Here’s the real deal on Lancelot: In the Welsh tales, he doesn’t exist. The only adultery that may or may not have occurred is between Gwenhwyfar and Modred and not by Gwenhywfar’s choice.
The French made him up. There. I said it.
“Sir Lancelot first appears in Arthurian legend in ‘Le Chevalier de la Charrette’, one of a set of five Arthurian romances written by the French poet Chrétien de Troyes (completed by Godefroy de Lagny) as a large collection of verses, c.1180 to 1240. Lancelot is characterised alongside other knights, notably Gawain, Kay, and Méléagant (or Meliagaunce) – a consistent rival and parallel anti-hero against Lancelot – and is already heavily involved in his legendary romance with Guinevere, King Arthur’s queen.
…Chrétien de Troyes composed ‘Le Chevalier de la Charrette’ at the request of the Countess Marie de Champagne, daughter of Louis VII of France and Eleanor of Aquitaine, then later the wife of Henry II of England. It was apparently written to foster the notion of the ‘Courts of Love’ as the principal settings for (adulterous) social relations rather than the spontaneous passion typified by the story of Tristan and Iseult. Like other courtly ladies of the day, Guinevere required a lover, and the literary Lancelot – a convenient and suitable hero – was pressed into service.” http://www.arthurian-legend.com/more-about/more-about-arthur-6.php
In that context, it makes sense (though I still hate it–and hate it more that the Lancelot story has become the King Arthur story. It is interesting to note that this author also makes the same observation I do in my rant (http://www.sarahwoodbury.com/the-fictional-king-arthur-rant/) that “Lancelot is arguably as important a figure as Arthur himself. In French versions of the legend more attention is focused on Sir Lancelot than on King Arthur”.
“He is first introduced by Chrétien de Troyes and substantially enlarged by the Vulgate cycle. Malory furthers his prominence.
Lancelot is the son of the King of Benoic, Ban. He is carried away from this province of western France, by the Lady of the Lake. She raises him and presents him to Arthur‘s court upon his eighteenth birthday. His marshall prowess and inward nobility are soon apprehended by all. When not on the Quest, he meets with the Round Table and participates in the tournaments, often victoriously. He makes his home the northern castle of Joyous Gard, possibly Bamburgh, at the location of a British fort named Din Guayrdi.
Perhaps his most recognizable role is that of paramour to Arthur’s queen, Guinevere. Though the Queen’s treatment of him at court is aloof and disdainful, according to the tenets of courtly love, their love runs deep and is lasting, though stormy at times. Their love is also integral to Grail legend. While Lancelot is the guest of the Grail-keeper Pelles, Pelles contrives magically to have the knight sleep with his daughter Elaine in the guise of the Queen, whom he has led Lancelot to believe is in the area. Lancelot sleeps with Elaine and the result of their union is Galahad, the chosen Grail-knight. Upon reaching manhood, Galahad comes to court and many knights set forth on the Quest for the Grail. Lancelot himself is denied the Grail because of his aldultery. Ironically however, it is that love that conceived the knight that attains the Grail.” http://www.pantheon.org/articles/l/lancelot.html
The one version of the Lancelot story that I find interesting is actually told by Norma Goodrich, who works with languages. She claims that Lancelot is derived from a Scottish King Angus (with etymological detail of the transformation of the name). She says that there was no adultery, which we already knew 🙂 http://www.amazon.com/King-Arthur-Norma-Lorre-Goodrich/dp/0060971827/ref=cm_cr_pr_product_top