1. Education
Melissa Snell

King Arthur again

By January 8, 2012

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A "literary archaeologist" is claiming he has discovered the resting place of King Arthur. Damian Bullen, an amateur historian residing in Edinburgh, Scotland, has pointed to the Yarrow Stone as marking Arthur's grave. He also believes Excalibur may be in a nearby lake.

While Mr. Bullen's theories are very interesting (well, interesting, at any rate), they are just that: theories. And for anyone who doesn't already know this, his contention that Arthur is not buried in Glastonbury is not news; historians have known for centuries that the monks very likely perpetuated a hoax when they claimed to have found Arthur's and Guinevere's graves.

But I don't want to discourage Mr. Bullen -- or anyone else, for that matter -- from investigating the question of Arthur's historical existence. History detectives should keep in mind, however, that it is scholastically unsound to begin from the premise that there was an Arthur. Find out more in these news items:

For those of you unfamiliar with the question regarding King Arthur's historicity, here are a few things you may want to read:

  • The Truth of Arthur
    An introduction by your Guide to the issue and the evidence.

  • Gildas
    A Who's Who profile of the writer considered the earliest British historian, whose work is the earliest documentary evidence of events related to Arthur -- though he does not mention Arthur by name.

  • Nennius
    A 9th-century Welsh monk and writer, Nennius is the first to call Arthur by name. Maybe. Read this Who's Who profile and find out more.

  • Geoffrey of Monmouth
    A profile of the 12th-century author whose writing placed Arthur firmly in history -- unless you take into account those detractors who immediately called it bunk.

I realize I may come off as a real stick-in-the-mud when it comes to the Arthur question. And every now and then I get email from someone who is downright upset with me that I maintain there is no evidence for Arthur's historical existence. But from a historical point of view, I can take no other stand. Arthur may have existed -- I have never denied the possibility. But until some real, physical, unequivocal, archaeological or documentary evidence comes to light that supports his existence, I must continue to tell you "We don't know." It's my job.

But if you'd like to believe there really was a "historical" King Arthur, you go right ahead. There's nothing wrong with that.


January 18, 2012 at 7:15 am
(1) esmeraldamac says:

I’m with you, Melissa. I don’t want to spoil people’s fun – really – but it does get a bit bonkers when umpty people swear that he’s buried in their back yard.

I always think it’s a terrible shame that these historical candidates for Arthur are squeezed into the Arthur box. They were all probably significant people in their own right, and we do them a disservice by trying to hand them the keys to Camelot.

Glad to find you, by the way – I was directed here from Senchus.

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