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The King Arthur Character does not significantly predate "The History of the Kings of Britain"

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Voting Style: Open Point System: 7 Point
Started: 9/5/2012 Category: Politics
Updated: 4 years ago Status: Post Voting Period
Viewed: 2,837 times Debate No: 25460
Debate Rounds (5)
Comments (2)
Votes (1)




It is my position that the literary figure, King Arthur, does not significantly predate the creation of “The History of the Kings of Britain” in c.1136. I am aware that many historians disagree, with many of them claiming that there are mentions of him that date back to nearly the Roman era.

I am not convinced that this is true, for several reasons.

I would like to discuss this topic with anyone who might be able to produce some data that I have not seen before, and that might demonstrate that there are compelling reasons to think that I am mistaken.

I am willing to share the BOP, and we may dismiss any semantic tricks – this should be considered a “sharing of information” debate, and not so much a competition. I am willing to be flexible on any other rule that might be suggested. I am also not overly concerned about source material or references, unless they are requested. Simple links to websites will do for this.



I Will Argue this point with you gladly :)
Debate Round No. 1


First, I really need to thank my debate partner for his patience; the long weekend has prevented me from posting this argument until nearly the last minute. I had really expected to have had it out the same day, so.

As I said in the first round, I am willing to be very relaxed with the use of references, as these can easily devour character
counts. I am happy to back up any assertion that Con requests, and I encourage him to do the same. Likewise, if I am unfamiliar with some fact, I can ask him to source it for me. This will save time and effort. The main problem that Con and I are going to
be facing in this debate is that 8000 character limit. The size and scope of this subject is staggering, and trying to determine what to leave in and what to leave out is maddening.

It is my burden to demonstrate that the King Arthur story does not significantly predate 1136, when Geoffrey of Monmouth produced his fanciful “History of the Kings of Britain.” I will rely on Con to demonstrate the evidence that the King Arthur legend does indeed predate the 12th Century.

As I cannot prove a negative, that is, I cannot prove that Arthur exists nowhere in all of literature prior to 1136, I will be further depending on Con to produce the best evidence that he can find to support the case that he does. I will then harshly evaluate this evidence, and in this way we will establish (if not the absolute proof that Arthur did not exist before Geoffrey) that there is no real evidence for the proposition.

Here are a few of the bit more obvious reasons for my assertion that King Arthur does not appear in literature before Geoffrey.
  • There is no mention of anyone in any literature that mentions a King named Arthur, who bears even the remotest resemblance to the descriptions presented by Geoffrey, de Chrétien, or Mallory.
  • There are references in early literature that do indeed name a hero named “Arthur.” However, these Arthurs all seem to be semi-mythic extra-worldly beings, with superhuman n and magical abilities.
  • There is no manuscript that mentions anyone named Arthur that can be dated to before 828, when the History of the Britons was produced. Even this reference is highly suspicious – apparently a later interpolation.

In short, here is my perspective:

  1. Every appearance of any hero named “Arthur” that predates Geoffrey shows him to be a sort of magical demigod, and never a King. This forces us to consider the possibility that the early literature may have been describing another, separate hero – also named Arthur – but not the same character as that described by Geoffrey.
  2. After the History of the Britons was produced (around 830 CE), there seems to have been an attempt by some writer to place Arthur into historical settings. During this period, Arthur no longer battles werewolf armies or storms into crystal fortresses. After 830, he begins to resemble an actual, if superhuman, man.
  3. During this period, there also is a push to connect Arthur to the Christian church. This could explain why scribes began referring to him as a human – so that he could work as a spokesman for the Gregorian Mission in Kent.
  4. Geoffrey seems to have known a few details about this mythical Arthur, and yet completely ignored his superhuman powers.
  5. Geoffrey makes an obvious attempt to render Arthur as a fully human person – and is the first writer to suggest that he was a king.
  6. There should be significant evidence of Arthur's existence in literature. There should be place-names, poems, songs, baby names and other evidence of this character.

It is my opinion that the Arthur character was a composite, with elements taken from local history and legends, as well as the sponsor of Geoffrey of Monmouth, Robert, Earl of Gloucester.

Space permitting, I will describe some of the elements that I feel demonstrate that King Arthur was created by Geoffrey in order to promote his sponsors claim to the throne of England, to promote the Welsh, and to replace a hated Anglo Saxon king with a British equivalent.



Thank you for posting this debate im most excited!
Also i'd like to say any grammatical errors im sorry my keyboard isnt great and the buttons stick.
Anyhow i will be trying to prove that Geoffrey did not make up the character of king Arthur as well as trying to prove he existed.

So here goes.

As both me and my opponent will admit, while the Arthur tales may or may not be true, we can agree on these points:

1)Knights of the round table? Not true.
2)Merlin-A character probably based on a high ranking advisor to the king.

Point 1 - The Name - The name Arthur is suggested by some to be derived from the Celtic "Artu" or "Artos", a bear, or the Irish "art", a stone. It is more probably of Latin origin. This could mean the name was a common name, therefore i support your claim that the older workings of arthur may have been a different being. But it is unlikely that they are all someone else.

My opponent talked of older tales of Arthur depicting him as a type of "Demi-God", This is true however i believe in arthurs time (assuming he existed) There will have been poets and writers who were paid to exaggerate Arthur's qualities, and then proceed to spread the tales around the land. A king would have paid highly for this service and its likely they are tales of him but they probably aren't very accurate.

Also they are all very similiar tales and such can be counted as partly reliable sources.
Debate Round No. 2


I want to thank Con for being so concise; this is a massive topic, and suffers from a ‘minimum level of complexity,’ which tends to require long explanations. Maintaining focus will help remedy that tendency somewhat. Although the voters will evaluate this debate according to their own counsel, I am hopeful that Con’s technical difficulties are not graded too harshly. I am willing to ask that some consideration is made for this.

It has also occurred to me that some elements of this discussion will necessarily consist of technobabble that may be obscure for some readers. Therefore, I feel that I should explain myself better to these readers than I have so far. I think this step is important for our discussion, and so I must sacrifice the bulk of this round to providing this important background information.

Historical Background

Geoffrey Arthur of Monmouth:
This cleric is important to our story, because I believe that the King Arthur legend began with him. He wrote the “History of the Kings of Britain” sometime around the year 1136, which first names King Arthur as a side-character in a larger narrative history of the kings who had rule over Britain to his day.

Since Arthur’s character was still somewhat lacking in detail, the story was picked up and embellished by Chrétien de Troy, and later completed in the masterpiece, “The Romance of Arthur,” which was credited to an unknown and obscure writer named Sir Thomas Mallory.

The Arthurian tales that come after Geoffrey of Monmouth are known to researchers as “Galfridian,” after the Latin version of Geoffrey’s name, and those which came before Geoffrey are called “Pre-Galfridian.”

Geoffrey wrote the “History of the Kings of Britain” which I will reference often. A PDF copy of this important book can be obtained for free, at this link:

Britain is not England:
Many Americans can be forgiven for not recognizing this fact. “British” refers to the indigenous peoples of the Island, while “English” refers to those Anglo-Saxon migrants who began to settle on the island after the collapse of Rome. In other words, the British are to the English as the Native Americans are to the Colonists. The British supported Rome, were nominally Christian, and unorganized and illiterate compared to the Germanic peoples that settled the Eastern half of the Island. The Angles (who ruled over the regions that became known as Angle-Land, or England), did not support Rome, and were Odinists (worshipping the god Odin, a variant of Wotan) until the establishment of the Gregorian Mission in 596. The Angles had a complex government based on family rule, and they produced poetry and managed complex economic systems.

Importantly, King Arthur was described by Geoffrey (who was Welsh, and therefore, British), as British, and not English. The idea of an English King Arthur strikes many citizens of the modern day UK as outrageous.

The period of Anglo Saxon rule ended with the advent of the “Danelaw,” when Danish Vikings destroyed most of the culture on the Eastern portion of the Island. The withdrawal of the Danes finally allowed the British to prosper politically and culturally.

Dark Ages:
The Dark Ages in this region lasted from the withdrawal of Roman garrisons from the Island, around 410 CE, and continued during the “Migratory Period,” which lasted until about 700 CE. The Migratory Period refers to the mass migration of Germanic peoples westward following the collapse of Rome. The Dark Ages on the Island ended at around the year 800. There were no “British Golden Ages” during this time, although there were times of relative prosperity among the Anglo Saxon kingdoms, and especially within the Central Kingdom of Mercia. The final of these periods of Merican prosperity seems to have ended the dark ages in this region, but all such cultural, economic and military gains were erased by the subsequent Danish Viking invasions.

Regional Political Climate:
The region was in anarchy following the withdrawal of Rome. This political and cultural chaos lasted until the Anglo Saxon settlements began to exert lasting influence, finally culminating in the period of Mercian Supremacy, during the “Seven Kingdoms Era” (also called the Heptarchy) of English history. The Seven Kingdoms consisted of Mercia, East Anglia, Wessex, Sussex, Wales, Northumbria, and Kent. These seven kingdoms were interspersed with smaller protectorates, which had limited political or military power. Of the Seven Kingdoms, only Wales can be seriously considered as fully “British.” During the final years of Merician Supremacy, for example, the Mercian King had direct rule over most of the Island, with his son-in-laws overseeing every other important nation except Wessex and Wales.

My Take:
My purpose for providing this short history is to demystify some of the argumentation, and to make a very simple point: There was no recorded British Golden Age during the British Dark Ages. Therefore, there was no opportunity for a British overlord of King Arthur’s stature to emerge, and enter the areas literary traditions. There was also no opportunity for British literature post-Rome to advance the legend of King Arthur, or any other literary figure for that matter.

Although there are recorded instances of the name “Arthur” appearing in regional literature dating back to c.830, there is no compelling reason why we must believe that these bare references are recounting the same character as the King Arthur described by Geoffrey. Nowhere is this personage called “King,” and he is never credited with any particular period of rule. In fact, the Pre-Galfridan Arthurs are wholly unrecognizable as the King that modern readers know.
According to the research of Thomas Greene, the Early Arthur is universally described as if he were a supernatural, rather than human, protector of Britain. This tradition seems to hold that Arthur was the leader of a war-band of heroes that included former pagan gods, and who did battle against werewolves, giants, witches, cat-monsters and other supernatural threats.
[Source: “Concepts of Arthur” by Thomas Green. Website:]

To catalog each instance of the name Arthur appearing before 1000CE would be far to character consuming to manage here. Therefore, I encourage all interested readers to analyze Thomas Green’s research into the Pre-Galfridian legends at their leisure, here:

My argument, therefore, remains unchanged. I have researched this topic extensively, and I have found no description of any King Arthur, or any figure that resembles King Arthur, before Geoffrey. Although there do exist instances of the name “Arthur” being used, none of these meet the minimum necessary conditions required to positively identify them as being early descriptions of King Arthur. I believe that this minimum level of complexity requires that King Arthur be at least a King of some note, as well as obviously human. I do not believe that these conditions are met by the Pre-Galfridian literature.

I maintain that the Arthur legend evolved into the version that modern readers understand, and that this evolution “modernized” at Geoffrey. There may be good reasons however, to second guess this assumption, and say that Geoffrey invented his character entirely on his own, and only lent him the name “Arthur.” I agree with much of the research done by Thomas Green that this character evolved from understood myths, and was written into historical traditions later in its development. I believe that the modern concept of Arthur began with the popularity of Geoffrey of Monmouth’s History of the Kings of Britain and did not exist in that familiar form more than 100 years before Geoffrey’s time.

Unless some counter examples exist that I am unaware of, I must conclude that Geoffrey provided the earliest blueprint for this character.



CaldamanTSP forfeited this round.
Debate Round No. 3


I regret that my partner was unable to participate this round. I hope that he is well, and will return soon. It is unfortunate that I require the evidence that was to be presented by my partner here, so that the counter evidence could be evaluated.

Since I have been afforded a “free round,” with no rebuttals needed, I can do something I otherwise could not: I can describe the way that historians who lived at the same time as Geoffrey reacted to his assertions. These contemporaries seem very surprised to have heard of his “King Arthur.” It seems that these men were surprised to learn of the existence of “King Arthur,” although they recognized some resemblance to Welsh folklore – they did not recognize any such monarch.

To illustrate this, I will present the following statement, from William of Newburgh, who was so comically outraged by Geoffrey of Monmouth’s descriptions of King Arthur, that he dedicated the Preface to his own work, "Historia Rerum Anglicarum" to denouncing Geoffrey. It cannot be argued that the King Arthur stories were well known if these contemporaries had not heard of him.

I will quote as much of the Preface as I am able, because any fan of King Arthur will enjoy reading the hilarious venom and rage with which William discusses the subject. There is no better rebuttal to Geoffrey’s fanciful history than this, as told by as reputable a historian that can be found in the 12th century, William of Newburgh:

“A writer in our times has started up and invented the most ridiculous fictions
concerning (the Britons), and with unblushing effrontery, extols them far above
the Macedonians and Romans. He is called Geoffrey, surnamed Arthur, from having
given, in a Latin version, the fabulous exploits of Arthur, and endeavored to
dignify them with the name of authentic history…”

Moreover, no one but a person ignorant of ancient history, when he meets with that book
which he calls the History of the Britons, can for a moment doubt how
impertinently and impudently he falsifies in every respect

Now, since it is evident that these facts are established with historical
authenticity by the venerable Bede, it appears that whatever Geoffrey has
written, subsequent to Vortigern, either of Arthur, or his successors, or
predecessors, is a fiction, invented either by himself or by others, and
promulgated either through an unchecked propensity to falsehood, or a desire to
please the Britons, of whom vast numbers are said to be so stupid as to assert
that Arthur is yet to come. He also mentions Uther Pendragon, his brother, as
his successor, whom, he pretends, reigned with equal power and glory, adding a
vast deal from Merlin, out of his profuse addiction to lying. On the decease of
Uther Pendragon, he makes his son Arthur succeed to the kingdom of Britain --
the fourth in succession from Vortigern, in like manner as our Bede places
Ethelberht, the patron of Augustine, fourth from Hengist in the government of
the Angles. Therefore, the reign of Arthur, and the arrival of Augustine in
England, ought to coincide.

But how much plain historical truth outweighs concerted fiction may, in this
particular, be perceived even by a purblind man through his mind's eye.
Moreover, he depicts Arthur himself as great and powerful beyond all men, and
as celebrated in his exploits as he chose to feign him. First, he makes him
triumph, at pleasure, over Angles, Picts, and Scots; then, he subdues Ireland,
the Orkneys, Gothland, Norway, Denmark, partly by war, partly by the single
terror of his name. To these he adds Iceland, which, by some, is called the
remotest Thule, in order that what a noble poet flatteringly said to the Roman
Augustus, "The distant Thule shall confess thy sway," might apply to
the British Arthur. Next, he makes him attack, and speedily triumph over, Gaul
-- a nation which Julius Caesar, with infinite peril and labor, was scarcely
able to subjugate in ten years -- as though the little finger of the British
was more powerful than the loins of the mighty Caesar. After this, with
numberless triumphs, he brings him back to England, where he celebrates his
conquests with a splendid banquet with his subject-kings and princes, in the
presence of the three archbishops of the Britons, that is London, Carleon, and
York -- whereas, the Britons at that time never had an archbishop. Augustine,
having received the pall from the Roman pontiff, was made the first archbishop
in Britain; for the barbarous nations of Europe, though long since converted to
the Christian faith, were content with bishops, and did not regard the
prerogative of the pall. Lastly, the Irish, Norwegians, Danes, and Goths,
though confessedly Christians, for a long while possessed only bishops, and had
no archbishops until our own time.

Next this fabler, to carry his Arthur to the highest summit, makes him declare
war against the Romans, having, however, first vanquished a giant of surprising
magnitude in single combat, though since the times of David we never read of
giants. Then, with a wider license of fabrication, he brings all the kings of
the world in league with the Romans against him; that is to say, the kings of
Greece, Africa, Spain, Parthia, Media, Iturea, Libya, Egypt, Babylon, Bithynia,
Phrygia, Syria, Boeotia, and Crete, and he relates that all of them were
conquered by him in a single battle; whereas, even Alexander the Great,
renowned throughout all ages, was engaged for twelve years in vanquishing only
a few of the potentates of these mighty kingdoms. Indeed, he makes the little
finger of his Arthur more powerful than the loins of Alexander the Great; more
especially when, previous to the victory over so many kings, he introduces him
relating to his comrades the subjugation of thirty kingdoms by his and their
united efforts; whereas, in fact, this romancer will not find in the world so
many kingdoms, in addition to those mentioned, which he had not yet subdued.
Does he dream of another world possessing countless kingdoms, in which the circumstances
he has related took place? Certainly, in our own orb no such events have
happened. For how would the elder historians, who were ever anxious to omit
nothing remarkable, and even recorded trivial circumstances, pass by unnoticed
so incomparable a man, and such surpassing deeds? How could they, I repeat, by
their silence, suppress Arthur, the British monarch (superior to Alexander the
Great), and his deeds?

Since, therefore, the ancient historians make not the slightest mention of these
matters, it is plain that whatever this man published of Arthur and of Merlin
are mendacious fictions, invented to gratify the curiosity of the undiscerning.
Moreover, it is to be noted that he subsequently relates that the same Arthur
was mortally wounded in battle, and that, after having disposed of his kingdom
he retired into the island of Avallon, according to the British fables, to be
cured of his wounds; not daring, through fear of the Britons, to assert that he
was dead -- he whom these truly silly Britons declare is still to come. Of the
successors of Arthur he feigns, with similar effrontery, giving them the
monarchy of Britain, even to the seventh generation, making those noble kings
of the Angles (whom the venerable Bede declares to have been monarchs of
Britain) their slaves and vassals.

Therefore, let Bede, of whose wisdom and integrity none can doubt, possess our
unbounded confidence, and let this fabler, with his fictions, be instantly
rejected by all.”

William of Newburgh, "Historia
Rerum Anglicarum"
c 1198 (Preface


CaldamanTSP forfeited this round.
Debate Round No. 4


This debate has obviously been forfeited, I will wait out the clock rather than continue. Thank you to everyone who wishes to vote in the matter.


CaldamanTSP forfeited this round.
Debate Round No. 5
2 comments have been posted on this debate. Showing 1 through 2 records.
Posted by EricPrice 4 years ago
As do I. I've nearly a week left, and I am optimistic that the old King has a few fans remaining that are willing to test my hypothesis.
Posted by brian_eggleston 4 years ago
Interesting topic, I hope you get a worthy opponent.
1 votes has been placed for this debate.
Vote Placed by Ron-Paul 4 years ago
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Total points awarded:40 
Reasons for voting decision: FF.