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  • Print publication year: 2018
  • Online publication date: July 2019

VI - The Arundel Coronatio Arthuri: A Middle English Sword in the Stone Story from London, College of Arms MS Arundel 58

Summary

Desperate to find a weapon so that his older brother can participate in a tournament, the young Arthur secretly pulls a sword from a stone and is thus recognised as the King of Britain. This story is ubiquitous today, but in medieval England it was only one of several narratives of how the young king came to the throne. The story is first told around 1200 in the French prose Merlin and this romance, along with the other parts of the Vulgate Cycle, was popular throughout late-medieval Britain. It is perhaps best known through its inclusion in Thomas Malory's late fifteenth-century Morte Darthur, but it is also found in other texts which translate the French Merlin, including Of Arthour and of Merlin (late thirteenth century), Henry Lovelich's verse Merlin (1420s or 1430s) and the Middle English prose Merlin (mid-fifteenth century).

One other translation of this scene merits attention. It is found in London, College of Arms MS Arundel 58, a mid-fifteenth-century copy of Robert of Gloucester's Metrical Chronicle. Inserted as an interpolation in its Arthurian narrative, the Arundel Coronacio Arthuri amounts to 398 lines of original Middle English verse and it reveals the complex relationship between the chronicle tradition of King Arthur's reign and the French romance tradition which complemented and, at times, contradicted the historical narrative. The poem also shares features with its fellow English versions of the story, and thus gives us some insight into the circulation of the French prose Merlin in England and the reading habits of the scribe of Arundel 58.

Not used extensively by either of the two editors of Robert of Gloucester's Metrical Chronicle, Arundel 58 begins with ‘The tabile offe cronycil offe Engelonde’ and the claim that ‘Thys boke with hys antecedens and consequens was ful ended the vj day offe Auguste the ʒere of oure lorde a Ml CCC. xlviij’ (i.e. 1448). This date may refer to when the text of Robert's Chronicle was brought together with a summarising prologue (i.e. ‘hys antecedens’) and a concluding pedigree of Henry VI (i.e. the ‘consequens’), but the Chronicle could not have been copied much earlier. The text of Robert's verse has been extensively expanded with prose excerpts from a variety of sources including the Middle English Brut, and translations of Geoffrey of Monmouth, William of Malmesbury, John of Glastonbury and others.