Medieval Arthurian Legend

Chrétien de Troyes and Sir Thomas Malory:
Female Weird

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

It is as though some higher force in these tales is stage-directing things, a higher force that is always female.

‘There are a number of instances in Medieval Arthurian literature where one is suddenly struck by a feeling that there is a female power at work. Chretién de Troyes’ Erec and Enide for example. The first romance that Chretién wrote, in the 1160s. Erec makes Enide ride in front of him and forbids her from speaking, but then when she warns him of danger ahead he rebukes her and rides off to tackle the danger, then returns and forbids her from speaking again. But she always does, and he always listens. And she is always right.

‘And in Chretién’s Knight of the Cart, Sir Lancelot is suddenly descended upon by a damsel whose attention can only have been attracted through some form of clairvoyance on her part. She insists on his giving her the head of a knight he has just defeated. She just emerges out of the blue knowing all that has just taken place, and this seems to set the scene for all sorts of entrances into King Arthur’s court by damsels who seem to know more than they ought to, or encounters with itinerant maidens whom a knight might suddenly bump into in a forest and be advised by her on his most intimate concerns. It is almost as though the entire land is being looked down upon by a supernatural intelligence. In Sir Thomas Malory's Le Morte d'Arthur these damsels often come from the Lady of the Lake. It is as though some higher force in these tales is stage-directing things, a higher force that is always female.’

Erec and Enide in: Kibler, William W, and Carroll, Carleton W, 1991. Chrétien de Troyes: Arthurian Romances. Translated from Old French with an introduction. Penguin Books Limited. Erec and Enide, pp 37–122. Erec's instruction to Enide to be silent as she rides in front of him, p 71.

For instances of itinerant female advisors sent from the Lady of the Lake, see: Vinaver, Eugene, 1971, reprinted in paperback, 1977. Malory: Works. Oxford University Press. The Book of Sir Tristram de Lyones.

See for yourself

Chrétien de Troyes – Wikipedia

Sir Thomas Malory – Wikipedia

Le Morte d'Arthur – Wikipedia

Lady of the Lake – Wikipedia

Chrétien de Troyes: Erec and Enide – Wikipedia

Sir Thomas Malory's 'Le Morte Darthur' – British Library, online exhibition

King Arthur – Wikipedia


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