Chris's Reviews > Edward III's Round Table at Windsor: The House of the Round Table and the Windsor Festival of 1344

Edward III's Round Table at Windsor by Julian Munby
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May 07, 11

bookshelves: arthurian, history

Historical re-enactments have always been popular, especially in the late 20th century, from the Society for Creative Anachronism in America, through English Civil War society The Sealed Knot and Dark Age re-enactment group Britannia in more recent years, to the 500th anniversary of the last great tournament in Wales (which was celebrated at Carew Castle in Pembrokeshire, Wales, in May 2007). Sir Rhys ap Thomas, a supporter of Henry Tudor, marked his admission to the Order of the Garter with what became known as the Great Carew Tournament in 1507, and appropriately enough his family's poet, Rhys Nanmor, compared Carew Castle to King Arthur's palace.

But the enthusiasm for historical re-enactment goes back much further back than this, as this book (volume 68 in Boydell's excellent Arthurian Studies series) based on detailed documentary analysis and recent archaeological excavation shows. This fascinating study of a fantastical building takes a suitably multi-disciplinary approach, with its contributors including both the head of Buildings Archaeology and a Senior Project Manager at Oxford Archaeology, plus two experienced historians with overlapping expertise on the Middle Ages, Windsor Castle and the Arthurian legends. That building was the House of the Round Table at Windsor, built and then abandoned in the mid-14th century for plausible reasons explored fully and very clearly in the text. This short-lived yet extraordinary structure, 200 feet across, was intended to inaugurate a Round Table Order, with tournaments recreating imagined Arthurian ideals in a fusion of literary, political, architectural and social engineering. Sadly this never-completed British Colosseum was effectively forgotten after the victory of Crécy, and the mammoth Round Table Order it was meant to celebrate was jettisoned in favour of a slimmed-down Order of the Garter (151-2).

Supplemented with documentary appendices and splendid illustrations, this in-depth study explores the historical background to a modern archaeological discovery, detailing its analogues and inspirations, ultimately revealing that role-playing games are nothing new; it can't be praised enough.
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