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In the 12th and 13th centuries the darker era that followed the fall of the Roman empire was left behind as Europeans awakened to the spread of knowledge and increased writing that accompanied commercial development, the founding of universities, and stimulus from the crusades. This rebirth of cultural development was perhaps even more accelerated than the later development of thriving culture that would be called the renaissance. Gradually literature was produced in the vernacular languages as well as in Latin; French and German literary works led this development, though works in Spanish and Icelandic were also significant.
The anonymous French epic Song of Roland (Chanson de Roland) reached its final written form about the end of the 11th century during the Spanish crusades against the Muslims and as the crusades to take back Palestine were beginning. It is based on historical events surrounding the battle of August 15, 778 in which the rear-guard of Charlemagne's retreating Franks was attacked by Basques; Duke Roland of the Brittany Marches and other prominent knights were killed in the massacre. The differences between the likely facts and the poetic account reflect current propaganda against the Muslims that probably served to motivate the Christians in their crusades.
Although Charlemagne was only 38 years old at the time, he is portrayed as the venerable Emperor with a silver beard who has lived more than 200 years. While Charlemagne and his army are fighting in Spain, King Marsilion from Zaragoza sends ten men to negotiate with the Frank emperor. The Saracen Blancandrin urges Charlemagne to return home to Aix (Aachen), and Marsilion will follow and be baptized as a Christian. Charlemagne consults his barons, but Count Roland argues against trusting Marsilion. Count Ganelon disagrees, calling Roland a brawler and noting that Marsilion is offering to pledge fealty. Duke Naimon and most barons support Ganelon. After Charlemagne refuses to send Naimon or Roland, the latter recommends his step-father Ganelon. This makes Ganelon angry, and he plans a deadly trick.
Ganelon goes alone with Blancandrin to the court of Marsilion. There Ganelon arrogantly tells the Saracen king that he must accept the faith of Christ or be hauled away to his doom. His pagans prevent Marsilion from killing Ganelon, who then says Marsilion can keep half of Spain as Charlemagne's vassal; but the rest must go to Roland. Marsilion reads a letter from Charlemagne demanding his uncle the Caliph as a hostage. When Marsilion offers Ganelon friendship, he plans to betray Roland and the Franks by attacking their rear-guard. Marsilion orders 700 camels carrying metals to be sent as gifts to Charlemagne, and Ganelon is given ten mules laden with gold. Ganelon goes to Charlemagne and says 400,000 Saracens refusing to accept Christ drowned in a storm. Charlemagne heads back to France, and Ganelon recommends Roland to head the rear-guard of 20,000 French soldiers. Charlemagne sees a vision of Ganelon's treachery and fears he will lose Roland. Saracen nobles volunteer to kill Roland, and they lead 100,000 men. These numbers are obviously gross exaggerations of the actual numbers in the historical incident.
Oliver asks Roland to blow his horn so that Charlemagne will hear and bring the main army; but Roland chauvinistically refuses to do so, preferring to fight honorably. Archbishop Turpin preaches that the Franks should defend Christendom; he forgives their sins and promises them paradise for martyrdom. The first Saracen to attack is Adelroth, and Roland strikes first blood by killing him, claiming right is on his side. Soon ten of the twelve Saracen peers have been killed. When King Marsilion leads his army up a gorge, Roland says to Oliver that Ganelon has betrayed them. Archbishop Turpin leads an attack. When only sixty Frank knights remain, Oliver blames Roland for not blowing his horn for help because of pride. Roland now blows Olifant, and Charlemagne hears the call; but Ganelon tries to deny it. Duke Naimon hears it though, and Charlemagne has Ganelon arrested. In the battle at Roncevaux prisoners are not taken, and the men fight fiercely. Marsilion flees, but 50,000 black Africans fight for the Muslims. Oliver is mortally wounded but kills his attacker Marganice. Roland is unhorsed and faints. He gets up, but Turpin dies. Roland climbs a hill and lays down under a tree to die. Charlemagne rallies his army with trumpets and heads back toward Zaragoza.
According to this poem Charlemagne has been fighting in Spain for seven years. Marsilion's right hand was cut off by Roland. Baligant gets Arab pagans from ships. Charlemagne mourns over Roland's body. The many Frank corpses are buried in one great trench. To face the forces of Baligant Charlemagne gathers an army of 300,000 that includes mostly Frenchman but also Bavarians, Germans, Normans, Bretons, Flemings, and Burgundians. Of the 50,000 Muslims many are from the East. As both sides engage, the narrator declares that the right is with Charlemagne, but the Emir complains that Charles killed his son and invaded his lands. Charlemagne replies that they can be friends if Baligant will become a Christian. The defiant Emir is killed, and the Muslims flee as the French triumph.
Queen Bramimond surrenders the towers of Zaragoza. The synagogues
and mosques are smashed; those defying Charlemagne's orders are
executed. More than 100,000 are baptized. Charlemagne returns
home to Aix, where Roland's lady Auge dies of grief. Ganelon in
irons is tried. He claims he took vengeance not treason, and Pinabel
defends him, fighting a judicial combat against Thierry, who kills
him. Thirty remaining loyal to Ganelon and Pinabel are hanged,
and Ganelon has his limbs pulled off by four horses. Finally Queen
Bramimond is baptized, and the Emperor is satisfied. In actual
fact Charlemagne failed to take Zaragoza and left Spain after
Roland was killed, not returning until 801 when he captured Barcelona.
This story was adapted by Konrad of Regensberg as Rolandslied
about 1170 in one of the first epics in German.
The anonymous Spanish Poem of the Cid (Poema del Cid) is the oldest of many poems and ballads about the historic hero of the late 11th century. Language indicated it was written about 1140, but recent scholars believe the language was intentionally archaic and that it was probably written about 1200. Cid means lord and derives from the Arabic title the Muslims gave Roderigo Diaz of Bivar. The beginning of the poem was lost but has been reconstructed from a Latin chronicle that had been based on the original poem. In the missing part King Alfonso VI sends the Cid to Moorish king al-Mutamiz of Seville to collect tribute. The Cid defends Alfonso's vassal al-Mutamiz from an attack by the Castilian count Garcia Ordoñez, capturing the latter for three days. The Cid takes the tribute back to Castile; but those envying him cause King Alfonso to banish the Cid. He has nine days to leave the kingdom and sends for his family and vassals.
The extant poem begins with the vassals pleading to go into exile with the Cid, and he goes to Burgos with sixty knights. There he is shunned by all except a little girl. To raise money the Cid fills coffers with sand and gets two Jews to give him 600 marks. His wife Ximena and daughters are put in an abbey with a hundred marks as he promises to contribute four for each mark the abbey spends for their provisions. At Cardeña a hundred Castilians join the Cid as his vassals. By the time he reaches the Moorish tributary kingdom of Toledo the Cid has 300 knights. The Cid takes Castejon with a surprise attack. The Cid gets one-fifth of the booty but sells his prisoners for a ransom of only 3,000 silver marks. The Cid heads for Zaragoza, which is under the Moorish king of Valencia. The Cid declares he does not want to fight Alfonso and conquers Alcocer by using a strategic retreat before attacking.
Valencia king Tamin sends his army led by kings Fariz and Galve against the Cid. In a pitched battle the forces of the Cid defeat the more numerous Moors, who have 1300 men killed, as the Cid wounds King Fariz. Martin Antolinez wounds King Galve, and 510 horses are captured; but only 15 Christians are missing. The Cid sends Minaya Alvar Fañez with thirty horses for King Alfonso, and he pays for a thousand masses at the cathedral of Santa Maria in Burgos. The Cid sells Alcocer back to the Moors for 3,000 silver marks. Alfonso pardons Minaya but says nothing about the Cid, though he lets Castilians go to him. The Cid raids the countryside of Alcañiz and the territory of Barcelona, where he captures its count Ramon, who refuses to eat until the Cid frees him and two knights. The Cid admits that he and his men live by raiding from them as the first cantar called "The Exile" comes to an end.
The second cantar is entitled "The Wedding." Surrounded by the Moors of Valencia, the Cid speaks to his men. His forces win another pitched battle, and the Cid spends three years conquering the lands of the Moors. They besiege Valencia for nine months before the city surrenders. The Cid's fifth of the spoils amounts to 30,000 marks. The king of Seville tries to retake Valencia with 30,000 soldiers but fails. Don Jerome arrives and is ordained bishop. Minaya is sent to Carrion with a gift of a hundred horses, and King Alfonso pardons the Cid's family and all his vassals. Minaya brings the Cid's wife Ximena and his two daughters from Cardeña to Valencia, where they are welcomed by a procession. King Yusuf arrives from Morocco with 50,000 armed men and invades the farmlands of Valencia. The Christians attack and kill 500 on the first day. The Cid lets Bishop Jerome strike the first blow, and the army of Yusuf is routed by only 3,970 Christian warriors; only 104 Moors escape. Once again the spoils are rich, and Minaya takes 200 horses to Alfonso at Valladolid. Diego and Fernando, the royal heirs of Carrion, persuade the king to marry them to the Cid's daughters Elvira and Sol. The Cid meets Alfonso on the banks of the Tagus and agrees to the marriages, leaving gifts to all who want them. The wedding is celebrated with two weeks of festivities.
The third cantar is called "The Outrage of Corpes." Fernando and Diego are shamed by their cowardice when the Cid's lion gets loose; but the Cid calmly escorts his lion back to its cage. King Bucar of Morocco attacks Valencia with 50,000 men. In the battle Fernando flees, but Pedro Bermudez kills his adversary and lets Fernando brag that he did it. Again the bishop begins the battle, and the Cid attacks the Moors' camp. The Cid kills Bucar and captures his sword Tizon. All his vassals receive 600 marks each from the spoils, but the heirs of Carrion are given 5,000 marks. The Cid adds another 3,000 for his daughters' betrothal. Ashamed of the lion incident, the heirs punish their wives on the way to Carrion by stripping them to their silk underwear and whipping them, leaving them to die in the oak grove of Corpes. The Moor Albengalbon has warned their cousin Felix Muñoz, who rescues Elvira and Sol and takes his cousins to San Esteban.
The Cid learns of the outrage and sends Muño Gustioz to King Alfonso at Sahagun. The king convokes a court at Toledo. First the Cid reclaims the swords he gave Fernando and Diego, giving them to Pedro Bermudez and Martin Antolinez. Then he demands his daughters' dowry be returned; but the heirs have spent it and offer to pay with property. Count Ramon judges they must pay in kind, and the Cid accepts this. After the goods are paid, the Cid challenges them. Pedro Bermudez challenges Fernando for his lying, and Diego is challenged by Martin Antolinez. When Azur enters and insults the Cid, he is challenged by Muño Gustioz. Messengers from Navarre and Aragon arrive, and King Alfonso agrees to let the Cid's daughters marry those two kings. Three weeks later the three champions of the Cid defeat the two heirs and Azur. The heirs are disgraced for having beaten and abandoned good women. Doña Elvira and Doña Sol marry the kings of Navarre and Aragon, and so the future kings of Spain will be the kinsmen of the Cid.
Scholars doubt that the outrage by the heirs of Carrion is
historical, but the chivalrous message to defend women is clear.
The lopsided numbers in the Cid's victories over the Moors are
likely exaggerated to suggest that Christians win because their
cause is more just. The Cid is admired for his generosity and
loyalty to the king. Although the vestige of judicial combat remains,
the main lawsuit is rationally decided by a judge rather than
by the combat or the king.
Epic poems about Charlemagne were popular in France in the 12th century. In the Pelerinage de Charlemagne this king travels to Jerusalem to gather relics and to Constantinople to prove to his queen that he is superior to Emperor Hugh the Strong. In Fierabras Oliver accepts the challenge of the giant, defeating him, and Fierabras is baptized; but Oliver and several other Franks are captured. Floripas, sister of Fierabras, falls in love with Guy of Burgundy and helps them escape. Spain is divided between Guy and Fierabras. In Aquin that Saracen rules Brittany, but Charlemagne helps the Bretons drive him out. Aspremont is the name of a Christian camp, from which Roland leads the victory over the Saracen king Agolant. This poem may have been composed to support the third crusade in 1188. In the Chanson de Saisnes by Jean Bodel, Charlemagne defeats the Saxons led by Guiteclin.
Feudal epics of rebelling vassals are typified by the epic of Doon de Mayence, which survives only in a later 13th century version. In the early epic Gormont et Isembart, the latter takes refuge in England with the pagan Gormont, who is a Saracen and converts Isembart. King Louis kills Gormont and defeats Isembart, who returns to Christian faith before he dies. In Girart de Rossillon Charlemagne grants Girart independence in order to marry Elissent. When the king demands his allegiance, a big battle is fought, resulting in an intermittent feud. In the long Renaus de Montauban Doon de Mayence and Girart de Rossillon join the rebellion of Bueves of Aigremont, but all three submit. After Beuves is treacherously killed, his brother Aymes brings his four sons Renaut, Aalars, Guichars, and Richart to Charlemagne. Renaut kills a cousin of Charles in a quarrel over a chess game, and all four brothers are outlawed. The feud lasts several years until Renaut promises to make a pilgrimage; but he is murdered by jealous comrades and is worshipped as a saint.
Also in the 12th century a series of epics about the knight Guillaume were composed. In the Couronnement de Louis the strong Guillaume kills the baron Arneis of Orléans with his fist when he is about to be crowned by Charlemagne instead of the reluctant Louis, whom Guillaume crowns. Guillaume goes to Rome on a pilgrimage and attacks Saracens with the Pope's army. Guillaume wins a single combat against the giant Corsolt and captures their king Galafre, who is converted. Guillaume frees imprisoned Louis and then goes back to threatened Rome and wins another single combat. In the Charroi de Nimes Louis gives Guillaume land occupied by the Saracens; it has comic elements as Guillaume is disguised as a peasant before he takes Nimes from the Muslims. In the Prise d'Orange Guillaume considers importing maidens but goes in a Turkish disguise to free the beautiful Queen Orable in Orange. He with Guielin and Guillebert are recognized and slay fourteen Turks but are imprisoned. The Queen releases them, and Guillebert goes for help; but Guillaume and Guielin are recaptured and put in a dungeon. They escape again as Guillebert brings Bertran and his men. Orable marries Guillaume and is baptized Guibourc. The manuscript of the Chanson de Guillaume was not discovered until 1901. In this epic Guillaume and his nephew Vivian help Tedbald fight Saracens. An army of 30,000 is all destroyed except for Guillaume; but Guibourc raises another Christian army of 30,000, and with them Guillaume defeats the Saracens. In the 13th century Wolfram von Eschenbach would also write an epic poem about Guillaume.
Geoffrey of Monmouth completed his History of the Kings of Britain in 1136. Though he claimed that it is a translation of a Breton book shown him by Oxford provost Walter, the work is now considered more literature than history. Geoffrey lived at Oxford from 1129 to 1151, when he was elected bishop of North Wales; he was ordained a priest the following year but apparently never occupied the see in Wales. The Welsh chronicles recorded his death in 1155. Geoffrey dedicated his major work to Henry I's son Robert, Earl of Gloucester. The first part of Geoffrey's Latin Historia tells the story of the Trojan Brutus, defeating Greeks and fighting Gauls in France before settling on the island named Britain after himself. According to Geoffrey's account the only previous inhabitants were giants, who were exterminated by the Trojans; he gave Brutus credit for establishing a code of laws. Geoffrey wrote that Britons occupied the land; but because of their arrogance, they had to submit to invasions by the Picts and Saxons.
King Leir rules ancient Britain for sixty years, and Geoffrey told how he divides his kingdom between his flattering daughters Goneril and Regan, giving nothing to the honest Cordelia, who marries the Frank king Aganippus. Duke Maglaurus of Albany allows Leir 140 retainers until Goneril persuades her husband to cut him back to thirty soldiers. So Leir goes to Duke Henwinus of Cornwall, but Regan dismisses all Leir's attendants except five. Leir then goes back to Goneril, who will only allow him one soldier. The begging Leir crosses the channel to go to Cordelia, who generously provides him with forty fully equipped knights before he is presented at court. Together they invade Britain and defeat his sons-in-law. After Leir and Aganippus die, Cordelia rules Britain for five years until her nephews Marganus and Cunedagius rebel against rule by a woman. Cordelia is captured and kills herself in prison. Marganus rules beyond the Humber River, and Cunedagius governs the south. Marganus makes trouble and is killed, leaving Cunedagius to rule alone.
Geoffrey reported many civil wars over the kingship, but he credited Dunvallo with establishing Molmutine Laws to prevent violence. Brennius is corrupted by ambition and marries a Norwegian princess. His brother Belinus reacts by invading Northumbria. The Danish king Ginchtalacus loves the woman Brennius married and so attacks him. Belinus defeats the Norwegians, but Brennius escapes to France. Ginchtalacus is captured, but Belinus lets him go back to Denmark with the woman. Belinus proclaims justice and orders roads constructed of stones and mortar. In France Brennius marries a princess and becomes leader of the Allobroges. They support his attack on his brother Belinus; but their mother Tonuuenna bares her breasts and reconciles her sons. A year later the brothers invade the Gallic tribes. According to Geoffrey's patriotic fantasy, they even conquer Rome, though Brennius governs savagely.
Geoffrey of Monmouth gave Cassivelaunus and the Britons credit for defeating the Roman army of Julius Caesar twice; but after they are betrayed by Androgeus, the Britons and Cassivelaunus agree to pay tribute to the greatest empire in the world. The Romans continue to rule Britain, which is converted to Christianity under their king Lucius. The Roman Bassianus is the son of Severus by a British woman and is chosen king; but he is killed by Carausius, who is overthrown by the Roman legate Allectus. Then the Britons led by Asclepiodotus defeat and kill Allectus. Geoffrey wrote that he ruled justly for ten years during the persecution under Emperor Diocletian. Duke Coel rebels and kills Asclepiodotus to become "Old King Cole;" but he submits to Senator Constantius. The famous Emperor Constantine is the son of Constantius and Coel's daughter Helen and rises to power after being king of Britain. Octavius revolts and becomes king of Britain; but Emperor Constantine sends an army led by Trahern, and Octavius flees to Norway. Octavius regains the throne and makes the ambitious Maximianus his son-in-law and heir. Maximianus and Conanus fight twice but become friends and invade Gaul.
While British soldiers are away from home, the Picts and Huns invade the island. Hearing news that Maximianus was killed, Gracianus becomes a tyrant in Britain until the people assassinate him. For the last time the Romans send their legions to help Britain. Constantine II is chosen king of Britain, and his sons are Constans, Aurelius Ambrosius, and Uther. Constantine is assassinated by a Pict, and the Gewissel leader Vortigern manages to get Constans crowned king under his influence. Vortigern manipulates Picts into killing Constans and then has them executed as he becomes king. Saxon brothers Hengist and Horsa help Vortigern attack and defeat the Picts. Vortigern marries Hengist's daughter Renwein and gives Hengist Kent without consulting its earl. When the Britons realize that Vortigern has turned to the pagan Saxons, they depose him and make his son Vortimer king. Vortigern gets permission for the Saxons to depart; but Renwein poisons her stepson Vortimer so that her husband can regain the throne. At a peace conference Hengist treacherously has the Saxons massacre 460 British nobles.
Young Merlin shows that he has more awareness than Vortigern's magicians as he predicts that stone dragons will be found under a pool. The White Dragon represents the invading Saxons and the Red Dragon the British. Geoffrey of Monmouth included a separate document of Merlin's detailed prophecies using symbolic animals. Merlin predicts that Hengist will be killed, and Aurelius Ambrosius will become king. The British enthrone the latter, and Vortigern dies in a fire. The Saxons retreat north of the Humber. After the British victory, Eldol beheads Hengist. Aurelius besieges Hengist's son Octa at York. Octa and his kinsman Eosa surrender, and the Saxons are allowed to live in the north. Uther leads an invasion of Ireland, forcing their king Gillomanius to flee. Merlin engineers a burial place in Salisbury using large stones from Ireland. Vortigern's son Paschent calls on Saxons from Germany, but they are defeated. The Saxon Eopa, disguised as a monk and posing as a physician, poisons the ailing Aurelius. An attempted invasion led by Paschent and Gillomanius fails when both are killed by Uther's forces.
Uther is elected king, and he is named Pendragon when he has Merlin's two dragons fashioned in gold. Octa and Eosa lead a Saxon revolt in the north and defeat Utherpendragon's army at York; but at Mount Damien they are captured. The king falls in love with Ygerna, wife of Duke Gorlois of Cornwall. According to Geoffrey's account, Merlin makes Utherpendragon look like Gorlois so that he can seduce her and conceive Arthur; soon after that the King captures her castle so that the lovers can marry. Octa and Eosa escape from London and go to Germany to organize an invasion of Albany; but their army is defeated by Utherpendragon even though he is carried on a litter. A well is polluted to kill the King, and many others die too.
After Utherpendragon dies, Arthur is crowned king at the age of fifteen. Arthur claims the whole island and marches on York. Arthur gains an ally in King Hoel of Brittany, and together they defeat the Saxons at Lincoln, Caledon Wood, and Bath. When the Saxons break their truce, Arthur has their hostages hanged. At Bath Arthur goes berserk, and Geoffrey wrote that he kills 470 men with his sword Caliburn. Then Arthur's army defeats the Scots, Picts, and Irish at Moray and Loch Lomond. Arthur restores the nobility to their hereditary rights and has the destroyed churches rebuilt. Arthur marries the beautiful Guinevere. During twelve peaceful years Arthur invites worthy knights to his distinguished court. Geoffrey even wrote that all of Norway and Denmark accepted his rule.
Arthur's armies invade Gaul, defeat and besiege the tribune Frollo, who challenges him to single combat. Arthur kills Frollo with his sword Caliburn and holds court at Paris. After feasting and revelry with many kings and leaders, a message from the Roman Senate demands tribute. The kings support Arthur, and he answers Rome that they should pay tribute to him. Arthur leaves his nephew Mordred and his queen Guinevere to defend Britain and launches an immense campaign. Arthur personally kills monsters, and his cousin Gawain skirmishes with Roman troops. After being ambushed by the Roman army, Arthur's forces defeat the Romans in the battle of Saussy. Meanwhile Mordred claims the crown himself and is living adulterously with Guinevere. Mordred sends the Saxon Cheltic to gather forces in Germany and recruits Scots, Picts, and Irish who hate Arthur. The army of Arthur lands at Richborough, and in the battle King Auguselus of Albany and Gawain are killed. Ywain, the nephew of Auguselus, becomes king of Albany and helps Arthur's forces drive Mordred back to Winchester. Queen Guinevere chooses to become a nun. Mordred is defeated and finally killed at Camblam, but Arthur is also mortally wounded.
On the Isle of Avalon Arthur passes the crown to his cousin
Constantine III, son of Duke Cador of Cornwall. Saxons and Mordred's
two sons try to overthrow Constantine as the civil war continues.
Constantine kills both of Mordred's sons by church altars, is
struck down by God, and is buried next to Utherpendragon within
the circle of stones at Stonehenge near Salisbury. Geoffrey lamented
the civil war between the divided house of British and Saxons
as much of the land was burned, and he wrote that thousands invaded
from Africa with the tyrant Gormund. Cadvan is elected king of
Britain and divides the country at the Humber with Northumbrian
king Ethelfrid, whose abandoned wife flees to King Cadvan. Ethelfrid
takes a new queen, who bears him Cadwallo at the same time his
abandoned queen bears Edwin. Cadwallo and Edwin are brought up
by King Salomon in Brittainy but fight each other. Cadwallo kills
Edwin, Northumbrian king Offric, Scot king Eadan, and Northumbrian
king Oswald before he dies of old age. Cadwallo is succeeded by
his son Cadwallader, but Britain again suffers civil war and famine.
The Britons survive mostly in Wales as the Angles begin to reign
while the Saxons govern the north.
The Welsh tales written down in the 12th and 13th centuries were given the title Mabinogion when they were translated into English by Charlotte Guest in 1849. The first four tales are the branches of the Mabinogi and are legends, folklore, and myths of early Welsh rulers. In "Pwyll Lord of Dyved" that prince steals a deer that King Arawn of Annwvyn had hunted. Pwyll offers to trade places for a year, and Arawn magically makes them look like each other. At the end of the year Pwyll kills Arawn's enemy, and Arawn learns that his wife has been chaste for the past year. The beautiful Rhiannon has been avoiding a marriage against her will but marries Pwyll. Their son Pryderi is stolen by women, who accuse Rhiannon of killing her child; but the boy is found in the house where a colt is born. Pryderi becomes the prince of Annwvyn, which some believe represents the underworld.
In "Branwen Daughter of Llyr" her brother Bran is king in London and gives her to wed Mallolwych, the king of Ireland; but Branwen is badly treated, and Bran invades Ireland, almost completely depopulating it as he is killed by a poisoned spear.
In "Manawydan Son of Llyr" he and Pryderi are two of the few left alive in Ireland. Manawydan marries Pryderi's mother but discovers his crops are being destroyed by mice. He intends to hang a mouse but learns of a curse from a churchman, who promises to restore his farm in exchange for the release of the mouse, who turns out to be the churchman's wife.
The story "Math Son of Mathonwy" tells how Pryderi foolishly trades his pigs for twelve horses, greyhounds, and gold shields that are phantoms created by Gwydyon. When the phantoms disappear, Pryderi invades Gwynedd; but the army of Math fights well. Pryderi challenges Gwydyon to single combat, but magic helps Gwydyon kill Pryderi. After raping a footmaiden, Gwydyon and his brother are turned into animals for three years. Gwydyon's son Lleu gets the curse of not having a human wife. His elf-wife Blodeuedd and her lover Goronwy try to kill Lleu; but he is turned into an eagle and is rehumanized by his father Gwydyon. Then these two kill Blodeuedd's lover and turn her into an owl.
"The Dream of Maxen" is fictionalized history in which the Roman emperor Maxen marries a beautiful maiden in Britain, spends seven years there, and then with the help of the British reconquers Rome.
In "Lludd and Llevelys" Britain is suffering from three problems: a demon race of Coranians, a dragon that screams annually at midnight before May Day causing barrenness, and food disappearing from the royal court. British king Lludd asks help from his brother Llevelys, king of France, who tells him to use poisonous insects that kill the Coranians but not the British, to entice the dragon with mead into a sack and bury it, and to challenge and defeat the wizard who was robbing him.
In "How Culhwch Won Olwen" King Arthur and his knights help Culhwch gain the bride Olwen from her giant father Ysbaddaden, who insists that Culhwch accomplish forty nearly impossible tasks. With his strength, skill, and some magic Culhwch does so; then he kills Ysbaddaden and marries Olwen.
In "The Dream of Rhonabwy" this soldier dreams he is in the camp of King Arthur. Iddawg tells him how he worsened the conflict between Arthur and Medrawd by making their messages to each other seem more hostile; Iddawg had to do penance for seven years in Scotland to gain forgiveness. Rhonabwy also dreams of a board game played by Arthur and Owein during which their men kill each other until they agree on peace.
The last three tales of the Mabinogion are romances very similar to those by Chrétien de Troyes. "Owein, or the Countess of the Fountain" is like Yvain, The Knight with the Lion. "Peredur Son of Evrawg" is about the Welsh Perceval and is similar to The Story of the Grail though it does not include the stories of Gawain. Finally "Gereint and Enid" is like Chrétien's Erec and Enide.
Count Guillaume IX of Poitiers (1071-1127) was also duke of Aquitane and is considered the first troubadour, because he developed the technique of singing before an audience. He led a failed crusade to Palestine in 1101 and helped Aragon king Alfonso I defeat the Moors in 1120. Guillaume's poetry shows that what later would become refined courtly romance began with bawdy sexuality. In 1137 Cercamon wrote about the death of Guillaume and the marriage of Eleanor of Aquitane to Louis VII; his poems introduced the theme of unrequited love. The Gascon Marcabru criticized the effeminate and depraved conventions of courtly love. He contrasted the true love of intense joy and concern for the good of all with the false love that is dissolute, selfish, and destructive, bringing in religious themes. Jaufré Rudel participated in the second crusade (1147), and he wrote about love from afar. Later poets would recount how he loved the Countess of Tripoli before he ever saw her. Rudel wrote that no one is worth anything without love and that he could not live without loving because he was engendered through love.
Bertran de Born represented the lower nobility, who aimed to improve their social positions at court with love lyrics. His political poetry supported the revolt of young Henry against his father Henry II and his brother Richard Coeur de Lion which failed when young Henry died in 1183. Bertran's castle at Hautefort was besieged and burned; he was imprisoned by Richard, who pardoned the poet and gained his loyalty. Bertran celebrated the chivalry of war. A razo (commentary) on one of Bertran's songs by Uc de Saint Circ noted that Henry II's sons were battling over the carriage trade in Aquitane. The clergy tried to make peace, but the battle was avoided because Richard's men paid off the Champenois forces with silver. Bertran made much money on these wars, because both kings feared his songs. According to the razos of Uc de Saint Circ, the love between the poet and his lady often had other motives besides love as both the ladies and the poets used the famous songs to improve their positions in society.
The troubadour Peire Cardenal was patronized by the counts of Toulouse and criticized religious hypocrisy during the Albigensian crusade in moral and political poems called sirventes. He wrote that clerics pretend to be shepherds but are killers; they have taken power from the kings, dukes, counts, and knights by using stealing, betrayal, hypocrisy, violence, and sermons. The greater they are, the greater their folly and lying. Arab sultans no longer fear attack from them, because that would be too hard. In another song he wrote how preachers smell out the rich as fast as vultures find stinking flesh. The few God has preserved seem mad in relation to the madness of the world. Conon de Béthune was a leader in the crusade against Constantinople and died in the East about 1220. He wrote poetry to the lady he left behind, and he regretted how love can change and fade.
Romances in French literature based on classical stories began
appearing about 1150 with Roman de Thebes and Piramus
et Tisbé, followed by the Roman d'Eneas about
1160, Roman de Troie about 1165, and Narcisus about
1170. Ovid was a strong influence and popular source, and Vergil's
Aeneas is greatly romanticized.
Various questions about romantic love were discussed by Andreas Capellanus in his book On Love (De Amore), which was written about 1185. Andreas was a court chaplain and knew Countess Marie of Champagne. His dialogs seem to have been set in 1174, the year Marie asked Chrétien de Troyes to write The Knight of the Cart. Andreas introduced his work with a letter to a friend offering to instruct him in how love can be maintained and in the means by which love can be shifted from being unrequited. He defined love as a suffering naturally caused by the desire for the beauty of the other sex. Lovers also suffer from fear of losing their love to another, and so they fear offending their lover. Andreas believed that only love between the opposite sexes was natural and confined his discussion to that. Poverty can deter love. He believed that excessive indulgence in pleasure has such strong desire that it cannot be contained in the nets of love, because such men indulge their lust in any woman they see. The five means of winning love are beauty, honest character, wisdom and eloquent speech, wealth, and readiness to grant what the other wants, though Andreas discounted the last two. Even in choosing a woman, he valued honesty of character over beauty.
In the dialogs of the first book a man courts a woman, attempting to persuade her to give her love to him while she finds reasons of doubt and questions for him to answer. Each is defined only by social class. A commoner addressing a common woman describes the four stages of love as 1) allowing the suitor hope, 2) granting a kiss, 3) enjoying an embrace, and 4) consummation in the yielding of the whole person. A commoner tells a noble woman that a lover should not make any class distinctions as long as he has a virtuous character. A noble addressing a common woman mentions Queen Eleanor of England, mother of Countess Marie, and her view that a commoner can be chosen if worthy. A nobleman courting a noblewoman lists the following twelve precepts of love:
1. Avoid miserliness as a harmful disease, and embrace its opposite.
2. You must maintain chastity for your lover.
3. When a woman is appropriately joined to another in love, do not knowingly try to seduce her.
4. Be sure not to choose the love of a woman if natural modesty forbids you to join marriage with her.
5. Remember to avoid lying completely.
6. Do not have too many privy to your love.
7. Be obedient to mistresses' commands in all things, and always be eager to join the service of Love.
8. In the granting and receiving of love's consolations there should be the utmost modesty and decent restraint.
9. You must not be foul-tongued.
10. You must not expose lovers.
11. Show yourself civilized and chivalrous in all things.
12. When practicing the consolations of love do not go beyond the wish of your lover.1
A man of higher nobility tells a noble woman that a husband and wife can be friends but cannot claim love, because they already possess each other. If there is no obstacle to the desire, there is no need for love. Nor can jealousy occur between husband and wife although it is constant between lovers. The woman asks the Countess of Champagne to decide, and her letter states unambiguously that love cannot have sway over a married couple, because it has compulsion, and love is free.
The cleric Andreas argued that God is not angered by love, and the act can be erased by atonement. Thus the higher noble courting a similar lady believes he is right in demanding love outside of marriage. He approves both chaste love with virgins and compounded love that culminates in every pleasure of the flesh. Even clerics should be allowed to love, and he argues that he is to be preferred to a layman. Yet the law should punish most severely loving nuns. Love should be granted from generosity and pure kindness. Thus accepting money or a gift is harlotry and not real love. Also a woman who grants her favors too readily has too much sexual appetite for the bonds of love. Andreas recommended avoiding intercourse with harlots. The second book advises how to preserve and deepen love, but also describes how love diminishes and ends. Then various dilemmas are posed, and they are settled by judgments from Countess Marie and Queen Eleanor. The points about love are then summarized in a list of 31 rules, which begins with the proposition that marriage is not a proper excuse for not loving.
Then in the third book of De Amore Andreas stunningly
reversed course by arguing many reasons why this sensual love
should be condemned in order to win an eternal reward with God.
Not only does it reduce the love of God but also of one's neighbors
and friends. The sin of love pollutes body and soul and enslaves
one, causing poverty, suffering, illness, and crimes. This sinful
love was in fact created by the devil and can cause wars and the
break-up of marriages. Thus Andreas urged his reader to overcome
the pleasures of the flesh with the virtues of the mind so that
wisdom will not be dislodged. The sexism of Andreas came out when
he argued that no woman could equal the love of a man, and then
he described the vices of women as avarice, backbiting, envy,
slander, greed, gluttony, fickleness, deceit, disobedience, pride,
vanity, lying, drunkenness, talkativeness, exposing secrets, lechery,
and superstition. Thus Andreas concluded that one should instead
seek the King of heaven in order to be successful in life and
blessed after death.
Twelve romantic stories in French verse called Lais are attributed to Marie de France and may have been written by about 1170. In the prolog Marie acknowledged her duty to share the gift of knowledge, and in the beginning of Guigemar she recognized the rights of critics. She wrote these Lais from Breton stories she had heard. The handsome knight Guigemar shows no interest in love until he is wounded while hunting a stag as his arrow rebounds against him. The hind communicates that he will only be cured by a woman who will suffer pain for his love, and he will suffer from love too. A ship takes him to a harbor, where he is sheltered and healed by a lady imprisoned by her jealous husband. Guigemar falls in love with her, and to get relief he reveals his feelings to her. She loves him too, and they lay together. After a year and a half, she ties a knot in his shirt tail and forbids him to love any woman but the one who can untie it. Likewise she pledges to him no one else will unbuckle a belt he places around her waist. Guigemar escapes and refuses to take a wife. The lady is punished by her jealous husband until she too escapes. Guigemar fights for Meriaduc and meets his beloved lady. She unties his shirt; but Meriaduc refuses to give her up until Guigemar attacks his castle and kills him.
In the moral tale Equitan the lovers are not so fortunate. Equitan is the king of Nantes and falls in love with the seneschal's wife. She fears lack of equality will not allow love, but he assures her that he will obey her. For a long time their love is undetected, but courtiers want him to marry. So if he will promise not to abandon her for another woman, she will help him murder her husband. They plan to throw the seneschal in a boiling bath; but when the seneschal discovers them in the bath together, the king leaps into the wrong tub and is scalded. Then her husband tosses her into that bath too, and they die together. The moral conclusion is that evil can easily rebound on anyone who seeks another's misfortune. The lay of Le Fresne begins with a similar moral lesson. A woman accusing another of adultery for bearing twins, has twins herself and has one left in an ash tree by a nunnery. The abandoned girl later runs away to become the mistress of a knight, who plans to marry her sister; but the lost child is identified by a ring and a brocade and marries the knight.
In the Bisclavret lay a wife learns that her husband is a werewolf when absent. One day she prevents his return by sending her lover to steal his clothes. She marries the knight, but a year later the king captures the werewolf. At court the werewolf is tame except that he is hostile to that knight, and he bites off his wife's nose. The werewolf is given his clothes and returns to normal. The wife and the knight are banished, and all their children lack noses. Here the werewolf symbolizes the violence of knighthood, and the loss of a nose implies the social disgrace that results from adultery.
The lay of Lanval is about a handsome knight who is given no land by Arthur. Lanval meets a beautiful fairy, who loves him on condition he not reveal her. At court the queen offers Lanval her love; when he refuses, she accuses him of being homosexual. He replies defiantly that he loves a lady, whose handmaidens even surpass the queen in beauty. The irate queen tells the king that Lanval insulted her for refusing his love. His slip causes Lanval to lose contact with the fairy, and he is put on trial by the king. However, the fairy appears to show that she is more beautiful than the queen and testifies that the queen lied. Then Lanval and the fairy ride off to go to the island of Avalon.
The longest lay by Marie de France is Eliduc. The knight
Eliduc is married but leaves his wife when he is banished by the
king. Eliduc helps another king fight his enemies, and the king's
daughter Guilliadun falls in love with him. Eliduc returns her
love but does not tell her that he is married. When Guilliadun
learns that he has a wife, she faints dead away. Eliduc's wife
finds the princess and tells her that she is going into a nunnery.
Eliduc then weds Guilliadun, and his first wife treats her as
a sister and urges her to serve God too.
Humorous tales written in French verse that were often sexually explicit and scatological called fabliaux were popular in the 12th and 13th centuries. They indicate that the eroticism that appeared with the troubadours continued to flourish among all social classes even after many romances developed the courtesy of courtly love. "Aloul" portrays a lewd priest, and "The Lay of the Lecher" frankly admits that despite all their ideals and genteel language the goal knights really desire is that found between a woman's legs. Some of these stories would be adapted by Boccaccio and Chaucer. Probably the most popular fabliaux were those symbolized by animal characters centered around Reynard the fox.
In the second half of the 12th century outlaw stories about
the trickster Reynard the fox were developed into many branches.
In "Reynard's Trial" at the court of King Noble (the
lion) the wolf Isengrin accuses Reynard of committing adultery
with his wife Hersent. Bruin is sent to bring in Reynard, but
the fox distracts the bear with Lanfroi's honey. Tibert the cat
is bringing in Reynard but gets caught eating mice and rats. The
fox's cousin Grimbert the badger manages to bring Reynard to the
trial; but the fox offers to take up the cross and go on crusade.
King lion notes that they go away good and come back bad; but
nonetheless he lets Reynard go. The fox gives the Queen a ring
and quickly renounces the cross and uses it to wipe his behind.
In another story Noble besieges Reynard at Maupertuis, but the
fox escapes being hanged by raising a large ransom. In another
branch Reynard falls into a tub of yellow dye and disguises himself
as a minstrel using a foreign dialect. The wolf Isengrin gets
into a fight with a dog and is castrated. His wife Hersent soon
rejects her hapless husband, while a rumor of Reynard's death
causes his wife Hermeline to marry; but Reynard appears on her
wedding night and punishes her as a slut. The fables of Reynard
and other animals gave people baser stories of sex, violence,
and clever cunning in the animalistic struggle for life.
The romantic lay Aucassin and Nicolette was written in northern France by an anonymous jongleur in the first half of the 13th century, and it was probably presented as a dramatic monolog or dialog. Aucassin is the only heir of old Count Garin of Beaucaire and is so absorbed with love for Nicolette that he will not be a knight nor take up arms. Count Garin says that Nicolette is a captive from the Saracens and gets her godfather to confine her. So Aucassin agrees to fight if he can see Nicolette. When his father fails to keep the bargain, Aucassin makes his captured count pledge to harm his father. Nicolette ties the bed linens together and escapes. Count Garin gets his son Aucassin released from prison and sends him into the forest. Aucassin helps a farmer buy his ox by giving him twenty shillings. Aucassin finds Nicolette, and she heals his dislocated shoulder. They take a ship to a peculiar country called Topsy-Turvy in which the king lays in childbed, and the queen runs the country. They fight a battle with crab-apples, eggs, and cheeses, and Aucassin is reprimanded for killing with his sword. Aucassin and Nicolette enjoy themselves there for three years until they are captured by Saracen ships. Aucassin's ship founders near his home, and he governs the land he inherited from his father. Nicolette is taken to Carthage, where it is learned her real father is king. She is going to be wed to a pagan king; but she disguises herself as a minstrel, finds her way to Aucassin and is reunited with her true love. This romance clearly contains pacifist themes.
Geoffrey of Monmouth's book on British kings was adapted into French in 1155 by the Anglo-Norman poet Wace in his Roman de Brut, which was dedicated to Queen Eleanor of Aquitane; but the emphasis was still on Arthur's military victories. Probably the first romance focusing on Arthur's knights as individuals was Erec and Enide by Chrétien de Troyes, which may have been completed by 1170. Chrétien dedicated his final and unfinished work, The Story of the Grail, to Count Philip of Flanders in 1190 before Philip departed for the crusade, on which he died the following year. Chrétien's second romance Cliges has been dated at 1176, and its prolog mentions Erec and Enide, his translation of Ovid's Commandments and Art of Love, and refers to other poems Chrétien wrote. His romances were written in French with rhymed octosyllabic couplets.
Chrétien hoped that his Erec and Enide would demonstrate that people do not act wisely if they do not make full use of the knowledge that God gives them. Arthur revives the custom of hunting a white stag with the reward that whoever kills it will be allowed to kiss the most beautiful maiden at court. Erec and Queen Guinevere are insulted when a dwarf, attending a knight with his lady, uses a whip on the Queen's maiden and on Erec. Arthur kills the white stag; but the kiss is postponed three days while Erec pursues the armed knight. Erec is given hospitality by a vavasor, impoverished by war, with a wife and most beautiful daughter. Yet this vassal is able to supply Erec with his daughter and the weapons necessary to challenge the knight when he claims his lady is most beautiful and tries to take the sparrow-hawk for the third time. They duel in combat for a long time before Erec gains the advantage and spares the life of Yder, whom he sends to Arthur's court. The beautiful daughter Enide is given a dress by Queen Guinevere and wins the kiss of King Arthur for the white stag. Erec and Enide are promised two castles by his father, King Lac, and they are wed at court in celebrations that last two weeks. In the tournament that follows Erec excels in combat.
Erec and Enide love each other deeply; but their honeymoon ends when she is told that others believe Erec is neglecting his chivalry because of her. So they venture forth together, and Erec orders Enide not to speak to him unless he speaks to her. On several occasions she sees danger before he does and has to decide to speak against his will to warn him. Each time he forgives her but commands her silence again. First three knights chivalrously attack Erec one at a time, and he defeats them. Then five knights wanting to rob are also overcome by Erec so that Enide now leads eight horses. A count is smitten by Enide and wants to marry her, threatening to kill Erec. This time to protect her lord, she lies to the count that he can abduct her; but she wakes Erec so that they can depart earlier. After Erec defeats him, the count realizes his conduct was disgraceful and repents. Erec realizes that Enide truly loves him and re-affirms his love for her. Erec fights a knight for six hours but then learns he is Guivret the Small, and they become good friends. Erec meets a lady, whose lord has been captured by two giants; Erec kills the giants and sends Cadoc of Carlisle to Arthur.
The exhausted Erec collapses when he returns to Enide. Believing him dead, she is stopped from committing suicide by the count of Limors, who intends to marry her and offers half his land as dowry. Enide refuses to do so or even eat; but the count strikes her twice. Erec regains consciousness and kills the count; he and Enide escape on a horse. Guivret is looking for Erec but jousts with him before he realizes who he is. In the climactic episode Erec undertakes the challenge called the Joy of the Court arranged by King Evrain. In a beautiful garden Erec finds a lady and has to fight a very tall knight, Maboagrain, who is defeated and explains that his lady made him promise to fight challengers there so that he would not leave her. Erec's victory releases the knight from his promise that had resulted in the death of several knights, and thus there are great expressions of joy.
Erec joins the knights of the Round Table. When his father
dies, he inherits his kingdom in Outer Wales, and the poem concludes
with Erec's coronation on Christmas Day in Arthur's court. The
romantic love of knights for their ladies has greatly deepened
these feelings. In this romance the danger of knights becoming
too absorbed with their ladies is explored along with the danger
of being enslaved by a promise to a lady. Thus Erec tests Enide
to make sure she recognizes his authority; yet he recognizes that
her love is deep enough to disobey his word to protect his life.
Cliges by Chrétien de Troyes is a fictional romance that begins in Constantinople, where Alexander, oldest son of the Roman Emperor, gets his father's permission to travel to King Arthur's court. There he falls in love with Soredamor, sister of Gawain, and she with him. Chrétien described their inner feelings and thoughts as each pines for the other without telling. When the traitor Count Angres of Windsor seizes London with many men, Alexander captures four knights, prompting Arthur to promise him a kingdom in Wales. Queen Guinevere gives Alexander a golden shirt that contains strands Soredamor added from her hair. Alexander leads 26 men dressed like the traitors into Windsor castle and captures Angres, though 13 of his own men are killed. Queen Guinevere arranges the wedding of Alexander and Soredamor, and they have a son named Cliges. When Alexander's father dies, his younger brother Alis becomes Emperor, believing Alexander is dead. When Alexander returns, Alis lets him rule but maintains the ceremonial position, promising not to marry as long as Cliges is alive.
Alexander sends his son Cliges to Arthur's court for testing. In Germany Alis breaks his promise by marrying Fenice, the betrothed of the Duke of Saxony. However, she falls in love with the handsome Cliges. Once again the lovers pine for each other without declaring their love. Fenice's nurse Thessala realizes that Fenice is sick with love and devises a potion so that Alis will only dream he is having pleasure with her so that the wed Fenice will remain a virgin. In combat Cliges slays the Saxon duke's nephew. The Saxon duke captures Fenice and agrees to a truce with the Greeks. Cliges rescues her as they hide their mutual desires. Cliges fights the Saxon duke in single combat, and they make peace. Cliges gains the reluctant permission of Alis to go to Britain, and there he defeats Sagremor and several other knights in a tournament. King Arthur stops Cliges from fighting his uncle Gawain.
Cliges returns to Constantinople and is greeted by the blushing Fenice, who arranges to have her nurse Thessala give her a potion to imitate death. Cliges promises freedom to his slave John and his family if he will construct a tomb for her. However, three physicians from Salerno detect that Fenice is alive and torture her but fail to make her speak. Ladies rush in and throw the doctors out the window as Thessala covers the naked Fenice with the shroud. Fenice is put in John's tomb; she revives and Thessala treats her with ointments. For fifteen months she recovers and lives in a garden with a grafted pear tree. Then Bertrand sees Fenice and Cliges sleeping together naked and tells Alis. John blames Emperor Alis for marrying against his promise but refuses to inform him where they are. Cliges and Fenice escape to Arthur's court, and he prepares a massive invasion; but they learn that Alis died from lack of eating during his search. Cliges and Fenice are wed and crowned Emperor and Empress at Constantinople. Chrétien concluded his poem by explaining that this episode caused future Byzantine emperors to confine their wives with eunuchs.
In this poem Chrétien wanted to show that by remaining
virginal though married to the wrong man, Fenice and Cliges demonstrated
a more pure love than the adulterous relations of Tristan and
Ysolt. In Chrétien's romance love is voluntary and not
compelled by a love philter, as the potions are used to preserve
Fenice for her true love. Chrétien also criticized physicians
for torturing the dying.
At the beginning of The Knight of the Cart Chrétien de Troyes mentioned that the material and theme of this poem was given to him by Champagne countess Marie. Someone has taken knights captive, and King Arthur's seneschal Kay is given permission to take Queen Guinevere with him to try to get them back by facing a knight's challenge; but he loses, and both are captured. Gawain sets out and meets up with a knight, who rides two horses to exhaustion. Offered a ride in a cart with a dwarf, the knight hesitates before accepting the disgrace of riding like a criminal; but he agrees in order to rescue his beloved Guinevere. When the knight sees the captive queen pass by, he nearly falls from a window. A maiden informs them that she was taken by Meleagant, son of King Baudemagus, to a kingdom that does not allow foreigners to leave. The knight lets Gawain choose the water-bridge. The unnamed knight wins a single combat, refuses the charms of a seductive hostess, keeps Guinevere's hair from a comb he found, lifts the slab only that country's liberator can lift, beheads the enemy of a maiden for her, and with his bare hands and feet crosses the sword bridge.
To win back Guinevere the knight challenges Meleagant, who ignores his father's advice to surrender her peacefully. During the single combat Guinevere identifies the knight as Lancelot; after he sees her, he fights with more love and hatred until the king asks her to plead with Lancelot to stop. Since the king has protected her, she does so. The losing Meleagant refuses to admit defeat and challenges Lancelot to combat in one year at Arthur's court. Guinevere says she does not want to see Lancelot. Granted safe conduct, Lancelot goes looking for Gawain; but he is captured by knights. Guinevere fears he died and stops eating and drinking. Believing she is dead, Lancelot nearly hangs himself but is rescued. In his lament Lancelot indicates his devotion to Love as follows:
There is no doubt that
he who obeys Love's commands grows in stature.
Whatever he does is forgivable.
The man is a failure who dares not perform Love's will."2
King Baudemagus reprimands his knights who captured Lancelot and releases him. Lancelot makes peace among them. Guinevere explains that she was upset that he had hesitated entering the cart for her sake. If he can get by the bars, she is willing for him to visit her bed. Lancelot cuts his fingers removing the bars and spends the night with her as she shows him every possible pleasure. The next day Meleagant sees the blood on her sheets and assumes it was bleeding from the wounded Kay, who sleeps in her cell. Guinevere denies it. To protect her honor and Kay's, Lancelot challenges Meleagant, and again Baudemagus and Guinevere keep Lancelot from killing him. Lancelot is captured again.
Gawain is saved from drowning at the water-bridge and leads
Guinevere, Kay, and the exiles back to Arthur's court. Lancelot
is let out of prison by a mistress on his honor to return so that
he can compete in a tournament. Guinevere tests his obedience
by sending word he is to do his worst; Lancelot acts like a coward
and is ridiculed until she says he can do his best. Then he triumphs
and returns secretly to prison. In the conclusion, which Chrétien
let his friend Godefroi de Leigni write, Meleager has a tower
built to hold Lancelot. Meleager exults that Lancelot did not
show up for their combat; but Gawain agrees to replace him the
next year. A woman Lancelot helped aids his escape, and he meets
the surprised Meleager in combat and kills him. Guinevere is overjoyed
to see him but controls her passion with reason in public. Though
conveying passion Chrétien seems to have distanced himself
from the theme of illicit love for a queen, which is not only
adultery, but in many kingdoms treason.
In the prolog to The Knight with the Lion Chrétien lamented that few serve love today and that it has been reduced to empty pleasantries of those who claim they love but lie. At King Arthur's court Calogrenant tells how a herdsman directed him to a spring, where he poured water on a stone, causing a storm. Then a knight appeared and knocked Calogrenant off his horse. Arthur plans to visit the spring, but the knight Yvain goes there first, pours water and mortally wounds the knight that appears. Chasing him to a castle, Yvain is trapped at the gate when two portcullises fall, slicing his horse in two. The damsel Lunete, who was once aided by Yvain at Arthur's court, gives him a magical ring that renders him invisible. At the knight's funeral Yvain's presence causes the wounds to bleed. Yvain sees the widow Laudine and falls in love with her, which is her revenge against him. However, Lunete persuades Laudine that Yvain could replace her husband, and after he argues that he was only defending himself and that he loves her more than himself, they are wed three days later.
When King Arthur and his knights pour water on the stone and cause the storm, Yvain appears to defend the spring and knocks down the boasting Kay. Yvain invites them to the castle, and Gawain becomes enamored of the brunette Lunete. Gawain suggests that Yvain participate in tournaments, and in order not to be called a coward Yvain gets Laudine's permission to leave her for one year. Busy winning honors, Yvain lets more than a year pass. A woman from Laudine denounces Yvain as an unfaithful cheat and takes the ring from Yvain's finger. She compares the true lover with false seducers.
Those who love truly don't steal hearts;
but there are those who call true lovers thieves,
while they themselves only pretend to love
and in reality know nothing about it.
The true lover takes his lady's heart but would never steal it;
instead, he protects it so that those thieves
who appear to be honorable men cannot steal it.
The sort of men who strive to steal the hearts
of those they don't really care about
are hypocritical thieves and traitors;
but the true lover cherishes his lady's heart
wherever he goes and returns it to her.3
When Yvain realizes that his wife's love has turned to hate,
he hates himself and becomes mad, hunting game in the forest,
naked and destitute but helped by a hermit. The lady of Noroison
sends a damsel to cure Yvain with a magical ointment she rubs
on his entire body. Then Yvain saves the lady by defeating the
hostile Count Alier. Yvain befriends a lion by slaying a dragon.
He rescues Gawain's niece from a giant, prevents Lunete from being
burned at the stake by her mistress Laudine, defeats three knights
with help from his lion, liberates 300 women forced to work at
weaving for starvation wages, and defends the rights of a younger
daughter who is being disinherited by her sister. In this last
incident Yvain fights Gawain until they realize their identities;
then both admit defeat, and Arthur settles the case justly. Then
pining for the love of his lady, Yvain leaves the court to defend
her spring, causing a storm, and Lunete persuades Laudine that
her husband loves her. She takes him back, and Yvain promises
never to do wrong again. In this romance Chrétien uses
elements of magic and fantasy but as in Erec and Enide,
he brings home his theme that love can be found in marriage though
it is tested by the duties of chivalry.
Chrétien wrote that Count Philip of Flanders, whom he admired more than Alexander, gave him the book for his poem called The Story of the Grail. Young Perceval is brought up in a Welsh forest by his mother away from chivalry because her two older sons were killed in tournaments. One day Perceval sees five knights and is so impressed that he tells his mother he is going to become a knight. She advises him to kiss a maiden but forbids him to go farther though he may wear her ring; she also advises him to keep company with gentlemen and to pray in churches. As Perceval leaves, his mother falls prostrate; but he does not turn back. He kisses the first maiden he sees and takes her ring. Perceval rides his horse into the court of King Arthur and asks to be made a knight, saying he wants the armor of the red knight who insulted Arthur and Guinevere. Encountering that knight, Perceval demands the armor and then in a duel kills him with his javelin. At his castle the knight Gornemant de Goort teaches Perceval how to fight and behave, warning him about talking too much.
Perceval decides to visit his mother but first rescues Gornemant's starving niece Blancheflor from the cruel knight Clamadeu, sparing his life after defeating him. He makes Clamadeu free his prisoners and sends him to Arthur's court. Perceval sleeps with Blancheflor and promises to return. He meets the crippled Fisher King, sees the grail being carried in a procession, and learns from his cousin that his mother died of grief because he left her. Perceval meets the damsel he first kissed, who has been punished by her knight. Perceval admits he kissed her and took the ring but denies he did more. They fight, and the knight admits defeat; Perceval makes him take care of the damsel and go to Arthur's court. Perceval, in between contemplating his lady's complexion in bloody snow, knocks down Sagremor and breaks the arm of Kay in duels. By courtesy Gawain gets Perceval to come to Arthur's camp. At court an ugly woman blames Perceval for not asking about the grail before the Fisher King and says that kingdom will suffer. While Perceval is off searching for the grail, Gawain defends maidens in distress. Gawain swears to seek the bleeding lance.
Meanwhile Perceval forgets to enter a church for five years, though during that time he sends sixty knights as prisoners to Arthur's court. A hermit gets Perceval to repent and promise to help maidens, widows, and orphans. Gawain believes that maidens are protected in Arthur's kingdom, and he has several adventures defending damsels and discovering his relatives. Though The Story of the Grail is Chrétien's longest poem, he left it unfinished.
The mystery of the grail was such that four other French poets wrote continuations, each longer than Chrétien's poem, that were attached to most manuscripts. The First Continuation extended the adventures of Gawain. In the Second Continuation Perceval resumes his quest for the grail but is again distracted by chivalrous combat; this version also ends unfinished as the Fisher King is about to explain the significance of the grail. Manessier's Third Continuation then tells how Joseph of Arimathea used the grail to catch the blood of crucified Jesus, and the bleeding spear was that of Longinus. Perceval sets out to avenge the Fisher King's injury and fights the devil in the form of a detached black arm. Perceval overcomes another demon who has taken the form of his beloved Blancheflor. He slays the traitor Partinial and learns that the Fisher King is his mother's brother. Perceval returns to Arthur's court where he proves himself the most excellent knight. He restores the land and retires to a hermitage, sustained by the grail, which accompanies his soul to heaven and is never seen on earth again. The Fourth Continuation by Gerbert de Montreuil replaces or in some manuscripts precedes that of Manessier; it emphasizes chastity and virginity by having Perceval and Blancheflor take a vow of celibacy on their wedding day.
The first major Arthurian romance written in German was Hartmann
von Aue's adaptation of Chrétien's Erec and Enide.
In his version Erec asks Enite to forgive him for having tested
her with hardships. Hartmann also adapted Chrétien's Knight
with the Lion in his Iwein. Two other poems by Hartmann
are religious. In Poor Henry (Der arme Heinrich) a Swabian
noble with leprosy is told by a Salerno physician that the only
cure is for a virgin to offer her life-blood. After a peasant
maiden and her parents are persuaded to make this sacrifice for
him, the knight cannot accept her death; but he is miraculously
cured and marries the girl.
In Gregorius two orphaned children grow up and have a son, whom they place in a small bark on the sea with an inscribed tablet. The mother grieves for the child and the death of her brother. She does penance, and her land is devastated by a duke, whom she declines to marry. The child is rescued and educated in a monastery, where he is baptized Gregorius. He wants to be a knight and learns of his tablet. He travels to the land of his birth and serves his mother as a knight. After he defeats the duke, they marry. When his lady discovers the tablet, she reveals that he is her son. They both are horrified and decide to do penance. He goes to a fisherman and spends seventeen years fettered alone on an island. After the Pope dies, two Roman legates have a dream and are guided to the island. Gregorius goes with them to Rome. His holiness heals people along the way, and he is crowned Pope. When his mother comes to the Pope for help, he recognizes her and tells her who he is; both serve God and become saints. The poet urges the readers to do penance, because no matter what their sin they can be saved. This spiritual romance is based on a legend and conveys the Christian message that sins may be forgiven, and one may become holy by penance.
The heroic epic Nibelungenlied was written by an unknown poet for performance in Austria about 1200. The beautiful Kriemhild is the sister of the warrior kings Gunther, Gernot, and Giselher in Burgundy, and she tells her mother Uote that she has found no man worthy of her. In the Netherlands Siegfried, the son of Siegmund and Sieglind, hears of Kriemhild and says he will marry her. Siegfried has already proven his mettle by slaying two Nibelung princes. He goes to Worms and tells King Gunther that he will take his kingdom from him by force. Ortwin and Gernot calm the anger of Siegfried, who becomes their guest. After a year he still has not met Kriemhild, but he volunteers to fight the Saxons with a thousand men. Siegfried defeats and captures Saxon king Liudegast, killing all but one of thirty knights. The victor is now allowed to meet the princess Kriemhild, and he sees her every day. Instead of accepting their gold, Siegfried advises King Gunther to have the Saxons promise never to invade them.
Gunther asks Siegfried to help him woo the indomitable Brunhild, who has killed every suitor facing her challenges. Gunther agrees to let Siegfried marry Kriemhild if he can win Brunhild, and the two sail to Iceland with only the brothers Hagen and Dancwart. Siegfried uses his magic cloak to become invisible and help Gunther win the athletic contests with Brunhild, who gives the king authority to rule her country. Siegfried goes to Nibelung to get vassals for support by overcoming a giant at the gate and the treasurer Alberich, whom he had already subdued to get the cloak of invisibility. Siegfried goes ahead to Worms with news of the royal wedding. There Siegfried weds Kriemhild, and they are dear to each other. However, Brunhild tells Gunther she intends to remain a maiden. When he tries to take her by force, she hangs him up on the wall for the night. The two couples are consecrated as kings and queens. Siegfried tells Gunther he will use his invisibility to overcome Brunhild in bed so that Gunther can enjoy her. In doing so Siegfried takes her golden ring and girdle. After Gunther lays with Brunhild, she is no longer stronger than any other woman.
Siegfried and Kriemhild go back to the Netherlands, though Hagen refuses to go with them. There Siegmund gives his son Siegfried his power and authority as king and chief judge. Siegfried's son is named Gunther; after ten years Queen Sieglind has died, and Kriemhild has her power. The son of Gunther and Brunhild is named Siegfried. They are visited by Siegfried, Kriemhild, and Siegmund. Brunhild assumes that her husband Gunther should take precedence, but Kriemhild denies that Siegfried is his vassal. In the quarrel Kriemhild claims that her husband first enjoyed the body of Brunhild and presents the ring and girdle as proof. Yet Siegfried denies he took Brunhild's maidenhead. Hagen promises Brunhild he will get revenge for her and plots with Ortwin, Gernot, Giselher, and even Gunther. This king tells Siegfried that Liudegast and Liudeger have declared war on him. Hagen promises Kriemhild he will help defend Siegfried, and she tells him the one vulnerable spot in his back. While they are hunting, Hagen throws his spear through Siegfried's back into his heart. Hagen spreads the story that Siegfried was killed by robbers and leaves his body at Kriemhild's apartment. Kriemhild cautions Siegmund from fighting when they are outnumbered thirty to one. Siegfried's renewed bleeding in the presence of Hagen convinces them he is guilty of murder. At the funeral of Siegfried it is reported that 30,000 marks were given to the poor.
Although Siegmund offers Kriemhild the late Siegfried's power, she decides to remain in Burgundy when Giselher promises her kind treatment. Siegmund goes back to the Netherlands, and Kriemhild lives in her own palace at Worms for three and a half years. Then she is reconciled with her brother Gunther, and her treasure is brought to her from Nibelungland as her dower. She uses this to hire foreign warriors to come to Burgundy. Hagen fears her growing power, gets the keys, and sinks her treasure in the Rhine. Hagen is not punished, and Kriemhild hates him more than ever. After his wife Helche dies, powerful King Etzel (Attila the Hun) sends Pochlarn margrave Rudiger to Burgundy to ask Kriemhild to marry him. Only Hagen is opposed. Rudiger promises Queen Kriemhild that he and his vassals from Hungary will defend her for any wrong she may suffer. Rudiger also promises her more gold than she already has, some of which she gives away. In Hungary they visit Rudiger's wealthy wife Gotelind. King Etzel welcomes Kriemhild with great festivity, and she is given more power than Helche ever had. Etzel is not a Christian, but Kriemhild has their son baptized as Ortlieb.
Kriemhild persuades Etzel to invite her relatives to visit, and messengers are sent to Worms. Hagen advises going heavily armed to Hungary. The minstrel Volker prevents the Hungarian ambassadors from seeing Queen Brunhild. As the Nibelungs travel to Hungary, Hagen kills a belligerent ferryman; but he denies having done so. After they cross the river, Hagen destroys their ships to keep the warriors from fleeing. When the royal chaplain escapes, Hagen suspects that the rest of the water-fairies' prophecy of doom will come true. Gelpfrat tries to avenge the death of the ferryman and challenges Hagen; but his brother Dancwart offers to umpire and slays Gelpfrat; at least a hundred Bavarians are killed. At Pochlarn Giselher marries the daughter of Rudiger and Gotelind.
Dietrich (famous as the Goth Theodoric) welcomes the king Gunther and his relatives to Hungary, warning the Burgundians that Kriemhild still resents the murder of Siegfried. She quickly demands her treasure and says they must remove their arms before entering the royal palace; when they resist that, she learns that Dietrich warned them. Kriemhild sends sixty men and then 400 to kill Hagen, who admits he killed Siegfried for maligning Brunhild. Hagen and the minstrel Volker keep watch all night. Neither side wants to have the blame of starting the fighting; but Volker kills a Hun during jousting. King Etzel manages to stop the violence by saying it was an accident. Dietrich refuses to avenge Siegfried for Kriemhild; but Etzel's brother Bloedelin is tempted to do so by the promise of gold and a lovely bride. Etzel asks the Burgundians to teach his son Ortlieb at their court, but Hagen indicates he would snub him.
Bloedelin and his knights attack Dancwart at the table, but Bloedelin is quickly slain by him. Dancwart's men have been killed, and he calls upon his brother Hagen, who kills the young Ortlieb and many others. King Gunthar and his brothers Gernot and Giselher also fight Etzel's knights. Dancwart and Volker block the doors. Kriemhild asks Dietrich to help her escape, and Gunthar allows Dietrich to leave with her and Etzel and six hundred men. Rudiger also leaves with his five hundred. The remaining Huns in the hall are killed or die when they are thrown from the door. Kriemhild offers much gold for Hagen's head. Denmark margrave Iring attacks Hagen, Volker, Gunther, and Gernot, but is finally slain by Hagen. A thousand Danes and Thuringians are killed in the hall by the Burgundians. When her brothers refuse to surrender Hagen, Kriemhild has the hall burned down. Hagen suggests they quench their thirst by drinking the blood of the dead, and six hundred men survive the fire. They are attacked by 1200 men, who are killed.
Rudiger tries to stop the feud and kills the Hun who calls
him a coward. Rudiger reminds King Etzel that he conducted the
Burgundians there and cannot betray them; but Queen Kriemhild
insists on Rudiger's pledge to defend her. Reluctantly Rudiger
agrees to fight for her and Etzel. Rudiger gives his shield to
Hagen and mortally wounds Gernot but is killed by him. Dietrich's
warriors attack, and his tutor Hildebrand kills the minstrel Volker.
Wolfhart and Giselher slay each other. Finally Hildebrand informs
Dietrich that all their warriors are dead. Dietrich asks Gunther
and Hagen to surrender, but they refuse. Dietrich fights Hagen
and captures him. Dietrich also overcomes Gunther and takes him
bound to Kriemhild. This vengeful queen has her brother beheaded,
and she cuts off Hagen's head herself with Siegfried's sword.
Hildebrand is so shocked by this that he kills Kriemhild. The
petty quarrel between the queens thus ends in this massive slaughter.
Besides the tutor Hildegrand, only the famous warrior kings Dietrich
(Theodoric) and Etzel (Attila) survive.
Wolfram von Eschenbach was a knight bound in service known as a ministerialis. His most famous patron was Landgrave Hermann of Thuringia. The poet Wolfram wrote dawn songs about lovers parting in the morning. His German poem Parzival of 25,000 lines seems to have been written between 1200 and 1210; it extends and completes the last Arthurian romance of Chrétien de Troyes, Perceval or The Story of the Grail. In his prolog Wolfram urges women to observe restraint and modesty. After his father King Gandin of Anjou died, Gahmuret refuses to be a vassal under his older brother, receives gifts from him, and ventures forth to seek his fortune in the world. The self-controlled and moderate Gahmuret first battles for Baghdad's Baruc at the siege of Alexandria. Next Gahmuret takes up the cause of besieged Queen Belacane, who had been falsely accused of murdering her lover Isenhart. Gahmuret wins a single combat and persuades the army of Scots to withdraw. The black queen Belacane yields to the love of Gahmuret, and they are married and have a son. Gahmuret becomes king of Zazamunc but goes to Spain seeking adventure. He wins a tournament and the love of Queen Herzeloyde, who gives up her maidenhead to him. Gahmuret courteously frees prisoners but goes to fight again for Baruc and is killed before Baghdad.
Queen Herzeloyde bears a son named Parzival and withdraws to the forest to keep him from all knowledge of knighthood. Yet the young man meets knights and leaves his mother as she advises him to take a lady's ring and embrace her. When Parzival departs to search for Arthur, his mother falls down dead. He finds the duchess Jeschute sleeping and takes her ring, embracing her. Her husband Orilus punishes her for infidelity. The lady Sigune informs her cousin Parzival that his name means "pierce through the heart" and that he is an Angevin king. At Arthur's court young Parzival insists on becoming a knight and kills the red knight Ither with a javelin to take his armor. Parzival is taught how to be a knight by Gurnemanz de Graharz, whose counsel includes the following: never lose your sense of shame; be compassionate to the needy; be kind, generous, and humble; neither squander property nor hoard wealth; be moderate; do not ask many questions; temper daring with mercy and allow the man you defeat to live unless he has committed a mortal wrong; be manly and cheerful and esteem the ladies. Gurnemanz promises him his pretty daughter Liaze.
At Belrepeire Parzival finds people starving; but he befriends Queen Condwiramurs and defends her against Clamide by defeating the champion Kingrun in single combat. Parzival sends Kingrun to Arthur's court to submit to Lady Cunneware because of an insult by Seneschal Keie. Parzival also duels, defeats, and sends Clamide to Arthur's court for the same purpose. Parzival marries Condwiramurs but leaves to visit his mother and seek adventure. In a castle Parzival sees a ceremony with a bleeding lance and two dozen maidens surrounding a chaste virgin holding the magical Gral that enables them to eat whatever they wish. Following the advice of Gurnemanz, Parzival asks no questions. Later Sigune reprimands him for not inquiring. Finding that Orilus is mistreating his wife Jeschute unfairly, Parzival defeats the duke; by taking an oath before the hermit Trevrizent that Jeschute is innocent and giving back her ring, he reconciles their marriage. Orilus is also sent to Lady Cunneware, increasing the animosity at court toward Keie.
When blood on snow reminds Parzival of his wife's complexion, he is entranced by love. Segramor challenges him and is unhorsed. Keie gets Arthur's permission to fight Parzival and has an arm and a leg broken. Lady Cunneware welcomes Parzival at court after he has defended her honor against Keie. Parzival becomes a knight of the Round Table; but the sorceress Cundrie castigates him for replacing the Red Knight Ither and for not speaking up when he saw the bloody lance and the Gral. The knight Kingrimursel challenges Gawan to single combat before the King of Ascalun at Schanpfanzun. While Parzival is seeking the Gral, Gawan has many adventures. Gawan fights for King Meljanz of Liz against Duke Lyppaut. At Schanpfanzun Gawan is entrusted with Antikonie, sister of King Vergulaht of Ascalun. When love trouble arouses the people of Schanpfanzun, Kingrimursel defends Gawan. Antikonie also helps to bring about a reconciliation so that Gawan can resume his search for the Gral as he promises to serve her womanly virtue.
In the forest of Munsalvaesche Parzival meets his cousin Sigune; she is mourning her dead suitor and is given food in her cell on the Gral by Malcreatiure's sister Cundrie. Sigune forgives Parzival and urges him to seek the Gral. He is guided to the hermit Trevrizent to confess his sins. The hermit lives simply in self-denial. Parzival has not been in churches but has been seeking battles. Trevrizent exhorts him to seek good, for the Gral can only be gained by Heaven's destiny. He must guard against arrogance by cultivating a gentle spirit. He says Parzival sinned when he killed his own relative Ither for the red armor, and his mother died in anguish for him; he also failed to ask a question when he saw the Gral. The hermit gives him penance and takes his sins.
Meanwhile Gawan woos and marries the dowager duchess Orgeluse, and for her he leads a life of combat. The proud king Gramoflanz agrees to fight only Gawan, who invites Arthur and Guinevere to attend the joust. Privately Gawan jousts with a knight, who turns out to be Parzival, and Gawan realizes the perverse folly of their combat. Parzival offers to fight King Gramoflanz for Gawan; when the king insists on fighting Gawan, Bene berates him for bad faith in love; but Gawan also refuses to let Parzival fight for him. Yet Parzival leaves early and has gained victory over Gramoflanz when Gawan arrives. Gawan intends to fight the next day; but Arthur's mother Arnive and Bene show Arthur that Gramoflanz is in love with Gawan's sister Itonje even though he has not seen her yet. Arthur arranges a truce, and Gramoflanz gets to kiss Itonje. The quarrel is dissolved in the sunshine of love for Itonje as she marries King Gramoflanz.
Parzival continues his search for the Gral and fights a rich
knight; when Parzival's sword shatters, the infidel gallantly
agrees to a truce. They discover that they are both sons of Gahmuret,
and the half-black Feirefiz has been looking for his father. Parzival
informs him that their father died in a joust. Feirefiz loves
the ladies, and Parzival promises him there are very lovely ones
at Arthur's court. One lady for each knight is allowed to sit
at the Round Table. Cundrie appears with the Gral device. She
tells Parzival to choose one companion for his quest, and he takes
his brother, who sends to his army to lavish gifts on the court.
Cundrie escorts the brothers and prevents them from fighting.
The ailing Anfortas, uncle of Parzival, was the Gral king but
lost it; the arrival of the next Gral king Parzival heals his
pain. Now that Parzival is recognized as the Gral king he goes
back to his wife Condwiramurs. Their son Kardeiz is crowned as
heir of Gahmuret's kingdoms, and their other son is the fearless
Loherangrin. The virgin hermit Sigune is found dead on her knees
in prayer. At a palace banquet in Belrepeire the Gral magically
gives everyone what they want. Anfortas tells Parzival that his
brother will not really see the Gral until he is baptized. Fierefiz
is baptized by a priest and marries Parzival's aunt Repanse de
Schoye, who in India bears Prester John. Instead of fighting for
the love of women, Anfortas vows to fight for and serve the Gral.
Wolfram von Eschenbach had completed Parzival by 1212, the year a crusade won a big victory at Las Navas de Tolosa that drove the Almohads out of Spain. He completed the epic poem Willehalm in German about 1220, adapting the French poem Aliscans that had been composed about 1185 and was based on an earlier "Song of William." Wolfram noted that his poem is based on a true story about a knight who became a saint and can be invoked by those who believe in God. Guillaume (William or Willehalm) was made Count of Toulouse by his cousin Charlemagne in 789. Four years later Guillaume was defeated by invading Muslims in the battle of Alischanz while Charlemagne and his son Louis were away on campaigns; but his forces had made the victory costly, and the Saracens went back to Spain with their booty. Guillaume helped Charlemagne fight back and take Barcelona in 801. Guillaume spent the last six years of his life dedicated to God as a Benedictine monk near Montpellier before he died in 812.
Wolfram's hero Willehalm is also called the Marquis or Margrave. The plot is set in motion because he fell in love with Arabel, who was baptized Giburc before she married Willehalm, causing her father King Terramer and her former suitor Tibalt to launch a massive invasion. On the field of Alischanz two-thirds of Terramer's 30,000 warriors are slaughtered as they wipe out Willehalm's army of 20,000. In the end the Marquis loses thirteen close relatives. In grief Willehalm leaves the field and heads home toward Orange and witnesses the death of young Vivianz. On his way Willehalm challenges fifteen kings and slays seven of them as the others flee. Then the Marquis kills the undefeated Persian king Arofel and puts on his rich armor, which enables him to pass through the Muslim army. Even Queen Giburc does not recognize him until he proves his valor by freeing 500 Christians who had been enslaved and then shows her the scar on his nose. Their castle is soon besieged, and Willehalm goes to get help, vowing to eat only bread and water until he returns. Giburc orders dead men with helmets and shields placed on the battlements as a show of force. The angry Margrave lops off the head of a toll inspector, and he fights his brother Arnalt until they realize who they are.
At the court of King Louis the Queen is Willehalm's sister; but she at first disdains his plea for a new army. In a rage Willehalm breaks her crown and grabs her by the hair; but he is calmed down by his father Heimrich, and his mother Irmschart of Pavia contributes to the campaign. The Queen's daughter Alice also helps to mollify King Louis, who promises Heimrich an army for his son's cause, declaring they must all fight to defend baptism against the heathens. Willehalm also recruits the strong Persian noble Rennewart, who was working as a kitchen slave and has an enormous club. Louis remains at Orleans and sends the army forward under Willehalm.
The Marquis and Rennewart go ahead of the army, and Giburc lets them in the castle. She says their army has driven her father's army to the harbor. She is relieved as the French army camps, allowing her and her maidens to remove their armor. Queen Giburc describes how she resisted offers to convert again. King Louis wanted to have Rennewart baptized; when he refused to do so, Rennewart had to give up the companionship of Alice. Giburc learns that Rennewart is her brother, because he is also a child of Terramer. Rennewart resents that he was not ransomed even though he would have been if they had known where he was. He promises to fight for the Marquis of Provence, and Giburc's maidens put his armor on him. The French swear to fight the Saracens as they take the cross. Giburc weeps for the dead and pleads that they show mercy in their victory. During a truce Rennewart is not persuaded to return to fight for the Saracens. Terramer wants to become Roman emperor and depends on his countless reserves. The poet described in detail the orders of battle; the Saracens have ten troops led by Halzebier, Tibalt, Sinagun, Terramer's ten sons, Poidjus, Aropatin, Josweiz, Poidwiz, Marlanz, and Terramer himself; the French have six led by Willehalm, old Heimrich, Buov and Bernart, Gibert and Bertram, Heimrich le captif and Schilbert, and Rennewart with the cowards.
Terramer realizes that he would have to defeat this army if
he wants to be Roman emperor as the French are determined to avenge
the loss of Vivianz and others. The poet noted that many men were
fighting for women's rewards and favors. Rennewart attacks a ship
and is able to free eight Christian princes while sparing the
unarmed jailers. Poidjus reports to Terramer that Halzebier has
been killed. After Rennewart slays King Goliam, Tibalt retreats
with his army. Poidwiz is also dead, but in the retreat Terramer
and many escape to the ships. Many poor soldiers get rich collecting
booty. Marquis Willehalm gains renown and goes on to other victories.
He sheds tears that Rennewart can not be found, but his brother
Bernart of Brabant consoles him that he now has Tibalt's wife
and land, suggesting that they can exchange prisoners for him
if he is captured. The Saracens had 23 kings killed, and their
bodies are returned for burial. The poem ends abruptly, but it
is not known how much was lost. In this work the knight Wolfram
celebrated what he considered the joys of chivalry even though
they involved massive violence.
The didactic satire Meier Helmbrecht was written by Wernher der Gartenaere about 1250. Helmbrecht means a libertine and is the name of the father and the son. The first third of the poem is a discussion between these two as to whether the son should leave the farm to go to court. Young Helmbrecht has made up his mind to leave, but his father warns him with many arguments and even by his dreams that this will bring much worse results than staying to plow and tend the animals. Young Helmbrecht leaves and becomes a squire to a knight as they pilfer and rob. After a year Helmbrecht returns to his family speaking words from various languages and bearing gifts. Helmbrecht has been named Schlingdasgeu, which means "devour the land," and he has nine friends with similar names. He tells his sister Gotlint that his friend Lammerslint wants to marry her and offers her three bags of cloth, clothing, and furs. They are wed, and Helmbrecht continues his violent stealing until one day they are caught by the sheriff. His nine companions are hanged, and Helmbrecht is blinded and has a foot and hand cut off. Gotlint guides him home, but then victims of his past crimes find him and hang him too. This poem indicates how the abuses of knight errantry are succumbing to enforceable law.
So many similar versions telling the story of Tristan and Yseut were written by the 13th century that scholars have concluded that many may have been based on a common source that has been lost. The extant fragments written by Thomas of Britain in French before 1160 cover the end of the story and will be discussed below. Béroul also wrote The Romance of Tristan in French in the last decade of the 12th century that is nearly complete except for the beginning and end. Béroul's extant poem picks up the story with Tristan and Yseult discussing their plight under a tree as Yseut's husband King Mark listens from the tree. Yseult sees that Mark is listening and manages to steer the conversation in such a way that his suspicions of their love aroused by his courtiers are alleviated. Mark now trusts Tristan even more and allows him to sleep in his bedchamber. Three barons have seen Tristan and Yseult lying naked together often. The dwarf Frocin strews flour between the beds of Tristan and Yseult to incriminate them; but Tristan leaps from his bed to hers. In doing so he opens a wound and bleeds in her bed and on the floor. Thus King Mark finds Tristan guilty and condemns him to death.
King Mark plans to burn his wife Yseult and his nephew Tristan; but Tristan is allowed into a church and leaps out the window. His tutor and squire Governal helps him escape. The leader of the lepers, Ivain, persuades King Mark to turn over his queen to the lepers as a fate worse than death; but Governal strikes Ivain, and Tristan carries off Yseult into the forest of Morrois. Both Tristan and Yseult tell the hermit Ogrin that they cannot repent, because their adulterous love was caused by the drinking of the potion. Tristan's dog Husdant finds his way to Tristan, who teaches him not to bark while they hunt. When one of the barons comes into the forest, Governal kills him. One day King Mark finds the two lovers sleeping clothed with a sword between them; the king leaves his sword and takes Tristan's. After three years the love potion wears off, and Tristan regrets his wrong, hoping that Yseult can be reconciled with King Mark. They go back to the hermit Ogrin and say that their physical intercourse has ended. Tristan agrees to defend her honor at court, and they send a letter to King Mark; but the hostile barons persuade the king to exile Tristan for a year. He leaves his dog with Yseult, and she gives him a green jasper ring.
The barons Godwin, Ganelon, and Denoalan urge King Mark to
make Yseult undergo an ordeal to prove her honor. She promises
to do so before King Arthur and his household. Tristan disguises
himself as a begging leper, causes the barons to fall in the mire,
and carries Yseult across on his back. Tristan goes back to Governal,
who gives him his armor. Tristan breaks the arm of a knight, and
Governal kills another to the delight of Yseult. Then she swears
that no man has been between her thighs except King Mark and the
leper she rode across the mire. The three barons still spy on
Yseult's bedroom in order to catch Tristan; but he kills Denoalan
and Godwin before the manuscript of the poem by Béroul
A finer and more extensive version is the poem Tristan based on Thomas and written in German by Gottfried von Strassburg about 1210. In the prolog Gottfried wrote that love is blissful and blessed though lovers suffer longing in their hearts. Rivalin is the lord of Parmenie but has the fatal style of living that returns evil for evil. Gottfried noted that those who cannot overlook a hurt will produce many more hurts. Rivalin has a feud with his enemy Morgan; but he falls in love with Blancheflor and she with him. Rivalin is seriously wounded fighting for King Mark. Blancheflor swoons next to him; when the recovering Rivalin has his way with her, she becomes pregnant. Rivalin goes to sea against Morgan, and Blancheflor elopes with him. He entrusts her to Rual Foitenant, and Rivalin is killed defending his country. Blancheflor laments, and four days later she gives birth to a son and dies. Marshal Rual and his wife Floraete pretend that the child is theirs, and the boy is named Tristan, meaning sorrow.
By the age of fourteen Tristan is well educated; but while playing chess on a ship he is abducted by Norwegian merchants. Believing a raging storm was caused by their evil deed, the merchants put Tristan on shore in Cornwall. Tristan tells two hermits he was lost from a hunt, and they take him to Tintagel. Tristan impresses hunters by showing them how to excoriate a stag. He also excels at music with his horn and by playing harp at the court of King Mark, who already has made him a retainer as chief huntsman. Tristan is also admired for his knowledge of several languages. Meanwhile Rual has been looking for his adopted son and eventually is guided to Cornwall. Rual admits he is the vassal of Tristan and explains Tristan's unusual birth and adoption and that he is actually King Mark's nephew. Mark tells Tristan he will be his father for his late sister's sake. Parmenie is given to young Tristan, and Mark even makes him co-ruler of Cornwall and his heir. Tristan is knighted with thirty others he sponsors. King Mark advises him,
Let your birth and nobility be ever present in your mind.
Be modest and straightforward; be truthful and well-bred.
Always be kind to the lowly; to the mighty always be proud.
Cultivate your appearance.
Honor and love all women.
Be generous and loyal.4
Tristan sails to Parmenie and then goes to Morgan to claim his fief. Morgan denies his legitimacy, but Tristan says his parents were married. He accuses Morgan of killing his father and slays him with his sword. Both sides suffer heavy losses in the fighting. Tristan enfeoffs Rual and his sons as heirs and then goes back to Cornwall with his tutor Curvenal. Ireland's king Gurman has been imposing a loathsome tribute on Cornwall, demanding thirty handsome boys each year. Believing it is against God's commandments for free men to give their children for serfdom, Tristan volunteers for single combat against the huge Morold. They fight on an island, and Morold wounds Tristan in the thigh with a poison-bated sword; only Morold's sister, Queen Isolde of Ireland, knows the needed herbs to heal it. Yet Tristan fights with God and right, triumphs, and cuts off Morold's head. To heal his wound Tristan sails to Ireland with Curvenal and eight men. Tristan enters Dublin alone as a court minstrel and uses the name Tantris. Queen Isolde treats his poisoned wound and asks him to tutor her daughter Isolde in music, languages, and good manners. Tantris tells the Queen he has a wife, and he returns cured to Cornwall.
At King Mark's court Tristan describes how lovely young Isolde is. The barons become so envious of Tristan that he advises Mark to take a wife so that he can produce another successor. Isolde is chosen as most fitting, and Tristan is sent to Ireland on the embassy with twenty knights and sixty mercenaries. Again Tristan approaches alone and makes up a story, bribing the marshal to get to the court. King Gurman has sworn to give his daughter Isolde to any knight of noble birth who can slay the dragon. Tristan does so and cuts out the tongue. The cowardly Steward loves Isolde and claims that he killed the dragon; but Isolde hates the Steward and would rather die than marry him. Her mother Queen Isolde perceives by a dream that the Steward did not kill the dragon. She and her daughter and niece Brangane with the page Paranis find Tristan nearly dead from carrying the dragon's tongue. Again Queen Isolde cures Tantris, who plans to challenge the deceitful Steward to a duel. Young Isolde finds his sword and matches the missing piece found in her dead uncle's skull. They realize he is the Tristan who killed the Queen's brother; but she has granted him immunity. Tristan promises that young Isolde can marry King Mark, and King Gurman renounces the feud. When the Steward presents the head of the dragon for his claim, he is disproved by the missing tongue that Tristan had taken.
Queen Isolde concocts a love philter and gives it to Brangane for Mark and Isolde; but on the ship to Cornwall Isolde and Tristan drink it. Isolde's hatred for his having killed her uncle is suddenly gone as Love purges their hearts of enmity. They join in affection and share a single heart. In joy and sorrow they hide their feelings from each other. Eventually the love is too strong, and she resigns herself body and soul to Tristan. As they lose their shyness, they kiss. Brangane is persuaded to let them do as they like. On the voyage they revel in their intimacy. Gottfried inserted a passage on how we reap what we sow how love cultivated with deceit in seeking joy of body and soul can cause pain and evil. Only steadfast friendship is the worthy love. The lovers worry about Isolde's lost virginity; but they ask Brangane to take her place in Mark's bed on her wedding night, and Brangane explains to them about the potion's influence. After being with Brangane in the dark Mark resumes his pleasures with Isolde. Fearing Brangane might expose their love, Isolde sends two men to murder her; but they take pity on her, and Isolde is also relieved they did not kill her. Gottfried noted that Love also includes the pain of anger sometimes; but affection reconciles the lovers.
King Mark owes Irish knight Gandin a request, and Gandin demands Isolde. No one is willing to risk his life against this knight while Tristan is off hunting. Tristan again appears as a minstrel and carries off the grateful Isolde back to Mark. Jealous Marjodoc tells the King that a rumor links her to Tristan. Mark tests Isolde by saying he is going away, and she asks for Tristan to take care of her until Brangane advises her that this was rash. Isolde's varying attitude causes Mark to waver between doubt and trust. The King's dwarf Melot perceives the tender affection between Tristan and Isolde, and he gets Mark to climb an olive tree in order to listen to the conversation of the lovers. In Gottfried's version both Tristan and Isolde perceive the shadow of the king and speak so as to relieve his suspicion. The deceitful Melot offers Tristan friendship but betrays him by strewing flour on the floor of the Queen's bedchamber. Tristan leaps from his bed to hers but opens a wound, leaving tell-tale blood in her bed. King Mark consults his council at London, and it is decided Queen Isolde must undergo an ordeal. Disguised as a pilgrim, Tristan carries Isolde ashore and tumbles on the ground with her, allowing the Queen to swear with him as an exception. Thus the hot iron does not burn her hand, and her honor is redeemed.
In Swales Tristan wins the dog Petitcreiu from Duke Gilan by defeating the arrogant Urgan, cutting off his hand. Tristan sends the prized dog with Brangane to Isolde. The lovers resume their secret intimacy at court; but King Mark again becomes suspicious, and in his rage he banishes them both. Perhaps the happiest time for Tristan and Isolde is living in the cave. Gottfried even claimed that they were sustained only by their love without food. The windows in their cave stand for kindness, humility, and breeding. One day hearing King Mark nearby, the lovers lay down in their clothes with a sword between them. Mark finds them sleeping and covers the window with flowers to keep the sun off them. Once again relieved, Mark sends Curvenal to recall Tristan and Isolde to his court. There Isolde begins to resent the surveillance. Gottfried argued against it, because the vicious cannot be guarded, and the virtuous do not need it, guarding themselves. A woman who esteems herself is moderate; but when a woman acts against herself, she becomes her own enemy in losing her honor. One day in the garden Mark finds Tristan and Isolde sleeping in each other's arms, turning his suspicion to certainty. Tristan sees him walk away and tells Isolde he must leave; before he goes, she gives him a ring and tells him to remember her.
Tristan goes to Germany and fights for the Holy Roman Empire. He learns that Rual and Floraete died, but he is welcomed by their sons. Tristan helps Arundel fight in their feud, and Kaedin introduces him to his sister Isolde of the White Hands. Tristan wavers between the memories of his fair Isolde and this new love; but Isolde of the White Hands does not know of his duplicity and inner conflict. Tristan is still absorbed in thoughts of Queen Isolde when the manuscript of Gottfried breaks off.
The fragments of Tristran by Thomas of Britain describe the end of the story. Tristran's feelings are changing, and he thinks of the pleasure King Mark has with Ysolt. Assuming she has forgotten him, he decides to marry Ysolt of the White Hands to try to forget the Queen. Thomas lamented that people are changeable but do not seem to change their evil ways as they continually seek novelties. When Tristran looks at his ring, he remembers Ysolt and cannot break faith with her. So he refrains from intimacy with Ysolt of the White Hands, and abstinence breeds hatred. His reason keeps him faithful and takes away his lust for his bride; he tells her he has a painful bodily infirmity. The knight Cariado tells Ysolt that Tristran has taken a wife, daughter of the Duke of Brittany; but the Queen tells Cariado that she could never love him. Thomas described how all four lovers are unhappy. Mark fears that Ysolt is unfaithful and can only have the physical pleasure. Ysolt has the King but longs for her beloved Tristran, who has a bride but cannot love her because of his love for the Queen. Ysolt of the White Hands desires Tristran but gets no carnal pleasure.
Tristran and Caerdin go to England. Tristran gets to see Queen Ysolt, who persuades Brengvein to accept the love of Caerdin. When the two men leave, Brengvein blames Ysolt and threatens to betray her for having violated her oath to the King. Brengvein even tells Mark that Ysolt's morals have so declined that she is considering giving in to Cariado, whom she got to ambush Tristran. So the King removes Cariado. Tristran disguises himself as a beggar, but Brengvein interferes until Tristran persuades her that Caerdin really loves her. Tristran departs but learns that Queen Ysolt has started wearing a corselet until he returns. Tristran and Caerdin kill two barons in a tournament but flee again. Tristran joins a dwarf of the same name in a feud, and they kill seven brothers; but the dwarf Tristran is slain, and Tristran himself is wounded by a poisoned spear. Tristran believes that Ysolt can cure him, but he cannot make the journey. So he sends Caerdin, admitting he cannot love his sister because he loves the Queen. Ysolt returns with Caerdin on a ship and nearly drowns in a storm; but Ysolt of the White Hands lies to Tristran that the ship has a black sail, meaning that Ysolt is not coming. Tristran dies, and Queen Ysolt is so grieved that she dies too kissing him.
This powerful romance though written in poetry prepares the way for the modern novel that describes feelings and motives. Though the illicit love is based on a potion, it nonetheless symbolizes the emotional power of sexual attraction. Since the troubadours opened up the romantic feelings, this literature indicates how the mores of Europe are changing even among the courtly since Eleanor of Aquitane divorced Louis VII to marry Henry II in 1152. The Tristran by Thomas was written soon after that event. Chrétien de Troyes also wrote in reaction to the great popularity of the Tristan story to show that not all deep love is outside of marriage.
The long French prose Lancelot also tells of the illicit love of the greatest knight for a queen. The child is the son of King Ban of Benoic; but his father loses his kingdom, and the boy does not know his identity as he strives to be a knight and is educated in chivalry by the Lady of the Lake. He leaves for Camelot and has adventures as the White Knight; when he conquers the Dolorous Guard, he learns his name is Lancelot. While showing his skill with arms in the kingdom of Logres, Gawain learns the white knight is Lancelot, who again disappears. As the Red Knight and Black Knight he befriends Galehaut, who is fighting a war with King Arthur. Lancelot goes mad for a while in a Saxon prison, but the Saxons and the Irish are defeated. Guinevere is accused of being her false half-sister, and Lancelot as her champion defeats three foes before the false Guinevere is exposed and dies. Enamored of Queen Guinevere, in his quest Lancelot rides in a cart. In the fifth part Lancelot's love for the queen is finally consummated. Having saved Arthur from Galehaut and the Saxons, Lancelot is installed as a knight of the Round Table. He is recognized as the greatest knight in the world and is admitted into Arthur's household as Galehaut dies. Lancelot learns of his son Galahad, frees Mordred, rescues Kay, returns to Camelot, is expelled by Guinevere, goes mad and is cured.
Between 1215 and 1230 Lancelot was followed by a religious allegory called The Quest of the Holy Grail that seems to have been written by a Cistercian monk or someone influenced by that theology. The quest for the grail begins as young Galahad is knighted by his father Lancelot and takes the perilous seat at King Arthur's Round Table during the feast of Pentecost. He soon replaces Lancelot as the greatest knight when he draws forth a sword from a stone that Lancelot refused to attempt and that Gawain and Perceval could not move. Gawain and other knights take the oath to search for the holy grail. The hermit Nascien advises them that no lady nor maid may go with them, and the quest is joined by 150 brave knights. This tale contains much fantasy and religious symbolism. Galahad attains a special white shield with a red cross. The knight Maleas is punished for pride and coveting. Galahad defeats seven knights who have been oppressing the castle of the maidens, and the knights flee. Galahad is persuaded to summon the local knights and restore decent government to the castle. Then Galahad learns that Gawain, his brother Gaheriet, and Owein killed the seven wicked brothers. A hermit considers Galahad better than Gawain because he defeated the seven without killing them. Gawain is also criticized for his dissolute life.
Lancelot is judged even more harshly for his relationship with Queen Guinevere. He sees the holy grail but is not moved to act. The good hermit persuades Lancelot to repent and promise never to commit mortal sin with the Queen again. Perceval's aunt tells Perceval of three great fellowships: the first was Jesus and his apostles; the second was led by Joseph of Arimathea; and the third is the Round Table devised by Merlin for King Arthur. Perceval is warned not to try to fight the superior Galahad. Perceval sees a vision of a white-haired man and is told that he has been waiting blind and helpless for 400 years for this knight to heal him. Perceval sees a lion fighting a dragon and helps the lion. A priest tells him that the serpent symbolizes the Old Law and the lion the New Law of Christ. Perceval then is tempted by an attractive woman and barely escapes giving up his will to her by calling on the cross. He feels so wretched from his near failure that he stabs himself in the thigh. The priest explains that she is the enemy, the master of hell.
A hermit reminds Lancelot that he fell into the sins of lust and pride, and as penance he instructs this knight to wear a hair-shirt and eat no meat and drink no wine during his quest. For the first time Lancelot is taken prisoner during a tournament. A reclusive woman explains to him it was because he was on the sinners' side in the tournament of the grail quest. Lancelot has his horse killed by a knight he encounters and is left without food by a river he cannot cross. Sir Gawain and Hector also have trouble on the quest because of their sins. Before knowing who he is, in single combat Gawain mortally wounds King Urien's son Owein the Bastard. Gawain and Hector have visions warning of their difficulties. A holy man tells Lancelot's brother Hector that he will live on a war-horse in the vices of pride and envy until he comes to the house of the Great Fisher. Manifestations of the holy grail will not appear to guilty men. Thus Gawain and Hector realize that they may as well give up the quest and go back to Camelot.
A monk also tells the wandering knight Bors that some of his companions on the quest fall into adultery and fornication and others into murder; but Bors will be one of the three companions of the Round Table to succeed. Bors pledges to live on bread and water until he attains his goal. He helps an oppressed lady regain her inheritance by defeating her sister's champion Priadan and by killing or driving out his vassals, who refused to submit. An abbot explains to Bors that this symbolizes his fight for the Church against the Old Law. When faced with the choice to help a knight being beaten by two men or a maiden carried off in danger of rape, Bors chooses the latter. Later he learns that the assaulted knight is his brother Lionel, who castigates Bors and kills a hermit protecting him; the knight Calogrenant arrives to intervene but is also killed by Lionel. Bors pleads with his brother and is about to strike him in self-defense when a heavenly fire and a voice stop the quarrel. Guided by the voice, Bors heads toward the sea to meet Perceval.
In a battle at a tournament Galahad arrives to knock down Gawain, and Hector flees. Galahad meets Perceval and Bors to take a miraculous ship, but only Galahad is able to put his hand around a sacred sword that Nascien had prized. At a castle on the Scottish marshes the three companions take on ten attacking knights and others arming, slaying them like dumb beasts. The three realize they are sinners for massacring so many men; but afterward they are told how wicked the men were they killed. Ten knights demand a bowlful of blood from Perceval's sister. The three fight the ten armed knights but have to submit when sixty more knights arrive. Perceval's sister agrees to give her blood to heal a leprous lady and dies in the process. As Galahad, Perceval, and Bors leave, the wicked castle is destroyed by a storm. The body of Perceval's sister is wrapped and set adrift in a boat, which Lancelot finds. In the boat Lancelot reads her story and finally meets up with his son Galahad. After six months in the boat together, Galahad is given a white horse and rides off into the forest. After drifting in the boat for another month, Lancelot is guided by a voice to a castle, where he is warned not to enter the sacred room. When Lancelot goes to help an aged priest, he falls unconscious for 24 days. Lancelot's raucous brother Hector arrives but is not allowed inside the castle and leaves. Then Lancelot goes back to Arthur's court.
Galahad goes to the chapel of King Mordrain, who regains his sight and health. Galahad and Perceval roam the land for five years before they arrive at the house of the Maimed King. Galahad is warmly welcomed by his grandfather, King Pelles. Galahad and his two companions Perceval and Bors meet three knights from Gaul, three from Ireland, and three from Denmark. Josephus appears and promises them glorious food before he disappears. A figure appears from the holy vessel and gives communion with the holy grail to Galahad and the other knights. After the figure disappears, Galahad takes blood from the lance and heals the legs of the Maimed King. Galahad asks to depart from life while seeing the glories of the holy grail. Josephus, son of Joseph of Arimathea, tells Galahad they are alike as virgins and in revering the holy grail. Galahad kisses Perceval and tells Bors to commend him to Lancelot before he lays down and leaves his body as his soul is carried to heaven by angels. Then Perceval and Bors see a hand take the holy vessel up to heaven. Perceval spends a year in a hermitage and then departs this life; Bors buries his body and then returns to the court at Camelot to relate the story of the holy grail.
The Death of Arthur, probably written by 1235, completes the Lancelot cycle as Bors returns to Camelot and tells of his adventures. Gawain admits that he killed eighteen knights on the quest, including King Baudemagus, which he regrets most. Despite his previous resolutions, within a month Lancelot has resumed his ardent love for Queen Guinevere. Gawain's brother Agravain discovers their affair and tells King Arthur, who does not believe it but makes Guinevere stay home from a tournament in order to test her. Lancelot also stays behind, but it is so that he can go secretly to the tournament. He meets a beautiful maiden, who asks him to grant a request. He agrees, and she makes him wear her sleeve on his helmet even though he fears the jealousy of Guinevere. King Arthur forbids Gawain and his brother Gaheriet from participating in the tournament, because he expects Lancelot to come. For honor Lancelot chooses the weaker side and helps them win; but Bors wounds Lancelot in the side. Lancelot returns to the Escalot castle of the maiden and needs six weeks to recover.
Gawain meets the beautiful maiden and is smitten by her; but she is a virgin and has sworn to love only her champion knight. Gawain recognizes Lancelot's shield, and at Camelot he explains that Lancelot loves a beautiful virgin. When Queen Guinevere learns that the victorious knight with the sleeve was Lancelot, she is furious. After a month Lancelot wants to attend a tournament because Guinevere will be there; but his excitement opens his wound, and he cannot go anywhere. Lancelot intends vengeance on the knight who wounded him; but when he learns it was Bors, he drops his grudge. Meanwhile King Arthur visits his sister Morgan, who plans to live on the magical Isle of Avalon. She shows the King paintings Lancelot made while imprisoned that reveal his love for the Queen. Morgan urges Arthur to avenge his shame. The beautiful maiden tells Lancelot she loves him so much that she will die if he will not love her; when he rejects her because of Guinevere, she takes to her bed and does die.
Lancelot and his knights go to Camelot, but jealous Guinevere refuses to receive them. Lancelot goes off with only a squire. A knight named Avarlan hates Gawain and gives Queen Guinevere a poisoned fruit so that she will give it to him; but she gives it to Gaheris, who is poisoned to death. In the forest Lancelot is wounded in the thigh from a hunting arrow that missed a stag, and he is taken in by a hermit. Mador, the brother of Gaheris, divests himself of his fief from Arthur and goes to the King to demand justice for the Queen's murder of his brother. She has no knight who will aid her in this cause, because she sent away Lancelot and his relatives; but Arthur gives her forty days to find a knight to defend her. Gawain learns that the beautiful girl from Escalot died and tells Guinevere what happened. Lancelot learns of the Queen's plight; he says he will fight for her because he loves her even though she is in the wrong. Bors blames Guinevere for failing the finest knight in the world. Arthur asks Gawain and other knights to help the Queen, but they all refuse. Finally Bors agrees to defend her if she has no better champion. However, Lancelot arrives and defeats Mador, offering him mercy when he withdraws his accusation.
Queen Guinevere realizes that Lancelot loves her, because the beautiful virgin died for lack of his love; now their love lacks such discretion that soon Gawain and his brothers know of it for certain. Arthur forces Agravain to tell him that they have committed adultery, and the King orders his knights to catch them together and goes hunting. After Lancelot undresses and goes to bed with the Queen, the knights surround the room. Lancelot manages to fight his way out, and Arthur prepares to burn his Queen. Lancelot, Bors, and other knights rescue Guinevere, and in doing so they kill Gawain's brothers Agravain, Guerrehet, and Gaheriet. Gawain swoons and insists on revenge and war. Mador informs them that Lancelot is at the Joyeuse Garde castle. Arthur replaces the 72 missing from his Round Table so that he still has 150 knights. Lancelot sends a message that he is willing to fight in single combat to prove he is not guilty and blames Arthur's nephews for bringing about their own deaths. Arthur follows Gawain's advice and replies it is war.
They march on the castle, and Lancelot sorties out with his knights. The story says that Gawain killed 18 knights; the other side has a hundred knights missing and took only ten prisoners. The next day Gawain and Bors wound each other; but Lancelot keeps his brother Hector from killing Arthur. The king's siege of the castle lasts two months; but the Pope threatens excommunication and interdict if Arthur will not take back his queen, and Lancelot agrees to let Guinevere go back to the King. Arthur then allows Lancelot to leave the kingdom of Logre to return to Gaunes. Lancelot and Guinevere exchange rings again and part. Gawain tries to challenge Lancelot, and Bors offers to accept the single combat; but Arthur does not allow the battle.
In France Lancelot makes Bors king of Banoic and Lionel king of Gaunes. Gawain persuades King Arthur to draft an army in order to invade the lands of Lancelot, and Arthur appoints Mordred to govern while he is gone and crosses the channel. Mordred makes many gifts to win over people and falls in love with Guinevere. Then he forges the King's seal and announces that the dying Arthur wrote that Mordred should be made king and marry Guinevere, and the barons go along with this. Guinevere gets some knights to protect her in the Tower of London, where she is besieged. Meanwhile Gawain challenges Lancelot to single combat; Arthur promises that if Lancelot wins, he will give up the siege. Lancelot offers peace and homage and will even go into exile for ten years, though the kings Bors and Lionel would remain independent. Gawain is bent on revenge and insists on fighting. They fight all day, and both are badly wounded. Finally Lancelot gets Arthur's permission to walk away. Arthur learns that the Romans have invaded his realm in Burgundy and goes to fight them. Arthur himself slays the Emperor and sends his body as the only tribute he offers.
Arthur then learns of Mordred's betrayal and siege of the Queen. Arthur admits that Mordred is his son. Gawain is dying of his head wound and begs Arthur to call on Lancelot, but the King refuses to do so. Queen Guinevere, fearing both Mordred and Arthur, goes into an abbey of nuns. Gawain dies but appears to Arthur in a dream, advising him he will die if he fights Mordred without Lancelot. At Dover an archbishop repeats the warning that many good men will die, but Arthur ignores him too. Mordred wins over the Saxons to his side and has many more men than Arthur. In the big battle at Salisbury Arthur's allies King Yon and King Caradoc are killed; but King Aguisant rescues Yvain, who is then killed by Mordred. Of all the knights of the Round Table only Girflet survives. Arthur kills his son Mordred but is mortally wounded by him; he sends Girflet to throw his sword Excalibur into the lake, and a hand comes out of the water to catch it. Arthur goes on a boat with his sister Morgan, and his tomb reads "Here lies King Arthur who through his valor conquered twelve kingdoms."5
Girflet becomes a hermit and dies eighteen days later. Guinevere also dies in the convent. Lancelot learns that the two sons of Mordred claimed the kingdom. Bors proposes to Lancelot that they fight them. In the battle Mordred's son Melehan kills Lionel; but Bors kills Melehan, and Lancelot kills Mordred's younger son. Bors goes back to his kingdom, but Lancelot and his brother Hector devote themselves to four years of penance before they die. Hearing the news from the archbishop of Canterbury, Bors retires to the hermitage also. This classic story that will often be adapted in the coming centuries describes the ethics of chivalry; but the violence of the knights results in their destruction.
Snorri Sturluson was born in Iceland in 1178, the youngest of three sons. His father Sturla was a chieftain but died in 1183, and Snorri was raised from the age of three by the most powerful man in Iceland, Jon Loptsson (1124-1197), at his educational farm Oddi. Jon's grandfather Saemund the Learned (1056-1133) wrote the first history of the Norwegian kings in Latin. Jon was also proud that his mother Thora was sired (out of wedlock) by Norwegian king Magnus III (Bareleg). In 1199 Snorri gained wealth by marrying Herdis, daughter of rich Bersi of Borg. After Bersi died in 1202, Snorri moved from Oddi to her farm at Borg that had been the home of the poet Egil Skallagrimsson. Four years later Snorri was separated from his wife and moved to Reykjaholt, which was Church land the priest Magnus Paalson gave him to manage. In conflicts with the Church Snorri sided with the chieftains, who drove the Bishop of Holar from his diocese in 1209. Snorri was ambitious and sent poems to Norway's kings Sverrir and Inge, receiving a suit of armor from the regent Jarl Haakon.
With his knowledge, legal skill, and growing power, Snorri was made law-speaker for the Iceland law court (Althing) from 1215 to 1218. Snorri clashed with the chief Magnus Gudmundarson and the Oddaverjar family but overcame them. Then he visited King Haakon IV and regent Jarl Skuli in Norway; Snorri persuaded the king not to invade Iceland. Snorri promised to make peace for the Norwegian merchants in Iceland and work for the king, who appointed him a lenderman, the highest state official. Snorri then became the first Icelander to give his estates to Norway's king as his vassal and received them back as a royal gift. Snorri returned to Iceland in 1220 and was able to resolve the conflict over the Norwegian traders, because Saemund Jonsson's power had been weakened by local feuding. Snorri got a nephew of Jon Loptsson to kill his enemy in the battle of Breidabolstad in 1221. Snorri served as law-speaker of Iceland again starting in 1222 for nine more years. In 1224 Snorri became the common-law husband of the wealthy heiress Hallveig and began managing her estates; but they could not be married by the Church until his wife Herdis died in 1233. Snorri was descended from the skaldic poets Egil Skallagrimsson and Markus Skeggjason, and during this period he compiled the legends and history of Norway's kings in his Heimskringla.
According to the account of his nephew Sturla Thordarson in the Sturlunga Saga, Snorri was so ambitious to gain wealth and power that he was an inconstant friend and often made enemies. Usually reluctant to use physical force, Snorri used his skill as a lawyer to gain his ends. He seized flour a merchant from the Orkneys had stored on his farm. In this case Snorri sent men to attack his ship and three men to murder the merchant when he took refuge with Saemund. After a fracas between Snorri's men and Saemund's nephew Magnus, Snorri sued Magnus to deprive him of his inheritance and outlaw him. Snorri refused to break up a riot between factions of his thingmen. He garnered a fortune with his legal maneuvers by acquiring control over thing-districts. Although Snorri became the richest man in Iceland, power eluded him because of the hostility he aroused. Snorri also tried to gain power by arranging the marriages of his three daughters; but two resulted in divorce, and the third was widowed and took lovers. Snorri alienated many relatives, because he did not share his wealth. When his son Jon wanted to marry and live at Stavaholt, Snorri insisted that he live with his mother at Borg.
In 1224 Snorri's daughter Thordis married Thorvald Vatnsfirding, who was burned to death by the sons of Hrafn in 1228. In revenge Thorvald's sons Thord and Snorri went after the chief Sturla Sighvatsson, perpetrating cruelties along the way; but Sturla was not home, and in 1232 he had these two brothers killed. That year it was agreed that Snorri Sturlason was to own half the chieftaincies that rightfully belonged to Kolbeinn the Young. The next year Snorri Sturlason put his violent son Oraekja in charge of the late Thorvald's estate, and he terrorized the region. Also in 1233 Snorri's nephew and rival Sturla Sighvatsson went to Rome and did penance for his crimes against Bishop Gudmund Arason. In 1235 Sturla became the Norwegian king's envoy to gain the submission of Iceland. While Oraekja was summoned away, Sturla seized Snorri's farm at Reykjaholt. Then Sturla gained revenge against Snorri's son by treacherously having Oraekja gelded. Snorri formed an alliance with Thorleif, who tried to negotiate with Sturla as Snorri fled; but Thorleif was defeated in 1237. Snorri went to Norway but was unwelcome at the royal court and resided with the king's adversary, the former regent Jarl Skuli, who may even have challenged the king's authority by appointing Snorri his jarl. In Iceland Sturla Sighvatsson was killed in 1238 while battling the ambitious Gizur Thorvaldsson, Snorri's former son-in-law.
In 1239 Snorri returned to Iceland in defiance of the king's order. He joined with Thorlief to avenge his nephew Sturla's death and increased his regional power. After Jarl Skuli was killed in a revolt in 1240, Gizur got a letter from King Haakon authorizing him to bring Snorri back to Norway. At a meeting Snorri brought only 100 men but faced 900 of Gizur's ally Kolbeinn, also Snorri's son-in-law; but Snorri managed to escape. After his wife Hallveig died, Snorri was reluctant to share her estate with his two step-sons; they joined with Gizur to plot his death. On the night of September 23, 1241 Gizur entered Snorri's home at Reykjaholt with seventy men. Snorri fled to the cellar and was killed without being given the option of returning to Norway. Gizur championed the king's cause, and Iceland was eventually absorbed into the Norwegian kingdom in 1262.
The Poetic Edda was composed as early as the ninth century but was probably not put into its final written form until after Snorri Sturluson wrote his Prose Edda explaining its myths, diction, and meters about 1222. The Edda poem Voluspa is the prophecy of a seeress, but more of the extant details are supplied by Snorri's later Prose Edda and in his "Ynglinga Saga" that is the first chapter of his Heimskringla. He began the Prose Edda with a prolog that places the Norse myths in the context of the omnipotent God, who created heaven and earth. Writing well into the Christian era of Iceland, Snorri mentioned Adam and Eve and the flood of Noah. He then attempted to explain the origin of the myths rationally by suggesting that ancients reasoned that the Earth must be a living being that feeds all creatures. People must have realized that something controls the heavenly bodies. Though he wrote about Leif Erikson's visits to Vinland, he described three regions of his world as Africa, Europe, and Asia, which is most beautiful and wealthy. He traced the origin of his people to the middle of the world at Troy in Turkey and wrote that their god Thor is based on a son of Priam named Tror. Several generations later came Woden, whom they call Odin. He led his people north to Saxony before crossing over to the king Gylfi in Sweden. These people were called Aesir because they were from Asia.
In the Tricking of Gylfi (Gylfaginning) Snorri told the myths in the form of a conversation between King Gylfi and High, Just-as-High, and the Third. The greatest work of the All-father is the creation of humans with souls that never perish even after their bodies die. The first creature in human form was a giant named Ymir. Buri is formed by being licked out of primeval stones by the cow Audhumla. His grandsons Odin, Vili, and Ve kill Ymir. The gods build a city at Asgard (Troy) in the middle of the world for the Aesir race, and the All-father establishes rulers to govern people. The temple built for the gods is called Gladsheim and another for the goddesses is Vingolf. According to Snorri the golden age was ruined by the arrival of women. Dwarves breed like maggots from the flesh of Ymir, and they work with metal. In heaven is the fairest and brightest hall called Gimle, where the just and good people will live forever; Gimle is protected and will stand even after heaven and earth have passed away.
The world-tree Yggdrasill is at the center of the world, but its roots go down to the world of the dead, Hel, and the frost giants. Under this tree are sacred wells that impart wisdom presided over by fates across a rainbow bridge. In the ocean surrounding the human world of Midgard is the serpent, who will attack the gods when they are doomed in the Ragnarok. Odin is married to Frigg, who knows human destiny but does not prophesy. Odin is called All-father and Val-father, because he gathers the dead heroes in Valhalla for the final battle. Odin is often disguised as a one-eyed old man seeking wisdom and challenging others. Odin's bearded son Thor is the strongest of the gods and helps farmers and sailors as he fights the giants with his powerful hammer Miollnir. The trusting god of justice Tyr is considered the bravest but lost a hand in the jaws of the wolf Fenrir. Odin's foster-brother Loki is the father of Fenrir, Midgard, and Hel. The cunning Loki sometimes helps the gods, but he often works against them. Thor is tricked by the transformations of Utgarda-Loki.
The wise Bragi is the god of poetry, and the archer Ull is the patron of hunting. The gods' watchman Heimdall guards the bridge and can hear at the well of Mimir under Yggdrasill; he will blow his horn to announce Ragnarok. The Aesir burn the witch Gullveig three times, but she is reborn and teaches humans her magic. The Vanir demand to participate in the sacrifices of the Aesir, but the war results in a negotiated peace. Their fertility deities Freyr and Freyia come with their father Niord, a sea-god, to live with the Aesir. Haenir and Mimir are sent to the Vanir; but they quarrel so much that the Vanir cut off Mimir's head and send it back to the Aesir. After the war between the Aesir and Vanir, a builder offers to repair the fortification of Asgard and is promised the sun, moon, and Freyia if he can do it in time. The builder uses a stallion that Loki in the form of a mare lures away. When the builder reveals he is a giant, Thor strikes him with his hammer, breaking the pledge of the gods. The gods also break a promise when they bind Fenrir, causing Tyr to lose his hand that had been placed in the mouth of the wolf Fenrir as a pledge of good faith. The gods refrain from killing the wolf in their holy sanctuary.
The purest, wisest, and most merciful of the gods is Odin's son Baldr, but his decisions are not carried into effect. After Baldr tells of dreams that his life is threatened, Frigg manages to gain immunity from most dangerous objects for Baldr; but Loki disguises himself as a woman and goes to Frigg, learning that mistletoe was not included. Then Loki gets Baldr's blind son Hod to shoot his father with a mistletoe arrow, killing him. The bold Hermod volunteers to go to Hel and offer her a ransom for Baldr, and Odin loans his boy his horse Sleipnir for the journey to the underworld. Meanwhile the Aesir take Baldr's body to the sea and burn it on a funeral pyre. Hel wants to test if Baldr is universally loved and demands that all creatures living and dead weep for him to gain his release; but the giantess Thanks refuses to do so. Finally Thor catches Loki even though he turns himself into a slippery salmon. Loki's son Vali is changed into a wolf and kills his brother Nari, whose guts are used to bind Loki. The trickster cannot escape and will lie in bonds until the doom of the gods (Ragnarok), which Snorri also called the "twilight of the gods." The moral decline leading to this catastrophe is described by the Seeress.
Brother will fight brother and be his slayer,
brother and sister will violate the bond of kinship,
hard it is in the world, there is much adultery,
axe-age, sword-age, shields are cleft asunder,
wind-age, wolf-age, before the world plunges headlong,
no man will spare another.6
During Ragnarok Thor will conquer the Midgard serpent but will die from its poison. Odin will be eaten by the wolf Fenrir, but Vidar will avenge his death by killing the wolf. In addition to the heavenly Gimle, the good and virtuous will survive in the mountain hall called Sindri. Earth will rise from the sea and become green and fair, and crops will grow unsown. Vidar and Vali will be alive, and all will sit and discuss mysteries and past events in a new golden age. Suddenly Gylfi hears noises and looks around to find himself on open ground, and he goes back to his kingdom.
Other Edda poems tell stories of heroes such as Helgi and Sigurd, who have troubles after becoming involved with valkyries; these goddesses seek capable warriors, selecting as many for Valhalla as Odin. Other legends based on or similar to the Nibelungenlied are told of the historical figures Attila the Hun, Burgundian king Gunnar, and Queen Brunhilda.
These figures appear in the anonymous Volsunga Saga, which was written between 1200 and 1270. Odin's son Sigi founds a kingdom, kills a servant, and is murdered but avenged by his son Rerir, whose son Volsung is the father of Sigmund and Signy. Sigmund gains the sword that only he can pull forth from a tree in Volsung's hall. Signy marries Siggeir though her second sight warns her it will be disastrous. Siggeir attacks and kills Volsung, capturing his twelve sons. Signy pleads her brothers be put in stocks; but a wolf kills one each night except for Sigmund, who uses honey and bites the wolf's tongue, kills it, and escapes. Signy trades identities with a sorceress in order to sleep with her brother Sigmund and bears their son Sinfjotli, who helps his father gain vengeance by killing two of Siggeir's sons and burning his hall, in which Signy voluntarily perishes. Eventually Sinfjotli is poisoned by his stepmother Borghild, and Sigmund is killed in battle when his sword breaks on Odin's spear. Sigmund's widow Hjordis gives birth to Sigurd, who is raised by Regin. Regin's father and brothers acquire gold, which is guarded by his brother Fafnir in the form of a dragon. Regin provides swords for Sigurd so that he can slay the dragon. Eating its heart, Sigurd by bird language learns of Regin's treachery and kills him. With the treasure Sigurd meets the former valkyrie Brynhild, and they are betrothed.
Sigurd visits King Gjuki; after Queen Grimhild causes him to
forget Brynhild, Sigurd marries the princess Gudrun. Her brother
Gunnar wants to marry Brynhild but cannot pass the flames. So
Sigurd as Gunnar succeeds and sleeps with Brynhild, separated
by a sword but getting his ring back. So Brynhild marries Gunnar.
When Brynhild learns she was tricked, she arouses Gunnar's jealousy;
so he gets his brother Guttorm to murder Sigurd for his wealth,
though Guttorm is also slain by his victim. At Sigurd's funeral
Brynhild laughs at Gudrun and commits suicide. Greedy Atli marries
Gudrun; but Gunnar refuses to disclose where the treasure is hidden
even though his brother Hogni's heart is cut out. Gunnar bravely
dies in a snake pit, and Gudrun gets revenge on Atli by killing
her own children by him; later she murders Atli and burns his
hall. Gudrun tries to drown herself in the sea but is carried
to the kingdom of King Jonakr and marries him; but their sons
are eventually killed too trying to avenge their sister Svanhild.
Snorri Sturluson wrote the history of Norway's kings from the early myths and legends in the sagas called Heimskringla, which means "the orb of the world" and was taken from the first words of manuscript that followed the missing prolog. In the prolog Snorri indicated that he tried to find the truth from the old stories by relying mostly on writings from the era described. He believed that the stories told were probably truthful because they would have been considered a mockery by listeners if they were not. Some of the early Norse myths are recounted in the "Ynglinga Saga." Snorri's history of Norway's kings begins with Halfdan the Black in the late 9th century and goes up to 1177; it is a treasure of facts and values for that period though some scholars are sceptical because of Snorri's creativity.
Snorri Sturluson is also believed to be the author of Egil's Saga, which was written about 1230. Egil Skallagrimsson was perhaps the greatest of the Icelandic scaldic poets; he was about eighty when he died in 990. The prose work Egil's Saga is a historical novel about him and his family. The story begins in the era when Harald Fairhair has vowed not to cut his hair until he has become sole ruler of Norway. The shaggy Harald overcomes various local chieftains by making them his men or destroying their power. Kveldulf is not eager to give up his independence and warns his sons not to serve Harald; but Thorolf does so anyway. Thorolf and his friend Bard are wounded fighting for Harald. When Bard dies, Thorolf marries his widow Sigrid. Thorolf goes on Viking raids and increases his power in Finnmark; but he is slandered by the envious Hildiridarson family. King Harald mistrusts Thorolf even though he brings in more tribute from Finnmark than the Hildiridarsons; Thorolf is killed when the king burns his house down. Thorolf's brother Skallagrim had refused to serve Harald. He revenges Thorolf's death by killing Sigtrygg and emigrates to Iceland with his father Kveldulf.
The fifth child of Skallagrim is named Egil, who begins composing poetry at the age of three. Egil's older brother Thorolf became a friend of Bjorn, who had abducted his wife Thora and fled to Iceland, where he was welcomed by Skallagrim. Thorolf and Bjorn go Viking to gain plunder, and Thorolf gives prince Erik Bloodax a ship. When Erik becomes king, he marries Gunnhild and gives Thorolf an ax for his father. After a quarrel in a ball game, six-year-old Egil kills the boy Grim with an ax; in the ensuing feud seven men are killed. In another game Skallagrim kills Egil's team-mate Thord, and so Egil kills his father's favorite farm-hand. Egil leaves home, and at a feast he kills King Erik's steward Bard with a sword and escapes. Egil goes on Viking raids. Gunnhild's brother Eyvind Shabby kills Thorolf's forecastleman and is outlawed; Egil steals ships from Eyvind. In order to serve England's king Athelstan, Egil and Thorolf accept preliminary baptism, and they help him defeat King Olaf of Scotland. Because Thorolf was killed, Athelstan gives Egil two chests of silver for his father; Egil also receives gold bracelets for his poetry.
Egil then marries Thorolf's widow Asgerd, Bjorn's daughter. When Egil tries to claim her share of Bjorn's estate, he is opposed by Asgerd's sister Gunnhild and her husband Berg-Onund, whom Egil challenges to a duel. At sea Egil kills King Erik's retainer Ketil with a spear, and the king's forces kill ten of Egil's men. Egil escapes on a skiff, and his friend Arinbjorn gives him a ship. Egil kills Berg-Onund in the duel and calls him a miser in verse. Egil and his men then loot and kill more men. He sets up poles insulting King Erik and Queen Gunnhild with magical runes. The aging Skallagrim dies, and Egil runs the estate in Iceland. Egil asks Arinbjorn to plead for him at Erik's court in York, and Egil boldly appears there. Gunnhild urges Erik to kill Egil right away; but Arinbjorn argues that killing at night is murder and that the king had unfairly sided with Berg-Onund and had Egil's men killed. The next day Egil presents his poem praising King Erik and is allowed to leave. Egil and Arinbjorn go to King Athelstan, and they learn that King Erik has confiscated the estate inherited by Arinbjorn's nephew Thorstein in Norway.
Egil appeals his case to Athelstan's foster son Hakon at Trondheim in Norway. Arinbjorn's sister Gyda urges Egil to fight the berserk Ljot, and Egil kills him in a duel. Egil goes to claim Bjorn's property and finds Berg-Onund's brother Atli holding it and asking for compensation for his brother's death. Egil proposes taking the case to the Gulathing assembly, and there Egil challenges Atli to a duel and kills him. That summer Egil returns to Iceland. Egil asks Arinbjorn to help get the money he earned by killing Ljot; but King Hakon warns Arinbjorn not to persist in opposing him. Egil has more adventures before retiring to his farm at Borg to write poetry. He arbitrates a conflict between his son Thorstein and Einar but gives a biased verdict. Egil even writes poetry about his own senility before he dies. When Christianity comes to Iceland, his son Thorstein is baptized and builds a church at Borg.
Egil's Saga portrays the Viking life of a poetry-writing chieftain who found independence from royal authority in Iceland but engaged in much plundering and violent quarrels over legal disputes involving property. Viking law allowed him to challenge his adversaries in court to a duel by combat.
The author of the Laxdaela Saga is unknown, but it was written about 1245. Like Egil's Saga, it begins in the era when Harald Fairhair is consolidating his rule over Norway. In the Laxdaela Saga Ketil Flat-nose flees Harald's tyranny by emigrating to Scotland, but his son Bjorn goes to Iceland. Ketil's grandson Thorstein the Red raids Scotland and takes over half the country; but after Thorstein is treacherously killed in Caithness, his mother Unn the Deep-minded emigrates to Iceland. There Koll marries Thorstein's daughter Thorgerd and is given land by the Lax River; later the widow Thorgerd marries again in Norway, bearing the son Hrut Herjolfsson. Koll's son Hoskuld marries Bjorn's daughter Jorunn; they have two sons Thorleik and Bard but do not get along well. Hoskuld goes to Norway for timber and buys a speechless concubine, who bears Olaf the Peacock and turns out to be Melkorka, daughter of Ireland king Myrkjartan. Hoskuld has difficult neighbors. The violent Hrapp has died and is haunting his house. Thord Goddi quarrels with his wife Vigdis over giving refuge to the outlaw Thorolf. Vigdis gives Asgaut his freedom for helping her kinsman Thorolf to escape, and she divorces Thord Goddi, who to keep her from getting his wealth hands it over to Hoskuld. After Melkorka struck his wife Jorunn, Hoskul sent Melkorka and Olaf away. Now he entrusts Olaf to be raised by Thord Goddi.
Hrut quarrels with his brother Hoskuld over grazing cattle, but they settle their differences. Melkorka marries and gives her son Olaf her gold ring, enabling Irish king Myrkjartan to recognize Olaf as his grandson. Olaf Hoskuldson is also welcomed at the court of Harald and Gunnhild in Norway. Olaf returns to Iceland and marries Thorgerd, daughter of Egil Skallagrimsson. Olaf buys Hrappstead, confronts the ghost, and ends the problem by burning Hrapp's corpse. Unlike his brother Bard, Thorleik refuses to share his father's estate with Olaf; so before he dies, Hoskuld gives Olaf a valuable sword and gold bracelet. In reconciliation Olaf offers to raise Thorleik's son Bolli, who becomes the close friend of Olaf's son Kjartan. The wealthy Geirmund returns from Norway with Olaf and marries his daughter Thurid; but they are unhappy. Before Geirmund leaves, Thurid steals his sword Leg-biter; but Geirmund puts a curse on the sword, which Thurid gives to Bolli.
Osvif's daughter Gudrun is considered the most beautiful woman in Iceland, but her dreams indicate that she will have four husbands. At 15 she marries the wealthy Thorvald and claims half his estate when she divorces him for being effeminate. Next Gudrun gets Thord to divorce his wife Aud for wearing pants and marries him. After Aud wounds Thord with a sword, he goes after the thieving sorcerer Kotkel, who is then blamed for causing the drowning death of Thord. Kotkel and his family bribe Thorleik in order to live by the Lax River. Thorleik asks them to humiliate Hrut, and soon Hrut's son is found dead. Olaf captures Kotkel and his wife Grima, and they are stoned to death for sorcery. Their son Hallbjorn curses Thorleik before he is drowned by Hrut and his sons. Hrut goes to Olaf for help in fighting Thorleik, but Olaf tries to make peace and persuades Thorleik to go abroad.
Kjartan enjoys conversing with Gudrun at the baths but goes to Norway with Bolli. King Olaf Tryggvason has embargoed ships refusing to accept the Christian faith, but Kjartan meets Olaf while swimming. At court Kjartan boldly declares his opposition to the King; but eventually he is persuaded by Olaf's preaching, and he is baptized along with Bolli and their crew. Olaf sends to Iceland the priest Thangbrand, who kills two men opposing him before he flees. The next summer the preachers Gizur the White and Hjalti Skeggjason take four Icelanders as hostages. While Kjartan is pre-occupied with the King's sister Ingibjorg, Bolli returns to Iceland and marries the broken-hearted Gudrun. Ingibjorg gives Kjartan a golden head-dress for Gudrun. After Iceland accepts Christianity, the hostages are released. The returning Kjartan is disappointed Gudrun has married; but after a period of depression, he marries Asgeir's daughter Hrefna, giving her the head-dress. Quarrels break out between Kjartan and Bolli as Kjartan's sword and his wife's headdress are stolen. Gudrun instigates Bolli into joining an ambush of Kjartan, who fights them off as Bolli watches; but when Bolli takes up his sword Leg-Biter, Kjartan stops fighting and lets himself be killed by his foster brother.
Olaf the Peacock works to prevent more violence in the family feud but dies three years later. Then Kjartan's brothers are urged by their mother Thorgerd to take revenge, and Melkorka's son Lambi Thorbjornsson and Helgi Hardbeinsson kill Bolli. Gudrun is pregnant and names her son Bolli. Gudrun comes under the influence of the priest Snorri and trades homes with him. Thorgils Holluson wants to marry Gudrun, but she refuses. Though he wishes to end the feuding, Snorri persuades her to make a deceitful promise to Thorgils that she will marry no one else in the country, while Thorkel Eyjolfsson, whom Snorri wants her to marry, is abroad. Gudrun thus gets Thorgils and her young son Bolli, now 12, to kill Helgi. Thorgils resents Snorri's manipulation and offers compensation to Helgi's sons; but Audgisl, prodded by Snorri, beheads Thorgils while he is counting out the silver. Gudrun takes Thorkel as her fourth husband. Snorri persuades Thorleik that Helgi's death evens the feud, and a final compensation is paid to end it. Thorkel goes to Norway again to fetch lumber for a church; but after returning he quarrels over a land deal and is drowned, as foreseen by a previous dream. Young Bolli returns from abroad wearing fancy clothes, and he asks his mother Gudrun, now a nun and the first anchoress of Iceland, whom she loved most. She finally admits that she was worst to the one she loved most.
The Laxdaela Saga shows how the Viking spirit of violent conquest still caused family feuds over property and domestic quarrels as they settled down and adopted Christianity. Women are very strong characters in this saga, and it is clear they held much personal power over their men and could refuse proposed marriages.
Written evidence of theater in Europe during the middle ages is scant until the 14th century though it is likely that increasing numbers of minstrels and mimes entertained people. Puppetry was flourishing by the 12th century. Religious rituals gradually were expanded from antiphonal choirs to a short dialog at Easter when the Marys learn from an angel that Jesus has risen. Short plays were developed to communicate Biblical stories from the fall of Lucifer and the creation of Eve through the flood of Noah and Abraham's sacrifice of Isaac to the resurrection of Christ and judgment day. The center of these dramas was the life of Jesus from his birth to his passion, and thus they came to be called passion plays or mystery plays. The oldest known passion play in Latin was in the 12th century at Montecassino. Gradually Latin was replaced by the vernacular so that more people could appreciate them. As the guilds became involved in producing these annual pageants, they moved from the church doors to the marketplace or were performed on wagons. The lives of saints were also presented in miracle plays and were often performed on the saints' days.
A short drama by Hilarius from about 1125 exists on the conversion of Paul from the Christian-persecuting Saul, and Hilarius was also believed to have written plays about Daniel and the raising of Lazarus. The earliest medieval comedies that survived in writing were found in the Loire valley where clerical students wrote short dialogs in Latin about St. Nicholas. In the one by Hilarius, Barbaras prays at the statue of St. Nicholas to protect his things. When thieves steal them, Barbaras blames the saint; but Nicholas gets the robbers to return them, and Barbaras is grateful. Nicholas tells him to pray not to him but to God. In another short play found at the Abbey Saint-Benoit-sur-Loire, three scholars ask for lodging from an old man, who is persuaded by his wife to house them. Then the couple murders them for their money. Nicholas arrives as a traveler and insists they have fresh meat. When the old couple brings the bodies, Nicholas revives them. In Adeodatus the son of Getron and Euphrosina is taken by the king; but they pray to St. Nicholas and get him back.
The Play of Adam (Le Jeu d'Adam) was composed in Norman French about 1150 or so. This play includes some appropriate Latin hymns and presents a lively dialog between God, Adam, Eve, and Satan, showing how Eve was tempted by Satan and how she persuaded Adam to fall also by eating the forbidden fruit. This scene is immediately followed by another short play with Cain and Abel on the primal murder, which is to be punished by God.
La Seinte Resureccion was written in Anglo-Norman in England about 1180 by a cleric but was performed outside for people. Joseph of Arimathia gets permission from Pilate to remove the body of Jesus after Longinus ends his life with a spear. Joseph gets help from Nicodemus, who also asks Pilate. After they carry away the body, Caiaphas has Pilate place a guard by the sepulcher. Caiaphas is about to arrest Joseph when the extant text ends. Later versions indicate the usual story of Jesus' resurrection and the liberation of Joseph from prison.
In 1200 Jean Bodel wrote a longer farce called The Play of Saint Nicholas for the Flanders city of Arras known for its tapestries. Bodel was born in 1165 and died in a leper colony in 1210. A king of Africa and Arabia makes war on Christians and kills them. One good Christian is put in prison and prays to St. Nicholas, saying his relic will protect the king's treasure. The king puts it to the test, and three dice-players, who have been drinking at the tavern, take a bag full of treasure. The Christian facing death prays to St. Nicholas, who appears to the three robbers and persuades them to return the treasure. The king and his court are so astounded when they find the treasure doubled that they renounce their religion and agree to be baptized, though one recalcitrant knight has to be forced into it by the king.
The parable of the prodigal son was dramatized in a contemporary setting about 1200 or so in Courtois D'Arras. Courtois leaves the farm of his father and hard-working brother and soon loses his money to the prostitute Pourette in a tavern. After working for a burgher feeding pigs, Courtois returns home and is welcomed by his forgiving father.
1. Andreas Capellanus On Love tr. P. G. Walsh, I:268-269,
2. Chrétien de Troyes, The Knight of the Cart 4393-4397 tr. David Staines, p. 223.
3. Chrétien de Troyes, The Knight with the Lion 2731-2744 tr. William W. Kibler, p. 329.
4. Gottfried von Strassburg, Tristan tr. A. T. Hatto, p. 110.
5. The Death of King Arthur tr. James Cable, p. 225.
6. "Seeress' Prophecy" 45 in The Poetic Edda tr. Carolyne Larrington, p. 10.
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