By the ninth century people all over were telling the fabulous tales andromances about Arthur and his kingdom. The common people heard them sung bybards, while in the court poets wrote different versions. In each retellingthe speaker would select certain details for emphasis and introduce new elements,so that the story could be adapted to the particular time and audience.Although most historians believe that there actually did exist an Arthur, theydiffer on how major his role was on influencing society during his time.
To understand the most widely accepted view on when and how Arthurgained fame, one must be aware of the historical time period surrounding Arthur.The unity that the Roman government imposed on Britain disappeared around 410 AD.In its place arose small villages whose rulers struggled for political andmilitary supremacy. Around 540, a Welsh monk and historian named Gildas wrotein his book Concerning the Ruin and Conquest of Britain that ?The disastersthat the British people suffered at the hands of the Anglo-Saxons after theRoman withdrawal were clear evidence that god was punishing them for their sins.?It was during these disasters that the monk was referring to that Arthur heldup resistance for the Britons against the Saxons, at a time when Britain wasconstantly being threatened by invaders. Through being the commander who routedthe battles against the enemy and thereby saving the south of Britain fromdistruction of the Saxons, ?Arthur became the image of the hero and savior whosedeath people refused to believe in and whose return was yearned for.?
The opinion that Arthur was a genuine figure in history, though not theglorious King Arthur that most people know him to be, is largely based on thewritings of Nennius, a Welsh historian, who gave the first and only historicalaccount of Arthur’s military career in Chapter 56. The passage starts with adate.
?After the death of Hengist, his son Octha came from northern Britainand settled in Kent, whence come the kings of Kent. Then Arthur fought againstthem in those days, with the Kings of the Britons, but he himself was the leaderof the battles.?
Here Nennius implies that Arthur was not a king but a general of some sort, whohelped the rulers of small British kingdoms organize themselves, combiningforces to fight a…
…and Guinevere. Like otherpoets of the time Chretien was influenced by a code of ?courtly love?(Schlesinger 73-76).
Chretien de Troys was the first to invent Camelot, a place with nohistorical authenticity (Alcock 14). It is never mentioned in the earliesttraditions, or early evidence of Arthur. He saw Arthur as a monarch who neededthe necessary furnishing and therefore invented ?The finest court that ever hasbeen?(Schlesinger 73). He created Arthur’s court as a gathering place fornobles and courageous lords during the twelve year period of peace between theSaxons and Romans.
Arthur’s period of transition from reality to romance was long andcomplex. He was remembered as a hero by the Welsh bards who embellished andadded to his legend in their own creative way. From Wales these tales traveledto Britain and France, where they became popular during the twelfth centurythrough being spread by jogleurs and minstrels who wondered from castle tocastle reciting Arthur’s stories at feasts. The French poets eagerly seized onto the new material, and developed it into the earliest versions of theArthurian legends that we possess today (Barber 34).