Guinevere Maying

Guinevere Maying by Aubrey Beardsley
Malory's Morte D'Arthur
Dent edition

The Abduction of Gwenyver by Mellyagaunce.

Completed 10 June 2000.
Last modified 26 November 2000.
© Text Copyright 2000 Michael Wild

I can be reached at:- dagonet_uk 'at',uk


[A] Malory, Sir Thomas, Le Morte d'Arthure (2 vols), Dent: London, 1976 (1906).
[B]. Malory: Works, ed. Vinaver, E., Oxford University Press: London, 1966 (1954).


Introductory remarks

The abduction of Gwenyver by Mellyagaunce and her rescue by Launcelot, as described by Sir Thomas Malory, is summarised. A comparison is made between the portrayal of characters, and of the features of the Land of Gore, in Chréstien de Troyes and Malory is made. Please note, although Malory's spelling of names is inconsistent, an attempt has been made to approach the spelling style of his works.

The Story

Gwenyver is abducted [A - Book XIX, chap. 1-2]

Gwenyver intends to go maying in the fields and woods around Westemynster during the month of May. She orders ten knights of the Rounde Table to dress in green and to each bring a squire and two yoemen with them. They are to accompany the queen and her retinue of ten ladies. The knights are; Sir Kay le Senesciall, Sir Aggravayne, Sir Braundyles, Sir Sagramour le Desyrous, Sir Dodynas le Savayge, Sir Ozanna le Cure Hardy, Sir Ladynas of the Foreyst Savayge, Sir Persaunte of Inde, Sir Ironsyde or the Knyghte of the Rede Laundes and Sir Pelleas the Lovear.

Sir Mellyagaunce has been in love with the queen for many years but the presence of Launcelot, either with Gwenyver or at court, had previously discouraged him from revealing this love for fear of retribution. He feels that the occasion of Gwenyver's maying will be an ideal opportunity to capture her, as she will have only a small retinue to protect her. Therefore he collects together twenty men of arms and one hundred archers and sets an ambush.

When Gwenyver and her retinue are riding through the countryside 'all bedaysshed wyth erbis, mossis, and floures in the freysshyste maner' [B - P. 793], they are surprised by Mellyagaunce's force when it emerges from a wood. Mellyagaunce orders Gwenyver and her knights to surrender. However Gwenyver accuses him of betraying King Arthure and asserts that she would 'levir kut myne owne throte in twayne rather that thou sholde dishonoure me' [B - P. 793].

The knights with the queen tell Mellyagaunce that they will defend her to the death, even though without armour and only bearing swords. Now Mellyagaunce's force attacks. Although Gwenyver's knights succeed in destroying the spears with which they are attacked, in the ensuing sword fight six are struck to the ground (Sir Kay le Senesciall, Sir Sagramour le Desyrous, Sir Aggravayne, Sir Dodynas le Savayge, Sir Ladynas of the Foreyst Savayge, Sir Ozanna le Cure Hardy). The remaining four ( Sir Braundyles, Sir Persaunte of Inde, Sir Ironsyde or the Knyghte of the Rede Laundes and Sir Pelleas the Lovear) fight on despite their wounnds. In all, the ten knights of Gwenyver's retinue kill forty of their opponents.

Seeing that her knights will soon all be slain, Gwenyver tells Mellyagaunce that she will kill herself unless their lives are spared. Yet, if the knights are allowed to accompany her into imprisonment, she promises that she will go with Mellyagaunce to his castle.

* * * * * * * *

Gwenyver succeeds in sending a message to Launcelot [A - Book XIX, chap. 3]

While her knights are being cared for on the field of battle, Gwenyver secretly tells a youth of her chamber to ride to Launcelot with news of her capture and she gives him a signet ring to identify himself as her messenger. Despite being shot at and chased, the youth reaches Westemynster and delivers the queen's message. Now Launcelot arms himself and orders the youth to inform Sir Lavayne of his departure and to request Lavayne to follow Launcelot to Mellyagaunce's castle, which lies within seven miles of Westemynster.

After Mellyagaunce has realised that the youth was sent to tell Launcelot of the abduction, he tells Gwenyver that he will take measures to prevent Launcelot from rescuing her. He then hastily retreats to his castle with his prisoners, but leaves behind thirty archers to ambush Launcelot. He orders the archers to watch for a knight with a white horse, who will be Launcelot, and to kill the horse but not it's rider. When the captives arrive at Mellyagaunce's castle Gwenyver insists that her ten knights and ten ladies will always remain in her presence. She does this in order to protect both them and herself from violence at Mellyagaunce's hands.

* * * * * * * *

Launcelot's journey to Mellyagaunce's castle [A - Book XIX, chaps. 4-5]

Launcelot rides to the Thames and swims his horse accross the river from Westemynster to Lambyth. Then he rides about a mile and reaches the site of the battle between Gwenyver's knights and Mellyagaunce's force. He now follows a track to a narrow place by a wood where he is challenged by Mellyagaunce's archers, who order Launcelot to turn back. Launcelot refuses and the archers, as they had been ordered, shoot his horse full of arrows. Launcelot leaves his horse and tries to advance to attack the archers, but is prevented from doing this by many intervening hedges and ditches. Launcelot walks onward, encumbered by his armour, spear and shield, until he comes upon a cart with two carters. He offers payment to be taken to Mellyagaunce's castle, which lies within two miles, but the first carter refuses as he is under orders to take wood to the castle. Launcelot then kills this carter with a single blow from his fist. On this, the frightened second carter complies with Launcelot's order to drive to Meleagaunce's gate as quickly as possible.

Launcelot's approach to Mellyagaunce's castle is seen by one of Gwenyver's ladies from a bay window. She mockingly tells the queen that a handsome armed knight is riding by in a cart as though he were going to be hanged and he is being followed by a wounded horse that is trampling on it's own extruded intestines. Recognising the knight as Launcelot, the queen rebukes her attendant for insulting him.

When he arrives at the castle, Launcelot challenges Mellyagaunce and his men to come out and fight with him. Then he forces open the gate of the castle upon the castle's porter, who he kills with a single blow of his fist and enters the castle.

When Mellyagaunce hears that Launcelot is at the gate of his castle, he craves mercy and protection from Gwenyver. In return Mellyagaunce promises to treat the queen and her wounded knights hospitably, to allow them to return to Westemynster the following morning and to submit both his life and his possessions to the queen's mercy.

Gwenyver agrees to these proposals and goes down with her ladies to the castle's courtyard, where Launcelot continues to demand that Mellyagaunce comes and fights him. Gwenyver mollifies Launcelot's anger and tells him that Meleagaunce has surrendered to her. She then takes Launcelot by the hand and leads him to her chamber, where he is unarmed.

* * * * * * * *

The relationship of Gwenyver and Launcelot flourishes [A - Book XIX, chaps. 5-6].

Gwenyver treats Launcelot with great friendliness and they arrange that he is to meet her that night so they can talk alone with greater intimacy, though through a barred window. At this point Lavayne arrives from Westemynster, having responded to Launcelot's summons, and he is welcomed by Launcelot. Then the wounds of Gwenyver's ten knights are treated and salves are applied to them. After supper, Gwenyver insists that all the wounded knights are placed in her chamber so that she can tend them.

Launcelot returns to his chamber, where he tells Lavayne that he must speak with Gwenyver that night. Lavayne advises that he accompany Launcelot in case some treachery is planned. This fear is dismissed by Launcelot, who nonetheless takes a sword with him as a precaution. On his way to the garden overlooked by the barred window, Launcelot takes up a ladder he had seen earlier and uses it to climb up to the window, where Gwenyver is waiting for him.

After Gwenyver and Launcelot have talked for some time, both agree that they would like to be together in Gwenyver's chamber. Launcelot then pulls the iron bars from their stone setting, cutting his hand deeply, but failing to notice this in the heat of his passion for Gwenyver. She warns him to be quiet because the wounded knights are in her chamber. Then 'sir Launcelot wente to bedde with the quene and toke no force of his hurte honde, but toke hys pleasaunce and hys lykynge untyll hit was the dawnyng of the day' [B - P. 801]. At dawn Launcelot leaves Gwenyver and goes back to his own chamber, replacing the iron bars in the window on his way out. In his own chamber Launcelot tells Lavayne of his wounded hand. The flow of blood from the hand is stopped by Lavayne, the wound is bound and a glove is placed on the hand to hide the dressing.

* * * * * * * *

Mellyagaunce accuses Gwenyver of being an adulteress [A - Book XX, chap. 6-7].

In the morning Mellyagaunce enters Gwenyver's chamber and chides her for being so long in bed. Then he draws back the curtains of the queen's bed and sees blood upon her bedclothes. He concludes that Gwenyver has committed adultery with some of the wounded knights during the night and reasons that he can use this to divert attention from his abduction of the queen. When he accuses the queen and the knights of committing adultery, all deny the accusation. Then the knights say that they are willing to fight to prove Gwenyver's innocence when they have recovered from their wounds and they ask Mellyagaunce to chose one of them to undertake the fight. However, after the ten knights see the blood upon Gwenyver's bedclothes each has doubts about the innocence of the queen and of his fellows.

Launcelot comes to the queen's chamber when he hears of the accusation against Gwenyver. He accuses Mellyagaunce of acting in an unknightly way when he drew back the curtains of Gwenyver's bed: something that King Arthure would only do when he wished to make love to her! Mellyagaunce repeats his accusation against Gwenyver and the ten knights and says he will fight to prove himself right, telling Launcelot not to 'do batayle in a wronge quarell, for God woll have a stroke in every batayle' [B - p> 803]. Launcelot accepts the challenge as he knows that Mellyagaunce's accusation is technically false because the adultery was not committed with any of the ten knights but with himself! Now Mellyagaunce gives Launcelot his glove and makes a formal accusation against Gwenyver. Launcelot receives the glove and a written agreement to fight over the matter is made, is sealed with both knight's signet rings and is given to the ten knights. Finally Mellyagaunce tells Launcelot that they are to fight at Westemynster in eight days time.

* * * * * * * *

Mellyagaunce betrays Launcelot: Gwenyver returns to court [A - Book XIX, chap. 7].

When the date of the future fight between Launcelot and Mellyagaunce has been arranged, Mellyagaunce asks Launcelot not to perform any acts of treachery against him prior to their fight. After Launcelot agrees to do this Mellyagaunce, in his turn, affirms that he will act honourably towards Launcelot.

Mellyagaunce tells Launcelot that the queen and himself may return to Westemynster after dinner. He suggests that, while at his castle, Launcelot might like to be shown around it. As they tour the castle Launcelot treads on a hidden trapdoor and falls 'ten fadoms' into a cave filled with straw. Mellyagaunce now returns to the queen and her knights and pretends that he does not know the whereabouts of Launcelot. He also has Lavayne's horse hidden so that it appears to the queen's company that Launcelot has taken the horse and has yet again departed upon knight erranty without telling anyone.

After dinner Lavayne has horse litters prepared for the wounded knights as quickly as possible. Then the knights, with Gwenyver and her ladies, return to Westemynster. King Arthure is told of Mellyagaunce's accusation of adultery against Gwenyver and of Launcelot accepting the challenge to fight Mellyagaunce to decide the truth of the accusation. The king says that, although Launcelot has apparently departed upon knight errantry, he will return to fight Mellyagaunce unless he has been treacherously imprisoned.

* * * * * * * *

The imprisonment of Launcelot and his release [A - Book XIX, chap. 8]

Launcelot lies in the cave he has fallen into through the trapdoor in great pain and is fed here each day by a lady. Each day she asks Launcelot to make love to her and each day he refuses this request. The lady tries to force Launcelot to change his mind by telling him that she is the only person who release him from his imprisonment and, if he is not released in time to fight Mellyagaunce on Gwenyver's behalf, the queen will be burnt to death as a convicted adulteress. Even though he does not wish Gwenyver to be burnt, Launcelot says that he would refuse the lady 'if there were no more women in this londe but ye, yet shall nat I have ado with you' [B - P. 805]. Launcelot is also certain that Gwenyver will not lack a champion as one of his relatives or friends is certain to fight for the queen's cause in his absence.

The lady continues to press Launcelot to become her lover until the day of his fight with Mellyagaunce. Now she offers Launcelot his own armour, and Mellyagaunce's best horse, if he will only kiss her. As Launcelot feels that he may do this without either any loss of honour, or by being unfaithful to Gwenyver, he assents. After receiving her kiss the lady returns Launcelot his armour and takes him to Mellyagaunce's stable. Here he chooses a white courser as his mount. Before leaving Launcelot says, 'Lady, for thys dayes dede I shall do you servyse, if ever hit lye in my power' [B - P. 805].

* * * * * * * *

Launcelot fights Mellyagaunce at Westemynster [A - Book XIX, chap. 9]

Gwenyver has been brought to a fire at Westemynster, ready to be burnt. Mellyagaunce insists that Arthure do him justice by either having Gwenyver burnt or by producing Launcelot, so that he may fight him as had been arranged. King Arthure hesitates before taking the unavoidable decision to commit Gwenyver to the flames and Lavayne steps forward and offers to take Launcelot's place in the fight against Mellyagaunce. King Arthure agrees to let Lavayne fight as he is certain that none of the ten knights who shared Gwenyver's chamber committed adultery with the queen and believes that Launcelot has been treacherously imprisoned to prevent him attending the fight.

When all preparations have been made for the fight between Lavayne and Mellyagaunce and both knights are waiting to joust, Launcelot gallops onto the field and Arthure halts the joust. Launcelot tells how Mellyagaunce had imprisoned him. Now Gwenyver is brought from the fire and is sat in her rightful place beside Arthure.

When they joust Launcelot overthrows Mellyagaunce. After a long fight on foot Launcelot gives Mellyagaunce a blow that knocks him to the ground. Now Mellyagaunce yields to Launcelot and asks him, as a fellow knight of the Round Table, not to kill him. He also puts his life into the hands of Arthure and Launcelot.

Launcelot is perplexed by this plea for mercy and he looks towards Gwenyver for guidance. She gives Launcelot a sign that she wishes Mellyagaunce dead. Launcelot now tells Mellyagaunce to rise and fight to the utterance (to death) or be shamed. Mellyagaunce still insists on surrendering and Launcelot offers to handicap himself by having his head and left side unarmoured and his left hand tied behind him. Mellyagaunce eagerly seizes upon this offer, which appears to give him an extraordinary advantage and calls upon Arthure to ensure that Launcelot is handicapped in the way prescribed. When paritial disarming and binding of Launcelot has been completed the fight is resumed. Launcelot offers his bare head and unprotected left side to Mellyagaunce. Mellyagaunce raises his sword and attacks, Launcelot quickly twists his body so that his armoured side is facing Mellyagaunce and knocks Mellyagaunce's sword aside. Then Launcelot strikes a blow on Mellyagaunce's helmet that splits the both the helmet and Mellyagaunce's head in two

Mellyagaunce's body is drawn from the field. At the insistence of Round Table knights, Arthure has Mellyagaunce buried in a tomb that bears an inscription telling who had slain him and detailing the reason for this killing. Finally, Launcelot is treated with great affection by both the king and the queen.

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