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Arthurian legend tells the fictional story of King Arthur’s reign in British royalty. It is a story filled with love, romance, and betrayal. Learn more about the origins of Arthurian legend, characters in these stories, and test your knowledge with a quiz.

What is Arthurian Legend?

King Arthur, Guinevere, and Sir Lancelot are all fictional characters in one of the most well-known legends in British literature. When most people think of Arthurian legend, they think of romance, chivalry, and knights in shining armor.

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Knights were thought to be chivalrous when they were courteous, honest, brave, and loyal.

History of Arthurian Legend

Arthurian legend has been around for many years; it was developed from stories in Celtic mythology, but it is unclear whether King Arthur’s character was based on a real person. There are a number of writers who created various stories about Arthurian legend, including Geoffrey of Monmouth (with Historia Regum Britanniae), Robert de Boron (with Merlin and the Grail), Chretien de Troyes (who wrote several including Erec, Cliges, Yvain, and Lancelot), and Sir Thomas Malory (who wrote Le Morte D’Arthur).

Even today, stories about Arthurian legend are told through movies and various works of literature.

Historia Regum Britanniae

The story of King Arthur was first found in the prose piece Historia Regum Britanniae, written by Geoffrey of Monmouth in the early 12th century. Historia Regum Britanniae gives the details of King Arthur’s life, tells of the heroism of King Arthur’s knights, and gives an account of European history. Following the work of Geoffrey of Monmouth, Robert Wace wrote Roman de Brut about Arthurian legend, chivalry, and romance.

The Brut of Layamon used the framework established by Wace to describe King Arthur as a hero. Chr;tien de Troyes, also wrote several romances about the knights of Arthur’s court. Eventually, Arthurian writing decreased but the Arthurian legend continued to be popular and is still popular today.

Le Morte D’Arthur

Thomas Malory’s Le Morte D’Arthur provides the framework for most of what is known as Arthurian legend. It is the most popular, historical piece of writing about Arthurian times. Thomas Malory told the stories of the various characters in Arthurian legend in an understandable way, even though his stories differed from the stories told by other authors.

The Arthurian Legend Itself

King Arthur’s story can sometimes become confusing because so many writers have written their own versions of what happened during King Arthur’s reign. As various writers told King Arthur’s story, they added different turns and twists to the story. Despite different interpretations, the basic story of King Arthur remains the same.King Arthur was the illegitimate son of King Uther Pendragon and Igraine. He was raised in a secret place and pulled a sword from a stone in order to become king.

He was helped in various challenges in his life by a magician named Merlin. When he became King, Arthur created a court, which consisted of many knights who were an honorable group of men. He established his kingdom and called it Camelot. Arthur’s knights met at a Roundtable and went on several quests, when they were not in battle, to find The Holy Grail, a popular religious symbol.King Arthur was a good king and soldier but had many enemies, some of whom were his closest friends and family.

King Arthur married Guinevere, a lovely woman, who later had an affair with Arthur’s best knight, Sir Lancelot. Several of King Arthur’s knights were aware of the affair between Guinevere and Lancelot and one of his Knights, Mordred (who was also his son and nephew) made Arthur aware of the affair. King Arthur had to punish both Guinevere and Lancelot, but things did not go as he planned and his entire kingdom was destroyed. Mordred betrayed the King by overtaking the throne after King Arthur left him in charge. Eventually, Mordred and King Arthur were both fatally wounded in battle with one another. The battle between Mordred and King Arthur marked the end of Camelot and the Knights of the Roundtable.

Significant Characters and Places

  • Arthur – Fictional King of Britain during the 5th and 6th centuries.

    He established his kingdom at Camelot and named around 150 knights to his Roundtable.

  • Guinevere – King Arthur’s wife and the lover of Sir Lancelot. After her husband’s death, she went to a nunnery.

  • Sir Lancelot – a very brave and skilled knight from King Arthur’s Roundtable. He was raised by the Lady of the Lake and later became Guinevere’s lover.
  • Mordred – King Arthur’s illegitimate son (and nephew). His mother was King Arthur’s half sister Morgause. Mordred was a knight of King Arthur’s Roundtable who later betrayed King Arthur by overtaking his throne and kidnapping his wife. Mordred also fatally wounded King Arthur.
  • Merlin – a magician who helped King Arthur overcome many challenges in his life.

  • The Lady of the Lake – a mythical woman who gave King Arthur his famous sword Excalibur and raised Sir Lancelot.
  • The Holy Grail – a sacred dish used by Jesus during The Last Supper. Several knights from King Arthur’s Roundtable went on quests to find the Holy Grail. Only the most pure-hearted individual could find it (eventually it is found by Sir Galahad, Lancelot’s son).

  • King Arthur’s Round Table – the place where court was held for King Arthur’s knights. The Roundtable was given to King Arthur as dowry when he married Guinevere.
  • Avalon – the island where King Arthur was taken after he was wounded in battle with Mordred and never seen again.

Lesson Summary

Arthurian legend is based on the fictional life of King Arthur of Britain, developed from stories in Celtic mythology. King Arthur was a man and king who tried to be good and fair to others but was betrayed by many of the people he loved.

King Arthur’s reign ends after his wife and best knight have an affair.The story of King Arthur was first told by Geoffrey of Monmouth in the prose piece Historia Regum Britanniae. Through the years, many other authors wrote their own versions of King Arthur’s story; one of the most popular pieces of writing about Arthurian legend is Thomas Malory’s Le Morte D’Arthur.

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