Life and Times
Christian and Pagan
||The Legacy of the
Arthur and the Brythonic Celts and their Gaulo-Roman allies eventually
suffered defeat and the Saxon covered the land like the Grim Reaper
leaving only the legend as a reminder of the high civilization of the
Latin period in England.
In the histories, the Irish historian Gildeas (circa 550 AD) chronicled
the first History of the reign of Arthur some 50 years after Arthur's
death and referred to the nine great battles and the final battle which
took Arthur's life and that of his rebellious heir Mordred.
|In the eight century
Venerable Bede speaking of problems recruiting Celts in the Celtic church
as missionaries to the Saxon refers to the last Celtic King and his
battles, but writes of a conflict that could have come from today's
newspapers. The saintly Bede exhorting Celts to save the heathen Saxon was
rebuffed. "Heaven," the Celts told the preacher, "will be better without
them." In an ironic twist which holds true to this day, Bede observed,
"Celt and Saxon will not worship in the same building." The text of Bede
then turns to the martyrdom of St Lawrence in a pagan Saxon rite. |
Then the world turned upside down. The Saxon was vanquished at Hastings
in 1066 and the Celts became the favored entertainers (troubadours) at
Norman courts. Glastonbury Abbey became the repository of the chroniclers
of the legend. The Norman Knight Sir Thomas Mallory penned Morte D'Artur,
capturing the legend's epic force into print. Norman plantagent royalty
invented fatuous genealogies connecting themselves with the legendary
Arthur. The place of the Arthurian legend seemed secure.
The Norman dynasty ended with Richard II's death in battle, the Tudor
dynasty, notwithstanding its suspicious birthrights affected an affinity
for the line of Arthur. Henry VIII in breaking with the Church of Rome
laid waste to Glastonbury Abbey and its library. In destroying a thousand
years of English literature and art, Henry broke not only England's
cultural ties with continental Europe but also his ties with England''
The Arthurian saga was dismissed from the royal pantheon as the
iconoclasm of the Reformation stormed across Britain. What little
pre-Henrican literature remains survived by accident. The Pearl Poet's
adventure story Sir Gawain and the Green Knight was rediscovered centuries
later in an attic with an incomplete copy of the saxon epic Beowulf. The
fury of destruction continued until Elizabeth I passed a law to protect
what remained of England's antiquities.
The romantic revolutions recalled Arthur from obscurity. Writing in the
mid 1700s, the English historian Gibbons declared Arthur a legitimate
British King and throughout the Regency and Victorian periods Arthur,
Boddica and other Celtic heroes were honored as British Heroes in statuary
and in the poetry of Tennyson, partly in concession to the restive Celts.
In the early American republic, the Arthurian legend became an example of
By 1922, Britain's hold over the Celts could no longer be sustained by
illusions and poetry. As the Union Jack lowered in Dublin castle, Arthur
was dismissed from the British pantheon. In the History of the English
Speaking People, the imperialist Churchill who had greeted Irish
independence with a Pharonic reluctance makes note of Gibbon's finding,
but refused to endorse Gibbon's judgement.
Notwithstanding Churchill's cool neutrality, the legend retained its
mystical power. If there is one weakness to the legend, Arthur's saga
unlike the Odyessy or the Illiad never became trapped by one author who
became so great that his or her word was final. The legend is alive with
authors who rework it for the benefit of each new generation.
Today there are three major authors with best selling versions of the
legend: Jack Whyte, Morgan Llwellyan, and Marion Zimmer Bradley have all
contributed a fresh perspective on the legend.
|The legend lives
because it is a tale of life which keeps repeating. Its appeal is that of
life itself. There is a children's story about growing up discovering the
marvels of the universe, an adventure story as knights go on their quest,
a war story of a nation under constant external stress without friends or
allies, a romance of star crossed lovers... There is something in the
legend for everyone.
The legend is powerful magic admired and feared. T H Whyte's account of
the final battle between good and evil was so feared by Franklin Roosevelt
for its pacifistic leanings that it was buried by Roosevelt and its
publication forbidden. The manuscript was not recovered until 1965 when
the popular movie Sword and the Stone based upon T H White's best selling
trilogy renewed interest in the subject.
The best actors have cued up to play Arthur. No other British King has
been played by so many leading thespians: Robert Taylor, Peter O'Toole,
Arthur may have lost his life in the final battle, but in doing so
conquered the world.
Introduction to the Legend
Life and Times of Arthur
Christian and Pagan Elements in The Arthurian Legend
Masons in The Arthurian Legend
And for a few chuckles visit the
Rockaway Park Philosophical Society Home Pages
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