Tuesday 16 March 2021

A tale of the unexpected, a myth, a legend: King Arthur makes a comeback - 16 March 2021.

King Arthur makes a comeback on stamps, his first appearance since 1985.  To quote from Wikipedia, "The details of Arthur's story are mainly composed of folklore and literary invention, and modern historians generally agree that he is unhistorical."

As far as we know there are no reasons for these stamps to be issued now. No films, video games, new books.  Which is, I suppose, 'a good thing' because if these were happening then there would be a lot more products than 10 stamps, and the normal philatelic products.

(There is a video game 'King Arthur: Knight’s Tale', which is being updated this spring, but it is even more fiction than myth in that involves role-playing games and 'turn-based' combat.)

Part of the BBC education website helps children to understand the difference between reality and myth, which is encouraging because seeing these stamps, which they might just do, they might be forgiven for thinking that there was a firmer basis in history for these, coming ahead of the Wars of the Roses (which did, of course, happen) issue in the summer.

The brief Royal Mail write-up for this issue:

The Legend of King Arthur is one of the most enduring stories of all time. Though his tale is rooted in the fifth and sixth centuries, it has captivated people for a millennium and a half, with its sword in the stone, knights of the round table and the wizard Merlin. At least 50 films have been made on the subject, which over centuries has come to symbolise part of British identity.

The stamps

There are 10 stamps in the set, 5 x 1st class and 5 x £1.70 (the rate for 100g letters to Europe and 20g letters to the rest of the world; one of each will pay the £2.55 rate for 100g letters to the rest of the world.)

The Legend of King Arthur set of 10 stamps 16 March 2021.

1st Class Merlin and the baby Arthur. Merlin holds baby Arthur, the future king, whose origins remain shrouded in mystery, and in Merlin’s power, until Arthur is revealed to be Uther Pendragon’s rightful son and heir.

1st Class Arthur draws the sword from the stone. 
Arthur’s birthright to the crown of England, according to later romance traditions, is confirmed when he pulls out the sword in view of the Archbishop of Canterbury and the whole court

1st Class Arthur takes Excalibur.
Arthur’s famed sword, Excalibur, is the gift of the Lady of the Lake, and a symbol of his tutelage by Merlin and his mission in the world.  Destined for greatness, Arthur excels in all human virtues.

1st Class Arthur marries Guinevere. √Despite Merlin’s warnings, Arthur chooses Guinevere as his wife. Her dowry, Malory tells us, is the Round Table, which Arthur will use to build a fellowship of knights united around the values of loyalty and equality.

1st Class Sir Gawain and the Green Knight.
Arthur’s nephew and chief counsellor, Sir Gawain, here swings his axe to chop off the head of the Green Knight, whose deadly Christmas game of blows startles Arthur’s court and challenges its values.

£1.70 Knights of the Round Table.
Around the Round Table, knights from Europe and all nations in the British Isles share the same values of loyalty and unite as equals to protect the weak and defend the realm.

£1.70 Sir Lancelot defeats the dragon.
Emblematic since Arthur Rackham’s illustrations dating from the early 20th century, Lancelot’s slaying of the dragon shows God’s grace granted to Lancelot in the fight with the Devil/darkness, despite Lancelot’s own sins.

£1.70 Sir Galahad and the Holy Grail.
Sir Galahad, the pure knight, is the epitome of perfection among Round Table knights, and the opposite of his father, Lancelot. His unique success in the Grail Quest reveals the moral failures of Arthurian chivalry.

£1.70 Arthur battles Mordred.
Arthur and Mordred meet one last time in battle, fulfilling their destiny: Arthur’s, to be mortally wounded by his own son, and Mordred’s, to commit the sin of patricide and treason.

£1.70 The death of King Arthur.
The wounded Arthur departs for Avalon on a barge driven by three queens. This represents hope for the king’s return, and the agency of women in healing and in preserving his memory and stories.


Technical Details

The 35 mm square stamps are printed by ISP/Cartor in litho with PVA gum in sheets of 25/50, and perforated 14½.  

They were designed by Jaime Jones* Stamp designs © Royal Mail Group Ltd 2021

Other products: First day cover, presentation pack, stamp cards.  

Official first day postmarks are from Tallents House (showing Excalibur emerging from the lake) and Winchester§, rather than Tintagel.  Other special handstamps do exist for Tintagel and elsewhere.

* From his website: I'm an illustrator and concept artist working in film, games and print. My clients include Warner Bros., 20th Century Fox, Disney, Paramount, Bungie, NCSoft, Blizzard, National Geographic, Harper Collins, Penguin Books, Macmillan Publishers and Wizards of the Coast.

§ Helping the legend, there is a round table in Winchester Great Hall which bears the names of the 24 knights of the round table.  This was decorated during the reign of King Henry VIII, but dendrochronolgy dates it back to 1275, and it has been hanging in the hall since at least 1540. (Source: Atlas Obscura)



Jaime Jones has produced some very good pictures which manage to convey key elements of the stories down to stamp size, although it's difficult to know to which period the costumes relate - but then if the story covers centuries picking one would be difficult.  They are attractive stamps even if the subjects are dark, but it is a shame that the artist's talents couldn't have been applied to a stamp set worthy of being issued.


  1. I like this issue, the artwork is of the age I think but I am no expert, but kids & adults will love the pictures. Better the some issues

  2. A second comeback, I fear... There were also two Arthurian legends stamps in 2011's Magical Realms set.

  3. Not forgetting a stamp for the musical 'Spamalot', also in 2011...

  4. In some ways, it is refreshing to have a set of stamps scheduled for no other reason than because it seemed a good idea at the time - not every issue need mark an anniversary (esp. since each year is the anniversary of everything that has ever happened).


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