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Who so pulleth out this sword…

The legend of King Arthur has been told and retold in many ways for hundreds of years.  During the Middle Ages authors describe Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table as using arms and armour from their own time periods. But modern writers like to set the legend of Arthur in a fantasy world set anywhere between 500 CE and 1500 CE.

Something that unites all the different versions of this legend is that they all contain amazing examples of arms and armour From magical swords to weird and wonderful helmets, we have some of them in our collection at the Royal Armouries.

‘So called Arthur King, you and all your silly English kniggets.’

One famous tale of King Arthur describes how he and his gallant knights went on a quest to find the Holy Grail. The Holy Grail was supposedly a mysterious cup used by Jesus and his disciples in the Last Supper.  In the 1970s, the Monty Python comedy team made a film inspired by this legend, Monty Python and the Holy Grail. Ask your grown ups about it. It is a very silly film, but even so King Arthur and the Knights of Camelot wear armour similar to the type worn by real knights in the 1300s and 1400s. Except their armour is made of string and fibre glass, not steel.

Which is which? The Monty Python helmet is on the right, while the real great helm is on the left. The real helmet is from the 1330s

 

Same game. Rude French guard’s helmet from the film on the left, with the real bacinet, dating from the 1380s, on the right.

‘I have yet to find a king worthy of my sword.’

The Grail story inspired the film Excalibur (1981) as well. The film makers equipped their knights with the shining plate armour of the late 1400s and 1500s.  But the movie armour is made of aluminium, a much softer and lighter metal than steel.

 

The armour on the right was worn by the actor playing Lancelot in Excalibur and looks a lot like the real suit of armour on the left that is from 1515-1525.

‘Become who you were born to be.’

King Arthur’s sword Excalibur appears in both the films mentioned so far and in most modern retellings of the legend. But parts of the legend have inspired new stories altogether. In some romances from the 1300s and 1400s, Excalibur is  drawn by Arthur from an anvil (big metal block used by armourers to make weapons) on a stone proving he is King.  In others the sword is given to him by the Lady of the Lake, a magical water-spirit. In the Lord of the Rings, writer J. R. R. Tolkien invented a powerful sword, that makes the character called Aragorn the heir to the throne of Gondor. The sword was also made by dwarves and kept by elves. Cool. Check out the sword below which is Weta Workshop’s interpretation of that sword for the 2001 film Lord of the Rings. The creators were inspired by late medieval swords.

Bright silver sword

Aragorn’s sword Anduril, or Flame of the West.

Sword with straight blade and leather covered hilt with semi ring guard

A real hand-and-a-half sword from the 1480s. Can you see how these two swords look a like?

‘Once and future King.’

Why not see if you can find some different versions of the legend and see what arms and armour you can find? Can you design your own weapons and armour? Or write you own version of the story Arthur? It could be your version hitting the big screen next. You never know!

Other fun things to do

Watch the storytelling to see how a boy began his journey to be come a legend and gain his famous sword. Download the King Arthur Fun Activity Pack (pdf, 1 MB) to see if you can make all the things needed to look like a king. Learn the British Sign Language and Makaton for ‘king’ to really impress your royal subjects. Finally, read the article all about the history of King Arthur’s legend.

Alternative communication formats

Please contact us if you require any of our downloadable documents in an alternative format.

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