Cambridge Historical Reader: Primary - Cambridge Press

King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table

The Romans remained in our country 400 years; but, in the end, they were forced to take away all their soldiers from Britain, to defend their great city, Rome.

Then, bands of fierce men, known as the English, came over the North sea, each band trying to gain a part of this country for itself.

An old British chief, who is generally spoken of as king Arthur, gained a great victory over the English, at a place named mount Badon. Some very pretty stories are told of this king—stories, which, even though they be not true, have been read with great delight by children, for hundreds of years.

We are told that when Arthur was born, no one was told of his birth, except a wise man named Merlin. Merlin gave the baby prince into the care of a good knight named Sir Hector, who had him trained as a king's son should be. While Arthur was still a young man, his father, the king, died.

As no one knew anything about Arthur, a number of great men claimed the crown. This led to a great deal of fighting, and very soon the country was in a very bad state.

Merlin now came forward, and told the great lords, that if they would meet him at a certain place, they would find out who was the true heir to the throne.

They met in a great church, and then a very solemn service was held. After the service was over, all the people went into the churchyard. There they found a large block of marble. On the top of this was an anvil of solid steel.

Firmly fixed in the anvil was a very bright sword, and on the handle were these words, "He who pulls out this sword is the rightful king of Britain."

Nearly all the great men tried to remove the sword, but in vain. Now, it so happened, that soon after this, Sir Hector, and his son, Sir Kaye, attended by Arthur, rode near the place.

Suddenly, Sir Kaye found that he had forgotten his sword. So he sent Arthur back to find it. Arthur could not find Sir Kaye's sword, but, as he was returning, he came through the churchyard.

Arthur's castle


Here he saw the sword embedded in the stone, and, without reading the words on it, he seized it by the handle, and it came out quite easily. When Sir Hector saw Arthur bearing the sword, and read what was written on it, he and his son knelt down and greeted Arthur as king.

Soon afterwards, in the presence of all the great lords, Arthur again drew the sword from the anvil, although no one else could move it. All who saw it cried out "Arthur and no other shall be king."

It was a good thing for the country that the king had been found, for war had turned a fair land into a wilderness. The fields were covered with weeds, the houses were in ruins, and the misery of the people had made them forget God.

King Arthur at once began to change all this. He made broad roads through the land, and cleared the country of bad men, who were doing much mis¬chief.

As he could not do everything himself, he called together a band of noble men to help him. These had the honour of sitting at table with the king, and they were called "The Knights of the Round Table."

Before anyone could become a knight of the Round Table he had to prove that he was of noble birth, and had done some very brave deed. He then had to promise to be true to the king, to help his brother knights—even at the cost of his own life—and to be always ready to defend women and children from all harm.

Arthur's roundtable


King Arthur also believed that his knights could not do the greatest deeds of bravery unless they were good. Of one of them we are told that, "His strength was as the strength of ten, because his heart was pure."

We have not time to tell here of the many wonderful doings of Arthur and his knights. Tennyson, one of our greatest poets, has told us, in noble verse, of their great deeds. You may read there of Arthur's magic sword, Excalibur, of his beautiful queen, and how he passed from this world.

The Britons believed, long after his death, that he would return and save them from their cruel foes, and it is pleasant for us to remember, that at least two places are named after this old British king. One, Cader Idris, is a mountain in Wales: the other, Arthur's Seat, overlooks the old city of Edinburgh, the capital of Scotland.