Agravain the Arrogant, Agravain the Proud
Aggravain, Agrafrayn, Agravaine, Agravan, Agravano, Agreuein, Agrevain li Orgueillous, Egrefayn, Engrevain, Engrevains, Gefferen, Geffreyn, Griffayn
The second and probably the most unpleasant son of King Lot and Queen Margawse of Orkney (sometimes Anna), nicknamed aux dures mains (‘of the hard hands’). Brother of Gawain, Gaheris and Gareth, and Mordred. He married Laurel, the niece of Lionors and Lynette. He is a nephew of King Arthur.
The romances seem agreed that, although a good knight of arms, he was not a likable character. Vulgate IV characterizes him as envious and evil-disposed, without love or pity; he was very handsome and a capable fighter, but his beauty was the best part of him. Maybe he was spoiled in his childhood because of his beauty. At the same time, he was a member of the Round Table, and got around quite a bit on adventures.
He were portrayed as egotistical, proud, and uncourtly with a misshapen body, Agravain resented any honorable and brave warrior. He had no knightly virtues such as mercy and compassion. He was ignoble towards women, and quarrelsome with his own brothers. His misdeeds include participation in the murder of Lamorat (part of a feud between the families of Pellinore and Lot); the slaying of Dinadan during the Grail Quest, with his brother Mordred; and the abduction of the King of North Wales’ daughter, during which he was terribly wounded and had to be cured with the blood of Gawain and Lancelot.
First mentioned by Chrétien de Troyes, he has a minor role in Perceval. His character was expanded in the Vulgate Lancelot, and he becomes a major figure in Malory, as one of the instruments of Arthur’s downfall.
He accompanied his brothers when they abandoned their father for service with Arthur. He fought against the Saxons, was knighted by Arthur, and served the king in Gaul and Saxony. He liberated the prisoners of the Hill of Wretches (Le Tertre as Caitis). In Jehan Froissart’s Meliador, he courts and marries Florée, a princess from Scotland, while in Malory, he marries Laurel, the niece of his sisters-in-law.
His greatest offense was wrought near the end of Arthur’s reign, when he conspired with Mordred to expose the affair between Lancelot and Guinevere. When Arthur was away from court, the two brothers roused a band of knights and captured the lovers in flagrante delicto in Guinevere’s chambers. Agravain was slain by Lancelot, either at the ensuing battle outside Guinevere’s room, when Lancelot rescued Guinevere from execution, or at the siege of Joyous Guarde.
In Malory, Mordred seems to emerge as the chief force, especially since – in Malory – Agravain is killed during Lancelot’s escape from the Queen’s chamber. In the Vulgate, where Lancelot’s escape is not so bloody, Agravain, not Mordred, seems the chief villain until he is killed when Lancelot rescues the Queen from the stake. Agravain is motivated chiefly, however, by a desire to hurt Lancelot, while Mordred is motivated by a desire for the throne.
Chrétien shows Agravain the Arrogant holding his brother Gawain back from responding too hastily to Guigambresil’s accusation of treachery. Here, despite his soubriquet, Agravain seems to appear to rather good advantage, even offering to fight on his brother’s behalf.
Later in the same romance, Gawain lists Agravaine as the second oldest son of King Lot and his lawful wife. The contrast between Agravain’s surname of “Arrogant” or “Proud” and the seemingly sympathetic nature of his cameo appearance in this romance suggest to me that Chrétien had found his usual characterization already established in Arthurian lore. Perhaps, also, he would have come back into the action had Chrétien finished the story.
Agravain is sometimes depicted with his own shield. The design of his shield can differ, but it often incorporates symbols or imagery reflecting his aggressive nature and loyalty to his family.
Perceval, or Le Conte del Graal | Chrétien de Troyes, late 12th century
Lancelot do Lak | 1215-1220
Vulgate Lancelot | 1215-1230
Vulgate Merlin | 1220-1235
Post-Vulgate Suite du Merlin | 1230-1240
Post-Vulgate Queste del Saint Graal | 1230-1240
Post-Vulgate Mort Artu | 1230-1240
Le Livre d’Artus | Early 13th century
La Tavola Ritonda | 1325-1350
The Stanzaic Le Morte Arthur | 14th century
Le Morte Darthur | Sir Thomas Malory, 1469-1470
Meliador | Jehan Froissart, 1361-1369