Queen Guinevere painted by William Morris; 1858

Guinevere (also Ginevra, Gwenhvyfar and others) was the Queen consort of King Arthur and in many tales the daughter of Leodegrance. She sometimes has an identical half-sister the False Guinever.

Character Edit

The earliest mention of Guinevere was in the Welsh tale Culhwch and Olwen, where she appears as Arthur’s queen, but little more is said about her. Caradog of Llancarfan, who wrote his Life of Gildas before 1136, recounts how she was kidnapped by Melwas, king of the Summer Country, and held prisoner at his stronghold at Glastonbury. The story states that Arthur spent a year searching for her, found her, and had assembled an army to storm Melwas’ fort when Saint Gildas and the Abbot of Glastonbury negotiated a peaceful resolution and restored Guinevere to Arthur. The Welsh poet Dafydd ap Gwilym alludes to this story in two different poems.

She is childless in most stories, two exceptions being the Perlesvaus, where she is the mother of Loholt and dies at the news of his death, and in the Alliterative Morte Arthure, the latter of which contains the lone historical instance where Guinevere willingly becomes Mordred’s consort and bears him two sons, though all of this is implied rather than stated in the text. There are mentions of Arthur's sons in the Welsh Triads by his three mistresses and/or Guinevere herself.

Geoffrey of Monmouth tells a slightly different version of Guinevere's abduction, adding that she was descended from a noble Roman family and was the ward of Cador, Duke of Cornwall. Arthur left her in the care of his nephew Mordred while he crossed over to Europe to go to war with the Procurator of Rome Lucius Hiberius. While he was absent, Mordred seduced Guinevere, declared himself king and took her as his own queen; consequently, Arthur returned to Britain, and fought Mordred at the fatal Battle of Camlann.
G rescue

Lancelot rescuing Guenevere from the stake.

Guinevere is the foil of Morgain the Fay, Arthur’s half-sister and one of the many Ladies of the Lake. Just as Morgain bears a close resemblance to the aspects of a triple goddess Morrigan, who delivers war, death and vengeance, Guinevere shares aspects with the triune goddess Eriu, the sovreignty of Ireland. Throughout various retellings of Arthurian myth, there are aspect of other Guineveres: the Mabinogion's Gwenhwyvach, her sister who marries Mordred, the false Guinevere from the French version who took her place for two and a half years, and another Guinevere entirely, the first wife of Arthur who died in childbirth.

Marie de France recounts the tale of a saucy queen of Arthur’s, presumably Guinevere, who tries to seduce the knight Lanval.

The German tale Diu Crône recounts the praise Queen Guinevere gives to a knight named Gasozein who claims that he should have been her rightful husband. But forced to choose between Gasozein and Arthur, Guinevere chooses Arthur. Guinevere’s brother Gotegrim kidnaps Guinevere and intends to kill her because he suspects she still prefers Gasozein to Arthur.

In Ulrich von Zatzikoven’s Lanzelet, in a similar bid for power that reminds scholars of Guinevere’s supposed prescient connections to the fertility and sovereignty of Britain, Valerin, King of the Tangled Wood, claims the right to marry her and carries her off to his castle. Lancelot rescues her, but Valerin kidnaps her again and places her in a magical sleep inside another castle surround by snakes, where only Malduc, a powerful sorcerer can rescue her.

Chrétien de Troyes tells yet another version of Guinevere’s abduction, this time by Meleagant (whose name can be shown to be derived from Melwas). But instead of Arthur being Guinevere’s rescuer, Chrétien introduces Lancelot to the story, who sets off with Gawain to rescue her in Chrétien’s epic poem of the same name. Chrétien’s account was later included, with some changes, in the Lancelot-Graal cycle of the latter eleventh century,


Vanessa Redgrave in Camelot

It is to these texts, both Chrétien’s infamous Knight of the Cart and the Vulgate Cycle, that scholars must turn in order to find the origins of the works of Sir Thomas Malory, whose epic Le Morte d’Arthur has influenced nearly every later version of the Arthurian Legends. From his exhaustive and numerous chapters on Arthur's marriage to Guinevere to her imprisonment with Meleagant to her affair with Lancelot that leads to Mordred's lust and Agravain's revenge upon the Fellowship of the Camelot, Malory remains the definitive storyteller for Guinevere, for better or for worse.

In the later adaptations she is described as the daughter of King Leodegrance, and is betrothed to Arthur early in his career, while he was garnering support.

In Idylls of the King Tennyson invents the tale that Arthur sent Sir Lancelot to bring her to Camelot, and although Guinevere and Lancelot fell in love on the return journey, upon reaching Camelot she fulfilled her duty and married Arthur—yet continuing their affair. The film Excalibur took this route.

Mythological RootsEdit

Lancelot du Lac 8

Laura Condominus from Lancelot du Lac

All of the similar tales of abduction by another suitor—and this allegory includes Lancelot, who whisks her away when she is condemned to burn at the stake for their adultery—are demonstrative of a recurring Hades-snatches-Persephone theme, positing that Guinevere is like the otherworld bride Etain, who Midir, king of the Underworld, carries off from her earthly life after she has forgotten her past. Medievalist R.S. Loomis suggested that this tale of her abduction seems “to show that she had inherited the role of a Celtic Persephone”.

Modern PortrayalsEdit

In The Mists of Avalon Gwenhyfar is portrayed as agoraphobic, terrified of outdoor open spaces. She is also fanatically Catholic, in comparison to the mostly pagan Arthur.


Guinevere may be an epithet—the Welsh form Gwenhwyfar (in older spelling Gwenhwyvar) can be translated The White Fay or “white shadow” (see also Ishara) that falls over the knights of the Round Table and leads to Arthur's ruin. The name is cognate with the Irish "Findabair." However, as Rachel Bromwich notes, it can dubiously also be analyzed as "Gwenhwy-vawr" or Gwen the Great in contrast to the personage “Gwenhwy-vach”—Gwen the less.
Lance and guin

With Lancelot in the film First Knight

also known as Edit

Gwenhvyfar, Gwenhvyuar, Guenhvyuar; Gwennhwyuar, Gwennhwyvar, Gwenhwyvar, Gvenhvyuar, Gvenhyuar, Gwenwyvar, Gaynor, Waynor, Ganhumara, Guenevere, Gwinevere, Guennuuar, Wenneuereia, Genoivre, Guenievre,Ganievre, Wenhauer; Gwenayfer, Guenore, Ginover, Ginevra, etc., etc.