In the Arthurian legends, Sir Lancelot is depicted as one of the most valiant and prominent knights. Sir Lancelot dominated King Arthur’s most trusted knights known in the legends as the Knights of the Round Table. Sir Lancelot is consistently portrayed in the legends associated with Arthur and his knights, as the true embodiment of chivalry and as the unbeaten right hand of King Arthur.
By far the best swordsman in Arthur’s court and dominion, Sir Lancelot not only enjoyed the status of the most celebrated champion of the battlefield, he is also made out to be amongst the most trusted and loyal knights of the King. The legend of Lancelot, however, takes a rather adverse turn, when Sir Lancelot triggers a set of events which ultimately cost King Arthur his kingdom and eventually his life.
Origins of Sir Lancelot
12th-century book of Chretien de Troyes was the first book that talks about the legends of King Arthur with clear mentions about Sir Lancelot, under the title ‘The King of the Cart’. Chretien de Troyes makes Sir Lancelot out to be the son of Queen Elaine and King Ban of Benwick. According to the legend, Lancelot was abandoned by his mother near a lake, where he was found by the Lady of the Lake, who took the responsibility of raising Lancelot up, and taught him many skills of chivalry and knighthood.
Esteemed as the first Knight of King Arthur’s fabled Round Table, Lancelot was also venerated as the greatest of the King’s knights. According to some historians of mythology, even before Lancelot’s legends were mentioned in Chretien, a character possessing very similar traits as Lancelot, did exist in the Welsh mythology. It is thus postulated that the story of Sir Lancelot can possibly be an amalgamation of many folk tales that existed at the time Chretien was composed.
Sir Lancelot and the Copper Knight
Sir Lancelot gained a reputation of gallantry and battlefield skills, from a very early age, thanks to the training given to him by the Lady of the Lake. In the early days of his adventures as a knight, Sir Lancelot had to face the Dolorous Guard, stationed at the castle of the Copper Knight. Dolorous Guard comprised of a total of twenty well-trained knights, split into two groups, these knights were guarding the castle from two sides.
According to the legend, Sir Lancelot single-handedly defeated twenty knights of Dolorous Guard and entered the castle. Local people then took him to the local cemetery, and told him about the legend of a heavy stone. The legend was that whoever lifted the heavy stone, will surely find his name under the stone. Sir Lancelot decided to attempt the feat, and did successfully lift the stone, revealing the name written under it, Lancelot.
Holy Grail and Sir Lancelot
Sir Lancelot is famously associated with the quest of Holy Grail, his son Galahad is also said to have been directed by Sir Lancelot for the same quest. Galahad was the illegitimate son of Sir Lancelot and Elaine, the daughter of the Fisher King. Upon knowing that Sir Lancelot and Queen Guinevere were in love, Elaine tricked Sir Lancelot while he was on a visit to see her father. Elaine disguised herself as Queen Guinevere and made Sir Lancelot sleep with her resulting in the birth of their only son, Galahad. When Galahad reached adulthood, Sir Lancelot took him under his wings and took him to the search of Holy Grail.
However, when the Holy Grail was eventually found by Sir Galahad, Sir Lancelot was not allowed to touch it, he was only allowed a glimpse of it. This was purely for the reason that Sir Lancelot had indulged himself in the earthly affairs, a far too much for the priests’ liking. However, Sir Lancelot’s son, whom he loved and brought to the castle and helped secure the place as the knight of the Round Table, was the one who not only achieved the Holy Grail but also drank from the relic.
Queen Guinevere and Sir Lancelot
Queen Guinevere, the queen consort of King Arthur, fell in love with Sir Lancelot soon after she saw him when he arrived at the castle to join the Round Table of King Arthur. The extramarital affair of Sir Lancelot and Queen Guinevere went on for a while, before it was discovered and was brought to the King’s notice. King Arthur got furious on this adultery committed by his trusted wife, and ordered her to be burnt at the stake.
While the execution of the King’s order was on its way, Sir Lancelot raided the location and rescued Queen Guinevere, killing Sir Gawain’s brothers who were doing their duty of guarding the stake. This was seen as the act of rebellion by the King’s court, and Sir Lancelot became public enemy number one and was hunted up and down the country. However, before King Arthur could fight or arrest Sir Lancelot, he had to rescue Queen Guinevere from Mordred. King Arthur did manage to kill Mordred, however, he could not survive the wounds and died soon after.
King Arthur’s Death and Sir Lancelot
Upon hearing the news of King Arthur’s death at the hand of Mordred, Queen Guinevere was soon taken over by grief followed by a feeling of immense shame and guilty. Guinevere blamed herself for all the strife, battle, and death of her husband, and saw her affair with Lancelot as the root of all the chaos that had befallen on her.
The grief, and the guilt was so much, that Guinevere decided to become a hermit. When Sir Lancelot met her for the last time, and requested her to give him one last kiss, she instantly refused. This decision by Guinevere, coupled with the death of King Arthur, tremendously impacted Sir Lancelot’s life and he also decided to retire himself to a hermitage.
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According to some legends, Sir Lancelot lived rest of his life in seclusion with eight of his kins, and later decided to become a priest, devoting his life for God and goodness.