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King Arthur’ is perhaps the most famous and controversial figure of British medieval history. The subject of one of the most important legendary cycles of the Middle Ages, Arthur is supposed to have lived around AD500 and to have led a heroic but doomed British resistance against the Anglo-Saxon conquest. Attempts to identify a real, historical King Arthur are myriad, but none is convincing, because all are based upon dubious written sources written much later.
In this lecture, related to my book, Worlds of Arthur, I will talk through how we know that these sources are not to be relied upon but then, more creatively, show how we can rethink the period between 400-600 to suggest some ways forward that are very different from the current alternatives and put Britain more convincingly in a fuller, European context.
We will see that the image of an ‘Anglo-Saxon Conquest’, a war of Anglo-Saxons on one side against Britons on the other is very misleading. Fifth-century European politics were much more interesting and much less straightforward than that. Ironically, though, this will leave us with a context in which an ‘Arthur-figure’ could well have existed and then been largely forgotten in later centuries.
Not wheelchair accessible