Bedivere

Two characters with the name Bedivere.


Bedivere


The father of Pedrawd, grandfather of Bedivere (below), and the founder of Bayeux in France.


Bedivere

Welsh: Bedwyr
Bedevere, Bedewer, Bedios, Bedoer, Bedoier, Bedouer, Beduer, Beduere, Bedueres, Beduers, Beduir, Beduirs, Bedwar, Bedver, Bedwer, Bedvers, Bedyvere

A Knight of the Round Table, and one of Arthur’s prominent followers, first found in Welsh legend as Bedwyr. Bedwyr was the son of Pedrawd and father of Amren and the lady Eneuawg. Malory names his father as Duke Corneus. The Welsh legends make Bedwyr one of the best of Arthur’s warriors, even though he had only one hand. In addition, he was one of the handsomest men in Britain, behind Arthur himself and Drych. He often appears alongside Cei – a pairing that recurs in Geoffrey of Monmouth.

The career of Bedwyr has undergone five distinct developments. In early Welsh tradition, he is renowned for his valor and for his close friendship with Arthur and Kay. Culhwch and Olwen comments upon his skill with a spear, despite his having but one hand, and notes that he never shrank from an enterprise on which Kay was bound. Geoffrey of Monmouth preserves these two features in his portrayal of Bedivere, and he is followed by later chroniclers. Bedivere acts as Arthur’s cup-bearer, stable-master and is later created Duke of Normandy. He is then slain in the battle against the Romans.

Despite this early prominence, Bedivere is virtually ignored in the romances. In Geoffrey he is called Arthur’s butler, he acts as Arthur’s constable rather than a butler, and like both the King and Kay he usually remains at court while newer heroes ride forth to win renown. This neglect is reversed in the English Stanzaic Le Morte Arthur, which introduces the third development in Bedivere’s career. Malory tells us that Bedivere, his brother Lucan the Butler, and a pair of bishops served as Arthur’s messengers to Mordred to try to arrange a treaty. Here, Bedivere, rather than Girflet (Griflet) as in the Vulgate Mort Artu, is the surviving companion after the battle with Mordred on Salisbury Plain.

After the last battle, Bedivere obeyed, with famous reluctance, Arthur’s command about Excalibur and then saw Arthur borne away in the boat with Morgan and her companions. Bedivere later found Arthur’s grave at the hermitage of the former Archbishop of Canterbury. Bedivere became a hermit and spent his remaining years praying by the King’s tomb in the hermitage at Glastonbury. His role in the story of Arthur’s death is preserved by Malory and most later authors.

Malory also mentions Bedivere first as one of Arthur’s two companions (the other was Kay) in the adventure of the Giant of Saint Michael’s Mount on the way to the Continental campaign against the Emperor Lucius. Soon after the slaying of the giant, Bedivere, Gawaine, Lionel, and Sir Bors were selected to carry Arthur’s warlike message to Lucius and were made Duke of Neustria – he perished in the Roman campaign. Geoffrey says that he was killed by King Boccus at the battle of Soissons, and was buried in Bayeux. His nephew, Hirelglas, avenged his death. A Welsh poem places his grave at Tryfan Hill.

We do not, apparently, meet Bedivere again in Malory’s account until he shows up at the tournament of Winchester and at the attempt to heal Sir Urre, which last marks him, if such evidence is needed, as a member of the Round Table.

In other romances, he survives the Roman campaing and fights in the wars against Lancelot and Mordred. In the Didot-Perceval, he dies in the first battle against Mordred. In the Stanzaic Morte Arthur (and subsequently in Malory), Bedivere and Lucan are the only knights left alive at the final battle at Salisbury. Assuming the role given to Girflet in the Vulgate Mort Artu, he was ordered by Arthur to throw Excalibur in the nearby lake. After twice hiding the sword and enduring Arthur’s rebukes, he compled. A lady’s hand caught the sword and pulled it beneath the waters. He returned to the chapel where he had left Arthur, and witnessed Arthur’s departure to Avalon. He retired to a hermitage with the former Archbishop of Canterbury and wrote down Arthur’s story for future generations. The English ballad “King Arthur’s Death” says that Bedivere died shortly after Salisbury, and that his brother Lucan performed the feats listed above.

Tennyson introduces the fourth development when he has Bedivere narrate “The Coming of Arthur.” Other authors who use Bedivere as narrator include Edwin Arlington Robinson, George Finkel, Catherine Christian, and Roy Turner.

As one of Arthur’s loyal knights, Sir Bedivere is occasionally depicted with his own distinctive shield. The design of his shield varies, but it often incorporates elements of water, such as waves or fish, symbolizing his connection to the Lady of the Lake.


Bedwyr in Culhwch and Olwen

As Bedwyr he appears as a member of the party formed to help Culhwch in his quest to locate and secure the maiden Olwen. The other members of the party were Cei, Cynddylig the Guide, Gwrhyr the Interpreter, Gwalchmai fab Gwyar, and Menw fab Teirgwaedd. Each was chosen for his specialist skills. Bedwyr was picked because, even though he had only one hand, he was still faster with his sword than three others who fought together.

Among his several adventures in Culhwch and Olwen, he assists in Culhwch’s tasks by tracking down Wrnach the Giant and Dillus the Bearded.


Bedivere in modern literature

In modern Arthurian fiction, Bedivere has regained his early prominence, and he has even started to replace Lancelot as Guenevere’s lover. Concerned to create a credible picture of the Dark Ages, yet wishing to preserve the tragic motif of the trusted friend who betrays his king, Rosemary Sutcliff makes Bedivere the Queen’s lover in Sword at Sunset. Her lead has been followed by both Gillian Bradshaw and Mary Stewart. In the Hollow Hills, Stewart seems to follow Sutcliff’s lead in assigning the Queens-lover role to Bedwyr.

White identifies Bedivere with Pedivere in The Once and Future King, but in this instance I think he distorts Malory. Chapman includes Bedivere in his character as hermit in the cast of King Arthur’s Daughter.


Sources
Culhwch and Olwen | Late 11th century
Historia Regum Britanniae | Geoffrey of Monmouth, c. 1138
Roman de Brut | Wace, c. 1155
Erec | Chrétien de Troyes, late 12th century
Yder | Early 13th century
Brut | Layamon, late 12th century to mid-13th century
Lancelot do Lac | 1215-1220
Vulgate Merlin | 1220-1235
Geraint and Enid | 13th century
The Stanzaic Le Morte Arthur | 14th century
Le Morte Darthur | Sir Thomas Malory, 1469-1470
“King Arthur’s Death” | 16th century
Idylls of the King | Lord Alfred Tennyson, 1859-1886