James Wilde on the secrets of Camelot

For a thousand years people have been trying to find their way to Camelot. James Wilde, author of Pendragon, looks at why this is...


'Once we find Camelot, all will be right with the world'

But at the heart of the story was Camelot, representing the very best that humanity had to offer - chivalry, courage, sacrifice and nobility. It was, as the historian Dan Shadrake says, 'as much an idea as a place. The time and location are of secondary importance. What comes first is to fight for the good'.

In the legend, the Holy Grail was supposed to have materialized over the Round Table, prompting the quest to find it. This forever identified Camelot with a mystical, if not spritual power - for the Grail has been linked to both the vessel that caught Christ's blood in the biblical story of the Crucifixion, and the cauldron of the Dagda, a powerful magical talisman from Celtic mythology.

Camelot didn't appear as part of the legend until Lancelot, the Knight of the Cart, a poem by Chrétien de Troyes from around 1177, and in that poem it wasn't even described as Arthur's main court - that was at Caerleon in Wales.

This began to change with the publication of the French romances in the twelfth century, and a five-volume account by an unknown author of the quest for the Holy Grail. Camelot was now Arthur's main home and was described as standing on a river downstream from the legendary city of Astolat, surrounded by great forests and plains. It had its own cathedral, St Stephen's, where Arthur and Guinevere were married.

But the image of Camelot that we all recognise today dates from the fifteenth century and Thomas Malory's Le Morte d'Arthur: a place of grandeur with soaring towers, echoing halls and numerous churches. Malory firmly anchored his Camelot in Winchester.

Since that time, the search for the true location of Camelot has been relentless. Underlying this is the powerful belief that all of these tales were based on a genuine historical figure, Arthur of the Britons, who fought against the invading Saxons in the late fifth or early sixth century.

Some have continued to look to Caerleon in Wales, while folklore has long suggested that Cadbury Castle in Somerset was the original Camelot - archaeologists spent months digging for evidence there in the twentieth century. Others identified Carlisle in the north of England, Colchester in the east, Camelford in Cornwall, even Huddersfield in Yorkshire.

So powerful was the legend of Camelot that President John F. Kennedy laid claim to its symbolism for his own 'court' in the White House, with an administration that attempted to hold itself to those high Arthurian standards. His widow Jacqueline made reference to this in an interview for Life magazine in 1963: 'There'll be great presidents again, but there'll never be another Camelot again . . . It will never be that way again.'

And that may be why we'll never find Camelot. All we can do is to keep searching for it, keep striving, keep aspiring to be the very best. The real power of Camelot lies in what it represents.

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