King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table
The legends of King Arthur of Britain and his Knights of the Round Table, among the most popular and beloved of all time, originated in the Middle Ages. As they do today, medieval people listened to the accounts of Arthur with fascination and awe. It is certain that popular folktales were told about a hero named Arthur throughout the Celtic parts of the British Isles and France, especially in Wales, Cornwall, and Brittany (Lunt 76). Other stories of chivalry that did not include Arthur existed in this time period as well. Although these stories were not recorded at first, they were known as far away as Italy, where mosaics and carvings depict Arthurian characters. The tales are often mentioned by early writers including William of Malmesbury, who distrusted them as "lying fables" (Bishop 32). Today literary critics believe that such folktales are sometimes based on real characters, but the stories about them change greatly as they are passed from one generation to the next. This art of storytelling became an oral tradition among these people and their ancestors, so the question of King Arthur's actual existence still remains a mystery (Bishop 34). Nevertheless, the medieval world viewed much of the Arthurian legend as a part of history, and writers of the time built into the legend many of their highest ideals-deeds of chivalry, courtly love, and the contribution of the Arthurian legends and romances to literature.
Chivalry was a code of honor that developed for armed knights on horseback, the most powerful fighters in medieval warfare. The word is related to cavalry and to the French word chevalier, which means horseman, and gained its meaning during the Middle Ages (Evans 205). To the knight's basic role as a warrior, chivalry added ideas about social rank, manners, Christian virtues, courage, and honor. Knights began to pursue high standards of chivalrous behavior in their own lives. Religious groups of knights called chivalric orders were formed to fight during the crusades. Later, national monarchs began to honor notable subjects by granting them knighthood in reward for valor and loyalty (Bishop 104, 105). Throughout the Middle Ages, knights were closely associated with warfare and power (Jordan 55). Power meant wealth; wealth enabled people to own horsed and heavy armor; and these provided the ability to gain greater power and wealth. Knights trained themselves to fight in full armor and to excel in battle. They could cause brutal damage to opposing forces. In the later Middle Ages, when not on the battlefield, knights practiced their skills in hunts and tournaments. These tournaments provided an opportunity to practice and display military skill, an important contribution to the art of chivalry (Grant 24, 25).
As the concept of chivalry continued to develop, a moral, religious, and social code arose- one based on values of fidelity, piety, and service to God. ...