The English Story of “The Sword in the Stone”

By Matthew Poole


King Arthur along with the sword in the stone is a well-known story with multiple iterations popping up from multiple locations and time periods. One version, in particular, stands out, which is what is commonly called the English version of the story. This version was written by Sir Thomas Malory during the mid to late 1400s. This is the version that most modern adaptations are based on. ()

Sir Thomas Malory

Sir Thomas Malory

“Sir Thomas Malory (c. 1415 – 14 March 1471) was an English writer, the author or compiler of “Le Morte d’Arthur” (originally titled, “The Whole Book of King Arthur and His Noble Knights of the Round Table”). Since the late nineteenth century, he has generally been identified as Sir Thomas Malory of Newbold Revel in Warwickshire, a knight, land-owner, and Member of Parliament.” (Astolat Productions)


The English Story highlights

The English version of the story of King Arthur and the associated adventures are more representative of what the more modernized media is based on. Arthur is the son of Uther, who passes away when Arthur was young. Arthur was taken away to be raised by Sir Ector. The stone that the story refers to in this version is actually an anvil that the sword was stuck in. His trials to become king were simply to return at every gathering of knights to pull out the sword, to continually prove that he was the rightful King.()

(Excalibur in the Lake)Aubrey Beardsley, 1893

Sir Thomas Malory in his rendition uses the story of “The Sword in the Stone” to set up main characters and setting for the rest of the chronicles. Malory sticks close to his sources for most of the first books. They depict Arthur and other knights committing to great battles and coming out victorious. In these books, we see that the sword in the stone is, in fact, separate from Excalibur. Instead of being one and the same Excalibur is given to Arthur by the Lady of the Lake later after he had become king. From this point on there is not much emphasis put on Excalibur in comparison to the content of modern times. After Arthur was mortally wounded by Mordred, he asked Sir Bedivere to cast it back and return it to the lady of the lake.()

(King Arthur for the first time draws Excalibur from its sheath)Arthur Rackham,

Welsh origins

Thomas Malory draws on multiple sources of the King Arthur story, but the one most recognizable seen in Le Morte’ d’Arthur is the work of Geoffrey of Monmouth. Geoffrey’s written work pertaining to Arthur is called Historia Regum Britannia. This was written around 1138 and was created with the intention of it being historical record. It was held to be true well into the 16th century but has since been discredited and debunked as true.

To say that Malory only drew from this source would be an understatement, it would be more accurate to describe what he did as complete plagiarism. The foundation of the story and the characters present are almost a carbon copy. That being said there are significant differences between both stories. The scope of the stories being the most noticeably different. Geoffrey attempted to cover the history from the Trojan war through until the death of King Arthur. In early welsh stories such as Geoffrey’s Excalibur went by the name Caledfwlch or Caliburn.

(The Arthurian Round Table and the fable of the Seat Perilous) Edwin Austin Abby, c.1893 – c.1895
King Arthur __________________The central protagonist of the Sword in the Stone story, the true owner of Excalibur
Arthurs Father, and the previous king who kept order until is eventual death
Sir Ector
Surrogate father to Arthur, who brought Arthur to the tournament where he pulled the sword. He also served dutifully under King Arthur after his coronation.
Knight of the round table, associated with the eventual downfall of King Arthur.
Sir Bedivere
One of the knights of the round table, known as Sir Bedivere the wise. Tasked with returning Excalibur to the Lady of the Lake.


-Abbey, Edwin Austin. “The Arthurian Round Table and the Fable of the Seat Perilous, C.1893 – C.1895 – Edwin Austin Abbey.”, January 1, 1895.
Beardsley, Aubrey. “Excalibur in the Lake, 1893 – Aubrey Beardsley.”, January 1, 1893.
-Monmouth, Geoffrey. “Arthurian Passages from The History of the Kings of Britain.” Edited and translated by J. A. Giles. Arthurian Passages from The History of the Kings of Britain | Robbins Library Digital Projects. University of Rochester. Accessed February 15, 2020.
-Norako, Leila K. “Geoffrey of Monmouth’s Historia Regum Britanniae.” Geoffrey of Monmouth’s Historia Regum Britanniae | Robbins Library Digital Projects. University of Rochester. Accessed February 14, 2020.
-Rackham, Arthur. “King Arthur for the First Time Draws His Sword Excalibur from Its Sheath – Arthur Rackham.”, April 25, 2015.
-“Sir Thomas Malory.” The Malory Page. Astolat Productions, 2018.