The subject of medieval times frequently conjures up images of knights, chivalry and the iconic and mysterious King Arthur. Most historians agree that King Arthur is probably only a legend, yet his image pervaded medieval history and politics.
Meghan Woolley ’13, a recipient of a 2011 Emerson Summer Grant, will spend the summer exploring the role of Arthurian legend in English monarchies of the 12th to 16th centuries. Specifically, she and Assistant Professor of English Katherine Terrell will investigate how monarchs used Arthurian legend toward their own political goals. Their project is titled “Creating Camelot: Royal Appropriations of the Arthurian Myth in Medieval England.”
Circa 1136, Geoffrey of Monmouth wrote History of Kings, the contents of which were mostly invented by the author. Despite this fabricated nature, the tales in History of Kings, particularly those regarding King Arthur, became known as historical fact in medieval culture. Relating one’s ancestry to King Arthur, however impossible this may realistically be, could give a man the right to the throne or the power to invade neighboring territories. For example, one monarch attempted to invade Brittany on the grounds that Arthur ruled over this territory, and so he believed that England was entitled to seize it. Another ruler wished to recreate Arthur’s Round Table of knights. Arthurian legend and the rights that some monarchs felt it granted them played a significant role in British monarchies for several centuries.
Many cases of monarchs manipulating Arthurian legend have already been observed and analyzed, but Woolley and Terrell plan to chronicle these instances in a comprehensive study. Woolley will begin with a list of seven monarchs that have been connected to King Arthur. She will research them through biographies, articles, as well as primary sources, and then continue on to research lesser-known instances of English rulers using, and abusing, Arthurian legend. Ultimately, she hopes to encounter a medieval document that connects to Arthurian legend, but has yet to be analyzed by historians in this particular light. Eventually, an analysis of this type of document could be published in a history journal.
Woolley’s participation in this project stems from a longtime passion for the medieval period. She hopes to obtain a PhD in the field and eventually become a professor of medieval history. Woolley relates, “How could you not fall in love with this time period?” She chose to specifically investigate Arthurian legend because this body of myths is particularly well-known and representative of medieval culture’s image in modern times. Woolley looks forward to the opportunity to conduct in-depth, longer-term research about a very narrow topic. She enjoys learning more about medieval history and is excited to gain some level of expertise on a particular aspect of it. In her free time, Woolley enjoys writing and is both a writer and the advertising manager for the Spectator. She is also a Resident Advisor and looks forward to going abroad to Spain in fall 2011.
The medieval period may have a popular image for chivalrous romance and knights in armor, but Woolley intends to delve far deeper than this shiny exterior. She welcomes the opportunity to explore a subject she feels strongly about outside of a classroom setting, and eagerly anticipates the results of her study.
Meghan Woolley is a graduate of Coginchaug Regional High School, Durham, Conn..