The Matter of Britain

"Ne sont que iii matières à nul homme atandant,  De France et de Bretaigne, et de Rome la grant."

"There are but 3 literary cycles that no one should be without: The matter of France, of Britain, and of great Rome."

-- Jean Bodel: Chanson de Saisnes (12th Century CE)

 Major Literary Lineage of the Arthurian Legend (an introduction)

 I.  Pre-historic materials

A.      Celtic mythos of “Graal” and other sacred implements; Faerie, heroes.

II.   Early historical materials

A.     Nennius (8th Century CE): Historia Brittonum: Arthur as a Celtic “Dux Bellorum” vs the Saxons.
Text at and

B.      Annales Cambriae (ca. 960 – 980 CE)

III.  The Mabinogion

A.     Collection of Welsh myths – probably from ca. 1000 – 1100 CE

B.      In “Culhwch and Olwen” and “The Dream of Rhonabwy,” "The Lady of the Fountain," "Peredur, son of Efrawg," "Gereint, son of Erbin," very early Arthurian material is preserved

C.      Text available at

IV.  Geoffrey of Monmouth

A.     Prophetiae Merlini (pre-1135)

B.      Historia Regum Britanniae (ca 1135): Arthurian materials at

C.      Vita Merlini (1149-1151)

Geoffrey considerably embellishes British history, tying it to classical Greco-Roman history

V.  Wace (1115-1183 CE)

A.       Roman de Brut (1155), based on Geoffrey of Monmouth, “first to mention the legend of King Arthur's Round Table and the first to ascribe the name Excalibur to Arthur's sword, although he on the whole adds only minor details to Geoffrey's text.”

VI.  Chrétien de Troyes (last half 12th Century)

A.      Lancelot, the Knight of the Cart (1177-1181)

VII.  Marie de France (late 12th Century early 13th Century)

A.      Lanval: Text available at

 VIIIThe Vulgate Cycle or the “Lancelot-Graal” Cycle (12th – 13th Centuries)

A.      Lancelot Propre (Lancelot Proper), c. 1225.; Queste del Saint Graal (Quest of the Holy Grail), c. 1230.; Mort le roi Artu (Death of King Arthur), c. 1235.; L'Estoire du Graal (History of the Grail), c. 1240.; Vulgate Merlin or Prose Merlin, c. 1240; Post-Vulgate Cycle Titles (13th Century): Roman du Graal (Romance of the Grail); Suite du Merlin (Merlin Continuation); Livre d'Artu (The Book of Arthur); Le Roman de Tristan de Léonois (Prose Tristan).

Information at:  

IX.  Sir Thomas Mallory

A.     Le Morte d’Arthur (1485), the basis for much of modern Arthurian material.

B.      Middle English text at

C.      Modernized text at

X.  Notable Modern Arthurian Works

A.     Alfred Lord Tennyson: The Idylls of the King (1859)

B.      Charles Williams: Taliessin through Logres (1938) and The Region of the Summer Stars (1944), The Figure of Arthur, in Arthurian Torso, along with C.S. Lewis's commentary on Williams's Arthurian poetry, (1948).

C.      T.H. White: The Once and Future King (1938-1958) & The Book of Merlyn (1977)

D.      Mary Stewart: The Merlin Trilogy: The Crystal Cave (1970); The Hollow Hills (1973); The Last Enchantment (1979)

E.      Tim Powers: The Drawing of the Dark (1979): Arthur, Merlin and the siege of Vienna!

F.       Jack Whyte: A Dream of Eagles series (in Canada), aka The Camulod Chronicles in US and abroad (1992 and continuing):  The Skystone; The Singing Sword; The Eagles' Brood; The Saxon Shore; The Fort at River's Bend; The Sorcerer: Metamorphosis; Uther; Clothar the Frank (Can), The Lance Thrower (US). The series is distinguished by historical, rather than magical, explanations for Arthur's Kingdom.

G.      Marion Zimmer Bradley: Avalon Series: The Mists of Avalon (1979); The Forest House (1993) (with Diana L Paxson); Lady of Avalon (1997) (with Diana L Paxson); The Forests of Avalon (1998); (Posthumous): Priestess of Avalon (2000) (with Diana L Paxson); The Ancestors of Avalon (2004) (with Diana L Paxson)

 Some resources on the Arthurian Legend and History “The Holy Grail.” Webpage. Extensive links and references:

 Ashe, Geoffrey. The Quest for Arthur's Britain. Chicago: Academy Chicago Publishers, 1994.

Georgetown University. Arthurian Studies. Website
. Created 1994-2001. Accessed May 6, 2005.

Green, Thomas. Arthurian Resources. Website Created 2004. Accessed May 6, 2005.

 Goodrich, Norma Lorre. King Arthur. New York: F. Watts, 1986.

 ___________________.  Merlin. New York: F. Watts, 1987.

 Lacy, Norris J., Geoffrey Ashe and Debra N. Mancoff. The Arthurian Handbook. New York: Garland Pub., 1997.

 Lacy, Norris J., Geoffrey Ashe, et al., eds. The New Arthurian Encyclopedia. New York: Garland Pub, 1996.

 Littleton, C. Scott. From Scythia to Camelot: a Radical Reassessment of the legends of King Arthur, the Knights of the Round Table, and the Holy Grail. New York: Garland, 2000.

 Loomis, Roger Sherman. The Grail: from Celtic myth to Christian symbol. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1991.

 Matthews, John, ed. An Arthurian Reader: selections from Arthurian legend, scholarship, and story. New York, NY: 1988.

 Nuttall, Glen. Artorius Dux Bellorum: The Real King Arthur. Accessed May 6, 2005.

University of Rochester. The Camelot Project. Website. Updated March 24, 2005. Accessed May 6, 2005.


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