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English Legends – The Sword in the Stone

English Legends – The Sword in the Stone

Oct 19, 2012

Now Arthur the prince had all this time been nourished in Sir Ector’s house as his own son, and was fair and tall and comely, being of the age of fifteen years, great in strength, gentle in manner, and accomplished in all exercises proper for the training of a knight. But as yet he knew not of his father; for Merlin had so dealt, that none save Uther and himself knew aught about him. Wherefore it befell, that many of the knights and barons who heard King Uther speak before his death, and call his son Arthur his successor, were in great amazement; and some doubted, and others were displeased.

Anon the chief lords and princes set forth each to his own land, and, raising armed men and multitudes of followers, determined every one to gain the crown for himself; for they said in their hearts, “If there be any such a son at all as he of whom this wizard forced the king to speak, who are we that a beardless boy should have rule over us?”

So the land stood long in great peril, for every lord and baron sought but his own advantage; and the Saxons, growing ever more adventurous, wasted and overran the towns and villages in every part.

Then Merlin went to Brice, the Archbishop of Canterbury, and advised him to require all the earls and barons of the realm and all knights and gentlemen-at-arms to come to him at London, before Christmas, under pain of cursing, that they might learn the will of Heaven who should be king. This, therefore, the archbishop did, and upon Christmas Eve were met together in London all the greatest princes, lords, and barons; and long before day they prayed in St. Paul’s Church, and the archbishop besought Heaven for a sign who should be lawful king of all the realm. And as they prayed, there was seen in the churchyard, set straight before the doorways of the church, a huge square stone having a naked sword stuck in the midst of it. And on the sword was written in letters of gold, “Whoso pulleth out the sword from this stone is born the rightful King of Britain.” At this all the people wondered greatly; and, when Mass was over, the nobles, knights, and princes ran out eagerly from the church to see the stone and sword; and a law was forthwith made that whoso should pull out the sword should be acknowledged straightway King of Britain.

Then many knights and barons pulled at the sword with all their might, and some of them tried many times, but none could stir or move it. When all had tried in vain, the archbishop declared the man whom Heaven had chosen was not yet there. “But God,” said he, “will doubtless make him known ere many days.” So ten knights were chosen, being men of high renown, to watch and keep the sword; and there was proclamation made through all the land that whosoever would, had leave and liberty to try and pull it from the stone. But though great multitudes of people came, both gentle and simple, for many days, no man could ever move the sword a hair’s breadth from its place.

Now, at the New Year’s Eve a great tournament was to be held in London, which the archbishop had devised to keep together lords and commons, lest they should grow estranged in the troublous and unsettled times. To the which tournament there came, with many other knights, Sir Ector, Arthur’s foster-father, who had great possessions near to London; and with him came his son, Sir Key, but recently made knight, to take his part in the jousting, and young Arthur also to witness all the sports and fighting. But as they rode towards the jousts, Sir Key found suddenly he had no sword, for he had left it at his father’s house; and turning to young Arthur, he prayed him to ride back and fetch it for him. “I will with a good will,” said Arthur; and rode fast back after the sword. But when he came to the house he found it locked and empty, for all were gone forth to see the tournament. Whereat, being angry and impatient, he said within himself, “I will ride to the churchyard and take with me the sword that sticketh in the stone, for my brother shall not go without a sword this day.” So he rode and came to the churchyard, and alighting from his horse he tied him to the gate, and went to the pavilion, which was pitched near the stone, wherein abode the ten knights who watched and kept it; but he found no knights there, for all were gone to see the jousting.

Arthur and the Sword in the Stone

Arthur and the Sword in the Stone

Then he took the sword by its handle, and lightly and fiercely he pulled it out of the stone, and took his horse and rode until he came to Sir Key and delivered him the sword. But as soon as Sir Key saw it he knew well it was the sword of the stone, and, riding swiftly to his father, he cried out, “Lo! here, sir, is the sword of the stone, wherefore it is I who must be king of all this land.” When Sir Ector saw the sword, he turned back straight with Arthur and Sir Key and came to the churchyard, and there alighting, they went all three into the church, and Sir Key was sworn to tell truly how he came by the sword. Then he confessed it was his brother Arthur who had brought it to him. Whereat Sir Ector, turning to young Arthur, asked him—“How gottest thou the sword?” “Sir,” said he, “I will tell you. When I went home to fetch my brother’s sword, I found nobody to deliver it to me, for all were abroad to the jousts. Yet was I loath to leave my brother swordless, and, bethinking me of this one, I came hither eagerly to fetch it for him, and pulled it out of the stone without any pain.”

Then said Sir Ector, much amazed and looking steadfastly on Arthur, “If this indeed be thus, ’tis thou who shalt be king of all this land—and God will have it so—for none but he who should be rightful Lord of Britain might ever draw this sword forth from that stone. But let me now with mine own eyes see thee put back the sword into its place and draw it forth again.” “That is no mystery,” said Arthur; and straightway set it in the stone. And then Sir Ector pulled at it himself, and after him Sir Key, with all his might, but both of them in vain: then Arthur reaching forth his hand and grasping at the pommel, pulled it out easily, and at once. Then fell Sir Ector down upon his knees upon the ground before young Arthur, and Sir Key also with him, and straightway did him homage as their sovereign lord. But Arthur cried aloud, “Alas! mine own dear father and my brother, why kneel ye thus to me?” “Nay, my Lord Arthur,” answered then Sir Ector, “we are of no blood-kinship with thee, and little though I thought how high thy kin might be, yet wast thou never more than foster-child of mine.” And then he told him all he knew about his infancy, and how a stranger had delivered him, with a great sum of gold, into his hands to be brought up and nourished as his own born child, and then had disappeared.

But when young Arthur heard of it, he fell upon Sir Ector’s neck, and wept, and made great lamentation, “For now,” said he, “I have in one day lost my father and my mother and my brother.” “Sir,” said Sir Ector presently, “when thou shalt be made king be good and gracious unto me and mine.” “If not,” said Arthur, “I were no true man’s son at all, for thou art he in all the world to whom I owe the most; and my good lady and mother, thy wife, hath ever kept and fostered me as though I were her own; so if it be God’s will that I be king hereafter as thou sayest, desire of me whatever thing thou wilt and I will do it; and God forbid that I should fail thee in it.” “I will but pray,” replied Sir Ector, “that thou wilt make my son Sir Key, thy foster-brother, seneschal of all the lands.” “That shall he be,” said Arthur; “and never shall another hold that office, save thy son, while he and I do live.”

Anon, they left the church and went to the archbishop to tell him that the sword had been achieved. And when he saw the sword in Arthur’s hand he set a day and summoned all the princes, knights, and barons to meet again at St. Paul’s Church and see the will of Heaven signified. So when they came together, the sword was put back in the stone, and all tried, from the greatest to the least, to move it; but there before them all not one could take it out save Arthur only.

But then befell a great confusion and dispute, for some cried out it was the will of Heaven, and, “Long live King Arthur,” but many more were full of wrath and said, “What! would ye give the ancient sceptre of this land unto a boy born none know how?” And the contention growing greatly, till nothing could be done to pacify their rage, the meeting was at length broken up by the archbishop and adjourned till Candlemas, when all should meet again. But when Candlemas was come, Arthur alone again pulled forth the sword, though more than ever came to win it; and the barons, sorely vexed and angry, put it in delay till Easter. But as he had sped before so he did at Easter, and the barons yet once more contrived delays till Pentecost.

But now the archbishop, fully seeing God’s will, called together, by Merlin’s counsel, a band of knights and gentlemen-at-arms, and set them about Arthur to keep him safely till the feast of Pentecost. And when at the feast Arthur still again alone prevailed to move the sword, the people all with one accord cried out, “Long live King Arthur! we will have no more delay, nor any other king, for so it is God’s will; and we will slay whoso resisteth Him and Arthur;” and wherewithal they kneeled down all at once, and cried for Arthur’s grace and pardon that they had so long delayed him from his crown. Then he full sweetly and majestically pardoned them; and taking in his hand the sword, he offered it upon the high altar of the church.

Anon was he solemnly knighted with great pomp by the most famous knight there present, and the crown was placed upon his head; and, having taken oath to all the people, lords and commons, to be true king and deal in justice only unto his life’s end, he received homage and service from all the barons who held lands and castles from the crown. Then he made Sir Key, High Steward of England, and Sir Badewaine of Britain, Constable, and Sir Ulfius, Chamberlain: and after this, with all his court and a great retinue of knights and armed men, he journeyed into Wales, and was crowned again in the old city of Caerleon-upon-Usk.

SOURCE:The Legends of KING ARTHUR and his KNIGHTS by Sir James Knowles