Meliagrant

Meleagant, Meleagaunce, Meleaganz, Meleagraunce, Meleganz, Meliagance, Meliagans, Meliagant, Meliaganus, Meliagraunce, Meligrance, Meliakanz, Meljacanz, Meljaganz, Meljahkanz, Melyagant, Miliagraunce, Milienc, Miljanz

Vulgate IV characterizes him s a proud and evil-disposed man who considered himelf Lancelot’s equal. Despite his faults, Meliagrant became a member of the Round Table, perhaps by virtue of being the son of King Bagdemagus.

He was among the knights who came with Arthur to Dame Lyonors’ tournament at Castle Dangerous, where he “brake a spear upon Sir Gareth mightily and knightly”. He is also recorded as fighting in Duke Galeholt’s Surluse tournament, where his father Bagdemagus enlisted one Sir Sauseise to try to beat him so as to get him off the field in comparative safety.

Meliagrant’s downfall was his love for Guenevere. Once, during the high days of Tristram’s career, Meliagrant entered a battle with his brother of the Round Table, Lamorak, over which was the lovelier queen, Guenevere or Margawse. The quarrel was happily ended by the cool reasoning of Sir Bleoberis, who happened upon the scene with Lancelot; but Meliagrant “was a good man and of great might” and put up a fairly good defence against Lamorak while it lasted.

Finally his passion led Meliagrant into outright villainy. He ambushed the Queen and a small party of ladies, unarmed knights, squires, and yeomen while they were out a-Maying. After wounding several of Guenevere’s knights, Meliagrant and his men took the Queen and all their other prisoners to Meliagrant’s castle, but one child, at the Queen’s behest, managed to escape and tell Lancelot. When Lancelot started after the abductor, some of Meliagrant’s archers waited in hiding and shot the great knight’s horse out from under him, so that he had to finish his journey in a cart. (This is one origin of the “Knight in the Cart” appellation.) Meliagrant yielded to the Queen, begging mercy, rather than fight Lancelot on the latter’s arrival, and the whole group remained overnight in the castle.

Lancelot, deciding to spend the night with the Queen, wounded his hand tearing out the window bars to reach her bed. In the morning, Meliagrant rather rudely opened the Queen’s bedcurtains to find out why she was sleeping so late and found blood on the sheet and pillow. On this evidence, he accused her of adultery with one or more of the wounded knights. To prevent Lancelot from defending her in the trial by combat, Meliagrant set another trap.

Then Sir Meliagraunce said to Sir Launcelot: Pleaseth it you to see the estures of this castle? ... And then they went together from chamber to chamber ... So it befell upon Sir Launcelot that no peril dread, as he went with Sir Meliagraunce he trod on a trap and the board rolled, and there Sir Launcelot fell down more than ten fathom into a cave full of straw.

The damsel who acted as Lancelot’s gaoler freed him in return for a kiss on the scheduled day of combat. When the fight went against Meliagrant, he tried to yield. Lancelot, seeing that the Queen wished her enemy slain, insisted on fighting to the utterance; but Meliagrant refused to rise and fight again until Lancelot offered to fight with his head and the left quarter of his body unarmed and his left hand bound behind him. Even this handicap did not help Meliagrant – Lancelot lost no time cleaving his head in two.

Malory puts the story of how Meliagrant abducted the Queen near the end of his work. The Vulgate puts it earlier, stretches it out and makes more of it, and differs in many details, as in the role played by Kay, but the outlines are pretty much the same. In the Vulgate, Lancelot dreads the duty of telling Bagdemagus of his son’s death, but his fear is needless, for Bagdemagus, being a just man, takes it well.

One reason for the episode being so widespread in Arthurian literature, modern as well as medieval, might be its antiquity. The Vita Sancti Gildae by Caradoc of Lancarvan records a story, likely going back into Celtic myth, of Guenevere’s abduction to Glastonbury by King Melwas of the summer land; a 12th-century carving in Modena cathedral appears to show that by Chrétien’s day some version of the story had spread as far as Italy.

As far as can be learned from still-extant literature, Chrétien may have been the first to use our familiar Lancelot as hero of the tale; Meliagrant would seem to have sprung from Melwas. In the process, he may have undergone the denigration that was often the lot of Pagan gods during Christianization (when they weren’t turned into Christian saints instead): Meliagrant provides the one sustained, unmitigated example of pure villainy I have spotted in the works of Chrétien, who credits even Count Angrs with courage and knightly virtues

if only he hadn't been a traitor.

Later writers, both medieval and modern, have done much to soften the character of a man who, in Chrétien’s work, seems one of the ultimate examples of a son’s rebellion against his father’s ideals, perhaps for no reason than the sake of rebellion and wickedness. (A role more commonly assigned, in Arthurian literature, to Mordred, who is absent from Chrétien’s works.)


See also
King Bademagu’s Daughter | The Legend of King Arthur
Meliagrant (more characters) | The Legend of King Arthur