Bohors, Bohort li Escillies, Bohortes, Bort, Boort, Boors, Bours, Bordo, Borz, Bwrf
One of the major knights of the Round Table, Bors was the younger brother of Sir Lionel and a favorite cousin of Lancelot.
He earned fame as one of the successful Grail knights in the Vulgate Queste del Saint Graal and adaptions. Although one of the more famous of Arthur’s knights, he entered the Arthurian legends comparatively late, first appearing in the Prose Lancelot. His character remains relatively unchanged between the Vulgate romances and modern texts.
According to the Vulgate, after the death of King Bors, his sons Lionel and Bors the younger were taken from the father’s conqueror, King Claudas in the care of Pharien, a knight. Seraide rescued the two children from Claudas and brought them to her mistress Viviane, the French Damsel of the Lake, to join their cousin Lancelot under Viviane’s care. (In Malory, Bors joins Arthur’s campaign against Rome, but in the Vulgate stories, the war occurs before Bors’ birth.)
Malory’s first mention of Bors appears to be when Arthur sends him, with Lionel, Gawaine, and Bedivere, to carry a message of war to the Emperor Lucius. The four get the continental campaign against Rome off to a flying start. In battle with the Romans, Bors is named to be Arthur’s personal guard.
The Vulgate and Post-Vulgate romances give Bors innumerable adventures. In one of the earliest episodes, Bors won a tournament at the court of King Brandegorre of Estrangorre (or Brandegoris). He refused the prize of the tournament, Brandegorre’s daughter, but the maiden’s governess gave Bors a magic ring which caused him to fall in love with the girl. He slept with her and fathered Helin Le Blank, who became a Knight of the Round Table. This incident marked Bors’ only sexual act. After Duke Galeholt’s death, Seraide brought Galeholt’s sword to Sir Bors, according to Vulgate IV. Helin later became the Emperor of Constantinople. In other adventures, he joined Arthur’s war against Claudas and re-conquered his father’s kingdom, of which he later became king.
After the Winchester tournament and the affair of Elaine of Astolat, Bors could be recognized by a distinctive scar on his forehead.
Bors’s prominence in Malory really begins in the Grail Adventures. While on this quest, Bors championed the younger daughter of King Amans. At the time, he was practicing ultra-austerity, eating only bread and water and sleeping on the floor. Vulgate VI tells us that when the lady gave him the best room in her castle and a splendid bed, he rumpled the bed to make it appear he had slept in it, but slept on the floor. Possibly he remembered that his hostess had seemed hurt when he ate only bread and water instead of the fine dinner she had prepared.
In her castle, he had two dreams of visions, pointing out choices he should make the next day after winning the battle of his hostess and leaving her. The choices were whether to save his brother Lionel from a captor who was beating him with thorns or to save a virgin from deflowerment (Bors saved the virgin) and, afterward, whether to sleep with a temptress or allow her to jump from her tower and make her gentlewomen jump after her (he let them jump – they all turned out to be demons who disappeared on the way down).
Lionel later met Bors and attacked him in a towering rage for having been abandoned; Bors refused to defend himself against his brother until after a holy man and a fellow companion of the Round Table had both been slaughtered trying to stop Lionel – then, when Bors at last took up weapon, a column of fire from Heaven intervened to stop the fight. None of Bors’ decisions on this quest were made without much soul-searching, and he had also to undergo at least his share of false counsel by tempters in the guise of holy folk.
Eventually joining Galahad, Percivale, and Amide, Bors became the third of the three Round Table Knights to achieve fully the Holy Grail, and the only one of the three to return alive to Arthur’s court. Prior to beginning on the Grail Quest, Bors visited Corbenic (Carbonek), the Grail Castle, twice, witnessing marvels and miracles on both visits.
God tested him particularly rigorously during the Grail Quest – since, unlike Perceval and Galahad, Bors had lost his virginity. His first test involved combat with a knight named Priadan the Black, whom Bors defeated but did not kill. In a second trial, Bors had to choose between saving his brother Lionel and a maiden. He chose the maiden, leaving his brother for dead.
The final test took place when a beautiful maiden threatened to kill herself and twelve of her servants unless Bors slept with her. He refused, revealing the maiden as a fiend. Later, he encountered his brother Lionel, furious that Bors had declined to save him during the second test. Bors refused to fight his brother, and Lionel ended up slaying a hermit and another knight who rushed to Bors’ defense. Bors prayed, and God came between the brothers, pacifying Lionel.
Bors joined Galahad and Perceval on a magic ship and, after several other adventures, the three knights came to Corbenic and attended a Grail mass held by Joseph of Arimathea or his son Josephus (Josephe). Galahad performed miracles at Corbenic, and the three knights departed with the Grail to Sarras. After the holy deaths of Galahad and Perceval, Bors returned to Arthur’s court to recount their adventures.
Curiously, after the Grail Quest, we find Bors advising Lancelot in the latter’s affair with Guenevere, and even acting as go-between and peacemaker for the pair of adulterers. He helped Lancelot rescue Guenevere from the stake, although he did not particularly care for the queen. He defected from Arthur’s court and joined Lancelot’s battles against Arthur at Joyous Gard and Benoic (Benwick). Accompanying Lancelot into exile, he was made king of all of Claudas’ lands.
Accounts of his final days vary. Bors appears to have acted at Lancelot’s executive officer during the fighting with Arthur, and later when Lancelot returned after the deaths of Arthur and Mordred, to put down the remnants of Mordred’s rebellion. In Vulgate Mort Artu and the Post-Vulgate Mort Artu, Bors helps Lancelot destroy the sons of Mordred, and then joins Sir Bleoberis and the Archbishop of Canterbury in a monastery for the rest of his days.
According to Malory, he retired with Lancelot to a monastery in Glastonbury, where he remained until Lancelot’s death. He then went to settle affairs in his own country, and from thence he went with Ector, Blamore and Bleoberis to travel to Jerusalem, where they died fighting against the Turks.
It has been suggested that, in origin, Bors may have been a character who figures in Welsh legend as Gwri.
Sir Bors’ Family and Retainer
King Ban of Benwick
Lancelot of the Lake, Ector de Maris
Lionses (Leonce), Phariance, Viviane, Seraide
King Brandegoris’ Daughter
Damsel of Hongrefort
Twenty-Four Knights of Arthur’s Court | The Legend of King Arthur
Lancelot do Lac | 1215-1220
Vulgate Lancelot | 1215-1230
Vulgate Queste del Saint Graal | 1215-1230
Vulgate Mort Artu | 1215-1230
Third Continuation of Chrétien’s Perceval | Manessier, c. 1230
Post-Vulgate Queste del Saint Graal | 1230-1240
Post-Vulgate Mort Artu | 1230-1240
The Stanzaic Le Morte Arthur | 14th century
Le Morte Darthur | Sir Thomas Malory, 1469-1470