Le Morte d'Arthur

Le Morte d'Arthur Summary and Analysis of Book 13-15


Book 13 Chapters 1-8

Launcelot is reunited with his handsome son Galahad, whom he then knights. Galahad arrives in Camelot, pulls a powerful sword from a stone, and sits at the Siege Perilous, thus fulfilling Merlin’s prophecy. The quest of the Sangreal begins.

A feast was being held at Camelot for Pentecost. As King Arthur was gathered with his knights at the Round Table, a gentlewoman arrived from Sir Pelles's court, begging to speak to Launcelot. She kept her purpose a secret, so he followed her from court to an abbey where his handsome son Galahad was waiting. Galahad and the lady asked Launcelot to knight him, and he happily did so.

Launcelot then returned to Camelot, where he found an inscription written in gold on the Siege Perilous, stating that the person destined to sit there would arrive that very day. Launcelot covered the words with a silk cloth.

A squire arrived at court with news of a marvelous event - a large stone of red marble had floated downstream, with a jewel-studded sword in its center and a gold inscription reading: "Never shall man take me hence, but only be by whose side I ought to hang, and he shall be the best knight in the world."

The king brought his men to examine it, and Arthur concluded the sword must be intended for Launcelot, the greatest knight in the world. Launcelot denied the claim, saying he already had a sword, and he predicted that the adventures of the Sangreal (Holy Grail) would soon begin.

King Arthur asked each of his knights to pull the sword from the stone, but they could not. That night, back at Camelot, an old man arrived with Sir Galahad. The man told the king of Galahad’s lineage, which dated back to Joseph of Aramathie.

Arthur welcomed them, and the old man asked Galahad to sit in the Siege Perilous, which would have killed him were he not the knight intended for it. When Galahad sat and was unharmed, the other knights marveled that so young a knight was worthy of such an honor. Arthur then predicted that Galahad’s noble quest for the Sangreal would inspire the other knights onto a similar spiritual path.

The king and queen brought Galahad to the river, where he easily pulled the sword from the stone. It was the sword that had once belonged to Sir Balin, which Merlin had placed in the stone in anticipation of this moment. A lady on a white horse suddenly appeared, and told Launcelot that his son had now surpassed him as the world's greatest knight.

Knowing the knights would soon embark on the quest for the Sangreal, Arthur held a joust, at which Galahad defeated everyone except Sir Launcelot and Sir Percivale.

One day at Camelot, the knights were seated when thunder shook the palace, and the Holy Ghost entered the hall on a sunbeam. The knights were struck dumb as the Sangreal itself entered the hall covered in samite. They could not see who bore it before it suddenly disappeared. King Arthur fell to his knees, thanking God for sending the Sangreal to them.

Sir Gawaine vowed he would seek the Sangreal, and many other knights followed with similar promises. King Arthur was deeply upset to realize that many of his knights would never return from this quest. He began to cry, and said: "I have great doubt that my true fellowship shall never meet here more again." When Launcelot argued that it would be a great honor to die in pursuit of such a virtuous goal, Arthur explained, "no Christian king had never so many worthy men at this table as I have had this day at the Round Table, and that is my great sorrow."

Book 13 Chapters 8-13

Galahad arms himself with the shield of Joseph of Aramathie and knights a squire.

The next morning, 150 Knights of the Round Table departed, each taking his own path in search of the Sangreal.

Sir Galahad traveled for four days without meeting any adventure, but he finally came to an Abbey to find Sir Uwaine and Sir Bagdemagus. They told Galahad about the abbey's cursed shield - only the greatest knight in the world could wear it without encountering bad fortune from it. It was white, with read at its center.

Bagdemagus believed himself strong enough for the shield, and rode off with it. He soon jousted with a mysterious White Knight who grievously wounded him. The White Knight then asked Bagdemagus’ squire to bring it to Sir Galahad, who was destined to wear it.

Galahad was pleased with the shield, and soon departed with the squire. As he was leaving, the mysterious White Knight saluted him, and explained that the shield once belonged to Joseph of Aramathie, who removed Jesus Christ from the cross. The shield was blessed by God and had once healed a man of his wounds during a battle. The White knight told of Joseph of Aramathie’s journey into Great Britain, of the loss of the shield, and of Joseph's influence in converting the people to Christianity.

When the squire heard this, he bowed before Galahad and asked to be knighted. Galahad promised to grant the squire's request, and then accompanied a monk to a churchyard where mysterious noise was emanating from a tomb. Galahad removed the stone from atop the tomb, and smoke rose up carrying a foul figure that told Galahad it could not harm him because he was protected by angels. He brought the foul figure to the abbey, where a monk explained that the creature was the embodiment of the world’s wickedness at the time that Christ died for the forgiveness of all sins.

The next night, Galahad knighted his squire as Sir Melias de Lile. They traveld together until a fork in the road near a sign saying that two knights approaching this ford needed to take separate paths, and that the left path was dangerous where the right path was safe. When Sir Melias begged to prove himself by taking the left path, Sir Galahad agreed.

Sir Melias rode into an old forest to find a chair with a gold crown on it in the middle of a meadow. Melias grabbed the crown and rode off, but was quickly pursued by a knight insisting he return it. They jousted, and the other knight injured Melias. Galahad was passing nearby, and defeated two knights before bringing Melias to an abbey so he could confess his sins before death.

Before he left, he learned that Sir Melias had stolen the crown, and that a knight could only find the Sangreal through virtue of the soul. The knights he defeated were personifications of Melias's sins, and so Galahad remained sinless and could still earn the Sangreal.

Book 13 Chapters 14-20

Galahad frees the inhabitants of the Castle of Maidens. Launcelot has a strange encounter with a sick knight and the Sangreal.

Galahad soon arrived at an old chapel, where he stopped to pray. A voice told him to travel to the Castle of Maidens and rid it of its wicked customs. He gladly left, and found the Castle of Maidens nearby. Seven knights, all brothers, immediately left the castle and charged him. He defeated them quickly, after which an old man gave him the keys to the city, explaining they were tyrants. The next morning, Galahad learned that Sir Gawaine, Sir Uwaine, and Sir Gareth had slain the seven brothers during the night, and so he departed.

Next, Sir Galahad met Sir Launcelot and Sir Percivale in a forest; they did not recognize him because he wore the white shield. They jousted, all fighting well, until a nearby recluse said, "God be with thee, best knight of the world." Galahad, frightened to hear this, fled the scene. When the other knights could not catch him, they returned to the recluse, who revealed he also knew them. Launcelot set off alone and travled until he decided to rest near a chapel.

Half-asleep, Launcelot had a vision of a sick knight who entered a chapel, where the image of Sangreal appeared. The knight was healed, but Launcelot could not move to grab the Sangreal. A voice then told him he was unworthy to possess it, which depressed Launcelot. He soon left the chapel to find his horse, sword, and helmet were not where he left them. Concluding God was displeased with him, Launcelot confessed his sins to some hermits, who then explained God thought him a worthy knight, but not worthy enough to possess the Sangreal.

Launcelot confessed that his lifetime of great feats was all for Guenever, not God. The hermits then instructed him to give up the Queen and devote his life to God. He vowed to repudiate his wickedness, and to go great deeds in the Lord's name.

Book 14 Chapter 1-5

Percivale is told the history of the Round Table by the Queen of the Wastelands. He loses his horse during a fight.

In the meantime, Sir Percivale remained with the recluse while Sir Launcelot left on his own adventure. Percivale learned that the recluse was his aunt, the Queen of the Waste Lands and sister-in-law to his father, King Pellinore. When he confessed his desire to battle the knight with the white shield again, she warned him that Pellinore had died because of such an adventurous spirit. She further cautioned that nobody could stop that knight (Galahad in disguise), as he was working towards a miracle. She also told him that his mother was dead, which saddened him.

Sir Percivale’s aunt then told him the story of the Round Table. Merlin had created the Round Table as a symbol of the world which joined the Christians and the heathens together. Individual family ties would prove less profound than the fellowship of that community. Merlin had predicted that three of its knights would discover the Sangreal - two would be virgins, and one chaste. One of the three would surpass his father in strength and hardiness, as the lion passes the leopard. Merlin finally created the Siege Perilous and predicted no one would sit upon it until Galahad arrived.

Percivale asked his aunt if she knew were Galahad was, for he wished to join Galahad on his quest for the Sangreal. She told Percivale to travel to the castle of Goothe, and then to the Castle of Carbonek, where the Maimed King lived.

Percivale left his aunt, and stayed that night at a house. In the morning, he heard mass at a monastery. At the monastery, he saw a very old man in a bed by the altar, with a number of wounds and a crown on his head. He was told that the old man, King Evelake, was now three hundred years old. He had been a companion of Joseph of Aramathie, and had begged God to let him live until someone achieved the Sangreal.

Percivale departed, and was soon assaulted by twenty armed men; he would have been killed had Galahad not suddenly arrived and chased the knights into the woods. Percivale’s horse died in the attack, and he regretted being unable to follow Galahad.

Book 14 Chapters 6-10

Percivale is visited by dreams and visions, and helps a lion cub escape a serpent. He is tempted by an evil enchantress, and stabs himself in the thigh for penance. A ship arrives and bares him away.

Deeply upset, Percivale walked on foot until he laid down to sleep. When he awoke at midnight, a woman appeared, saying she would give him a horse if he promised to help her when she summoned him. Percivale agreed, and she gave him an inky black horse, so sturdy and fast that they rode a four days journey in under an hour. When they came to a rushing river, though, the horse stopped so suddenly that Percivale was almost thrown off.

He thanked God that the horse had not thrown him into the wild waters, but when the horse sensed his piety, it plunged into the water and Percivale realized it was an unnatural fiend. He prayed all night and into the morning for Jesus to keep him from all temptations.

The next day, he walked into a nearby valley, where he saw a serpent dragging a young lion cub by the neck. A great lion appeared and fought with the serpent. Percivale helped the lion by killing the snake with his sword. When the lion saw this, he “made all the cheer a beast might make a man.” Percivale stroked the lion’s neck and shoulders, and they slept beside one another that night.

Percivale dreamt of two ladies, one young and on the back of a lion, the other old and on the back of a serpent. The young lady told him to prepare himself for an impending great battle. The old woman demanded Percivale give himself to her because he had unjustly killed her snake. When he refused her, she swore she would take him if his faith ever failed.

The next morning, Percivale traveled to the nearby sea, where a ship covered in samite sailed forward. Percivale met an old man on the ship, and explained his dream to the man, who then interpreted the young woman as the Church and his faith, and the old woman as sin and the devil. Percivale had resisted temptation by rejecting her. The ship then sailed away, and Percivale rejoined the lion.

Around midday, another ship arrived, covered in black silk. A beautiful gentlewoman was onboard, and she asked Percivale why he stayed in this wilderness. Percivale replied that he felt safe as long as he was devoted to Christ. The woman claimed she had met Galahad earlier in the day, and would bring Percivale to him if he promised to help her, which he did.

Since the day was growing hot, she asked her servants to set up a pavilion so Percivale could rest. He slept for much of the day, and then ate with the gentlewoman. As they dined, he realized the woman's beauty and offered himself to her. She promised to return his affections only if he would pledge himself to her. He did, and they prepared to sleep together, but Percival then glimpsed the crucifix on his sword handle and remembered he should remain a virgin. When he made a sign of the cross, the tent suddenly turned upside down and black smoke appeared.

Percivale was ashamed of himself. As the woman sailed away, she called him a betrayer. In penance, he cut his thigh open with his sword, and then fainted.

When Percivale awoke, he discovered the samite-covered ship had returned. He told the old man about his encounter, and the man explained that this woman was a vile creature and the same old woman who tempted him in his dream. The temptation was the very battle the young woman had warned of. The old man cautioned Percivale to learn from his experience, and then he vanished. Percivale armed himself, entered the ship, and thus departed.

Book 15 Chapter 1-4

Launcelot speaks with a hermit and learns that he is no longer the most powerful knight in the world, since Sir Galahad has surpassed him. Launcelot must put aside his earthly attempts at glory and instead turn himself toward God so that he might be worthy of the Sangreal.

Sir Launcelot arrived at a chapel, near which stood a holy man dressed in white. Launcelot entered the chapel and saw a dead man wearing a white shirt of fine material upon the altar. Launcelot buried the dead man and confessed his sins to the holy man, who suggested that Launcelot abstain from meat and wine during his quest. He also gave Launcelot the dead man's hair shirt to wear, and suggested Launcelot attend daily mass.

The next day, Launcelot prayed at a cross for his sins to be forgiven. He soon fell asleep and dreamed of a man with a gold crown, who was accompanied by seven kings and two knights. All worshipped at the foot of the cross, asking for God to visit them from heaven. Launcelot saw the clouds part, and an old man descend amongst angels to bless the supplicants. He chided one of the knights for disappointing him by fighting for "vain-glory."

The next day, Launcelot rode until he met a hermit. He told the hermit of his dream, and the hermit explained that Launcelot was a descendant of Joseph of Aramathie, and that his son Galahad was predestined to surpass all earthly knights, including Launcelot himself. The hermit told him to allow Galahad his own life, and that the sins of the father should not repeat themselves on the son, nor vice versa. Each should bear his own burden. Launcelot had supper with the hermit, and he suffered that night while he slept in his hair shirt. The next morning, he departed.

Book 15 Chapters 5-6

Launcelot joins in a tournament and loses for the first time.

Launcelot soon arrived at a great castle where five hundred knights competed in a tournament. Half were dressed in black, the other half in white.

Launcelot observed from afar as the knights jousted, the black side quickly giving way to the white. Finally, Launcelot rushed into the tournament to aid the black knights. He fought well, but eventually grew exhausted, and was defeated along with the other black knights. Launcelot, shamed and sorrowful because he had never lost a tournament, left and journeyed until he came to a deep valley.

There, he fell asleep beneath an apple tree. A man appeared, and berated him for giving up his faith so easily by turning towards the deadly sin of pride. After the man vanished, Launcelot rode out until he arrived at a chapel where a recluse lived. Launcelot told the recluse about the tournament and his subsequent vision. She explained that while he was the greatest earthly knight, he was surpassed by many in the spiritual realm. She warned him about pursuing vain-glory, and they dined together.

The next day, Launcelot came across a rushing river. Trusting in God, he plunged through the water, but on the opposite shore, was ambushed by a black knight who killed his horse. Launcelot was undaunted and continued, thanking God as he did so.


The world of realism is left behind as the Knights of the Round Table engage in the quest of the Sangreal. As with the books containing Sir Tristram’s tale, these Sangreal chapters deviate from the dominant structure of Le Morte d’Arthur, and focus on the journeys of three knights: Galahad, Percivale, and Launcelot. Books 16-17 will conclude the Sangreal quest, focusing on Galahad, Percivale, and Bors as they achieve their goal.

In Galahad's story, destiny takes center stage. Before he performs any notable actions, he is defined by his destiny to be the greatest knight. He sits in the Siege Perilous of his own volition, as if drawn there. His great feats - like pulling Balin's sword from the stone - are all foretold.

Similarly, the quest for the Sangreal is presented as a matter of predestination. It must happen, and the knights are quick to fulfill this destiny. While their readiness is not surprising considering the surplus of quests in the narrative, King Arthur's reaction is telling. He alone laments the quest, since he sees that it will cost many of his knights their lives, and compromise the fellowship of the table. The epic presents its tragic overtones here - it is not only that the mighty will fall, but it is also that it must happen. The table must fall, in the same way that Arthur's benevolent rule must end. This is the essence of tragedy, and from this point onwards, the epic becomes focused on its necessary end.

The importance of family lineage becomes more predominant here than ever before. Galahad is partly chosen because of his connection to Joseph of Aramathie, a companion of Jesus Christ who helped spread Christianity in England. Galahad’s shield, which protects him on the journey, also once belonged to Joseph of Aramathie. Overall, Galahad is less defined by his connection to his father Launcelot than he is by the connection to this Biblical figure. Similarly, Percivale finds solace and direction when he meets his aunt, the Queen of the Waste Lands; this family connection is what spurs him on to become one of the three primary knights in the quest. This connection will be further drawn later, when Percivale's sister helps guide them towards the Sangreal.

Launcelot's quest is far more brutal, and explores the more punitive side of Christian piety. Although he was once considered the greatest knight in the world, Launcelot now competes in a spiritual realm in which he is only a paltry contender. Time and time again, the great knight is warned that he must change his ways if he is to become worthy of the Sangreal. Interestingly enough, the very qualities that he must repudiate are those which made him great thus far in the epic. Therefore, these chapters seem to somewhat repudiate those knightly qualities of aggression, glory and reputation that have thus far defined its most notable characters. His journey in these chapters is one of a sinner who cannot transcend his sin. Though he promises to abstain from meat, wine, and sex, and even wears a hair shirt (an unwashed shirt which attracted lice and other insects, worn to inspire penance), he cannot help but enter a tournament to feed his ego. He wants desperately to be a better Christian, but time and again fails, partly because of the same qualities that once distinguished him.

These chapters are also full of spiritual imagery. For instance, the tournament that Launcelot joins is

an allegory representing the conflict between faith and vain-glory. Launcelot fights for the black knights, who represent pride, and is shown to be less powerful than he imagined. The white knights fight for faith. Therefore, Launcelot is pleased when a black knight later kills his horse; he is willing to accept that glory will only get him so far, and that he must trust in God to proceed further. For the most part within Le Morte d’Arthur, the color black is associated with sin and strife, the color white with purity and faith.

Other spiritual images arise through various dreams and visions, all of which have a rather straightforward Christian interpretation. Compared with the more complicated dreams of the earlier part of the epic, these visions suggest that the complexities of life can be understood more simply, as a simple conflict between spiritual faith and Earthly temptation.