18 June 2019

King Arthur - the story as it might have really happened!

The boy 
Who became the man 
Who became the king 
Who became the legend

The Pendragon's Banner Trilogy 

What is the truth behind the familiar stories of King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table? There is no evidence for "King" Arthur ever existing - but the stories must have come from somewhere - or someone. Surely?

My Pendragon's Banner Trilogy strips away all the made-up Medieval myth and mayhem and delves deeper into the reality of history, uncovering the early, more possible version of the man we know as 'Arthur'. Although I stress, my trilogy is still, very much, fiction.
You will find no Merlin, though, no Lancelot. No holy grail, round table or knights in armour. Instead, a believable warts and all Arthur, set in the 'Dark Ages' of the 5th and 6th centuries between the going of the Romans and the coming of the Anglo Saxons.

My Arthur is no chivalric Christian King, but a man who has to fight hard to win his kingdom - and fight even harder to keep it!

So Who Was The Real King Arthur?

Anything connected with King Arthur must only be conjecture; there is no factual proof of evidence for his existence, which is why so many historians/authors/enthusiasts argue like mad about the various theories, everyone insisting their idea is the truth. I usually take a middle ground and agree to disagree!

The matter of Arthur, however, must be regarded with caution.
If Arthur existed there is nothing factually concrete to place him in any exact period. Was he pre-Roman? Romano-British, post-Roman or early British-Saxon? Or, as some believe, a much later, 11th/12th-century 'knight'? 

His existence in this later period is highly unlikely as he - or his exploits - would have been documented, so Arthur most definitely did not clank around in armour,  live in a stone-built, turreted castle or undertake chivalric deeds as a courtly knight.  Post-Roman seems the more likely placing, in that chaotic ‘Dark Age’ time between the going of Rome and the coming of the English (roughly 450 – 550 AD)

I personally think the scanty references we do have that mention Arthur (Gildas, Nennius etc) are fairly accurate records, but unfortunately, the Medieval monks – and others in the centuries that followed - altered so many ‘facts’ that the truth has become distorted, i.e. the Victorians invented horns for Viking helmets, scythes for Boudica’s chariot – and everyone in early history (except Vikings) was vertically challenged height-wise!

The good thing about Arthur, for us authors, is that we have a free rein to write what we want, within (and even outside of) reason!

When writing the Pendragon’s Banner Trilogy I chose to have no myth, magic, fantasy or  Norman make-believe. I did not want Lancelot, the Holy Grail or Arthur as a chivalric King. There was to be no Merlin, no magic sword in the stone. Nor was there to be the love triangle. I, plain and simple, do not see Arthur as a shrug-shoulder cuckolded king. Had my Arthur's Guinevere (I call her Gwenhwyfar) cheated on him both she, and her lover, (Lancelot) would have been dead meat before you could say 'Excaliber'.

I went back to the early Welsh legends which portray him in a very different light to the familiar 'knight's tales'. We have Arthur kicking a woman, stealing cattle – there is even the possibility of him killing his own son. These story-lines conjured a far more intriguing, and in my mind, believable, man than the Medieval King Arthur. 
Plus, I could not see my Gwenhwyfar falling for a 'goody-two-shoes' like Lancelot anyway. 

Those earlier legends intrigued me: why did Arthur kick a woman, what were the circumstances that made him steal cattle from a monastery. How/why did his son die? Add to that there were references to three sons in all (not including Mordred). One was killed by a boar, one by his own father, one was the son of “Arthur the Soldier”. I couldn’t resist the drama of using those three tragic tales, and I do not doubt that Gwenhwyfar was their mother, Arthur's wife.

 I am of the firm conviction that no king worth his salt would have gone off in search of a Holy Grail leaving his kingdom open to unrest. You can argue that Richard I did just that, abandoning his kingdom in favour of the Crusades – but then, I consider he was useless as a ruling king for England, so I rest my case, and anyone he had his mother, Eleanor, to rule as regent in his stead, plus England was relatively settled, (leaving aside the machinations of Richard's brother, John. For which I see a parallel with the stories about Modred). The Holy Grail story-line was nothing more than Medieval spin-doctoring to promote the glory of those Crusades. ‘Your Kingdom needs you! Be like Arthur in the Quest for the Holy Grail – come on Crusade!

But there is, I discovered, a logical pointer to Arthur leaving his kingdom and going off on a ‘quest’. A man - a documented man of history called Riothamus fought against the migrating tribes threatening Gaul and his own Brittany.

Brittany  in the Dark Ages was a part of Britain, an extension of Cornwall, and Riothamus – who definitely did exist, but this was very possibly only a title, meaning something like ‘King Most’ or ‘Supreme Lord’. So here was a good, believable explanation as to why Arthur left Britain; he was defending his own territory, not going off after a mythical holy goblet. And there is more - did you know that there really IS a place called Avallon - it is in France.

Skyline of Avallon
I decided to use this theme in the third part of the Trilogy, Shadow of the King, as I wanted to write something different to what was usually expected. What if Arthur was Riothamus and he took his Artoriani Cavalry to Brittany? And what if he did not come back, because he was presumed dead?

Of course, I am not going to answer those questions, you will have to read the book, but I will leave you with this thought to chew on:
Mordred is named as Medraut in the early legends, and there is not one mention of him being the evil toad he becomes in the later Medieval tales. He may well have been Arthur’s fourth son, possibly illegitimate, but the reference states:
“The battle of Camlann, in which Medraut and Arthur fell. which implies the distinct possibility that he fought – and died -  on Arthur’s side... fighting the Anglo-Saxon incomers.

The rewarding things about combining legend with fiction where King Arthur is concerned, is that as long as the plot is plausible, anything will make a good Arthurian story. While there is enough imagination to go round, and people are willing to keep writing, there will always be good, entertaining stories about King Arthur, be his story set in post-Roman Britain, as a thirteenth-century knight in armour, a sleeping Time Lord or as a spaceman in a space ship.

Who cares? Hurrah for imagination and the darn good storyteller.
Long may Arthur reign as King of Fiction... although, naturally if you have not already done so, I would rather you read my trilogy first!

What are your views on Arthur? 
Feel free to leave a comment

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  1. I confess, I want to believe In Arthur, but not the rather wishy-washy Arthur of legend. And I'm not really into Merlin, either. Besides, if Lancelot was such a great knight, surely he wouldn't have cheated on his king. (Nope, I never watched the TV series - I'd have spent the whole time screaming at the screen.)
    Your Arthur is so much more believable.

  2. Mallory very much set the template and, as a child, I lapped up the stories - my version of the retelling was by Carola Omen - and I loved it! Looking at Arthur as an actual historical character and translating him into much more realistic circumstances (and companions) is relatively modern, I think. which means, Helen, that you were in the forefront of such interpretations. I personally prefer this treatment, but as children's stories, the 'traditional' view is fabulous!!

  3. Thank you Annie and Richard - and yes, you are right Richard, I WAS one of the earliest authors to be more 'realistic' apart from Rosemary Sutcliff with her splendid Sword At Sunset but even she used the 'love triangle' plot. (she had Bedwyr instead of Lancelot) I'm not entirely certain (I haven't read everything LOL) but I _think_ my trilogy is possibly the only one where Gwenhwyfar is faithful to Arthur...


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