Stanzaic Morte Arthur

General Information

(N)IMEV: 1994
Form: 8-line stanza rhyming abababab
Date of Composition: c. 1350
Place of Composition: North Midlands
Keywords: Accused Queen, Bedchamber, Conquest, Disease, Disguise, Dreams, Exile, Familial Discord, Forest, Friendship, Heraldry, Hunting, Incest, Marriage, Military Combat, Mistaken Identity, Other-world, Penance, Quest, Religious Figures, Religious Spaces, Sacrament, Secular Spaces, Sexual Encounters, Siege, Supernatural, Tournament, Treachery

Plot Summary

Plot summary image

Four years after finding the Holy Grail, Arthur holds a tournament at Winchester. Lancelot attends in disguise, wearing the sleeve of Lord Ascalot’s daughter, though he does not return her love. He is wounded and retires to Ascolot, where his injuries prevent him attending the next tournament. Bors, Lionel and Ector eventually discover him, but by the time Gawain arrives, Lancelot has departed. The maiden tells Gawain that Lancelot was her lover and he returns to Camelot, innocently informing Arthur and Guinevere.

Lancelot briefly returns to court but Guinevere upbraids him for taking a new lover and he departs again, offended. While he is away, Guinevere is falsely accused of poisoning a Scottish knight and condemned to death unless a champion fights for her. Arthur and Gawain discover a boat containing the maid of Ascolot’s body and a letter blaming her death on Lancelot’s rejection: Gawain admits his mistake to a furious Guinevere. [The trial continues] but many of Arthur’s knights suspect the queen and only Bors accepts the challenge. Finally, Lancelot anonymously defeats Guinevere’s accuser, and the court is joyfully reconciled.

Some knights, however, are discontented. Gawain’s brother Agravain reveals Lancelot and Guinevere’s affair to Arthur and ambushes them in her chamber. Enraged, Lancelot kills Agravain and leads his men out of Camelot, rescuing Guinevere but slaying Gawain’s other brothers. Vowing revenge, Gawain and Arthur besiege Lancelot in Joyous Garde. The battle rages until the Pope intervenes and Lancelot surrenders the queen, still protesting her innocence. Arthur allows Lancelot to return to his own lands in Brittany, but Gawain rebuffs his attempts at reconciliation and vows to follow him.

Lancelot fortifies his lands and Arthur sails to Brittany, leaving Mordred as regent. At Gawain’s urging, the king refuses Lancelot’s offer of peace and besieges his city. Many die until, after six months, Lancelot reluctantly agrees to fight Gawain. Aware that his opponent’s strength wanes after midday, Lancelot wounds Gawain badly. As soon as he recovers, Gawain repeats his challenge and is wounded again. They are about to fight a third time when Arthur learns that Mordred has usurped his crown, Guinevere has retreated into the Tower of London and the Archbishop of Canterbury has been hounded into the forest.

Arthur returns to Dover where Gawain is slain in a bitter battle. Furious, the king gathers his armies and arranges another confrontation. Instructed by a vision of Gawain, he attempts to negotiate with Mordred but a mistakenly drawn sword sparks a great battle in which everyone dies except Arthur, Lucan, Bedevere and Mordred. Arthur kills Mordred, but is mortally wounded. The two knights carry their king to a chapel, where Lucan dies. At Arthur’s command, Bedevere reluctantly casts Excalibur into the sea, before helping the king into a mysterious ship.

Alone, Bedevere wanders until he discovers a chapel containing Arthur’s tomb, presided over by the former Archbishop. Meanwhile, Lancelot arrives to help the king. Learning that he is too late, he seeks out Guinevere at Amesbury, where she has become a nun. She keeps her religious vows and he departs, pledging to take orders himself. He arrives at the chapel and joins Bedevere, becoming a hermit/priest along with Bors and seven other former knights. After seven years, Lancelot dies a holy death and his companions bury him at Joyous Garde, where they are joined by Ector. They all process to Amesbury, where Guinevere has also died, and bury her next to Arthur.

From: Larry D. Benson, King Arthur’s Death. Exeter: University of Exeter Press, 2003.
Manuscript: London, British Library, MS Harley 2252


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London, British Library, MS Harley 2252 (folio: 86r-133v)Early 16th century, London. Unique copy. 3969 lines.

Modern Editions

A. V. C. Schmidt and Nicolas Jacobs, eds., Medieval English Romances, 2 vols (New York: Holmes & Meier, 1980)Vol. 2. Pp. 135-184. Selections only. Edited from Harley 2252.
F. J. Furnivall, ed., Le Morte Arthur (London and Cambridge: Macmillan and Company, 1864)Edited from Harley 2252.
J. Douglas Bruce, ed., Le Morte Arthure, EETS e.s. 88 (London, New York, Toronto: Oxford University Press, 1903. Rpt. Millwood, N.Y.: Kraus, 1973)Edited from Harley 2252.
Larry D. Benson, ed., King Arthurs Death: The Middle English Stanzaic Morte Arthur and Alliterative Morte Arthure (Kalamazoo, Michigan: Medieval Institute Publications, 1994)Pp. 11-123. Edited from Harley 2252.Available online at:
P. F. Hissiger, ed., Le Morte Arthur: A Critical Edition (The Hague, Paris: Mouton, 1975)Edited from Harley 2252.
S. B. Hemingway, ed., Le Morte Arthur (New York: Riverside Press, 1912)Edited from Harley 2252.
Shunichi Noguchi, ed., Le Morte Arthur (Tokyo: University of Tokyo, 1990)Edited from Harley 2252.
Thomas Ponton, ed., Le Morte Arthur, The Adventures of Sir Launcelot du Lake (London: William Bulmer and Company, 1819)Edited from Harley 2252.


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