The Black Knight is an ambiguous motif that exists in many Arthurian legends. In some cases, Black Knight is used to referring to a random knight who appears as a competitor to one of the Arthurian knights.
In other episodes, Black Knight is a disguise often taken up by Sir Lancelot to escape attention. The most notable reference to a Black Knight is the tale of Sir Morien.
According to a 13th-century narrative of King Arthurian legends, Morien is called a son of a Moorish princess and is named the Black Knight because of his African lineage.
Sir Agrovale, one of the Knights of the Round Table, set out to look for Sir Lancelot when he became lost. During his search in far-off lands, he came across a Moorish princess whom he bedded. From this union, Sir Morien was later born.
Agrovale abandoned the Moorish princess and his illegitimate son and returned back to King Arthur’s court. Arthurian legends state that when Morien grew up, he set out to seek his father and reached England on this quest.
In the version where Sir Morien is considered to be the Black Knight, a story is related to his confrontation with Sir Lancelot. According to this story, Sir Morien was pitted against Sir Lancelot as a teenager.
The combat continued for a long-time and in this hand-to-hand combat, neither was able to overpower the other. Finally, Sir Gawain intervened and asked the two to stop fighting in the spirit of good knights who meet a fine adversary.
Since the origins of Sir Morien are described to be Moorish in Arthurian legends, subsequent stories related to him state that he always wore North African armour, very different from the armour of other Arthurian knights. Even the shield he bore was said to be of a Moorish make and shape.
Since Sir Morien was of African descent and had black skin, he has been described to be of an exceptional appearance in Arthurian legends.
One legend, for instance, repeatedly refers to his skin color as an unusual feature. According to these sagas, Sir Morien was black throughout and only his teeth were white, which is an obvious fact for a person of different skin colour but apparently a surprising fact for medieval authors.
The legends further state that no one would have dared to face Sir Morien had he not called upon God in front of them and affirmed that he was not the devil.
This exasperation of other knights over his appearance, the legends state, was also for the fact that he was exceptionally tall and very skilled in combat.
Sir Morien figures only in a few Arthurian stories but his tales are full of acts of bravery. One of them, for instance, is his combat with Sir Lancelot when despite his being a teenager, he held out against one of the most competent warriors of King Arthur.
He was reputed for having an excellent horse and braving the best of adversaries in combat.
Towards the end of the Arthurian saga mentioning Sir Morien, he is finally able to meet up with his actual father, Sir Agrovale.
He demands Sir Agrovale accompany him back to his native land and marry his mother so that the union could be legitimized and Morien deemed his rightful son.
Sir Agrovale agrees to do so and returns with Sir Morien to the Moorish land which is home to Sir Morien. Here, Sir Agrovale marries Morien’s mother, the Moorish princess, and became the king of her kingdom.
Sir Calogrenant was one of the notable Knights of the Round Table. He was a cousin to the famous Arthurian knight, Sir Ywain. In one of the legends, Sir Calogrenant summoned a Black Knight, who was a supernatural figure.
The Black Knight defeated Calogrenant and this persuaded Sir Ywain to become a party to the dispute, in order to avenge his cousin’s defeat. Sir Ywain finally defeated and killed the Black Knight.
Sir Percival was one of the Knights of the Round Table. In the early Arthurian tales, he was credited with finding the Holy Grail, a role which was later ascribed to Sir Galahad.
In one of the stories of Sir Percival, he exchanges rings with the wife of a Black Knight. The Black Knight, when he gets to know of this, ties his wife to a tree and begins beating her.
Sir Percival comes back to rescue the woman, defeats the Black Knight, and then assures him that the exchange of rings was an innocent transaction. This ameliorates the Black Knight and reconciles him with his wife.
In many stories related to Sir Lancelot, he is reported to have dressed up as a Black Knight in order to escape notice. Among the titles typically associated with Lancelot were the White Knight, the Red Knight, and the Black Knight.
In some cases, dressing up as Black Knight and hiding his true identity also caused trouble for Lancelot.
Black Knight refers to a character as well as a recurrent motif in Arthurian legends. As a character, the Black Knight refers to Sir Morien who was of Moorish descent and was the son of an Arthurian knight.
He came to King Arthur’s court in search of his father and remained as the King’s knight for a time. According to legends, he was exceptionally gifted in combat and strong physique.
As a motif, Black Knight in Arthurian legends refers to a villainous, often supernatural, character pitted against one of the noble Knights of the Round Table.