| King Arthur and His Knights|
|by Maude Radford Warren|
|Twenty-one stories from the Arthurian legends specially selected and adapted for children and told in simple well-written prose. The stirring tales of these chivalrous knights awaken the readerís admiration for courage and gentleness and high sense of honor essential in all ages. Ages 9-12 |
ARTHUR'S COURT AND THE ORDER OF THE ROUND TABLE
FTER Arthur had proved his prowess in his contest with
the eleven kings, he decided to establish his Court and
the Order of the Round Table. The place he chose was
the city of Camelot in Wales, which had a good
situation, being built upon a hill. He called the wise
Merlin and ordered him to make a great palace on the
summit of the hill. Through his powers of enchantment,
Merlin was able to do this very quickly, and within a
week the king and his personal attendants were settled
in the palace.
The main part consisted of a great Assembly Hall built
of white marble, the roof on which seemed to be upheld
by pillars of green and red porphyry, and
 was surmounted by magnificent towers. The outside walls
of the hall were covered with beautiful rows of
sculpture. The lowest row represented wild beasts
slaying men. The second row represented man slaying
wild beasts. The third represented warriors who were
peaceful, good men. The fourth showed men with growing
wings. Over all was a winged statue with the face of
Arthur. Merlin meant to show by means of the first row
that formerly evil in men was greater than good; by the
second that men began to conquer the evil in
themselves, which in time caused them to become really
good, noble, and peace-loving men, as in the third row.
And finally, through the refining influence of Good
King Arthur and his wise helpers, men would grow to be
almost as perfect as the angles.
The main doorway was in the shape of an arch, upheld by
pillars of dark yellow marble. The hall was lighted by
fourteen great windows, through which the light
streamed in soft colors upon the marble floors. Between
these windows, and along the cornices, were beautiful
 decorations. There were carvings in white marble of
birds and beasts and twining vines. There was mosaic
work of black and yellow and pink marble and of lapis
lazuli, as blue as a lake when the clear sun shines
full upon its surface. Under the windows were many
stone shields, beneath each of which was the name of a
night. Some shields were blazoned with gold, some were
carved, and some were blank. The walls were hung with
beautiful tapestries which had been woven by the ladies
of the land for Arthur's new palace. On each had been
pictured some episode from the life King Arthur; the
drawing of the magic sword from the anvil, the finding
of the good sword Excalibur, his deeds of justice and
acts of kindness, and his many battles and wars.
The two wings of the palace contained the dining hall
and kitchen and the living apartments of all the
members of the court who made their home with the king.
The dining hall was only a little less beautiful than
Arthur's great Assembly Hall. The walls were hung
 with cloths of scarlet and gold. The deep fireplace was
supported by four bronze pillars. In the middle of the
room were long tables made of oak boards set on ivory
trestles. At a banquet the walls were hung with
garlands of flowers or festoons of branches.
The great kitchen had stone walls and stone flagging.
The fireplace was so large that there was room for a
whole ox to be roasted, and above hung cranes from
which half a dozen kettles could be suspended, and pots
of such a size that pigs could be boiled whole in them.
All about the walls were cupboards. Some were full of
plates of wood, iron, steel, silver, and gold and
flagons, cups, bowls, and saltcellars of gold and
silver. Others were used for the storing of cold meats
and fruits. There were several tables on which the
cooked food was cut, and benches upon which the cooks
rested when they were tired of serving the hungry
Well might they have grown tired.
Supper, the most important of the day, lasted from
three until six, and often
 longer. But the cooks, and the little scullion boys who
washed the pots and pans, and the attendants who
carried in the food to the dining hall, all wore
contentment and happiness on their faces as they
hurried about with their long blouses tucked out of
harm's way; for to serve King Arthur and his guests was
considered a real privilege.
The sleeping rooms were furnished with chests, and
chairs, and beds spread with fine linen and with
ermine-lined covers. Hangings of various colors were
upon the walls. On the floors were strewn rushes, and
among them was thrown mint which gave forth an
After Arthur, his officers, and his servants had been
in the palace a few days, the king formally established
his Court. He invited all the knights who cared to do
so to come with their families and retinues and live
with him. Some preferred to remain in their own
castles, but others gladly went to live with the king.
Soon all were comfortably settled.
The king's officers were very important members of
Arthur's court. First of these
 came the Archbishop of Canterbury, who held the highest
place in the king's regard. It was his duty to conduct
the church services for Arthur and his followers, and
to christen, marry, and bury the people of Camelot.
Next, Sir Ulfius as chamberlain superintended the care
of the king's rooms. Sir Brastias, who was warden,
superintended the servants. Sir Kay, who was steward,
had charge of all the food and the kitchen. Sir Hector,
as treasurer, took, care of the king's gold and
rendered the accounts. Sir Geraint managed all the
tournaments and outdoor sports of the knights and
squires. There were other officers to help these, and
all did their work faithfully and lovingly.
The knights whom Arthur chose to be members of his
Round Table were mostly selected from these officers.
As members of the order there were one hundred and
fifty of the knights who had shown themselves
especially brave in battle and who were devoted
followers of the king. Next to being king, the greatest
honor which could fall to a warrior was to be
 made a member of the Round Table, for all who belonged
to the order were dedicated to the service of God and
mankind. There is no glory greater than such a
In his great hall Arthur had placed a huge table, made
round in shape so that there should be neither head nor
foot, a higher place nor a lower place. Arthur wished
all who sat there to be equals. These chosen knights
were to give him council in times of peace and of war.
It was a solemn hour when the knights took their
places. The Archbishop of Canterbury blessed them and
their seats. Then each one came to Arthur, who stood at
the top of the Assembly Hall, and did him homage. Next
they took their vows. They promised to be brave and
good, never false, or mean, or cruel. If anyone with
whom they fought begged for mercy, they would show him
mercy. And they vowed never to fight for a wrong cause
or for money. Each year at the feast of the Pentecost
they were to repeat these vows.
 Other members of Arthur's Court were old, brave knights
who cold no longer fight, but who liked to be near the
king and his warriors, and gave the wisdom of age and
experience to his councils; young, ambitious, and
promising knights who had had but little real
experience in battle; and faithful squires who had had
no real experience at all. Boys from six to fourteen
years were pages. There were others who transformed
Arthur's Court to a place of grace and beauty,—the
mothers, wives, sisters, and daughters of the warriors.
Although they did not help in the councils of war,
these ladies were of great assistance in training the
knights to be tender and courteous. They taught the
little pages good manners and unselfishness. They
assisted the knights in removing their armor when they
came in tired from riding or fighting. They sat with
Arthur and the knights in the evening in the
dining-hall, singing or playing upon harps, or
listening to the tales that were told. When the knights
were away the ladies stayed in their own chambers,
 Hearing wise readings from the Archbishop of
Canterbury, or other learned men, listening to Merlin's
words of wisdom, and embroidering the beautiful
hangings and cushions which were to adorn the palace.
It was a month before Arthur's Court was established,
and during that time the city of Camelot was a scene of
continual merriment. The people of the place were glad
that the king had come, for that meant much gain for
them. Those of them who did not live in the palace had
their houses or shops on the streets which wound about
the foot of the hill. Many of the shops belonged to
armorers, who had armor of all sorts for any one who
would buy. They were glad in their turn to buy the
swords of famous knights which had been used in great
battles, for such weapons they could always sell again
at a good price. These shopkeepers and servants and the
squires and the warriors all united to make the city of
Camelot a beautiful one, for the sake of their king.
The streets were kept strewn with rushes and flowers.
 awnings and silken draperies were hung from the houses.
All day long processions passed, made up of the
followers of all those lords who gave allegiance to the
king. They carried the banners of their masters,
crimson, white, or scarlet, gold, silver, or azure,
making the streets glow with color. The marching
squires wore ornamented blouses, drawn in at the waist,
long silk stockings, and shoes of embroidered leather.
The bowmen were dressed in green kirtles, rather
shorter than those of the squires, and wore dark woolen
hose; they carried their bows and arrows slung across
their shoulders. The servants were dressed in much the
same way, except that their blouses were longer and of
various colors. Many knights rode in the processions,
their long plumes waving in the wind, their armor
shining, and their falcons perched upon their wrists.
All day long, too, bands of musicians played on flutes
and timbrels and tabors and harps; bands of young men
and women sang songs in praise of the king;
story-tellers went about relating old tales
 of famous heroes. The young men showed their strength
by tumbling and wrestling, and their grace by dancing;
the young women also danced.
The wise Merlin often passed along the streets, walking
silently among the merry throngs of people. Sometimes
the little Dagonet danced at his side, Dagonet the
king's jester, a tiny man who made merriment for the
Court with his witty sayings. He always wore a
tight-fitting red blouse and a peaked cap ornamented
with bells, and he carried a mock scepter in the shape
of a carved ivory stick.
Whenever Arthur appeared before his people,
church-bells were joyously rung and trumpets were
sounded. The king, as he rode, distributed presents to
the poor people:—capes, coats, and mantles of
serge, and bushels of pence. In a dining-hall at the
palace, feasts for the poor were held on those days,
which were also open for all the people who might come.
When the weather was beautiful, tables were placed on
the sward outside the palace, and those who cared to,
 under the shade of the trees, listening to the music of
the blackbirds, whose singing was almost as loud as
that of the chorus of damsels who sang in the palace.
Every hour the servants carried in and out great
quarters of venison, roasted pheasants and herons, and
young hawks, ducks, and geese, all on silver platters.
Curries and stews and tarts were innumerable. In the
midst of the sward a silver fountain had been set from
which flowed sweet wine. Even the great feasts of the
year, which were held at Christmas, upon the day of the
Passover, at Pentecost, upon Ascension day, and upon
St. John's day, were not as wonderful as these feasts,
when the king held holiday with his people.
On these days of merriment, when the people were not
eating or drinking or marching in processions, they
were at the tournament field, watching the combats.
Here the best of Arthur's knights, mounted on strong
horses and wearing heavy armor, were ranged on two
sides of the field. Behind each row was a pavilion
filled with ladies. Four
 heralds stood ready to blow the trumpets which gave the
signal for the combats. Each herald wore crimson silk
stockings and crimson velvet kirtles, tight at the
waist, and reaching half-way to the knee.
When it was time to begin the heralds blew the
trumpets, the ladies bent over eagerly, and the knights
spurred their horses forward, riding with their lances
in rest. In a moment clouds of dust arose, circling up
as high as the plumes on the knight's helmets, and
their lances crashed against each other's shields. Many
of the lances broke. Sometimes the shock of the contact
overthrew a knight. But no one was hurt, for the good
King Arthur had ordered that the combats should be
When the jousting had lasted for several hours, those
knights who had shown themselves the stronger, received
prizes from the ladies. The prizes were suits of armor
ornamented with gold, and swords with jeweled hilts.
The knight who, of all, was the strongest, chose the
lady whom he considered most beautiful, and
 crowned her "The Queen of Love and Beauty."
During the month of feasting, Arthur made knights of
some of the squires. A young squire was first obliged
to show his skill in tilting at the quintain. Then his
father presented him with falcons and sparrowhawks for
hunting, and arms and robes. He also gave robes and
arms to his son's companions, and, to their mothers and
sisters, furs and embroidered robes, and belts of gold.
Finally he gave money to the singers and players, and
servants, and to the poor people of Camelot.
At about sunset the young squire went into the church,
where the Archbishop of Canterbury held a solemn
service. The youth took the armor which he had chosen,
and placed it on the floor in front of the altar. He
was then left alone, and all night long he prayed
fervently to God to hive him strength to be a noble and
true knight. In the morning the king came to the
church, attended by his nobles and by the archbishop.
The squire laid his sword on the altar, thus
 signifying his devotion to Christ and his determination
to lead a holy life. King Arthur bound the sword and
spurs on the young man, and taking Excalibur, he smote
him lightly on the shoulder with it, saying, "Be thou a
true and faithful knight."
Then the squire took a solemn oath to protect all who
were in distress, to do right, to be a pure knight, and
to have faith in God. After that the Archbishop of
Canterbury preached a solemn sermon.
When the month of feasting and holiday was ended, the
members of the Court returned to their usual habits of
life. The Knights of the Round Table went forth to
right wrongs and to enforce the law. All who were in
distress came to the king for help. And to the whole
country Arthur's Court was famous as a place where
unkindness was never done, and where truth, justice,
and love reigned.
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