The legendary King Arthur was a British monarch in the late 5th and early 6th centuries. He fought the Saxon invaders with his legendary sword called Excalibur. There was a debate on whether King Arthur existed or if he was just a myth (or maybe a combination of both). But, we are not going to talk about that. We’ll take a look at how he resolved his barons’ issue of power through what we now know as the Knights of the Round Table.

His Noble Knights of the Round Table

William Dyce’s Piety: The Knights of the Round Table about to Depart in Quest of the Holy Grail.

King Arthur had his elite knights who served and lived with him in his castle in Camelot. His knights helped him in his quest for the Holy Grail. Usually, knights were soldiers born to noble families of kings, dukes, earls, and barons. These were knights who swore a Code of Chivalry and promised to uphold the rules that King Arthur gave them. They were given the best armor and weapons. They were also provided with the greatest training for battles.

The number of King Arthur’s Knights varied from one story to another, ranging from 12 up to 150.

The Solution to Power Struggle

Regardless of how many noble knights King Arthur really had, the problem remained: one of the oaths they swore by was that they would not take up battles or wrongful quarrels if it weren’t for God or the country. However, this seemed to be the least followed rule among them. There usually was a conflict among them on who should be sitting at the head of the table, which signified being the highest rank among them. According to Le Roman de Brut, written by Robert Wace, a medieval Norman poet, the issue with the table would usually cause these barons to brawl during the Yuletide feast. And so, to prevent the quarrel, King Arthur ordered a round table which would be suitable for them because there was no “head” on the table, and they would all be looked upon as equals.

Howard Pyle illustration from the 1903 edition of The Story of King Arthur and His Knights.

In other versions, the table was created by the wizard named Merlin for Uther Pendragon to symbolize the roundness of the universe. Uther Pendragon was King Arthur’s father, and when he died, the round table was given to King Leodegrance, Guinevere’s father. Guinevere married King Arthur, and the round table was given to King Arthur as a dowry. It must have been quite a table.

King Arthur’s solution of having a round table resolved the issue. With this, came the birth of what we know today as the Knights of the Round Table and perhaps the earliest beginnings of a democratic impulse in Europe as well.

Other Influences

During the Middle Ages, a Round Table festival was usually celebrated with jousting, feasting, and dancing as an imitation of King Arthur’s court.

In the 1930s, the Order of the Fellowship of the Knights of the Round Table was established in Britain. It was established to promote Christian ideals and Arthurian beliefs of medieval chivalry. In the US, a lot of boys and girls joined these Arthurian youth groups.