The Historical Arthur and The Gawain Poet: Studies on Arthurian and Other Traditions delves into the origins of Arthur and reveals the author of the famous Gawain Manuscript. Its first part contains evidence for the Arthur of film and legend as a real person, a Celtic commander (not a king) who fought battles in North Britain during the terrible volcanic winter of 536-7, before dying a hero's death in a conflict on Hadrian's Wall. Its second part moves on to Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, an Arthurian poem on magic, near-death, and near-seduction. Its author has always been unknown, but Dr. Breeze uses arguments of the US scholar Ann W. Astell to date the text to 1387 and name the poet as Sir John Stanley (d. 1414), a Cheshire and Lancashire grandee. He can now be recognized as an artist of genius, comparable to Chaucer himself. What is said in this book on John Stanley and his circle thus allows the greatest advance in Arthurian Studies since 1934, when Walter Oakeshott discovered the Winchester Malory amongst manuscripts of an English school library.
Andrew Breeze is professor of philology at the University of Navarra.
Part 1: Arthur
Chapter One: The Historical Arthur
Chapter Two: Arthur Dux Bellorum and Welsh Penteulu "Chief of the Royal Warband"
Part Two: The Gawain Poet and His School
Chapter Three: Was Sir John Stanley (d. 1414) the Gawain Poet?
Chapter Four: 1387: Year of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight
Chapter Five: Sir Gawain and the Green Knight Predates Pearl
Chapter Six: Italy, Pearl, St Erkenwald, and Sir William Stanley
Chapter Seven: Place-Names and Politics in The Awntyrs off Arthure
About the Author
One of the most well-known—if often neglected mythological traditions—is the collection of King Arthur stories. Although the stories themselves are often set in the world of the high or late Middle Ages, it is generally assumed tat the historical Arthur was a Romanized Celtic Christian king who resisted pagan Saxon invasions of Great Britain. Over time, in popular understanding, Arthur’s narrative was imbued with various mythic elements and the ornaments and aesthetics (as well as the technology) of the High Middle Ages, making the Arthur we know today. However, in his recent work, The Historical Arthur and the Gawain Poet, Andrew Breeze of the University of Navarra attempts to topple this popular view, providing a historically accurate but nonetheless fascinating portrait of Arthur.
These well-argued essays address some of the most contentious questions in mediaeval literary history, including the historicity of King Arthur and the authorship of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight. Problems like these demand a combination of historical, literary, and linguistic abilities rarely found together in this age of specialization. Fortunately Andrew Breeze has those abilities, and is widely read and unfailingly lucid too. Anyone who wants from now on to dissent from the views he expresses here is going to have to be able to show why.
Based upon his broad scholarship and his command of languages and history, Professor Breeze convincingly affirms the historicity of Arthur and presents a compelling argument identifying Sir John Stanley as the most likely candidate to be the Gawain poet. This book, written with Professor Breeze's characteristic verve and engaging wit, is fundamental reading for anyone interested in the date and place of composition of the four major works attributed to the Gawain poet.
The author constructs a satisfying detective story that pinpoints the year when one of the most admired of medieval poems was written. At the same time, the detective homes in on the poet’s identity and motives. This transforms the way in which we can regard the literary scene of the day.
Andrew Breeze is a rare example of an academic who is brave enough to court controversy. Over the last three decades, his scholarly detective work has challenged established assumptions about the authorship of significant medieval literary and historical works. The Historical Arthur and the 'Gawain' Poet is no exception. This exciting new book makes not one but two major claims. The first concerns the identity of the historical British military leader behind the legendary figure of King Arthur. The second reassesses the authorship and date of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight. I would encourage everyone interested in Arthurian literature to read the volume and to judge for themselves the evidence and arguments.
A fascinating exercise in historical and literary detective work, with incisive commentary on previous research and frequent penetrating insights. Our thoughts on Arthur of Britain and the Gawain poet will never be quite the same again.