OF ARTHUR'S BIRTH AND HOW HE BECAME KING
Retold by Beatrice Clay
Long years ago, there ruled over Britain a king called Uther
Pendragon. A mighty prince was he, and feared by all men; yet when he
sought the love of the fair Igraine of Cornwall, she would have naught
to do with him, so that, from grief and disappointment, Uther fell
sick, and at last seemed like to die.
Now in those days, there lived a famous magician named Merlin, so
powerful that he could change his form at will, or even make himself
invisible; nor was there any place so remote that he could not reach
it at once, merely by wishing himself there. One day, suddenly he
stood at Uther's bedside, and said: "Sir king, I know thy grief, and
am ready to help thee. Only promise to give me, at his birth, the son
that shall be born to thee, and thou shalt have thy heart's desire."
To this the king agreed joyfully, and Merlin kept his word: for he
gave Uther the form of one whom Igraine had loved dearly, and so she
took him willingly for her husband.
When the time had come that a child should be born to the king and
queen, Merlin appeared before Uther to remind him of his promise; and
Uther swore it should be as he had said. Three days later, a prince
was born, and, with pomp and ceremony, was christened by the name of
Arthur; but immediately thereafter, the king commanded that the child
should be carried to the postern-gate, there to be given to the old
man who would be found waiting without.
Not long after, Uther fell sick, and he knew that his end was come;
so, by Merlin's advice, he called together his knights and barons, and
said to them: "My death draws near. I charge you, therefore, that ye
obey my son even as ye have obeyed me; and my curse upon him if he
claim not the crown when he is a man grown." Then the king turned his
face to the wall and died.
Scarcely was Uther laid in his grave before disputes arose. Few of the
nobles had seen Arthur or even heard of him, and not one of them would
have been willing to be ruled by a child; rather, each thought himself
fitted to be king, and, strengthening his own castle, made war on his
neighbors until confusion alone was supreme, and the poor groaned
because there was none to help them.
Now when Merlin carried away Arthur?for Merlin was the old man who
had stood at the postern-gate?he had known all that would happen, and
had taken the child to keep him safe from the fierce barons until he
should be of age to rule wisely and well, and perform all the wonders
prophesied of him. He gave the child to the care of the good knight
Sir Ector to bring up with his son Kay, but revealed not to him that
it was the son of Uther Pendragon that was given into his charge.
At last, when years had passed and Arthur was grown a tall youth well
skilled in knightly exercises, Merlin went to the Archbishop of
Canterbury and advised him that he should call together at
Christmas-time all the chief men of the realm to the great cathedral
in London; "for," said Merlin, "there shall be seen a great marvel by
which it shall be made clear to all men who is the lawful king of this
land." The archbishop did as Merlin counselled. Under pain of a
fearful curse, he bade the barons and knights come to London to keep
the feast, and to pray heaven to send peace to the realm.
The people hastened to obey the archbishop's commands, and, from all
sides, barons and knights came riding in to keep the birth-feast of
Our Lord. And when they had prayed, and were coming forth from the
cathedral they saw a strange sight. There, in the open space before
the church, stood, on a great stone, an anvil thrust through with a
sword; and on the stone were written these words: "Whoso can draw
forth this sword is rightful King of Britain born."
At once there were fierce quarrels, each man clamoring to be the first
to try his fortune, none doubting his success. Then the archbishop
decreed that each should make the venture in turn, from the greatest
baron to the least knight; and each in turn, having put forth his
utmost strength, failed to move the sword one inch, and drew back
ashamed. So the archbishop dismissed the company, and having
appointed guards to watch over the stone, sent messengers through all
the land to give word of great jousts to be held in London at Easter,
when each knight could give proof of his skill and courage, and try
whether the adventure of the sword was for him.
Among those who rode to London at Easter was the good Sir Ector, and
with him his son, Sir Kay, newly made a knight, and the young Arthur.
When the morning came that the jousts should begin, Sir Kay and Arthur
mounted their horses and set out for the lists; but before they
reached the field, Kay looked and saw that he had left his sword
behind. Immediately Arthur turned back to fetch it for him, only to
find the house fast shut, for all were gone to view the tournament.
Sore vexed was Arthur, fearing lest his brother Kay should lose his
chance of gaining glory, till, of a sudden, he bethought him of the
sword in the great anvil before the cathedral. Thither he rode with
all speed, and the guards having deserted their post to view the
tournament, there was none to forbid him the adventure. He leaped from
his horse, seized the hilt, and instantly drew forth the sword as
easily as from a scabbard; then, mounting his horse and thinking no
marvel of what he had done, he rode after his brother and handed him
When Kay looked at it, he saw at once that it was the wondrous sword
from the stone. In great joy he sought his father, and showing it to
him, said: "Then must I be King of Britain." But Sir Ector bade him
say how he came by the sword, and when Sir Kay told how Arthur had
brought it to him, Sir Ector bent his knee to the boy, and said: "Sir,
I perceive that ye are my king, and here I tender you my homage;" and
Kay did as his father. Then the three sought the archbishop, to whom
they related all that had happened; and he, much marvelling, called
the people together to the great stone, and bade Arthur thrust back
the sword and draw it forth again in the presence of all, which he did
with ease. But an angry murmur arose from the barons, who cried that
what a boy could do, a man could do; so, at the archbishop's word, the
sword was put back, and each man, whether baron or knight, tried in
his turn to draw it forth, and failed. Then, for the third time,
Arthur drew forth the sword. Immediately there arose from the people a
great shout: "Arthur is King! Arthur is King! We will have no King
but Arthur;" and, though the great barons scowled and threatened, they
fell on their knees before him while the archbishop placed the crown
upon his head, and swore to obey him faithfully as their lord and
Thus Arthur was made King; and to all he did justice, righting wrongs
and giving to all their dues. Nor was he forgetful of those that had
been his friends; for Kay, whom he loved as a brother, he made
seneschal and chief of his household, and to Sir Ector, his foster
father, he gave broad lands.