Guinevere, the most mysterious character in Camelot

Lancelot and Guinevere on Arthur's tomb, by Dante Gabriel Rossetti
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Guinevere is the most mysterious character in the entire Arthurian Cycle. What is best known about her is that she was unfaithful to the king with Sir Lancelot, but up to this point it is necessary to know how they met, how she became queen and what happened afterwards. Indeed, quite a mystery.

According to Geoffrey of Montmouth in The History of the Kings of Britain, Arthur had gone to Eboraco, where three brothers of royal lineage had been dispossessed of the lands they ruled by the Saxons. The king returned to the three the lost honors and took as his wife Guinevere, a young woman of Roman lineage, educated at the court of the Duke of Cador, who surpassed in beauty all the women of that territory. Everything seemed to be going well between the couple, until, when Arthur learned of the attack prepared against his kingdom of Britannia, he decided to go to meet the enemy to defend his country and left Mordred and Guinevere as regents. After arduous combats, Arthur was ready to march on Rome when he was informed that Mordred, committing treason, had crowned himself king of Britain, thus usurping the throne and, not only that, he had married Guinevere, who broke the bond of their first marriage. Arthur returns to such an atonement and fierce struggles for power begin, which we already know how they will end for the protagonists. When Guinevere found out, she retired to the church of Julius Martyr in the City of Legions and there she took the nun’s habit and promised to live in faith and chastity.

For Celtic mythology, the story of Guinevere is much more complex, as recorded in Welsh and some French texts. She is famous for her romance with Lancelot, which produces the rupture between the latter and Arthur, a rupture that weakens the Arthurian conception that was held and precipitates his downfall. But it seems that Lacelot was not the first. According to some versions of the legend, Guinevere would have had relations with Gauvain, Arthur’s nephew, with Edern, with Kai and, of course, with Meleagant, who abducts her, as well as with Mordred, Arthur’s son-nephew and who will end up being responsible for the end of the Arthurian cycle. Guinevere represents the Sovereignty by her status as queen and, as a sacred prostitute, she disposes of that sovereignty by entrusting it to the knights in charge of carrying it out. So, do the knights fight for Arthur or for Guinevere?

Other texts of origin of the island of Great Britain cite three different Ginebras, with whom King Arthur would have married successively. The last of them (because of the previous ones there is almost no record) appeared before the king looking old and ugly. Arthur was forced to kiss her to give her the youth and beauty expected of her. Anyway, the character of Guinevere remains very mysterious, which makes us try to unite the three sources and show the most accurate image of her. Let’s go for it.

Geneva’s infidelity with Lancelot is clear, which is associated with the fall of the kingdom of Camelot, since, from these events, a close bond is created between Geneva and the kingdom: when she is ill, the crops suffer and, with her affair with Lancelot, Brittany falls under the invasions of the Anglo-Saxon barbarians. With this she is considered a symbol of human frailty and perversion.

Guinevere has been characterized from different points of view as the development of the Arthurian legend progresses, ranging from an opportunistic and weak traitor to a noble and virtuous lady who naively falls into sin, while others consider her a prostitute, not only because of the perversity in her relationship with Lancelot, but because for her adulteries and sins, a great kingdom falls. In some versions it is mentioned that Guinevere was condemned to death, but this fact is not materialized in the legend.

Guinevere’s sterility is considered a divine punishment for her infidelity. In some later legends, this fact is used for moralistic purposes, while, in the older legends, the mention of any children is simply omitted.

Guinevere remained in the convent to which she retired to atone for her sins of infidelity and, according to some texts, to escape from Mordred. She only left to accompany her husband Arthur in his farewell. At the end of her days, she became Superior of the convent until her death.

For everyone she will remain the most mysterious character of the Arthurian Cycle, not only because only her bad role as queen and wife is mentioned, but because her most relevant fact was to be Sir Lancelot’s mistress. Perhaps the fact of being a woman and living in the time in which she did, sent her to the background without any importance or relevance.

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