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Lancelot and Guinevere

Quick Facts

Him: Sir Lancelot, Knight of the Round Table

Her: Guinevere, Queen of King Arthur’s Court

Setting: Medieval England

 

Background

No royal court is quite as fabled as King Arthur’s Knights of the Round Table. Famed for its attention to fairness and justice – “might for right” – only the most dramatic of occurrences could have destroyed it. The love between the mighty Sir Lancelot and Queen Guinevere was just that, an affair of the heart that led to the destruction of the most legendary kingdom in European history.

Story

Arthur, the celebrated King of the Britons, is said to have reigned in the 5th or 6th centuries AD. According to the tales that survive (most of them written 500 years or more after the fact), he raised up a powerful kingdom built around the heavily symbolic Round Table. With no head of the table, each knight was said to have an equal say, giving the court at Camelot a sort of magical quality that remains to this day.

Sir Lancelot, the foremost of King Arthur’s warriors, soon fell in love with Queen Guinevere. Closer to her age than Arthur, his strength, kindness and wisdom slowly softened her heart. Eventually, the two began a torrid affair that led to the downfall of the Round Table.

Sir Meliagaunt, another knight, began suspecting the romance had blossomed into a treasonous relationship and questioned Lancelot in front of Arthur and Guinevere. In the ensuing fight, Lancelot split Meliagaunt’s head in two, restoring his and the Queen’s honor – for a time.

 

Despite this, the gossip persisted, and other suspicious knights broke down the door of the Queen’s bedroom and found her in bed with Lancelot. As the intruders rushed in, Lancelot fought his way out. Guinevere was quickly captured and put on trial for her transgressions. The sentence, death by fire at the stake, brought her lover out from hiding.

Lancelot launched an assault on Arthur’s castle to prevent the execution, killing several of his former friends in the process and destroying what is fabled as one of the greatest kingdoms in the lore of Western civilization. Despite the annihilation, he was unable to win Guinevere back: she would spend the rest of her life as a nun in Amesbury, while he lived as a hermit on his estate and, in Le Morte D’Arthur took the solemn vows of a priest – only to perform last rites upon his love after her death.

 

Reputation

Critical analysis of the Arthurian legends has led to few well-agreed conclusions. The fact that these “histories” may in fact be parables makes it even more difficult for scholars to understand the nature of the tale, not to mention its importance. In popular culture, though, the story is often regarded as a caution against the fickle passions of young relationships. Though the idea of two people being so madly in love sets many hearts aflutter, there can be little argument the devastation wrought by Lancelot and Guinevere is a metaphor for the results seen in other adulterous encounters – real and imagined: the kingdom always ends up ruined.



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