Nightbringer | The Arthurian Online Encyclopedia

Pellinore of the Isles

The Knight with the Strange Beast
Pelinoir, Pelinor, Pellanor, Pelleore, Pellinor, Pellinoro, Pelletor, Pollinor

A king of Listenois, Wales, or “the Isles” first mentioned in the Vulgate Merlin and the Livre d’Artus as the Maimed King, who was wounded by a holy lance after he doubted the wonders of the Grail, and who would only be healed at the conclusion of the Grail Quest.

He was the son of Pellehan and the brother of Pelles (the Fisher King), although all three kings were probably originally the same character. R.S. Loomis thought that the origin of his name was “Beli Mawr” (Beli the Great), a character in Welsh mythology.

The Vulgate Merlin says that Pellinore had twelve sons and a second brother named Alain. The Post-Vulgate romances expand and change his role. Pellinore’s father, Pellehan, becomes the Maimed King, and Pellinore is given a number of adventures at Arthur’s court. He is also named in the Post-Vulgate as the father of Perceval, Lamorat (who is his brother in Palamedes), Drian, Aglovale, and Tor – five noted Knights of the Round Table. In Palamedes, he has a sister called the Lady of the Island of Fairies. Malory says that he married the Queen of Flanders. Malory reproduces his adventures from the Post-Vulgate, but removes his association with the Grail family.

The Livre d’Artus, in an apparent attempt to reconcile conflicting traditions, actually includes two characters named Pellinore. They are cousins. The first is the father of Perceval and sixteen other sons. He was wounded in the manner described above and can only find sport in fishing. He is thus both the Maimed King and the Fisher King. Fourteen of his sons were killed when King Agrippe invaded the Waste Land, causing Pellinore to retire to the Castle of Marvels and to await his healing. The second Pellinore is the King of Listenois (the Waste Land) and Corbenic (the Grail Castle). He has twelve sons. Like his cousin, he has been wounded, by the Bleeding Lance, and must await healing from Galahad. The two Pellinores are destined to be healed on the same day. No source beyond the Livre d’Artus includes this duplication.

King Pellinore of the Isles earned his title, ‘The Knight with the Strange Beast’, for his pursuit of the horrid and elusive Questing Beast, in the Post-Vulgate Merlin. He was engaged in a twelve-month quest of this creature, not unlikely one of many such yearlong stints, when he first met Arthur, then in the early flush of kinghood. Having just ridden his own horse to death, Pellinore insisted on taking Arthur’s, and when the young man requested to follow the Beast in the other’s place, Pellinore replied,

It is in vain thy desire, for it shall never be achieved but by me, or my next kin.

(Since after Pellinore’s death Palomides the Saracen picked up the quest of Galtisant, it is just possible that Pellinore lied to keep Arthur from interfering.)

Before Pellinore rode off, Arthur expressed a desire to see which of them would prove better in a fair joust, to which Pellinore replied,

Well ... seek me here when thou wilt, and here nigh this well thou shalt find me.

Not long thereafter, Arthur got word that “one of the best knights in the world, and the strongest man of arms” had set up his pavilion by a well in the forest (possibly the same one where Pellinore had promised to give Arthur his joust) and was taking on all comers. After the young Sir Griflet begged the adventure and was defeated, Arthur himself went to fight the forest knight, who turned out to be Pellinore. After a terrific battle, Arthur’s sword was broken.

Rather than yield, he tried wrestling his opponent down. Adread at Arthur’s strength, Pellinore managed to unhelm him and prepared to smite off his head. Merlin arrived and told Pellinore who his adversary was, which had an opposite effect to the one desired, for now Pellinore was even more adread and would have killed Arthur to avoid reprisals. Merlin had to cast Pellinore into an enchanted sleep, whereon Arthur, Merlin replied by revealing Pellinore’s name and future good service to the High King, predicting the births of his sons Lamorak and Percivale, and adding that

he shall tell you the name of your own son, begotten of your sister, that shall be the destruction of all this realm.

Malory seems not to follow up or explain this last tantalizing morsel, but it may provide an additional reason for the later enmity between Margawse’s sons and Pellinore’s.

Merlin took Arthur on to the Lake to recieve Excalibur from “Nineve“, and when Pellinore woke up, he may have sworn to himself to another twelvemonth of pursuing Galtisant. Pellinore next turned up on Arthur’s side during the battle with NeroLot, and the second rebel allicance before Castle Terrabil. In this battle Pellinore slew King Lot. He departed after the battle but soon rejoined Arthur, coming to court the day after the arrival of his own son Tor. At this time Merlin led him to the Siege Perilous and the neighboring seat (which would someday be Lancelot’s) and told him,

This is your place and best ye are worthy to sit therein of any that is here.

Gawaine and Gaheris, already angered by the death of their father Lot, were stirred to even greater wrath at this.

When the marriage feast of Arthur and Guenevere was enlivened by the episode of the white hart, the white brachet, and Dame Nimue, Pellinore, on Merlin’s advice, was given the task of rescuing Nimue, which he accomplished, bringing her back to court. His adventure was marred, however, when in his dogged hast to find Nimue he refused to stop and help a wounded knight and his lady; they died for lack of help, and Pellinore later learned that the young woman had been his own daughter Eleine (Alyne) by the Lady of the Rule. On their way back, while camped for the night, Pellinore and Nimue overheard two passing knights plot the poisoning of King Arthur; presumably Pellinore and Nimue warned the King on their return, for nothing more is heard of this plot.

Arthur called Pellinore to his assistance against the five invading kings of DenmarkIreland, The Vale, Soleise, and Longtains, but Pellinore and his army did not arrive in time for the action. Arthur joined them three miles from the Humber after the battle and asked Pellinore’s advice on the best men to fill eight vacancies in the Round Table the battle had made. Pellinore suggested four older knights, Uriens, Hervise de Revel (Hervi de Revel), the King of the Lake, and Galagars (Galligar), and four young ones, Gawaine, GrifletKay, and for the last either Bagdemagus or Tor;

but because Sir Tor is my son I may not praise him, but else ... I durst say that of his age there is not in this land a better knight.

Artur chose Tor, and presumably Bagdemagus’ pique extended to Pellinore as well as Arthur.

According to the French Palamedes, Pellinore conquered Wales and helped Arthur quash a Saxon invasion. In the tenth year after he was knighted, Gawaine avenged his father King Lot by killing Pellinore with his own hands, and with the help of Gaheris. Malory does not describe the actual scene, mentioning it first as a thing to come and later as one that is past, but Pellinore’s wife called it shameful treason. In the Italian Chantari di Lancelotto, however, he is alive at the end of Arthur’s reign, and he helps Lancelot defend Joyous Guard against Arthur.

His sons in wedlock were AglovaleLamorakDornar (Drian), and Percivale. He had at least one bastard son, Tor, begotten on Vayshoure; since Tor was begotten “half by force”, we may suspect that Pellinore had a degree of rash heat in his nature and may have fathered other bastards.

He had two known daughters: Amide (who may have been legitimate, since her mother is unknown) and Eleine, begotten on Lady of the Rule – apparently an extramarital liason. Pellinore seems also to have been hasty-tampered and hard to turn from his purpose once it was fixed. Nevertheless, his suggestion of Gawaine for the Round Table argues either a generous nature or an ingenuous one.

Pellinore’s kingdom, “the Isles”, probably was off the coast of Wales. Pellinore is sometimes depicted with his own shield. The design of the shield can vary, but it often features imagery related to his quest, such as a beast or a hunting horn.

King Pellinore’s Family and Relations

Pellam, Garlon, Alain of Escavalon(?)

La Veuve Dame de la Gaste Forest Soutaine

Lady of the Rule, Vayshoure

Sons (in wedlock)
Aglovale, Lamorak, Dornar, Percivale

Son (by Vayshoure)

Elaine (by Lady of the Rule), Amide (by unknown)

Pinel le Savage

Vulgate Merlin | 1220-1235
Le Livre d’Artus | Early 13th century
Prose Tristan | 1230-1240
Palamedes | c. 1240
Post-Vulgate Suite du Merlin | 1230-1240
Post-Vulgate Queste del Saint Graal | 1230-1240
Palamedes | c. 1240
Li Chantari di Lancelotto | Late 14th century
Le Morte Darthur | Sir Thomas Malory, 1469-1470