Medieval Arthurian Legend

Morgan le Fay and the Lady of the Lake

12th century—15th century, Old French | Medieval English.

'She is therefore called Morgan the goddess… '

At the conclusion of the fourteenth century alliterative poem Sir Gawain and the Green Knight it turns out that the whole enchantment of the Green Knight and the beheading scene has been orchestrated by King Arthur's sister Morgan le Fay: Bercilak de Hautdesert I hat in this londe, thurgh myght of Morgne la Faye, that in my hous lenges, and koyntyse of clergye, bi craftes wel lerned. The maystrés of Merlyn mony has ho taken, for ho has dalt drwry ful dere sumtyme with that conable klerk, that knowes all your knyghtes at hame. Morgne the goddes therfore hit is hir name… I am called Bercilak de Hautdesert in this land, through the power of Morgan le Fay who lives in my house, and through the power of some impressive enchantment. She has learnt a great deal from Merlin, with whom she has been intimate in the past – which all your knights at home know – and she is therefore called Morgan the goddess…

The Old French La Mort le Roi Artu makes it clear that Morgan le Fay was amongst the women who arrived mysteriously in the ship that came for King Arthur as he lay mortally wounded on the beach. As soon as Arthur saw his sister Morgan he arose from the ground where he was sitting, and went aboard the ship, taking his horse and his arms with him… and when Girflet saw that he had thus lost the king, he dismounted on the shore and suffered the greatest grief in the world.

Mallory make it clear that amongst the ladies in the ship who come to take King Arthur to Avalon to be healed of his wound, there were three queens, one of whom was Morgan le Fay, and: Also there was dame Nynyve, the chyff lady of the laake… – Nyneve who, in the Vulgate Estoire de Merlin, finally puts Merlin back into his cage.

Malory thus casts Nyneve as the chief Lady of the Lake. The damsel who seizes hold of Lancelot and dives into the lake with him in the Old French pre-cyclic Lancelot is not at first named: The damsel did not say a word in response to anything the queen said, and when she saw her apoproaching, she stood up, holding the child in her arms, and went straight to the lake and jumped in with her feet together.. The boy is, of course, Lancelot, who has been left on the ground in a very dangerous position, near the horses' feet, while the queen ran to tend to her husband. He is brought up beneath the lake, by the Lady of the Lake, and becomes Lancelot of the Lake.

Sir Gawain and the Green Knight in: Anderson, J J, 1996, reprinted 2005. Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, Pearl, Cleanness, Patience: Edited with Introduction and Notes. J M Dent, London p 273, lines 2445–53. The ship of ladies in: James Cable, 1971, reprinted 1988. The Death of King Arthur (La Mort le Roi Artu), translated with an Introduction, Penguin Books Limited, p 225. The Lady of the lake in: Eugène Vinaver, second edition, 1971. Malory: Works, Oxford University Press. The Day of Destiny, p 717, and in: Corin Corely, with an Introduction by Elspeth Kennedy, 1989. Lancelot of the Lake, Oxford University Press, p 21.

See for yourself

Morgan le Fay – Wikipedia

Lady of the Lake – Wikipedia

Sir Gawain and the Green Knight – Wikipedia

Lancelot-Grail – Wikipedia

Sir Gawain and the Green Knight – Cotton Nero MS A x, British Library, photographs and articles

Sir Gawain and the Green Knight: an introduction – Simon Armitage, British Library article

Sir Thomas Malory – Wikipedia


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