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" Don't let it be forgot,
    That once there was a spot,
        For one brief, shining moment
            that was known as

Camelot "

Lerner and Loewe, 1960

©06 The Media Desk

[NOTE: This article is part of the Desk's Mystery Series under the general heading of Non-Fiction. For this work we are looking at the ENTIRE Arthurian Legend and accepting no particular modern retelling ( such as the Lerner and Loewe musical as cited above ) as authoritative. Enjoy ]
[See note about sources and links below- Thank you]

      The line from the Broadway musical makes a statement that in fact there was a Camelot. Many people, including President John F. Kennedy seemed to believe that it was a real time and place in history. So much so in fact that his administration was compared favorably with the kingdom with his blessing.

      Many scholars now doubt the very existence of Camelot and its residents. There are theories being circulated that Arthur himself may be a compilation of several individuals including Saint George (martyred 303) and Saint Germanus who visited Cornwall in the early fifth century to campaign against Pelagianism. Others make Merlin a Druid who had outlived his time or a skillful pretender who sold the king and others a clever sham. As for the others in the story, it would appear that as the legend matured some of the characters seem to have been added to the cast to round out the story and complete the tale with some of those characters and individual stories coming from as far away as Germany. A few other characters have been changed or dropped over the years as well.
      The stories about the realm of Camelot itself have been studied by archeologists and anthropologists trying to identify it. And to that end many many holes have been dug at ancient sites all over Britain looking for it. And so far nothing truly conclusive has been found.

      For this Mystery Series Article the Desk will go through the major players and other items in the legend and present what is, and equally importantly- what isn't, known about them. Then we'll take a quick look at various movies and plays and the books and legends they were based on, and maybe stop by 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue during the early sixties.
      In our travels we'll run into names that originated in the Hittite language some three to four thousand years ago, we'll travel from Wales and Cornwall to France as well as Scotland, and we'll call Good King Arthur some other names including Artus and mention somebody named Gualguanus (better known as Sir Gawaine) and look at the individual stories that were combined to become the larger body of work it is now. But for the primary discussion we'll stick to the names and plots as most usually presented in the legend most people are familiar with.

      The overall legend of Arthur and his Kingdom is one of the most pervasive tales in the English language. Parts of the story are used as a morality tale other sections would rival the best of the daytime soap operas. Then you add in a bit of magic and the quest for the Holy Grail and it would seem to cover all the bases for an entertaining yarn.
      But is it just a story, or is there truth in there someplace?

      Let's begin at the beginning. Without Arthur, there would have been no Camelot so...

Arthur (also Arthur Pendragon, Artus, etc.)
      The noble lad that drew the Sword from the Stone to become the right and true King of the Britons. Arthur and his Knights of the Round Table had many adventures including battling a giant on the island of Mont St. Michel, the Quest for the Holy Grail, the rescue of the kidnapped Queen Guinevere, the building of Camelot, various battles with the Saxons or other enemies, and the final betrayal of his friend and ally Lancelot and the battle with Mordrid.

      It wasn't until many years after he may have lived that he is mentioned in British histories. A Ninth Century writer Nennius (spellings vary) referred to a valiant hero named Arthur who had fought against the Saxons some three hundred years earlier.
      If Arthur was who the legend says he was- King of the Britons, he would have had to have lived either before the Romans came or after the Empire abandoned the island and the area was left to fend for itself. If he had lived before the Roman period the story of the real man would most likely have been even more lost to history than it has been.
      The Romans ruled southern half of the island by proxy after Julius Caesar's invasion around 50 BC. Then they controlled it directly under a Roman Governor beginning in about 50 to 60 AD through about the year 400 under various Roman functionaries including General Theodosius who after defeating the Scots in Britain was elevated to rule the Eastern Empire.
      One of the historical figures that may have been blended into the Arthurian Legend is a nobleman named Riothamus who allied with Rome against the Visigoths in about 470. Riothamus was one of the leaders of a group of exiled Britons who settled in Brittany on the mainland. IF Arthur was part of that group and assumed command when Riothamus was lost in battle Camelot may well be in... France.
      A reference from about the same period lists a Scottish prince named Arturius who was the son of King Aidan who ruled around 600 and led a group of Scots into various battles. The ancient manuscript Vita Columba 'The Life of St. Columba' by the Abbot Adomnan was found on Iona. It dates from about the year 700 and mentions Arturius as a military leader of some renown. Making it one of the oldest sources known.
[sidenote: The book about Saint Columba also mentions a sea monster that made a nearby body of water home- Loch Ness!]

      Other tellings of the story, including the German version, make the story of Arthur and his court a classic tragedy full of angst and broken love and downplay the "brief shining moment" side.
      More on the French connection later. (bad pun intended)

      Another individual that may have contributed his life to the legend was Ambrosius who led the Britons against the Saxons with a great warrior named 'Arthur' about 500 AD.
      If you look through the histories you can watch the legend develop. De Excicio Britanniae written in about 540 by St. Gildas mentions Ambrosius (a known real person) but not Arthur. The Historia Brittonum by Nennius, as mentioned earlier, described Arthur as a soldier. Geoffrey of Monmouth's book from the 1130's goes into some detail about Arthur and his knights. Sir Thomas Malory's book on the subject, written in about 1470 relates the legend as fully mature with many of the plot elements we are familiar with.
      As for the more or less official histories: Egbert of Wessex in about the year 800 is generally regarded as the first king of all of Britain, although some histories go back to just before his reign and some don't begin until well after. His office was recognized by Charlemagne and he did control most of the area now called England without serious challenge for several years running. Rulers after him are also fairly well documented.
      So we have a window of about three to four hundred years where there was a power vacuum in Britain (and Scotland and France) where a war lord with a substantial following could have become a powerful local or regional leader, and during that span of years there is a significant lack of good information from which we can judge the matter.
      If someone did step forward and for a 'brief shining moment' rule a small kingdom during a time of peace and glory it may have seemed as idyllic as the legend leads us to believe it was.
      Was this leader actually King Arthur?
      There isn't sufficient evidence to definitively say either way.

      If it did exist, where was it?
      A few of the possible sites include; Tintagel Castle in Cornwall in southwestern England, Cadbury in Somerset, Winchester (by Geoffrey of Monmouth and others) and some that put it in Brittany (formerly 'Lower Brittany' in contrast to 'Greater Brittany' i.e. Great Britain') on the mainland of Europe (Mont St. Michel would make an interesting Camelot) or even, believe it or not, in the New World.
      The earliest stories of Arthur do not mention Camelot by name, but mention the King holding his court at Caerleon (Cair Lion) in Wales which known to have been the fort of a Roman garrison.
      The idea that Camelot as a real place was anywhere but in a region of Briton somewhere between central Wales, south to Cornwall, then down the Channel coast almost to Brighton is almost heresy in some circles. Others place it in Essex just east of London pointing to Colchester and its Roman name 'Camelodunum' as the spot. However, there is assorted evidence that the idea of Camelot, and features thereof, may in fact be borrowed from several localities, some of which may have been hundreds of miles away and indeed, across the Channel.
      Several localities now make money on the tourist trade claiming to be the actual site of Camelot or by trading on some other connection, no matter how tenuous to the legend. But even in the advertising for things like 'Round Table Tours' they have to admit that the site is 'Traditional' or say something like 'local legends say...' You don't have to look any further than South Brittany in France to find locations in the forest of Rennes who have a very firm grasp on the tale and can point to features in the stories that more closely resemble their area than they do Wales.

      Now about the Camelot of Arthur.
      Romantic Broadway songs aside, if the town and castle were to be home to an army and seat of government it would have to have a substantial population of peasant farmers to produce food, artisans to provide for the court, blacksmiths for the armory, and common laborers to do the work the knights didn't do while they were out saving the world. Maybe the king's house was something special, but the rest of his home town would have looked like every other town of the time.
      Given that Arthur would have been building his castle shortly after the Romans vacated the area, it is quite likely he would have used both Roman style and maybe even the husk of an existing Roman fortification. The dreamy white castle of children's books was more than likely a large stone structure of far less glamour but more functionality. Fortified towns, as Camelot was, simply were not beautiful.
      But of course to those whom it has enamored, even if Camelot was a rough cut timber fort in a peat bog, it will always be beautiful.

Merlin (also spelled Merlyn)
      One figure says 'Camelot' on par with Arthur himself: Merlin the Magician.
      Theories have been put forth, some more seriously than others, that Merlin was everything from an adept at the ancient arts of Egypt or Sumer to a Druid mystic with fantastic powers. The idea that Merlin lived through time backwards has been discussed. Then again dry-mouthed academics will dismiss everything except the charge that he was simply a master manipulator and false soothsayer.
      Wherever the story of the King is set, Merlin is a fixture in it. The Scottish version, from the Vita Columba tells of how a Druid was assigned to tutor and mentor children of the royal household. Which is as much a description of Merlin's role with Arthur as any you can find. The name may be made out as Merlinus or Myrddin or one of any number of variations, but the character of the man remains the same.
      That he had Arthur's ear is not part of the question. How much of the story we call Camelot is due to his influence might be.

      It is in Merlin we run smack into the mystical side of Mediaeval life. Witches and demons and sorcerers were part of the everyday world. Seers were as much a part of town life as the priest was. Even in Christian Europe the Old Ways were still engrained in the very bread they baked every morning.
      As an example we can turn to Celtic cemeteries where the gravestones have Christian symbols on one side and pagan runes on the other.
      Arthur was said to be a Christian king, but then how do you explain that Merlin, who by all accounts was at least a pagan mystic, was part of his inner circle?

      Magic in various forms is part of many of the legends that form part of the identity of Western Civilization.
      From the Witch of Endor in First Samuel in the Bible through the various Greek tales to stories about the Knights Templar and the Rosicrucians and alchemists with extra-normal power (the Count of Saint Germain shall here stand as an example) are part of every culture you can name.
      Merlin isn't alone in his magical doings in England. Part the Robin Hood Legend also involves heavy mystical elements with the witch who was in the service of the Sheriff of Nottingham.

      Given the proximity of the rumored location of Camelot to artifacts such as Stonehenge that Merlin was a Celtic Druid seems to be a natural conclusion. But then it raises a further question- What were the Celts and the Druids?

(Clarification: for this paper we are referring to Ancient Druids of Pre-Christian Britain and mainland Europe. Not modern Druids and variations thereof.)

      Well, first of all, those we call 'the Celts' were an ancient people that were found throughout central and northern Europe that had been living in the area that was to become Camelot on the British Isles for two millennia or more before the Romans got there. While there were many different clans and families now identified as Celtic they had two things in common, the Celtic language, and the Druid religion which appears to be a combination of traditional pagan polytheism and naturalism. But what is unusual is the role of the Druid in the life of the Celtic people.
      The Druids were the priests and teachers of the people. They educated the young and indoctrinated the faithful. But they also organized the community, dictated the law, kept the histories, and supervised communal life.
      Whether the Celts and their Druid priests were direct descendants of a lost civilization from the Middle East (where it appears some of their traditions began) or they were an amalgamation of various traditions the people picked up as they migrated north and east from where ever they began is an open question. That their traditions and ways, whatever their origins, were as old as man himself is something most of those that look into it accept, although some do it grudgingly while saying that the Celts and the Druids couldn't have invented their way of life but must have adopted it from somebody else. Although who they really can't say.
      There are couple of ongoing arguments about the role of magic in the day to day lives of the Celts as they lived under and with the Druids, and whether or not the Druids built the monolithic ruins that dot the British landscape or simply adapted existing structures for their own use. Most likely we'll never know the answer to that part of the mystery.

      Tales of wandering wizards are found throughout the region both in the Isles and on the Continent. Some of these show remarkable similarity to the Merlin of the Arthur cycle in which he is the subject and hero of the story in his own right. In some stories from Scotland and Ireland and elsewhere, Merlin wasn't so much a magical figure as one well versed in the Old Ways knowing roots and herbs and able to read the wind and tide for information, and in others he was a magician at the top of his class.
      As to whether the real Merlin was indeed a wizard or magician or even a seer, we'll just have to trust to tradition and believe that he was.

Excalibur and the Sword in the Stone
      If it were not for the great sword Excalibur Arthur would have just been another king of a small kingdom in a backwater part of England. Excalibur could defeat every weapon brought to bear against it and was the absolute symbol of the sovereignty of the King. The sword had been a gift from the Lady of the Lake much as Mnemosyne had given Perseus his weapons in Greek mythology. In fact, some say the goddesses are one in the same.
      The legend also says that there was a sword that had been thrust into a large stone which only a righteous man could withdraw. Everybody had failed for years until young Arthur drew it forth. Thereby he was seen as having been ordained as the true king.
      Now, was Excalibur the Sword in the Stone?
      Originally- No. But later the two merged and in some histories Merlin took Excalibur from the Lady in the Lake and stabbed it into a stone then had an open call to see who could pull it out. When Arthur held the sword aloft he was proclaimed king by one and all.
      The name of the sword has changed as the legend has grown. It was originally Caladfwlch in Welsh, then it became Caliburn as Geoffrey of Monmouth made it. The word Excalibur is actually French for 'cut steel'.

      Was one particular kind of sword more powerful in battle than another? Yes.
      Steel was a special metal at the time. And good steel that was able to retain a cutting edge and not shatter on impact was somewhat rare.
      Early Roman swords were made of iron. In the first century the discovery was made that if the carbon content of the iron was increased slightly during the forging process you would get a metal that could cut other swords in half. Then if you tempered the hot iron in water it was stronger yet and would retain a cutting edge even in combat. Some credit blacksmiths in Spain with the perfection of steel weapons, others have found the development occurred more or less at the same time in several different locations.
      If the locals only had the older obsolete dull colored Roman short swords and Arthur had a long sword of gleaming Spanish Steel and had learned to wield it from someone with military training it would appear to be a magic weapon indeed.

      Where did Excalibur end up after Arthur's death?
      Well, the legend says that it was returned to Nimue, the Lady in the Lake. To resurface, literally, when Arthur returned.

Guinevere (also Guenevere, Ganhumara)
      Just the history of the name itself is a fascinating study. First off, the name, however you spell it, is ancient, the origin is lost in the mists of pre-history. The spelling with an 'i' is the English version of the Welsh 'Gwenhwyfar', the spelling with the 'e' is French, both are derived from an older Celtic name with origins that can be traced back to ancient Mesopotamia. All mean 'fair lady' and various derivatives thereof.
      All accounts render the queen as one of the most beautiful women in the land, some going as far as to compare her with the Biblical Esther. That she became something for various kings and knights to fight over and the subject of as much intrigue as you could want is almost to be expected.

      Guinevere was the daughter of King Leodegrance of Cameliard Castle with rumors of links to Imperial Rome in her family which added to her prestige as a princess. The location of the castle is disputed but one of the traditional sites is in Wales near Radnorshire.
      According to various versions of the legend Arthur happened upon her early in his life, before he became king, and with some help from Merlin took her for his wife. They were a storybook couple until Lancelot joined the King's knights and natural true love blossomed between the two. The romance between the knight and the queen shattered the fantasy of Camelot and in the end cost the king his throne and the queen's life or, in alternate endings, she is condemned to death for treason to be rescued by her lover Lancelot who carries her away to live happily ever after or she is either sent to or voluntarily commits herself to a convent.
      Other stories, some from mainland Europe and others from other sources in Britain have Guinevere jilting another suitor for Arthur, being kidnapped by one or another rival to be rescued by Arthur and his knights, and even being a Warrior in her own right reminiscent of the Amazons of song and story.

      There are several real life models for Guinevere and her supposed infidelity both in Britain and on the Continent. One source for the story is the book by Chretien de Troyes of France written in the thirteenth century with one eye on France's own royal intrigue. Others play the apologist for the queen and instead of full physical adultery with Lancelot accuse her only of emotional infidelity because she never truly loved Arthur.

The Knights and
The Round Table

      The round table has been used as an example of equality, or democracy or any other idealistic theme you want to assign to it as there was no head nor foot to the table.
      Most of the legends start with twelve seats at the round table, numbering the same as the Apostles. Each knight has his own unique coat of arms and standard which identified him through the language of Heraldry
      Geoffrey of Monmouth's story lists the twenty-five knights by name that were full members of Arthur's consortium. The names of which are inscribed on a table at Winchester Castle. Other stories increase the number, evidently at literary need, until it would seem that every man able to bear arms in the kingdom was a knight.
      At Caerleon there is evidence of a Roman amphitheater which would have served as a type of round table that could seat well over the thousand knights needed by some versions of the story. The twelfth century English story Brut by Layamon has 1,600 knights at a table that must have been simply huge. The theater would have served nicely for their conferences.
      Another site now linked to the King is an ancient man-made feature in Cumbria near Mayburgh just south of the Scottish border. It is a large round area outlined by a ditch and another circle. If Arthur was indeed based in Scotland, this area could have been part of his realm and the size of the circle, about 90 yards across, would have served to seat a lot of knights. As it is near a megalithic site known as the Mayburgh Henge its connection to the Druids is part of the attraction to those interested in Arthur and Merlin.

      To be a charter member of the Table the knights had to take an oath to, among other things; not murder, not to rape women of the aristocracy or widows, be loyal to the King and each other, and to not take up arms in an unworthy cause- such as jealousy.
      Chivalry was a central theme to the oath and the Round Table itself. Today chivalry is seen as holding a door open for a woman. Fifteen hundred years ago chivalry was a way of life. A man might live out his entire life working to earn the praise of a Lady. Courtly love for an unobtainable woman, as well as the more physical kind which served to populate the list of characters of the story, was seen as entirely acceptable, and it is the tales of Arthur and his knights that served to illuminate the ideal and show the failings of those who were supposed to be chivalrous. The oath the knights swore was an outlining of the ideals of the very core of Chivalry and expounded the highest standards of it.
      As the story evolved over the years more points were added to the original oath, which was short and to the point, until hundreds of knights (see the list in Theatre of Honour written in 1622 by Andrew Fairne) swore a laundry lists of points including to 'seek after wonders', which wasn't part of the traditional ideal of a chivalrous knight.

Sir Lancelot, Launcelot du Lak (Deulake)
      Ol' Lance is probably the most famous of the individual knights. His initial closeness to the King, his romance with the Queen and his eventual dispute with Arthur over her and all that follows is as much the core of the Camelot story as anything else. And today it makes for much of the plot of various movies and plays based on the legend.... and assorted direct rip-offs for TV dramas of various descriptions.
      His heritage was unashamedly French, and according to several versions of the story he ended up back in France to live out his days after the mess with Arthur over Guinevere.

      Depending on the source: Lancelot was the White Knight whose armor and weapons were a gift from the same Lady of the Lake that gave Arthur Excalibur, hence 'Lancelot of the Lake'. Or that Lancelot, being a reluctant celebrity, would go out in public in other armor or even dressed as a commoner to avoid his fans.
      Lancelot is entirely missing from the account of Camelot by Geoffrey of Monmouth, but he is the hero in the German stories of Lanzelet as told around 1200.

      The punch line to the story of Lancelot is that the most famous of the Knights of the Round Table ended up breaking just about every single point of his oath and helped destroy the kingdom he had sworn to protect.

Sir Gawaine (also Gauvain, Gualguanus, Walewein, etc.)
      Some make Sir Gawaine first on the list of the knights. By all accounts he was blood kin to Arthur, most make him the son of Arthur's sister Anna (the good one versus the bad one, see below). He was fiercely loyal to the king and his most ardent supporter during the mess with Lancelot and Guinevere until his fall at the hands of the henchmen of another relative- Mordrid. In other versions Gawaine dies after a feud with Lancelot, who weeps bitterly at his former friend's tomb.
      The French versions of the Arthurian Legend and individual tales make Gawaine something of a negative figure whereas the Welsh and other English stories retain his initial heroic, if tragically so, character.
      Gawaine is one of the central characters in the Quest for the Holy Grail and has his own adventures such as the somewhat strange encounter with the Green Knight.

Sir Kay (the Tall) and Sir Bedivere (the One-Handed)
      Both were with Arthur from the beginning of the story and both were at Mont St. Michel where they fought and killed the giant that guarded the island, and Bedivere was with him past the end, as it was he that returned Excalibur to the Lady of the Lake.
      Kay (Kai, also Cai Hir in Welsh, Caius in Latin) was at least nominally related to Arthur although some histories make him a half brother.
      Bedivere (also Bedoier) is said to have lost one hand in battle, but stayed with Arthur to face Mordrid at Camlann to settle all accounts.

      Kay and Bedivere are two of the original companions of Arthur in even the oldest of the legend's sources. Geoffrey of Monmouth and other Welsh tales mention them individually and in consort with Arthur through various adventures.
      The accounts vary but most agree that Bedivere is one of the few of the knights to have died a natural death well into his senior years. Kay is said to have met the usual violent death although the tales vary. Some make him falling in battle against one or another enemy, others say he died at the hands of Arthur's servant Gwyddawg and was then avenged by the king.
      In later tellings of the legend Kay and Bedivere are supplanted by Lancelot and others and relegated to supporting roles and in some newer versions they are completely left out.

Sir Galahad
      As is the way of the overall legend, Galahad was the product of an illicit love affair between Lancelot and Princess Elaine who had been bewitched to appear as Guinevere to Lancelot. Thusly Lancelot was cheating on the queen who was cheating on the king with the knight.
      Sometime later Lancelot presented his then adult son to King Arthur who knighted him as a member of the Round Table.
      It was Galahad, with Percival and Bors the Younger, who complete the Quest for the Holy Grail.
      There are several versions of Galahad's death, or not-death, depending on which cycle of the legend you read. Some accounts claim that upon discovering the grail he was taken bodily to heaven, others state that on his death bed Joseph of Arimathea appeared and informed him he was going to heaven and so he died in peace.

Sir Percival (Parzival)
      Percival is only being mentioned in this article as an example of one of the many knights who in the oldest tales were central to the story and carried out important duties only to be nearly forgotten in later tales and modern interpretations. In the original legends Percival was the one that encountered the Fisher King and eventually recovered the grail (in the old tales it was not called the Holy Grail).
      In later versions Percival takes back seat to Galahad in the quest.

      This may be a reason why there were only a dozen original knights in the party. In the versions of the tale with twenty or more knights the characters become somewhat confused. In fact in some of the later French tales some of the knights of the earlier works have been combined and others have been divided including Gawaine and Kay.

Some of the Bad Guys
Sir Maleagant (probably based on King Melwas of Glastening (later called Somerset)- ruled about 500)

      Maleagant is one of the many villains of the legend who started out a member of the Round Table (not counting Arthur and Lancelot and others who at times are their own worst enemies). And, like Lancelot and Mordrid, he sought the love of the Queen. But since Guinevere was already sleeping with Lancelot she didn't need another lover to complicate things even more so she turned him down. Maleagant didn't take kindly to being rejected so he kidnapped her. Of course Lancelot came charging to her rescue and thus ensued one of the adventures of the knights of the round table.

Mordrid (Medrod)
      Another product of an illicit, and in this case illegal, love affair. This time it was Arthur who had a lapse with his own half sister, the product of the union turned out to be the instrument of the eventual downfall of Arthur and his kingdom- Mordrid.
      Depending on which history you are looking at Mordrid's mother was either Morgan le Fay or Anna or any one of several other sisters or cousins who wander in and out of the stories. In any case, the king was an absentee father and his son grew up badly and, again, depending on the story, was encouraged by his mother to make a stink about it.
      Most of the sources agree though that the final act was between Arthur and the knights that remained loyal to him and Mordrid and his followers in a final battle that ended Camelot.
      Mordred was a powerful and well skilled knight who was evidently well spoken and able to turn those that had been around Arthur for some time to his cause. The lists vary but it is clear that Mordred was able to change the hearts of several otherwise loyal knights and influence them to either join him or to at least not rally to the defense of Arthur. Since by then the king had already had his falling out with Lancelot it wouldn't take much to finish the collapse of the Round Table and break the back of the kingdom.

Arthur's sisters:
Anna, Morgan le Fay (Morgan of the Fairies), Elaine, etc. (Also Morgase, Morgawse, Blasine, Sangive, or Anna Morgause)

      In the earliest stories Arthur had one sister- Anna, who was his full sister and mother to Gawaine. Later versions added one or two half sisters, as needed, and eventually blended various ones with other characters until Anna was actually forgotten or moved out of the immediate family until she became his aunt.
      Face it, Arthur ended up with a BUNCH of sisters, half sisters, step-sisters and so on, with a bunch of names and nick-names and titles until you cannot keep them all straight.
      In any case. At least one of them was good and produced Gawaine, and at least one of them was bad, and through a liaison with the king produced Arthur's worst nightmare- Mordrid through a carefully planned, or in some versions- totally unintended, act of incest.
      Some make Elaine as the wife or lover of one or another of the knights and the mother of others other legends leave her out entirely. Elaine the sister of the king may have been the same Elaine that was the wife of Lancelot, or that may be a different Elaine altogether, possibly Helizabel by another name, or even the daughter of the Fisher King.

      Originally most of the older stories said Morgan La Fay was a goddess who ruled the mystical island of Avalon as the Celtic mother-goddess Modron or Morrigan. Others cast her as a Druid who was a healer and user of herbs and potions. Another incarnation of her is as the Celtic goddess of Fate and Death. Somehow the goddess merged with one of Arthur's sisters to become a sorceress and the names of the sister Morgase and Morgan merged to become one of the king's most ruthless enemies. Although it does add a lot more interesting plot devices than just an anti-social queen of the fairies. Or in another version, one of nine sorceresses who ruled Avalon.

King Uther Pendragon

      Arthur's father, although, as is the way of the legend, Uther was not married to Arthur's mother the Duchess (or Princess, etc) Igraine (or Ygerne). Some say it was through the intervention of Merlin that Uther seduced Igraine, other sources say the affair happened without magical intervention. In any case, Arthur was illegitimate. However, it was his father's throne he assumed with the title Uther had used- Pendragon with the device of the red dragon for part of his crest based on either a vision or the sight of a 'dragon shaped' comet.
      Uther Pendragon's reign appears to have been about 450 AD. Shortly after the Roman pullback but before the total collapse of Roman influence in the area.

      Another character that comes and goes in the various tellings of the legend. He is listed most usually as a man-servant to the king, at other times he comes off as a squire or even a junior knight. Some renderings of the tale tell of Gwyddawg killing Sir Kay and is then dispatched by the king himself in retribution for the act.
      Whereas the name itself is Welsh there isn't much information besides that. And in fact, Gwyddawg has been eliminated from most stories, perhaps due to his name.

The Fisher King
      One of the least understood figures from the older legends is the figure of the Fisher King in the Arthurian cycle. He is part of the adventure of the quest for the grail, which seems to pre-date the Arthurian story by a good many years.
      In short, the Fisher King is one of two Fisher Kings. The elder is referred to as the Maimed King who sits in attendance of, and is sustained by, the Holy Grail. The younger, as the son or grandson of the elder, is the Fisher King who though badly injured, can sit by a stream and catch fish to live on until somebody comes by and asks him a single question which will cure him. The correct question is, "What ails thee?" which would heal the Fisher King (possibly both of them), they would then reveal the grail to the asker.
      It is in the story of the Fisher King and the Holy Grail where Christian Mysticism enters the story of Arthur. The grail was supposed to have been brought to Britain by Joseph of Arimathea, and, again, according to the legend, the elder of the Fisher Kings, the Maimed King, is brother to Joseph and has the task of keeping the grail safe until it is claimed by a worthy knight. That worthiness was determined by the test of the question, as the worthiness to be king was tested by the Sword in the Stone.

The Holy Grail
      Originally the grail itself was not a sacred object, its contents were. Depending on the legend you read the grail was a container, but not necessarily a cup or chalice, it may have been a bowl or platter. The story goes that Joseph of Arimathea used the grail to catch some of the Blood of Christ as He hung on the cross. Later, as the tradition goes, Joseph and various others left the Middle East and ended up in the British Isles. Later the grail was used to hold the Host, the communion wafer (cracker) during mass. Somewhat later in its history the grail itself became sanctified and was said to glow with an unearthly light. Only then was it referred to as the Holy Grail and the cup itself became an object of veneration and eventually the subject of a Great Quest.
      Another story connected to Joseph of Arimathea is that his staff took root and sprouted and became the Holy Thorn on the grounds of the Glastonbury Abby.

Mont St. Michel (and the Giant)
      Mont St. Michel is the town on the channel island that rises out of the sea just off the coast of France north of Rennes in the Brittany area. During high tide it was cut off from the mainland until a causeway was built. The monastery on the island is one of the most ancient in Europe.
      During the time of Arthur the island was said to be home to a race of giants that continually terrorized the locals on the mainland and those out in the Channel in boats. Arthur and his knights rid the island of the giants in one of their adventures.
      As Mont St. Michel is in the area of South Brittany there has been speculation that after Arthur rid the island of its unwanted residents he set up his seat of government there, at least for a little while.

The Lady of the Lake (Dame del Lac)- Nimue, Viviane, or in some sources Rhiannon
      Was there only one Lady of the Lake, or were there several? Was she (were they) related to Morgan Le Fay possibly even her sister? Where did she get or how did she produce Excalibur and maybe even Lancelot's armor? Where is she now, and where is the sword? Is her lake in Cornwall, Wales, Scotland, or Brittany in France?
      She is another almost constant across Celtic mythology. As polytheists they had spirits and entities that inhabited every aspect of life both here in our world and in their 'otherworld' where the spirits lived. Modron was seen as the goddess of fertility, Rhiannon was the moon goddess (alternately she ruled over horses), and various other deities governed other aspects of life both great and small. It is not impossible that every substantial body of water had its own caretaker in the spirit world. In Celtic Druidism and related religions death was a journey across water (as it was in many ancient cultures including the Egyptian afterlife) and the spirits associated with water were very powerful both in the here and now and the beyond. As was the case when the Lady, and possibly several others, took the dying Arthur across the water to Avalon.

      The Lady of the Lake was neither all good nor was she all evil. Mostly she acted for reasons of her own and in her own way and time. While she did give Arthur Excalibur, she also had a most unusual relationship with Lancelot, evidently kidnapping him to be her lover for a time. She also feuded with Merlin and, according to differing account, sealed him in a tree or imprisoned him in a cave, killed him, or did nothing at all to or with him.

The Presidential Camelot
      As is the way of things, superlatives and exaggeration, both toward the good side and the bad, are attached willy-nilly to political figures with no regard whatsoever for the truth.
      And such is the case with John F. Kennedy's administration being compared to Camelot. Especially after his assassination when hindsight became something of a comfort to a grieving nation. All of the sudden his shortcomings and the political posturing and maneuvering on various defense and budget items, including a set of tax cuts which Republicans were sure were going to bankrupt the country, became wonderful ideas that would save the country.
      Such was the political climate in the fall of '63 that some were openly wondering if Kennedy would be vulnerable to a serious Democratic challenger in the 1964 primary season. Some were trying to bring Adlai Stevenson back for another run at it others wanted to see Humphrey do it again. Former VP Richard Nixon had lost the 1960 general election by only a hundred thousand votes to Kennedy so many pundits were saying that if Kennedy kept up with his policies that included allowing the Soviets to build the Berlin Wall and early incidents and increasing involvement in Viet Nam which cast him as weak on Communism, Nixon might be able to unseat him.

      JFK was loved by the common man and swooned over by women, as was Arthur. John was charismatic and spoke in idealistic glowing terms of things like space exploration and the good of man, much like Arthur and his quests. He had also had his moral lapses (most famously with Marilyn Monroe) as did the king and in spite of those shortcomings they were both seen as good. His wife was the most glamorous First Lady anybody could remember and even looked like Guinevere in some pictures.
      And then there was the dark side of the administration as there had been in the corners of the throne room. Secretary of State Dean Rusk or Defense Secretary Robert McNamara were cast as Merlin or Mordred, depending on the headlines of the week. The comparisons went on to ask about the Giant on the Island turning Castro into the giant on Mont St. Michel.

      In spite of everything Kennedy was immensely popular with the press and the people and even through the dark days of his clashes with the Soviet Union and the threat of nuclear war as schoolchildren did 'duck and cover' drills in case of The Bomb, JFK was being compared to FDR and Lincoln as one of the Greatest Presidents Ever.

            22 November, 1963.

      Suddenly the Bay of Pigs (April, 1961) and the Cuban Missile Crisis (October, 1962) became footnotes in history.
      And the allusions to Camelot that had been woven in and out of the newspapers and magazines became almost gospel. And it was all done with his widow's blessing.

"Jack...everything he ever quoted was Greek or, don't protect me thing kept going through my mind, the line from a musical comedy. I kept saying to Bobby, I've got to talk to somebody, I've got to see somebody. I want to say this one thing. It's been almost an obsession with me. This line from the musical comedy's been almost an obsession with me. At night before going to bed...we had an old Victrola. He'd play a couple of records. I'd get out of bed at night and play it for him when it was so cold getting out of bed. It was a song he loved, he loved 'Camelot'. It was the song he loved most at the end...on a Victrola ten years old... It's the last record. The last side of Camelot said, 'Camelot...don't let it be forgot that for one brief shining moment there was Camelot.'"
Jacqueline Kennedy in an interview not long after the assassination

Modern Versions
      The musical Kennedy was in love with, and that is quoted as title to this article was based on the book The Once and Future King by T.H. White which was a modernization and retelling of the Malory book, Morte d'Arthur, written almost 500 years before, which was itself a retelling of various parts of the legend that had been circulating for a millennia before.
      Frederick Loewe and Alan Jay Lerner's last collaboration wasn't their greatest hit but is the one that arguably has left the greatest impression on the public through its connection with Kennedy. The team had produced Gigi and Brigadoon and their biggest hit My Fair Lady which had well nearly three thousand performances and ran for nine years. (By contrast, Camelot had enjoyed a run of only nine hundred shows. While it was still a success, it wasn't in the same league with Lady whose film version won the Academy Award for Best Picture.)
      The musical opened on Broadway in time for Christmas of 1960 and an album of the music was released not long after.
      Most of the modern versions of the Arthurian tale, both in book form and live performance, have been based on the White book in one way or another.

      Others have told the tale concentrating on Merlin or Lancelot and Guinevere or some other aspect of the story which is how the legend developed in the first place: small stories of individuals from across a continent and covering several hundred years being melded together into a grand fable under the sovereignty of King Arthur.

      In closing, the Desk supposes that it has to decide one way or another if Arthur and his friends ever actually existed, if not as portrayed in the legend then at all... Well. OK. Here it is.
            If they never walked in the living world, we'll always wish they had.

... as the Epitaph rumored to have been on a marker at Glastonbury Abbey puts it:

"Here lies Arthur, the once and future king."

      [NOTE: Some of the works cited are regarded as (at best) subjective, or even as total fictions. Even if some of the writers mentioned, like Gildas and Geoffrey of Monmouth, exaggerated or embellished their manuscripts to some degree, it is likely they were simply including the oral history as it was being related at the time. For this work we shall accept all ancient works (Thomas Malory's book was written over 500 years ago) at face value and go from there.
      ALSO: The subject is HUGE. There is no way anything, including a full year college course can cover the entire range of everything associated with Camelot. But we shall give it a go nonetheless. If the Desk misses your favorite bit of the legend, write it up and send it in and we'll attach it to the main document. Thank you. Dr. Leftover ]

LINKS and selected bibiography
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[NOTE: The Desk is not affiliated with any of the above outside sites or entities. Mention of a particular document, archeological site, or entity is not to be taken as an endorsement by or of the Desk. No infringement or disrespect is intended or is to be assumed. thank you ]

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