>Round Table

The Sword in The Stone

illustration: Matthew Lopz

Sword in anvil


The earliest mention of the sword in the stone is in Robert de Boron's Merlin from about 1300:

Some of the people went out of the church, where there was an empty place; and when they came out of the church they saw it plain and clear before the church door, a great stone, four square foot, and none knew what type stone it was; some said it was marble. And above, in the middle of the stone, there stood an anvil that was nearly half a foot in height, and thourgh this anvil was a sword fixed into the stone.

When they saw this, those first out of the church, they marvelled greatly, and went again into the church, and told the archbishop. And when the priest that had said mass heard this, he took holy water, and sprinkled it upon the anvil. And the archbishop looked at the sword, and saw letters of gold in the blade; and he read, "Who takes this sword out of this stone should be king by the election of Jesus Christ."

Le Roman de Perceforest

According to the mid 14th century romance, king Gallafur a non-Christian monotheistic pre-Roman king and ancestor of King Arthur foresaw the collapse of his kingdom and put the sword in the stone prophesying that one day his true successor would remove it and become king.

Galgano Guidotti

The sword in the stone may have been inspired by the sword of saint Galgano Guidotti, who in 1180 renounced violence and debauchery and stuck his sword into a rock so he could use it as a cross.

The sword can still be seen today in the Abbey of Saint Galgano in Tuscany, and unlike many other medieval "swords in stones" the sword has been dated to before the legend and is a whole sword stuck in the rock, not merely the top of a sword welded in.

"Alternative" theories.

The removal of the sword

From le morte d'arthur Thomas by Mallory (written in 1470, since the 19th century the most popular version)...

I command, said the Archbishop, that ye keep you within your church, and pray unto God still; that no man touch the sword till the high mass be all done.

So when all masses were done all the lords went to behold the stone and the sword. And when they saw the scripture, some assayed; such as would have been king. But none might stir the sword nor move it. He is not here, said the Archbishop, that shall achieve the sword, but doubt not God will make him known. But this is my counsel, said the Archbishop, that we let purvey ten knights, men of good fame, and they to keep this sword. So it was ordained, and then there was made a cry, that every man should essay that would, for to win the sword. And upon New Year's Day the barons let make a jousts and a tournament, that all knights that would joust or tourney there might play, and all this was ordained for to keep the lords and the commons together, for the Archbishop trusted that God would make him known that should win the sword.

So upon New Year's Day, when the service was done, the barons rode unto the field, some to joust and some to tourney, and so it happened that Sir Ector, that had great livelihood about London, rode unto the jousts, and with him rode Sir Kay his son, and young Arthur that was his nourished brother; and Sir Kay was made knight at All Hallowmass afore. So as they rode to the jousts-ward, Sir Kay had lost his sword, for he had left it at his father's lodging, and so he prayed young Arthur for to ride for his sword. I will well, said Arthur, and rode fast after the sword, and when he came home, the lady and all were out to see the jousting. Then was Arthur wroth, and said to himself, I will ride to the churchyard, and take the sword with me that sticketh in the stone, for my brother Sir Kay shall not be without a sword this day. So when he came to the churchyard, Sir Arthur alit and tied his horse to the stile, and so he went to the tent, and found no knights there, for they were at the jousting; and so he handled the sword by the handles, and lightly and fiercely pulled it out of the stone, and took his horse and rode his way until he came to his brother Sir Kay, and delivered him the sword. And as soon as Sir Kay saw the sword, he wist well it was the sword of the stone, and so he rode to his father Sir Ector, and said: Sir, lo here is the sword of the stone, wherefore I must be king of this land.

When Sir Ector beheld the sword, he returned again and came to the church, and there they alit all three, and went into the church. And anon he made Sir Kay swear upon a book how he came to that sword. Sir, said Sir Kay, by my brother Arthur, for he brought it to me. How gat ye this sword? said Sir Ector to Arthur. Sir, I will tell you. When I came home for my brother's sword, I found nobody at home to deliver me his sword, and so I thought my brother Sir Kay should not be swordless, and so I came hither eagerly and pulled it out of the stone without any pain. Found ye any knights about this sword? said Sir Ector. Nay, said Arthur. Now, said Sir Ector to Arthur, I understand ye must be king of this land.

Wherefore I, said Arthur, and for what cause? Sir, said Ector, for God will have it so, for there should never man have drawn out this sword, but he that shall be rightways king of this land. Now let me see whether ye can put the sword there as it was, and pull it out again. That is no mastery, said Arthur, and so he put it in the stone, therewithal Sir Ector assayed to pull out the sword and failed.

Now shall ye assay, said Sir Ector to Arthur. I will well, said Arthur, and pulled it out easily. And therewithal Sir Ector knelt down to the earth, and Sir Kay. Alas, said Arthur, my own dear father and brother, why kneel ye to me? Nay, nay, my lord Arthur, it is not so, I was never your father nor of your blood, but I wot well ye are of an higher blood than I weened ye were. And then Sir Ector told him all, how he was bitaken him for to nourish him, and by whose commandment, and by Merlin's deliverance. Then Arthur made great doole when he understood that Sir Ector was not his father.


The other sword in the stone

During king Arthur's reign another sword in a stone appeared, which only the world's greatest knight could remove.

Sir Gallahad, who sat in the Seige Perilous and who later found the grail was the only one to pull it out, it's enough to make you sick...

>Holy Grail

Malaria Consortium