Guenevere - The Abbess Queen

Despite Arthur's attempt to burn her, she returned to him and showed herself a loyal wife and prudent queen while he was overseas besieging Lancelot. She was not taken in by Mordred's forged letters purporting that Arthur was dead, but she pretended to agree to marry Mordred, thus getting him to let her go to London, supposedly to buy what she wanted for the wedding, actually to barricade herself well in the Tower of London with men and provisions.

When Mordred laid siege to the Tower she answered him

that she had liefer slay herself than to be married with him.

News of Mordred's treachery reached Arthur and he returned home, landing at Richborough, where he defeated Mordred. Giving chase, he fought and again defeated Mordred at Winchester, before the forces gathered at Camlann for the fatal last encounter. Mordred was killed, and Arthur received a mortal wound.

Learning at last of Arthur's actual death (or "passing"), Guenevere "stole away" with five of her ladies to Almesbury, where she became a "nun in white clothes and black", and lived in great penance, "fasting, prayers, and alms-deeds", "and never creature could make her merry", which last must have been especially severe, as Malory elsewhere shows her possessed of a keen sense of humor and fun. She became Abbess.

Lancelot landed within the month at Dover and, though too late to save Arthur, he was determined to see Guenevere once more. For seven days he was on the road and on the eigth he came to a nunnery. As he entered the cloisters, a nun dressed in black and white saw him and swooned, for it was Guenevere. When she had recovered, they talked for a while, and once Lancelot saw that she had taken to a life of penance, he said, remembering his broken resolutions of the Grail Adventures:

And therefore, lady, sithen ye have taken you to perfection, I must needs take me to perfection, of right.

Taking his leave of Guenevere, he rode to Glastonbury and there took the monk's habit. Many years later a vision charged Lancelot to ride as fast as he could to Amesbury. This he did, but he was too late, for Guenevere had died not half an hour earlier. Without Guenevere, Lancelot could not eat nor drink. Within six weeks he too was dead. Guenevere's body was taken from the nunnery and laid to rest beside that of Arthur. Another version says he and eight companions went on foot from Glastonbury to Almesbury to bring back her body for burial.

A different tale according to Perlesvaus says she died in Arthur's lifetime, while Boece says she died as a prisoner of the Picts. At her death, she was laid to rest beside Arthur.

In 1191, during restoration work at Glastonbury, the monks of the abbey reported that they had uncovered the grave of Arthur and Guenevere. Their bodies were subsequently reinterred in front of the high altar within the abbey. This find, politically astute for the time, led to the association of Glastonbury with Avalon, but whether or not the bones uncovered were actually those of Arthur and his Queen remains in doubt.

There are obviously many variations on this story. Guenevere's death is just one point of contention. In Perlesvaus she was said to have died during Arthur's lifetime, while Boece stated that she ended her days as a prisoner of the Picts. She was said to have had a son by Arthur, Loholt, though that same character was also said to have been the son of Arthur and Lionors (Lyzianor), and the Alliterative Morte Arthure averred that she and Mordred were the parents of two sons. Gawain and Kay were also said to have numbered among her lovers, and Welsh tradition states that she is not just one character but rather three, all having the same name and all, at one stage or another, married to Arthur.

Guenevere is very definitely Celtic in origin, but the main problem lies in determining from whome she originated. She may simply have been a local Welsh maiden who married a local king, their story becoming expanded and enlarged over the years into the Arthurian legends known and loved today.

See also
- Background of Guenevere / Guinevere
- Becoming a Queen
- The Invading Kings
- The Flower Bride
- Lancelot and Guenevere
- The Poisoned Apple
- The False Guenevere
- Abduction Stories
- Guenevere's Sentence
- The Abbess Queen
- The Character