Guinevere’s body, after all the church ceremonies, is wrapped in fine waxed cloth, put in a coffin of lead and in another coffin of marble. Lancelot swoons during the burial and the Bishop, thinking he mourns his lover, upbraids him for it. Lancelot explains he doesn’t mourn Guinevere as his lover, but he remembers the beauty and nobility of her and Arthur as the royal couple and repents his role in their downfall. After Guinevere’s burial he hardly eats and drinks and is physically shrinking. After six weeks he calls his friends and asks for the last rites. They answer with the usual false cheerfulness “there’s nothing wrong with you etc.” but Lancelot answers “I know better how I feel’ and receives the sacraments. A few nights after that the Bishop wakes up all his companions laughing in his sleep. When they ask him what happened, he tells them he saw in his dream Lancelot entering heaven, surrounded by a host of angels. Lancelot’s friends are again in denial, saying “no, surely he’s not dying”, but when they check on him, he is indeed dead, with a smile on his face and sweet odour emanating from his body, as the medieval tradition claimed about saints’ bodies.
After Lancelot’s death, fulfilling his last wish, his companions transfer his body on the same bier that was used for Guinevere, to his castle Joyous Garde, which, as Malory notes, according to some was in Alnwick, and according to others in Bamburgh. There his body is laid out in an open coffin, as was the custom in those days, notes Mallory. During the ceremonies Lancelot’s brother, Sir Ector de Maris, who’s been searching for him throughout the whole of Great Britain for seven years, arrives and mourns him. The ceremonies last fifteen days (I guess it was a fortunate thing that his body was miraculously preserved). Then he is buried.
The coda is as follows: after Arthur’s death, Constantine of Cornwall is chosen to be the king of England and he invites the former Bishop of Canterbury to be the bishop again. The other knight-hermits go to their respective homelands to be hermits there, except four who turn knights again, go on a crusade to the Holy Land and die there on a Good Friday. The story ends with Malory’s request for the prayer of his readers for his well-being, if he’s alive, or his soul, if he’s dead.
Malory’s story, at least as represented by the excerpts in the NAEL, is rather melancholy, but I guess it’s to be expected of the tale with “Death” in its title. It’s also grittier than I remembered, what with all the blood and guts spilling. Malory very often argues with other versions of the story, quoting “the French book” as the authority. I wonder whether he thought of himself as a fiction writer or as a historian. But probably this differentiation makes no sense in the Middle Ages at all.