From the time I was a small child envisioning a beautiful princess riding a splendid horse on her way to meet a king, through teaching Mallory, Tennyson and T.H. White to high school sophomores, and finally to doing serious research on the non-fictional aspect of the Matter of Britain, I have always loved the Arthurian Legends. Did the main characters actually exist?
In researching the Arthurian legends, controversy has arisen over whether or not Lancelot really existed. Some scholars say that the French, namely Crétien de Troyes in Prose Lancelot, invented him.
Dr. Norma Lorre Goodrich, in her book, King Arthur, offers another explanation. Geoffrey of Monmouth mentions a King Anguselus of Albania, who was equal in status to Arthur and attended his coronation. As Dr. Goodrich explains, the name “Anguselus” was Latin and when Crétien translated it into Old French, it lost its middle syllable and the consonant group “gu” dropped out, leaving the word “An+sel+o” (“o” or “ot” being the masculine ending of the name in French). This gives us the name “Anselot” or, as Crétien referred to him, “the Anselot”. The “L”, she believes, came from a copying error with the use of the article “l” in front of the word Anselot, thus becoming Lancelot.
Another interesting theory regarding Lancelot’s existence comes from P.F.J. Turner in his work, The Real King Arthur: A History of Post Roman Britain, Volume II.
He speculates that “Lancelot” is derived from “lancea”, the Latin word for a lance and that the Roman soldier who carried a lance would be called a “lancearius” or, in today’s English be termed “the Lancer”. According to Mr. Turner, the Lancer was a member of the family of Dubnovalus Lothicus (King Lot of Bernicia). Modred also was a member of this family and his mother was Anna (Arthur’s sister). Mr. Turner concludes that the noble knight known as Lancelot was really non other than Modred, the man we’ve come to think of as villain. This theory is strengthened by the fact that in some annuls of history, Gwenhwyfar is depicted as having willingly plotted with Mordred to seek the throne.
Equally intriguing is a concept advanced by Knight Templar Laurence Gardner in Bloodline of the Holy Grail. Lancelot del Arcs was the son of the Britanny king, Ban of Benoic with his consort, Viviane II del Arcs of Burgundian Avallon. Her younger sister was Ygerna, mother of Arthur. Lancelot’s grandfather was King Lancelot I and his great-grandfather, the bard Taliesin. It is through his maternal great-grandmother, Viviane I, that his linage may be traced through the Sicambrain Franks and the Fisher Kings to Josephes, son of Jesus and Mary the Magdalen.
Mr. Chris Barber and Mr. David Pykitt, in their book, Journey to Avalon, cite Lancelot to be based on the person of Llwch Wyddel, also known as Lllwch Llawinawg, Lord of the Lakes. He was slain by Arthur in Ireland shortly before Arthur joined in the battle of Camlann.
Dr. Norma Lorre Goodrich, in Guinevere, depicts Gwenhwyfar as a Pictish queen, born in Stirling, Scotland, whose function was to serve as both judge and priestess. As such, she would remain virginal and Lancelot would serve as both her acolyte and her champion, protecting her from the following taboos: A high-priestess must shed no blood, must not touch base metals, the parts of her body which had been anointed at her coronation may not be touched and her hair must not be cut.
Mr. P.F.J. Turner also places Gwenhwyfar near Scotland at Carlisle. Her father was a Roman Magister Militum for Arthur and the marriage of a very young Gwenhwyfar to a much older Arthur was arranged for political reasons.
Mr. Gardner mentions Gwen de Bretagne (of Brittany) whose father was Leo de Grance. She married Arthur, but bore him no children.
Mr. Barber and Mr. Pykitt believe Gwenhwyfar’s father to be a French count named Gwythyr, whose principality of Léon, Brittany, Gwenhwyfar inherits.
Perhaps the most provocative theory of all comes from Ms. Laurel Phelan, a past-life regression therapist, who claims, in Guinevere, to have been Gwenhwyfar in another incarnation. She, too, places Gwenhwyfar’s birth in Scotland, in Northumbria. However, as the book ends, she visits Glastonbury and feels that Gwenhwyfar does lie buried there, which supports the hypothesis below.
Dr. Goodrich investigated Arthur’s military career, including the twelve battles that end with Badon Hill and the halt of Saxon advances for twenty years. She places his major fort/home at Carlisle, which is in keeping with the whereabouts of Gwenhwyfar and Lancelot. After 542 AD nothing is heard about Arthur, so she theorizes that this is when he died, after the battle of Camlann.
Mr. Turner gives an explanation as to Arthur’s title and rank, particularly regarding the term, “Uther Pendragon” who was not Arthur’s father at all. The term “Uthr” meant “terrible” (as in awe-inspiring) and “Pen” meant chief. The Dragon standard was a common one for Roman war leaders. Mr. Turner states that Arthur began his career as a young military officer under the leadership of Cadwy, who was in charge of the large fort called Cadwy’s Bury (Cadbury). As Arthur gained experience, he rode with Aurelius, the Regissimus Britanniarum, and helped defeat the Saxons. He was appointed to the highest officer rank of Magister Militum which was the Roman equivalent of “Uthr Pendragon”. Eventually, he became the Imperator Britanniarum.
Mr. Gardner establishes Arthur as the Scottish son of King Aedàn mac Gabràn of Dalraida. Arthur’s bloodline also follows the Grail family, descending from Joseph of Arimathea’s daughter Anna and her husband, Brân the Blessed. Joseph of Arimathea was the blood brother of Jesus of Nazereth according to Mr. Gardner.
However, Mr. Barber and Mr. Pykitt make a valid claim that King Arthur did recover from Camlann, but due either to age or injuries, retired to Brittany where he chose to serve God for the rest of his life. He became known to the Bretons as St. Armel. Even today, the feast of St. Armel is celebrated on August 16 and a statue of him can be seen inside the church of St. Armel-des-Boschaux in the district called Ille et Vilaine.
The character of Arthur in Fate of Camelot is purely fictional and in no manner represents the life of the saint. However, I believe that a real King Arthur did exist…and mayhap, he was St. Armel.
In 1191, in an old burial ground south of the Lady Chapel, the monks of Glastonbury Abbey unearthed a dug out oak coffin containing the remains of two skeletons. The one was of a tall man whose skull bore marks of a severe blow; the other was the lighter bones of a woman.
A leaden cross was found on top of the grave. The Latin inscription HIC JACET SEPULTUS INCLITUS REX ARTHURIUS CUM WENNEVERIA UXORE SUA SECUNA IN INSULA AVALLONIA translates as, “Here lies buried the renowned King Arthur with Guinevere, his second wife, in the Isle of Avalon.” (Barber, Pykitt)
Was it really Arthur who was buried there? Or could it have been Lancelot?