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The Medieval Quest for Arthur by Robert…

The Medieval Quest for Arthur (2005)

by Robert Rouse

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Medieval people were fascinated by the Arthurian stories. They searched for relics of Britain's Arthurian past. Winchester was seen as the site of Camelot and the crown of Arthur was presented by Edward I; items associated with Dover, Glastonbury and other sites are also explored, as is the part played by John Leland in the 16th century.… (more)



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Nowadays, a book possibly entitled The Invention of King Arthur might imply subterfuge and forgery. Several centuries ago, when "to invent" would simply mean "to chance upon", it would instead imply a re-discovery of what already existed. Nowadays we are rightly wary of Arthurian relics such as Arthur's Tomb at Glastonbury, Arthur's Seal, Gawain's skull, Lancelot's sword and the Winchester Round Table, as objects more likely to be "invented" in the modern sense of "made-up" rather than pre-existing. In Caxton's 15th century, with fewer critical tools at their disposal, people were more inclined to accept such chanced-upon unprovenanced evidence at face value (though then as now there were always doubters and detractors, as the wholesale destruction of saintly relics in the English Reformation was to demonstrate); however, I am of course aware that weeping stuatues and their ilk still excite the credulous in our own time.

The Medieval Quest for Arthur is a wide-ranging catalogue of medieval Arthurian souvenirs which also puts the relics and attitudes into historical context. As well as the objects on Caxton's list noted above, we view both Excalibur and Tristan's sword, Arthur's Shield and Crown, Isolde's Robe, Caradoc's Mantle and Arthur's Slate. Along the way we touch on universities, knightly orders, heraldry, hagiography, topography.

This otherwise valuable book is not without its faults: for example, they still repeat the common misconception that Chrétien de Troyes' 12th-century Perceval didn't "clearly" define the Grail as the cup of the Last Supper (Chrétien never even hints that his graal has links with any Biblical object, let alone this one). Such assertions aside, where else but in this spendidly readable work do you have all these relics united in one place? A real treasure chest then for Arthurians such as myself as well as students of gullibility, charlatanism and cynical money-making enterprises.

http://calmgrove.wordpress.com/2012/11/26/relics/ ( )
  ed.pendragon | Nov 9, 2012 |
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Touching the past: the medieval vogue for Arthurian relics -- In his 1485 edition of Sir Thomas Malory's Morte Darthur, William Caxton included a preface explaining his motivations for printing the book.
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