Feminae: Medieval Women and Gender Index

  • Title: Guinevere questioning Lancelot
  • Creator:
  • Description:

    In this manuscript illustration, Queen Guinevere and Sir Lancelot sit together. Guinevere, the figure on the right, can be identified by her crown and veil. She is clad in a blue gown with a sleeveless pink surcoat on top. Lancelot wears a maroon cloak over a dark blue tunic. Both Lancelot and Guinevere gesture at each other in a manner that implies speech and response and their mouths curve up in smiles, thus demonstrating a playful interrogation common to narratives of courtly love. Guinevere clasps Lancelot’s outstretched hand, taking the lead in advancing their relationship. Both figures are seated together on a bench, rendered in green and orange. The image is elaborately framed by a blue and maroon border; the top section of this reaches down to create an illusion of three arches above the couple.

    This illustration is from a circa 1316 manuscript including Lancelot du Lac that is now bound in four volumes containing the prose Lancelot-Grail, a popular French Arthurian romance cycle. Additional MS 10293 includes 436 images detailing scenes from the romance. Each illustration was done in color on gold ground, within pink, blue and red borders decorated with penwork in white. Rubrics in red were added above most of these miniatures. This particular image portrays Guinevere questioning Lancelot about his love for her. Both Lancelot and Guinevere embody the type of graceful, flowing movement typical of gothic art. This sense of "flowing lines" is further emphasised by the folds in the clothing of both figures. Lancelot and Guinevere are depicted wearing different shades of red and blue; that the image is also framed with these colours forces the viewer’s eye to move around the picture and notice both figures. This suggests a portrayal of a certain level of equality or balance in their relationship, which is also highlighted by the two being seated at the same level.

    It is interesting to compare Lancelot and Guinevere’s relationship as presented here with the way it is represented in other medieval texts. Later in the fourteenth century, Thomas Chestre in his poem Sir Launfal depicted Guinevere in a very negative light. He criticizes Guinevere for her adultery even before her marriage and sees her as an evil figure of deceit. In general Guinevere is not portrayed as a typical woman in Arthurian texts. Longley has drawn attention to the queen's role as a "female lord," commanding Lancelot's actions, in the prose Lancelot from the Lancelot-Grail Cycle, dating from the thirteenth-century. Guinevere's initiative could potentially account both for Chestre’s dislike of the character, and the way she is pictured with Lancelot in this image, wherein they seem to be presented as equals.

    Popular ideas about adultery in the medieval period tended to paint women as the figure in the relationship who exclusively should be punished. However, in her article, "The Opposite of the Double Standard," Sara McDougall argues that we should reconsider this, using court records from Northern France – also the area of France where this image of Guinevere and Lancelot was created – to back up her claim that there was not as much of “an emphasis on punishing adulteresses, at least in the courtroom.” McDougall gives examples of church courts that prosecuted more men than women. She seeks to understand how this phenomenon might have come about, arguing that “the majority of men so prosecuted were mostly wives’ lovers rather than married men prosecuted for extramarital sex with unmarried women.” She theorizes that men might not want to expose their wives’ infidelity in court, preferring instead to punish their wives at home, or attempt to reconcile with them. She also points out that men likely committed adultery more frequently than women, which would also help account for these prosecutions.

  • Source: British Library
  • Rights: Public domain
  • Subject (See Also): Arthurian Literature Courtly Love Guenevere, Queen (Literary Figure) Lancelot (Literary Figure) Man Woman Relationships in Literature
  • Geographic Area: France
  • Century: 14
  • Date: ca. 1316
  • Related Work: Full page view of Guinevere questioning Lancelot, British Library, MS Additional 10293, fol. 199r.
    MS Additional 10293 digitized, British Library, ca. 1316.
    Selected images from "Lancelot du Lac", British Library, Ms Additional 10293.
    Selected images from MS Additional 10292, from the same atelier as 10293, and likely the same manuscript. Texts are L'estoire del Saint Graal (ff. 1-76) and L'estoire de Merlin (ff. 76-216).
    Selected images from MS Additional 10294, from the same atelier as 10293, and likely the same manuscript. Texts are La Queste del Saint Graal (ff. 2-53) and Morte Artu (ff. 53-96).
    Arthur, Lancelot, and Guinevere, first quarter of the 14th c., France, British Library, Royal 20 D IV, fol. 1.
    First kiss of Guinevere and Lancelot, 1310-1315, Northern France, Morgan Library and Museum, MS M.805, fol. 67r.
  • Current Location: London, British Library, MS Additional 10293, f. 199r
  • Original Location: France, Northern (Saint-Omer or Tournai)
  • Artistic Type (Category): Digital images; Manuscript illuminations
  • Artistic Type (Material/Technique): Vellum (parchment); Paints; Gold; Colored ink
  • Donor:
  • Height/Width/Length(cm): 39.5/29.5/
  • Inscription: Ensi que la royne requeroit Lancelot de ses amours (Translation: Thus the queen questioned Lancelot about his loves) - Rubric above the manuscript illumination
  • Related Resources:

    Archibald, Elizabeth. "Malory’s Lancelot and Guinevere." A Companion to Arthurian Literature. Edited by Helen Fulton. Wiley-Blackwell, 2009. Pages 312-325.

    Arthur of the French. Edited by Glyn Burgess and Karen Pratt. University of Wales Press, 2006.

    Camille, Michael. The Medieval Art of Love: Objects and Subjects of Desire. Abrams, 1998.

    Hahn, Stacey. "Feminine Sexuality in the Lancelot-Grail Cycle." Sexuality in the Middle Ages and Early Modern Times: New Approaches to a Fundamental Cultural-Historical and Literary-Anthropological Theme. Edited by Albrecht Classen. Walter de Gruyter, 2008. Pages 485-502.

    Longley, Anne P. "Guinevere as Lord." Arthuriana 12, 3 (2002): 49-62.

    McDougall, Sara. "The Opposite of a Double Standard: Gender, Marriage and Adultery Prosecution in Late Medieval France." Journal of the History of Sexuality 23, 2 (2014): 206-225.

    Stones, Alison. "Illustrating Lancelot and Guinevere." Lancelot and Guinevere: A Casebook. Edited by Lori J. Walters. Routledge, 2002. Pages 125-57.

    Stones, Alison, assisted by Michael Gullick. "London, British Library, MS Additional 10292-4 (hereafter Add.)." Lancelot-Grail Project.