King Arthur & the Matter of Britain

Sources · History & Archaeology · Welsh Bards · Malory · Arthur · Gawain · Guenevere · Percival · Merlin · Tristan & Iseult · Elaine of Astolat
[Picture: Guinevere the Queen]
Guenevere is the daughter of Leodegrance, the wife of Arthur, and the lover of his first, best knight. Many tales are told of Guenevere, but the two key episodes in the tradition are Guenevere's abduction by Melwas (or Meleagant or Melyagaunce), and her betrayal of her marriage vows - in the early Welsh tradition, by marrying Medraut (Mordred) after he seizes the throne, and in the French chivalric romances and their successors, by becoming the lover of Lancelot.


The details of Guenevere's story are very fluid; for a summary of her role in the early material, see the entry under Guinevere at the Encyclopedia of the Celts. New URL.
The Guinevere Home Page traces the Queen's story from the early Celtic texts to Marion Zimmer Bradley; it's part of The Quest, a scholarly Arthurian site at the University of Idaho.
Additional commentary is available at the Camelot Project's pages on Guinevere, Lancelot, and Meleagant.

Guenevere and Melwas

The story of Guenevere's kidnapping by Melwas, King of the Summer Country ("in aestiva regione") , is related in the twelfth century Vita Gildae (Life of Gildas) by Caradoc of Llancarfan. "Melwas, King of Somerset, abducted Arthur's wife 'Guennuvar,' and kept her at Glastonbury when Gildas was there. Arthur came to rescue her with troops from Devon and Cornwall, but the watery terrain hampered his movements. Gildas and the abbot mediated, the kings made peace, and the lady was restored." [Geoffrey Ashe, entry for "Gildas" in The Arthurian Encyclopedia, Garland Press, 1986.] This tale is the oldest version of the abduction of Guenevere (in later tales, she is rescued by Lancelot) and the earliest association of Arthur with the Abbey at Glastonbury.

Guenevere and Lancelot

The chivalric romance between Guenevere the Queen and Lancelot first appears in Chrétien de Troyes's Le Chevalier de la Charrette (The Knight of the Cart), or Lancelot, a romance written at the behest of Marie Countess of Champagne c. 1180.

The Charrette Project is "a complex, scholarly, multi-media electronic archive containing a medieval manuscript tradition--that of" Le Chevalier de la Charrette. It is developed and maintained by the Department of Romance Languages, Princeton University, and includes background information, the text in Old French, and a modern French translation.

Chrétien's text in English is available as Lancelot, or the Knight of the Cart, based on the 1914 translation by W.W. Comfort (1914), with a synopsis and the complete text; it's at Celtic Twilight. Another edition of the same text is at the Online Medieval and Classical Library at Berkeley.

Guenevere and Medraut

Brigantia, Cartimandua and Gwenhwyfar by Michelle Ziegler explores the striking similarities between the fall of Brigantia to the Romans in the first century and the fall of Arthur's realm, and the origins and early development of Gwenhwyfar and her relationship with Arthur and Medraut. At The Heroic Age. New !

The Poetic Tradition

"The Defence of Guenevere", by William Morris, at the Camelot Project's Guinevere page. "Morris is the first to give the Queen her own voice, thus beginning a tradition that is continued in Sara Teasdale's poem 'Guenevere', Dorothy Parker's 'Guinevere at Her Fireside' ... and many contemporary novels."

Top · Home · Colophon · Notes on the Illustrations · Site Map
5 July 2004