Guinivere’s is infamous as the beautiful queen of King Arthur and also as the lover of Lancelot. Her name will forever be tied to one of the most famous love triangles in English literature. While the story of King Arthur may be part legend and myth it has inspired numerous additional tales, poems, articles, books, and films. The myths and legends surrounding King Arthur make him perhaps the most read about, discussed and reimagined king in history. It is then no surprise that his beautiful queen, Guinivere should also have much myth and legend associated with her own actions and deeds. Who was Guinivere? It is difficult to betray the most famous king of all time and not be considered the most infamous adulterer of all time. In some literary accounts Guinevere is a reluctant betrayer of her husband Arthur. In these accounts Guinivere is devoted to the king but eventually gives into her passions only because of circumstances where she and Lancelot are thrown together when Lancelot overcomes tremendous odds and exposing himself to great personal danger saves her life. In these accounts her love for Lancelot grows as much from gratitude and adoration as anything. She is seen as in love with and committed to Arthur but is overcome with feeling she cannot hope to control as a sort of helpless victim. After all, Guinivere is the daughter of King Leodegrance, who had served Arthur's father Uther Pendragon and was entrusted with the Round Table after Pendragon's death. Arthur actually receives the Round Table from Guinivere’s Father Leodegrance so she is committed to what the Round Table and the idea of Camelot stands for. Arthur defends Leodegrance against his enemies which leads to Arthur’s meeting and marriage with Guinivere in the first place.
In other accounts, Guinivere is seen as unvirtuous and seeks to seduce Lancelot against his will almost from the moment she meets him as she is instantly smitten. In several accounts the sourcerer Merlin warns Arthur not to marry Guinivere and tells Arthur that she will one day betray him and that her betrayal will be his undoing. Arthur takes no head to Merlin’s warning and instead marries her. Following his early rescue of Guinivere from Meleagant and his admission into the Round Table, Guinivere and Lancelot begin an escalating romantic affair that in the end will lead to Arthur's fall. They behaved in such a way that "many in the court spoke of it." Guinivere is charged with adultery on three different occasions. Their now not so secret affair is finally exposed by Guinivere's sworn enemy and Arthur's half-sister, the enchantress Morgan le Fay and Sir Gawain. Revealed as a betrayer of his king and friend, Lancelot defends the queen’s honor. Arthur reluctantly sentences his wife to be burned at the stake unless a champion can prove her innocence. He believes in her innocence but wants it proven for the world to see in a tail by combat. In one lesser known account, knowing Lancelot will fight to stop Guinivere’s execution, the king sends many of his knights to defend the pyre where Guinivere is to be burned if found guilty, though Gawain refuses to fight. Lancelot arrives and rescues the queen. However, Gawain's three brothers Gaheris, Gareth and Agravain are killed in the battle, sending Gawain into a rage wanting to avenge his brother’s deaths.
In yet other accounts Guinivere later returns to Arthur and is forgiven for her earlier betrayal but conspires with Mordred, Arthur’s son, who wishes to marry her and overthrow Arthur. Hearing of the treachery, Arthur returns and slays Mordred, but his wounds are so severe that he is taken to the Isle of Avalon. When Arthur’s body is taken to Avalon by three mystical ladies he is not yet dead and some believe that when he is healed he will one day return to reclaim and rebuild Camelot, this is why Arthur is sometimes referred to as “The Once and Future King”. Guinivere eventually retires to a convent as punishment for her infidelity. Her contrition is sincere and permanent. Guinivere meets Lancelot one last time, he asks her for one last kiss but she refusing him, then returns to the convent where she spends the remainder of her life. Guinivere is often portrayed as a scapegoat for violence without developing her perspective or motivation. The tragedy of Guinivere captures our imagination. Not only is Guinivere disloyal to Arthur but her betrayal is with Arthur’s best friend and Camelot’s greatest knight, Lancelot. How much is Lancelot to blame for also betraying both his best friend and his king. Can any blame be assigned to the noble Arthur himself who was in fact warned by Merlin before he chose Guinivere to be his bride that she would one day betray him yet he chose to ignore it. The peace and prosperity that existed in Camelot prior to the betrayal is looked upon as a symbol of a Golden Age that people around the world should aspire to. Camelot is as much an idea as it is a place. The moral of the story is that disloyalty, deceit and betrayal no matter the motivation can ruin the lives of all those around us even to the point of bringing down something as splendid and uplifting as the idea that once was Camelot.