Elaine of Benwick

Queen of Great Sorrows
Elaine of Benoic, Elene, Helaine, Helayne Helene

Lancelot’s mother; the wife of King Ban of Benoic (Ban of Benwick). 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 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 war 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.

Elaine is a French variation of Helen, the name ultimately derives from Greek mythology.


Sources
Lanzelet | Ulrich von Zatzikhoven, c. 1200
Lancelot do Lac | 1215-1220
Vulgate Lancelot | 1215-1230
Post-Vulgate Queste del Saint Graal | 1230-1240
Le Morte Darthur | Sir Thomas Malory, 1469-1470