Launfal

The Arming of Sir Launfal

Launfal

CharactersName Variants: Lanval, Landevale, Lamwell, LambewellBackground Essay Author: Alan Lupack
         
Lanval or Launfal, while not one of the famous knights like Lancelot, Gawain, Tristan, and Perceval, who dominate medieval romance, was nevertheless internationally known. In the latter half of the twelfth century, Marie de France wrote a Breton lay called Lanval. Breton lay is a term that designates a short verse tale claiming to be based on a Celtic theme as sung by Breton harpers. Marie’s Lanval is a knight who receives no lands or gifts from King Arthur and thus slips into poverty. In the countryside, he encounters a fairy maiden who gives him her love and great wealth, which he distributes liberally to others. The maiden’s only condition for her love is that it never be revealed, lest he lose her forever. Lanval abides by this condition until he is propositioned by Arthur’s queen. He refuses her by saying he will not betray Arthur; but when she charges that he is ‘not interested in women’ and has ‘taken [his] pleasure’ with the young men he trains, he retaliates by declaring that he loves a lady ‘whose poorest serving girl is more worthy’ than the queen (38). In her anger, she accuses him of having propositioned her and then of insulting her. When he is tried, Arthur’s barons demand that he produce his beloved to prove his claim about her beauty. At the last moment, the fairy maiden rides up and vouches for Lanval’s account of his encounter with the queen. Lanval, acquitted, leaps on his lady’s horse, and they ride off to Avalon.
         
In the 13th century, the lays of Marie and other anonymous lays were translated as part of the initiative of King Hákon Hákonarson of Norway. Twenty-one lays...

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