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Old December 27th, 2017, 03:39 PM   #1
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The Historical Origin of Lancelot


I'm thinking about writing a post about this on my blog (the one in my signature, not on Historum), but I wanted to throw the theory out here first to get some outside viewpoints first, to see if there are any significant flaws or potential criticisms that I may have missed.

I don't claim credit for the essence of this theory, but I am presenting it here in the form that I personally find most convincing, so, much of the evidence that I present for it may be unique to me.

Anyway, the idea is that Lancelot was actually Maelgwn Gwynedd. Maelgwn, as I'm sure many of you will already know, was the king of Gwynedd in Arthur's time and a little after. Why do I think he was Lancelot? Quite a few reasons, and here is a summary:

He was extremely powerful. Lancelot was supposed to have been one of the greatest knights of the Round Table, so if he was based on a real contemporary of Arthur, said historical figure must have been very powerful. All the knights of the Round Table that can be identified as real or at least semi-legendary individuals from earlier records can be identified as kings or at least princes (as per Historia Brittonum; Arthur led 'the kings of Britain' against the Saxons). So it stands to reason that the real Lancelot would have been a very powerful king.

He was allied to Arthur. Of course, we would now be using the later Medieval information about Maelgwn, which is questionable, but it's all we've got. So, I'm just following the sources as they are and seeing where they lead me. In the Welsh Triad concerning Arthur's courts, it says that Maelgwn was the 'chief elder' at one of them. So, he was in Arthur's service. Supporting this is the Dream of Rhonabwy, which makes one of Maelgwn's sons a companion of Arthur.

So thus far, Maelgwn fits the very basic profile of Lancelot. He was a very powerful king, and he was one of Arthur's allies. Furthermore, he was serving Arthur away from his own land. Maelgwn was not from Arthur's own kingdom in the south east of Wales (where Caerleon is located). This matches Lancelot in as much as he, too, was supposed to have come to Arthur's court from outside, as opposed to being from a family already in that area.

Then consider Geoffrey of Monmouth's description of him:

"After him succeeded Malgo, one of the handsomest of men in Britain, a great scourge of tyrants, and a man of great strength, extraordinary munificence, and matchless valour."

That certainly sounds like Lancelot to me!

So, definitely in broad terms, I would say that Maelgwn matches Lancelot very well. But now onto the more specific details:

As mentioned earlier, one of Maelgwn's sons is said to have been one of Arthur's knights in the Dream of Rhonabwy. This son is named Rhun, and he is mentioned in a Triad as 'one of the three fair princes of the Island of Britain'. To my mind, he corresponds to Lancelot's son Galahad, supposedly the 'perfect knight'. And like Galahad, Rhun was illegitimate. His mother, Maelgwn's mistress, was Gwallwen daughter of Afallach. Given the tendency for initial 'g's to be dropped from names in Welsh (as in 'Withur' and 'Gwythyr'), I think it's not too improbable that 'Gwallwen' would have been recorded as 'Wallwen' and then this was changed into 'Ellen', or 'Elaine' - a name much more familiar to the Romance writers. Elaine was the name of Galahad's mother, Lancelot's mistress, in the Romances. Also, she was the daughter of Pellinore, and I would argue that he and Afallach and one and the same. I will leave that for another post, but if true, it would significantly heighten the case for Maelgwn and Lancelot being the same person - they both had illegitimate relations with similarly named daughters of the same man.

To get back to Maelgwn himself, he was said to have spent some time in a monastery and he supposedly ended up dying in a church. Whether these two events were separated by a returning to the throne or whether his religious life was uninterrupted until his death, I cannot say for sure. But given that he was said to have become high king after Arthur's death, the fact that he did end up in a church and died there ties in with the concept that Lancelot was the mighty warrior who helped to restore order to Britain after Arthur's death, before becoming a monk and living out the rest of his life like that.

Furthermore, Maelgwn is explicitly described as attacking south east Wales on more than one occasion. Given that this is the location where Arthur's main court was said to have been (Caerleon and also Camelot in its earliest mention), as well as where he is regularly placed as being active in the sources, it seems reasonable to suppose that at least one of the records concerning Maelgwn waging war on south east Wales could relate to the stories of the war between Lancelot and Arthur. In fact, in one of these records, Maelgwn is specifically said to have taken the wife of the king of that area. I'm pretty sure the 'king' in question is meant to be a minor king, subordinate to Arthur, rather than Arthur himself. But even so, it's an interesting similarity. There is also a late version of Taliesin's condemnatory poem against Maelgwn that refers to how he 'betrayed the race of Arthur', which, again, sounds oddly like Lancelot.

And then finally, the name of his kingdom. Lancelot's father was supposed to have been the king of a place called 'Benwick' or something like that. I'm not certain about this point, so I would appreciate more information, but I am under the impression that 'Benwick' is generally held to be a reference to Vannes in France. That being the case, it's very significant that the Breton name for Vannes is 'Gwened'. This is identical to the Old Welsh name for Gwynedd. So, it makes perfect sense that a France writer could have seen a reference to 'Gwened' (i.e. Gwynedd, Maelgwn's kingdom) and logically but incorrectly assumed that it was talking about Vannes. Hence, 'Lancelot' (Maelgwn) was transported over to France.

So that's the theory. What do you guys think?

Last edited by Calebxy; December 27th, 2017 at 03:47 PM.
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Old December 28th, 2017, 12:11 PM   #2

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Quote:
And then finally, the name of his kingdom. Lancelot's father was supposed to have been the king of a place called 'Benwick' or something like that. I'm not certain about this point, so I would appreciate more information, but I am under the impression that 'Benwick' is generally held to be a reference to Vannes in France.
In the Lestoire de Merlin, it states that Benwick was the town of Bourges. Malory, however, wrote that Benwick is variously identified with Bayonne and Beaune. The town is also known in some Arthurian stories as the Kingdom of Ban.

Some folklorists believe Lancelot`s name is actually a double diminutive of the German word Land, and that the basic Lancelot story is not Celtic but based on the folklore motif of the "fairy captivity episode" found in French and German sources.
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Old December 29th, 2017, 11:37 AM   #3
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In the Lestoire de Merlin, it states that Benwick was the town of Bourges. Malory, however, wrote that Benwick is variously identified with Bayonne and Beaune. The town is also known in some Arthurian stories as the Kingdom of Ban.
That's interesting. I was going off such sources as these:

Étude sur le Lancelot en prose

From Scythia to Camelot

The Evolution of the Arthurian Romance I

This French webpage about Lancelot

Perceval and Gawain in Dark Mirrors: Reflection and Reflexivity in Chretien de Troyes's Conte del Graal (while this rejects the identification of Ban of Benoic (Lancelot's father) with Ban of Gomeret, it supports the identification of Gomeret with either Gwynedd or Vannes)

The Arthurian Name Dictionary

The Early British Kingdoms page for Lancelot
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Old December 30th, 2017, 12:30 AM   #4

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Geoffrey of Monmouth didn't mention him actually. To identify him with a personage in his chronicles is a little "jump".

As for I know, it was Chrétien de Troyes to introduce the "proper" Lancelot in the Arthurian cycle.

Again as for I can know, his name hasn't got clear Celtic roots [even if in Italy there is who thinks to a derivation from "Lance ap Lot", that is to say Lance son of Lot].

More interesting is the hypothesis that the name came from the Hebrew Aziloth with a Romance passage "L'Aziloth", referred to the noble soul of the Knight.

Chrétien de Troyes shows Lancelot in well different ways in his works [from a Knight of King Arthur to an opponent of him].

From fairy tales ...

An other curious idea about the origin of the personage is that Chrétien de Troyes found the components to make it in the folklore [so he would be a literary invention]. The child kidnapped by a sorceress, the prisoner in the castle, the repetitions in the tale [so common in fairy tales] ...

P.S. Maelgwn

Like for King Arthur, this doesn't mean that there wasn't a real model, a historical personage who gave the inspiration to the author. Sure he wasn't that "Lancelot". Maelgwn is a good candidate.

Last edited by AlpinLuke; December 30th, 2017 at 12:33 AM.
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Old December 30th, 2017, 07:44 AM   #5
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You could go earlier...

Llenlleog (Llenlleawg) the Irishman from Culhwch and Olwen (which associates him with the "headland of Gan(i)on") or the Welsh hero Llwch Llawwynnauc (probably a version of the euhemerized Irish deity Lugh Lonbemnech), possibly via a now-forgotten epithet like "Lamhcalad".
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Old January 1st, 2018, 03:24 AM   #6
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You could go earlier...

Llenlleog (Llenlleawg) the Irishman from Culhwch and Olwen (which associates him with the "headland of Gan(i)on") or the Welsh hero Llwch Llawwynnauc (probably a version of the euhemerized Irish deity Lugh Lonbemnech), possibly via a now-forgotten epithet like "Lamhcalad".
I don't find that very convincing. I don't see how an Irish deity, even if he did become drawn into Welsh tales, would have become viewed as one of Arthur's companions.
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Old January 2nd, 2018, 03:44 AM   #7
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Did you know there is a surname Lancelin, originating in France?

https://www.houseofnames.com/lancelin-family-crest

Here is a really goofy theory: Sir Lancelot of Habsburg.

Lanzelin or Landholt (c.930-991) Count of Altenburg, Klettgau, Thurgau, & Lord of Muri, was a son of Guntram the Rich. Two of Lanzelin's sons were said to be the ancestors of the House of Habsburg and the House of Zahringen.

Lanzelin could have been the first Lanzelin in his family, or Lanzelin could have been a name used by many of his ancestor's in the male line and/or in the line of one of his female ancestors.

Possibly Lanzelin was named in honor of some famous ancestor named Lanzelin who is now forgotten, but who might have been remembered in legend as a great warrior and was the origin of Lancelot.
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Old January 2nd, 2018, 03:49 AM   #8
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Originally Posted by Calebxy View Post
I don't find that very convincing. I don't see how an Irish deity, even if he did become drawn into Welsh tales, would have become viewed as one of Arthur's companions.
Lancelot appears to be a late arrival to the Arthurian legend and if he has any reality, his genesis could be in Llenlleog the Irishman or Lleminawg in Priddeu Annwn. I would interpret `lamhcalad` to mean `hard hand` and you could link this tenuously to Maelgwyn through his father Cadwallen Lawhir(Longhand). I think there`s a tradition where Maelgwyn also had long arms, but I wonder if Cadwallen might have only had one hand as the Welsh god LLud had and his Irish composite Nuada? Then you have to consider the mysterious Gwyn ap Nudd who is strongly associated with Maelgwyns territory in north west Wales.

Anyway, Lancelots legend has been greatly embellished in romance literature. Graham Andersons `King Arthur In Antiquity` gives an interesting proto-Lancelot..... Maxos or Mopsus of Lydia who defeated a tyrant called Meles and has associations with his own `Lady of the Lake`. Anderson provides plenty of evidence of the source material of the later romance writers for a number of members of the Arthurian pantheon.

p.13 `King Arthur In Antiquity`
`Who, I say, does not speak of Arthur the Briton, since he is almost better known to the peoples of Asia than to the Britanni, as our palmers returning from the east inform us?`
Attributed to Alanus de Insulis in the 12th century.

However, when Anderson went looking for Arthurs battles in antiquity, he could come only up with less than a page of material.
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Old January 3rd, 2018, 06:41 AM   #9
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Originally Posted by MAGolding View Post
Did you know there is a surname Lancelin, originating in France?

https://www.houseofnames.com/lancelin-family-crest

Here is a really goofy theory: Sir Lancelot of Habsburg.

Lanzelin or Landholt (c.930-991) Count of Altenburg, Klettgau, Thurgau, & Lord of Muri, was a son of Guntram the Rich. Two of Lanzelin's sons were said to be the ancestors of the House of Habsburg and the House of Zahringen.

Lanzelin could have been the first Lanzelin in his family, or Lanzelin could have been a name used by many of his ancestor's in the male line and/or in the line of one of his female ancestors.

Possibly Lanzelin was named in honor of some famous ancestor named Lanzelin who is now forgotten, but who might have been remembered in legend as a great warrior and was the origin of Lancelot.
That is interesting. However, there are manuscripts of Chretien's work which spell the name "L'Ancelot", indicating that it may well have simply been a French title. According to the modern reference work in which I found that fact, it would mean 'the servant'.
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Old January 4th, 2018, 12:33 AM   #10

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That is interesting. However, there are manuscripts of Chretien's work which spell the name "L'Ancelot", indicating that it may well have simply been a French title. According to the modern reference work in which I found that fact, it would mean 'the servant'.
Yes, this observation is valid, actually there is the spelling "L'Ancelot" not "Lancelot" in some of the manuscripts with Chretien's work.

Since "L'" is the contraction of the French article "le" [simply "the"], the title appears to be "Ancelot". The Ancelot ... the servant. That's not a name. It's like to say "the guard", "the knight", "the baker" ... it's more a kind of nickname.

[I have checked this with a work by Flint F. Johnson and now I'm going to check his sources about ancient French].

P.S. if this is the correct path, L'Ancelot was "du Lac", that is to say "of the lake". So he was "the Servant of the Lake".

Last edited by AlpinLuke; January 4th, 2018 at 12:39 AM.
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