We’ve all heard of King Arthur, the magician Merlin, and Sir Lancelot, Arthur’s good friend who fell in love with his wife. But they were not the only men whose exploits are recorded in the Arthurian legends. More than 50 knights are mentioned in the Arthurian tales.
Let’s have a look at eight of the more colourful knights from Arthurian legend.
1. Sir Agravain
Sir Agravain was a nephew of Arthur whose main nemesis was his own brother Gaheris. In one story he boasts to Gaheris that he will lie with an unwilling maiden if he wishes, and flies into a rage when Geheris mocks him. He is later cursed by a woman that he forced himself on, and only the blood of the best knight (Lancelot) could lift the curse. In another account, Agravain’s brother Gaheris is charged with a special mission by Merlin, and the jealous Agravain follows him in order to cut off his head. In another story it is Agravain that tells Arthur about the affair between Guinevere and Lancelot, and then participates in a plan to catch Lancelot in the act. During his escape Lancelot kills Agravain.
2. Sir Bedivere
Sir Bedivere was one of the first knights to join Arthur’s fellowship of the round table. He helped Arthur fight the Giant of Mont St Michel, which ravaged France until confronted by Arthur. He and Arthur were the only knights to survive the Battle of Camlan, also known as the Last Battle. After the battle he was charged by Arthur with returning Excalibur to the Lady of the Lake.
3. Sir Galahad
Galahad was always known as the Perfect Knight, perfect in courage, gentleness, courtesy and chivalry. The son of Lancelot and Elaine, he grew up in a nunnery. One day a sword in a stone was seen in a river by Arthur’s knights, and it was said that only the world’s best knight could retrieve the sword. Galahad drew the sword and joined Arthur’s court. Later he was one of the three knights selected to pursue the Holy Grail. On his quest he acquired a white shield adorned with a red cross drawn in blood by Joseph of Arimathea, and the Sword of David. After seeing the grail, as a reward for his bravery, Galahad asks that he be allowed to choose the moment of his death. On his return trip to Arthur, Joseph of Arimathea appears to him. This gives Galahad such rapture that he asks to die in that moment.
4. Sir Gawain
Another nephew of Arthur, the adventures of Gawain are described in many of the Arthurian legends, and his famous encounter with the Green Knight was also rewritten by J.R.R. Tolkien. In this story a mysterious ghost in the form of a Green Knight visits Arthur’s court with a beautiful axe. He says that the warrior who takes up the axe and strikes his neck with all their might can keep the axe, but must meet the Green Knight one year hence and allow him to strike him with the axe in the same way. Of all the knights, only Arthur and Gawain are brave enough to undertake the challenge, and Gawain does so. He beheads the Green Knight, but it simply retrieves its severed head and reminds Gawain of his commitment. In a year Gawain sets out to meet the Green Knight and has many adventures. As part of this, he obtains a magical green girdle from the wife of Lord at a nearby castle which she promises will protect him against physical harm. He wears the girdle in his encounter with the Green Knight and survives the encounter, learning that it was all a rouse hatched by Morgan Le Fay to test the fortitude of Arthur and his Knights.
5. Sir Lanval
A knight at Arthur’s table for 10 years, Sir Lanval does not like the new queen Guinevere, and as a result loses his place at court and his wealth. As he wanders the forest alone, he meets two damsels that take him to their mistress, the daughter of the king of the fairies. She gives him untold wealth and a magic bag in which money can always be found if he becomes her lover. She will visit him whenever he wishes for her, but he must never reveal her existence to another person. Lanval uses his new-found wealth to help the needy and completes many acts of bravery. He returns to Arthur’s court, where Guinevere tries to seduce him, but he refuses, saying that he has a mistress that makes her look very ugly. Angered by his rejection, Guinevere accuses him of trying to seduce her and lying about a beautiful mistress. After forsaking him for a period for revealing her existence, the fairy princess arrives just in time to save Lanval and disgrace Guinevere.
6. Sir Sagramore
Son of the King of Hungary and the daughter of the Eastern Roman Emperor, Sagramore was heir to the throne of Constantinople. After his father’s death, his mother marries King Brandegoris of Estangore in Britain and the young Sagramore arrives at Arthur’s court and joins his knights. He was a fierce warrior and would often fight in a kind of frenzied fit which would leave him disoriented and very tired. In many stories he is described as rescuing damsels, who later become his paramours. He dies at the Last Battle at the hand of Mordred.
Sir Tristan, which means sorrow, was called this as his mother died at his birth. A noble knight, he is most remembered for his love affair with Isolde. He was sent by his uncle King Mark to escort Isolde to Mark’s court in order to marry him. On the journey they accidentally drink a love potion meant for Isolde and Mark and fall tragically in love. Isolde marries Mark, but continued her affair with Tristan, who is subsequently exiled from his uncle’s kingdom. This is when he arrives at Arthur’s court and joins the Knights of the Round Table.
8. Sir Urien
Sir Urien was the husband of Morgan Le Fay, the famous sorceress and daughter of Queen Igraine, Arthur’s mother. When the young King Arthur came to the throne, he was one of the instigators of the rebel alliance that refused to accept him. They eventually reconciled and Urien became one of the Knights of the Round Table. His wife Morgan Le Fay was frustrated by Urien’s support of Arthur. After being convinced by their son not to kill Uriens, they separated.