Empires of Romance: Arthur

Empires of Romance: Arthur

How much truth lies behind the legends of Arthur? This question was debated throughout the later Middle Ages. The huge attraction of Arthur for mythmaking and romance was, however, never in doubt. Arthurian texts span many genres of writing—from weighty chronicle accounts, to chivalric romances and comic or satirical stories, to the legends of the Grail, soaked in Christian symbolism and mystical allegory. At times, Arthur is a conquering warlord; at others a weak figure, betrayed by his wife Guinevere and her lover, the great knight Lancelot. Given such a diverse body of material, it is no wonder that when William Caxton prefaced his printed edition of Thomas Malory’s great Arthurian compilation, Le Morte Darthur, he noted:

For herein may be seen noble chyvalrye, curtosye, humanyte, frendlynesse, hardynesse, love, frendshyp, cowardyse, murdre, hate, vertue, and synne. Doo after the good and leve the evyl, and it shal brynge you to good fame and renommee [reputation].

One of the most important books written in Welsh, this manuscript is a weighty compilation of chronicles, mythology, romances and court poetry, including a Welsh version of Geoffrey of...

The Red Book of Hergest

This impressive manuscript of John Hardyng's Chronicle sites the origins of British history in the myth of Troy and the subsequent founding of empires by those escaping the doomed city. Later Hardyng...

John Hardyng's Chronicle

The magnificent round table that hangs in Winchester Great Hall was probably made for an Arthurian tournament during Edward I’s reign (1272–1307). It was repaired and repainted at another...

The Winchester Round Table

This large manuscript contains numerous illustrations accompanying the Lancelot-Grail cycle of romances. In this episode, Lancelot is in need of lodging for the night, and comes across a pavilion in...

Lancelot looks for a bed for the night

The late Middle Ages saw huge interest in Arthurian stories. In England, Henry VII named his first son Arthur, and in c.1516 Henry VIII had the famous Winchester Round Table repainted, depicting an...

Arthurian coats of arms

Geoffrey of Monmouth’s Historia regum Britanniae (History of the Kings of Britain) was a hugely popular work of mythmaking, which pretended to translate an ancient book in Welsh, but which owes...

Geoffrey of Monmouth develops the myth of Arthur

The twelfth-century French author Chrétien de Troyes left an unfinished poem called Perceval, le conte du Graal (Percival: the Grail Story). Motifs of the Grail Castle, the Fisher King, and...

The quest for the Holy Grail

Origin Stories
Origin Stories
Romance and the Medieval World
Romance and the Medieval World
Truth, Deceit and Desire
Truth, Deceit and Desire
Empires of Romance: Arthur
Empires of Romance: Arthur
Empires of Romance: Alexander
Empires of Romance: Alexander
The Objects of Romance
The Objects of Romance
Cities under Siege
Cities under Siege
Strange Encounters
Strange Encounters
The Fortunes of Sir Gawain
The Fortunes of Sir Gawain
Composing, Writing, Preserving
Composing, Writing, Preserving
The Percy Folio
The Percy Folio
Routes of Romance I
Routes of Romance I
Routes of Romance II
Routes of Romance II
Romance and the Modern World
Romance and the Modern World