Gateway to the Classics: The World's Story: England by Eva March Tappan
The World's Story: England by  Eva March Tappan

Stories of King Arthur and His Court

[Sixth century]

[THE legends of King Arthur and his court probably have this basis in fact: that in the fifth or sixth century there arose a brave British chieftain or general who defeated the Teutonic invaders in a number of pitched battles, was betrayed by his wife, and met his death in conflict with a near kinsman. The memory of this chieftain was kept alive by the Britons in their mountain fastnesses of Wales, and in the course of centuries spread to the Continent, where the courtly poets of France and Germany remoulded the legends, making of the rude warrior chief an ideal knight of the Middle Ages, chivalrous, generous, and without fear. They reflect, therefore, the life and ideals of the twelfth and thirteenth centuries rather than of the time in which King Arthur is supposed to have lived.
The Editor. ]

King Arthur Receives the Round Table

IN the beginning of Arthur, after he was chosen king by adventure and by grace, most of the barons knew not that he was Uther Pendragon's son, until Merlin made it openly known. Then many kings and lords made great war against him for that cause; but Arthur overcame them all, for the most part of the days of his life he was ruled much by the counsel of Merlin.

So it befell that King Arthur said unto Merlin, "My barons will let me have no rest until I take a wife, and I will take none but by thy counsel and by thy advice."

"It is well," said Merlin, "that you take a wife; for a man of your attainments and nobility should not be without a wife. Now is there any that you love more than another?"

"Yea," said King Arthur, "I love Guenever, daughter of King Leodegrance of the land of Cameliard. This damsel is the most valiant and the fairest lady that I know living, or that ever I could find."

"Sir," said Merlin, "as for her beauty and fairness, she is one of the fairest on earth; but if you did not love her so well as you do, I should find you a damsel of beauty and of goodness that should like you and please you; but when a man's heart is set, he is loath to change."

"That is truth," said King Arthur.

Then Merlin sent forth unto King Leodegrance of Cameliard and told him of the desire of King Arthur to have Guenever for his wife.

"That is to me," said King Leodegrance, "the best tidings that I ever heard,—that so worthy a king of prowess and noblesse will wed my daughter. And as far as my lands, I would give him all if I thought it would please him, but he hath lands enough and needeth none. But I shall send him a gift which shall please him much more; for I shall give him the Round Table, which his father, Uther Pendragon, gave me. When it is full complete, there are one hundred and fifty knights. An hundred good knights I have myself; but I lack fifty, for so many have been slain in my days."

And so Leodegrance delivered his daughter Guenever unto Merlin, and the Round Table with the hundred knights. And they rode freshly with great royalty till they came nigh unto London.

When King Arthur heard of the coming of Guenever and the hundred knights with the Round Table, he made great joy and said openly, "This fair lady is passing welcome unto me, for I have loved her long, and therefore there is nothing so much to my liking. And these knights with the Round Table please me more than great riches."

And in all haste the king prepared for the marriage and the coronation in the most honorable fashion that could be devised.

"Now, Merlin," said King Arthur, "go thou and find me in all this land fifty knights which are of most prowess and worship."

Within a short time Merlin had found knights to fill twenty and eight sieges, but no more he could find. Then the Bishop of Canterbury was fetched, and he blessed the sieges with great royalty and devotion, and there set the eight and twenty knights. And when this was done Merlin said, "Fair sirs, you must all arise, and come to King Arthur to do him homage; for he will then have the better will to maintain you."

And so they arose and did their homage. And when they were gone, Merlin found in every siege letters of gold that told the knight's name that had sat therein. But two sieges were void.

"What is the cause," said King Arthur, "that there be two places void in the sieges?"

"Sir," said Merlin, "there shall no man sit in those places but him that shall be of most worship. But in the Siege Perilous there shall no man sit but one, and if there be any other so hardy as to sit there, he shall be destroyed."

And therewith Merlin took King Pellinore by the hand, and put him in the place next the two sieges and the Siege Perilous, and he said before them all, "This is your place, for you are most worthy to sit therein of all who are here."

Thereat Sir Gawaine was passing envious, and said to Gaheris, his brother, "Yonder knight is put to great worship, and this grieveth me sore: for he slew our father King Lot; therefore I will slay him."

"You shall not do it," said Gaheris, "at this time, for I now am but a squire; but when I am made knight I will be avenged on him. Therefore, brother, it is best that you suffer till another time, that we may have him out of the court, lest we should trouble this high feast."

"I will do as you say," said Gawaine.

There the king established all his knights, and those that had no lands he made rich in lands. And he charged them never to do outrage or murder, and always to flee treason. Also, by no means to be cruel, but to give mercy unto him that asked it, upon pain of forfeiture of their worship and lordship of King Arthur for evermore; and always to give succour unto ladies, damsels, and gentlewomen, upon pain of death. Also that no man make battle in a wrongful quarrel, either for any law or this world's goods. Unto this oath were all the knights of the Round Table sworn, both old and young. And every year were they sworn anew at the feast of Pentecost. And then when all this was done, the high feast was made ready, and King Arthur was wedded at Camelot unto Dame Guenever in the church of Saint Stephen's with much solemnity.

by Thomas Malory

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