Nightbringer | The Arthurian Online Encyclopedia

La Joyous Garde

Douleureuse Garde, La Dolorous Garde, Dolorous Gard, Gioiosa Guardia, Joieuse Garde, Joiouse Garde, Joyous Gard, Joyeuse Garde

The Joyous Garde is a significant location in Arthurian legend. It is particularly associated with the tales of Sir Lancelot and the Knights of the Round Table.

Originally it was known as Douleureuse Garde (Doloreuse Chartre), meaning “Sorrowful Guard,” and it was a dark and gloomy pile of weatherworn stone occupied by knights who had fallen into evil ways, and maybe so named because of the Dolorous Stroke which was delivered there.

When Sir Lancelot asked King Arthur for some task to prove his knighthood, Arthur told him he might have the castle if he could seize it from its wicked owners. Lancelot, then eighteen, accepted this challenge and attacked the castle single-handed. He drove out the evil knights, renamed the castle as Joyous Garde after a visit from Arthur and Guenevere, and began a programme of renovation and reconstruction which converted the building into one of the most spectacular castles of the western world.

Vulgate III gives a more complete account than does Malory of Lancelot’s actual capture of the castle. The graveyard was full of graves or purported graves of knights who had died or reputedly died fighting the castle’s champions. Among the tombstones was a large slab of metal, bedecked with gems, on which was written:

Only he who conquers La Doloreuse Garde will be able to lift this slab, and he will find his name beneath it.

When Lancelot lifted the slab, he read:

Here will repose Lancelot of the Lake, the son of King Ban.

Thus Lancelot, who had been appropriated in infancy by the French Lady of the Lake, learned his parentage for the first time.

La Dolorous Garde also had a chapel with a door leading to a cave. As Lancelot entered the cave, the earth quaked and dreadful noise filled the air. Two copper knights holding huge swords struck at him as he entered the next chamber. Here he found a deep and evil-smelling well from which gastly noise rose, and beyond it an ugly monster guarding the way with an axe. Lancelot had to break his shield upon the monster, strangle it, and push it into the well.

At last a damsel of copper became visible, holding the keys of the enchantments, one large and one small. With the large key Lancelot opened a copper pillar. Terrible noises issued from thirty copper tubes. With the small key Lancelot opened a small coffer, out of which rose a whirlwind. Then at last the enchantments were broken. The obstacles vanished, as did the tombs in the churchyards and the helmets on the wall of knights previously vanquished; Dolorous Garde became Joyous Garde.

Lancelot had the gloomy outer walls covered with plaster and the plaster gilded with gold leaf, so that the shining radiance of Joyous Garde could be seen for many miles. The ominous watchtowers and battlements were ornamented with fantastic decorations and connected by graceful flying bridges, while the dark inner chambers were enlivened by brilliant tapestries, painted ceilings, and gilded furniture.

Lancelot made the castle fit for a queen, but his unhappy love affair with Guenevere prevented him from marrying a suitable maiden and enjoying a normal family life. Lancelot returned the castle to its former name (Dolorous Guard) after his affair with Guinevere was exposed and he was expelled from Camelot. He took Guinevere here after he had rescued her from being burnt alive in Carlisle. The beautiful castle eventually suffered badly when Lancelot took Guenevere there and her husband, Arthur, attacked Joyous Garde in a prolonged seige, until Lancelot returned to France. Some sources say that Arthur had Joyous Guard razed. Nothing now remains except for some heather-clad ruins, covering the vault in which the body of Lancelot reposes.

It turned once more into La Dolorous Garde after his banishment from England and his body was taken there for burial.

In the Prose Tristan and its adaptations, Lancelot allows Tristan and Isolde to live in the castle after their flight from King Mark’s court. During the Grail Quest, when Tristan was away, Mark attacked Joyous Guard and took back Isolde.

As for its location, the Vulgate Mort Artu places it in Northumberland, and Malory more specifically suggests the castle of Bamburgh. Bamburgh sits upon the ruins of an earlier British castle.

See also
Shield of Lancelot | The Legend of King Arthur

Lancelot do Lac | 1215-1220
Vulgate Lancelot | 1215-1230
Prose Tristan | 1230-1240
La Tavola Ritonda | 1325–1350
The Stanzaic Le Morte Arthur | 14th century
Le Morte Darthur | Sir Thomas Malory, 1469-1470