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Matter of Britain character
Sir Galahad (Watts).jpg
Sir Galahad by George Frederic Watts
First appearanceLancelot-Grail
In-universe information
OccupationKnight of the Round Table
FamilyLancelot, Elaine of Corbenic

Sir Galahad (/ˈɡæləhæd/; sometimes referred to as Galeas /ɡəˈləs/ or Galath /ˈɡæləθ/) among other versions of his name, 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 Sir Lancelot and Elaine of Corbenic, and is renowned for his gallantry and purity as the most perfect of all knights. Emerging quite late in the medieval Arthurian tradition, Sir Galahad 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. His name should not be mistaken with Galehaut, a different knight from Arthurian legend.


The story of Galahad and his quest for the Holy Grail is a relatively late addition to the Arthurian legend. Galahad does not feature in any romance by Chrétien de Troyes, or in Robert de Boron's Grail stories, or in any of the continuations of Chrétien's story of the mysterious castle of the Fisher King. He first appears in a 13th-century Old French Arthurian epic, the interconnected set of romances known as the Vulgate Cycle.

"Gallad's" attributed arms

The original conception of Galahad, whose adult exploits are first recounted in the fourth book of the Vulgate Cycle, may derive from the Cistercian Order. According to some interpreters, the philosophical inspiration of the celibate, otherworldly character of the monastic knight Galahad came from this monastic order set up by St. Bernard of Clairvaux.[1] The Cistercian-Bernardine concept of Catholic warrior asceticism that so distinguishes the character of Galahad also informs St. Bernard's projection of ideal chivalry in his work on the Knights Templar, Liber ad milites templi 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 Knights Templar by Pope Eugene III.

In medieval literature[edit]

Conception and birth[edit]

The life of Galahad portrayed in a stained glass window at St. Mary & St. George Anglican Church in Jasper, Alberta

The circumstances surrounding the conception of the boy Galahad derive from the Grail prose cycle. It takes place when King Arthur's greatest knight, Lancelot, mistakes Elaine of Corbenic for his secret mistress, Queen Guinevere. In the French tale used by Thomas Malory, King Pelles has already received magical foreknowledge that Lancelot will give his daughter a child and that this little boy will grow to become the greatest knight in the world, the knight chosen by God to discover the Holy Grail. Pelles also knows that Lancelot will only lie with his one true love, Guinevere. Destiny will have to be helped along a little; therefore, a conclusion which prompts Pelles to seek out "one of the greatest enchantresses of the time," Dame Brusen, who gives Pelles a magic ring that makes Elaine take on the appearance of Guinevere and enables her to spend a night with Lancelot. On discovering the deception, Lancelot draws his sword on Elaine, but when he finds out that they have conceived a son together, he is immediately forgiving; however, he does not marry Elaine or even wish to be with her any more and returns to Arthur's court. The young Galahad is born and placed in the care of a great aunt, who is an abbess at a nunnery, to be raised there.

According to the 13th-century Old French Prose Lancelot (part of the Vulgate Cycle), "Galahad" was Lancelot's original name, but it was changed when he was a child. At his birth, therefore, Galahad is given his father's own original name. Merlin prophesies that Galahad will surpass his father in valor and be successful in his search for the Holy Grail. Pelles, Galahad's maternal grandfather, is portrayed as a descendant of Joseph of Arimathea's brother-in-law Bron also known as Galahad (Galaad), whose line was entrusted with the Grail by Joseph.

Knighthood and the Grail Quest[edit]

Sir Galahad by Joseph Noel Paton (1879)

Upon reaching adulthood, Galahad is reunited with his father Lancelot, who knights his son after being defeated by him. Galahad is then brought to King Arthur's court at Camelot during Pentecost, where he is accompanied by a very old knight who immediately leads him over to the Round Table and unveils his seat at the Siege Perilous, an unused chair that has been kept vacant for the sole person who will succeed in the quest of the Holy Grail. For all others who have aspired to sit there, it has proved to be immediately fatal. Galahad survives this test, witnessed by Arthur who, upon realising the greatness of this new knight, leads him out to the river where a sword lies 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." (The embedding of a sword in a stone is also an element of the legends of Arthur's original sword, the sword in the stone.) Galahad accomplishes this test with ease, and Arthur swiftly proclaims him to be the greatest knight ever. Galahad is promptly invited to become a Knight of the Round Table, and soon afterwards, Arthur's court witnesses an ethereal vision of the Grail. The quest to seek out this holy object is begun at once.

All of the Knights of the Round Table set out to find the Grail.[2] It is Galahad who takes the initiative to begin the search for the Grail; the rest of the knights follow him. Arthur is sorrowful that all the knights have embarked thus, for he discerns that many will never be seen again, dying in their quest. Arthur fears that it is the beginning of the end of the Round Table. This might be seen as a theological statement that concludes that earthly endeavours must take second place to the pursuit of the holy. Galahad, in some ways, mirrors Arthur, drawing a sword from a stone in the way that Arthur did. In this manner, Galahad is declared to be the chosen one.

Galahad at the Castle of Maidens, an 1890 painting by Edwin Austin Abbey

Galahad for the most part travels alone, smiting (and sparing) his enemies, rescuing Percival from twenty knights and saving maidens in distress, until he is finally reunited with Bors and Percival. These three knights then come across Percival's sister, who leads them to the mystical Ship of Solomon which they then use to cross the sea.

Ascension to heaven[edit]

Galahad discovers the Grail, an 1895 painting by Edwin Austin Abbey

After many adventures, Galahad and Percival find themselves at the court of Pelles and Eliazar, his son. These men bring Galahad into a room where he is finally allowed to see the Holy Grail. Galahad is asked to take the vessel to the holy island Sarras. After seeing the Grail, Galahad, however, makes the request that he may die at the time of his choosing. So it is, while making his way back to Arthur's court, Galahad is visited by Joseph of Arimathea, and thus experiences such glorious rapture that he makes his request to die. Galahad bids Percival and Bors farewell, after which angels appear to take him to Heaven, an ascension witnessed by Bors and Percival. While it is not explicit that the Holy Grail is never to be seen again on earth, it is stated (in Malory's Le Morte d'Arthur) that there has since then been no knight capable of obtaining it.

Galahad's success in the high religious endeavour that was the search for the Holy Grail was predicted before his birth, not only by Pelles but also by Merlin, who once had told Uther Pendragon that there was one who would fill the place at the "table of Joseph", but that he was not yet born. At first this knight was believed to be Perceval; however it is later discovered to be Galahad. Galahad's conception is later glossed by Malory: "And so by enchantment [Elaine] won the love of Lancelot, and certainly she loved him again passing well." Galahad was conceived for the divine purpose of seeking the Holy Grail,[3] but this happened through pure deceit; under a cloak of deception that was very similar, in fact, to that which led to the conception of Arthur and of Merlin himself. Despite this, Galahad is the knight who is chosen to find the Holy Grail. Galahad, in both the Lancelot-Grail cycle and in Malory's retelling, is exalted above all the other knights: he is the one worthy enough to have the Holy Grail revealed to him and to be taken into heaven.

Victorian portrayals[edit]


Statue of Galahad by Alfred Turner with quotation from Tennyson and list of fallen Old Victorians. World War I memorial at Victoria College, Jersey

In Thomas 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 specific sense, this "purity" refers to chastity, Galahad appears to have lived a generally sinless life and so as a result, he lives and thinks on a level entirely apart from the other knights around him. This quality is reflected in Alfred, Lord Tennyson's poem "Sir Galahad":

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.[4]

Galahad is able to conquer all of his enemies because he is pure. In the next verse of this poem, Tennyson continues to glorify Galahad for remaining pure at heart, by putting these words into his mouth:

I never felt the kiss of love, / Nor maiden's hand in mine.[4]

Galahad pursues a single-minded and lonely course, sacrificing much in his determination to aspire to a higher ideal:

Then move the trees, the copses nod, / Wings flutter, voices hover clear / "O just and faithful knight of God! / Ride on! the prize is near."[4]

Tennyson's poem follows Galahad's journey to find the Holy Grail but ends while he is still riding, still seeking, still dreaming; as if to say that the quest for the Holy Grail is an ongoing task. Unlike many other portrayals of the legend of Sir Galahad, Tennyson has Sir Galahad speak in the first person, gives the reader his thoughts and feelings as he rides on his quest, rather than just the details of his battles, as in Malory.

William Morris[edit]

Sir Galahad by Herbert Gustave Schmalz (1881)

Sir Galahad's thoughts and aspirations have been explored as well by William Morris in his poem Sir Galahad, a Christmas Mystery,[5] published in 1858. In this poem, written more than twenty years after Tennyson's Sir Galahad, Galahad is "fighting an internal battle between the ideal and the human," believing that he is like God and that he is able to be a "saviour capable of imparting grace,"[6] following a dream in which he saves a dying knight with a kiss. Galahad isolates himself because he is a "self-centred figure".[6] Morris’ poem places this emotional conflict at centre stage, rather than concentrating upon Galahad's prowess for defeating external enemies, and the cold and the frost of a Christmas period serve to reinforce his "chilly isolation".[6] The poem opens on midwinter's night; Sir Galahad has been sitting for six hours in a chapel, staring at the floor. He muses to himself:

Night after night your horse treads down alone / The sere damp fern, night after night you sit / Holding the bridle like a man of stone, / Dismal, unfriended: what thing comes of it?[7]

Twentieth century and later[edit]

Statue of Sir Galahad on Parliament Hill in Ottawa: "Erected by the people to commemorate the act of heroism of Henry Albert Harper. In attempting to save the life of Miss Bessie Blair he was carried with her into the waters of the Ottawa River. It was December 6, 1901. He was 28 years old."


Neil Gaiman's short story, Chivalry, from Smoke & Mirrors includes Galahad in his quest for the Holy Grail.

  • A poem by Thomas de Beverly published in 1925, "The Birth of Sir Galahad", tells of the events leading up to the conception of Sir Galahad, his birth and a visit soon afterwards by Sir Bors, to see Elaine and the baby Galahad. Sir Bors sees a vision of the Holy Grail whilst in a chapel with the baby and his mother. Of the three knights who are untainted by sin – Sir Perceval, Sir Bors, and Sir Galahad – Galahad is the only one predestined to achieve this honour of attaining the Holy Grail.[8] This is similar to God declaring that King David had shed much blood and was not worthy of building the Jerusalem Temple, this honour falling only to his son King Solomon.[9]
  • Edmund Wilson's story "Galahad", published in 1927, presents a humorous story about the attempted seduction of a virginal high school student by a debutante.
  • In John Erskine's novel Galahad: Enough of His Life to Explain His Reputation, Galahad's main tutor for his knightly training is Queen Guinevere. Erskine follows Malory's text through Galahad's childhood. Just as in Le Morte d'Arthur, Galahad grows up in the court of his mother Elaine and travels to King Arthur's court to be reunited with his father and to become a knight. When Galahad arrives at the court, Guinevere is upset with Lancelot because he does not want to be her lover any more and she takes an interest in the young knight, persuading him to go above and beyond regular knightly duties. At first Galahad seems content with just being an ordinary 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."[10] This is Galahad's motivation to seek the Grail.
  • Matt Cohen satirises Galahad's virtuous character in his short story Too Bad Galahad. Cohen describes Galahad as the "perfect knight" who does no harm. In part, "Galahad's virtue is 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 of the knights but he could never really get into it." Cohen's Galahad is not well liked by the other knights because he is so perfect and seems unapproachable. 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.
  • Thomas Berger's Arthur Rex portrays Galahad differently. In most works, Galahad is depicted as an emblem of perfection. Berger shows Galahad's arrival to court in a more satirical light. 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 this novel. In most versions of the story of Sir Galahad, Galahad's death comes about after his greatest achievement, that of the Holy Grail. In Arthur Rex, 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 does wake up, he kills his father as well as being killed himself. Just like the Grail, perfection is unattainable; only glimpses of the Grail and of perfection can be seen.
  • In the Everworld fantasy novel series by K. A. Applegate, the character David Levin fights with the Sword of Galahad, after witnessing Sir Galahad's death. David is the self-appointed leader of the protagonists and takes on all the burdens of the group, being troubled by his past in which he was cowardly and feeling he must prove himself to be a man – in which could be seen some parallels with Galahad's life.
  • In Ayn Rand's novel We the Living, the character Andrei Taganov, an honest and idealistic revolutionary Communist, sacrifices his career and resorts to blackmail in order to save the life of Leo, the lover of Kira—the woman that Andrei loves; though hating Leo and intensely jealous of him, Andrei puts Kira's happiness before his own. The villain Pavel Syerov calls Andrei in derision "Sir Galahad of the blackmail sword";[11] thereupon, Andrei accepts the comparison as appropriate.
  • The Lady of the Lake, the final book of The Witcher saga by Andrzej Sapkowski, features Knight Galaad of Caer Benic, working for King Arthur. At the very beginning of the story, as a denizen of a parallel world, he encounters Cirilla of Cintra and calls her the Lady of the Lake.


  • Joan Baez uses the legend metaphorically in her song "Sweet Sir Galahad", which is about the courtship of her sister.
  • The band America mentions Galahad ("... or the tropic of Sir Galahad") in the chorus for the song "Tin Man".
  • On his EP To the Yet Unknowing World, Josh Ritter has a song titled "Galahad", which jokes about Galahad's chastity and the 'virtue' of his supposed purity.
  • In Mili's album Miracle Milk, in the song "Ga1ahad and Scientific Witchery", Galahad is portrayed as a knight who was reanimated by a witch.
  • Marty Stuart uses part of the last stanza in the outro of the concept album, The Pilgrim. Johnny Cash speaks as God, describing the Pilgrim as a just and faithful knight, before singing the final line of the album.

Film and television[edit]


See also[edit]


  1. ^ Pauline Matarasso, The Redemption of Chivalry. Geneva, 1979.
  2. ^ Vinaver, Eugene, 1971. Malory: Works. Oxford University Press. The Tale of the Sankgreal, Briefly Drawn out of French, which is a Tale Chronicled for One of the Truest and one of the Holiest that is in this World. 1. "The Departure". pp. 515–524.
  3. ^ Waite, Arthur. The Holy Grail: The Galahad Quest in the Arthurian Literature. New York: University Books, 1961.
  4. ^ a b c Tennyson, Alfred Lord: Wordsworth Poetry Library, 1994. The Works of Alfred Lord Tennyson. Wordsworth Editions Limited. Sir Galahad, published 1834. pp. 181–182. Beginning of the first stanza. Camelot Project
  5. ^ Sir Galahad, a Christmas Mystery Camelot Project
  6. ^ a b c Stevenson, Catherine Barnes; Hale, Virginia (2000). "Medieval Drama and Courtly Romance in William Morris' 'Sir Galahad, A Christmas Mystery'". Victorian Poetry. 38 (3): 383–91. doi:10.1353/vp.2000.0038.
  7. ^ Morris, William. 1858. Sir Galahad, A Christmas Mystery. Camelot Project Sixth stanza.
  8. ^ Thomas de Beverly. 1925. The Birth of Galahad. Camelot Project
  9. ^ 1 Chronicles, Ch. 22, 8, – quoted in Alec G. Warner, Biblical Motives in Twentieth Century Literature" in Barbara Kid (ed.) "New Essays on British and American Literature", New York, 1982.
  10. ^ Erskine 192
  11. ^ Ayn Rand, We the Living, Part Two, Ch. KIV.
  12. ^ Fantasy Flight Games


  • Atkinson, Stephen C. B. "Prophecy and Nostalgia: Arthurian Symbolism at the Close of the English Middle Ages". In Mary F. Braswell and John Bugge (eds.), Arthurian Tradition Essays in Convergence. Tuscaloosa: University of Alabama, 1988. 90–95. Print. Atkinson analyses 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 pure character is made to seem foolish.
  • De Beverley, Thomas. "The Birth of Sir Galahad" 1925. 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.
  • Ruud, Jay. "Thomas Berger's Arthur Rex: Galahad and Earthly Power". Critique 25.2 (1984): 92–99. Print. This text expresses how Galahad epitomised 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): 383–391. 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 November 2009. This site contained many pictures depicting Galahad accompanied by groups of angels. The story accounts Galahad's 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.

External links[edit]