If we're going to talk about the sword in the stone, we're going to be delving into myth and fantasy. The story of Arthur drawing the sword from the stone is one of the first stories that come to mind when King Arthur is mentioned. In 1963 Disney set the legend in "stone" so to speak by giving the title of "The Sword in Stone" to its animated musical about King Arthur. The story of Arthur's accession to the throne usually begins (after the whole business of Uther deceiving Queen Ygraine) with Arthur being the foster son of Sir Hector and squire to his foster-brother Sir Kay. England is without a king and Merlin has set Uther's sword into a rock and announced that the man who can draw the sword from the rock is the true King of England. Kay breaks his sword and Arthur, in his role of squire, goes to find another sword. He sees the sword in the stone, draws it out and tries to give it to Kay. Surprise, surprise, Arthur is the new King of England!
In 1135 Geoffrey of Monmouth, a Welsh cleric, published his History of Britain. He claimed that he was merely copying older manuscripts, and the story of Arthur was already being told. However, Geoffrey was the first person to shape the story into one single piece and the first person to tell of the sword in the stone. However, the story was not restricted to English legend. San Galgano (1148) an Italian saint was instructed by the Archangel Michael to turn his back on fighting and to take his sword and thrust it into a stone, where it remains to this day. A chapel was built to contain the sword in the stone. Although skeptics have long considered the sword to be a fake, modern testing has revealed the opposite.
Could the sword in the stone have any basis in reality? The Romans brought Sarmatian warriors from the Russian steppes to protect Roman forts in Britain. Part of the Sarmatians' religious belief centered on the image of a sword thrust into a platform of stone. It is even said that the commander of the Sarmatians was named Artorius ("Arthur" maybe?) When the Romans left in 410 AD it is possible that the Samartians stayed in Britain and their stories were absorbed into the folklore of the Britons.
12th century poet Robert de Boron gives another meaning for the sword in the stone. In his version of the story (and many others) the sword is thrust into an anvil set on top of a stone. The anvil was one of the symbols of Christianity and can be seen on the logo of the African Methodist Episcopal church to name just one denomination. By pulling the sword from the anvil Arthur was agreeing to set aside paganism and be a Christian king.
So, the sword in the stone was nothing fancy, and it was not Excalibur. The giving of Excalibur is a story for another day. Does Excalibur still exist? Check out the Excalibur Rising series. We call them fantasy but who really knows? Check it out here and take advantage of our July sales price on Kindle. Just .99 for a limited time. Buy it now so you will be ready for Book Two coming in August.
To answer a question about Excalibur we have have to go back to the question that underlies every other question about King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table. Was Arthur a real person and when did he live?
If a general, or war leader, or chieftain named Arthur actually existed he was either a Roman or someone who rose to power shortly after the fall of the Roman Empire.
Romans used the word gladius to refer to their type of sword. Initially made of iron, by the time Rome fell, the gladii were made of steel. They were two edged for cutting and had a tapered point for stabbing and they were short, more akin to a long dagger than an elegant magical sword. There was no swashbuckling involved in fighting with a standard Roman sword. No leaping from balconies or swinging from chandeliers. Roman soldiers were trained to use their swords for stabbing and to aim for the stomach. Stomach wounds were almost always fatal. The sharp edge of the blade could be used for cutting at the knees. Fighting with a Roman sword was a bloody business relying on rigorous training and the quick kill. The sword was just over 2ft in length meaning that the combat was up close and personal. If Excalibur was a Roman sword, it was a simple instrument, with a wooden hilt, perhaps some engraving of the owner's name on the blade, and very unlikely to be ornamented with precious metals or jewels of any kind.
Perhaps Arthur was not a Roman. He is often depicted as a Celt. The Celts were known for their skill in sword making and especially for their ability to make long swords, some as long as 6ft. They were given to naming their swords and decorating them with ivory, gold, and precious stones. They placed swords in sacred lakes and rivers to honor their dead. Archaeologists today find lakes and rivers to be a good source of artifacts. So, with the Celtic sword, are we getting closer to the fabled Excalibur?
The Romans conquered many of the Celtic tribes living in what is now England but they failed to conquer the members of an even more ancient society, the Picts of Scotland. Although they fought one pitched battle in which many Picts were destroyed, Rome never managed to keep a foothold in Scotland. The Picts retreated to the mountains and lived free of the Romans. Was Arthur a Pict, was Excalibur a Pictish sword? Unlikely. The Picts were renowned for fighting naked, and this has never been said of Arthur, and their swords were curved, and this has never been said of Excalibur.
So let's move on to fantasy Arthur. Edward III a 14th century King of England exploited the Arthurian myth to bolster his own popularity. He staged mock Arthurian tournaments, and bestowed Arthurian honors on his favorites. The style that many of us associate with the legendary Arthur is in fact the High Medieval style of Edward III. By the 14th Century the sword had evolved from the short stab-you-in-the-stomach blade of the Romans to an instrument of greater elegance about 4ft long and light enough to be used one-handed on horseback and two handed when on foot.
Of course we can't discount the possibility that Excalibur was a foreign import. Rome had conquered most of the known world and no doubt soldiers collected battlefield souvenirs and brought them home. Perhaps one of those souvenirs was a particularly well-made sword.
In the Middle Ages, English knights joined the Crusades and traveled far and wide. As they made their way to Jerusalem and the battlefields of the Middle East, they encountered weapons made of Damascus Steel. These weapons were light, flexible and kept their edge. A Saracen sword would be something to be treasured and perhaps endow with mystical properties.
However, when we consider a sword that has a name, is long and heavily ornamented and has connections to water (as in the sword given to Arthur by the Lady of the Lake) and if we want the story of Arthur to be rooted in any kind of historical truth, Excalibur cannot be a sword from the HIgh Middle Ages, and is most likely to be a Celtic sword from the time of the Roman occupation of Britain or soon after.
In the Excalibur Rising series of Arthurian time travel novels, I offer another compelling and much darker explanation of the origin of Excalibur and its relation to King Arthur. Book One and Book Two are now available and Book Three will be available in January.
With thanks to the Daily Mash UK for this solution to the Brexit problem.
"King Arthur has returned in Britain’s hour of need with a plan mainly involving swords, he has announced.
The legendary king intends to save his people from disaster, although it is unclear how running around with a weapon and armour will prevent the economy going into recession.
Arthur said: “I have retrieved mighty Excalibur, proving I am the one true king of England and giving me the ability to stab, slash and chop things.
“I’ve summoned the 12 Knights of the Round Table, who also have swords, and Merlin the wizard, who can turn into a stag. As you can see, the plan is really shaping up."
“We’ve come to Downing Street, but I’m not entirely sure how to do battle with leaving an economic trading bloc. Also Lancelot has been tasered for waving his sword around."
“Sir Gawain has offered to challenge David Cameron to one-to-one combat and Merlin is reading up on referendum law, although he’s finding non-Middle English really heavy going."
“I will definitely rescue my countrymen from peril once I work out what to do, but if they weren’t such idiots this would never have happened.”
Yesterday the knights attempted to storm the European Parliament, resulting in four arrests and a Belgian policeman being turned into a squirrel.
Blog Update: I discovered an interesting map courtesy of the King Arthur Facebook Group. This maps shows the location of all of the 'Arthurs' of Britain, Ireland and Brittany, from the 2nd to the mid-13th century and the possible geographical placings of Arthur of Badon These are only the leaders who were specifically named Artorius, Arthur or Artur/Artuir, with no others with sound-alike names.
How popular is King Arthur? How much does the legend infiltrate our daily lives? Did you know that a range of woodworking tools is named after King Arthur and the members of his court? Guinevere is a set of sanding tools. Merlin is a set of discs, Lancelot is some kind of chainsaw and Squire is one of these.......
So what is, or was, a squire? In the earliest form of the word a squire was a servant to a knight. Usually he was a high-born boy serving a kind of apprenticeship on his way to a knighthood of his own. Noble medieval boys were not exactly "mamma's boys". They were sent away from home at the age of seven to serve as pages in other noble houses. At the age of 14 they could begin their apprenticeship as a squire to a knight and some seven years later they could be knighted.
In the earliest Arthurian legends we are shown Arthur acting as squire to Sir Kay. Most probably he was a foster child in Sir Hector's household and worked as a page and then was promoted to squire. His role as squire to Sir Kay is downplayed in later versions of the story and in fact Sir Kay himself is sidelined. This could be because Arthur, by pulling the sword from the stone, rose immediately from squire to king and put Sir Kay's nose out of joint.
Did Arthur have a squire? Although no consistent name is mentioned, it would have been impossible for Arthur to function without a squire. At the most basic level, it is impossible to put on a suit of plate armor without assistance. A squire had a number of duties in war and peace. He was responsible for the care of the knight's horses and armaments, for waiting at the table, for providing entertainment with music and dancing, and for accompanying the knight into battle, usually to hold his banner. The only name consistently given to Arthur's squire is Griflet. He was later knighted by Arthur, which would be expected. In the early Lancelot Grail cycle, Sir Griflet is the knight that the dying King Arthur asks to return Excalibur to the Lady of the Lake. Squiredom was just one step on the ladder of success.
So how did the term "Squire" change from this to this?
In the Middle Ages the word squire was only used to describe the young men being trained for knighthood but the term "esquire" was also in use to describe the Royal Esquires of the "Bodie". They were not young boys but the most senior servants in the royal household who accompanied the king everywhere (really everywhere including standing guard while the king took a bath.)
As the middle ages died and the pistol was invented, there was no need to train boys in the art of dressing a knight in armor. The title however, having been applied to the children of nobility, still carried respect and sometime in the 17th century it morphed into a title of respect for members of the gentry who owned a wide area of land and the largest house in the neighborhood. The title often went along with owning the local Manor House, especially if the owner had no other noble title.
By the 18th century the title of squire began to appear in literature referring to important local landowners. One of the best known squires of the period is Squire Trelawney who accompanied Jim and Long John Silver on their adventure to Treasure Island.
The term squire also has a friendly application, particularly among Londoners who will often use the term "squire" in place of mate, pal, or chum. See Monty Python for frequent use of the term. See Nudge Nudge Wink Wink for the opening line of "evening squire"
In the US, attorneys are usually given the title "esquire" . This was borrowed from the British where barristers are called esquire, but not solicitors. It also comes from the custom of the local squire being called upon to act as magistrate or justice of the peace. The connection to attorneys may have evolved from the time when squires were the people who met to negotiate time and place of a duel, but could quite often act as peacemakers.
And back to the question of why Cameran Diaz is posing for a magazine named Esquire. I have no idea! But here's Angelina Jolie on the same gig.
It's enough to turn a young boy's head. In Excalibur Rising Book Two, a young boy goes seriously astray. Read Book One and be ready for Book Two.
I notice that the latest trend in movie and t.v. fantasy is to depict women, especially princesses, as kick-ass warriors with painted-on body armor. How about a reality check? There is no record that Guinevere or any of the ladies of Camelot, in any version of the legend, was a warrior woman, but even if we can buy the idea that Arthur needed his queen to do his fighting for him, is this what she would have worn? It's difficult to know where to start ... high heeled boots? Arms totally exposed? If our female warrior happens to meet an opponent who is not totally distracted by cleavage, she'd lose an arm at first contact. And let's talk about that cleavage. The breastplates guide the blade exactly where it should not go, right into the heart, not to mention that pointy piece of jewelry about to pierce her sternum. Okay, okay, it's fantasy, I don't want to spoil anyone's fun. If you follow the Excalibur Rising series, you are going to meet some powerful women, but I like to think they wouldn't be caught dead in a chain mail bikini.
So, what is the reality? Did medieval women take part in combat, and if they did, what did they wear?
Armor is uncomfortable, and the only possible way to wear it for an extended period of time is to wear a padded undercoat, called a gambeson. This undercoat had long sleeves and reached to mid thigh. For most women, once they had put on the gambeson, projecting "boob" plates would be totally unnecessary. History has many a record of women taking part in fighting, especially to protect their own homes, but if they wore armor at all it would be a chain mail hauberk or some other practical item borrowed from the men of the family. Very few women, or, I would venture to say, no woman kept a set of "barely there" armored underwear .
We do have records of queens wearing full plate armor. Eleanore of Aquitaine, traveling with the Second Crusade, wore armor and rode astride, carrying a lance. Queen Isabella of Spain fought the Moors for 10 years, wore men's armor, and somehow managed to give birth to 10 children during that same time period.
Perhaps the most famous fighting woman of the Middle Ages was Joan of Arc. Given the purity of her motives and her subsequent rise to sainthood, it is unlikely that Joan wore a chain mail bikini, or an armored bras. So what did she wear? There are no surviving images of Joan in her armor that were made in her lifetime. In fact, the only known image of Joan made during her lifetime is a sketch by Clement de Fauquembergue, who never saw her and sketched her based on reports of a young maid leading the French army carrying a sword and a banner; he puts her in a dress. When she is depicted in armor by later artists, she is typically depicted in the style of that artist's day. However, one of the major charges laid against her was that of "cross-dressing", and a record exists of Joan being measured for custom made armor in 1492, so there is little doubt that Joan wore plate armor and the charge of cross dressing arose from the fact that she wore men's armor.
As for the famous movie scene where Queen Elizabeth I, wearing silver armor and riding a white horse, addresses the troops at Tilbury, there is no record that Elizabeth ever wore armor, but if you want an image of a powerful Queen, this is so much better than the alternative.
And here is the alternative.
In the interests of fairness and in defense of today's women warriors, the Army has recognized the need to redesign body armor to make it easier for women to wear, but it doesn't include armored boob projectiles, chain mail skivvies, or high heeled boots.
Was Tintagel the birthplace of Arthur? Was it the home of Isolde? The BBC explores these ideas in an informative post. No matter how one feels about the truth of the legend, no one can deny its place in the popular imagination. Tintagel Castle attracts 200,000 visitors per year. http://www.bbc.com/travel/story/20160602-the-wild-island-shaped-by-legend
It's easy to believe that the practice of medicine in the middle ages was cloaked in ignorance and the ministrations of a doctor usually resulted in a painful death. Some of this belief is true. War was brutal and battle injuries were horrific. Anyone wounded in battle would have to wait for the battle to be over before they could expect treatment, and the treatment when in came rarely resulted in a cure. As knights and soldiers wrapped themselves in more and more armor, swords were discarded and battle tactics consisted of finding new ways to make piercing wounds. Lances, pikes and especially arrows inflicted severe internal injuries for which medieval medicine had no cure.
But life was not all battles, and anyone who could avoid battles and childbirth could expect to live a long lie. From earliest times, healers had been coming up with ways to treat ordinary everyday afflictions, and the treatment of choice was often urine. The healing properties of urine were first recorded by the Roman naturalist, Pliny the Elder, who recommended the use of fresh urine to treat sores, burns and scorpion stings. Stale urine mixed with wood ash was a preferred treatment for diaper rash, although it is hard to imagine how a rash that was caused by urine in the first place, could be cured by urine however stale, and however much wood ash was mixed in. Pliny's famous statement "in vino sanitas" (in wine there is health) sounds much better than his second not so famous statement "in urinae sanitas"
By the middle ages, doctors had devised the urine wheel to assist in their diagnosis. This chart contained 20 possible colors of urine ranging from "white as wellwater," to "rudy as pure intense gold," and "black as very dark horn." The popular image of a doctor holding a round bottom flask is a depiction of the flask that was invented specifically so the doctor could examine the urine. Incidentally the urine of mad King George III of England (the king who lost the American Colonies) was reported to be colored purple. This is a classic symptom of porphyria, a disease causing intermittent dementia.
We have a report that in 1550 the
Italian doctor Leonardo Fioravanit saw a man's nose sliced off in an argument, and promptly urinated on the fallen organ before stitching it back on. Henry VIII's surgeon recommended that all battle wounds should be washed in urine; and others advised the same for potentially gangrenous ulcers, or poisonous bites and stings. Being sterile when it leaves the body, urine was then a far safer cleaning agent than the kind of water typically available.
Medieval women were advised to apply their own urine, or puppy urine, to their faces to produce a pleasing "glow". Although the treatment sounds bizarre, modern day analysis reveals that urine contains 95 percent water (purer than any water then available) , 2.5 percent urea, and the rest is a combination of salt, various minerals, enzymes, and hormones that contain essential nutrients. Urine therapy is still practiced in some parts of the world, and therapists claim that urine, when applied onto the skin with a clean, damp cloth, can clear up psoriasis, eczema, and acne overnight,
Too squeamish to drink urine? How about just using it to clean your teeth. Medieval women used it as a tooth whitener. Incidentally, skeletons of the period reveal that the average person had excellent teeth. This is probably because of the unavailability of refined sugars, and the lack of Coca Cola.
Returning to the subject of urine, how about urine to bleach cloth, and urine to clean hats? And for pure romance, urine makes an excellent invisible ink. Did Guinevere write secret love notes to Lancelot with urine? Well, she couldn't use lemon juice, no lemons available in England, so perhaps she improvised with what was to hand, so to speak.
Before we squeal in horror at the whole idea of relying on urine as a medicine or as a diagnostic tool, let's consider what we do today. How do we test for pregnancy? Urine. How do we test for kidney disease? Urine. How do we test for illegal drug use? Urine. These are just a few examples. So, if you are interested in do it yourself urinalysis, here is a medieval urine wheel or you can try this link for a modern day description of the same thing.
This week I am giving you a couple of links that I have investigated. This link will take you to an article in Britain's Daily Mail where historian Graham Phillips claims to have found King Arthur's burial place in a field in Shropshire. If you are a believer in the legend that Arthur was taken to Avalon by the Lady of Lake, then obviously you will not believe he is buried in a field in Shropshire. However, the article does contain a good deal of interesting information, and a reiteration of many of the popular myths about Arthur. Also some nice video of Prince Charles visiting another supposed Arthurian burial site.
I have based my Arthurian fantasy series Excalibur Rising on the magical side of Arthur. Excalibur Rising begins in Las Vegas with the murder a history professor who claims to have found Excalibur. My King Arthur is not buried in a field in Shropshire, he is sleeping until England needs him.