Mrs Helm Cracks the Secret of Camelot

It is called the ‘holy grail of medieval literature’ – solving a secret and a poet’s challenge put in the first 12th C tales of King Arthur’s Camelot. The immortal love affair of Queen Guinevere and Sir Lancelot has been told ever since in novels, paintings, musicals, cartoons, movies and, of course, Monty Python and the Holy Grail. But for centuries, the secret has defied the greatest scholars.

Enter Aussie grandma Joan Helm who went to Queensland University and saw something the experts missed. Overcoming huge obstacles, Joan cracks the ‘unsolvable’ medieval secret to open up a stunning lost history hidden in the earliest manuscript for over 800 years..

Mrs Helm Cracks the Secret of Camelot  Copyright Robert Cockburn 2022

Annoyed by the mad lovers antics of King Arthur’s Knights in her Penguin Classics course book, Joan got a microfiche copy of the earliest 12thC manuscript, a French national treasure, from the Bibliotheque nationale in Paris. Using homespun logic she got to work. ‘I’m a mum and a grandma. I know what boys are like when they fall in love. Lancelot’s behaviour was so over of the top I knew there had to be another explanation.’

Joan caused astonishment when she applied maths to analyse the manuscript’s structure of lines and painted letters. 

A lone golden capital 'E' marks a key moment in the love affair. The 'E' also divides the manuscript into sides of a classical Greek triangle, possibly unseen for 800 years. What is the geometry of Pythagoras and Plato doing at the Court of King Arthur?

‘Bingo!’ Joan smiles, ‘The trouble with your literary people is they don’t know their maths.’

Joan opens up a lost history brilliantly hidden in the manuscript. It leads to the real 12thC Court of Windsor Castle where the literary legend of King Arthur began, to a mighty King and Queen, royal adultery,  family separation, war and momentous discoveries.

At the Bibliotheque nationale in Paris, Prof William Kibler says the manuscript is the ‘holy grail of medieval literature’ as scholars still try to solve the poet’s mysterious challenge.

Prof Kibler is the top medieval manuscript expert chosen by Penguin Classics to translate its definitive new Arthurian Romances from the manuscript. The Austin University professor dumped today’s chocolate box image of Camelot to restore the 12thC tale’s original power, violence, humour and complex psychological studies of young people coming to terms with marriage. But, even Prof Kibler, a gentle romantic Texan, admits that the secret remains beyond him. Is Joan right?

Joan initially faced ridicule and opposition to her work. She challenges our understanding of how we look at history and literature, and the narrow assumptions of modern academia and its strict subject specializations. She studied 12thC royal courts where scientists and artists met to exchange knowledge in an explosion of exploration and creative works. Camelot came out of this exciting world in Windsor and Troyes, near Paris, where a French genius called Chretien de Troyes created Britain’s quintessential literary king.

Moving to the university’s French department, Joan overcame established ideas to win international recognition and a PhD. Her discoveries are featured in The London Times, The Australian and on ABC Radio.

Filmed in Australia, Britain and France with interviews and historical documents from the French Bibliotheque nationale and the universities of Queensland, Cambridge and London.

Mrs Helm Cracks the Secret of Camelot  Copyright Robert Cockburn 2022 E-mail: