This is really excellent book. There is excellent detailed coverage of the development of the Arthur legend, though little about political motives for various developments. Hibbert identifies what and where he thinks Arthur was. He makes an excellent case for thinking Arthur succeeded Marcus Aurelius, was based in southwestern England, and served as a Roman-style Britain-wide military leader against the Celts. He is right; if Marcus Aurelius ruled a powerful area in southwestern England just before Arthur's time and was not Arthur, then Arthur must have succeeded him in some sense of the word, in military power in the same region. Arthur was active at the beginning of the 6th century and died between 537 and 542 AD. He also points out that by the end of the 6th century kings all over Britain were naming sons after Arthur, which requires that someone like him had lived.
While I was looking for historical evidence about Arthur's identity, I especially liked Hibbert's characterization of Arthur. Like most successful dark age warlords, Arthur wasn't necessarily likeable. He killed two of his sons in battle, one of whom wasn't the son of a woman he was married to when he was conceived. His sons weren't nice people; what could have raised them. He may also have taken money from monasteries, possibly by force. Hibbert explains that Gildas, a contemporary monk and historian, describes the events but doesn't name Arthur, or does he. Actually, he may mention having served Arthur, "the Bear". It is not clear if Arthur's name came from the Roman name Artorius or the Briton word for bear, or both. Gildas' brother claimed a kingdom in Scotland, and made a deal with the Pictish leader to be able to make his claim. This forced Arthur to attack and kill him. Gildas would not have cared for Arthur. As for taking money from monasteries, the money for the military campaigns came from somewhere. If Arthur did take money from monasteries, than Gildas certainly did not like him.
The largest deficiency in his book is that he slightly glosses over the archeological evidence on the two southwestern English centers where Arthur lived. Another is that he leaves out the plague, which would have conclusively strengthened his case. In the early 530s Krakatoa did one of its most powerful eruptions ever, creating the Sunda Strait in Indonesia, and creating years of climate disaster, famine, and civil and military upheaval worldwide. Bubonic plague broke out in East Africa, spread along trade routes to the Mediterranean, then spread to southwestern England. The effects are documented historically and archeologically, and mentioned in most accounts of King Arthur, and a number of other medieval Welsh sources. The population was decimated. People were dead in the fields and there was noone to harvest grain. Similar plague stories survive from other parts of Europe. Eventually the Saxons took advantage of the loss of population to spread across southwestern and western ENgland. The fact that this proven historical event is mentioned in most Arthur stories is remarkable, nd not possible if they were made up. It proves Arthur existed and proves he existed in southwestern England. The plague mostly hit southwestern England on account of its strong trade ties with the MEditerranean. The Saxons traded mostly with Germany and scandinavia and weren't hit by the plague.
What I least liked about the book is the brilliant artwork of a 15th or 16th century French king or Holy Roman Emperor on the cover. What the ....?!! A dark age warrior or Roman knight (there actually were Roman knights) would have been A LOT more appropriate. Most of all, someone is likely to conclude from the cover that the book has little worth! I nearly did! And then there's the review by the guy who bought the book thinking it is a novel based on legends of King Arthur, and went ape when he found out he had to read, because he didn't read what the book is about, just looked at that stupid cover. I think he's a valid claim to get his money back. That cover is criminally deceptive. The cover makes the book look appealing to people who don't like to read!
The tales of King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table are among the best-known stories in the world, but they are often relegated to the realm of legend. However, Arthur was a man, not a myth. In this book, acclaimed historian Christopher Hibbert vividly brings to life the sixth-century British monarch and his extraordinary court.
About the Author
Christopher Hibbert is a bestselling historian and the author of over 20 works of history. These include London: The Biography of a City; The Rise and Fall of the House of Medici; The Great Mutiny: India 1857; The French Revolution; The Personal History of Samuel Johnson; The Virgin Queen: The Personal History of Elizabeth I; and Nelson: A Personal History. He lives in Henley-on-Thames.