Among enthusiasts of King Arthur, it is well known Geoffrey of Monmouth brought his name to the world. He didn’t make it popular among the British, of course, but he did enhance his developing fame; with the publication of Historia Regum Britanniae, Arthur became the best known figure among them. His history was the best-seller of the Middle Ages, being copied more often than the Bible.
What is not so well known are his motivations. As in the giving of any testimony, the reasons behind all of the details he wrote about the famous king are just as important as the words themselves and the events they speak of.
When Geoffrey began work on his most-remembered book, he was listed on charters around Oxford as a magister, most likely a secular canon. In 1152, some sixteen years after he finished the book, he was was made a priest and named Bishop of Asaph ten days later.
His book begins with a dedication, in fact three different dedications in three different versions. This likely represents his changing loyalties in the face of an altering political landscape. He names some of the most powerful men in Britain at the time.
Finally, his “Arthur” section is roughly one-third the whole book. This obviously means that he thought Arthur would be the popular character in the book, but also suggests that Arthur was meant to symbolize someone; and of course one of the dedications is to the English king Stephen. The whole book is one extended compliment.
What we have, then, is a man who wrote a history for the purpose of flattering powerful men. It only makes sense that he would bend facts to make his hero, his literary version of his king, look as great and powerful as possible. This is most clearly seen in the place-names of the Arthurian section, where every location mentioned is to be related to an event current in 1136. The Arthurian Bible, so popular in the Middle Ages that it was the foundation of all the romances involving him, was written to impress a king.