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Free Study Guide-The Once and Future King-T.H. White-Free Book Summary
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Chapter 10

Summary and Notes

Some time has passed; Mordred and Gawaine are angrily discussing the truce that has been drawn up by the Pope between the King, his wife and her lover. Outside, a “pageant of reconciliation” is taking place; both men are cynical about its honesty. Mordred is apparently dressed in his new uniform: all black, with a symbol of a fist clenching a whip. He has organized some sort of ultra-nationalist group called the Thrashers who are roaming Britain torturing Jews and dissenters. The reader should not have to look hard to understand the parallel between Mordred’s Thrashers and Hitler’s Stormtroopers.

Mordred and Gawaine discuss Lancelot, and it is clear the Gawaine feels somewhat ambivalent about whether Lancelot is actually evil or not; Murdered reacts by spewing propaganda and capitalizing on Gawaine’s sorrow over his brothers’ deaths. The brainwashing works: Gawaine is in a fury by the time the conversation is finished.

Gawaine and Mordred now take part in the pageant of reconciliation; Gawaine speaks for the throne, and Arthur, old and tired, submits to their will. Lancelot and Guenever enter the court with olive branches and kneel at the King’s feet; Gawaine interrupts with fighting words towards Lancelot. The Bishop of Rochester, representing the Church, tries to intervene.


Gawaine is furious about his brothers’ murders, and Lancelot offers to walk barefoot across England as penance for his crime. Gawaine does not relent, and the foes appeal to the King for interference. This puts Arthur in the tremendously awkward position of having to go either against his best friend (with whom he sympathizes in this situation), or risk the wrath of Gawaine and Mordred. He does not say anything, and therefore acquiesces to Gawaine, who pronounces sentence on Lancelot for treason.

Lancelot’s punishment in banishment to France; Lancelot pleads with Gawaine not to challenge or fight him once he is in France because he cannot fight against his friend King Arthur. Lancelot bids adieu to Guenever and the King, and it is the last time the three are to be together.

This is, perhaps the final turning point of the novel: the plot hurtles in a downward tragic trajectory from this point on. Mordred and Gawaine have triumphed; they have used the King’s best intentions -a desire for Justice and fairness - against him to isolate and diminish his power and goodness. The triumvirate has been broken as well - Lancelot banished, the King and his wife estranged, and, most of all, Arthur rendered impotent and old.

Suffice it to say that the tone is not optimistic: war and tyranny have prevailed and have easily vanquished justice and peace; a timely idea for White and his contemporaries - such must have seemed the Europe of the late 1930’s.

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