He (Arthur) returned to England, where he was welcomed by his people with marvellous joy. Twelve years he abode in his realm in peace and content, since none was so bold as to do him a mischief, and he did mischief to none. Arthur held high state in a very splendid fashion. He ordained the courtesies of courts, and bore himself with so rich and noble a bearing, that neither the emperor's court at Rome, nor any bragged of by man, was accounted as aught beside that of the king. Arthur never heard speak of a knight in praise, but he caused him to be numbered of his household. So that he might he took him to himself in time of need. Because of these noble lords about his hall, of whom each knight pained himself to be the hardiest champion, and none would count him the least praiseworthy, Arthur made the Round Table, so reputed of the Britons. This Round Table was ordained of Arthur that when his fair fellowship sat to meat their chairs should be high alike, their service equal, and none before or after his comrade. Thus no man could boast that he was exalted above his fellow, for all alike were gathered around the board, and none was alien at the breaking of Arthur's bread. At this table sat Britons, Frenchmen, Normans, Angevins, Flemings, Burgundians and Loherins. Knights had their place who held land of the king, from the furtherest marches of the west even unto the Hill of St. Bernard. A most discourteous lord would he be who sojourned not awhile in the king's hall; who came not with the counteance, the harness, and the vesture that were the garb and usage of those who served Arthur about his court. From all the lands there voyaged to this court such lords as were in quest of either gain or worship. Of these lords some drew near to hear tell of Arthur's courtesies; others to marvel at the pride of his state; these to have speech with the knights of his chivalry; and some to receive of his largeness costly gifts For this Arthur in his day was loved right well of the poor , and honoured meetly by the rich. Only the kings of the world bore him malice and envy, since they doubted and feared exceedingly lest he should set his foot upon them every one, and spoil them of their heritage.
Wace and Layamon: Arthurian Chronicles, translated by Eugene Mason, Dent, 1962 (1912), pp. 55-56
I may say how it happened, wondrous though it seem. It was on a yule-day, that Arthur lay in London; then were come to him men of all his kingdoms, of Britain, of Scotland, of Ireland, of Iceland, and of all the lands that Arthur had in hand; and all the highest thanes, with horses and with swains. There were come seven kings' sons, with seven hundred knights; without the folk that obeyed Arthur. Each had in heart proud thoughts, and esteemed that he were better than his companion. The folk was of many a land; there was mickle envy; for the one accounted himself high, the other much higher. Then blew men the trumpets, and spread the tables; water men brought on floor, with golden bowls; next soft clothes, all of white silk. Then sate Arthur down, and by him Wenhaver the queen; next sate the earls, and thereafter the barons; next the knights, all as men them disposed. And the high-born men bare the meat even forth-right then to the knights; then toward the thanes, then toward the swains, then toward the porters, forth at the board. The people became angered, and blows there were rife; at first they threw the loaves, the while that they lasted, and the silver bowls, filled with wine, and afterwards with the fists approached to necks. Then leapt there forth a young man, who came out of Winetland; he was given to Arthur to hold as hostage; he was Rumareth's son, the King of Winet. Thus said the knight there to Arthur the king: "Lord Arthur, go quickly into thy chamber, and thy queen with thee, and thy known relatives, and we shall decide this combat against these foreign warriors." Even with the words he leapt to the board where lay the knives before the sovereign; three knives he grasped, and with the one he smote the knight in the neck, that first began the same fight, so that his head on the floor fell to the ground. Soon he slew another, this same thane's brother; ere the swords came, seven he felled. There was fight exceeding great; each man smote other; there was much blood shed, mischief was among the folk!
Then approached the king out of his chamber; with him an hundred nobles, with helms and with burnies; each bare in his right hand a white steel brand. Then called Arthur, noblest of kings: " Sit ye, sit ye quickly, each man on his life! And whoso will not that do, he shall be put to death. Take ye me the same man, that this fight first began, and put withy on his neck, and draw him to a moor, and put him in a low fen; there he shall lie. And take ye all his dearest kin, that ye may find, and strike off the heads of them with your broad swords; the women that ye may find of his nearest kindred, carve ye off their noses, and let their beauty go to destruction; and so I will all destroy the race that he of came. And if I evermore subsequently hear, that any of my folk, of high or of low, eft arear strife on account of this same slaughter, there shall ransom him neither gold nor any treasure, fine horse nor war-garment, that he should not be dead, or with horses drawn in pieces____that is of each traitor the law! Bring ye the reliques, and I will swear thereon; and so, knights, shall ye, that were at this fight, earls and barons, that ye will not it break." First swore Arthur, noblest of kings; then swore earls, then swore barons; then swore thanes, then swore swains, that they nevermore the strife would arear. Men took all the dead, and carried them to burial-place. Afterwards men blew the trumpets, with noise exceeding merry; were he lief, were he loath, each there took water and doth, and then sate down reconciled to the board, all for Arthur's dread, noblest of kings. Cupbearers there thronged, gleemen there sung;harps gan resound, the people was in joy Thus full seven nights was all the folk treated.
Afterwards it saith in the tale, that the king went to Cornwall; there came to him anon one that was a crafty workman, and met the king, and fair him greeted:-" Hail be thou, Arthur, noblest of kings ! I am thine own man; through many land I have gone; I know of tree-works (carpentry) wondrous many crafts, I heard say beyond the sea new tidings, that thy knights gan to fight at thy board; on a midwinter's day many there fell; for their mickle mood wrought murderous play, and for their high lineage each would be within. But I will thee work a board exceeding fair, that thereat may sit sixteen hundred and more, all turn about, so that none be without; without and within, man against man. And when thou wilt ride, with thee thou mightest it carry, and set it where thou wilt, after thy will; and then thou needest never fear, to the world's end, that ever any moody knight at thy board may make fight, for there shall the high be even with the low." Timber was caused to be brought, and the board to be begun; in four weeks' time the work was completed.
At a high day the folk was assembled, and Arthur himself approached soon to the board, and ordered all his knights to the board forth-right. When all were seated, knights to their meat, then spake each with other, as if it were his brother; all they sate about; was there none without. Every sort of knight was there exceeding well disposed; all they were one by one (seated), the high and the low; might none there boast of other kind of drink other than his comrades, that were at the board. This was the same board that Britons boast of, and say many sorts of leasing, respecting Arthur the king. So doth every man, that another can love; if he is to him too dear, then will he lie, and say of him more honour than he is worth; no man is he so wicked, that his friend will not act well to him. Eft if among folk enmity areareth, in ever any time between two men, men can say leasing of the hateful one, though he were the best man that ever ate at board; the man that to him were loath, he can him last find! It is not all sooth nor all falsehood that minstrels sing; but this is the sooth respecting Arthur the king. Was never ere such king, so doughty through all things I For the sooth stands in the writings how it is befallen, from beginning to the end, of Arthur the king, no more nor less but as his laws (or acts) were.
Wace and Layamon: Arthurian Chronicles, translated by Eugene Mason, Dent, 1962 (1912), pp. 209-211.
This has been summarised from the above three works, attributed to Robert de Boron. The translation used was that of Nigel Bryant, entitled 'Merlin and the Grail' and published by D. S. Brewer of Cambridge in 2001. It must be noted that the version of the execution of Jesus Christ given by Robert de Boron does not correspond to the story of Christ's passion as promulgated by Christian churches.
The events that start the sequence which will eventually lead to the construction of the Round Table begin with the betrayal and execution of the founder of Christianity, Jesus Christ.
Three nights before the religious festival of the Passover, Christ's enemies meet at the house of Caiaphas and discuss how to capture Christ. Their meeting is interupted by Judas, a disaffected disciple of Christ. As the chamberlain of Christ, he is angry that he has been denied a perquisite that was his by right and is willing to betray Christ for the sum of money that he feels that he was wrongfully denied.
Judas was annoyed that Mary Magdelene had annointed Christ's feet with precious oil and that he had not receive the portion of the oils value. Judas, as Christ's chamberlain, received a tenth of all moneys that belonged to Christ and he calculated one tenth of the value of the oil and determined to obtain this amount from Christ's enemies. As he estimated the value of the oil to be three hundred pence, Judas believed that he should have been given thirty pence.
When Christ's enemies hear of Judas grievance, they agree to pay him thirty pence in return for him betraying Christ. Judas willingly accepts, but tells his new allies that they must be careful not to mistakenly capture James. He is the cousin of Christ, as well as being a follower, and has a close likeness to Christ. He tells the enemies that he will kiss Christ so that they will know who to seize.
This plot is overheard by Joseph of Arimathea, who is a soldier in the service of Pilate, the Roman governer of Judea. Though he is a secret follower of Christ, fear prevents Joseph of telling anyone about this plot against Christ.
The Thursday following, Christ and his followers gather for a meal at the house of Simon the Leper. Christ's enemies enter the house and Judas kisses Christ as promised previously. When Christ is taken Judas warns his captors to hold him firmly because of his great strength. One of Christ's enemies also takes the vessel that had contained food that Christ had blessed.
Christ and the stolen vessel are given over to Pilate. He gives Christ over to his enemies for execution. After Christ's death, Joseph of Arimathea asks Pilate for some recompense for the long period of service that he and his 'knights' have given the governer. After Pilate has agreed to meet this request, Joseph asks that he be given Christ's body. However Christ's enemies know that it has been prophecied that Christ will rise from the dead and refuse to allow his body to be taken down from the cross. Joseph now returns to Pilate.
Pilate now tells Nichodemus to take down Christ's body and, remembering the vessel given to him from Christ's meal, makes a gift of this to Joseph. Christ's body is now taken down from the Cross and Joseph washes his body. Christ's wounds are still bleeding and Joseph catches the dripping blood in the vessel that Pilate gave him. He is mindful that the blood has powerful magical properties: a falling drop had split a stone at the base of the Cross. Consequently Joseph feels that it better that the sacred blood should be caught in the vessel that held food which had been blessed by Christ, than that it fall upon the soil.
After Christ's resurrection, and the disappearance of his body from his sealed tomb, Joseph is suspected of having stolen the body. He is captured, beaten and imprisoned in an underground dungeon whose sole entrance is sealed with a rock. Here Christ appears to Joseph in glory and comforts him. He gives Joseph the vessel from the Last Supper. The same vessel which Joseph had hidden in his house after he had used it as a receptacle for the sacred blood that oozed from the wounds of Christ's corpse. Christ tells Joseph that he is to be the keeper of this vessel: the first of three keepers. He also tells Joseph of the symbolism of the vessel: a symbolism that will live on in the Christian ritual of the Sacrament.
The vessel of the sacrament will represent the stone tomb in which Joseph had placed the body of Christ. The platen covering the vessel will symbolise the stone that sealed this tomb, while the cloth that covers all, the 'corporal', will echo the winding sheet that Joseph used to wrap Christ's body. It is at this point that the text first calls the vessel the 'Grail'. Christ tells Joseph this vessel will remain with him during his captivity and will provide him with spiritual comfort.
During Joseph's imprisonment word comes to Rome of Christ's ability to miraculously cure the sick. This news decides the Emperor of Rome send an embassy to Judea to seek some object that Christ has touched. This object is to be brought back to Rome to be used to cure the Emperor''s son, Vespasian, of leprosy. The only object touched by Christ that can be dicovered is some linen cloth that is in the possession of Veronica. While Christ was being led through the streets of Jerusalem while being whipped, he asked Veronica to wipe the sweat from his brow. This she did. Afterwards an image of Christ's face appeared on the cloth, which was thereafter venerated by Veronica.
Veronica takes her cloth to Rome, where Vespasian is healed when he touches it. In gratitude Vespasian travels to Judea to punish those who were responsible for killing Christ. After absolving Pilate of all blame, Vespasian begins having the guilty torn apart by horses. He stops when those remaining alive agree to tell what had happened to Christ's body. They tell him of Joseph placing Christ's body in a tomb and of Christ's resurrection. Vespasian now demands to know what had happened to Joseph and resumes the executions until he is given this information.
Vespasian then has the stone covering Joseph's dungeon removed and descends into it himself. Here he is astounded to find Joseph still alive and is converted to Chrstianity by him. After releasing Joseph from prison, Vespasian resumes his campaign of punishment, though in a weakened form, by selling many of those guilty of being involved in the death of Christ to his retinue at the rate of thirty to the penny.
Joseph's sister, Enigeus and her husband Bron, for whom Joseph feels a great affection, come and ask Joseph's blessing. They are directed to find others who are willing to believe in God and in the Christian Trinity. These converts willingly leave their homes to follow Joseph, who sets them to work on the land. At first their efforts are successful, but they fall into the sin of 'unbridled lust' and their harvests fail as a consequence. The converts now ask Bron to find from Joseph what is the cause of their misfortunes. Whether these are the consequence of his sins or of their own failings.
Joseph prays for guidance before the Grail and is answered by the Holy Spirit. He is told to make a table like that used for Christ's Last Supper and to set it for a meal: with the Grail upon the table and covered by the edge of the tablecloth. His brother-in-law, Bron, is to go fishing and is to bring back the first fish he catches. At the table Joseph will occupy the seat corresponding to that Christ had sat in at the Last Supper, while Bron will sit on his right, but with a vacant seat between himself and Joseph. The vacant seat is in the same position as that of Judas: Judas had left the table when Jesus revealed at the Last Supper that one of his disciples would betray him. The Holy Spirit tells Joseph that this seat will remain vacant until it is occupied by Bron's grandson. The remainder of the seats (ten in number) are to be occupied those followers of Joseph who have true faith and are willing to obey the order to take their seats by the grace of God.
When this has been done, those seated at the table feel contented and fulfilled, and forget about all those who are standing about the table. These latter are challenged by one of the seated men, Petrus, who tells them they are guilty of sin because they feel nothing in the prescence of the table and Grail. Shamed they depart apat from one man.
The excluded man who remains, Moyse, endlessly asks to be allowed to sit at the table. He insists that he too is a true believer like those who have seats at the table. On the advice of the voice of the Holy Spirit, Joseph allows Moyse to sit at the table, despite having doubts over Moyse's honesty. Moyse sits on the only seat vacant, that to the right of Joseph, and is then swallowed up and falls into 'abyssmal depths'.
After the destruction of Moyse the company led by Joseph live for a long period in the state of grace that the table has brought. During this time Enigeus bore Bron twelve sons. As rearing these was arduous, they ask Joseph for advice. After Joseph has prayed once more before the Grail for advice, an angel tells him that those of Bron's sons who are willing to do so should take wives. The son who refuses to marry is then to be the leader of the others: who will become his disciples.
Alain le Gros is the only of Bron's sons who refuses to take a wife and is taken before Joseph by Bron. When Joseph has prayed before the Grail for advice, a voice tells him the following. He is to tell Alain le Gros the past of the Grail, to show him the Grail and to allow him to read what is written about Christ inside the Grail. Alain is to be told that he will attain the 'fulfillment of the human heart' in Joseph's company and is to spread the spiritual message he has received. Alain is also to be told that he will father a son who will have possession of the Grail. Joseph is instructed to give Alain the 'guardianship' of his brothers. Then Alain is to be allowed to depart and he will lead his brothers into the farthest parts of the West.
The voice then tells Joseph that the following day the Holy Spirit will bring a letter for Petrus. Joseph is then to ask Petrus where he wishes to journey. Petrus will reply that he intends to travel westward to the Vales of Avalon. Joseph is then to tell Petrus that when he reaches his destination, he is to await the coming of the son of Alain le Gros. In addition, Petrus is to be told that he cannot die until a man will come who will read the latter to him, reveal the power of the Grail and bring news of Joseph. Finally, Joseph is told to also tell Alain le Gros these predictions concerning Petrus.
The following day the predicted letter appears and Petrus tells Joseph that he will go to the vales of Avalon. Then all go to Bron's house. Here Bron blesses his children and they depart on an evangelical journey under the leadership and protection of Alain le Gros.
Despite Petrus wishing to depart, he is persuaded to stay with Joseph for another day. In the meantime a messenger of 'Our Lord' comes to Joseph and tells him to give the Grail to Bron the following day. The messenger also says that Bron is to be called the 'Rich Fisher King' because of the fish he had caught earlier on Joseph's orders.
The next day Petrus witnesses the giving of the Grail into the custody of Bron, who will travel with it 'over land and sea'. Bron is also secretly given a written account of the secrets that Christ told Joseph when he was imprisoned. After he has seen this transfer Petrus departs on his journey to the West.
Bron remains with Joseph for three days and nights, then yields to his desire to depart. Joseph gives Bron permission to depart, while he himself remains in the country of his birth till his death.
The building of the third table occured in the reign of Uther Pendragon upon the advice of Merlin. Merlin possessed knowledge of all thing past from 'the Enemy', due to his having been fathered by a form of demon known as a 'Hequibedes'. While he had knowledge of the future from God. These powers made him an ideal seer and adviser to the king.
Merlin recounts the history of the original table of the Last Supper and it's successor, which Joseph had made on the orders of 'Our Lord'. The table on which the Grail was placed, covered by a cloth. Here the magical qualities of the Grail separated good people from bad and ensured that any who sat at the table 'found the fulfillment of his heart's desires'. At the table was a seat kept vacant until 'Our Lord' should send a man to complete the table's complement.
Merlin tells Uther to 'establish' a third table which will, with its two predecessors, symbolise the Trinity. The table is to be placed in Carduel and will be inaugurated at Pentecost. At this inauguration Merlin choses 'fifty of the worthiest men of the land' to occupy seats at the third table. These men feel no desire to move from the table once they are seated there.
In answer to the king's query, Merlin tells Utherpendragon that the vacant seat will be occupied by the son of Alain li Gros. Though Alain, who had sat at the second table, has not yet married. This son will occupy his seat in the reign of Uther's successor. In the meantime Uther is to hold annual feasts at the second table in Carduel.
In the reign of Utherpendragon's successor, Arthur, the 'third table' is first called the 'Round Table'. It is now that Merlin reveals that Bron (the Rich Fisher King), the current holder of the Grail, is living in the 'isles of Ireland' and is extremely ill, but cannot die until the Grail quest has been achieved. The person who shall fulfill this quest will be a knight of the Round Table who will perfect himself through feats of arms and of chivalry. When he has done this he will ask the purpose of the Grail at the court of Bron. On this Bron will be healed and will allowed to die. At the same time the 'enchantments of the land of Britain' will disappear.
After Arthur's coronation, Merlin comes to court and recounts the histories of the precursor of the Round Table that was made by Joseph of Arimathea, and of the Grail family. Then he tells of the future attainment of the Grail.
Now Perceval, the son of Alain le Gros, comes to Arthur's court. Here he is knighted, but he is not made a member of the Round Table. At Pentecost Arthur proclaims a festival at which his knights are to bring their wives. At the festival twelve of the knights sit at the Round Table: leaving the thirteenth seat empty in remembrance of the seat that had been occupied by Judas at the Last Supper.
When Arthur tells Perceval that the vacant seat is reserved for the finest knight in the world, Perceval asks if he may sit there. Arthur attempts to discourage him, but he allows Perceval to sit in the vacant seat after the twelve knights of the Round Table have pleaded on Perceval's behalf.
After crossing himself in the name of the Holy Spirit, Perceval sits in the empty stone seat. This cracks beneath him and there is an 'anguished groan' that seem to come from the depths of the earth. Simultaneously there is a blackness that extends for a league around Arthur's palace. Then a voice criticises Arthur for allowing Perceval to sit in the empty seat. It says that Perceval was only saved from being swallowed up by the abyss, and from suffering the terrible death that had claimed Moyse, through the goodness of his father Alain le Gros and of his grandfather Bron.
The voice predicts that Perceval's action, of sitting in the vacant seat, will result in great suffering for those seated at the Round Table as they pursue the quest that Peceval's action has precipitated. The accomplishing of this quest will involve one of the Round Table knights becoming the 'finest knight in the world' through performing 'feats of arms and goodness and prowess'. This knight will then be guided, by God, to the house of the Rich Fisher King (Bron), where he will see the Grail. He will then ask what is the purpose of the Grail and who it serves. On these questions being asked, the Rich Fisher King will be healed, the broken seat at the Round Table will be mended and the enchantments that had previously burdened Britian will vanish.
Perceval is the knight who fulfills these predictions. He becomes the new custodian of the Grail after the death of Bron.
The vanishing of the enchantments and adventures of Britain, leads to the destruction of the fellowship of the Round Table. Disappointed by the prospect of an dull life, now that there will not be any more adventures in Britain, the Round Table knights plan to go overseas to seek challenges. Kay suggessts that, only an invasion of continental Europe will retain the Round Table knights in Arthur's service. Arthur agrees to follow Kay's proposal. This plan is successful in the short-term, for Arthur conquers France and defeats the army of the emperor of Rome. However, he has to return to Britain to supress the rebellion of Mordred, who has married Guinevere and usurped the throne of Britain. He defeats Mordred in Britain and pursues him to Ireland. Here Mordred is killed and Arthur is mortally wounded. Then Arthur is taken to Avalon to be healed but does not return.
Malory intersperses information on the Round Table among the mass of material that he uses in his compilation. Malory's account is not free from inconsistencies.
ALSO Merlin made the Round Table in tokening of roundness of the world, for by the Round Table is the world signified by right, for all the world, Christian and heathen, repair unto the Round Table; and when they are chosen to be of the fellowship of the Round Table they think them more blessed and more in worship than if they nad gotten half the world; and ye have seen that they have lost their fathers and their mothers, and all their kin, and their wives and their children, for to be of your fellowship. It is well seen by you; for since ye have departed from your mother ye would never see her, ye found such fellowship at the Round Table. When Merlin had ordained the Round Table he said, by them which should be fellows of the Round Table the truth of the Sangreal should be well known. And men asked him how men might know them that should best do and to achieve the Sangreal? Then he said there should be three white bulls that should achieve it, and the two should be maidens, and the third should be chaste. And that one of the three should pass his father as much as the lion passeth the leopard, both of strength and hardiness. They that heard Merlin say so said thus unto Merlin Sithen there shall be such a knight, thou shouldest ordain by thy crafts a siege, that no man should sit in it but he only that shall pass all other knights. Then Merlin answered that he would do so. And then he made the Siege Perilous,
SIR THOMAS MALORY, LE MORT D'ARTHUR, BOOK XIV CHAP. II
Above is the account given of Merlin's building of the Round Table in imitation of the world as it was conceived during the mediaeval period - as a flat round disk. The glory attached to being a Round Table knight is presented as being so much desired that family ties and obligations meant nothing beside it. The three white bulls of Merlin's prediction, who shall achieve the Grail quest, are Sir Galahad, Sir Percivale and Sir Bors de Ganis.
So it fell on a time King Arthur said unto Merlin, My barons will let me have no rest, but needs I must take a wife, and I will none take but by thy counsel and by thine advice. It is well done, said Merlin, that ye take a wife, for a man of your bounty and noblesse should not be without a wife. Now is there any that ye love more than another? Yea, said King Arthur, I love Guenever the king's daughter, Leodegrance of the land of Cameliard, the which holdeth in his house the Table Round that ye told he had of my father Uther. And this damosel is the most valiant and fairest lady that I know living, or yet that ever I could find. Sir, said Merlin, as of her beauty and fairness she is one of the fairest on live, but, an ye loved her not so well as ye do, I should find you a damosel of beauty and of goodness that should like you and please you, an your heart were not set; but there as a man's heart is set, he will be loth to return. That is truth said King Arthur. But Merlin warned the king covertly that Guenever was not wholesome for him to take to wife, for he warned him that Launcelot should love her, and she him again; and so he turned his tale to the adventures of Sangreal. Then Merlin desired of the king to have men with him that should enquire of Guenever, and so the king granted him, and Merlin went forth unto King Leodegrance of Cameliard and told him of the desire of the king that he would have unto his wife Guenever his daughter. That is to me, said King Leodegrance, the best tidings that ever I heard, that so worthy a king of prowess and noblesse will wed my daughter. And as for my lands, I will give him, wist I it might please him, but he hath lands enow, him needeth none, but I shall send him a gift shall please him much more, for I shall give him the Table Round, the which Uther Pendragon gave me, and when it is full complete, there is an hundred knights and fifty. And as for an hundred good knights I have myself, but I fawte fifty, for so many have been slain in my days. And so Leodegrance delivered his daughter Guenever unto Merlin, and the Table Round with the hundred knights, and so they rode freshly, with great royalty, what by water and what by land, till that they came nigh unto London.
SIR THOMAS MALORY, LE MORT D'ARTHUR, BOOK III CHAP. I
WHEN King Arthur heard of the coming of Guenever and the hundred knights with the Table Round, then King Arthur made great joy for her coming, and that rich present, and said openly, This fair lady is passing welcome unto me, for I have loved her long, and therefore there is nothing so lief to me. And these knights with the Round Table please me more than right great riches. And in all haste the king let ordain for the marriage and the coronation in the most honourable wise that could be devised. Now, Merlin, said King Arthur, go thou and espy me in all this land fifty knights which be of most prowess and worship. Within short time Merlin had found such knights that should fulfil twenty and eight knights, 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 in their sieges. And when this was done Merlin said, Fair sirs, you must all arise and come to King Arthur for to do him homage; he will have the better will to maintain you. And so they arose and did their homage, and when they were gone Merlin found in every sieges letters of gold that told the knights' names that had sitten therein. But two sieges were void.
SIR THOMAS MALORY, LE MORT D'ARTHUR, BOOK III CHAP. II
When the Round Table is transferred to Arthur as a wedding gift some inconsistencies begin to appear. Above it is said that the Round Table will seat 150 knights, yet elswhere Malory said that it's full complement of knights was 140 (BOOK XXI, CHAP. XIII).
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 they shall be of most worship. But in the Siege Perilous there shall no man sit therein but one, and if there be any so hardy to do it he shall be destroyed, and he that shall sit there shall have no fellow. And therewith Merlin took King Pellinore by the hand, and in the one hand next the two sieges and the Siege Perilous he said, in open audience, This is your place and best ye are to sit therein of any that is here.
SIR THOMAS MALORY, LE MORT D'ARTHUR, BOOK III CHAP. IV
So we now have two vacant sieges and the Siege Perilous. The Siege Perilous will be the seat of Sir Galahad (BOOK XIII, CHAPS. III & IV). Sir Percivale is later seated in one of the vacant sieges; that to the right of the Siege Perilous (BOOK X, CHAP. XXIII). While Lancelot occupies a siege next to the Siege Perilous (BOOK XIII, CHAP. IV): again to the right! Malory's account certainly is confused on this point .
Not all sieges of the Round Table were equal status. For example a siege close to the Siege Perilous and it's companions was superior to the generality of the seats. So that King Pellinore was especially honoured by Merlin, when the magician seated him beside the Siege Perilous and it's companion sieges. This honour given to Pellinore can be justified because he was the father of one of the knights who later achieved the quest of the Holy Grail; Sir Percivale.
There were a number of ways in which knights could become members of the Round Table. King Arthur could appoint knights directly, as in the case of Priamus (BOOK V, CHAP. XII): who was inducted onto the Round Table after assisting Arthur in a battle, then converting to Christianity.
They could be chosen by a trusted agent of King Arthur, as Merlin (BOOK III CHAP. II). King Arthur could ask an eminent ally, as King Pellinore, to suggest names which were then set before King Arthur's barons for approval (BOOK IV, CHAPS. IV & V).
Knights names could appear on the backs of the sieges of the Round Table, indicating that they were worthy of the privilege of membership. This occured with Tristram, whose name replaced that of a knight he had killed (Marhaus) on an empty siege (BOOK X, CHAP. VI). While Galahad's taking his place in the Siege Perilous was foreshadowed by the miraculous appearance of an inscription on the back of that siege.
...the barons espied in the sieges of the Round Table all about, written with golden letters: Here ought to sit he, and he ought to sit here. And thus they went so long till they came to the Siege Perilous, where they found letters newly writtten in gold which said: Four hundred winters and four and fifty accomplished after the passion of our Lord Jesu Christ ought this siege to be fulfilled. Then they all said: This is a marvellous thing and an adventurous. In the name of God, said Sir Launcelot; and then accounted the term of the writing from the birth of our Lord unto that day. It seemeth to me, said Sir Launcelot, this siege ought to be fulfilled this same day, for this is the feast of Pentecost after the four hundred and four and fifty year; and if it would please all parties, I would have none of these letters seen, till he be come that ought to achieve this adventure. Then made they to ordain a cloth of silk, for to cover these letters in the Siege Perilous.
SIR THOMAS MALORY, LE MORT D'ARTHUR, BOOK XIII, CHAP. II.
Knights could be sponsored by an existing Round Table member. After Lancelot has defeated and wounded Belleus, the latter's lady lady asks Lancelot to have Belleus made a knight of the Round Table. Lancelot promises that if Belleus attends the next Round Table festival and proves himself a 'doughty knight' he will do his utmost to ensure that Belleus is admitted to the Round Table (BOOK VI, CHAP. V). When the Round Table next assembles at Pentecost, Lancelot keeps his promise and Belleus is admitted to the Round Table (BOOK VI, CHAP. XVIII).
Finally, a knight could be conducted to a seat by a person who acted as an agent of divine forces. This only happened twice with sieges that were reserved for two knights (Percivale and Galahad) who would achieve the quest of the Holy Grail.
So on the morn the king made him (Percivale de Galis) knight in Camelot. But the king and all the knights thought it would be long or that he proved a good knight. Then at the dinner, when the king was set at the table, and every knight after he was of prowess, the king commanded him to be set among mean knights; and so Sir Percivale set as the king commanded. There was there a maiden in the Queen's court that was come of high blood, but she was dumb and never spake a word. Right so she came straight into the hall, and went unto Sir Percivale, and took him by the hand and said aloud, that the king and all the knights might hear it: Arise, Sir Percivale, the noble knight and God's knight, and go with me; and so he did. And there she brought him to the right side of the Siege Perilous, and said, Fair knight, take here thy siege, for that siege appertaineth to thee and to none other. Right so she departed and asked a priest. And as she was confessed and houselled then she died. Then the king and all the court made great joy of Sir Percivale.
SIR THOMAS MALORY, LE MORT D'ARTHUR, BOOK X, CHAP. XXIII.
So the king and all went unto the court, and every knight knew his own place, and set him therein, and young men that were knights served them. So when they were served, and all sieges fulfilled save only the Siege Perilous, anon there befell a marvellous adventure, that all the doors and the windows of the palace shut by themself. Not for then the hall was not greatly darked; and therewith they abashed both one and other. Then King Arthur spake first and said: By God, fair fellows and lords, we have seen this day marvels, but or night I suppose we shall see greater marvels. In the meantime came in a good old man, and an ancient, clothed all in white, and there was no knight knew from whence he came. And with him he brought a young knight, both on foot, in red arms, without sword or shield, save a scabbard hanging by his side. And these words he said: Peace be with you fair lords. Then the old man said unto Arthur: Sir, I bring here a young knight, the which is of king's lineage, and of the kindred of Joseph of Aramathie, whereby the marvels of this court, and of strange realms, shall be fairly accomplished.
THE king was right glad of his words, and said unto the good man: Sir, ye be right welcome, and the young knight with you. Then the old man made the young man to unarm him, and he was in a coat of red sendel, and bare a mantle upon his shoulder that was furred with ermine, and put that upon him. And the old knight said unto the young knight: Sir, follow me. And anon he led him unto the Siege Perilous, where beside sat Sir Launcelot; and the good man lift up the cloth, and found there letters that said thus: This is the siege of Galahad, the haut prince. Sir, said the old knight, wit ye well that place is yours. And he set him down surely in that siege. And then he said to the old man: Sir, ye may now go your way, for well have ye done that ye were commanded to do; and recommend me unto my grandsire, King Pelles, and unto my lord Petchere, and say them on my behalf, I shall come and see them as soon as ever I may. So the good man departed; and there met him twenty noble squires, and so took their horses and went their way.
SIR THOMAS MALORY, LE MORT D'ARTHUR, BOOK XIII, CHAPS. III & IV.
It was customary for the Round Table knights to meet each year at the religious festival of Pentecost. At this time they renewed their oaths and new Round Table knights were selected to replace those who had been slain in the previous year.
At a Round Table held at Kynke Kennadonne:-
And there were all the knights of the Round Table only those that were prisoners or slain at a recounter. Then at the high feast evermore they should be fulfilled the whole number of an hundred and fifty, for then was the Round Table fully complished.
SIR THOMAS MALORY, LE MORTE D'ARTHUR, BOOK, VII, CHAP I.
It was the practice that Arthur would only eat at the Round Table festivals after he had seen some marvel (BOOK VII, CHAP I). At the wedding feast of himself and Guinevere, it was the triple quest of the white hart, the maiden and the brachet (BOOK III, CHAP. V). At the festival held on Pentecost at Kynke Kenadonne, Gareth first appeared at Arthur's court as a handsome young giant who had not the strength to support his own body (BOOK VII, CHAP. I). At another Pentecost, Kay reminds Arthur that it is his custom not to eat until he has seen a marvel. After a floating stone containing a sword has been seen in the river at Camelot, Kay then tells Arthur that he may now eat as he has seen a 'marvellous adventure' (BOOK XIII, CHAPS. II & III).
One peculiarity of the Round Table was that the sieges indicated whether their occupants were by Arthur's side at tournaments. So that, by looking at the names inscribed on the sieges, knights who were either absent from a tournament or present but fighting against Arthur could be detected.
At the tournament at Lonazep
Then Arthur called to him Sir Kay and said: Go lightly and wit how many knights there be here lacking of the Table Round, for by the sieges thou mayest know. So went Sir Kay and saw by the writings in the sieges that there lacked ten knights, and these be their names that be not here. Sir Tristram, Sir Palomides, Sir Percivale, Sir Gaheris, Sir Epinogris, Sir Mordred, Sir Dinadan, Sir La Cote Male Taile, and Sir Pelleas the noble knight. Well, said Arthur, some of these I dare undertake are here this day against us.
SIR THOMAS MALORY, LE MORTE D'ARTHUR, BOOK X, CHAP. LXVIII.
At the annual feast of the Round Table at Pentecost it's knights renewed their oath to aid and succour the distressed.
...then the king stablished all his knights, and gave them that were of lands not rich, he gave them lands and charged them never to do outrageousity nor murder, and always to flee treason; also, by no means to be cruel, but to give mercy unto him that asketh mercy, upon pain of forfeiture of their worship and lordship of King Arthur for evermore; and always to do ladies, damosels and gentlewomen succour upon pain of death. Also, that no man take no battles in a wrongful quarrel for no law, nor for no world's goods. Unto this were all the knights sworn of the Table Round, both old and young. And every year were they sworn at the high feast of Pentecost.
SIR THOMAS MALORY, LE MORTE D'ARTHUR, BOOK III, CHAP. XV.
The knights also swore that they would never knowingly fight one another (BOOK IX, CHAP. XXXVIII). Though if one sought to evade this rule he could fight in disguise (BOOK VIII, CHAP. IV). This rule did not prevent Round Table knights challenging each other, either when they rode out as knights errant or in jousts. More questionable were the practices engaged in by Lancelot, who travelled in disguise and fought with other members of Arthur's court who did not recognise him. An even more horrifying failure of the principle of fraternity occured when Gawain and his brothers pursued a vendetta against King Pellinore and his son Lamorak.
Lancelot had the underhanded practice of engaging in knight errantry while in disguise. This led to him breaking his Round Table oath when Round Table knights and other's of Arthur's court challenged him and fought with him. On one occasion he took the armour of one of his Round Table companion, Sir Kay, while the latter slept. He deliberately did this because he knew that other knights errant would not challenge him if they recognised him. However they would challenge the arrogant and boastful Sir Kay (BOOK VI, CHAP. I). He deceives three brothers (Sir Gaunter,Sir Gilmere and Sir Raynold) who challenge the disguised Launcelot, are defeated and are sent to yield to Guinevere as Sir Kay's prisoners. Then he is challenged by four knights of the Round Table (Sir Sagramour le Desirous, Sir Ector de Maris, Sir Gawaine and Sir Uwaine), who believe him to be proud Sir Kay. Lancelot defeats all four and is then recognised by Sir Gawain as he rides away.
Slightly later Lancelot is captured and imprisoned by Morgan le Fay. He is released from this imprisonment by the daughter of Bagdemagus. In return he promises to fight for her father ina a tournament against the king of Northgalis; who will be aided by three of Arthur's knights. Lancelot stipulates that King Bagdemagus is to provide him with three knights to support him and to give him and his supporters anonymous white shields. Disguised behind this white shield, Lancelot beats the three knights of Arthur's court (Madore de la Porte, Mordred and Gahalantine) who are fighting with the king of Northgalis (BOOK VI, CHAPS. III, IV, VI, VII).
On another occasion Lancelot disguises himself by covering his shield with cloth, then embarks upon a bout of knight errantry in which he deliberately insults Arthur (BOOK X, CHAP. VI). He tells a knight of Arthur's court (Sir Galardoun) 'I hate all these that be of Arthur's court'. Then he jousts with Galardoun and kills him, so cutting short the career of a young and promising knight. Later he speaks 'great villainy of by the king, and especially by Queen Guenever' to Sir Kay and Sir Dinadin after he learns that they are from King Arthur's court. Lancelot defeats a challenge from Sir Kay, but Dinadan flees instead of supporting Sir Kay (BOOK X, CHAP. III). While travelling with this covered shield, Lancelot also defeated Sir Gawaine and Sir Bleoberis (BOOK X, CHAP. VI).
The vendetta that the sons of King Lot pursued against King Pellinore and his son (Lamorak) shows the complete breakdown of the noble principles of the Round Table fellowship that happened when a family closely related to Arthur pursued vengeance. Although he was the brother-in-law of King Arthur, King Lot had refused to acknowledge Arthur's right to the throne. Lot was killed by Arthur's loyal ally, King Pellinore (BOOK II, CHAP. X) in the final battle that ended the challenges to Arthur and confirmed him as the rightful king. In revenge Gawain, and his brother Gaheris kill King Pellinore in a treacherous attack (BOOK X, CHAPS. XXI & XXII, BOOK XI, CHAP. X). Later Pellinore's son becomes the lover of Morgause, King Lot's widow and Arthur's half-sister. Gawain sees this romantic affair purely as a subtle act of revenge by Lamorak to avenge the killing of King Pellinore by himself and Gaheris (BOOK X, CHAP. 21). Gaheris spies on the two lovers and catches them naked in bed. In his rage he beheads his mother, but allows Lamorak to go free because he is unarmed (BOOK XI, CHAP. XXIV). Later, after the tournament at Surluse, Gawain and three of his brothers (Gaheris, Aggravaine and Mordred) ambush Lamorak. They kill his horse so that he must fight on foot. For several hours Lamorak successfully defends himself against their attacks, but is finally killed when Mordred attacks him from behind. The four brothers escape punishment, despite their Round Table companions feeling disgusted and repelled by their act, because they are close kindred to King Arthur (BOOK X, CHAP. LVIII).
And therewith Merlin took King Pellinore by the hand, and in the one hand next to the two sieges and the Siege Perilous he said, in open audience. This is your place and best ye are worthy to sit therein of any that is here. Thereat sat Sir Gawaine in great envy and told Gaheris his brother, yonder knight is put to great worship, the which grieveth me sore, for he slew our father king Lot, therefore I will slay him, said Gawaine, with a sword that was sent to me that is passing trenchant. Ye shall not do so , said Gaheris, at this time, for at this time I am but a squire, and when i am made knight I would be avenged of him, and therefore, brother, it is best ye suffer till another time, that we may have him out of the court, for an we did so we should trouble this high feast. I will well, said Gawaine, as ye will.
SIR THOMAS MALORY, LE MORTE D'ARTHUR, (BOOK III, CHAP. IV)
NOW turn we to Sir Lamorak, that much was there praised. Then, by the mean of Sir Gawaine and his brethren, they sent for their mother there besides, fast by a castle beside Camelot; and all was to that intent to slay Sir Lamorak. The Queen of Orkney was there but a while, but Sir Lamorak wist of their being, and was full fain; and for to make an end of this matter, he sent unto her, and there betwixt them was a knight (sic) assigned that Sir Lamorak should come to her. Thereof was ware Sir Gaheris, and there he rode afore the same night, and waited upon Sir Lamorak, and when he saw where he came all armed. And where Sir Lamorak alit he tied his horse to a privy postern, and so he went into a parlour and unarmed him; and then he went unto the queen's bed, and she made him passing great joy, and he of her again, for either loved other passing sore. So when the knight, sir Gaheris, saw his time, he came to their bedside all armed, with his sword naked, and suddenly gat his mother by the hair and struck off her head. When Sir Lamorak saw the blood dash upon him all hot, the which he loved passing well, wit you well he was sore abashed and dismayed of that dolorous knight. And therewithal, Sir Lamorak leapt out of the bed in his shirt as a knight dismayed, saying thus: Ah Sir Gaheris, knight of the Round Table, foul and evil have ye done, and to you great shame. Alas, why have ye slain your mother that bare you? with more right ye should have slain me. The offence thou hast done, said Gaheris, notwithstanding a man is born to offer his service; but yet shouldst thou beware with whome thou meddlest, for thou hast put me and my brethren to a shame, and thy father slew our father; and thou to lie by our mother is too much shame for us to suffer. And as thy father, King Pellinore, my brother Sir Gawaine and I slew him. Ye did him the more wrong, said Sir Lamorak,, for my father slew not your father, it was Balin le Savage: and as yet my father's death is not revenged. Leave those words, said Sir Gaheris, for an thou speak feloniously I will slay thee. But by cause thou art naked I am ashamed to slay thee. But wit thee well, in what place I may get thee I shall slay thee; and now my mother is quit of thee; and withdraw thee and take thine armour, that thou be gone. Sir Lamerok saw there was none other boot, but fast armed him, and took his horse and rode his way making great sorrow.
SIR THOMAS MALORY, LE MORTE D'ARTHUR, Book X, Chap. XXIV
Alas, said Sir Tristram, full woe is me for his (Lamorak's) death, and if they were not the cousins of my lord Arthur that slew him, they should die for it, and all those that were consenting to his death. And for such things, said Sir Tristram, I fear to draw unto the court of my lord Arthur; I will that ye wit it, said Sir Tristram unto Gareth. Sir, I blame you not, said Gareth, for well I understand the vengeance of of my brethren Sir Gawaine, Agravaine, Gaheris and Mordred, But as for me, said Sir Gareth, I meddle not of their matters, therefore there is none of them that loveth me. And for I understand they be murderers of good knights I left their company; and God would I had been been by, said Gareth, when the noble knight Sir Lamorak, was slain. Now as Jesu be my help, said Sir Tristram, it is well said of you, for I had lever than all the gold betwixt this and Rome I had been there. Ye wis, said Palomides, and so would I had been there, and yet had I never the degree at no jousts nor tournament there he as he was, but he put me to the worse, or on foot or on horseback; and on that day he was slain he did the most deeds of arms that ever I saw knight do in all my life days. And when him was given the dgree by my lord Arthur, sir Gawaine and his three brethren, Agravaine, Gaheris, and Soir Mordred, set upon Sir Lamorak in a privy place, and they there they slew his horse. And so they fought with him on foot more than three hours, both before him and behind him; and Sir Mordred gave him his death wound behind him at the back, and all to hew him: for one of his squires told me that he saw it.
SIR THOMAS MALORY, LE MORTE D'ARTHUR, (BOOK X, CHAP. LVIII)
Four Hundred and fifty-four years after the crucifixion of Jesus Christ an inscription on the back of the Siege Perilous predicted that it was now the time when the siege will be occupied (BOOK XIII, CHAP. II). Then Galahad was set in the seat (BOOK XIII, CHAP. IV) and drew his sword from the floating stone that had appeared in the River that ran by Camelot (BOOK, XIII, CHAP. V). A lady on a white palfrey, the messenger of the hermit Nacien, told Arthur and his assembled knights that now "shall befall the greatest worship that ever befell king in Britain; and I say you wherefore, for this day the Sangreal appeared (sic) in thy house and fed (sic) thee and all thy fellowship of the Round Table" (BOOK XIII, CHAP. V). After a tournament, in which Galahad defeated all the knights he fights, barring Lancelot and Percevale (BOOK XIII, CHAP. VI), the court retired to feast at the Round Table. Here the Holy Grail appeared, all knights were miraculously fed with the food they desired. After this wonderful feast Gawaine swore that he would follow the quest of the Holy Grail. Inspired by Gawaine's example, the remaining knights of the Round Table vowed that they too would seek after the Holy Grail:-
And then the king snd all estates went home unto Camelot, and so went to evensong to the great minster, and so after upon that to supper, and every knight sat in his own place as they were toforhand. Then anon they heard cracking and crying of thunder, that them thought the place should all to drive. In the midst of this blast entered a sunbeam more clearer by seven times than they saw day, and all they were alighted of the grace of the Holy Ghost. Then began every knight to behold other, and either saw other, by their seeming, fairer than they ever saw afore. Not for then there was ne knight might speak a word a great while, and so they looked every man on other as they had been dumb. Then there entered into the hall the Holy Greal covered with white samite, but there was none might see it, nor who bare it. And there was all the hall fulfilled with good odours, and every knight had such meats and drinks as he best loved in this world. And when the Holy Greal had been borne through the hall, then the Holy Vessel departed suddenly, that they wist not where it became: then had they all breath to speak. And then the king yields thankings to God, of his good grace that he had sent them. Certes, said the king, we ought to thank our Lord Jesu greatly for he hath shewed us this day, at the reverence of this high feast of Pentecost. Now, said Sir Gawaine, we have been served this day with what meats and drinks we thought on; but one thing beguiled us, we might not see the holy Grail, it was so preciously covered. Wherefore I will make here make avow, that tomorn, without longer abiding, I shall labour in the quest of the Sangreal, that I shall hold me out a twelvemonth and a day, or more if need be, and never shall I return again to the court until I have seen it more openly than it hath been seen here; and if I may not speed I shall return as he that may not be against the will of our Lord Jesu Christ. When they of the Table Round heard Sir Gawaine say so, they arose up the most part and made such avows as Sir Gawaine had made.
SIR THOMAS MALORY, LE MORTE D'ARTHUR, BOOK XIII, CHAP. VII.
The downfall of the Round Table fellowship is first hinted at when it achieves it's greatest glory with the seating of Galahad in the Siege Perilous (BOOK XIII, CHAP V). After Gawaine has sworn to follow the quest of the Holy Grail and has inspired the remainder of the Round Table knights to follow his example, King Arthur expresses his sorrow at the breaking of the Round Table fellowship and his fears for the future.
Alas, said King Arthur unto Sir Gawaine, ye have nigh slain me with the avow and promise that ye have made; for through you ye have bereft me the fairest fellowship and the truest of knighthood that ever were seen together in any realm of the world; for when they depart from hence I am sure they all shall never meet more in this world, for they shall die many in the quest. And so it forthinkest me a little, for I have loved them as well as my life, wherefore it shall grieve me right sore, the departition of this fellowship: for I have had an old custom to have them in my fellowship.
AND therewith the tears filled in his eyes. And then he said: Gawaine, Gawaine, ye have set me in great sorrow, for I have great doubt that my true fellowship shall never meet here more again. Ah, said Sir Launcelot, comfort yourself; for it shall be unto us a great honour and much more than if we died in any other places, for of death we be siccar. Ah, Launcelot, said the king, the great love that I have had unto you all the days of my life maketh me to say such doleful words; for never Christian king had never so many worthy men at his table as I had this day at the Round Table, and that is my great sorrow. When the queen, ladies, and gentlewomen, wist these tidings, they had such sorrow and heaviness that might no tounge tell it, for these knights had held them in honour and charity.
SIR THOMAS MALORY, LE MORTE D'ARTHUR, BOOK XIII, CHAPS. VII & VIII.
Athur and Guinevere were joyful when those knights who had survived the quest returned to court.
SO after the quest of the Sangreal was fulfilled, and all knights that were left on live were come again unto the Table Round, as the book of the Sangreal maketh mention, then was there great joy in the court; and in especial King Arthur and Queen Guenever made great joy of the remnant that were come home, and passing glad was the king and the queen of Sir Launcelot and of Sir Bors, for they had been passing long away in the quest of the Sangreal.
SIR THOMAS MALORY, LE MORTE D'ARTHUR, BOOK XVIII, CHAPS. I.
King Arthur had feared that his court would be blighted by the dispersion of the Round Table knights at the start of the quest of the Holy Grail and by the deaths of knights dsuring the quest. Yet, the Round Table fellowship survived the quest and it's final disruption came about through a different cause.
After Lancelot had returned to court from the Grail quest, he and Guinevere resumed their adulterous affair. However Aggravaine and Mordred hated both Guinevere and Lancelot and plotted to bring about their downfall by finding proof of their adulterous relationship. Their brothers, Gawain, Gareth and Gaheris, refuse to join their plotting. A quarrel ensued in which Gawain and Gareth said that they feared the Round Table fellowship would be dispersed if Aggravaine and Mordred pursued their vendetta against Guinevere and Lancelot. Arthur interupted the argument and asked why the brothers were arguing. Then Aggravaine revealed the reason. Unwilling to act against Lancelot, to whom he owed much gratitude for his past assistance, Arthur told Aggravaine that he must have proof that Lancelot and Guinevere are having an adulterous relationship before he would punish them (BOOK XX, CHAPS I & II).
After Lancelot has been discovered in Guinevere's chamber, by a group of Round Table knights led by Mordred and Aggravaine, he successfully escaped after killing all his ambushers apart from Mordred. On learning of the proven adultery of his queen, Arthur is forced to sentence Guinevere to be burnt, as demanded by the laws of the time. Despite this proof of Lancelot's disloyalty, Arthur was distressed that Lancelot would now be his enemy and that this would lead to the many knights who were loyal to Lancelot abandoning the Round Table.
Now turn we again to Sir Mordred, that when he was escaped from the noble knight, Sir Lancelot, he anon gat his horse and mounted upon him, and unto king Arthur, sore wounded and smitten, and all forbled,; and there he told the king all how it was, and how they were all slain save himself all only. Jesu mercy, how may this be? said the king; took ye him in the queen's chamber? Yea, so God me help, said Sir Mordred, there we found him unarmed, and there he slew Colgrevance, and armed him in his armour; and all this he told to the king, from the beginning to the ending. Jesu mercy, said the king, he is a marvellous knight of prowess. Alas, me sore repenteth, said the king, that ever Sir Lancelot should be against me. Now I am sure the noble fellowship of the Round Table is broken for ever, for with him will many a noble knight hold; and now it is fallen so, said the king, that I may not with my worship, that the queen must suffer the death.
SIR THOMAS MALORY, LE MORTE D'ARTHUR, BOOK XX, CHAPS. VII.
Lancelot rescues Guievere from death by burning and takes her to his castle, the Joyous Garde. However he had accidentally killed Gareth and Gaheris during this and so earned the everlasting hatred of their brother, Gawaine. Gawaine's thirst for revenge leads to bitter warfare between Arthur and Lancelot. This is only ended after the Pope forces both parties to negotiate a peace.
A treaty is agreed between king Arthur and Lancelot. Guinevere is to be returned to Arthur and Lancelot is to leave Britain for his lands in France. Before leaving Lancelot asserts that the Round Table derived much of it's repute from the actions of himself and his kinsmen.
Truly me repenteth that ever I came in this realm, that should be thus shamefully banished undeserved and causeless; but fortune is so variant, and the wheel so moveable, there nys none constant abiding, and that may be proved by many old chronicles, of noble Ector, and Troilus, and Alisander, the mighty Conqueror, and many more others; when they were most in their royalty, they alit lowest. And so fareth it by me, said Sir Launcelot, for in this realm I had worship, and by me and mine all the whole Round Table hath been increased in worship by me and mine blood than any other.
SIR THOMAS MALORY, LE MORTE D'ARTHUR, BOOK XX, CHAPS. XVII.
Many Round Table knights now leave Britain with Lancelot. Before they accompany Lancelot, they assert that it would be shameful to remain in a country that has so unjustly expelled its leading warrior. Then they predict that their defection from the Round Table will leave Britain open to the civil disruptions of the type that had earlier been prevented by the strength of the Round Table knights.
Then spake all the knights at once: He have shame that will leave you; for we all understand in this realm will be now no quiet, but ever strife and debate, now the fellowship of the Round Table is broken; for by the noble fellowship of the Round Table was King Arthur upborne, and by their noblesse the king and all his realm was in quiet and rest, and a great part they said all was because of your noblesse.
SIR THOMAS MALORY, LE MORTE D'ARTHUR, BOOK XX, CHAPS. XVII.
Malory names many knights as being members of the Round Table: most in the adventure known as 'The Healing of Sir Urre' (BOOK XIX, CHAPS. X-XII). References to other knights are scattered throughout the Morte D'Arthur.
There are a few cases where the Caxton version of Malory (Dent/Everyman edition of 1906)and the Winchester College manuscript (as edited by Eugene Vinaver) differ and cases where knights have been given double entries:-
We have a here list that is definitely influenced by French sources. Else, however could the names of Bwrt (Bors), Galath (Galahad) and Peredur (Perceval) appear in them as three virgin knights? For these, in French texts, are the three knights who achieve the Holy Grail. The inclusion of Trystan also indicates a continental influence, as the earliest known Trystan tales were independant of the Arthurian cycle and Trystan only became integrated into it at a fairly late stage in the development of Arthurian literature. While Lanslod Lak is undoubtably Lancelot of the Lake who is, in the continental Arthurian cycle the father of Galahad (Galath). One point of note is that two sons of Llew (Lot) are mentioned who retain their place and relationship throughout the development of Arthurian literature: these are Gwalchmai (Gawain) and Medrod (Mordred). It is interesting that Medrod is honoured by being one of the three Royal Knights of Arthur's Court, a contrast to the poor reputation he enjoys in conventional Arthurian literature.
Twenty-four ordained knights were in Arthur's Court dwelling continuously, and each one of them had an innate peculiarity of achievement beyond other people.
1) Three Golden-Tounged Knights were in Arthur's Court: Gwalchmai son of Llew son of Cynfarch, and Drudwas son of Tryfin, and Eliwod son of Madog son of Uthur: and there was neither king nor lord to whom those came who did not listen to them; and whatever quest they sought, they wished for and obtained it, either willingly or unwillingly.
2) Three Virgin Knights were in Arthur's Court: Bwrt son of Bwrt king of Gascony, and Peredur son of Earl Efrog, and Galath son of Lanslod Lak. Wherever these came , where there might be giant or witch or fiendish being __ (such) could not withstand on of thise Three Virgin Knights.
3) Three Knights of Battle were in Arthur's Court: Cadwr Earl of Cornwall, and Lanslod Lak, and Ywain son of Urien Rheged. The peculiarities of thos were that they did not flee for fer of spear or sword or arrow; and Arthur was never shamed in battle on the day that he saw their faces in the field. And therefore they were called Knights of Battle.
4) Three Enchanter Knights were in Arthur's Court: Menw son of Teirgwaedd, and Trystan son of Tallwch, and E(i)ddilig the Dwarf; since they changed themselves into the form they wished when they were hard-pressed, and therefore no one could overcome them.
5) Three Royal Knights were in Arthur's Court: Nasiens son of the King of Denmark, and Medrod son of Llew son of Cynfarch, and Howel son of Emyr Llydaw. The peculiarities of those were that there was neither king nor emperor in the world who could refuse them, on account of their beauty and wisdom in peace; while in war no warrior or champion could withstand them, despite the excellence of his arms. and therefore they were called Royal Knights.
6) Three Just Knights were in Arthur's Court: Blaes son of the Earl of Llychlyn, and Cadog son of Gwynlliw the bearded, and Pedrog Splintered-Spear, son of Clement Prince of Cornwall. The peculirities of those were that whoever might do wrong to the weak, they contended against him who did him wrong in the cause of justice; and whoever might do wrong they slew, however strong he might be. For those three had dedicated themselves to preserve justice by every Law: Blaes by earthly Law, Cadog by the Law of the Church, and Pedrog by the Law of arms. And those were called Just Knights.
7) Three Irrestible Knights were in Arthur's Court: Morfran son of Tegid, and Sanddef Angel-Face, and Glewleyd Mighty-Grasp. The peculiarites of those were that it was repugnant to anyone to refuse them anything: Snadref because of his beauty, Morfran because of his ugliness and Glewlwyd because of his size and his strength and his ferocity. And therfore they were called irrestible knights.
Three Counsellor Knights were in Arthur's Court: Cynon son of Clydno Eiddyn ['of Edinburgh'],and Aron son of Cynfarch, and Llywarch the Old son of Elidir Lydanwyn. And those three were Counsellors of Arthur: whatever hardship came upon him they counselled him, so that nobody could overcome him. And thus Arthur triumphed over everyone, and in every feat, and over every nation in the world; through the strength of the powerful spirit and the faith and hope that were in his heart toward those men, and through the sacred weapons that God had given him. Rhongomiant his spear, Caledfwlch his sword, and Carnwennan his dagger.
Coe, J. B., Young, S., The Celtic Sources for the Arthurian Legend, Llanerch, 1995, pp.91-3.
KING ARTHUR'S ROUND TABLE
Where Venta's Norman castle still uprears Its rafter'd hall,-that o'er the grassy foss, And scatter'd flinty fragments, clad in moss, On yonder steep in naked state appears,- High hung remains, the pride of warlike years, Old Arthur's Board: on the capacious round Some British pen has sketch'd the names renown'd, In marks obscure, of his immortal peers Though joined,by magpie skill, with many a rime, The Druid frame, unhonor'd, falls a prey To the slow vengeance of the wizard, Time, And fade the British characters away; Yet Spenser's page, that chants in verse subblime Those chiefs, shall live, unconscious of decay.
It is an ancient legend that the castle of Winchester was built by the renowned king Arthur, in 523; but Dr. Milner ascertains that it was constructed in the reign of the Norman conqueror. In its old chapel, now termed thc county hall, is Arthur's Round Table. It hangs at the east end, and consists of stout oak plank, perforated with many bullets, supposed to have been shot by Cromwell's soldiers. It is painted with a figure to represent king Arthur, and with the names of his twenty-four knights, as they are stated in the romances of the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries. It is represented by the above engraving.
King Arthur's round table was believed to have been actually made, and placed in Winchester castle by himself; and was exhibited, as his veritable table, by king Henry VIII., to the emperor Charles V. Hence Drayton sings-
And so great Arthur's seat ould Winchester prefers, Whose ould round table yet she vaunteth to be hers.
It is Certain that among the learned, at the beginning of the sixteenth century, it was not generally credited that this had really and truly been the table of the renowned king Arthur. There is now evidence that it was introduced into this country by king Stephen. In the twelfth and succeeding centuries, knights who were accustomed to perform feats of chivalry used to assemble at a table of this form to avoid disputes for precedency. From this usage, the tournaments themselves obtained the name of the Round Table, snd are so called in the records of the times. (Milner's History of Winchester)
Arthur's round table was mentioned two centuries and a-half ago, by Paulus Jovius, who relates the emperor's visit to it, and states that many marks of its antiquity bad been destroyed, that the names of the knights were then just written afresh, and the table, with its ornaments, newly repaired. (Hist. of Winchester, by Warton)
It is agreed that this vestige of former times is of a date quite as early as Stephen, earl of Bologn, and Mortaigne, who, in 1135, achieved the chivalrous feat of seizing the crown of England, which had been settled on the empress Maud, as sole descendant of Henry I. The round table at Winchester, therefore, is at least seven hundred years old.
The reign of Arthur, the celebrated " British king," seems to have been taken on the authority of the no less celebrated Geoffrey of Monmouth, the monkish historian, in the reign of king Stephen. On this occasion it is sufficient to add, that, besides the old romance, there is a ballad, called "The Noble Acts of King Arthur, and the Knights of the Round Table; with the Valiant Atchievements of Sir Lancelot du Lake: to the tune of Flying Fame." The ballad commences thus:-
When Arthur first in court began, And was approved king; By force of arms great victories won, And conquest home did bring: Then into Britain straight he came, Where fifty good and able Knights then repaired unto him, Which were of the Round Table.
Collection of Old Ballads, 1726, ii. 21
William Hone, The Year Book of Daily Recreation and Information, London, 1850, pp. 162-163.
In the centre is the following:-
Thys is the rownde table of Kyng Arthur Wt XXIV of hys namede knygttes
Around the rim of the table are the names of the knights. They go in a clockwise direction from Galahad to Mordred. To the viewer Galahad is to the right of King Arthur and Mordred is to the left. This clockwise cycle has the unfortunate result that Galahad is seated to King Arthur's left and Mordred is on his right hand! The complete list of knights, according to 'King Arthur's Round Table' by Martin Biddle, is as follows:-
- S. galahallt - Sir Galahad
- S. launcelot deu lake - Sir Lancelot du Lake
- S. gauen - Sir Gawain
- S. p(e)rcyvale - Sir Percivale
- S. lyonell - Sir Lionel
- S. trystram delyens - Sir Tristram de Lyones
- S. garethe - Sir Gareth
- S. bedwere - Sir Bedivere
- S. blubrys - Sir Bleoberis
- S. lacotemale tayle - Sir La Cote Male Taile
- S. lucane - Sir Lucan
- S. plomyd(s) - Sir Palomides
- S. lamorak - Sir Lamorak
- S. bor(s) de ganys - Sir Bors de Ganis
- S. Safer - Sir Safere. The brother of Palomides, who converted to Christianity well before Palomides.
- S. pelleus - Sir Pelleas. Known as Pelleas the Lover, he was the hero of a romantic adventure (BOOK IV, CHAPS. XXI-XXIII).
- S. Kay - Sir Kay
- S. Ectorde mary(s) - Sir Ector de Maris
- S. dagonet - Sir Dagonet
- S. degore - Sir Degore1.
- S. brumear - A mis-spelling of Sir Blamour? Or could it be Sir Brunor? If this interpretation is correct, La Cote Male Taile had two seats at the Round Table!
- S. lybyus dysconyus - Sir Libeaus Desconus. The Fair Unknown: the son of Gawain whose real name was Gingalin.
- S. Alynore - Sir Alynore2.
- S. mordrede - Sir Mordred
1Sir Degore is the hero of a Middle English romance of the same name (Biddle, M., King Arthur's Round Table, The Boydell Press, Woodbridge, 2000, P. 280). Alternatively the name is a teritorial epiphet that was applied to knights; King Uriens of Gore or King/Sir Bagdemagus of Gore.
2A problematic name. One suggestion is that it is an error for Sir Ascamore. Alternatively it might be Sir Alymere, who appears once in the account of Arthur's last battle in the alliterative Morte Arthur(Biddle, M., King Arthur's Round Table, The Boydell Press, Woodbridge, 2000, P. 281). However my peference is that the name was an error for Sir Aliduke; a kinsman of sir Lancelot.
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