Quondam et Futurus

The Lady of the Lake or Dame du Lac is a title that was held by more than one woman. Generally she is regarded as the water-fay that raised Sir Lancelot beneath the murky waters of her lake. However, she is best known as the one who, at the request of Merlin, presented the magical sword Excalibur to Arthur.

The Lady of the Lake in The Taking of Excalibur by John Duncan, 1897

The Legend[]

The Lady of the Lake rears and protects Sir Lancelot as well as the brothers, Sir (Bohort) and Sir Lionel - sons of King Bohort (Bors) of Gaunes. the dog crossed the word. She is often given the name Nimue or variations such as Niniane and Vivien. However, Malory uses Nyneve (Nimue) as well as an un-named Lady of the Lake.

This un-named water-fay is killed by Sir Balin resulting from a feud between the two. Other authors have also treated some of these names (Nimue, Vivien, etc.) as separate 'Lady of the Lake' characters. For example, Tennyson portrays Viviane as a deceitful person who ensnares Merlin, yet depicts the Lady of the Lake as the compassionate character who raises Sir Lancelot and presents Arthur with his magical sword. So, it is clear that the name has been applied to a few different women.


The Lake and Avalon[]

Nyneve (or Nimue) is, at the end of Malory's Le Morte d'Arthur, the chief Lady of the Lake. She is one of the queens who take Arthur to Avalon, after he has been grievously wounded at the battle of Camlann. Thus, Avalon has been sometimes associated as the realm of the Lady of the Lake in some literary traditions. Since Morgan le Fay in some sources replaced Nimue as Merlin's student in exchange for offering her love to the wizard, and is also one of the queens that take Arthur to Avalon, she is sometimes also considered a Lady of the Lake.

Origins of the Legend[]

Water spirits were very popular and important in Celtic traditions and were associated with the essence of life. Tides and the movement of rivers, streams and lakes were believed to stem from the supernatural abilities of the fays or goddesses that dwelt within. These bodies of water were considered a Celtic Otherworld. Thus, offerings such as swords, jewellery, coins and figurines were frequently made at lakes, ponds, wells, springs and pools. It is thought the Lady of the Lake in Arthurian legend may have originated from the Celtic Water Goddess, Coventina – the name Vi-Vianna (Vivian, Niviane, etc) stemming from Co-Vianna, a variation of Coventina.

From the film Excalibur