A Description Of Sir Gawain
Gawain was one of the great heroes in the Arthurian legend. No other knights appeared in more tales, yet he is not often the chief hero in most of these medieval romances.
Earlier tales of Gawain showed that he was the ideal or the perfect knight, whom others knights are measured, however with the French romances, he was supplanted by other heroes, such as Lancelot, Tristan, Perceval and Galahad. The French writers tend to portray Gawain as an anti-hero and a womaniser; a ruthless and treacherous knight, particular by the time of Merlin Continuation (Post-Vulgate) and the Prose Tristan (c. 1240).
Almost always, Gawain was the fierce supporter of King Arthur, his uncle. His first appearance as Gwalchmei or Gwalchmai in the Welsh tale, called Culhwch and Olwen (c. 1100, in the Mabinogion) was short in detail, unlike the three Welsh romances that were written later in the mid-13th century (also part of the Mabinogion). His name, Gwalchmei, mean “Hawk of May”, and the month of May usually indicate the start of summer in Celtic calendar, suggests that he was a solar god. In Geoffrey of Monmouth’s work, called Historia regum Britanniae, he was called Gualguanus, as the fiery, reckless knight (see the Life of King Arthur).
Gawain was a prominent character in all five romances of Chretien de Troyes, yet his role was secondary to the chief hero of each of the romance. Though his first major role was in Chretien’s last work, Conte du Graal (“The Story of the Grail” or Perceval), in c. 1180, which the poet never completed. This was the first story of the Grail. In other versions about the Grail, Gawain played an important role in the quest, but he appeared as the main hero in the 1st Grail Continuation (c. 1190) and the German Diu Krone (c. 1210).
Gawain was also prominent figure in a number of prose romances of the Vulgate Cycle (c. 1225-1237), particularly in the Vulgate Merlin, but his role was overshadowed by Lancelot in Prose Lancelot. In the Queste del Saint Graal, he had no success in the Quest. And in the final Vulgate text, Mort Artu, a rift between two friends, Gawain and Lancelot, when the latter had inadvertently killed Gawain’s two brothers, when Lancelot was rescuing Queen Guinevere from execution.
By the time of the Post-Vulgate romances (such as the Suite du Merlin and Post-Vulgate version of the Quest, c. 1240-1250) and the Prose Tristan (c. 1250), Gawain was shown not as a hero, but a murderous villain. So when Sir Thomas Malory wrote Le Morte d’Arthur (1469), he used mainly the Post-Vulgate texts in his portrayal of Gawain.
You will find more background detail in the Knights of the Round Table.
Since there are many legends of Gawain, I have moved Gawain and the Green Knight to a new page. Also there is the Perilous Graveyard.
Since there are many legends of Gawain, I have moved Gawain and the Green Knight to a new separate page. Also there is new page, titled Perilous Graveyard. All future small romances of Gawain will be found in this pages. Larger tales will be found in new pages.
Quest of the White Hart (see Legend of Excalibur)
The Story of the Grail See Grail Legend (Perceval’s Tradition)
Vulgate Cycles (Legend of Excalibur, Lancelot, Quest of the Holy Grail and Death of King Arthur)
|The Rise of Sir Gawain was anonymous Latin romance, written in the mid-13th century. The full Latin title is De ortu Waluuanii, nepotis Arturi – “Rise of Gawain, Nephew of Arthur”. The story began with his birth, and how he was raised in Italy without knowing his real name, until Gawain had proved himself to his uncle in Britannia, King Arthur, as a knight of great prowess. Only then was his parentage and name was revealed to the young hero.
The tale is quite common, where a young hero didn’t know his own name until he had won through exceptional deeds of arms. An early French romance titled Le Bel Inconnu (The Fair Unknown), written by Renaud de Beaujeu in 1185-1190, where Gawain’s own son (Guinglain) suffered from similar identity crisis.
|Uther Pendragon was ruling Britain at the time, fighting the Saxons. Uther was married to Igraine and he was the father of Arthur and a daughter named Anna.
One of his allies was a young king named Lot, from Orkney. When Anna saw Lot, she fell in love with him. No one knew of her affection for the young knight. Lot, however, received a wound from one of the battles against the Saxons.
One night, as Lot was recovering from his wound, Anna had secretly entered his chamber, expressing her love for him. The two made love and from that union, she conceived a child.
Anna feared that she and her unborn child would be killed, if they out she had become pregnant without being married to a man, so she hid condition from everyone. When she gave birth to a son, Anna fearfully hid the baby. When the opportunity arose, she gave her son to a merchant, asking the loyal man to care for the baby. With the child, Anna left her royal gold signet ring and a letter that identified who the baby really was. She had named her son as Gawain (Waluuanius in this Latin tale). She also gave the merchant a chest filled with gold, which was to be given to Gawain when he was old enough. Anna stressed the importance to the merchant of keeping her son’s identity and parentage from everyone, including Gawain himself.
(Please note that after this, most of the book doesn’t mentioned Gawain by name. He was only referred to as boy or Knight of the Surcoat through much of the tale.)
The merchant was loyal and would have done everything that the princess had asked of him. However one day, the merchant went to get supply from the city of Narbonne (a city in southern Gaul or France), but he left no one to guard the ship and the baby.
A local fisherman named Viamundus found the deserted ship. Viamundus found the small child in the crib, and the treasure in the cabin. Viamundus plundered the ship, taking all the treasure, including the infant.
The merchant returned to his ship to find the infant and the treasure he had been told to keep safe, were now gone. The merchant was distressed.
The fisherman brought the child and the treasure to his home. Viamundus gave the infant to his wife to nurse. In the cradle, the fisherman found the letter and the signet. When Viamundus read the letter, he discovered that the infant was a son of the royal princess from Britannia (Britain). Viamundus decided to respect the will of the letter, keeping the baby’s identity a secret from everyone. The boy became known as the “Boy with No Name” (puer sine nomine). They raised Gawain as if he was their own son.
Seven years, Viamundus thought it was safe that no one would search for foster son, so he left Narbonne, taking his wife, foster son and the treasure with him to Rome. With the wealth, he pretended to have come from a noble Roman family, with him in the guise of a military leader from Gaul (France). Viamundus offered his services to the Roman emperor. Viamundus became a great friend of the emperor and the pope. As a favour to Viamundus, the emperor made the former fisherman’s son as his page.
When Viamundus became seriously ill and decided to reveal his secret to the emperor. Viamundus gave the letter and signet, and told the emperor, Gawain’s real name and parentage. The emperor promised Viamundus to train Viamundus’s foster son as a knight, and when the time was ripe, he would send Gawain to his uncle, Arthur, who was now king of Britannia, with the letter and signet to identify Gawain.
When Viamundus died and the emperor had him buried with full honour of a nobleman. Gawain was twelve at the time of Viamundus’ death. The emperor and Pope Sulpicius kept Viamundus’ secret from Gawain. The emperor became the boy’s foster father.
Before I continued with the story, it should be noted that Geoffrey of Monmouth’s account in Historia Regum Britanniae (c. 1137), he wrote that Loth (Lot) had sent his twelve-year-old son to the serve in the household of Pope Sulpicius. This was during the time when Arthur helped his brother-in-law Lot to secure the kingship of Norway, after King Sichelm’s death (Lot’s uncle). And it was Pope Sulpicius who had knighted young Gawain.
In Geoffrey’s Historia, there is no mention of Gawain being born illegitimately and send secretly to Rome. Nor were there any indications that Gawain did not know his name.
|Gawain was served in the Roman imperial household, first as a page, then as a squire. Gawain distinguished himself in the military training, at the age of 15, he was dubbed as a knight, receiving his arms on Equirria, a long festival dedicated to Mars, the Roman god of war, between February 27 and March 14. As the most skilful new knight, young Gawain also received a golden circlet.
The Boy with No Name (Gawain) became known as the “Knight of the Surcoat” (Miles cum tunica armature), because he was the first to wear crimson tunic over his armour.
At the time of his knighthood, there was news of a temporary truce between the Christians and Persia at Jerusalem. As a boon to his young charge (Gawain), the emperor agreed to send him to fight a duel with the Persian champion, so Gawain could avenge the honour and faith of Christianity.
So Gawain and a delegate departed from Rome to Jerusalem in 16 ships. However a fierce storm disrupted their journey, where they had to land on an island ruled by Milocrates, the Pirate King. The island was known as the Barbarous Isle.
Milocrates had captured the emperor’s niece as hostage, and forced her to become his consort.
While Gawain and a few companions went into the forest to forage for food, they were confronted by Milocrates’ 20 hostile knights. Gawain had killed 13 knights in the fighting. When Milocrates heard the news of intruders on his island, Milocrates organised his forces to drive off or kill the invaders. While at the camp, the centurion sent his kin, Odabel, with Gawain to scout the land for more enemies. Around this time, Gawain killed a wild boar with his spear and his sword.
The centurion had also captured Milocrates’ spies. The centurion only agreed to free the spies, if they falsify their report to Milocrates, on the number that had landed on the island. If Milocrates thought there was more enemies than his force, then Milocrates would delay in attacking them.
So Milocrates became alarm at (false) report of invaders. So he gathered even a large force; sending his a fleet with his brother, Buzafaran (Egesarius), while he commanded the land forces.
Meanwhile, Gawain managed to secretly entered the city and then into the palace. Gawain was able to listen to Milocrates plan. One of the spies, named Nabaor that the centurion had captured, recognised Gawain. Instead of sounding the alarm, Nabaor decided to help Gawain. The spy took Gawain to see Milocrates’ queen, who was the niece of the Roman emperor.
The Queen was also willing to help Gawain, so gave Milocrates’ sword and armour to the young knight. She informed Gawain of the prophecy that Milocrates can’t be defeated nor lose his kingdom, unless someone else wore his armour. The Queen also told the hero that the populace was willing to uprise against their king, because of his oppressive rule.
In the morning, Milocrates marched out of the city with his army. The Queen had the people gathered secretly to lock the gate of the city and burn down the palace.
Milocrates was shocked to see his city burning. What shocked the Pirate King even more, was he saw a young knight wearing his own armour. Milocrates didn’t know whether to attack the force that had confronted him, or to save his city. His indecision and panic had costed him dearly, because his entire army decided to scatter and flee.
Seeing that he had lost his kingdom, Milocrates attacked Gawain. The contest was evenly matched at first, until the hero swept the King’s head with the sword.
The enemy army surrendered to the Romans when they saw that their king was dead. The Queen and populace welcomed the Roman liberators, but the Romans didn’t spare any of Milocrates’ advisers.
Gawain and the Romans stayed for 15 days on the island, before they departed. They had managed to recruit 200 warriors before they left, as well as some extra ships.
When their ships encountered the fleet of Egesarius, Milocrates’ brother, the two sides attacked. Though the Roman was winning the naval battle, an enemy ship threw Greek fire aboard their ship. To rescue his men from the burning ship, Gawain leaped aboard the enemy ship, either killing the pirates or throwing them overboard. At the end of the fighting, the Romans had captured 30 pirate ships.
The Romans arrived in Jerusalem at the appointed time. Both armies agreed that the champions of each side would fight a mortal combat to decide the victory of either side. Gawain’s opponent was Gormundus, the giant Persian knight.
Both warriors fought for the whole day. They were seemed to be evenly matched, and only halted when night fell. They agreed to resume the duel on the following morning.
They fought hard the next day. Both knights were furious each one had wounded the other. Gormundus received a broken jaw, while the Knight of the Surcoat had a cut on his forehead. The Persian knight delivered a mighty blow with his shield that break Gawain’s sword. Gawain had only saved, when he managed to hold Gormundus at bay with his tattered shield until night fell, ending the duel without a victor.
On the third day, the two knights met again. However Gormundus grew more tired the younger knight, giving ground to the Knight of the Surcoat. Only shame and the jeering from his own side, did the Persian warrior redoubled his effort. Gormundus delivered a vicious overhead blow that cleaved the shield right to Gawain’s arm. The force drove the hero to his knees. Anger and shame of coming to his knees, Knight of the Surcoat leaped back to his feet and delivered a mighty blow that cleaved the helmet and Gormundus’ head, right down to the breastbone.
The Persians were distraught to see that their champion had fallen, withdrew from Jerusalem and returned to their homeland. Gawain won fame and glory throughout the Roman Empire.
|Victory over the Persians had brought peace to the Roman Empire, but the Knight of the Surcoat grew restless with inactivity, decided to travel to Britannia in search for new adventures. Though, the emperor was reluctant to have his foster son depart, he remembered his promise to his friend Viamundus.
The emperor only agreed to his foster son departure, if Gawain would present to King Arthur (who was really Gawain’s uncle) with a gold coffer that contain Anna’s document and other items to identify Gawain’s name. (The tale still doesn’t use Gawain’s name, because the hero still doesn’t know of his name and noble lineage.) The Emperor told Gawain that he should not look at the content inside the coffer. The Emperor also included his own testimony about Gawain’s identity.
Gawain arrived in Britain and was approaching the castle of Caerleon in Demetia (Wales), but could cross the river Usk due to the flooding of the ford.
At that very night, Arthur and Gwendolena (Guinevere), who was his wife and queen, were talking in bed. Gwendolena was not just a queen; she was a powerful sorceress with the gift of foretelling.
The queen mocked her husband’s strength and prowess. Gwendolena informed Arthur that a knight from Rome, who was greater than any other knight had arrived at the town of Usk, about six miles away from Caerleon. To prove her prediction, she told her husband that the knight would send her a gold ring and 3000 pieces of gold on two horses in the morning.
Arthur knew of his wife’s divination, but decided to find out if it was true. As Gwendolena slept, the king armed himself and mounted his horse, taking only Sir Kay, his seneschal, with him in this venture.
Arthur encountered the Knight of the Surcoat at the ford, where he recklessly challenged the stranger. Arthur charged at the lone knight, who waited with his lance ready. Arthur was unceremoniously knocked off his saddle into the water. Sir Kay decided to avenge the king, so he too attacked the Knight of the Surcoat and was unhorsed into the river. The king and his seneschal had lost their horses in the encounter so they had to walk back to the castle on foot and in shame.
Arthur returned to his bed, still drench from the river. Gwendolena asked where he had being, and Arthur lied that he had gone out to stop fighting between two men in the castle in the rain.
Gawain found the most shallowest ford and crossed the river. The Knight of the Surcoat did not realise that he had fought the king and his own uncle at the ford.
In the morning, while Arthur still slept, Gwendolena sent a messenger out of the castle, towards the town of Usk, where the boy encountered the Knight of the Surcoat. The knight asked the boy to bear the gifts to the Queen.
When Gwendolena recognised the two horses and the horse trappings belonging to her husband and the seneschal, she understood what had occurred last night when her husband had come to bed drenched. With great amusement, she sent the horses into her bedchamber, where Arthur still slept.
Arthur woke to find his horse and Kay’s in the bedroom. The King felt shame when he realised that Gwendolena knew the truth. Gwendolena showed the proof that the mysterious knight had sent to her: two horses, a gold ring and 3000 pieces of gold coins.
By noon, the Knight of the Surcoat arrived at Arthur’s court in Caerleon. The hero introduced himself to the king and the entire court, telling them that he had come from the Roman imperial court, offering his services in arms and become the king’s companion (become knight of the Round Table). The hero also gave Arthur, the sealed message and the coffer from the Roman Emperor.
Arthur retired to the adjoining chamber to read the Emperor’s personal message. What content he had found in the document left Arthur astonished. Within the coffer, he found the pallium and signet ring that belonged to his sister Anna, as the letter, in his sister’s handwriting that prove the identity of her son. Arthur immediately sent for Anna and her husband Lot, and showed them the contents of documents and the coffer, demanding the explanation from his sister and brother-in-law.
Anna revealed to her brother the truth she was indeed pregnant and gave birth to her son, before she was married to Lot. Both parents and Arthur were overcome with great joy. However, Arthur wanted them to keep this secret from Gawain, until the Roman knight proved his worth to become knight of the Round Table.
Arthur returned the court and rudely told the young knight that he already has many knights of great prowess. So unless the Knight of the Surcoat can prove his prowess, the king suggest that he find services from some other lords. The hero felt slighted by Arthur’s words, yet he felt the need to prove himself. So the hero declared that he would do something that Arthur’s knights were capable of accomplishing.
Six days had passed when news that the Castle of the Maidens was besieged by pagan king. The castle belonged to a fair, young woman, who governed the northern part of Britannia, but as ally of Arthur. The pagan king had fallen in love with this lady, but she refused his advances. The pagan king was enraged because of the rejection, so he occupied the land around the castle.
Arthur immediately mustered his army and gathered his knights of the Round Table, before heading north. Before they reached the castle, another messenger arrived to tell the king that the castle had fallen, and the pagan king had taken the Lady as his prisoner. The pagan king was now heading back to his own realm. Arthur immediately set out in pursuit, in the hope of rescuing the Lady.
Arthur’s rescue plan fell apart when his army encountered unexpected, strong resistance from the rearguard. The pagan king was expecting pursuit and had placed his more experienced knights with the rearguard battalion. The sudden attack by the rearguard had thrown Arthur’s army into confusion. The pagan king’s forces were able to repulse the British army, causing Arthur to shamefully retreat.
The Knight of the Surcoat had followed the army and watched the battle on the hill. When he saw Arthur and his knights being repulsed and retreated from the more superior pagan army, the hero jeered at them for cowardly retreating.
After taunting Arthur and his knights, the hero set out alone to rescue the Lady. The pagan army didn’t expect an attack from a lone knight, which threw them into confusion. When the hero saw the pagan king and the captive, the Knight of the Surcoat charged with his lance ready. The point smashed through the king’s armour and penetrated the pagan king’s chest. The pagan king fell dying to the ground; the hero then seized the rein of the young woman’s horse, trying to lead her out the enemy army.
However, angry royal guards surrounded them and they sought to avenge the death of their king. The Knight of the Surcoat managed to cut his way through the enemy ranks, but the hero and Lady could not escape through the way he had come from, so the hero set out in a different direction, with the enemies in hot pursuit.
As they were fleeing, the hero saw an abandoned fortification with a fosse around it, so he led the maiden to fort. He told the Lady to find a place to hide, while he will defend this place. Fortunately, the bridge to fort was narrow enough that only one enemy can come on him, one at the time. While a broad and deep fosse (moat) surrounded the fort, so no one could surround him.
With his sword and shield ready, the Knight of the Surcoat attacked the pursuing enemies. On the bridge, no one could overcome him, as he killed and wounded many knights. Some fled, while tried to escape from the hero’s vicious sword by jumping off the narrow bridge.
The Knight of the Surcoat had single-handedly defeated the pagan king’s army. He returned to where the king had fallen, and cut off the king’s head. The knight placed the king’s head on top end of the standard, while the head was still wearing its diadem. With the Lady at his side, the Knight of the Surcoat returned to King Arthur’s court in Caerleon.
Here, the hero proudly proclaimed that he had killed the king and destroyed the enemy army alone. He had accomplished what no other knights in Arthur’s court had done.
Rather than being offended by the hero’s words, Arthur was overjoyed and told the young knight that he had earned the highest honour. Arthur asked the young hero his name and lineage. The hero reply that he was Knight of the Surcoat and that he was born in Gaul (France) to Roman senator, because he seriously thought that Viamundus was his father.
With Anna and Lot standing near their son, Arthur had the letter of the Roman Emperor read where every one could hear. It revealed that King Lot of Norway and his wife Anna was the hero’s real parents, and his real name was Gawain. Every one including Gawain were utterly amazed at this revelation. Gawain’s parents joyfully welcomed home their lost son.
Arthur was also joyously announced that Gawain was his nephew. With this announcement, the entire assemblage shouted out:
“Gawain, nephew of King Arthur!“
So here ends the tale of The Rise of Gawain, Nephew of King Arthur.
|This is a continuation of the Legend of Excalibur, after Morgan le Fay’s failed attempt to murder her half-brother, King Arthur. In the texts, it is a continuation of Suite du Merlin (Post-Vulgate, c. 1240) and Sir Thomas Malory’s Le Morte d’Arthur (c. 1469), in Book IV. It comprised of the adventure of Gawain, Yvain and Morholt (Uwain and Marhaus in Malory’s version of the event). I have followed mostly the adventure as told by Malory and kept the name Pelleas and Ettard, rather than using Pellias and Arcade, which was used in the French Suite du Merlin.
The French version (Post-Vulgate) was different had slightly different ending to the one told by Malory, becuase there was reconcilation between Pellias and Arcade. Whereas in Malory’s version, Pelleas left Ettard.
The most interesting part of this episode is Gawain’s role in Pelleas and Ettard, where his promise to Pelleas had proved false and treacherous.
|Morgan le Fay had two attempts to kill her half-brother King Arthur, as well as attempt to kill her own husband, King Urien of Gorre. She used her lover Accolon of Gaul to fight a duel against Arthur, stealing Excalibur and the sheath of Arthur, and giving her brother a bogus sword and scabbard. Her attempt failed because Niniane (Nimue), the Lady of the Lake, who used her own magic to disarm Accolon. Before he died, Accolon told Arthur that it was Morgan’s machination to kill him and her husband Urien. Not realising of her paramount’s death, she would have succeeded in murdering Urien, while he slept. Only the intervention of her son Yvain prevented the death of Yvain’s father. Yvain allowed his mother to escape if she make no further attempt to murder her husband. She made another attempt to kill her brother again, with the use of a magic robe, which would kill anyone who wore the robe. Once again, Niniane advised Arthur to let the servant’s girl (sender) to wear the robe instead. The girl died proving that Morgan still wanted to assassinate him.
Though, Arthur was certain that his brother-in-law (King Urien) was innocent, because of Accolon’s dying revelation, the king was uncertain of Yvain’s loyalty, so Arthur banished his nephew Yvain from his court. The hero Gawain, however, was Yvain’s cousin, so if Yvain had to live in exile, then so would he. So in the morning, Gawain left Arthur’s court with Yvain.
So begin the adventure of the three knights in the Three Damsels of the Fountain.
The two young knights travelled through a forest where they encountered twelve damsels in the valley with turret. The damsels spat and threw mire at the white shield that hanged underneath a tree. The damsels claimed that the shield belong to a knight who hate all women. The shield belonged to the great Irish knight, named Morholt (Marhaus), the son of the King of Ireland. However, the two cousins recognised the name, so that they seriously doubted the damsels’ accusation against Morholt.
When Morholt arrived to collect his shield, the damsels fled in fear, while two knights from the tower challenged Morholt. Morholt killed both knights. Despite his reputation, Gawain insisted in challenging the Irish knight. Morholt unhorsed Yvain, who retired hurt.
Gawain was also unhorsed, but regained his feet. The two knights fought with swords and shields. At first, Gawain proved to be the stronger knight as the sun rose higher at each hour. As the sun pass its zenith and slowly drew nearer to evening, Gawain’s strength decreased as each hour past, so Gawain was weak as an ordinary man. Instead of killing Gawain, Morholt ended the battle, since it was too easy to overpower the younger knight. Gawain gracefully accepted defeat. It is here that the writer Sir Thomas Malory stated that there were six knights who was better than Gawain, including Morholt.
The three knights became friends. Morholt invited the two younger knights to lodge with him. Morholt explained to Gawain and Yvain that those damsels of the turret were actually sorceresses, who wanted to trap unwary knights. They stayed at Morholt’s lodge for a whole week so they could all recover from the fighting.
Then Morholt told them that he would guide the other two knights where they could have adventures. They rode for seven days, until they reached the forest of Arroy. In this forest, they encountered three damsels sitting nearby a fountain.
The eldest damsel wore a garland of gold on her head, and she was 60 years old. The second damsel had a circlet of gold, and she was 30 years of age. The youngest damsel had only saw 15 winters, and she had only a garland of flowers on her head.
The 3 damsels informed the 3 knights that they would each be a companion and a guide to each knight-errant, leading him in an adventure, then after a year and one day, they would meet back at the fountain, to recount their adventures. So each knight must choose one of them to be his companion.
Yvain told his friends that he was weakest and youngest of the three, so he would choose the eldest damsel to be his companion, for he knew he would need the woman with most experience to advise him what to do. Morholt took the second damsel, leaving Gawain with the youngest damsel. Gawain was delighted, because he has the fairest damsel as his companion.
The damsels guided the knights along the road until they came across an intersection that lead to three different directions. Here the three friends parted company, each following his partner.
|The next day, Gawain came across a mounted knight fighting against ten other knights. This knight unhorsed each of the ten knights, using his single lance, but Gawain was amazed when the knight allowed his opponents to capture him, without resistance. The knight allowed himself to be tied under his horse’s belly.
The damsel asked Gawain to aid the knight, which he refused to do so. The young damsel could see that Gawain was not adventurous enough to rescue the helpless knight.
Then they met a knight and dwarf striving for a lady, but the lady rode away with the dwarf, causing distress to the knight. It was then that more knights appeared, challenging Gawain. Both Gawain and one of the two knights unhorsed one another. So they attacked each other with swords.
As they fought, the other knight rode up to the damsel (Gawain’s companion) and asked her to ride away with him, offering his love and loyalty to her. She agreed because she thought Gawain was a coward for not rescuing the captured knight they saw earlier. So the young damsel rode away, abandoning Gawain.
They fought until they both agreed to a draw, and this knight, who was named Sir Carados, offered Gawain lodging. That night, Gawain asked his host if he knew who was the knight who had unhorsed ten other knights, but allowed him to be bind and led away without resistance. His host told him that this great knight was Sir Pelleas, and the ten knights belonged to the fair Lady Ettard. Despite being one of the best knights at that time and winning a tournament in which he defeated 20 knights to win a circlet for the lady, Ettard refused to return his love for her. Though, Pelleas was depressed because Ettard wouldn’t love him, he couldn’t resist seeing her whenever he can, even if it meant that he was her prisoner. But as her captive, Ettard scornfully despised him even more. Hearing this event, Gawain decided that in the morning he will find and help Pelleas win Ettard.
So that day, Gawain departed from Carados’ home, in search of Pelleas. Gawain found the mournful Pelleas. After telling Gawain about his longing for Ettard, Gawain told him that he would help him win Ettard’s love. In order to do this, Gawain asked Pelleas to change armour and shield with him. Gawain instructed to come to Ettard’s land in three days from now.
So Gawain rode towards Ettard’s castle, riding Pelleas’ horse as well as wearing Pelleas’ armour and helmet. When Ettard saw the knight approaching, she fled the castle. It was only when Gawain spoke out that he was not Pelleas and he had removed his helmet to reveal his visage, which Ettard realised that he spoke the truth and welcomed him into her castle. Gawain told a lie to the lady: that he had slew Sir Pelleas, which was why he was wearing Pelleas’ armour and riding his horse.
Though, Ettard pitied Pelleas’ death, she had never love Pelleas. Ettard would willingly give her love to Gawain, since he was a nephew of Arthur. So they left the castle and spent three nights in one of Ettard’s pavilions.
On the third day, Pelleas left for Ettard’s land as he was instructed. Pelleas was greatly distressed and outraged that Gawain was sleeping with the lady that he loved. Pelleas wanted to kill Gawain and Ettard, but he could not bring himself murder them in their sleep. So he lay his unsheathed sword on their necks, and left the pavilion in sorrow. Pelleas returned to his home, and lay in his bed, waiting for his death.
When Gawain and Ettard woke from their sleep and found Pelleas’ sword on their neck, the lady realised that Gawain had lied to her and betrayed Pelleas, so she send the treacherous Gawain away.
In the forest, Niniane (Nimue), the Lady of the Lake, met one of Sir Pelleas’ distressed knights, who informed her of what had happened. Niniane decided to help Pelleas. When she went and saw Pelleas, the Lady of the Lake fell in love with the mournful knight. She was determined to help give Pelleas’ vengeance upon Lady Ettard. She cast a spell upon Pelleas so the he would fall into a slumber.
Then Niniane brought Ettard to Pelleas’ home, and they both looked upon the knight lying upon his bed. Niniane cast an enchantment upon the other woman, so that Ettard would fall in love with the knight that he had spurned. Now it was Ettard who love and long for Pelleas, but when Pelleas woke from his slumber, he no longer love this lady, who had despise and shame him for years. Pelleas now hated and loathed Ettard, and told the traitress lady to never come within his sight. Now it was Ettard, who felt sorrow and distress for losing the man she now loved.
Niniane asked Pelleas to leave this land, and become her husband and consort. So they left for magical domain, and married. While Ettard died from sorrow and longing for Pelleas.
In a way, Gawain had kept his promise to Pelleas in most uncourtly way. In the end, Ettard did love Pellas, but he was no longer in love with her. This showed Gawain in a rather poor light.
|Morholt (Marhaus) rode south with damsel of 30 winters in age. They found a castle to shelter as night fell in the deep forest. This castle belonged to the Duke of the South Marches. However, the Duke regretted offering his hospitality to any knight who claimed to be of the Round Table. (This is a mistake. Morholt was not a knight of the Round Table yet.) The Duke told Morholt that he and the damsel may sleep in peace, but in the morning, he would face him and six sons in combat. Morholt found out that the enmity of the Duke towards Arthur stemmed from that Gawain had previous killed his seven other sons. The Duke would take his revenge on any knight of Arthur, who dared to come into his land. Morholt had no choice but to fight his host, the next day.
In the morning, Morholt prepared for his battle against the Duke of the South Marches and his six sons. Morholt unhorsed the Duke and his sons. Then Morholt then pinned the Duke with his sword, threatening the Duke with death if he and his sons refuse to surrender to him. Seeing no possible escape, the Duke ordered his sons to surrender to Morholt. Morholt ordered them to cease killing Arthur’s knights, and go to Arthur’s court, asking for the king’s grace on Whitsuntide.
The damsel then guided Morholt to a tournament, where he won a gold circlet that was worth a thousand bezants from the Lady de Vawse. Morholt was awarded the circlet, because he had unhorsed forty knights.
Then Morholt came to the aid of Earl Fergus, whose land was troubled by a giant, named Taulurd, brother of another giant Taulas, which Sir Tristan (Tristram) would later killed. This giant proved to be a difficult opponent to Morholt, because Taulurd wielded a gigantic club had destroyed Morholt’s shield. But in the end, Morholt had sheared off Taulurd’s right arm off with his sword. The giant fled and dove into a lake, and out of Morholt’s reach. Since Taulard could stand and keep his head above water, the giant was safe, until Morholt began hurling large stones at the giant. Finally Taulurd lost his footing, fell and drowned.
As a hero, Morholt became a guest to Earl Fergus for the rest of the year, until he was due to meet his friends back at the fountain. On his journey back to the fountain, Morholt defeated four knights of the Round Table, unhorsing Sir Sagremor, Sir Ozana, Sir Dodinas and Sir Felot, all with one lance.
The eldest damsel of the fountain guided Sir Yvain (Owain) westward. Yvain was awarded a gyrfalcon and a warhorse trapped with a cloth of gold, when he downed 30 knights in a tournament, near the march of Wales. After this, Yvain had many other adventures, which Malory doesn’t go into any detail, until the damsel brought him before the Lady of the Rock.
Two brothers, Sir Edward and Sir Hugh of the Red Castle, had disinherited the Lady of Rock’s some lands, so Yvain decided to recover the land from these perilous knights.
When Yvain challenged one of the brothers to recover the land, they both refused. They told Yvain that that to restore the land to the Lady, Yvain must fight with both of them at the same times.
So in the morning, Yvain fought the pair of brothers in an unfair contest. Yvain managed to unhorse both brothers in the joust, but the two knights of the Red Castle recovered and attacked the hero with their swords. Yvain lost his horse in the encounter. They fought for hours; Yvain defend himself but received many wounds from the two knights.
However, Yvain’s courage and perseverance had finally prevailed. Yvain split Sir Edward’s head in two. Sir Hugh realising that his brother was dead, he surrendered to the hero. Yvain made Sir Hugh as Lady of the Rock as prisoner. Sir Hugh restored the land to the lady, and promised to be at Arthur’s court at Pentecost, asking for royal pardon.
Yvain spent half a year at the castle of Lady of the Rock, using that time to recover his strength and heal his wounds. Then he departed for the rendezvous.
The three knights returned to the fountain where they first met the three damsels. As they recounted their adventures, the two elder damsels had praised Yvain and Morholt. Gawain, however, received no praise or honour from the youngest damsel.
After this they left the damsels and were journeying through the forest, when they met a messenger from King Arthur’s court. Arthur had regretted banishing his nephew Yvain, and had sent his people to find Gawain and Yvain throughout Britain in the twelve months since. Both Gawain and Yvain were overjoy at the reconciliation with the king, and invited Morholt to come to Camelot with them.
So the three knights arrived in Camelot, where Arthur, knights and ladies welcomed them. They told the king of their adventures during their absence from court. At the feast of Pentecost, Niniane arrived with her husband Sir Pelleas. At that time, Pelleas proved to be the strongest knight, with Morholt being the second best. When Pelleas and Morholt attended the next feast, two seats at the Round Table became vacated when two knights were slain.
However, Sir Pelleas had only enmity and animosity for Gawain, but he never harm Gawain, because of his loyalty to Arthur. Malory had mistakenly stated that Pelleas was one of the four knights who achieved the Grail; Malory may have just confused Pelleas’ name with Pelles the Fisher King.
It was sometimes later that Morholt lost his duel against the young Sir Tristan (Tristram), the Cornish hero in the romance of Tristan and Isolde. The Suite du Merlin (Post-Vulgate romance) and Thomas Malory’s Le Morte d’Arthur followed more closely to the Prose Tristan than the early version of Tristan, mainly because Morholt was seen as a Knight of the Round Table.
|The Wedding of Gawain and Dame Ragnell or Sir Gawain and the Lady Ragnell was a late 15th century Middle English tale of how Gawain won the love of Ragnell. Here, Gawain appeared in a much better light, yet strangely, the story ended without the hero ever drawing his sword.|
|Arthur was hunting in a forest, when a giant named Gromore Somer Jour captured the king. The giant extract a promise from Arthur that he would find the answer to Gomer’s riddle and return within a year and a day, or else the giant would kill him. The riddle was “What do women desire most of all?”
Arthur returned to his castle with the news of his capture and probation. Seeking his wise advisers, Arthur could find no solution to the giant’s riddle.
Later, an ugly crone came to the castle, offering to give Arthur the solution to the perplexing riddle. However the price for the solution was that the most noblest knight had to marry her. This knight was Sir Gawain, the nephew of King Arthur. Gawain, who was most loyal of all Arthur’s knights, agreed to the exchange in order to save his uncle from the giant.
After the wedding, while they were in their chamber, Gawain kissed the crone, who was transformed into a beautiful, young maiden. Gawain was surprised and pleased by the transformation.
The maiden told Gawain that her name Ragnell and she was the daughter of the giant Gromore Somer Jour. Ragnell explained that it was her own brother had placed a spell upon her, which can only be broken if the best knight in the world had courage to marry and kiss her.
Ragnell told her new husband that he has a choice of having her beautiful and young either in the daytime or in the night. Gawain wisely told her that he would not choose; he left the choice to her. Ragnell was happy with his answer, so she told the hero the solution to her brother’s riddle.
With this solution, Arthur returned to Gromore’s lair, and told the giant that the greatest wish of all women is to have their own will.
Upon hearing the correct solution, Gromore vented his anger and cursed his sister for revealing the answer to the king.
Gawain and Ragnell lived happily after, where they parents of a son, named Gingalain (Guinglain), the hero of the Lybeaus Desconus or the French Le Bel Inconnu (“The Fair Unknown”, c. late 12th century)
It should be noted that in Le Bel Inconnu Guinglain’s mother was named Blanchemains.
The transformation of woman from young beautiful maiden to an ugly old crone or vice versa, is a common theme of Celtic tales. Usually, the woman was either goddess or fairy with shiftshaping abilities, or a princess suffering a curse from a sorcerer or witch, where only her true love can restore her true appearance.
|The Knight of the Sword or Le Chevalier à l’Épée, is a rather short Old French romance about Sir Gawain. It was written perhaps in the mid-13th century or later.
Here, Gawain wins a wife, but she is a different woman to Lady Ragnell. Gawain abandoned her because of her betrayal.
The Knight of the Sword
|The story opened with Gawain, leaving his uncle’s castle in Cardueil, with only sword, lance and shield, travelling through the woods, expecting to find entertainment.
Gawain became lost in the forest, because he was absorbed in his thought. He woke from his reverie when he noticed that the light was fading. Gawain noticed a campfire burning in a clearing, near the road, so he rode the campsite. Here, he exchanged greeting with another knight, who offered him the hospitality of his castle, tomorrow. Gawain unsuspecting of any treachery from the knight, accepted. They slept near the fire, and in the morning they set out for the stranger’s castle.
As they were approaching the castle, the knight rode ahead to prepare his castle for guest, while Gawain followed at a more leisurely pace. Before reaching the castle, he met a group of four shepherds on the path to the castle. These shepherds warned Gawain of the treacherous knight that he was following. All knights who stayed at this castle could never leave the cursed place. Most likely they were all killed, but the shepherds doesn’t know how.
Despite their warnings, Gawain decided to go, because he thought that shepherds were only spreading child’s tale to frightened travellers.
At the splendid castle, fit for a king or a prince, the knight he met, his host warmly welcomed him. With him, was the host’s lovely daughter, whom Gawain desired. The young lady admired her father’s handsome and courteous guest, but she was concerned that Gawain was going to be another victim of his father’s ploy.
(Gawain doesn’t reveal his identity until later in the romance. And throughout this poem, no names were given to the young lady or her father.)
Just before dinner, the lord went out for a moment with an errand to do, expecting his daughter to entertain their guest. The young lady with the clear complexion, hurriedly warned Gawain to not contradict her father or else he would be killed, but he also must not act basely towards her.
After the meal, the treacherous lord smilingly said that he (Gawain) and her daughter would be a perfect match, because his guest was handsome with fine manner and good breeding, could not possibly find a better sweetheart than his daughter. The host insistently that Gawain should have the best room in his castle, and that her daughter would share the large bed with him. The host also insisted that the candles in the chamber must remain lighted, so his guest could see his daughter’s beauty.
The bedroom was large and beautiful, particularly the fine luxury bed. On one of the walls was a beautiful sheathed sword, its blade made from the finest steel. The hilt and pommel was made of gold.
Gawain was very happy that he would be spending the night with his host’s beautiful daughter. She came and lay in the bed with the hero, naked. They lay there for a couple of hours in bed in each other’s arms, kissing. When Gawain was aroused and wanted to make love to her. She warned him not to do more than embrace and kiss her, if he wanted to survive this night. She told him that the sword was her magical protector, and it had killed as many twenty knights in this very room. The sword would kill any one who attempts to make love to her. But the hero didn’t listen, nor did he believe her. This was the sort of position that his host wanted his guest to be in, where he would be killed. Her father loved setting a trap to all of her daughter’s would-be lovers.
But before Gawain could do more than make love to her, the sword flew from its sheath as if someone drew it, and struck Gawain’s side. Then the sword flew back into its sheath. Gawain was stunned by the attack, but the blow was a glancing blow. It had taken some of his skin, making him bleed a bit, but it was no more than a bad scratch.
The lady had never warned any knight before, but she was equally stunned that the sword had not kill Gawain from the first blow. Gawain lost his desire suddenly to make love to her. Gawain was disappointed that he could not take make this lady, his sweetheart. As he lay there, brooding. As he lay there, staring at the young lady in the candlelight, her beauty had once again captivated him and aroused his desire.
When Gawain moved himself closer to the young lady, the sword flew from the scabbard again, and struck him the second time. This time he received a slight wound to his shoulder, slicing a couple of inches of his skin, before returning to the scabbard.
This was very disconcerting to Gawain. Gawain made no more move towards the young lady. Neither guest nor hostess could sleep.
In the morning, the girl’s father woke early, eager to see the body of his latest victim. He went into his guest chamber, and was very astonished to see that his guest was very much alive. Though, Gawain appeared unharmed, the lord could see that the linen was torn and there were bloodstains on the bed cover. The magic sword had always killed any man who shared his daughter’s bed, so the lord was surprised to see for the first time that his guest had survived.
When the host found out his guest was none other than Gawain, nephew of King Arthur, he knew that the sword would not kill the best knight in the world, and that knight was Gawain. The host knew that the custom have ended, he had found a worthy bridegroom for his daughter. On that very day, the host had Gawain and his daughter married. The father would have given his castle and wealth to Gawain, but he refused to take any more from his father-in-law.
On their wedding night, Gawain was able to make love to his new bride, without the fear of being attack by the sword. Gawain and his wife spend three years living happily in the castle, but Gawain now decided that it was time to return to his country, so he informed Arthur that he was still alive. His father-in-law granted him permission.
The next day, Gawain set out for Cardueil, with his wife riding on a palfrey, while he rode his Gringalet. He had belted his sword, and carried his lance and shield. He wore no helmet or armour, since he brought none when he left Cardueil.
Just outside the gate, his wife remembered that she had left behind her two greyhounds at her father’s castle and ask Gawain to fetch them. So Gawain returned with the greyhounds and continued on their journey.
Not long after they entered the forest, they encountered a fully armoured knight. When Gawain warmly greeted the knight, this villain took the rein of his wife’s horse, riding off with Gawain’s wife. Gawain pursued the knight, despite being not fully equipped as his rival.
Gawain challenged the other knight, but asked the other knight to wait until he could receive helmet and armour, so they could fight for Gawain’s lady, but the knight refused. Instead this knight suggested that they would allow the young lady to choose whom she would go with.
Gawain was confident that his wife would choose him, but he did not reckon with her treachery. She wanted to test Gawain’s valiant and prowess, so she chose Gawain’s rival. Gawain was outraged with her treachery, angrily rode off with the greyhounds following him, while the knight rode off with Gawain’s wife.
The young lady however refused to ride further, because she wanted her greyhounds. She would not this knight as her lover, unless she has greyhounds. So the knight went after Gawain.
Gawain refused to hand over the hounds, but agreed to let the hounds decide to whom they wished to follow. The other knight agreed. Both knights called the hounds to them, and the hounds faithfully went to Gawain, because the hounds recognised him as their master, after living three years in the castle.
The lady now refused to follow the knight, unless she has her greyhounds, so the knight decided to attack Gawain. The treacherous knight was confident of winning the hounds, since he was fully armoured. Gawain had no armour and helmet, and has only the shield as his protection. Gawain was angry to take revenge upon this knight, who taken away his wife would like nothing better than fight this unfair contest.
They charged at each other. Though, the treacherous knight’s aim was true, the lance hitting Gawain’s shield first, the lance shattered. Gawain’s lance didn’t break; it hit full on the other’s shield. Both knight and horse were knocked off the road, landing in a pool of mud. Gawain dismounted from Gringalet, drew his sword. Before the knight could get up. Gawain stunned the other knight with blows to his head. And then maimed him, driving his sword deep into his enemy’s side.
Gawain didn’t bother accepting the knight’s surrender and make him a prisoner. The hero had only wanted vengeance. Gawain then mounted Gringalet, readying to ride off with greyhounds.
The lady realising that Gawain was leaving her, pleaded with him not to leave her behind. She had excused herself, saying that she had only went with the other knight, because Gawain was not fully equipped like the other knight, and therefore feared for his life.
Gawain didn’t believe a word from her, and knew it was not to save his honour and life. He could not forgive her for her betrayal and choosing a complete stranger over him, so he abandoned her in the woods. Gawain never saw her again.
|The German author, Heinrich von dem Türlin, had written Diu Krône or “The Crown” in the early 13th century. It was the only tale that has the Grail quest where the hero was Gawain, not Perceval or Galahad.
However, Diu Krône was not just about the Grail adventure. The Grail was only just one of Gawain’s many adventure, and the quest didn’t take place until Book 2 of Diu Krône.
But my interest in this book rest only on Gawain’s quest with the Grail. So I have skipped a great deal of the story.
|Much of Gawain’s adventures in Diu Krône, concerning the Grail, is similar to those told by Chretien de Troyes in Conte du Graal (c. 1185) and Wolfram von Eschenbach in Parzival (c. 1205), except for the part where Gawain succeeded in unravelling the mystery of the Grail.
The following events, is different from most of the Grail stories.
Gawain was heading towards a tournament with his companions, but got separated when he let his preoccupation diverted him from his path. While his companions galloped towards the tournament, Gawain’s horse ambled aimlessly.
Gawain had only woken from his reverie when he heard the sound of fighting. Gawain wanted to rush to the combat, but only found a grieving damsel mounted on horse, with a dead knight behind her on the saddle. She told Gawain that Parzival (Perceval) had failed to ask the question about the spear and the Grail. Had Parzival done so, the curse would have lifted and the suffering of many people would have come to an end. Gawain left the damsel with the dead knight and headed in another direction.
It wasn’t long before he heard another battle taking place in a great distance. Gawain raced off to see the battle. What he saw caused great astonishment from him. He saw a company of knights in white armour battling two unseen foes. A broadsword and lance was wielded from invisible hands above two horses, slaughtering the white knights. All of the white knights were killed.
Gawain tried to followed these two invisible riders, following the tracks of the horses, and in his journey, he witness some more strange sights.
He saw a beautiful nude maiden fending off large birds that tried to strip away the flesh off an ugly giant. Her attempt was futile, because the bird tore the giant to pieces, devouring its flesh and entrails. The damsel was unharmed. Gawain wanted to understand what he had seen, but he didn’t want lose his trail of the two invisible attackers.
He also a an old woman, who was mounted on a green beast with three horns on its head, beating a naked black Moor. Though, he pitied the Moor, he did not come to his aid, because he didn’t want to confront the old woman.
At a forest, he came upon a horse tied to tree, with a shield leaning the tree, unsheathed sword and fine hauberk, lying on the ground, beside the shield. There was also a blue banner planted nearby, with a severed head on top. At first he two female voices, weeping and lamenting, but saw no one. A third voice then joined the other two. Gawain did not stay, but hurried on.
Gawain then come across, a magnificent castle with transparent, crystal walls. He heard maidens celebrating in merriment, but their joys ended with arrival of giant, black peasant, who wielded a gigantic steel club. The peasant struck the wall with his club, where the wall exploded into flame. With his club, the giant pushed the maiden into the flame, burning them all to death.
At night, he was strangely feeling refreshed, because he could smell a sweet aroma that permeated the night air. So Gawain continued to ride throughout the night.
Then in the morning, he saw a beautifully dressed lad bounded to the bed. He was blinded because two arrows were transfixed to his eyes. He waved about a fan at the dead lady lying on the bed. Sitting on a bed was a dwarf with a crown, and lying beside the woman, was a dead knight with a broken lance through his heart.
Then he came upon a river, but couldn’t find neither bridge nor ford to cross. So he decided to wade across. Gawain dismounted and led his horse into water, but immediately found himself in trouble, because he had stepped onto a quagmire, slowly sinking to his death.
Fortunately, a lady came to his rescue, he agreed to any boon the lady wished. She threw a small vial into the river, which caused the water to solidified, enough for Gawain to climb out of the quagmire on to solid water. Gawain with the help of the lady dragged the horse out of the quagmire, then crossed safely to the other side of the river. Only then did the water turned to liquid, and began flowing like a normal river.
On the bank of the river, he saw the sand were bloody, and spear planted through a surcoat. The surcoat has a message that he was killed by this lance. Anyone that pulled out the lance would have to avenge him. The lady, named Gener of Kartis, stopped Gawain from drawing out the surcoat, because the dead knight (Rahin de Gart) had murdered her brother (Humildis) and stole his land. The boon she asked for, was to leave the lance where it is, so the dead knight remained unavenged. Gawain accepted the boon.
Finally, he came upon a castle, where he was warmly greeted by an old, crippled lord. Gawain went to a chapel to say his prayer, when suddenly day turned into night, and he was left alone in the dark. Gawain prayed for God to protect him, and immediately all the candles were lighted. He saw a pair of gloved hands bearing a heavy spear, where blood were streaming from the spearhead. Suddenly, he heard a thunderbolt, which the walls in the chapel to shake so hard that candles fell to the floor, extinguishing the flame. In the darkness, Gawain heard a terrible and painful wail that left him senseless.
When he regained consciousness in the morning, he heard chanting but saw no priest. Gawain left the chapel bewildered and returned the hall where he met old king. This time, he was greeted by knights, where he shared the meal with them, with him seated beside the old lord.
That night, he saw four noble maiden, each bearing candles on golden candlesticks. Each were more beautiful than any other women he had seen. A fifth woman entered the hall, carrying a crystal vessel filled with blood in one hand, while she held a tube (a straw) with another.
They all walked towards the old man on the bed, and kneeled before the king. The fifth maiden handed the tube to the king, who drank the blood from the crystal vessel. Despite drinking the blood, the vessel remained full. Once he finished drinking, the five maiden left the hall, where they had come from.
Gawain desperately wanted to ask question of what he had witnessed, but remained silence, because he thought it would be rude to question anyone while they ate. Gawain decided to wait. But knights immediately left after the meal; everyone left the hall, leaving Gawain alone. So Gawain waited and waited for someone to return, so he could satisfy his curiosity, but no one returned.
Finally Gawain took a single candle and relighted the four candles that the four maidens had brought in. He was shocked to see the old king lying on the bed was dead. Seeing that the whole castle was seemingly deserted, he went to the stable, where he slept near his horse.
In the morning, he was surprised to find himself in a meadow, the entire castle was nowhere to be seen. He found that his horse was nearby, as well as his armour, weapon and other gears. Gawain put his armour on, saddled his horse, then left.
|Clearly, his adventures to the Grail Castle was a variation of the first continuation of Chretien’s Grail romance. Like Parzival before him, Gawain failed to ask the question, when he witnessed the Grail.
Later, much of his adventures that followed was the same as what happened in the Chretien’s Conte du Graal and in Wolfram’s Parzival, which I will now very briefly tell.
Gawain encountered a knight, named Quoikos, who was heading towards the tournament at Saorgarda Castle, where the best knight in tournament would win Lady Flursensephen, daughter of Count Leigamar. Like in Lady of the Short Sleeve of the Conte du Graal, Flursensephen got into an argument with his younger sister, Quebeleplus, over the two newcomers. Flursensephen derisively claimed Gawain and his companion were merchants, impersonating as knights to avoid customs. Quebeleplus recognised Gawain to be a great knight, even though no one knew of Gawain’s true identity, and thought that he was better knight than Fiers of Arramis, the man whom Flursensephen was in love with. When Flursensephen struck his little sister, Quebeleplus went to Gawain to fight for her, and avenge her by defeating Fiers. Gawain agreed. When the tournament started Gawain fought on Quebeleplus’ behalf, unhorsing and capturing many knights, including Fiers and Quebeleplus’ father, Leigamar. Flursensephen fainted at Fiers’ defeat. Gawain refused to marry Flursensephen after the tournament, giving her to Quoikos.
Gawain’s next adventure is like in Chretien’s Postponement of the Duel, where Gawain was guest to the Lady of Karamphi Castle. Her brother, Angaras recognising Gawain, attack him at the castle with his men. Gawain defended himself with the chessboard, until Angaras’ father ended the battle, making Gawain promise either to find the Grail in one year, or to fight a duel with Angaras. Gawain agreed.
What is interesting, is that before Gawain arrived at this castle, he encountered the goddess Enfeidas, who is both Arthur’s aunt, as well as the Queen of Avalon. She was the sister of Uterpandragon (Uther Pendragon). She was the one who warned him about danger of the castle of Karamphi.
Like Chretien’s Castle of Marvels and in Wolfram’s Parzival, Gawain helped a wounded knight and a damsel but was betrayed. The wounded knight stole his horse, and he was left with a nag. He won back his horse, when he unhorsed the wounded knight’s ally. He accepted hospitality from a ferryman, named Karadas. Across the river he saw a castle filled with maidens, which was why it was known as the Castle of Maidens, built by the sorcerer Gansguoter, and found out that his own grandmother, mother and sister (Igern (Igraine), Orcades (Morgawse) and Klarisanz (Clarissant)) were living in this castle. Karadas failed to dissuade Gawain from entering the Castle of Maidens, because those who entered the castle, never returned alive.
At the Castle of Maidens were marvellous bed. But the bed was a trap, which many knight had foolishly tried to sleep on. Only a knight who never perform a shameful act, could break the custom and curse of the castle. As Gawain sat on the bed, the bells rang, causing all the windows and doors to closed and 500 crossbow bolts were fired at Gawain. God or Lady Luck protected Gawain, for he had escaped without a scratch. Gawain promptly fell asleep.
Karadas and the maidens in the castle wept and lamented when they heard the bells and missiles discharged, because they thought the knight was dead. When four maidens and four squires went to the chamber to remove the dead body on the bed, and bury the unfortunate victim. But to their surprise, they saw that he was alive and unharmed. They reported back to Igern, and told the three queens of the miracle they had witnessed.
Igern went into the deadly bedchamber with her daughter and granddaughter, and they realised that the curse and custom was almost at its end. They rejoiced that the stranger was alive (no one recognised Gawain). Karadas also arrived and was very happy that his guest had survived.
Gawain woke from the ladies and maidens’ cries of despair then of joy. Gawain leaped to his feet, not realising that he was naked. Igern covered him with the blanket. Karadas informed that he had survived the trap of the bed, but now he must face a lion.
The ferryman quickly armed Gawain. Once armed, one of the doors open, and the lion immediately leaped and attacked Gawain. Gawain quickly dispatched the lion, cutting off the lion’s head. The two front paws were also severed, but it remained stuck on his shield.
Once again the queens, maidens and the ferryman rejoiced at Gawain’s prowess and survival. Igern announced that Gawain was their new lord, ruling the castle and the surrounding land. She also proclaimed that the knight could either marry her daughter or granddaughter, not realising that the hero was her own grandson. Nor did Gawain wished to disclosed his identity to them. Gawain asked them she would not reveal his name until twelve dayds from now.
The next part of the story is like the 1st continuation of Chretien’s Grail romance and Wolfram’s Parzival. Gawain encountered a knight and lord, named Giremelanz, who was a neighbour to the Castle of Maidens. Giremelanz was in love with Klarisanz, but hated her brother, Gawain. Gawain agreed to send a ring from Giremelanz to his sister, but when he revealed his name, Giremelanz challenged him to a duel. Gawain agreed to the duel in twelve days. But the duel never took place when Arthur arrived. Gawain revealed his identity to Igern, his mother and sister, and they were happily reunited with Arthur. Giremelanz ended his hostility to Gawain when he was married off to Klarisanz.
The biggest difference of Gawain’s adventure at the Castle of Maidens, is the absence of Haughty Maid of Logres from Conte du Graal, and known as Orgeluse in Parzival.
As you can see, much of Gawain’s adventures were derived from several different sources, eg. Conte du Graal, 1st Continuation, and Parzival, though Heinrich von Türlin made some clever changes, here and there. But essentially, it is the same adventures told by Chretien and Wolfram.
In the next part of the story, Gawain had supplanted Perceval/Parzival as the hero of the Grail Quest, so the ending is quite different and unexpected.
|At first, Gawain travelled with his companions – Keii (Kay), Lanzelet (Lancelot) and Kalocreant (Calogrenant), but when the road had divided, each companion took a different route from his friends.
Travelling alone, Gawain travelled until he experienced a number of strange phenomena. Fire sprung out of the ground that forced him to move in one direction. The fire herded Gawain towards a new country before the flame vanished. In this country he saw a splendid castle.
Gawain came upon a castle that was populated with beautiful ladies and maidens. Among the group of women was the goddess, who greeted the hero warmly. She provided him with hospitality and information about his forthcoming journey. She told the hero if he was to meet her again with her five companions, Gawain must ask question if he should see the Grail. She warned him not to take any drink in this castle or else he would fall into drugged sleep. Gawain must remain awake to ask the question.
Gawain then left the castle, and headed in the direction the goddess had given him. In that journey, he encountered several strange events and creature.
One day he came upon another great castle, which he saw a troop of warrior ride in. Gawain followed the warriors and entered the castle. What he found was that castle was deserted. He could not find a single living person, no matter where he looked. Even the warriors had vanished. Strangely enough, he found a great bed and hall filled with splendid food and drinks. Gawain ate the evening meal and stayed for the night. In the morning, he woke and found the castle was still empty of people, yet fresh food was placed on the table in the hall. So Gawain broke fast, before he set out of castle. The moment he left the castle, the drawbridge raised and he heard a maiden telling him that he should trust his lady who given him hospitality. But when Gawain looked he saw no maiden on the battlement.
For a month, he suffering from great hardship because there were no shelter on the road he travelled and very little food were to be found in the wilderness. Then suddenly he found himself in a new country, where there were plenty of foods growing from the trees that he was able to recover from his hunger.
It wasn’t long before he was reunited with two of his companions, Lanzelet and Kalocreant. Keii was held in prison for trying to damage a statue. They decided to travel together towards the castle they could see. They met by a squire, who invited the tired knights to his castle, on behalf of his lord.
In this castle, they were warmly greeted by the lord. Gawain spent quite some time talking with the old lord before the evening meal was served. Neither lord nor Gawain ate or drank the delicious meal. Gawain had recalled the goddess’ warning about the drink. Gawain had warned his companions earlier, but his advice was ignored. After the meal, Lanzelet and Kalocreant fell promptly to sleep. Gawain declined both food and drink, so he remained awake.
Suddenly, Gawain saw a long procession of stewards, who served in the hall. Then two highborn maidens entered the hall, both bearing two-bejewelled candlesticks. Then he saw two squires following the damsels, bearing a magnificent spear. Following the squires were another two noble maidens carrying a large gold bowl.
Then Gawain saw the most beautiful woman he had ever seen, walked into the hall. She was splendidly dressed and wore a gold crown on her head. She carried in her hand a reliquary. Another maiden appeared, following the woman with crown, weeping. The lord and the other people bow to the woman. Gawain recognised the woman with the crown, as the goddess he had met over a month ago. Gawain also recognised the other five noble maidens.
Then maidens placed the golden bowl on the table, while the squires leaned the spear against the table, with the spearhead placed just above the bowl. Then Gawain witnessed an occurrence that he thought was not possible: three drop of blood fell from the spear, into the bowl. When this happened, the goddess placed the reliquary. Within the reliquary was a single loaf of bread. The old lord broke part of the bread and ate it.
Gawain couldn’t contain his silence any longer, and asked the lord to explain the miracle that he had witness. Everyone in the hall, whether they were knights or ladies, loudly rejoiced of their deliverance.
The old lord answered, but only explaining the curse that had bound him, but said nothing of the secret of the Grail itself. Parzival (Perceval), himself, had left the castle in shame, because he had not asked the question that he had witnessed. Had he done so, the curse would have lifted and Parzival would have being given the secret of the Grail.
The curse began because one of Parzival’s uncles had wickedly murdered his own brother so that he could take his brother’s land. God had punished this usurper for fratricide. Many people living in the castle were killed, including the murderer and his family. Yet many of the dead, who were innocent, continued to live in this castle, as they have done so while they had lived. Only by asking the question of the miracle of the Grail, could the dead finally find peace.
Everyone in the hall, including the old lord himself, was dead, except for the goddess and her five noble companions. After rewarding with a most splendid broadsword, the lord and his retinue vanished, because the curse had ended, and now the living can cease their mourning. The Grail, spear and candlesticks had vanished too.
Only the goddess, her five noble maidens and his two sleeping companions remained in the hall. The goddess and the maidens joyfully thanked Gawain for successfully completing his quest.
Gawain and his companions then return to Arthur’s court in Karidol (Cardueil), after they rescued Keii.