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Depictions of the Scots in the Arthurian Legend

Howard Pyle illustration from the 1903 edition of The Story of King Arthur and His Knights Depictions of the Scots in the Arthurian Legend

Diana Jefferies

Journal of the Sydney Society for Scottish History: Vol 14 (2013)

Abstract

This paper will explore how motifs of Scotland and Scottishness are portrayed in medieval versions of the Arthurian Legend. I will discuss how the context of what is alleged to be the first literary reference to Arthur, found in a poem, dated to the sixth century by scholars mourning the death of warriors from the kingdoms of Gododdin and Rheged in Southern Scotland, is very different to the portrayal of the Scottish faction, King Lot of the Orkneys and Lothian and his family, in Sir Thomas Malory’s Marte Darthur, written in 1470. Whereas in Y gadaddin, warriors settled in the southern regions of Scotland, are praised and compared to an Arthur, who is portrayed as the ultimate exponent of fighting prowess, in Sir Thomas Malory’s Morte D’arthur, it is the family of Lot who set in motion the events that lead to Arthur’s final battle on Salisbury Plain where he is mortally wounded by his son, Mordred, and his glorious civilization is swept away.

Although the first mention of Arthur could be in a Scottish poem, by the end of the medieval period, the Scottish characters in Malory have an ambiguous status. To arrive at how this literary turnaround occurred, the history and context of Arthurian literature must be explored and this is a journey that takes us throughout Britain. It only by following the development of the legend that we can come to understand how the Arthurian legend, whose literary life seems to begin in Scotland, is fully integrated into the literary lore of England and how the Scottish characters associated with the legend are problematized.

Click here to read this article fromĀ Journal of the Sydney Society for Scottish History



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