E. Cobham Brewer 18101897. Dictionary of Phrase and Fable. 1898.
Elaine (2 syl.).
The lily maid of Astolat (Guildford, in Surrey), who loved Sir Lancelot with that love which was her doom. Sir Lancelot, being sworn to celibacy, could not have married her, even if he had been willing; and, unhappily, what little love he had was bestowed on the queen. Elaine felt that her love was a vain thing, and died. According to her last request, the bed on which she died was placed on a barge, and on it was laid her dead body, arrayed in white, a lily in her right hand, and a letter avowing her love in the left. An old dumb servitor steered and rowed the barge up the river, and when it stopped at the palace staith, King Arthur ordered the body to be brought in. The letter being read, Arthur directed that the maiden should be buried like a queen, with her sad story blazoned on her tomb. The tale is taken from Sir T. Malorys History of Prince Arthur, part iii. Tennyson turned it into blank verse. (Idylls of the King; Elaine.)