The Legend of King Arthur

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17 March 2021
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The tales surrounding King Arthur, the sword in the stone, knights of the round table and the wizard Merlin, are rooted in the 5th and 6th centuries and have captivated people for a millennium and a half. Now Royal Mail add their own interpretation of the stories with a set of ten stamps

At least fifty films have been made retelling the legend of King Arthur and over centuries the stoires have come to symbolise part of British identity. So it seems apt for Britian to recount the legends with a set of ten stamps, which each design featuring an original illustration by artist Jaime Jones depicting key moments in the life of King Arthur.

The five 1st class and five £1.70 stamps show dramatic scenes that come together to chart the life of the legend.

On the first design, Merlin holds baby Arthur, the future king, whose origins remain shrouded in mystery, and in Merlin’s power, until Arthur is revealed to be Uther Pendragon’s rightful son and heir. Arthur’s birthright to the crown of England, according to later romance traditions, is confirmed when he pulls out the sword in view of the Archbishop of Canterbury and the whole court, as seen on the second design.

Arthur’s famed sword, Excalibur, is the gift of the Lady of the Lake – seen on the stamp as an arm rising from the water – and a symbol of his tutelage by Merlin and his mission in the world. Despite Merlin’s warnings, Arthur chooses Guinevere as his wife, and we see the couple illustrated on the fourth value. Her dowry, Malory tells us, is the Round Table, which Arthur will use to build a fellowship of knights united around the values of loyalty and equality, and the knights can be seen meeting around the table.

On the sixth stamp Arthur’s nephew and chief counsellor, Sir Gawain, swings his axe to chop off the head of the Green Knight, whose deadly Christmas game of blows startles Arthur’s court and challenges its values.

We see more action on the seventh stamp with Lancelot’s slaying of the dragon, an act that is said to show God’s grace granted to Lancelot in the fight with the Devil/darkness, despite Lancelot’s own sins.

Sir Galahad, the pure knight, is the epitome of perfection among Round Table knights, and the opposite of his father, Lancelot. His unique success in the Grail Quest reveals the moral failures of Arthurian chivalry, and is represented with an image showing him kneeling before Joseph of Arimathea.

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As our stamp story comes to a conclusion we see Arthur and Mordred meet one last time in battle, fulfilling their destiny: Arthur’s, to be mortally wounded by his own son, and Mordred’s, to commit the sin of patricide and treason. Finally, the tenth stamp shows the wounded Arthur departing for Avalon on a barge driven by three queens. This represents hope for the king’s return, and the agency of women in healing and in preserving his memory and stories.

 

Postmarks and souvenirs

Compared to recent issues from Royal Mail, this ten-stamp set has a rather modest accompaniment of related souvenirs. A First Day Cover retails at £15.95; a presentation pack is £13.65; a pack of the postcards, recreating the designs is available for £4.50; as are a vareity of stamp sheets.

The standard Tallents House postmark for this set features King Arthur’s Excalibur sword being raised from the water. The alternative postmark features the words ‘King Arthur’ in a stylised font. According to Thomas Malory’s ‘Le Morte Darthur’ – one of the best-known accounts of the legends – Camelot is in Winchester, which has been chosen as the alternative postmark location. 

Stamp details

  • Issue date: 
  • Illustrations: Jaime Jones
  • Stamp Size: 35mm x 35mm
  • Printer: International Security Printers
  • Print Process: Lithography
  • Perforations: 14.5 x 14.5
  • Phosphor Bars: as appropriate
  • Gum: PVA