Excalibur was the finest sword ever crafted by the blacksmith Tom. It was burnished in the breath of the Great Dragon at the request of Merlin, and as such had the power to slay anything, mortal or magical, living or dead. The Dragon originally agreed to burnish it with the condition that it would only be used by Arthur Pendragon, and warned that its great power could also do great evil in the wrong hands. Twice, Merlin hid the sword where no one could wield it: the first time at the bottom of the Lake of Avalon, and the second lodged in a stone, where Arthur later retrieved it as part of Merlin's plot to restore his self confidence.
Creation and Concealment
When Arthur challenged Tristan de Bois (Ygraine's brother, who had been resurrected as a wraith) to a duel, Merlin went to the library to search for information on weapons that could kill the undead. He was assisted by Geoffrey of Monmouth, who showed him a fable about an ancient sword that had been begotten in a dragon's breath. The story gave Merlin an idea, and he went to his friend Gwen and asked her for the strongest sword her father had ever made. Gwen gave it to him, (presumably because she knew he wanted it for Arthur), and Merlin then took the sword to the Great Dragon to be burnished in its breath.
The Dragon was reluctant at first, but eventually agreed to burnish it if Merlin would promise that the sword would be wielded by Arthur, and Arthur alone. Unbeknownst to Merlin, however, Uther and Gaius had carried out their own plan to save Arthur's life by conspiring to drug him. Consequently, it was Uther - not Arthur - who wielded the sword against Tristan de Bois. The king ultimately defeated the wraith, and later said that the sword was the finest he'd ever used.
The Dragon was furious when he learned that Uther had wielded the sword, stating that in his hands it would bring only evil. Because the sword could not be destroyed, he ordered Merlin to take it far away from Camelot, to a place where no mortal man would ever find it. Eager to make up for his mistake, Merlin retrieved the sword from the armoury and cast it into the Lake of Avalon, where it remained for the next three years (Excalibur).
When Morgause and Morgana conquered Camelot with their immortal army, Merlin, Arthur, and their allies were forced to go into hiding. Merlin took with him the Avalon Vial given to him by the Fisher King, which he had been told would provide help for him in Albion's time of need. But though he experimented with the vial using his magic and various spells, whatever help it could provide remained a mystery until he accidentally broke it, allowing the water it contained to form a small puddle in a crevice of rock.
Through this puddle Merlin was able to contact his deceased lover Freya, who explained that the Cup of Life had not only made Morgana's army immortal but transformed them into the living dead, and there was only one thing that could slay that which was already dead: the sword Excalibur, which Merlin had hidden at the bottom of the Lake of Avalon. As per her instructions, the next day Merlin asked the dragon Kilgharrah to take him to the lake, where Freya retrieved the sword from its resting place and returned it to him.
Merlin later wielded the sword during Arthur's bid to free his father from Camelot's dungeons. He and Lancelot were given the task of disabling the warning bell, though in reality they were actually planning to find and empty the Cup of Life. Merlin used the sword to kill several soldiers during their search for the Cup, and later used it to knock the Cup from its stand, spilling the blood it contained and destroying the immortal army.
When he'd taken Merlin to retrieve the sword from the lake, the Dragon had repeated his warning that in the wrong hands the sword could cause great evil. He made Merlin promise him that once its task was complete he would find a new place for it, one where no one could wield it. After Camelot was retaken, Merlin kept this promise by taking the sword into the forest and using his magic to thrust it into a large stone (The Coming of Arthur).
The Sword in the Stone
One year later, when Morgana and her ally Helios launched a surprise attack on Camelot, Merlin and Arthur (and the people of Camelot) were once again forced to go into hiding. They eventually made their way to Ealdor in the company of Tristan and Isolde, smugglers that they had sought refuge with during their journey, but were forced to flee from there as well after a patrol led by Agravaine picked up their trail.
Disheartened by the betrayal of his uncle, the previous betrayal of his sister, and Tristan's repeated taunts, Arthur lost confidence in himself and came to the conclusion that he didn't deserve to be king. To restore his confidence, Merlin (with the help of Kilgharrah) located the rest of Camelot's survivors and gathered them together at the stone where he'd hidden the sword. He brought Arthur there the next day, and as they walked he told him a story about his ancestor, the first King of Camelot. Then, he added his own tale: that when the king was dying, he thrust his sword into a stone. That way, if his lineage were ever questioned the sword would form a test, as it could only be pulled free by a true King of Camelot.
At Merlin's insistence, Arthur tried to remove the sword but failed. Merlin then told him to have faith, to believe that he was destined to be Albion's greatest king and that nothing could stand in his way. Once he was sure that Arthur believed in himself, Merlin used his magic to free the sword and Arthur successfully drew it from the stone before all of Camelot's survivors. He later wielded the sword during his bid to retake the kingdom from Morgana (The Sword in the Stone).
With Its Rightful Owner
Merlin (disguised as Dragoon the Great) took Excalibur with him when he confronted the Dochraid. He went to her seeking information on how he might free Gwen from the Teine Diaga. When the Dochraid refused to cooperate, he used the sword to threaten her and then to slash her arm, which prompted her to tell him what he needed to know. Later, when the Dochraid used her magic to throw a dagger at him as he was leaving, Merlin repelled it with his own magic and then stabbed the creature with the sword, badly injuring her (With All My Heart).
Camlann and Aftermath
Excalibur was Arthur's weapon of choice in the Battle of Camlann. He fought many Saxons with it, and later used it to kill the traitor Mordred, though not before the former knight had succeeded in stabbing him. Mordred's sword - like Excalibur - had also been burnished in a dragon's breath, and the wound it dealt Arthur was a grievous one, causing him to collapse with his sword still in hand. Excalibur was later retrieved by Merlin when he carried Arthur off the battlefield.
When it was determined that Arthur's wound could only be healed by the Sidhe, Merlin took Excalibur with them on their journey to the Lake of Avalon. They were confronted along the way by Morgana, who attacked Merlin with her magic and taunted Arthur about his impending death. Before she could do anything more, however, Merlin (Excalibur in hand) revealed that he had not been harmed by her attack and the two faced off. Confident that no mortal blade could kill her, Morgana made no move to defend herself and was consequently killed when Merlin ran her through.
Though they weren't far from their destination at the time of Morgana's attack, the delay she caused was a costly one, and Arthur ultimately died before they could reach the Lake of Avalon. Heartbroken, Merlin cast Excalibur back into the lake and watched as Freya caught it in her hand and drew it back under the water (The Diamond of the Day).
Because it was burnished in a dragon's breath, Excalibur has the power to kill anything, mortal or magical, living or dead. These abilities were demonstrated numerous times, such as when Uther used it to kill the wraith Tristan de Bois (Excalibur) and when Merlin used it to battle Morgana's immortal soldiers (The Coming of Arthur), injure the Dochraid (With All My Heart), and kill Morgana (The Diamond of the Day).
Even without its magical properties, Excalibur was known to be an exceptionally fine blade. It was the strongest sword ever forged by the blacksmith Tom, and both Uther and Arthur have remarked on its craftsmanship. After using it to kill Tristan de Bois, Uther commented that it was one of the finest swords he'd ever used (Excalibur), and Arthur was similarly impressed when he wielded it for the first time (The Sword in the Stone).
In The Legend
Excalibur (sometimes called Caliburn) is the legendary sword of King Arthur in Arthurian Legend. Initially, it was said to be the same sword that Arthur pulled from the stone to prove that he was the rightful heir of Uther Pendragon. Many later legends, however, give this role to his peace-sword (Clarent), and his war-sword (Excalibur) was instead said to have been given to him later in his reign by the Lady of the Lake.
In the sword-in-the-stone motif, England is thrown into chaos after Uther dies with no heir to succeed him and various nobles begin fighting over the throne. Merlin is eventually called upon to find a solution, and he does so by placing Excalibur into an anvil atop a stone, saying that only the true King of Britain would have the power to pull it free. Some years later, while serving as his adoptive brother Kay's squire at a tournament, Arthur discovers that Kay's sword is missing and pulls Excalibur from the anvil to replace it. Though Kay initially tries to take credit for the sword, no one believes him, and with Merlin's help Arthur is recognized as the rightful king.
In other legends, Arthur receives Excalibur from the Lady of the Lake after his original sword is broken. It was crafted for him in Avalon and as such has magical powers. Its scabbard, for example, prevents any wounds received by the wearer from bleeding. In some stories, this scabbard is stolen by Morgan Le Fay in revenge for the death of her beloved Accolon, which later enables Arthur's death at the Battle of Camlann. Before he dies, Arthur instructs a knight (either Griflet or Bedivere) to return Excalibur to the Lady of the Lake. (In the series, it is Merlin who does this.)
- Series 1
- Series 3
- The Coming of Arthur: Part Two
- Series 4
- The Darkest Hour: Part One (Appears in visions)
- The Sword in the Stone: Part Two
- Series 5
- Arthur's Bane: Part Two
- With All My Heart
- The Diamond of the Day: Part Two
- Excalibur was never referred to by its name within the series.
- Excalibur has been used by three different people: first by Uther in 1x09, then by Merlin in 3x13 (and again in both 5x09 and 5x13), and lastly by Arthur from 4x13 onward.
- Merlin, Kilgharrah, Uther, Gaius, Gwen, and Lancelot are the only characters who knew of the sword's existence before Arthur pulled it from the stone.
- Excalibur also appeared in Morgana's dream of Emrys in 4x01.
- Excalibur was often described as a flaming sword when it was used in combat. Morgana's setting fire to Arthur's original sword in 4x05 may have been a reference to that part of the legend.
- Morgana's use of Aithusa's breath to burnish a sword in 5x12 may be a reference to her making a "false Excalibur" to bring about Arthur's downfall in the legends.