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Guinevere by Henry Justice Ford c.1910

Guinevere was the Queen consort of King Arthur in the Arthurian Legend. In medieval romances, one of the most prominent story arcs is her love affair with Arthur's chief knight Sir Lancelot. This story first appeared in Chrétien de Troyes's Lancelot, the Knight of the Cart and reappeared as a common motif in numerous cyclical Arthurian literature, starting with the Lancelot-Grail Cycle of the early 13th century and carrying through the Post-Vulgate Cycle and Thomas Malory's Le Morte d'Arthur. Guinevere and Lancelot's betrayal of Arthur preceded his eventual defeat at the battle of Camlann by Sir Mordred.


  • Name 1
  • Guinevere's character 2
  • Abduction 3
  • In modern stories 4
  • Notes 5
  • References 6
  • External links 7


The Welsh form Gwenhwyfar, which seems to be cognate with the Irish name Findabair, can be translated as "The White Enchantress" or "The White Fay/Ghost", from Proto-Celtic *Uindo- "white, fair, holy" + *seibara "magical being" (cognate with Old Irish síabair "a spectre, phantom, supernatural being [usually in pejorative sense]").[1][2][3][4][5]

Geoffrey of Monmouth rendered her name as Guanhumara in Latin (though there are many spelling variations found in the various manuscripts of his Historia Regum Britanniae). The name is given as Guennuuar in Caradoc's Vita Gildae, while Gerald of Wales refers to her as Wenneuereia. In the 15th century Middle Cornish play Bewnans Ke, she was called Gwynnever.

A cognate name in Modern English is Jennifer, from Cornish.[6]

Guinevere's character

Arthur's Tomb – The Last Meeting of Lancelot and Guinevere by Dante Gabriel Rossetti

In one of the Welsh Triads (Trioedd Ynys Prydein, no. 56), there are three Gwenhwyfars married to King Arthur; the first is the daughter of Cywryd of Gwent, the second of Gwythyr ap Greidawl, and the third of (G)ogrfan Gawr ("the Giant"),[7]). In a variant of another Welsh Triad (Trioedd Ynys Prydein, no. 54), only the daughter of Gogfran Gawr is mentioned. Two other Triads (Trioedd Ynys Prydein, no. 53, 84) mention Gwenhwyfar's contention with her sister Gwenhwyfach, which was believed to be the cause of the Battle of Camlann. In the Welsh romance Culhwch ac Olwen, she is mentioned alongside her sister Gwenhwyfach. In Geoffrey of Monmouth's Historia Regum Britanniae, she is described as one of the great beauties of Britain, descended from a noble Roman family and educated under duke Cador of Cornwall.

In non-Welsh medieval romance, Guinevere is the daughter of King Leodegrance, who served Uther Pendragon and was entrusted with the Round Table after Pendragon's death. In these histories, Leodegrance's kingdom lies near the Breton city of Carhaise (the modern Carhaix). In the fields to the south and east of Carhaise, Arthur defends Leodegrance by defeating Rience, which leads to his meeting and marriage with Guinevere. This version of the legend has Guinevere betrothed to Arthur early in his career, while he was garnering support. When Lancelot arrives later, she is instantly smitten, and they have an affair that eventually leads to Arthur's fall. Their affair is exposed by two of King Lot's sons, Agravain and Mordred, and Lancelot flees for his life while Arthur reluctantly sentences his wife to be burned at the stake. Knowing Lancelot and his family would try to stop the execution, Arthur sends many of his knights to defend the pyre, though Gawain refuses to participate. Lancelot arrives and rescues the queen. Gawain's brothers Gaheris and Gareth are killed in the battle, sending Gawain into a rage so great that he pressures Arthur into a direct confrontation with Lancelot. When Arthur goes to France to fight Lancelot, he leaves Guinevere in the care of Mordred, who plans to marry the queen himself and take Arthur's throne. In some versions of the tale, Guinevere assents to Mordred's proposal; in others, she hides in the Tower of London and later takes refuge in a convent. Hearing of the treachery, Arthur returns to Britain and slays Mordred at Camlann, but his wounds are so severe that he is taken to the isle of Avalon. Guinevere meets Lancelot one last time, then returns to the convent where she spends the remainder of her life.[8]

Lancelot and Guinevere by Herbert James Draper

Guinevere is childless in most stories,[9] two exceptions being the Perlesvaus and the Alliterative Morte Arthure. In Perlesvaus, the character Mordred is apparently Arthur's illegitimate son in other works.[10] In Alliterative Morte Arthure, Guinevere willingly becomes Mordred's consort and bears him two sons, though this is implied rather than stated in the text. There were mentions of Arthur's sons in the Welsh Triads, though their exact parentage is not clear.

The Lady Guinevere by Howard Pyle; from The Story of King Arthur and His Knights (1903)

Other family relations are equally obscure. A half-sister and a brother play the antagonists in the Lancelot–Grail and the German romance Diu Crône respectively, but neither character is mentioned elsewhere. Welsh tradition remembers the queen's sister Gwenhyvach and records the enmity between them. While later literature almost always named Leodegrance as Guinevere's father, her mother was usually unmentioned, though she was sometimes said to be dead; this is the case in the Middle English romance The Awntyrs off Arthure (The Adventures of Arthur), in which the ghost of Guinevere's mother appears to her daughter and Gawain in Inglewood Forest. Other works name cousins of note, though these do not usually appear in more than one place.

Guinevere has been portrayed as everything from a weak and opportunistic traitor to a fatally flawed but noble and virtuous gentlewoman. In Chrétien's Yvain, the Knight of the Lion, she is praised for her intelligence, friendliness, and gentility, while in Marie de France's Lanval (and Thomas Chestre's Middle English version, Sir Launfal), she is a vindictive adulteress, disliked by the protagonist and all well-bred knights. Early chronicles tend to portray her inauspiciously or hardly at all, while later authors use her good and bad qualities to construct a deeper character who played a larger role. The works of Chrétien were some of the first to elaborate on the character Guinevere beyond simply the wife of Arthur. This was likely due to Chrétien's audience at the time, the court of Marie de Champagne, which was composed of courtly ladies who played highly social roles.[11]

There was once a popular folk rhyme known in Wales concerning Gwenhwyfar:

Gwenhwyfar ferch Ogrfan Gawr
Drwg yn fechan, gwaeth yn fawr.
"Gwenhwyfar, daughter of Ogrfan Gawr,
Bad when little, worse when great."[12]


Queen Guinevere's Maying by John Collier, 1900

The earliest mention of Guinevere is in the Welsh tale Beroul's Tristan and reflected in the later Roman de Yder. The Welsh poet Dafydd ap Gwilym alludes to Guinevere's abduction in two of his poems, and the medievalist Roger Sherman Loomis suggests that this tale shows that "she had inherited the role of a Celtic Persephone".[14]

Ellen Terry as Guinevere in the play King Arthur by J. Comyns Carr in the Lyceum Theatre production, designed by Sir Edward Burne-Jones. American postcard (mailed 12 January 1895) based on a rotogravure to promote the US tour. The New York Public Library for the Performing Arts, Billy Rose Theatre Collection

Geoffrey of Monmouth tells a different version of Guinevere's abduction, adding that she was descended from a noble Roman family and was the ward of Cador, Duke of Cornwall.[15] Arthur leaves her in the care of his nephew Mordred while he crosses over to Europe to go to war with the (fictitious) Roman Procurator Lucius Hiberius. While he is absent, Guinevere is seduced by Mordred and marries him, and Mordred declares himself king and takes Arthur's throne; consequently, Arthur returns to Britain and fights Mordred at the fatal Battle of Camlann.[16]

Media related to at Wikimedia Commons

External links

  • Chappell, Gavin (2012). The Rape of Guinevere. Schlock! Publications.  
  • Goodrich, Norma Lorre (1992). Guinevere. HarperPerennial.  
  • Hopkins, Andrea (2004). The Book of Guinevere: Legendary Queen of Camelot. Saraband.  
  • Korrel, Peter (1984). An Arthurian Triangle: A Study of the Origin, Development, and Characterization of Arthur, Guinevere, and Modred. Brill Archive.  
  • McKenzie, Nancy (2009). Guinevere's Gamble. Random House Children's Books.  
  • McKenzie, Nancy (2011). Guinevere's Gift. Random House LLC.  
  • Newman, Sharan (1997). The Chessboard Queen: A Story of Guinevere. Macmillan.  
  • Newman, Sharan (1998). Guinevere Evermore. Tom Doherty Associates.  
  • Noble, Peter (1972). "The Character of Guinevere in the Arthurian Romances of Chretien de Troyes". The Modern Language Review 67 (3): 524.  
  • Walters, Lori (2001). Lancelot and Guinevere: A Casebook. Routledge.  
  • Woolley, Persia (2011). Guinevere, the Legend in Autumn. Sourcebooks, Incorporated.  


  1. ^ Schrijver, Peter (1995). Studies in British Celtic Historical Phonology. Rodopi. pp. 249–250.  
  2. ^ Hamp, Eric P. (1996). Études Celtiques 32: 87–90. Varia: 1. 1 sál m. '(eau de) mer'; 2. 1 sed 'cerf'; 3. slabar; 4. slice 'coquille'; 5. ta- 'obtenir, trouver, pouvoir (féad-<ét-)'; 6. 1 tadg 'poète', 1 tál 'asciam'; 7. Irish tarr, torrach; 8. tinaid; 9. tindabrad, Findabair; 10. 1 úall, úabar, úais; 11. *uern~? 
  3. ^ Koch, John T. (2006). Celtic culture: a historical encyclopedia. Abc-clio. p. 861.  
  4. ^ Dictionary of the Irish Language (ed. E G Quin et al., Royal Irish Academy, Dublin 1913-76; Letter S, Column 205, electronic version at
  5. ^ Some have suggested that the name may derive from Gwenhwy-fawr, or "Gwenhwy the Great", as a contrast to Gwenhwy-fach, or "Gwenhwy the less". Gwenhwyfach appears in Welsh literature as a sister of Gwenhwyfar, but Welsh scholars Melville Richards and Rachel Bromwich both dismiss this etymology (with Richards suggesting that Gwenhwyfach was a back-formation derived from an incorrect interpretation of Gwenwhy-far as Gwenhwy-fawr). See: Richards, Melville, "Arthurian Onomastics", in: Transactions of the Honourable Society of Cymmrodorion, vol. 2, 1969, p. 257.
  6. ^ "Cleveland Evans: Jennifer went from 'strange' to popular". Omaha. 
  7. ^ Bromwich, Rachel (2006). Trioedd Ynys Prydein: The Triads of the Island of Britain (3 ed.). University of Wales Press. p. 154.  
  8. ^ Arthur L. Jones, Sandye M. Roberts (2010). Divine Intervention II: A Guide to Twin Flames, Soul Mates, and Kindred Spirits. AuthorHouse. p. 52.  
  9. ^ Walters, Lori (1996). Lancelot and Guinevere: a casebook. Routledge. p. 295.  
  10. ^ Mediavilla, Cindy (1999). Arthurian fiction: an annotated bibliography. The Women of Camelot: Scarecrow Press; Annotated edition. p. 37.  
  11. ^ Noble, Peter (1972). "The Character of Guinevere in the Arthurian Romances of Chretien de Troyes". The Modern Language Review 67 (3): 524–535.  
  12. ^ Rhys, John, Studies in the Arthurian Legend, Clarendon Press, 1891, p. 49
  13. ^ Bruce, Christopher W (1998). The Arthurian name dictionary. Melwas: Routledge. p. 355.  
  14. ^ Loomis, Roger Sherman (2000). The Development of Arthurian Romance. Dover Publications.  
  15. ^ Baron Hallam Tennyson Tennyson, Baron Alfred Tennyson Tennyson (1908). Works of Tennyson, Volume 5. p. 506. 
  16. ^ Wilentz, Abigail (2009). Relationship Devotional: 365 Lessons to Love & Learn. Lancelot and Guinevere: Sterling. p. 215.  
  17. ^ (de Troyes), Chrétien (1990). Lancelot, or, The knight of the cart. University of Georgia Press.  
  18. ^ Thomas, Neil (2002). Diu Crône and the medieval Arthurian cycle. D.S.Brewer.  
  19. ^ a b c Meigle Sculptured Stone Museum at Historic Scotland
  20. ^ Collins, Lavinia. "The Warrior Queen (The Guinevere Trilogy)". 
  21. ^ "Merlin". Merlin TV Series Fansite. Retrieved 5 April 2012. 


In the 2004 film King Arthur by Antoine Fuqua, Guinevere, played by British actress Keira Knightley, is depicted as a Pictish princess in captivity of a Roman noble family in the far north of Britain. Arthur, charged by Bishop Germanus with escorting the family to safety in light of an impending Saxon invasion, discovers her captivity and liberates her. While traveling back to Roman territory, she introduces Arthur to Merlin who attempts to persuade Arthur to lead the Picts (called Woads in the film) to battle the Saxon army. Once back in Roman territory, their relationship culminates in a brief romance, after which Arthur decides to remain at the Roman outpost to fight the Saxons at Hadrian's Wall while his knights return to Rome. In the climactic Battle of Badon Hill, Guinevere leads a Pictish detachment of archers against the first wave of Saxon invaders, and is nearly killed in close-combat before being rescued by Arthur. Following the battle, Arthur and Guinevere are married by Merlin in a ceremony at Stonehenge.

Guinevere appears in the animated series King Arthur's Disasters, where she is voiced by Morwenna Banks.

Guinevere is a central character in Camelot, in which she was initially portrayed by Julie Andrews.

[21] In the television series

Lavinia Collins's Guinevere: The Warrior Queen (the first part of her Guinevere trilogy) is a historical romance novel dealing with Guinevere's marriage to Arthur and the subsequent development of her relationship with Lancelot. Along with typical themes of the romance genre, this adaptation also deals with concepts of magic and religion and builds on Collins's reading of Le Morte d'Arthur.[20]

In Marion Zimmer Bradley's The Mists of Avalon, Gwenhwyfar is brought up by a cold, unloving father, which leaves her with a deep inferiority complex and intense agoraphobia. Failing to produce an heir and unable to be with the love of her life, Lancelot, she falls into a deep depression and – hoping for salvation – becomes an increasingly fanatical Christian. Bradley's version is notable for popularizing the Welsh spelling, which many subsequent writers have adopted.

Modern adaptations of Arthurian legend vary greatly in their depiction of Guinevere, largely because certain aspects of her story must be fleshed out by the modern author. In spite of her iconic doomed romance with Lancelot, a number of modern reinterpretations portray her as being manipulated into her affair with Lancelot (usually by Nimue), with Arthur being her rightful true love. Others present her love for Lancelot as stemming from a relationship that existed prior to her arranged marriage to Arthur.

In modern stories

A version of the abduction of Guinevere is associated with Meigle in Scotland, known for its carved Pictish stelae. One of the stones, now in the Meigle Sculptured Stone Museum, is said to depict Vanora, the local name for Guinevere.[19] She is said to have been abducted by King Mordred. When she is eventually returned to Arthur, he has her condemned to death for infidelity and orders that she be torn to pieces by wild beasts, an event said to be depicted on Meigle Stone 2.[19] This stone was one of two that originally stood near a mound that is identified as Vanora's grave.[19]

[18] In the German tale

Detail of the biblical story of Daniel in the lions' den from a Pictish monument from Meigle. Local folklore identifies this as Vanora (Guinevere) being fed to wild beasts as punishment for her infidelity.


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