"This table belonged to the ancient kings of Camelot. A round table afforded no man more importance than any other. They believed in equality in all things. So, it seems fitting that we revive this tradition now."
Merlin : The Coming of Arthur - Part 2
King Arthur had a Round Table - we are all familiar with that theme...am I right?
The origins of the Round Table came from a Norman poet ( who was actually born in Jersey, but who cares about the details) who went by the name of Wace. Wace wrote Roman de Brut - when I say wrote, I mean he adapted Geoffrey Monmouth History of the Kings of Britain.
In Wace's version of events, Arthur was having a difficult time with his Barons, they were proud and arrogant and were full of self-importance, and when it came to sitting around the table together, well...they all thought they should be close to the King.
It gave Arthur an enormous headache! He was trying to rule a kingdom not pacify egos.
Arthur had a proverbial light-bulb moment - he commissioned a Round Table to be built, so all who sat around it were of equal importance. That shut those Barons up for a while, at least.
Not to be outdone, in the 13th Century Layamon adapted Wace's work into the Middle English work Brut. In Layamon's version of events there was a violent fight during one of Arthur's famous Christmas Feasts - arguing, yet again, over who should sit where - politicians, they never change do they?!
Arthur commissioned a Cornish carpenter to build a portable round table - I like to think of it as the ultimate picnic table - so where ever Arthur went, the table went and such violent outbursts could be avoided in the future.
But, is there any truth in these stories of a Round Table?
According to Wace and Layamon, yes. They both stated that they had heard of such a table from the tribes of Breton (Brittany) - this reminds me a little bit of Monmouth and his mysteriously lost manuscript - perhaps that is something to bear in mind for the future...no one can argue if I state my historical fiction is based on facts I read in a lost manuscript - which I will then conveniently lose, a bit like my purse - which I seem to misplace everytime my teen asks for money. Although I think he might be on to me by now, because he is like one of those sniffer dogs - he always seems to find it, even when I hid it in a sausepan with the lid on! Which turned out to be the first place he looked...who looks in a sausepan?! Am I really that predictable? And here I was thinking that was a good hiding place. Go figure.
However, there was a tale from the Celtic tribes of Britain - where the Breton's, it is said, originally came from - that it was common practice for a king and his warriors to sit in a circle when they wanted to air their grievances - not around an actual table though.
It has been argued that perhaps Wace actually got his idea of a Round Table from the stories of the famous court of Charlemagne, the King of the Franks (c.742 - 814). It is said that Charlemagne had a round table, in which was carved a map of Rome.
It is an interesting point that there is no mention of a Round Table in any of the Welsh and Celtic stories before Wace's work. Arthur had a find and noble court, but no Round Table.
Nevertheless, the idea of a Round Table was appealing. Robert de Boron (1190) romanticised the table.
Boron credited Merlin for the Round Table. It is Merlin's idea, and it was suppose to represent the Last Supper. There were 12 seats around Boron's, Round Table - representing the 12 apostles of Jesus. The seat Judas occupied was to remain empty, waiting for the most honorable of knights - the one who would find the Grail - to come to court and claim his rightful place. Boron also states that Merlin gave the table to Uther Pendragon, Arthur's father.
Didot Percival (The Romance of Percival) takes up the story. It is Percival, who to the shock of everyone else at court that day, sits on the chair - that thou shall not sit on - and from here on in, Percival's fate is sealed. It is he that initialised the quest to find the Holy Grail.
This story is adapted yet again in the 13th Century French story, Lancelot-Grail. The table, was a gift to Uther -that stays the same - but there is a keeper of the table, King Leodegrance of Cameliard, Guinveres father. Leodegrance allows Arthur his rightful inheritance of the table when he marries his daughter.
In Lancelot-Grail we are told that it is Galahad that sits on the chair - that thou shall not sit on - not Percival, and it is Galahad that sparks off the quest for the Grail. Ironically, it is also signifies the last days of Arthur's reign.
And there is the story of the Round Table. Was it what you thought it was?
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See you on your next coffee break!
Mary Anne xxx