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.