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Early English Romances in Verse done into Modern English by Edith Rickert: Romances of Love; Oxford University Press, New York, (undated); pp. 57-80, 182-186.



IN the brave days of King Arthur, who held England in good laws, there befell a wondrous adventure, whereof was made a lay that was called Launfal, and is yet — will ye hearken to it?

For some time King Arthur sojourned at Carlisle1 with great mirth and disport, he and his goodly knights of the Round Table,1 Sir Percival and Sir Gawayn, Sir Gaheris and Sir Agravayne, and Lancelot du Lake, Sir Kay and Sir Iwayn, a good fighting-man to undertake battles, King Ban-Booght and King Bos of wide fame, Sir Galafre, and Sir Launfal of whom is this tale.

For many a year he had dwelled a bachelor at Arthur’s 58 court, and had scattered abroad largess of gold and silver and rich apparel, alike to squire and knight. And in that his bounty was greatest of all the Round Table, he was made king’s steward, and so continued for ten years in that place.

In the tenth year it befell that Merlin,2 Arthur’s counsellor, gave him rede 3 to go into Ireland to fetch him thence the bright lady Guinevere, the comely daughter of King Ryence,2 in that land. So he did, and brought her home to wife; but she was not liked of Sir Launfal and other honourable knights, her fame being that she favoured gallants in secret from her lord.

Upon a Whitsunday they were wedded, before princes of high degree. No man could ever tell in his tale what folk were at that bridal, from countries far and wide; but none might take his place in the hall if he were less than prelate or baronet,4 and although each was set according to his estate, the service was alike rich and splendid to all.

When these lords had feasted and the cloths were withdrawn, the butlers sent wine to them all, with glad cheer and blithe; and for the nonce the queen gave gifts of gold and silver and precious stones to show her courtesy. Brooch or ring she gave to every knight there save Launfal, 59 to whom she gave nothing; whereby he was put to chagrin.

Now when the bridal was at an end he took leave of King Arthur, saying that a letter was come to him that his father was dead, and he must to the burying.

Then said King Arthur courteously: “Launfal, if thou must depart, take with thee great spending,5 and my sister’s two sons to convey thee home.”

So Launfal bade farewell to the knights of the Round Table, and went forth on his journey till he came to Caerleon,6 to the house of the mayor of that town, who had been his servant.

There stood the mayor himself, as ye shall hear, and watched him ride up on his ambling nag, he with his two knights and other meiny; and presently the mayor went to meet him, saying: “Sir, thou art welcome. Tell me how fares our king?”

Then Launfal answered and said: “He fares as well as any man; and it were great pity else! But, Sir Mayor, truth to tell, I am parted from the king, to my sore grief; and now need no man, above or below, honour me longer for Arthur’s love. Sir Mayor, for the sake of our old acquaintance, may I sojourn with thee? We knew each other some while, of yore.”

The mayor stood and bethought him what might be his 60 answer, then he said: “Sir, seven knights have taken inn here, and even now I await their coming. They are of Little Britain.”7

Launfal turned himself about and laughed scornfully, and said to his knights twain: “Now ye may see of what worth is service under a lord of small degree, and how he may be fain of it!”

Therewith he began to ride away, but the mayor begged him to tarry, and spoke in this wise: “Sir, on the orchard side is a chamber where ye may dwell with comfort and honour, if ye will.”

So Launfal presently alighted, and he and his two knights sojourned there together; but so savagely he made onslaught on his goods that he fell into great debt, right in the first year.

Thus it happened that at Pentecost, that time when the Holy Ghost descended upon mankind, Sir Hugh and Sir John took their leave of Sir Launfal.

“Sir,” they said, “our robes are all ragged, and your treasure is done, and we go hence in evil estate.”

Then said Launfal to his noble knights: “For the love of Almighty God, tell no man how poor I am!” And they answered that they would not betray him to win all this world, and with that they left him.

They went together to Glastonbury,8 where King Arthur was at that time. Seeing his gentle kinsmen, he 61 came forth to meet them, all as they were, in the same robes, now worn and ragged, in which they had gone away.

Then said the cruel Queen Guinevere: “How fares the proud Launfal? Can he still wield his weapons?”

“Yea, madam,” said the knights. “He fares as well as any man, else God forfend!” And then they told to King Arthur and Queen Guinevere much that was worthy and honourable of Launfal, and said: “He loved us so much that he would have kept us at his will evermore. But it happened that he went a-hunting in the grey woods on a rainy day; and so we wore our old clothes and came away just as we were.”

Now King Arthur was glad that Launfal prospered, but the queen was sorely vexed, for with all her heart she wished him, day and night, in pains that should grow ever greater.

Upon the feast of Trinity, a stately banquet was held in Caerleon. Earls, barons, and ladies of that country, and burgesses of the city, both young and old, came thither to that assembly; but Launfal was not bidden, because he was poor and men spoke little of him.

When the mayor set off to the feast, came his daughter to Launfal, and asked if he would dine with her in hall that day.

“Nay, damsel,” said he, “I have no heart to dine. These three days past I have neither eaten nor drunk because of my poverty. To-day I would have gone to 62 church, but lacked hosen and schoon, clean shire and breeches, and for default of clothing might not throng in with the people — what wonder if I am sad? But one thing, damsel, I pray thee, lend me a saddle and bridle that I may ride awhile this morning in a glade outside the city, and so comfort me.”

He made ready his horse, without knave or other squire; and he rode so carelessly that his beast slipped and fell in the fen; whereupon he was a mark of scorn to all that stood about him far and near. Again he mounted, and to make an end of mockery spurred away to the west.

The weather was hot that morning-tide, so he dismounted in the shade of a fair forest, and, folding his mantle together, sat down to rest under a tree where it liked him.

As he sat there sorrowful, he beheld two gentle maidens coming out of the hoar woods. Their kirtles were of Indian sendal,9 laced small and pretty and trim — no gayer ladies might be! Their mantles were of green velvet, embroidered featly in gold, and furred with grey gris.10 Their heads were garlanded, each with a gay coronal of sixty gems and more. Their faces were as white as snow on the downs,11 and they had brown eyes and rosy cheeks — I never saw their like! The one bare a gold basin, the other a fine milk-white towel of good, rich silk. 63 Their kerchiefs were brightly arrayed with splendid gold thread.

Launfal sighed as they came to him over the heath; but in courteous wise he went towards them and greeted them kindly.

“God be with you, damsels,” he said; and they in turn to him: “Sir knight, hail to thee! Our lady, Dame Tryamour,12 bade thee come and speak with her, if it be thy will, nor tarry here longer.”

This Launfal quickly granted the flower-white maidens with all courtesy, and went with them until they were come to a pavilion in the forest, gaily painted and of great splendour. It was wrought, forsooth, of Saracen work,12 and the pommels13 were all of crystal. Upon the top stood an eagle of fine burnished gold set with rich enamel; its eyes were carbuncles14 and shone by night as brightly as the moon that sheds her rays over all. Neither Alexander the conqueror, nor King Arthur in all his glory, had ever such a jewel!

In the pavilion he found Dame Tryamour, daughter of Olyroun,12 king of all the fairies of the Occident, far and near, and a man of much might.

There was a splendid bed covered with dark purple, seemly to look upon; and therein lay lovesomely that gentle lady who had sent for Launfal. For heat she had 64 put down her clothes almost to her girdle; and as she lay uncovered she was as white as a lily in May, or snow that snoweth in the winter-tide — never had he seen a damsel so debonaire. The red rose, new-blown, would have paled against her blushes; and I do assure you that her hair shone like threads of gold. Of her attire no man could tell, nor even think of it clearly in his mind!

“Launfal,” she said, “dear heart, I have left all my joy, sweeting, for love of thee! There is no man in Christendom, neither king nor emperor, that I love so well as thee!”

Launfal looked at that sweet flower and kissed her, and all his love went out to her. Sitting down by her side, he said: “Sweetheart, whatsover befall, I am at thy service!”

“Gentle knight,” she said, “and kind, I know thy estate from first to last, so be not ashamed before me! If thou wilt love me truly, and for me forsake all women, I will make thee rich. I will give thee a purse of silk and clear gold, with three fairy images thereon; and as often as thou dost put thy hand into it, in whatsoever place thou be, thou shalt find therein a mark of gold.15 Also, I give thee Blaunchard,a my loyal steed, and Gyfre,a mine own knave; and of my arms thou shalt have a small banner with three painted ermines. In war or in tournament, no knight’s blow shall hurt thee,a so well shall I thee save!”


“Gramercy, sweet one,” answered the gentle knight. “Nothing could please me more!”

The damsel then arose and bade her maidens bring clear water for her hands; and it was straightway done.

The cloth was laid, the board spread, and they went to supper. Meat and drink they had at their will, spiced wine, claret and rhenish — else were it great wonder!

“When they had supped, and the day was gone, they passed the night together; and when it was the dawn of another morrow, she bade him rise anon.

“Gentle sir knight,” said she, “if thou wilt ever speak with me in any wise, go to some secret place, and I will come to thee as still as any stone, so that no man alive shall see me. But of one thing I warn thee, thou must never boast of me for any reason whatever, else hast thou lost my love.”

Then was Launfal so blithe that he could not have told any man his joy; and he kissed her often and enough, as he took his leave.

Gyfre brought him his steed, and so he sprang into the saddle and rode home to Caerleon, still in his poor garments. In his heart he was content; and all the morning he held him quiet in his chamber.

There came riding through the city ten well-harnessed men on sumpter horses, some with silver, some with gold, some with splendid garments and bright armour, which they brought as gifts to Sir Launfal; and they asked 66 where abode that knight. The young men were clad in Indian silk, and Gyfre rode behind on the flower-white horse, Blaunchard.

Then said a boy standing in the market-place: “How far are all these things going? Tell us, par amour.”

And Gyfre answered: “They are sent as a present to Sir Launfal, who hath been living in great poverty.”

“He is but a poor fellow,” said the boy. “What man recks fo him? He dwells at the mayor’s house.”

There then they dismounted, and gave the noble knight such things as were sent him.

When the mayor saw all that richness and Sir Launfal’s great estate, he held himself in evil plight, and said: “Sir, for charity, eat with me in hall to-day. Yesterday I had meant that we should be at the feast together and have joy and mirth, but erst thou wert gone.”

“God reward thee, Sir Mayor,” answered Launfal; “while I was in my poverty thou didst never bid me to dinner, and now have I more gold and fell sent me by my friends than belongs to thee and thine!” And the mayor went away for very shame.

Launfal now clad himself in purple furred with white ermine; and Gyfre returned in full, according to tally and score, all that his master had borrowed beforetimes.

He held great feasts, fed fifty poor guests who were in misfortune, bought fifty strong steeds, gave fifty rich garments to knights and squires, rewarded fifty men of 67 religion, delivered fifty prisoners and made them quit and free, clothed fifty jesters, and did honour to many men, in countries far and near.

And at last the lords of Caerleon let cry a tournament in the town for love of Sir Launfal, and for Blaunchard his good steed, to know how he that was so well endued should prosper.

And when the day was come for which the jousting had been set, the lords of the castle rode out anon, all in a row, to the sound of trumpets. The tournament began, and every knight laid good blows on every other, alike with maces and with swords. Men might behold some steeds won and some lost, and knights wonder wroth. Never was held better tournament since the Round Table first was ordained, I dare well say.

Many a lord of Caerleon that day was overborne. The mighty constable himself would no longer abide, but rode up to Launfal and smote at him, and so Launfal in turn; and they fought with stern, grim strokes on each side until Launfal had the advantage and bore that other to the ground; and when he was down Gyfre leaped into his saddle and rode away.

When the Earl of Chester 16 saw that, he was near mad in his heart for wrath; and riding up to Sir Launfal, he smote him on his helmet so that his crest flew away — so says the French tale. But Launfal was so strong 68 that he only dismounted, and bore the earl down to the dust.

Then a great rout of Welsh knights came about him17 — I know not how many; and men might see shields riven, spears split and splintered, behind and eke before. By Launfal and his steed many a knight verily was borne to the ground. So the prize of the tourney was given to Launfal that day, without oath-taking.

Afterwards he rode into Caerleon, to the mayor’s house, many a lord with him; and there he held a rich feast and splendid that lasted a fortnight. Earls and barons a many were set seemly in the hall and served royally. And every day at night came Dame Tryamour to Launfal’s chamber, and none that ever were there saw her, save Gyfre and his lord.

Now there was a knight in Lombardy17 called Sir Valentine, who had great envy of Launfal, for he had heard speak of him, that he could joust well and was a man of might. Sir Valentine himself was wonder strong, being fifteen feet tall; and he felt all a-flame to tilt or fight with Launfal in a field between themselves. So, sitting in his hall, he called a messenger, and bade him go to Britain to the knight who was held of such prowess: “Say to him that for love of his lady, if she be gentle, courteous, free and king, he come to tourney with me to keep his harness from rusting, and otherwise hurt his manhood.”


The messenger went forth at his lord’s bidding. He had the wind at his will, and when he was come over the water, he took his way to Launfal, and greeted him with peaceable words, and said: “Sir! my lord, Sir Valentine, a noble warrior and quaint of device, hath sent me to thee, and prays thee for thy lady’s sake to joust with him.”

Now Launfal laughed quietly, and answered that by his gentlehood, he would joust with Sir Valentine that day fortnight. And he gave the messenger for his tidings a noble courser, a ring, and a robe of striped cloth.18

He took leave of Tryamour — for that bright lady was even then in his chamber; and when he kissed her, she said: “Dread thee nothing, gentle sir knight, for thou shalt overcome him on that day.”

Naught would he take with him save Blaunchard, his steed, and of all his meiny, only Gyfre, his knave. Then he went on board ship with a fair wind, and crossed the salt flood to Lombardy. And when he was come over the water, he went to the city of Atalye,19 where the jousts were to be held.

There Valentine awaited him with a great host; but Launfal, with his little company, soon stopped his boasting; for when he was geared with helm and spear and shield, and mounted on Blaunchard, his light-footed steed, 70 the folk that beheld him in his shining armour said they had never seen such a knight. The two then rode together, and their spears splintered and scattered in the field. They rode together another course, and Sir Launfal’s helmet slipped off, as the tale goes. Thereupon Sir Valentine laughed and made good sport; and Launfal had never before been so put to shame in any fight. But Gyfre showed that he was good at need, for unseen by any man, he leaped on his master’s horse, and ere the two knights met again, he had set his lord’s helmet on, fair and featly. At this Launfal was glad and blither, and thanked Gyfre heartily for his brave deed. Then Sir Valentine smote Launfal so that his shield fell from him; but ere it touched the ground, Gyfre caught it up and gave it back to his lord.20 Joyously then Launfal rode a third time, and as a knight of much main, smote Sir Valentine so that both horse and man fell dead, groaning with a grisly wound.

As soon as Valentine was slain, all the lords of Atalye had envy of Launfal, and swore that he should die ere he went out of Lombardy, and be hanged and drawn; but Sir Launfal unsheathed his falchion, and in a little while laid them down as lightly as falls the dew. And when they were all sailing, he returned to Britain with great mirth and rejoicing.

The tidings of his exploits reached King Arthur, who 71 anon sent him a letter that he should come to court at St. John’s Mass;21 and since he was so given to largess, that he should again be steward in the hall, and should direct the great feast that would be held on that day, for earls and barons bold, and lordings of every degree. So he took leave of Tryamour, to go and govern the king’s feast.

There he found much mirth and state, and ladies bright in bower, and a great company of knights. Forty days lasted the feast right royally; and at the end of that time the lords took leave to wend, each his own way.

After meat, Sir Gawayn, Sir Gaheris, and Agravayne went with Sir Launfal to dance on the green beneath the tower where the queen lay, with sixty maidens and more. Launfal, who was loved the best of all for his largess, was set to lead the dance; and the queen leaned forth and watched them.

“There is Launfal dancing,” she said, “that man of bounty! I will go down to him. He is the fairest bachelor among all the knights I see. He never had a wife; so, tide me good or ill, I will go about to learn his disposition, for I love him as my life!”

She took with her a company of five and sixty ladies, the fairest she could gather; and in orderly throng they passed down to disport them with the knights.

The queen went to the foremost end,22 between 72 Launfal and Gawayn the courteous; and, following her ensample, her ladies went all to take part in the dance; and indeed it was a fair sight to see them at it, always a lady and a knight together.

When the dance grew slack, the queen took Launfal aside, and spoke in this manner: “Sir knight, of a truth I have cherished thee in my heart these seven years; and certes, I die for very love of thee, Launfal, dear friend!”

“By God that ruleth all,” he answered gently, “I will never turn traitor, night or day!”

“Fie on thee, coward!” then she cried. “Thou art worth no more than hanging, high and stiff! That thou hast ever been born, or livest now, ’tis pity, for thou lovest no woman, and no woman thee! Thou wert better forlorn!”

At this the knight was bitterly ashamed, and could not forbear to speak, but said to the queen: “A fairer woman than thou didst every lay eyes upon I have loved these seven years and more! Her loathliest maiden, beyond a doubt, might better be a queen than thou at thy best!”

Thereupon the queen was mightily wroth. She gathered her maidens, and they went back together anon, up into her tower.

There she took to her bed, sick with rage, and swore, as she hoped to thrive, so should she be avenged on Launfal that the land should ring with it in five days’ time!

When King Arthur came from hunting, blithe and gay, 73 and went to his chamber, straightway the queen cried out to him: “Save I be avenged I shall die! My heart will break in three!23 I spoke to Launfal in mirth, and he besought me, to my shame, to be his mistress! And of one of his lemans he made this boast that the loathliest maid she had might well be queen above me!”

The king in great wrath swore by God that Launfal should be slain; and he sent doughty knights to bring him to be hanged and drawn.

While they sought him he was gone to his chamber to seek comfort with his love; but she, as she had warned him erst, was lost to him and would not come.

Then was Launfal right sorrowful. He looked in the purse that had furnished him with spending whenever he had need; but it was empty, sooth to say. And Gyfre had ridden away on Blaunchard his steed. All that he had gained was melted like snow in the sun; his armour that had been flower-white was now black of hue. Then he cried out:

“Alas, how shall I live without thee, sweetheart Tryamour? All my joy is done; and, worst of all, I have lost thee, lovesome lady!”

Thereupon he beat his head and body, and cursed the mouth that had uttered the foolish words; and for trouble and sore grief, at that time, he fell swooning to the ground.

But straightway came four knights, who bound him and 74 led him before King Arthur; and then was he in double woe.

“Vile and attainted traitor!” cried the king. “Why didst thou make such boasting that thy leman’s loathliest maid was fairer then my queen? That was a foul lie! And before, thou didst beseech her to be thy mistress, which was a misproud24 liking!”

With eager mood the knight answered as he stood before the king, the queen looking on: “As I am a man, I never besought her to folly; but she said that I was naught, and that no woman loved me, or gave me her company; and I answered her that my lady’s loathliest maid was better worthy to be queen. And certes, lords, this is true! Therefore I am ready to abide what the court shall deem.”

Twelve knights25 were set to write down all that passed. And they that took up the quest, knowing the queen’s ill fame, that she had never forsaken to have lovers besides her own lord, said that it was all long of 26 the queen and not of Launfal, and that they would clear him if he could bring the lady of whom he made such boasting, and if her maidens were fairer-faced than the queen, he should be held a true men; but if he could not show his mistress, they agreed that he should be hanged like a thief. And so they proffered hm to bring his sweetheart or lose his head.


Then the queen spoke: “If he bring one fairer than I am, put out my two grey eyes!”

The wager was taken in hand, and two noble knights, Sir Percival and Sir Gawayn, stood as sureties for Launfal until a certain day, which was after a twelvemonth and a fortnight; and within this time he must show his lady.

Now the good knight Sir Launfal wrung his hands in sorrow and care, and would gladly have foregone his life and his head together; and every man grieved that knew his evil case.

The certain day drew near, and his sureties brought him before the king, who marked him well and bade him show his lady. And he said that he was right sorrowful, but he might not do so.

Then the king commanded his barons to give judgment and condemn him to be slain; but the Earl of Cornwall,27 who was with them at that council, said: “We will not do so! It were great shame to condemn that noble knight! Therefore, lords, do by my counsel: we will lead the king another way, and Launfal shall flee out of the land.”

And as the barons stood thus speaking, they saw ten lovely maidens come a-riding; they deemed them so fair and bright as that the loathliest one might have been their own queen.

Then said Gawayn, the knight courteous: “Launfal, 76 brother, dread thee no whit! Here comes thy gentle lady.”

But Launfal answered: “Gawayn, dear friend, verily, not one of these is my sweetheart.”

They went right to the castle, and dismounted at the gate; and, going up to King Arthur, bade him make ready at once a fair chamber for their lady, who was of blood royal.

“Who is your mistress?” asked Arthur.

“Ye shall know,” answered the maid, “for she comes riding here.”

Then the king gave command that the fairest chamber in his palace should be prepared for her.

But straightway he sent to his barons to give judgment on that proud traitor. Anon they answered: “Once we have seen the bright maidens we shall not abide long.” And again, to please their lord the king, they sent a new tale, that some condemned him while others made him quit and clear — bold enough was their talking!

Presently, as they were about to judge him, they saw ten other lovely maids, fairer to behold than the first ten. They came a-riding on gay Spanish mules, with saddles and bridles of Champagne, and reins that gleamed brightly; and they were clothed all in attire of samite.28 And every man there had great desire to see their gay weeds.


Then said Gawayn the courteous: “Launfal, here comes they lady to bring thee release.”

But Launfal answered drearily, and said: “Alas, I find her not in all that throng!”

They rode forth on to the palace, and dismounted at the high daïs before King Arthur. After greeting the king and queen, one maid spoke these words: “Have thy hall decked, and the walls covered with rich cloths and hangings, against the coming of my lady Tryamour.”

“By our Lord, the Saviour,” answered the king straightway, “welcome, ye maidens sheen!”

He commanded Lancelot du Lake to bring them, with mirth and much honour, to the same chamber wherein their sisters were.

But the queen, suspecting guile, that Launfal would soon be quit and clear through the coming of his lady, said anon to King Arthur:

“Sir, if thou wert courteous or didst love thin own honour, I should now be avenged on that traitor, who hath changed all my cheer! Thou shouldst not spare Launfal, for thy barons but lead thee on to thine own undoing!”

But even as she spoke, they all saw a gay damsel come riding alone on a comely white palfrey; she was as gentle and pretty as a bird on the bough; and in all ways fair enough to dwell in any house of mortal man. She was as sweet as the briar-blossom, with grey eyes that shone with 78 a lovely cheer in her bright face. She was like the red rose on its stem, and her hair gleamed like threads of gold under her golden crown set with dazzling gems. Her graceful, slender body was attired in purple silk, her mantle furred with white ermine, turned back all pretty and fine. her saddle was goodly; the housings were all of green velvet, painted with imagery, and bordered with nothing less than gold bells; and in the peaks, before and behind, were set two brilliant stones of the Indies, while the pectoral29 of her palfrey, gay and strongly made, was worth the best kingdom in Lombardy.

Her palfrey came on a soft pace that men might see her. On her hand she bore a gerfalcon; and by her side, as she rode through Caerleon, ran two white greyhounds with golden collars.

When Launfal saw that lady, at once he cried aloud to all the folk, both young and old: “Here comes my sweet mistress! An she would, she might free me from my troubles!”

She rode forth into the hall, where was the queen with her ladies, and also King Arthur. Her own maidens came to take her stirrup; and then she doffed her mantle on the floor, that men might see her better, and went straight up to the king, who gave her courteous greeting, and she him with pleasant words.

Up stood the queen and her ladies, the better to behold 79 her all about, and how she stood straight and comely; and by her side they were all as dull as is the moon against the sun in daylight.

To King Arthur she said: “Sir, I come hither for one thing — to acquit the knight Launfal. Never at any time did he the folly of seeking the queen’s love; but, Sir King, she besought him to be her gallant; and he answered her and said that his lady’s loathliest maid was fairer than she.”

Said the king without oath: “All may see that it is true; ye are the fairer.”

Thereupon Dame Tryamour went up to the queen, and blew upon her such a breath that she never had her sight again.

Anon the lady leaped on her palfrey, and bade them all good-day. And even then came Gyfre out of the forest with Launfal’s steed, which he straightway brought up to his lord’s side. Forthwith Launfal sprang to horse, and followed his mistress as, with her maidens, she returned with pride and joy the way she had come, onward through Caerleon to the beautiful isle called Olyroun.30

And every year, upon a certain day, men may yet see Launfal, and hear the neighing of his steed. He that is bent upon a course or two, to keep his armour from rusting, in tournament or in battle, may there tilt with Sir Launfal.


Thus was this knight of the Round Table taken into the Faërie, and after seen of no man in this land.

Thomas Chester made this tale
Of Sir Launfal, without fail,
           Good of Chivalry.
Jesus that is Heaven’s King,
Give us all His dear blessing,
           And His Mother Marie!


1   See note.

2  See note.

3   Counsel.

4  Probably banneret — knight-landowner. Baronets were first created by James I.

5  Money to spend.

6  Caerleon-on-Usk, near Newport. See note.

7  Brittany.

8  See note.

9  Some kind of silk.

10  Some grey fur not clearly identified.

11   See note.

12  See note.

13  Ornaments in the shape of balls.

14  See note on Floris and Blancheflour, p. 179.

15  About thirteen shillings and fourpence.

16  See note.

17  See note.

18  See note.

19  Chaucer’s Satalye — ancient Attaleia, now Adalia or Satalia (?). But this is a seaport in Asia Minor.

20  See note.

21  June 21st.

22  The head of the dance.

23  See note.

24  Presumptuous.

25  Some form of trial by jury.

26   Because of.

27  See note.

28   A satin-like silk.

29  Trappings in front of the breast.

30  Oleron, off the coast of France.




This lay (1044) lines is found only in MS. Cotton Caligula A ii., dating probably between 1446 and 1460. It was published by Ritson in his collection mentioned above. Another version called Landavall was published and studied by Prof. Kittredge in the American Journal of Philology, vol. x., and a third called Sir Lambewell, printed first in 1558, is to be found in Hales and Furnivall’s edition of the Percy Folio MS. The source of all three, and of two fragmentary versions, if the Lanval of Marie de France, from which the version here modernized diverges most widely (containing more than 500 additional lines), by introducing other material. This version was composed by one Thomas Chestre, whose name is found in the last stanza, not earlier than the latter part of the fourteenth century.


p. 57.   Miles. Soldier, hence knight; here equivalent to Sir.

p. 57.   Carlisle. Text: Kardewyle = Cardeuil or Carduil, which is generally held to refer to Carlisle; and here is apparently distinct from Caerleon, with which it is sometimes identified. Again, however, all three names are found together.

p. 57.   Knights of the Round Table.

p. 57.   Knights of the Round Table. Nearly all mentioned here are familiar through Malory’s Morte d’Arthur, and Tennyson’s Idylls of the King, Sir Percival is the hero of the English metrical romance, Sir Percival of Galles, which seems to be a more antique form of the tale than Chrétien de Troyes’ poem on the same theme; he appears also in the Welsh Mabinogion as Peredur. He is the uncouth, rustic hero who surprised Arthur’s court by his achievements, very different from Tennyson’s conception of him in The Holy Grail. Sir Gawayn, the secondary hero in the great Conte du Graal begun by Chrétien de Troyes as Percival le Gallois without knowledge of the Grail episode, was, through this book and translations and adaptations of portions of it, a familiar figure in Middle English, especially in the North, where his name survives still (Gavin). He was pre-eminently the knight courteous, and by no means the fickle, untrustworthy being described by Tennyson. He and the less-known Gaheris and Agravayne, sometimes called le Orgueilleux, were the sons of King Lot of Orkney and King Arthur’s sister Bellicent. Gaheris is the Gareth of Tennyson’s Gareth and Lynette, and Agravayne lends his name, under the form Degrevant (cf, note on p. 187 below), to a Middle English romance included in this volume. Lancelot du Lake gradually superseded Gawayne as the chief knight of the Round Table. He is the hero of Chrétien’s Roman de la Charrette, and of the prose Lancelot attributed to Walter Map, translated into Scotch in the fifteenth century under the title, Lancelot of the Laik. He was the son of King Ban of Benwick in France, mentioned below as Ban-Booght. The second part of the last name is evidently 184 another spelling, as is also the Bos which follows it, of Bors, Boort, the name of Ban’s brother. Kay is one of the oldest of the Arthurian heroes, being mentioned in the Welsh Triads. In the earlier traditions he figured as a powerful knight (cf. his appearance in the Story of Gray-Steel, vol. ii., p. 154, of this series), but later, he became the laughing-stock of the minstrels. He was Arthur’s seneschal. Ywain is the hero of Chrétien’s Chevalier au Lion, translated into Middle English as Iwain and Gawin. Galafre I have not identified. Ritson suggests Galahad; but the name is nearer to the French Gaufrei (Galfridus = Geoffrey), who, however, belonged to the geste of Doon de Mayence. Launfal (Fr. Lanval) does not seem to appear elsewhere. The name only has been borrowed by Lowell in his Sir Launfal.

p. 58.   Merlin, the magician, was Arthur’s chief counsellor, one of the most familiar figures in medieval literature. He is prominent in various French romances, and appears in Middle English in a very early poem called Arthur and Merlin, and later in Lovelich’s Merlin. See also Tennyson’s Merlin and Vivien.

p. 58.   King Ryence or Ryon. King of Ireland and North Wales, who, in some stories, sent to King Arthur a demand for his beard to make the twelfth for fringing his own mantle. He is sometimes represented as the enemy against whom Arthur helps Guinevere’s father, Leodogran; only here, as far as I remember, as her father.

p. 59.   Caerleon. In Monmouthshire. Urbs Legionum. Near it is a Roman camp known locally as King Arthur’s Round Table.

p. 60.   Glastonbury. Associated with the name of Arthur after the reported discovery of his tomb there in the twelfth century. It came to be identified with the Isle of Avalon, to which he was supposed to have been conveyed mortally wounded; thence, legend had it, he should one day return in time of need.


p. 62.  Snow on the downs. An uncommon figure, showing that Chestre was used to a hill country.

p. 63.  Dame Tryamour. The pun is probably intentional, try-amour, i.e., test-love, such hybrids of French and English occurring elsewhere. A similar name is Lufamour (love-amour, perhaps for love par amour), in Sir Perceval of Galles, In the romance of Sir Triamour, the name is given to a man, and seems to be used without special significance.

p. 63.  Saracen work. This was supreme praise. Saracen work became known especially through the conquest of Sicily by the Normans, who encouraged and exploited the silk-weaving that they found there. After the Sicilian Vespers in 1282, these Saracen weavers carried their industry into Italy, whence it spread throughout Europe. The romances are rich in allusions to the beauty of this work.

p. 63.  Olyroun. Possibly confused with Oberon. See note on p. 49 above, where the name is given correctly to an island.

p. 64.  Blaunchard. Probably white, as the name suggests. The supernatural horse in Sir Amadas (vol. ii.) was white; and so were the fairies’ horses in Sir Orfeo.

p. 64.  Gyfre. Ritson pointed out the resemblance between this name and Giflet or Girflet, in the French Lancelot du Lac; but it is practically the same as Giffroun (le Fludus), in Lybeaus Disconus.

p. 64.  No knight’s blows shall hurt thee. In Floris and Blancheflour this protection and more was given by a ring (cf. p. 12, above).

p. 67.  Earl of Chester . . . Welsh knights. The last of the old Earls of Chester died 1237, but as the tournament does not appear in Marie’s poem, this earl, and the Welsh knights who seem to have been of his party, must have been introduced by Chestre, whose name probably denotes some connection with 186 the town of Chester. Curiously enough, the title Earl of Chester was revived in 1376, and conferred upon the young prince, afterwards Richard II. It is possible that in this added passage there is a touch of local colour taken from Chestre’s own experience; but further evidence is needed as to the origin of the poem before the point can be explained.

p. 68.  A knight in Lombardy, &c. This episode is peculiar to Chestre’s version; but may well have been borrowed from some other romance.

p. 69.  Striped cloth, i.e., ray, which is often mentioned, especially in the fourteenth century.

p. 70.  Give it back to his lord. Being a fairy, Gyfre was invisible.

p. 73.  Break in three. The use of numbers in the Middle Ages is a study in itself. Three was common in token of the Trinity; five, of the five wounds of Christ, &c.

p. 75.  Earl of Cornwall. The Duke of Cornwall was introduced by Marie; and again in the fourteenth century the Black Prince and his son, Richard II., were both created, not Earls, but Dukes of Cornwall.


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