Was King Arthur Really King McArthur?

James Owen in London
for National Geographic News
July 28, 2004

So who was King Arthur, and where was Camelot?

Most people associate him with southwest England, a region steeped in Arthurian tales of wizards, sword-wielding aquatic ladies, and knights in shining armor.

This version of the legend has been popularized since medieval times, particularly by English kings, poets, and noblemen who regarded Arthur's Camelot and his Knights of the Round Table as the ideal chivalric court.

King Arthur, the new Hollywood movie, takes a different direction. This Arthur, played by Clive Owen, is based on a historical figure, Lucius Artorius Castus, who was born in Samaria, an ancient region in what is now Ukraine.

The location, too, is different, with the action moving to Hadrian's Wall in northern England, where our hero battles against pagan tribes.

This interpretation is an improvement, according to Hugh McArthur, a Scottish historian from Glasgow.

"The film brings the story much closer to home," he said. "If they had just extended it a bit further north then you're probably in the right geography." McArthur also approves of the depiction of Guinevere, Arthur's queen, as a Pict. The Picts were an ancient north-Scottish people.

McArthur says the real-life Guinevere was a Pictish noblewoman, born and bred in Scotland. (However, he's not so sure about the leather bikini worn by Keira Knightely, the actress who plays her.)

Other than that, he says, Hollywood has got it wrong.

McArthur is one of a growing number of Arthurian experts who believe the legend belongs north of the English-Scottish border. He says historical evidence points to Arthur coming from what is now Scotland, not from Cornwall in southwest England, or, indeed, anywhere else.

Ancient Strathclyde

Continued on Next Page >>




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