Guenevere - Becoming a Queen

She appears first in the Welsh Culhwch and Olwen (c. 1080). The Welsh version of her name, Gwenhwyfar, means 'white ghost'. A Welsh Triad says that Arthur had three wives of this name - the daughters of Cywyrd, Gwythyr, and Gogfran - which may have inspired the French tradition of the True and False Guineveres (Genievre). (The cross discovered at 'Arthur’s Grave' in Glastonbury identifes Guinevere as his second wife.) Another Triad calls her one of the 'faithless wives' of the Isle of Britain. A third Triad talks of an episode in which Mordred visited Arthur’s court and beat Gwenhwyfar, and a fourth says that the battle of Camlann (Arthur’s last battle) somehow began over a feud between Gwenhwyfar and her sister, Gwenhwyach.

Geoffrey of Monmouth (1138) latinized her name as 'Guinevere'. He tells little about her, except to say that she was raised in the house of Cador of Cornwall and was ravishingly beautiful. Guinevere and Arthur were married after the Saxon wars. When Mordred revolted against Arthur while Arthur was fighting the Roman War, he took Guinevere as his wife, and Guinevere seemed to be a willing collaborator. Arthur returned, and as the battles between Mordred and Arthur raged, Guinevere fled to Caerleon and took the veil.

The version told by the French prose cycles (c. 1215-1240) and subsequently by Malory (1470) builds on Geoffrey’s account and forms the basis for most modern tales of Guinevere:

Guinevere is the daughter of King Leodegan of Carmelide (Leodegrance). She has an identical half-sister, also named Guinevere, who is the daughter of Leodegan and his seneschal’s wife. The two Guineveres are distinguished only by a crown-shaped birthmark on the legitimate Guinevere’s back.

Merlin has predicted her marriage to Arthur. Arthur first saw Guenevere when he went, with his allies Kings Ban and Bors, to rescue her father King Leodegrance of Cameliard from King Ryons. She presents him with a sword. He falls into trances of rapture whenever he gazes upon her. At first she is amused by his adoration.

When Arthur's barons insisted he take a wife, he told Merlin:

I love Guenever the king's daughter Leodegrance of the land of Cameliard, the which holdeth in his house the Table Round that ye told he had of my father Uther. And this damosel is the most valiant and fairest lady that I know living.

Merlin agreed that she was above all women in beauty and fairness, but warned Arthur that she would fall in love with Lancelot, and that this love would ultimately bring about the King's downfall. Arthur's heart was set and once he was firmly established on the throne, and despite Merlin's warnings, Arthur chose Guenevere, to become his wife. Finally Merlin went to King Leodegrance to tell him that Arthur wanted his daughter for his wife.

Naturally, King Leodegrance was overjoyed and immediately gave his consent, adding that he would send a gift to Arthur that would be far more pleasing than any land, for Arthur already had land enough. Instead he sent the Round Table, given to him by Uther, which was capable of seating 150 knights, along with a company of 100 of the most noble knights in his realm. Arthur was already delighted with this gift and, while he made preparations for the coming wedding, he dispatched Merlin to find another fifty knights to complete the company, that would become known as the Knights of the Round Table. When Merlin returned from his mission, there was but one remaining place to be filled, the Siege Perilous.

As the knights assembled in Camelot for the wedding of Arthur and Guinevere, the Knights of the Round Table had their duties set out for them by Arthur. He charged them never to commit murder or treason, never to be cruel, never to enter into battle for a wrongful reason whatever the reward, but ever to grant mercy when it was asked for, and ever to help ladies, whether gentlewomen or damsels, whenver help was needed. Every knight was sworn to this oath, and every year at Pentecost they returned to Camelot to reaffirm it.

On their wedding knight, enemies of Leodegan attempt to kidnap Guinevere and substitute Guinevere’s half-sister in Arthur’s bed, but Arthur’s knights foil the plan.

Guinevere forms her own body of knights called the Queen’s Knights, whose ranks include Gawain, Yvain, and other young warriors. After Lancelot ends Arthur’s war with Galehaut, Galehaut brings about a meeting between Lancelot and Guinevere, and Lancelot confesses his love. Guinevere rewards him with a kiss.

Saxons invade Britain and Arthur opposes them at Saxon Rock. Guinevere goes with him. Lancelot also arrives. One night, while Arthur is sleeping with Gamille (Camille), a Saxon enchantress, Lancelot visits Guinevere’s chambers and their affair begins.

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