Marie de France presents the central female character, the mysterious lady with whom Lanval is in love, as being extraordinarily wealthy. At several moments in the lai, the lady's wealth is described in depth. When Lanval is first brought to the lady at the beginning of the story, her dwelling...
Marie de France presents the central female character, the mysterious lady with whom Lanval is in love, as being extraordinarily wealthy. At several moments in the lai, the lady's wealth is described in depth. When Lanval is first brought to the lady at the beginning of the story, her dwelling is described:
They led him to the tent, which was beautiful and luxurious. Neither Queen Semiramis, however much wealth, power, and knowledge she had, nor Emperor Octavian could have afforded even the flap of the tent. On top of it was a golden eagle; I cannot even guess the value of it, or of the ropes and poles that supported the walls. No king on earth, no matter how extravagant he might be, could have afforded it.
Then, at the end of the lai, when the lady comes to rescue Lanval from his unjust imprisonment, her wealth is displayed for not just Lanval but for all of Arthur's court. After sending two pairs of ladies to prepare Arthur's court to be more appropriate for the level of comfort that the lady is used to, the lady herself comes:
She rode a white palfrey, which carried her properly and elegantly. Its neck and head were finely formed; there was no more beautiful animal in the world. This palfrey was richly equipped, and no count or king under heaven could have afforded it without selling or pledging his land.
This wealth elevates the mysterious lady's societal power to the extreme. Because she is independently wealthy, she is able to exercise her will over men. It is she who calls Lanval to her in the first place to offer herself to him. Then, it is she who sets the terms for their relationship, making him promise to keep their relationship a secret, or else she would not come to him any more. And, it is she who puts herself in the position of rescuer when Lanval needs help. Their relationship, though it seems genuine from the descriptions, is certainly controlled by the lady.
It is not just Lanval, though, whom the lady is able to control. King Arthur is also easily manipulated by the mysterious lady. When she arrives in all of her finery, he begs her to stay, especially since chambers were already made ready for her. However, as a demonstration of her independence, she chooses to refuse his requests and to return to her home with Lanval riding on the back of her horse as a true reversal of the typical knight-damsel relationship.