How the legend grew


During the years 500 - 550AD the Britons appear to have held back the Saxon advance.   However, in the following years they were forced back into Cornwall and Wales.  The territory held by the Saxons eventually became known as England and the people in Wales were called 'Welsh' from the Saxon word 'weala' meaning 'foreigners'.   (It's worth noting that the Welsh called themselves 'Cymry'  meaning  'fellow countrymen' and their country   'Cymru'.)

Now,   the importance of this division is that the Saxon conquerors were hardly likely to be interested in the exploits of a 'foreign' leader who was successful in holding them at bay.  Maybe it is for this reason that Arthur is not mentioned in early English chronicles while his name occurs in Welsh ones.

The first reliable reference to Arthur is in the 'Historia Brittonum' written by the Welsh monk Nennius around the year 830AD.   (some 200 years after the event)  Surprisingly he refers to Arthur as a warrior - not a king.

He lists twelve battles fought by Arthur including Mount Badon and the City Of The Legion.

Arthur is mentioned in early Welsh literature, however the surviving manuscripts which refer to him date from after the legend was firmly established.   These documents, though interesting, do not help us understand the roots of the legend.

It was the work of Geoffrey of Monmouth, another Welsh cleric, which really set down the foundations of the Arthurian legends.  Other subsequent writers have expanded his themes and added new strands to the story.   His work,   'Historia Regum Britaniae' was written in the year 1133AD.   He claimed to have based the work on an ancient Celtic document in his possession.   It became a 'best seller' and still survives in two hundred manuscripts.

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