The entrance to the Department of History’s office in Sidney Smith Hall

Kings and Cripples: The Absent Monarch in the Lancelot Prose Cycle

Start Date and Time:

Thursday, November 14, 2019, 5:00PM

End Date and Time:

Thursday, November 14, 2019, 7:00PM


Prof. Christopher Baswell (Columbia University)

The demographic reality of medieval disability was largely a spectacle of poverty, disease, begging, and dependence.  And depending on the nature and timing of disability, body difference could bar a person from being a legal subject or, in cases of adult madness, from managing property.

At first glance, this is a world away from aristocratic culture and such aristocratic pursuits as battle or courtly practice.  Yet in the cultural imagination of the high and later Middle Ages, there is at some points an intriguing convergence between disabled and aristocratic, even royal bodies, especially in scenes of largesse and miracle cure.  At the same time, medievalists have tended not to register the frequency with which chivalric knights suffer temporary disabilities from battle, even moving about in litters.  This is especially true in the Lancelot Prose Cycle.  And at certain moments of cultural extremity, there is a conjuncture of ruling and disabled bodies, both historical (the leper King Baldwin IV of Jerusalem, the blind Enrico Dandalo doge of Venice, blind King John of Bohemia) and fictional.  No king is at once so disabled and so central as the Rich Fisher King in the prose cycle.  And yet, he is both strangely absent and constantly sought, in the narrative and the manuscript illustrations.  This lecture explores the prevalence of aristocratic disability in the Lancelot Prose Cycle, and the simultaneous evocative force and general absence of the Rich Fisher King.


  • Victoria College
  • Northrop Frye Centre
  • French Dept
  • Centre for Medieval Studies

Contact Information

Amelia Bailey

Victoria University


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The Absent Monarch