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Tonight on PBS: "Secrets of The Dead; King Arthur's Lost Kingdom" at 9 PM

Really good program tonight on PBS.
"Secrets of The Dead; King Arthur's Lost Kingdom" at 9 PM on most PBS stations,
right after "Nova".
Check your local schedule. Your local PBS station may have it at a different time or on a different night.

Posted by
14293 posts

I've got it as well (for a change) but SIL might be still watching Olympic stuff!

Thanks for posting that. It will be interesting to see what they've found. Oh, maybe I can stream it! Hmmmm...I'm so technologically inept I might have to test this out ahead of time.

Posted by
3824 posts

I hope you guys enjoy it.
The description of the episode says "Archaeological evidence suggests that Arthur lived in the 5th-century following the departure of the Romans from Britain."

Posted by
3961 posts

Thank you! It will be on our PBS station in Seattle, 10:00-11:00p. 109 KCTSD.

Posted by
3824 posts

You are all welcome, and I'm glad to see that a few have an interest in it.
There has been so much controversy as to whether Arthur was real or just a legend.
I am hoping this program tonight will provide some answers.

There are numerous references to Arthur as a real person in ancient historical records.
The monk Nennius (a Welsh monk of the 9th century) gives a detailed description of the life of Arthur in his "Historia Brittonum", history of Britain.
The life of Arthur is also detailed by the 6th-century British monk Gildas in his "De Excidio et Conquestu Britanniae", which recounts the history of the Britons before and during the coming of the Saxons.
I put a great deal more stock in what these monks wrote than what may be written today, because this had been recent history to them.

Gildas lived from 500 to 570, the period following the Romans leaving Britain (in 410 AD) and the Saxons coming to Britain, so he could hardly have been wrong about what he saw and heard happening around him during that period. (Or what his parents and grandparents told him about recent history during their lives.) He was a man of God, so I believe he would have written truthfully. Later in life, he emigrated to Brittany where he founded a monastery known as St Gildas de Rhuys.

Arthur is also featured in the Nine Worthies shown here.
"The 13th-century carving "Nine Good Heroes" at City Hall in Cologne, Germany, is the earliest known representation of the Nine Worthies. From left to right are the three Christians: Charlemagne bearing an eagle upon his shield, King Arthur displaying three crowns, and Godfrey of Bouillon with a dog lying before him; then the three pagans: Julius Caesar, Hector, and Alexander the Great bearing a griffon upon his shield; and finally the three Jews: David holding a sceptre, Joshua, and Judah Maccabee.",_crop-6243.jpg
Photo credit:© Raimond Spekking / CC BY-SA 4.0 (via Wikimedia Commons)

Notice that in this carving done in the 1200's, real people are represented, and Arthur is one of them, standing right beside Charlemagne. Is their placement of Arthur beside Charlemagne an indication of his importance in the opinion of Medieval historians of that time? Was he a real person? Not just a legend? Just wondering.

The fact that this carving is in Cologne, Germany, indicates that his fame had spread well beyond Medieval Britain, whether he was real or just a popular legend of the day.

Posted by
2597 posts

Rebecca, I think it would be malpractice to let your surmise above, that legends written down closer (either geographically or chronologically) to the figures featured in them are somehow more accurate or true than work written farther away (later or not nearby).

History writing is always more about the times and concerns within which they are written than about the people and events in the stories, and that is even more the case when literacy levels are low and materials available for reference are sparse.

To prep for the Secrets of The Dead TV show, try reading this general article in the Britannica:

Posted by
3824 posts

Many thanks, Avi, for your interest. Thanks for the excellent article. I have read all of this many times before. I agree with you that it is definitely possible that a bit of real history has become forever mixed with a fanciful adding of characters and events as the years have gone by, and the re-telling of the story of Arthur becomes embellished.

I have a copy of the book mentioned in your article, Geoffrey of Monmouth’s Historia regum Britanniae, (The History of the Kings of Britain) over on my bookshelf, and have read it, of course. It is the Penguin Books (where I used to work) translation of his old manuscript.
I do not rely on everything he writes being true.

I have also read the work of Thomas Malory.
But I have read the stuff in your article many times, in many places.
Ironically, the existence of your article does NOT prove conclusively that Arthur was not a real person who never lived!

I still put more stock into what Nennius and Gildas wrote. Monks were the keepers of the histories of countries and civilizations back in those days. They were well-educated scholars and they tried to write an accurate history.

Some scholars at Oxford and Cambridge are of the opinion that the real Arthur, if he existed, was a Romanized Britain. Born and raised in Britain, trained and served as a young man under the Roman legion. Had a Roman name until the Romans left Britain, then it was Anglicized to Arthur. Some believe he led the English people in an effort to fight off the Saxons when they heard the Romans had left (410) and invaded England (435-441).

Avi, do not be fooled by all the romanticized "mess" that was used to embellish the stories and the movie "Camelot".
Some of it may be true, or none of it may be true.
The real Arthur may have been a Romanized English (or Welsh) warrior fighting the Saxons; nothing more.

Posted by
9436 posts

Thank you so much for posting this Rebecca. I’m very interested and I appreciate you taking the time to let us know. Secrets of the Dead always does a great job of explaining, looking forward to watching it.

Posted by
1243 posts

Thanks for bringing this up. I can stream it through PBS Passport. 10 is late for me! Now I can watch on an evening when there is Nothing to watch, like Friday around here.

Posted by
3824 posts

You are all welcome. Glad to hear some of you can get the program by streaming it through PBS Passport. Rocket, thank you for that link. I hope you all enjoy the program!

One more fact about an "Arthur" for those of you interested in English history.
Henry VIII was never supposed to have become king of England.
He had an older brother who was supposed to become king after the death of Henry VII, and he was named Arthur.
Arthur was Henry VII's first-born son, named after the famous KIng Arthur.
It is written in some histories that Henry VII and his wife Elizabeth believed KIng Arthur to have been a real person, and chose the name of a great king for their son. (Other historians say that the Tudors merely wanted to capitalize on the popularity of the Arthurian stories and legends.)
Arthur died before becoming king, however, and Henry stepped up to become Henry VIII.

If Arthur (said to have been a fair and good person) had lived and become king, Henry VIII would have never become king.
King Arthur (Tudor) would have been a more even-tempered ruler than Henry VIII. Therefore, far fewer people would have been sent to The Tower of London for execution, and we would have been spared the bloody rule of King Henry VIII.

We will all be waiting to see if this program tonight sheds any light on whether or not King Arthur was a real person. I've been reading books and articles about Arthur for 40 years, and I still wonder.
When the archaeologists start digging around, things always get interesting!

Posted by
16142 posts

I'm solidly in avirosemail's camp for many reasons (Yep, done lots of my own reading) but may watch it for fun if I can stay up that late.

Oops, it's not on our PBS station. We have "Secrets of The Dead; Hannibal in the Alps" at 11:00. LOL, we definitely can't stay up that late!

Posted by
3824 posts

Kathy, thanks for chiming in! I am very interested in hearing what people think about Arthur. So you are another one who got hooked on reading books and articles about all of this!

I do not disagree with Avi, and there is a lot of truth in the article he referenced.

It's not necessary to believe in all the Camelot stuff, the romance with Guinevere, Merlin, etc. to believe there was a real Arthur.
The real Arthur may have been a Romanized English (or Welsh) warrior fighting the Saxons; nothing more.
(There is such a person mentioned in the history of Britain written by the Romans, an Arterius.)
Then possibly later all the other fiction was built around the old legend of a real person.

After all, there had to be "something" to get all this started in the first place.

We can exchange ideas, links to articles, and opinions for two weeks, and still there will be no proof one way or the other. We may never know the real answer.

Enjoy the show, everyone!

Posted by
3824 posts

The show was excellent. It dealt with the mostly peaceful Anglo-Saxon settlement of England. It also featured an archaeology team dig at Tintagel and their finds.
The most interesting part of the show (to me) was the map that showed where the Anglo-Saxon artifacts finds have been in England.

Now to tie this thread into travel.

Tintagel (obviously related to Arthur and/or his legend) is a stop on the Rick Steves Southern England tour. How easy it would be to get to on your own I do not know. It is not for those who are scared of heights.

Other Arthur-related sites in England that are worth adding to your itinerary:
Glastonbury Abbey--the ruins are magnificent, and there is the purported gravesite of King Arthur and Guinevere.
Glastonbury Abbey is a stop on the Rick Steves Best of England tour.
Glastonbury Tor is on top of a hill nearby, but you would need to be on your own to walk up to this site, as the Rick Steves tour does not walk up there. The bus rides by the Tor on a nearby roadway, and you get a really good look at the tower from the window of the bus.

Posted by
7079 posts

Just an FYI - if anyone wants more in depth information on the Arthurian legend check out The Great Courses "King Arthur: History and Legend". It's very good, I watched it a couple of years ago. The professor who teaches the course is a well known authority on Arthuriana. If you have access to The Great Courses, it's worth it.

Posted by
2597 posts

I think a great tie to travel is all the b-roll footage of the British Library in London, and the shots of people examining books and bones and grave goods while sitting in various research labs and lobbies - great display of these workers and great exhibition of modern camerawork and digital effects.

The story of the episode -- the resettlement of the land by agricultural migrants (Angles and Saxons) slowly mixing into the local population over time -- is in line with just about every contemporary understanding of the rise of empires, except of course for our own. The big surprise of the show was that Anglo-Saxon genetics never reached more than 10% of the overall genetic picture even though Anglo-Saxon culture, notably English language, had such a broad and profound influence on the country.

Posted by
2499 posts

I started watching it last night but didn’t last the whole hour (I recorded it for later viewing) and was surprised to learn the thousand bodies that were discovered had no marks of weapons on the skeletons.

Regarding Tintagel, this place has special meaning for Rick Steves, as this is where early on in his travels, he realized he wanted to be a travel writer. The door to Tintagel is the image for his Back Door Productions. Correct me if I’m wrong but I believe I remember reading this somewhere in his account of his beginnings as a travel teacher and writer.

Posted by
4482 posts

"There had to be something to get this started in the first place"

The story about George Washington chopping down the cherry tree has no basis in actual fact.

I did really enjoy this program. Thanks for suggesting it before it aired. Also thanks to the person who suggested the The Great Courses program.

Posted by
3824 posts

Nancy, thanks for suggesting The Great Courses "King Arthur: History and Legend". I can't wait to watch that.

Avi, thanks for your summary of the program. I agree; the footage of the British Library in London, and the shots of people examining books, bones and grave goods while sitting in various research labs, was amazing.

Judy B., I was also very surprised to learn the thousand bodies that were discovered had no marks of weapons on the skeletons.
Thanks for the info that Tintagel has special meaning for Rick Steves!

Cala, I'm glad you enjoyed the program! You wrote:
"There had to be something to get this started in the first place"--
"The story about George Washington chopping down the cherry tree has no basis in actual fact."
Your point is well taken. Cannot argue with that.

But note that George Washington was a real person (of course) so ironically, there is a small bit of truth to the tale; the fact that he was a real person. The story or legend (itself not true) grew up around someone who really lived.

This is exactly what I have believed about Arthur and the Arthurian legends. That they are possibly two different things.
Possibly a real man? and later a myth or legend grew up using his name as a basis for a story?

Thanks for helping me to articulate my point more clearly.

Posted by
1287 posts

All cultures have their creation myths (as do some more modern nations).

At a guess, I'd suspect there is a tiny bit more to the Arthur legends than to the Brutus creating Britain myth, which monks also referred to.

But, linking back to tourism, you can see the (underwhelming), Brutus Stone in Totnes. Plus, of course, in Glastonbury you can see where Jesus visited (or almost certainly didn't), which ties into the stories of Arthur and the Holy Grail.

Jesus and his uncle visiting does appear surprising, but it is the basis of the first verse of Jerusalem, sung regularly here and some suggest should be England's anthem.

It all might seem a bit unlikely, but no more so than Rome's twins and a wolf or USA's equality for all myth (all men are created equal ... unless you're black, or a native American, or a woman instead of a man).

I rather like these creation ideas as a nice link back to the past, even when we shouldn't take them that seriously.

On Arthur, back a long time ago at my school it was a set book to read The Once and Future King. For what its worth, I think there was an "Arthur" but not a single man (and clearly not with the magic side), instead an amalgamation of several chiefs put together to create an "England".

Posted by
3824 posts

The general consensus seems to be that Arthur is just a legend, so I'm not knocking it if that's what the scholars believe.
It's just that I wonder why all those monks wrote it into their history if it's not true?
Monks are not usually known for making up soap opera-like stories when writing the history of a country into their illuminated manuscripts.

At this point, I am 90% convinced Arthur was a legend. But 10% still wondering why monks would put such a soap opera tale into their written histories?
If anyone can answer that question, I would appreciate it.
I would be curious what the Brits on here think about it.

Back to travel. For anyone planning a visit to London, you may want to add to your itinerary a visit to the Treasures Gallery at the British Library. Here you can see a copy of Magna Carta, Shakespeare’s First Folio, Michelangelo’s anatomical illustrations, the desk where Jane Austen penned her novels, original writings from Charles Dickens, the actual pages of Beatles music as they wrote it down and scribbled additions to the lyrics, The Lindisfarne Gospels, and much more.
Website here:
How to get here page with map:
A stone's throw from King's Cross Station.
Treasures of the British Library; The Sir John Ritblat: Treasures Gallery
The British Library
96 Euston Road

Posted by
3824 posts

Thanks, Nick. That answers a lot. Certainly every country has their myths and legends; excellent point.
Arthur definitely brings in the tourists. Glastonbury Abbey was well-attended when I was there.
I do love the song "Jerusalem".

You wrote:
"For what its worth, I think there was an "Arthur" but not a single man (and clearly not with the magic side), instead an amalgamation of several chiefs put together to create an "England"."
Nick, you've explained it well.

Your post came in before mine (we were posting at the same time) but you have answered all the questions I had in my long post.
Thanks again.

Posted by
2499 posts

I enjoy reading your posts because you are opening a conversation and reading and replying to individuals who take the time to write a comment. I appreciate your respectful style on the forum. Often I will write a comment and the OP either doesn’t return to reply to any comments much less mine. I won’t go on because I will descend into negativity but I appreciate you.

Posted by
3824 posts

Judy B., thank you for your kind words.
I enjoy having conversations with people on the forum about travel, history, art, and more. I agree, it is frustrating when a person replies to the OP's original post or question and never hears back from the OP. No "thanks for the information" or "here's my take on the subject" or anything.
So many of our regular forum members are such interesting people!
They are well-educated, smart viewers of PBS and its great programs.

I have changed my mind about Arthur since this thread began.
Now I am in the camp that believes he was a legend; I have the information that Nick provided to seal the deal.

Thanks to everyone who commented on this thread.
Every comment has contributed something to the conversation.
Best wishes to everyone!

Posted by
2499 posts

Because Arthur Tudor, the Prince of Wales, Henry VIII’s older brother, died, he would have been King Arthur, a fulfillment of the convenient legend. From my limited knowledge, I tend to agree that the legend of Arthur is a way to tell the story of a nation that captures the imagination of a people.

You are right, the forum is full of well-educated people who are curious about the world and like learning new things.

Posted by
3824 posts

Hi Judy,
Yes, Henry VII (the first Tudor) did not intend for his second son to become king. He wanted Arthur (his first born son) to become king. As I was talking about this in my other post about the Tudors (way up this thread) I mentioned that King Henry VII and Queen Elizabeth believed that Arthur was real and not just a legend.

Geoffrey of Monmouth was one who wrote about the original King Arthur back in the 1100's. The Wikipedia article about Geoffrey of Monmouth says this:
"Geoffrey of Monmouth (c. 1095 – c. 1155) was a British cleric and one of the major figures in the development of British historiography and the popularity of tales of King Arthur. He is best known for his chronicle "The History of the Kings of Britain" which was widely popular in its day, being translated into other languages from its original Latin. It was given historical credence well into the 16th century, but is now considered historically unreliable."

His account of Arthur "was given credence well into the 16th century".......which means during the time of the Tudors, King Henry VII, his wife Queen Elizabeth, and most people of that period believed fully in the story of Arthur.
So when they named their first born son Arthur, they believed there had been a real King Arthur who had lived hundreds of years before them.
For a period of time, King Arthur was regarded as a real person who had lived, just as Geoffrey of Monmouth had written, and not merely as a legend.

Posted by
3824 posts

Glastonbury Abbey gravesite.
When I was on the Rick Steves Best of England tour, Glastonbury Abbey was one of our stops. The abbey is now a ruin, but still beautiful. This sign is in the midst of the ruins:

"Site of King Arthur's Tomb.
In the year 1191, the bodies of
King Arthur and his queen were
said to have been found on the
south side of the Lady Chapel.
On 19th April 1278 their remains were
removed in the presence of
King Edward I and Queen Eleanor
to a black marble tomb on this site.
This tomb survived until the
dissolution of the abbey in 1539."

Photo here, as I cannot post my own that I took that day (RS website does not provide for that).Please look halfway down the page and click on the photo on the right to enlarge.

Glastonbury Abbey is well worth a visit. Their website is here:

Several ancient kings are buried there.
Edmund I--King of the English from 939 until his death (946). Grandson of Alfred the Great.
Edgar the Peaceful--King of the English from 959 until his death (975).
Edmund II (Edmund Ironside)--King of the English from 23 April to 30 November 1016. Son of King Æthelred the Unready.
If these kings are buried there, it makes sense that King Arthur (if real) might have been buried there.

So now you might see why I have questioned the "conventional wisdom" I have read all my life that Arthur is just a legend.
Yes, I've read this all my life....Arthur is just a legend, just a story. No one needed to tell me this. This is common knowledge and accepted by everyone....I know, I know.

My doubts began when I stood at Glastonbury Abbey.
I suggest a trip there for anyone traveling to England who likes ancient sites.
It's a very atmospheric place.
There's something there that cannot be described; a kind of serenity; a feeling of ancient times.

I will leave it at that.

Posted by
2597 posts

The Green Knight movie is in theaters this weekend and normally I don't think I would be in a hurry to go and see it, but this thread is stimulating my appetite for these kinds of tales. Maybe it will have some good travel tips, too. :-0

Posted by
3824 posts

Very clever, Avi.
Here's your travel tip for "Green Knight".
Filming locations are Cahir Castle, in Tipperay, Ireland, and Charleville Castle, Tullamore, Ireland.
Both are open to visitors.

Posted by
16142 posts

While a healthy skeptic of any factual basis around the legend, I'll cheerfully admit to not being immune to the enjoyment of some fictional reads, specifically the Mary Stewart and Marion Zimmer Bradley series of books.

Here's something interesting: Have any of you ever heard of a past sorority called "The Queens of Avalon"? Picked up from a couple different websites:

William Byron Forbush founded The Queens of Avalon in 1894 as a
parallel organization to his Knights of the Round Table, to construct
courtly ladies worthy of his chivalric knights. This essay examines
the group's interpretation of Arthurian legend, founding principles,
rituals and material culture in the context of Forbush's own anxieties
about 'modern' girls and larger early-twentieth-century discussions of
the 'girl problem.' For Forbush, the Queens of Avalon was the perfect
'antidote' to this problem as it returned girls to an idealized
medieval past to teach them to perform their 'role in modern
chivalry': inspiring and refining knights.

More about it here:

LOL, I think this hopeless tomboy is the sort of 'girl problem' he was anxious about. 🙄

Posted by
3824 posts

Now I must go see "Green Knight".
I've become interested in Cahir Castle in Ireland, and must go see it.
Not only was it the filming location for "Green Knight", but it was one of the main locations for filming of "The Tudors".
(I'm actually more interested in seeing the film locations than seeing the Tudors episodes again.)