A French variation of Helen, the name ultimately derives from Greek mythology (e.g., Helen of Troy), and is borne by a number of people in Arthurian romance.
Elaine of Carbonek | Elaine of Tintagil | Elaine the Peerless
Queen of Great Sorrows | Elene, Helaine, Helayne, Helene
Lancelot’s mother; the wife of King Ban of Benoic (Ban of Brittany). Her name has several variations, including Ulrich’s Clarine. She is known as Gostanza in La Tavola Ritonda. Ulrich considers her the sister of King Arthur, but the later romances, although professing that Arthur had a sister named Elaine, do not equate Arthur’s sister with this Elaine. She was descended from David and Solomon of Israel. Her father was named Galegantin, and her sister, Evaine, married Ban’s brother, King Bors of Gannes.
King Claudas besieged her castle of Trebe when Lancelot was still a baby. Taking Elaine and Lancelot, Ban fled Trebe to seek help from Arthur. When they were some distance away, they saw Trebe burning, and Ban’s heart burst, killing him. As Elaine grieved over her husband, a water-sprite sprang from a nearby lake (the Lake of Diana) and snatched away her child.
Calling herself the 'Queen of Great Sorrows', Elaine sadly committed herself to the Royal Minster nunnery while King Claudas captured her husband’s former land, and lived there for many years as a saintly woman. She was soon joined by her sister Evaine, who had also lost her children and husband. Evaine, before her death, had a vision of her sons and Elaine’s son growing up together in a fairy land under the guidance of the Lady of the Lake, Viviane. She related this to Elaine, bringing joy to her heart at last.
During the Grail Quest, she appeared to Lancelot in a dream and warned him to repent for his affair with Guenevere. This we find in the Vulgate. Malory only records that Merlin, visiting her, assured her she would live long enough to witness her son's fame and glory.
She visited her nephews Bors and Lionel when they were in Gaul during Arthur's wars against King Claudas. From her nephews she got news of her son. Later, when the war was won, she visited Lancelot himself in Gannes, afterward returning to her minster.
In the Didot-Perceval, either Gawaine’s sister and the daughter of Lot, or Gawaine’s cousin and the daughter of King Viautre of Galerot. She became infatuated with Perceval when he first arrived at Arthur’s court. She is mentioned in the Prose Tristan.
Elaine of Astolat
Elaine le Blank, Elaine the White, Elayne, Lady of Shalott
Often identified simply as the Demoiselle d'Escalot (e.g., in the Vulgate Mort Artu) or the Fair Maid of Astolat in Malory and the 'Lily Maid' in Tennyson. She appears nameless in the Vulgate Mort Artu and the Stanzaic Le Morte Arthure.
The daughter of Sir Bernard of Escalot (Astolat) and sister of Sir Tirre and Sir Lavaine, she was considered one of the most beautiful maidens in England. Lancelot, traveling secretly to the tournament at Winchester, lodged with Sir Bernard and borrowed the shield of the recently wounded Sir Tirre, leaving his sword and shield with Elaine for safekeeping. He also did for her what he had never done for any other woman, including Guenevere: with a view to heightening his incognito, he accepted Elaine's token to wear in the lists. Elaine fell desperately in love with Lancelot.
When she learned he was wounded and lodged with Sir Baudwin the Hermit, she insisted on going herself to nurse him. When Lancelot was well, and prepared to leave for Camelot, Elaine asked him if he would marry her. Lancelot replied that he would never marry. Elaine then asked if he would be her lover, and Lancelot again refused, saying it would be ignoble. She pleaded with him, saying she would die for his love, but Lancelot departed. Even Sir Bors counseled him to love Elaine if he could, but Lancelot remained true to Guenevere. Afterwards, she fell sick.
Dying, she dictated a letter to Lancelot, which her father wrote down. Then, at her request, she was placed in a rich bed in a barge, and floated down the river Thames to Camelot (or Westminster), where Arthur, Guenevere, Lancelot and the rest of the court found her body and grieved to see her and the explanatory letter, which requested Lancelot to pray for her soul and give Mass-penny for her soul. They buried her at Camelot.
Elaine, Gustave Dore
In Tennyson, she is known as the Lady of Shalott, "lily maid of Astolat", who is required to view the world through a mirror and who dies when "she look'd down to Camelot". The character is doubled in Natsume Soseki's Kairoko: A Dirge. The Japanese text, drawing heavily on Tennyson and presumably on Malory as well, has the Lady of Shalott die when she looks away from her mirror and directly at Lancelot; but we later meet Elaine of Astolat, whose story roughly parallels the traditional account of her love for Lancelot, her death as a result of unrequited love, and the boat bearing her body to court.
For his own excellent artistic purposes, T.H. White combines Elaine of Astolat and Elaine of Carbonek into one character and identifies them both with the damsel in the scalding bath. In Malory, Elaine of Astolat is definitely distinct from her namesake of Carbonek. Elaine of Carbonek may have been the damsel in the scalding bath, but there is no way to combine the two Elaines.
Elaine of Astolat's Sleeve
In the tournament at Winchester, Lancelot wore the token of Elaine of Astolat, a scarlet sleeve embroidered with pearls. Lancelot did this to insure his incognito status, since he was well known never to have worn anybody's token before.
Elaine might have broken her heart for love to him even had he refused to accept her token; of course, it caused Guenevere much pain, anger, and jealousy when she learned of it.
Elaine of Carbonek
Unnamed in most French texts, the mother of Galahad is called Elaine in the Post-Vulgate and Malory. She is called Amite in the Vulgate Lancelot. As daughter of King Pelles of Corbenic, the Grail King, she is descended from Joseph of Arimathea, but in order to join the holy line to that of Lancelot she must first seduce the reluctant knight. She must not be confused with 'Elaine of Astolat'. Vulgate II calls Elaine of Carbonek, the wisest woman who ever lived. "The best of the world" seems to be a figure of speech with the old romancers, however, I am not sure the statements is meant to be taken as literal fact.
When Lancelot first came to Carbonek, rescued the damsel in the scalding bath (placed there by Morgan Le Fay), and killed a troublesome dragon, Elaine fell in love with him. At that time, she seems to have been acting as the "damosel passing fair and young" who bore the Holy Grail at dinnertime in the castle.
With the help of Dame Brisen and the connivance of King Pellam, Elaine managed to sleep one night with Lancelot, at Case Castle, by tricking him into thinking she was Guenevere. Thus was Galahad begotten, who was by his holy life to expiate the fornication of his father and mother and to heal his grandfather Pellam and Pellam's kingdom of the effects of the Dolorous Stroke. When Lancelot woke up in the morning and saw how he had been tricked, he came near smiting Elaine down with his sword.
Then ... Elaine skipped out of her bed all naked, and kneeled down afore Sir Launcelot, and said: Fair courteous knight ... I require you have mercy upon me, and as thou art renowned the most noble knight of the world, slay me not, for I have in my womb him by thee that shall be the most noblest knight of the world ... Well, said Launcelot, I will forgive you this deed; and therewith he took her up in his arms, and kissed her, for she was as fair a lady, and thereto lusty and young, and as wise, as any was that time living.
He threatened, however, to slay Dame Brisen if ever he saw her, but nothing ever came of the threat. She was loved by other men, such as Sir Brinol of the Hedged Manor (Bromel), but she denied them her affections because she truly loved Lancelot. When Galahad was born, she brought him to Camelot. She showed Galahad to Lancelot but Lancelot, ashamed, would barely speak to her. Relations between Elaine and Guenevere were understandably tense. They had come to court to help celebrate Arthur's victory over Claudas. Again they tricked Lancelot into Elaine's bed by pretending she was Guenevere. This time Guenevere herself, whose room was next door and who had been expecting Lancelot in her own bed, heard them. She came into Elaine's room, found them together, and jealousy accused Lancelot, setting off a fit of his madness. After wandering a long time insane and unknown, he came, a few years later, again to Carbonek, insane and naked, where he was eventually recognized and cured by exposure to the Grail.
Pellam now set him up with Elaine in the Joyous Isle. Lancelot agreed to this arrangement because he thought he could never again return to Arthur's court after his disgrace. As Le Chavaler Mal Fet (Chevalier Malfait), he lived with Elaine in the Castle of Bliant and kept the Joyous Isle against all comers for perhaps two years. Then, to Elaine's grief, Ector de Maris and Percivale came to the Joyous Isle and persuaded Lancelot to return to the court. By this time Galahad, who had been growing up at his grandfather's castle Carbonek on the mainland, was fifteen years old; Elaine promised that he could come to Arthur's court to be made knight that same feast of Pentecost. When Lancelot came once again to Carbonek during the Grail Quest, he learned to his sorrow that Elaine had died in the interim.
It is possible, as T.H. White has it, that Elaine of Carbonek was herself the damsel Lancelot rescued from the scalding bath. I doubt this. According to the Vulgate, the damsel in the bath was being punished for sin, and as Grail-bearer Elaine must have been free of fleshy sin before her night with Lancelot. (After that night, of course, they had to find a new damsel to carry the Grail. Amide may have fulfilled this office for a time.)
Amite | The Legend of King Arthur
Helizabel | The Legend of King Arthur
Elaine of Tintagil
The second daughter of Gorloïs and Igraine, half-sister of Arthur, she was married to King Nentres of Garloth at about the same time her mother was married to Uther Pendragon and her sister Morgawse to King Lot.
Chapman identifies her with "Vivian called Nimue" and makes her the youngest of Igraine's "witchy" daughters. This is ingenious and symmetrical, but I found nothing in Malory or the Vulgate to substantiate it, or even to suggest that the other two sisters shared Morgan's talent for necromancy.
Garloth | The Legend of King Arthur
Elaine Sans Per
'Elaine the Peerless' | Helaine the Peerless, Helayn Withouten Pere, Heleine Sans Pair, Helen, Heliene Sans Per, Helyene Sans Pere, Oisine
Lady of the castle Gazevilte, considered one of the most beautiful women in Arthur’s realm.
She married Persides the Red against both the wishes of both their families.
Persides locked her in Gazevilte in anger when she claimed that she was more beautiful than he was valiant. Persides told her he would let her out when either a more beautiful woman or a more valiant knight happened along - and she stayed in the tower for five years. Elaine’s sister brought Sir Ector (Lancelot’s brother) to the castle, and by defeating Persides, Hector decided the dispute in Elaine’s favor. She was freed from her captivity and they were sent to Guenevere.