Sunday, May 14, 2023

The Matter of Britain

Just like the Matter of France, the Matter of Britain is a collection of legends and literature involving kings and heroes.

King Arthur was central to many of these legends, but not the only figure. The Knights of the Round Table was fodder for many stories that promoted chivalrous behavior and Christian values wrapped in mysterious powers and fantastical antagonists.

The 12th century poet Chrétien de Troyes, though French, contributes to the Matter of Britain with stories of Perceval, Lancelot, Yvain, and the Story of the Grail. Thomas Malory's 15th century Le Morte d'Arthur was the ultimate expression of the Arthurian Cycle.

The 12th century Historia Regum Britanniae ("History of the Kings of Britain") by Geoffrey of Monmouth collects many earlier texts and provides us with the stories of King Coel, making him the father of Helena. This is also the source of Shakespeare's King Lear.

One of the earliest works in the Matter of Britain is the 9th century Historia Brittonum by Nennius (to be fair: Nennius was likely a later contributor to the work; the original author is unknown). One of Nennius' singular contributions to the Matter of Britain is the idea that Britain was found and founded by Brutus or Brute of Troy, Britain's first king  and a descendant of Aeneas. Using the legend of the diaspora of heroes after the Trojan War, this created a desirable link to Rome through its Virgilian founder, Aeneas.

And that was important because Rome and its Empire was the "Golden Age" that Western Europe looked back at and longed to recreate, hence the Holy Roman Empire. As it happens, the third and final of the Matters was the Matter of Rome. I'll tell you more next time.

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