Lancelot is the knight whose foster-mother was the
Lady of the Lake.
The greatest warrior; the hero of many legends;
and lover of Queen Guinevere.
Through his impulsive infatuation,
brought disunity within the Kingdom,
brought dishonour to his king, and destroyed the fellowship of the
Arthurian Legend, Sir Lancelot (Lancelot du Lac, also Launcelot)
is one of the Knights of the
Round Table. He is typically considered to be one of the
greatest and most trusted of King
Arthur's knights and plays a part in many of Arthur's victories.
He is perhaps most famous for his affair with Arthur's wife
Guinevere and the role he plays in the
search for the Holy Grail.
Birth and Childhood
Lancelot (born Galahad) is the son of King Ban of Benwick (or Benoic)
and Elaine. While Lancelot is an infant, his father is driven from
his kingdom, seen in Brittany, by his enemy Claudas de la Deserte.
Ban and Elaine flee, carrying the child with them. As Elaine is tending
to her wounded husband, Lancelot is carried off by the
Lady of the Lake
who raises the child in her magical kingdom. It is from this upbringing
that Lancelot earns the surname, du lac (English: "of the lake").
When Lancelot is old enough, the Lady of the Lake sends him to
Arthur's court, where he becomes a knight at the behest of
Almost immediately upon his arrival, Lancelot falls in love with the
Queen, and one of his very first adventures is rescuing
Arthur's enemy, Meleagant. Lancelot seems to be related to a Celtic
abduction tale called the aithed. In this type of legend, a
mysterious stranger kidnaps a married woman and takes her to his home.
The husband of the woman then rescues her against insurmountable odds.
Early in Lancelot's career, he faces the Dolorous Guard. After setting
out for adventure, Lancelot comes across a castle guarded by the Copper
Knight. To overcome this challenge, Lancelot must battle ten knights at
the first wall, ten knights at the second wall, and finally the Copper
Knight himself. However, after defeating many more than twenty knights
(with the aid of his foster mother, the
Lady of the Lake), he discovers
that the Copper Knight has fled. The townspeople lead Lancelot to a
cemetery, where he finds a metal slab stating that only one knight can
lift the slab and that this knight's name is written beneath the slab.
Lancelot (who has heretofore been known as simply the "White Knight") is
able to lift it and discovers that his name is, in fact, Lancelot.
The name of the Dolorous Guard is changed to the
Joyous Guard and
becomes Lancelot's home.
Lancelot plays an important role in a war between
Arthur and Galehaut.
Although Galehaut is Arthur's enemy, Lancelot befriends him and
convinces him to surrender peacefully to Arthur. As a token of thanks,
Arthur invites Lancelot to become a member of the
Round Table. In spite
of this happy outcome, Galehaut is the one who finally convinces
Guinevere to return Lancelot's affection, an action that at least
partially results in the fall of Camelot. Rather than return to Galehaut's court, Lancelot remains at the
Later, with the help of King Arthur, Lancelot defeats Claudas and
recovers his father's kingdom, though he again decides to remain at
Camelot with his cousins Sir Bors and Sir Lionel and his illegitimate
half-brother Ector de Maris.
Lancelot, Galahad, and the
By this time, Lancelot is one of the most famous knights of the Round
Table and Elaine, daughter of the Fisher King, falls in love with him.
Using magical enchantments, she tricks him into believing that she is
Guinevere, and he sleeps with her, and the ensuing pregnancy results in
the birth of Galahad.
When he realizes what has happened, Lancelot goes mad and is exiled from
the court for a few years. In time, he recovers and returns to
Upon his return to King Arthur's Court, Lancelot takes part in the
Grail Quest with
Perceval and Galahad, though as an adulterer, he is only allowed a
glimpse of the Holy Grail itself. It is instead his son, Galahad, who
ultimately achieves the Grail, (along with Lancelot's cousin Sir Bors,
and Sir Perceval the son of King Pellinore).
Later Years and Death
Ultimately, Lancelot's affair with Guinevere is a destructive force,
resulting in the death of Gawain's brothers, the estrangement of
Lancelot and Gawain, and Mordred's betrayal of King Arthur. Upon hearing
the news of Arthur's death, Lancelot retires to a hermitage (after
discovering Guinevere had become a nun), to live out the rest of his
life in penitence (like Guinevere). According to legend, Lancelot died
on a Good Friday.
Possible Pre-Romance origins
Lancelot's literary origins are unclear. Prior to his appearance in the
works of Chrétien de Troyes, Lancelot is virtually unknown. Scholar
Roger Sherman Loomis suggests that Lancelot is related to the Welsh hero Llwch Llenlleawg ("Llwch of the Striking Hand") from
Culhwch and Olwen.
Lancelot may have instead been the hero of an independent folk-tale
which had contact with and 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
prison are all features of a well-known and widespread folk-tale,
variants of which are found in almost every land, and numerous examples
of which have been collected by Emmanuel Cosquin in his Contes Lorrains,
and by J. F. Campbell in his Tales of the West Highlands.
Another theory put forth by Norma Lorre Goodrich proposes that Lancelot
originated from Geoffrey of Monmouth's Anguselus. This would have
translated into Old French as L'Anselot, the "ng" being dropped as in
other Latin to French transitions and the "ot" being substituted for
"us." Hence "Lancelot" means "The Angus."
Sir Lancelot does not appear in the earliest
existing versions of the Arthurian Legends.
Earliest Accounts of Sir Lancelot
The character Lancelot is first introduced by the writer Chrétien de
Troyes who wrote in the 12th century. In Chrétien's earliest known work,
Erec and Enide, the name Lancelot appears as third on a list of knights
at King Arthur's court. The fact that Lancelot's name follows Gawain and
Erec indicates the presumed importance of the knight at court, even
though he does not figure prominently in Chrétien's tale. Lancelot
reappears in Chrétien's Cligès. Here, Lancelot takes a more important
role as one of the knights that Cligès must overcome in his quest.
Lancelot's life and adventures are featured in several
romances, often with conflicting backstories and chains of events. His
first appearance as a main character is in
Chrétien de Troyes' Le
Chevalier de la Charette, or "Lancelot, the Knight of the
Cart," dating from the 12th century. In the 13th century, he figures prominently in
the lengthy Vulgate Cycle, with the majority of his more famous exploits
occurring in the section known as the Prose Lancelot.
It is not until Chrétien's Le Chevalier de la Charrette, however, that
Lancelot becomes the protagonist.
In this text, he is presented as the
most formidable knight at King Arthur's court. His adulterous
relationship with the Queen is also introduced in this text. According
to Pamela Raabe, in Chrétien de Troyes’ work, Lancelot is portrayed as
not only the fairest of knights, but one that everyone he meets is
forced to describe as uniquely perfect. His deeds are recounted for
their uniqueness, not only among living knights, but of all men who have
ever lived. The problem is that critics have been unable to agree on how
to reconcile his perfect “saintliness” with his obvious adultery with
King Arthur’s Guinevere. How can the lovers’ consummation be considered
a “saintly affair” when it is also adultery? And against King Arthur, to
whom William Bowman Piper suggests all knights owe selfless respect,
according to Arthurian politics.
Geoffrey of Monmouth, a Welsh cleric,
gives the earliest story of King Arthur's life in
Historia Regum Britanniae or History of the Kings of Britain
in 1135 AD; however he does not mention Sir Lancelot.
Chretien de Troyes was a French poet, and he was the first great
exponent of the romance genre of
Arthurian legend. He appears to be
the first writer to mention Sir Lancelot. His narrative romances, composed
c.1170–c.1185 in octosyllabic rhymed couplets, they include Érec et
Énide; Cligès; Lancelot, le chevalier de la charette;
chevalier au lion; and Perceval, le conte del Graal.
Sir Lancelot was the son of King Ban of Benwick (Benoic). He was
christened with the name of Galahad, but went by his confirmation name
King Ban and his
Queen Elaine had been one of
King Arthur's staunchest supporters
while King Arthur was still a young man and young king.
King Ban and his
queen had a son, whom they named Lancelot. While still a boy, Lancelot
witnessed the death of his father and destruction of his home and
kingdom. King Ban became the sworn enemy of his neighbouring King
Claudius or Claudas de la Deserte. In the ensuing war with the neighbouring kingdom,
Claudius's army were victorious.
The king and queen fled. As they were
making their escape, Ban looked back. At the sight of his burning home,
he collapsed in anguish, and never arose. Running to aid her husband,
Elaine left the boy Lancelot beside a nearby lake. While the queen's
back was turned, tending her husband, a water fairy called the
Lady of the Lake emerged from
the waters, and stole the child away. The boy was raised in her
underwater kingdom, from whence he became known as Lancelot of the
Lake or Lancelot du lac.
Thomas Malory's account follows the tradition of
the Romance writers of France and
Brittany, so it is hardly surprising that the
knightly virtues come to the fore in the story of the young life of
Lancelot as he grows to manhood.
So Lancelot was raised from boy to man in the
underwater kingdom by a company of fairy mermaids and mermen in the
palace of the Lady of the Lake.
Young Lancelot, though naturally gifted
in combat, grew in strength and skill at arms.
At the age of fifteen or eighteen, when he was now a
man, Lancelot met his cousins, Bors and Lional, and his
The four journeyed to
Camelot. When they
arrived, Lancelot found great favour with King Arthur, because the now
older King remembered the loyal support he had once received from
Lancelot's father, King Ban. Lancelot was dubbed a knight on St. John's
While making a promising start
as a young knight, the real
trials for Sir Lancelot begin with his love for
versions of the legend, one of Lancelot's first duties as a knight is to
escort King Arthur's betrothed lady, the Princess Guinevere, to
the wedding. But, alas, during this journey together, Guinevere and
Lancelot fall in love.
However, in other accounts,
Guinevere is already at
Camelot when Lancelot arrived, and he becomes one of the Queen's
Knights. This was a lower knightly order of the
Round Table to which
young aspiring knights belonged before they had fully proven themselves
to take a seat with the King.
Lancelot is constantly tied to the Christianity associated with
Arthurian Legend. Raabe compares Lancelot’s quest for Guinevere in
“Lancelot, the Knight of the Cart,” as a quest likening to Everyman’s
quest for salvation and Christ’s quest for the human soul. This becomes
intensified when he becomes the prophesied savior of the captives of
Logres. 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.
Danielle MacBain’s study of Thomas Malory’s “Le Morte d’Arthur,” claims
Lancelot’s affair with Guinevere is often seen as parallel to that of
Tristram, or Tristan, and Iseult. Lancelot and Tristram are constantly
said to be equal in power and worth, but MacBain suggests that it is
Lancelot who is ultimately identified with the tragedy of chance and
human failing that is responsible for the downfall of the round table.
Although Lancelot will be later associated with the
Chrétien does not include him at all in his final romance, Le conte du
graal. In this story, which introduces the Grail motif in medieval
literature, Perceval is the sole seeker of the grail. Lancelot's
involvement in the Grail legend is first recorded in the Perlesvaus
written between 1200 and 1210.
Lancelot's character is perhaps most fully developed in the so-called
Vulgate Cycle, where he appears prominently in the third and fourth
parts, known as the Prose Lancelot (or Lancelot du lac) and the Queste
del Saint Graal (or The Quest for the Holy Grail) respectively.
Gaston Paris argues that the Guenivere-Meleagant episode of the Prose
Lancelot is an almost literal adaptation of Chrétien's poem the Prose Lancelot can be seen as a considerable amplification
of Chrétien's tale. Whereas Chrétien treats Lancelot if his audience
were already familiar the character's background, most of the exploits
associated with Lancelot today are first mentioned here (e.g. Lancelot's
parentage, Lancelot and the Grail, Lancelot, Guinevere and the fall of
Camelot, etc.). In Arthur Rex Lancelot was the cousin of Sir Boris who
found him in a monastery and was completely oblivious to the wilds of
women and only fell for Guinevere through complete obedience and nothing
The True Knight
In common with all
proves himself a true knight when he takes upon himself illustrious
quests, of which he must complete to gain glory. Every challenge he
comes through, till he becomes acknowledged as the greatest knight of
all. Among his other adventures, Lancelot conquers a castle called
Dolorous Gard. He makes it his own home, and he renames it Joyous Gard.
Soon after, Lancelot returns in triumph to Camelot, and he is made a
full Knight of the Round Table, and becomes King Arthur's closest companion
When Guinevere was abducted by
Meliagaunce, the son of King Bagdemagus, Lancelot pursued
them in a cart. In this adventure, he has to cross a sword bridge to
reach the castle of the captor. Lancelot fights Meliagaunce to have
Guinevere released, but Bagdemagus pleads with Guinevere to stop the
fight so Meliagaunce's life will be spared. Lancelot heads her
Later, the spoilt Meliagaunce accuses
Guinevere of having
an affair with Sir Kay, and so the combat between he and Lancelot
recommenced. Once again, Bagdemagus pleads for his son's life. Lancelot
spares him. Later, this time at King Arthur's court, the pair quarrelled
again. Lancelot slew Meliagaunce in combat.
Knight of the Round Table
After taking his seat with the
the Round Table, Lancelot
King Arthur in his struggle to put down the
rebellion of Galehaut, the Haut Prince. Galehaut surrenders to
King Arthur after observing Lancelot's chivalry and prowess in battle, which
he knows that none of his men can match. Galehaut becomes Lancelot's
admirer, and closest friend and finally the great knight's confident. It
was he who became a secret go-between between Sir Lancelot and
Sir Lancelot had one failing, his adulterous
love of Queen Guinevere. They tried to keep this love secret, it became
known, and eventually brought about the undoing of the
Lancelot and Guinevere's love for each other grew slowly. Initially
Guinevere kept Sir Lancelot away from her. Eventually, however the pair
became lovers. Sir Meliagaunt grew suspicious and confronted Sir
Lancelot in front of both the king and queen. The "insult" led to single
combat between the two, in order to reveal the truth. Sir Lancelot
overpowered Sir Meliagaunt, and cleaved his head into in two bits. Sir
Lancelot and Queen Guinevere's honour were restored.
Sir Meliaguant was not the only knight suspicious of the pair's
relationship. Sir Agravain and Sir Modred, King Arthur's nephew, led a
band of 12 knights to Guinevere's chamber where they disturbed the
lovers in bed. Sir Lancelot made his escape by fighting his way out of the
castle, but Guinevere was seized and condemned to burn to death for her
adultery. Sir Lancelot returned several days later to rescue his
Guinevere, killing several of King Arthur's knights in the process.
Lancelot and Guinevere were discovered
together in her chamber by Mordred. Lancelot fled and Guinevere was
sentenced to burn at the stake. Sir Lancelot returned to rescue Guinevere,
accidently killing Agravain, and Sir Gawain's brothers,
Gaheris and Gareth
in the process.
The escaping lovers took refuge in Galehaut's kingdom of
the Second Guinevere (or the False Guinevere) took the true
Queen's place at Camelot. After the deception was discovered, Lancelot
restored the Queen to King Arthur, but by this time,
Sir Lancelot and Guinevere
were irrevocably in love.
King Arthur and his Queen Guinevere and
the Knights of the Round Table had come to an end.
Sir Gawain wanted to extract revenge on
Lancelot, who had killed his brother during a battle. Sir Gawain managed
to convince King Arthur that Lancelot was a traitor. King Arthur put
Morgan le Fay's son, Sir Mordred in charge of his
kingdom and took his
army to confront Lancelot.
The End of the Kingdom
King Arthur later attacked Lancelot's castle without success.
War between Lancelot and King Arthur resulted.
Sir Mordred had eyes on becoming king and
marrying Guinevere, so he announced that King Arthur had been killed in
battle with Sir Lancelot.
Hence Mordred became king. King Arthur heard
this news and returned to England to regain his kingdom.
had a pitched battle with Arthur's army at Dover. In the battle Sir
Gawain was mortally wounded, but while dying asked the king to forgive
In the final battle King Arthur and Mordred
fight each other in single combat.
Arthur and Mordred strike each other with deadlt blows. Hearing of
this, Lancelot returned to aid Arthur but arrived too late to save him
from a mortal wound at the Battle of
Camlann. King Arthur dies. This is the end of
When news reached Sir Lancelot of King
Arthur's death at the Battle of
Camlann, Lancelot exchanged his armour for the clothes of a
monk. When he died, he was buried beside his friend Galehaut at
The Grail Quest
Suffering from a guilty conscience,
Sir Lancelot endured quest after quest in order to be away from Guinevere.
Lancelot visited King Pelles
Grail Guardian, and while there, he
saved Pelles's daughter, Elaine of Corbenic, from a tub of
boiling water in which she had been imprisoned by enchantment for
several years. Brisen, Elaine's nurse, tricked Sir Lancelot to
believe that Elaine was Guinevere, and he slept with her. That night,
Galahad was conceived.
Sir Lancelot's son Galahad later appears at
Camelot and together they began their quest for the
Holy Grail. Sir Lancelot
had several visions of the Grail and finds the door to the Chapel in
which the Grail was kept. However he is prevented from entering the
building and discovers that this is because his love for Guinevere,
exceeded his love for God.
Eventually, he meets Elaine of Astolat, whom he brings home to Joyous
Gard. But Sir Lancelot is not happy with her either. Elaine later died
because of her unrequited love for Lancelot.
Lancelot ended his days by renouncing
being a knight, and lived as a hermit. Guinevere became a nun at Amesbury, where she died. He was buried at
Lancelot's mythical sword Arondight is given to him by the Lady of the
Lake. According to legend the sword was moulded by the stars and is a
crystallisation of the hopes and dreams of all people. Arondight is
said to be difficult to blunt. Later on, Lancelot uses Arondight to
slay Gawain's younger brother Gareth since King Arthur wanted him to do
so. This act turns his sword from being a sacred sword into a cursed
The Name: Lancelot
The name Lancelot does not appear to be
Celtic, though attempts have been made to find a possible Celtic origin
that might have been corrupted into Lancelot (such as "Lance ap Lot,"
meaning Lance, son of Lot).
However, the name "Lance" was not known at
that time. Roger Sherman Loomis has postulated that Llenlleawg, an Irish
warrior of Arthur's who appears in Welsh legends, may have been the
origin for the French Sir Lancelot, and Norma Goodrich has postulated
that the name comes from "L'Anguselus", referring to the
Anguselus mentioned in Geoffrey of Monmouth, but these theories have
never really gained much credence. The meaning of his name is still a