An Arthurian Chronology

Oliphant, c. 1000 – 1100. From the collection of the Victoria and Albert Museum, London

Below you will find dates and brief descriptions for all the texts mentioned in the introductory lectures on the early development of the Arthurian legend. I have also included all the texts we are reading, and some of the major sources for these texts. For longer excerpts from some of these texts, visit our King Arthur in History page. If you have come across this page from outside my course (English 344, The Arthur of the Britons), note that there are many medieval Arthurian texts which do not appear on this list, as it is intended to underpin one particular course, rather than to represent the whole of the tradition.

Y Gododdin, probably originally sixth century (Old Welsh)

“He fed black ravens on the wall, although he was not [no] Arthur”

 Gildas, De excidio et conquestu Britannie [Concerning the Ruin and Conquest of Britain], c. 530-40 (Latin)

Mentions Mount Badon as a significant British victory; doesn’t mention the leader of the British, but in a previous chapter refers to a British leader named Ambrosius Aurelianus

 “Nennius,” Historia Brittonum [History of the Britons], c. 800 (Latin)

Names Arthur, says he was the dux bellorum [leader of battles] of the British, and gives a list of 12 battles; elsewhere, refers to Arthur’s dog Cavall and to his son Amr

Annales Cambrie [The Welsh Annals], c. 960-980 (Latin)

Gives 518 as the date of the battle of Mount Badon, and gives 539 as the date of the battle of Camlann, “in which Arthur and Medraut fell” ; historians now suggest date closer to 490 and 511 for these battles

 Early Welsh poetic references, 10th century on (Middle Welsh)

Stanzas of the Grave calls Arthur’s grave “difficult,” “troubling”

Spoils of Annwn tells of a raid by Arthur and his men on Caer Sidi in the otherworld, to bring back a mysterious cauldron; only 7 men return

Arthur and the Porter names some of Arthur’s companions, including Cei (Kay) and Bedwyr (Bedivere), and lists battles at Edinburgh, and against witches and a “clawing cat”

 The Porta della Pescheria of Modena Cathedral, c. 1120-1140

Also called the Modena Archivolt, this sculpted archway shows characters labelled Artus de Bretania, Isdernus, Galvagin, and Che, among others, attacking a tower in which are figures labelled Winlogee and Mardoc

 Geoffrey of Monmouth, Historia regum Britannie [History of the Kings of Britain], c. 1136 (Latin)

A history of the kings of Britain, starting from the founding of Britain by Brutus and continuing to the completion of the Saxon conquest; the story of Arthur takes up about a third of the book

Geoffrey is the first to provide a whole story for Arthur; events include his conception by Uther Pendragon and Ygraine, Duchess of Cornwall, through the machinations of Merlin (Geoffrey also wrote a poem called the Vita Merlini, which has little to do with the Arthurian story); his great reputation; his marriage to Guenevere; his defeat of Lucius, Emperor of Rome; Mordred’s usurping of the throne and marrying of Guenevere; the final battle in which Arthur and Mordred die; Arthur’s being taken away to the Island of Avalon

 Wace, Roman de Brut, c. 1155 (Anglo Norman)

A verse translation (c. 15,000 lines) of Geoffrey, which expands on its source by adding details such as the Round Table and the “messianic hope,” the idea that Arthur is not dead and will return when his country has need of him

 The Tree of Life Mosaic, Otranto Cathedral, c. 1163

A huge mosaic on the floor of the nave of Otranto Cathedral, which includes a king riding on a goat; the figure is labelled Rex Arturus

 La3amon, Brut, late twelfth century (early Middle English)

A verse translation (c. 32,000 lines) of Wace, cuts some of the more “courtly” portions of Wace, adds more battle detail; gives the story of the origins of the Round Table

 Chrétien de Troyes, writing last half of the twelfth century (Old French)

In his five romances, Chrétien involves knights of Arthur’s courts in various adventures, usually motivated by their desire to win (or win back) the love of a lady; Arthur himself becomes peripheral

Lancelot tells the story of an event in the relationship between Lancelot and Guenevere

Perceval introduces the grail, but is not very specific about its significance, and is in any case unfinished

 Thomas d’Angleterre, Tristan, c. 1175 (Anglo-Norman)

A now fragmentary, courtly version of the story of Tristan and Iseut

 Arthur’s tomb is “discovered,” c. 1190 (Latin)

Gerald of Wales reports that Arthur’s tomb was discovered at Glastonbury Abbey; Arthur is buried with Guenevere, described as his “second wife” ; his bones are huge and show the signs of many wounds

 Robert de Boron, Joseph d’AramathieMerlin, the Didot-Perceval, c.1191-1202 (Old French)

Much of this does not survive in its original form, but there is an adaptation of these three texts which then itself became the basis for the so-called Vulgate Cycle of Arthurian romance, a huge, thirteenth-century collection

Robert’s work is a continuation of Chrétien’s Perceval; it provides a history for the grail

 Béroul’s Tristan, late twelfth century (Anglo-Norman)

A long fragment of the Tristan and Isolde story

The Vulgate Cycle, c. 1215-1235 (French)

A huge prose cycle which attempts to incorporate the whole of Arthurian story; its parts are the Queste del Saint Graal, the Mort (le roi) Artu, the Lancelot, the Estoire del Saint Graal, and the Vulgate Merlin [these two carry the name of Robert de Boron]

The Prose Tristan, second and third quarters of the thirteenth century (French)

The first romance to bring the story of Tristan and Iseut completely into the Arthurian world

Stanzaic Morte Arthur, fourteenth century (Middle English)

Verse romance based on the French Mort le roi Artu

Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, last quarter fourteenth century (Middle English)

Major alliterative poem featuring Gawain as the focus of a complex test of his knighthood

Awntyrs off Arthure at the Terne Wathelyn, late fourteenth century (Middle English)

Alliterative poem based in part on a popular sermon story

Alliterative Morte Arthure, near end of fourteenth century (Middle English)

Major alliterative poem in the chronicle tradition

 Sir Thomas Malory, Le Morte Darthur, c. 1470

Massive prose compilation/ adaptation of Arthurian chronicle and romance