King Arthur

Real Name: Arthur Pendragon

Identity/Class: Normal human

Occupation: Monarch, knight

Affiliations: Knights of the Round Table

Enemies: Morgan Le Fay, Mordred

Known Relatives: Uther Pendragon (father)


Base of Operations:

First Appearance: c.400 A.D.


History: The legends of King Arthur, who fought for the Britons, go back many centuries. Over the years various authors have added to was originally an oral tradition, changing and modifying it. The "true" Arthur is most likely to be a synthesis of a number of different tribal chieftains of this time period (5th century AD), as despite his commonly gifted title of "King of the Britons", there was no united country at that time, Britain being divided into several smaller kingdoms, with Arthur was a common name among the Celtic royalty.

Many of the legends seem to have arisen in the years after the Romans departed the British Islands, leaving behind an ongoing battle for supremacy amongst the tribes and small kingdoms. Added to this was the constant threat from outside, with raids and invasions from across the North Sea and the English Channel, from the Vikings, the Angles and the Saxons (yes, Arthur may have championed the Britons, but he also likely battled the future English!).The Arthur of legend is seen as leading his men to defend his country from the invaders, with later authors adding examples of medieval chivalry to the stories more appropriate to their own eras (the times of the Crusades).

One of the first to chronicle stories of a man who might be Arthur was the ninth century Welsh scholar Nennius, who makes mention mention of how during the fifth century, as the Romans departed England, mercenaries from other countries, heathens, started to lay claim to parts of the island, and how they were driven out by a warrior king or chieftain, who later some historians speculate may have been the man we now call Arthur.

A few centuries later, Sir Thomas Malory added the first of the "chivalrous" spins to the mix, when he penned what would become to many the standard 'history' of Arthur, Le Morte d'Arthur, published in 1485 and originally titled "The Book of King Arthur and His Noble Knights of the Round Table." It is this book which gives us the stories of Sir Galahad and Sir Gawaine, Sir Lancelot and Arthur's Queen Guinevere, and the Round Table and the sword in the stone. It tells of how Arthur's father, Uther Pendragon, comes to covet Igraine, the wife of another king, and using Merlin's sorcery tricks her into sleeping with him while wearing the guise of her absent husband, thus conceiving the child who will be Arthur. As Uther dies shortly afterwards, Arthur is fatherless when he is born, and Merlin gives him to Sir Ector to be raised alongside his own son, Kay. Without Uther England has no overall king, but Merlin has placed a sword in a stone, proclaiming that whoever draws it out is the rightful monarch. As a young adult Arthur manages to do so, and is crowned. He builds a great castle at Camelot, and gathers around him the greatest knights in the land, seeking to protect it from invaders and heal the wounds of war. He marries Guinevere, whose father gives him the Round Table as part of her dowry. This table is then used as the meeting place of the knights, where no man can be seen to be greater than any other because of how close they sit to the top end of the table. After years of magnificent and peaceful rule, things begin to go wrong when Lancelot becomes enamoured with the Queen, and during the Quest for the Holy Grail, this fact comes out.

Lancelot flees, feeling he has betrayed his liege, and Guinevere is sentenced to death for adultery and treason. Lancelot rescues her, which leads to a war between Arthur and his former champion. He leaves Mordred in charge, only to have to fight him too when Mordred tries to claim the throne. There is a final battle, on Salisbury Plain, where Arthur slays Mordred but is mortally wounded in return. Arthur is spirited off to the mystic isle of Avalon, and it is often said that he will return when his kingdom most needs him.

Other authors have stamped their own impressions on to this tale, including Spenser and T.H. White (whose story is also the basis for the Disney film The Sword in the Stone.) Indeed, like Robin Hood centuries later, Arthur has been the subject of countless stories and legends, many of which have been adapted into films and TV programmes. Arthur is often remembered as being the wielder of the sword Excalibur, given to him by Merlin who got it in turn from the Lady of the Lake. Depending on who you ask, Excalibur may or may not have been the same weapon as the Sword in the Stone.

King Arthur has turned up as a superheroic figure a number of times in comics, most notably in the excellent DC mini-series Camelot 3000.

Comments: For more information, check out the excellent

The Knights of the Round Table: King Arthur founded the Knights of the Round Table, an order of heroic warriors. Of them, Lancelot, Galahad, Gawain, Percival, Bedivere and Kay rank amongst the best known. The Knights were men of courage, honor, dignity, courtesy, and nobleness. They protected ladies and damsels, honoured and fought for kings, and undertook dangerous quests.

For information on how the legends of Camelot and it's knights have been interpreted in comics and other media, check out Camelot in Four Colors.


Any Additions/Corrections? Please let me know.

Back to British Historical / Mythical characters

Back to General UK Heroes


All images and characters depicted are copyright their respective holders, and are used above for informational purposes only. No infringement is intended and copyrights remain at source.