Now just who was 'Arthur'? This is just a personal
view but the problem we have with 'Arthur' is his timeless popularity.
Too many people have jumped onto the Camelot bandwagon over the
centuries and have adopted him - and then adapted him.
When looking at all the stories - and there are
truly so many as to boggle the mind - the first job is to delete
the obvious romances and parodies of later years. Then take the
earlier offerings and, along with some thought for the political
and religious agendas of the periods, see what we really have.
This takes us back to the twelfth century, and
everyone's favourite storyteller, Geoffrey of Monmouth. Most later
works - the ones that weren't total fabrications - were based either
on Geoffrey's works or on 'evidence' similar to that with which he
worked (an over-generalisation of course, but valid to an extent).
This author's opinion - and this is only an opinion
- is as follows:
Names... and the first Myrddin
In the pre-Roman and post-Roman periods when Britons
ruled the island, names as we know and accept them were seldom recorded.
What could be termed 'titles' or 'nicknames' were prevalent. Sometimes
two very different people, though famous, noteworthy people in their
own right, could have the same 'name' within a generation of each other.
Then again, a single person could go through more than one 'title' in
their single lifetime. This can obviously lead to some confusion.
Looking at the names and/or titles involved in the
Arthurian stories, and applying them to other histories and
documentation as we know them, seems to give us two separate, and
clearly defined, targets.
We have two Myrddins for a start: one youthful lad
in the mid-fifth century, and one slightly older chap in the mid-sixth
century. The century between them eliminates any chance of them being
the same person (unless you really believe in magic).
Peredur, Gawain, Uriens and many of the 'knights' of
the 'Round Table' are very much alive and are active in northern
Britain in the latter half of the sixth century (in, respectively,
Ebrauc (York), Guotodin, and North Rheged).
At that time the northern British war chief, the
'Great Warrior' or 'PenDragon' to give him his proper title, was one
Gwenddolau of Arddrydd (Caer-Guendoleu). It is not a big step from
'King of Arthuret' to 'King Arthur', especially allowing for the
British passion for titles and their grammar.
His chief councillor is recorded as one of the
Myrddins mentioned above. His wife's name is not recorded, but would
likely be titled after him - therefore being Gwen-something, almost
as in Mrs Gwenddolau. So Gwenifar - or Guinevere in later tongues -
would not be impossible.
Near his capital is a round circle where Celts have
met since they reached these shores. For meetings to be held there,
in the neutral open - especially as the so-called 'knights' were all
in fact princes who were 'equal' to Gwenddolau - would be quite
feasible. And the Celt's love of pomp and ceremony would near demand
it. The nearby hill is still named 'Arthur's Seat', hence, perhaps,
the 'round table'.
Although cinematic depictions of Arthur and his knights tend to
look impressive, they often leave a lot to be desired in terms
of historical accuracy, with only John Boorman's interpretation
of Le Morte d'Arthur standing the test of time