Guinevere was the legendary queen consort of King Arthur. In tales and folklore, she was said to have had a love affair with Arthur's chief knight Sir Lancelot. This story first appears in Chrétien de Troyes' Lancelot, the Knight of the Cart, and reappears as a common motif in numerous cyclical Arthurian literature, starting with the Lancelot-Grail Cycle of the early 13th century and carrying through the Post-Vulgate Cycle and Thomas Malory's Le Morte d'Arthur. Guinevere's and Lancelot's alleged betrayal of Arthur was often considered as having led to the downfall of the kingdom.
The Welsh form Gwenhwyfar, which seems to be cognate with the Irish name Findabair, can be translated as The White Enchantress, or alternately The White Fay/Ghost, from Proto-Celtic *Uindo- "white, fair, holy" + *seibarā "magic" (cf. Old Irish síabar "magic"). Some have suggested that the name may derive from "Gwenhwy-fawr" or Gwenhwy the Great, contrasting the character to "Gwenhwy-fach" or Gwenhwy the less; Gwenhwyfach appears in Welsh literature as a sister of Gwenhwyfar, but in her scholarly edition of the Welsh Triads, Rachel Bromwich suggests this is a less likely etymology. Geoffrey of Monmouth renders her name Guanhumara in Latin (though there are many spelling variations to be found in the various manuscripts of his Historia Regum Britanniae). The name is spelled Guennuuar in Caradoc's Vita Gildae. Gerald of Wales calls her Wenneuereia. In the 15th century Middle Cornish play Bewnans Ke, she is called Gwynnever. The name in Modern English is spelled Jennifer, from the Cornish.
In some adaptations, she is the daughter of King Leodegrance and is betrothed to Arthur early in his career, while he is garnering support. When Lancelot arrives later, she is instantly smitten, and they soon consummate the adultery that will bring about Arthur's fall. However, Arthur is not aware of their relationship or adultery for quite a while, until at a feast when he realizes that neither Lancelot nor Guinevere is there. Their affair is exposed by two of King Lot's sons, Agravain and Mordred, and Lancelot flees for his life while Arthur reluctantly sentences his queen to burn at the stake. Knowing Lancelot and his family will try to stop the execution, Arthur sends many of his knights to defend the pyre, though Gawain refuses to participate. Lancelot arrives and rescues the queen, and in the course of the battle Gawain's brothers Gaheris and Gareth are killed, sending Gawain into a rage so great that he pressures Arthur into war with Lancelot. When Arthur goes to France to fight Lancelot, he leaves Guinevere in the care of Mordred, who plots to marry the queen himself and take Arthur's throne. In some versions Guinevere assents to Mordred's proposal, but in others, she hides in the Tower of London and then takes refuge in a convent. Hearing of the treachery, Arthur returns to Britain and slays Mordred at Camlann, but his wounds are so severe that he is taken to the isle of Avalon. Guinevere meets Lancelot one last time, then returns to the convent where she spends the remainder of her life.
Full article ▸