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French historians are risking a visit by gunboats bearing the white ensign after declaring King Arthur an English legend promoted for "political reasons".

That's according to the organisers of "King Arthur: A Legend in the Making" - a forthcoming conference and exhibition at Rennes university which will "provide ample evidence that the Arthurian legend has continually been updated, often as a sop to English nationalists attempting to revive the Age of Chivalry", as the Telegraph puts it.

The event's curator, Sarah Toulouse, explained: "King Arthur is a mythical character who was invented at a certain point in history for essentially political reasons. If he had really existed there would be more concrete historical traces of him."

Ms Toulouse elaborated that the myth of Arthur extends back into the depths of history, with several versions enjoying continent-wide popularity. "These stories deal with universal themes. The earliest fragments of the tales can be traced back to Wales in the seventh century. But by the 13th century stories based on the Arthurian legends were being told right across Europe."

For example, the Telegraph explains that "the tale of a knight repelling the hated Anglo-Saxons from Britain's West Country in around AD500 has always been popular in northern France, with Arthur and his Knights of the Round Table particularly popular with the Bretons".

Furthermore, Sir Lancelot was "said to have been raised in the mysterious Broceliande forest in the heart of Brittany by Viviane, the Lady of the Lake who kidnapped him as a young child".

However, Toulouse mercifully stopped short of staking a French claim to Arthur, admitting: "It would be out of the question for us to say that."

She concluded: "Arthur was an English King who united all of the Britons - in the British Isles and in Brittany - against the Saxons." ®

Bootnote

I recently introduced my daughter to John Boorman's magnificently silly Excalibur in an attempt to assure her that English history and culture had more to offer than one World Cup win and a Saturday night on the alcopops. Ominously, she seemed most impressed with Morgan Le Fay, meaning I might have to up her pocket money before she uses the Charm of Making.

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