The Warlord Chronicles, the Arthurian legend revisited by Bernard Cornwell

Disclosure: This article contains affiliate links. I may receive a commission for purchases made through these links.

The Warlord Chronicles, also called The Arthur books, is an Arthurian book trilogy with a realistic approach written by Bernard Cornwell.

The Warlord Chronicles: Reading Guide

Originally published between 1995 and 1997, the books in the trilogy are:

The Winter King (1995)
Enemy of God (1996)
Excalibur (1997)

The synopsis of The Winter King

This is the Dark Ages. The British High King Uther has passed away. The young Mordred is his sole successor. The nation’s lesser rulers, however, are all vying for the throne. While they quarrel and prepare for battle, Saxon forces gather in preparation for an invasion.

But none anticipated the formidable warlord Arthur. With authority bestowed upon him by Merlin and a tragic relationship with the gorgeous Guinevere, Arthur recognises he will have trouble trying to unify the land, let alone push back the Saxon army at the gates. Yet destiny has plans for him…

A mix of myth and history

As Bernard Cornwell said it on his website: “The Warlord Trilogy is my attempt to tell the story of Arthur, ‘Rex Quondam Rexque Futurus’, the Once and Future King, although I doubt he ever was a king. I suspect he was a great warlord of the sixth century. Nennius, who was one of the earliest historians to mention Arthur, calls him the ‘dux bellorum’ – leader of battles or warlord.”

Told from the perspective of an elderly Christian monk named Derfel Cadarn (or Gadarn), who fought alongside Arthur at the Battle of Camlann, The Warlord Chronicles is set in a realistic Post-Roman Britain. Bernard Cromwell used the description provided in the ancient Welsh stories and completed his portrayal of this time period by descriptions of appropriate types of technology, culture, warfare.

It was believed that the native Britons were going through a tough period. They were under threat from Anglo-Saxon invasion in the east and Irish incursions in the west. At the same time, they were dealing with internal power conflicts among their kingdoms.

From Merlin as a mischievous and disrespectful druid to Lancelot as a self-serving prince who deliberately cultivates his image, Cromwell explores personalities and ideas from the Arthurian myths and gives them a fresh and more realistic spin. Also, The reader must decide if the magic in the narrative is real magic or just chance, psychology, and illusion.

The Winter King on screen

The Winter King is a British historical fiction television series adapted by writers Kate Brooks and Ed Whitmore for MGM+ (US) and ITVX (UK). For the moment, only the first book is adapted into a 10-part season, with a launch date announced for August 20, 2023 on the U.S. streamer..

The series stars Iain De Caestecker as Arthur Pendragon, Jordan Alexandra as Guinevere, Stuart Campbell as Derfel Cadarn, Ellie James as Nimueh, Nathaniel Martello-White as Merlin, and Eddie Marsan as Uther.


After the Arthurian legend, continue to revisit British history with Bernard Cornwell with his Sharpe series.