King Arthur

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A typically romantic notion of
Arthurian legend

King Arthur in a section dedicated to Scottish myths? Surely some mistake. Arthur and his legendary Knights are the most quintessentially English of legends are they not?

Well, not necessarily.

One thing that is generally agreed on is that Arthur's legend was based on a real historical character who probably existed around the sixth century, and it has long been assumed that he was either English, or more probably, a Welsh Briton.

The problem is, no genuine character has ever been found who fits the profile and there is no real evidence at all to support the theory. Even the name Arthur appears nowhere in English records of the time, although supporters of the legend merely dismiss such detail by insisting that "Arthur" was simply based on someone of a different name. But why change the name of a legend? It just doesn't make sense to do so.

There is compelling evidence, however, to suggest that the story of King Arthur was actually based on a character called Arturius, also known as Artuir, the son of King Aiden of Dalriada, a Scottish territory now known as Argyll.

The Arthurian legend first took hold in the twelfth century thanks mainly to the writings of a certain Geoffrey of Monmouth. A great story-teller, Geoffrey wasn't about to let something as restrictive as the truth get in the way of a fantastic yarn, and it's fair to assume that more than a little "creative license" was put into play. With the passing of the centuries his fiction became ever more widely accepted by later chroniclers as fact.

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Tintagel Castle

Monmouth placed Camelot firmly in the south of England, Cornwall to be precise, and Tintagel Castle has built a thriving tourist industry on the back of it.

Unlike the tour buses and tacky souvenirs, however, the corroborating evidence simply isn't there.

The (real) story of Arturius on the other hand does reveal inescapable similarities with the legendary King Arthur that are unmatched by any other historical character.

Arturius was, like Arthur, the son of a powerful King and was, like Arthur, a Christian warrior in a mainly Pagan country.

Arturius was an ally of King Urien, a genuine historical figure also mentioned in legend as being an ally of King Arthur.

Arturius had a sister or half-sister called Morgan, as did King Arthur.

Arturius died in battle against the Picts. In the legend, King Arthur died fighting Mordred, whose mother was married to the King of the Picts.

The battle in which Arturius died took place in the Lothian region of southern Scotland. The ancient poem, the "Gododdin", concerning the Gododdin tribe who inhabited Wales, makes mention of Arthur as a great hero, and is often used as supporting evidence towards Arthur's Welsh origins. The Gododdin tribe, however, originally came from the Lothian region, and it is quite conceivable that Arturius died aiding Welsh Britons against the Picts, and may even have been the leader of a Celtic coalition between the Welsh and Scottish. This would easily explain "Arthur's" existence and standing in Welsh legend.

Arturius is also mentioned in a 7th century chronicle about "The Life of Columba". Columba was a contemporary of and is believed to have acted as an adviser to Arturius' father, King Aiden. Columba's famed powers of prophecy and "miracle" workings make him a perfect model for the role of Merlin.

So why would Monmouth so deliberately play down or ignore the true 6th century origins of his legendary creation?

The answer isn't that hard to understand. By the 12th century, the English considered Scotland to be an aggressive inferior with a corrupted culture. A bit rich, coming from a country only recently invaded and taken over by the Norman French, but there you go.

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6th century Pictish horseman
either drinking from a horn or having a toke
on an extra large Pictish spliff

Such a background would have been totally at odds with the squeaky-clean paragon of virtue that was the hero-king of the legend. Scotland simply wasn't deemed to be capable of producing such a magnificent leader and was, in English eyes at least, entirely unworthy of laying claim to one.

For the story of bold, chivalrous King Arthur to be accredited to a bunch of primitive, dirty, hairy Scots would have been an affront to southern standards.

Simply not acceptable old chap, good heavens no.

Far better, like that other great Scots legend, the Stone of Destiny itself, to simply move it south and steal it in its entirety.

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