A set of 10 stamps celebrating the Legend of King Arthur was issued by Royal Mail on March 16.

One of the most enduring tales in English and Welsh folklore, the legend dates from the 5th or 6th centuries, when, according to medieval histories and romances, Arthur was a Romano-British leader fighting against Anglo-Saxon invaders.

Historical evidence of his life is non-existent, and the earliest datable mention of Arthur is in a 9th-century chronicle, so he straddles the border between history and mythology. There is no canonical version of his story, and it has been reimagined many times, usually through the lens of medieval chivalry with the embellishment of mysticism and magic.

Geoffrey of Monmouth’s History of the Kings of Britain, completed in 1138, talked of Arthur, Merlin, Guinevere, Tintagel and Excalibur. An elaboration of the legend by the French poet Chrétien de Troyes between 1170-90 added Lancelot and the Holy Grail. 

Perhaps the most familiar compilation of different versions was Thomas Malory’s Le Morte d’Arthur, written in the 1460s. The stamps were released almost precisely on the 550th anniversary of the death of Malory, although this was not mentioned in the advance publicity surrounding the issue.

Each of the 10 stamps features an original illustration by artist Jaime Jones depicting key moments from various versions of the legend. The stamps were printed in litho by International Security Printers, and come in two se-tenant strips of five.

 

1st class MERLIN & THE BABY ARTHUR

The wizard Merlin holds the baby Arthur, whose birth he has engineered through magic and intrigue, and who is later revealed to be son and heir of King Uther Pendragon.

1st class ARTHUR DRAWS THE SWORD FROM THE STONE

Arthur’s birthright as king is confirmed when he is the only man who can pull out the sword which is embedded in stone, in view of the archbishop and the royal court.

1st class ARTHUR TAKES EXCALIBUR

The Lady of the Lake offers Arthur the magical sword, Excalibur, a symbol that he is destined for greatness.

1st class ARTHUR MARRIES GUINEVERE

Despite Merlin’s forebodings, Arthur chooses Guinevere as his wife. In different versions of the legend she later commits adultery with Mordred or Lancelot.

1st class SIR GAWAIN & THE GREEN KNIGHT

Arthur’s nephew Sir Gawain swings his axe to decapitate the Green Knight, who has been sent to Arthur’s court to challenge its virtue and values.

£1.70 KNIGHTS OF THE ROUND TABLE

The order of knights in the fellowship of King Arthur, dedicated to defending the peace of the realm, converge at a round table, as a sign of their equality.

£1.70 SIR LANCELOT DEFEATS THE DRAGON

Despite being flawed and sinful, Arthur’s close companion Sir Lancelot is an unrivalled swordsman and jouster, and among his great deeds is slaying a dragon.

£1.70 SIR GALAHAD & THE HOLY GRAIL

Sir Galahad, the son of Lancelot, emerges as the purest and most gallant of the knights of the Round Table, and thus the one who is successful in the quest for the Holy Grail.

£1.70 ARTHUR BATTLES MORDRED

Arthur and Mordred meet in battle, fulfilling their destinies: Arthur’s, to be mortally wounded by his own son, and Mordred’s, to commit the sin of patricide.

£1.70 THE DEATH OF KING ARTHUR

The wounded Arthur departs for the isle of Avalon on a barge conducted by three women, representing healing, memory of the king and hope for his return.

 

OTHER PRODUCTS

The presentation pack, written by Professor Raluca Radulescu, a specialist in Arthurian legend, explores its origins and its various interpretations through the ages in art and literature.

A first day cover and stamp cards are available as usual.

 

PRICES

Set of 10 stamps   £12.75

Presentation pack   £13.65

Stamp cards   £4.50

First day cover   £15.95

 

VERDICT

COMMEMORATIVE WORTH   3/5

The legend is an important British foundation myth, even if the issue is prompted by the weakest hint of an anniversary

QUALITY OF DESIGN   4/5

As well as being specially commissioned, the artwork is suitably dramatic and enchanting

WOW FACTOR   2/5

Dark and moody, some of the images may be hard to appreciate at stamp size