When I was a little girl, I received a book about King Arthur and his knights. It was beautifully illustrated and featured many tales. It instilled a love of the lore and I’ve seen many films like Excalibur since then. Excalibur was one of those popcorn thrillers that gifted us with Professor Xavier before he was Captain Picard; and Qui-Gon Jinn before he was Rob Roy. For those who don’t speak geek, that’s Patrick Stewart and Liam Neeson running around in armour and acting all medieval but I digress. As an adult I’ve been reading Sir Thomas Mallory’s King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table (Le Morte d’Arthur) to get the real story and made a surprising discovery. During the tale of King Arthur’s nephew, Gareth of Orkney aka Beaumains, we are introduced to a knight from India named Sir Persant. Sir Persant is not a travelling knight-errant but defends his city with five hundred knights and gentlemen of arms at his disposal. Oh yes, in merry old England there was a city owned by an Indian.
“Look yonder,” she said “That rich pavilion, of the color of India, is his. All about him, men and women, and horse-trappings, shields, and spears, are of the same rare color. His name is Sir Persant of India, and you will find him the lordliest knight you ever saw.”
If that wasn’t enough, Sir Persant shows up again later in the story at Beaumains’ wedding at Camelot. He jousted at a tournament and was made a Knight of the Round Table along with his two brothers. I blinked at my Nook Color in disbelief, three Indian knights? Why had we never heard of them before? Why was the valiant and wealthy Sir Persant omitted from the countless Arthurian movies or television series? He’s not a main character but at least he could have been represented in the background among others. This is ridiculous. The Knights of the Round Table came from every corner of Europe and almost all of them are in the films. So what about Sir Persant? What about Sir Palamides?
Sir Palamides was a major player in the tale of Sir Tristram de Lyonesse and La Belle Isolde. The Arab knight was in love with the Irish princess. This led to bad blood between the men and many vigorous battles. According to David Nash Ford’s Early British Kingdoms, Sir Palamides eventually converted to Christianity and was part of the quest for the Holy Grail (Sangreal). He also helped Sir Lancelot rescue Queen Guinevere from execution. So why was this knight, who was described as a “gallant Saracen” absent in the films and television series? I have no explanation, no theories, nothing. The obvious interpretation would be racism; but that’s silly because the story could have been changed to omit the non-Caucasians completely, way back in the 1480’s. How modern and civilised are we really, if Indian and Arab knights were welcome in King Arthur’s court but cannot be found in any in films about Camelot. Methinks, not civilised enough. Or not civilised at all.