Who was King Arthur and exactly how Welsh was he?
These are two of the questions on with debate at a new exhibition on the National Library of Wales, Aberystwyth.
From ancient Brythonic warlord to mythical chivalric ruler with a court anywhere from Wales in order to Glastonbury or as far northern as Scotland – it is difficult to separate myth, legend and truth.
According to curator Doctor Maredudd ap Huw, these unknowns lie at the heart of King Arthur’s enduring appeal.
“The beauty of Arthur is that he had been – indeed, according to some ‘is’ – whoever you want him to become, ” said Dr ap Huw.
“There is usually some early evidence to claim that there was an Arthur in the fourth or 5th Centuries.
“Though in all likelihood he was really far removed from the romantic depictions of (writers) Thomas Malory plus Alfred, Lord Tennyson. ”
However , just how Welsh he’d have been is a “moot point”, Doctor ap Huw added.
Before the Saxons drove the Brythonic people (Celtic Britons) west plus north, there was no recognised organization of an independent Wales, making their nationality hard to ascertain.
The exhibition brings together all the important texts which have informed our belief of Arthur for more than a centuries.
One of the exhibits could be the 13th Century Book of Aneirin, which includes a 6th Century poem explaining a battle near what is right now Catterick in North Yorkshire.
Dr ap Huw mentioned one reference in it is extremely informing.
A young Brythonic leading man called Gwawrddur is described as battling valiantly against the Saxons “although this individual was no Arthur”.
“It is possible to infer (from this) that the legend of Arthur as a fearsome warlord was already well-researched by the 6th Century, ” Doctor ap Huw added.
But the man who received all the threads together and launched Arthur’s wife Guinevere, his blade Excalibur and the Knights of the Circular Table was Geoffrey of Monmouth.
Dr ap Huw describes the 12th Century author as “the most influential writer in the history of Wales”.
“Forget Dylan Thomas, what Geoffrey wrote had a far more profound effect on world thinking and the perception associated with Arthur as a Welsh hero, inch he said.
“Writing in Latin, his ideas quickly spread throughout Europe, and through Chretien De Troyes, fed to the French-Norman ideals of chivalric kingship.
“Geoffrey claimed because his source an ancient Welsh manuscript which was then lost, never to be seen. Read into that what you will, yet what is certainly true to say is it is still essentially Geoffrey’s version associated with King Arthur which we are trained as children, right up to the present day time. ”
Arthur’s castle Camelot and other characters like the wizard Merlin are then referenced in the 13th Century Black Guide of Carmarthen.
There he is described as “a battle veteran who has lost his sensibilities in battle in Scotland, and it has developed the gift of being in a position to talk to animals”.
However it was not until the 15th and sixteenth Century that “Arthur Mania” attained its heights after William Caxton published Thomas Malory’s Le Morte d’Arthur.
While Geoffrey of Monmouth set Camelot within the former Roman stronghold of Caerleon, near Newport, Malory anchored this as a thoroughly English tale.
So much so that King Holly VII named his eldest child Arthur in honour of the tale.
By 1534, Polydore Vergil’s Anglica Historia had destroyed much of Geoffrey of Monmouth’s function, and cast doubt on the quite existence of a historical Arthur in any way.
“Virgil’s account was not wholly accepted. John Prise — a lawyer for Thomas Cromwell : published a rebuttal in protection of Arthur, but by then the particular historiographic interest in Arthur was already fatally damaged.
“That’s not saying we’d forgotten about him entirely. Edmund Spencer’s Faerie Queene received heavily on Arthurian tradition plus, when it was presented to California king Elizabeth I in 1590, the girl was so delighted that the lady awarded him a pension associated with 50 a year for life, ” Doctor ap Huw said.
“But by then Arthur experienced become a Britannia or Gloriana-type figurehead for a nation.
“The historical Arthur was deadthough there are several who say he never passed away, and is simply waiting to wake up again when his country requirements him. ”