King Arthur is an important figure in the mythology of Great Britain, where he appears as the ideal of kingship in both war and peace. There is disagreement about whether Arthur, or a model for him, ever actually existed.
In one version Arthur obtains the throne by pulling a sword, Excalibur, from a stone and anvil. In this account, this act could not be performed except by "the true king", meaning the divinely appointed king or true heir of Uther Pendragon. Another legend tells how Excalibur was taken from a hand rising from a lake and given to Arthur sometime after he began to reign by a sorcerous damsel.
Camelot is the name of the stronghold where Arthur held court and from which he fought many of the battles that made up his life. Its specific location is currently unknown and may be a fictionalized Romano-British province of post-Roman Britain. It is described as many days' journey from Avalon. Various stories present Camelot's court in varying ways, anything from welcoming followers of both the Celtic and the Christian gods, to exclusively one or the other. Since the location of Camelot is still a mystery, the truth about it — if there is one — is still unknown.
Possible locations of Camelot include Cadbury Castle (Somerset), Tintagel Castle (Cornwall), Viroconium (now known as Wroxeter, Shropshire), and Caerleon-on-Usk (South Wales).
The Round Table was a mystical table in Camelot around which Arthur and his knights sat to discuss matters crucial to the security of the realm. In some versions, the wizard Merlin also has a seat.
There is no "head of the table" at a round table, and so no one person is at a privileged position. Thus the several knights were all peers and there was no "leader" as there were at so many other medieval tables. There are indications of other circular seating arrangements to avoid conflicts among early Celtic groups.
Morgan le Fay, alternatively known as Morgaine, Morgain or Morgana and a slew of related name variants, is an important female figure and sometime antagonist of Arthur and enemy of his wife and consort, Guinevere. In the 12th century Latin Life of Merlin (Vita Merlini) "Morgen" is said to be the first of nine sisters who rule Avalon. Morgan is presented by Geoffrey of Monmouth as a healer and even a shapeshifter. Later writers like Chretien de Troyes enlarge on the theme that in time Morgana will heal and cure Arthur on the island of Avalon, reverting to her benevolent role.
Morgan was the daughter of Arthur's mother, the Lady Igraine and her first husband, Gorlois, Duke of Cornwall; thus Arthur, the child of Uther Pendragon and Lady Igraine, was her half-brother. As a Celtic woman, Morgana has inherited through her mother a share of the earth magic that Arthur lacks. Morgana had two older sisters, Elaine and Morgause; thus she is a member of a triplet, a familiar formula in Celtic myth.
In the Arthurian romances, which gained popularity beginning in the 12th century, Arthur's knights engaged in fabulous quests, the one for the Holy Grail being perhaps the best known.
Arthur was a casualty in his last battle, the Battle of Camlann, which he fought against the forces of Mordred. Mordred was also a Knight of the Round Table and the child of an incestuous union between Arthur and his sister Morgause.
The mortally wounded Arthur is said to have been taken by boat to Avalon (sometimes identified with Glastonbury, Somerset), by Morgan le Fay. According to some versions of the legend Arthur is merely sleeping and will awaken and return in the future.
The Arthur of history
One school of thought believes Arthur to have lived some time in the late 5th century to early 6th century, to have been of Romano-British origin, and to have fought against the pagan Saxons. His power base was probably in either Wales, Cornwall or the west of what would become England, but controversy over the centre of his power and the extent and kind of power he wielded continues to rage.
Some members of this school, most notably Geoffrey Ashe and Leon Fleuriot, have argued for identifying Arthur with a certain Riothamus, "King of the Brettones", who was active during the reign of the Roman Emperor Anthemius. Unfortunately, Riothamus is a shadowy figure of whom we know little, and scholars are not certain whether the "Brettones" he led were Britons or Bretons.
Other writers suggest that Arthur should be identified as one Lucius Artorius Castus, a historical Roman of the 2nd century, whose military exploits in Britain may have been remembered for years afterward.
Another school of thought believes that Arthur is at best a half-forgotten Celtic deity devolved into a personage (citing sometimes a supposed change of the sea-god Lir into King Lear) or a possibly fictive person like Beowulf.
Historical persons may have influenced the later legends, like the Scots king Aedan mac Gabran, who had a son called Artuir and whose life was somewhat similar to Arthur's.
Robin Hood (spelled Robyn Hode in older manuscripts) is a heroic outlaw in English folklore, a highly skilled archer and swordsman. Although not part of his original character, since the beginning of the 19th century he has become known for "robbing from the rich and giving to the poor",assisted by a group of fellow outlaws known as his "Merry Men".Traditionally, Robin Hood and his men are depicted wearing Lincoln green clothes. The origin of the legend is claimed by some to have stemmed from actual outlaws, or from ballads or tales of outlaws.
Robin Hood became a popular folk figure in the medieval period continuing through to modern literature, films and television. In the earliest sources, Robin Hood is a yeoman, but he was often later portrayed as an aristocrat wrongfully dispossessed of his lands and made into an outlaw by an unscrupulous sheriff.