Medieval Arthurian Legend

Sir Thomas Malory: Le Morte d'Arthur

15th century, late-Medieval English.

King Arthur watched Sir Tristram perform such marvellous deeds of arms and wondered who this knight could be, for it wasn’t Sir Lancelot and neither, as far as he knew, could it be Sir Tristram.

Sir Tristram is riding about on horseback, fully armed and intent upon making sure that nobody should know who he is. In fact, when told last night by his host that he had only just missed meeting with Sir Hector, one of the finest knights in the realm, Sir Tristram had replied that he did not rate Sir Hector so highly, and went on to name six knights whom he considered better than Sir Hector.

'Sir, why name ye nat sir Trystrem?’ sayde hys oste. ‘For I accompte hym as good a knyght as ony of them.’

‘I know nat sir Trystrem,’ seyde sir Trystrem.

So Sir Tristram is riding about, intent upon not being recognised. This may have something to do with the fact that he has recently been to the castle of Morgan le Fay – Morgan le Fay, a lady with supernatural qualities who will be in the boat that will come to take King Arthur to the Isle of Avalon. As part of a deal for being allowed to leave her castle, Sir Tristram has been given a new shield to wear, a shield bearing a king and a queen and a knight standing with one foot over each of their heads. The emblem on a shield identifies its owner. And immediately upon receiving this shield, strange things began to happen to Sir Tristram. Morgan le Fay’s lover suddenly doubted that the knight who had just departed was Sir Tristram at all, believing Sir Tristram to be elsewhere, and rode after what he believed to be another Cornish knight in order to fight with him.

Now Sir Tristram is at a tournament at the Castle of the Hard Rock, wearing the new shield.

And ever the kynge behylde sir Tristrem – and the king continually watched Sir Tristram perform marvellous deeds of arms and wondered who this knight could be, for it wasn’t Sir Lancelot and neither, as far as he knew, could it be Sir Tristram; for he had been told that Sir Tristram was in Brittany with his wife Isolde of the Fair Hands; and if Sir Tristram was not in Brittany but in the kingdom of Logres, someone would have found him by now, for all the Knights of the Round Table were out looking for him. So kynge Arthure had mervayle what knyght he myght be.

Vinaver, Eugene, 1971, reprinted in paperback, 1977. Malory: Works. Oxford University Press. The Book of Sir Tristram de Lyones. VI. The Round Table, pp 340–3.

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