It seems possible that King Arthur was an actual person, a Welsh chieftain who lived around 500 A.D., a century after the Romans had withdrawn from Britain. Welsh writers kept his memory alive until in the twelfth century Geoffrey of Monmouth wrote History of the Kings of Britain, which established Arthur once and for all as a permanent part of European culture. From then on writers in England and on the Continent told of Arthur and his knights. By the time Malory wrote his Morte d'Arthur in the fifteenth century Arthur was considered one of the Nine Worthies, on a par with King David, Alexander the Great, and Charlemagne. Our account derives from Malory, Geoffrey, the Welsh Mabinogeon, Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, and Parzival, for the most part.
The primary source of Arthurian legend is the medieval romance, a digressive literary form in which knights, ladies, evil-doers, magic, miracles, combats, tournaments, and quests provide the interest. The crude warrior code of the Dark Ages is sublimated here, thanks largely to the Church, and put in the service of a grand ideal. Religion and love are the new factors that turn warfare away from mere tribal butchery into a fight for abstract principles. King Arthur and his knights became the embodiment of the chivalric code, and in these legends we will see the driving force behind that code.