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King Arthur Essay, Research Paper
Mrs. Jill Doggett
CP English 12
March 13, 2000
King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table
The legend of King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table is a story mixed with historical truths and exaggerated fiction. The legend of King Arthur, known as the Arthurian Legend, comes from the Middle Ages and is both fact and fiction. There really was a King Arthur who was king of the Britons. He was a type of military leader who fought Germanic invaders. Many of the Tudor monarchs claimed lineage to King Arthur to justify and prove their right to the throne. Most of the knowledge of Arthur is legend. There is no doubt, though, that stories about him have influenced literature, society, music, and art from the Middle Ages. (King Arthur 1)
Arthur was the illegitimate son of King Uther Pendragon and Lady Igraine, who was married to the Duke of Cornwall. After Arthur was born he was given to Merlin, a man believed to be a prophet, who cared for him and then gave him to Sir Ector. (Arthur 1) Merlin stayed in touch with Arthur as his tutor and also guided him throughout the rest of his life. (Arthurian 1-5) Arthur was raised alongside Ector’s son, Sir Kay, but knew nothing of his royal ancestry. ( Ackerman, 757)
One day there was a tournament for the knights. Sir Kay had forgotten his sword and sent Arthur back to get it. Arthur did not know where the sword was but he did remember where a sword in a stone was located. Arthur went and pulled the sword out of the stone. He took this sword back to Sir Kay. When he returned with this sword all the knights recognized the sword in the stone. The knights did not believe Arthur had
pulled the sword from the stone so they all went back and made him do it again. Legend stated that whoever removed the sword from the stone was supposed to be crowned King of Camelot. No one wanted young Arthur to be king. They waited a month and had many people come and try to pull the sword out of the stone but no one else could. Two months later, on Easter, they tried again and still no one could remove the sword. Finally, after another effort they admitted that it must be God’s will and so they crowned Arthur King of Camelot until his death. (Macleod, 5-8)
Merlin, who influenced Arthur greatly, was said to be a real person. Merlin was the illegitimate son of a nun. Fictionally, many believed he came from an evil father and Merlin was supposed to be the opposite of Jesus Christ, but because he was baptized at an early age, he was not an evil man. Merlin helped Arthur’s father gain control of the throne. Merlin is also said to have made Stonehenge as a memorial to four hundred sixty Britons who were murdered at a peace conference. He also used his powers to create the sword in the stone so that Arthur could later become King and prove his ancestry. Merlin created the Lady of the Lake who made Arthur a magical sword called Excalibur. The Lady of the Lake eventually gained so much power that she had more than Merlin and she created herself a son, Lancelot of the Lake (also known as Sir Lancelot). She caused Merlin to fall in love with her because she was scared of being enslaved by him. She imprisoned him in a glass tower. His imprisonment, Merlin believed, was the cause of Arthur’s death because Merlin could not be present at a battle in which Arthur was hurt. Merlin felt a lot of grief for what had happened and exiled himself to Caledonian Forest where he eventually died. His bones were found and were said to be buried at Marlborough College in Wiltshire or at Ynys Enlli (Bardsey Island) off the coast of Wales. (Arthurian 1-5)
Excalibur and the sword in the stone were actually two different swords. The sword and the stone was used by Merlin to show Arthur and others in his kingdom proof of his birthright and his nobility as part of his destiny. (Excalibur and?1) Excalibur was given to Arthur by the Lady of the Lake. Excalibur was said to have magical powers that would keep, as long as Arthur had it, its owner from shedding blood or being injured. (Macleod, 27-28) The sword was somehow stolen sometime close to Arthur’s death. He was injured while the sword was gone. It was soon recovered days before Arthur died, but Arthur told Sir Bedevere, one of his knights, to throw Excalibur back into the lake from which it came. The knight threw it back into the lake but just before it went into the water the Lady of the Lake rose up out of the water and caught the sword. This was the last time the sword Excalibur was ever seen. (Ackerman. Excalibur, 443)
Guinevere was the love of Arthur’s life. She was the daughter of King Leodegrance of Cameliard. (Guinevere 1) Arthur chose Guinevere to be his wife. He had been king for awhile and his lords were anxious for him to b married. Merlin advised him not to marry Guinevere because he knew the trouble that would follow. Her father gave Arthur the Round Table as a wedding present, which had belonged to Arthur’s father. He also offered Arthur land and part of his kingdom. Arthur told him he loved Guinevere and just wanted her but that he would take the Round Table. Soon they were married at Canterbury. (Macleod, 29, 31) Guinevere later had a love affair with Sir Lancelot, one of Arthur’s best and most trusted knights. (Arthur 1)
Guinevere and Lancelot began their affair and fell in love while Arthur was away at war. (Arthur 1) They had a long affair, which ended when a hermit warned Sir Lancelot that there would be trouble at the Round Table if the love affair continued. Lancelot
ended the affair but the trouble between Arthur and Lancelot continued. Fifteen
years later Sir Mordred, Arthur’s illegitimate son, told Arthur that Lancelot tried to kill him. Lancelot ran away and Arthur went after him. This event and many others helped lead to the destruction of the kingdom and the ultimate death of Arthur. (Macleod, 299-304)
The Round Table was the table at which King Arthur and all his knights sat. It was created by Merlin for King Uther who gave it to Guinevere’s father. It was a large round table with one hundred and fifty seats. (Ackerman. Round Table, 494) Arthur had one hundred of his own knights and the Archbishop of Cantebury sent twenty-eight knights. Merlin picked twenty more, all totaling one hundred and forty-eight knights. One seat was reserved for Arthur and one for the Siege Perilous, a seat saved for the purest knight. Many brave men came to Camelot hoping to take one of the other knight’s seats. (Ackerman. Round Table, 495) The Round Table was used to conduct business and used for feasts. Only the most honored were allowed even to be close to this table. (Macleod, 246-249)
The Siege Perilous was a special seat. No one could occupy it without having died. (Macleod, 246-249) It was reserved for the purest knight who was someday destined to find the Holy Grail, a cup believed to be used by Christ. (The Holy Grail 1) The only knight to occupy the Siege Perilous without being killed was Sir Galahad. (Macleod, 246-249)
To be a knight of the Round Table was considered a great honor. The Knights had to morally pure and display the characteristics of chivalry. They had to be brave and many of them were glad to be chosen to risk their lives for King Arthur. Some of the most popular knights included Sir Bon, Sir Ector, Sir Gareth, Sir Kay, Sir Lancelot, Sir Gawain, Sir Ywain, Sir Palomides, Sir Galahad, and Sir Perceval. Sir Mordred was
popular but was considered an evil knight. (Ackerman. Excalibur, 495)
Sir Lancelot was Arthur’s favorite knight until his affair with Guinevere. Because of his skill and bravery during battle, he was the bravest and most respected of all the knights. But his affair with Arthur’s wife was his downfall. (Ackerman. Lancelot, 58) Sir Galahad was Lancelot’s son. (Lancelot 1) After fleeing Camelot because of his troubles with Arthur, Lancelot evaded being caught and eventually sought refuge in France. Arthur went to find him but had to return to Camelot when Mordred took over the kingdom. After Arthur was killed, Lancelot went back to Camelot and became a priest. (Ackerman. Lancelot, 58)
Sir Gawain was Arthur’s nephew. Sir Gawain was known for his bravery and his romanticism. He showed the highest ideals of chivalry. He was said to be the most genuine and honest of all the knights and was very popular with the ladies. Sir Gawain was also a trusted friend of King Arthur. (Gawain 1)
In the time of King Arthur, the Holy Grail was very special. It was believed to be the cup from which Jesus Christ drank from at the Last Supper. (The Holy Grail 1) All knights tried to reach a level of purity to be able to drink from the Holy Grail. Stories about The Grail claimed it was magical and would provide food or drink for anyone who used it. Legend stated that The Grail had been taken to Britain by a disciple of Christ. Three knights, including Sir Galahad, were sent to bring back The Grail. After finding the cup, but while still away from Camelot, Sir Galahad died. Legend has it that after Galahad died, the other two knights watched The Holy Grail rise into heaven, never to be seen again. The goal of every knight was to be pure so he could drink from the coveted cup one day. (Ackerman. Holy Grail, 283-284)
As previously stated, the affair between Guinevere and Lancelot was the beginning
of the end for Arthur and Camelot. When Lancelot fled to France, the knights were divided in whom they would support, Arthur or Lancelot. Sir Gawain sided with Arthur because Lancelot had killed two of his brothers. (Lanier, 247) When Gawain and Arthur left to go after Lancelot, Sir Mordred was left in charge of the kingdom. (Ackerman. Round Table, 495) It was while Arthur was fighting a war with Lancelot that Mordred took over the kingdom. (Lanier, 250-254)
Sir Mordred seized Arthur’s throne and began a reign of terror. When Arthur and Gawain heard of the takeover they immediately returned. War broke out over the kingdom. It was during one of the battles that Mordred and Arthur fought each other. Arthur killed Mordred but was wounded in doing so. (Ackerman. Round Table, 495) Many believed that King Arthur would recover, but a few days later he died. (Ackerman. King Arthur, 757)
As a result of the death of King Arthur the group of men known as the Knights of the Round Table began to gradually get smaller until they were no more. This sad end to this group of men became known as the end of chivalry and the end of knighthood. (Ackerman. Round Table, 495)
The legend of King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table may be just that-a legend. But there are some facts that may prove some of these men actually lived, though not exactly the way they are described in the legend. There is no doubt that the Arthurian Legend still lives in the stories, poetry, and literature of the English and British culture and in many children’s books. The books and poems tell about the highest ideals of chivalry, bravery and honesty; romantic qualities that legends are made of.
Perhaps there were, a long time ago, real men who took up these qualities and lived storybook lives.
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