The fifth season of Once Upon a Time saw the introduction of King Arthur, played by Liam Garrigan. English Arthurian legends tell of a mythical sword named Excalibur, buried hilt-deep in a stone and only able to be removed by the rightful king of England. As a boy, orphaned Arthur is tutored by the wizard Merlin, and grows up to succeed in claiming Excalibur ruling England.
Disney’s 1963 film The Sword in the Stone, which is an adaptation of T. H. White’s 1938 novel of the same title, follows Arthur’s and Merlin’s adventures up until Arthur becomes king. The Sword in the Stone is referenced in Once Upon a Time as a flashback, which gives away a moment in Arthur’s past. But from watching the animated film, much more context is given to this intriguing character.
Folklore – Legends Surrounding The Sword in the Stone
At the beginning of The Sword in the Stone, the narrator tells how ‘the good king had died’ and England could only be saved by a miracle. The ‘good king’ refers to King Uther Pendragon, Arthur’s father. According to legend, he was poisoned by the Saxons. It is unknown what became of Arthur’s mother, Lady Igraine, but at the beginning of The Sword in the Stone, Arthur is living with Sir Ector in his dilapidated castle.
The London Stone
The miracle refers to Excalibur, which appeared in London after King Uther’s death. Whoever could pull it out of the stone would become the new king of England. In The Sword in the Stone, Excalibur is in a churchyard. But according to history, it’s more likely to have been on Cannon Street. There lies the London Stone. It was once a large plinth, and why the stone was erected is unclear. Throughout history, anyone seeking to challenge the monarch’s authority would strike their swords upon it. It gained a reputation as a symbol of hope for rebels, and perhaps provided some inspiration for The Sword in the Stone. Today, only the top part remains. Currently, it has been moved from its home on Cannon Street to be displayed in the Museum of London whilst some renovation is carried out.
London Stone has its light back by Andre
Winchester’s Round Table
Synonymous with King Arthur is the legend of the Knights of the Round Table. These were the bravest, finest knights in Arthur’s kingdom, and they lived in his castle and held meetings around a circular table. This meant that everyone present was equal, as opposed to a rectangular table which has a head position. The number of Knights of the Round Table is arguable, but it is usually accepted there were 12 or 13.
In the city of Winchester, mounted to the wall of the Great Hall, is a large round table rumored to have been the one from King Arthur’s castle. Although it appears it was made in the 13th century, years after Arthur’s supposed reign, its origins are unclear and painted on it are the names of Arthur’s knights. A revamp of it was commissioned by King Henry VIII in the 16th century, so the table is now decorated with a Tudor Rose and Henry sitting in the place where Arthur should be.
The Round Table by Ben Sutherland
King Arthur’s castle and surrounding city were called Camelot. It is unknown whether it ever existed in reality, and if it did its geographical location is also unknown. But the author Thomas Malory believed that Winchester was a likely site. With its ancient Iron Age heritage, Roman walls, castle ruins, and Saxon cathedral, it’s not hard to believe that it could have been King Arthur’s stronghold. Every street in Winchester seeps history and folklore.
Sightseeing – Real Places Associated With Arthurian Legends
Tintagel Castle and Merlin’s Cave in Cornwall
Another strong candidate for Camelot is Tintagel Castle in Cornwall. Perched on the rocky headland, this majestic ruin was mentioned by Geoffrey Monmouth in his 1138 book History of the Kings of Britain. It is here where King Arthur was first given form, and Monmouth states that Tintagel Castle is where he was conceived.
Tintagel Castle by Ben Salter
If you venture down to the beach below Tintagel Castle, you will be able to enter Merlin’s Cave. Some legends say that this is where Merlin found the orphaned baby Arthur. It is possible to walk through the cave to the other side of the cliff, but keep an eye on the tide! The cave is only accessible during low tide, and when the tide rises it floods.
King Arthur’s Grave and the Isle of Avalon in Glastonbury
Apart from Camelot, the Isle of Avalon was another important place in Arthurian legends. This is where Excalibur was forged, and where King Arthur and his wife, Guinevere, were laid to rest. Again, it’s existence and geographical location are uncertain, but the most popular choice for Avalon is the town of Glastonbury in Somerset. In 1190, monks at Glastonbury Abbey claimed to have discovered the bones of Arthur and Guinevere and a stone cross marking their graves. Today, the site is marked by a plaque, but the bones and the cross are mysteriously absent…
Arthur’s Gravesite, Glastonbury Abbey by Neil Howard
Arthurian legends are part of England’s rich folklore and have been preserved so well that even in the modern sprawl of London a piece of them exist. Their many different versions ensure they are a constant subject of debate, and bringing King Arthur into Once Upon a Time will only add to this. A new King Arthur story to join the others, and take up the mantle of this centuries-old legend.