The Construction of the Arthurian in the Sixteenth and Early Seventeenth Centuries

Sjoerd Levelt

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The waning of the Middle Ages by no means marked the end of the Arthurian tradition . While Polydore Vergil in the first half of the sixteenth century had convincingly dismissed Geoffrey of Monmouth’s Historia regum Britannie, and especially its information about Brutus and King Arthur, as unreliable, this by no means meant the end of the discussion of Arthur’s reign by serious historians. In fact, Polydore Vergil’s assault on Galfridian historiography can be seen as a catalyst for much discussion of Arthurian histories – and for renewed attention for the relevant sources, such as Gildas, Nennius, William of Malmesbury, Henry of Huntingdon, William of Newburgh, Gerald of Wales, as well as Geoffrey of Monmouth himself – among subsequent historians in the later sixteenth and early seventeenth century. And such continued dissemination of Arthurian narratives was by no means restricted to the realm of historiography ; as we shall see, from broadside ballads to epic poetry, from treatises of heraldry to political prophecy, widely shared knowledge of Arthurian narrative informed debates and the stories of Arthur, « our stories », continued to function prominently throughout English literary and political culture. I shall argue in this article that it is exactly in this period and in this context of continued Arthurian traditions that « the Arthurian » first became conceptualized as a focus of literary and historical criticism.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationLa matière arthurienne tardive en Europe
PublisherPresses Universitaires de Rennes
ISBN (Print)9782753577787
Publication statusPublished - 8 Oct 2020


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