This sequence of tapestries was originally designed for William Knox D'Arcy, for the dining room of his house, Stanmore Hall in Middlesex. Several further versions were woven later. Birmingham's version of The Ship was woven for Mrs Middlemore, wife of the Birmingham leather manufacturer Thomas Middlemore, and bequeathed to the Museum in 1947.
The subject matter is based on the 15th century text Le Morte D'Arthur (The Death of Arthur) by Sir Thomas Malory. It tells the story of the spiritual quest by the knights of King Arthur's round table for the Holy Grail, the cup from which Jesus and the disciples drank at the Last Supper.
This design links the figurative scenes together. The story tells how the knights travelled by ship for part of their journey to Sarras, where the Holy Grail was to be discovered.
Ships were often used in medieval stories as important narrative devices, to transport characters from one scene or world to another. Burne-Jones drew studies for this design using scale models.