Did King Arthur Really Exist? | Animated History


The story of England is filled with tales
of kings and queens, from a Norman conqueror to a regal Empress. Among them no English
ruler is shrouded in as much mystery as King Arthur. We all know the tales of Excalibur,
Camelot and the Holy Grail. But did the fabled ruler really exist? Richard Earl of Cornwall was the younger brother
of King Henry III and one of the wealthiest men in Europe. Around 1233 he eagerly exchanged
three of his manors for a small seemingly undesirable piece of land on the north Cornish
coast. It was the island of Tintagel, a harsh rocky headland entirely unsuitable for building
on. So why was the Earl of Cornwall so keen to own it? A century earlier in the 1130s a cleric named
Geoffrey of Monmouth had written a book chronicling 2000 years of the nation’s rulers. He called
it the Historia Regum Britanniae or History of the Kings of Britain. One of the tome’s
most remarkable tales was about a king by the name of Uther Pendragon who fell madly
in love with Igraine the most beautiful woman in Britain. To keep her from Uther’s advances,
her husband Gorlois Duke of Cornwall sent Igraine away to Tintagel. Even two or three
guards could hold this island against an entire army. But Uther Pendragon would not be stopped
so easily. He sought the help of the prophet Merlin who
gave the king a magical potion so that he appeared to be Gorlois himself. In this disguise
Uther traveled to Tintagel, fooled the guards and won over his love. And so, says Geoffrey,
King Arthur was conceived on Tintagel island. According to legend, Arthur was crowned King
at just fifteen. He went on to lead the defense of Britain against Saxon invaders in the mid-
to late- 400s securing his place in the ranks of heroic kings. We now know that Geoffrey’s
stories are mostly made-up but nevertheless they thrilled and inspired people across Medieval
England, one of whom was Richard Earl of Cornwall. Having bought the legendary landscape he set
about doing what kings and earls do best: he built a castle. Unfortunately the terrain
made construction difficult. The resulting structure was small and had no military value.
The garderobes or toilets had to be rebuilt several times as they kept falling into the
sea. Still, Richard wanted the castle, maybe to cement his place in the myth as a worthy
successor to King Arthur. Or simply because he admired him as a symbol of honour and chivalry. He died in 1272 and by around 1300 the castle
was already crumbling in the face of the fierce Cornish weather. But the remains can still
be explored today. Many other historic places in England are also associated with the legend
of King Arthur. Carlisle Castle is thought to be a possible location of the Court of
Camelot while Arthur’s Stone in Herefordshire supposedly marks the place where the king
slew a giant. King Arthur’s Round Table in Cumbria is said to have been his jousting
arena and some even thought that Stonehenge was built by Merlin for Arthur’s Uncle Aurelius
as a war memorial. One thing’s for sure: many people are still
drawn to these places and especially to Tintagel. Thanks to the influence of one wealthy fan
Arthur’s tale remains deeply ingrained in the fabric of England’s past, resting somewhere
between fact and fiction in the realm of legend.

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