Levi Roach

Oh What A Knight

King Arthur: The Making of the Legend

By

Yale University Press 380pp £25 order from our bookshop

If Helen’s was the face that launched a thousand ships, Arthur’s is the name that has spawned a thousand theories. Scarcely a year passes without someone locating the ‘real’ site of Camelot or the decisive Battle of Badon Hill. In fact, just weeks ago Nick Knowles (of DIY SOS fame) reckoned he could prove that Camelot was at Cirencester. His grounds were that a fortified Roman amphitheatre there was taken by the Anglo-Saxons in the later sixth century and may have given rise to later tales of the Round Table.

Unfortunately for Knowles, neither Camelot nor the Round Table appears in early Arthurian texts. They first began to be associated with the legendary monarch over six hundred years after his supposed demise. Yet this case illustrates the secret of Arthur’s longevity: a lack of source material, which actively encourages speculation. In the Middle Ages, writers were already remoulding Arthur in their own images, a process that continues to this day. He has been a beacon of Welsh independence and a symbol of English imperialism, the last Roman and the first Briton. And it is surely only a matter of time before he starts being recast as an arch-Remainer and a diehard Brexiteer.

Follow Literary Review on Twitter

  • Last Tweets

    • Jane Ridley writes on Who’s In, Who’s Out: The Journals of Kenneth Rose, edited by D R Thorpe ,
    • 'Lucian Freud was never short of confidence. In the 1990s he painted a small head of an especially rich individual… ,
    • Robin Simon's review of Lucian Freud, edited by Martin Gayford and David Dawson ,
    • 'Lenin regularly communicated with his agents in Russia by postcard and Stalin sent girlfriends cards depicting ero… ,
    • RT : Could any book publishing people share with me their route into publishing roles for a sixth former I am working wi… ,
    • Donald Rayfield reviews Greetings From the Barricades: Revolutionary Postcards in Imperial Russia by Tobie Maythew ,
    • 'Citadel of the Saxons manages to turn the slim pickings of the surviving evidence into something like a consistent… ,