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From Early English Romances: Done Into Modern English by Edith Rickert: Romances of Friendship, Chatto and Windus: London, Duffield & Co.: London, 1908; pp. 85-116, 177-179.



Hark ye and listen and hearken aright,
And ye shall hear talk of a doughty knight.

HE was called Sir John of Boundys,1 and he knew enough of nurture and much of sport. He had three sons: the eldest soon began to show that he was evil, and earned his father’s curse and had it at the last; but his brethren loved the old man well and held him in awe.

He lived to a good age, but in the end Death came to him and handled him so sorely that he was troubled, as he lay there sick, to know how his children should fare after his day. He had travelled far and wide, and was no husband 86 to look after his estates, all of which he held in fee simple.2 He would fain have seen them divided among the three, so that each should have his part; so he sent about the country for wise knights to help deal them out justly; and he bade these men come at once if they were to find him alive.

When they heard that he was sick, they rested not night or day till they came to him where he lay quiet on his death-bed to abide God’s will; and he said to them: “Lords, I warn you that beyond a doubt, I may no longer live, for in this very hour Death draws me to the ground!”

Then all they that heard him aright had pity of him, and said: “Sir, for God’s love, be not dismayed, for He may bring good out of the evil that now is.”

The good knight said further, as he lay there sick: “God may indeed bring good out of evil, there is no denying; but I beseech you, knights, for love of me, go and divide my land equally among my three sons; and, for God’s sake, deal it not amiss, nor forget Gamelyn,3 my young son. Take heed to him as well as the others, for seldom is the heir seen to help his brothers.”

They left the sick knight lying, and took counsel how to divide his lands; and their mind was to deal them all to one, and to give naught to the youngest. But presently they shared it between the two and let Gamelyn go landless, each of them saying loud to another that his brethren 87 might give him something when he was old enough to know good from bad.

After they had so dealed out the land to their liking, they returned to the knight, who lay there very still, and told him how they had done, and he was but ill pleased, saying: “By St. Martin, for all that ye have done the land is mine! For God’s sake, neighbours, stand ye quiet and I will divide it myself, according to my will. Johan my eldest son shall have five ploughlands4 that were my father’s heritage while he lived; and my second son, five ploughlands that I got partly with my own right hand;5 and all my other estate that I have acquired of land and bondmen6 and my good houses, I bequeath to Gamelyn. And I beseech you, good men that know the law of the land, that my bequest hold fast, for Gamelyn’s sake!”

Thus the knight dealt out his lands in his life-time, as he lay there sick, even on his death-bed; and soon after he was stone-still, and so died, as Christ would, when his time came.

As soon as he was dead and buried under the grass, the eldest brother beguiled the young knave by taking into his own hands Gamelyn’s lands and bondmen, and keeping the child himself to clothe and feed.

This he did but poorly; and let his lands and his houses, his parks and his woods go to ruin, and wrought nothing well; but afterwards he paid for it all with his fair skin.7


All the time Gamelyn dwelled in his brother’s hall, the men there feared him as being the strongest among them; and there was none, young or old, however brave, who dared make him wroth.

On a day, he was standing in his brother’s yard, and began all at once to handle his beard, 8 and remembered his fields that lay unsown, his fair oaks that were cut to the ground, his parks broken into and his deer stolen, his houses unroofed and falling into decay; and it seemed to him that things were not going well.

Presently his brother came walking there, and asked him: “Is our meat ready?”

Then Gamelyn was wroth, and swore by the Holy Book: “Go thyself and bake! I am not thy cook!”

“How, brother Gamelyn? How answerest thou now? Never before hast thou spoken such a word as this!”

“By my faith,” said Gamelyn, “methinks there is need! Never before have I considered all the damage I have. My parks are broken into, and my deer stolen, and naught is left to me of my armour and steeds. All that my father bequeathed me is gone to rack — may God’s curse rest upon thee, brother in name only!”

Then bespake that other in hasty wrath: “Stand still, gadelyng,9 and hold thy peace! Thou shalt be glad 89 enough to get food and clothes! Why speakest thou of lands and bondmen?”

But the young child Gamelyn answered: “Christ’s curse on him that calls me gadelyng! I am no such thing, nor a worse man than one that was got of a knight and born of a lady!”

Not a foot nearer durst the brother go, but called his men, and said to them: “Go and beat this boy until he loses sense, and let him so learn to answer me better another time!”

But Gamelyn answered: “Christ’s curse on thee, brother of mine! If I must needs be beaten, curses on thee but thou feel it also!”

Then in a great heat his brother bade the men fetch staves to deal with Gamelyn. When every one of them had taken his staff, and the child was aware of their coming, he looked about him and perceived a pestle10 standing against a wall. He was light of foot and ran thither, and full soon drove all his brother’s men in a heap. He looked like a wild lion, and laid on in plenty; and his brother, seeing this, flew up into a loft and shut the door fast. Thus Gamelyn with his pestle struck terror into them all, and they sidled away here and there, some for dread of him and some for love. Then he began to make sport of them: “What? How, how? Evil take you, will ye begin a fight and flee so soon?”


Presently he sought whither his brother was fled, and beheld him looking out of a window. “Brother,” he called, “come a little nearer, and I will teach thee a buckler-play!”11

His brother answered, swearing by St. Richard: “While the pestle is in thy hand I will come no nearer; but, brother, I will make peace with thee — I swear by Christ’s mercy! Cast away thy pestle and be no more wroth!”

“I must needs be angry,” said Gamelyn, “for thou wouldst have made thy mean break my bones. Had I not had might and main in my arms to put them from me, they would have done me some hurt!”

“Gamelyn,” said his brother, “be not angry, for I should have been loth to see hurt. I did it, brother, only for a trial to see if thou were strong, young as thou art.”

“Come down then to me, and grant me a boon. One thing only will I ask thee, and we shall soon be in accord.”

Then this false and cruel brother came down, still sorely aghast at the pestle, and said: “Brother Gamelyn, ask my thy boon, and blame me unless I grant it.”

And Gamelyn said: “Brother, if we are to be at one and not quarrel, thou must grant me to have all my father bequeathed me while he was alive.”

“Thou shalt have it, Gamelyn, I swear by Christ’s 91 mercy, all that thy father bequeathed thee, even were it more; and thy lands that lie fallow shall presently be down, and thy houses that lie ruined shall be built up.”

Thus the knight spoke with his mouth, but in his heart was falsehood, as he knew well. He was plotting treason, but not so Gamelyn, who went and kissed him, and made accord. Alas that young Gamelyn knew not how his brother had kissed him with a traitor’s kiss!

Hearken and listen and hold your tongue,
And you shall hear talking of Gamelyn the young.

There was a wrestling-match cried hard by, and for prizes were set up a ram12 and a ring. Now Gamelyn was of a mind to wend thither and prove what he could do.13 “Brother,” he said, “by St. Richard, thou shalt lend me to-night a little courser to ride on, fresh to the spurs, for I must go on an errand here a little beside.”

“By God,” said his brother, “go and choose the best of the steeds in my stalls, saving none of them all, or of the coursers that stand beside them; and tell me, good brother, whither thou ridest.”

“Close by here, brother, a wrestling-match is cried, and a ram and ring are set up for prizes. It were great honour to us if I might bring them home to this hall.”

Smartly and swiftly a steed was saddled, and Gamelyn 92 made fast on his feet a pair of spurs, set foot in the stirrup, bestrode his horse and rode away, young child as he was, to the wrestling.

When he was ridden out of the gate, his false brother, looking after him, besought Jesu Christ that is Heaven’s King, that he might break his neck at the wrestling.

As soon as Gamelyn came to the place, he dismounted and stood on the grass, and there anon heard a franklin14 sighing, “Wellaway,” and bitterly wringing his hands.

“Good man,” said Gamelyn, “why makest thou all this fare? Is there none that may help thee out of thy trouble?”

“Alas that ever I was born!” cried the franklin. “I ween I have lost two stalwart sons! There is a champion in this place that hath brought me sorrow, for he hath slain my two sons, unless God grant that they recover! By Jesus Christ, I would give ten pounds and more, if only I might find a man to handle him roughly!”

“Good friend,” said Gamelyn, “if thou wilt do me a kindness, hold my horse while my servant draws off my shoon, and help my man to watch over my clothes and my steed, and I will go into the place and see how I prosper.”

Barefoot and ungirt, Gamelyn entered; and all the folk in the place marked him and wondered how he durst adventure him to prove his strength against one that was so doughty a champion in fighting and wrestling.


Up started the champion anon, and moved towards the child, saying, “Who is thy father and thy lord? Thou art a great fool, forsooth, to come here!”

And Gamelyn answered: “By St. Martin, thou didst know my father well while he was alive. His name was Sir John of Boundys and I am Gamelyn.”

“Fellow,” said the champion, “as I hope to thrive, I knew well thy father in his lifetime; and as for thyself, Gamelyn, it is good for thee to hear that while thou were a young boy, thou wert a great worker of mischief!”

Then Gamelyn swore by Christ’s mercy: “Now I am grown older, thou shalt find me a greater!”15

“By God,” cried the champion, “thou art welcome! If thou come once into my hands, thou shalt never thrive again!”

It was well within the night and the moon shining, when Gamelyn and the champion met together. The champion tried tricks, but Gamelyn was ready, stood firm, and bade him do his best, saying at last: “Thou art fast about thy business to bring me down. Now that I have proved many of thy tricks, thou shalt prove one or two of mine!”

He turned smartly upon the champion, and showed him but one of all the tricks he knew, throwing him on the left side and breaking three ribs and one arm with a great crack.


“Shall that be counted as a throw or as none?” asked Gamelyn.

“By God,” said the champion, “whichever it be accounted, he shall never thrive that comes once into thy hand!”

Then said the franklin whose sons were there: “Blessed be thou, Gamelyn, that ever thou wert born!” And to the champion he said, standing now in no awe of him: “This is young Gamelyn that taught thee this play.”

The champion, who liked it ill, answered: “He is master of us all, and his play is right cruel. It is very long ago since I first wrestled, but never in my life have I been handled so sore.”

Gamelyn stood alone in the place, without his sark,16 and said: “If there be any more, let them come on! The champion that so longed for the business, it seemeth now by his countenance that he hath had enough.”

He stood in his place as still as a stone to abide more wrestling; but none came out to him, so wonder sore had he handled the champion.

Then the two gentlemen who had charge of the place, drew near to Gamelyn — God save him! — and said: “Do on your hosen and shoon. For this time, forsooth, the fair is ended.”

“As I hope to thrive,” said Gamelyn, “I have not yet sold up half my wares!”


“As I brook my neck,”17 said the champion, “he is a fool that buys of thee, thou sellest so dear!”

“Why dost thou find fault with his wares, fellow?” quoth the franklin, who was still sorrowful. “By St. James of Galicia,18 whom many a man seeketh, what thou hast bought is too cheap!”

Then the guardians of the wrestling came and brought Gamelyn the ram and the ring, saying: “Take them, Gamelyn, as the best wrestler that ever came here.”

Thus did he win the prize, and went home with much joy in the morning.

His brother saw him coming with a great rout, and bade shut the gate and keep him outside. At his command the porter was aghast, but he went forth anon to the gate and locked it.

Now hearken and listen, both young and old,
And ye shall hear games of Gamelyn the bold.

He came there for to enter, and found himself barred out.

“Porter, undo the gate!” he cried; “Many a good man’s son standeth here.”

The porter answered and swore by God’s beard: “Thou shalt not, Gamelyn, come into this yard!”

“Thou liest,” said Gamelyn, “as I hope to use my chin!” He smote the wicket with his foot, and broke away the bar.


At this, the porter seeing that it might not be otherwise, set foot on the earth and turned to flee. “By my faith,” said Gamelyn, “that labour is lost, for I am as nimble as thou, though thou hast sworn.”

He overtook the porter and wreaked vengeance upon him, first struck him in the neck so that the bone broke, then took him by one arm and threw him into a well seven fathoms deep, as I have heard. While the young Gamelyn thus played his game, all that were in the yard drew away; they dreaded him sorely for his deeds, and for the fair company that he had brought thither.

So he rode to the gate, and flung it wide and let in all manner of men, both riding and afoot, and said: “Be ye welcome without hindrance, for we will be masters here and ask no man’s leave. Yesterday there were five tuns of wine in my brother’s cellar — let this company not part asunder while a single drop is left! If my brother grudge or make foul cheer of the cost of the meat and drink that we are spending, I am caterer and bear the purse for all, and he shall have St. Mary’s curse for his grumbling! I swear by Christ’s mercy that he is a niggard, and what he hath spared of yore, we will spend largely; and whoso grudge that we dwell here, he shall join the porter in the draw-well!”19

For seven days and nights, Gamelyn held his feast with 97 much mirth and merriment and no quarrelling. His brother was shut up in a little turret, and saw them wasting his goods but durst not speak.

Early on the morning of the eighth day, the guests came to Gamelyn to take their departure. “Lords,” he said, “will ye so haste? All the wine is not yet drunk, as I have eyes!”

In his heart he was full sorrowful when they took their leave to go from him; he would fain have had them abide longer, but they would not; they commended him to God, and so — good day! thus he made his feast, and his guests took their leave to wend forth home.

Hearken and listen and hold your tongue, ,
And ye shall hear a game of Gamelyn the young.
Hearken, ye lords, and listen aright,
When the guests were gone, how Gamelyn was dight.20

All the while that he was holding his feast, his brother plotted how he might treacherously be avenged on him.

When the guests were all ridden away, and he stood alone and friendless, within a little while he was seized and bound full hard.

The false knight came out of the cellar, drew near to Gamelyn, and said: “Who made thee so bold as to destroy my store of household goods?”

“Brother,” answered Gamelyn, “be not wroth, for 98 many a day is gone by since it was bought! By St. Richard, brother, thou hast had this sixteen years fifteen hides of land, and all the young bred from the beasts that my father bequeathed me on his death-bed. In return for the meat and drink that we have spent now, I give thee the profit of all this sixteen years.”

Then said that false knight (ill may he thrive!): “Hearken, brother Gamelyn, what I will give thee. I swear by St. John, having no child of mine own, to make thee my heir.”

Par ma foy,” said Gamelyn, “if it be so, and thou think the same as thou sayest, may God requite thee!”

He wist nothing of his brother’s guile, and so in a little time he was betrayed.

“One thing I tell thee, Gamelyn,” said the false knight, “when thou didst throw my porter into the draw-well, I swore in my anger before that great gathering, that thou shouldst be bound, hand and foot; therefore I beseech thee, brother, let me not be forsworn! Let me now bind thee, hand and foot, that I may keep mine avow as I promised.”

“Brother,” said Gamelyn, “as I hope to thrive, thou shalt not be forsworn for my sake!”

Then they made him sit until they had bound him, hand and foot; and the false knight, being afeared of him, sent for fetters to chain him fast.

His brother lied on him as he stood there, and told those 99 who came in that he was mad. So thee he stayed, bound to a post in the hall, and every man that came in looked on him; he stood stiff and straight the whole time, and had no meat or drink, day or night.

“By my neck, brother,” said Gamelyn then, “I have found thee out for a false party!21 Had I known thou hadst devised treason, I had given thee blows ere I had been bound!”

He stood fettered, as still as a stone, for two days and nights, without meat, then he said:

“Adam Spenser,22 methinks I fast too long! I beseech thee now, Adam Spenser, for the great love my father bore thee, if thou may come by the keys, loose me out of my bonds, and I will share with thee my free land.”

Then said Adam that was the spenser:23 “I have served thy brother sixteen years, and if let thee go out of his bower, he would say after that I had played him false.”

“Adam,” said Gamelyn, “as I care for my neck, thou shalt find him a traitor at the last! Therefore, brother Adam, loose me out of bonds, and I will share my free land with thee.”

“Upon such a foreward,” quoth Adam, “I will do all that lies in my power.”

“As I hope to thrive, Adam,” said Gamelyn, “I will hold to my covenant, an thou wilt loose me!”


Anon when Adam’s lord was gone to bed, he took the keys and unlocked Gamelyn’s hands and feet, in hope of the advancement that was promised him.

“God’s grace be thanked,” quoth Gamelyn, “now I am free, hand and foot, had I once eaten and drunk, none in this house should bind me to-night!”

As still as any stone, Adam led him quickly into the spence,24 and set him at supper in a secret place, and bade him make merry; and Gamelyn did so.

When he had eaten plentifully and had drunk well of the good red wine, he said; “Adam, what is now thy counsel? Whether I shall go to my brother and strike off his head?”

“It shall not be so, Gamelyn,” quoth Adam. “I can give thee a rede worth two of that. I know well of a truth that we shall have here a feast on Sunday. Many abbots and priors will come, and other men of Holy Church, as I tell thee. Thou shalt stand up by the post as though thou wert handfast still; but I shall leave they fetters unlocked so that thou may cast them off. When the guests have eaten and washed their hands, thou shalt beseech them all to bring thee out of bondage; and if they would be surety for thee, that were a good game, for then wouldst thou be out of prison and I unblamed. But if they all say us nay, I shall try another course, I swear by this day! Thou shalt have one good stave and I another; 101 and Christ’s curse rest on the one of us that fails his fellow!”

“Yes, by God!” quoth Gamelyn. “I speak for myself: if I fail on my side, may evil befall me! And if we must absolve them of their sins,25 warn me, brother Adam, when to begin.”

“By St. Charity, Gamelyn,” said Adam, “I will warn thee before when it must be. When I wink at thee, look for to cast away thy fetters, and come anon to me.”

“Blessed be thy bones, Adam, that is good counsel for the nonce! If they refuse then to set me free, I will lay good strokes on their loins!”

On Sunday, men gathered to the feast, and folk of high and low degree were welcomed fair; and as they came in at the hall door, they cast their eyes on young Gamelyn. And at dinner, the treacherous knight told the guests all that he could to hurt and shame his brother.

When they had been served with two or three messes,26 cried Gamelyn: “How serve ye me? It is not well done, by God who created all, that I sit fasting while other men make merry!”

Then the false knight, from where he stood, told all the guests that his brother was mad; and Gamelyn held him quiet and answered nought, remembering Adam’s words. But soon he began to speak dolefully to the great lords that 102 sat in the hall. “Lords,” he said, “for the sake of Christ’s passion, help to free Gamelyn from his bonds!”

First spoke an abbot — sorrow on his cheek! “Christ’s curse and St. Mary’s on him that will borrow thee out of prison; and may they thrive that heap woe upon thee!”

After this abbot, spake another; “I would thy head were off, though thou were my brother! Evil befall any that stand surety for thee!”

Thus they spoke throughout the hall, until a prior said: “Evil betide him! It is a great pity, boy, that thou art alive!”

“Ow!” cried Gamelyn. “As I keep my bones, now have I discovered that I have no friends! Curses on him, flesh and blood, that ever does good to prior or abbot!”

Adam the spenser took up the cloth, but his thoughts were little on his pantry. He looked at Gamelyn and perceived his wrath, and brought two good staves to the hall door. Then Gamelyn looked at Adam, and saw that it was time, and cast away his fetters and stepped forward. He came to Adam and seized one of the staves, then set to work and gave good strokes.

Gamelyn and the spenser came both into the hall and looked about them wrathfully. Gamelyn used his stave like one who sprinkles Holy Water with an oaken sprig, so that some who stood upright fell into the fire.

There was no laymen in the hall that wished Gamelyn 103 anything but good. They stood aside and let the two work, having no pity on the men of Holy Church.

Abbot, prior, canon, monk — all that Gamelyn reached went down. There was none among them that met with his stave whom he did not overthrow; and that he paid back his debt to them.

“Gamelyn,” said Adam, “for St. Charity, give them good measure, for love of me! I will keep the door, as sure as ever I go to hear Mass! And none shall leave ere they do penance!”

“Doubt not,” cried Gamelyn, “as long as we are together. Keep the door well, and I will work here. Bestir thee, good Adam, and let none escape. We shall count exactly how many there are.”

“Gamelyn,” said Adam, “do them naught but good. They are men of Holy Church, therefore spare their shaven crowns and draw no blood, but only break their arms and legs.”

Thus Gamelyn and Adam worked hard, and played with the monks until they were all aghast. They had come riding thither in jolly fashion with their servants; but they had to be carried home in carts and wains.

When the two had done with them, spoke a Grey Friar: “Alas, sir abbot, what had we to do here? It was but cold counsel to come to this place; we had been better at home on bread and water!”

While Gamelyn was thus making new orders of monks 104 and friars,27 his brother stood by with lowering cheer, until he up with the stave that the false knight knew well, and struck him on the neck and threw him down, and burst his back-bone in twain a little above the girdle; then he placed him in the fetters where he himself had sat.

“Sit there, brother,” he said, “for to cool thy blood as I did mine!”

As soon as they two had wreaked vengeance on their foes, they asked for water and washed themselves; and all the servants served them in the best manner, some for love and some for fear.

Now the sheriff was but five miles away, and in a little while all was told him: how Gamelyn and Adam had made a grievous attack against the king’s peace, and had bound and wounded men; and how these began soon for to awaken strife, so that the sheriff came about to take Gamelyn.

Now hearken and listen, so Heaven may you win,
And you shall hear good game of young Gamelyn.

There were four and twenty young men that accounted themselves full bold, who came to the sheriff, and said by their faith that they would fetch both Gamelyn and Adam. The sheriff gave them leave, and they hied them fast, nor tarried, till they came to the gate where Gamelyn was within.

There they knocked, and the porter, who was close by, looked out at a hole, being a wary man. He had been 105 watching them a little while, and he loved Gamelyn and feared treachery, so he let the wicket remain barred, and asked those without what was their will.

One spoke up for all the great company: “Undo the gate, porter, and let us in.”

But the porter said: “As I keep my chin, ye shall say your errand ere ye enter!”

“Say to Gamelyn and Adam, we would speak two or three words with them, so please them.”

“Fellow,” said the porter, “wait there, and I will go to Gamelyn and learn his will.”

Anon the porter went in to Gamelyn and said: “Sir, I warn you, here be come the sheriff’s men. They are at the gate for to take you both; ye shall not escape.”

“Porter,” said Gamelyn, “as I hope to thrive, I will repay thy words when I find time. Go again to the gate and keep them there a while, and right soon, porter, thou shalt see a trick.”

“Adam,” said Gamelyn, “make thee ready to go. We have foemen at the gate, and never a friend. The sheriff’s men are come hither, and they have sworn that we shall be taken.”

“Gamelyn,” quoth Adam, “make haste! And if I fail thee to-day, may evil betide me! We shall so welcome the sheriff’s men that some of them shall make their beds in the mire!”

Gamelyn went out at the postern-gate, and took with 106 him a good cart-shaft in his hand; and Adam carried another good staff to help him, with which he gave mighty strokes. When Adam had felled two and Gamelyn three, the others set their feet to the earth and fled.

“What?” cried Adam. “As ever I hear Mass, I have a draught of good wine; drink ye ere ye leave!”

“Nay, by God!” said they. “Thy drink is but ill! It would make a man’s brains lie scattered in his hood!”28

Then Gamelyn stood still and looked about him, and beheld the sheriff coming with a great rout.

“Adam,” he said, “what be now thy counsels? Here comes the sheriff, and he will have our heads.”

“My advice is this,” said Adam, “that we abide no longer lest we fare ill. Let us go to the wood ere we be taken; better for us to be there at large than to be bound in the town.”

He seized young Gamelyn by the hand, and they drank together draughts of wine, and took their coursers and rode away. Then came the sheriff, and found the nest but no egg. He dismounted and went into the hall, and there came upon the lord thereof fettered fast, whom he presently unbound; and after, he sent for a leech to heal his backbone.

Leave we now this false knight lying in care,
And talk we of Gamelyn, and look how he fare.

Now Gamelyn stalked silently into the forest, with him Adam the spenser who liked it but ill there, and swore by St. Richard, saying: “Now I see that it is a merry thing to be a spenser. I would rather carry my keys than walk about this wild wood, tearing my clothes.”

“Adam,” said Gamelyn, “dismay thee not, for many a good man’s child is brought into care.”

As they stood talking together, Adam heard voices full nigh; and Gamelyn looked under the boughs and beheld seven score of young men sitting at meat in a circle.

“Adam,” said he, “now is there no doubt but that after misery comes help, through the grace of Almighty God! Methinks I see meat and drink.”

Adam looked under the wood-boughs, and was glad enough when he saw food, for he hoped to God to have his share, and he longed sorely for a good meal.

Even as Gamelyn spoke, the master outlaw saw the two of them behind the thicket. “Lads,” he said, “by the Holy Rod, I perceive guests. God send us none but good! Yonder be two young men wonder well accoutred, and peradventure there be more, if one looked aright. Rise up, lads, and fetch them to me; it is well we should know what men they are.”

Up started seven from their dinner, and went towards Gamelyn and Adam Spenser; and when they were nigh, said one of them: “Yield up, young men, your bows and arrows.”


But Gamelyn answered: “Sorrow on him that yields them to you! I curse none but myself if I do so; and though ye fetched to you five more, ye would be but twelve!”

When they knew by his words that strength lay in his arm, there was none that would have hurt him; and they said to him mildly: “Come afore our master and tell him your will.”

“Lads,” said Gamelyn, “by your faith, what man is this, your master, that ye b with?”

They answered all at once: “Our master is crowned king of the outlaws.”

“Adam,” quoth Gamelyn, “in Christ’s name, let us go. He cannot for shame refuse us meat and drink. If he be come of gentle blood and courteous, he will give us food and treat us well.”

“By St. James,” cried Adam, “whatever hurt I should get, I will venture as far as the door, if I may have food!”

So Gamelyn and Adam went together and greeted the master; and the king of the outlaws said to them: “What seek ye, lads, among the thickets?”

“He must needs walk in the wood that may not walk in the town.29 Sir, it is for no harm that we are come hither, but to shoot at a deer if we meet one, as men that are hungry and find no food, an are hard beset under the linden-tree.”


Then the master had pity of Gamelyn’s words, and said: “Ye shall have enough, I swear to God!” And he bade them sit down awhile to rest them, and to eat and drink of the best that he had.

As they sat eating and drinking, the outlaws said one to another: “This is Gamelyn.”

Then the master outlaw was taken into counsel, and told how it was Gamelyn that was come thither; and when he heard how it was befallen, he made him master of all, under himself.

Within the third week, came tidings to the master outlaw that he might return home, for his peace was made; and of this he was full fain, and said to his young men: “Tidings be come to me that I need no longer dwell here.”

Then Gamelyn was crowned king of the outlaws, and tarried for a time in the wood-thicket.

Meanwhile, the false knight, his brother, was made sheriff, and through hatred caused him to be indicted. His bondmen were sorry and nothing glad when he was cried and made wolf’s head;30 and some of them came to seek him under the wood-linden, to tell him how the wind was turned, and how all his goods were seized and his men ill-treated. And when they had found him, they fell on their knees, and threw down their hoods and greeted him: “Sir, be not wroth, though, by the Holy Rood, we have 110 brought you ill tidings! Now thy brother is sheriff and hath the bailiwick, and he hath indicted thee and doth cry thee wolf’s head!”

“Alas,” said Gamelyn, “that ever I was so slack as not to break his neck when I broke his back! Go home and greet well my husbandmen and their wives, and I will come into the next shire — God save me!”

He made ready, and passed over into the shire where his brother was sheriff, and stepped boldly into the moot-hall,31 and put down his hood among the lords.

“God save you all that be here now, save the broken-backed sheriff whom evil betide! Why hast thou done me such villainy and shame as to indict me and cry me wolf’s head?”

Then the false knight thought to be avenged, and had Gamelyn seized so that he might speak no word more; and there was no other grace but that he should be thrown into prison and fettered fast.

Now Gamelyn’s second brother, Sir Ote,32 was as good and gentle a knight as might go afoot; and when a messenger came anon and told him how Gamelyn was treated, he was wonder sorry and no whit light-hearted; and he let saddle a steed and rode straight to his brethren twain.

“Sir,” said Sir Ote to the sheriff, “we are but three brethren, and we shall never be more; and thou hast imprisoned 111 the best of us! May evil betide all brothers like thee!”

“Sir Ote,” answered the false knight, “let be thy cursing. By God, he shall fare the worse for thy words! He is taken now to the king’s prison, and there shall he abide till the Justice come!”

Parde!” said Sir Ote. “I will better that! I offer bail that thou grant him to me till the next trial of those brought from prison,33 and then let him stand to his chance.”

“Brother, I grant him to thee in such a foreward; but by the soul of thy father that begat thee and me, except he be ready when the Justice sit, for all thy great wisdom thou shalt bear the judgment!”

“I grant well,” said Sir Ote, “that it be so. Have him delivered at once and brought to me.”

Thus Gamelyn was handed over to his brother, Sir Ote, and dwelled that night with him. On the morrow, he said to that gentle knight: “Brother, forsooth I must wend from thee to see how my lads are getting on, whether they are living in joy or in strife.”

“By God,” said Sir Ote, “that is cold counsel! Now I see that all the charge is to fall on my head, for when the Justice sits, if thou be not at hand, I shall be seized and bound in thy stead.”

“Brother,” answered Gamelyn, “be not dismayed, for 112 by St. James of Galicia, whom many men have sought, if Almighty God grant me life and wit, I will be ready there when the Justice comes.”

Then said Sir Ote: “God shield thee from shame! Come when thou seest time, lest reproach fall on me.”

Hearken and listen and hold you still,
And ye shall hear how Gamelyn had all his will.

He returned again among the wood-boughs, and came upon his stout lads playing there, and was glad and blithe enough to find his merry men in the forest. They talked together, and had good game to hear their master; they told him of adventures they had found, and he in turn showed how he had been fast imprisoned.

As long as Gamelyn was an outlaw none cursed him, for no man feared ill at his hands save abbots, priests, canons, and monks. Of theirs he left nothing that he could seize.

While he and his men made merry, the false knight — ill may he thrive! — was going about, day and night, to hire a jury that would hang his brother.

One day Gamelyn stood looking at the woods and the shaws34 in the wild field, and remembered how he had promised Sir Ote to be ready when the Justice should sit, so he thought that he would keep his day, and said to his young men:

“Make you yare35 at once, for when the Justice sits we 113 must be in that place. I am under bond to go, else shall my brother be put into prison for me.”

“By St. James,” said his young men, “whatsoever thou dost advise, command and it shall be done.”

While Gamelyn was on his way to the place where the Justice should sit, the false knight did not forget to hire men for the trial to hang a brother, for, if he had not the one, he would at least have the other’s life.

Then Gamelyn came forth from under the wood-boughs, and brought with him his stout lads. “I see well,” quoth he, “that the Justice is sitting. Go before, Adam, and watch how it speedeth.”

So Adam went into the hall and looked about him, and found many lords standing there, big, stalwart men, and Sir Ote also, closely fettered. He went out aghast, and said to Gamelyn and his fellows: “Sir Ote stands fettered in the moot-hall!”

“Lads,” quoth Gamelyn, “ye all hear this? Sir Ote stands fettered in the moot-hall. If God grant us grace to speed, he shall abuy it dear that brought things to this pass!”

Then said Adam, whose locks were grey:36 “Christ’s curse on the man that bound him so sorely! An thou wilt do after my counsel, Gamelyn, not one in the hall shall get off with his head!”

“Not so, Adam,” said Gamelyn. “We shall slay the 114 guilty and let the others go free. I will go into the hall and speak with the Justice, and I will be avenged on the guilty alone. Take heed, lads, that none escape at the door, for to-day I will be Justice and deem dooms.37 God speed me in my new office! Adam, come with me, for thou shalt be my clerk.”

His men answered him and bade him do his best: “And if thou have need of us, thou shalt find us ready. We will stand by thee as long as we may endure; and save we work manfully, pay us no hire.”

“Lads,” said Gamelyn, “as I hope to thrive, ye shall find me as trusty a master.”

Right there as the Justice sat in the hall, Gamelyn went in among them, and had his brother loosed from bonds.

Said Sir Ote: “Thou hadst almost dwelled too long, Gamelyn, for the verdict is out against me that I should be hanged.”

“Brother,” said Gamelyn, “God rest me, they shall be hanged this day that have been on thy jury; and the Justice as well that is the judge, and the sheriff through whom it all began.”

Then Gamelyn said to the judge: “Thy power is done now; thou must needs arise. Thou hast given evil dooms, and I will sit in thy seat and redress them.”

The Justice sat still and arose not; and Gamelyn swiftly cleft his cheek-bone, and speaking no word, caught 115 him up and threw him over the bar so that his arm broke a-two.

None durst say aught but good to Gamelyn for fear of the company that stood without; and he sat down in the Justice’s seat, with his brother Sir Ote by his side and Adam at his feet.

When Gamelyn was set in the Justice’s chair,
Hearken of a jest that he played on them there.

He had the Justice and his false brother fetched, and made them come to the bar together. And when this was done, he had no rest until he had inquired who were on the jury that had doomed his brother, Sir Ote, for to hang; and it seemed long to him ere he found out who they were. But as soon as he wist, he had them all fettered together and brought to the bar and set in a row.

“By my faith,” said the Justice, “this sheriff is a shrew!”38

“Thou hast given dooms for the worse,”39 answered Gamelyn. “And the twelve jurymen who were in this trial shall be hanged to-day, as I hope for rest!”

Then the sheriff called out to young Gamelyn: “Lord, I cry thee mercy! Thou art my brother!”

“Christ’s curse upon thee!” said Gamelyn. “If thou wert master, I should fare the worse!”


To make the tale short and not tarry overlong, he ordered him a jury of his own strong men; and the sheriff and the Justice were both hanged high, to swing about with the ropes and be dried in the wind. So also the twelve jurymen — sorrow on him that recks of it! — were all hanged by the neck. Thus through his own treachery ended the false knight who had ever led his life in untruth and folly. He was hanged by the neck and not by the wallet,40 and that was the outcome of his father’s curse.

Sir Ote, the elder brother, and young Gamelyn’s went with their friends to the king, and made peace with him for the better. Sir Ote he loved so well that he made him a Justice; and after he made Gamelyn Chief Justice of all his forest, east and west; and he forgave the stout lads all their guilt, and presently put them into good office.

Thus Gamelyn won back his land and his bondmen, and took vengeance on his enemies, and quitted them their meed. After, he became heir to Sir Ote, and married a fair wife and good, and they lived together as long as Christ willed, and afterwards he was buried under the earth.

And so shall we all, may there no man flee;
God bring us to the joy that ever shall be!


1   See note.

2   See note.

3   See note.

4  Hides or carucates. See note.

5  In war.

6  See note.

7  See note.

8  See note.

9  See note.

10  Vagabond. The brother is punning upon the likeness between gadelyng and Gamelyn, as appears from Gamelyn’s answer.

11  Or club? See note.

12  See note.

13  See note.

14  A freeholder.

15  See note.

16  Shirt.

17  Have the use of. See note.

18  See note.

19  A deep well from which the water is obtained by a rope and bucket.

20  Treated.

21  Antagonist (?). Or simply, person? In either case, a very early use of the word.

22  See note.

23  See note.

24  Buttery or pantry.

25  By beating them, as a sort of penance, perhaps.

26  Here, courses.

27  By laying hands on them, but not in an ecclesiastical sense.

28  The reference is to the blows that he gives them.

29   See note.

30   See note.

31  Judgment or assembly hall. See note.

32  See note.

33  See note.

34  Coppices.

35  Ready.

36  See note.

37  Give judgments.

38  Villain.

39  The meaning is probably: to thine own undoing.

40  See note.




This poem (902) lines is found only in ten Chaucer MSS., not including, however, the three best. It is sometimes supposed that Chaucer intended to make use of it as a story to be told by one of his characters. It was formerly erroneously assigned to the Cook, whose tale, however, was to have been of Perkin the apprentice. In character, certainly, it is best fitted to the Yeoman. No French original is known; and the thoroughly English quality of the poem makes against the hypothesis that one ever existed.

p. 85.  Sir Boundys. Skeat suggests that it means bounds, boundaries, and Sir John of Boundys, Sir John of the Marshes; or possibly, Bons in France. Lodge in his novel based upon Gamelyn has Bordeaux, which is also the reading in one MS. This may have been confused with the name of a physician, John of Bordeaux.

p. 86.  Fee simple, i.e., it was not entailed, and he could dispose of it as he liked. The text says that he had it by 178 purchase, which means that he acquired it by ways other than by inheritance. We read afterwards, however, that he had inherited a small portion of it.

p. 86.  Gamelyn = Norse gamel-ing, the son of the old man. Evidently Gamelyn was many years younger than his two brothers. In some of the Robin Hood ballads in which he figures, the name is corrupted to Gandelyn, in others to Gamwell.

p. 87.  Ploughlands. As much as could be cultivated in a year with the use of one plough. The amount varies, but is, roughly speaking, about 100 acres.

p. 87.  Bondmen. The labourers, who were tied to the land they tilled and changed ownership with it.

p. 87.  With his fair skin. Here skin is used for body, as appears from the nature of his double punishment.

p. 88.  To handle his beard. This means: to realise that he was a man.

p. 89.  Pestle. Skeat suggests: a large pestle such as might have been used for pounding grain. But later (see N. E. D.) the word means club, as a constable’s truncheon.

p. 90.  Buckler-plays, i.e., how to protect himself from the “pestle,” which in this case would serve as spear.

p. 91.  A ram. The usual prize. Chaucer says of his Miller: “At wrastlynge he wolde have awey the ram.”

p. 91.  Prove what he could do. This passage suggests an episode in Havelock the Dane, in which the hero takes part in the sports and comes out best.

p. 93.  A greater., i.e., grown older and able to do more damage, as, for example, upon the champion himself.

p. 95.  As I brook my neck. This curious expression, the verb meaning to have the use of, occurs frequently in the text. Various parts of the body are named, as neck, chin, jaw, &c.

p. 95.  St. James, &c. Of Compostella in Galicia, Spain, to 179 whom pilgrimages were popular, especially during the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries.

p. 99.  Adam Spenser. Here Spenser is written as if it were a surname; four lines below, and on pp. 102, 107, &c. it is used clearly to denote his office, which was to take charge of the provisions.

p. 108.  He must needs walk, &c. Compare the case of Sir Amadas: “Now wise men may dwell at home while fools walk abroad.”

p. 109.  Wolf’s head. The Old English expression for outlaw. A price was paid for every wolf’s head, and an outlaw’s life seems to have been regarded in much the same way.

p. 110.  Moot-hall. Moot, from the verb, to meet, is a gathering of any sort. In small communities there would have been doubtless but one hall, in which all political and judicial business would have been transacted.

p. 110.  Sir Ote. This name occurs in the English Lybeaus Disconus, Sir Otes de Lille. It is derived ultimately from Otho or Otto.

p. 111.  Thus brought from prison, i.e., not admitted to bail and brought from prison to trial. The text uses but one word: deliverance, i.e., gaol-delivery.

p.113.  Whose locks were grey. We are told earlier that he was a young man; but this is evidently the true statement. He had served Sir Johan sixteen years and his father before him. By Lodge, too, he is represented as an old man.

p. 116.  Not by the wallet. Instead of hanging a purse at his girdle, or, instead of having to pay a fine?


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