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The Legend of the Excalibur Sword of King Arthur

There are many legends and plenty of mysteries surrounding the Excalibur sword of King Arthur. In this Buzzle article, we will take you through the varied theories that are associated with the same.
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Legend of the Excalibur sword of King Arthur
Did You Know?

The earliest reference of the sword of Arthur comes from the mid-11th century Welsh prose tale Culhwch ac Olwen, which states the king's sword as Caladfwlch―a Welsh word derived from Caladbolg meaning "Hard Lightning".
According to medieval British history, King Arthur was a king in the late 5th and early 6th century. Arthur is said to have led Britain against the Saxon invaders (somewhere in the early 6th century) and has become a legend over the centuries. However, most of these stories are based on folklore and literary invention, and many historians debate and dispute his very existence.

Even though the very existence of King Arthur is shrouded in mystery, there are several stories about his life and many adventures that have become famous, and are popular even today.

Of these Arthurian legends (as they are popularly called), one of the most mysterious and popular is the legend of his Excalibur sword. In this Buzzle article, we will draw your attention to the theories that this famous sword is steeped in.

The Excalibur Sword

The Excalibur sword, also referred to as the Caliburn, was said to be made of gold and inlaid with gems. It is said that the sword was made on the Isle of Avalon. The Excalibur was extremely powerful, and legend has it that it could cut through the toughest of materials―like wood and iron, alike. In describing its powers, therefore, it is also referred to as 'cut steel', which implies that it could even cut through steel.

The scabbard that the sword came in was also made of gold and lined with gems; it was believed to have mystical powers. It was said that it protected its owner from harm―so much so, that whoever carried the scabbard could never be harmed. Legend says that when Merlin―King Uther's counselor and Arthur's tutor―asked Arthur what he would choose―the sword or the scabbard, Arthur chose the sword, to which Merlin is said to have reprimanded him for making an unwise choice and asked him to care for the scabbard as well, because it would protect him on the battlefield―such was the scabbard's powers.

In later years, the sorceress Morgan le Fay, King Arthur's half-sister would steal the scabbard and throw it into a lake, thus sealing his fate and leading to his eventual death.

The Sword in the Stone and the Excalibur

Legends speak of the Sword in the Stone and the Excalibur being the same sword. The stone sword is legendary for proving the lineage of King Arthur as the rightful heir of King Uther Pendragon. That they are the same sword seems to have come forth from the 'Vulgate Merlin Continuation' which is a part of the 'Lancelot-Grail' (a source of Arthurian legend) and seems to have said that Arthur drew the Excalibur from the stone. However, there are other accounts that speak of the Excalibur being a different sword. The first of these accounts is traced back to what is called the 'Post-Vulgate Cycle' and states that the Excalibur was given to King Arthur by the Lady of the Lake, a little after he began his reign.

The Story of the Lady of the Lake

King Arthur's sword, it is said, was damaged during battle, and it was because no king could be without a sword of his own that Merlin took him to the Lady of the Lake. As they waited on the banks, Arthur saw a woman's arm clad in white silk―which had golden and silver threads woven around it―rise above the water. The hand clutched a sword. Arthur then saw a beautiful lady walking over the surface of the water towards them. Merlin told Arthur that she was Nimue, the Lady of the Lake, and he said that Arthur should request her for the sword, for the lake was her property. When Arthur asked if he may have the sword, Nimue was kind to him and gave him her permission, adding that the sword would serve him well. She then directed them to a barge on the edge of the lake which they used to row towards the sword. As soon as Arthur held the sword in his hands, the hand that had held the sword slipped back into the lake.

The Returning of the Excalibur

In his final battle―the Battle of Camlann―King Arthur was dealt a deathly blow to his head by his nephew (in reality, his son)―Mordred. With the loss of his scabbard, he knew that his end was near, and so he ordered one of his loyal and trusted knights, Sir Bedivere, to return the sword to the lake. He asked him to throw the sword into the lake and asked him to recount what he saw. On the way to the lake, Sir Bedivere was so enthralled by the beauty of the sword that he decided that it was far too precious and beautiful a weapon to be discarded. So he hid it under a tree and returned to the king. When Arthur asked him what he saw, he replied that he saw only the ripples on the water where the sword entered the lake. This angered the king and he ordered him to discard the Excalibur again. So the knight found himself on the edge of the lake a second time, but he still could not bring himself to throw it in. He returned it to his hiding place yet again and went back to the king. When Arthur asked him a second time what he saw, he had the same reply. Now the king was really angry and he called the knight a traitor, he asked him to discard the Excalibur because his life depended on it.

This time around Bedivere went back to the lake and threw in the sword as hard as he could. Just as the sword was about to hit the surface of the water, a woman's arm wearing white silk, interwoven with golden and silver threads emerged from the water and caught the sword. Then the hand shook the sword three times and silently returned beneath the water with the sword.

Epilogue

When Bedivere came back and recounted what he saw at the lake, King Arthur ordered him to take him to the lake. Once there, they saw a barge approaching that had many women on it, all of whom were crying at the plight of the king. One of them was Nimue, the Lady of the Lake. Arthur asked to be laid on the barge, and when Bedivere did so, he began to be tended by the women. Then, just as the barge had come to the edge, it began to move away. Arthur was taken to the island of Avalon to be healed of his wounds. Some say that he is still at Avalon, waiting for such a time when Britain is threatened by invaders. Legend also says that he is asleep there, and will only be woken when his land needs him for its protection.

It has been said that with the Excalibur by his side, King Arthur was able to extend his rule all over Britain, defeating Wales, Scotland, and Ireland. He was a very successful ruler and the Excalibur ensured that he was able to defend his country from invasions and the threat of the enemy. If legend is to be believed, the Excalibur still rests in the lake, waiting for a worthy leader to come forth and do right by it.
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Published: August 7, 2014
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