Meliot Castle

A castle near the location where Balin began a quest that eventually led to the Dolorous Stroke.

Within a day or two [after interring twelve knights in St. Stephen’s Camelot] King Arthur was somewhat sick, and he let pitch his pavilion in a meadow … and saw a knight coming even by him … [who] passed forth to the castle of Meliot.

This knight was Herlews le Berbeus, who was slain by Sir Garlon apparently before he had reached Meliot. Arthur had sent Balin le Savage after Herlews, and Balin’s subsequent adventures with Herlews’ lady to find Garlon and avenge Herlews’ death took them to the “Castle of the Leprous Lady” and to Listeneise. Malory seems to tell us nothing more about Meliot Castle by that name. Nevertheless, I would like to identify it with one of a pair of castles where Balin and his brother Balan met their deaths. Malory leaves these fairly important castles unnamed.

One of them was on the mainland and the other on an island, clearly an island in a river. The lady of the mainland castle kept a custom whereby every passing knight had to joust with the knight who defended the island. The knight then defending the island was Balan, in anonymous red armor. Balin, coming to the island with a borrowed shield, kept the custom so vigorously that the two brothers mortally wounded each other in battle before learning one another’s identity, and here were buried.

The lady did not know Balin’s name to put it on the tomb, but Merlin came along next morning and took care of that detail. He also repommelled Balin’s sword, set it in a floating marble block to drift down the river to Camelot at the right time, and left the scabbard “on this side the island” for Galahad, who should win the sword, to find. He also made a bridge of iron and steel only half a foot broad to the island, and only a good and true knight could cross this bridge. Moreover he made a bed to lie upon which brought madness,

yet Launcelot de Lake fordid that bed through his noblesse.

I have no idea why Merlin made that bed, nor how Lancelot fordid it, unless the passage refers somehow to one of Lancelot’s fits of madness. Balin’s sword in its marble block floats down to Camelot for Galahad to draw it at the beginning of the Grail Adventures; Galahad is already wearing the scabbard, having picked it up on his way to court, but Malory tells us nothing more about bed, bridge, or castle.

In Vulgate V, Gawaine tells of his adventures at the Isle Perdue, where he saw the miraculous bed of Merlin, and also the adventurous sword, by which a hermit predicted that Gawaine’s best friend (Lancelot) would kill him through Mordred’s fault. On this island was the force of all the enchantment in the world. Here were many damsels, and here the best of knights would find his equal in battle. This has to be where Malory placed the fatal battle of Balin and Balan. The “adventurous sword” must be Balin’s Sword, which Galahad apparently sent back to his father Lancelot after the Grail Adventures.

Meliot might be the name used for the mainland castle, while the island castle could retain the Vulgate name of Isle Perdues. (Do not confuse with Duke Galeholt’s castle of Isle Perdue.) Of course, since my grounds for identifying the “castle of Meliot” with this pair of castles is so slight, Meliot might be considered another castle entirely.

In any case we need a site upriver from Camelot for the castle of Balin’s death. I suggest the Itchen River.


See also
Merlin’s Bed | The Legend of King Arthur