Monday, June 30, 2008

Sacrebleu! Hands Off Our Arthur

The dastardly French have accused us of nicking our beloved King Arthur and spinning him into an English legend. Why you only need to take a look at that meticulously researched historical Arthurian drama-documentary Monty Python And The Holy Grail to know that can't be true. Sacrebleu! 

One other small problem for the French. At the time of Arthur, England didn't exist. And neither did France!

Arthur was Romano-British. (He must be real because we've seen him at the movies).

The 'Brit' bit covered a huge swathe of romanised celtic culture stretching from the north, through Wales and Cornwall and into Brittany and the Basque Country. There's even a clue in the name Brittany. Accuse a Breton of being French and you'll get more than a Gaullic shrug.

Arthur pops up in Geoffrey of Monmouth's highly imaginative Historia Regum Britanniae, The History of the Kings of Britain - Britain, not England - and later in Sir Thomas Malory's Le Morte DArthur, The Death Of Arthur (clever people wrote in Franco-Latin in those days).

The 19th century poet, Tennyson took the Arthurian legend to heart in Idylls Of The King - but then the Victorians claimed everything for the Empire. And this was more to do with morals and Christian values than where the guy came from.

A better take on the Arthurian legend comes in Philip Reeve's book Here Lies Arthur

Here an Alastair Campbell type is cast as the devious spin doctor, Merlin, determined to put the war-mongering thug Arthur on the throne. 

And the splendid sword Excalibur rising magically from the lake? That's just some poor servant lass who's forced to hold her breath underwater and push up the sword as part of the spin. 

In the end Arthur isn't cut out for the job because he's only interested in himself.

Somewhere Arthur must be spinning in his watery grave.

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