Lugodoc’s summary of Book 20 – The Treachery of Sir Launcelot
The next May at Carlisle, Sir Agravaine and Sir Mordred made their move, and with King Arthur’s reluctant permission, plotted to catch Launcelot and Guenevere the next night, while Arthur was away hunting. Arthur had pointed out that a simple accusation was useless, because Launcelot would simply kill – in Trial by Combat – anybody who spoke the “truth”, thus “proving” his innocence.
The other Orkney Knights – Gawaine, Gareth, and Gaheris – wanted nothing to do with the affair, so Agravaine and Mordred recruited a dozen Scottish knights to help, including Sir Florence and Sir Lovel, two sons of Gawaine.
That evening, Launcelot attended Guenevere as usual, with no armour but his sword, and in no time was disturbed by Agravaine’s party outside the queen’s door, shouting “traitor” loud enough to wake the entire castle. Launcelot managed to drag Sir Colgrevance of Gore inside on his own, kill him, and “with the help of the queen and her ladies”, steal his armour. He then strode out and killed Agravaine and the dozen Scottish knights, and wounded Mordred, who barely escaped.
Launcelot returned to his lodging, and, realising that the game was up and that this could mean civil war, from amongst his own kin and the knights of Wales and Cornwall he treacherously recruited over a hundred knights to his side, including Bors, Ector, Lionel, Lavaine, Urre, Palomides and Bellangere le Beuse.
Meanwhile, Mordred rode to tell Arthur everything, and under the law of treason, he had no choice but to regretfully sentence Guenevere to death at the stake. Gawaine tried to dissuade him (in spite of just having lost a brother and two sons to Launcelot) and refused to be present at the burning, and his brothers Gareth (whom Launcelot himself had dubbed long ago) and Gaheris attended only under protest, and refused to wear armour.
As Guenevere was tied to the stake outside Carlisle, one of Launcelot’s spies raised the alarm and he rode down from the hill where he and his band of traitors had been waiting. They rescued her from the flames (for the third and last time) and killed everyone else in sight. Launcelot then took her to his castle Joyous Gard, and raised an army from Arthur’s enemies.
Over two dozen more knights had died at Launcelot’s hands, including King Pellinore’s sons, Sir Aglovale and Sir Tor, and Gawaine’s last two full brothers, Gareth and Gaheris, who had been unarmed, and when Gawain found out, he went into a terrible rage. Together with Arthur, he raised a huge army from all over Britain, and laid seige to Launcelot’s castle. Arthur was still minded to make peace but Gawaine was completely embittered, and Launcelot was loath to leave his castle and attack “that most noble king that made me knight”.
After fifteen weeks of taunting, Launcelot eventually came out to fight, and in the ensuing battle (Arthur’s eighth), Launcelot actually saved Arthur from Bors, and then Gawaine and Bors injured each other. The battle only ended after two days because the Bishop of Rochester arrived with a papal bull (a kind of injunction, not an animal) in which the pope ordered Arthur to take Guenevere back and make to peace with Launcelot. Arthur returned to Carlisle, and eight days later, Launcelot duly delivered her there.
After delivering a long series of excuses, in which he pathetically denied everything and threatened to kill anyone who said any different, Launcelot eventually returned to France, taking one hundred knights with him, including all his kin.
Even though Arthur now had Guenevere “back”, he still pursued Launcelot, sailing for France from Cardiff with a host of sixty thousand, leaving Mordred in charge.
Although Launcelot’s kin advised immediate revenge for their French lands – just ravaged by Arthur – Launcelot sent a maiden and a dwarf to sue for peace, but Gawaine refused and beseiged them inside the (French?) city of Benwick. Each day, he taunted Launcelot and challenged and defeated his knights at joust, including Bors and Lionel, until after six months, Launcelot was forced to meet him in single combat.
The battle began at 9 a.m. and on the first clash, their horses fell, but, as only Arthur and Gawaine knew, Gawaine’s strength waxed triple from that hour until noon, and for three hours a perplexed Launcelot was forced to cover himself and retreat before the bezerk Orkney Knight. Then at noon, Gawaine weakened, and Launcelot knocked him down and left him there, refusing to kill a stricken knight.
After three weeks Gawaine was sufficiently recovered to repeat the challenge, and again he battered Launcelot viciously for three hours, until his strength failed, and Launcelot struck him on his old head wound and left him fallen.
This time, Gawaine convalesced for a month, but three days before he was ready to fight for a third time, Arthur heard news from England, which forced him to lift the seige and begin the return home.
At A Glance
Book 20 Chapter Summary
1. How Sir Agravaine and Sir Mordred were busy upon Sir Gawaine for to disclose the love between Sir Launcelot and Queen Guenever.
2. How Sir Agravaine disclosed their love to King Arthur, and how King Arthur gave them licence to take him.
3. How Sir Launcelot was espied in the queen’s chamber, and how Sir Agravaine and Sir Mordred came with twelve knights to slay him.
4. How Sir Launcelot slew Sir Colgrevance, and armed him in his harness, and after slew Sir Agravaine, and twelve of his fellows.
5. How Sir Launcelot came to Sir Bors, and told him how he had sped, and in what adventure he had been, and how he had escaped.
6. Of the counsel and advice that was taken by Sir Launcelot and his friends for to save the queen.
7. How Sir Mordred rode hastily to the king, to tell him of the affray and death of Sir Agravaine and the other knights.
8. How Sir Launcelot and his kinsmen rescued the queen from the fire, and how he slew many knights.
9. Of the sorrow and lamentation of King Arthur for the death of his nephews and other good knights, and also for the queen, his wife.
10. How King Arthur at the request of Sir Gawaine concluded to make war against Sir Launcelot, and laid siege to his castle called Joyous Gard.
11. Of the communication between King Arthur and Sir Launcelot, and how King Arthur reproved him.
12. How the cousins and kinsmen of Sir Launcelot excited him to go out to battle, and how they made them ready.
13. How Sir Gawaine jousted and smote down Sir Lionel, and how Sir Launcelot horsed King Arthur.
14. How the Pope sent down his bulls to make peace, and how Sir Launcelot brought the queen to King Arthur.
15. Of the deliverance of the queen to the king by Sir Launcelot, and what language Sir Gawaine had to Sir Launcelot.
16. Of the communication between Sir Gawaine and Sir Launcelot, with much other language.
17. How Sir Launcelot departed from the king and from Joyous Gard over seaward, and what knights went with him.
18. How Sir Launcelot passed over the sea, and how he made great lords of the knights that went with him.
19. How King Arthur and Sir Gawaine made a great host ready to go over sea to make war on Sir Launcelot.
20. What message Sir Gawaine sent to Sir Launcelot; and how King Arthur laid siege to Benwick, and other matters.
21. How Sir Launcelot and Sir Gawaine did battle together, and how Sir Gawaine was overthrown and hurt.
22. Of the sorrow that King Arthur made for the war, and of another battle where also Sir Gawaine had the worse.