Legend of Merlin and King Arthur’s Round Table

In the old days of King Arthur,

Of which Britons speak great honour,

All was this land filled with fairy,

The elf-queen with her jolly company.

From Chaucer’s “Canterbury Tales”

Of late, I have spent more hours than I care to consider in researching witches’ covens, druid markings, and fairy phenomena, specifically in Dorset, UK, where my next novel takes place. Dorset is surrounded by references to the wizard Merlin, which lends additional mystery and elements of the paranormal. One can find Winchester Castle in Hampshire, Merlin’s Tump at Marlborough and Stonehenge in Wiltshire, and Cadbury Castle, as well as Glastonbury Tor in Somersetshire. However, the most famous of the places associated with Merlin is the legendary court of Camelot. 

In the 15th Century, Sir Thomas Malory’s book Le Morte d’Arhur (The Death of Arthur) credits Merlin with the establishment of the Round Table in King Arthur’s court. The table, itself, has served as the symbol of equality in government and the chivalric order associated with Arthur’s knights.

The Round Table first appeared in a Norman language adaptation of Geoffrey of Monmouth’s Historia Regum Britanniae (1155). Wace’s Roman de Brut was based on Monmouth’s text. It is a verse history of Britain. Brut supplied a wider accessibility to the tales of the Arthur legend in a vernacular language. In his text, Wace is the first to mention the legend of Arthur’s Round Table and the first to ascribe the name “Excalibur” to Arthur’s sword. The Roman de Brut became the basis of Layamon’s Brut, an alliterative Middle English poem. In this poem, we learn of a mysterious “craftsman,” who came before Arthur to build him a circular table, which would seat 1600. Layamon does not give the character a name; it is Sir Thomas Malory, who assigned the event to Merlin.

According to Malory’s tale, Merlin brought about the raising of the Giant’s Dance and the Hanging Stones of Stonehenge. The stones were magically transferred from Killarus (Kildare) in Ireland to the Salisbury Plain as a memorial to British nobles treacherously slain by the Saxons. Stonehenge had, in actuality, been standing for thousands of years prior to Merlin and Arthur’s time, but the story brings forth the concept of a place of meeting where equality ruled.

In the 1190s, Robert de Boron’s Merlin creates an imitation of The Last Supper’s table, only this table was designed for Arthur’s father, Uther Pendragon. It had twelve seats and one left empty to represent Judas’s betrayal. The seat was to remain empty until a knight so pure he could claim the Holy Grail assumed the seat. The Didot Perceval, a prose continuation of de Boron’s work, continues the tale. The knight Percival sits in the seat and initiates the Grail’s quest.

The Lancelot-Grail cycle and the Post-Vulgate Cycle, prose cycles of the 13th Century, emphasized the chivalric attributes, often assigned to Arthur’s knights. In these tales, Galahad, rather than Percival, assumes the empty seat, now called the Siege Perilous. Galahad’s arrival marks the start of the Grail quest, as well as the end of the Arthurian era. Galahad’s tales say the Round Table is taken by King Leodegrance of Cameliard after Uther’s dead; Arthur inherits the table when he marries Leodegrance’s daughter Gwinevere. 

Arthur’s knights are said to have held their annual meetings at various locations, notably Caerleon and Carlisle and Camelot (possibly Cadbury Castle or the Great Hall at Winchester). Gathering at Whitsun (Pentecost), Arthur and his knights would share injustices righted and those still waiting to be addressed. Arthur’s knights would go forth across the land to protect the weak and to subdue tyrants.

Merlin had little to do with the Grail’s quest for his influence remained in Arthur’s early life, but the wizard is said to have foretold the coming of the Grail.

Book Blurb: 

The Disappearance of Georgiana Darcy

A Pride and Prejudice Mystery

By Regina Jeffers

A thrilling novel of malicious villains, dramatic revelations, and heroic gestures that stays true to Austen’s style

Darcy and Elizabeth have faced many challenges, but none as dire as the disappearance of Darcy’s beloved sister, Georgiana. After leaving for the family home in Scotland to be reunited with her new husband, Edward, she has disappeared without a trace. Upon receiving official word that Georgiana is presumed dead, Darcy and Elizabeth travel to the infamous Merrick Moor to launch a search for his sister in the unfamiliar and menacing Scottish countryside. Suspects abound, from the dastardly Wickham to the mysterious MacBethan family. Darcy has always protected his little sister, but how can he keep her safe from the most sinister threat she has ever faced when he doesn’t even know if she’s alive? Written in the language of the Regency era and including Austen’s romantic entanglements and sardonic humor, this suspense-packed sequel to Pride and Prejudice recasts Darcy and Elizabeth as a husband-and-wife detective team hunting for truth amid the dark moors of Scotland.


About reginajeffers

Regina Jeffers is the award-winning author of Austenesque, Regency and contemporary novels.
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2 Responses to Legend of Merlin and King Arthur’s Round Table

  1. Jake Dog says:

    Great post. I love to read the various takes on the King Arthur story and am currently writing a twist on the story for young readers. My favorite read recently in this genre is certainy Winter King.

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