Arthur and the Wilderness in Medieval Britain

My new book explores how the story of Arthur evolved in England in the later Middle Ages, and depicts Arthur as a wilderness figure, the descendant of the northern Romano-British hunter/warrior god. The earliest Arthur was a warrior, but in the 11th century Welsh tale Culhwch and Olwen, he is less a warrior and more the leader of a band of heroes who live outside society. The story of Arthur was popularized by Geoffrey of Monmouth, in his Latin History of the Kings of Britain, and this was translated into Middle English in Layamon’s “Brut” and the later “Alliterative Morte Arthure”. Both of these owed much to the famous Anglo-Saxon poem “Beowulf”, which draws on the Anglo-Saxon fascination with the wilderness. The most famous Arthurian tale is Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, in which the wilderness and themes from Beowulf play a leading role. Three Arthurian tales set in Inglewood Forest, Cumbria, place Arthur and Gawain in a wilderness setting, and link Arthur to medieval Robin Hood tales.

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