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Matter of Britain character
OccupationKnight of the Round Table
FamilyLot, Morgause, Gawain, Gaheris, Gareth, Mordred

Sir Agravain /æɡrævn/ (sometimes spelled Agravaine) is a Knight of the Round Table in Arthurian legend. In Chrétien de Troyes, the Vulgate and Post-Vulgate cycles and in Thomas Malory's Le Morte d'Arthur, he is the second eldest son of King Lot of Orkney with Anna/Morgause (one of Arthur's sisters), thus nephew of King Arthur, and brother to Sir Gawain, Gaheris, and Gareth, and half-brother to Mordred.[1][2]

Arthurian legend[edit]

Agravain is generally portrayed as handsome, and a capable fighter, and participates in a number of adventures early in the Vulgate Cycle, sometimes even doing heroic deeds. In Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, where he is called "Agravain of the Hard Hand", he is named in a list of respectable knights; this, combined with his unobjectionable depiction in Chrétien de Troyes' Perceval, suggests his reputation might not have been very negative prior to the Vulgate. Unlike his heroic brothers Gawain and Gareth, however, Agravain is also known for malice and villainy. In the prose Lancelot of the Vulgate cycle, he is described as taller than Gawain, with a "somewhat misshapen" body, "a fine knight" but "arrogant and full of evil words".[3]

Walter Crane's illustration for Henry Gilbert's King Arthur's Knights (1911)

In the Post-Vulgate tradition, Agravain participates in the slaying of Lamorak and Dinadan, and in most cyclical Arthurian literature he plays an important role by exposing his aunt Guinevere's affair with Lancelot. Though Gawain, Gareth and Gaheris try to stop them, he and Mordred conspire to catch the adulterers together. In some versions he is killed by the escaping Lancelot, in others he dies defending Guinevere's execution from Lancelot's forces along with Gaheris and Gareth; in either case, it is not his death but those of Gaheris' and Gareth's that inspires Gawain's wrath toward Lancelot, as Gawain had warned Agravain not to spy on Lancelot.

In the traditional, albeit contested, division of the massive medieval prose Lancelot portion of the Lancelot-Grail or Vulgate cycle into three or four parts[4] (one sometimes distinguishes a first section, "En la marche de Gaulle"; followed by the "Galehaut" section; the section of the "Knight of the Cart" (also called the "Meleagant" section) and its sequel; and the "Agravain" section[5]), Agravain has given his name to the last section—roughly the last third of the Lancelot, up to the Quest of the Holy Grail—which begins "Here the story says that after Agravain had left his companions..." and proceeds to relate an adventure by Agravain.[6] The division at this point is arbitrary and does not correspond to thematic or narrative logic; and despite giving his name to the section, Agravain plays only a minor role in the subsequent tales.[7]

Modern adaptations[edit]

By and large, modern works based on Arthurian legend continue to villainize Agravain.

  • Agravaine, not Gaheris, as in Malory, is the Orkney brother responsible for the murder of his mother in what may be the most widely read 20th-century adaptation of the Arthurian legend: T. H. White's The Once and Future King series of books, first released in 1938. White portrays Agravaine as a drunken, bloodthirsty coward, the "bully" of his family (even guilty of killing a unicorn as a child), but also intelligent and not altogether unsympathetic.
  • The pre-Raphaelite poem "The Defence of Guenevere" (1858) by William Morris also identifies Agravaine as his mother's murderer.
  • In the short-story "Sir Agravaine", from P.G. Wodehouse's "The Man Upstairs and Other Stories" (1914), the character Sir Agravaine the Dolorous is presented as an unattractive man of little distinction as a knight, characterized by self-doubt and a defeatist attitude, but intelligent and finally successful.
  • He appears in the British TV series Merlin (2008-2012) in Series 4 as Arthur's contemptuous uncle Agravaine de Bois; while purporting to help guide the prince after his father is incapacitated, Agravaine secretly works with Morgana to overthrow the Pendragons and return her to the throne, presumably acting out of revenge for the deaths of his siblings ("Tristan" and "Ygraine") at hands of King Uther.[8] He is finally killed by Merlin in the Season 4 Finale after he helps Morgana attack Camelot.
  • Conversely, the 1995 movie First Knight presents Agravaine (portrayed by Liam Cunningham) as heroic, an atypical treatment which can be traced to a curious anomaly in Malory; though consistently depicted as an outspoken enemy of the queen, Agravaine is nonetheless chosen as one of Guinevere's knights when she rides out on May Day (a journey that begins the episode dealt with in the film).
  • In the video game Fate/Grand Order he is portrayed as a spy for Morgan who grew to be truly loyal to King Arthur. He is a misogynist due to how Morgan treated him, unaware that his king is also a woman. It is stated that he kept the Round Table united in their dislike of him, and that his death marked the beginning of Camelot's fall.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ An enumeration of the four brothers (excluding Mordred) can be found in Chrétien de Troyes's Perceval, the Story of the Grail when Gawain tells the "white-haired queen" (his grandmother Igraine) the names of the four brothers ("Gawain is the oldest, the second Agravain the Proud [...], Gaheriet and Guerehet are the names of the following two." (verses 8139-8142 in the Dufournet edition; verses 8056-8060 in the Méla edition)); a brief portrait of the five brothers (including Mordred) can be found in the prose Lancelot (see: Norris J. Lacy, ed., Lancelot-Grail: Lancelot Parts III and IV, Volume 4 of Lancelot-Grail: The Old French Arthurian Vulgate and Post-Vulgate in Translation, Boydell & Brewer Ltd, 2010, pp. 392-4. ISBN 9781843842354.)
  2. ^ "Family of Gawain".
  3. ^ Norris J. Lacy, ed., Lancelot-Grail: Lancelot Parts III and IV p.393
  4. ^ These divisions are found in some medieval manuscripts and were maintained by some medievalists, such as the 19th-century scholar Alexis Paulin Paris (c.f. Marie Luce-Chênerie, Lancelot du Lac: II, Livre de Poche: 19993, p. 6. ISBN 9782253063025), but other scholars, such as Ferdinand Lot, have criticized them (see, for example, Ferndiand Lot, Etude sur le Lancelot en prose (1918), p.11).
  5. ^ See "The Lancelot-Grail Project", [1].
  6. ^ In the Norris J. Lacy edition, this corresponds to Lancelot parts V and VI, which begins at chapter 141; in the Micha edition, this corresponds to IV:LXX; in Sommer V:3-9.
  7. ^ Ferdinand Lot, ibid.
  8. ^ Storr, Will (30 September 2011). "Merlin, BBC One: behind the scenes". Telegraph.

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