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Old September 1st, 2017, 07:30 AM   #1

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Propaganda explanation for King Arthur


This is a topic I am interested in, but I know that there are going to be those with a lot more knowledge in it than I have.

The question - Given that the Saxon Kingdoms had a hero in King Alfred the Great, was King Arthur an adaptation for anti-Saxon propaganda during the Norman era?



The points that point to this mode of questioning for me are as follows:

1. The pre-Monmouth Arthurian myths do not seem to have much to do with Britons vs. Saxons. There's stories about Arthur tricking giants in Ireland, and that sort of thing.
2. The Anglo Saxons had a hero, Alfred the Great, whose history seems remarkably similar, in many respects, to that of King Arthur.
3. Normans were related to the Norsemen, an enemy in recent memory to the people of Great Britain. Knut the Great, earlier that same century, had conquered all of England except for Galloway and Cubria.
4. Looking at points 2 and 3 - The Anglo Saxon Kingdoms fell to the Norse, except King Alfred. He was successful in not only defeating the Norse invasion of his own Kingdom of Wessex, but in conquering most of England, driving the Norse back to the Eastern shore.
5. When the Normans conquered England, a myth of Alfred would be most unsettling to their rule. Replacing it with an Arthur would have been to their benefit.
6. The Arthurian legends was the result of the Norman sponsorship; part of the history of England, which did its best to paint the Saxons as villains.
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Old September 1st, 2017, 08:13 AM   #2
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So you're already aware that at least part of the Arthur legend started in France and only entered British culture after Hastings, of Riothamus, Avallon in Burgundy, that the Bretons who made up part of William the Conqueror's army already saw themselves as displaced Brittons who were only returning home to avenge themselves upon the Saxons, etc?
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Old September 1st, 2017, 12:04 PM   #3

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Quote:
The pre-Monmouth Arthurian myths do not seem to have much to do with Britons vs. Saxons.
The stories of the great legendary King Arthur first came to prominence in the Historia Brittonum, a book attributed to Nennius and written in the early part of the eight hundreds. It is regarded as a Welsh reaction to Anglo-Saxon aggression, in particularly to over one hundred years of Mercian hostile acts. The villain of the piece is Hengest the Jute who is portrayed as conniving, deceitful, and untrustworthy.

All of this pre-dates King Alfred, and he of all of the Saxon kings didn`t pursue an anti-Welsh policy.
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Old September 1st, 2017, 12:58 PM   #4
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Originally Posted by Chlodio View Post
So you're already aware that at least part of the Arthur legend started in France and only entered British culture after Hastings, of Riothamus, Avallon in Burgundy, that the Bretons who made up part of William the Conqueror's army already saw themselves as displaced Brittons who were only returning home to avenge themselves upon the Saxons, etc?
You're saying that part of the Arthur legend originated with the activities of Riothamus?
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Old September 1st, 2017, 01:11 PM   #5
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^ I'm a specialist in the early Franks, not in early British history, but as I understand it, the legendary Arthur is an amalgam of several historical or semi-historical men, one of them being Riothamus of the fifth century. After being defeated by the Visigoths somewhere in Gaul circa 470, Riothamus was forced to settle in Burgundy where today there is a place called Avallon (two L's). The part of the legend where Arthur lies buried at Avalon (one L) is probably taken from the Riothamus story. Other parts of the legend, where Arthur fought some of his battles in Gaul, are also probably taken from Riothamus.

The Riothamus stories were probably reintroduced into Britain by Bretons from Brittany who fought in William the Conqueror's army. These men were descendants of Brittons who had been chased out of Britain in the fifth century and fled to Amorica which later became known as Brittany because of all the British refugees who settled there. Whether Riothamus was based out of Britain or Amorica at the time of his defeat at the hands of the Visigoths, is unknown, but he was clearly a Britton.
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Old September 1st, 2017, 01:55 PM   #6

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I don't know if William would use Anti-Saxon propaganda, when his invasion was based on what he felt was a truly legitimate claim to the land. In his eyes, he was just claiming his rightful inheritance rather than intending to dehumanise the English.
Many laws remained the same even after the Normans arrived, and whilst the apparatus of government was conducted in French for many years, it was not long before the Norman aristocracy mingled with the English and a kind of merged identity began to form.
The English Arthur eventually became more of a symbolic paragon of Knightly chivalry and Christian zeal, a vastly different character to the Celtic originator.
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Old September 1st, 2017, 01:57 PM   #7
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Theodoric View Post
This is a topic I am interested in, but I know that there are going to be those with a lot more knowledge in it than I have.

The question - Given that the Saxon Kingdoms had a hero in King Alfred the Great, was King Arthur an adaptation for anti-Saxon propaganda during the Norman era?



The points that point to this mode of questioning for me are as follows:

1. The pre-Monmouth Arthurian myths do not seem to have much to do with Britons vs. Saxons. There's stories about Arthur tricking giants in Ireland, and that sort of thing.
2. The Anglo Saxons had a hero, Alfred the Great, whose history seems remarkably similar, in many respects, to that of King Arthur.
3. Normans were related to the Norsemen, an enemy in recent memory to the people of Great Britain. Knut the Great, earlier that same century, had conquered all of England except for Galloway and Cubria.
4. Looking at points 2 and 3 - The Anglo Saxon Kingdoms fell to the Norse, except King Alfred. He was successful in not only defeating the Norse invasion of his own Kingdom of Wessex, but in conquering most of England, driving the Norse back to the Eastern shore.
5. When the Normans conquered England, a myth of Alfred would be most unsettling to their rule. Replacing it with an Arthur would have been to their benefit.
6. The Arthurian legends was the result of the Norman sponsorship; part of the history of England, which did its best to paint the Saxons as villains.
Another factor commonly forgotten is that William's army included Bretons from Brittant as well as Normans. Brittany was settled by Celtic people from Britain (hence the name), likely diescended from those Brittish driven out of England by the Anglo-Saxon invaders. As such, the would not have had any love of the English, and would have likely known stories about Arthur they passed on the Normans.
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Old September 2nd, 2017, 09:13 AM   #8

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Thanks for the responses!

Chlodio - I wasn't aware of the Riothamus connection, it's definitely plausible. Although this is a Norman addition? I think it's important to consider when this element was incorporated, because it might not actually be a basis so much as just a plagiarized element to fill in a plot hole. Or perhaps they were equating Arthur to some revered legends associated with Riothamus.

Aelfwine - I'm not actually familiar with that portion. But researching a bit, it seems to be a small bit within, but that the majority was his battles against cat people, giants, and other supernatural creatures. So perhaps the Saxons were seen as a sort of monster too by some of the Britons. Although, I have seen a few documentary sources that suggest that the Saxon invasions may not have been as violent or antagonistic as previously considered; but that's another discussion. When considering the emphasis on the Saxon portions of the legends, that could point to an agenda - or it could also mean that they thought everything else about the legends were complete BS.

Commodus - I suppose I should clarify. I didn't mean to imply the common Anglo Saxon people, but rather the opposing Saxon dynasties.

Bart Dale - I think Brittany (and I could be wrong) was continuously settled and in contact with Wales and Cornwall. So the resentments would still be there. To this day, Brittany considers themselves a distinct nation - but they lack their own lands (aside what they own in France). There was an inter-war period separatist movement that eventually fell victim to pro-fascist nationalists, which probably destroyed the credibility of the movement after the second world war. And I didn't actually realize that Breton people were involved in the invasion, although it makes absolute perfect sense.

So I would wonder if the Bretons that came alongside the Norman invasion were sources for the Arthurian legends? Also, had the evolved to be more Arthur against Saxons by this point in time? Or was that Norman? I am not sure if answers to this actually exist.
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Old September 3rd, 2017, 10:49 AM   #9

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King Alfred the Great was fact. King Arthur wasn't. It could be Monmouth wanted a good story for a book, and just copied the work of Gildas, who would have had more cause to be anti-Saxon. he lived in the time of the Anglo-Saxon invasions, and as a Strathclyde native had cause to be anti-Saxon.
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Old September 3rd, 2017, 11:55 AM   #10

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Was Gildas from northern Britain, or was he from the south of Britain as a number of historians believe?
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