Matter of Britain

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Throughout the Middle Ages and beyond, there were three great cycles of myths and stories that formed the storehouse on which creative writers in western Europe 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 Matter of Britain includes the legendary pre-history of the British Isles, particularly of the Welsh. It includes Leir, also written as Llŷr (Welsh)and Ler (Irish), who was the origin of Shakespeare's King Lear, and its anonymous predecessor King Leir (1605); Cunobeline, whose name becomes Cymbeline in another play by Shakespeare; Cassivellaunus (who fought Julius Caesar), Coel Hen, Caractacus (Caradoc or Caradog in Welsh) and Cadwallader (Welsh Cadwaladr).

But the major concern of the Matter of Britain, as well as the majority of the interest in it in recent years, are the stories told of King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table.

  • The centre of these to early writers was the Quest for the Holy Grail. In various different sources, the Grail is 'achieved' (seen, or found) by Sir Percival, Sir Gawain and Sir Galahad. The stories of the various quests for the Grail were all written between 1180 and 1230.
  • After that, the Romances begin to follow matters of love.
    • The tale of Lancelot and Guinevere is a tragic account of the power of love, and of loyalty and betrayal. It leads to the end of Camelot, and the death of Arthur.
    • The love of Tristan and Iseult is also a tragic affair involving the power of love (here, a love potion) and questions of loyalty.

Kay (Welsh Cai)


Lancelot & Guinevere

King Lodegrean (or Leodegrance

Tristan and Iseult









Morgana la Fay



Siege Perilous