The Fair Maiden of Astolat

Lugodoc’s summary of Book 18 – The Fair Maiden of Astolat

After his return from the Sangreal Quest, Launcelot soon lost the hair shirt and resumed his relations with Guenevere. After more than a quarter of a century of adultery with the queen, it finally seemed as if most people were starting to notice, except, curiously, King Arthur himself.

Afraid of scandal, Launcelot then began avoiding the queen, but she threw a temper and banished him from Camelot. He went to stay with the hermit, Sir Brastias (once a knight of the Duke of Tintagel in the time of King Uther in Book 1), near Windsor, and confided in only his brother, Sir Ector de Maris, and his nephews Sir Bors and Sir Lionel – who had seemingly forgiven his brother for the nude-whipping incident.

To cheer herself up, Queen Guenevere threw a feast in London, for twenty-four of the Round Table knights including all the Orkney Knights. Sir Pinel le Savage secretly tried to poison Sir Gawaine (a known fruit-fancier) with an apple, for having killed his cousin Sir Lamorak de Galis, but mistakenly killed Sir Mador de la Porte’s kinsman, Sir Patrise, by mistake.

Mador accused Guenevere of treason and demanded trial by combat, followed by burning at the stake. Arthur instructed Bors to fight for her, but Bors made off to find Launcelot. On the day of the match, Launcelot appeared incognito at the last minute, and after a good fight made Mador take it all back, but got his thighs impaled. Then the Damosel of the Lake, Nimue, arrived and told everyone the truth. Pinel fled the country, and all was forgiven.

To celebrate, Arthur decreed a joust at Camelot to take place fifteen days later, at Assumption, and on his way there (presumably from London) he stayed in his castle at Astolat (now known as Guildford).

Guenevere stayed at home, and Launcelot would have too, but she told him to leave because people were becoming suspicious. Arthur happened to spot him sneaking into the hovel of the old hermit, Baron Sir Bernard of Astolat, to lodge, and guessed his usual plan to joust incognito on the side of the enemy. Bernard lent Launcelot his injured son Sir Tirre’s shield as a disguise and said his other son, Sir Lavaine, could ride with him. His daughter, Elaine le Blank, known locally as the Fair Maiden of Astolat, had a huge crush on Launcelot and persuaded him to carry her token at the joust – a red sleeve embroidered with pearls – something he had never done before out of his faithful love for Guenevere.

Three days later at the joust, Arthur kept Gawaine at his side on the scaffold, knowing how many times in the past he had been vanquished by a disguised Launcelot. Kings from all over the British Isles were there, and King Anguish of Ireland and the King of Scots fought with Arthur’s knights against the Kings of Northumberland, Northgalis, and of the Hundred Knights.

Launcelot immediately joined in against Arthur’s party, and although he succeeded in beating forty Round Table knights, he was dragged off the field by Lavaine with Bors’ lance in his side. Lavaine took him to a nearby rich hermit, who fortunately turned out to be another old veteran, Sir Baudwin of Britain, an ex-Round Table knight, and having recognised Launcelot by the scar on his cheek, he staunched his gaping wound.

Concerned, Arthur (the only one who knew) sent Gawaine to look for the mystery knight with the red token and the punctured liver, and although he couldn’t find Launcelot at Sir Baudwin’s, he did go to Sir Bernard’s, where he learned everything, and soon the secret was out. Bors was distraught to find he had nearly killed his uncle, and Guenevere was bitterly furious to find Launcelot was wearing another woman’s token.

Meanwhile, Elaine found Launcelot at the hermit’s, and took to tending him, followed shortly after by Bors. They nearly had him well, but he relapsed after an ill-advised trot, so he missed the next joust at Hallowmas, which was won by Gawaine and Bors.

When Launcelot was well enough to travel, Elaine begged him to marry (or at least sleep with) her, but he refused, and when he set off for Camelot with Lavaine, she fainted. Everyone was pleased to see Launcelot return, except Queen Guenevere (who hadn’t forgiven him for wearing the red sleeve) and the two Orkney Knights, Sir Mordred and Sir Agravaine (who were already plotting trouble).

Ten days later, at Bernard’s, Elaine died of a broken heart, and in accordance with her wishes, her family sent her cadaver off down the Thames in a barge, clutching the customary letter of explanation. When it floated past Westminster it was fortunately spotted by Arthur and Guenevere, who happened to be visiting their London seat.

After investigating, a devastated Launcelot buried her richly and paid her mass-penny, as she had requested in the letter. Guenevere forgave him (after reading in the letter about how her rival died a virgin) but forbade him ever to fight in disguise again, and gave him her own sleeve of gold to wear as a token.

The following Christmas, Arthur declared yet another joust for Candelmas, so Launcelot and Lavaine went off on retreat at the hermitage of Launcelot’s old friend, Sir Brastias, to prepare themselves. Unfortunately one day, as Launcelot was sleeping by a well, he was accidentally shot in the rear with an arrow by a local huntswoman (who hunted only with other women and bow).

None of this prevented him from attending the joust and, as usual, siding with the enemy so that he could injure as many of his friends and relatives as possible, helped by Lavaine and Sir Gareth, the Orkney Knight he himself dubbed in Book 7, and between the three of them they won the joust.

At A Glance

Book 18 Chapter Summary
1. Of the joy King Arthur and the queen had of the achievement of the Sangreal; and how Launcelot fell to his old love again.
2. How the queen commanded Sir Launcelot to avoid the court, and of the sorrow that Launcelot made.
3. How at a dinner that the queen made there was a knight enpoisoned, which Sir Mador laid on the queen.
4. How Sir Mador appeached the queen of treason, and there was no knight would fight for her at the first time.
5. How the queen required Sir Bors to fight for her, and how he granted upon condition; and how he warned Sir Launcelot thereof.
6. How at the day Sir Bors made him ready for to fight for the queen; and when he would fight how another discharged him.
7. How Sir Launcelot fought against Sir Mador for the queen, and how he overcame Sir Mador, and discharged the queen.
8. How the truth was known by the Maiden of the Lake, and of divers other matters.
9. How Sir Launcelot rode to Astolat, and received a sleeve to wear upon his helm at the request of a maid.
10. How the tourney began at Winchester, and what knights were at the jousts; and other things.
11. How Sir Launcelot and Sir Lavaine entered in the field against them of King Arthur’s court, and how Launcelot was hurt.
12. How Sir Launcelot and Sir Lavaine departed out of the field, and in what jeopardy Launcelot was.
13. How Launcelot was brought to an hermit for to be healed of his wound, and of other matters.
14. How Sir Gawaine was lodged with the lord of Astolat, and there had knowledge that it was Sir Launcelot that bare the red sleeve.
15. Of the sorrow that Sir Bors had for the hurt of Launcelot; and of the anger that the queen had because Launcelot bare the sleeve.
16. How Sir Bors sought Launcelot and found him in the hermitage, and of the lamentation between them.
17. How Sir Launcelot armed him to assay if he might bear arms, and how his wounds brast out again.
18. How Sir Bors returned and told tidings of Sir Launcelot; and of the tourney, and to whom the prize was given.
19. Of the great lamentation of the Fair Maid of Astolat when Launcelot should depart, and how she died for his love.
20. How the corpse of the Maid of Astolat arrived tofore King Arthur, and of the burying, and how Sir Launcelot offered the mass-penny.
21. Of great jousts done all a Christmas, and of a great jousts and tourney ordained by King Arthur, and of Sir Launcelot.
22. How Launcelot after that he was hurt of a gentlewoman came to an hermit, and of other matters.
23. How Sir Launcelot behaved him at the jousts, and other men also.
24. How King Arthur marvelled much of the jousting in the field, and how he rode and found Sir Launcelot.
25. How true love is likened to summer.