King Arthur and the Myth of History considers why, in the 12th century, tales of a 6th-century British king who achieved immortality in an apparently hopeless struggle to repel Saxon invaders, suddenly emerged full blown, virtually from nowhere, Further, why did this figure from the margins of the Norman empire suddenly become an important subject of historical writing at the center of that empire, and why has he since continued to be an enduring cultural icon? Laurie Finke and Martin Shichtman contend that Arthur has been employed by historians as a potent but empty symbol, deployed to legitimize institutional political ambitions during times of social stress. The study focuses on three periods of cultural crisis: the Norman colonization of England in the 11th and 12th centuries, the war of the Roses in the 15th century, and the rise and resurgence of fascism in 20th-century Europe. It examines four English chronicles of the Norman period - those of William of Malmesbury, Geoffrey of Monmouth, Wace, and Layamon. Other chapters investigate John Hardyng's Chronicle, and Malory's Morte Darthur, both produced during the tumult of the Wars of the Roses.
Laurie A. Finke is chair of the Women and Gender Studies Program at Kenyon College and author of Feminist Theory, Women's Writing. Martin B. Shichtman is professor of English at Eastern Michigan University and co-editor of Culture and the King.