Arthurian legend is one type of folk tale that certainly does not end with “and they lived happily ever after.” In fact, it’s unclear exactly what happened to our favorite characters after the battle of Camlann.* In the most familiar versions (though not all), Arthur and Mordred are killed in the battle. Guinevere enters a convent to live out her days in penitence, and Lancelot becomes a monk. Sometimes, the two lovers meet one last time, while in other stories, Lancelot is called to the side of the dying Guinevere, but arrives too late and dies of a broken heart.
What then, are we to make of the mysterious carved stones that bear their names? Are they more a part of folk legend than truth? Or did Guinevere and Lancelot seek refuge in Scotland there after the battle? Was Tristan real? Or perhaps some of the theorists are correct and they were all from the area to begin with. We likely will never know the truth. But the stones do make for some thought provoking reading.
According to one interpretation of a Pictish carved stone found in a Highland area called Meigle, after Guinevere was kidnapped and released from the clutches of Mordred (in this version, he’s a Pict), Arthur had her executed by ordering her torn apart by wild animals (dogs or lions, depending on who is telling the tale). Supposedly, the stone, called the Vanora stone (Vanora being a version of Guinevere) marks where she is buried and tells the story of her death.
And Lancelot? There is a stone for him in Scotland, too. At least I know I read about one, but of course, I can’t find where I read it. It’s possible that I’m making it up, I don’t think I am. One thread of legend associates Lancelot with the name/area of Angus, which is something that shows up in my third Guinevere book. If any of you happen to know what stone I’m thinking of, please let me know in the comments. It’s driving me crazy that I can’t find it!
Depending on the version of the story, Tristan may have been killed by King Mark for having an affair with Isolde, or he may have died in Brittany of a broken heart, thinking Isolde no longer loved him. Either way, his body was brought back to Cornwall, or he was buried there. A 1,500 year old stone in Cornwall near the town of Fowey that memorializes a man named Drustans who is believed to be connected with a possible historical or mythological inspiration for Tristan.
Lest you think I forgot about the Once and Future King, I’ll just mention here that there are hundreds of places across England, Wales, and Scotland supposedly associated with King Arthur. The most famous, is of course, the “grave” at Glastonbury Abbey, which has been almost certainly proven as a hoax. (Here’s the latest article.)
*In some versions of the legends, Guinevere is dead long before Camlann, either from disease or by Arthur’s own hand. In others, she helps Mordred in his bid for the throne and therefore must be punished by Arthur.
What do you think about the memorial stones? I think they are likely an outcropping of legend, but that’s just me.