The Reign of Arthur Paperback – 19 May 2005
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About the Author
Christopher Gidlow is events and live interpretation manager at the Historic Royal Palaces. An Oxford history graduate, he has a longstanding interest in the middle ages and the Arthurian legends. At Oxford he was president of the university Arthurian Society, of which he is now an honorary life member.
Top Customer Reviews
In the 1970s, through the works of academics such as John Morris, the concept of the historical Arthur became temporarily respectable. However in the 1980s much of their work was shown to be seriously flawed. Unfortunately, great numbers of books have been written by popular writers who, in pandering to their readers' dreams, take a conjuror's approach to evidence. Coupled with a strong presence of new-agers and UFOlogists in the field, serious academics now steer well clear, and if asked dismiss it all as myth. And certainly the Arthur that appears in mediaeval romances with Lancelot and the Holy Grail is pure fictional invention.
What Chris Gidlow does in this book is show that the historical documents do support a case for believing in a historical Arthur - a man called Arthur who led the British forces fighting the Saxons in a series of battles culminating in success at Mount Badon - at least as strong as the case for believing most of the other things historians believe about that period of history.
Source criticism is crucial to coming to this conclusion. Even the best sources of the period have an unfortunate tendency to mix legend and history in their writings, and most writers had an axe to grind, and varying levels of competence on different subjects. Gidlow is careful in showing how we can distinguish history from legend, and also to consider where the writers might be distorting or misunderstanding.
I used to hear Chris sparring with other Arthurians over these issues, matters that went over the heads of most of us.Read more ›
The second half, "To Legend," examines how later authors (from the Mabinogion through the Welsh Saints' Lives to Geoffrey of Monmouth) added the magical deeds of legendary heroes to this historical Arthur, turning him into a figure first of folklore, then eventually of chivalric romance. Again, by examining the layers of this dubious source material in chronological order, Gidlow adds to our understanding of how Arthur came to be viewed primarily as a figure out of legend.
The author makes a convincing case that Arthur, victor at Mount Badon, could have filled any of a number of roles in post-Roman Britain, and that -- but for the 'taint' of the later, legendary material -- scholars would have no reason to deny his essential historicity.
Gidlow's easy familiarity with the many aspects of Arthuriana -- in history, romance, literature, and 'King Arthur shared my postcode' crank scholarship -- shines through. This book is an easy read, and a rewarding one. Highly recommended.
It may not be the most exciting of reads but I quite like that. He's trying to walk the thin line between an academic work and a high street read, not an easy task, and he does this with great skill. To use a TV analogy, this book is a 'Inspector Morse' and not an episode of 'The Bill'; the reader needs to do a little bit of thinking too!
Where this book scores over several other proponents of a "historical" Arthur is that Gidlow adopts a properly critical approach to the sources, allowing due weight to each document's historical context and purpose. Add to this some stunning photographs and an entirely new possible location for the battle of Mount Badon, and this is a book no-one interested in King Arthur should be without.
What Gidlow does do, in the first half this book, is to argue pretty convincingly that there is no reason not to trust the early (pre-11th century) Welsh records of Arthur. These ascribe him several victories in Britain against the Saxons (most notably at Badon) and also a final fatal battle with Medraut at Camlann. Gidlow also analyses the writings of the 6th century British monk Gildas (who doesn't mention Arthur) to find new clues about the role and influence of Arthur in Britain.
The second half of Gidlow's book is an analysis of how the Arthurian legend developed in the 11th and 12th centuries. This is not as well written, nor (for me) as interesting as the first half of the book. Nevertheless I learned quite a lot from this part, even if it did contain some errors.
Another minor shortcoming of the book is that Gidlow does not directly address the recent arguments of Higham in "King Arthur: Myth Making and History". I'm thinking in particular of Higham's claim that the description of Arthur in Nennius (9th century) was artfully constructed to serve a particular role in a biblically inspired narrative, and therefore not to be taken as in any way historical.Read more ›
Most Recent Customer Reviews
A good insight into arthur ,well written and researched,I wouldn't agree with some of his viewpoints ,but he does give his reasons for them ,highly recommended.Published 14 months ago by wayne
Chris Gidlow has produced a very useful publication that is a worthwhile introduction to understanding the historical Arthur. Read morePublished on 11 Mar. 2014 by Cw Evans-gunther
Thia is without doubt the most well argued book on Arthur that I have ever read and I have read quite a few in my time. Read morePublished on 2 April 2013 by M. W. HILL
It's a very entertaining and thoroughly documented read with the obligatory scientific footnotes. The author has the courage to write about this subject which is regarded as... Read morePublished on 6 Feb. 2012 by Henri Warnants
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