The Old Wound

A new paper asks, 'Who gave Arthur a Crippling Blow?' and answers that it was Saint George:
[W]ith the Norman Conquest, a new form of kingship was imposed on the English people. William I, for example, made far-reaching changes to solidify his regime-change, but at the same time showed less interest in England than in his own native Normandy. Lesyer says that for William, “England was a source of revenue, no more, no less.” 
Although subsequent monarchs were somewhat better on establishing positive relations with their English subjects, the murder of Thomas Becket in 1170 quickly led to the growth of his saintly cult and restarted pro-English views that had largely laid underground for the previous decades. Leyser makes a point of noting that it is “hard to find any English king who inspired affection,” and while countries like France produced hagiographies for some of their rulers, this did not exist in England. 
Leyser argues that it was also during this period that as the story of King Arthur became popularized by writers such as Geoffrey of Monmouth, he began to be seen as the ideal king, who would return and right all the wrongs imposed on the English people – and that these wrongs often were committed by the present-day kings. For Leyser, nationalist sentiment emerged in opposition to the crown, with King Arthur one of the main representatives of these views.With this in mind, it is not surprising that many English monarchs were lukewarm to depicting themselves as a new Arthur, and it was during the reign of Edward III that another English hero was given more prominence – St.George, a soldier from late antiquity who became the focus of several hagiographic legends. King Edward did much boost the figure of St.George, as well as that of the Virgin Mary. He tied the fortunes of the Plantagenet family to these two saints, and used their cults to promote his own rule.Leyser concludes by noting that by the late Middle Ages it was St.George who became the leading symbol of the English nation, giving “a crippling blow on Arthur, from which he never recovered.”

One small problem with that thesis:  Edward III died in 1377.  Guess who was born about 1405?


karrde said...

It's a great story, even if it doesn't explain all the facts.

History is a challenge; telling it accurately requires knowledge that may not be available.

And the story that seems obvious from one perspective looks kind of foolish from another perspective.

Still and all, the mythos of Arthur provided a foil for comparison of the current King. It provided a way for parents to tell their children about love of their homeland and its King while they complained about the abuses of the current king.

I think that mythos of The Good Olde Days can even be found in modern American politics. Whatever President or Congressional Leader is being complained about, he is destroying part of The Good Olde Days, or keeping the nation from getting back to that time, etc.

Grim said...

Chesterton told his version of that story around Alfred the Great, precisely because Alfred was the more demonstrable:

Yet Alfred is no fairy tale;
His days as our days ran,
He also looked forth for an hour
On peopled plains and skies that lower,
From those few windows in the tower
That is the head of a man.

Arthur makes an appearance in that tale as well, in the form of the living memory of Colan of Caerleon. So even Alfred, while trying to 'scour the Horse anew,' finds help in those who look to Arthur.