The Siege Perilous

Sir Galahad Brought to the Siege Perilous

The Siege Perilous

Symbols and MotifsBackground Essay Author: Alan Lupack

The Siege (from the French siège, seat) Perilous is the seat at Arthur’s Round Table in which only the chosen knight can sit. In the prose rendition of Robert de Boron’s Merlin, the empty seat is reminiscent of the seat that Judas vacated. There is also an empty seat at Joseph of Arimathea’s Grail Table which destroys anyone unworthy of sitting there. In his Continuation to Chrétien’s Perceval, Gerbert de Montreuil says that it was sent to Arthur by the fairy of Roche Menor. Six knights tried to sit in it and were swallowed by the earth before Perceval sits it in and completes the adventure. When he does, the six are restored to Arthur’s court.

In the thirteenth-century Vulgate Cycle, Merlin instructs Uther to build a table in commemoration of the Grail Table; at the table, there is an empty seat reserved for the Grail knight. In the Queste del Saint Graal, the Siege Perilous is said to parallel the seat of Christ at the Last Supper and the seat occupied by Josephus at the Grail Table. Two brothers, jealous of Josephus, objected to his having a special place, and one of them sat in it, only to be destroyed; so it came to be called the Feared Seat. Galahad is the knight for whom the Siege Perilous at Arthur’s table is destined. In the Lancelot, a knight named Brumand, trying to perform an act that Lancelot never dared to do, sits in it and is burned to a crisp. Malory says that Merlin made the Siege Perilous for the greatest Grail knight. When Galahad arrives at Camelot, his name appears on the seat destined for him.