But even Lancelot, however, is to many people something he was not.

Bruce, it is possibly of Celtic origin, coming from artos viros (bear man).

God make you a good man and fail not of beauty.

In such cases the dry, historical fact offers no solace, it is myth that offers real consolation, not in literal, historical fact but in poetic, imaginative truth. And a body of myth like the Arthurian tales therefore represents in some magical way the inner life of our history as Britons, over many hundreds, even thousands, of years. In this sense the fabulous myths really do serve Britain and make Arthur, perhaps, the real 'once and future king'.

The Knights were men of courage, honor, dignity, courtesy, and nobleness.

After landing, his final battle took place.

Chrétien´s image of the grail, luminous and other-worldly, became a mystical symbol of all human quests, of the human yearning for something beyond, desirable and yet unattainable. With that, the Arthur legend entered the true realm of myth.

They protected ladies and damsels, honored and fought for kings, and undertook dangerous quests.

At the same time, the stories of Arthur began to bloom in the Celtic lands of northern France. This French connection began soon after the Norman Conquest, when Henry II of England married the vivacious and beautiful Eleanor of Aquitaine. In their court the two worlds of French and English literature intermingled, and poets and troubadours transformed the Arthur legend from a political fable to a tale of chivalric romance.


Malory places his life in the fifth century.

Already known in Welsh poetry and in Nennius's history, he was an obvious contender. And with that background it is perhaps unsurprising that it was another Welsh writer who propelled Arthur from being just a Celtic warrior to being a mythical super-star.

Was Arthur fictitious or did he really live?

In the turmoil of the period following the Norman invasion in 1066, Celtic literature experienced a flowering. Much of it concerned stories of the Welsh and the other Celtic Britons in glorious triumph against their new masters. A shower of new histories also sprung forth, introducing the Normans to the culture and the past of the Celts. All such stories need a main protagonist, a hero to lead the troops, and this is where Arthur fitted in.

That is for all of us to decide for ourselves.

So the 12 battles of Arthur are not history. One man could not possibly have fought in all of them. The 12 battles are in fact the first signs of a legend.

By Michael Wood Last updated 2011-02-17

By the time the Tudor king Henry VII came to the throne in 1485, chivalric tales of Arthur's knightly quests and of the Knights of the Round Table, inspired by Chrétien de Troyes, had roused British writers to pen their own versions, and Arthur was a well established British hero. Thomas Malory's work the Death of Arthur, published in 1486, was one of the first books to be printed in England.

Arthur of Britain by EK Chambers (Speculum Historiale, 1996)

Nennius then gives a list of 12 battles fought by Arthur, a list that belongs in an old tradition of battle-list poems in Welsh poetry. Some of the names appear in other early poems and annals, stretched over a wide period of time and place, and the list represents the kind of eclectic plundering that was the bard´s stock-in-trade.

Geoffrey of Monmouth by MJ Curley (Twayne Publishers, 1994)

Here Arthur appears as a heroic British general and a Christian warrior, during the tumultuous late fifth century, when Anglo-Saxon tribes were attacking Britain. In one of the most pregnant passages in British history, Nennius says: