Study Guide

Le Morte D'Arthur Loyalty

By Sir Thomas Malory

Loyalty

Alle the comyns cryed at ones, "We wille have Arthur unto our kyng. We wille put hym no more in delay, for we all see that it is Goddes wille that he shalle be our kynge – and who that holdeth ageynst it, we wille slee hym." And therwithall they knelyd at ones, both ryche and poure. (11.11-15)

The "commons" are the first people to embrace Arthur as king, which makes the reluctant nobles feel pretty awkward, so they soon follow suit. What's interesting about this is that our narrator is acknowledging the very real power that lower classes have in these sorts of situations. Even though the nobles have all the power, it's the commons that crown Arthur, and set the tone of loyalty for the rest of his reign.

And ther was he sworn unto his lordes and the comyns for to be a true kyng, to stand with true justyce fro thensforth the dayes of this lyf. Also thenne he made alle lordes that helde of the croune to come in and to do servyce as they oughte to doo. (11.20-24)

Ah, a double-edged oath. It's not just the people swearing loyalty to Arthur; he also promises the commons and the nobility to be a "true kyng." Over the course of his reign, Arthur will fulfill this oath by never breaking his word. This in turn helps him demand the absolute loyalty of his knights (and just about everyone else, too).

Than leep in yong Sir Launcelot de Laake, with a lyght herte, and seyde unto Kyng Arthure, "Thoughe my londis marche nygh myne enemyes, yet shall I make myne avow aftir my power that of good men of armys, aftir my bloode, thus many I shall brynge with me: twenty thousand helmys in haubirkes attyred, that shall never fayle you whyles oure lyves lastyth." (116.25-30)

In this scene, Arthur has asked his barons and knights if they'll follow him into battle against Lucius, Emperor of Rome. Launcelot's promise of support is quite longwinded, which emphasizes his loyalty. Maybe that's what makes Arthur so reluctant to go after Lancelot when he learns of his betrayal with Gwenyvere. Launcelot is, after all, the most loyal when it comes to taking down the enemy.

And so whan they were abed bothe, Sir Trystrames remembirde hym of his olde lady, La Beale Isode, and than he toke suche a thoughte suddeynly that he was all dysmayde; and other chere made he none but with clyppynge and kyssynge. As for fleyshely lustes, Sir Trystrames had never ado with hir. (271.45-49)

Although Trystram marries Isode le Blaunche Maynes, he never sleeps with her, which just might sting the blow of his betrayal of his other lover, la Beall Isode. In fact, in a way, it puts the two on an equal playing field of sorts, considering the fact they're now both married, and still head over heels for each other.

"Sir," seyde Sir Trystram, "Now I undirstonde ye wolde have my succour, and reson wolde that I sholde do all that lyyth in me to do, savynge my worshyp and my lyff, howbehit that I am sore brused and hurte; and sytthyn Sir Elyas proferyth so largely, I shall fyght with hym." (376.23-25)

Trystram demonstrates his loyalty to Mark as a vassal, despite the fact that he is sleeping with Mark's wife and that Mark has been a real jerk in the past. Trystram's refusal to let his relationship with Isode get in the way of his fulfillment of his obligations as vassal and nephew to Mark marks him as a "true" knight, which the highest praise <em>Le</em> <em>Morte </em>can give. Chivalry, it seems, is far more important than being a nice guy, which is why Mark can step all over Trystram one moment, and then totally count on him the next.

"My lord," seyde Sir Launcelot, "wytte you will Y ought of ryght ever to be in youre quarell and in my ladyes the Quenys quarell to do batayle; for ye ar the man that gaff me the hygh order of knyghthode. And that day my lady, youre Quene, ded me worshyp." (597.17-20)

Launcelot explains the origin of his loyalty to Arthur and Gwenyvere. When it comes to Gwenyvere, however, he doesn't exactly tell it like it is. He claims that his loyalty to her started when she showed him great kindness at his knighting. But Launcelot, we know better. You're loyal to her because you love her.

So thes two and twenty knyghtes drew hem togydirs, and by than they were armed and on horsebak, they promysed Sir Launcelot to do what he wolde. Than there felle to them, what of Northe Walys and of Cornwayle, for Sir Lamorakes sake and for Sir Trystrames sake, to the numbir of foure score knyghtes. (652.29-33)

After the ambush of Launcelot in Gwenyvere's bedchamber, Arthur's knights take sides in the quarrel. Saying that some of the knights joined together "for Sir Lamorakes sake" reminds us of another betrayal – Lot's sons' rather unchivalrous murder of Sir Lamerok. And Launcelot, of course, claims the loyalty of Trystram and his crew, since he and Trystram were buddies when Trystram was at court.

"My lorde," seyde Sir Launcelot, "so ye be nat displeased, ye shall undirstonde that I and myne have done you oftyntymes bettir servyse than ony othir knyghtes have done, in many dyverce placis; and where ye have bene full hard bestadde dyvers tymes, I have rescowed you fro many daungers." (667.15-19)

Launcelot reminds Arthur that he has always been a true vassal to him. Isn't that enough? Shmoop is not so sure. What do you think?

"For I woll allwayes fle that noble kynge that made me knyght; and whan I may no farther, I muste nedis deffende me – and that woll be more worshyp for me and us all than to compare with that noble kynge whom we have all served." (674.22-26)

Even when Arthur has invaded his lands, Launcelot remains unfailingly loyal to him, revealing just how strong his sense of loyalty is. He believes that fighting Arthur only in self-defense will allow the knights to emerge from this difficult situation with "worshyp," or honor.

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