July 2018 – King Arthur building the legend

By | August 6, 2018

The session covered:

Making a start on Geoffrey of Monmouth’s “History of the Kings of Britain”.

In writing his book, Geoffrey used most of the early Welsh sources that we have also covered, plus Welsh folklore and legends that were current in his own time, plus the Classical writers for his Roman history, plus his own imagination.  He produced a very entertaining mixture of probable history at one end of the scale, through myths and legends, to pure fantasy at the other.  He wanted to tell the story of the history of Britain from a British (i.e. Celtic or Welsh) point of view, so the Saxons get a very bad press throughout.

He starts with the first inhabitants of Britain (a race of giants) and then brings in Brutus, the grandson of Prince Aeneas of Troy, who kills off the giants and takes control of the land.  Brutus is followed by a series of British kings who are all portrayed as great personalities, with Arthur as the greatest of them all.

Geoffrey is the first writer to link Merlin with the Arthurian material, and he also introduces Uther Pendragon and Igerna as Arthur’s parents, and Arthur’s conception at Tintagel.  It is thought that Geoffrey may have found the story of Uther and Igerna in a Cornish legend that has now been lost, but the Tintagel connection would seem to have been his own invention.

According to Geoffrey, Arthur began his campaigns against the Saxons as the King of the Britons and sole commander of the British army.  His first objective was to attack the Saxons in York, to seize loot from them, with which he could reward his own men.  He was entitled to do this because he had a rightful claim to the kingship of the whole island of Britain and all that it contained.