Saturday, April 26, 2008

Queen Guinevere

The legend of King Arthur's queen Guinevere and her fatal love for the knight Sir Lancelot was extremely popular in the Middle Ages when most people had arranged marriages, even peasants. Although the Cathar-influenced troubadour culture in the south of France tended to glorify love outside of marriage, the basic plot of the legend is that adulterous romance has heavy consequences. The dalliance of Guinevere and Lancelot led to the destruction of Camelot and ruined many people's lives. According to the old legends, both Lancelot and Guinevere entered monasteries and ended their days in prayer and repentance.

The story was taken up by subsequent generations. Although Tennyson captures the intoxication of the initial infatuation in one of his poems, he also shows the many tears and repentance after disaster has overtaken the lovers and the kingdom.

Here is an excerpt from Tennyson's "Sir Lancelot and Queen Guinevere:"
Then, in the boyhood of the year,
Sir Launcelot and Queen Guinevere
Rode thro' the coverts of the deer,
With blissful treble ringing clear.
She seem'd a part of joyous Spring;
A gown of grass-green silk she wore,
Buckled with golden clasps before;
A light-green tuft of plumes she bore
Closed in a golden ring.

Here is Tennyson's rendition of the queen's repentance.


Ed Mahony said...

Interesting your mention of the Cathars. They were a pretty strong force in medieval Europe at one time.

elena maria vidal said...

Yes, indeed, I have just completed a novel about them.

xavier said...

Elena Maria:
I'm surprised that Catars influenced trobadorian culture. None of the books I've read (and I'm talking the Catalan books on medieval Catalan/occità literature) don't mention this tidbit.

elena maria vidal said...

That is interesting, Xavier, thank you for your comment. It was not a huge influence but significant enough so that it has been remarked upon by some scholars. One of the books in which I read the theory was Denis de Rougement's "Love in the Western World." (In addition to writing the novel, I once did a paper in grad school about the relationship between Cathars and the troubadours.) While I am far from being an authority on the topic, I recall that there was definitely some overlapping in their cosmic view, with some of the troubadour poetry resembling some of the Cathar prayers-- strong emphasis on disembodied love. Also, both movements took root and flourished in more or less the same centuries in Languedoc. The point is that the Cathar belief system was so dominant that it influenced the rest of the culture, even those who wanted no part of it.

Anonymous said...

When I think of troubadours It is La Chanson de Roland:

Charles the King, our Lord and Sovereign,
Full seven years hath sojourned in Spain,
Conquered the land, and won the western main,
Now no fortress against him doth remain,
No city walls are left for him to gain,
Save Sarraguce, that sits on high mountain.
Marsile its King, who feareth not God's name,
Mahumet's man, he invokes Apollin's aid,
Nor wards off ills that shall to him attain.

This ballad was sung to teach the French children the history of Charlemagne's battle at the pass of Roncesvalles (in Navarre) in the Pyrenees.

I've made the pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela, twice --crossing from France into Spain via this historic route de Roland --there is a crypt for the slain warriors at the monastery at the top of the pass. The history as told in the Chanson
is still under review.

But your point EM, about the Cathar culture having influence even against the will or intent of the faithful is analogous to our own struggles with virulent secularism.
It seeps in despite our personal vigilance.

Very interesting thread!

elena maria vidal said...

Beautiful quote! Thank you, properly scared!

I would love to travel to Compostela someday. You are blessed to have been there twice!

Yes, there are some definite parallels between the Cathar time and our own, which I try to bring out in the (hopefully) soon-to-be-published novel.

Aunty Belle said...

What is the title of the new book?

elena maria vidal said...

Not sure yet. It keeps changing.

Enbrethiliel said...


I'm more of a child of my times than I thought. =(

Until you mentioned it, Elena, I hadn't realised that the story of Lancelot and Guinevere was all about the consequences of the sin of adultery. I don't know if anyone else had the same experience, but I've mostly seen Lancelot and Guinevere portrayed as star-crossed lovers who deserve our pity, while the rigid society in which they lived merits only our censure. I've obviously been reading the wrong sources and watching the wrong adaptations . . .

elena maria vidal said...

Enbrethiliel, since there are so many versions of the story, I would hesitate to designate anything of them the right or wrong ones-- just different interpretations of the same legend. The earliest Arthurian legends do not mention Lancelot at all, as you probably know. And I think in most of the versions there is a sense of pity for the lovers, who did not choose to fall in love-- it happened, like a car accident happens. The various forms of the tale do diverge on the extent of the actual adultery, however. But whatever was going on with Lancelot and Guinevere, it was used by Mordred to destroy discord and bring ruin. The malice and jealousy of Mordred was even more responsible for destroying Camelot than they were, I would wager to say.