Guinevere and Isolde

La Belle Iseult 1858 William Morris 1834-1896 Bequeathed by Miss May Morris 1939

The tales of legendary queens Guinevere and Isolde are very similar in many ways.    Both of these woman were in love triangles where they fell in love with knights that served their husbands.   Both were willing to risk their very lives for the love that consumed them.   Both were nearly burned at the stake for treason.    Finally both can be seen as Faerie Queens who married kings in order to solidify a bond between the sovereign and the Goddess!

Isolde and Guinevere are known by many names.   This fact further connects them to the world of Faery and to Goddesses!   Isolde has a great knowledge of healing, herbs, and magic, and she uses this to heal Tristan more than once.    In some tales Guinevere wields magic herself!    She is often seen as an enchantress that makes the men around her fall at her feet in lust.

The Maying of Guinevere is something often discussed, as she is always shown to spend time out in the forest.   In the time of May she is known to pick flowers and commune with nature.    There are paintings commemorating these tales, and this also featured in the film version of the musical Camelot.    She was picking flowers and enjoying nature when Lancelot was first brought to court in that film!   This is also an example of bringing events of the legends into the era when the film was made.    Guinevere acting as a flower child was very fitting for the late 1960s!

In the 2006 film Isolde was shown as a great healer.   While this film eliminated much of the magic (as did Camelot that only had Merlin to represent magic), it still left the tale of Isolde falling in love with Tristan while nursing him back to health!   The love potion storyline that is often used in the Tristan and Isolde tale is eliminated here, but it is so beautiful to see them fall in love in a more natural way!

There is a lot of beauty in the way that the tales of Guinevere and Isolde mirror one another.  Both tales are highly romantic, sometimes tragic, and show the meaning of true love!   Guinevere and Isolde are powerful images of ideal queens who did much for their kingdoms.   In the same breath they are also powerful images of queens who betrayed their husbands, and are guilty of treason.   The intertwined tales of Guinevere and Isolde make for fascinating study for those who love Arthurian legends!

I hope you enjoyed by thoughts about the comparison and contrast of Guinevere and Isolde!   Let me know what you think of these important legendary queens in the comments below!

Note on Image: The image at the top of the post is La Belle Iseult by William Morris.    I found the image on   I chose this painting specifically because it was originally identified as being of Guinevere, before Morris said it was of Isolde.    This perfectly shows how easily the tales of the two queens could be conflated.   Jane Burden (who would become Jane Morris upon her marriage to William) modeled for the painting, and he famously wrote the words “I cannot paint you, but I love you” on the back of the canvas, where she would see them!

Further Reading/Watching

  • The Romance of Tristan and Iseult by retold by J. Bedier and translated by Hilarie Belloc
  • The Guinevere’s Tale Trilogy by Nicole Evelina
  • Guinevere by Lavinia Collins
  • Le Morte D’Arthur by Thomas Malory
  • Arthurian Romances by Chretien de Troyes
  • Camelot (1967)
  • Excalibur (1981)
  • Tristan + Isolde (2006)