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on 16 September 2004
First I must declare a potential bias. Chris Gidlow and I were contemporary members of the (now sadly moribund) Oxford Arthurian Society, and we both are honorary life members.
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What Chris Gidlow does in this book is show that the historical documents do support a case for believing in a historical Arthur - a man called Arthur who led the British forces fighting the Saxons in a series of battles culminating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. It is a great pleasure for me to read this book now that Chris has mastered his sources and ironed out a consistent approach to the subject.
So 5 stars for content, and nothing knocked off for his idiosyncratic style, because he has successfully written a readable book which succeeds in conveying precision a long way from the dry-as-dust approach of an academic thesis.
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on 13 September 2008
I've read about 15 books and numerous papers on the Arthurian subject and this is one of the best. Whilst it may cover much discussed in other works - as most books do - Mr Gidlow does come up with many conclusions of his own, as well as shedding new light on old theories and re-examining long held beliefs.

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!
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on 5 July 2004
The first half of this long-awaited book, "From History," is a critical re-examination of all the earliest Arthurian sources (Gildas, Nennius, the Welsh Annals, etc.) in the light of the latest historical research. By taking nothing for granted, Gidlow comes up with several surprising and persuasive insights.
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.
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on 11 March 2014
Chris Gidlow has produced a very useful publication that is a worthwhile introduction to understanding the historical Arthur. I think anyone interested in this subject should read this book.
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on 16 May 2015
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.
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on 23 June 2004
This is a much-needed book. Gidlow carefully examines the source-material for Arthur as far as Geoffrey of Monmouth's "History of the Kings of Britain", and presents a lucid and compelling case for Arthur's historical existence, whilst acknowledging the progressive accretion of folkloric and legendary material around that worthy's name.
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.
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on 24 May 2012
In this book Christopher Gidlow manages to take a genuinely fresh look at the material for an historical Arthur. Unlike many "real Arthur" enthusiasts he does not assume that any scrap of material from Welsh legend that is not obviously false must contain a germ of truth. But also unlike most modern professional historians (e.g. Nick Higham) he does not dismiss any reference to Arthur (or even to a 5th/6th century British revival) as being fiction simply *because* it mentions (or was later associated with) Arthur.

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. But perhaps this is too much to expect from Gidlow, since "The Reign of Arthur" was published only two years after Higham's book.

To sum up, Gidlow's book should be read by all those who are seriously interested in the real history of Britain in the 5th and 6th centuries. However, it is perhaps too heavy for someone who wants a first introduction to this period. For a beginner, I would recommend Geoffrey Ashe's Kings and Queens of Early Britain, which covers the Arthurian period as well as the centuries before and after. Ashe has his own particular theories about Arthur, and (given the book's scope) the analysis is much lighter than Gidlow's. But he writes well, discussing in parallel the history and the legends with remarkable success.
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on 3 December 2004
I got this book because of how good the reviews on Amazon said it is, but when I read it, I was left wondering how it differed so much from so many other books on the historical King Arthur. What's there Is OK but written in a pretty dull way, and I didn't learn anything new that I'd not read in some of the other books I've picked up about Arthur.
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on 25 September 2015
A good account
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on 2 April 2013
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. For a start it doesn't try to identify Arthur with other personalities like others do, nor does it try to locate a Camelot. It doesn't try to pin Badon or Camlann to certain dates by bending Gildas or The Annales Camriae to fit. It gives the evidence and a few reasons why there might be discrepencies and leaves it at that.

It's greatest feat is to point out as nonsensical the arguments of the scholars who will write about such characters as Urien Rheged as real but dismiss Arthur when they come from the same sources, Arthur just became more famous and was then tranformed by Geooffrey of Monmouth and the Medieval romance writers into a whole new character.

You won't learn any new facts about Arthur because there will almost certainlly never be any new facts but what you do know will start to fit into place.

Highly recommended
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