Medieval Romance

Middle English Tales from Brittany: Sir Launfal

14th century, Middle English: British Library.

She was Oberon’s daughter. Her name was Tryamour and she was the daughter of the King of Faerie. And at last she would take Sir Launfal with her to Avalon.

Late in the 14th century, around about the time that the English poet Geoffrey Chaucer was at the height of his powers, another English poet named Thomas Chestre retold, in Middle English, an old Breton lay that was at least two hundred years old at the time and possibly a lot more. Intriguingly, Sir Launfal's reliable, Otherworldly servant in this tale, who does all the accounts for his master, is given the name, Gyfre. Geoffrey?

Sir Launfal, a knight fallen upon hard times, has entered a forest and is approached unexpectedly by two Otherworldly maidens.

Har faces wer whyt as snow on downe, har rode [cheeks] was red, her eyn [eyes] wer browne.

'Hello,’ said Sir Launfal to these two very attractive maidens. They were wearing exquisite clothes and gem-studded tiaras: I saw nevir non swyche [such], – I never saw their like, the poet is forced to admit to us. One carried a gold basin and the other a white towel.

‘Hi!’ they replied. ‘Our mistress wishes to speak with you, if it is your desire.’

Sir Launfal followed these damsels deeper into the forest until they came to a pavilion. It was decorated with pagan symbolism and inside Sir Launfal found a bed draped with beautiful bedclothes and on it lay the lady who had sent for him. Her fadyr was Kyng of Fayrye, – she was Oberon’s daughter. Her name was Tryamour and she was the daughter of the King of Faerie.

Tryamour slid down her dress, seductively from her shoulders to her waist. She was wearing nothing underneath and her skin was as white as snow, or as a lily in May. 'Sir Launfal,' she said, 'I love you more than any other man. Love me and I will do anything for you.'

Sir Launfal’s heart raced – it reached out to her; aching with love and desire, he took her into his arms and they kissed one another.

‘Sir knight,’ she said, ‘I know how you have fallen onto hard times, but do not worry. If you will take me to be your lover, and promise to forsake all other women, I will make you rich. I will give you a magic purse of silk and gold and whenever you put your hand inside it you will find a gold mark, however many times you have put your hand into it already.'

At the end of this tale, following abandonment, false accusation, an appearance at King Arthur's court on criminal charges and the possibility that his life may be in danger as a result, the lady takes Sir Launfal to Avalon with her.

Story fragment recounted from: Anne Laskaya and Eve Salisbury (Eds), 1995. The Middle English Breton Lays. Kalamazoo, Michigan: Western Michigan University for TEAMS. The Middle English text of SIR LAUNFAL from British Library MS Cotton Caligula A.ii.

broomstick

Thomas Chestre's Middle English Breton lai Sir Launfal, a retelling of Marie de France's Breton lai Lanval, translated into Modern English.

Victoria Line, Oxford Circus.

references

Sir Launfal – TEAMS Middle English texts

Breton Lays – Wikipedia

Pre-Medieval Landscapes in Medieval Court Romance, by A B Graves – Assemblage: the Sheffield graduate journal of archaeology

Sir Launfal – Wikipedia

Medieval Institute Publications – ShopWMU – Anne Laskaya and Eve Salisbury (Eds), 1995. The Middle English Breton Lays. TEAMS Middle English texts

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