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King Arthur - Geographical row over king's birthplace

Story by: Jack Foley

A NEW Hollywood take on the King Arthur legend, which purports to tell the ‘true’ story behind the myth, has also opened a historical debate concerning its geography.

King Arthur, produced by Jerry Bruckheimer and directed by Antoine Fuqua, portrays the legendary monarch as a Roman soldier, stationed on Hadrian’s Wall, who leads the Romano-English against an invading Saxon army.

It takes place in Cumbria, rather than Cornwall, and deconstructs most of the mysticism surrounding the Arthurian legend.

But while the film, itself, looks likely to offend many who favour the romanticism surrounding King Arthur, it could also deal a blow to Cornwall’s tourist industry, which has built much of its success on the popular belief that Tintagel was King Arthur’s birthplace.

Seizing the opportunity for themselves, however, the Cumbria Tourist Board now claims that the evidence is ‘overwhelming’ that his real home was there.

Not wanting to fan the flames created by the Hollywood makeover, however, Roger Toy, the head custodian of King Arthur's Great Halls, in Tintagel, diplomatically responded to the debate by stating: "There are claims on the origins of King Arthur from all over the world so we are not claiming exclusivity to Arthur.

"The main accounts of the legend say that King Arthur was born in Tintagel, but the real message of the Arthurian legend is the message itself, rather than the detail of who did what and when," he said, in an interview with BBC Online.

He predicted that the film would not have an adverse affect on visitor numbers, maintaining that the attraction of the legend is the story, and there are so many places attached to it.

However, Cumbria has now begun to promote the Arthurian claims on its website, and has turned to consultant historian, John Matthews' theory that, both historically and geographically, a Cumbrian link works better than the theories of his links to South West or Wales.

He believes that early accounts of Arthur's battles against the Saxons, as depicted in the movie, can be fitted into the surrounding country on both sides of Hadrian's Wall, as well as the presence of forts such as Camboglanna and Avallana.

It remains to be seen whether the movie will affect the tourism industry of any one region, however, especially since advance word has been fairly damning.

UK critics were less than impressed after a recent London preview, while those in America have largely posted negative reviews.

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