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Matter of Britain character
First appearance Erec and Enide
Created byPossibly Chrétien de Troyes
Based on Uncertain origins
In-universe information
TitlePrince, Sir
OccupationKnight of the Round Table
Family Ban, Elaine of Benoic, Lady of the Lake, Hector de Maris, Lionel, Bors, Bleoberis
Significant other Guinevere, Elaine of Corbenic, possibly Galehaut
Children Galahad
OriginBenoic (in today's northern France)

Lancelot du Lac (French for Lancelot of the Lake), also written as Launcelot and other variants (such as early German Lanzelet, early French Lanselos, early Welsh Lanslod Lak, Italian Lancelotto and Lanci[a]lotto, Spanish Lanzarote del Lago, and Welsh Lawnslot y Llyn), is character in some versions of Arthurian legend, where he typically is depicted as King Arthur's close companion and one of the best Knights of the Round Table. In the French-inspired Arthurian chivalric romance tradition, Lancelot is the orphaned son of King Ban of the lost kingdom of Benwick, raised in the fairy realm by the Lady of the Lake. A hero of many battles, quests and tournaments, and famed as a nearly unrivaled swordsman and jouster, Lancelot becomes the lord of Joyous Gard and personal champion of Arthur's wife Queen Guinevere. But when his adulterous affair with Guinevere is discovered, it causes a civil war that is exploited by Mordred to end Arthur's kingdom.


His first appearance as main character is found in Chrétien de Troyes' poem Lancelot, the Knight of the Cart , written in the 12th century. Later, his character was expanded upon in other works of Arturian romance, especially the vast Lancelot-Grail prose cycle that presented the now-familiar version of his legend following its retelling in Le Morte d'Arthur . There, Lancelot's and Lady Elaine's son Galahad, devoid of his father's flaws of character, becomes the most perfect knight and succeeds in completing the greatest of the quests by achieving the Holy Grail after Lancelot himself fails due to his sins.


Name and origins

Lancelot slays the dragon of Corbenic in Arthur Rackham's illustration for Tales of King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table, abridged from Le Morte d'Arthur by Alfred W. Pollard (1917) 324 The Romance of King Arthur.jpg
Lancelot slays the dragon of Corbenic in Arthur Rackham's illustration for Tales of King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table, abridged from Le Morte d'Arthur by Alfred W. Pollard (1917)

In a theory postulated by Roger Sherman Loomis, Lancelot is related to Llenlleog (Llenlleawg), an Irishman in Culhwch and Olwen (which associates him with the "headland of Gan(i)on"), and the Welsh hero Llwch Llawwynnauc (most likely a version of the euhemerised Irish deity Lugh Lonbemnech, with "Llwch" meaning "Lake" in Welsh), possibly via a now-forgotten epithet such as Lamhcalad, [1] suggesting that they are the same figure. Their similarities beyond the name include wielding a sword and fighting for a cauldron (in Preiddeu Annwn and Culhwch). Proponents of the Scythian origins of the Arthurian legend have speculated that an early form might have been Alanus-à-Lot, that is "Alan of the Lot River", [2] while those looking for clues in antiquity see elements of Lancelot in the Ancient Greek mythical figures of Askalos and Mopsus (Moxus). [3]

Alfred Anscombe proposed that the name "Lancelot" came from Germanic *Wlancloth, with roots akin to Old English wlenceo (pride) and loða (cloak), [4] in connection with Vinoviloth, the name of a Gothic chief or tribe mentioned in the Getica (6th century). [5] According to more recent scholars, such as Norma Lorre Goodrich, the name, if not just an invention of the 12th-century French poet Chrétien de Troyes, may have been derived from Geoffrey of Monmouth's character Anguselaus, which, when translated from Geoffrey's Latin into Old French, became Anselaus, probably a Latinised name of Unguist, the name of a son of the 6th-century Pictish king Forgus. [6] Other 6th-century candidates proposed in modern times as the prototype of Lancelot include early French saint Fraimbault de Lassay; [7] Wlanc[a], a son-in-law of the Anglo-Saxon king Ælle of Sussex; [8] and Maelgwn, king of Gwynedd. [9]

Lancelot may have been the hero of a folk tale that was originally independent but was ultimately absorbed into the Arthurian tradition. The theft of an infant by a water fairy, the appearance of the hero at a tournament on three consecutive days in three different disguises, and the rescue of a queen or princess from an Otherworld prison are all features of a well-known and widespread tale, variants of which are found in numerous examples collected by Theodore Hersart de la Villemarqué in his Barzaz Breiz , by Emmanuel Cosquin in his Contes Lorrains, and by John Francis Campbell in his Tales of the West Highlands. As for his name, "Lancelot" may be a variant of the name "Lancelin", [10] derived from the Old French word L'Ancelot, meaning "Servant" ("Lancelot" is written this way in several manuscripts). [6]

Early appearances

Lancelot's name appears as third on a list of knights at King Arthur's court in the earliest known work featuring him as a character: Chrétien de Troyes' Erec and Enide (1170). The fact that his name follows Gawain and Erec indicates the presumed importance of the knight at court, even though he did not figure prominently in Chrétien's tale. Lancelot reappears in Chrétien's Cligès , in which he takes a more important role as one of the knights that Cligès must overcome in his quest. [1] It is not until Chrétien's poem Lancelot, the Knight of the Cart (Le Chevalier de la Charrette), however, that Lancelot becomes the protagonist. It is also Chrétien who first gives Lancelot the name Lancelot du Lac (Lancelot of the Lake), [11] which was later picked up by the French authors of the Lancelot-Grail and then by Thomas Malory. [12] Chrétien treats Lancelot as if his audience were already familiar with the character's background, yet most of the characteristics and exploits that are commonly associated with Lancelot today are first mentioned here. The story centers on Lancelot's rescue of Queen Guinevere after she has been abducted by Meliagant. In the words of Matilda Bruckner, "what existed before Chrétien remains uncertain, but there is no doubt that his version became the starting point for all subsequent tales of Lancelot as the knight whose extraordinary prowess is inextricably linked to his love for Arthur’s Queen." [13]

N. C. Wyeth's illustration for The Boy's King Arthur, abridged from Le Morte d'Arthur by Sidney Lanier (1922): "He rode his way with the Queen unto Joyous Gard." Boys King Arthur - N. C. Wyeth - p278.jpg
N. C. Wyeth's illustration for The Boy's King Arthur, abridged from Le Morte d'Arthur by Sidney Lanier (1922): "He rode his way with the Queen unto Joyous Gard."

Lancelot's passion for Arthur's wife Guinevere is entirely absent from another early work, Lanzelet , a Middle High German epic poem by Ulrich von Zatzikhoven dating from the very end of the 12th century (no earlier than 1194). Ulrich asserts that his poem is a translation of an earlier French work from an unspecified book he had obtained, the provenance of which is given and which must have differed markedly in several points from Chrétien's story. In Lanzelet, the abductor of Ginover (Guinevere) is named as King Valerin, whose name (unlike that of Chrétien's Meliagant) does not appear to derive from the Welsh Melwas. Furthermore, Ginover's rescuer is not Lanzelet, who instead ends up finding happiness in marriage with the fairy princess Iblis; instead, the hero of Ulrich's book is Arthur's nephew, the son of Arthur's sister Queen Clarine. Like Lancelot, he is raised by a water fairy (here the Queen of the Maidenland, having lost his father King Pant of Genewis to a rebellion). [14] It has been suggested that Lancelot was originally the hero of a story independent of the adulterous love triangle and perhaps very similar to Ulrich's version. [15] If this is true, then the motif of adultery might either have been invented by Chrétien for his Chevalier de la Charrette or been present in the (now lost) source provided to him by his patroness, Marie de Champagne, a lady well known for her keen interest in matters relating to courtly love. [16]

Evolution of the legend

Lancelot fighting the two dragons guarding the entrance to Morgan's Val Without Return in a 15th-century French illumination of a Lancelot-Grail manuscript. The arms attributed to him: argent with three bendlets gules Lancelot fighting the dragons of the Val without return.png
Lancelot fighting the two dragons guarding the entrance to Morgan's Val Without Return in a 15th-century French illumination of a Lancelot-Grail manuscript. The arms attributed to him: argent with three bendlets gules

Lancelot's character was further developed during the 13th century in the Old French prose romance Vulgate Cycle, where he appears prominently in the later parts, known as the Prose Lancelot (or Lancelot du Lac) and the Queste del Saint Graal (The Quest for the Holy Grail) respectively. Gaston Paris argued that the Guinevere-Meleagant episode of the Prose Lancelot is an almost literal adaptation of Chrétien's poem, the courtly love theme of which seemed to be forced on the unwilling Chrétien by Marie, [17] though it can be seen as a considerable amplification. Much of the Lancelot material from the Vulgate Cycle has been later removed in the rewriting known as the Post-Vulgate Cycle, with the surviving parts being reworked and attached to the other parts of this cycle. The forbidden love affair between Lancelot and Guinevere can be seen as a parallel to that of Tristan and Iseult, with him ultimately being identified with the tragedy of chance and human failing that is responsible for the downfall of the Round Table in the later works continuing Chrétien's story. [18]

The Earthly Paradise (Sir Lancelot at the Chapel of the Holy Grail) by Edward Burne-Jones (1890s) Edward Coley Burne-Jones - The Earthly Paradise (Sir Lancelot at the Chapel of the Holy Grail).jpg
The Earthly Paradise (Sir Lancelot at the Chapel of the Holy Grail) by Edward Burne-Jones (1890s)

Lancelot is often tied to the Christian themes within Arthurian legend. Lancelot's quest for Guinevere in Lancelot, the Knight of the Cart is similar to Christ's quest for the human soul. [19] His adventure among the tombs is described in terms that suggest Christ's harrowing of Hell and resurrection: he effortlessly lifts the lid off the sarcophagus, which bears an inscription foretelling his freeing of the captives. [20] Lancelot would later become one of the chief knights associated with the Holy Grail, but Chrétien does not include him at all in his final romance Perceval, le Conte du Graal , the story that introduced the motif into medieval literature. Perceval is the sole seeker of the Grail in Chrétien's treatment; Lancelot's involvement in the Grail Quest is first recorded in the romance Perlesvaus, written between 1200 and 1210. [21]

The Middle Dutch so-called Lancelot Compilation (c. 1320) contains seven Arthurian romances, including a new Lancelot one, folded into the three parts of the cycle; the creation of a new romance in the Netherlands indicates Lancelot's widespread popularity even prior to the Lancelot-Grail. [22] In this story, Lanceloet en het hert met het witte voet ("Lancelot and the hart with the white foot"), Lancelot fights seven lions to get the white foot from a hart (deer) which will allow him to marry a princess. [23] Near the end of the 15th century, Malory's Le Morte d'Arthur followed the Lancelot-Grail cycle in presenting Lancelot as the best knight, a departure from the prior English tradition in which Gawain had been the most prominent. [24]

In French prose cycles and Le Morte d'Arthur

Birth and childhood

Howard Pyle's illustration for The Story of the Champions of the Round Table (1905): "The Lady Nymue beareth away Launcelot into the Lakes." The Lady Nymue beareth away Launcelot into the Lakes.png
Howard Pyle's illustration for The Story of the Champions of the Round Table (1905): "The Lady Nymue beareth away Launcelot into the Lakes."

In the Vulgate Cycle, Lancelot, birth name Galahad (originally written Galaad or Galaaz, not to be confused with his own son of the same name), is born "in the borderland between Gaul and Brittany" as the son of the Gallo-Roman King Ban of Benwick (or Benoic), which is overrun by their Frankish enemy, King Claudas. Ban and his wife Queen Elaine flee the destruction of their final stronghold, carrying the infant child with them. As Elaine is tending to her dying husband, Lancelot is carried off by a fairy enchantress known as the Lady of the Lake, who then raises the child in her magical realm while Elaine becomes a nun. (In an alternate version from the Italian La Tavola Ritonda , Lancelot is born when the late Ban's wife Gostanza delivers him two months early and soon after also dies; here, the Lady of the Lake's only relation to Lancelot is briefly abducting him as an adult.)

Three years pass as the child Lancelot grows up and matures much faster than he would naturally do, and it is from this upbringing that he earns the name du Lac of the Lake. His double-cousins Lionel and Bors the Younger, sons of King Bors of Gaul and Elaine of Benoic's sister Evaine, are first taken by a knight of Claudas and later spirited away to the Lady of the Lake to become Lancelot's junior companions. [25] Lancelot's other notable surviving kinsmen often include Bleoberis de Ganis and Hector de Maris among others and usually more distant relatives. Many of them will also join him at the Round Table, as do all of the mentioned above, as well as some of their sons, such as Elyan the White, and Lancelot's own son, too. (In the Prose Lancelot, the minor Knights of the Round Table also mentioned as related to Lancelot in one way or another are Aban, Acantan the Agile, Banin, Blamor, Brandinor, Crinides the Black, Danubre the Brave, Gadran, Hebes the Famous, Lelas, Ocursus the Black, Pincados, Tanri, and more. They are different and fewer in Malory.)

Arthur and Guinevere

An illustration for Tales of the Round Table, abridged from Le Morte d'Arthur by Andrew Lang (1908): "Sir Lancelot did not stop, and the archers shot his horse with many arrows, but he jumped from its back and ran past them deeper into the wood." Tales of the Round table; based on the tales in the Book of romance (1908) (14580337558).jpg
An illustration for Tales of the Round Table, abridged from Le Morte d'Arthur by Andrew Lang (1908): "Sir Lancelot did not stop, and the archers shot his horse with many arrows, but he jumped from its back and ran past them deeper into the wood."

Initially known only as the nameless White Knight (Blanc Chevalier), clad in silver steel on a white horse, [26] the young Lancelot arrives in Arthur's kingdom of Logres with the Lady of the Lake to be knighted by the king at her behest. The Lady gives him a powerful magic ring able to dispel any enchantment (as his anonymous fairy foster mother also does in Chrétien's version; later parts of the Vulgate Lancelot instead retcon this as given to him by Guinevere [27] ), among other enchanted items with various abilities (including a lance and a sword, a tent, and a mirror). She and her damsels also continue aiding him in various ways throughout the Vulgate Lancelot. In the Vulgate, the White Knight later takes the name of his grandfather, King Lancelot, upon discovering his identity. [28] In the Post-Vulgate, where Lancelot is no longer the central protagonist, he instead comes to Arthur's court alone and almost defeats the king himself on their first meeting without knowing his identity (Arthur's magic sword, meant to be used only for the sake of the kingdom and justice, may be broken either in this fight or the one against King Pellinore). He eventually is made a member of Arthur's elite Round Table after releasing the king's nephew Gawain from enemy captivity.

Almost immediately upon his arrival, Lancelot and the young Queen Guinevere fall in love through a strange magical connection between them, and one of his adventures in the prose cycles involves saving her from abduction by Arthur's enemy Maleagant. The exact timing and sequence of events vary from one source to another, and some details are found only in certain sources. The Maleagant episode actually marked the end of the original, non-cyclic version of the Prose Lancelot, telling of only his childhood and early youth, before the later much longer versions. [29] In Malory's Le Morte d'Arthur, the adulterous relationship is postponed for years, as Lancelot's rescue of the Queen from Meleagant (during which, as Malory wrote, "Sir Launcelot wente to bedde with the Quene and toke no force of his hurte honed, but toke his plesaunce and hys lyknge untyll hit was the dawning of the day" after breaking through into her chamber [30] ) takes place following the Grail Quest. Nevertheless, just as in Malory's "French book" source, his Lancelot too devotes himself to the service of Guinevere early in the tale.

Lancelot fighting Turquine in a Polish fresco at Siedlecin Tower (early 14th century) Siedlecin Wieza Ksiazeca Gotyckie malowidla scienne Lancelot walczacy z Tarquynem.JPG
Lancelot fighting Turquine in a Polish fresco at Siedlęcin Tower (early 14th century)

Lancelot's initial knight-errant style adventures from the Vulgate Cycle that have been included in Malory's compilation range from proving victorious in a tournament fighting on behalf of King Bagdemagus, slaying the mighty villain Turquine, who had been holding several of Arthur's knights prisoner, to overcoming a damsel's betrayal and defending himself unarmed against her husband Phelot. In the adventures exclusive to the Vulgate Lancelot, his further great deeds include slaying multiple dragons and giants. He also plays a decisive role in the war against the Saxons in Lothian (Scotland), when he again rescues Arthur and Gawain (as he does on different occasions) and forces the Saxon witch-princess Camille to surrender. Lancelot dedicates his deeds to his lady Guinevere, acting in her name as her knight. At one point, he goes mad when he is led to believe that Guinevere doubts his love until he is found and healed by the Lady of the Lake. [31] Another instance of Lancelot temporarily losing his mind occurs during his brief imprisonment by Camille, after which he is cured by the Lady as well. The motif of his recurring fits of madness (especially "in presence of sexually charged women" [32] ) and suicidal tendencies (usually relating to the false or real news of the death of either Gawain or Galehaut) return often throughout the Vulgate and sometimes in other versions as well. He also may harbor a darker, more violent side that is usually suppressed by the chivalric code but can become easily unleashed during the moments of action. [33] Nevertheless the Vulgate Lancelot notes that "for all the knights in the world he was the one most unwilling to hurt any lady or maiden."

Lancelot Brings Guenevere to Arthur, an illustration for Andrew Lang's The Book of Romance (1902) The book of romance; (1902) (14566092039).jpg
Lancelot Brings Guenevere to Arthur, an illustration for Andrew Lang's The Book of Romance (1902)

Eventually, Lancelot wins his own castle in Britain, known as Joyous Gard (a former Dolorous Gard), where he learns his real name and heritage. With the help of King Arthur, Lancelot then defeats Claudas (and his allied Romans in the Vulgate) and recovers his father's kingdom. However, he again decides to remain at Camelot with his cousins Bors and Lionel and his illegitimate half-brother Hector de Maris (Ector). Lancelot, incognito as the Black Knight [34] (on another occasion he disguises himself as the Red Knight as well), [34] also plays a decisive role in the war between Arthur and Galehaut (Galahaut). Galahaut is Arthur's enemy and poised to become the victor, but he is taken by Lancelot's amazing battlefield performance and offers him a boon in return for the privilege of one night's company in the bivouac. Lancelot accepts and uses his boon to demand that Galehaut surrender peacefully to Arthur. At first, Lancelot continues to serve Galehaut in his home country Sorelois, where Guinevere joins him in refuge after Lancelot saves her from the bewitched Arthur during the False Guinevere episode. [35] After that, Arthur invites Galahaut to join of the Round Table. Despite of this happy outcome, Galahaut is the one who convinces Guinevere that she may return Lancelot's affection, an action that at least partially results in the fall of Camelot. In the Prose Tristan and its adaptations, including the account within the Post-Vulgate Queste, Lancelot gives refuge to the fugitive lovers Tristan and Iseult as they flee from the evil King Mark of Cornwall.

Morgan, Sebile and two other witch-queens find Lancelot sleeping in William Henry Margetson's illustration for Legends of King Arthur and His Knights, abridged from Le Morte d'Arthur by Janet MacDonald Clark (1914) Sir Launcelot lay asleep under the apple tree.png
Morgan, Sebile and two other witch-queens find Lancelot sleeping in William Henry Margetson's illustration for Legends of King Arthur and His Knights, abridged from Le Morte d'Arthur by Janet MacDonald Clark (1914)

Lancelot becomes one of the most famous Knights of the Round Table, even attested as the best knight in the world in Malory's own episode of Sir Urry of Hungary, as well as an object of desire by many ladies, beginning with the Lady of Malehaut when he is her captive early on in the Vulgate Lancelot. Faithful to Queen Guinevere, he refuses the forceful advances of Queen Morgan le Fay, Arthur's enchantress sister. Morgan constantly attempts to seduce Lancelot, whom she at once lustfully loves and hates with the same great intensity. She even kidnaps him repeatedly, once with her coven of fellow magical queens including Sebile. On one occasion (as told in the Prose Lancelot), Morgan agrees to let Lancelot go save Gawain if he will return to her immediately afterwards, and then sets him free on the promise that he will not spend any time with either Guinevere or Galehaut for a year. This condition causes Lancelot to go half-mad, and Galehaut to fall sick out of longing for him and eventually to die of anguish after he receives a false rumour of Lancelot's suicide. Another sorceress, named Hellawes, wants him for herself so obsessively that, failing in having him either dead or alive in Malory's chapel perilous episode, she soon herself dies from sorrow. Similarly, Elaine of Astolat (Vulgate's Demoiselle d'Escalot, in modern times better known as "the Lady of Shalott"), also dies of heartbreak due to her unrequited love of Lancelot. On his side, Lancelot himself falls in a mutual but purely platonic love with an avowed-virgin maiden whom Malory calls Amable (unnamed in the Vulgate).

Galahad and the Grail

Seduction of Lancelot in the Livre de Lancelot du Lac (c. 1401-1425) Seduction of Lancelot.jpg
Seduction of Lancelot in the Livre de Lancelot du Lac (c. 1401–1425)

Princess Elaine of Corbenic, daughter of the Fisher King, also falls in love with him; she is more successful than the others. With the help of magic, Elaine tricks Lancelot into believing that she is Guinevere, and he sleeps with her. [36] The ensuing pregnancy results in the birth of his son Galahad, whom Elaine will send off to grow up without a father and who later emerges as the Merlin-prophesied Good Knight. Guinevere learns of that affair and becomes furious when she finds that Elaine has made Lancelot sleep with her by trickery for the second time and in Guinevere's own castle. She blames Lancelot and banishes him from Camelot. Broken by her reaction, Lancelot goes mad again and wanders the wilderness for (either two or five) years. During this time, he is searched for by the remorseful Guinevere and the others. Eventually, he arrives back at Corbenic where he is recognised by Elaine. Lancelot, shown the Holy Grail through a veil, is cured of his madness, and then chooses to live with her on a remote isle where he is known incognito as the Wicked Knight (Chevalier Malfait, the form also used by Malory). After ten years pass since his recovery, Lancelot is finally found by Perceval and Ector, who have both been sent to look for him by Guinevere.

Upon his return to the court of Camelot, Lancelot takes part in the great Grail Quest. The quest is initiated by Lancelot's estranged son, the young teenage Galahad, having prevailed over his father in a duel during his own dramatic arrival at Camelot, among other acts that proved him as the most perfect knight. Following further adventures, during which he experienced defeats and humiliation, Lancelot himself is allowed only a glimpse of the Grail because he is an adulterer and was distracted from the faith in God by earthly honours that have come through his knightly prowess. Instead, it is his spiritually-pure son who ultimately achieves the Grail. Galahad's also virgin companions, Lancelot's cousin Bors the Younger and Pellinore's son Perceval, then witness his ascension into the Heaven.

Later years and death

The rescue of Guinevere in Henry Justice Ford's illustration for Andrew Lang's Tales of the Round Table (1908) Tales of the Round table; based on the tales in the Book of romance (1908) (14580312508).jpg
The rescue of Guinevere in Henry Justice Ford's illustration for Andrew Lang's Tales of the Round Table (1908)

Ultimately, Lancelot's affair with Guinevere is a destructive force, which was glorified and justified in the Vulgate Lancelot but becomes condemned by the time of the Vulgate Queste. [37] After his failure in the Grail quest, Lancelot tries to live a chaste life, angering Guinevere who sends him away, although they soon reconcile and resume their relationship as it was before Elaine and Galahad. When Maleagant tries to prove Guinevere's infidelity, he is killed by Lancelot in a trial by combat. Lancelot also saves the Queen from an accusation of murder by poison when he fights as her champion against Mador de la Porte upon his timely return in another episode included in Malory's version. (In all, he fights in five out of the total of eleven such duels taking place through the Prose Lancelot. [38] ) When the truth is finally revealed to Arthur by Morgan, it leads to the death of three of Gawain's brothers (Agravain, Gaheris and Gareth) when Lancelot with his family and followers arrive to violently save Guinevere from being burned at the stake and slaughter the men sent by Arthur to guard the execution, including those who went unwilling and unarmed. In Malory's version, Agravain is killed by him earlier, during Lancelot's bloody escape from Camelot, as well as Florent and Lovel, two of Gawain's sons who accompanied Agravain and Mordred in their ambush of Lancelot in Guinevere's chambers. In the Mort Artu, Lancelot's own, now vacated seat at the Round Table is given to an Irish knight named Elians.

Lancelot stops his half-brother Hector from killing Arthur defeated in battle, as depicted by William Dyce in King Arthur Unhorsed, Spared by Sir Launcelot (1852) William Dyce - Generosity.jpg
Lancelot stops his half-brother Hector from killing Arthur defeated in battle, as depicted by William Dyce in King Arthur Unhorsed, Spared by Sir Launcelot (1852)

The massacre of Arthur's relatives sets in motion the events leading to the treason by Mordred and the disappearance and apparent death of Arthur, in the new version introduced in the Vulgate Mort Artu by replacing the great Roman War from the chronicle tradition. What first follows it is a war waged against Lancelot's faction by Arthur and the vengeful Gawain: they besiege Lancelot at Joyous Gard for two months and then pursue him with their army into Gaul (France in Malory). The eventual result of this is the betrayal of Arthur by Mordred, the king's bastard son (and formerly one of Lancelot's young followers), who falsely announces Arthur's death to seize the throne for himself. Meanwhile, Gawain challenges Lancelot to a duel twice; each time Lancelot delays because of Gawain's enchantment that makes him grow stronger between morning and noon. He then strikes down Gawain with Galahad's sword but spares his life. However, Gawain's head wound nevertheless proves to be fatal later, reopened during the war with Mordred back in Britain. Upon receiving a desperate letter from the dying Gawain offering him forgiveness and asking for his help in the fight against Mordred, Lancelot hurries to return to Britain with his army, only to hear the news of Arthur's death at Salisbury Plain (romance version of the Battle of Camlann).

There are two main variants of Lancelot's demise, both involving him spending his final years living away from the society as a hermit monk. In the original one from the Vulgate Mort Artu, after mourning his comrades, Lancelot's participation in a victorious war against the young sons of Mordred and their Briton supporters and Saxon allies provides him with a partial atonement for his earlier role in the story. [39] Lancelot personally kills the younger of Mordred's sons after chasing him in a forest in the battle at Winchester, but then goes abruptly missing. Separated from the society, Lancelot dies of illness four years later while accompanied only by Hector, Bleoberis, and the former archbishop of Canterbury. It is implied that he wished to be buried beside the king and queen, however, he had made a vow some time before to be buried at Joyous Gard next to Galehaut, so he asks to be buried there to keep his word. In the Post-Vulgate, the burial site and bodies of Lancelot and Galehaut are later destroyed by King Mark when he ravages Arthur's former kingdom.

There is no war with the sons of Mordred in the version included in Le Morte d'Arthur. [20] In it, Guinevere blames all the destruction of the Round Table upon their adulterous relationship, which is the seed of all the dismay that followed and has become a nun. She refuses to kiss Lancelot one last time, telling him to return to his lands and that he will never see her face again. Instead, Lancelot declares that if she will take a life of penitence, then so will he. [40] Lancelot retires to a hermitage to seek redemption, with eight of his kin joining him in monastic life, including Hector. As a monk, he later conducts last rites over Guinevere's body (who had become an abbess). As she had declared, he never saw her face again in life: in a dream, he is warned that she is dying. He sets out to visit her, but Guinevere prays that she might die before he arrives, which she does, half an hour before his arrival. After the queen's death, Lancelot and his fellow knights escort her body to be interred beside King Arthur (in the same place where Gawain's skull is kept). The distraught Lancelot's health then begins to fail (in fact, even before this time, Le Morte d'Arthur states that he had lost a cubit of height due to his fastings and prayers). Lancelot dies six weeks after the death of the queen. His eight companions return to France to take care of the affairs of their lands after his death. Acting on Lancelot's death-bed request, they go on a crusade to the Holy Land and all die there fighting the Saracens ("Turks" in Malory [41] ).

In modern culture

A 1962 publicity photo of Robert Goulet as Lancelot and Janet Pavek as Guenevere in the musical Camelot Robert Goulet Janet Pavek Camelot 1962.JPG
A 1962 publicity photo of Robert Goulet as Lancelot and Janet Pavek as Guenevere in the musical Camelot

Lancelot appeared as a character in many Arthurian films and television productions, sometimes even as the protagonistic titular character. He has been played by Robert Taylor in Knights of the Round Table (1953), William Russell in The Adventures of Sir Lancelot (1956–1957), Robert Goulet in Camelot (1960), Cornel Wilde in Sword of Lancelot (1963), Franco Nero in Camelot (1967), Luc Simon in Lancelot du Lac (1974), Nicholas Clay in Excalibur (1981), Richard Gere in First Knight (1995), Jeremy Sheffield in Merlin (1998), Phil Cornwell in King Arthur's Disasters (2005–2006), Thomas Cousseau in Kaamelott (2005–2009), Santiago Cabrera in Merlin (2008–2011), Christopher Tavarez in Avalon High (2010), Sinqua Walls in Once Upon a Time (2012, 2015), Dan Stevens in Night at the Museum: Secret of the Tomb (2014), and Martin McCreadie in Transformers: The Last Knight (2017), among others.

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Guinevere Arthurian legend character

Guinevere, also often written as Guenevere or Guenever, is the wife and queen of King Arthur in the Arthurian legend. Guinevere has been portrayed as everything from a villainous and opportunistic traitor to a fatally flawed but noble and virtuous lady. She has first appeared in Geoffrey of Monmouth's Historia Regum Britanniae, a pseudo-historical chronicle of British history written in the early 12th century, and continues to be a popular character in the modern adaptations of the legend.


Gawain, also known as Gawaine or Gauwaine, among various other forms and spellings, is King Arthur's nephew and a Knight of the Round Table in the Arthurian legend. Under the name Gwalchmei, he is introduced very early in the legend's literature, being mentioned in some of the earliest Welsh Arthurian sources. As Gawain, he appears in Latin, French, English, Dutch, German, Spanish and Italian texts, notably as the protagonist of the story of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight. Other tales of Gawain include Historia Regum Britanniae, Roman de Brut, De Ortu Waluuanii, Diu Crône, The Awntyrs off Arthure, Ywain and Gawain, Golagros and Gawane, L'âtre périlleux, Le Chevalier à l'épée, and The Weddynge of Syr Gawen and Dame Ragnell, as well as the works of Chrétien de Troyes and the prose cycle Lancelot-Grail.

<i>Idylls of the King</i> Cycle of twelve narrative poems by Alfred, Lord Tennyson

Idylls of the King, published between 1859 and 1885, is a cycle of twelve narrative poems by the English poet Alfred, Lord Tennyson which retells the legend of King Arthur, his knights, his love for Guinevere and her tragic betrayal of him, and the rise and fall of Arthur's kingdom.

Mordred Arthurian legend character

Mordred or Modred is a character who is variously portrayed in the Arthurian legend. The earliest known mention of a possibly historical Medraut is in the Welsh chronicle Annales Cambriae, wherein he and Arthur are ambiguously associated with the Battle of Camlann in a brief entry for the year 537. His figure seemed to have been regarded positively in the early Welsh tradition and may have been related to that of Arthur's son.


Sir Galahad among other versions of his name, is a knight of King Arthur's Round Table and one of the three achievers of the Holy Grail in Arthurian legend. He is the illegitimate son of Sir Lancelot and Elaine of Corbenic, and is renowned for his gallantry and purity as the most perfect of all knights. Emerging quite late in the medieval Arthurian tradition, Sir Galahad first appears in the Lancelot–Grail cycle, and his story is taken up in later works such as the Post-Vulgate Cycle and Sir Thomas Malory's Le Morte d'Arthur. His name should not be mistaken with Galehaut, a different knight from Arthurian legend.

Knights of the Round Table

The Knights of the Round Table are the knights in the fellowship of King Arthur in the literary cycle of the Matter of Britain, first appearing in literature in the mid 12th century. In this French-derived branch of Arthurian myths, the Knights are an order in the service of King Arthur, tasked with ensuring the peace of the kingdom and later undergoing the quest for the legendary Holy Grail. The Round Table at which they meet is a symbol of the equality of all of its members, from sovereign kings to minor nobles.

Morgan le Fay enchantress in the Arthurian legend

Morgan le Fay, alternatively known as Morgan[n]a, Morgain[a/e], Morg[a]ne, Morgant[e], Morge[i]n, and Morgue[in] among other names and spellings, is a powerful enchantress in the Arthurian legend. Early appearances of Morgan do not elaborate her character beyond her role as a goddess, a fay, a witch, or a sorceress, generally benevolent and related to King Arthur as his magical saviour and protector. Her prominence increased over time, as did her moral ambivalence, and in some texts there is an evolutionary transformation of her to an antagonist, particularly as portrayed in cyclical prose such as the Lancelot-Grail and the Post-Vulgate Cycle. A significant aspect in many of Morgan's medieval and later iterations is the unpredictable duality of her nature, with potential for both good and evil.

<i>Lancelot du Lac</i> (film)

Lancelot du Lac is a 1974 French fantasy drama film written and directed by Robert Bresson. It retells the story of Lancelot and Guinevere's love as Camelot and the Round Table fall apart. It is based on Arthurian legend and medieval romances, especially the Lancelot-Grail cycle, and the works of Chrétien de Troyes.

The Queen of Orkney, today best known as Morgause and also known as Morgawse and other spellings and names, is a character in later Arthurian traditions. In some versions of the legend, including the seminal text Le Morte d'Arthur, she is the mother of Gawain and Mordred, both key players in the story of King Arthur and his downfall. Mordred is the offspring of Arthur's inadvertent incest with Morgause, the king's estranged half-sister. She is furthermore a sister of Morgan le Fay and the wife of King Lot of Orkney, as well as the mother of Gareth, Agravain, and Gaheris, the last of whom murders her.


Sir Gareth is a Knight of the Round Table in Arthurian legend. He was the youngest son of King Lot and Morgause, King Arthur's half-sister, thus making him Arthur's nephew, as well as brother to Gawain, Agravain, and Gaheris, and either a brother or half-brother of Mordred. He is particularly notable in Le Morte d'Arthur where he is also known by his nickname Beaumains.

King Lot

Lot, Loth or Lothus is the king of Lothian, the realm of the Picts is LanceLot in the Arthurian legend. The Knights whom Surrounded King Arthur on the Second Teir of the Hall of the Round Table called LanceLot “King Lot” out of respect of his title. Such a ruler first appeared late in the 1st millennium's hagiographical material concerning Saint Kentigern, which feature a Leudonus, king of Leudonia, a Latin name for Lothian. In the 12th century, Geoffrey of Monmouth adapted this to Lot, king of Lothian, in his influential chronicle Historia Regum Britanniae, portraying him as King Arthur's brother-in-law and ally. In the wake of Geoffrey's writings, Lot appeared regularly in later works of chivalric romance.


Bors is the name of two knights in Arthurian legend, one the elder of the younger. The two first appear in the 13th-century Lancelot-Grail romance prose cycle. Bors the Elder is the King of Gaunnes (Gannes/Gaunes/Ganis) during the early period of King Arthur's reign, and is the brother of King Ban of Benoic and the father of Bors the Younger and Lionel. His son Bors the Younger later becomes one of the best Knights of the Round Table and participates in the achievement of the Holy Grail.


Gaheris or Gaheries is a character in the Arthurian legend, a nephew of King Arthur and a knight of the Round Table, the third son of Arthur's sister or half-sister Morgause and her husband Lot, King of Orkney and Lothian. He is the younger brother of Gawain and Agravain, and the older brother of Gareth and half-brother of Mordred. In Thomas Malory's popular Le Morte d'Arthur, Gaheris is little more than a supporting character to Gawain and Gareth, with the murder of Morgause an odd exception, but his role is greater in the French prose cycles. Later, he and Gareth are both killed by Lancelot during his rescue of Guinevere. A different knight known as Gaheris of Karaheu also appears in the legend.


Sir Agravain is a Knight of the Round Table in Arthurian legend, whose first known appearance is in the works of Chrétien de Troyes. He is the second eldest son of King Lot of Orkney with one of King Arthur's sisters known as Anna or Morgause, thus nephew of King Arthur, and brother to Sir Gawain, Gaheris, and Gareth, as well as half-brother to Mordred. Agravain secretly makes attempts on the life of his hated brother Gaheris since the Vulgate Cycle, participates in the slayings of Lamorak and Palamedes in the Post-Vulgate Cycle, and murders Dinadan in the Prose Tristan. In the French prose cycle tradition included in Thomas Malory's Le Morte d'Arthur, together with Mordred, he then plays a leading role by exposing his aunt Guinevere's affair with Lancelot, which leads to his death at the hands of Lancelot.


The Lancelot-Grail, also known as the Vulgate Cycle or the Pseudo-Map Cycle, is an early 13th-century Arthurian literary cycle consisting of interconnected prose episodes of chivalric romance in Old French. The cycle of unknown authorship, presenting itself as a chronicle of actual events, retells the legend of King Arthur by focusing on the love affair between Lancelot and Guinevere as well as the quest for the Holy Grail, expanding on the works of Robert de Boron and Chrétien de Troyes and influencing the Prose Tristan. After its completion around 1230–1235, the Lancelot–Grail was soon followed by its major rewrite known as the Post-Vulgate Cycle. Together, the two cycles constituted a highly influential and most widespread form of Arthurian romance literature during their time and also contributed the most to the later English compilation Le Morte d'Arthur that formed the basis for the legend's modern canon.

Palamedes (Arthurian legend) Knight in the Arthurian legend

Palamedes is a Knight of the Round Table in the Arthurian legend. He is a Saracen pagan who converts to Christianity later in his life, and his unrequited love for Iseult brings him into frequent conflict with Tristan. Palamedes' father is King Esclabor. His brothers, Safir and Segwarides, also join the Round Table. The romance Palamedes was named after him.

<i>Post-Vulgate Cycle</i>

The Post-Vulgate Cycle, also known as the Post-Vulgate Arthuriad, the Post-Vulgate Roman du Graal or the Pseudo-Robert de Boron Cycle, is one of the major Old French prose cycles of Arthurian literature from the early 13th century. It is considered essentially a shortened rewriting of the earlier Vulgate Cycle, with much left out but also much added, including characters and scenes from the Prose Tristan.

Galehaut Fictional character in Arthurian legend

Galehaut is a very tall knight in the Arthurian legend. He is most prominent within the Lancelot-Grail prose cycle where he is a noble enemy turned an ally of King Arthur as well as an inseparable friend of Arthur's champion Lancelot. The figure of Galehaut should not be mistaken with Lancelot's son, Galahad, and some other similarly named characters.

Bagdemagus (pronounced /ˈbægdɛˌmægəs/), also known as Bademagu(s/z), Bagdemagu, Bagomedés, Baldemagu(s), Bandemagu(s), Bangdemagew, Baudemagu(s), and other variants, is a character in the Arthurian legend, usually depicted as king of the land of Gorre and a Knight of the Round Table. He originally figures in literature the father of the knight Maleagant, who abducts King Arthur's wife Queen Guinevere in several versions of a popular episode. Bagdemagus first appears in French sources, but the character may have developed out of the earlier Welsh traditions of Guinevere's abduction, an evolution suggested by the distinctively otherworldly portrayal of his realm. He is portrayed as a kinsman and ally of Arthur and a wise and virtuous king, despite the actions of his son. In later versions, his connection to Maleagant disappears altogether.

Elaine of Corbenic

Elaine of Corbenic is a character in the Arthurian legend. Elaine is the daughter of King Pelles of Corbenic and the mother of Galahad by Lancelot. She first appears in the Prose Lancelot, where her first significant action is showing the Holy Grail to Sir Lancelot. She should not be confused with Elaine of Astolat, a different woman who too fell in love with Lancelot.


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Wikisource-logo.svg This article incorporates text from a publication now in the public domain : Chisholm, Hugh, ed. (1911). "Lancelot". Encyclopædia Britannica . 16 (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press. pp. 151–52.