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Lamorak

The Slaying of Sir Lamorak

In the Arthurian legends, King Arthur was said to have many knights. Some of these are exceptionally famous, such as Lancelot, Percival, and Gawain. But Arthur also had plenty of lesser-known knights. Let’s take a look at the available information about one of these somewhat more obscure knights: Sir Lamorak.

Family

Lamorak was the son of a king named Pellinore, who was, himself, also one of Arthur’s knights. Lamorak was the brother of the much more famous Percival, the knight who famously searched for the Holy Grail. Another one of Lamorak’s brothers was Aglovale, who also served as one of Arthur’s knights. In fact, he was the eldest of Pellinore’s legitimate children. Sir Tor was another of Lamorak’s brothers, although the earliest records actually portray him as the son of a man named Aries. It is only in later tales that Tor is made the son of Pellinore. Dornar is another of Lamorak’s brothers, and he seems to be the most insignificant in the tales. Finally, Lamorak was also said to have had a sister named Dindrane.

Where did this family live? Well, Lamorak’s father, Pellinore, was said to have been the king of a kingdom called ‘Listenoise’. This territory has proved somewhat difficult to pin down, since there is no known early-Dark Age kingdom with this name. His kingdom is also known as the kingdom of ‘the Isles’, which was the name of a kingdom in the Middle Ages which ruled over many of the isles around the coast of Scotland, such as the Hebrides. However, this kingdom did not emerge until the ninth century, so it cannot be the same as the kingdom that Lamorak’s family was from.

In some places, Pellinore is explicitly placed in Northumberland, the region immediately north of the Humber. Some researchers, broadly in line with this, place Pellinore’s kingdom of Listenoise or ‘the Isles’ in the Lake District. This does seem to be the most likely solution, or at least a region in that general area.

This being the case, we can see that Lamorak was a northern prince, from a dynasty in northern England (possibly extending into southern Scotland). This is an immensely important fact to establish when it comes to determining what historical figure, if any, lies behind the legend of Sir Lamorak.

Career

There is not a great deal of information about Lamorak’s youth and how he came to be one of King Arthur’s knights. What is known is that he was said to have excelled at jousting from an early age. Once he became a knight, Sir Lamorak greatly distinguished himself. He was said to have defeated as many as 30 other knights at once. This determined his position as the third greatest of Arthur’s knights, behind Tristan (who defeated 40) and Lancelot (who defeated 50). In fact, he performed this feat on multiple occasions, such as at the wedding feast of Sir Gareth and also in the domain of King Mark.

This latter occasion is related to a larger account involving Lamorak and Tristan. After defeating this impressive number of knights in King Mark’s territory, that king then incited Tristan to engage Lamorak in a duel, given that he was now tired out. Tristan agreed, though not eagerly, and he came off victorious in the duel.

The two knights, Tristan and Lamorak, parted ways after that, with Tristan maintaining his composure but Lamorak having been left irate. However, the latter then encountered a messenger on their way to Arthur’s court, bearing a magical drinking horn which could identify infidelity. Lamorak redirected this to the court of King Mark, almost exposing the affair between Tristan and La Beale Isoud, leaving Tristan infuriated.

Later, these two knights were shipwrecked together on the Isle of Servage, where they reconciled to a degree by plotting to kill a mutual enemy, Nabon the Black, a giant who ruled the island. However, sometime after this period of working together, Lamorak and Tristan fell out of each other’s favour again and, upon Tristan being shipwrecked in North Wales, the two fought at length. They did, however, eventually make peace.

Lamorak made a number of additional enemies during his career. One such enemy was Sir Meliagrant. Lamorak engaged in a battle with this knight due to an argument over whether or not Morgawse (Arthur’s sister, the wife of Lot) was more beautiful than Guinevere.

Another incident that took place was Lamorak’s defence of Sir Frol of the Out Isles, who was being attacked by multiple knights at once. Lamorak defeated these knights, saving Sir Frol, but yet the two left on bitter terms when Lamorak refused to reveal his name. Later, Lamorak came across a quarrel between Frol and Gawain. The latter had abducted the wife of the former, thus sparking a battle between the two. Frol came off victorious over Gawain, but then Lamorak came to Gawain’s defence for the sake of the Round Table. Unwittingly, Lamorak ended up killing Frol in the ensuing duel.

After this, Frol’s brother Belliance attempted to avenge the killing. The two men fought in a duel. Lamorak won, but he refrained from killing his opponent, earning the friendship of Belliance.

Downfall

It was mentioned earlier that Lamorak fought a battle with Meliagrant over the question of whether or not Morgawse was more beautiful than Guinevere. The reason that Lamorak was so impassioned regarding this topic is that he was actually in love with Morgawse. However, this put him in a very dangerous position, for he was the son of Pellinore, the man who had killed Morgawse’s previous husband, Lot. This naturally caused a lot of tension between the two families, exacerbated by the fact that Lot’s sons, Gawain and Gaheris, later killed their father’s murderer, Pellinore.

It is understandable why Gawain and Gaheris would object to their mother being with the son of their father’s killer. So when, one day, they discovered their mother Morgawse in the arms of Lamorak, they beheaded their own mother, though Lamorak was able to escape.

He later participated in a tournament held by Duke Galeholt, where he performed many great feats. On this occasion, he spoke to Arthur regarding the sons of Lot and the strife that he was facing. Arthur promised to protect his knight from these sons of Lot and asked him to remain with him, but Lamorak decided to go his own way.

Later, tragically, Gawain, Gaheris and their other brothers (including the infamous Mordred) caught up with him and violently killed him. They were said to have fought him for several hours from all sides, before he was finally stabbed in the back by Mordred.

Historicity

The historicity of Lamorak is not nearly as clear as it is in the case of certain other knights, such as Urien or Owain. However, there is a particular historical figure who is sometimes suggested as the most likely origin for the character: Llywarch Hen. He is best known as a bard and poet, but it is important to note that he was the son of a king and was a ruler in his own right. He was from a dynasty that ruled part of the north of Britain, just like Lamorak.

In fact, the connection between their families is more specific than this. One of Lamorak’s brothers was Percival, as mentioned before. This character is widely accepted as being derived from the historical figure known as Peredur, a prince of the north of Britain. This historical Peredur was the son of a king named Elidir (also spelled ‘Elidyr’ or even ‘Eliffer’). Llywarch Hen, meanwhile, was the son of a king with a virtually identical name, often spelt ‘Elidur’ or ‘Elidyr’. This was not the same king as Peredur’s father (at least, according to the surviving records), but they were active at the same time and in the same general region. It would not at all be surprising for some writers to confuse the two Elidyrs and thereby make Llywarch and Peredur into brothers.

Given this very easy source of confusion, and the fact that Llywarch’s name is clearly similar to Lamorak’s name, it is very tempting to conclude that Llywarch was the historical origin behind this legendary figure of the Arthurian romances.

Supporting this identification is the fact that certain records, such as the Welsh Triads, claim that Llywarch was one of Arthur’s allies. In fact, he is referred to as one of the three ‘unrestricted guests’ of Arthur’s court, which surely suggests that a very high level of favour was bestowed on Llywarch by Arthur, supporting Lamorak’s great prestige as one of Arthur’s best knights in the romance tales. In addition, he is named as one of Arthur’s three ‘Counsellor Knights’ due to the valuable advice he would regularly give the king.

Some would argue that the Welsh Triads are late sources and are therefore unreliable. Whether that is so or not, they record what people believed about these individuals, and that is the main issue here. It does not particularly matter if Llywarch was actually one of Arthur’s allies – if the character of Lamorak was based on Llywarch, then if people believed that Llywarch was one of Arthur’s allies, we would logically expect Lamorak to have been described as one of the king’s allies.

Therefore, the fact that the information about Llywarch from the available sources is broadly in agreement with the details about Sir Lamorak supports the conclusion that the romance character of Lamorak was, in fact, derived from the historical prince and bard, Llywarch Hen.

However, the question of whether or not there was actually a historical alliance between Llywarch and Arthur is something that deserves an answer. The very earliest description of Arthur’s activities, the Historia Brittonum, claims that Arthur led the kings of the Britons into battle against the Saxons. So evidently he did have many allied kings, with he himself as their leader. Therefore, the concept presented in the Welsh Triads and the romance tales of Arthur having many kings in his service (or ‘knights’, as they are termed in the romance tales) is a perfectly plausible one. In fact, if the Historia Brittonum is accurate regarding this point, then this concept is not just plausible, but is definitely correct – we just don’t know which particular kings were Arthur’s allies.

It has been mentioned in other articles that several of Arthur’s most famous allies, such as Urien and Owain, cannot possibly have been historical contemporaries of Arthur if he really lived as early as commonly claimed. This also applies to Arthur’s enemy Cheldric, if his identification as Cerdic of Wessex is accepted. This exact same problem applies to Lamorak, or Llywarch (and regardless of whether Lamorak really was derived from Llywarch, we have already mentioned that he was the brother of Percival, who definitely was derived from a historical prince who lived in the mid to late sixth century, thereby definitely placing Lamorak in the mid to late sixth century as well).

So, we are left to conclude that either all of these allies are anachronistically connected to Arthur, or Arthur actually lived several decades later than commonly believed. If the latter is correct, then Llywarch could well have been one of Arthur’s allies. Many of Arthur’s alleged associates were members of the dynasties of the north of Britain, so it would be perfectly consistent for Llywarch to likewise have been an ally of Arthur.

Final Thoughts

In summary, Lamorak was one of Arthur’s best knights, although he is not, today, an especially famous one. He engaged in numerous battles and duels and regularly came off victorious. However, he did have his troubles. He went through a tumultuous relationship with Tristan, although eventually they became good friends. He also brought upon himself the wrath of Belliance, by accidentally killing that man’s brother. However, just as with Tristan, Lamorak eventually gained Belliance’s favour and became good friends with him.

Unfortunately, it was Lamorak’s love for Morgawse, the woman whose husband his father had killed years previously, that brought about not only his downfall but also that of Morgawse herself. Despite being one of Arthur’s best knights, he left that king’s mighty court and became a wanderer. However, not long afterwards, the sons of his former lover caught up with him and violently slew him.

We have also seen that Lamorak was quite likely based on the well-known historical figure known as Llywarch Hen, a prince and bard of the north of Britain. However, any genuine historical connection between Llywarch and Arthur is impossible according to the commonly accepted dates for Arthur. Alternatively, if Arthur actually lived several decades later than commonly believed, then Llywarch’s connection with Arthur becomes quite plausible.