Old French Tales from Brittany

Marie de France: The Story of Lanval

12th century, Old French: British Library, Bibliothèque Nationale Paris.

"He went with her to Avalon, so the Bretons tell us, to a very beautiful island."

The formerly impoverished knight Lanval is living the high life at the court of King Arthur; he is able to do so because he has been chosen by an Otherworldly lady to be her lover and made immensely wealthy as a result. He is able to see her whenever he wants, provided that he can find a private place to do so, but she can never be seen by anybody else, and his happiness rests upon a promise not to divulge a word of her existance to anyone.

Queen Guinevere makes advances to him one day in the garden outside King Arthur's court, which he rebuffs. She accuses him of not liking women and, stung by this accusation, he replies – disaster! With clairvoyant swiftness, his Otherworldly lady vanishes from his life. He finds himself hauled before the king, falsely accused of propositioning the queen.

He will be aquitted only if he can prove the claim he made to Queen Guinevere: that his lady is the most beautiful in the world and that even her ungliest hand-maiden is prettier than she is. But he knows now that he has no hope of being able to do so.

Just as the verdict is about to be given, two maidens approach the hall and ask for rooms to be prepared for their mistress. Two more maidens appear, and then the knight's Otherworldly lady makes her entrance, in all her splendour. Nobody is in any doubt that Lanval's words were spoken truly, and he is aquitted at once.

He went with her to Avalon, so the Bretons tell us, to a very beautiful island. Thither the young man was borne and no one has heard any more about him, nor can I relate any more.

Story recounted from: Burgess, Glyn S., and Busby, Keith, 1986. The Lais of Marie de France. Translated from Old French with an introduction. Penguin Books Limited. Lanval, pp 43–55.

See for yourself

Breton Lays – Wikipedia

Lanval – Wikipedia

Marie de France – Wikipedia


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