The Lily Maid of Astolat begged Lancelot to love her, to marry her or -- if he would not -- at least to take her as paramour. He would do neither, the one for the love of Guinevere and the other out of respect for her virtue. She took herself to her bed and died, but revenged herself on him by having her body brought to Camelot with a letter complaining that he had refused her love. It is a bitter story and a sad one, but a better story than today's.
Elaine understood that her complaint, though the sorrow of it brought her to her death, imposed no duty on Lancelot. He might be ashamed to have caused her such pain, when she had done him only good. But his defense was valid, as Camelot agreed:
And when Sir Launcelot heard it word by word, he said: My lord Arthur, wit ye well I am right heavy of the death of this fair damosel: God knoweth I was never causer of her death by my willing, and that will I report me to her own brother: here he is, Sir Lavaine. I will not say nay, said Sir Launcelot, but that she was both fair and good, and much I was beholden unto her, but she loved me out of measure.
Ye might have shewed her, said the queen, some bounty and gentleness that might have preserved her life.
Madam, said Sir Launcelot, she would none other ways be answered but that she would be my wife, outher else my paramour; and of these two I would not grant her, but I proffered her, for her good love that she shewed me, a thousand pound yearly to her, and to her heirs, and to wed any manner knight that she could find best to love in her heart. For madam, said Sir Launcelot, I love not to be constrained to love; for love must arise of the heart, and not by no constraint.
That is truth, said the king.