Arthur, like Robin Hood, is a world famous hero whose deeds have been magnified by generations of storytellers who dearly believe that such a person existed. In fairness to most of them, it is quite probable that the character is based on an actual person, a Celtic King who once united his countrymen against the invading Saxons, a man of action, mystery, and romance who slew monsters and wicked giants, and who led the great struggle between good and evil, and won.
According to British legend King Arthur was the illegitimate son of Uther, and was born into a time of strife. After the death of Uther, the British nobles fell into civil war and so a challenge was set up to see who would be the new King. This challenge it is said was set up by the mysterious sorcerer Merlin, who summoned all the nobility to a site where a beautiful sword lay embedded in a large stone.
Whoever drew the sword would rule the country, many tried it is said, but all failed. Arthur, unknown to all to be the son of Uther, succeeded, making him king. And so the legend began, it is said that as he set about restoring order to his new realm, he continued to consult the magician Merlin, led the knights of the Round Table, married the beautiful Guinevere, counted Sir Lancelot among his most loyal followers and set an example of bravery and chivalry for friend and foe alike.
But the legend leaves us with many questions, how could a sword be embedded in a stone in the first place; the magical Merlin could also be called into question. Then there is the story of the magnificent Camelot, which is said to have been destroyed when one of the Knights of the Round Table, Sir Lancelot, Arthur’s most loyal follower, had an illicit affair with Guinevere.
There are many tales about Arthur and of course the Round Table but these are mainly a combination of stories from folktales, which have grown into epic tales, made even greater with new generations adding touches, which are important to their own culture and way of life. However, as Arthur was so poorly recorded, at least in the documentation surviving in modern times, we have no choice but to consider the possibilities that may have led to this.
Arthur never existed beyond folklore. Arthur (meaning ‘Bear’) was in fact the name of another documented person of the time. Arthur was so well known that British chroniclers of the time decided that there was no reason to record him in writing. Or simply that Arthur was frequently recorded in written documentation, but that many of these have since been lost.
Many parts of Britain have claimed Arthur Pendragon as their own, but most accounts indicate a link with either the Celtic regions of Cornwall or Wales. The name Pendragon is an Anglo-Welsh name meaning ‘dragon’s head’. The Welsh believe that Arthur fought his last battle in North Wales at the upper end of Cwm Lian.
Leading his Knights up the hill towards the enemy force, a hail of arrows met him and the King fell mortally wounded. His knights it is said laid him down behind a large rock and it was here that he died, they then covered his body with large stones to form a Cairn, which is still there to this day and is called Carnedd Arthur (Arthur’s Cairn). The pass where he is said to have died is called Bwich y Saethau (Pass of the arrows).
Hopes were raised in 1976 when archaeologists decided that the great table, which hangs in the Great Hall of Winchester Castle, was in fact the original Round Table of Camelot. Made of solid oak it has places for twenty five people clearly marked on it, this they said was conclusive evidence that the legend of King Arthur was real but unfortunately their hopes were dashed when the large table top underwent modern scientific investigation which revealed that the table was actually made in or around 1270, long after the death of Arthur.
The closest we can come to the actual historical figure is that he was most likely a Celtic Chief or King who succeeded in turning back the onslaughts of invading Saxon hordes in about 490 AD.
So fact or fiction, myth or memory, today the great King Arthur still remains a mystery, as archaeologists can find no evidence as to prove or disprove his existence, but I am convinced that there is indeed something in these stories and that Camelot did exist, as did the knights who served him.
Although he is long dead, there are those who still believe that he lies somewhere deep in the hills, just waiting for the moment when his countrymen need him most, then he will awake and lead them to victory once again. But it is not just Arthur who sleeps until he is needed, in Spain, it is El Cid, in Germany, it is Frederick Barbarossa, and in Denmark, it is the knight Holger Danske.
All of these great men await the time when the people need them most – then they will awake, so the answer to the main question as to weather or not King Arthur ever existed is simply this: We the people want him to be real.