Sir Lancelot is one of the most prominent knights among the fabled Knights of the Round Table who attended at King Arthur. In the fables and legends associated with King Arthur and his knights, Sir Lancelot is persistently portrayed as the embodiment of true chivalry of the knight and an unbeaten champion of the King.
Lancelot is made out to be the best swordsman and the champion of jousting who is considered among the most loyal and trusted knights of the King. Ultimately, however, Sir Lancelot plays an adverse role in the story of King Arthur and is responsible in the end of his Kingdom.
Sir Lancelot was first mentioned in the legends associated with King Arthur in the 12th century book of Chretien de Troyes, titled “The Knight of the Cart”. Chretien makes him out to be the son of the King Ban of Benwick and Queen Elaine. According to a legend, he was abandoned by a lake where the Lady of the Lake found him and brought him up, teaching him the many skills of knighthood.
According to Chretien’s narrative, Sir Lancelot was the first Knight of King Arthur’s Round Table and was esteemed as the greatest of the King’s knights.
It has been surmised that even before the first mention of Sir Lancelot in Chretien’s book, characters possessing traits identified with him existed in the Welsh mythology. Recent scholars believe that the story of Sir Lancelot’s life combined the elements of many popular folk tales of the time.
Sir Lancelot is portrayed as a daring knight who didn’t shy away from the most dangerous of adventures. Among his early adventures was when he faced the Dolorous Guard at the castle of the Copper Knight. The guard comprised of twenty knights, ten stationed at the first wall and ten at the second wall of the castle.
Sir Lancelot fought these knights and defeated them. He was later led by the townspeople to the local cemetery where the legend of a heavy stone said that whoever lifted it would find his name inscribed below. Sir Lancelot lifted it, found “Lancelot” written under it and discovered his name in this manner.
Sir Lancelot was involved in the quest of Holy Grail, along with his son Galahad. He begot this son with Elaine, the daughter of the Fisher King. Elaine tricked Sir Lancelot into thinking she was Queen Guinevere and so he slept with her, resulting in the birth of Galahad. Galahad, Sir Lancelot and many other knights set out to seek the Holy Grail. However, when they found it, Sir Lancelot was allowed only a glimpse of it due to his earthly indulgence while his son was the one who drank from the Holy Grail.
Queen Guinevere was the queen consort of King Arthur. She fell in love when Sir Lancelot as soon as she saw her, which was when he came to join King Arthur as his knight. They both had an extramarital affair which was discovered and brought to King Arthur’s notice. King Arthur gave the order for the queen to be burned at stake.
The stake was guarded by Sir Gawain’s brothers and both were killed by Lancelot in rescuing the Queen. This pitted Sir Gawain as well as King Arthur directly against Lancelot but before any fatal clash took place between the two sides, King Arthur was forced to rescue Queen Guinevere from Mordred. He killed Mordred but died of the wounds himself as well.
After King Arthur died in the war with Mordred, also having killed Mordred, Queen Guinevere felt repentant and believed herself guilty of all the war, strife and death that was caused by her affair with Sir Lancelot. As a result, she became a hermit. Sir Lancelot requested her to kiss him one last time but she refused. Later, Sir Lancelot also retired to a hermitage, choosing to live a secluded life along with eight of his kin. Some accounts of the legend state that he later became a priest.
After becoming a hermit, Queen Guinevere had vowed that she would never let Sir Lancelot lay his eyes on her face during her life. So according to legend, after many years of hermitage, Queen Guinevere died. Sir Lancelot was guided by a dream to go to her but arrived half an hour later than her death, fulfilling her vow.
He overlooked the death rites for the Queen. Finally, the Queen was taken to the spot where King Arthur was buried, to be buried beside him. According to the legends, Sir Lancelot became very aggrieved at having lost both the King and the Queen.
At the time of Queen Guinevere’s burial, Sir Lancelot is said to have suffered excessive grief. Even before the funeral, he had been fasting so often and so much that he had become weak physically. The death of the Queen added to this and only six weeks after her death, Sir Lancelot died as well. He wished to be buried next to the King and the Queen, but since he had originally vowed to be buried at his own castle at the Joyous Guard, there he was taken and buried.
Sir Lancelot was the first Knight of the Round Table, raised to the highest honour of knighthood by King Arthur. He fought fearlessly and was an embodiment of knightly chivalry, hailed as the unbeatable champion of the King. While his earlier life was marked by daring feats and brave deeds, the legends surrounding his later life are more centered on his relations with Queen Guinevere.
His affair with the Queen brought about disagreements between the King and the Queen, ultimately precipitating a war between King Arthur and Sir Lancelot, and finally culminating in the death of both King Arthur and his half-son Mordred in a battle. In his later life, Sir Lancelot became a hermit, taking up penance for his previous actions which caused the deaths of many of his beloved persons.