Medieval Arthurian Legend

Thomas of Britain: Tristan

12th century, Old French | 13th century, Middle High German.

Tristan leaves Cornwall, but returns once more, dressed in rags, so that no one should know him, or guess that he is Tristan.

Following an unconsummated marriage to Isolde of the White Hands, Tristan returns to his illicit affair with Isolde, the wife of King Mark of Cornwall. When Queen Isolde’s faithful maid catches them together, she gives every indication that her anger at Tristan and her mistress is genuine. She storms off, intent upon telling King Mark the truth – only to tell him, inexplicably, that Count Cariado is Isolde’s lover.

Tristan leaves, but returns once more, dressed in rags, so that no one should know him, lest any man or woman should know or see that he is Tristan. He conceals his identity with a drug, an infusion of herbs, which makes his face swell as if he were a leper.

Again he leaves Cornwall and returns, this time in the company of his friend Caerdin. They embark for England to find adventure and to win glory. They have disguised themselves as penitents; their faces are stained, their clothes disguised, so that none may know their secret.

Hatto, A. T., 1960, reprinted with revisions, 1967, reprinted 2004. Gottfried von Strassburg: Tristan. With the surviving fragments of the Tristran of Thomas. Translated from Medieval German and Old French with an introduction. Penguin Books Limited. Thomas of Britain: 36. Reconciliation and 37. Tristan Returns Again, pp 332–7.


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