Galahad: Wikis


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Sir Galahad as conceived by George Frederick Watts.

Sir Galahad (pronounced /ˈɡæləˌhæd/; Welsh: Gwalchavad), sometimes referred to as Galeas (/ɡəˈliːəs/) or Galath (/ˈɡæləθ/), is a knight of King Arthur's Round Table and one of the three achievers of the Holy Grail in Arthurian legend. He is the illegitimate son of Lancelot and Elaine of Corbenic, and is renowned for his gallantry and purity. He is perhaps the knightly embodiment of Jesus in the Arthurian legends. He first appears in the Lancelot-Grail cycle, and his story is taken up in later works such as the Post-Vulgate Cycle and Sir Thomas Malory's Le Morte d'Arthur.



Galahad's conception comes about when Elaine, daughter of the Grail King Pelles, uses magic to trick Lancelot into thinking she is Guinevere. According to Malory, King Pelles knew that Lancelot would have a child with his daughter and that this child would become the greatest knight in the world and eventually find the Holy Grail. He also knew that Lancelot would only lie with his one true love Queen Guinevere. He seeks out “one of the greatest enchantresses of the time,” Dame Brusen, and she gives Pelles a magic ring that will make Lancelot think Elaine is Guinevere. Lancelot and Elaine sleep together, but on discovering what has transpired, Lancelot at first tries to kill Elaine for her transgressions but when he finds out that they have conceived a son he is immediately forgiving; however he does not marry Elaine or even wish to be with her anymore and he returns to Arthur's court. Galahad is placed in the care of his great aunt, the abbess at a nunnery, and is raised there. A section in this text examines the work of Malory and how Galahad's conception is never directly mentioned. “…both occasions of sleeping with Elaine are glossed over in the sentence. And so by enchantment she won the love of Sir Lancelot, and certainly she loved him again passing well.” Galahad's conception happened because of pure deceit, this is the knight that was to be chosen to find the Holy Grail.

Waite states in his book that Galahad was indeed conceived for the divine purpose of seeking the Holy Grail. He examines the religious component of the Quest that includes Galahad. Galahad is exalted above the other knights; he was the one worthy enough to have been taken into heaven to Jesus and have the Holy Grail revealed to him. Waite claims that out of the three knights Perceval, Bors, and Galahad, Galahad is the greatest because he was “on the authority of the High Quest.” Galahad’s birth was predicted beforehand; Merlin told Uther Pendragon there was one who would fill the spot at the “table of Joseph” but that he was not yet born. At first it was believed to have been Perceval; however it was later discovered to be Galahad instead. Galahad's conception is similar to those of Arthur and Merlin, conceived under false pretences.

The poem by Thomas de Beverly chronicles the life of Galahad from the moment that his conception was planned to the moment when he was chosen as one of knights who would embark on the Quest for the Holy Grail. The poem begins with Lancelot attending a banquet given by King Pellas, the father of Elaine. The king there decides that he wants Lancelot for his daughter. De Beverly says that “High God was urging him to this”; he claims that God was behind the idea of Lancelot and Elaine because he knew that from them Galahad would be born. Galahad would be

“…the best of Arthour's Knights, Who should achieve the quest of the Sangrael Which only they shall see whose lives are pure. No bravery is such a virtue as the Graele may gain.”

De Beverly makes a point of saying that Arthur and Lancelot could never achieve the honor because their lives had not remained pure. Out of the three untainted by sin (Perceval, Bors, and Galahad), Galahad was the one predestined to achieve the honor of attaining the Holy Grail.


Statue of Galahad, Ottawa, Ontario, Canada

Upon reaching adulthood, Galahad is reunited with his father Lancelot, who knights him even though Lancelot is not a king. He is then brought to King Arthur's court at Camelot during Pentecost. Galahad is accompanied by a very old knight, who immediately leads him over to the Round Table, and unveils his seat at the Siege Perilous. This place had been kept vacant for the sole person who would accomplish the quest of the Holy Grail; for anyone else sitting there, it would prove to be immediately fatal. Sir Galahad survives the event, witnessed by King Arthur and his knights. The king upon realizing the greatness of this new knight leads him out to the river where sword lay in a stone with an inscription reading “Never shall man take me hence but only he by whose side I ought to hang; and he shall be the best knight of the world.” Galahad accomplishes this with ease, and King Arthur swiftly proclaims him to be the greatest knight ever. He is promptly invited to join the Order of the Round Table, and after an ethereal vision of the Holy Grail, the quest to find the famous object is set.

In John Erskine's novel Galahad: Enough of his life to Explain his Reputation, Galahad’s main tutor for his knightly training is not his father Lancelot or King Arthur, but in fact Queen Guinevere. Erskine follows Malory’s text through Galahad’s childhood. Just like in Le Morte d'Arthur, Galahad grows up in the court of his mother Elaine and travels to King Arthur’s court to reunite with his father and become a knight. When Galahad arrives to the court Guinevere, who is upset with Lancelot because he does not want to be her lover anymore, takes an interest in the young knight. She persuades him to go above and beyond regular knightly duties. At first Galahad seems content with just being a regular knight of the round table going out on quests and saving maidens in distress. Guinivere is the main contributor to Galahad’s destiny in this work. She says “you’ll waste your life if you don’t accomplish something new, something entirely your own.”[1] This is Galahad’s motivation to seek the grail. He is convinced that the only way to preserve his legacy and to fulfill his destiny is to do something amazing.

In Malory’s text, all of the Knights of the Round Table set out to find the grail. Galahad for the most part travels alone, smiting his enemies, rescuing Sir Perceval from twenty knights, and saving maidens in distress until he is finally reunited with Sir Bors and Sir Perceval. The three knights come across Sir Perceval’s sister who leads them to the grail ship. They cross the sea in this ship and when they arrive to the other side Perceval’s sister is forced to give up her life to save another and Sir Bors departs from the company to bring her back to her own country for a proper burial. Finally after many more adventures Galahad and Perceval find themselves at the court of King Pelles and Eliazar his son. These men were very holy and they bring Galahad into a room where he finally finds the Holy Grail. Galahad is asked to bring the vessel to the holy city of Sarras. On Galahad’s journey back to Arthur’s court he is visited by Joseph of Arimathea who brings his soul up to heaven. Sir Bors and Perceval witness the death of Galahad and then the Grail vanishes never to be seen again.

Despite, and perhaps because of, his sinless nature, Galahad as a character seems inhuman. He defeats rival knights apparently without effort, speaks little to his fellow knights, and leads his companions to the Grail with a relentless determination. So of the three who undertake the quest for the Grail (Bors, Perceval, and Galahad), Galahad is the one who actually achieves it. When he does, he is taken up into heaven like the biblical patriarch Enoch or the prophet Elijah, and Jesus Christ after he is risen from the dead, leaving his companions behind.

Galahad has been portrayed as "the most perfect knight" as declared by King Arthur. Galahad has been depicted with a dismal tone as can be seen in the work of Sir Thomas Malory's Le Morte d'Arthur and also within T.H. White's The Once and Future King. Within these works Galahad is portrayed as a conceited, cold and pious young man who shows little interest in the concerns of his fellow knights. In later portrayals, such as that in works of Mary MacGregor's Sir Galahad and the Sacred Cup and other such works as Sir Galahad, A Christmas Mystery by William Morris, Galahad's character is changed to portray a knight that feels contempt for those around him. He also starts to embody a code of chivalry and romance that was not previously given to him in early works. These changes can be attributed to a changing of society throughout the ages.

In Malory's Le Morte d'Arthur, Galahad's incredible prowess and fortune in the quest for the Holy Grail are traced back to his piety. According to the legend, only pure knights may achieve the Grail. While in a general sense, this "purity" refers to chastity, Galahad appears to have lived a sinless life, like Jesus Christ, and so as a result, lives and thinks on a level entirely apart from the other knights of the legend. This quality is reflected in Alfred, Lord Tennyson's poem Sir Galahad and its first four lines which state, "My good blade carves the casques of men,/My tough lance thrusteth sure,/My strength is as the strength of ten,/Because my heart is pure." Tennyson was saying that Galahad because he was pure and a virgin he was able to conquer all of his enemies. In the following stanza Tennyson continues to glorify Galahad for remaining pure at heart. The poem states, “I never felt the kiss of love, /Nor maiden's hand in mine./More bounteous aspects on me beam,/Me mightier transports move and thrill;/So keep I fair thro' faith and prayer/A virgin heart in work and will”. Tennyson here is alluding to the lonely life that Galahad lived. Although Tennyson glorifies chastity he admits that it is sad Galahad will never feel the love of a woman. Tennyson’s poem follows most of Galahad journey to find the quest but it ends before the task is actually accomplished as if to say the quest for the Holy Grail is an ongoing task. Unlike many other texts this poem outlines Galahads thoughts and feeling as he was on his quest rather than just the details of the battles he was in.

Image of Galahad from a tapestry by Edward Burne-Jones, c.1894

The story of Galahad and the Quest for the Grail was at first not included in the Arthurian story. The Vulgate Cycle, that the Galahad quest was lifted from, showed the weakness of King Arthur and his kingdom since none of his knights were fit for the quest. Galahad was added to redeem Arthur and his knights, to show that there was one knight that was worthy of the Quest. (pg.45) It is Galahad who takes the initiative to begin the search for the Grail and then rest of the knights follow him. At this point Arthur is not the powerful king that he is often thought to be but rather weak and indecisive since he cannot even lead his men on this Quest. Galahad seems become the new Arthur. He even draws the sword form the stone like Arthur did. In that manner Galahad is declared the chosen one, the worthy one who will embark in search of the Holy Grail. (pg 125)

Modern portrayals

Edmund Wilson's story "Galahad," published in 1927, presented a humorous story about the attempted seduction of a virginal High School student by a debutante.

According to the Prose Lancelot (part of the interconnected set of romances known as the Vulgate Cycle) "Galahad" was Lancelot's original name, but it was changed when he was a child. Merlin prophesies that Galahad will surpass his father in valour and be successful in his search for the Holy Grail. It is also interesting to note that Pelles, Galahad's maternal grandfather, is generally considered to be a descendent of Bron, Joseph of Arimathea's brother-in-law, whose line was entrusted with the grail by Joseph.

Matt Cohen often satirizes Galahad’s virtuous character in the novel Too Bad Galahad. Cohen describes Galahad as the “perfect knight” who does no harm. In part he writes “Galahad’s virtue was a compensation for Lancelot’s indiscretion.” However Cohen, instead of glorifying Galahad's virtuous character, makes it into a weakness. He writes that Galahad tried to “swear and kill and wench with the rest if the knights but he could never really get into it.” Cohen also writes that Galahad is not well liked by the other knights because he is so perfect and seems unapproachable. Finally, Cohen pokes fun at Galahad's “calling” by saying that his life would be wasted if he failed to remain pure and holy in order to be the bearer of the Holy Grail.

The movie Monty Python and the Holy Grail is a modern interpretation of Malory’s text. In this film Galahad is introduced as Galahad the Pure. The filmmakers create a satire of Galahad’s chastity and imply he is not a virgin by choice. In Galahad’s adventure he follows a grail-shaped beacon to a castle. Inside, instead of the grail, he finds beautiful young maidens who use the beacon to lure men to the castle then offer them sexual favors. Just at Galahad is about to accept their offer, Lancelot enters and “saves” him. Galahad is upset that he once again missed his chance to be with a woman.

Galahad is given a more personable character in William Morris’ “Sir Galahad, A Christmas Miracle.” Catherine Barnes Stevenson and Virginia Hale explain Galahad’s thoughts and aspirations in their book “Medieval Drama and Courtly Romance.” In the excerpt they say that Galahad was “fighting an internal battle between the ideal and the human.” In Morris’ poem this emotional conflict is the central theme rather than showing Galahad’s prowess for defeating external enemies. Stevenson and Hale also say that Morris used the physical environment of Christmastime so mirror Galahad’s “chilly isolation.” They say he isolates himself because he is a “somewhat self-centered figure.” In the poem he has a dream where he saves a dying knight with a kiss. Stevenson and Hale say that Galahad believes that he is like God and that he is able to be a “savior capable of imparting grace.”

In Thomas Berger’s Arthur Rex, Galahad is portrayed differently than in previous works. In previous works Galahad is depicted as “the emblem of perfection as it may exist in human form.” Berger shows Galahad’s arrival to court in a more satirical way in which Gawain comments that he cannot tell whether he is male or female. Berger shows that even though Galahad is in fact the greatest knight in the world he does not appear to be. Appearance versus reality is a common theme throughout Berger’s novel. In many other texts Galahad’s death comes about after his greatest achievement of the Holy Grail. In Berger however Galahad is killed in a battle where he mistakes his own father Lancelot for a Saxon. Galahad is too weak and sleeps through most of the battle and when he wakes up he ends up killing his father as well as being killed during this effort. In Berger, Galahad is perfect and that is why he doesn’t need to seek the grail. In Berger’s text the Grail is “that ultimate reality which lies beyond human perception.” Just like the grail, perfection is unattainable and for regular humans only glimpses of the Grail and perfection can be seen. Berger’s text insinuates that humans could not perceive Galahad’s perfection.

Cistercian inspiration

According to many interpreters, the philosophical inspiration of the celibate, otherworldly character of the monastic knight Galahad came from the Cistercian milieu, in particular St. Bernard of Clairvaux [2]. The Cistercian-Bernardine concept of Catholic warrior-asceticism undergirding the character of Galahad also informs St. Bernard's projection of ideal chivalry in his work on the Knights Templar, De laude novae militiae. Significantly, in the narratives Galahad is associated with a white shield with a vermilion cross, the very same emblem given to the Templars by Pope Eugene III.

See also


  1. ^ Erskine 192
  2. ^ Pauline Matarasso, The Redemption of Chivalry. Geneva, 1979.


  • Arthurian Tradition Essays in Convergence. Tuscaloosa: University of Alabama, 1988. 90-95. Print. Atkinson analyzes Malory’s motives for writing about the Holy Grail quest. He compares the knights and focuses on how Galahad sticks out from the rest of the knights.
  • Berger, Thomas. Arthur Rex: A Legendary Novel. Boston: Little, Brown, 1990. Print.
  • Cohen, Matt. Too Bad Galahad. Toronto: The Coach House Press, 1972. Print. A comical approach to the legend of Sir Galahad, his quest for the Holy Grail, and his pier character is made to seem foolish.
  • De Beverley, Thomas. "The Birth of Sir Galahad." River Campus Libraries. University of Rochester. Web. 17 Nov. 2009. <>. This poem gives details regarding how Elaine, daughter of King Pellas, receives a magic ring that will trick Lancelot into sleeping with her and conceiving Galahad.
  • Erskine, John. Galahad: Enough Of His Life To Explain His Reputation. Indianapolis: The Bobbs-Merrill Company, 1926. Print. Follows the story of Galahad’s conception and his whole life. Underlines the influence of Guinevere on Galahad’s knightly training, which ultimately pushed him to exceed all others who surrounded him.
  • Hyatte, Reginald. "Reading Affective Companionship In The Prose Lancelot." Neophilologus 83 (1999): 19-32. Print. Explores the varying speculation gravitating around a potential homosexual relationship between Galahad and Lancelot.
  • Kennedy, Edward D. "Visions of History: Robert de Boron and English Arthurian Chroniclers." Fortunes of King Arthur. Cambridge: D.S. Brewer, 2005. 29+. Print. Examines the relationships between the Holy Grail quest and Galahad by giving overviews of other Author’s inquires.
  • Malory, Thomas. Le Morte Darthur: The Winchester Manuscript. New York: Oxford University Press, 1998. Print. Follows the quest for the Holy Grail and how Galahad became knighted by his father.
  • Mieszkowski, Gretchen. “The Prose Lancelot’s Galehot, Malory’s Lavin, and the Queering of Late Medieval Literature.” Arthuriana 5.1 (1995): 21-51.
  • Monty Python and The Holy Grail. Dir. Terry Gilliam and Terry Jones. Perf. John Chapman and John Cleese. Python Pictures, 1974. DVD. The movie makes a satire of Galahad’s purity and chastity in the scene with the castle full of beautiful women.
  • Ruud, Jay. "Thomas Berger's Arthur Rex: Galahad and Earthly Power." Critique 25.2 (1984): 92-99. Print. This text expresses how Galahad epitomized perfection in knightly-hood, the clear emulation of him by other knights and the truth behind his personal actions.
  • Stevenson, Catherine B., and Virginia Hale. "Medieval Drama and Courtly Romance in William Morris' "Sir Galahad, A Christmas Mystery"." Victorian Poetry 38.3 (2000): 383-91. Print. Shows how Galahad is depicted in William Morris’ “Sir Galahad, A Christmas Mystery”. Displays Galahad’s struggle between being perfect and being human.
  • Tennyson, Alfred. "Sir Galahad." Galahad and The Grail. University of British Columbia. Web. 17 Nov. 2009. <>. This site contained many pictures depicting Galahad accompanied by groups of angels. The story accounts Galahads emotions before embarking on the quest for the Grail.
  • Waite, Arthur. The Holy Grail: The Galahad Quest in the Arthurian Literature. New York: University Books, 1961. Print. This text gives a detailed discourse covering Galahad’s life story from his birth to his death, with specific emphasis on his contribution to the quest for the Holy Grail.
  • Wilson, Edmund. "Galahad." The American Caravan. Ed. Van Wyck Brooks, Alfred Kreymborg, Lewis Mumford, and Paul Rosenfeld. New York: Macaulay Company, 1927. Print.

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