A new movie about King Arthur, scheduled for release in 2017, is likely to generate fresh interest in one of Hampshire’s jewels in the crown.
The Great Hall, in Winchester – “one of the finest surviving aisled halls of the 13th century”, and all that now remains of Winchester Castle – contains the greatest symbol of medieval mythology…King Arthur’s Round Table.
According to legend, the Round Table which hangs in the Great Hall of Winchester Castle is the table around which King Arthur and his Knights of the Round Table met. Famous for centuries for its associations with the legendary ‘Once and Future King’, the table has the names of 24 Knights of the Round Table written around its edge, as well as a depiction of King Arthur on his throne.
Originally a standing table, with 12 outer legs and a central support, it measures 5.5 metres in diameter, weighs 1200kg and was constructed from English oak. It has hung on the west wall of the Great Hall, in Winchester, since 1873, when it was moved from the east wall where it had hung since at least 1540.
A more likely history of the table, however, can today be found at the foot of the table, in The Great Hall.
Here, an interpretation panel explains how, in the late 15th century, Thomas Malory created the best-known legend of Camelot in his work Le Morte d’Arthur.
It continues: “Malory’s identification of Camelot as Winchester was probably inspired by it being the capital of Wessex, and by the presence of the Round Table (which can be seen) here today – now known to date from the 13th century, but which was widely believed in Malory’s time, to be original and dating from the 6th century when King Arthur was believed to have lived.”
Camelot was depicted in his story as standing along a river surrounded by plains and forests with a magnificent cathedral, St Stephen’s, where Arthur and Guinevere were married. In the mighty castle stands the Round Table, where knights see a vision of the Holy Grail and swear to find it.
“Edward I, whose court was often resident in Winchester Castle, may have commissioned the Round Table to be made for a great dinner as part of an ‘Arthurian’ tournament he organized to celebrate the marriage arrangements of his children in April 1290,” adds the interpretation panel. “Henry VIII (then) instructed that the table be painted and the portrait is thought to be that of the young king.”
While a great many other places in Britain have strong claims to Arthur, and to Camelot, this ancient Round Table does give Hampshire a tangible association with the legendary king; and today, visitors can see the Round Table by paying a “suggested donation” of just £3 per person to gain entry into Winchester’s Great Hall. Group Tours are also available, on request.
Further tourist information can be found at http://www.visit-hampshire.co.uk.
King Arthur: Legend of the Sword is scheduled to be launched in March 2017. It is directed by Guy Ritchie, and stars Charlie Hunnam as King Arthur and Jude Law as Vortigern.