C2C David W. Croft Cpt. Daniell English 306 22 February 1989 The Legendary Camelot This king lay at Camelot one Christmastide With many mighty lords, manly liegemen, Members rightly reckoned of the Round Table, In splendid celebration, seemly and carefree (Stone 22). This is the only time that Camelot, home of the Arthurian legends, is mentioned in Sir Gawain and the Green Knight. _______________________________ The fourteenth-century poem seemingly gives no clue as to the location of the castle of King Arthur (Alcock 15). According to the Encyclopedia Brittannica, the "real" Camelot is to be found at a number of locations: Camelot, in Arthurian legend, was the seat of King Arthur's court. It is variously identified with Caerlon, Monmouthshire, in Wales, and in England, with the following: Queen Camel, Somerset; the little town of Camelford, Cornwall; Winchester, Hampshire, and, especially since archaeological excavations begun in 1967, Cadbury Castle, South Cadbury, Somerset (New Enclopedia Brittannica __________________________ 765). There is much support for the latter location as "Excavations . . . have revealed post-Roman remains of the period associated with Arthur built over the pre-Roman hill fort" (Canby "Camelot"). The validity of such a claim will be discussed further below. Experts agree that the Camelot of legend never existed -- it is a figment of imagination. "It is as well to say
Croft 2 outright that Camelot has no historical authenticity: it is a place that never was" (Alcock 14). "The Camelot of romance is a medieval dream city which never existed anywhere" (Ashe 81). "Camelot, with which Cadbury Castle has been associated, is a twelfth-century invention . . ." (Barber 15). If such is the case, why should we pursue it? It is generally believed that the legend of King Arthur has some historical basis and thus, must have had some sort of base of operations: ". . . it seems reasonable to think that the historical Arthur might have had a principal stronghold or military base . . . and no less reasonable to hope that such a base might be identified in archaeological terms" (Alcock 18). There are two major theories concerning Arthur's origins, both of which are briefly presented below: Arthur, the focus of an extensive medieval cycle of legends and romances, was probably a Celtic British king or chieftain of the 6th century A.D. who fought against the Saxon invaders of England. The name may also be that of a Celtic god whose mythology was early confused with the exploits of the historical figure (Zesmer 219). Stone makes arguments that Arthur is the Celtic carry-over. He presents historical and literary ties to the Sun-deities and such Mediterranean heroes as Theseus and Hercules (Stone 153). However, if such is the case, Arthur never existed and neither did Camelot. I find this to be uninteresting and prefer the former theory. Alcock reports that records reveal a soldier, perhaps a leader of the forces of several British kingdoms -- but not a king himself, fought in two battles in the 5th or 6th
Croft 3 century A.D. (Alcock 17). Professor Kenneth Jackson in his 1959 work "The Arthur of History" states that Arthur probably existed and participated in the battles somewhere in southern Britain about 500 A.D. (Ashe 76). Furthermore, it is recognized that the name "Arthur" is a derivative of the Roman name "Artorius." It is argued that the British were still giving their children Romanicized names subsequent to the Romans departure about the 5th century. Finally, it is noted that after 550 A.D., four "Arthurs" are on record within the royal houses despite the increasing unpopularity of Roman names -- a sign that the boys were named after a recent inspirational, nationalistic figure (Ashe 77 - 78). All these facts point to the existence of a historical "Arthur" who was a soldier-commander in southern Britain. Stone, who holds that Arthur is of Celtic origins, takes a strictly literal basis for his location of Camelot. The poet does not place Camelot; but if Gawain's route from court to Wirral is to be imagined at all, Camelot should be in the West Country or South Wales, and not southern England. The huge hill-fortress at South Cadbury . . . seems as likely a place as any if Camelot was a real place (Stone 154). Other experts seem to agree, yet also use a cautious tone: This particlar hill fort, one among many, has been special for a long time because of a belief that it was Camelot (Ashe 80). There have been suggestions that recent excavations, particularly at Cadbury Castle, can be compare with Schliemann's discovery of Troy in the last Century. If there is a parallel, it is a very tenuous one indeed (Barber 15).
Croft 4 In 1542, a John Leland identifies Cadbury Castle as "Camelot" but effectively only reports on a belief already held by the locals: "At the very south end of the church of South- Cadbyri standeth Camallate, sometime a famous town or castle. . . . The people can tell nothing there but that they have heard say Arthur much resorted to Camalat" (Ashe 80). In 1723, another visitor, by the name of William Stukeley, reported on the local belief that continues today: "Camalet is a noted place," he wrote. "It is a noble fortification of the Romans. . . . where they say was king Arthur's palace . . . the country people refer all stories to him" (Alcock 19). However, such common beliefs could not be accepted without archaeological or literary evidence to support them -- evidence which was simply lacking. Leslie Alcock reported at the end of his work covering the excavation of Cadbury Castle, We did not find the fabulous Camelot, nor add anything directly to historical knowledge about Arthur as a person. But at the least, the quest stimulated debate and research into Arthurian problems, both on the site and in wider academic circles (Alcock 212). Ashe follows Alcock's work with his similar opinion: The net result of the fifty-year discussion was to persuade most inquirers that there had been a real Arthur of some sort. . . . The proof was that scholars had reconstructed him in half a dozen different ways. . . . They could be seen as pointing vaguely to a real British leader, probably an outstanding one. Cadbury-Camelot could be seen as supporting them. As history, however, they fell short (Ashe 85).
Croft 5 Barber goes so far as to develop arguments that dispute even these meager links: So the name Camelot in connection with Cadbury is wholly wide of the mark, even in the general sense of Arthur's court (Barber 135). In any case, the argument we have already set out would show that Arthur was neither a fifth-century hero, nor associated with southern Britain (Barber 136). The conclusion, for all the educated guessing, is that, if there were an Arthur who existed as a commander in the 5th/6th century, and if he did possess some kind of fortification, Cadbury Castle could have been it. Thus, the legendary Camelot is most probably destined to remain just that -- legendary.
Croft 6 Works Cited Alcock, Leslie. Was this Camelot? Excavations at Cadbury ________________________________________ Castle 1966 - 1970. New York: Stein and Day, __________________ Publishers, 1972. Ashe, Geoffrey. The Discovery of King Arthur. New York: ____________________________ Anchor Press/Doubleday, 1985. Barber, Richard. The Figure of Arthur. Totowa, New Jersey: ____________________ Rowman and Littlefield, 1973. Canby, Courtlandt. "Camelot." Encyclopedia of Historic ________________________ Places. Vol. I (A - L). New York: Facts on File ______ Publications, 1984. New Encyclopedia Brittannica, The. Vol. 2. Chicago: _________________________________ University of Chicago, 1987. Stone, Brian, trans. Sir Gawain and the Green Knight. 2nd _______________________________ ed. New York: Penguin Books, 1988. Zesmer, David M. "Arthur and Arthurian Legend." Academic ________ American Enclopedia. Danbury, Connecticut: Grolier ___________________ Incorporated, 1987.