(Editorial Note: The article that follows is written by Nicholas Ball from the British Flat Figure Society. It provides the background for the first in a series of flats scheduled to be released by the Society. Membership comes with a beautifully published quarterly magazine. The “King Arthur” figure below was painted by Nick as well.)
by Nicholas Ball
King Arthur is a central figure in the mythology of Great Britain and features in many legends and
stories. Historians disagree on whether anyone like him actually existed, but it’s safe to say his myth is just as strong with or without a historical personage to go along with it. His is one of the stories that lay the foundation of Western Culture and provides a template for the cultures idea of Honour, Leadership, Romance and Death.
Arthur first appeared in Welsh poetry around 600 AD and in many texts is referred to as a great leader. His popularity really came into force in 1138, where it is believed that the Norman conquest of Britain in 1066 stimulated an interest in the obscure legend of Arthur, where this great military leader triumphed over the Saxons and united Britain.
The first modern telling of the stories, was written in 1485 by Sir Thomas Malory in a version called Le morte d’Arthur. These stories were gathered sources throughout Europe and created such a definite work of literature that it is the direct source for most adaptions of the stories all the way to the present day. I have therefore combined the most interesting of these together to explain just who King Arthur was.
It is also intended that the new BFFS series of figures will be based on many of these tales.
In the beginning…
Britain is ruled by many Kings, Dukes and Lords, and although there is no one more successful than King Uther Pendragon, Britain is in a state of Civil War.
At a banquet celebrating one of Uther’s victories over the King of Ireland, Uther becomes obsessed with Igraina, the wife of Gorlois, Duke of Cornwall, who is one of his main allies. Gorlois becomes annoyed and walks out of the banquet with his wife. This is unheard of, and ultimately leads to war between Uther and Gorlois.
Gorlois sends Igraina to his impregnable castle at Tintagel in Cornwall for her protection, whilst he himself is besieged by Uther in another Town.
Uther meanwhile, consults with Merlin, a magician, who uses his magic to transform the King into the likeness of Gorlois and thus gains access to Igraina in Tintagel, where he spends the night with her, and whilst Uther is in the Castle, Gorlois is slain.
Merlin knew that once Uther died, there would be troubled times, as other noblemen vied for the kingdom and had therefore set a condition on Uther, that should any child be born from this night of union with Igraina, Merlin would take and protect it from harm.
Igraina did indeed conceive a son, called Arthur, and on the day of his birth, Merlin appeared and took the child away, where he placed him in the safe hands of Sir Ector, who was a loyal ally to the King. Ector also had a young son called Sir Kay. Here, Arthur was brought up as a child of Sir Ector and as the half brother to Sir Kay, and no one, not even Ector himself, knew the boy’s true identity.
The Sword in the Stone. ( 1st Figure )
All was not well with the King, and just months after giving away his son, and marrying Igraina, King Uther turned ill and died. With no heir to lead the Kingdom, the country fell into despair. Rival Dukes and Lords disputed over who was best fit to rule England.
In the midst of this turmoil, the nobles turned to Merlin to find a solution, so he erected a large stone in a Churchyard and into this he placed a sword. “The Sword is Magic” Merlin explained, “and only he who is fit to rule can pull it from the Stone”
Nobles from far and wide came to try to pull the Sword from the Stone, but none succeeded. Overtime, the Sword became forgotten, and England fell into greater ruin.
The Tourney / Tournament
17 Years passed, and eventually a Tourney came to the home town of Sir Ector. Sir Kay and Arthur were now grown up, and as Sir Kay showed great promise as a knight, his Father agreed to let him fight in the tournament. In turn, Sir Kay asked Arthur to be his squire, a great honour in those days, and Arthur agreed.
Sir Kay did well at the Tournament, but upon meeting a knight of great size, he broke his Sword against the giant man’s head and had to retire out of the battle. As Sir Kay had done so well, the Tourney was stopped until Sir Kay could fetch another sword, and to this end, Arthur volunteered to ride home and collect one.
On reaching the Manor House, Arthur found the doors to be locked, (as all were attending the Tourney ) and so not to be defeated in his task, he rode to the churchyard where he recalled there being a sword buried in a large stone. When he arrived back, he handed the Sword to Sir Kay, who went straight to his Father. On seeing Sir Kay with the Sword, Sir Ector asked his son where he had obtained the sword. “ As I had broken mine and wished to remain in the Tourney, I pulled this from the great stone in the Churchyard“ said Sir Kay.
The tournament was stopped, and everybody went back to the Stone where Sir Kay was asked to put it back in, so that he could redraw it in front of witnesses, but on trying to push it in, he could not! As Sir Kay had been caught out, he decided to tell the truth and admitted that he had received the Sword from Arthur. Arthur agreed that he did indeed take the sword and re-embedded it back into the stone as if it was butter. He was then asked to redraw it, which he did with ease.
At this stage, Merlin appears from the crowd and explains that Arthur is indeed the true son of King Uther Pendragon, and therefore the true Heir to the Throne.
The BFFS Figure
There are many pictures of Arthur pulling the Sword from the Stone from a standing position, but they didn’t seem that interesting or unique, so we decided that we would place him on the back of a horse. This fits in well with the story, as he would have been riding back through the Churchyard, to collect the Sword in the stone where it had been placed.
It is sometimes thought that the sword in the stone is the same one that’s called Excalibur, but this is not correct. Excalibur, as you will learn from the next figure in the series, is obtained through Merlin from the Lady in the Lake.
The figure was drawn by Sasha Lunyokov, and engraved by Andreas Trost.
As with all our new figures, there will be a how to paint guide in one of our up coming Journals.
It is available from the BFFS for £14 + Postage to Full Members and £18 + Postage to Associates on our Forum and all non members.
All enquiries to Nicholas Ball, Hon. Secretary BFFS
Full Membership to the BFFS is available for £18.