Who Were the 12 Knights of the Round Table?

After the passing of King Uther Pendragon, renowned monarch of the Britons and father to King Arthur, England lacked a sovereign leader. The aristocrats of Britain engaged in heated discussions regarding the rightful heir. Merlin, a figure steeped in myth, foresaw the trajectory of Britain, hinting at the rise of King Arthur.

Tradition holds that Merlin, to establish the next rightful king and ease the concerns of Britain’s nobility, secured the sword Excalibur within an anvil atop a stone.

Through Merlin’s enchantments and visions, only Britain’s true monarch could extricate the sword. All the while, a young Arthur, residing with his adoptive father Sir Ector and older half-brother Kay, was unaware of his royal lineage.

However, at the age of 15, Arthur achieved the feat of removing Excalibur, thereby affirming his destiny as Britain’s king. Yet, this monumental event was met with resistance from 11 opposing monarchs.

Guided by Merlin’s wisdom, Arthur fortified his domain by countering potential usurpers. Many of his once adversaries, as well as allies, transitioned into his cadre of esteemed knights. Shortly after his royal inauguration, King Arthur established the renowned Round Table Knights.

During this medieval era, knights, primarily from noble lineages, constituted the military’s core. Their financial affluence enabled them to acquire premium armor, and weapons, and maintain war steeds.

During royal assemblies, the head of the table conferred status, often leading to underlying tensions among lower-tier knights.

To mitigate these rank-based disputes, King Arthur commissioned a round table. Yet, alternate tales suggest this table was a matrimonial gift from his father-in-law.

The esteemed Round Table Knights pledged allegiance to King Arthur. They were the cream of the kingdom’s knights and resided in the iconic Camelot.

Their inception, documented in the mid-12th century, aimed to usher in stability during Arthur’s nascent reign. As the years progressed, their mission evolved, with them undertaking the sacred quest for the Holy Grail.

As narrated in Wace’s Roman De Brut, King Arthur might have introduced the round table to quell disputes among his bickering barons. Regardless of its origins, the table’s innovative concept inspired countless individuals far and wide.

The round table stood as a beacon of equality, accommodating knights from various echelons. Every knight, irrespective of stature, held an equal seat, breaking away from traditional hierarchical norms.

With time, the round table’s symbolic significance burgeoned. By the 12th century’s twilight, it epitomized the chivalric code associated with Arthur’s court. Different versions of the tale introduce knights hailing from various regions, both from within Europe and beyond.

These men of valor, famed for their martial expertise, embarked on perilous quests, defended the weak, and valiantly served their homeland.

Many among these knights were either direct kin or distant relatives of the King. Adhering to a chivalric code, Giovanni Boccaccio encapsulates their guiding principles as:

  • Remaining ever-armed.
  • Relentless pursuit of the extraordinary.
  • Undying allegiance.
  • Avoidance of harm to others.
  • Consistent religious devotion.
  • Defense of one’s homeland.
  • Upholding the defense of the vulnerable.
  • Refraining from internal conflicts.
  • Sacrificing oneself for one’s nation.
  • Elevating honor above all.
  • Providing hospitality based on individual capacity.
  • Documenting events with utmost accuracy and fidelity.

A seat of honor, known as the Siege Perilous, was reserved at the round table for the most distinguished knight, emphasizing its political gravitas rather than a mystical essence.

Narratives differ regarding the total number of knights. Some versions assert a figure of 150, while others present a mere dozen. The precise number often fluctuates based on the source of reference.

Legend also purports that each knight’s name was meticulously engraved on the Winchester table, thereby dictating their designated seating position.

Notably, the Round Table boasted 12 distinguished knights, including:

Sir Gareth

Youngest to King Lot and Morgause, and the junior sibling of Sir Gawain, Sir Gareth was pivotal in safeguarding King Arthur. The epitome of knightly virtues, he distanced himself from his brothers during unchivalrous behaviors.

Sir Lancelot’s devoted page, his accidental demise by the same knight during Queen Guinevere’s rescue was heartbreaking.

Sir Galahad

Born to Sir Lancelot and Eliane of Corbenic, Sir Galahad wasn’t born in wedlock. Esteemed for his pure-heartedness, valor, loyalty, and swordsmanship, he’s the hero who discovered the Holy Grail.

Though sometimes overshadowed, he embodies Christian virtues. Legend recounts that upon sipping from the Holy Grail, he was taken heavenwards by angels.

Sir Geraint

A knight from Devonshire, Sir Geraint was King Erbin of Dumnonia’s eldest. Post his spouse’s passing, he sought adventure at King Arthur’s court.

His journey led him to the Sparrow Hawk Knight and eventually to his union with Lady Enid of Caer Teim. During the Liongborth battle circa 480/510 against the Saxons, he met his end alongside King Arthur.

Sir Kay

Being Sir Ector’s offspring and foster sibling to King Arthur, Sir Kay was among the early figures associated with the king. Legendary tales suggest he had enchanting abilities, earning him the title of one of the “Three Enchanter Knights of Britain.”

Despite his impulsive nature, he remained a staunch protector of Arthur. Diverse tales surround his demise – some suggest it was King Arthur’s doing, while others point to the Romans or the conflict against Sir Modered.

Sir Lancelot

Recognized as Lancelot du Lac or Lancelot of the Lake, he was the progeny of King Ban of Benwick in France and Queen Eliane. A pioneer in King Arthur’s knighthood, he was unmatched in combat and chivalry.

Elaine bore him a son, Galahad. Infamously, his clandestine love affair with Queen Guinevere, King Arthur’s consort, is remembered. This illicit relationship culminated in Sir Lancelot inadvertently slaying Sir Gareth, causing the Round Table to dissolve.

Sir Gaheris

Hailing from the lineage of King Lot and Morgause, was kin to Gawain, Gareth, and Argravaine, and shared a half-brotherly bond with Mordred. Before his knighthood, he served his older brother.

His life was cut short during the rescue of Queen Guinevere from execution. Sir Lancelot, failing to identify him amidst the gathering, unintentionally took his life.

Sir Gawain

Folklore often paints Sir Gawain as King Arthur’s nephew, sired by King Lot of Orkney and Arthur’s sibling, Anna. Celebrated for his chivalry and prowess, he ardently championed the needy and was titled the “Maidens Knight.”

While he once shared a profound bond with Sir Lancelot, the accidental death of his sibling, Sir Gareth, at Lancelot’s hands turned them into adversaries. Regrettably, tales state that Sir Lancelot killed Gawain. However, in his final moments, he absolved Lancelot of his animosity.

Sir Bedivere

One of King Arthur’s staunchest allies, Sir Bedivere displayed unparalleled bravery. His loyalty to the king never wavered, and he was among the earliest members of the Round Table.

Folklore recounts his battle alongside King Arthur against the Giant of Mont Saint-Michel; tragically, he sacrificed a hand. During King Arthur’s final skirmish, the Battle of Calman, against his nephew King Mordred, only Sir Bedivere and King Arthur emerged alive.

As King Arthur’s life hung by a thread, he entrusted Sir Bedivere with returning his enchanted blade, Excalibur, to its watery origin. After hesitating twice, he finally cast the sword into the lake, where the Lady of the Lake’s hand reclaimed it. In later years, tales suggest Sir Bedivere met his end during the Roman conquests.

Sir Tristan

A celebrated bowman, Sir Tristan enjoyed King Arthur’s close companionship. Born to Melidas, King of Lyoness, he was also King Mark of Cornwall’s kin. His victory over Marhaus of Ireland brought peace with King Anguish of Ireland.

As part of this peace, King Mark was to wed Anguish’s daughter, Iseult. Tasked with escorting her, Tristan unexpectedly fell for her. Recognizing their forbidden passion, the pair chose a life of evasion from King Mark.

Sir Bors De Ganis

Arthurian tales feature two figures named Sir Bors – a father and son duo. The elder Bors, King Arthur’s early confidant, battled by his side against the Saxons, establishing tranquility in Camelot. Conversely, the younger Sir Bors experienced tumultuous ties with King Arthur.

Among the trio that pursued the Holy Grail, he shared this honor with Galahad and Sir Percivale. When conflict arose between Sir Lancelot and King Arthur, his allegiance, as Lancelot’s relative, lay with the former.

After Lancelot’s demise, legends vary: some say he departed Camelot in grief, some assert he perished during the crusades, while others believe he ascended to rule in European territories.

Sir Lamorak

A product of King Pellinore’s lineage, Sir Lamorak was famed for his might and volatile disposition as a knight of the Round Table. Renowned for repelling thirty adversaries on multiple occasions, some believe Sir Mordred was his downfall during a clash with King Arthur.

Sir Palamides

A descendant of King Esclabor, Sir Palamides aspired to win Princess Iseult’s affection in an Irish tournament, only to be bested by Sir Tristan. Later, as a member of the round table, he consistently dueled with Tristan, resulting in inconclusive outcomes. Their relationship, interwoven with rivalry and understanding, is a recurring theme in his tales.