Who Was Guinevere? - Character, Stories & Quiz

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Shamekia Thomas

Shamekia has taught English at the secondary level and has her doctoral degree in clinical psychology.

According to Arthurian legend, Guinevere became on of the most popular queens in European history after she married King Arthur. Learn more about the life of Guinevere and the downfall of her marriage, and test your knowledge with a quiz.

We also recommend watching Beowulf: Story, Characters, and Old English and Ulysses: Structure, Style, and Characters

Introduction

One of the most popular love triangles in literature is between Queen Guinevere, her husband King Arthur, and her lover Sir Lancelot. There are a number of stories in European literature about Guinevere including Historia Regum Brittaniae by Geoffrey of Monmouth, The Vulgate Cycle by Chretien de Troyes and Robert de Boron, and the most famous work about the legend of King Arthur, Le Morte D'Arthur by Thomas Malory.

Queen Guinevere

Guinevere is described as a beautiful and desirable, yet manipulative, woman. Throughout her life Guinevere had a number of male suitors, and when she married King Arthur she was not faithful to him. It is unclear whether Guinevere seduced Lancelot or whether she was lured into a romance by him. She is thought to have known about Mordred's betrayal of King Arthur; it is unclear whether she planned Mordred's betrayal or if she was forced into being his accomplice in a crime against her husband. Mordred is said to have forced his way into King Arthur's court and forced the queen to do as he said because of a disagreement the Queen had with Mordred's wife Gwenhwyfach. Guinevere adds romance and treachery and enhances King Arthur's legacy.

Biography

Guinevere's nature and biography differ in various pieces of writing. Thomas Malory described her as the daughter of King Leodegrance of Cameliard in Le Morte D'Arthur. Several men wanted to marry Guinevere, but she found none of them suitable. King Arthur was first introduced to Guinevere when he rescued King Leodegrance of Cameliard from King Rience's capture. When King Arthur first saw Guinevere he was said to fall deeply in love with her. She was intrigued by King Arthur's interest in her and made herself presentable for meeting him with a fine robe and jewels. She prayed that King Arthur would not be killed in battle trying to save her father. With the help of Merlin, the magician, King Arthur and his men were able to save Guinevere's father. To show his appreciation, King Leodegrance sent messages and gifts to King Arthur.

When King Arthur chose to have a wife, he went to the magician Merlin for advice on who he should marry. Merlin suggested King Arthur marry the person he was most in love with, but warned King Arthur that Guinevere would not be a good wife because she would love somebody else. King Arthur decided to marry Guinevere despite Merlin's warning, and Merlin went to Cameliard to ask for Guinevere to marry King Arthur. All of the gifts given by King Leodegrance were returned and King Arthur told King Leodegrance all he wanted was to marry Guinevere. When King Leodegrance was told of King Arthur's royal birth, he agreed to allow his daughter to marry King Arthur. Malory states that Guinevere's father gave King Arthur a roundtable and one-hundred good knights as dowry.

A Damsel in Distress

Guinevere

After her marriage to King Arthur, Guinevere was kidnapped several times. She was taken to Glastonia by King Melvas of Somerset for a year. King Arthur looked for Guinevere but could not find her until he gathered several armies and the clergy stepped in to convince King Melvas to let Guinevere go. In another incidence, Guinevere was kidnapped by Sir Meliagrance when she was in the woods with several of her ladies-in-waiting and knights. Sir Meliagrance had a crush on Guinevere and he knew Lancelot was not around to protect her in the woods. Sir Meliagrance kidnapped Guinevere and she hoped Lancelot would save her, which he did. Lancelot then became known as Le Chevalier du Chariot. Lancelot and Guinevere were said to have been intimate that night. Guinevere was also kidnapped by Mordred, King Arthur's son (and nephew), to be taken as his wife. Guinevere was able to protect herself by locking herself in the Tower of London.

Guinevere's Final Days:

guinevere

Lancelot and Guinevere fell in love, which tormented Lancelot greatly. He went on several quests to remove himself from Guinevere's presence. Guinevere and Lancelot eventually decided to end their relationship for the sake of the kingdom, but Mordred knew of their affair and convinced King Arthur to burn the queen at the stake and punish Lancelot for their betrayal. After Lancelot saved Guinevere from burning at the stake, he and King Arthur battled each other. Mordred then overtook King Arthur's kingdom and tried to steal Guinevere as his wife. Guinevere locked herself in the Tower of London to escape from Mordred. While Guinevere was locked in the Tower of London, King Arthur fought Mordred to regain his throne. Both King Arthur and Mordred died in their battle with each other. After King Arthur died, Guinevere joined a nunnery and stayed there until her death. She was buried next to King Arthur.

Character Analysis

Guinevere represents the ideal woman; she is extremely beautiful and desirable. Men protected her throughout her life and saved her from death. She made men feel more powerful and chivalrous based on her presence and neediness. Despite her beauty, Guinevere was flawed; she fell in love with a man other than her husband and never had children. She was devoted to Lancelot (her lover) and her betrayal of her husband created the end of King Arthur's roundtable and the downfall of Camelot. Thomas Malory described Guinevere as a true lover and believed she had a good end.

Lesson Summary

Guinevere is one of the most popular queens in Arthurian legend. She is thought of as a very beautiful woman; however, her life was tragic and she never seemed to achieve true happiness. Guinevere was often rescued by men and represents a true 'damsel in distress.' Although she married King Arthur, she had an affair with Lancelot and loved him. After her husband's death she joined a nunnery. In the end, she was alone and was buried next to her husband King Arthur.

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