Arthur

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The name Arthur (pronounced with the stress on the first syllable, 'ARTH-er', IPA: /ˈɑːrθ ər/) has been of great significance in European culture, and is still referenced in writing - currently mostly for children, in the guise of 'famous legends' and in film and television that seeks to embody the old stories and characters in new forms.

  • The significance of Arthur is as the name of one of the great heroes of myth in Europe - see further King Arthur. Throughout the Middle Ages and beyond, there were three great cycles of myths and stories that formed the storehouse on which creative writers drew: one involving King Arthur and his Knights of the Round Table and their various quests, principally that for the Holy Grail (the 'Matter of Britain'). (The other two were the 'Matter of Troy', dealing with the Trojan War, and the 'Matter of France', dealing with Roland and Oliver, paladins (knights) of Charlemagne, and their struggle with the Arabs of Spain.) (The adjective Arthurian, pronounced with the stress on the second syllable 'arth-YOUR-y-en', IPA: /ɑːrθ ˈjuːr ɪ ən/, is almost exclusively used in relation to King Arthur. As a noun, it can also mean 'a student or scholar of the king and the Matter of Britain'.)
    • Arthur Duke of Brittany (1187–1203) was a grandson of Henry II, son of Geoffrey Duke of Brittany and Constance, Duchess of Brittany, whose marriage brought the Duchy of Brittany to her husband. He was named partly in recognition of the great British king of legend. In 1190 he was designated by Richard the Lionheart as heir to the throne of England and the Angevin Empire. (On Richard's deathbed in 1199, he nominated his brother John as heir, as Arthur, at 12 years old, was too young.) "We owe to Ralph of Coggeshall ... the story, later used by Shakespeare as the crux of his King John, of John's ordering Arthur's mutilation [castration and blinding] at Falaise Castle, so that he would no longer be capable or considered worthy of ruling. He was allegedly saved by Hubert de Burgh (d. 1243), who heeded the prisoner's piteous complaints and refused to obey the king's orders" (ODNB). Arthur was certainly not seen after 1203. He may have been struck dead by King John, or drowned on his orders.
    • The name of Arthur was given to the eldest son of Henry VII, the first of a new Welsh dynasty, the Tudors, on the English throne, to capitalize on the wide fame of King Arthur, to make the most of the Welsh nature of the new dynasty and to establish the new start to English government after the Wars of the Roses. Arthur was regarded as a most promising Prince of Wales, until his early death in Ludlow in 1502. His heirship to the throne, as well (with certain complications that led to the Reformation) as his wife Catherine of Aragon, passed to his brother Henry.
  • The name of Arthur was not much used from Tudor times until the nineteenth century, when as the forename of the Duke of Wellington, the hero of Waterloo and later Prime Minister, it enjoyed a popularity, even being the name of Queen Victoria's third son (and seventh child), Prince Arthur, first duke of Connaught and Strathearn (1850–1942), governor-general of Canada.
    • The name, with the legends of, 'Arthur' enjoyed a revival in the late romanticism of the Victorian era, notably in The Idylls of the King and other poems by the Poet Laureate Tennyson and some of the paintings of the Pre-Raphaelites. Tennyson's great friend, and the subject of his masterpiece In Memoriam, was Arthur Henry Hallam (1811–1833).


Etymological note: the origin of the name Arthur is disputed. It may be from a Latin Artōrius (the oldest way it has been found written); from a Brythonic Celtic Arto-rīg-ios, from hypothetical arto-rīg- 'bear-king'; a Welsh arth 'bear' + (g)wr 'man'; or Arcturus, the Latin form of the Greek Αρκτοῦρος, from ἄρκτος 'bear' + οὖρος 'watcher', 'the Guardian of the Bear'. (Arcturus is the brightest star in the constellation Boötes, near Ursa Major or the Great Bear.)