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A legendary king in England in the Middle Ages. The life of King Arthur has been retold many times over the centuries; hence, most of the incidents in his life have several versions. According to one well-known story, Arthur gained the throne when he withdrew the sword Excalibur from a stone after many others had tried and failed. Arthur established a brilliant court at Camelot, where he gathered the greatest and most chivalrous warriors in Europe, the knights of the Round Table. King Arthur's knights included Sir Lancelot, Sir Galahad, Sir Percival, and Sir Gawain. Other characters associated with the legends of Arthur are the wizard Merlin, the enchantress Morgan le Fay, Queen Guinevere, and Arthur's enemy and kinsman, Modred (or Mordred), who caused his downfall. According to some legends, Arthur sailed to a mysterious island, Avalon, at the end of his life; some stories say that someday he will return. The legends of Arthur may have originated with an actual chieftain named Arthur who lived in Wales in the sixth century, but the many retellings have taken the story far from its original place and time. Because of the belief that he will return, he is sometimes called “the once and future king.”
A legendary early king of Britain, much celebrated in literature. The best-known works on Arthur are the fifteenth-century book Le Morte d'Arthur, by Thomas Malory, and the nineteenth-century series of poems Idylls of the King, by Alfred, Lord Tennyson. (See also under “Mythology and Folklore.”)