Bercelai, Bertelai, Bertelais, Bertelanx, Bertelay, Berthelai, Bertolai, Berthelais, Bertelak le Rous, Bertelak the Rede, Bretelai, Bertoulai, Bretolai
Despite his advanced age, Bertholai was called the
best knight of Carmelide.
Apparently this meant the best in arms, because he was not an endearing character. He was surnamed “the Red” at the beginning of his career and “the Old” at the end. Once a vassal of King Leodegrance of Carmelide (Cameliard), but was banished by Arthur and Leodegrance after the malevolent murder of another of King Leodegrance’s knights.
In his exile, he met the False Guinevere, Genievre (Leodegrance’s daughter and Guenevere’s twin half-sister), who was also living in exile after the attempt by Cleodailis’ relatives to substitute her for Guenevere, Bertholai instigated a second attempt to substitute her for her more famous look-alike. They capture Arthur by luring him into the woods on a boar hunt and separating him from his companions.
Then, with drugs and flattery, Genievre won his love and convinced him that she was Guenevere, the true-born. Arthur had Genievre acknowledged Queen and renounced Guenevere. Genievre wanted her rival’s death, but eventually Guenevere merely(?) condemned to lose the skin of her head (scalp?), cheeks, and palms, and be exiled forever.
This split the court. Lancelot renounced allegiance to Arthur, insisting on defending Guenevere against three knights. (This caused a curious rivalry between Lancelot and Kay, who also wanted to serve as Guenevere’s champion.) Gawaine lent Excalibur to Lancelot for the battle. Thus Lancelot saved Guenevere’s skin, and Arthur gave her into Duke Galeholt’s keeping. Galeholt set her up comfortably with Lancelot in Surluse (Sorelois). At Gawaine’s urgin, Arthur tried to win back Lancelot, but failed.
In his infatuation with Genievre, Arthur let his duties slip. When the Pope learned what had happened, he ordered Arthur to take back Guenevere and, when Arthur refused, interdicted Britain for twenty-one months. In the tenth month of interdiction, Genievre and Bertholai had paralytic strokes, losing the use of their limbs and all their senses except sight and hearing. They began to decay while still alive. The hermit Amustans upbraided Arthur and helped get deathbed confessions from Genievre and Bertholai, who confessed to save their souls. Gawaine took the news to Surluse, and finally Guenevere and Lancelot were persuaded to return to Arthur. By the time Guenevere arrived, after spending more than two and half years in Surluse, Bertholai and Genievere were dead.
In the non-cyclical Lancelot do Lac, Lancelot championed the real Guinevere against three of Bertelay’s knights and won; Bertelay then admitted his guilt and was burned. In the Vulgate Lancelot, on the other hand, Arthur remained married to the False Guinevere for several years before both she and Bertelay contracted a mortal illness and confessed their ruse on their deathbeds.
It is possible (though unlikely) that Bertholai could be identified with Malory’s Sir Bertelot, the brother of Breuse Sans Pitie.
Castle of Enchantments | The Legend of King Arthur
Lancelot do Lac | 1215-1220
Vulgate Lancelot | 1215-1230
Vulgate Merlin | 1220-1235