Originating Britain: Welsh Literature and the Arthurian Tradition

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Abstract

Early Welsh literature, dating from the ninth to twelfth centuries, presents an origin legend of Britain that differs from the account given by Geoffrey of Monmouth in his Historia Regum Britanniae. While Geoffrey claims a Trojan origin for Britain, justifying the later Norman occupation of the island, Welsh tradition posits an autochthonous British foundation hero, Prydein, whose most famous successor was Arthur, king of Britain. In some of the key texts from early Welsh literature, including the Triads, Culhwch ac Olwen, and Breuddwyd Rhonabwy, Arthur is used to support the Welsh belief in their ancient right to rule the whole island of Britain, a right that was usurped by the Saxons and entirely overridden by the Normans. Yet the evidence also suggests that by the twelfth century writers and churchmen were turning away from the Welsh version of British history, satirizing Arthur and his mythical past as mere illusions.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationA Companion to British Literature
EditorsRobert DeMaria Jr, Heesok Chang
Place of PublicationOxford
PublisherWiley-Blackwell
Chapter20
Pages308-22
ISBN (Print)9780470656044 , 9781118827338
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 10 Jan 2014

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