King Arthur, History or Legend?
Arthurian Britain: The Anointing of the King #3
By Donna Fletcher Crow
The ancient tale, the one we all know and love— told by bards and minstrels in royal courts and around the fireside in simple cottages since Medieval times and retold by every generation as each age has remodeled the story to stress the qualities that age valued most, whether valorous warskill, gallant lovemaking or spiritual virtues.
The story of Arthur, the boy who would become king, whose shining kingdom of Camelot would stand as a beacon of the ideal. Was Arthur a matter of historic fact? I’m always asked.
And I reply, “Some mighty warlord won the peace and kept it for a space of time. Someone held the barbaric Saxons at bay from the west country. Someone held the kingdom for long enough that when the new rulers came they were Christian. Someone held a torch against the dark, waiting for the light. We might as well name him Arthur.”
My Arthur proclaims his goals when he is anointed by Archbishop Merlinus Dubricius at Caerleon:
Then Arthurius stood, with his queen beside him, his face shining in the light of a hundred candles from the shimmer of the anointing oil and from a radiance deep within. All were silent, as if holding their breath. Not a man to whom speech-making came naturally, Arthurius knew what he would say. “My friends, my people, I declare to you that this is Logres— the true Britain— the land of truth to which God led Joseph of Arimathea with the light of truth, the land which God’s Holy Spirit had prepared to receive His Word in the fullness of His time.
“But the dark is rising against this light as it has countless times before and will countless times after us. And as in every age men will be called on to repel this darkness in the name of the God of Light, so are we called for our age. We have been given a space of time to build in peace. So must we build well so that our space can be filled with His light that will radiate beyond our own time. Long and long have I dreamed of a land of peace where the weak are protected from the strong, where the good are triumphant over the evil. With your help, I shall go forward from here to make this dream into truth.”
And so began the Camelot years. A time of flowering for the people and for the land. But it could not be forever. AT last even the mighty Arthur received his fatal blow as he battled for the peace. Arthur and his Guenivere are laid to rest by the brothers on the Holy Isle of Avalon watched over by the faithful Baudwin, the only one of Arthur’s band of valiant knights to survive the final battle:
As the monks turned to go, Brother Breden, youngest of their number and yet not so young anymore, said, “We are so few. Are we all that is left of Logres? Does the flame flicker so dimly?”
Gildas stopped still and, for once unfrowning, turned to his brothers. “I would speak to you in comfort the words of our long gone-away Archbishop Merlinus Ambrosius Dubricius who said, ‘The light was before the dark, righteousness before evil, grace before sin. God the Creator existed before Satan the destroyer. So will light outlive dark, so is righteousness stronger than evil, so will grace overcome sin.’ The darkness closes over us, my brothers, but the light will shine again. And this light— the shining of Logres— will be remembered on the other side of the dark.”
The brothers made their silent, brown-shadowed way up the path to the chanting of their nighttime prayers in the Old Church, leaving Baudwin alone by the grave of Arthurius High King and Gwenhumara High Queen. He sat on the evening dew-damp grass and brought from the soft golden doeskin bag on his shoulder the harp he had carried with him from Camel Hill. A night thrush sang from the overhanging branch of a flowering apple tree, and he waited until her song was finished, for the bard would not stifle his sister. Then his fingers moved across the strings.
“The Summer Kingdom has gone. It could not last upon this earth. It was but a vision, a foretaste of what is to come for those who love— for those who love Him who is the King above all High Kings. His Kingdom of Summer, of peace, and of love will come for all time.” The words came out in a strange chanting to a random plucking of strings, not at all the flowing bardsong Baudwin was wont to make. Yet the words rang with conviction. They were the words he found in his heart, and he knew they were true.
“But even so the end is not yet. The evil will not triumph forever. All that you did, my Arthurius, all that you lived for, my king, will rise again. It will live for generation unto generation. It will come again and again to each age with its own truth. Truth, like light, cannot die.
“It is given unto man— even such a man as you, my Arthurius— for you were but a man— once to die. In the end, all must die. But what you lived for, lives beyond and beyond.
“The triumph will be ours.”
Glastonbury saw it all:
Joseph of Arimathea and his little band of pilgrims, seeking refuge from Roman persecution, flee to this tiny, sheltered island on the west coast of Britannia, bringing with them their most sacred possession- the Holy Grail;
The holy Isle of Avalon provides refuge for renewal of courage as King Arthur and his knights fight off the invading barbarian hoard, then it becomes his final resting place;
A devastating fire threatens to destroy the work and worship of centuries, but Arthur's bones provide the impetus for yet more magnificent building, a greater flowering of the faith;
Until the last abbot is drug to his death atop the Tor and the splendid arches are left to crumble.
But still the faithful seek the greatest prize of all- The Holy Grail.
Through all the ages history and legend intertwine around these broken arches, standing a beacon of hope and light for the future.
Donna Fletcher Crow is the author of 40 books, mostly novels dealing with British history. Besides the award-winning Glastonbury, Donna is also the author of The Monastery Murders: A Very Private Grave and A Darkly Hidden Truth, as well as the Lord Danvers series of Victorian true-crime novels and the romantic suspense series The Elizabeth & Richard Mysteries.
Donna and her husband live in Boise, Idaho. They have 4 adult children and 11 grandchildren. She is an enthusiastic gardener. To read more about all of Donna’s books and see pictures from her garden and research trips go to: www.DonnaFletcherCrow.com.
Donna’s blog http://www.donnafletchercrow.com/articles.php