Elaine of Corbenic

How Sir Launcelot Was Known by Dame Elaine

Elaine of Corbenic

CharactersName Variants: Elaine of CarbonekBackground Essay Author: Alan Lupack
Elaine is the daughter of King Pelles and the mother of Galahad. (The Vulgate Cycle says “she was called Amite though her true name was Helizabel.”) Because she was considered the fairest lady in that country, Elaine was put into a tub of boiling water by Morgan le Fay and the Queen of Northgales and could be freed only by the best knight. After Elaine spends five years in the tub, Lancelot arrives at Corbenic and frees her from her torment. With the assistance of her handmaiden, the sorceress Brisen, Elaine tricks Lancelot into sleeping with her, and she conceives Galahad. Later, Elaine visits Camelot and tricks Lancelot into her bed once again. Guinevere’s subsequent rejection of Lancelot drives him mad. Eventually, Lancelot reaches the castle of Pelles, who intends to make him a fool at the knighting of his nephew Castor. Elaine recognizes him and has him carried to the tower where the Grail resides; there, he is cured by its power.

T. H. White conflates Elaine of Corbenic with Elaine of Astolat, as does Howard Pyle. In John Erskine’s novel Galahad, Elaine, a free-thinking new woman, resists a traditional role and determines to have a child with Lancelot—an act that later causes her own son Galahad to reject her because he sees it as sinful.