Dissertations, Theses, and Capstone Projects

Date of Degree


Document Type


Degree Name





Sarah Covington

Committee Members

Timothy Alborn

Herman Lee Bennett

Clare Carroll

Allison Kavey

Jonathan Miles-Watson

Sara McDougall

Subject Categories

Celtic Studies | Comparative Methodologies and Theories | Intellectual History | Legal | Medieval Studies | Renaissance Studies | Social and Cultural Anthropology


British Isles, British Empire, Arthurian Myth, Structuralism, Colonialism, Transatlantic Expansion


This dissertation studies the use of the Arthurian myth from the fifteenth through early seventeenth centuries, as a narrative that connected a set of political principles for the unification of Britain and its imperial expansion. Joining other competing political myths in the British archipelago, the political significance of the Arthurian myth has nevertheless been overlooked. On the one hand, the myth informed the transformations of kingship in England and Wales from the crowning of Edward IV to the early years of James’ English reign. It did so specifically within the process of institutionalizing a British crown which was intertwined with the claim of imperium. On the other hand, the myth also reinforced the assertion of possession over other peoples’ lands, including the whole of Britain, Ireland, and even different spaces in the north Atlantic. The Arthurian myth intertwined these two claims—of imperium and of possession—through two different competing narratives which connected the Crown of England with the history of ancient Britain. Furthermore, Arthurian literature and historiography represented an internal liminality within the British archipelago which Britain then projected to the North American shores. Transatlantic colonization not only was legitimized by supposed ancient conquests, including Arthur’s, but the American spaces and inhabitants, like the Irish before them, were codified in connection to an imagined British past, which began to be alienated from the present, or modern times. Working against traditional approaches to intellectual history of political thought and utilizing various perspectives that include literary analysis and neo-structuralism, this dissertation thus argues that the Arthurian myth was an important contributor to the emergence of an Anglocentric British imperial constitution by intertwining its legal, political, historical, philosophical, and poetical foundations.