Who Were the 12 Knights of the Round Table?

History has it that no king was ruling over England after the death of King Uther Pendragon, the legendary king of the Briton and also the father of King Arthur. After Uther’s death, the nobles of Britain disputed the right of succession for their next king. Merlin, the mythical character, orchestrated and foretold the future of the Britons, predicting the coming of the next king, King Arthur. 

It is claimed that Merlin placed a sword Excalibur inside an avail set atop a stone to ensure the proper king ruled Britain. He also did this to calm the commotion and fear of the nobles of Britain.

By his magic and predictions, only the rightful ruler of Britain could wrestle the sword from the stone. Meanwhile, young Arthur living with his stepfather Sir Ector and his elder stepbrother Kay was unaware of his true status.

However, at 15 years old, young Arthur pulled the sword Excalibur from the stone and was crowned King of Britain. Unfortunately, his enthronement was met with rebellion by 11 rulers.

Advised by Merlin, he strengthened his kingdom by fighting off would-be rivals, and his best fighters and enemies became his knights. Shortly after he ascended the throne, King Arthur brought together the round table knights.

King Arthur and his knights as depicted in a 14th-century manuscript

The Knights of the Round Table

During medieval times, knights were soldiers born to noble families of kings, dukes, earls, and barons. They formed the backbone of the army; after all, they were the only ones who could afford the expensive armor and weapons and the cost of training and maintenance of war horses.

When the knights attended council at the King’s hall, only those seated at the head of the table took precedence over others. This caused envy and jealousy among knights of lower ranks.

Often, there would be a brawl over who sat at the head of the table. King Arthur resorted to having his table constructed in a round shape to solve this brewing dispute. But, according to other stories, King Arthur received the round table as a gift from his father-in-law.

The Knights of the Round Table sworn to King Arthur. They were the best knights in the kingdom and lived in King Arthur’s castle- Camelot. Appearing first in literature in the mid-12th century, the order’s purpose was to help maintain peace during the turbulent early years of King Arthur’s reign. In later years, they were entrusted with the holy task to haunt down the Holy Grail.

Tapestry of King Arthur

According to Wace’s Roman De Brut, the king created the round table to stop quarreling among his barons, all of whom demanded a higher place than the others. Whichever the case, the idea of the round table inspired people far away to imitate King Arthur’s actions.

The round table at which the knights convened was a symbol of equality with knights ranging from sovereign rulers to low-level nobles. It had no heads, signifying that everyone was of equal status, unlike other conventional tables where participants sat according to their ranks. No one would have to take precedence over the other.

Over time, the symbolism of the round table developed, and by the end of the 12th century, it represented the chivalric order associated with King Arthur’s court. Per other narratives, the table presented an assortment of knights from Great Britain, abroad, and outside Europe.

They were men of courage and honor and were known for their skills in combat and warfare. They went on dangerous quests, recused damsels in distress, and fought for their country. 

Some of whom were the King’s distant and close relatives. The knights were to abide by a code of honor and service. The twelve rules of the knights, according to Giovanni Boccaccio, were:

● To never lay down arms

● To seek after wonders

● Never to break faith for any reason

● To injure no one

● To practice religion most diligently

● To fight for one’s country

● To defend the defenseless

● Not to attack one another

● To give one’s life for one’s country

● To seek nothing before honor

● To grant hospitality to anyone, each according to his ability

● Whether in honor or disgrace, to make a report with the greatest fidelity to truth to those who keep the annals.

One seat at the round table was reserved for the perfect knight called the Siege Perilous. Thus, the round table was more of a political expenditure and had no magical or mystical ingredient attached.

The 12 Knights of the Round Table

The number of knights varies according to numerous legends and associated stories. The original number of knights that could sit at the table was 150, while some recounts claim twelve. How many knights they were depended on which source a scholar or history enthusiast might consult.

According to some legends, each knight had their name inscribed on the Winchester table, so each knight sat by his name.

However, the 12 knights of the round table include:

Sir Lancelot

Sir Lancelot, also known as Lancelot du Lac, Lancelot of the lake, was the son of king Ban of Benwick of France and Queen Eliane.

He was one of the first to join the knightly order of the king and was the greatest swordsman and fighter amongst the knights of the roundtable. He defended the king in many battles and never failed in his gentleness, courage, or courtesy. 

He was also the father of another notable knight- Galahad, whom he fathered with Elaine. Unfortunately, he was most famous for the betrayal and affair with Queen Guinevere-King Arthur’s wife.

Even though he was King Arthur’s most loyal knight and right hand, he had this forbidden affair. This affair led to a confrontation where Sir Lancelot mistakenly killed Sir Gareth, ultimately leading to the disbandment of the round table.

Sir Gawain

Legends typically say that Sir Gawain was the nephew of King Arthur. His parents were Arthur’s sister Anna and King Lot of Orkney. He is portrayed as formidable, courteous, and a formidable warrior.

He is one the greatest knights of the round table, a defender of the poor, and depicted as the “Maidens Knights.” Additionally, he was close friends with Sir Lancelot.

Sir Gawain

Some sources claim he was Arthur’s closest friend but was replaced by Lancelot and then Galahad. The accidental death of Gawain’s brother-Sir Gareth, at Sir Lancelot’s hands caused him to be a bitter enemy of his once great friend.

Sadly, legends claim that Gawain was killed in a fight with Sir Lancelot. However, before his death, he repented of his bitterness towards Lancelot and forgave him.

Sir Galahad

Sir Galahad was the bastard son of Sir Lancelot and Eliane of Corbenic. He was also a knight of the round table. He was very pure in spirit, noble, courageous, loyal, and a talented swordsman. He was a hero that finally found the Holy Grail that Sir Arthur and his knights had been searching for.

Although he was often overlooked, he is still seen as a Christian superhero. Much so that he is entwined with Christian imagery. According to legend, Galahad ascended into heaven with the angels when he drank from the Holy Grail and never truly died.

Sir Galahad

Sir Geraint

Sir Geraint, the elder son of King Erbin of Dumnonia, was a knight of Devonshire. After the death of his wife, Geriant spent time at King Arthur’’s court looking for action and adventure.

Eventually, during this time, he encountered Sparrow Hawk Knight and came to marry Lady Enid of Caer Teim. He died fighting the Saxons with King Arthur at the battle of Liongborth around 480/510.

Sir Geraint and his wife

Sir Gareth

Sir Gareth was King Lot and Morgause’s youngest son and the youngest brother of Sir Gawain. He played one of the most important roles in defending King Arthur. He was a prime example of chivalry; he was even known to avoid his brother when they acted less chivalrous.

Sir Gareth

He served as a page to Sir Lancelot and was very devoted to him. Sadly, he was killed by Sir Lancelot accidentally in his rescue of Queen Guinevere. This made his death even more tragic to bear.

Sir Gaheris

Sir Gaheris was the son of King Lot and Morgause, brother to Gawain, Gareth, and Argravaine, and half-brother to Mordred. Before being knighted, he was his elder brother’s squire.

He was killed in the fight when Sir Lancelot stopped Queen Guinevere from being burned at the stake. Although, just like Sir Galahad, his death was accidental, as Sir Lancelot did not recognize him in the crowd of knights and people.

Sir Bedivere

Sir Bedivere was a fearless fighter and one of King Arthur’s most trusted knights. He showed deep and unwavering support for the king. He was also one of the first to join the round table. According to legends, Bedivere and King Arthur fought the Giant of Mont Saint-Micheal; sadly, he lost one hand in the battle. 

He was also present at the last Battle of Calman between the forces of King Arthur and his nephew King Mordred. Only he and the King survived the Battle of Calman. Unfortunately, King Arthur was wounded in the battle and was dying. Arthur commanded him to throw his magical sword Excalibur back into the lake. 

After lying twice to the King, he tossed the magical sword unto the lake where it came from. The hand of the Lady of the Lake came out of the water and retrieved the sword. Years after his final battle, Bediveere is said to have been killed fighting in the Roman campaign.

Sir Bedivere

Sir Bors De Ganis

In Arthurian legend, two Sir Bors were a father and a son. The father was an early ally of King Arthur. He fought alongside King Arthur to defeat the Saxons and achieve peace in Camelot.

On the other hand, Sir Bors, the younger, had a much more complicated relationship with the king. He was one of the three Holy Grail knights alongside Galahad and Sir Percivale.

He returned from his quest to meet the conflict between Sir Lancelot and King Arthur, and being Sir Lancelot’s cousin; he took his side. Many legends claim that when Sir Lancelot died, Bors was bereft and left Camelot. Other accounts claim he died fighting in the crusades. Other versions say he became king of Frankish lands in Europe.

Sir Bors De Ganis

Sir Kay

Sir Kay is Sir Ector’s son and King Arthur’s foster brother. He was one of the earliest people linked with King Arthur. According to legends, Sir Kay had mystical powers and was called one of the “Three Enchanter Knights of Britain.” He was said to be cruel and hot-tempered.

But he was Arthur’s guardian and his most faithful companion. There are different accounts of his death. Some claim King Arthur killed him; others say he was killed by the Romans or in the war against Sir Modered.

Sir Lamorak

Sir Lamorak, son of King Pellinore, was one of the round table’s strongest, most brutal, and fiercest knights. He was known for his strength and fiery temper. He was also said to have fought off thirty knights on at least two occasions. Some claim Sir Mordred killed him in a war with King Arthur.

Sir Lamorak

Sir Tristan

Sir Tristan was a well-known archer and close friend of King Arthur. He was the nephew King Mark of Cornwall and son of Melidas, King of Lyoness.

After defeating and killing Marhaus of Ireland in a duel. The defeat led to a truce with King Anguish of Ireland, who arranged for his daughter Iseult to be married to King Mark. 

Tristan was sent to fetch the would-be queen, but he fell in love with her. When the couple realized there was no hope of being together, they fled from King Mark and lived on the run for the rest of their lives. 

Sir Palamides

Sir Palamides, son of King Esclabor, was a knight fighting for Princess Iseult’s hand at a tournament in Ireland. Unfortunately, he lost to Sir Tristian. He joined the round table and engaged in numerous duels with Tristian, which usually ended without a clear winner. Though they eventually reconciled, they shared a love-hate relationship throughout his narrative.

What Happened to the Knights of the Round Table?

The order of the round table knights came to a tragic end. The bond they shred shattered at the affair and betrayal of Sir Lancelot and King Arthur’s wife- Queen Guinevere. The surviving knights split into different tractions while others ended up dead.

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