Arthur v Arthur

Brought to you by OBS Staff member Karolina

Hi Everyone, and welcome to Clash of the Legends, Part 2; Arthur v Arthur or King v Prince! Let’s get straight into it and start with the larger than life King Arthur, shall we?


picture: King Arthur in a Tapestry , c. 1385

The legend of King Arthur is shrouded in even more mystery than that of Merlin, his friend, confidante, and mentor – if that’s even possible. There is a constant debate amongst Modern/Medieval historians to whether Arthur was a real figurehead during the 5th and 6th Centuries, that he was a Romano -Celtic general who helped fight the Saxon invasion. There is little in history to definitively prove that there was such a man- other than his firm and lasting place in myths and legends of Britain. While there are quite a few mentions of Arthur in various forms in Welsh poems, the most comprehensive history of Arthur first comes from our friend, Geoffrey of Monmouth.

In Robert De Boron, Thomas Malory and TH White’s Arthurian Legend retellings, Merlin takes Arthur from his birth parents Uther and Igraine from a young age, and places him into the care of Sir Ector, a knight of king Uther’s court. He was brought up with Ector’s son , Kay, who would later become a knight of Arthur’s court. In Arthur’s early years, a mysterious figure entered into his life- an old man who went by the name of , yep, you guessed it, Merlin. Merlin acts as a tutor and mentor for the young Arthur ( and in TH White’s version of the story, gives him lessons on life by turning him into various forms if animals), until Arthur turns 15. When Arthur turns 15, King Uther dies, and Merlin orchestrates a challenge – where he places Uther’s sword into a stone ( sometimes it’s and axe) and proclaims that only the true king of England could remove it. Ector and Kay and Arthur attend this spectacle. During a tournament, Kay’s sword breaks, so Arthur runs to get him a new one- pulling it from a stone. All hail, king Arthur! (Almost all hail King Kay, as he tried to make out that it was him who pulled the sword from the stone – but , as the legend goes, Ector saw through his son’s lie, and Ector and Kay became the first Knights of King Arthur’s court). Once again, bear in mind, this is one version of the legend, and there are quite a few variations!

Geoffrey of Monmouth also has Arthur coming to the throne at the age of 15, and fights a series of battles, similar to those in the Historia Brittonum (one of the texts that has Arthur as a historical figure), culminating in the Battle of Bath. He then defeats the Picts and Scots before creating an Arthurian empire through his conquests of Ireland, Iceland and the Orkney Islands. After twelve years of peace, Arthur sets out to expand his empire once more, taking control of Norway, Denmark and Gaul. The Romans still had control over Gaul at this time – only to hear that his nephew, Mordredus (sound familiar??) had usurped the throne and married Arthur’s wife and love, Guenhuuara (or, you know, Guinevere). Arthur was said to ride back to his Britain, and demand a battle with his treasonous little toad of a nephew, and an epic battle in Camblam in Cornwall takes place. Arthur manages to defeat Mordredus, but not without being mortally wounded himself. Arthur hands his crown to his kinsman Constantine, and is taken to “Avalon” , to heal his wounds, and is never seen again. And so ends the legend of King Arthur.

Or, does it?

It’s not until the 12th century that the Arthurian legend becomes the epic romance that we know it to be today. In fact, it is Chretien de Troyes telling of the legend that iconic images from the legend , such as the Holy Grail, and people such as Lancelot enter the story. In the 12th century versions of the Arthurian legend that characters such as Lancelot, Guinevere, Gawain (or Gwaine) , Tristan and Iseult take centre stage, and King Arthur fades into the background. In fact, Arthur goes from being a proactive, powerful king who laughs in the faces of the witches and warlocks and giants who defy him and is a ferocious warrior, as he is Monmouth’s story, to a ‘do nothing’ King. A king who is even tempered, and in some retellings, even a little bit bland. It is during this period of literature that the adultery and treachery of Lancelot and Guinevere takes place (mirrored by the story of Tristan and Iseult), and the search for the Holy Grail.

The development of the medieval Arthurian cycle and the character of the “Arthur of romance” culminated in Le Morte d’Arthur, Thomas Malory’s retelling of the entire legend in a single work in English in the late 15th century. Malory based his book on the various previous romance versions, in particular the Vulgate Cycle, and appears to have aimed at creating a comprehensive and authoritative collection of Arthurian stories. Tennyson revived the Arthurian Legend in the 19th century, and was followed but TH White’s Once and Future King, and then Marion Zimmer Bradley’s The mists of Avalon.

So, there are many variations and renditions of this story. However, it seems that King Arthur’s demise is somewhat constant – he is forced into battle with Mordred (who is sometimes his nephew, or sometimes his son from either Morgraine or Morgause, his step sisters) who he needs to battle for Britain. The battle of Camlann (or Camlam) is the final battle between the two, where they mortally wound each other, and Arthur is taken to Avalon – never to be seen again.






Pictures : Glastonbury Abbey and a sign showing where Arthur and Guinevere were not buried. Taken by Karolina Avalon in 2011.

BBC PRINCE ARTHUR (played by Bradley James)

Picture from Merlin BBC website (season 1 Arthur)

From the moment Merlin meets Arthur in the courtyard of Camelot, the viewer is seeing a slightly different Arthur. This Arthur is 20 -ish , and not yet King. He has not grown up away from the King’s court, under the guidance of Sir Ector and Merlin, but under his father’s watchful eye. He has grown up without his mother – as we learn that she was ripped from Uther by the forces of Magic (something that will be explored when I speak of Uther), and a magic ban has been placed on Camelot. Arthur is blond, blue eyed, handsome , fit, clearly an athlete -and , as Merlin aptly puts it, a bit of a prat. I will give him this, though, this Arthur hasn’t really had an opportunity to be anything else. No one has really seemed to challenge him. Merlin first meets Arthur when he is taunting a servant, using him as moving target practice, and being encouraged by his friends. Merlin berates him, and is thrown into the dungeons for his troubles. This does not stop Merlin from commenting on Arthur’s boorish behaviour a second time – an incident that almost ends in blows, but is put to a halt by both Merlin’s magic, and Arthur himself. This is the first time we see a trait of Arthur’s that wasn’t visible at first – respect for someone who stands for what he thinks is right. He tells Merlin that there is “something about [him]” as Merlin is let go by the guards, but is still punished by being placed in the stocks. Throughout season one the viewer is privy to this side of Merlin and Arthur’s relationship, Arthur trying to exert the power he knows he should have over Merlin, but begrudging respect for Merlin for not letting Arthur bully him, and telling Arthur exactly what he thinks of him. This trait carries on through to season 3.

Arthur is as frustrated with Uther’s ‘reward’ to Merlin ( to make Merlin his manservant) as Merlin is, especially since Merlin seems to delight in doing a less than stellar job most of the time. But, when it is most needed (like when Arthur is in mortal danger) Merlin is always reliable and always there for Arthur (to either drink poison for him, or to stand by him while he chats to his dead mother, or to follow him when he’s been given a bracelet that will make him fall asleep by his evil step sister, or to save his love … the list goes on) and Arthur repays this in kind. He has put his life down for Merlin in various ways, gone to battle for him. even stood up to his father for him and lied to get Merlin out of Camelot. In an out take of the last episode of Merlin s3 “The coming of Arthur, part 2” ,Arthur calls Merlin “almost a friend”. It was Merlin Arthur first confessed his love for Gwen to. So, despite their constant bickering, and Arthur’s sometimes brutish bullying (he THROWS things at Merlin!) , Arthur values and respects Merlin, albeit reluctantly, and knows (maybe intrinsically) that their lives and destinies are intertwined.

Arthur also has a strong bond with his father. He desperately seeks his father’s approval and acknowledgement as the heir to the throne. He is not, however , above arguing for justice if he feels that it is not being met by his father’s decree, whether it be for Merlin, Gwen, Morgana, friends (such as Lancelot, Gwaine and Gaius) or Camelot itself. He will also question his Father’s beliefs – particularly on magic , during S1 and S2 (this changes near the end of season 2). He allows Mordred to escape, allows Morgause (for a little while) to perform magic in front of him, and also tells Merlin that he does not think that every magic user can be bad.

Arthur is also a little naive at times. He readily believes Morgause and the image of his mother in the S2 episode “The Sins of the Father”. And, even though this is the truth, he quickly changes back when Merlin lies to Arthur to stop him killing his Father for banishing magic and killing magic users when he himself used it. Arthur readily believes Morgana’s story when she returns at the beginning of season 2, and often does not even notice Merlin performing magic almost in front of him – putting the magic down to ‘coincidence “ or a strange happening. Arthur is completely devastated when he finds himself betrayed by his father (‘Sins of the Father) and Morgana (The coming of Arthur parts 1 and 2) and relies on Merlin in both those instances to snap him out of his stupor.

While Arthur’s heart belongs to Gwen as of the end of Season 3, Arthur’s real and long standing love is Camelot. The needs of Camelot and it’s people have always incited the most ardent and passionate response from this Arthur. It is evident, even from this stage, that Arthur will fight for his people, and they love him back; as he is the people’s prince.

So, That’s Arthur v Arthur done!! What did you think? Does Prince Prat Arthur win your heart? Or good ol’ cute Wart? I again, have to say – I love that although BBC’s Arthur has a very different history to 5th/6th century Arthur, Monmouth’s Arthur, and all those after him – the core values of the Once and Future King ; his strength, his courage, his dedication to the truth and his love and loyalty to his friends and family and people still ring true.

Next up, Camelot v Camelot!
For Merlin’s write up, see here, or join us in the forum to discuss Arthur!