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Knights of the Round Table

Arthur, the celebrated hero of the Britons, is said to have been born in 501 AD. His life was a continued scene of wonders. Arthur, King of the Britons, succeeded his father Uther Pendragon, who was brother to Aurelius Ambrosius, the third son of Constantine; he married Igren, Duchess of Cornwall, by whom he had this son Arthur (born at Tindagal in Cornwall), who was the eleventh King of England from the departure of the Romans, and was crowned about the year 516.

It is said that he killed four hundred and seventy Saxons with his own hand in one day ; and after having subdued many mighty nations, and instituted the order of the Knights of the Round Table, died AD 542, of wounds which he received in battle.

The story of King Arthur and his Knights is one of the greatest that men have ever made, greater by far than that of Charlemagne, which had come into fashion a little earlier, greater perhaps even than the Tale of Troy, already some two thousand years old, which for some centuries it eclipsed.

It is through the fifteenth-century prose of Sir Thomas Malory, in which homeliness and nobility go hand-in-hand, that it holds its place in English hearts, but the story itself was the outcome of the second half of the twelfth century and the beginning of the thirteenth, the days in England of Henry II and his three turbulent sons, Geoffrey, Richard Coeur de Lion, and John, the days in France of trouvere and troubadour, the days in Italy of S. Francis of Assisi and the worldliness against which he strove. Something of the spirit of all these entered into the story, together with some contemporary theology, while the stuff of which it was woven was largely derived from the Celtic borderland with which the Norman rulers of England had come in contact in Wales and Brittany.

The story of King Arthur will never die while there are English men to study and English boys to devour its tales of adventure and daring and magic and conquest. Generations feasted on its legends for centuries, and never grew tired of the grand chivalry of the " blameless king," and the wanderings, feats, and dangers of his chosen band of knights.

It is said that in ancient days there lived a very noble King, named Uther-Pendragon, and he became Overlord of all of Britain. This King was very greatly aided unto the achievement of the Pendragon realm by the help of two men, who rendered him great assistance in all that he did. The one of these men was a certain very powerful enchanter and sometime prophet known to men as Merlin the Wise; and he gave very good counsel unto Uther-Pendragon. The other man was an excellent noble and renowned knight, hight Ulfius (who was thought by many to be the greatest leader in war of any man then alive); and he gave Uther-Pendragon aid and advice in battle. So, with the help of Merlin and Sir Ulfius, Uther-Pendragon was able to overcome all of his enemies and to become King of the entire realm.

After Uther-Pendragon had ruled his kingdom for a number of years he took to wife a certain beautiful and gentle lady, Igraine. This noble dame was the widow of Gerois, the Duke of Tintegal; by which prince she had two daughters one of whom was named Margaise and the other Morgana le Fay. And Morgana le Fay was a famous sorceress. These daughters the Queen brought with her to the Court of Uther-Pendragon after she had married that puissant King, and there Margaise was wedded to King Urien of Gore, and Morgana le Fay was wedded to King Lot of Orkney. Now after awhile Uther-Pendragon and Queen Igraine had a son born unto them.

Merlin came to Uther Pendragon with a spirit of prophecy strong upon him (for such was often the case with him), and, speaking in that spirit of prophecy, he said, "Lord, it is given unto me to foresee that thou shalt shortly fall sick of a fever and that thou shalt maybe die of a violent sweat that will follow thereon. I do beseech thee, Lord, that thou wilt permit Sir Ulfius and myself to presently convey the child away unto some place of safe refuge, where he may be hidden in secret until he groweth to manhood and is able to guard himself from such dangers as may threaten him."

And after Uther-Pendragon had departed from this life, it was likewise as Merlin had feared, for all the realm fell into great disorder. For each lesser king contended against his fellow for overlordship, and wicked knights and barons harried the highways as they listed and there levied toll with great cruelty upon helpless wayfarers. Thus there passed nearly eighteen years in such great affliction.

Merlin caused by magic that a huge marble stone, four square, should suddenly appear in an open place before the cathedral door. And upon this block of marble he caused it to be that there should stand an anvil and into the anvil he caused Ktnshoodit that there should be thrust a great naked sword midway deep of the blade. And this sword was the most wonderful that any man had ever seen, for the blade was of blue steel and extraordinarily bright and glistering. And the hilt was of gold, chased and carved with marvellous cunning, and inlaid with a great number of precious stones, so that it shone with wonderful brightness in the sunlight. Merlin bade the Archbishop to command that every man should make assay to draw out the sword, for that he who should succeed in drawing it forth out of the anvil should be rightwise King of Britain.

There being no one to stay young Arthur, he leapt upon the block of marble and laid his hands unto the hilt of the sword. And he bent his body and drew upon the sword very strongly, and, lo! it came forth from the anvil with wonderful smoothness and ease, and he held the sword in his hand, and it was his.

In the early days of Arthur's reign Merlin warns him that fate has already woven its net about him, and that the sins of himself and his queen will in the end bring his reign to a violent termination, and break up that grand fellowship of the Hound Table which has made Britain and its king illustrious. Kay with his satirical tongue, Dinadan with his love of fun, Tristram loving and noble, Lancelot bold and chivalrous, Gawaine treacherous and implacable, Arthur kingly but adventurous, Mark cowardly and base-hearted, Guenever jealous but queenly, Isolde tender and faithful, and a host of other clearly individualized knights and ladies move in rapid succession through the pages of the romance.

Arthur performs prodigies of valor, is the ideal knight of his order of the Round Table, and finally departs for some unknown region, where it is implied he becomes immortal, and never desists from the performance of deeds of valor.

Arthur remains as mystical a figure as Achilles, despite the efforts of various writers to bring him within the circle of actual kings. After the Eomans left Britain, two centuries passed of whose history hardly a coherent shred remains. This was the age of Arthur, one of the last champions of Celtic Britain against the inflowing tide of Anglo-Saxon invasion. That there was an actual Arthur there is some, but no very positive, reason to believe. After all the evidence has been offered, we still seem to have but a shadowy hero before us, " a king of shreds and patches," whose history is so pieced out with conjecture that it is next to impossible to separate its facts from its fancies. That the stories told of him are all fiction cannot be declared. Many of them may have been founded on fact. But, like the stones of a prehistoric wall, their facts are so densely enveloped by the ivy of fiction that it is impossible to delve them out.

The true Grail hero must be a knight with the purest heart, who was not only chaste, but also a virgin without sins. That knight was Galahad (Perceval according to Boron), the son of Lancelot, the only knight allowed understanding of the mystery of the Holy Grail. Mordred, who also belonged to the Round Table, and was born as the result of incest, between Arthur and his half-sister Morgawse. Mordred would allow his own lust for power and his father's wife (Guinevere), to seize the kingdom during Arthur's absence. One of the most notable failings of the Round Table was that Lancelot, the greatest knight in the world, was in love with Queen Guinevere. Lancelot and Guinevere had committed adultery, thereby stained the honour of the Round Table. Arthur's war against Lancelot had split the Round Table into two factions, and left him terribly weakened when Mordred betrayed him.

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Page last modified: 26-02-2016 19:15:30 ZULU