One-handed knight, who returns the Excalibur to the Lady of Lake, and who stays alongside King Arthur in all his quests and battles; gaining many titles during his lifetime, Sir Bedivere is revered in both English and Welsh traditions for his gallantry and steadfastness, when he fought for Arthur or when he helps Culhwch in completing his impossible tasks given to him by a giant, for the hand of his beloved Olwen.
Sir Bedivere throwing Excalibur into the lake.
The fabled Round Table of King Arthur has been revered throughout history, due to a number of legends relating the esteemed knights that held chairs at the Round Table. Mentioned in the Arthurian Legends as the knight who returns the legendary Excalibur to the Lady of the Lake, Sir Bedivere – the name is spelt in variations such as Bedwyr in Welsh and Bedoier in French – is frequently mentioned in the Arthurian legends as the King Arthur’s marshal.
Sir Bedivere came from a family of knights, two of Sir Bedivere’s cousins Sir Griflet and Sir Lucan (sometimes referred as Bedivere’s brother), also made into the Arthurian legends as knights that showed valour alongside King Arthur.
Sir Bedivere (King Arthur’s Esteemed Knight) in Welsh Tradition
The Matter of Britain, which is a legendary literature from the medieval times depicting the tales of legendary kings and knights particularly King Arthur, contains Bedivere as one of the very early characters. Many early Welsh texts contain Bedivere’s legends, under a slightly different variation of the name, Bedwyr Bedrydant meaning ‘Bedwyr of the Perfect Sinews’.
In the welsh traditions, Sir Bedivere is depicted as one-handed knight who served under King Arthur’s command. In the 9th century version of ‘The Stanzas of the Graves’ also known as Englynion y Beddau, there is a reference to Bedwyr’s or Bedivere’s resting place, as Tryfan. Bedwyr is also mentioned as fighting alongside King Arthur and Cei (Kay), in the legend of Gwynllyw of Gwynllwg’s abduction of Gwladys from the court of his father in Brycheiniog.
An earlier text of Marwnad Cadwallon ap Cadfan there is a reference to Bedivere, though it’s a mere allusion but a reference nevertheless. In the Welsh Triads, Bedivere is referred to as ‘Battle-Diademed’, who is the superior knight to Hueil Mab Caw, Drystan and even Cei. Cei is often seen quipping a catchphrase ‘by the hand of my friend’ which is most likely a reference to Bedivere’s disability. In the tale of Culwch and Olwen, Bedwyr is depicted as the most prominent character. Bedwyr appears in the tale as the most handsome of all the knights in King Arthur’s court, and a knight who wields a magical lance. Bedwyr role in the tale is very important, as he accompanies Culhwch when he leaves on his quest to win Olwen’s hand in marriage.
On that quest, Bedwyr is the knight who takes the poisoned spear which was meant for Culhwch and strikes the giant Ysbaddaden with it. This however is not the end of Bedwyr’s accomplishments in the tale. Bedwyr carries on his mission accompanying Culhwch on his quest, helping him achieve the impossible set of tasks given to him by the giant Ysbaddaden. First Bedwyr helps his friend Cei in killing Wrnach the Giant, rescuing Mabdon ap Modron from a prison afterwards. Then he goes on to retrieve Dillus the Bearded’s hairs, and captures the cauldron of Diwrnach when Arthur attacks Ireland. Bedwyr also takes part in hunting down Twrch Trwyth along side Arthur’s dog named as Cavall. The tale ends on a happy note, Culhwch completes all his tasks successfully with the help of Bedwyr, thus humiliating and murdering Ysbaddaden, and eventually marries Olwen.
Sir Bedivere in Geoffrey of Monmouth’s Historia Regum Britanniae
Sir Bedivere is found in Geoffrey of Monmouth’s Historia Regum Britanniae as one of Arthur’s most loyal knights, this position of Bedivere is maintained even in much later Arthurian legends and literature. Sir Bedivere assists Arthur and Kay against the Giant of Mont Saint Michel, and also joins King Arthur during his war against Lucius, the Emperor of Rome. In a number of English versions of Arthur’s death such as Le Morte d’Arthur by Thomas Malory, the Alliterative Morte d’Arthur and the Stanzaic Morte Arthur, King Arthur and his handsome knight Bedivere are amongst the few survivors of Battle of Camlann. When the battle ends, mortally wounded King Arthur, seeing his death closing in on him, orders Sir Bedivere to take the mystical sword of Excalibur and return it to the Lady of the Lake.
Sir Bedivere is initially shocked by Arthur’s request, and is hesitant in throwing in water such valuable sword, which did wonders for Britain. Sir Bedivere leaves to return the sword, and does not do so, and returns back to Arthur reporting that he completed the task. When Arthur inquired about any supernatural event after he threw sword in water, Bedivere replied that nothing particularly supernatural took place. This made Arthur furious, as he knew that something supernatural was bound to occur, considering the mystical powers of Excalibur. Bedivere then told him the truth and promised to finish the task. When Sir Bedivere went back to the lake to return the sword, as he threw the sword in the water, one arm appeared from the water, catching the sword mid-air and taking it under water with it. Upon knowing this, Arthur was much relieved that Excalibur was safely returned.
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Bedivere retires to a hermitage
After the death of King Arthur, Sir Bedivere decides to retire to a hermitage, and spends rest of his life in peace and solitude. According to some historians, this is the same hermitage, which is led by the Bishop of Canterbury and where Lancelot and his knights took refuge in their own penitence. Some historians imply that both King Arthur and Queen Guinevere, were buried in a small graveyard in the vicinity of Bishop of Canterbury’s hermitage.