Two mounted knights in armour
Lancelot and Galehaut on their way to Sorelois, Galehaut’s kingdom

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Galehaut, Lord of the Distant Isles,[a]Also known as Galahalt, Galahos, Galaholt, Galehot, Galyot and Galiot, among others.[1] is perhaps the most overlooked of King Arthur’s Knights of the Round Table. He makes his appearance in the series of anonymous 13th-century French romances known as the Lancelot-Grail, or the Vulgate Cycle , believed to have been written by Cistercian monks between 1215 and 1235, in which he is portrayed as a rival to Queen Guinevere for the love of Sir Lancelot. In later accounts of the legend of King Arthur, and in particular Thomas Malory’s influential Le Morte d’Arthur (1485), Galehaut’s role in the adulterous and ultimately fatal affair between Lancelot and Guinevere is completely omitted, despite the book being based on the Vulgate Cycle.[2] Galehaut, whom Malory calls Sir Galahalt, the “haut prince”, appears only briefly in this version of the legend.

The medievalist Samuel N. Rosenberg has called Galehaut “the first truly tragic figure in French literature”.[3]

Story


The giant Brunor, Galehaut’s father, according to local custom sends him from his home in the Castle of Tears on the Giant’s Isle to establish his own kingdom. Galehaut proves himself to be an able warrior, and following many victories seizes the land of Sorelois – sometimes called Surluse[4] – after killing its ruler, King Gloeir.[b]Despite having killed her father, Galehaut took King Gloeir’s orphaned daughter under his protection.[1]

Almost ten years after the establishment of King Arthur’s Knights of the Round Table, Galehaut  decides to lay claim to the land of Selice, which is under Arthur’s protection. He sends an emissary to Arthur’s court demanding that Arthur acknowledges him as his overlord. When Arthur refuses, the emissary promises that Galehaut will arrive within the month, and will only leave when “he has taken from you all that you possess, including your peerless queen [Guinevere]”. [5]

Battles with King Arthur

Arthur gathers an army of a thousand men and sends them to confront Galehaut in battle. Galehaut’s forces were far superior in number to Arthur’s, and on the second day of the battle they are facing defeat until a mysterious Red Knight joins King Arthur’s men. On the third day Galehaut sends a message to Arthur saying that there would be no honour in defeating such a weak force as Arthur’s, so he offers him a truce of one year in which to assemble an army appropriate for such a great king, after which time he will return and take Arthur’s kingdom by force.

By the end of the truce Arthur has assembled an army of two thousand men, facing three thousand of Galehaut’s men. Arthur’s army once again teeters on the brink of defeat, but this time a mysterious Black Knight comes to his aid. The arrival of dusk brings an end to fighting for the day, and the Black Knight slips away. But so impressed has Galehaut been by the knight’s feats on the battlefield that he rides after him and offers him hospitality for the night. Galehaut swears that once his guest, the knight can ask anything of him and it will be granted.

The Black Knight reveals himself to be Sir Lancelot, and agrees to accept Galehaut’s offer of hospitality. Arthur’s army, having witnessed the pair riding off together, prepare themselves for their inevitable defeat the following morning without the help of the Black Knight. Meanwhile, after a sumptuous feast at Galehaut’s camp Lancelot is shown to the chamber where he is to spend the night. Once he is asleep, Galehaut creeps in and lies down beside him, rising from the bed at dawn before he awakes.

Guinevere

Lancelot reminds Galehaut of the promise he made, and asks that once he has won the battle with King Arthur he will surrender to him and subject himself to the King’s mercy. For the love he has for Lancelot, Galehaut agrees, and is welcomed into Arthur’s court. Guinevere, knowing that the Black Knight is lodging with Galehaut, asks him to bring the knight to her. Galehaut engineers a meeting between Guinevere and the Black Knight, whom she learns is Lancelot, and who declares his love for her, which he has believed she returned as when they last parted Guinevere had called him “dear friend”. Emphasising to the queen how much she owed to Lancelot, and the depth of his feeling for her, Galehaut tells her that she should “Grant him your love; be loyal to him for all the years of your life.” After some reflection Guinevere replies “I solemnly promise that my love will be entirely his, as his is entirely mine”, which she and Lancelot seal with a kiss.

Knights of the Round Table

Galehaut and Lancelot become firm companions and have many adventures together. When Arthur decides to invite Lancelot to become a Knight of the Round Table Galehaut, afraid that he will lose him, reveals that “You [Lancelot] are all the world to me, and you know that I am yours”.[6] He asks Arthur to make him a Knight of the Round Table as well, so that the two can continue to be together.

When they return to Galehaut’s kingdom of Sorelois he finds that his castles are crumbling, and he is troubled by a recurring dream. He summons a soothsayer, who tells him that Lancelot is going to be the cause of his death.

Some years later Lancelot is captured while out hunting, and is taken to the home of King Arthur’s sister, the sorceress Morgan the Fay after having been rescued by some of her men. After a fruitless search for him, Galehaut becomes ill and depressed, and believing that Lancelot must be dead he dies of a broken heart. When Lancelot himself dies later in the story he is buried in Galehault’s tomb.

Homoerotic aspects

It was not uncommon in antiquity for warrior lovers to be buried together, as in the examples of Achilles and Patroclus, or the two medieval knights Amis and Amille; Scandinavian warrior lovers had been buried together since around 2000 BC. In the opinion of the writer and researcher James Neil, the clear intention of the authors of the Vulgate was to indicate a sexual relationship between Galehaut and Lancelot. While Lancelot is clearly portrayed as bisexual, the depiction of Galehaut has a “distinctly homosexual orientation”,  “one of the great homoerotic portraits of Medieval literature”.[7]

Homophobia seems to have spread across Europe during the 14th and 15th centuries, which may go some way to explaining why the relationship between Galehaut and Lancelot has been omitted from later versions of the legend.[7]

Citations



Bibliography


Bryan, E. (1999). Introduction. In Le Morte d’Arthur (Modern Library Edition, pp. vii–xiv). Random House.
Neill, J. (2011). The Origins and Role of Same-Sex Relations in Human Societies. McFarland.
Rosenberg, S. N. (n.d.). The Story of Lancelot and Galehaut. Retrieved from http://www.lancelot-and-galehaut.com/story-of-lancelot-and-galehaut.html
Rosenberg, S. N., & Jaidinger, J. (2007). Lancelot and the Lord of the Distant Isles: Or, The Book of Galehaut Retold (ebook). David R. Godine.
Staff writer. (2013). Galehaut. In C. W. Bruce (Ed.), The Arthurian Name Dictionary (pp. 200–201). Routledge.
Staff writer. (2009). Galehaut (Galehault) of Surluse and the Long Isles. In D. Birch (Ed.), The Oxford Companion to English Literature (online). Retrieved from http://www.oxfordreference.com/view/10.1093/acref/9780192806871.001.0001/acref-9780192806871-e-2977

Notes

   [ + ]

a. Also known as Galahalt, Galahos, Galaholt, Galehot, Galyot and Galiot, among others.[1]
b. Despite having killed her father, Galehaut took King Gloeir’s orphaned daughter under his protection.[1]