King Arthur is the central figure in the mythology of Great Britain. He figures prominently in the cycle of legends known as The Matter of Britain. Historians disagree on whether anyone like him ever really existed. It seems safe to say that it hardly matters. His myth is just as strong with or without a historical personage to go along with it. His is one of the stories that lays the foundation of Western culture and provides a template for the culture’s ideas of honor, leadership, conduct of war, romance, religion, and death.
Arthur first appears in Welsh poetry around 600 AD. In several Welsh history texts Arthur is referred to as a great military leader.
In 1138, Geoffrey of Monmouth popularized the legend of King Arthur in his fictional work, Historia Regum Britanniae. It is believed that the Norman conquest of Britain in 1066 stimulated interest in the obscure legend of Arthur. The Normans found common interest with the Welsh in legends that portrayed a great military hero triumphing over their common enemy, the Saxons.
Sir Thomas Malory wrote a version of the legends called Le Morte d’ Arthur in 1485 which is considered the first modern telling of the stories. He gathered the stories from sources throughout Europe and created such a definitive work of literature that it is the direct source for most adaptations of the stories all the way to the present day.
We offer here a version of the legends called The Story of King Arthur and his Knights. It was written and illustrated by Howard Pyle. He was a great American writer/illustrator who wrote several wonderful books about King Arthur and other books about pirates and Robin Hood. His illustrations are considered some of the best ever made and were in great demand during his lifetime. The Story of King Arthur and his Knights was published in 1903.
THE STORY OF KING ARTHUR AND HIS KNIGHTS
by Howard Pyle
THE BOOK OF KING ARTHUR
PART I. THE WINNING OF KINGHOOD
Here beginneth the story of the sword, the anvil, and the marble stone, of how that sword was first achieved by an unknown youth, until then of no renown, whether in arms or of estate.
So hearken unto that which I have hereinafter written.
CHAPTER FIRST. How Sir Kay did Combat in a Great Tournament at London Town And of How He Brake His Sword. Likewise, How Arthur Found a New Sword For Him
CHAPTER SECOND. How Arthur Twice Performed the Miracle of the Sword Before Sir Ector and of How His Birthright Was Discovered Unto Him
CHAPTER THIRD. How Several Kings and High Dukes Assayed to Draw the Sword Out of the Anvil and How They Failed. Likewise How Arthur Made The Assay and Succeeded Therein
PART II. THE WINNING OF A SWORD
Here beginneth the story of certain adventures of Arthur after that he had become King, wherein it is told how, with great knightly courage and prowess, he fought a very fierce and bloodly battle with a certain Sable Knight. Likewise, it is told how he achieved, in consequence of that battle, a certain Sword so famous and glorious that its renown shall last as long as our speech shall be spoken. For the like of that sword was never seen in all the world before that time, and it hath never been beheld since then; and its name was Excalibur.
So, if it please you to read this story, I believe it will afford you excellent entertainment, and will, without doubt, greatly exalt your spirit because of the remarkable courage which those two famous and worthy knights displayed when they fought together that famous battle. Likewise you shall find great cheer in reading therein of the wonderful marvellousness of a certain land of Faerie into which King Arthur wandered, and where he found a Lake of Enchantment and held converse with a mild and beautiful lady of that land who directed him how to obtain that renowned sword aforementioned.
For it hath given me such pleasure to write these things that my heart would, at times, be diluted as with a pure joy, wherefore, I entertain great hopes that you also may find much pleasure in them as I have already done. So I pray you to listen unto what follows.
CHAPTER FIRST. How There Came a Certain Wounded Knight Unto the Court of King Arthur, How a Young Knight of the King’s Court Sought To Avenge Him and Failed and How the King Thereupon Took That Assay Upon Himself
CHAPTER SECOND. How King Arthur Fought With the Sable Knight and How He Was Sorely Wounded. Likewise How Merlin Brought Him Safe Away From the Field of Battle
CHAPTER THIRD. How King Arthur Found a Noble Sword In a Very Wonderful Manner. And How He Again Fought With It and Won That Battle
PART III. THE WINNING OF A QUEEN
So, having told you how King Arthur obtained that very excellent sword, Excalibur, for a weapon of defence, I shall now presently recount sundry other noble and knightly adventures whereby he won for himself a most beautiful and gentle lady for his queen.
For, though all the world is very well acquainted with the renown of that perfectly gracious dame, the Lady Guinevere, yet I do not think that the whole story of those adventures by the which King Arthur won her good favor hath everyet been told.
So as the matter hereinafter to be related contains not only the narrative of that afair, but also the account of a certain enchanted disguise which King Arthur assumed for his purposes, as well as sundry adventures of very knightly daring which he undertook, I have great hope that he who reads what I have written shall find it both an agreeable and an entertaining history.
CHAPTER FIRST. How King Arthur Went to Tintagalon with Four of His Court, and How He Disguised Himself for a Certain Purpose
CHAPTER SECOND. How King Ryence Came to Cameliard and How King Arthur Fought With the Duke of North Umber
CHAPTER THIRD. How King Arthur Encountered Four Knights and of What Befell Thereby
CHAPTER FOURTH. How the Four Knights Served the Lady Guinevere
CHAPTER FIFTH . How King Arthur Overcame the Enemies of King Leodegrance, and How His Royalty Was Proclaimed
CHAPTER SIXTH . How King Arthur Was Wedded in Royal State and How the Round Table Was Established
THE BOOK OF THREE WORTHIES
Here beginneth the Second Book of the History of King Arthur, called The Book of Three Worthies, because it has to do with three very excellent, honorable Lords of the Court of King Arthur.
Of these three, the first is Merlin the Wise, the second is Sir Pellias, surnamed the Gentle Knight, and the third is Sir Gawaine, the son of King Lot of Orkney and the Isles.
So now presently follows the story of the passing of Merlin the Wise; in the which you shall see how the very wisdom that Merlin possessed in such great measure was the cause of his own undoing. Wherefore I do hope that you yourselves may take that story unto heart so that you shall see that those gifts of mind or person which God assigns unto you may not be so misused by you or others that they shall become the means of compassing your own downfall.
For it shall not excuse you in any wise that, as you journey forward in your life, you shall find many men who, like Merlin, have been endowed by the grace of God with very great gifts of talent which they might very easily use to the great benefit of mankind, but which they so misuse as to bring the greater ruin upon themselves and the greater harm unto other men. For, if you shall prove so weak or so wicked as to misuse your talents in that manner unto the harm of others and of yourself, it shall not make your fault the less that others shall have done greater evil than yourself.
Wherefore, let this story of Merlin be a warning unto you, I pray you all. For, though I do not believe that Merlin intended that his talents of magic should do harm unto others, yet, because of his folly, they did as great harm as though he himself had designed to do evil by means of them. Yea; it is hard to tell whether the wickedness or the follies of men do the greater harm in the world; therefore seek to guard yourself well, not only against sin, but against folly and weakness likewise.
PART I. THE STORY OF MERLIN
Here followeth a particular account of the enchantment of Merlin by a certain damsel, hight Vivien, and of all the circumstances thereunto appertaining.
Likewise it is to be narrated how King Arthur was betrayed by his own sister, and of how he would certainly have been slain only for the help of that same enchantress Vivien who was the cause of Merlin’s undoing.
Also it shall be told how the sheath of Excalibur was lost at that time.
CHAPTER FIRST. How Queen Morgana le Fay Meditated Evil Against King Arthur and How She Sent a Damsel to Beguile the Enchanter, Merlin
CHAPTER SECOND. How Merlin Journeyed With Vivien Unto the Valley of Joyousness and How He Builded for Her a Castle at That Place. AIso, How He Taught Her the Wisdom of Magic and of How She Compassed His Downfall Thereby
CHAPTER THIRD. How Queen Morgana le Fay Returned to Camelot and to the Court With lntent to Do Ill to King Arthur. Also How King Arthur and Others Went a-Hunting and of What Befell Thereby
CHAPTER FOURTH. What Befell Sir Accalon, and How King Arthur Fought an Affair-at-Arms With Swords, and How He Came Nigh to Losing His Life Thereby
PART II. THE STORY OF SIR PELIAS
Here followeth the story of Sir Pellias, surnamed by many the Gentle Knight.
For Sir Pellias was of such a sort that it was said of him that all women loved him without disadvantage to themselves, and that all men loved him to their great good advantage.
Wherefore, when in the end he won for his beloved that beautiful Lady of the Lake, who was one of the chiefest damoiselles of Faery, and when he went to dwell as lord paramount in that wonderful habitation which no other mortal than he and Sir Launcelot of the Lake had ever beheld, then were all men rejoiced at his great good fortune – albeit all the Court of King Arthur grieved that he had departed so far away from them never to return again.
So I believe that you will have pleasure in reading the history of the things concerning Sir Pellias hereinafter written for your edification.
CHAPTER FIRST. How Queen Guinevere Went a-Maying and of How Sir Pellias Took Upon Him a Quest in Her Behalf
CHAPTER SECOND. How Sir Pellias Overcame a Red Knight, Hight Sir Adresack, and of How He Liberated XXII Captives From That Knight’s Castle
CHAPTER THIRD. How Sir Pellias Did Battle With Sir Engamore, Otherwise the Knight of the Green Sleeves, and of What Befell the Lady Ettard
CHAPTER FOURTH. How Queen Guinevere Quarrelled With Sir Gawaine, and How Sir Gawaine Left the Court of King Arthur For a While
CHAPTER FIFTH . How Sir Gawaine Met Sir Pellias and How He Promised to Aid Him With the Lady Ettard
CHAPTER SIXTH . How the Lady of the Lake Took Back Her Necklace From Sir Pellias
PART III. THE STORY OF SIR GAWAINE
Here followeth the story of Sir Gawaine and of how he discovered such wonderful faithfulness unto King Arthur, who was his lord, that I do not believe that the like of such faithfulness was ever seen before.
For indeed, though Sir Gawaine was at times very rough and harsh in his manner, and though he was always so plain-spoken that his words hid the gentle nature that lay within him, yet, under this pride of manner, was much courtesy; and at times he was so urbane of manner and so soft of speech that he was called by many the Knight of the Silver Tongue.
So here ye shall read how his faithfulness unto King Arthur brought him such high reward that almost anyone in all the world might envy him his great good fortune.
CHAPTER FIRST. How a White Hart Appeared Before King Arthur, and How Sir Gawaine and Gaheris, His Brother, Went in Pursuit Thereof, and of What Befell Them in That Quest
CHAPTER SECOND. How King Arthur Became Lost in the Forest, and How He Fell Into a Very Singular Adventure in a Castle Unto Which He Came
CHAPTER THIRD. How King Arthur Overcame the Knight-Enchanter, and How Sir Gawaine Manifested the High Nobility of His Knighthood
More King Arthur Information
“The Story of King Arthur and his Knights” by Howard Pyle (1903) is in the Public Domain.