King Arthur: Who Was He? - An Introductory Guide for Kids
Updated: May 10
Who was King Arthur?
The myth of King Arthur tells of 'Arthur Pendragon', a British leader who defeated and repelled the Saxon invaders in the late 5th and early 6th Century. He created an empire in the West of Britain and lived in a glorious castle called 'Camelot'. This basic story was added to over hundreds of years by lots of different writers.
Who added what then?
It was a fella called Geoffrey of Monmouth who added the bulk of the story in his mostly made up book, the 'History of the Kings of Britain'. Geoffrey added a magician called Merlin to the plot and introduced a lady named Guinevere who would marry Arthur and become Queen. He also gave Arthur a soon to be iconic magic sword, the blade 'Excalibur'. Finally, he provided Arthur with what every hero needs: an evil arch-nemeses. Arthur's was called Mordred.
Then, in the 12th Century, writer Chrétien de Troyes added the Knights of the Round Table to the plot. This included their most famous member, Lancelot.
So what's the basic version of the Arthur Myth then?
Arthur was a young lad raised by the Wizard Merlin. His parents were King and Queen of Britain but died whilst Arthur was only knee high to a grasshopper. One day, probably a Tuesday, Arthur found a sword stuck in a stone. This was Excalibur, and any person who could remove it from the stone would rule all of Britain. Thing is, no-one could remove the sword, it was said to be impossible.
But guess what? When Arthur pulled on the sword it slid easily from the rock. Boom! Arthur was king.
King Arthur ruled from his Kingdom of Camelot. He and his Knights of the Round table went on many quests and adventures. These include an epic quest to find the Holy Grail, a showdown with a green-skinned Knight who can't be killed and a battle with a big baddie dubbed The Black Knight.
The final story is of how Mordred - evil arch-nemeses - stole Excalibur and took over ruling Arthur's kingdom. Arthur and his army took on Mordred and his forces in an awesome battle of much sword waving, spear jabbing and axe cleaving.
At the end of the battle Arthur killed Mordred but was badly wounded and died in the process. The Knights of the Round Table lobbed Excalibur in a lake so it could return to where it came from. Don't worry, the Knight's hadn't gone bonkers.
Apparently Excalibur was forged by a magical creature called 'The Lady of the Lake,' so they just returned the sword to her.
Legends say that Arthur never died and will return to battle once more in a time of great need.
Was King Arthur and the Kingdom of Camelot a historical fact or made up mythological madness?
We may never know for certain - though historians would love to find out.
One theory is, if there was a King Arthur, then he was a Roman/British leader who would have been defending his land against the invading Saxons.
If he was real though, then most of the stories about him were made up. For example,
in the 9th Century manuscript, the Historia Brittonum, it is written that Arthur singlehandedly killed 960 people in one battle - he must have got up very early in the morning to reach that number! We know this to be false though - by the time he had chopped through the first ten warriors, his sword would have been so blunt he might as well have been hitting the rest with a rolling pin.
Is King Arthur still famous now?
You betcha! People love a good myth and King Arthur's story has proven to be a doozy. His tale has been retold in a Disney Animated Film, 'Sword in the Stone'. He's also been featured in big Hollywood Blockbusters, like Guy Ritchie's 'King Arthur.' He also pops up in comics a lot too - King Arthur is part of the DC and Marvel universes.