The Knights of the Round Table
The Round Table of Arthurian mythology was the table used by the court of King Arthur and his knights in their rule of Britain. It is thought that the table was used to quell arguments between knights over who had the most status. As the table was round, nobody was seen as being more important than the others. The table came to stand as emblem of chivalry.
It is thought that the table was originally built by King Arthur’s father, Uther Pendragon, who then presented it to King Leodegrance of Cameliard. This king was the father of Guinevere and, when she married King Arthur, he gave them the table as part of her dowry.
Legends believe that the table was the idea of the sorcerer Merlin and that its design was based on both the Grail Table of Joseph of Arimathea and on the table used at the Last Supper.
It is not known exactly how many knights could sit around the Round Table as reports vary. Myths tell us that Merlin used his magic to have the name of each knight appear at his place whenever the table was used - even if they did not sit in the same places.
The most famous seat at the Round Table was also held to be set out by Merlin. Known as the Siege Perilous, this seat could only be taken by the knight known as the Grail Knight who would know the secret of the Holy Grail and who would be pure of heart and chaste. In many legends this knight was Galahad. Sitting at the Siege Perilous if you were not the Grail Knight was indeed perilous as the wrong occupant would die!
The knights of the round table were given an emblem with a cross on it to wear by King Arthur when he knighted them. Once they joined the Order of the Knights of the Round Table they were committed to maintaining certain principles such as loving and honouring God and men. They also had to devote their lives to doing noble deeds and to live pure lives so that they could aspire to the Holy Grail.
It is not really known how many knights would sit at the round table as reports vary widely from 25 to over 150. Some famous figures include:
- Sir Gawein - Gawein was held to be the perfect knight.
- Sir Lancelot - Lancelot was held to be the noblest knight and is best known for his supposed affair with Queen Guinevere.
- Sir Perceval - Perceval was considered to be the original Grail Knight.
- Sir Galahad - the son of Lancelot, Galahad became the actual Grail Knight.
- Sir Bedivere - Bedivere was King Arthur’s cup bearer. He was the knight who threw Excalibur back into the lake upon Arthur’s death.