Round Table, Knights of the. According to tradition, there reigned in Britain, toward the end of the 5th century, a Christian king, the British Uther-Pendragon, who had for a counsellor a powerful, wise, and benevolent enchanter, named Merlin, who advised him to assemble all this knights distinguished for piety, courage, and fidelity toward him, at feasts, about a round table, which should be sufficiently large to receive 50 knights, but which at first only 49 should be seated, room being left for one yet unborn. This was Arthur, or Artus, son of the king by Igerna, whom the king, by the magic power of Merlin, was permitted to enjoy under the form of her husband. Merlin had exacted a promise that the education of the prince should be intrusted to him, and he accordingly instructed him in everything becoming a brave, virtuous, and accomplished knight. Arthur in due time occupied the empty seat at the Round Table; and under him it became the resort of all valiant, pious, and noble knights, admission to it becoming the reward of the greatest virtues and feats of arms.
Entry from Everybody's Cyclopedia,