The most famous of the romantic Arthurian legends is of course the love triangle amongst Lancelot, Guinevere, and Arthur. I am someone absolutely obsessed with the romantic relationships within the world of Arthur! I actually love both sides of this love triangle, and I go back and forth over which relationship is my favorite.
In some modern adaptations and re-imaginings of the legends Arthur is portrayed as Guinevere’s true love and the relationship with Lancelot is seen as something that happens based on a love potion or as something she is forced into. In these cases I am totally on Team Arthur! These newer versions where Arthur is her true love is the only time I truly love the Arthur and Guinevere story better.
Within the medieval versions of the tales, especially the French romances, Lancelot is more often portrayed as Guinevere’s true love. There are even tellings where Arthur is an adulterer as well. It is common for him to have an incestuous relationship with his sister Morgan, and that is how he begets Mordred on her. It varies as to whether he is bewitched with Morgan’s magic in order to sleep with her or not. In many of the French prose and poetry in the medieval period Arthur has many lovers, and several bastard children. This of course served to show the love between Guinevere and Lancelot to be understandable and something that readers would rally behind!
I am firmly on Team Lancelot in these medieval variants! I love the relationship, even if it is forbidden. Lancelot is more attentive and loving towards her, and he is incredibly loyal. Even the conception of his son Galahad only happened when Elaine had herself glamoured to appear as Guinevere, and Lancelot did not learn the truth until later.
I realize that I listed Guinevere and Arthur at the top of my legendary lover countdown, and that is above Guinevere and Lancelot (also on the list). That was based on a more modern interpretation where Arthur would have been her true love. In the cases where she loved Lancelot first, and best, then I would firmly choose them as the ideal number one couple!
I love reading any and all versions and adaptions of the legends. I adore versions that detail Guinevere and Lancelot meeting and falling in love before her betrothal to Arthur. There are even versions of them being raised in Camelot and growing up together as childhood sweethearts! Those versions give a Wuthering Heights spin on the love triangle.
I cannot write a blog post about Lancelot, Guinevere, and Arthur without also acknowledging that other iconic Arthurian love triangle. There are numerous parallels between this triangle and the one amongst Tristan, Isolde, and Mark. Both queens are often seen to be faerie queens, and they are both often nearly executed for treason. Also Lancelot and Tristan are both seen as ideal knights.
I hope that reading about this iconic love triangle was inspiring for you! Remember that there are always many versions (and two sides) to every story. This is doubly true for legendary figures, which go through several iterations over the years!
Note on Image: The image at the top of the post is La Belle Dame Sans Merci by John William Waterhouse. I found the image on wikipedia.com. It is one of my favorite Waterhouse paintings, and to me it always reminded me of Lancelot and Guinevere. It also brings to mind Guinevere’s role as a Faerie Queen!
- Arthurian Romances by Chretien de Troyes
- Lancelot-Grail Cycle (also called The Vulgate Cycle, or The Prose Lancelot) by anonymous, and usually thought to be several authors in the medieval period
- Le Morte D’Arthur by Thomas Malory
- The Art of Courtly Love by Andreas Capellanus
- Courtly Love: The Path of Sexual Initiation by Jean Markale
- The Age of Chivalry by Thomas Bulfinch
- First Knight (1995)
- Excalibur (1981)
- Camelot (1967)
- Camelot (2011) ~For an alternate take on an Arthurian love triangle, no Lancelot, instead Leontes takes the third space with Guinevere and Arthur! In this version I am firmly on Team Arthur (the other movies, I am more of a Team Lancelot shipper!)