The Round Table
The Round Table in Winchester, England
Accounts differ about the origin of the Round Table, at which Arthur’s knights met to tell of their deeds and from which they invariably set forth in search of further adventures. The Norman chronicler Wace was the first to mention it, in his Roman de Brut of 1155. There, he simply says that Arthur devised the idea of a round table to prevent quarrels between his barons over the question of precedence.
Another writer, Layamon, adapted Wace’s account and added to it, describing a quarrel between Arthur’s lords which was settled by a Cornish carpenter who, on hearing of the problem, created a portable table which could seat 1600 men.
The design displayed on the Winchester Round Table dates from 1552 and was made to impress the visiting Emperor Charles V.
Both Wace and Layamon refer to Breton story-tellers as their source for this and there is little reason to doubt them. This being the case, the origins of the table may well date back to Celtic times, and even be traceable to the age of Arthur himself. In the later medieval stories, however, it is Merlin who is responsible for the creation of the table. Malory, taking up the theme and developing it, made it the centre-piece of his epic re-telling.
The large wooden table in the Great Hall at Winchester dates from no earlier than the thirteenth century, when it may have been made at the command of King Edward III, who was considering a revival of the Round Table as an order of chivalry. In the end, he dropped the idea and created the Order of Garter instead, but the table remains. Made of oak, it is 18 feet across and nearly 3 inches thick. It weighs nearly 1.25 tons.