|Aside from the alleged deeds of the Arthur-like figure, Jeffery of Monmouth’s History of the Kings of Britain is the most vital cornerstone of the Arthurian tradition. It was a bestseller throughout Europe with over 200 surviving manuscripts and ushered in the 12th century explosion of Arthurian narratives.|
- Monmouth claims that Walter, Archdeacon of Oxford had given him the book, which he had described as being written in an ancient language, which he used as a base inspiration, and alleged translation, of his history. Modern researchers have concluded that the book has since been lost to time or perhaps existed as part of the oral tradition. Other still yet think that Monmouth may have just claimed an originating text in order to popularize and legitimate his narrative.
- Regarding the genre of the text, it should be considered as political instead of historical, religious, or cultural. The text attempts to chart Britain’s legacy by associating its founding with Brutus—great-grandson of Aeneis—and by extension, it’s founding with the city of Troy. Doing so, it revises history so as to posit Britain as a great power.
- It is important to recognize that during this time it was considered a great skill to plagiarize and re-work material into new formations. So it is either the case that Monmouth was a great creative writer—as posited through his heavily plagiarized works—or he truly was working from another text which has since been lost to time.
- Evidence suggests that Monmouth may have been from Brittany. His political goals seemed to have been to confirm England’s descendants as glorious and honored, i.e., also Welsh and the Bretons influence; secondly, his other goal was to glorify the then ruling Norman aristocracy.
- In his dedication, for example, he sought to win favor with both sides of the royal court in the then civil conflict between siblings. An additional aspect of his deference to Norman culture was to be found in the text itself which, in its translated prose, the name of Merlin (Nyrddin), is similar to that of “shit.” So, Monmouth takes pains to alter his name until we arrive at the contemporary spelling of Merlin as we know it today.
- An additional aspect of Monmouth’s text is that it introduces us to Mordred’s betrayal of Arthur as Arthur is adventuring on the continent. Additionally, Monmouth introduces the idea that Arthur is to return someday after he has recovered from his battle wounds: this is the first time such an idea was broached in what we may call Arthurian literature. One last and hugely important contribution that Monmouth made to the Arthurian canon was the introduction of courtly love, or, of knights questing in order to win curry with a princess or fair lady. This is an invention of Monmouth as in previous Arthurian tales King Arthur lives not in a castle, with a court as we think of it with finely clothed upper-class intellectuals indulging themselves in food and wine, but in a hall, a more tribal setting which are cruder and more pagan-oriented. So it is only in Monmouth’s texts that the idea of a refined courtly romance is introduced and connected to adventure and questing; what this serves is the foundation of what we know as the Arthurian legend in modern times.