LOCATION MAP of Camelot in 533 AD. 

Location Map of Camelot

Henry's adventure begins at his home in modern-day Sherborne, Dorset, the historic former capital of the West Saxon kingdom of Wessex. 

Knight for a Day suggests this might have been Camlann, the unknown place near Glastonbury Abbey where King Arthur fought his last battle. It is only six miles south of Cadbury Castle, long recognised as the most likely location of Camelot. 

Twelve miles further north, across the Roman Fosse Way, is Glastonbury Tor, topped by a neolithic stone circle of the sun and where King Arthur is believed to have been buried. It has been a sacred place of magic and worship since long before recorded history and overlooks the Isle of Avalon, the mysterious Celtic Land of the Dead.

Camelot is a royal court, fortress and castle associated with the legendary King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table. First mentioned in 12th century French romances as the capital of the Arthurian realm, it came to symbolise an idealised lost world of courtly love, chivalry and honour.

No precise location was specified for Camelot in medieval literature, as it was originally portrayed more as an abstract concept than as a specific place.

In 1542 John Leland reported that Cadbury Castle, an Iron Age hill fort near the Abbey of Glastonbury, was believed by the local people to have been Camelot. This may have been influenced by its proximity to villages called Queen Camel and West Camel.

This identification gained favour in the following centuries, despite rival claims from Tintagel in Cornwall and Caerleon in Wales. Although there is no conclusive evidence, Cadbury Castle still remains the principal candidate in the books on which our modern view of Camelot is based.

In Knight for a Day Henry's ultimate fantasy becomes a reality, and he attends a royal banquet with King Arthur and Queen Guinevere at the famous Round Table.

The unexpected irony is that Camelot is far from a paradise as Henry had imagined; it's a primitive and uncivilised place where uncouth, loutish knights discriminate against women and the lower social orders.

Henry is shocked by the ignorance, superstitious beliefs, cruelty, boring diet, brutish table manners and lack of basic hygiene or bathroom facilities.

 

Cadbury Castle has a flat top of 18 acres with a perimeter of 3/4 of a mile. It's only twelve miles south of Glastonbury, Somerset, one of the few real places named in the Arthurian legends, and very close to the Fosse Way, the Roman road from Lincoln to Exeter. This ties in with Camelot's standing as a last outpost of Roman civilisation in a barbarian world.

A major archaeological excavation from 1966 -70 reinforced Cadbury's claim to have been the most probable site of Camelot. It revealed that this Iron Age hill fort was occupied as early as the 4th millennium BC, unused during the Roman period but then refortified by a major British ruler and occupied for a century from about 470 AD. This grandiose conversion during the Arthurian era into a vast and important citadel had 16 feet thick defensive walls, by far the largest known British fortifications of the time. The fortress must therefore have been an important pre-Saxon king's capital.

Knight for a Day locates Camelot at Cadbury Castle in 533 AD, in the light of best current archaeological and historical knowledge about the sub-Roman era in southwest England and the local geography.

Engraving of Cadbury Castle, drawn in 1723 by William Stukeley and captioned "Prospect of Camalet Castle"

          By Henry Justice Ford from: The Book of Romance 1902

Knight for a Day begins with an enchanted ancient stone, half-buried in Henry's garden. This was the stone once used by the great wizard Merlin to hold a sword that only the trueborn king could draw out.

Thirty years after it brought Arthur to the throne, Merlin uses the stone's power once more. He summons Henry from the future in a risky gamble to protect the realm from the treachery of the villainous Sir Mordred.

The mysterious stone transcends time and links Henry with Camelot, primeval magic, Merlin, King Arthur, the lost scabbard of Excalibur, Camlann and a perilous quest. 

Merlin dictating prophecies to his scribe. French 13th century from Robert de Boron's Merlin en prose (c.1200)

The great wizard Merlin is usually considered to be the architect of King Arthur's legendary reign. He has been portrayed since the early Middle Ages as both brilliant and flawed, good but selfish, powerful and yet prone to human weaknesses. He was certainly eccentric, but was he a bit mad? The renowned enchanter's greatest gift was his ability to see into the future and prophesy, yet he was concerned more about his own desires and vanity than the fate of others or even the truth.

Knight for a Day reveals Merlin as a tired and slightly absent-minded old man seeking to avert an imminent disaster. He recklessly interferes with the continuum of time in a desperate experiment to save Camelot from the forces of evil and to preserve his own reputation and legacy.

Merlin instructs Henry how he can initiate a spell to return home, telling him he's also a wizard since he already invoked the magic of the stone and has a knowledge of the future. He promises Henry a reward beyond his wildest dreams if he can succeed on his secret mission for King Arthur; but it's an almost impossible task that will turn into a race against time and could strand Henry in the past for ever.

The legends about King Arthur are steeped in mysticism and magic from his birth to his death. It's even foretold that he and his Knights will one day reawaken from a magical sleep to defend their beloved country at a time of need.

Central to traditional stories are fabulous objects like the sword Excalibur and the Holy Grail, the prophecies of Merlin, the witchcraft of Morgana Le Fey and the charms of the Lady of the Lake in the mysterious Isle of Avalon, the Celtic Land of the Dead. On nearby Glastonbury Tor, a stone circle of the sun was a hub of pagan worship and devotion long before written history.

Prominent in Arthurian literature are medieval terminators, enemies with superhuman powers like the Green Knight, who is able to replace his own severed head. Mere knights can only hope to protect themselves against such sorcery through chivalry, loyalty, honour and a pure heart.

Sir Gawain and the Green Knight from a 14th Century medieval manuscript.

Dragons and mythical creatures appear in many accounts of Camelot. In Knight for a Day Henry and Sir Perceval must find their way through a sinister fog in an enchanted forest, chilled by the frightful howls of werewolves and harsh cries of black carrion crows, the agents of death and witchcraft.

Henry's voyage through time is linked to two extraordinary, forgotten or lost magical objects: King Arthur's stone and Excalibur's scabbard.

'How Arthur drew his sword Excalibur for the first time' by Arthur Rackham from The Romance of King Arthur and His Knights of the Round Table, Abridged from Malory's Morte D'Arthur 1917

King Arthur's legendary sword Excalibur had extraordinary powers in battle, but its enchanted scabbard was far more important than the blade: no weapons could harm its bearer, whom it made invulnerable.

Early in King Arthur's reign his evil half-sister, the witch Morgana Le Fay, stole the priceless scabbard and pretended to have lost it. In Knight for a Day it reappears almost thirty years later in the hands of her villainous son: the traitor Sir Mordred. Because of it people think he's invincible and will win, and so his rebellion gains opportunistic supporters and becomes a big threat.

King Arthur makes Henry an honorary Knight of the Round Table so he will be eligible to embark on a perilous quest to recover the precious scabbard, in accordance with Merlin's prediction. Each of his birthday presents can help Henry in his task, but above all he needs to be resourceful, cunning and brave if he is to succeed. Merlin instructs him how to invoke the magic at a precise place and time to return home to his family and friends.

King Arthur was a legendary British ruler reputed to have led a struggle against the Germanic Saxon invaders around the year 500 AD. There are no contemporary or primary sources of evidence for his reign, but this lack of factual information has only added to his significance. He became a British symbol of an idealised ruler at a period of crisis, and in the absence of precise details or historical records about his actual life, fantastic myths were able to embellish his story and take hold.

Although he was mentioned briefly in a few earlier accounts, such as Historia Brittonum (Nennius c.830), King Arthur first became a figure of enduring interest and popularity following Geoffrey of Monmouth's Historia Regum Britanniae (c.1131), which introduced him in a pseudo-historical way as a great and mystical warrior, who defended Britain from human and supernatural enemies. 

The legends about King Arthur, his Court of Camelot and the chivalry of the Knights of the Round Table flourished in the 12th & 13th centuries, the heyday of real knights in armour. Norman knights, particularly the Crusaders, had a serious image problem at the time: They were rightly seen as ruthless, unprincipled killers, selfishly seeking enrichment and loot. The early Arthurian romances combined propaganda with effective public relations, and may well have been intended to improve both the conduct and the reputation of medieval knighthood and militant Christianity.

There was renewed interest in Tudor times, when chivalric jousting was a popular sport but irrelevant to real battle or warfare following the invention of firearms. King Henry VII  named his first son Arthur and sought to associate his own lineage with ancient royal glories of a bygone era.

King Arthur by Howard Pyle from The Story of King Arthur and his Knights, 1903

In Knight for a Day Henry meets King Arthur in the year 533, a mature and wise king nearing the end of his reign. He's ruling over a disintegrating realm, menaced by the evil Sir Mordred's treacherous rebellion and the Anglo-Saxon invasions that were threatening to overwhelm all of England.

Knight for a Day is set in 533 AD Britain, during what used to be known as The Dark Ages but is now called the sub-Roman period. This was the most likely time for King Arthur to have reigned if he truly existed, a century after the last Roman legions left in 410 and while Christian Celts and the descendants of the Romans were still holding out in the west against the Germanic Anglo-Saxons.

The battle of Mount Badon (c.500) was reputed to be the last significant Romano-Celtic victory against these invaders. It has been linked to King Arthur, as mentioned in Knight for a Day, but no details are known about it.

 

In 5th century Europe six major Germanic tribes, the Franks, Vandals, Vizigoths, Ostrogoths, Burgundians and Lombards triggered the collapse of the Western Roman Empire and replaced it with their own kingdoms. However the early 530's saw many of these being broken up or conquered. It was a time of increasingly bitter schisms and religious conflicts between Catholics and Arians: Christians who rejected the Pope's authority, the Holy Trinity and Christ's divinity.

In Gaul King Clovis 1 had united all the Frankish tribes by the year 486 and was the first king of what would become France - Clovis is the origin of the name Louis, borne by 18 later kings - and he became a Catholic in 496, which led to a widespread conversion of the Frankish peoples. Clovis died in c.511 and his realm was divided between his four sons, creating the kingdoms of Rheims, Orleans, Soissons and Paris. By 533 their rivalry had turned to gruesome family murders and bloodshed.

Further south the former imperial capital of Rome had been overrun and sacked in 455 by the Vandals, who were in turn driven out by the Arian Ostrogoths from the Black Sea area. In 533 the Ostrogoths had no effective ruler following the death of Theodoric the Great in 526, leaving an infant grandson as his heir and creating a power vacuum. 

The Vandals had already lost southern Spain (Vandal is the root of the name Andalucia) to the Arian Visigoths by 530, when the Catholic Vandal king of North Africa was deposed by his Arian cousin, Gelimer. This gave the Catholic Eastern Roman Byzantine Emperor, Justinian 1, a convenient pretext to intervene.

In his capital of Constantinople, Justinian  had only narrowly survived the Nika riots of 532 by massacring 30,000 of his rebellious citizens in the hippodrome, and was rebuilding Hagia Sophia, the church of the holy wisdom, as the largest and most splendid building the world had ever seen. In 533 he sent a small army under his brilliant general Belisarius across the Mediterranean to try to win back North Africa, and in two stunning victories he shattered the divided Vandal kingdom in a few months. On his return Belisarius was awarded the last Roman military triumph in history, and a couple of years later he also briefly regained control of Rome and Italy from the Ostrogoths.

In Knight for a Day most aspects of the life, atmosphere and beliefs at King Arthur's Court, Henry's adventure and the characters he meets (e.g. Merlin, Sir Perceval, King Arthur, Taliesin and Sir Mordred) are based not on 6th century British history but on 11th-14th century Romances about Arthurian myths and legends, as compiled by Sir Thomas Malory for his seminal work Le Morte d'Arthur (1485)

Our current perception of Camelot is strongly influenced by a golden era of Arthurian literature in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, when abridged versions of Morte d'Arthur and new accounts such as Idylls of the King (Alfred Lord Tennyson 1858-85), A Connecticut Yankee at King Arthur's Court (Mark Twain 1889) and The Story of King Arthur and his Knights (Howard Pyle 1903) captured the public imagination. Their enduring influence today owes much to the striking associated paintings by the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood artists (e.g. Edward Burne-Jones) and some truly great book illustratorsJulia Cameron, Aubrey Beardsley, Gustav Doré, Walter Crane, Arthur Rackham & Henry J. Ford.

Significant among many more recent Arthurian novels are The Once and Future King (T.H.White 1958), The Merlin Trilogy (Mary Stewart 1970/9), The Road to Camlann (Rosemary Sutcliff (1981) and Excalibur  (Bernard Cornwell 1997). Several notable films colour our view of Camelot today, particularly Knights of the Round Table (1953) The Sword in the Stone (1963), Camelot (1967), Monty Python and the Holy Grail (1975) Excalibur (1981), First Knight (1995) and King Arthur (2004), while BBC's TV series Merlin (2008-12) added a different interpretation.

Other eclectic themes in Knight for a Day concern time travel, magic and quests for truth or lost treasure, in the tradition of some of the greatest classic children's books and movies based on them, including Treasure Island (R.L.Stevenson), The Time Machine (H.G.Wells), The Narnia Chronicles (C.S.Lewis), Lord of the Rings and the Hobbit (J.R.R.Tolkien) and The Harry Potter stories (J.K.Rowling)The films The Wizard of Oz (1939) and Back to the Future (1985) also inspired elements of the story.

 

Useful links for further Arthurian research:

The History Files A review of the 14 principal Celtic cultures claiming King Arthur as their own: Breton, Riothamus, Dumnonian, Cumbrian, Pennine, Elmet, Saxon Ally, Merionydd, Scotti, Powysian, Rhos, Dyfed, Glamorgan, St Arthmael and Roman.

Ramsdale Useful summary of Arthurian legends

A King Arthur reading list Very extensive list of Arthurian literature

The Deadliest Blogger: Military History Page A thirteen part examination of Britain in the "Age of Arthur" - the 5th through the mid-6th centuries A.D. - being a period when the classical age of Greece and Rome gave way to the Germanic "Dark Ages".

Arthurian Legend Comprehensive Arthurian Legend website with search engine exclusively devoted to the Arthurian Legend

Arthurian Archaeology Article detailing the controversial link between legend and history.

Discovery of King Arthur's Tomb - Medieval Sourcebook Excerpt of a 1228 document by Gerald of Wales tells of the purported discovery of Arthur's body at the monastery in Glastonbury.

Melkin's Prophesy Document makes reference to a Celtic soothsayer's prophesy that locates the grave of Joseph of Arimathea, an Arthurian figure.

Time-line of Arthurian Britain Chronology includes both the events in Britain after the Roman exit, and the documentary evidence for Arthur's existence.

What Do Modern Historians Think of King Arthur ? Eighteen scholars from different backgrounds give their opinions as to the validity of historical claims for Arthur's existence.

Arthuriana Scholarly online journal about King Arthur and his era. Research dates and places, peruse the reading list, or access the newsletter and related links.

Celtic Twilight, The Resource dedicated to the legends and mythology of the Round Table. Find renderings of various tales, poetry, and an artist's gallery.

Early British Kingdoms Excerpts from the Britannia Travels as related to King Arthur and his court. Find a narrative history, an Arthurian time-line, and texts.

King Arthur - texts, images, and introductions Learn the background of King Arthur and other characters. Also offers a vast index of writings that examine and perpetuate the legend.

King Arthur on Britannia Link to sites entitled Tom Green's Arthurian Pages, Legends - King Arthur and the Matter of Britain, The Saxon Shore, and Llys Arthur.

The Labyrinth - Arthurian resources Contains links to 27 online sources including the Camelot Project, Arthuriana, the Oxford Arthurian Society and Avalon.

Knight for a Day's Arthurian Top 10's

10 Arthurian facts:

1.   The most likely time for King Arthur to have reigned was in the sub-Roman period that used to be known as the Dark Ages, a century after the last Roman legion left Britain in 410 AD.

2.   Camelot was first mentioned in 12th Century Romances, not as a specific place but as a symbol of an idealised lost world of courtly love, chivalry and honour.

3.   The most likely location of Camelot was Cadbury Castle, between Glastonbury and Sherborne, despite rival claims from Cornwall and Wales.

4.   Cadbury Castle had the largest fortifications found in Britain from the Arthurian era, around 500 AD, with walls 16 feet thick.  

5.   King Arthurs life wasn’t recorded at the time. The lack of primary or contemporary sources added to his importance by allowing myths and magic to embellish his story and make him into a symbol of an idealised ruler.

6.   The only real place identified in the Arthurian legends is Glastonbury, a site of magic, mystery and worship since pre-historic times, whose abbey became the richest and most powerful monastery in Britain. 

7.   King Arthur is reputed to have been the victor of the Battle of Mount Badon in the early 6th Century, the last recorded success of the Celts and descendants of the Romans against the Saxon invaders who later overwhelmed all England.

8.   The Romans outlawed the Druids as a public menace and because of alleged human sacrifice. Christianity became established as the main religion in late Roman Britain, replacing pagan mystery cults such as Mithraism.

9.   Europe in 533 AD, the year when Knight for a Day is set, has a well-documented history. Britain does not, so Arthur could indeed have been the ruler of a western Celtic kingdom at this time.

10.  The sources for Arthurian myths and legends are found not in 6th Century written history, but in the literature and art of the last thousand years.

10 Arthurian myths:

1.   Merlin, the great wizard, was the architect of King Arthur’s legendary reign.

2    King Arthur was conceived by Igraine when his father, King Uther Pendragon, was disguised by Merlin's magic.

3.   The sword in the stone, which only Arthur could pull out, first identified him as the rightful king. Knight for a Day reveals what happened afterwards to the stone, whose magical force held the sword in place.

4.   The Knights of the Round Table, an order of chivalry. This is an invention from 500 years later, when Knights in armour were indeed a force in the land but generally ruthless killers and not remotely chivalrous.

5.   Excalibur had extraordinary powers, but its enchanted scabbard was far more important. The witch Morgana Le Fay stole it from King Arthur and pretended she had lost it. Knight for a Day reveals what might have happened to it.

6.   Magic was central to the legends about King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table. Time travel is the ultimate magic that links the past with the present.

7.   The holy grail, an object of veneration, mystery and quests.

8.   The Lady of the Lake, who supplied King Arthur with his sword Excalibur.

9.   Perilous battles against superhuman enemies with magical powers.

10. Dragons and other mythical creatures.

10 sources for Arthurian legends:

1.   11th-14th Century Romances (mainly French)

2.   Historia Regum Britanniae (Geoffrey of Monmouth c.1131)

3.   Le Morte d’Arthur (Thomas Malory 1485)

4.   Idylls of the King (Alfred, Lord Tennyson 1858-85)

5.   A Connecticut Yankee at King Arthur’s Court (Mark Twain 1889)

6.   The Story of King Arthur and his Knights (Howard Pyle 1903)

7.   The Once and Future King (T.H.White 1958)

8.   The Merlin Trilogy (Mary Stewart 1970-79)

9.   Children’s books

10. Hollywood movies

10 Knights of the Round Table:

1.  King Arthur

2.  Sir Lancelot

3.  Sir Gawain

4.  Sir Perceval

5.   Sir Galahad

6.   Sir Bedivere

7.   Sir Bors

8.   Sir Tristan

9.   Sir Geraint

10. Sir Ywain the Bastard

10 rules of chivalry:

1.   Strive for honour and glory until death

2.   Protect the weak, widows and orphans

3.   Keep your oaths

4.   Give mercy even in combat

5.   Help and respect women, but not necessarily peasants

6.   Never fight for love or possessions

7.   Speak the truth

8.   Be loyal to your King

9.   Avoid murder or cruelty

10. Rescue damsels in distress

10 places in Knight for a day 533 AD:

1.   Camelot (now Cadbury Castle)

2.   Camlann (now Sherborne)

3.   Glastonbury

4.   The Isle of Avalon (now the Somerset Levels)

5.   Stonehenge

6.   Lindinis (now Ilchester)

7.   Caerleon (now Newport)

8.   The Fosse Way

9.   The River Gifl (now River Yeo)

10. Armorica (now Brittany)

10 key objects in Henry’s adventure:

1.    Merlin’s magic staff

2.   Parchment scroll from 533 AD

3.   Candle of time

4.   Compass

5.   Swiss army knife

6.   Telescope

7.   Siren

8.   Electronic snake

9.   Metal detector

10. Scabbard of Excalibur

10 magical EVENTs in Knight for a Day:

1.   A summons from the past

2.   The power of King Arthur’s stone

3.   Time travel to Camelot

4.   Witchcraft in the enchanted forest

5.   Merlin’s predictions

6.   The magic of Excalibur's scabbard

7.   The snake that caused a battle

8.   A portal in time

9.   Back to the future 

10. Buried treasure

10 characters in Knight for a Day 533 AD:

1.   Merlin, the great wizard

2.   Sir Perceval, the good knight

3.   Luke, Sir Perceval’s squire

4.   Elaine, Luke’s sister

5.   King Arthur

6.   Queen Guinevere

7.   Taliesin, the Bard of Caerleon

8.   Sir Boor, the incompetent

9.   Sir Mordred, the villain

10. Sir Henry, Knight for a Day

10 weapons and armour in Knight for a Day:

1.   Sword

2.   Knife

3.   Lance

4.   Arrow

5.   Ballista

6.   Spear

7.   Axe

8.   Mace

9.   Shield

10. Chainmail

10 foods eaten at Camelot:

1.   Gruel

2.   Pottage

3.   Swan

4.   Hedgehog

5.   Oysters

6.   Honey

7.   Mutton

8.   Curds and whey

9.   Trenchers

10. White carrots

10 foods unknown at Camelot:

1.   Rice

2.   Potatoes

3.   Tomatoes

4.   Pasta

5.   Pizza

6.   Burgers

7.   Sugar

8.   Bananas

9.   Tea and coffee

10. Chocolate

10 trades AND CRAFTS at Camelot:

1.   Barber/surgeon

2.   Fletcher

3.   Miller

4.   Farmer

5.   Smith

6.   Dyer

7.   Weaver

8.   Tanner

9.   Chandler

10. Armourer

10 ranks and PROFESSIONs at Camelot:

1.   King

2.   Knight

3.   Wizard

4.   Squire

5.   Lady in waiting

6.   Minstrel

7.   Monk

8.   Archer

9.   Man at arms

10. Serf

10 questions from knight for a day:

1.   When did the last Roman legion leave Britain?

2.   When are the Ides of June?

3.   What are the two best known Neolithic Stone Circles in Wiltshire?

4.   Which Iron Age hill-fort is the most likely site of Camelot?

5.   Which abbey became the richest and grandest monastery in Britain?

6.   Which King dissolved the monasteries?

7.   What are Runes?

8.   What does a fletcher make?

9.   Who was the Eastern Roman Emperor in 533 AD.

10. Where did the Saxons come from?