Lancelot is both the greatest and the worst of the knights at the court of of King Arthur. Lancelot is the son of King Ban of Benwick,and he is known as Lancelot of the Lake or Lancelot du Lac as he was raised by the Lady of the Lake. He does all sorts of good deeds, including rescuing Queen Guinevere from Meleagant, an unsuccessful quest for the Holy Grail and the rescue of the queen after she is condemned to be burned to death for adultery with, ironically, Lancelot.
Lancelot is loved by Elaine of Astolat, but does not return her love. Elaine, the daugher of King Pelles, tricks Lancelot into sleeping with her and from this tryst Galahad is born. At Camelot, those who question the queen's fidelity are challanged to fight Lancelot. His son Galahad saw the Holy Grail and fulfilled the Grail Quest; Lancelot himself only saw a blurred vision and died knowing that his own sin had caused him to be unable to see the wondrous object.
Lancelot is entirely the creation of Chretien de Troyes and does not appear in the earlier chronicles. Lancelot first appears in his The Knight of the Cart, written in the late 1100s - in this book he is a lesser ranked knight than Gawain. In his four romances, Chretien portrays Lancelot as the knight who is most skilled in arms, chivalry and all the other qualities that make a knight a knight. He becomes the king's champion, fighting challenges and undertaking quests in the king's name. Eventually he becomes the adulterous lover of Queen Guinevere, a relationship that causes Arthur's Camelot to finally come to an end.
By the time Malory wrote some 300 years later, Lancelot had become more popular than Gawain (by now Gawain in Malory is portrayed as an impetuous knight who is bent on revenge). Here Lancelot is Arthur's favorite, athough hedoes kill Gawain's brothers and commits adultery with the queen. And the final tragety is that eventually Arthur and Lancelot end up battling each other as Camelot tears itself apart.
It is interesting to note how he appeared out of nowhere, as it were, when created by Chretien de Troyes, and how his role in Arthurian legend has evolved over the centuries, as diffeent writers have given his story their own twists.
Full references to Sir Lancelot are to be found at the Rochester site
And on our Sir Lancelot site
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