Saxons, Romans, and Arthur

Previous post about Saxon history: https://timeslipsblog.wordpress.com/2015/06/23/from-odin-and-woden-to-anglo-saxons-in-britain/

king-arthur-tapestry King-Arthur-power-rule King-Arthur-2004-king-arthur-875455_1254_940

 

Before we head back to the Viking era, I just want to add some last added thoughts on the earlier realm of the Saxons, the Romans, and that ever elusive yet legendary man called Arthur who united the Britons in defending their world against those heathens the Saxons. The legend of this man is so tied to this time that one can not help but think of him when thinking about the era of the Saxons invading a crumbling and divided Britain. We have already looked at much of the history and seen what may have actually taken place with the Saxon arrival in Britain but those legends of Arthur are so steeped in that history and in peoples’ minds that we need to take one more look at him and those legends.

As I mentioned, I’ve already discussed much of this in earlier posts so this is just more of an update to all of that previous information! You can read a much earlier post on theories of Romans and King Arthur here:  https://timeslipsblog.wordpress.com/2014/06/24/from-the-creator-ancient-history-connects-the-norse-with-romans-and-king-arthur/

In my previous post about Saxon history, I mentioned movies and books that strip some of that myth and magic from the legends and attempt to give a slightly more historically accurate basis for the stories. I do say slightly more accurate because it is all of course, historical fiction! There are few if any remaining documentations of what actually took place during that time. The only truly accurate account of what happened would be ones from people on both sides who were actually there to witness that history taking place. As far as I know, no one has come across such eye witness accounts! What we have left are scattered remnants, bits and pieces of that history from early sagas and story tellers who were paid-much as current day story tellers- to create a glowing story of that bloody and dark part of history. Every story teller added to and changed the events to please the audience they were telling the story to.  Down trodden and beaten warriors wanted tales of glory, victories and battles. Ladies of the realms wanted romance, a knight in shining armor, a love story, the church wanted tales that would make them look good and the pagans look bad… and, so thus, the Bards wove the legends of Arthur and his Britons into all of those things, just as they do today!

We all know those stories, those fantasies of Arthur the legend. My search has been for more of what might have been the real stories behind the legends. I have stated before, that in every legend or myth, there are grains of truth, you just need to search for them.  When I read or watch historical fiction, I look for those small grains of truth.  I am like anyone else, I love a good story, but being one who is passionate about history, I do prefer those stories to some grain of truth or at least some sort of accuracy when dealing with historical events.  For that reason, I try to stick with authors that I trust, one who have put some significant research into the history that they are writing about. I have no qualm with them playing with timelines as needed in order to weave their story, I also have no problem with them weaving the events into their own story line- that is all to be expected in creating a good story. What I look for within or behind each story is an author’s reasoning and their ability to blend what might have happened to what actually did happen.

The legends of Arthur are so filled with myth, magic and fantasy that is difficult to separate that from the events that actually took place, the events that were the basis for the myths. In order to find some balance between those fantasies and the limited actual history, I have turned to some of those authors that I trust and looked at their stories of what might happened, could have happened. These two authors have given different versions of Arthur and the events surrounding his life, his rise to glory and his attempt to hold on to it.

I did mention the first author and his representation of Arthur in my previous post. I will refresh your memory here and highly recommend that you read his version. Bernard Cornwell gives us his version of Arthur in his Warlord series.

I found this book trailer for Winter King and the Warlord series and had to laugh when it included various clips from our Vikings and the King Arthur movie!

winter_king_uk-179x307

Uther, the High King, has died, leaving the infant Mordred as his only heir. His uncle, the loyal and gifted warlord Arthur, now rules as caretaker for a country which has fallen into chaos – threats emerge from within the British kingdoms while vicious Saxon armies stand ready to invade, As he struggles to unite Britain and hold back the enemy at the gates, Arthur is embroiled in a doomed romance with beautiful Guinevere. Will the old-world magic of Merlin be enough to turn the tide of war in his favour?

enemy of god Arthur book 2 by bernard cornwell

The balance of King Arthur’s unified kingdom is threatened by Merlin’s quest for the last of Britain’s 13 Treasures; by the conflict between the ancient religion and the new Christianity; and by Britain’s war with the Saxons. A master storyteller continues his retelling of the Arthurian legend.

Excalibur arthur book 3 by bernard cornwell

In The Winter King and Enemy of God Bernard Cornwell demonstrated his astonishing ability to make the oft-told legend of King Arthur fresh and new for our time. Now, in this riveting final volume of The Warlord Chronicles, Cornwell tells the unforgettable tale of Arthur’s final struggles against the Saxons and his last attempts to triumph over a ruined marriage and ravaged dreams.   This is the tale not only of a broken love remade, but also of forces both earthly and unearthly that threaten everything Arthur stands for. Peopled by princesses and bards, by warriors and magicians, Excalibur is the story of love, war, loyalty, and betrayal-the work of a magnificent storyteller at the height of his powers.

Bernard Cornwell does include some of the mythology of the legend with his inclusion of Merlin and others such as Nimue (Vivianne). He addresses the conflicts going on between the new religion of Christianity with the dying Pagan beliefs and how this as much as anything else worked to tear the kingdoms apart when they needed to be united against the Saxons.  While he includes that mythology, he also addresses the divisions of the kingdoms, the Roman influences that remained, the betrayals that took place as rulers attempted to hold on to their kingdoms by any means possible- including siding at times with the Saxons and attempting to pit the Saxons against each other. Cornwell looks at all of these things that were most likely actually occurring during that time. He gives us a more realistic picture of those legendary characters, flaws included! My personal favorite deviation from said legends is his portrayal of Lancelot as a vain and traitorous man whose main ambition was to be a King in order to enjoy the materialistic benefits it would bring him. Lancelot had excellent PR men, which he found within the church, and used them to extoll his “saintly” virtues.  The portrayal of Arthur as a man so focused on his role as protector and seeing only the good in people combines that legendary honor status of Arthur while showing the flaws of such belief. He refuses to see clearly what is going on around him, what treachery and deception other people that he trusts as loyal are capable of, that he makes serious mistakes in judgement and nearly defeats his purpose of uniting the kingdoms as a result.  I have not yet read the third book but am looking forward to seeing the conclusion to this version of Arthur and his history.

 

 a more basic and realistic representation. As she herself warns, you will find no magic or fantasy realm here. There is no mention of Merlin, Lancelot, or even Tristan and his beloved Isolde here. Helen Hollick admits freely that she is not an academic historian but she did do a great deal of research into the events of this time period to put together this version of who Arthur may have been, how he might have risen to his power and what might have happened as a result. For those of you looking for a glorious knight in shining armor full of honor and true goodness, this is probably not the book for you… This Arthur is full of flaws!  If you are looking for a romantic love story of Arthur and his true love, Guinevere, then this is probably not quite the right story for you either. Above all else, this Arthur is a warrior with high ambitions. He has a vision of being King as his Father was and he will do almost anything to achieve that goal. He does love his Gwenhwyfar but that love comes second or third to his first ambitions. He is definitely not a saint, he has a lust for all women- which he often acts on and then must suffer the consequences of those actions.  Some of those consequences include a number of jealous and spurned women as well as various offspring along the way.  Some readers have commented and complained that this series portrays women in such bad light as evil, manipulative types… What I get from this series so far is Helen Hollick showing that women could be just as malicious, devious and manipulative as men when it came to terms of them fighting for  power or wealth and status. They were not above using what ever means available to them to ensure they got what they felt they deserved, needed or desired.  This is a much a story of women’s wars against each other as it is about the battles or wars of men for a country or kingdom. The story of Arthur’s battles at time almost comes secondary to the power wars of these early women!

 

The kingmaking Helen hollick

As Uthr Pendragon battles to overthrow the tyrant Vortigern tragedy strikes. There is only one man who can lead Britain from the chaos of darkness into a new age of glory. Protected since birth, he is revealed as the new Pendragon.

The Pendragon Banner 2 by helen hollick

Who was the man
… who became the legend
… we know as
KING ARTHUR?

Pendragon’s Banner is the second book in Helen Hollick’s exciting King Arthur trilogy, covering 459-465 A.D. This is not a fairy tale or fantasy. There is no Merlin, no sword in the stone, and no Lancelot. This is the most accurate Arthurian legend ever written, based on historical evidence and meticulous research.

At age twenty-four, King Arthur has the kingdom he fought so hard for and a new young family. But keeping the throne of Britain—and keeping his wife and three sons safe—proves far from easy. Two enemies in particular threaten everything that is dear to him: Winifred, Arthur’s vindictive first wife, and Morgause, priestess of the Mother and malevolent Queen of the North. Both have royal ambitions of their own.

In this story of harsh battles, secret treasonous plots, and the life-threatening politics of early Britain’s dark ages, author Helen Hollick boldly reintroduces King Arthur as you’ve never seen him before.

PRAISE FOR PENDRAGON’S BANNER:

“Hollick’s interpretation is bold, affecting and well worth fighting to defend.”
Publishers Weekly

“Weaves together fact, legend, and inspired imagination to create a world so real we can breathe the smoke of its fires and revel in the Romano- British lust for life, love and honour.”
Historical Novel Review

“Camelot as it really was… a very talented writer.”
Sharon Kay Penman, bestselling author of Devil’s Brood

PRAISE FOR THE KINGMAKING:

“Hollick juggles a cast of characters and a bloody, tangled plot with great skill.”
Publishers Weekly

“If only all historical fiction could be this good.”
Historical Novels Review

“Stripped of its medieval trappings, the story of Arthur’s rise loses none of its legendary power… this [is a] well-researched, skillfully constructed trilogy opener.”
Library Journal

Shadow of the king by helen hollick

Arthur Pendragon is dead! His widow, Gwenhwyfar, faces overthrow by the powerful council headed by Arthur’s uncle, and a power struggle with his ex-wife Winifred. But, unknown to her, events in France and Germany mean that a far mightier battle is ahead.

 

I have only just started the second book in Helen Hollick’s series so I can not give a full review of all of them together but I can say that I am as equally impressed with Helen Hollick’s version as with Bernard Cornwell’s! The two authors give different representations and reasonings but both present a rather realistic portrayal of the events surrounding the legends. I have to say for now that I am slightly more in favor of Hollick’s version only because she has chosen to leave out the magic of Merlin in her telling of the story. I appreciate that Cornwell found a way to incorporate the myths and magic into his version but kind of wish that he hadn’t put so much focus on Merlin and his seemingly magical qualities. I understand his reasoning in wanting to include this mythology in some way but I think it takes a little away from the rest of the more realistic story he is presenting. He could have presented Merlin as the highly respected Druid that he might have been and even alluded to what ever mythology or magic that may have been associated with that belief system, much as he did with the other beliefs such as Mythros and Isis, and left it at that without involving his supposed mystical and magical qualities quite so much. I did also appreciate his portrayal of Tristan and Isolde in their doomed love affair with no myth or magic involved in it, just a sad story of two lovers who met a bad end.

What initially drew me to Hollick’s version of the legend was that in reading previews and summaries of her series, I was interested in the fact that she chose to include the stories of Hengist and Horsa, and Briton King Voltigern. Hollick’s version of the legend places Arthur in the middle of these events and gives us a version that weaves Arthur’s ambitions and actions into this historical event. It then allows for a telling that coincides with some historical theories that the later Saxon King Cerdic was probably of part Briton descent. I did address this history in the previous post on Saxon history so her weaving of the legend in this way made some sense to me.  Hollick’s version of Arthur places him in the earliest part of the Saxon arrival while Cornwell’s version put Arthur at a later time with Cerdic and another Saxon King Aelle fighting against each other for land and power.

Both Hollick and Cornwell make some reference and admissions as to how it is in some ways a situation that the Britons themselves created. In Hollick’s story, Arthur admits that were he in the same position of those Saxons such as Hengist being deceived and betrayed on land that was promised, he might have reacted in much the same way. This Arthur also concedes that Hengist had a right to promised lands and he honors that particular right, allowing him to retain those lands. Hollick’s  Arthur makes mention of the futile wish for peace between all and realizes that the Saxons are not going to disappear from their land.

 Both authors also both make excellent reference to the earlier Roman domination and remaining influences such as the architecture left behind. In Cornwell’s version, Arthur and his Guinever reside in one of those remaining villas, though the villas all are suffering from disrepair and neglect due to the fact that there are so few skilled artisans left to make any repairs. There is also much reference made to the beliefs of both Britons and Saxons not wanting to live in such stone buildings filled with spirits and ghosts of unknown nature. Another unfortunate side affect of the ongoing wars is that everyone was so focused on battles and surviving that they had little time, wealth or manpower left to devote to the upkeep of such places. 

My personal thought and suggestion is that you read both versions for a better understanding of  who Arthur might have been and those events that had a part in creating the legend and myth that he became!

 

If you are still craving the fantasy and the myth of Arthur, never fear… there is yet another version of that legend coming. Knights of the Roundtable, a feature film version of the story is currently in production with a scheduled release date in 2016. It is being directed by Guy Ritchie, written by Joby Harold and stars at this time include Katie McGrath, Charlie Hunnam, and Jude Law. It was recently announced too that David Beckham will make an appearance. For full details on the cast, see here:

http://www.imdb.com/title/tt3496992/fullcredits?ref_=tt_cl_sm#cast

The young Arthur runs the back passages of Londonium with his crew, not knowing his royal lineage until he grabs Excalibur. Instantly confronted by the sword’s influence, Arthur is forced to make up his mind. He joins the rebellion and a shadowy young woman named Guinevere, he must learn to understand the magic weapon, deal with his demons and unite the people to defeat the dictator Vortigern, the man who murdered his parents and stole his crown to become king.

Some production photos have been released:

'Knights of the Roundtable: King Arthur' filming in Wales Featuring: Atmosphere Where: Conwy, United Kingdom When: 14 Apr 2015 Credit: WENN.com

‘Knights of the Roundtable: King Arthur’ filming in Wales
Featuring: Atmosphere
Where: Conwy, United Kingdom
When: 14 Apr 2015
Credit: WENN.com

'Knights of the Roundtable: King Arthur' filming in Wales Featuring: Jude Law Where: Conwy, United Kingdom When: 14 Apr 2015 Credit: WENN.com

‘Knights of the Roundtable: King Arthur’ filming in Wales
Featuring: Jude Law
Where: Conwy, United Kingdom
When: 14 Apr 2015
Credit: WENN.com

'Knights of the Roundtable: King Arthur' filming in Wales Featuring: Guy Ritchie Where: Conwy, United Kingdom When: 14 Apr 2015 Credit: WENN.com

‘Knights of the Roundtable: King Arthur’ filming in Wales
Featuring: Guy Ritchie
Where: Conwy, United Kingdom
When: 14 Apr 2015
Credit: WENN.com

'Knights of the Roundtable: King Arthur' filming in Wales Featuring: Atmosphere Where: Conwy, United Kingdom When: 14 Apr 2015 Credit: WENN.com

‘Knights of the Roundtable: King Arthur’ filming in Wales
Featuring: Atmosphere
Where: Conwy, United Kingdom
When: 14 Apr 2015
Credit: WENN.com

'Knights of the Roundtable: King Arthur' filming in Wales Featuring: Jude Law Where: Conwy, United Kingdom When: 14 Apr 2015 Credit: WENN.com

‘Knights of the Roundtable: King Arthur’ filming in Wales
Featuring: Jude Law
Where: Conwy, United Kingdom
When: 14 Apr 2015
Credit: WENN.com

'Knights of the Roundtable: King Arthur' filming in Wales Featuring: Jude Law, Eric Bana, Poppy Delavingne Where: Conwy, United Kingdom When: 14 Apr 2015 Credit: WENN.com

‘Knights of the Roundtable: King Arthur’ filming in Wales
Featuring: Jude Law, Eric Bana, Poppy Delavingne
Where: Conwy, United Kingdom
When: 14 Apr 2015
Credit: WENN.com

Filming 'The Knights of the Round Table:King Arthur'  in Wales Featuring: Guy Ritchie Where: Conwy, United Kingdom When: 14 Apr 2015 Credit: WENN.com

Filming ‘The Knights of the Round Table:King Arthur’ in Wales
Featuring: Guy Ritchie
Where: Conwy, United Kingdom
When: 14 Apr 2015
Credit: WENN.com

In January 2014, Warner Bros set Guy Ritchie to direct a new multi-film version of the King Arthur legend. The first film titled Knights of the Roundtable: King Arthur,  with Lionel Wigram as producer and Joby Harold as screenwriter,  is the first installment of a planned six films series, and is scheduled for a July 22, 2016 release.  Idris Elba was in talks to play a Merlin-esque figure who trains and mentors Arthur. When Elba did not sign on to the film, the director continued to look for an actor to play the role.Charlie Hunnam, Ritchie’s choice for the role, will play King Arthur.  Elizabeth Olsen was in talks for the female lead.  However, on September 18, it was Àstrid Bergès-Frisbey who was added to the cast of to play Guinevere.  On November 14, Jude Law was in talks to play the lead villain role in the film.  On February 11, 2015, Eric Bana was added to the cast to play Uther, the father of King Arthur.  Mikael Persbrandt joined the film on March 6, 2015 to play a villainous role.   Filming in Windsor Great Park was underway in February 2015, then later in North Wales from March 2, 2015.  Later on March 10, 2015, Ritchie tweeted a photo and confirmed the first day of shooting  In April 2015, filming took place in Snowdonia, where locations used were Tryfan, Nant Gwynant near Beddgelert and Capel Curig.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Knights_of_the_Roundtable:_King_Arthur

From what little plot or story information that is yet available, all I can surmise is that this will be more myth and fantasy than any real historical basis other than mention of said King Vortigern playing some part in it. That is fine too, we all enjoy some fantasy in our life along with the more real stories! It looks interesting so far!

 

 

 

 

4 thoughts on “Saxons, Romans, and Arthur

  1. Thank you for such a down-to-earth review, and at last, a reader who sees exactly what I was trying to do re Arthur’s nature and the women! Can I mention here that Mr Cornwall once said to me that he started writing without Merlin but the story didn’t work – I was (smug I admit) to be able to answer ‘well I didn’t use Merlin and I made it work!’
    I hope you continue to enjoy the Trilogy, and thank you once again.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you so much for taking time to check out my review! I can’t tell you how much that makes my day! I am into the second book now and enjoying the very real nasty back stabbing politics that were as much a part of shaping the future as any battles fought.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Great review and congratulations to Helen. It’s a great series! My own modest offering to the “Arthur” genre, as Helen knows, is due to appear early in 2016. It’s called The Song-Sayer’s Lament and pushes even further from the ‘magic and mythology’ of Bernard Cornwell’s version. The sad truth is that there’s virtually no archaeological or genetic evidence for any significant conflict between outlander groups (Saxons etc) and the more indigenous population. No evidence, either, for anybody actually called Arthur or similar. The conflicts have a very different root, as do the origins of an “Arthur” legend. Watch this space. But, meanwhile, this is a fabulous blog!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks so much! I checked out your space and your offering to the Arthur genre. I will be looking forward to reading your version that looks at it from a completely different reasoning! Having done my basic research on the legend and the history, I do agree with that sad truth about Arthur’s questionable existence or role in any of that history. I also agree on the lack of evidence pointing to the Saxons’ supposed reputation for worse slaughter than any other group involved in the conflicts of the time! Now if someone would just write a story that something more to balance or improve their reputation, I would be first in line to read and promote that version!

      Like

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