Guenevere - The Character

Malory does not show, except perhaps between the lines, as in the number of cases of conquered knights being sent to her and in her presiding at Duke Galeholt's tournament in Surluse (Sorelois) when Arthur himself was unable to attend, how good a queen Guenevere was, that part of her character being overshadowed by her affair with Lancelot.

The Vulgate, which calls her, after Elaine of Carbonek, the wisest woman who ever lived, throws more light on this and other points. That she was an excellent day-to-day administratress is evidenced by how greatly the affairs of the kingdom slipped while Arthur banished her for two and a half years to live in infatuation with her look-alike, Genievre, giving knights, court, and common people much cause to yearn for their wise and generous true Queen.

Guenevere was understandably reluctant to return to Arthur after Genievre's death, for, as she said, he had in effect dissolved her marriage by condemning her to death in this case, and she was well content in Surluse with a man who would make her a much better husband. Except for Elaine of Carbonek (whom she made some attempt to accept) and Elaine of Astolat, whom she did not meet alive and grieved for dead, she seems to have befriended all women, even accepting Amable as Lancelot's platonic lady love.

She seems to have inspired more than common devotion in Gawaine, who lent Lancelot Excalibur when he fought to save her from Arthur's sentence in the Genievre episode, and in Kay, who openly envied Lancelot his position as her champion.

In Malory Book VI, chapter 10, an unnamed damsel remarks to Lancelot:

It is noised that ye love Queen Guenevere, and that she hath ordained by enchantment that ye shall love none other but her.

This is the only hint I remember reading that Guenevere may have dabbled in magic; I think this evidence either comes under the heading of gossip and metaphor, or that it reflects some confusion with Lancelot's mentor Viviane, the French Damsel of the Lake, who according to the Vulgate largely engineered the affair (with a bit of intriguing assistanse from Duke Galeholt and the Lady of Malahaut).

A Middle English romance, The Adventures at Tarn Wadling, currently available in Louis Hall's Knightly Tales of Sir Gawaine, describes an interesting meeting of Guenevere with her moster's ghost. The ghost describes her penitential suffering, the sins - especially pride - that led to it and the virtues that would have helped her avoid it, asks Masses for her salvation, and warns against Arthur's greed as the cause of his future downfall. The description of the ghost's appearance would stir professional jealousy in the heart of any monster-movie makeup artist; nevertheless, Guenevere has Gawaine at her side and, after her initial fright, questions the spirit bravely and compassionately, afterward ordering a million Masses for her.

Guenevere had gray eyes and more than one commentator has remarked that the root of her name means "white", suggesting a pale complexion and very fair blond hair. According to the Vulgate, she was also the best chess player of Arthur's court.

Chrétien de Troyes, while emphasizing Arthur's generosity as a shining and royal virtue, did not neglect to show Arthur's queen as possessed with a goodly share of the same virtue, along with graciousness and wisdom. Consider, for example, the rich garments she gives Enide for the asking and the wise counsel she offers Alexander and Soredamors after divining their unvoiced lovesickness for each other. In 'Perceval', Gawaine devotes his golden tounge to about twenty-six lines in eloquent praise of Guenevere. [He does not yet know that the venerable queen inquiring about Arthur's wife is Arthur's mother.]

It has been argued Guenevere is a mythical figure representing the sovereignty of Britain over which contenders fight. In this respect she is a figure similar to Eriu, the goddess of the sovereignty of Ireland. C. Matthews contends that this interpretation is supported by the legend of three Gueneveres married to Arthur, saying these are not three separate persons but a single triune goddess. J. Matthews contends that Guenevere and Morgan are like two sides of a coin, the beneficent and maleficent aspects of sovereignty. Efforts to connect Guenevere with Findabair, daughter of the Irish goddess Maeve, have not proven successful. As well as the Flower Bride, Guenevere represents the Sorrowful Queen or the Wounded Lady who suffers the burden of evil acts carried out in ignorance of love in Arthur's kingdom.

Guenevere was very susceptible to being abducted and it has been suggested that her story is a parallel of the Irish story of Midir and Etain. In t his, Etain was once an otherwordly bride of Midir but she retains no memory of this fact and is now married to an Irish king. Midir turns up to lure her back to the Otherword. Similarly, it is said, Guenevere's abductor, be he Meleagaunce or Lancelot, Gasozein or Valerin, is merely taking her back to the Otherworld whence she came.

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