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Who Was Lancelot? - Character & Stories

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  • 0:00 Defining Lancelot
  • 0:38 Legend of Lancelot
  • 2:20 Quest for the Holy Grail
  • 3:28 Lancelot's Final Days
  • 4:47 Stories About Lancelot
  • 6:03 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Shamekia Thomas

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

Lancelot is one of the most popular knights in King Arthur's Court. He is considered to be a skilled knight but is also flawed in personality. Learn more about the legend of Lancelot and test your knowledge with a quiz.

Defining Lancelot

Lancelot is one of the most well-known characters from Arthurian legend. According to most tales, he is considered the best, most skilled knight in King Arthur's Court. He is not mentioned in the first tales about King Arthur, but becomes popular in French Arthurian legends after the Middle Ages.

When tales about King Arthur were rewritten by Thomas Malory, with the approval of the Roman Catholic Church, Lancelot was one of the main characters who caused contention in King Arthur's Round Table. The conflict between the Knights of the Round Table eventually led to the death of King Arthur.

Legend of Lancelot

Lancelot is the son of King Ban and a woman named Elaine, not to be confused with the mother of Lancelot's son. He is also the cousin of Sir Lionel and Sir Bors. His son was named Galahad.

King Ban is sent from his kingdom by his enemy. When his father is wounded, Lancelot is taken away by a lady with magical powers, named the Lady of the Lake. Lancelot's sword, Arondight, had mystical powers and was given to him by the Lady of the Lake. It was believed that Lancelot's sword was molded by the stars and represented the hopes and dreams of people. Lancelot eventually uses his sword to kill Sir Gawain's brother, and his sword becomes cursed.

When Lancelot grows up, the Lady of the Lake sends him to be a part of King Arthur's Court under Knight Gawain. Lancelot spends a lot of time proving he is a good knight, and when he arrives to King Arthur's Court, he falls in love with King Arthur's wife, Guinevere. Guinevere does not at first respond to Lancelot's advances, but eventually gives in to his request.

In one challenge, Lancelot battles a number of men with the help of the Lady of the Lake. After this quest, he lifts a slab with the name Lancelot under it, and he becomes known as Lancelot (before this quest, he'd only been known as the White Knight). After Lancelot befriends one of King Arthur's enemies, Galehaut, and convinces him to surrender, King Arthur makes Lancelot a member of his roundtable. Galehaut later convinces Guinevere to return Lancelot's admiration, which leads to the downfall of Lancelot and King Arthur.

Quest for the Holy Grail

Lancelot often goes on quests for the Holy Grail in order to get rid of his guilt regarding his love for the queen. During one of those trips, he saves King Pelle's daughter from imprisonment and is tricked into a having relations with a woman, Elaine, who has feelings for him. During their encounter, their son, Galahad, is conceived.

It is believed Lancelot was 'tricked' by Elaine into having an affair because he supposedly thought she was the queen. Elaine dies of a broken heart because of her unrequited love for Lancelot. When the queen finds out about Lancelot's relations with Elaine, she becomes upset and bans him from King Arthur's Court, although they eventually get back together. Lancelot takes several years to recover and eventually returns to King Arthur's Court.

Lancelot and his son Galahad search for the Holy Grail together. Lancelot has visions of the Holy Grail but is not able to enter the building to find it because his love for Guinevere is bigger than his love for God. Although Lancelot is not allowed to complete the Quest for the Holy Grail, his son is able to complete the quest and retrieve it.

Lancelot's Final Days

The affair between Lancelot and Guinevere causes conflict in King Arthur's Court; some knights support Lancelot and others support the king. King Arthur's two nephews, Gawain and Agravaine, along with King Arthur's son Mordred, find Guinevere and Lancelot together intimately, and the king decides to have his wife Guinevere burned alive for her betrayal. Lancelot rescues Guinevere from her death and kills Gareth, the younger brother of Gawain, in the process. Lancelot then becomes Gawain's enemy.

To seek revenge for the death of his brother, Sir Gawain convinces King Arthur that Lancelot is a traitor, and a war starts between the two men. Sir Mordred, King Arthur's son, wants to become king and marry Guinevere, so he tells everyone King Arthur was killed in battle with Sir Lancelot. Mordred becomes king, but King Arthur hears the news and returns to regain his kingdom. On his death bed, Knight Gawain confesses to King Arthur that Lancelot was not a traitor and asks King Arthur to forgive Lancelot. When King Arthur and Mordred battle each other for the kingdom, they are both killed.

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