Le Morte d'Arthur

Le Morte d'Arthur Summary and Analysis of Book 11-12


Book 11 Chapters 1-6

Sir Launcelot seeks adventure in Corbin and is tricked into sleeping with King Pelles’s daughter, Elaine, who conceives Galahad. Launcelot returns to Camelot, and Guenever is furious with him for having a child with another woman.

Malory now expresses his desire to tell of Launcelot and the conception of his son Galahad.

One day, a hermit arrived at King Arthur’s court during a feast. When the hermit saw that the Siege Perilous was empty, he prophesied that a child would soon be born who would both sit there and win the Sangreal (Holy Grail).

After the feast, Sir Launcelot rode out in search of adventure. When he arrived in the land of Corbin, he was asked by townspeople there to save a beautiful lady from a tower, where she had been trapped for five years in boiling water. She had been cursed by Morgan le Fay for her beauty, and only the best knight in the world could deliver her from her torment. Launcelot freed her from the tower, remarking to himself that she was the fairest woman he had ever seen, saving Queen Guenever.

The lady thanked him and they traveld together to a nearby chapel. When they arrived, Launcelot was asked to slay a dragon which lived in one of its tombs. Happy to do so, Launcelot approached the tomb and saw the following message written on it in gold lettering: "Here shall come a leopard of king’s blood, and he shall slay this serpent, and this leopard shall engender a lion in this foreign country, the which lion shall pass all other knights." Launcelot slew the dragon with his sword. The king of Corbin, named Pelles, arrived to thank him.

King Pelles introduced himself as a descendant of Joseph of Aramathie, and invited Launcelot to be a guest at his castle. After they arrived, they settled in for supper. A mysterious damosel entered while they ate, carrying a covered golden vessel in her hand. Pelles told Launcelot that the vessel was the Holy Grail.

King Pelles knew, from a prophecy, that his daughter Elaine would give birth to the the greatest knight in the world if she slept with Launcelot, and so he wanted to facilitate that union. Dame Brisen, a powerful enchantress, arrived to speak with Pelles. She told him that Launcelot loved only Guenever and that he would not willingly sleep with Elaine. Dame Brisen offered instead to enchant Launcelot, making him think he was with Guenever when he was really with Elaine.

Soon afterwards, Launcelot was told that the Queen was waiting for him in a nearby castle. He rode quickly there, and was taken to a bedchamber where Elaine waited. Because of the Dame Brisen’s enchantment, he thought she was Guenever. Elaine was pleased to have Launcelot in her bed, knowing she would have his child.

When he woke from his enchantment, Launcelot was furious to learn he had been deceived, and threatened to kill Elaine unless she revealed herself. She begged mercy, and told him about the prophecy. Launcelot forgave her, but promised to kill Dame Brisen for the deception.

He left Elaine in goodwill, but made no promises to return to her. Months later, Elaine gave birth to their son, Galahad.

Later, Launcelot's nephew Sir Bors arrived in Corbin. Pelles, thrilled to learn who Bors was, introduced him to the child, whom Bors immediately recognized as related to his uncle. When they dined that night, Bors saw the Sangreal appear before him.

Back in Camelot, Sir Bors told Launcelot and the court of what he had learned at Corbin. Guenever was enraged to learn that Launcelot had fathered a child by Elaine, and accused him of betrayal. Launcelot defended himself, insisting he only strayed through sorcery.

Book 11 Chapters 7-14

Elaine arrives in Camelot, to Gunever’s chargin. Launcelot is tricked into sleeping with Elaine again, and Guenever banishes him from court. Launcelot enters into madness and disappears for two years. The Queen sends Knights of the Round Table to find him.

Meanwhile, King Arthur had been away in France, fighting a war with King Claudas. When he returned, he called a great feast for all his lords and ladies in England.

Elaine learned about the feast, and, with her father's permission, attended with a great entourage that included Dame Brisen. At court, she was widely admired for her beauty, but Launcelot ignored her out of shame.

Elaine, heartbroken by Launcelot’s behavior, wept to Dame Brisen, who concocted a plan to fool Launcelot into Elaine’s bed again. When Elaine was brought before Queen Guenever, they were very polite to one another although they adversaries for Launcelot's affections.

That night, Guenever asked that Elaine sleep in the chamber next to her own. The Queen then accused him of preferring the maiden. Launcelot insisted that he loved only her, and Guenever promised to send a messenger to fetch him later that night. Knowing of the arrangement, Dame Brisen arranged to impersonate the Queen's messenger.

Later that night, Dame Brisen's ruse worked and Launcelot ended up with Elaine, thinking her Guenever. Meanwhile, in the next room, Guenever grew anxious when she learned Launcelot was not in his room. She did not sleep that night.

Launcelot, who had a tendency to talk in his sleep, chattered about his love for Guenever as he slumbered that night. Guenever heard him from next door, and began to cough loudly to wake him. When he awoke, he realized what had happened, and lept naked from bed. Guenever confronted him in Elaine's room, and insisted he never see her again. Intensely grieved, Launcelot lept from the window and fled into the wilderness. He would be gone for two years.

Elaine reprimanded the Queen for driving him insane, and for betraying Arthur. Guenever banished Elaine from court, and threatened to have her killed if she ever spoke of Launcelot. In the morning, Elaine left with 100 knights Arthur allowed her protection. Before she left, she told Sir Bors what had happened,and he promised to speak to Guenever and to try to find Launcelot.

When Bors found Gunever weeping at Camelot, he scolded her for turning one of their best knights away. She then sent Sir Bors, Sir Ector de Maris, and Sir Lionel to search for Launcelot. They searched throughout the land for many months, to no avail. Meanwhile, Sir Launcelot was living a wild life, thirsty, cold, and miserable.

Sir Percivale and Sir Aglovale, sons of Pellinore and brother to the late Sir Lamorak, rode out to meet their mother, who was a queen in her own right. Though she tried to make them stay with her, they soon continued in search of Launcelot.

Percivale and Aglovale’s mother sent a squire after them, but they sent the squire back to keep her company. On his way back, the squire met a baron who hated Aglovale for having killed his brother. In revenge, the baron killed the squire. The two brothers had some adventures, after which Percivale left Aglovale behind to prove himself to the other Knights of the Round Table.

In a forest, Percivale met a knight with a broken shield and helmet. They jousted a while, after which Percivale learned the other knight was Sir Ector. They were both in search of Launcelot, but neither could continue because of fatal wounds caused by their fight.

Percivale prayed to Jesus Christ that they might be delivered. Suddenly, the Sangreal appeared, bearing the blood of Christ, in a bright light. Percivale managed to glimpse the damosel that carried the vessel, after which he and Ector were healed of their fatal wounds. They gave great thanks to God, and were amazed that He thought them worthy.

Book 12 Chapters 1-5

Launcelot in his madness fights a knight who later takes care of him. Launcelot is wounded by a boar and eventually finds his way back to Corbin, where he is healed by the Holy Sangreal.

Meanwhile, Sir Launcelot had suffered much since he had left King Arthur’s court. Living in the wild woods, he survived on little but fruit and water. One day, he wandered into a meadow and spied a pavilion with a shield and sword nearby. Launcelot took the sword up like an old friend, and beat upon the shield. The owner of the weapons, Sir Bliant, arrived to see this half-mad man using his things. When he calmly asked Launcelot to put the sword down, Launcelot threatened him.

Sir Bliant then armed himself, thinking he could take the sword by force, but Launcelot easily overpowered him and ran to the pavilion. Recognizing the swordplay, Bliant's servant identified Launcelot and sent word to Bliant's brother. The latter soon arrived with an escort to carry Launcelot to Castle Blank, where they chained him to a bed for protection. Bliant treated him well, feeding and caring for him. Launcelot stayed there for over a year, and grew strong again.

One day, Sir Bliant went in search of adventure and encountered two knights who overcame him. Launcelot, seeing this from his bedchamber, broke his chains and leapt out the window. He defeated the knights, and Bliant was grateful.

Six more months passed. One day, Launcelot was in a nearby wood observing a boar hunt, and he stole a hunter's weapon and pursued the boar. Launcelot slew the beast, but was wounded in his thigh during the struggle.

A hermit arrived shortly thereafter, and brought Lancelot to his hermitage. There, he rested but was barely healed, since the hermit did not feed him enough.

Launcelot soon escaped, and ended up in Corbin, where Elaine and their son Galahad lived. As he ran toward the castle, he was chased by a group of young boys who threw rocks at him. In his frenzy, he threw the boys, breaking their arms and legs.

At the castle, he was put in a small house and given food. The knight and squires thought him witless but also acknowledged his strength.

Elaine recognized him there and wept for joy, thinking he had returned to her. She notified her father and Dame Brisen, who cast a sleeping spell on Launcelot and then healed his wounds with the Sangreal.

When Launcelot awoke, he did not remember how he came to Corbin, but was thankful to Elaine and her father for healing him. He then asked Elaine's forgiveness for treating her poorly, and they moved together into a castle, Joyous Gard.

Book 12 Chapters 6-10

Launcelot stays with Elaine at Joyous Isle until Percival and Ector arrive for a tournament, and convince him to return to Camelot.

Launcelot asked that his whereabouts be kept secret, and he changed his name to Le Chevaler Mal Fet, “The Knight that hath Trespassed.” Launcelot settled into his new castle, Joyous Gard, yet his gaze was forever fixed on Camelot. After a time, Launcelot arranged a joust for the local knights, but word soon spread and over five hundred knights attended.

Within three days, Launcelot defeated all five hundred knights at his joust. Meanwhile, Sir Percivale and Sir Ector arrived at Joyous Gard, and learned that the lord of the castle was once a madman but now the best knight in the country.

Percivale, intrigued by the story, asked Le Cheval Mal Fet to joust with him. After a close joust, Percivale demanded to know Le Cheval Mal Fet’s real name, and was astonished to learn it was Launcelot.

For his part, Launcelot was relieved to find himself fighting a knight of the Round Table, and was soon reunited happily with his brethren. After hearing of Launcelot's adventures, Ector and Percivale tried to convince him to return to Camelot. When he learned how strenuously all had sought him on Guenever's command, Launcelot agreed to return. He took leave of Pelles and Elaine, and asked that Galahad, now fifteen, be sent with him. Elaine agreed, provided Launcelot promise to train him to reach his potential as the world's greatest knight (saving Launcelot himself, of course).

Within five days, they arrived at Camelot to great celebration. Launcelot told of his struggles, and Guenever wept to hear them. Arthur confessed to the court his theory that Launcelot's madness was caused by love of Elaine. Though all in the court knew the truth, nobody contradicted the king.


Books XI and XII return to the epic's primary conflicts by relating an episode in Launcelot's life. Further, they presage what is to come: the quest for the Holy Grail. The main issue of these books is intricately tied with the love triangle at Camelot, which will later have tragic consequences. Further, in relating that Galahad will find the Grail, it touches on the importance of purity and spirituality in defining a knight's power. As will be discussed later, what makes Galahad superior to his father is less physical prowess than spiritual purity, and this failing in Launcelot is evident in this story. His madness is caused partly by the repudiation of his lover from an illicit affair, and that the story ends with Arthur's ignorance is no coincidence. The transition from Launcelot's moral complications and physical strength to Galahad's control of both virtues is all encapsulated within this story.

The first appearance of the Sangreal serves as foreshadowing. When Launcelot sees the Sangreal (Holy Grail) in Corbin, it is in the hands of a beautiful maiden in the company of a dove. It is a peaceful image that simultaneously calms and excites the knight. The imagery associated with the Sangreal is relatively consistent throughout the epic. When the Sangreal later, briefly appears before the Knights of the Round Table, it exudes a sense of peace as well as good odors and a bright light. What the Grail does is both bring peace and inspire ambition to possess it.

Destiny is clearly involved in the events of these books. The reason Launcelot is set up with Elaine is to fulfill a prophecy. Magic, another motif in the epic, is utilized specifically for the purpose of facilitating fate. Dame Brisen uses her magic to ensure that Launcelot will father Galahad. As usual, these two elements - destiny and magic - are interlinked. While individuals can involve themselves in the workings of fate, it is usually through supernatural powers.

The recurring themes of family and love are complicated in these books. Launcelot and Elaine's relationship is notably absent of much family security. They do not wed, although Elaine admits that she loves Launcelot and they have a child together. Considering the epic's Christian overtones, it is interesting to note that Galahad, the “purest knight,” is illegitimate. Further, the madness which overtakes him is linked to an extramarital affair. The passion suggested by the metaphor of madness is absent from his more stable relationship with Elaine, and yet even that stable relationship eschews the sacrament of marriage.

The complications in these themes are centered in Launcelot's insecurities. In previous books, he has claimed he does not wish to marry because it would limit his adventures, but the truth is that he likely avoids marriage because it cannot be with his beloved Guenever. Although they do not marry, Launcelot and Elaine live in Joyous Gard together, presumably with her family, for some time. He has a chance at domestic stability, but never fully commits to it. Because he avoids declaring this a family, he is free again to return to Camelot and his less healthy affair with the Queen. These complications are significant causes in the ultimate tragedy. Though a chivalrous and powerful knight in some regards, his refusal to allow family and love to dictate his life will spell the end of Arthur's benevolent rule.

In the epic overall, marriage often works in opposition to the passion of adventure. In fact, once a character within Le Morte d’Arthur is married, his storyline becomes less active, often subdued. For instance, once Gareth marries Lioness, his character disappears from the story except for random appearances at jousts and tournaments, and then through his climatic death at the hands of Launcelot. La Cote Male Taile disappears entirely after his marriage to Maledistant. Even King Arthur’s storyline becomes secondary after his marriage to Guenever. The stories of the unmarried knights, such as Launcelot, take precedence. It is a strange contradiction. The epic seems to value the Christian sacrament of marriage, and yet no longer focuses on the adventures it prizes once characters have reached that goal. Does it value stable marriage or tumultuous adventure more? While it espouses precedence in the former, the storylines implicitly suggests it prefers the latter. Launcelot, in these books and throughout, remains a fascinating manifestation of the epic's contradiction.