Isle of Man Arthurian Coins

The Isle of ManThe Isle of Man is one of the many of the British Isles in the Irish Sea, between Britain and Ireland.  Very picturesque, from the looks of it.  I had never particularly heard of it until very recently, when I discovered that they had minted five different coins with an Arthurian theme.  English crowns, but specific to the Isle of Man.

They each have Queen Elizabeth II’s regal profile on one side, but there are five different “tails” so to speak.  One pictures King Arthur in all his royal splendor, one the knightly Sir Lancelot, one the fair Queen Guinevere, one the mysterious Merlin, and lastly glorious Camelot.  I think it’s pretty amazing that something so seemingly mundane and everyday as a coin could be such a work of art.

Isle of Man Crowns

I thought this was also an obvious signifier of the impact Arthurian legends have had on British culture.  Even though much of the legend was cultivated by French authors, King Arthur definitely belongs to the English.  Mostly the pictures minted on coins are those of leaders and national symbols.  King Arthur is a combination of these two; a symbol of what a leader should be.  He is the golden standard of English values and their faith in their monarchy.  And his kingdom, filled with chivalrous knights, beautiful queens, magic, and striking castles, represents the ideal and culture of Britain.

Untangling the Web

What do I think when I hear “Arthurian?”  Round table, witchcraft, sword in stone, adultery, knights, Camelot.  Sometimes I think of Monty Python, or the Disney cartoon, or Julia Ormond and Sean Connery.  I feel relatively familiar with the subject, but there is always an element of confusion that goes along with these thoughts.  I know the basic characters: Arthur, Merlin, Guinevere, Lancelot, Morgan le Fay.  But there are always those more obscure individuals that pop up every so often that throw the standard plot into chaos: Elaine, Morgause, Igraine, Pellinore, Isolde, Mordred.  Where exactly do they fit?  What exactly happens in these legends that have been added to, embellished, and passed down through centuries upon centuries?

These are questions that led to me choose this topic for a research project.  I realize that some of these questions may not have answers.  That’s the problem with legends: there is no one right answer.  But that is also the intriguing thing about legends.  I want to explore all the different possibilities of these stories and how they actually relate to real events from history.

Examining these legends should also give me a good amount of insight into British culture and tradition.  These legends played a large role in and continue to contribute to British literature, art, and film.  Being able to take all of this in together will not just be exceedingly interesting, but also enlightening.

Lancelot and Guinevere by Herbert James Draper.  Did I mention there is bucketloads of beautiful Arthurian artwork out there, especially from my personal favorite, John William Waterhouse.  And Dante Gabriel Rossetti.  I will definitely be having multiple posts to come with some of their lovely art.