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ENG 205-001 British Literature I 63

Arthurian Chronology

Joseph of Arimathea comes to Glastonbury on the first Christian mission to Britain. Legend says that he brought with him the Holy Grail, which was either a cup/bowl or two cruets thought to contain the blood and sweat of the crucified Christ. Lucius Artorius Castus, commander of a detachment of Sarmatian conscripts stationed in Britain, led his troops to Gaul to quell a rebellion. This is the first appearance of the name, Artorius, in British history, and some believe that this Roman military man is the original, or basis, for the Arthurian legend. Approximate date of the reign of Riothamus, a Romano-British leader (possibly a local tribal king or warlord) who fought with the Romans against the advancing Visigoths. He and his men (as many as twelve thousand according to one source) fought the Visigoths in Gaul, and he was recorded as dying in battle near the French village of Avallon. As such, recent scholars have indicated that he could be the earliest likely historical candidate for the source of the King Arthur legend.


c 470

c 490/507 Britons, under overall command of Aurelius Ambrosius and battlefield command of the war leader known as Arthur, defeat the Saxons at the siege of Mons Badonicus (aka the Battle of Badon Hill). Aurelius Ambrosius is, according to legend, the brother of Uther Pendragon (and thus Arthurs uncle). Ambrosius is (probably incorrectly) associated with the stories of Vortigern; he also had a fortress at Campus Eletti which has been identified by at least one recent scholar as a possible site for Camelot (fr. for Campus is Champ, thus Champelleti/ Camelot). The location and date of the battle of Badon Hill are a matter of great scholarly speculation (though the fact of the battle itself is a matter of historical fact), but one possibility for the location is Mynydd Baedan in Wales (the name means Mountain of the Boar). Fighting in this battle among the indigenous Britons was Owain Ddantgwyn, son of Einion Yrth ap Cunedda and brother of Cadwallon Lawhir ap Einion, both kings of Gwynedd, and he himself is recorded in at least one text as the King of Powys. Owains heraldic symbol was a bear, which in the Brythonic language of ancient Briton was Arth. Some scholars have identified Owain as the historical Arthur because of this connection, but it is very controversial. c 501 The Battle of Llongborth (probably Portsmouth), where a great British chieftain, Geraint, King of Dumnonia, is killed. Arthur is mentioned in Geraint son of Erbin, a Welsh poem commemorating the event (the earliest surviving version of the poem dates from 1250). Legendary date of the birth of Taliesin, Welsh poet and legendary companion of Arthur. Llyfr Taliesin, (The Book of Taliesin) makes many claims about the life of Arthur, although the earliest manuscript of the text is from the tenth century. It is in the Book of Taliesin that the story of Uther Pendragon, Arthurs father, is told.

c 534

c 540 Probable writing of Gildas De Excidio Britanniae which does not include references to Arthur, although he does mention Aurelius Ambrosius, a city of legions (urbs legionum), and the battle of Badon Hill (Mons Badonicus). In 2010 it was posited that a Roman amphitheatre found near Chester (posited as the urbs legionum) in England is in fact the prototype for Arthurs Round Table, although the table itself does not appear in Arthurian legend until Robert Waces translation of Geoffrey of Monmouth. c 542 Battle of Camlann, according to Annales Cambria which records the death (or unspecified other demise) of Arthur according to Geoffrey of Monmouth. Recent archaeological research has provided a possible identification of Camlann as the Roman fort Camboglanna, part of Hadrians

Wall. Annales Cambria records the deaths of both Arthur and Medraut (Mordred) in this location, and that there was another fort at Aballava not far from there (Aballava being a possible source for the name of Arthurs final resting place, Avalon). 551 Completion of De origine actibusque Getarum (The Origin and Deeds of the Getae) by Jordanes, a summary of Cassiodorus now lost Gothic History (ca 526-533) which mentions the deeds of Riothamus. Welsh bard, Aneirin, writes the poem, Y Gododdin, alluding to Arthurs prowess as a warrior. Nennius (or Nynniaw), Welsh author of Historia Brittonum, mentions Arthur as a Christian warrior defeating the Saxons. He writes: At that time, the Saxons increased and grew strong in Britain. After the death of Hengist, Octha and his son came from the northern part of the kingdom to the men of Cantia, and from him are descended its kings. Then Arthur fought against them in those days, together with the kings of the Britons, but he himself was leader in the battles (in Jones 15). Among the battles that Nennius credits to Arthur is the Battle of Badon Hill, which Gildas dates as occurring in 516. Nennius figure seems to be the best likely historical Arthur. Because Nennius says that Arthur bore the image of the holy Virgin Mary on his shoulders (Jones 20), the connection of Arthur with Christianity is very early and grows to become a central metaphor of Arthurian romance. Gildas refers to the leader of the leader of the Britons as Ambrosius Aurelianus, not Arthur. Bede, who does not go into the legends at all, appropriates Gildas version of the story of Ambrosius in his Historia Ecclesiastica Anlgorum in 731. Possible date of the Bern Codex 178 chronicle-fragment, the first text to mention Vortigern (here called Uuertigernus), a fifth century war-lord who is credited with having invited the Saxons to settle in Britain. Vortigern is also associated with the legend of Merlin in Nennius Historia Brittonum.

c 600 800

c 850

c 900 Welsh romance, Kulhwch and Olwen, refers to Arthur . . . leading his own dog Cavall (Jones 26) into battle, where Cavall kills the enemies dogs in the same heroic manner in which Arthur kills his enemies. This text is also the first mention of Gwenhwyvar, Arthurs wife, and his sword, which in Welsh is called Caledvwlch (Jones 46). c 970 The anonymous Annales Cambriae are compiled. The author refers to Badon Hill, at which Arthur carried the Cross of our Lord Jesus Christ on his shoulders for three days and three nights (Brengle 7), as well as identifying the location of Arthurs final battle as Camlann (where both he and Medraut, aka Mordred, are killed).

c 1019 Earliest possible date of composition for the Legend of St. Goeznovius, a Breton legend, which, in its preface, mentions Arthur and calls him the King of the Britons. The date is disputed. c 1090 Professional hagiographers, such as Caradoc of Llancarfan, Lifris, and others, write various saints lives, some (St. Gildas, St. Padarn, St. Cadog, St. Iltud) include references to Arthur and his exploits. 1125 William of Malmesbury writes Gesta Regum Anglorum and states: Ambrosius . . . quelled the presumptuous barbarians by the powerful aid of warlike Arthur. This is the Arthur of whom the idle tales of the Britons rave even unto this day; a man worthy to be celebrated not in foolish dreams of deceitful fables, but in truthful histories. For he long sustained the declining fortunes of his native land, and roused the uncrushed spirit of the people to war (Jones 32). Arthur begins, from here, to take on almost supernatural characteristics.


Geoffrey of Monmouth writes Historia Regum Brittanae and writes Arthur into the history of Britain not as a warrior but as a king. Geoffrey is the first chronicler to refer to Arthurs immortality: he . . . dragged Mordred by the helmet into the midst of his own men . . . and as he did, so many wounds did he receive that he fell, albeit that his kinsmen the Britons deny that he is dead, and do even yet solemnly await his coming again (Jones 34-5). Geoffreys work will be used as the standard text on British history for the next six hundred years. He refers to Arthurs sword as Caliburn (Jones 77), and he introduces into Arthurian legend the prophecies of the sorcerer Merlin, as well as Arthurs most-beloved knight before Lancelot, Walgainus (who will later be known as Gawain) (Barber 114). In a letter to Warinus, Henry of Huntington describes Arthurs last battle and says that Arthur is not dead. (Robert) Wace completes Roman de Brut, a French version of Geoffrey's History. He dedicated his work to Eleanor of Aquitaine, the wife of Henry II, and is remembered as being the first writer to introduce the concept of the Round Table to the Arthurian cycle. Of Arthur, Wace says, I know not if you have heard tell the marvellous gestes and errant deeds related so often of King Arthur. They have been noised about this mighty realm for so great a space that the truth has turned to fable and an idle song. Such rhymes are neither sheer bare lies, nor gospel truths. They should not be considered either an idiot's tale, or given by inspiration. The minstrel has sung his ballad, the storyteller told over his tale so frequently, little by little he has decked and painted, till by reason of his embellishment the truth stands hid in the trappings of a tale. Thus to make a delectable tune to your ear, history goes masking as fable.



c 1160-80 Marie de France writes Lais a collection of short poems. One, Lanval, includes Arthurian characters and themes. c 1160-90 Chretien de Troyes, the greatest of the medieval romance writers, makes his five contributions to the Arthurian cycle during this period. His Arthurian works are: Eric et Enide, Cliges Le Chevalier de la Charette (The Knight of the Cart, or Lancelot), Yvain (or Le Chevalier au Lion, The Knight with the Lion) and Perceval (Le Conte del Graal, The Story of the Graal). Chretien's work is noteworthy, not only for its quality, but for the introduction and further development of certain characters and themes into the Arthurian literature. He is, also, the first to apply the literary form of the romance, to the transmission of the stories of Arthur. It is Chretien who first tells us of the Grail (Graal), but he never equated it with the cup of the Last Supper or the cup used to catch the blood of Christ. The word, grail, a commonly used term in the middle ages, simply referred to a dish or plate of a particular kind. Chretien uses the grail as a symbol of beauty and mystery, but he never presented it as an object of religious devotion (the spiritual aspect was introduced by later writers). Chretien de Troyes is remembered as the first writer to give the name of Camelot to Arthur's headquarters and capital city. He, also, is responsible for the introduction of the famous knights, Lancelot, Gawain and Perceval, into the literature of Arthurian legend. c 1160-1200 Gottfried von Strassburg writes Tristan, a German translation of the French romance; Wolfram von Eschenbach writes Parzival, the tale of Percival and the Grail quest. c 1170 Beroul, a French poet, writes Roman de Tristan, believed to be one of the earliest extant versions of the story of Tristan and Yseult, and independent of any other versions. The story, as told by Beroul, is connected with the mainstream of Arthurian legend through its chief antagonist, King Mark of Cornwall; Walter Map, a French courtier, writes the prose Lancelot.

c 1175 Thomas d'Angleterre, an Anglo-Norman, writing in England, produces poem, Tristan, which would may have inspired Gottfried von Strassburg's poem. Thomas' poem, with Beroul's, is one of only two twelfth century Old French versions of the Tristan and Yseult story. 1190 Discovery of Arthur's grave between two pyramids in cemetery at Glastonbury Abbey.

c 1190 La3amon, a priest of Arley Regis, Worcestershire, publishes Brut, an English translation of Wace into alliterative verse. Although the dating of Brut is uncertain, his work marks the first appearance of the Arthurian story in English. La3amon tells the story of Arthurs conception his father Uther tricks his mother, the married lady Ygerne, into conceiving the child. 1192-3 Gerald of Wales visits Glastonbury, reports on exhumation of Arthur's grave in Liber de Principis Instructione. c 1195-1205 Hartmann von Aue, a German court poet, produces two Arthurian romances, Erek and Iwein, inspired by Chretien's Eric et Enide and Yvain. Hartmann is the first to introduce Arthurian literature to Germany. c 1198 William of Newburgh writes Historia Rerum Anglicarum, a history of Britain beginning with the Conquest of 1066. The preface, however, tries to place Arthur in a historical context and uses the works of Gildas and Bede (who completely excludes Arthur from his history) to harshly criticize Geoffrey of Monmouth's claims for him, concluding that Arthur and Merlin are fictitious. c 1200 The Dream of Rhonabwy, last of the Mabinogion tales to be completed, takes place in the time of the historical character, Madawg, son of Maredudd, king of Powys, who died in 1159. The tale refers to Arthur as Emperor, and compares glories of his legendary kingdom with hardships of twelfth century Wales. c 1200-10 Wolfram von Eschenbach, the greatest of the German epic poets, produces Parzifal, his masterful expansion of Chretien's Perceval. Wolfram's epic would, centuries later, become the inspiration for Wagner's 1882 opera, Parsifal. c 1210 Robert de Boron, in Joseph d'Arimathie and Estoire del Saint Graal, is responsible for transforming Chretien's grail into The Holy Grail. Robert saw something spiritual in Chretien's secular grail and transformed it into the cup which Joseph of Arimathea allegedly used to catch the blood dripping from Christ's crucifixion wounds, and the object of many Quests undertaken by Arthur's knights. Robert is the first to claim that Joseph and his family brought the Grail to unspecified parts of Britain. Subsequent accounts localized it in the vicinity of Glastonbury. Gottfried von Strassburg produces, Tristan, the classic version of the love story, basing it on Thomas d'Angleterre's earlier poem. Wagner would use Gottfried's work as basis for his 1859 opera of the same name. c 1210-30 Vulgate (Lancelot-Grail) Cycle, a series of Arthurian tales, in French, which attempt to tell the whole history of the Grail and to recount the quests of the Grail knights. During this period, stories transition from verse to prose, and as change progresses, material takes on more historical and religious overtones. Cycle included: Estoire del Saint Graal, Estoire de Merlin, Lancelot du Lac (also Roman du Lancelot), Queste del Saint Graal and Mort Artu. c 1216 Gerald of Wales writes his second, and slightly different, account of the discovery of Arthur's grave in Speculum Ecclesiae.

c 1220 Ralph of Coggeshall mentions discovery of Arthur's grave in his English Chronicle. c 1250 Mabinogion, a collection of eleven Welsh folk tales and legends (some of which mention Arthur), takes final form, although some scholars argue for a much earlier date of c 1000. Collection includes such well-known tales as Culhwch and Olwen, The Dream of Rhonabwy, Gereint and Enid, The Dream of Maxen Branwen Daughter of Llyr, Peredur Son of Evrawg, etc Llyfr Du Caerfyrddin (Black Book of Carmarthen) compiled. Thought to be the work of one scribe, possibly working at the Priory of St John at Carmarthen, it contains 38 items, almost all poetry, including: Englynion y Beddau, Gereint fab Erbin, religious verses and Merlin poems. Interpolated version of William of Malmesbury's De Antiquitate Glastoniensis Ecclesiae written by Glastonbury monks (probably Adam of Domerham), including much questionable material never included in William's original work. 1278 Edward I and Queen Eleanor of Castille visit Glastonbury Abbey to officially re-inter the remains of Arthur and Guinevere in the new abbey church. King Arthur's cross is placed on top of the black marble tomb. Edward proclaims his son, Edward of Caernarvon, Prince of Wales, and positions himself as the legitimate successor of Arthur.

c 1300 A chronicle of Margam Abbey (Wales) tells of the discovery of Arthur's grave. 1307 Publication of Peter Langtoft's Chronicle, which updates Geoffrey of Monmouth's History through Edward I's reign. In it he praises Arthur as the greatest of kings.

c 1340 Joseph of Arimathie, an alliterative poem written in English, pays particular attention to Joseph's activities after the Resurrection of Christ and portrays him as an Apostolic evangelist as well as the keeper of the Grail. c 1350 Cronica sive Antiquitates Glastoniensis Ecclesiae (Chronicle or Antiquities of the Church of Glastonbury), by John Seen, a monk of Glastonbury, continuing the history of the abbey originally begun by William of Malmesbury 220 years before. Much Arthurian material is here, including an account of the discovery of his grave and a prophecy of Melkin, allegedly a 5th century British bard, in which the grail and the grave of Joseph of Arimathea are said to have been at Glastonbury. c 1360 Approximate composition of The Alliterative Morte Arthure, in which the now well-known images of the story of ArthurAvalon, Merlin, Glastonbury, Excalibur, etcare securely involved in the text. c 1370-90 Composition of the poems ascribed to the Gawain or Pearl poet. His only Arthurian text, Sir Gawain and the green Knight, tells the story of Gawains quest, while the court at Camelot was still young and inexperienced, with the deceptive Bertilac and his lady, who lead Gawain to his ultimate confrontation with the Green Knight. Morgan le Fays hostility and jealousy of Guinevere is a possible motive for the trials of Gawain, who represents Guinevere as much as he represents Arthur. c 1370-90 Geoffrey Chaucer's the Wife of Bath's Tale, makes direct references to Arthurian characters or themesbut it is his only Arthurian work. In the Squires Tale Chaucer says, Lancelot is dead. c 1400 Llyfr Coch Hergest (Red Book of Hergest), the earliest complete version of the Mabinogion, is one of the most important Welsh medieval manuscripts. Composition of the stanzaic Le MorteArthur.

c 1430 John Capgrave, a friar at King's Lynn, Norfolk, publishes De Sancto Joseph ab Aramathea, in which he states, quoting from an unnamed manuscript, Philip sent from a Gaul a hundred and sixty disciples to assist Joseph and his companions. But, it was not until the third edition (composed in the late 15th c ) of his Nova Legenda Angliae, printed by Wynkyn de Worde in 1516, that a life of St. Joseph of Arimathea was included. c 1450 Herry Lovelich's History of the Holy Grail, the first English translation of the French Vulgate tale, Estoire del Saint Graal. In the Vulgate, Josephes, Joseph's son is the protagonist in the British portion of the tale. In Lovelich's version, the emphasis is switched to Joseph of Arimathea and his conversion activities in Britain, but his connection with the Grail is diminished. Llyfr Gwyn Hergest (the White Book of Hergest) may have been a manuscript of some importance. Composition of the prose Merlin. 1465 John Hardyng completes his Chronicle, blending Glastonbury and Grail traditions in the process. He connects Arthur and Joseph of Arimathea, whom he credits with constructing the original Round Table. The Chronicle brings Joseph to Britain in 76 AD, after a forty-two-year period of imprisonment, and attributes to him the conversion of the land to Christianity.

1469-70 Completion of Morte d'Arthur by Sir Thomas Malory of Newbold Revel, Warwichshire, while in London's Newgate Prison. Malory's work is the definitive English Arthurian romance and embodies many earlier French and Welsh traditions. He accepts Joseph of Arimathea's association with Glastonbury, but distances him from the Grail. Malory brings together many of the legends that have co-existed but never been seen in the same text before: Lancelot and Guinevere, Tristan and Isolde, Morgan and Merlin, Arthur and Mordred, the quest for the Grail, the death and transportation of Arthur to Avalon, and the honorable deaths of Lancelot and Guinevere. 1482 Polychronicon, the most popular source of world history available in England, published by Ranulf Higden, a Benedictine monk from Cheshire. In it he questions Geoffrey of Monmouth's basis for his claims of Arthur's continental conquests. William Caxton's first printing of Malory's Morte d'Arthur, giving wider circulation to the Glastonbury, Arthur, and Joseph traditions. Birth of Arthur Tudor, son of Henry VII of England who, had he lived, would have reigned as King Arthur. When he died, his brother Henry took over as Prince of Wales and, eventually, as King Henry VIII.

1485 1486

Some Later Works include: 1587 1697 1765 1777 1801 1817 1859 1900 1955 The Misfortunes of Arthur, by Thomas Hughes. King Arthur: An Heroick Poem in Twelve Books, by Richard Blakemore. Reliques of Ancient English Poetry, including King Arthurs Death and The Legend of King Arthur, by Bishop Thomas Percy. The Grave of Arthur, Thomas Warton. The Fairy of the Lake, John Thewall. The Round Table, or King Arthurs Feast, Thomas Love Peacock. The Idylls of the King and Lancelot and Elaine, Alfred, Lord Tennyson. King Arthur in Avalon, Sara Hammond Palfrey Merlin e familia i outras historias (Merlin and Company), Alvaro Cunqueiro

1958 1970 1982 1984 1987

The Once and Future King, T.H. White The Merlin Series by Mary Stewart: The Crystal Cave (1970), The Hollow Hills (1973), The Last Enchantment (1979) , The Wicked Day (1983), and The Prince and the Pilgrim (1995) The Mists of Avalon, Marion Zimmer Bradley (four additional books in the series) The Pendragon, Catherine Christian The Pendragon Cycle by Stephen Lawhead: Taliesin (1987), Merlin (1988), Arthur (1989), Pendragon (1994), and Grail (1997)

For a more complete list of novels see the Miami Dade College link posted by Professor Vicki Lague: Films: Excalibur, Camelot, First Knight, Dragonheart, The Mists of Avalon, Merlin, Monty Python and the Holy Grail, The Natural, King Arthur (2004), and Disneys The Sword in the Stone. Many of the details here are taken from Brittanica online at (and timeart1.html) where you can also find links to many of the original Arthurian texts, in translation. Also check out --King Arthur: Texts, Images, Basic Information. Another great source is http://dc which is the scholarly site for Arthurian research and can point you to a lot of useful links. Other sources: Barber, Richard. The Arthurian Legends: An Illustrated Anthology. Totowa, NJ: Littlefield Adams, 1979. Brengle, Richard. Arthur, King of Britain: History, Romance, Chonicle, & Criticism. New York: AppletonCentury-Crofts, 1964. Chambers, E.K. Arthur of Britain. London: Sidgwick & Jackson, 1927. Hunt, August. From Glein to Camlann: The Life and Death of King Arthur. Vortigern Studies: British History 400-600. 2006. Web. 21 September 2009. Jones, E. Lewis. King Arthur in History and Legend. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1911, 1972. Loomis, Roger Sherman, ed. Arthurian Literature in the Middle Ages. New York: Columbia UP, 1927. ---. Celtic Myth and Arthurian Romance. Chicago, IL: Academy Chicago Publishers, 1997. Markale, Jean. Le Roi Arthur et La Societ Celtique. Trans. Christinr hauch. London : Gordon and Cremonesi, 1977. Speirs, John. Medieval English Poetry: The Non-Chaucerian Tradition. New York: Macmillan, 1957. Wilhelm, James. The Romance of Arthur: An Anthology of Medieval Texts in Translation. New York: Garland, 1994.