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Who Was Guinevere? - Character & Stories

Instructor: Shamekia Thomas

Shamekia has taught English at the secondary level and has her doctoral degree in clinical psychology.

According to Arthurian legend, Guinevere became one of the most popular queens in European history after she married King Arthur. Learn more about the life of Guinevere and the downfall of her marriage, and test your knowledge with a quiz.

Introduction

One of the most popular love triangles in literature is between Queen Guinevere, her husband King Arthur, and her lover Sir Lancelot. There are a number of stories in European literature about Guinevere including Historia Regum Brittaniae by Geoffrey of Monmouth, The Vulgate Cycle by Chretien de Troyes and Robert de Boron, and the most famous work about the legend of King Arthur, Le Morte D'Arthur by Thomas Malory.

Queen Guinevere

Guinevere is described as a beautiful and desirable, yet manipulative, woman. Throughout her life Guinevere had a number of male suitors, and when she married King Arthur she was not faithful to him. It is unclear whether Guinevere seduced Lancelot or whether she was lured into a romance by him. She is thought to have known about Mordred's betrayal of King Arthur; it is unclear whether she planned Mordred's betrayal or if she was forced into being his accomplice in a crime against her husband. Mordred is said to have forced his way into King Arthur's court and forced the queen to do as he said because of a disagreement the Queen had with Mordred's wife Gwenhwyfach. Guinevere adds romance and treachery and enhances King Arthur's legacy.

Biography

Guinevere's nature and biography differ in various pieces of writing. Thomas Malory described her as the daughter of King Leodegrance of Cameliard in Le Morte D'Arthur. Several men wanted to marry Guinevere, but she found none of them suitable. King Arthur was first introduced to Guinevere when he rescued King Leodegrance of Cameliard from King Rience's capture. When King Arthur first saw Guinevere he was said to fall deeply in love with her. She was intrigued by King Arthur's interest in her and made herself presentable for meeting him with a fine robe and jewels. She prayed that King Arthur would not be killed in battle trying to save her father. With the help of Merlin, the magician, King Arthur and his men were able to save Guinevere's father. To show his appreciation, King Leodegrance sent messages and gifts to King Arthur.

When King Arthur chose to have a wife, he went to the magician Merlin for advice on who he should marry. Merlin suggested King Arthur marry the person he was most in love with, but warned King Arthur that Guinevere would not be a good wife because she would love somebody else. King Arthur decided to marry Guinevere despite Merlin's warning, and Merlin went to Cameliard to ask for Guinevere to marry King Arthur. All of the gifts given by King Leodegrance were returned and King Arthur told King Leodegrance all he wanted was to marry Guinevere. When King Leodegrance was told of King Arthur's royal birth, he agreed to allow his daughter to marry King Arthur. Malory states that Guinevere's father gave King Arthur a roundtable and one-hundred good knights as dowry.

A Damsel in Distress

Guinevere

After her marriage to King Arthur, Guinevere was kidnapped several times. She was taken to Glastonia by King Melvas of Somerset for a year. King Arthur looked for Guinevere but could not find her until he gathered several armies and the clergy stepped in to convince King Melvas to let Guinevere go. In another incidence, Guinevere was kidnapped by Sir Meliagrance when she was in the woods with several of her ladies-in-waiting and knights. Sir Meliagrance had a crush on Guinevere and he knew Lancelot was not around to protect her in the woods. Sir Meliagrance kidnapped Guinevere and she hoped Lancelot would save her, which he did. Lancelot then became known as Le Chevalier du Chariot. Lancelot and Guinevere were said to have been intimate that night. Guinevere was also kidnapped by Mordred, King Arthur's son (and nephew), to be taken as his wife. Guinevere was able to protect herself by locking herself in the Tower of London.

Guinevere's Final Days:

guinevere

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