For Jim Nance, Rhetoric III.
In Tintagel Castle, Cornwall, Britain, on December 21st, and roughly 480 AD, a baby boy named Arthur was born.
When Uther Pendragon, king of Britain, fell in love with Ygerna, wife of the Duke of Cornwall, he persuaded the sorcerer Merlin to transform his appearance into that of her husband so that he could enter the castle and spend the night with Ygerna. Merlin agreed on one condition—that he would be given the resulting baby. When Arthur was born, he was hastily handed over to Merlin, with few knowing of his very existence.
A few short years later, King Uther died, supposedly childless.
Now, Merlin had taken the child to a knight named Sir Hector to bring up alongside his son Kay. When Uther died, the powerful barons began quarrelling over who would be the next king, so Merlin arranged a special set of tournaments. One of the games involved a sword buried in a large stone. Merlin declared that whoever could pull the sword from the stone would be the next king of Britain.
Arthur was fifteen when these tournaments were held. His adopted brother, Kay, accidentally left his sword at home when he went to joust and sent Arthur back to retrieve it, but Arthur saw the sword in the stone, pulled it out, and gave it to Kay. Kay recognized the sword, and told Hector. Hector announced Arthur’s accidental triumph to the barons, and it was resolved that Arthur was king.
Despite his apparently humble beginnings, King Arthur rose to become one of the most popular kings in history. He has been renowned in later times for his famous league of knights, who placed the honor of people around them in an equal position to their own. Arthur treasured merits such as honesty and courage, and chose his friends by those qualities rather than their social standing or wealth. He was strongly Christian, and had a portrait of Mary on his shield so that she would be in the forefront of his mind during battle.
In Aneirin’s The Gododdin, a warrior is praised for having slain 300 men, but Aneirin says that even this did not make him equal to Arthur. Arthur was famous for his remarkable skill in battle and for the valor of his knights. This allowed him to conquer at least 9 countries, including Scotland and France. Arthur’s greatest victory was considered to be the battle in which he drove the Saxon invaders out, but the battle of Saussy was a close second.
Now, the Battle of Saussy was no ordinary battle. On Whitsuntide, Arthur held a four-day festival for all his knights and barons—on the last day, a Roman embassy marched into the party and demanded tribute from Britain, and demanded Gaul back. Arthur refused, and sent a message in return to a certain Lucius Hiberius, procurator and general of the declining, but still impressive, Roman Empire. Arthur said that the only tribute he would send would be the body of Lucius Hiberius. And so, Arthur assembled his army, and marched with them to Autun, where battle was joined. At the battle’s close, both sides had suffered heavy losses, but the victorious Britons found themselves with three captive senators, as well as sixty dead senators, sixteen dead kings, and the slain Roman emperor. Arthur sent these back with the remains of the Roman army as his tribute.
Unfortunately, this battle proved to be Arthur’s undoing. Mordred had been left in charge of the kingdom, and he had revolted with the help of the bitter Saxons. Before Arthur could march on Rome, he was forced to return in 542 AD to regain his kingdom in the Battle of Camelford. Arthur killed Mordred in this battle, but was himself mortally wounded in the process and was taken out of the fighting. Three queens, supposedly Morgan Le Fay, [Nimue] the Lady of the Lake, and the Queen of Northgalis, carried him off to the Isle of Avalon, where according to mythology, he was healed and is still alive, waiting for the day when he can return.
The un-death of Arthur is in itself an interesting topic that is still bandied about by people today. The heroism of the Knights of the Round Table has served as an inspiration for the last 14.5 centuries, and has been the subject of many similar tales. For example, Mallory’s Le Morte De Arthur is widely known, as is Tennyson’s Lady of Shallot. Monty Python and the Holy Grail also played off of the King Arthur story. In fact, considering the number of times Arthur’s tale has been told and retold, his character has never been discredited—if anything, it has been raised to an even higher moral level. Other famous historical figures have been slandered profusely, but King Arthur remains untouched. For these reasons, King Arthur is recognized today as one of history’s greatest kings.