Hey everyone! I’m back, and this time, my post is going to be a little different! I decided to write about my five favorite “The Legends of King Arthur” characters. Now, many people know, there are tons of versions and legends of the King Arthur story. I will be basing this post off the retelling by Paul Vincent of Sir Thomas Malory’s Le Morte d’Arthur. It’s one of the best retellings in my opinion, and I LOVE the podcast he made of it! There will be spoilers for the legend in this post, so just a warning ahead of time!
Anyways, without out further ado, here are my top five favorite King Arthur characters! And stay tuned for some notable mentions at the end!
#5: Sir Kay
Okay, this was a hard one, as I had some others vying for this position. However, because of the way Paul Vincent wrote Sir Kay in his retelling, I had to put him as number five.
So, Sir Kay is the son of Sir Ector and the adopted brother of King Arthur. When Arthur was born, Merlin took him from his parents and gave him to Sir Ector and his wife to raise alongside their son Kay.
Some versions make Sir Kay out to be a villain, or really mean to Arthur, but in this one, he’s a sassy, sharp-tongued knight, but he is truly loyal to him. Sure, he tries to pretend like he’s the rightful king of England when Arthur hands him the sword from the stone, but he admits quickly afterward that he’s not, and when Arthur is proven to be king, he and his father both pay homage to him. Arthur, as a favor to Sir Ector, makes Kay his seneschal, the person in charge of the servants and kitchens of the castle.
And though Sir Kay isn’t the best fighter out there (I mean, he forgets his sword when going to a tournament, come on) he’s always fighting valiantly and loyally for Arthur. If he really was mean or had designs on the throne, wouldn’t he have aligned himself with one of Arthur’s enemies at least once, what with all the rebellions Arthur had to put down?
Besides his loyalty, Sir Kay’s sass is the main reason I love him. In Paul Vincent’s retelling, I laughed so hard at Sir Kay speaking his mind without any tact or sensitivity to the feelings of others. My favorite quote of his had to be when he saw the old lady Sir Gawain had to marry, and exclaimed, in front of ALL of them, “My god, what on earth is that? Surely it is a monster. We can’t have her at Camelot.” When I first heard that in the podcast, I laughed so hard I cried.
Sure, Sir Kay is stubborn, pig-headed, not the best in a fight, and hurts people with his sharp tongue, but he is also extremely loyal to King Arthur, has a unique sense of humor, and even at times, is able to humble himself and admit when someone is better or more qualified than he. And that’s why he’s ranked fifth on my list.
#4: Sir Gareth of Orkney (Beaumains)
Sir Gareth of Orkney is the fourth son of King Lot of Orkney and his wife Morgawse, Arthur’s half sister, making him Arthur’s nephew. He has four other brothers: Sir Gawain, Sir Agravain, and Sir Gaheris are his older brothers, and Mordred is his younger brother. His story takes up a good few chapters of the legend.
In the retelling, Gareth is mentioned first as a child, attending his father’s funeral alongside his mother and older brothers. Some time expires, then, one day, a young man in his late teens comes into the court at Camelot. Nobody recognizes him as Gareth, though his older brothers, who were present, probably should have. He asks for three gifts, refraining from telling everyone his name. His first request is to have food and water for a year. Arthur agrees, handing him over to Sir Kay to put to work in the kitchen. It is Sir Kay and his sharp tongue who gives Gareth the nickname “Beaumains”, because of his large and fair hands. Gawain and Lancelot, however, take a liking to him, and during his year stay, give him money and show him kindness.
At the end of a year, a young lady comes to Camelot, asking for a knight to come help her sister who is besieged in a castle. “Beaumains” requests his second gift, asking if he can take the lady’s quest, and be knighted by Sir Lancelot, who he admires more than anyone. King Arthur agrees, but the lady is insulted, thinking they’re dumping a kitchen boy on her. As they leave, Sir Kay goes to joust with him, mocking him, but “Beaumains” easily defeats him. Lancelot then jousts with him, and to his surprise, “Beaumains” holds his own, a rare thing against Lancelot. Lancelot calls it a tie, and then knights him, after hearing his real name.
The quest continues, and “Beaumains” has to put up with the lady’s complaints and insults, and defeats several knights. Finally, the lady admits she’s scared he’ll fail, but believes he will succeed, changing her attitude towards him. When they arrive at the besieged castle, “Beaumains” rescues the lady’s sister, falling in love with her.
While he’s gone, his mother comes to Camelot with Mordred, and demands to know where her younger son is, hearing he’s been shamefully treated as a kitchen boy. It’s only then that Arthur and the other Orkney boys realize who Beaumains actually is.
Of all the brothers, Sir Gareth and Sir Gawain have the best relationship. At one time, when neither realize the other’s identity, they begin to fight each other, but a lady stops them, telling them who they are. Gawain and Gareth go from fighting each other to hugging and making up, Gawain even telling Gareth he is the best of their father’s sons and that he’s proud of him.
Gareth, of all the Orkney brothers, is the most honorable and the only one who did not commit some sort of treacherous deed. Because of the blood feud the Orkney brothers have against the sons of King Pellinor, another knight, each of the other four brothers engaged in it, killing both Pellinor and his son Lamorak. Gareth, however, took part in neither of these events, because he knew it was dishonorable.
The main reason I like Gareth, beside his sense of honor, is because of his relationship with others in the story. Unlike some of the other characters, Sir Gareth actually has two close relationships, one with his older brother Gawain, and the other with Sir Lancelot, who he is extremely loyal to, and loves like a brother. Paul Vincent in the retelling does a really good job of developing the relationships, at least at the very end of the story.
Two of the Orkney brothers, Agravain and Mordred, try to trap Lancelot by catching him in an affair with Guinevere. Gareth, Gawain, and Gaheris will have none of it, but King Arthur gives the other two the go-ahead for the plan. They catch them, but unfortunately, Agravain is killed, and Lancelot escapes. King Arthur, in his rage, orders Guinevere to be burned at the stake. He orders Gawain to help guard the procession from any attack made by Lancelot to rescue her, but Gawain refuses. Arthur, in spite, orders Gareth and Gaheris to go instead. They reluctantly agree, but carry no weapons, not wishing to fight.
Lancelot does come, and it is here that Gareth meets his fate with his brother Gaheris, both being accidentally murdered by Lancelot in the chaos of the battle. It is when Gawain finds him that he can’t understand why Lancelot killed him, as Gareth loved him as a brother, and the rest of the book focuses on the actions Gawain’s grief for him cause for the rest of the kingdom.
Sir Gareth doesn’t have too many faults in the legend, but it is his relationships between two of the most important characters of the book, as well as his sense of honor, which has won him this place on my list. If it hadn’t been for Sir Gareth’s accidental death, I often wonder if things in the legend would have turned out much differently.
#3 Elaine of Corbenic
Elaine of Corbenic is the only lady on my list. This Elaine is not the Maid of Astolat, who is a different Elaine, rather she is the daughter of the Fisher King Pellam, who guards the Holy Grail, and the mother of Sir Galahad.
Pellam knows a prophecy that says his daughter, Elaine, will have a son, the best knight in the world, with Lancelot. However, he discovers that, though his daughter is the most beautiful woman around, Lancelot is in love with Guinevere. So, a lady named Dame Brisen plays a trick on Lancelot, putting an enchantment on Elaine to make her appear to be Guinevere. The ruse works, and when Lancelot finds out, he grows angry with her and leaves, not happy with her explanation about the prophecy.
Three years later, Elaine decides to go to Camelot, where she unintentionally draws a lot of attention to herself because of her beauty. Guinevere treats her scornfully, and Lancelot, ashamed of the way he treated her before, looks away. That night, Elaine again tricks Lancelot into spending the night with her instead of Guinevere, but this time, Guinevere catches him at it. Lancelot goes mad, and Elaine gives Guinevere a piece of her mind, for once putting the spoiled queen in her place.
It’s quite a few years later when Elaine finds Lancelot, still mad, and takes him to the Holy Grail to recover. He does, and when he remembers what happened with Guinevere, he decides he cannot go back to Camelot, and he and Elaine stay in a castle King Pellam gives them. Some time passes before he’s finally found by his brother Sir Hector, and Sir Percival. He returns to Camelot, saying farewell to Elaine. Elaine is not mentioned again, other than years later, when Lancelot goes to Corbenic on the Grail Quest and hears she has died.
Elaine is an interesting character because she is not the typical woman in the King Arthur Legends. She’s not a damsel in distress, but nor is she the perfect pure bride either. She’s not bad — she probably would have married Lancelot, had he not been obsessed with Guinevere — but she did trick Lancelot, twice, and had a child outside of marriage with him, a big no-no in that day. She was able to stand up for herself, and unlike the other ladies who loved Lancelot, she succeeded in getting him.
The reason she is third on my list, is because of her spice. She was the first person to ever stand up to Guinevere, the hypocritical lover of Lancelot, and tell her what she was doing was wrong (despite the fact that what Elaine was doing was wrong too, but I won’t get into that). She also wasn’t a typical damsel in distress. She took control of situations, rather than wait around for some knight to help her. I always wished she and Lancelot could have been married and happy together, and I would love to read a retelling where that does happen.
#2: Sir Gawain of Orkney
Sir Gawain of Orkney is probably the third main character of the series, after King Arthur and Sir Lancelot, of course. He is the major character in many quests, and has a LOT of book time, which made it easy for me to pick him as my second favorite character. Because there are so many legends with him in it, I will pick out only the events I think necessary to explain why he has this place.
Gawain has a large family, as mentioned before. He is the eldest nephew of King Arthur, and as the years go on, becomes his most trusted advisor, and the only knight who never leaves him, whether through banishment, death, or betrayal. And despite his occasional acts of thoughtlessness, he remains deeply loyal to King Arthur.
An example of his loyalty to him is shown in an event shortly after his knighting. King Arthur is confronted by a man named the “Black Knight” who wants Arthur’s throne, and he easily overpowers him. However, instead of just killing him, he decides to have fun. He gives him three days to find the answer to a question he asks. Arthur looks all over for the answer, but can’t find it. Just as he’s returning to meet the Black Knight, he meets the ugliest old lady he’s ever seen, who says she can answer the question, but if she does, he must grant her whatever she wishes for. Arthur doesn’t have much of a choice, and so he agrees. The lady gives him the answer, then declares she wants to marry a knight of the Round Table. Of course, Arthur has no clue how he’s going to get anyone to marry her, but seeing as the Black Knight accepts the answer, he knows he has to keep his word.
He complains to Guinevere about it when he arrives home, and Gawain overhears him. Selflessly, he offers to be the knight to marry the ugly lady. Though Arthur doesn’t want Gawain to have to do it, he realizes he has no choice and accepts. Gawain marries the ugly old lady, much to everyone’s horror, to save his uncle’s honor.
However, everything turns out all right for Gawain in the end. It turns out, a curse had been put on the lady, causing her to look hideous, when really she was a beautiful young lady. When he married her and allows her to make her own decisions, the curse is broken, and they live happily.
Gawain was also loyal to his father. As mentioned before, he and his brothers have a blood feud between Sir Pellinor and his sons because Sir Pellinor killed his father in battle. However, unlike Agravain and Mordred, who kill treacherously, Gawain has somewhat of an honor code. When the three older brothers, Gawain, Agravain, and Gaheris, ambush Pellinor, for example, Gawain does not allow them to jump on him and kill him, or make him fight all three of them. Instead, he alone fights Pellinor.
Finally, Gawain is second because of all of the characters in the legends, Gawain gets the most emotional development, especially at the end. He is like a rock in a hard place when his brothers Mordred and Agravain want to catch Gawain’s best friend, Sir Lancelot, in his affair with Guinevere. He knows it’s wrong what his best friend is doing, yet doesn’t want to betray him. Ultimately, he refuses to participate in Agravain’s trap, and even though Agravain is killed, Gawain forgives Lancelot for it, and still remains loyal to him. It is only when Lancelot accidentally murders his two unarmed brothers, Gareth and Gaheris, that Gawain’s grief overpowers his loyalty, and the grief turns into a wish for revenge or death. Even though he was loyal to Sir Lancelot, his loyalty to his brothers was stronger.
It’s ultimately his grief which brings about the destruction of King Arthur’s court and kingdom. Lancelot and King Arthur make battle for some time, but soon Lancelot tries to make up with him. It is only Gawain who keeps King Arthur from making peace. Arthur, though he desires to have peace, clings to Gawain because he is the only knight he has who has never deserted or betrayed him. And Gawain refuses to make peace because he vows either Lancelot or he shall die for the murder of his brothers, Gareth in particular. Because of his bitterness and blinded by grief, Gawain has King Arthur chase Lancelot all the way to his lands in France, leaving Mordred behind to rule in England while they are away. It is this which causes Mordred to finally take control and create the final rebellion which ultimately wipes out the rest of King Arthur’s knights.
At least in the end, when Lancelot mortally wounds Gawain, Gawain sees where he’s erred, and recognizes that Lancelot truly didn’t mean to harm his brothers, and asks for his forgiveness.
Gawain’s deep character development, as well as his strong loyalty to his family even over power, fame, and friendship, has earned him the second place on my list. In fact, it was really difficult for me to choose first or second place for him, because he is such a powerful character throughout the legends. However, I finally had to settle for second place for him, because there is one other character who I’ve always liked the most, even before I fully read the legends.
#1: Sir Galahad
Yup, everyone, Sir Galahad is my favorite of all the King Arthur characters. Honestly, it’s strange that he is, because he is so “perfect”, and usually I don’t like the “perfect” type characters. Yet him I liked, from his childhood all the way to his death.
Sir Galahad is the grandson of the Fisher King Pellam, and the child of Elaine of Corbenic and Lancelot, as previously mentioned. For some reason, he doesn’t meet his father until he is sixteen, when he goes to King Arthur’s court and is knighted by him. He then goes to the seat no one else could ever sit at without dying, the Siege Perilous, and sits, looking peaceful as everyone else just stares at him in shock.
Of all the knights, Galahad is the most serene. He’s also the most honorable and pure, making him the only one able to achieve the Grail Quest and the best knight to live. Still, Sir Bors and Sir Percival travel with him for much of the way, accomplishing the quest with him.
Galahad has a lot of events which go on during his quest, thus I will summarize my two favorites.
The first one is when Galahad meets his father during the quest. Lancelot gets on this boat and floats along for awhile, being supernaturally provided for. As he drifts along, the boat eventually comes close to shore where another knight is. The two greet each other and reveal their identities, and then have the long awaited father-son reunion. They remain on the boat for six months, actually getting to know each other. I really would have liked to see more of what they did together and talked about, but oh well, at least I got to see their reunion!
The second event has to be the “gift” that the Lord gives Galahad. I don’t really know why I do, it’s just very… interesting. Galahad, Bors, and Percival find the Grail, and are told to take it back to the city of Sarras by Jesus. Galahad feels such peace when he sees Jesus, that he prays every night that he might be granted a wish, that whenever he chooses, he would be allowed to die and enter heaven. The Lord agrees to his request.
Then they set forth for Sarras on a ship, guided by the Lord. Percival and Bors get antsy, but Galahad remains calm, knowing the quest is almost over. He also knows that this was the reason he was born, and that his life would be complete once he finishes the quest. When they arrive, however, they are thrown into prison for a year. Then, the king who threw them into prison frees them on his deathbed, and the people want Galahad to be their king. Reluctantly, he decides to become their king, putting the duty above his own desires.
Finally, though, after a year, Galahad finally decides to ask for his wish, and it is granted. At the same time as he dies, the Holy Grail is taken up into Heaven as well.
The main reason I chose Galahad for first place is because of the Christian qualities he represents. Yeah, he’s kinda perfect and stuff, but compared to all the other knights in the legend, most of whom are super messed up, it’s actually a breath of fresh air.
Throughout the quest, he is always trusting in God and following after Him, not jumping ahead or getting impatient as some of the other knights do. He also is kind, and never worries, remaining serene through it all. He actually fulfills part of the Great Commission, healing at least two people during his quest, and his ultimate desire is to be with his Savior, which is what motivates him to stay pure, honorable and trust God through it all.
A smaller reason I like him is because he’s one character who never gets married or likes a girl. I really like that they showed that not everybody has the desire to get married or be in a relationship, since it’s very rarely shown in fiction these days. As someone who really has no desire to be in a relationship, it’s nice to read a character like that as well.
Phew, that was a long post! Thank you all for reading and sticking to the end! Have you read the Legends of King Arthur, or a retelling of it? Who is your favorite character, and why? Does this post make you want to read the legends? Let me know in the comments below!
And as promised, here are a few of my notable mentions who didn’t make the top five!
#5: Sir Eric
#4: Sir Uwain
#3: Sir Bors
#2: Sir Percival
#1: Sir Gaheris of Orkney
If you’d like me to do a future post on these knights, please let me know in the comments below! Thanks for reading, and God bless! ~ C.G