In the Arthurian legends, King Arthur famously had his courageous Knights of the Round Table. One of the most famous of these knights was Sir Bedivere. He is one of the most enduring of King Arthur’s legendary companions, having been associated with him from a very early period.
In this article, we will learn about:
- The earliest source that mentions him
- Who he was
- Where he came from
- How he helped Arthur
WHO WAS SIR BEDIVERE?
Sir Bedivere was one of the Knights of the Round Table, the association of warriors loyal to the legendary King Arthur. Bedivere was one of Arthur’s most loyal and trusted knights and seems to have been by the king’s side for almost his entire life.
As Arthur’s close companion, he was said to have been the king’s butler in Geoffrey of Monmouth’s Historia Regum Britanniae (1137). This does not mean that he was not a warrior, since he is definitely shown to have led battles in that same source. Nonetheless, it shows that Bedivere had a close connection to the king.
Some of his most notable exploits include helping his king defeat the giant of Mont Saint-Michel and throwing his sword, Excalibur, into the lake it came from after Arthur had been mortally wounded.
The most famous version of this knight’s name is ‘Bedivere’. However, in the earliest account in which he appears (which is written in Welsh), his name is ‘Bedwyr’.
The usual form of his name in Latin was ‘Beduerus’, which is a straightforward latinisation of the Welsh name. This is the name that Geoffrey of Monmouth used.
With further retellings of the legend, this Latin form ‘Beduerus’ was adapted into English as the ‘Bedivere’ that we know today.
In French, however, his name was written as ‘Bédoier’.
The Welsh texts also provide Bedivere with an epithet. His full name was said to be ‘Bedwyr Bedrydant’, which means ‘Bedwyr of the Perfect Sinews’.
One of Bedivere’s main attributes was that he was loyal to his king. He never turned against Arthur or betrayed him in any way, at least according to the vast majority of versions of the legends.
Another notable attribute is indicated by the epithet that the Welsh texts provide him with: Bedrydant. As we have seen, this means ‘of the Perfect Sinews’, which presumably means that Bedivere was a very muscular warrior.
This would tie in well with the fact that he was shown to be a powerful warrior who successfully led Arthur’s men into battle on a number of occasions.
The Welsh texts provide another epithet for Bedivere which confirms this even further. It is an epithet translated as ‘Battle-Diademed’. Clearly then, he was proficient in battle.
An attribute which appears in some early texts but which is usually ignored in the legends is the fact that Bedivere was originally said to have had just one hand.
One more attribute that the Welsh texts provide is the fact that Bedivere was said to have been one of the handsomest man in the island of Britain, third only to Arthur and Drych son of Cibddar.
Bedivere’s family is not extensively described in the legends. The key detail about him that the Welsh texts provide is that he was the son of a man named Pedrod (also spelled Bedrod, Pedrawd, and other variations).
Since Bedivere seems to have been associated with south east Wales, and since many of Arthur’s companions and knights can be identified as members of historical dynasties, a plausible suggestion has been made regarding the identity of this Pedrod.
It has been suggested that he can be identified with an obscure figure known as Pedrog son of Glywys, the latter being a king of part of south east Wales a generation or two before Bedivere’s time. Although this cannot be confirmed, it is an interesting possibility.
In the later Arthurian romance tales, it is said that Bedivere was named after his great-grandfather, the founder of the city of Bayeux in Normandy, France.
In Welsh tradition, Bedivere is also recorded as having two children, Amhren and Eneuawg, both of whom appear as members of Arthur’s court.
THE LEGEND OF BEDIVERE
The following are some of the most common stories involving Sir Bedievere.
EARLY COMPANION OF ARTHUR
Perhaps the earliest event in Bedivere’s life which appears in the Arthurian legends is recorded in the Life of St Cadoc, written in the 11th century. Near the beginning of this record, the text recounts the events leading up to Cadoc’s birth.
The soon-to-be-mother of Cadoc is a woman named Gwladys. Arthur is captivated by her beauty. Bedivere is one of his companions during this event.
Since Arthur appears as high king much later in this same record, it is evident that Arthur must have been young at the time of Cadoc’s birth. This shows that Bedivere was, according to the available information, a companion of Arthur from very early in his career.
CULHWCH AND OLWEN
The early Welsh tale Culhwch and Olwen provides the most detailed Welsh story about Bedivere’s activities. In this story, Arthur attempts to help his cousin, Culhwch, complete a series of difficult tasks so that he can marry his beloved, a woman named Olwen.
The tasks are set by the father of Olwen, a giant named Ysbaddaden. At first, he completely refuses to allow Culhwch to marry his daughter, but he relents and sets him the tasks after being severely wounded by Bedivere with a poisoned spear.
Bedivere is one of the three warriors (along with Cai and a man named Goreu son of Custennin) who manage to kill Wrnach the Giant.
He also saves Mabon son of Modron from his prison and manages to take the hairs of Dillus the Bearded. Furthermore, he accompanies Arthur on his raid on Ireland, where he captures and retrieves a magical cauldron.
In addition to all of this, Bedivere helps Arthur on his dramatic hunt of the boar Twrch Trwyth.
THE BATTLE OF TRYFRWYD
Possibly the very earliest Welsh text that provides any information about the exploits of Arthur and his men is Pa Gur, written probably in the 10th century.
This poem references the Battle of Tryfrwyd, which is one of Arthur’s twelve battles listed in the Historia Brittonum. In this poem, it mentions that hundreds fell by the sword of ‘Bedwyr’ (Bedivere) at this battle.
Nothing more is known, but this does show that Bedivere was believed to have accompanied Arthur on at least one of his twelve battles.
ARTHUR’S EUROPEAN CONQUESTS
In Geoffrey’s Historia Regum Britanniae, Bedivere is one of the leaders of Arthur’s men during his European conquests.
After having subdued Scandinavia and Gaul, Arthur is said to have given Bedivere ownership of the large region of Neustria.
Years later, Arthur returns to Gaul to fight against the Romans, who have demanded tribute from him. When he arrives, he first has to deal with a giant living on Mont Saint-Michel. Bedivere helps him and Cai (that is, Sir Kay) kill the giant.
After this, Arthur has his climactic war against the Romans at Siesia. Bedivere leads a division of Arthur’s men. He encounters a king named Boccus, leader of the Medes (for the Romans had formed a coalition of nations to fight against Arthur).
During this clash, Bedivere is stabbed by a spear and dies. This is described as a great loss to the Britons. Afterwards, he is buried at Bayeux, the city founded by his great-grandfather.
RETURNING EXCALIBUR TO THE LAKE
In later versions of the tale, Bedivere does not die during this European campaign. In fact, the European campaign as a whole may be taken from some other event (such as Magnus Maximus’ usurpation in the fourth century), which would mean that the tradition of Bedivere dying during that event cannot be accurate anyway.
Most famously, in Sir Thomas Malory’s Le Morte d’Arthur, Bedivere is by Arthur’s side after he is mortally wounded at the Battle of Camlann.
Arthur asks Bedivere to throw his sword, Excalibur, into the nearby lake. Although Bedivere claims to have done this, he secretly keeps the sword, considering it too valuable to just discard.
The wounded king asks him what he saw, and when Bedivere reports nothing notable, Arthur knows that he is lying and asks him again to cast the sword.
Again, he only pretends to do it. But the third time, Bedivere finally does return the sword to the lake. The hand of the Lady of the Lake miraculously rises up from the water and catches it.
After Arthur is taken to the Isle of Avalon, Bedivere retires to a hermitage in the vicinity where Arthur ends up being buried.
SOURCES FOR BEDIVERE
The earliest source that mentions Bedivere in any meaningful way is the 10th-century poem Pa Gur, which mentions his prowess at the Battle of Tryfrwyd.
He also has a minor appearance in the 11th-century record The Life of St Cadoc, which presents him as a companion of a young Arthur.
The 11th-century Welsh tale Culhwch and Olwen presents a detailed account of some of Bedivere’s exploits as Arthur’s loyal warrior.
Geoffrey of Monmouth’s Historia Regum Britanniae, written in c. 1137, presents the account of Bedivere fighting the giant of Mont Saint-Michel and his supposed death against the Romans.
The 15th-century Le Morte d’Arthur, written by Thomas Malory, provides the famous account of Bedivere throwing Excalibur into the lake.
BEDIVERE IN MODERN MEDIA
Bedivere has appeared in a variety of Arthurian media, such as:
- Grailblazers: This 1994 fantasy novel by Tom Holt about the search for the Holy Grail in modern times presents Bedivere as the main character.
- The Warlord Chronicles: These Arthurian stories, published between 1995 and 1997 by Bernard Cornwell, feature Bedivere only in a minor way, with most of his exploits being taken by another character.
- Here Lies Arthur: This 2007 novel by Philip Reeve features Bedivere in the unusual role of traitor to Arthur, taking the place of Lancelot.
- Merlin: This 2008-2012 BBC series gives Bedivere only a minor role, with him appearing in just one episode.
FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS ABOUT BEDIVERE
WHAT IS BEDIVERE FAMOUS FOR?
Bedivere is probably most famous for being the knight who threw Excalibur back into the lake when Arthur was dying. He almost didn’t do it, because he admired the sword so much and saw it as a waste to throw it away, but eventually he complied.
DID BEDIVERE BETRAY ARTHUR?
No, Bedivere is notable for being completely loyal to Arthur in most versions of the legend. He is one of the few knights that is almost never considered disloyal at any point in the history of Arthurian literature.
WHAT HAPPENED TO BEDIVERE?
After Arthur’s death, Bedivere became a monk at a hermitage in the vicinity of Arthur’s burial, where he remained for the rest of his life.
WHAT KIND OF PERSON WAS BEDIVERE?
Bedivere was loyal, brave, handsome, strong, and fearsome in battle.
- Norris Lacy, Geoffrey Ashe, Debra Mancoff – The Arthurian Handbook (Second Edition)
- Alan Lupack – The Oxford Guide to Arthurian Literature and Legend
- Ronan Coghlan – The Illustrated Encyclopaedia of Arthurian Legends
- Anonymous – Lancelot-Grail, the French Vulgate
- Sir Thomas Malory – Le Morte d’Arthur
See also my ever-expanding list of primary and secondary sources.