Lancelot of the Lake

   No tale of King Arthur is complete without Lancelot and yet of all of Arthur's knights, he is the hardest to authenticate in my eyes. He is nowhere in Geoffrey or the Welsh stories (or at least in all of his glory as the greatest knight). 
   R. S. Loomis has argued that Lancelot is the same character as Llwch Lleminawc in Preiddeu Annwfn (a welsh variant of Lugh Loinnbheimionach - Lug Lam Fada). Llwch Lleminawc appears also as Lloch Llawwynnyawc, from which Loomis derives both Loth from the first half and Lancelot du lac from the latter half. His reasoning would explain why Lancelot seems to hold roles that were originally held by Gawain. But Loomis also seems to try too hard searching for these linguistic parallels and this usually leads to complex analyses that throw out all issues that disagree in order to support the main thesis. 
   Another similar style argument was first proposed by Dan Hunt in 1997 and discussed by Noah Henson. It differs from R.S. Loomis' theory in that it does not trace the development from "Llawwyanawc" to "Lancelot" by way of sound-formation changes, but by transliteration, an attempt to represent the sounds of one language by the spellings of another. In the Welsh "Culhwch and Olwen," Llwch Llawwyanawc is listed among Arthur's followers. His first name may be associated with a Cymric word for "light," llewych, or it could be a Cymric transliteration of the Gaelic name Lugh, which also means "light." As for his surname, Llaw is Cymric for "hand," while wyanawc is translated alternately as "windy" (Jones), "furious" (Ford), and "striking" (Bromwich). In the entirety of Welsh heroic tradition only two other characters are endowed with names of this kind: Llew Llaw Gyffes (in "Math Son of Mathonwy"), meaning "skillful hand;" and Lludd Llaw Ereint ("Lludd and Llefelys" and also a passing mention in "Culhwch"), meaning "silver hand." In T.W. Rolleston's Celtic Myth and Legend, Lugh is surnamed "Lamhfhada," which is Gaelic for "long-hand" (lamh, hand, arm; fhada, long). Among Irish heroes, only Nuadu is described according to the uniqueness of this body part. Lugh is also known as "Samildanach," or "many-skilled." Thus, by the similarity of their first names (Lugh, Llwch), as well as their titular identification by some quality of their hand-a practice not commonplace in either the Welsh or the Irish material-the two figures can be shown to be "the same," in the same sense that the Greek Heracles and the Roman Hercules are the same. Now to Lancelot. As far as we know, his name and knightly deeds were first set down ca. 1190 by Chretien de Troyes, in his Conte de la Charette. Yet given the medieval predilection for "borrowing" material from other sources, whether oral or written, it is highly unlikely that Chretien invented the character. Ulrich von Zatzikhoven's Lanzelet, for example, appeared a few years later, and the prose Lancelot came a few years after that; because of their similarities, it highly probable that all three stories derive from the same source, which is now lost to us. The analysis is that the name "Lancelot" derives from an alternate title for Lugh, also now lost, something like "Lamhcalad," Gaelic for "hard-hand," although a Cymric title, perhaps "Llancalet," is a more likely candidate. (Caled is Cymric for "hard," an irregular form that becomes calet when modified; while the "llan" element is easily explained as a development of llaw. The Cymric word for "lake" is llwch. Lancelot's surname, as we are all aware, is du Lac, "of the Lake." This is a curious coincidence, to say the least. It certainly seems plausible that Chretien used a homophone-'a word pronounced like another word of different meaning that may or may not be written like it." Llwch's name did not really mean "lake:" it just sounded like it, and was written like it by the scribe of "Culhwch and Olwen." The process does a decent job of linking Lugh, Llew, Llwch, and maybe Lludd; but then takes that inevitable jump to justify the main conjecture that Lancelot also fits by creating lost links.
   My own belief is that Lancelot is the early Lothian or Scottish king, Anguselus, one of Arthur's main subordinate kings as mentioned in Geoffrey's Historia. Geoffrey's story was published and widely available in 1136. King Anguselus is mentioned prominently at Arthur's crowning. By the middle to end of the century, the translators Wace and Layamon have him named Angel (dropping the 'us' pieces of the name in the middle and end, rather than a more likely Aengus). As the letters 'c' and 'g' are often switched in the earlier versions of our written alphabet, it is only a short distance to Ancel (later translated as Ansel). If Chretien had some reason to specify a diminutive such as a younger son named or titled the same, as in the younger Ancel, we would have L'ancelot. Anguselus was stated to be the king of Scotland and Lancelot is often associated with Bamburgh. The fortress or the associated Lindisfarne location is considered to be Joyous Gard. The story of his capture of the fortress, finding the tomb with his name on it, and renaming the site Joyous Gard in one of the main Lancelot stories and may show this elder/ younger connection and even have allowed Chrétien to make him a Breton knight, a strong political requirement for the Norman rulers of the period. This line of reasoning and other possible ideas will be discussed in other areas.
   By the time of Malory, Lancelot is 'the best knight in the world' as admirers called him, and a son of King Ban of Benoic (Bran the Bendigeid or Bran the Blessed). The Lady of the Lake was said to have spirited him away as an infant and brought him up. Hence the epithet "Lancelot of the Lake". When he was eighteen, the Lady presented him at Arthur's court, where he rose to supremacy in all knightly pursuits. As Guinevere's lover he endured much high-handedness on her part and various clashes for other reasons, which drove him into temporary insanity. But he saved her from an abductor and was generally true to her.
   He would not respond to the advances of Elaine, the Maid of Astolat, and she died of grief: her body was floated on a barge down-river to Camelot. When Arthur was forced to condemn his wife and Lancelot rescued her, he took her to Joyous Gard, but restored her to the King under a pledge of safety. In consequence of the rift, which divided the Round Table, Lancelot led away many followers to his own domains, and set up a rival court.

Lancelot's Lineage in the Sources

   In the cyclic Old French Prose 'Lancelot', Lancelot's great-grandfather was named Galahad. This ancestral Galahad was the younger son of Joseph of Arimathea; he was conceived in Hoselice, later named Wales, of which he was the first Christian monarch (see Micha ed., vol. 2, pp. 31-35). In the opening lines of the OF Prose 'Lancelot', we are told that Lancelot's baptismal name was Galahad (Micha, vol. 7, p. 1).
   In the Prose 'Lancelot', the agnatic line between Joseph of Arimathea and Galahad (son of the hero Lancelot) is uninterrupted: Joseph of Arimathea > Galahad, King of Wales > Lancelot > Ban de Benoyc > Lancelot (the protagonist) > Galahad, the Grail conqueror in the Queste.
   In the last folio or so of the Vulgate Merlin, we read that "King Ban and his wife had a son who was named Galahad in baptism, but his surname was Lancelot; he kept the name Lancelot all his life." (Garland translation, vol. I, p. 423.). The 'Merlin' was written after the Lancelot, which may contains the earliest reference to Lancelot's other name. The very beginning of the Lancelot offers the same information as above (Micha ed., vol. VII; Garland vol. II). Later we learn that he was named Galahad but was called Lancelot "in remembrance" of his grandfather, whose name was Lancelot (Micha II, 36; Garland III, 13). And later we read how/why Lancelot lost the name "Galahad": "And just as the name Galahad had been lost to Lancelot by the flame of desire, so too was it restored in this offspring by mortification of the flesh, for he remained a virgin in thought and fact until he died..." (Micha IV, 211; Garland III, 165).

Sir Launcelot in Malory's le Morte


Lancelot's Fight at Guin's Door

Lancelot's Madness