Okay, so I’m writing a story based on a Celtic myth from the Arthurian cycle, The Wedding of Sir Gawain and Dame Ragnelle. I’m totally anal and I want to be as historically correct as possible; unfortunately I can’t find consistent information on King Arthur to determine the approximate time of his reign in Britain and therefore the correct time period to place my story. Without knowing the correct time frame, I can’t reference the correct historical figures, places, events, or cultural guidelines. Anyone know where I can get some good, correct information on this to solve my dilemna?

2 Responses to “King Arthur Story in need of Historical Accuracy?”

  • RaTz:

    Probably because King Arthur wasn’t real.

    The first stories were written in the 12th century, set in *their* past around 600 AD, but with the technology, customs, and cultures of the medieval period. The legends are totally anachronistic and historically inaccurate. There weren’t really courts and knight in the Dark Ages, that was the Middle Ages. For story purposes, I would stick with medieval customs 12th-15th centuries because that’s what the best known Arthurian writers — Geoffrey of Monmouth and Sir Thomas Malory — wrote.

    This site has Medieval Wedding customs:

  • Jallan:

    “The Wedding of Sir Gawain and Dame Ragnelle” ( http://www.lib.rochester.edu/camelot/teams/ragnfrm.htm ) is a late 15th century story. The motif of an ugly woman who turns beautiful is also found in Norse texts so it is probably not too accurate to refer to it is a “Celtic” myth if you mean a story motif that is only found in Celtic material.

    For other versions see http://www.sacred-texts.com/neu/eng/child/ch031.htm, http://omacl.org/Confess/1prim.html (lines 1407–1882) and http://books.google.com/books?id=JVKd4BvkNksC&pg=PP1&dq=inauthor:john+inauthor:jacob+inauthor:niles&lr=&as_drrb_is=q&as_minm_is=0&as_miny_is=&as_maxm_is=0&as_maxy_is=&as_brr=0 . See also http://www.luminarium.org/medlit/wife.htm .

    Whether there even was an historical Arthur is debatable. For his dates, if he lived, see the best answer at http://answers.yahoo.com/question/index;_ylt=AqSjiCb1oDbT41CUmt8KkcYjzKIX;_ylv=3?qid=20090212173918AAFfKL0 .

    We have almost no historical information about Britain in the late 5th century or early 6th century. The only writing dating from that place and time is “De Excidio Britanniae” by Gildas. See http://historymedren.about.com/library/text/bltxtgildasmain.htm . The Constantine son of Cador who supposedly reigned after Arthur in some medieval texts appears to be derived from the Constantine mentioned by Gildas.

    Native Welsh tradition seldom refers to Arthur as a king. In some Welsh texts he is called “amherawdyr” which translates “emperor”, possibly here meaning “commander-in-chief”. This leads some commentators to imagine Arthur as a general of a pan-Britainnic army. According to the “Historia Britanniae” Arthur was such a general appointed by the kings of the Britons. See http://www.fordham.edu/halsall/basis/nennius-full.html .

    Gawain is also a problem. In continental romances he is usually the son of Arthur’s younger sister Anna, or of an older half-sister named Moracades, Norcades, or Sangive in the earliest texts, or unnamed. (Malory calls her Morgause and Margause.) However, Geoffrey of Monmouth also gives an alternate version in which he is Arthur’s cousin, the son of a sister of Arthur’s uncle Aurelius Ambrosius, who is what Geoffrey has made of the historical Ambroius Aurelianus. See http://www.lib.rochester.edu/camelot/geofhkb.htm .

    Gawain’s father is King Loth of Lothian, a figure who may have been invented from the name “Lothian”. In romance he is usually called the king of Loeneis (“Lothian”) and Orcani, or just king of Orcani. Orcani is pictured in several romances as a castle, but it is suspected that it originally derived from the Orkney islands.

    The name “Gawain” is the standard modern English form used for a name which varies somewhat from text to text. Early Latin forms are Walwanus and Galvaginus. These forms suggest an early non-Latin form of something like Gwalvayin or Gwalwayin, both of which have no apparent meaning.

    In Welsh texts the name “Gwlachmei” appears instead of “Gawain” in adaptations and translations of Latin and French texts. “Gwalchmei” might mean “Hawk of May”, or “Hawk of the Plain”, or even “Hawk-beak”. But linguists cannot make it into “Gwalvayin” or any other form of “Gawain”. That may not be a problem, as sometimes names of what are obviously the same character do get inexplicably scrambled when a story crosses from one language to another. But many suspect that Gwalchmei was originally of different origin than the French Gawain, and when French Arthurian romances become known to the Welsh, was equated with the originally unrelated Gawain. Similarly the Welsh equated their Gereint with the French Arthurian hero Erec, Peredur with the French Arthurian hero Perceval, and Cynon son of Clydno with the French Arthurian hero Calogrenant.

    Gwalchmei is again and again called son of Gwyar, “Gwyar” being a female word meaning “blood”. In some Welsh adaptations of Geoffrey’s work Gwyar is definitely made Gwalchmei’s mother and equated with Anna. Gwalchmei’s father is here and in some other Welsh texts named Lleu. Rachel Bromwich in her “Trioedd Ynys Prydein” states:

    “The origin of Geoffrey’s /Loth/ is obscure. Whatever may be the ultimate derivation of the name, Geoffrey’s choice of it must have been determined by its closeness to /Lodonesia/ (the regular latinized form of /Lothian/ …

    “… and it looks like an attempt to reproduce the name of the legendary eponymous ruler of /Lothian/, who appears in the /Fragmentary Life of St. Kentigern/ as King /Leudonus/ of /Leudonia/ [/sic/], and elsewhere in early Welsh sources as /L(l)ewdwn lluydauc/ …

    “It is possible, however, that this form of the name [Lleu] has been influenced by that of the eponymous /Lleudun Lluydauc/.”

    From Louis B. Hall, “The Knightly Tales of Sir Gawain”:

    “Gromer Somer Joure’s name can be translated, if not satisfactorily explained. ‘Gromer’ is cognate to the Old Nourse /gromr/ and Middle English /grom/, an infant, boy, youth, servant. /Somer Joure/ suggests ‘summer day’ in English and French, but where this combination of three languages came from or why, we do not know.”

    “Jour” is indeed the common French word for “day”. Someone named “Gromer Somer Joure” does not fit in any imaginable mythology of 5th/6th century Britain. That name, at least, would have to be changed.

    Carlisle is the city where Arthur holds court in a number of English romances. It is usually equated with Cardule or Cardoil which is the place where Arthur most often holds court in early French Arthurian romances. It was an important site in 5th/6th century Britain. It might be translated as “Castle Lugwall”.

    By the way, there certainly were courts and knights in the 5th/6th century. Someone who thinks that lords like Vortigern or Maelgwn Gwynedd did not hold courts simply isn’t thinking. And they had armies, some of whom were horsemen, that is, “knights”.

    That these knights were somewhat different from later medieval knights is true. It is generally believed that the custom of jousting only came into effect later when stirrups were adopted, and that stirrups were unknown in 5th/6th century Britain. The earliest Welsh texts refer to horsemen(=knights) who hurl spears but who are not said to joust. See http://www.maryjones.us/ctexts/a01a.html .

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