19Butler, Hubert. Ten Thousand Saints: A Study in Irish & European Origins. Kilkenny, Ireland: Wellbrook, 1972. 57-61.

Historian and folklorist Ron James discusses Euhemerism, the idea the the principal characters of legends may be based upon historic individuals in an appendix to his e-book "Introduction to Foklore: Traditional Studies in Europe and Elsewhere." This appendix is presented in an abridged version below:

"The idea that the gods and heroes of legend are based on real people had an early proponent in the Greek, late-fourth-century BCE writer, Euhemerus, giving his name to this approach to myth and legend: Euhemerism. Folklorists generally regard the idea that there was an actual basis for most oral tradition as barking up the wrong tree, because the original “real” event behind a story is usually elusive and searching for that core is a futile exercise. In addition, research into how stories began usually concludes that they emerge in a rather spontaneous way, typically without an actual incident to inspire them.

A simple Google search for the “origins of King Arthur” provides more websites than one could easily read in a week. Was there a proto-Arthur? Perhaps. Maybe there were several. But what does that prove? Every society has remarkable characters, and it may be a natural process for these sorts of individuals to attract all manner of traditional stories that have nothing to do with the original inspiration of the cycle of legends.
So what do we have with Arthur? Was there a core source (or sources) for this legendary character? Let’s concede for the sake of argument that the answer is yes. Now, did this individual have a great warrior at his side who became ensnared by the leader’s wife in the fashion of Lancelot and Guinevere? That is more problematic since this type of story is also associated with Diarmuid and Grainne in the Irish court of King Finn and with the Cornish stories of Tristan and Isolde in the court of King Mark. One could even argue that it is the story behind Helen of Troy. In fact, it appears that this was a widespread type of story that became associated with various courts of historical legend. We cannot conclude that every great king had a queen who was attracted to one of his warriors and coerced him to take her away. This is simply a story that was attached to cycles involving great courts. In short, the further one goes back to find the “real Arthur,” the less the candidate (or candidates) look like the King Arthur who has been beloved for centuries. The proto Arthurs are not really King Arthur. They may be seeds but they look nothing like the tree that would grow over the centuries. We do not hold an acorn and say “Ah, I have in my hand a mighty oak tree.” It is not yet a tree. It is a seed. And the two look very different even if they are genetically linked.

It doesn’t matter what is behind stories so much as it does that people tell these stories. I’m in it for that part of the game; I consider stories as they are told over time, to gain from that material some insight into the past, into culture, and into the human condition. I am a folklorist. And with that, my plate is full."