Knights of the Round Table were those men awarded the highest order of Chivalry at the Court of King Arthur in the literary cycle the Matter of Britain. The table at which they met was created to have no head or foot, representing the equality of all the members. Different stories had different numbers of knights, ranging from only 12 to 150 or more. The Winchester Round Table, which dates from the 1270s, lists 25 names of knights.
Sir Thomas Malory describes the Knights' code of chivalry as:
- To never do outrage nor murder
- Always to flee treason
- To by no means be cruel but to give mercy unto him who asks for mercy
- To always do ladies, gentlewomen and widows succor
- To never force ladies, gentlewomen or widows
- Not to take up battles in wrongful quarrels for love or worldly goods
The first writer to describe the Round Table was Wace, whose Roman de Brut was an elaboration of Geoffrey of Monmouth's Historia Regum Britanniae. The actual table itself was round in order to represent that each knight was of equal value to the king and thus there was no 'head' of the table, although one understood that Arthur's place was 'the head.' In later writings, the table was said to be a gift to King Arthur from his father-in-law, King Leodogran of Cameliard, as a wedding gift upon the marriage of Arthur to Guinevere. The company was used by many subsequent authors. However, even the earliest writers ascribe to Arthur a following of extraordinary warriors; in Geoffrey, Arthur's court attracts the greatest heroes from all of Europe. In the Welsh Arthurian material, much of which is included in the Mabinogion, Arthur's men are attributed with superhuman abilities. Some of the characters from the Welsh material even appear under altered names as Knights of the Round Table in the continental romances, the most notable of which are Cai (Sir Kay), Bedwyr (Sir Bedivere), and Gwalchmai (Sir Gawain). (read more . . . )
Gawain ( or ), also Gwalchmei, Gawan, Gauvain, Walewein and others, is King Arthur's nephew and a Knight of the Round Table who appears very early in the Arthurian legend's development. He is one of a select number of Round Table members to be referred to as the greatest knight, most notably in Sir Gawain and the Green Knight. He is almost always portrayed as the son of Arthur's sister Morgause (or Anna) and King Lot of Orkney and Lothian, and his brothers are Agravain, Gaheris, Gareth, and Mordred. In some works he has sisters as well. Gawain is often portrayed as a formidable but brash warrior, fiercely loyal to his king and family. He is a friend to young knights, a defender of the poor, and a consummate ladies' man. In some works, his strength waxes and wanes with the sun; in the most common form of this motif, his might triples by noon, but fades as the sun sets. His knowledge of herbs makes him a great healer, and he is credited with at least three children: Florence, Lovell, and Gingalain, the last of which is also called Libeaus Desconus or Le Bel Inconnu, the Fair Unknown. In later Welsh Arthurian literature, Gawain is considered synonymous with the native champion Gwalchmei.
Gawain is commonly considered identical with the Welsh hero known as Gwalchmei (or Gwalchmai) ap Gwyar, who appears in the Welsh Triads and in Culhwch and Olwen, an Arthurian romance associated with the Mabinogion. His appearance in Culhwch, which probably dates to the 11th century, makes him, like Cai (Kay) and Bedwyr (Bedivere), one of the earliest characters associated with Arthur. Here Gwalchmei, like Gawain, is Arthur's nephew and one of his chief warriors; Arthur sends him and five other champions with the protagonist Culhwch on his journey to find his love Olwen. (read more . . . )