The Legend about Camelot

Camalahot, Camalat, Camallate, Camalot, Camelotto, Camilot, Damolot, Kamaalot, Kamahalot, Schamilot

On either side the river lie
Long fields of barley and of rye,
That clothe the world and meet the sky;
And through the field the road runs by
To many-tower'd Camelot.

The city stands on a forest-girt hill arising out of a great plain. It is a short distance from the highway and river leading to the Isle of Shalott. The riverbanks are lined with willows and aspens that toss and quiver in the breeze, and on each side the fields of rye and barley stretch away to the horizon.

The traveller to Camelot sees the spires and turrets, towers and battlements, rooftops and gonfalons of the city like a misty mirage between the green haze of the forest and the arching sky. At dusk of evening and in morning mists the castle-city fades and hovers as though to deceive the eye: at night the towering silhouette glimmers with lantern-gleams through windows and arrowslits; in the great golden light of noon the terraced building shimmer in the heat and the huge gate gleams golden in the sun.

When storms blunder across the plain the city vanishes within a thunder cloud or hides behind grey curtains of rain. In autumn it stands above a golden ring of fading forest: in wither the white towers and snow-clad roofs can hardly be seen against the silvered plain. These endless changes, flowing one into another, make some wanderers fear that Camelot is an enchanter's city, and turn aside.

Traffic is busy on the highway and the river. Deep-laden barges ply between Camelot and the Isle of Shalott, and occasionally the Lady of Shalott skims anonymously among them in her silken-sailed shallop. Usually she stays in her four-towered castle, working on her loom while watching the highway traffic reflected in a mirror.

Red-cloaked market girls, village churls, sheperd lads, long-haired pageboys in crimson livery, fat churchmen on ambling mules, high-loaded haywains and strings of packhorses move along the highway. Men and women sow and reap and harvest in the fields, working from sunrise to moonrise, but with their labours ligthened by the songs which float from the Lady of Shalott's castle.

Whenever a trumpet sounds from the turrets of Camelot, the people on the highway hasten to move aside. The silver notes herald a cavalcade of knights who canter down the winding road between the trees, riding from Camelot onto the broad highway.

All in the blue unclouded weather, the knights make a gallant sight as they ride two by two, the heralds and standard-bearers trotting proudly between each troop with brilliant banners floating proudly high. The common folk doff their caps as the knights ride by: black-visaged Modred scowling at the throng; broad-browed Lancelot and Galahad smiling graciously at the maidens; Merlin the magician riding a little apart from the others, with his black robes and star-bedizened cap seeming to shimmer strangely in the sunlight.

The knight may be riding forth on another foray against the enemies of Britain, or perhaps on another attempt to rescue the Holy Grail. They are led by mighty Arthur himself, and the common folk hardly dare to meet his eagle glance or even to look at the caparisoned white stallion, led by a handsome squire, which carries Arthur's armour and his great sword Excalibur.

When a traveller climbs the steep road to Camelot he hears such strange music that he thinks the fairies may still be at their work of building the city. It grows louder as he steps through the gate into the first great courtyard, where he meets a guardian who makes the boldest pause. The Lady of the Lake stands there, her arms outstreched, one holding a sword and the other an ancient censer. Her dress ripples like water from her sides, a trickle of droplets falls from wither hand, and her grey eyes are fixed on such eternity as to make an evildoer's heart turn in his breast.

Each side of the gateway is carved with emblems and devices symbolising Arthur's wars, so cunningly wrought that the dragonboughts and elvish emblemings appear to move, seethe, twine and curl.

Once past the gateway the visitor finds a city of stately palaces, rich in emblems and the work of ancient kings. Merlin, at Arthur's bidding, used his arts to give a spiralling beauty to the many-towered city, and the eye is drawn continously upwards to the peaks of spires and turrets.

Sixten hundred knights and barons have their quarters in Camelot, all so jealous of their precedence that one Christmas feast became a battle over who should sit nearest the head of the table. Arthur had the Round Table built so that all the turbulent knights might sit around it in equality.

Within the city, the visitor finds that the strange music he heard is the busy sound of Camelot itself. The voices of those treading the steep streets and passageways mingle with ministrel songs and the notes of lute and zither floating from casements. A melodious clangour rises from the streets of the armourers and swordsmiths, who forge and fashion armour for horses and men and send great sprays of sparks cascading from their dark workshops as they sharpen battleaxes and two-handed swords.

Fletchers make arrows for hunting or for war, farriers pound glowing horseshoes on their anvils, leather workers stitch at richly coloured saddles and harness. The deep chanting of monks rises above the battlements, where pacing sentinels watch the cavalcade of knights riding into the distance.

The centre of Camelot is the Great Hall of King Arthur, surrounded by kitchens and sleeping quarters and standing next to the tourney ground. The long vaulted hall stands so high that its ceiling is lost in smoky shadows. An oak tree smoulders on the huge hearth, to warm the knights feasting on barley bread, beef, and ale. Along each wall there is a triple row of shields carved out of stone, each with a knight's name underneath. A shield remains blank until its owner has done one noble dead, when Arthur has the knight's arms carved upon it. If he performs more noble deeds, then Arthur has the arms coloured and blazoned. The shields of Gawaine is rich and bright, but that of Mordred is as blank as death.

Arthur carries out all his kingly business within the hall, and from time to time commands a tourney to be held. The prizes are no more than a lady's veil or glove, but the knight prepare as ardently as if they were to do battle with the Saracens. Within the tourney ground, the knights ride at each other on their great warhorses with lances strong as ship's beakheads. Arthur will sometimes enter the lists, but he does not wield Excalibur because this would give him an unfair advantage.

At the end of the day, when wounds have been bound up, the knight celebrate loud and long within the Great Hall, stories of warfare, mystic encounters, and vows to recapture the Holy Grail rise to the high arches of the hall. Among the knights, Merlin sits brooding over past and future, foreseeing the day when Arthur will be carried to the Isle of Avalon and Camelot will fade into the mists of evening.

Camelot is the famous court and capital of King Arthur, common in the vernacular due to the Lerner and Lowe play bearing its name, appears first (but only once) in Chrétien de Troyes. In most Arthurian tales, it competes with Caerleon, Carlisle, Cardueil, and Logres for the position of Arthur’s chief city. This is his principal residence and preferred castle, although later descriptions of the castle appear to owe a good deal to Geoffrey of Monmouth's description of Caerleon, Camelot is not mentioned prior to Chrétien de Troyes, in whose work it occurs but once (at the beginning of Lancelot - and even there it is not presentin all manuscripts). It was during the thirteenth century that Camelot became prominent, especially in the Vulgate Cycle of questers, and in the Mort Artu Gawain expressed his desire to be buried at Camelot, which had obviously become by that time the ideological, as well as geographical, center of the Arthurian world. The ultimate ruin of Camelot, according to Palamedes and the Spanish Demanda del Sancto Grial, was the work of the aged Mark, who (hearing that Lancelot was dead) invaded Logres, destroying Joyous Gard, Lancelot's tomb, Camelot, and the Round Table.

During the thirteenth century, various writers described Camelot in considerable physical detail. The castle was surrounded by plains, with a forest and a river nearby. There was at least one church, and there was, naturally enough, a town or city around (or near) the castle.

From the Vulgate Estoire del Saint Graal, we learn that an evil pagan king named Agrestes ruled the city in the time of Joseph of Arimathea. He slaughtered many of Joseph’s followers at the Black Cross before God drove him mad. The Post-Vulgate Queste del Saint Graal provides us with different biblical era king named Camalis, after whom Camelot was named. Following these examples, Tennyson agrees that the city was ancient and was not established by Arthur, in contrast to popular tradition.

In Arthur’s time, Camelot served as the location for many tournaments, one of Gawain’s battles against the Saxons, and many other adventures. It’s main church, St. Stephen’s, held the remains of Arthur’s greatest warriors. According to the Post-Vulgate Mort Artu, King Mark of Cornwall besieged Camelot during the Grail Quest and, after Arthur’s death, returned to destroy it completely. In La Tavola Ritonda, it falls to ruin after Arthur’s death.

Camelot may be a variation of Camulodunum, the Roman name for Colchester. The castle also may have taken its name from any number of rivers with the root cam, meaning 'crooked', which was probably the source of Camlann. Descriptions of its location vary. Palamedes places it on the Humber River, and Malory identifies it with Winchester, while writers of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries began to associate Camelot with an old Roman hill fort south of Cadbury. Camelford in Cornwall and Camelon in Scotland have also been suggested. In recent years, archaeological investigations into the Cadbury fort have shown that it was occupied by Britons in the late fifth century. Given that Camelot is a place of romance and fantasy, however, any investigation into the location of the 'real' Camelot is probably futile.

See also
Castle Astolat | The Legend of King Arthur