When we hear about the Arthurian Romance the first thing that comes to our mind is king Arthur and his deeds, while there are some interesting characters of whom often we do not know the story. Two of them are Lancelot and Guinevere. Most people, in fact, know that Lancelot was the most trusted knight of king Arthur, and that Guinevere was Arthur’s wife and queen of Camelot, but they do not know almost anything about their stories or about their love, that led to the destruction of Camelot, and was a source of inspiration for the following literature.
The stories of both Lancelot and Guinevere took place in the V and VI centuries in Great Britain. According to the legends, at the time the king of the island was Arthur Pendragon, whose story is closely related with the stories of Lancelot and Guinevere. There are many sources and legends that tell about Lancelot, to the point that we are not able to distinguish the reality from the folklore, but the most widespread story about him goes like this. Lancelot was the most valiant and brave knight of the Round Table and Arthur’s most trusted knight. He was the son of king Ban of Benwick and queen Elaine. When Lancelot was just a child, his parents died, killed by one of their enemies while they were escaping from a revolt made against them. There are two different versions about Lancelot’s growth, but the most spread one says that, after his parents died, the Lady of the Lake kidnapped Lancelot and taught him how to be the perfect knight. Once he become an adult, Lancelot left the Lake, searching for adventures that could prove his value as a knight. Because of his bravery, his kindness and his ability with the sword, king Arthur decided to invest him with the title of knight and to make him a member of the Round Table’s knights, which were the most gallant knights of Arthur’s kingdom.
Unlike Lancelot, we do not know much about Guinevere’s childhood, but some historians found out that she was king Leodagon’s daughter. Her story started when her reign was attacked, so her father was forced to ask king Arthur’s help to defend it. Arthur saved and freed Guinevere’s reign and, during a feast organized by Guinevere’s father to thank Arthur for his help, Arthur and Guinevere met, and they immediately fell in love with each other. Guinevere was a beautiful and kind lady and Arthur loved her so much that, when he asked to marry her, she immediately accepted. By marrying Arthur, Guinevere became queen of Camelot, a monarch who was very respected and loved by her people because of her kindness and her devotion to the king.
But all of this changed when Guinevere was being held captive by one of Arthur’s enemies, Maleagant, and Lancelot went to rescue her successfully. That was the beginning of a love story which led to the fall of Camelot. Lancelot and Guinevere, in fact, secretly started to date, but after some time Arthur realized it and ordered his knights to capture them. While Lancelot managed to escape, Guinevere was caught, and Arthur decided to kill her. Willing to do anything to save Guinevere, Lancelot organized an army and attacked Camelot. The battle was terrible, hundreds of knights died, and this event started the fall of Camelot. Lancelot managed to save Guinevere, but while he was busy fighting against Arthur, Guinevere was being forced to marry another knight of Arthur, Mordred, who was betraying Arthur to become king. So, Arthur killed Mordred, but he died too. In the end, Guinevere retired to a convent and Lancelot became a hermit, and the two lovers never saw each other again.
In the literary tradition of the Middle Ages the Arthurian Romance was not an uncommon topic to write about, so there are many texts which deal with Lancelot and Guinevere. Even if Lancelot was introduced later in the Arthurian Romance, and we do not know who invented his character, we surely can say that the first person who wrote about him was Chrétien de Troyes, with his famous script named “Lancelot, the knight of the cart”. This script, which is part of French chivalric literature, tells about the love between Lancelot and Guinevere, a love which represents the ideals of courtly love, and which would have inspired the literature of the following period. Even Dante Alighieri, in the fifth Canto of Hell of the “Divine Comedy”, the one which deals with the story of Paolo and Francesca, refers to Lancelot and Guinevere’s love too.
As it can be seen, even if the tale of Lancelot and Guinevere is less known than other adventures of king Arthur, their story is very important because, with the fall of Camelot, the Arthurian Cycle ends, but also because it inspired the following literature to the point that even Dante Alighieri refers to their love. So, if one could be interested in this kind of legends or in the Arthurian Romance, a suggestion may be to research more about this topic because many other interesting details about it might be discovered.