Was Lancelot the greatest knight of them all?

Explorations in Arthurian History

Lancelot is entirely the creation of Chretien de Troyes and is as such no part of historical investigation.

Some scholars have tried to tie the story of Lancelot to various companions and/or opponents of Arthur.

Explorations in Arthurian Legends

The answer is yes, according to Chretien de Troyes.

He it was who invented Lancelot and added him to Arthur's court as a Knight of the Round Table.

In his four romances, Chretien portrays Lancelot as the best of all the knights: skilled in arms and chivalry and courtly love and all the other qualities that make a knight successful.

He is the king's champion, fighting challengers and going on quests in the king's name. He is time and again the symbol of Arthur's justice. Those who question the queen's fidelity are made to pay by fighting Lancelot. (Ironic, isn't it?) He is the most famous of the knights and the most accomplished.

And yet, he is not the most perfect. That honor falls to his son, Galahad.

It is interesting to note here that Lancelot is vilified by some for carrying on an adulterous affair with Guinevere while at the same time glorified by others for begetting Galahad, the perfect knight, from a tryst with Elaine, to whom he was not married. (Some stories say they did marry, but the begetting was before that.)

And just as Lancelot had supplanted Gawain in being the best knight-at-arms, so does Galahad supplant Lancelot in being the best knight-in-spirit. As the legend writers turned to the Holy Grail, they incorporated the idea of purity of body and mind; Lancelot did not fill the bill.

His son saw the Grail and realized the Grail Quest; the father was reduced to seeing an obscured vision and dying knowing that his own sin caused his inability to see the wondrous object.

Lancelot was the best at arms but not in piety.

See also

Literature of the Legends

Frequently Asked Questions:

Was Arthur a king or just a battle commander?

Was Guinevere really an adulteress?

Was Lancelot the greatest knight of them all?

Was Gawain a great knight or a royal pain?

Was Merlin an old magician or a young fortune-teller?

Who was the Lady of the Lake?

Was Galahad really so boring?

Did Perceval see the Holy Grail or didn't he?

Was Morgan Le Fay really a witch?

Was Morgause to blame for all of Arthur's troubles?

Was the Sword really in the Stone?

Did the Round Table really seat 1,600 men?

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