NIGHTBRINGER | The Arthurian Encyclopedia


Lamwell, Lambewell, Landevale, Landevall, Lanfal, Launall, Launfal, Launfalle, Lenval, Linval

The hero of several poems and lays, beginning with Marie de France’s Lanval (late twelfth century). Curiously, he does not appear in any of the chronicles or cycles, save one mention in the Vulgate Merlin as a knight who fights in a tournament at Carhaix. Marie’s Lanval, or its source, was adapted in the early fourteenth century as Sir Landeval, by Thomas Chestre in the late fourteenth century as Sir Launfal, and in the sixteenth century as Sir Lambewell and Sir Lamwell.

Lanval was a gracious and generous knight who was appointed as “steward” of Arthur’s other knights. Lanval disliked Queen Guinevere for her numerous infidelities, and she overtly returned the disdain. He made an excuse to leave Arthur’s court and went to Caerleon, where he lived for a year but fell into debt. Eventually, he became so poor and depraved that everyone in Caerleon made fun of him, and he left Caerleon to seek adventures.

On a languid midsummer’s day, Lanval, weary and despondent, dismounted and flung himself down on a grassy bank and closed his eyes to the sunshine. Soon, the murmur of sweet voices roused him. Nearby were two golden-haired maidens of ethereal beauty, beckoning him to a sunlit glade ablaze with wild flowers, adorned with a pavilion of embroidered silk, adorned with gilded roses and crowned with an eagle of burnished gold. It was a pavilion fit for kings.

Within, he beheld a maiden whose radiance eclipsed mortal beauty. This mysterious maiden, named Triamour, welcomed him and gave him her hand. At her touch, love kindled between them.

Lanval asked her to stay with him always, but she explained that it was not possible. She was a fairy and he a mortal. Whenever he wished for her, she could appear, but only on certain conditions:

  1. He must never speak of her.

  2. He must not summon her at a time when other mortals were present.

If he would reveal her existence, she would disappear forever to her own lands. Lanval agreed and they happily remained together in the sunny glade. Triamour gave him a horse, servant, banner, unlimited amount of gold, a suit of armor, and an enchantment which insured that Lanval would not be harmed in joust or duel.

When Lanval returned to Caerleon rich and powerful, he suddenly found himself with a lot of friends. A tournament was held in his honor, which he won. A knight in Lombardy named Valentyne heard of Lanval’s prowess and offered a joust; Lanval traveled to the city of Atalye in Lombardy and killed Valentyne. Throughout all of these adventures, Lanval continued his relationship with Triamour, whom he had to meet in secret.

Eventually, Arthur heard of his knight’s adventures and asked him to come back to court. Lanval complied and returned to the merriment at Arthur’s court in Cardiff. Lanval kept alone in his chambers at night, when Triamour came to him, and by day he shone with happiness. The Queen did not fail to notice this, and from time to time her gray eyes rested on him reflectively. She said little, but soon she summoned Lanval to a palace garden.

Guenevere said he had become her heart’s desire and she wished him to be her paramour. Lanval courteously refused. The Queen cried out,

You are no man fit for a woman’s love.
Queen, I am beloved of a lady whose lowliest handmaiden puts your beauty to shame.

Despite the insult towards the Queen, he had revealed the existence of his lover, thus closing the gate between the mortal realm and that of Faerie. Lanval mourned in his chamber, Triamour did not come when he called for her. Soon, guards came and bound and brought to King Arthur. Guenevere had told her husband that Sir Lanval had tried to force her, and when she refused him, he had insulted her with the beauty of his mistress.

A royal court to judge the knight was set up and Guenevere told her tale. Arthur’s knights looked doubtful as her amorous habits were well known to them. They supported Lanval, and he was told to bring his lover to the court and prove her existence – if not, he would be killed. He had a year and two weeks to find Triamour and bring her back in front of Arthur and the court, that all might judge her beauty against that of the Queen.

When Lanval had exposed Triamour’s existence, all the items and enchantments that Lanval had received from Triamour disappeared. Lanval was unable to find the fairy Triamour in the given time. When he returned to Cardiff, Arthur demanded that he be killed, but members of the court argued instead that Lanval should be sent into exile.

Suddenly a breeze stirred the stifling stillness, carrying the scent of wild flowers. Through the gate on a white palfrey rode Triamour with her servant, and their radiant beauty. Her hair was a halo of gold, her cheeks were softly flushed and her body was as quick and bright as a sunbeam. Without saying a word she turned to the King and court. All were silent. King Arthur spoke at last:

If you are Lanval’s lady, there is no one who can deny that he spoke truth. He may go free.

So his fellow knights released their brother from his bonds. Without a backward glance, Sir Lanval strode across the courtyard to the lady from the realm of Faerie and leaped up behind her on the white horse. Lanval and Triamour rode together out of the castle gates and into the meadow beyond, dwindling in the distance and finally vanishing.

Triamour was never seen again. It was said that she had taken her lover far across the seas to live on the fairy island of Avalon, from which she never could return. But Lanval reappeared in the forests near Caerleon once each year on the eve of the day he had left. A shadowy figure in the fading light of dusk, he was mounted on a splendid charger, and he rode alone, a hint of longing on his face for the mortal world that he had forsaken.

Lanval’s story was grafted onto another knight in the non-Arthurian Breton lay of Graelent, and to Gawain in the Italian La Pulzella Gaia. Echoes of the tale appear in the Der Pleier’s Meleranz.

Lanval | Marie de France, mid to late 12th century
Vulgate Merlin | 1220-1235
Daniel von dem blühenden Tal | Der Stricker, 1210-1225
Sir Launfal | Thomas Chestre, late 14th century
Sir Landeval | Early to mid 14th century
Sir Lambewell | 16th century