Welcome to “The Timeline of Arthurian Stories”! This article will present a chronological overview of the various works and tales that make up the legend of King Arthur.
From the earliest written records to modern adaptations, we will explore the various stories that have been told about this iconic figure throughout history.
Whether you’re a seasoned Arthurian scholar or just discovering the legend for the first time, this timeline is sure to provide a great way to wrap your head around these impressive and time-enduring legends.
So let’s dive in.
Also be sure to check out the Arthurian Legends 101 hub for more cool resources like this one.
What’s On This Arthurian Legends Timeline?
We already have a list of literature related to Arthurian legends. This is not the same type of list. This is a list of individual stories that those texts contain. Some texts can have multiple stories, and each story can be told in multiple ways across many texts.
This timeline is not a depiction of real-world events, but rather an attempt to string together the various Arthurian stories in a rough chronological order. As such, it includes a mix of works ranging from early Welsh poetry to modern adaptations of the Arthurian legend.
Many of the stories on this timeline are derived from two key sources: the French Vulgate and Sir Thomas Malory’s Le Morte d’Arthur.
- The French Vulgate, also known as the Lancelot-Grail Cycle, is a series of Old French prose romances written in the 13th and 14th centuries. It provides much of the narrative backbone for the Arthurian stories that we know today.
- Le Morte d’Arthur is an English retelling of the Arthurian legend by Sir Thomas Malory in the 15th century. It is perhaps the most well-known and influential version of the Arthurian legend, and has had a lasting impact on the way the story has been told and understood.
If there are any major stories that you feel were left out, be sure to let me know!
Table: The Complete Timeline
If you’re looking for a quick way to digest the timeline, here it is in rough chronological order. For those who want a more detailed explanation, keep reading after the table.
The Timeline Breakdown
Let’s now dive into what this timeline looks like, and why I chose to place certain stories where I did.
As I mentioned earlier, many of these stories were taken from the French Vulgate or Le Morte d’Arthur. Those were easier to place in chronological order because they were already arranged that way.
However, there are older and newer texts with significant stories that weren’t included in those two texts. I will attempt to rationalize my placement with each on.
I originally developed this timeline to help with my own shared universe of Arthurian Legends, which you can start by reading my Arthur Tales collection of short stories here!
There are just a few stories that take place far before the time of Arthur. These two in particular are important, and come from The History of the Kings of Britain and the French Vulgate respectively:
- Brutus of Britain: According to the “History of the Kings of Britain,” King Brutus was the great-grandson of Aeneas, who fled the fall of Troy and eventually settled in Italy. When the Trojans became restless and sought a new homeland, Brutus led a group of them to Great Britain, where they established a new kingdom and became the first rulers of the Britons.
- The Origin of the Holy Grail: In the French Vulgate, the “Origin of the Holy Grail” tells the story of Joseph of Arimathea, who is said to have brought the Holy Grail to Great Britain. According to the text, Joseph and his companions traveled to Britain and established a Christian community there, where they guarded the Grail and used its powers to heal the sick and bring about miracles.
Before the Sword and the Stone
While we have a lot of stories about Arthur, there are several that involve his parents and other adventures that happened a generation earlier. Here are some of these:
- The Birth and Childhood of Merlin: According to the “History of the Kings of Britain” and the French Vulgate, the “Birth and Childhood of Merlin” tells the story of the legendary figure’s unconventional origins. In these texts, Merlin is said to be conceived by a demon and a mortal woman, resulting in his extraordinary powers of prophecy and magic. As a young man, he prophecies to the British King Vortigern of his inevitable downfall, earning both the king’s admiration and fear.
- Ambrosius Aurelianus: According to the “History of the Kings of Britain,” Ambrosius Aurelianus was a British king and uncle to Arthur who took over from Vortigern after his death. Ambrosius’ reign was relatively short, but he is said to have made significant contributions to the kingdom during his time as ruler. After his death, Ambrosius was buried at the famous monument of Stonehenge, which Merlin apparently arranged.
- Uther Pendragon and Igraine: According to the French Vulgate, Uther Pendragon becomes king after the death of his brother, Ambrosius Aurelianus. During his reign, Uther falls in love with Igraine, the wife of Gorlois, Duke of Cornwall. The tale of Uther and Igraine is a key event in the Arthurian legend, as their union ultimately leads to the birth of King Arthur, the hero of the stories. The story of Uther and Igraine serves as an important prelude to the later tales of King Arthur and his adventures.
- The Birth of Arthur: In Le Morte d’Arthur, the Birth of Arthur tells the story of the legendary king’s arrival into the world. According to the text, Arthur is born to Uther and Igraine, and is given into the care of Merlin, the wise wizard who had helped bring about his conception. After Arthur’s birth, Uther dies, leaving the young prince to be raised in secret and protected from those who would do him harm.
Many of the tales of King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table start in what I call the “Arthur Rising” period, where Arthur has not quite proven himself, and many key elements are yet to be put in place. The following are some of those.
Note that I also included some key stories from Edmund Spenser’s The Faerie Queene because these take place in an Arthurian backdrop that includes a younger “Prince” arthur. So I like to think that those stories take place sometime after Arthur pulls the Sword from the Stone, but before he is fully king.
- The Sword in the Stone: In the French Vulgate, the “Sword in the Stone” tells the story of Arthur as a youth, and his ascension to the throne of Britain. According to the text, Arthur is presented with a sword that has been placed in a stone, and becomes the only one who can remove it. He is subsequently hailed as the rightful king of Britain. The “Sword in the Stone” is a well-known and influential tale in the Arthurian legend, and has been retold and adapted numerous times in various works.
- The Faerie Queen, Book 1: In “The Faerie Queen,” Book 1 presents the story of St. George and the Dragon, along with characters Una and others in an Arthurian backdrop. This tale is set in the time of “Prince” Arthur and his knights, and tells the story of how St. George, a Christian knight, battles a dragon that has been terrorizing a kingdom.
- The Faerie Queen, Book 2: In “The Faerie Queen,” Book 2 tells the story of Sir Guyon, the knight of Temperance, as he battles against Acrasia, a sorceress who has ensnared knights with her beauty and temptation.
- The Faerie Queen, Book 3: In “The Faerie Queen,” Book 3 tells the story of Britomart, the knight of Chastity, as she battles various threats representing different types of love or lack thereof. Britomart is a strong and courageous warrior who is dedicated to upholding the virtues of chastity and purity.
- The Faerie Queen, Book 4: In “The Faerie Queen,” Book 4 continues the story from Book 3, with multiple knights competing in a tournament for the hand of a “False Florimell.” This tournament serves as a backdrop for a number of exciting and action-packed tales, as the knights face off against one another in fierce and sometimes deadly contests.
- The Faerie Queen, Book 5: In “The Faerie Queen,” Book 5 tells the story of Artegall, the knight of Justice, who travels to the land of Irena to free it from the tyranny of Grantorto, a wicked ruler. With the help of his trusty sidekick Talus, Artegall faces a number of challenges as he fights to restore justice to Irena.
- The Faerie Queen, Book 6: In “The Faerie Queen,” Book 6 tells the story of Sir Calidore, the knight of courtesy, who learns the importance of not being slothful over the course of the story. Sir Calidore is a kind and well-mannered knight who is admired for his courtly ways, but he struggles with a passive tendencies. As he embarks on a quest to rid the land of a monster known as the Blatant Beast, Sir Calidore must overcome this weakness and embrace his role as a defender of the realm.
- 11 Kings: In Le Morte d’Arthur, the story of “11 Kings” tells of a rebellion led by 11 local kings who challenge Arthur’s rule. Arthur is forced to put down this rebellion and restore order to the kingdom, leading to a series of battles and conflicts. The story of the 11 kings serves as an important event in the Arthurian legend, highlighting the challenges and struggles that Arthur faced as he sought to maintain control over his kingdom.
- The Origin of Lancelot: In the French Vulgate, the “Origin of Lancelot” tells the story of the famous Arthurian knight’s unusual childhood. According to the text, Lancelot is kidnapped by the Lady of the Lake at birth and raised in her kingdom. As he grows older, Lancelot becomes a skilled warrior and is eventually returned to the mortal world, where he becomes a trusted member of Arthur’s court and one of his most loyal knights.
- The Birth of Mordred: In the French Vulgate, the “Birth of Mordred” tells the story of how Arthur unknowingly conceives a child with his half-sister Morgause. This event serves as a key turning point in the Arthurian legend, as Mordred grows up to become a major antagonist in the stories and ultimately helps bring about Arthur’s downfall.
- Arthur’s marriage to Guenevere: In the French Vulgate, the story of Arthur’s marriage to Guenevere tells of the legendary king’s union with the beautiful and powerful queen. This event is an important milestone in the Arthurian legend, as Arthur and Guenevere’s relationship plays a central role in many of the stories that follow.
- Excalibur: In the French Vulgate, the story of Excalibur tells of how Merlin brings Arthur to the Lady of the Lake, who presents him with the famous sword. Excalibur is a powerful and enchanted weapon that becomes closely associated with Arthur and his reign.
- Merlin and Vivian: In the French Vulgate, the story of Merlin and Vivian tells of the wise wizard’s infatuation with the Lady of the Lake, and his eventual imprisonment as a result. According to the text, Merlin becomes enamored with Vivian and seeks to win her favor, but his efforts are ultimately unsuccessful. As a result, Vivian has Merlin imprisoned.
- Arthur’s Victory Over the Saxons: In the French Vulgate, the story of Arthur’s victory over the Saxons tells of the legendary king’s triumphs in several key battles against the invading Saxon forces. One of the most famous of these battles is the Battle of Mt. Badon, in which Arthur is said to have led his armies to a decisive victory against the Saxons.
I ended this section with the Battle of Badon because this seemed like a decisive victory that marks the start of the Golden Age of Camelot. The Battle of Badon is also one of the few battles that actually took place in real life, and may have involved a hero that was the genesis of the Arthur myths.
The Golden Age of Camelot
This is where the stories shift a little to be less about Arthur and more about his knights. Camelot is well established, which is why I call this period “The Golden Age of Camelot.”
- Balin and Balan: In the French Vulgate, the story of Balin and Balan tells of two brothers who kill each other in a tragic misunderstanding.
- The Knight of the Cart: In “Lancelot: The Knight of the Cart,” the story of the Knight of the Cart tells of how Guenevere is kidnapped by Meleagant and is eventually rescued by Lancelot. Along the way, Lancelot faces a number of challenges and obstacles, and ultimately triumphs over Meleagant and restores peace to the kingdom.
- Sir Gawain and the Green Knight: In “Sir Gawain and the Green Knight,” the story tells of how Gawain, one of Arthur’s knights, is tested by the mysterious Green Knight. The Green Knight appears at Arthur’s court and proposes a challenge to the knights: he will allow anyone to strike him with his axe, on the condition that the Knight allow him to return the blow a year and a day later. Gawain bravely steps forward to accept the challenge, and the Green Knight is struck down. However, he rises again and reminds Gawain of his promise to return the blow. Gawain sets out on a journey to fulfill his end of the bargain, and the story follows his adventures as he confronts the Green Knight and ultimately proves his worth as a true and noble knight.
- Culhwch and Olwen: In the old Welsh text “Culhwch and Olwen,” the story tells of how Culhwch falls in love with Olwen and enlists the help of Arthur and his knights to win her hand. According to the text, Olwen is the daughter of the giant Ysbaddaden, and is Culhwch must vanquish a number of fierce and powerful beasts.
- Erec and Enide: In the text “Erec and Enide,” the story tells of how Erec and Enide are married and go on a series of adventures in an effort to prove Erec’s worth as a knight and to restore honor to his family.
- Cliges: In the text “Cliges,” the story tells of Cliges and his forbidden love for his uncle’s wife, Fenice. According to the text, Cliges is a young and handsome knight who is deeply in love with Fenice, despite the fact that she is married to his uncle. As he tries to win her heart, Cliges must navigate a complex and dangerous web of love, loyalty, and betrayal, and ultimately prove his worth as a true and noble knight.
- Yvain: In the text “Yvain, The Knight of the Lion,” the story tells of Yvain, who is a brave and noble knight that falls deeply in love with his lady, but he makes a mistake that causes her to turn against him. In an effort to win her back, Yvain sets out on a series of heroic quests, hoping to prove his worth and regain her love.
- Tom Thumb: In the text “Tom Thumb,” the story tells of a young boy who is born very small and goes on a series of adventures. According to the text, Tom Thumb is a tiny but plucky hero who is full of wit and courage. Despite his small size, he is able to overcome a number of challenges and obstacles, and proves to be a formidable hero in his own right.
- The Lady of Shalott: In the poem “The Lady of Shalott,” the story tells of a woman, the Lady of Shalott, who is a beautiful and mysterious woman confined to a tower on an island in the river Shalott. She is forbidden to look directly at the outside world, and instead must view it through a mirror. However, when Lancelot passes by her tower, the Lady of Shalott cannot resist the temptation to look directly at him, and she pays the ultimate price for her curiosity.
- Arthur Defeats the Romans: In the text “History of the Kings of Britain,” the story tells of how Arthur fights against Lucius of the Romans and emerges victorious. In a series of fierce battles, Arthur proves his worth as a leader and a warrior, and ultimately defeats Lucius and his armies, securing a victory for Britain.
- Tristan and Iseult: In the “Tristan and Iseult” story, Tristan and Iseult are two young lovers who are forced to keep their feelings a secret due to the social and political constraints of their time. Despite the many challenges they face, they remain devoted to each other and ultimately find a way to be together. The story of Tristan and Iseult has been told and retold in various sources, including the French Vulgate, and has had a lasting impact on the Arthurian legend and its enduring popularity.
- Morgan le Fay and Accolon: In the text “Le Morte d’Arthur,” Morgan le Fay is a powerful and scheming sorceress who is determined to bring about Arthur’s downfall, and she enlists the help of Accolon, a brave but misguided knight, in her plot. Together, they attempt to steal Excalibur and replace it with a counterfeit weapon, hoping to throw Arthur’s kingdom into chaos.
The Twilight of Camelot
Sadly, every good thing comes to an end, and we see this happen with three stories in particular that highlight the tragic ending of the Arthurian Legends:
- The Quest for the Holy Grail: In the story of “The Quest for the Holy Grail,” we learn that the Grail is a powerful and sacred object that is believed to have the ability to bring about great healing and blessings to those who possess it. Galahad, Perceval, and the other knights embark on a perilous journey to find the Grail and bring it back to Arthur’s court, facing many challenges and obstacles along the way.
- The Betrayal of Lancelot and Guenevere: In the “The Betrayal of Lancelot and Guenevere,” story, Lancelot and Guenevere are drawn to each other despite their loyalty to Arthur, and their relationship causes conflict and turmoil in the court. When the affair is finally discovered, Lancelot is forced to flee Camelot and Guenevere is sentenced to death. However, Lancelot ultimately returns to save Guenevere which eventually leads to…
- The Death of Arthur: The “The Death of Arthur,” story tells of how Arthur is forced to fight against Lancelot, his former friend and ally, after Lancelot’s affair with Guenevere is discovered. In the ensuing battle, Arthur is also betrayed by Mordred, his illegitimate son, who seeks to claim the throne for himself. As a result, Arthur is killed in battle, and his kingdom is plunged into chaos. “The Death of Arthur” is a tragic and poignant ending to the Arthurian legend, and has had a lasting impact on the way the story has been told and understood.
Why Organize These Stories Chronologically?
The decision to put all of these stories into a cohesive chronological timeline was made in order to provide a better understanding of the Arthurian legend and how these stories fit together.
Additionally, placing the stories in a timeline allows for a more clear understanding of the historical and cultural context in which they were created, and can provide insight into the influences and motivations of the writers who crafted them.
Plus, I’m a big fan of timelines, as they help me process the world, and as I was coming up with my own shared universe of Arthurian Legends, this became an essential part of it.
And yes, I have my own little separate document with the chronology of my own Arthurian universe, but you won’t get a look at that for a while (winky face).
In the meantime, I hope you enjoyed this timeline! Be sure to check out my short story collection here.
- Norris Lacy, Geoffrey Ashe, Debra Mancoff – The Arthurian Handbook (Second Edition)
- Alan Lupack – The Oxford Guide to Arthurian Literature and Legend
- Ronan Coghlan – The Illustrated Encyclopaedia of Arthurian Legends
- Anonymous – Lancelot-Grail, the French Vulgate
- Sir Thomas Malory – Le Morte d’Arthur