Winchester Great Hall - the nearest you'll get to King Arthur's Round Table

Living History

Winchester Great Hall - the nearest you'll get to King Arthur's Round Table

The legendary King Arthur and his Knights of the Round Table are a feature of English late-5th and early-6th century history. They were reputed to occupy the mythical kingdom of Camelot. In later times, various writers and leaders have embellished the story, and even created physical embodiments of it - one of which is an imitation of the iconic Round Table, now on display in the city of Winchester.

The round tabletop is constructed from English oak, measures 5.5 metres in diameter, and weighs 1200kg. It was originally a table standing on legs, but was hung on the east wall of the Great Hall since at least 1540 (but possibly 1348), and was moved to the west wall in 1873. The Great Hall itself is considered one of the finest surviving aisled halls of the 13th century - and is all that remains of the Castle that was built in Winchester for William the Conqueror in 1067.

Dendochronology has shown that the table itself was constructed in the late 13th century, during the reign of Edward I. It is believed that it was built as part of a Round Table tournament the king held in 1290, to mark the betrothal of one of his daughters. Edward himself was an Arthurian enthusiast, and such tournaments were celebratory occasions held in the Middle Ages, involving jousting, feasting, and dancing in imitation of King Arthur's court.

In the 15th century, the English writer Thomas Malory created the image of Camelot most familiar today in his Le Morte d'Arthur. He firmly identifies Camelot with Winchester, but this is regarded as speculative.

During the reign of King Henry VIII, the table was painted with the Tudor Rose at its centre and is thought to portray Henry as King Arthur on his throne, surrounded by 24 places for his Knights.

The inscription on the table reads:
"This is the rownde table of kyng Arthur w(ith) xxiiii of his namyde knyattes."

The knights are then named, comprising Sir Lancelot, Sir Gawain, Sir Galahad and Sir Bedivere, Sir Percivale, Sir Lionell, Sir Tristram de Lyones, Sir Gareth, Sir Bleoberis, Sir Lacotemale Taile, Sir Lucan, Sir Palomedes, Sir Lamorak, Sir Bors de Ganis, Sir Safer, Sir Pelleas, Sir Kay, Sir Ector de Maris, Sir Dagonet, Sir Degore, Sir Brunor le Noir, Sir Lebius Desconneu, Sir Alymere and Sir Mordred. Among these, Sir Mordred was also the adopted son of King Arthur who, in the legends, ultimately rose against the King and was defeated by him.

Further reading

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