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Page, Esquire, and Knight by  Marion Florence Lansing


 

 

THE FOUNDING OF THE ROUND TABLE

"For many a petty king ere Arthur came

Ruled in this isle and, ever waging war

Each upon other, wasted all the land."

[15] All the kingdom was in distress when Arthur came to the throne, and many wrongs were done by petty lords who governed small portions of the land and cared not what happened to their people if they might wage war on each other and gain more power. Even King Uther and his father before him had never subdued all these lords and barons, for some lived in distant and lonely parts and were so powerful that none dared try his might against them. For many a day these barons and lords refused to acknowledge Arthur as their king, but ere a score of years had passed he had won them all and brought the whole land under his rule, both northward into Scotland, and westward into all of Wales, [16] and to the south and to the east. As the chronicler tells it, "Many kings and lords made great war against him; but well Arthur overcame them all."

That Arthur could bring all this about was due to the noble prowess of his knights of the Round Table. As soon as he became king he gathered about him all the best knights of the realm, both those whom he had cause to know were mighty and those whom Merlin deemed the best of all. They had been called the knighthood-errant of the realm, for they wandered through all the land and across the seas seeking adventure and taking part in tournaments and jousts or in any service that came in their path. There were many of these knights in England, but none had ever gathered them together. Each went his own way and did what seemed best in his own eyes.


[Illustration]

King Arthur sent through the length and breadth of the land, summoning those whom he had chosen as the best of these knights to come together and form with him a brotherhood of knighthood, which should be called [18] the Round Table. There were to be one hundred and fifty in all, but the king found only one hundred and twenty-eight who could fulfill all his wishes. When they came together they were the flower of all the knights of Christendom.

There in Camelot Arthur had built a mighty hall wherein the brotherhood should meet, and there had been set seats for all the knights. These seats the archbishop blessed in the presence of them all, and when it was done, and they sat silent before him, Merlin spoke to them, saying, "Fair sirs, ye must all arise and come to King Arthur for to do him homage."

And they arose and did their homage gladly, crying, "Be thou the king, and we will work thy will."

Then Arthur spoke to them as they stood before him, and bound them to himself with solemn vows. He charged them never to do outrage nor murder, and to flee treason as it were a plague; never to be cruel, but to give mercy, and always to aid women even unto [19] death; to take up no battles for money, nor to have any part in wrongful quarrels. King Arthur made each knight lay his hands in his and swear

"To reverence the King, as if he were

His conscience, and his conscience as his King,

To break the heathen and uphold the Christ,

To ride abroad redressing human wrongs,

To speak no slander, no, nor listen to it,

To honor his own word as if his God's,

To lead sweet lives in purest chastity,

To love one maiden only, cleave to her,

And worship her by years of noble deeds."

So strait were the vows by which he bound them, that when they rose after kneeling and repeating the words after him, some of the knights were pale as death, others flushed, and others stood half-dazed as though a vision had been granted them, so deeply were they moved. And when they turned to find their seats again, behold on every seat was written in letters of gold the name of him who should sit therein.

Ere they separated the king spoke to them of their land and all they might do for it.

[20] With wise and cheerful words he set before them his thoughts and plans, and they responded gladly. And the archbishop blessed them as they parted, saying in solemn tones,

"May all this Order of the Table Round

Fulfill the boundless purpose of their King!"

Thus was formed this fellowship, this fair order of the Round Table, which was made up of the flower of the knighthood of the time, and was the beginning of a new, bright age when chivalry and honor should triumph over misery and wrong.


[Illustration]


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