, depending on whether the British still considered themselves Roman when the Empire retreated, and when exactly the Empire fell. A historical person named Lucius Artorius Castus, soldier in the Roman army, led a legion in Britain in the 3rd century and may have been one of the people who inspired the legend of King Arthur. He was definitely Roman.

Arthur is the nephew of Ambrosias Aurelianus, who would have considered himself Roman, so Arthur may well have considered himself Roman too. At one point, Arthur defeats the new Roman Emperor and proclaims himself the Emperor, though this doesn’t stick for long.

Was King Arthur a woman?

Probably not, but there was no reason he couldn’t have been. There are plenty of stories of women masquerading as men to take up positions of power. Wouldn’t that be an interesting story to write?

Was King Arthur a giant?

In the stories, Arthur is described as tall, and we know that people were somewhat shorter back then, so he could have been a metaphorical “giant”. He did also fight a giant, and a Welsh folk-hero who could be an originator of the Arthur myths did have giant companions, which could have led to this circulating.

The main reason for this theory was because when Arthur’s supposed grave in Glastonbury was excavated, the man’s body inside had leg bones indicating he would have been at least seven foot in height. However, we can be fairly certain that this grave was not Arthur’s grave, and was something fabricated. The grave marker and the grave itself have a depth of 9ft between them, which is unusual for how graves were marked in that period, indicating that the marker was a much later addition, probably placed by monks to convince people Glastonbury was King Arthur’s burial site, increase tourism and keep the king from taking their land.

Was King Arthur Welsh?

Possibly. There is compelling evidence for this, primarily Arthur’s inclusion in the Mabinogion, a manuscript of literature created in the 12th century from earlier Welsh legends. Artorius was also a popular name in Wales at the time of Arthur. Several Welsh kings had variations of the name Arthur, and considering that kings are often named for their ancestors, it could be argued Arthur was Welsh. Also, no one is really sure about where exactly the locations in the stories of King Arthur relate to in real life, so it is entirely possible Camelot was in wales.

Was King Arthur a Christian?

The jury is still out on whether the historical Arthur would have been, but the legendary Arthur was a Christian, and a very devout one at that. He regularly prayed, went to Mass, and was obsessed with finding the Holy Grail, a Christian relic of great importance.

What would King Arthur wear?

Most of our knowledge on this time period comes from St. Gildas, a historian monk in the 6th century who gives us a lot of info on the people of Britain in the time before and after the Saxons came. Clothing was a bit of a mix between traditional Celtic styles and modern Roman dress. Men would have tunics over kilts or breeches, and ladies wore dresses. The lower class would mostly have worn wool they spun and dyed themselves, while the upper class would have had access to imported silk in bright colours. There may have been sumptuary laws in place, limiting what people of certain social classes could wear. However, King Arthur was not medieval, so banish those thoughts of plate armour and ladies with tall hats from your mind.

What would King Arthur eat?

Like the information on Arthur’s wardrobe, the information on his diet again comes from St. Gildas, as well as some archaeological information from the time period. We know that the following foods have been found: barley, wheat, oats, hazelnuts, oysters, and references have been made to bread, butter, vegetables and eggs. We can also surmise that they had pigs, sheep and cattle, and probably fish as well. We know that they would have had wine from the Romans and that they also drank a lot of mead, a wine made from honey.

What would King Arthur look like?

We don’t know. There are no descriptions of his appearance that still survive. Largely, he is portrayed as fair-haired, though we have no idea where that comes from. We also know that being a warrior, he would probably be quite tall, broad and muscular. But that’s about it.

When will King Arthur return?

He probably won’t, not being real and all that. However, the legends state that Arthur is in a healing sleep, and will wake when Britain needs him most, ready to be king again.

Are there any other King Arthur questions you want to be answered? Leave a comment below.

Comments (9)

  1. Felicia Johnson July 2, 2016 at 1:19 am

    What is the earliest story written about Arthur?

    • Kieran July 2, 2016 at 12:56 pm

      Hi Felicia,

      The earliest stories about King Arthur are in Welsh myths but, unfortunately, I don’t have a date for you because all the extant versions are copies of earlier myths. Of these, the earliest and most complete is “Preiddeu Annwfn” (The Spoils of Annwfn) by the bard Taliesin in which Arthur journeys to the underworld with a band of men, possibly to steal some cows (cattle raiding being a common occupation in early Celtic cultures).

      K

  2. Kirk February 12, 2018 at 7:27 pm

    Dear Ms. Higgins, there was a tale I read as a boy about how one of King Arthur’s knights became a knight. The story had a big impact on me but now I can’t find it anywhere. Would you have time to read a short plot summary; you may have knowledge of who wrote it or where I could find it. Thank you . Sincerely, kirk

  3. Kirk February 12, 2018 at 7:31 pm

    I’m sorry; I meant to type “Mr. Higgins”. Typing is difficult on this phone . -kirk

  4. Kirk February 15, 2018 at 7:07 pm

    Hello Mr. Higgins,

    When I was a boy I read a book on King Arthur and his knights; this was about 40 years ago. One of the chapters was about how one of the knights became a knight of King Arthur’s Round Table. In this tale, there were two men and one very young man who wanted to roam the countryside slaying dragons and rescuing damsels in distress. They came upon three women: two of them young and beautiful and one old lady. They decided that each man would go off with one woman for two years, then meet back up and compare stories. The two older men chose the two young, beautiful women. The younger man was stuck with the old lady. As they all rode off, the old lady was laughing, telling the young man that he didn’t know how lucky he was to have ended up with her. It turned out that she was an expert in the arts of being a knight: sword play, jousting, riding a horse, etc. She wanted to be a knight her whole life, but couldn’t because she was female. So, she trained him for two years. He became the best, most apt. knight around. I think he then went off to partake in the knight games under the auspices of King Arthur, and won the games. It was a delightful tale and it actually had a big impact on me. I haven’t been able to find that story since then. Possibly the author of that book was a female, but I’m not sure. Do you have any information about this story? I’m wondering if it was a story about Sir Lancelot. Well, thank you for your time and consideration Mr. Higgins! I look forward to your reply. Sincerely, Kirk

    • Kieran February 15, 2018 at 9:50 pm

      Hello Kirk, I’ve reached out to my fellow Arthurian lovers and we are in agreement that this is the story of Marhaus, Gawain and Uwaine in the forest of Arroy. Based on the details you’ve provided and the age of the work, it’s likely to be the version of the story included in John Steinbeck’s The Acts of King Arthur and His Noble Knight. But you’ll find many versions of it out there. Happy reading!

      • Kirk February 15, 2018 at 10:32 pm

        Wow, that’s really helpful, I appreciate it! Thank you Mr. Higgins

      • Kirk February 25, 2018 at 8:52 pm

        Mr. Higgins, I ordered the book from Amazon. You and your friends are correct, that is the story! I am so grateful to you all for helping me with that. It’s such a special story to me and to find it again after all these years is remarkable. Thank you so much!

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