Tuesday 7 April 2020

Camelot Has Fallen

The Arthurian Legacy is the theme of the latest issue of Medieval Warfare X.1 (May/June 2020).

Warfare in Arthurian literature is explored by Danièle Cybulskie in the major article ‘The fall of Camelot’ according to writings of Geoffrey of Monmouth and Thomas Malory who tell the story of King Arthur’s last battle and show how warfare changed between the twelfth and fifteenth centuries.

Neither author was a stranger to warfare and their experiences clearly influenced their respective portrayals of the Arthurian Legend.

Geoffrey witnessed medieval warfare first hand and no doubt some elements of his History of the Kings of Britain (c.1138) were influenced by the early part of the civil war raging for nearly twenty years between King Stephen (reigned 1135-54) and his cousin Empress Matilda and her son Henry of Anjou (future Henry II)  for the English Crown. Indeed Robert, 1st Earl of Gloucester, illegitimate son of Henry I of England, and powerful military supporter of Matilda during The Anarchy, is recorded as patron to some versions of Geoffrey’s Historia.

The true identity of Malory has been debated for many years, however, the Thomas Malory who fought at the Siege of Calais (c.1436) during the Hundred Years War is generally considered to be the same man who wrote the Arthurian epic Le Morte d’Arthur from a prison cell during the Wars of the Roses (1455 to 1487) civil war fought between the Hose of Lancaster and the House of York. Malory was in prison for much of this period in which he switched his allegiance from York to become entangled in a Lancastrian conspiracy to overthrow King Edward IV.

The major difference between these works was that Geoffrey writing what was perceived as ‘history’ at the time; whereas Malory produced a summation of all the Arthurian literature that he could get his hands on in his prison cell to provide the ultimate tale of King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table.

Cybulskie traces accounts of warfare in their respective ages up to Arthur’s final battle at Camlann. Geoffrey's version of Arthur's final battle is surprisingly brief, yet Arthur is mortally wounded and taken to the Isle of Avalon to be cured of his wounds.

Malory based his tale of the fall of Camelot on the Mort Artu and the Stanzaic Morte Arthur. The dying Arthur is taken away in a barge by ladies in black hoods, his ultimate fate uncertain; does he die of his wounds or is he healed and lives on? Bedivere then wanders through a forest where he comes to a hermit who is kneeling over a freshly dug grave. The hermit reveals it is the grave of a man brought to him at midnight by ladies in black. Is this the body is of Arthur? Malory does not say.

The cover shows the mortally wounded King Arthur taken by boat to Avalon while his sword
Excalibur is returned to the Lady of the Lake as depicted in Malory’s Le Morte d’Arthur.

If Geoffrey and Malory’s accounts of the fall of Camelot were inspired by the Arthurian literature of the twelfth and fifteenth centuries, Randall Moffett’s article 'Defending Britain in the sixth century - The historic Arthur' in the same issue steps back to the sixth century. By ‘historic’ the author considers a figure that could have rallied the beleaguered Britons after the withdrawal of the Romans and faced the onslaught of the invading Germanic tribes. Moffett considers what a historic King Arthur and his Knights would have looked like in the sixth century and discusses armour and weaponry used during the Post Roman to the Anglo Saxon period (AD 450-600).

Medieval Warfare Magazine is a publication for those interested in the military history of the Middle Ages. Published six times per year, each issue contains articles on battles, weapons, and armies, along with news and reviews.

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