Guinevere & Lancelot, Arthurian Lovers

For today’s post, I have decided to write about the love story of Lancelot and Guinevere, as I have been thinking about their romance greatly of late.   I think I have been thinking about the love between these two Arthurian figures due to the fact that Guinevere is so associated with Beltane.   It could also have something to do with the fact that I referenced their love in my wedding vows to my husband, and our anniversary is coming up very soon!   Yes, I referenced their love story in the marriage vows, instead of Arthur.   I did this because I believe that Lancelot was her true love and soulmate, whereas Arthur was simply her arranged marriage, as is shown in many versions of the legends!

Guinevere is the Faery Queen who is a representative of the Goddess of Sovereignty, or even a Goddess of Sovereignty herself, that is married to Arthur upon his ascension to the throne of Camelot.   This marriage is what truly cemented his right to rule, as Arthurian Legend is directly descended from Celtic lore.   In Celtic lore it is common to see a King needing to marry a Sovereignty figure, in fact marrying the land, in order to cement his rulership of the land!

In the beginning, the marriage seems relatively happy in most tellings.   This does not last, as Arthur quickly begins his adventures, wars, and spending time with the Knights of the Roundtable, which all take precedence over his relationship with his wife.   This is significant, if we are looking at their marriage as cementing Arthur’s Kingship.    When he begins to ignore his marriage and his wife, she becomes discontent and looks for attention and love in other places.   This is the time when Lancelot comes to the Court of Camelot for the first time.   Guinevere is already feeling lonely and unloved by her husband.   Now, this charming and virile Knight, better than all of the others, is coming into her Court.   It is not long before sparks begin to fly between the two young and beautiful people.    Some tellings make all three of the participants in the love triangle are all around the same age, in others, Arthur is a good deal older than his wife.   I am noting this to explain that in most tellings both Lancelot and Guinevere are young when they fall in love, whether or not Arthur is.

Guinevere and Lancelot begin their romance slowly, by flirting and her giving him favors for when he is jousting, a common practice in Courtly Love traditions that did not always result in actual sex.   Lancelot famously saved her for the first time in literature in Chretien de Troyes’s The Knight of the Cart.   In this story, Guinevere is not quite happy with how Lancelot went about rescuing her, finding his choices insulting or demeaning, but she soon forgave him as her feelings became apparent.   This is how their flirtation begins, with mutual admiration and her giving him favors to bless him before he jousts.   

It is not long before they begin a love affair that will ripple throughout their lives and through time!    The romance is one that has to be hidden for their own safety.   This brings an element of secrecy and probably heightened the allure of the affair.   Soon, it becomes rumored amongst the Knights that Lancelot not only loved the Queen but was bedding her.   Even with rumors spreading, the lovers are far too caught up in their romance to stop their sexual trysts.   In some versions of the tale, this romance and the sexual liaisons go on for years!   It is so scandalous to think of a love affair that spanned years going on underneath the nose of the King, but I also think that it proves my point that Arthur was not interested in his wife any longer.   It is this lack of interest that drove her further into the arms of her lover.   Her choice of Lancelot over Arthur could have blessed Lancelot to be the next King, had he wanted it, but as a loyal Knight (in some ways) Lancelot does not want this!    The cyclical nature of this triangle can even be likened to the Seasonal trading of places of two Kings found in many stories of Celtic Seasonal Sovereignty.   Lancelot and Arthur trade places as the year progresses in this thought process, each favored by Guinevere during his season.   That is part of the reason why I view Guinevere and Blodeuwedd as being so linked, both are Flower Brides and May Queens who are married off to men that do not appreciate them and eventually fall in love for real.   It is this love that gives each a great degree of Sovereignty in her life for the first time!

Guinevere never gives up on her love for Lancelot, even in the version where Lancelot goes insane for his love for her and his hatred of himself due to his betrayal of Arthur.   He is insane in the Woods until Morgan le Fay finds him and brings him into her castle in the Woods, where he paints murals of his love affair with Guinevere.   This is later how Arthur finds out about their betrayal in that telling.   Lancelot never stops loving Guinevere either, having his affair with Elaine, mother of his son Galahad, because she was glamoured to look like Guinevere.   He literally thought that he was sleeping with his lover, not Elaine, meaning that Galahad would not exist without this glamour!   Later, Lancelot would save Guinevere from burning at the stake in versions when Arthur tried to burn her due to her infidelity being seen as treason.   Their story would end with Guinevere and Lancelot being separated because Guinevere lives in a convent when Arthur died.   However, I like to think that when Lancelot came to tell her of Arthur’s death, she went off with him and they would marry and have a family.   This is not in the early legends, or even really in modern interpretations, but it is how I would like to write their ending!   They are the truest love story in the Arthruiad, and I would love to find a way to have them get their happy ending for once.   There is so much to say about their love and how influential it was to later tales, and I think I have done a good job of explaining why it is so important to me personally.

The love story is so important to explaining how Guinevere is descended from Celtic Goddesses, as well as to understanding how she was beloved early on, even as later Christian clerics writing the tales hated her infidelity.    Early on, it is not Lancelot that was her lover, after all, he was introduced by Chretien de Troyes, but she always had a Knight as her lover.   I find that many of these can be seen as early cognates of Lancelot only going by other names!    I hope that you have enjoyed my gushing post about one of my favorite love stories, so related to this Beltane season.   Let me know your thoughts in the comments below!

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Further Reading

  • Once and Future Queen by Nicole Evelina
  • Le Morte D’Arthur by Sir Thomas Malory
  • Arthurian Romances by Chretien de Troyes