Gwenhwyfar, The White Spirit is an Arthurian fantasy novel by Mercedes Lackey, first published in 2010. As the author states in her ‘Afterword’, she was initially inspired by the Triad of ‘The Three Guineveres’ of Welsh legend.
Three Great Queens of Arthur's Court
Gwennhwyfar daughter of Cywryd Gwent
And Gwenhwyfar daughter of Gwythyr son of Greidawl
And Gwenhwyfar daughter of (G)ogfran the Giant
(Trans. By Rachel Bromwich)
This triad and other ancient verses formed the seed that led to her version of the King Arthur legend. The cover (shown) is from the 2010 edition by Daw Books Inc.
This version of Gwenhwyfar is one that explores three facets of her life – that of a princess, then of a warrior and finally a queen. Mercedes Lackey offers one explanation as to who the three Guineveres could have been as mentioned in the ancient Welsh Triads. In her novel, she also expounds on another Triad line where it was stated the Battle of Camlann was brought about when Gwenhwyfach struck Gwenhwyfar.
Gwenhwyfar is one of four daughters of King Lleudd Ogrfan Gawr. She gets on with her two older sisters quite well. However, her younger sister, Gwenhwyfach, who is nearly identical to her, is mischievous, jealous and scheming. Gwenhwyfar’s eldest sister is selected for training in magic. Although Gwenhwyfar has even more powerful prophetic gifts, she is inspired by a female charioteer, and her heart is set on becoming a warrior like her idol, Braith. Her father eventually sees her abilities in this field and instructs that she receive training with horses, the sword, the bow, and allied disciplines. Her warrior skills develop after much training and she becomes both a scout and a military adviser.
To her relief, her youngest sister, Gwenhwyfach, later goes off to be fostered with Anna Morgause and Morgana. As part of the army, Gwenhwyfar assists in rescuing King Arthur’s wife (also named Gwenhwyfar) from her captor, Melwas. Later, Arthur’s wife dies and Gwenhwyfar, the warrior, is selected by him to replace her as his wife. She agrees but, in reality, her feelings are for Arthur’s chief warrior and companion, Lancelin. However, she is also continually pestered by Medraut who is the son of Anna Morgause. Medraut later marries the young Gwenhwyfach, but, in actuality, still desires Gwenhwyfar and eventually kidnaps her. His wife, Gwenhwyfach, replaces Gwenhwyfar and King Arthur is fooled by the deception because of her close resemblance to her sister.
Gwenhwyfar eventually escapes from Medraut and, by chance, finds Lancelin in the forest defending himself from Medraut’s men. She helps him defeat his attackers and then spends some time getting to know him before they return to King Arthur. However, Arthur, led by Medraut, discovers them together and realizes they are in love. Lancelin escapes and Gwenhwyfar is taken prisoner. Later, however, Medraut’s plans to overthrow Arthur are revealed and both Gwenhwyfar and Lancelin join forces with Arthur’s men to defeat Medraut who is leading an army of Saxon warriors. Arthur kills Medraut in combat but is himself mortally wounded. He is then taken to the Isle of Glass where he dies and afterwards Gwenhwyfach goes mad and drowns. The relationship between Gwenhwyfar and Lancelin has been irrevocably damaged by the course of events and their ways part. However, she has achieved some form of freedom at last after spending much of her life fighting for others or doing what they have told her to do, and is somewhat content and philosophical about the outcome.
Gwenhwyfach, near-identical sister of Gwenhwyfar
Braith, a female warrior and charioteer
Lleudd Ogrfan Gawr, a Celtic king and Gwenhwyfar’s father