Frequently Asked Questions

  1. Who was King Arthur?
    King Arthur is the name of a mythological king who supposedly ruled Britain during the medieval period. There are many varying legends about him. Some legends say that he was the greatest warrior ever to live. The oldest and most common tales about him say that he was a ruler who united Britain and drove invaders from the shores in the fifth or sixth centuries. Some legends tell that he will return one day to defend Britain, when Britain has need of him again.
  2. What is the legend of King Arthur?
    There are many legends associated with King Arthur. The first tales of him were told in the fifth and sixth centuries. In the eleventh century, his popularity exploded, and tales of him have continued to develop ever since. Many of them became intertwined with local folklore. As such, there is no standard, official version of the Arthurian Legend. Some tales depict Arthur as a brilliant warlord who saves his people from invasion, and others focus on his knights while depicting Arthur himself as nothing more than a kindly, old king.
  3. Who wrote the legend of King Arthur?
    The Arthurian Legend has been developed over the course of more than a thousand years. As such, there is no one author who can take credit for the work. Some of the most influential writers who helped shape the legend were Geoffrey of Monmouth, Chrétien de Troyes, and Sir Thomas Malory, in the medieval period. In the modern period, notable authors are T.H. White, Mary Stewart, and Marion Zimmer Bradley. Writers of the earliest tales of Arthur also mentioned him and apparently believed him to be a real person. Most notable among them was the ninth–century monk Nennius. In addition, numerous tales of Arthur have been written by authors whose names have been lost in history.
  4. How old is the legend of King Arthur?
    The earliest tales of Arthur tell that he was a war commander of the late fifth or early sixth centuries. The earliest texts historians have which mention him are not originals, but copies that were transcribed by medieval monks centuries later. Some scholars believe these monks may have added stories about Arthur to the texts they were transcribing, so it is impossible to know for certain how old his legend is. The earliest text we do have which mentions him has been dated to the ninth century.

    However, these early tales of Arthur were very different from the modern legend as it has come to be known today. Many elements of the legend were gradually added over time, and some, such as the depiction of Arthur as a scrawny boy who grows into a great military leader, are no older than a century.
  5. Was King Arthur a real person?
    Historians still debate whether Arthur was based on a real, historical figure. While no direct evidence exists to prove that he was, there is some circumstantial evidence which seems to indicate that there was a great leader of that time by the name of Arthur, Artur, Arturo, Artos, or another similar name.

    However, even if Arthur was based on a historical figure, that figure was almost nothing like the Arthur of modern legend. The earliest legends of Arthur do not refer to him as a king, but rather, as a war chief who led several successful battles in defence of Britain. The real Arthur would never have jousted, or held court with his ladies, or have had a code of chivalry among his knights. If Arthur did exist, he would have been much more of a barbaric warlord or bard than the chivalrous king we have come to envision today.
  6. Where did the legend of King Arthur come from?
    The legend of King Arthur developed over the course of more than one thousand years. As such, many different factors contributed to shaping it into what it has become today. These factors include, among other things, political motivations, cultural influences, and socioeconomic changes. For a more detailed discussion of how the legend developed, please see our Literature section.
  7. Who were King Arthur's parents?
    According to the legend, King Arthur's father was Uther Pendragon, the king of Britain. His mother was Ygraine, the Duchess of Cornwall. Uther fell madly in love with her despite the fact that she was already married, and pursued her relentlessly, eventually leading to a war between himself and her husband. Eventually, Uther persuaded Merlin to use magic to help him attain her, and Uther later married her after her husband was killed in battle.
  8. Did King Arthur have a wife?
    Yes. In the earliest versions of the legend, he had two or three wives all named Gwenhwyfar. Later, this became one wife named Guinevere, and according to the legend, she betrayed him by having an adulterous affair with his finest knight, Sir Lancelot. This eventually led to the downfall of Arthur's kingdom.
  9. Who was Merlin?
    Merlin was King Arthur's wizard, who arranged his birth and tutored him since he was a child. When Arthur grew older, Merlin served as his advisor before being trapped in a tomb for all eternity by the Lady of the Lake.
  10. Who was Guinevere?
    Guinevere was Arthur's wife. In some early versions of the legend, her name is spelled Gwenhwyfar, and in some very early versions, he has two or three wives of this name throughout his lifetime. In later versions of the legend, she came to be known as an adulterous woman who betrayed Arthur by carrying on an affair with his best friend, Sir Lancelot. In the Medieval Ages, she was depicted as a scornful, adulterous woman, while in modern times, she has come to be thought of as a tormented soul, torn between her loyalty to her husband and her feelings for his best friend.
  11. Who was Lancelot?
    Lancelot is a completely fictional character who was added to the Arthurian Legend in the twelfth century. According to the legend, he was Arthur's finest knight and best friend, but he betrayed him by pursuing an adulterous relationship with his wife, Guinevere, which ultimately led to the downfall of Camelot.
  12. Who was Galahad?
    Sir Galahad was Lancelot's son by Lady Elaine. Unlike his father, Galahad was pure and virtuous, and because of this, he was ultimately allowed to win the Holy Grail. Shortly after, he gave up this life to join God in Heaven.
  13. Who was Mordred?
    In the legend, Mordred was Arthur's nephew–son by incest. Mordred was devious and sought to take over Arthur's kingdom. He took advantage of Lancelot's love affair with the Queen in order to drive the kingdom apart, and claim it and Guinevere for himself. He and Arthur both killed each other in battle, but Arthur was taken to the magical island of Avalon to be cured of his wounds.
  14. Who was the Lady of the Lake?
    Nimue, Viviane, Viviana, Vivienne, Elaine, Ninianne, Nivian, Nyneve, and Nimueh are the names most frequently given to her throughout the legends. She was a magical creature who lived in a kingdom beneath her lake. She knew magic and frequently helped Arthur on his quests. She gave him his sword, Excalibur, as well as sending Lancelot to his kingdom to serve him. However, she ultimately trapped Merlin forever in his cave because she was afraid of him.
  15. What was Camelot?
    Camelot was the name of King Arthur's kingdom in legend. It has come to be thought of as a kingdom of justice and chivalry. Its location is never specifically given, although some historians believe that Cadbury Hill in Somerset, England, may form the basis for a historical Camelot. Many other locations have also been suggested, such as Camelon, Colchester, and Caerwent.
  16. What was the Holy Grail?
    The image of a sacred bowl or chalice has been connected to Arthur since his very early legends. Some historians believe that this may come from ancient Sarmatian folklore, which had tales of a hero similar to Arthur, who had a magic chalice.

    The Grail's powers are never clearly explained, but it possesses many varying mystical powers in various versions of the legend. In modern times, the Grail has come to be thought of either as the cup from which Jesus Christ drank during the Last Supper, or the cup which caught his blood when he was crucified. As a result, it is believed to be sacred, and to possess great powers of healing. Many later legends depict King Arthur's knights going on various quests in search of it. Usually, all but one knight – either Galahad or Percival – are denied it because they are impure.
  17. What was the Round Table?
    According to legend, the Round Table was the table where King Arthur sat and met with his knights to discuss matters of the kingdom. The purpose of its being round was to illustrate that there was no head of the table; all men sitting there, including Arthur, were treated as equals, and could voice their opinions freely.
  18. What was Excalibur?
    Excalibur was the name of King Arthur's sword in legend. It was forged on the mystical isle of Avalon, and was made of the finest steel. However, the real magic came from the scabbard. Whoever held the scabbard could never die of his wounds. Excalibur is not the same sword which Arthur pulled from the stone when he was crowned king. This sword was later broken in battle, and Arthur needed to replace it. Merlin took him to the Lady of the Lake, and she gave him the sword Excalibur.
  19. Who were Arthur's Knights?
    Many different knights are mentioned in the various legends about King Arthur. However, the most common ones are Sir Lancelot, Sir Galahad, Sir Percival, Sir Bors, Sir Gawain, Sir Gareth, Sir Kay, Sir Bedivere, Sir Lamorak, Sir Tristan, Sir Yvain, Sir Balin, and Sir Balan.
  20. What is the purpose of this website?
    This website exists to promote interest in the Arthurian Legend. We do this mainly by offering a series of articles designed to introduce the newcomer to the legend in a way that is interesting and easy to understand. Once the newcomer has the basics, we provide a number of resources to help guide them in continuing their studies, if that is their wish.
  21. Do you provide any further information or resources to assist in the study of King Arthur?
    Yes. Once the student has read the Introduction, Legend, Literature, and History sections, he should have a good understanding of the basic topics of the legend, good enough to discuss the matter intelligently with academics in the field.

    At this point, if the student is interested in reading some of the original texts that contributed to the legend, we host a number of modern, English translations which you may read for free in both our Historic Documents section, and our Arthurian Romances section. We also urge you to check our Links page for a number of useful Arthurian resources.
  22. Can I copy one of your articles to share with someone else?
    All of our articles are copyrighted material. If you want to make a point or show someone something you find interesting, then you may copy a reasonable amount of text from our site (no more than two paragraphs). If you want to show them any more than that, please instead link them to the page you want to show them.

    Teachers may print out a reasonable number of our articles to share with their students in class. Please also indicate the source so that your students may read more of the pages on our website if they find them interesting. Under no circumstances is it permitted for anyone to copy entire articles onto another website.
  23. Can I share one of your translations with someone else?
    Each of the documents in our Historic Documents and Arthurian Romances sections has its source and its terms of use displayed either in the document itself, or directly above the document, on our webpage. Please refer to each document's specific permissions for information on whether you may share it with someone else. For the documents we have compiled ourselves, all of these are free for you to share, and most, but not all, are in the public domain.
  24. Why can't I find the text from quotations on your website when I do a Search in your documents?
    When selecting quotations for use in our articles, we have tried to use the sources most widely–accepted by scholars. Many of these are still under copyright, and so we are not able to provide these editions to you through our website. In order that you can have access to the rich body of the works that influenced the Arthurian Legend, we have relied mostly on making available to our readers translations which are in the public domain, usually because their copyright has expired.
  25. Can you provide me with further resources to continue my study of the Arthurian Legend?
    Yes! In addition to the texts located in our Historic Documents and Arthurian Romances sections, we also advise you to check out The CAMELOT Project for other useful texts.

    We invite any person who is interested in learning more about the Arthurian Legend to post questions in our Forums for help. Our Links page also contains numerous resources for continuing your study, and for connecting with fellow Arthurian enthusiasts.

  26. Can you answer individual e–mail inquiries about King Arthur?
    If you have a question about the Legend of King Arthur or this website, the best place to ask it is probably in our Forums. If you have a specific question or concern that you feel only the creators of this website can answer, then you are more than welcome to contact us using our convenient Contact Form. Please make sure to check our forums and read this F.A.Q. first to see if your question has already been answered.

    Although we do not have the resources to respond to every e–mail we receive, we do welcome your comments, and we will try to respond when appropriate.
  27. What's the best way to learn about the legend of King Arthur?
    The best way is to read the original romances. But if you aren't sure whether you're ready to start reading medieval texts just yet, this website can serve as a good starting point to guide you in the right direction.

    This website was created with the aim of filling a need, because most websites about King Arthur present their information in a very academic way, or in a way that summarizes various aspects of the legend without showing the legend for what it is: a very rich and exciting story. This is good for academic purposes, but it can all seem a bit overwhelming — or even boring — for those not already acquainted with the legend. We put a lot of time and thought into writing each article in a way that will show newcomers what it is that is so exciting about the legend, while gradually teaching them a little more as they go.

    We created the Introduction page to give our readers an easy start, but it turns out most of our readers prefer to jump directly into The Legend. From there, you should read the Literature and History sections in order. Each section is designed to prepare you just a little for the next one. When you are ready to begin reading the texts themselves, many of the most up–to–date translations are available at your local bookstore, or on at relatively cheap prices. But you can also find some free translations right here on our website in our Historic Documents and Arthurian Romances sections. Don't forget to check our Links page for more Arthurian resources.