Elaine of Corbenic
Elaine of Corbenic (also known as Amite, Heliaebel, Helaine, Perevida or Helizabel; identified as "The Grail Maiden" or "Grail Bearer"), is a character in the Arthurian legend. Elaine is the daughter of King Pelles of Corbenic and the mother of Galahad by Lancelot. She first appears in the Prose Lancelot (the Vulgate Cycle), where her first significant action is showing the Holy Grail to Sir Lancelot. She should not be confused with Elaine of Astolat, a different woman who too fell in love with Lancelot.
|Elaine of Corbenic|
|Matter of Britain character|
"How at the Castle of Corbin a maiden bare in the Sangreal and foretold the achievements of Galahad" by Arthur Rackham (1917)
|First appearance||Vulgate Cycle|
In the version of the legend as told by Thomas Malory in Le Morte d'Arthur (based on the French Post-Vulgate Cycle), Elaine's father, King Pelles of Corbenic, knew that the near-perfect knight Lancelot would have a son with Elaine, and that that child would be Galahad, "the most noblest [sic] knight in the world". Moreover, King Pelles claims that Galahad will lead a "foreign country...out of danger" and "achieve...the Holy Grail". The source of King Pelles' knowledge is undisclosed.
She is described as "passing fair and young". The sorceress Morgan le Fay is jealous of Elaine's beauty, and magically traps her in a boiling bath. After Sir Lancelot rescues her, Elaine falls in love with him, only to find he is already in love with Queen Guinevere and would not knowingly sleep with another woman. In order to seduce Lancelot, Elaine goes to the sorceress Dame Brusen for help. Dame Brusen gives Lancelot wine and Elaine a ring of Guinevere's in order to trick Lancelot into thinking Elaine is Guinevere. The next morning, Lancelot is most displeased to discover that the woman he slept with was not Guinevere. He draws his sword and threatens to kill Elaine, but she tells him that she is pregnant with Galahad and he agrees not to kill her, but instead kisses her. Lancelot departs, and Elaine remains in her father's castle and gives birth to Galahad.
Thereafter, there is a feast at King Arthur's court, and Elaine goes to it. Lancelot ignores her when he sees her, and she is sad because she loves him. She complains of this to Dame Brusen, and Dame Brusen tells her that she will "undertake that this night he [Lancelot] shall lie with [her]". That night, Dame Brusen brings Lancelot to Elaine, pretending that it is Guinevere that summons him. He goes along, and once again sleeps with Elaine. At the same time, however, Guinevere herself actually summons Lancelot, and is enraged to discover that he is not in his bedchamber. She hears him talking in his sleep, and finds him in bed with Elaine. She is furious with him and tells him she never wants to see him again. Lancelot goes mad with grief and, naked, jumps out a window and runs away.
Elaine confronts Guinevere as to her treatment of Lancelot. She accuses Guinevere of causing Lancelot’s madness and tells her that she is being unnecessarily cruel. After this, she leaves court. Time passes in the story, and Elaine next appears when she finds Lancelot insane in her garden. She brings him to the Holy Grail, which cures him. When he regains his mental facilities, he decides to live with Elaine, and they live together for several years as man and wife.
Elaine of Carbonic (or Corbenek, Corbin, etc.) is often passed over in favor of Elaine of Astolat. Like the more famous Elaine, Elaine of Carbonic is in love with Lancelot. Yet unlike Astolat, she is successful in both bedding and marrying Lancelot. Despite this, she has been overlooked by most literary analysts. One theory for why she has been so ignored is because of the moral ambiguities of her actions. She does not fit into a neat category of female characters; she is neither good nor evil, but something in between. Roger Sherman Loomis's work The Grail: From Celtic Symbol to Christian Myth draws a connection between the concept of the feminine "Grail-bearer" and the sovereignty goddess of Ireland, Ériu, who grants the chalice to only the worthy.
In modern stories
Elaine appears in the 1939 novel The Once and Future King, by T.H. White. Although the basic character does not change, there are several key differences. Time is more definitely specified in this version; for instance, when Elaine finds Lancelot in the garden, Galahad is three years old. Additionally, Elaine and Lancelot live together as husband and wife for ten years and actively raise Galahad while Lancelot bears a pseudonym to hide from the court at Camelot. Another key difference between White and Malory is that in White, Lancelot is cured of his insanity by seeing Elaine, but becomes physically sick and is nursed back to health by Elaine. White also chronicles Elaine's final fate, having her commit suicide when it becomes clear that Lancelot will never truly love her or end his obsession with Guinevere. This creates a parallel with the character of Elaine of Astolat, who is also referenced in the novel.
A more contemporary novel is Elaine of Corbenic by Tima Z. Newman. Based on Malory's account of the three brief encounters of Launcelot and Elaine in Le Morte d’Arthur, it chronicles Elaine’s journey through abandonment to the finding of inner strength and deepening wisdom.
Elaine also appears as a character in The Mists of Avalon by Marion Zimmer Bradley. In this version, she tricks Lancelot with the help of Morgaine into sleeping with her by making him believe she was Gwenhwyfar. Her father finds out and forces Lancelot to marry her to keep her honor. She and Lancelot, in addition to their son Galahad, have two daughters by the names of Gwenhwyfar and Nimue, who later becomes a priestess of Avalon and is used to trick the Merlin into coming with her to the isle to receive punishment for perceived crimes against the Goddess and later drowns herself. Unlike the Elaines in earlier stories, she dies of natural causes later in the book.
- Arthurian Women. www.timelessmyths.com. Jimmy Joe, 1999.
- Malory, p. 288.
- Malory, p. 283.
- Malory, pp. 283–84.
- Malory, p. 285.
- Malory, p. 286.
- Malory, p. 287.
- Malory, p. 297.
- Malory, p. 299.
- Sklar, Elizabeth S. "Malory’s Other(ed) Elaine". On Arthurian Women: Essays in Memory of Maureen Fries. Bonnie Wheeler and Fiona Tolhurst. Dallas: Scriptorium Press, 2001. pp. 59–70.
- White, Terence Hanbury. The Once and Future King. New York: G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 1958.
- Newman, Tima Z. Elaine of Corbenic. Honolulu: Savant Books, 2015.
- Batt, Catherine. Malory’s Morte Darthur: Remaking Arthurian Tradition. New York: Palgrave, 2002. Print. (A monograph comparing the relationship between Lancelot and Elaine in Malory with the French text that he based Morte Darthur on, specifically concerning the circumstances of her rape of Lancelot.)
- Malory, Sir Thomas. Le Morte Darthur: The Winchester Manuscript. Ed. Helen Cooper. New York: Oxford University Press Inc., 1998. Print. (Chronicles Elaine’s seduction of Lancelot, the birth of Galahad, and Lancelot’s descent into madness.)
- McCarthy, Terence. Reading the Morte Darthur. Cambridge: D. S. Brewer, 1988. Print. (An edited collection comparing the circumstances of Galahad’s birth to the trickery involved in Arthur’s conception.)
- Rackham, Arthur. How at( the Castle of Corbin a maiden bare in the Sangreal and foretold the achievements of Galahad. 1917. Colored plate used in The Romance of King Arthur and His Knights of the Round Table by Alfred W. Pollard. 7 November 2009. A depiction of Elaine carrying the grail through the halls of King Pelles’ palace.)
- Scala, Elizabeth. “Disarming Lancelot.” Studies in Theology Autumn 2002: 380–403. Magazine. (An article concerning Elaine’s power over Lancelot in regards to her seduction.)
- Sklar, Elizabeth S.. “Malory’s Other(ed) Elaine.” On Arthurian Women: Essays in Memory of Maureen Fries. Bonnie Wheeler and Fiona Tolhurst. Dallas: Scriptorium Press, 2001. 59–70. Print. (An analysis of Elaine of Carbonek’s dismissal from scholarly works because of her complex role in Arthurian literature.)
- White, Terence Hanbury. The Once and Future King. New York: G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 1958. Print. (A monograph including modern depiction of Lancelot and Elaine’s relationship.)
- Suard, François. “The Narration of Youthful Exploits in the Prose Lancelot.” Trans. Arthur F. Crispin. The Lancelot-Grail Cycle: Texts and Transformations. Austin: University of Texas Press, 1994. 67–84. Print. (A description of Galahad’s conception and birth.)
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Elaine of Corbenic.|
- “Arthurian Women.” Jimmy Joe, 1999. Web. 24 June 2006. An encyclopedia article covering her name, beauty, and genealogy.
- “Houses of the Grail Keeper and the Grail Hero.” Jimmy Joe, 1999. Web. 24 June 2006. – An article tracing Elaine of Carbonek’s lineage back to Joseph of Arimathea.
- University of Idaho, 1997. Web. 04/1999. “The Elaines.” – An article detailing the unification of holy bloodlines that occurred when Elaine coerced Lancelot into having sex with her and the subsequent conception of Galahad.