A knight with his lance: strange that the phallic symbolism of this weapon is never remarked upon. It was a thrusting weapon that was a sublimated symbol of the rampant penis.
Tirant Lo Blanc finds his way to the bed of his love Princess Carmesina, daughter of the Emperor of Constantinople, after lengthy intrigues:-
"Do not cruelly defeat one already vanquished by love! Will you brutally prove your mettle against a helpless damsel? Give me part of your manhood that I may resist you! Oh my lord, how can you delight in forcing me? Oh, how can you hurt the one you love? By your virtue and nobility, please stop before you hurt me! Love's weapons should not cut; love's lance should not wound!"
Tirant Lo Blanc by Joanot Martorell and Marti Joan de Galba, translated by David H. Rosenthal, 1984, Chap. CDXXXVI.
This weapon was adored by the ladies of the mediaeval world, who gave their favours to the knights they loved and who eagerly watched the jousts in which two knights raced their horses at each other with their lances jutting out before them and endeavoured to unhorse each other.
Subconsciously the mediaeval ladies would have been impressed with this display of rampant masculinity, their hearts entranced with the winner of each joust. Though convention would have frowned upon an overt fascination with male sexuality, when disguised under the cloak of a knightly joust, it was acceptable.
"The lovers played and took their ease with amorous pleasantries until bedtime, whereupon Carmesina undressed...and Tirant climbed in beside his lady, who welcomed him far more affectionately than the night before. After positioning them in the lists and arranging the joust, the queen went to sleep feeling certain the battle would never end."
Tirant Lo Blanc by Joanot Martorell and Marti Joan de Galba, translated by David H. Rosenthal, 1984, Chap. CDXLIV.
With this unacknowledged emphasis on raw maleness, it is not surprising that that there an undercurrent of sex in Arthurian stories. An undercurrent that breaks through the surface of the tales, as will be seen from the following examples.
From Lancelot and Guinevere, through the lesser known activities of Gawain and Ettard and of Gareth and Liones, sex was a powerful force. Nor let it be forgotten that there were other aspects of sex recorded, there was a possibly gay knight who was involved in a transvestite escapade, and there was Arthur's liaison with his half-sister. Then there were the amorous intrigues of Morgan le Fay. While a queen had a dozen young lovers who she kept about her disguised as women. Sir Perceval had an ambivalent relationship with women, in Sir Thomas Malory he castrates himself after he has been nearly seduced by the devil in the shape of a woman, yet in Chrétien de Troyes he marries and the devil takes the form of his wife. Then there was the convoluted tale of Sir Carados, a knight who was the product of an adulterous liaison between his mother and a sorcerer. While the 'Droit de Seigneur' was a way of spreading your good genes. However that is enough of an introduction, let's get down to the sordid details.
Geoffrey of Monmouth's History of the Kings of Britain contains the original version of this tale, which is fuller than that given in Malory's Morte d'Arthur. Here Gorlois, Dule of Cornwall is a loyal ally of Uther Pendragon and his brother Aurelius Ambrosius. He is at the battle of Kaerconan (Counisborough in the West Riding of Yorkshire), during the reign of Aurelius Ambrosius, and captures and kills the Saxon leader Hengist. When Uther Pendragon reigns Gorlois turns a rout into a victory when he advises that the Britons make a night-time attack on the Saxons from their refuge on Mount Damen. Despite his proven loyalty, this counted nothing to Uther at an Eastertide feast at London. For, when he saw Gorlois' beautiful wife Ygerne, Uther lusted after her and paid her every attention. Seeing this Gorlois withdrew from the court without permission; in itself an insult to King Uther. Gorlois refused Uther's order return to the court and Uther collected a large army and ravaged Cornwall. Gorlois put Ygerne safely in his castle at Tintagel. While, as he waited for re-inforcements from Ireland, Gorlois took refuge in Dimilioc (Tregeare Rounds or Castle Dameliock near Pendoggett). After besieging Gorlois for a week, Uther was so eaten up with desire for Ygerne that he had Merlin brought to him to advise him what to do. Merlin's solution was to give Uther drugs that changed his appearance to that of Gorlois, while he himself simulated Britaelis and gave Ulfin the likeness of Jordan of Tintagel. Arriving at Tintagel at twilight, the three are admitted. Uther satisfies his desire with Ygerne and begets Arthur. In the meantime, it was observed that Uther had left his army leaderless and Gorlois took the opportunity to issue from Dimilioc and attack Arthur's force. However, he was killed, his force defeated and Dimilioc was sacked. After this messengers were sent to Tintagel to inform Ygerne of the death of her husband. The messengers were astounded to see Uther, in Gorlois' likeness beside Ygerne. Keeping to the role of Gorlois, Uther makes light of his supposed death and says that he will go and make peace with Uther. Uther now returns to his camp and abandons his disguise of Gorlois. He regrets the death of Gorlois, but is happy that there is now no barrier to him marrying Ygerne. Uther returns to Tintagel Castle, captures it, seizes Ygerne and marries her. They have two children, Arthur and a daughter, Anna.
Some commentators like to pretend that the relationship between Lancelot and Guinevere was that of a knight who was chastely devoted to lady, in accord with the canons of courtly love. Well this is very doubtful. When Lancelot was seduced by Elaine, the daughter of King Pelles, to fulfil a prophecy that he would be the father of the purest knight who ever lived (Galahad), it is clear that he thought that she was Guinevere when he made love to her. In fact it was by the contrivances of the sorceress (Brisane) at Pelles court that Lancelot believed that he was to sleep with Guinevere. Again when Elaine came to Arthur's court, the same sorceress once more contrived to have Lancelot sleep with Elaine, when he was expected in the Queen's bed.
Read Malory's account of Launcelot and Elaine.
Here we come upon a peculiar mix of voluntary self-abasement and sexual chicanery that make up one of the more interesting short stories of the Arthurian cycle. Gawain observes Pelleas defeat the knights of Ettard. He then voluntarily surrenders to them and is tied ignominously to his horse. He allows this to happen just so he can come into the prescence of Ettard, his beloved. When Gawain learns this fact from Pelleas' own lips, he kindly offers to turn Ettard's affections to favour Pelleas. He proposes to do this by taking Pelleas' armour and by pretending to Ettard that he has killed Pelleas and taken his armour. Then, when she believes this, Gawain will reveal that Pelleas is still alive and will persuade her that he is worthy of her love. Pelleas believes this because he cannot doubt the owrd of the nephew of the honourqble KIng Arthur. Unfortunately, Gawain is not true to his word and becomes Ettard's lover. After a while Pelleas becomes impatient of the delay in Gawain fulfilling his promise and comes to Ettard's castle, where he discovers Ettard and Gawain sleeping together in a pavilion, with their arms around each other. After some self-torture and doubt, Pelleas refrains from killing them, but leaves his sword across their necks as a silent reproach. Then he retires to his pavilion where he intends to pine away till dead. He asks that, on his death, his heart be taken from his body and be presented to Ettard.
When Ettard wakes and sees the sword that Pelleas' had left she knows that Gawain has lied to her about Pelleas' death. She berates Gawain and he slinks off into the forest. Now the Damsel of the Lake (Nimue) enters the picture. At the request of one of Pelleas' knights she restores Pelleas to health, but then falls in love with him. By her magic she makes Ettard fall in love with Pelleas, but he now rejects Ettard. The outcome of this is that Ettard goes away and dies while the Damsel of the Lake marries Pelleas.
Read Malory's account of Pelleas and Ettard.
Here we come upon a couple who are to marry, being prevented from indulging in some premarital sex. After Gareth has defeated the Red Knight of the Red Laundes (Sir Ironside), who is attacking Liones, he wins her heart, but she refuses to admit him to her castle. Then she tells him to go away and engage in knight errantry for a year to enhance his reputation. After his dwarf has been kidnapped, Sir Gareth pursues his capturer (Sir Gringamore) to his castle on the Isle of Avilion. Gringamore is the brother of Liones, for whom Gareth feels a passion upon meeting, but without recognising her. This passion is returned and Liones tells Gareth her true identity and how she is indebted to him. Liones feels that she and Gareth are already, in their hearts, man and wife. So she has no scruples about coming to his bed when she thinks it safe, it seems with the connivance of Sir Gringamore, to enjoy the pleasures of premarital love. But her sister Linet, who is aware of the lover's assignation and is conscious of the need to keep the family honour pristine, has a magical knight attack Gareth. Although Gareth defeats and beheads this knight, he is wounded in the thigh: a wound that is generally held to be a euphemism for at least a partial castration. This puts an end to Gareth's amorous adventures for the time being, while the knight has his head re-attached to his body by Linet who uses a magical ointment. This does not dissuade the lovers from making another attempt to enjoy the delights of a night together, when Sir Gareth has recovered from his wound. Again the magical knight attacks and is again defeated. This time Gareth cuts the knights head into small pieces, which he throws out of the window. Linet collects all the pieces of the knight's head and causes them to bind together with an ointment. Disastrously, the effort of fighting the magical knight has re-opened Gareth's wound in the thigh and and he faints. Doctors who view the wound say, that as its cause was magical, it will only be healed when the knight who caused has been cured. Later Linet cures Gareth's wound with an ointment. She does this so that he will be well enough to fight in the tournament, at Castle Perilous on the Feast of the Assumption of the Virgin Mary, where the prize is to be the hand of Liones. Gareth fights in the tournament and wins, but departs upon knight errantry, before the end of the tournament. It is at the end of this period of knight errantry that Sir Gareth is finally married to Liones at Arthur's castle of Kink Kenadon on Michaelmas Day.
Read Malory's account of Gareth and Liones.
Was Sir Dinadan gay? There are a number of subtle indications that he may have been. For he loves the company of good knights, to whom he is undoubtably an ebullient and witty companion. This emphasis on him gaining pleasure from male company excites suspicions in an age as cynical as ours. Although a 'lover of good knights', Sir Dinadan seems unwilling to emulate their reckless courage and on a number of occasions refuses to fight, leaving the fighting to his companions.
Then, Sir Dinadan rejects the notion that love of a lady inspires knights to excel in fighting. Perhaps this lack of a lady lover led Sir Dinadan to be a rather desultory fighter? Or perhaps he did not like women?
Malory seems to slyly hint that there was something peculiar about Sir Didnadan when he relates an incident where Sir Dinadan is put in a woman's dress. This was the culmination of a series of tit for tat ridiculings that occured at the tournament at Surluse. At first Sir Galahalt, the organiser of the tournament, has Sir Lancelot go into the field and smite down Sir Dinadan, who had been doing quite well in the tournament till that time. Sir Launcelot has Sir Dinadan's armour taken off and brings him before Queen Guinevere and Sir Galahalt, both of whom laugh at Sir Dinadan, who would have been wearing only his shirt! That evening Sir Dinadan says that he feels no shame at having been defeated for that 'old shrew' (wicked person) Sir Launcelot had beaten him. However this is a slightly ambiguous insult for shrew also refers to a scolding woman, and this meaning explains the wearing of female clothes that is the culmination of this incident.
The following evening Dinadan is described as 'railing'. In other words he is in a mood for ridiculing others. He gets his own back on Sir Galahalt by mocking him because of his dislike of fish, and likens him to a wolf that will eat no fish, but only consume flesh. Sir Galahalt takes this jest in good part. However, Sir Dinadan's jibe that accuses Sir Launcelot of winning his honour by attacking and defeating knights who he knows to be inferior to himself meets with a frosty reaction. For Sir Lancelot sarcastically praises Dinadan's 'boistious body', meaning his rude strength, and says that he hopes only to meet Dinadan at a dish of meat. This rejoinder elicits laughter from both Sir Galahalt and Queen Guinevere.
The following day at the tournament, Dinadan is fearful of entering the fighting because he is afraid that either Sir Galahalt or Sir Lancelot will avenge themselves upon him for his earlier remarks. However, when he is told that Sir Galahalt and Sir Lancelot have no intention of fighting, but will be judging the tournament from the stands, he is persuaded to fight. Dinadan enters the tournament, but keeps a wary eye upon the stands to ensure that Lancelot is there and remains there. He does not take into account the cunning of Lancelot, who sits in the stands at the start of the tournament, but later has a subtitute wearing the same clothes, and bearing Lancelot's shield, take his place while he arms himself for the tournament. This Lancelot does in a peculiar manner, for he puts on a dress over his armour (making Dinadan's insult that he was an old shrew appear true), but does not carry a lance and has his horse led onto the field of the tournament by Sir Galihodin. Dinadan sees this apparition and suspects that it is Lancelot. His doubt is resolved when the disguised Lancelot, grabs a lance from Sir Galihodin and smites Dinadan to the ground. Once on the ground Dinadan is grabbed by great coystrons (kitchen scullions). Imagine how degraded Sir Dinadan must have felt. For a knight to be manhandled by the lowest of the low in the mediaeval hierarchy must have been extremely shameful. Yet could this also have been a sly indication that Sir Dinadan normally would have enjoyed the company of such rough kitchen scullions? Once these lowly scullions have Sir Dinadan in their hands they take him from the tournament field into a wood. Here he is stripped of his armour down to his shirt and is put into a dress. He is taken back to the tournament in his new apparel in time for the evening entertainment. Here he is paraded and is greeted with derision, with Guinevere being so overcome with with merriment that she collapses with laughter.
Read Malory's account of the humiliation of Sir Dinadan.
Wearing a dress over his armour was not the only sexually ambivalent situation Sir Lancelot was involved in. He was once kissed by a knight who mistook Sir Lancelot for his sweetheart when he found Sir Lancelot in his bed. This occured after Sir Lancelot had been captured by the four queens headed by Morgan le Fay (Malory, Book VI, chap. III). He was released from his imprisonment by the daughter of King Bagdemagus, in return for fighting on this king's side in a tournament against the King of Northgalis. While journeying to the site of the tournament, Sir Lancelot was benighted in a forest. Here he fortuitously came upon an unoccupied pavilion with a bed in which he fell asleep. Unfortunately the pavilion's owner arrived in the darkness expecting to find his lover in the bed:-
THEN within an hour there came the knight to whom the pavilion ought, and he weened that his leman had lain in that bed, and so he lay himself down beside Sir Launcelot, and took him in his arms and began to kiss him. And when Sir Launcelot felt a rough beard kissing him, he started out of the bed lightly, and the other knight after him, and either of them gat their swords in their hands, and out at the pavilion door went the knight of the pavilion, and Sir Launcelot followed him, and there by a little slake Sir Launcelot sore wounded him, nigh unto death.
Malory, Sir Thomas, Le Morte d'Arthur, Book VI, Chap. V
The knight, Sir Belleus, surrenders to Lancelot and tells the reason for his kissing him. Sir Lancelot excuses himself for attacking Sir Belleus by saying that he had recently been 'beguiled' and was naturally fearful that he was the victim of further 'treason'. He then staunches the flow of blood from Sir Belleus' wounds and promises his lady, who arrived after the fight, that he will do his utmost to have Sir Belleus made a knight of the Round Table if he attends Arthur's court at 'the next high feast'.
To my knowledge, homosexuality is only overtly mentioned once in old Arthurian texts: in Gerbert de Montreuil's continuation of Chrétien de Troyes poem Perceval. Here it roundly condemned by those knights who return to the surface of the earth after having been swallowed up by the earth after they had sat in the seat that Malory calls the Siege Perilous. They have the following to say: -
Then the king asked the knights who had returned from the pit how they had fared beneath the earth. And they told him that they had suffered much pain and hardship; and as for those wicked souls who prefer young men to girls.
'Truly it's a wonder that the earth does not swallow them all at once; they'll burn most terribly on the Judgement Day. You may be sure that the fairy that sent you the chair did so solely to make known what reward is in store for anyone tainted with that vice. Know that on the great Day of Judgement they will be in the deep pit of Hell, blacker than ink or iron.'...
King Arthur was overjoyed at hearing the words of these knights, returning to tell what they had seen; and he said:
'Those that are stained with such a horrible sin may well be dismayed. I myself was dismayed when I heard it spoken of just now. Whoever is taken in such a sin will be damned at the end, and may his body be burned by a terrible fire, for I abhor that kind of carnal pleasure. Blessed be the man who cares for his wife or his sweetheart, and loves her dearly, and can call himself a loyal friend: blessed be that kind of loving.'
Chrétien de Troyes , Perceval: The Story of the Grail, trans. Bryant, N., D. S. Brewer: Woodbridge, 1996 (1982), P. 209.
The story of Grisandole is not strictly part of the Arthurian cycle, though Merlin is a character here and the story is set in the time of Arthur. The story concerns the Emperor of Rome and his erring Empress.
The Emperor of Rome had a beautiful but lecherous wife, who gave herself up to the pleasures of the flesh whenever he was away from court. She did this with twelve young men in her train who were dressed as women, wore their hair long and used an ointment to supress the growth of their beards. The ointment probably contained 'orpiment' (yellow sulphide of arsenic), a chemical that was used in mediaeval depilitories (see Tirant Lo Blanc, trans by D. H. Rosenthal, Chap. CDXVI).: -
This is throuthe that this Julyus Cezar hadde a wif that was of grete bewte, and she hadde with hir xij yonge men araied in gise of wymen, with whom she lay at alle tymes tht the Emperour was oute of hir companye, ffor she was the most lecherouse woman of all Rome; and for the dredde that theire beerdes sholde growe she lete a-noynte her chynnes with certeyn oynementes made for the nones, and thei wre clothed in longe traylinge robes, and theire heer longe waxen, in gise of maydenes and tressed at theire bakkes, that alle that hem saught wende wele thei were wymen; and long thei endured with the Empress vn-knowen.
Merlin and Grisandole, in An Arthurian Reader, ed. Matthews, J., The Aquarian Press, 1988, P. 26.
It was to this court that Grisandole came. Originally named Avenable, she the took name Grisandole and wore the clothes of a squire after her father, Matan, had been thrown from his lands by Duke Frollo. At the court she comes to the Emperor's notice because of her outstanding behaviour, is knighted and then made his steward.
At this time the Emperor has a dream in which he sees a monstrous sow, wearing a golden circlet, rampaging through his palace pursued by twelve young lions, who mate with her when they catch her. In his dream the Emperor asks his advisers what should be done with the sow and they tell him that she and the lions should be burnt.
Perplexed by this dream, the Emperor fruitlessly seeks its meaning. Then Merlin, in the guise of a stag, enters the palace and tells the Emperor that the meaning of the dream will be revealed by the Wild Man who lives in the forest. After hearing this the emperor's knights, including Grisandole, go out to capture this Wild Man, but without any success.
Grisandole continues the search after the others have given up and encounters the magical stag again. He tells her to prepare a feast in the forest for the Wild Man. This she does, the Wild Man comes, feeds to repletion, falls asleep and so is captured.
The Wild Man is taken to the Emperor's court where he reveals the truth behind the Emperor's dream, to the distress of the Empress. That the sow in the Emperor's dream was the Empress and the twele young lions who pursued and mated with her were the twelve young men who were disguised as the female attendants of the Empress. The case against the Empress is proved when her twelve maidens are stripped and are revealed to be men. They all are punished by being burnt on a large bonfire.
The Wild Man now reveals that Grisandole is really a woman. She is then put in female clothes and revealed to be a most attractive young lady, who tells the court that her real name is Avenable. Knowing Grisandole to be a woman poses a dilemma for the Emperor, for he had intended to marry his daughter to whoever had brought the Wild Man to his court. A feat accomplished by Grisandole/Avenable. Fortunately, the Wild Man has a solution. He proposes that the Emperor, now a widower, marries Avenable and gives his daughter to Avenable's brother Patrick. He also says that Avenable's father, Matan, had been unjustly dispossessed of his lands and persuades the Emperor to restore them. Then the Wild Man reveals that he is Merlin, and was also the magical stag, and finally vanishes.
In fact King Arthur had three half-sisters, the daughters of his mother Igraine and her first husband the Duke of Cornwall. These were married to three kings who opposed Arthur's claim to the throne of England. These kings were King Lott of Orkney, married to Morgause, King Uriens of Gore, married to Morgan le Fay and King Nentres of Garlot, married to Elaine. Elaine is only mentioned once, but her better known sisters, Morgan and Morgause, both led scandalous lives.
Morgause came to Arthur's court during his war with the Eleven Kings, when he sought to establish his right to be King of England. She came to spy, but became Arthur's lover. An incestuous relationship that is understandable when you consider that Arthur's ancestry was unknown at the time of the relationship with Morgauses. Inevitably, Morgause became pregnant and her child, Mordred, was to prove Arthur's eventual nemesis. Arthur was not Morgause's only lover, for after the death of her husband, King Lott, in the war that Arthur waged to prove himself the King of England by might as well as by right, she took Lamorak as her lover. This did not please her sons, Gawaine, Gaheris and Aggravaine, because Lamorak was the son of King Pellinore, the killer of their father. One can imagine the hatred that they felt, not only for Lamorak, but for their mother for taking as a lover the son of her husband's killer. These brothers brought their mother to Camelot knowing that Lamorak would make an assignation with her there, in the hope that they could kill him. When Lamorak and Morgause arranged to spend the night together, Gaheris came to their bedside and struck off his mother's head and told Lamorak that now she is free of him. What an example of filial care for his mother! Gaheris then showed that he had some sparks of knightly honour left, for he mercifully spared Lamorak's life because he was unarmed.
Read Malory's account of Morgause's lovers.
In contrast to her sister, Morgan le Fay is a survivor, and outlived Arthur. When young she was educated in a nunnery and became skilled at 'necromancy'. As the wife of King Urien of Gore she is unfaithful with Accolon of Gaul and plots to reign with him as her consort after she has had King Arthur killed and has killed her husband Urien. However her plots are thwarted when Arthur kills Accolon and sends his body to Morgan, and when her son Uwain prevents her from taking Urien's own sword and killing him (Malory, BOOK IV, chaps. vi-xiv ).
Later Morgan le Fay is one of the four queens who come across Lancelot asleep under an apple tree. They disagree as to who is to be his lover and Morgan suggests that they take him to her castle, the Castle Charyot, where they will let Lancelot choose between them. Morgan then enchants Lancelot so that he will remain asleep during his transportation. At the Castle Charyot, Morgan tells Lancelot that she and her companions know Lancelot's identity and of his love for Guinevere, but that he must choose one of them as his lover or die in prison. Morgan le Fay may have loved Lancelot, but he refused to return her love or to help her in any way. So that she kept many knights to capture him (Book IX, chap. xl). She also imprisoned Lancelot for six months after he had fathered Galahad upon Elaine, the daughter of King Pelles (Book XI, chap. iv). Thwarted in her love for Lancelot, it would seem that Morgan le Fay, imprisoned him in a rage of jealousy. This jealousy also led her to attempt to expose the love that existed between Sir Lancelot and Guinevere to King Arthur (see below).
Read Malory's account of the four queens capture of Sir Lancelot.
The incident of Tristram and the shield is part of an episode in which Morgan le Fay shows her flirtatious nature, with disastrous consequences for her lover. For when Sir Tristram comes to her castle, she flirts with him in a way that makes her lover, Sir Hemison, so jealous that he considers killing Sir Tristram, but does not because of the shame that he would suffer having killed an unarmed man. However, when Sir Tristram leaves Morgan le Fay's castle, Sir Hemison follows him, fights him and is mortally wounded. The death of Sir Hemison causes great distress to Morgan le Fay (Book IX, chaps. xl-xlii).
Morgan le Fay's desire for valiant young knights can be seen in the case of Alisander le Orphelin. When she hears how well he had performed at King Carados' tournament she expresses a desire to see him (Book X, chap. xxxvi). As she is journeying to meet Alisander, she meets four knights who have been defeated by a young knight (Alisander le Orphelin) who is defending a castle and again expresses a desire to see him. With the damsel whose castle Alisander is defending, Morgan le Fay watches him defeat Malegrin, a fight in which Alisander is seriously wounded. Alisander is carried to the castle, where Morgan le Fay tends his wounds. She also promises the damsel of this castle, to help her gain the love of Alisander, but then secretly warns Alisander against marrying her. In response to Alisander's caution the damsel asks him to marry her to Gerine le Grose who has loved her a long time, this Alisander does. Morgan le Fay then drugs Alisander and has him taken to a castle, La Beale Regarde, that she has stolen. Here she has him promise to remain at the castle for a year and a day in return for having his wounds cured. The rightful owner of La Beale Regarde, a damsel who is cousin to Morgan le Fay, warns Alisander that Morgan le Fay is keeping him there to become her lover. Alisaunder rejects this proposal, saying that he would rather castrate himself than allow this to happen. The damsel then proposes that, if Alisander loves her, she will contrive to free him from the snares of Morgan le Fay. Alisander agrees and they become lovers. Then the damsel sends to her uncle, the Earl of Pace, who hates Morgan le Fay and the evil customs of her castle, to come and destroy La Beale Regarde with wild-fire. This is duly done, while Alisander hides in safety in a garden. Thereafter, Alisander is able to keep his oath to remain at La Beale Regarde and to defend it for a year and a day by defending the site of the castle. By this device he keeps his word to Morgan le Fay, but avoids the risk of becoming her paramour.
Read Malory's account of Alisander le Orphelin and Morgan le Fay.
Morgan the Fay was certainly jealous of Queen Guinevere and her enjoyment of Lancelot's love. A love that she herself desired but could not obtain. Consequently, she sought to obtain vengeance upon Guinevere by revealing her infidelity with Lancelot to King Arthur. One attempt to reveal this involved sending a magic horn to King Arthur's court. This magic horn had the property that it will spill the drink of any unfaithful woman who attempts to drink from it. Fortunately for Guinevere, the knight carrying the horn is intercepted by Sir Lamorak and is forced to take the horn to King Mark's court (Book VIII, chap. xxxiv).
A second, and more explicit attempt to expose to King Arthur the love between Lancelot and Queen Guinevere, involves Morgan le Fay persuading Sir Tristram to bear a singular shield at the tournament of the Hard Rock. The shield shows a knight (signifying Lancelot) with one foot on the head of a king (King Arthur) and the other foot on the head of a queen (Queen Guinevere). This shield Morgan le Fay had devised out of her frustrated desire for Sir Lancelot. It being intended to reveal Lancelot's affair with Queen Guinevere to King Arthur (Book IX, chap. xl). Tristram, innocent of all knowledge of the meaning of the shield, duly bears it at the tournament. Here King Arthur is curious as to its meaning. This is revealed to him, in part, by a damsel from Morgan le Fay who tells Arthur that 'this shield was ordained for you,to warn you of your shame and dishonour, and that longeth to you and your queen' (Book IX, chap. xliii). The damsel then secretly departs.
Morgan le Fay also acts jealously to prevent one of her lovers marrying in the story of Ogier the Dane (Holger Dansk). Here she appears as Morgana the fay. She is one of the six fairies who bless Ogier at his birth, Morgana's blessing being that he will live for ever with her in Avalon. When journeying back to France, Ogier is ship-wecked on a lodestone island. While wandering through a flowery meadow on the island he encounters Morgana the fay, who gives him a ring that restores his youth. Ecstatic at this transformation he dons the golden crown of forgetfulness. Now he joins Arthur, Oberon, Tristan and Lancelot for two hundred years, enjoying constant jousting and fighting. However, the crown falls off one day, Ogier remembers the past and returns to France. He is astounded by the changes that have happened in the country in two hundred years. Despite all these changes he is still loyal to France and defends Paris from an invasion. Shortly after, his magic ring is taken playfully for his finger, and put on her own, by the Countess of Senlis who is amazed that it restores her youth. Wishing to gain possession of the ring for ever, she sends thirty champions against Ogier, who easily defeats them. Morgana the fay now takes Ogier off to her Isle of Avalon out of jealousy, for Ogier had intended to marry the widow of the King of France. From Avalon, he, like Arthur for Britain, will only return when France needs him (Guerber, H. A., Myths and Legends of the Middle Ages, pp. 172, 175-6).
Sir Percival has had an encounter with a devil in the guise of a horse. He was given this by a woman and it carried him to a stormy sea that it would have plunged into. However Percival makes the sign of the cross and is shaken from the horse. He then saves a young lion from a serpent and earns the gratitude of its parent. While sleeping beside the lion he dreams of two women, a young one on a lion and an older woman on a serpent. The young woman speaks to Percival in the following wise:-
'Sir Percivale, my lord saluteth you, and sendeth thee word that thou array thee and make thee ready, for tomorn thou must fight with the strongest champion of the world. And if thou be overcome thou shalt not be quit for losing any of thy members, but thou shalt be shamed for ever to the world's end.'
The lady on the serpent remonstrates with Percival for killing the serpent and Percival defends himself by saying that 'the lion is of gentler nature than the serpent' and refuses to become her man to make amends for the death of the serpent at his hands. She then says the following to Percival:-
'truly ye were never but my servant syn ye received the homage of Our Lord Jesu Christ. therefore I ensure you in what place I may find you without keeping I shall take you as he that sometime was my man.'
The following morning a old man, wearing a surplice, comes to Percival on a ship covered in white samite and interprets Percival's dream. The younger of the two women in the dream signified the new law of Jesus Christ, who came to warn Percival of spiritual battle that he will be involved in. While the older of the two women represented the old law and the serpent she rode was the fiend that Percival rode upon, in the guise if a black horse, during his journey to the wilderness where he saved the lion's young.
After the old man had departed, a second ship arrives, this time covered in black silk and carrying a very beautiful gentlewoman. She gains Percival's confidence by telling him that she has met Galahad, to whom she will bring Percival. She then condemns the old man on the white ship as 'an enchanter and multiplier of words'. Next she poses as a distressed damsel who has been wrongfully ejected from her inheritance by her lover. However, she has succeeded in obtaining the services of many of her former lover's men by her gifts. She then asks Percival's assistance and it is granted.
The weather being hot, the lady has a pavilion erected, in which Percival sleeps and then is treated to a rich feast with strong wine. Befuddled by the wine Percival makes advances to his hostess, but she refuses him until he has promised to be her man. When Percival promises to do this she has a bed erected in the pavilion, upon which she and Percival lie naked. Then Percival sees the cross upon the pommel of his sword and thinks of his knighthood. He makes the sign of the cross on his forehead. On this the pavilion turns upside down and dissipates into smoke. The lady rushes to her ship crying that Percival has betrayed her and departs in it with the wind blowing and her ship leaving behind it a burning wake. Percival now knows that the lady represented diabolical forces. Distraught at his sinfulness with her Percival 'rove himself through the thigh that the blood start about him' and laments his lost virginity. It is generally agreed that this wounding of his thigh by Perceval is a mediaeval euphemism for self-castration. Then the old man on the white ship returns and explains to Percival that the gentlewoman in the black ship was the 'master fiend of hell'.
Read Malory's account of the temptation of Perceval.
This incident of the guise taken by Satan, in an attempt to seduce Perceival closely resembles a like incident in Manesier's continuation of Chrétien de Troyes Perceval. Here, after a storm, Perceval sees a boat covered in black samite approaching the land, bearing a girl. After an initial failure to recognise the girl, Perceval sees in her the features of his wife, Blanchefleur.
The girl has a pavilion erected, where Perceval ignores a sumptuous feast that has been set before him. The girl then tells Perceval that her lands are being attacked by Arides d'Escavalon, who wishes to marry her. She, however, is totally loyal to Perceval, even though he was absent and his whereabouts were not known. She then persuades Perceval to sleep with her.
'My love, you may go to bed whenever you like, and lie with me in this bed if you wish - I dearly desire it: you'll lie here tonight at great leisure.'
Perceval said he would do just as she wished. the young lady lay down on the rich bed, and Perceval lay beside her; and it pleased him greatly, for he had not seen her for a long time. He felt her naked. She wanted him to lie with her and to do all his pleasure: she was far from coy or reticent. Then Perceval looked and saw his cruciform sword - for he had brought it with him - and seeing the shape of the cross he crossed himself, and thus thwarted the demon with whom he had been about to have his way in bed - for it was the Devil indeed, you may be sure, who in the semblance of his sweetheart had wanted to make him sin while saying she loved him dearly. When Perceval made the sign of the cross as he should - and as God had inspired him to do in His miraculous way - the Devil saw it and leapt straight up and swept away the pavilion and the bed.
Chrétien de Troyes , Perceval: The Story of the Grail, trans. Bryant, N., D. S. Brewer, 1996 (1982), P. 288.
Grateful for his escape from sin, Perceval thanks God and dresses and arms himself. He looks out to sea, but sees no trace of the boat until the moon shines when he sees the boat sailing away in a storm: -
the greatest you could ever see, with thunder, rain and lightning, and rocks fell from the clouds, both great and small, in an endless hail around the boat.
Chrétien de Troyes , Perceval: The Story of the Grail, trans. Bryant, N., D. S. Brewer, 1996 (1982), P. 288.
Yes! In this continuation of Chrétien de Troyes descriptionof Perceval's adventures, far from being the virgin knight of Malory's version, Perceval is actually married. His wife is Blanchefleur of the Castle Beaurepaire. She is the neice of Gorneman de Gorhaut, who had knighted Perceval. Not only did Perceval marry, but Chrétien toys with sexual innuendo in a way that suggests that Perceval was sexually aware from the start of his adventures.
Chrétien de Troyes seems to delight in titillating his audience in places. For instance when Perceval sets out on his travels and parts from his mother, she tells him: -
Should you encounter, near or far, a lady in need of aid, or a maiden in distress, make yourself ready to assist them if they ask for your help, for it is the most honourable thing to do. He who fails to honour ladies finds his own honour dead inside him. Serve ladies and maidens and you will be honoured everywhere. And if you ask any for her love, be careful not to annoy her by doing eanything to displease her. He who kisses a maiden gains much, but if she grants you a kiss, I forbid you to go any further, if you'll refrain for my sake. But if she has a ring on her finger or an alms purse at her belt, and if she gives it to you for love or at your request, I'll not object to you wearing her ring. I give you leave to take the ring and the alms purse.
Chrétien de Troyes: Arthurian Romances, trans,Kibler, W. W., Carrol, C. W., Penguin: Harmondsworth, 1991, pp. 387-8.
This is rather strange advice to be given by a mother, especially as she allows him to take a lady's or a maiden's ring or alms purse at his request. It is therefore no surprise that Perceval, when he encounters a maiden alone in a tent should think that the mere asking a maiden for a kiss and her ring is enough to ensure that he has a right to take it.
The maiden trembled in fear of the boy who appeared mad to her, and blamed her own foolishness for having let him find her alone
'Young man,' she said, 'be on your way. Flee, lest my lover see you.'
'First I'll kiss you, by my head,' said the boy, 'no matter what anyone may think, because my mother instructed me to.'
'I'll never kiss you, to be sure,' said the maiden, 'not if I can help it! Flee, lest my lover discover you, for if he finds you, you are dead.'
The boy had strong arms and embraced her clumsily because he knew no other way: he stretched her out beneath him, but she resisted mightily and aquirmed away as best she could. Yet her resistance was in vain, for the boy kissed her repeatedly, twenty times as the story says, regardless of whether she liked it or not, until he saw a ring set with a shining emerald on her finger.
'My mother also told me,' he said, 'to take the ring from your finger, but not to do anything more. Now give me the ring, I want it!'
'I swear you shall never have my ring,' said the maiden, 'unless you tear it from my finger.'
The boy grasped her wrist, forcibly straightened out her finger, removed the ring from it, and put it on his own finger, saying: 'Maiden, I wish you well. I'll go now quite contented, because your kiss is much better than that of any chambermaid in all my mother's household, since your lips are sweet.'
She wept and said: 'Young man, don't carry away my ring, for I'll be ill-treated for it and sooner or later you'll lose your life, I promise you.'
Chrétien de Troyes: Arthurian Romances, trans,Kibler, W. W., Carrol, C. W., Penguin: Harmondsworth, 1991, pp. 389-90.
Well, Perceval certainly took his mother's advice to heart! Note the piece of eroticism, where 'he stretched her out beneath him', while the forcible taking of her ring is an act full of sexual significance. No doubt Chrétien is playing with his audience's imagination with this piece of sexual innuendo. Furthermore, it is difficult to imagine him as sexually inexperienced after his remark about his mother's chambermaids.
After Perceval has departed from the maiden and the tent, her lover returns and refuses to believe that she was the unwilling victim of Perceval's forced attentions.
It was not long before her lover returned form the woods. He was distressed when he caught sight of the tracks made by the boy, who had gone his way; and then he found his sweetheart weeping, and said: 'My lady, I believe by these signs I see that a knight was here.
'No knight, my lord, I swear to you, but a Welsh boy, uncouth, base, and naïve, who drank as much of your wine as he pleased and some of your three meat pies.'
'And is that what you're crying for, fair one? I wouldn't have cared if he'd eaten and drunk everything.'
'There's more, my lord,' she said. 'It has to do with my ring: he's taken it and carried it it off. I would rather have died than permit him to take it like that.'
Then her companion was distressed and tormented in his heart. 'Upon my oath,' he said, 'this is an outrage! Since he has taken it, let him have it. But I believe he did more: if there is more, don't hide it.'
'My lord,' she said, 'he kissed me.'
'Yes, I assure you, but it was against my will.'
'No you liked it and were pleased by it! You never tried to stop him,' said the man, tormented by jealousy. 'Do you think I don't know you? Indeed, I know you only too well! My eyes are not so blind or squinting that I cannot see your falseness. You've embarked on a wicked path and your's proceeding up a painful road, for your horse will never again eat oats nor be cared for until I am avenged. And should it lose a a shoe it will never be reshod; if it dies, you shall follow me on foot. You shall not change the clothes you are wearing, but will follow me on foot until I have cut off his head nothing less will satisfy me.'
Chrétien de Troyes: Arthurian Romances, trans,Kibler, W. W., Carrol, C. W., Penguin: Harmondsworth, 1991, pp. 390-1.
The maiden's lover (the Haughty Knight of the Heath) is true to his word, for if any knight accosts his maiden, he explains why he is treating her in this way and then defeats and beheads him. This continues until Perceval comes accross a knight who has been beheaded in this way, the lover of a cousin of his. She then directs him to the maiden who he finds. It is apparent from the description of her that her knight has kept his promise to neglect her.
...he overtook a lean and weary palfrey walking along ahead of him. the palfrey was so thin and wretched that Perceval thought it had fallen into evil hands. It seemed to be as overworked and ill-fed as horse that is hired : overtaxed by Day and poorly cared for by night. the palfrey appeared just like that. It was so thin that it trembled as if suffering from glanders, its mane had all fallen out and its ears drooped down. Before long it would be good only as food for the hounds and mastiffs, because there was nothing but hide hanging over it's bones. The lady's saddle on it's back and the bridle on it's head mirrored its own pitiable state. It was being ridden by the most wretched girl you have ever seen. Yet she would have been fair and noble enough had she had better fortune, but she was in such a bad state that there was not a palm's breadth of good material in the dress she wore, and her breasts fell out through the rips. The dress was held together here and there with knots and crude stitches. Her skin looked lacerated as though it had been torn by lancets, and it was pocked and burned by heat and wind and frost. Her hair was loose and she wore no hood so that her face showed with many an ugly trace left by tears rolling ceaselessly down her cheeks, they flowed accross her breasts and out over her dress down to her knees. Anyone in such afflictions might well have a heavy heart
Chrétien de Troyes: Arthurian Romances, trans,Kibler, W. W., Carrol, C. W., Penguin: Harmondsworth, 1991, pp. 426-7.
She recognises Perceval, though he does not recognise her, and he refuses to see that he could have done her any wrong; a very male response after taking sexual favours! She pleads with Perceval to leave before her knight (the Haughty Knight of the Heath) arrives, but he insists on hearing her story. Just then the maiden's knight rides up 'charging like a thunderbolt across the sands and dust', and insists on telling Perceval why he is punishing her, before he kills him.
'Recently I had gone off into the woods leaving this damsel in one of my tents and I loved no one but her.. Then, by chance, along came a Welshman, I don't know where he was headed, but he managed to force her to kiss him, so she told me. If she'd lied to me , what harm is there in it? But if he even kissed her against her will,wouldn't he have taken advantage of her afterwards? Indded yes! And no one will ever believe he kissed her without doing more, for one thing leads to another: if a man kisses a woman and nothing more, when they are all alone together, I think there's something wrong with him. A woman who lets herself be kissed easily gives the rest if someone insists upon it, and even if she resists, it's a well-known fact that a woman wants to win every battle but this one: though she may grab a man by the throat, and scratch and bite him until he's nearly dead, still she wants to be conquered. She puts up a fight against it but is eager for it, she is so afraid to give in, she wants to be taken by force, but then never shows her gratitude. therefore I believe this Welshman lay with her. And he took a ring of mine that she wore upon her finger and carried it off, which makes me angry! But before that he drank and his fill of the hearty wine and three meat pies I had put aside for myself. But now my love has a splendid reward, as you can see. Anyone who makes a mistake must pay for it, so he won't make it again. You can imagine my anger when I returned and learned what had happened. And I swore and rightly so, that her palfrey would have no oats and would not be reshod or groomed, and that she ould have no other tunic or mantle than what she was wearing then, until I had defeated, killed and decapitated the one who raped her.'
Chrétien de Troyes: Arthurian Romances, trans,Kibler, W. W., Carrol, C. W., Penguin: Harmondsworth, 1991, pp. 428-9.
Here Chrétien gives reign to the male fantasy that women, whenever they refuse to have a sexual relationship with a man are dissimulating in this matter. That what they are really aching for is to be violently raped by the man.
Here is another incident where Chrétien plays at titillating his audience. Blanchefleur was being besieged by Engygeron, seneschal to Clamedeus of the Isles, who was seeking to capture her to be the wife to his master. The first night they meet, she and Perceval fall in love and spend the night together:-
And he kissed her and held her fast in his arms, and drew her gently and softly under the coverlet. She let him kiss her, and I don't think it displeased her. They lay like this all night, side by side, lip to lip, until the morning when day was near. She found great comfort that night, as they slept lip to lip, arm in arm, until day broke. At dawn the girl returned to her chamber; without the help of a maid or a waiting-woman she dressed and made herself ready, waking no-one.
Chrétien de Troyes , Perceval: The Story of the Grail, trans. Bryant, N., D. S. Brewer, 1996 (1982), P. 23.
After he has defeated Engygeron, Perceval returns to Beaurepaire, where: -
Just then the girl appeared and greated him with the greatest joy, and led him to her chamber to rest and take his ease. She did not resist his embraces and kisses; instead of eating and drinking they sported and kissed and embraced and exchanged sweet words.
Chrétien de Troyes , Perceval: The Story of the Grail, trans. Bryant, N., D. S. Brewer, 1996 (1982), P. 26.
Having abandoned himself to passion with Blanchefleur, Perceval takes a strange stance when Escolasse, of the castle Cothoatre, offers him her body as a reward for freeing her land from the enchantment that had made it a waste land. This incident occurs in the continuation of Chrétien de Troyes poem by Gerbert de Montreuil. Escolasse is described in a way that makes her seductiveness obvious: -
Just then a lady appeared from a chamber, and Nature never made a fairer, wiser or more courteous creature. The story tells that she had a most comely body and a charming face...She was tall and young and elegant, upright in bearing and shapely, with a good firm body; she had fine shoulders, arms and sides, and a nicely slander waist, and hips as wide as one would wish, just perfect for bed sport; her arms were long and round and full, her fingers long, her hands small;... her hair shone brighter than gold - yes, it seemed indeed to be threads of gold, it was so fair; and her forehead was whiter than snow....she had brown eyebrows and sparkling eyes, wide and innocent and laughing, and warm, red lips, and as shapely a nose as one could wish...The colour of her cheeks... was a thousand times brighter than a rose on a May morning: white blended with red so perfectly...her chin was quite the finest made of all time, and her neck was beautiful and smooth...the whiteness of her chest was more perfect than any other: and what a pleasant encounter it would make, for her breasts were firm and nicely round.
Chrétien de Troyes , Perceval: The Story of the Grail, trans. Bryant, N., D. S. Brewer, 1996 (1982), P. 197-8.
Perceval is put in a splendid bed and Escolasse offers to sleep with him. Despite his willingness for the pleasures of love, Perceval remembers that he is on the Grail quest and refuses her.
... and the girl whispered sweetly in his ear that if he wanted pleasure she would lie with him in the bed, for he had deserved it. She looked so lovely to Perceval that he did not know whether to refuse or accept. His body and his limbs all trembled, and he remembered the quest he had undertaken for the Grail.
'In faith,' he thought, 'I am in a spot. Such a beautiful girl offers and presents her love to me, but I daren't accept it. I think she means to deceive me, or else she always asks knights for love, and I am not the first! But a man should always fear sin, both in word and deed, if he wants to conquer Paradise.
Perceval shivered at this thought, and said to the girl:
'Fair lady, I have no need of that just now. But truly, my dear friend, I refuse you only because it would be a very great sin if I ruined your virginity or mine. I tell you dear friend I never yearned for such pleasure in my life, nor do I understand its purpose
The girl was filled with shame, and said:
' As God's my witness sir, I said what I said to fulfil your wishes. Now that I see that your desire is to shun the sport that I offered you, that is my desire as well.'
At that she left without another word, and went to her chamber to sleep. Perceval tossed and turned, thinking about the Grail and nothing else; and thinking thus he fell asleep, until daybreak when the watch sounded the dawn.
Chrétien de Troyes , Perceval: The Story of the Grail, trans. Bryant, N., D. S. Brewer, 1996 (1982), P. 200.
After various adventures Perceval decides to marry Blanchefleur, his sweetheart from early in the poem. Chiefly to avoid the un-natural sins of the flesh that priests, despite their vows of chastity indulged in: -
(Speaking to Gorneman's sons) 'No, it's no use; I'm not going to stay. I want to go to my sweetheart Blanchefleur, your kinswoman. And by my soul, I shall be most grateful if your father will take me to her, for I want to marry her. I shall live more chastely then; and the man who lives a holy life and keeps himself pure and preserves his chastity and virginity will find it to his advantage: for, as any priest will testify, he is loved and cherished in this life and his soul will be secure in the next. That's why, my lords, I want to live chastely, to be of greater worth. That's why I wish to take a wife, you see, to escape the mortal sins that torment and confound the soul. Nonetheless there are some things that clerics and priests forbid us to do - because they clearly see that, were it not for their prohibition, one would frequently do what one dare not do - which they do themselves. They are supposedly deeply religious men, but they are deeply debauched; but I don't want to reproach them. But that's why I want to take a wife, to lead a clean and wholesome life and to guard and keep myself from sinning.
Chrétien de Troyes , Perceval: The Story of the Grail, trans. Bryant, N., D. S. Brewer, 1996 (1982), P. 227.
After a sumptuous wedding Blanceheflor and Perceval, rather incongruously considering their behaviour in Chrétien de Troyes beginning to the poem, decide to preserve their virginity. Then a voice from a light makes the following strange speech to Perceval: -
'Perceval, dear brother, think truly upon God.You have married your wife who is full of goodness. Now know in truth that I have come from God to declare to you that no man should touch his wife but in a holy way and for two things alone: firstly to beget children, and secondly to avoid sin. But it frequently happens that when young people are together they think that whatever carnal pleasure they enjoy is for the best. But truly they are sinning and living wrongfully. So help me God, they would be better to plunge in cold water to purge the poison from them. Now preserve your virginity and fill your heart with charity and all honour will come to you. And I tell you this: from your line will come a girl who is most beautiful and lovely,
Chrétien de Troyes , Perceval: The Story of the Grail, trans. Bryant, N., D. S. Brewer, 1996 (1982), P. 235-6.
It's all beyond me! How can Perceval preserve his virginity, yet father a child. Does love-making with the express purpose of creating a child mean that one preserves one's virginity? Perhaps a Catholic priest could explain this most bizarre notion? He could also enlighten me on the debauchery that priests indulge in.
This story has been retold thrice in modern times. Firstly there is a synopsis of the story that occurs in Perceval: The Story of the Grail, translated by Nigel Bryant and published by D. S. Brewer, 1996 (1982), P. 120-2. Secondly is a more extended retelling in Secret Camelot by John Matthews, published by Blandford, 1997, pp. 13-29. Thirdly, there is a complete translation in Three Arthurian Romances, translated by Ross G Arthur, published by Everyman, 1996, pp.3-83.
King Arthur has given his niece Ysave de Carahet in marriage to King Caradeus of Nantes. Unfortunately, she is loved by a sorcerer named Eliavret. He has the power to change animals into human form and has a greyhound bitch, a sow and a mare successvely take on the appearance of Ysave for the first three nights of her marriage to Caradeus, while Eliavret enjoys the charms of the real Ysave. On the third night a male child (Carados) is conceived. He grows up believing that King Caradeus is his father.
Carados goes to the court of his uncle King Arthur and does well there. While he is at the court, one Pentecost, an unkwown knight enters and requests that one of Arthur's knights behead him and promise that he will offer to be beheaded the following year. Impulsively, Carados beheads the knight, who then takes up his severed head, places it upon his body and warns Carados to keep his promise. A year passes and the knight once again arrives at Arthur's court to seek repayment for being beheaded. Carados willing places his neck to be severed, but the unknown knight merely hits it with the flat of his sword-blade. He then takes Carados to one side and tells him that he is his father, Eliavret and reveals the stratagem by which he deceived King Caradeus. Carados refuses to believe a word that Elaivret has said and threatens to kill him if he repeats the story.
Nonetheless, Carados does tell King Caradeus of Eliavret's confession and rejects his mother. He then advises his father to build a strong tower and to imprison Ysave in it. This is done, but Eliavret uses his knowledge of sorcery to visit Ysave unknown to anyone. Unfortunately, he also brings ghostly musicians to entertain Ysave and the noise of revelry coming from the tower arouses suspicions. When Carados learns that Eliavret is still visiting his mother, he succeeds in capturing him on one of his visits. He turns Eliavret over to King Caradeus, who repays him for the trick he played upon him so many years before by having him sleep with a greyhound bitch, a sow and a mare. Unlike the mating of King Caradeus with these animals, offspring is produced by the magical semen of Eliavret. There is a mastiff called Guinalot, a boar called Tortain and a stallion called Lorigal. Eliavret is then set free.
Eliavret tells of his humiliation to an outraged Ysave, who insists that he provides her with the means to be avenged upon Carados. Eliavret gives her a serpent which will attach itself to Carados' arm and cause him great pain and drain his strength. She tricks Carados into approaching the serpent so that it will attach itself to his arm.
Eventually, Ysave comes to regret the vengeance she has visited upon Carados and asks Eliavret, one night, when she and he are making love, how the serpent that is attached around Carados' arm can be removed. He tells her, and Ysave tells Carados' friend, Cador who carries out Eliavret's instructions. Cador has Carados sit in a bath of vinegar, while his sweetheart, Guinier, sits naked nearby in another bath of milk. While Cador hides himself behind a hanging carrying a naked sword. Guinier calls to the serpent, which is distressed by being in a bath of vinegar, offering her breast to it on the side of the bath. Wishing to exploit a new source of food, having almost exhausted the food potential offered by Carados, the snake leaps the gap between the two baths. At this point Cador comes out of hiding, smites off the snakes head and cuts its body into little pieces. Unfortunately, he also cuts off Guinier's nipples, which is restored in gold, by the magical golden boss of a shield that Carados obtains from his friend, the solar knight Alardin.
The 'droit de signeur', was the right of a lord to have the first pickings of a woman who is socially beneath him. This was exercised by King Pellinore (a 'stern knight') who came upon a maid while she was milking.
... half by force he had my maidenhead, and at that time he begat my son Tor, and he took away from me my greyhound that I had that time with me, and said he would keep the greyhound for my love.
MALORY, BOOK III, CHAP, III
The lady did not reveal this pre-marital encounter to Aries the cowherd when she married him and he always assumed that Tor was his son. However, the genes that Tor inherited from his true father, King Pellinore, expressed themselves in no uncertain manner. Tor would not, unlike his siblings, work when ordered to by his parents. Instead he spent his time in shooting, casting darts, delighted in watching battles and in seeing knights. Indeed, his one ambition was to become a knight and he asked his supposed father, Aries, to have him made a knight. It was for this reason that Aries brought Tor to Arthur's court on the occasion of Arthur's marriage to Guenevere; when the king would refuse no reasonable request. Tor came too, in as knightly a manner as he could manage. He wore a sword and rode astride a lean mare; a most unknightly mount. Arthur agreed to make him a knight, but baulked at making him a knight of the Round Table, telling Tor that this was a privilege that he must earn through knightly behaviour. The episode is rounded off by Merlin revealing Tor's true parentage.
Read Malory's account of King Pellinore fathering Sir Tor.
King Arthur, like King Pellinore fathered an illegitimate son, who became a outstanding knight. Though in this case, the child was born, not of a violent sexual assault, but as the result of a love affair.
So in the meanwhile there came a damosel that was an earl's daughter: his name was Sanam, and her name was Lionors, a passing fair damosel; and so she came thither for to do homage, as other lords did after the great battle. And King Arthur set his love greatly upon her, and she did upon him, and the king had ado with her, and gat on her a child: his name was Borre, that was after a good knight, and of the Round Table.
MALORY, BOOK I, CHAP. XVII
Merlin's obsession with Nimue and the disastrous fate that this led him suffer to is the best known story of Merlin being in love. Nimue had been brought to King Arthur's court by King Pellinore and here Merlin fell in love with her and 'stalked' her. Merlin would have used his magic skills to have had his way with her, but she made him swear that he would not do this. However, all the while he stalked her Nimue was milking Merlin of his magical secrets. But, she became tired of his endless attempts to seduce her and resolved to be rid of him. The opportunity came when he showed her a rock where there was a great wonder and she cleverly made him go under the rock to show her this wonder. When Merlin was under the rock she used the magic crafts she had learnt to imprison him there in such a way that he would never escape. The other well known variant of this story is that she imprisoned him in a tree in the forest of Broceliande in Brittany.
Read Malory's account of Merlin and Nimue.
Yet Merlin could be a sexual predator. After Merlin had made the wonder of Mount Dolorous, a copper pillar to which only the finest knight could tether his horse which was surrounded by fiteen crosses; five red, five white and five blue. He forced a woman who came to the mount to be his mistress, building for her a castle near Mount Dolorous. After he had returned to Utherpendragon's court to tell of the wonder he had created, he came to live with his mistress and became the father of a daughter (Perceval: the story of the Grail, trans. Bryant, N., Woodbridge (D. S. Brewer), 1996 (1982), P. 186-7).
Return to Home Page
Go to Sources for Arthurian sex tales.