Lancelot - Sarah Woodbury


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.”

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 ( 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.”

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 🙂



7 Replies to “Lancelot”

  1. To be fair the “Lancelot story” was originally the King Arthur story. Lancelot just hijacked it.

    Also, Lancelot has never been no where near as popular as Arthur.

    The romances only appealed to medieval French women who were into adultery. But since we’re not in the medieval ages anymore, Lancelot is often portrayed as the bad guy. And his adultery no longer gets glorified because of it.

    After all, it was only being glorified because of women and because most of the authors were chauvinist French people who didn’t like King Arthur for being considered the british national hero.

  2. ” She also had Lancelot’s double first cousins, Lionel and Bors rescued from King Arthur.”

    I wanted to correct my mistake

    She also had Lancelot’s double first cousins, Lionel and Bors rescued from King Claudas.

    “The usual story is that the Lady of the Lake is really his mother, but maybe there was something a little more sinister there? ”

    The usual story is that the Lady of the Lake is his foster mother.
    Lancelot was son of King Ban and Queen Helaine of Benwick.
    Bors and Lionel were the sons of King Ban’s brother, King Bors of Gaunes and Queen Evaine, Queen Helaines
    hence, Bors and Lionel were double cousins of Lancelot

    Lady of the Lake abducted Lancelot from Queen Helaine and raised him
    and then presented him to King Arthur and requested he made a knight

  3. I see the Arthurian Legends as mythology any way.

    There is no proof that King Arthur even existed nor that he had a wife named Guinevere/Gwenhwyfar.

    I don’t think Lancelot sucks.

    To each, his/her own
    Lancelot of the Lake is actually my favorite character in Arthurian Legend

    I like the love affair of Lancelot and Guinevere from the perspective of courtly love.

    I agree that he is a French invention.
    He was created to be a courtly figure in Arthurian Legend.

    Lancelot character is greatly expanded in the French written Arthurian Romance, Prose Lancelot which was written in the 13th Century. It was part of the Vulgate Cycle. There was a later a Post-Vulgate that left out most of the Lancelot.
    Le Morte D’Arthur is based on the Post-Vulgate but has some of the Lancelot, but it doesn’t include his origins and early life as a knight.

    The usual story of Lancelot is not him being the son of the Lady of the Lake. He’s just the foster son of the Lady of the Lake.
    In the stories, he is usually the son of King Ban and Queen Helene/Elaine of Benwick/Benoic.
    The Lady of the Lake stole Lancelot from Helene while she was grieving over the death of Ban whose land was taken over by King Claudas.
    She raised and loved Lancelot like she was her own son. She also had Lancelot’s double first cousins, Lionel and Bors rescued from King Arthur.
    There is nothing in the story that the Lady of the Lake was sinister in any way.

    In the Vulgate Cycle, the Queen’s treatment of him at court is not aloof and disdainful.
    It’s not really that in Le Morte D’Arthur either, but there is not written much about the romance between Lancelot and Guinevere in that book until you get to the later part of the book. Guinevere only shows disdain for Lancelot when she is jealous of Elaine, the mother of Galahad and Elaine, the Lady of Astolat. In the Vulgate, Galahad’s mother is named Amite. The Lady of Astolat is the Lady of Escalot.

    In Le Morte D’Arthur,
    Guinevere was also hurt from Lancelot staying away from her out of fear of scandal and he was having company and helping other ladies to draw away suspicion of his love affair with the Guinevere.
    Guinevere couldn’t listen to Lancelot’s reasoning. After she was weeping, she kicked Lancelot out of court She relented after he saved her from Mador who accused her of poisoning a knight which she didn’t do.

    There is actually a lot of affection between Lancelot and Guinevere in the Vulgate Cycle.

    Out of pity for Lancelot’s sorrow over loving Guinevere, Galehaut requests Guinevere to give Lancelot his love.

    Guinevere agreed because of all that Lancelot has done for her including especially saving King Arthur’s kingdom by getting Galehaut to surrender to King Arthur even though Galehaut had the advantage. Lancelot’s extraordinary prowess won over Galehaut even though Lancelot was fighting against him. All that Lancelot did was for Guinevere.
    He built his reputation as the best knight in the world all for the love of Guinevere, and so that greatly moved Guinevere who was already attracted to Lancelot any way.
    Of course, Guinevere readily accepted Galehaut’s request to give Lancelot her love.
    Both Lancelot and Guinevere took that love pact very seriously.

    The Lady of the Lake encouraged Guinevere to consummate her love affair with Lancelot, and she even gave Guinevere of a shield of a knight that depicted a knight and lady kissing but separated from a crack. After the love was consummated, the crack disappeared.
    The Lady of the Lake also advised Guinevere to keep on loving Lancelot after she cured Lancelot of his madness.

    The Lady of the Lake and Guinevere loved each other because of Lancelot.

    Because of Lancelot, Guinevere also loved Lancelot’s kin which included his double cousins Bors and Lionel and halfbrother Hector. They knew of the love affair between Lancelot and Guinevere.

    After the battle against the Saxons, Arthur got Guinevere to get Lancelot to join his household and become a knight of the Round Table.

    I also want to point out that Lancelot is much younger than Guinevere in the Lancelot.
    Lancelot was written to be born after Arthur and Guinevere was married.
    Therefore, Guinevere was old enough to be Lancelot’s mother. King Arthur had a paternal affection for Lancelot who also loved King Arthur.

    In a nutshell, the Lancelot was a story of a boy becoming a man through the love of a much older woman.

    According to the Vulgate, it was Guinevere that made Lancelot a knight.
    Even though Arthur gave Lancelot the accolade, he didn’t give Lancelot his sword. It was Guinevere that gave Lancelot his sword, and was the one who gives the knight the sword that detemines whose knight he is.
    Therefore, Lancelot was Guinevere’s knight.

    1. All very interesting. Any time anyone finds meaning in literature is great, and I appreciate you taking the time to explain why you like Lancelot.

      1. The stories are fun to read.

        I made couple of mistakes, and I want to correct them

        I typed:
        The Lady of the Lake rescued Lancelot’s double first cousins, Lionel and Bors from King Arthur

        it was King Claudas

        I typed:
        Out of pity for Lancelot’s sorrow over loving Guinevere, Galehaut requests Guinevere to give Lancelot his love.

        I meant…Galehaut requests Guinevere to give Lancelot her love

  4. Because he sucks! LOL. Awesome!

    But there are some interesting things about him, I grudgingly admit. The usual story is that the Lady of the Lake is really his mother, but maybe there was something a little more sinister there? And Galahad isn’t the first quasi-Holy Man whose birth is contrived. (No, I’m not thinking of THAT one, LOL.) I’m thinking more Theseus from the Greek myths, but I know there are others.

    Thanks for another awesome post!

    1. You’re welcome! Another story of the virgin birth kind of thing is the Roman God, Mithras, whom soldiers worshiped. Altars to him are found all throughout the Roman ruins in Britain.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *