Jhesu Crist, of heven Kyng · Graunt us all good endyng · And beld us in Hys bowre · And gef hem joye that love to here · Of eldres that before us were · And lyved in grett antowre · Jesus Christ, heaven's king, grant us all eternal bliss and give joy to those who love to hear of adventurous times long past. I will tell you of a knight who was both strong in battle and courageous; in fact, on any field of combat he was the very flower. Born in Artois of a well-established family, his name was Sir Eglamour and he served in the household of an earl.
This earl had an only child, a daughter, who was his heir. Her name was Cristabel, and she was the most beautiful maiden in all Christendom. Sir Eglamour had fallen in love with her, and she was in love with him, which proved to be her undoing! Listen! Sir Eglamour was bold and strong, and challenged all who came to woo this damsel.
One day, Sir Eglamour said to his squire, as they rested in a chamber: 'My friend, I shall tell you a secret if you promise to keep it to yourself.'
'Sir,' replied the squire, 'whatever you divulge, it will be safe with me.'
'Then I shall tell you. I am so in love with the earl's daughter, God help me, that I shall not last for very much longer unless I can have her.'
'You've certainly let me into your private thoughts!' exclaimed the squire. 'But since you own very little land, forgive me if I can advise you only that there is an old saying: that he who aims his axe at too high a branch will only get his eyes full of wood chippings. Think how many kings and dukes and earls have sought her love, and she has rejected them all. She would never take a simple knight to be her husband. And I swear by God, if her father found out, he'd kill you!'
'Squire,' replied Sir Eglamour, 'you have been with me since you were a boy. In all the battles we have fought together, and in all the wars, have you ever seen me dishonoured? Tell me.'
'Never, Sir. You are one of the finest knights in Christendom! You are worth five others in battle.'
'Thank you,' replied Sir Eglamour; then he sighed, and retired to his bed. And putting his hands together, he offered this prayer: 'Dear Lord,' he implored, 'I think constantly about the earl's daughter. She will not leave my thoughts! Please may she become mine at last. Please may I marry her and spend the rest of my life with her. Then I would be a happy man indeed.'
The next morning, the earl's daughter had breakfast with her father, in his hall. All her maidens were with her, and when she noticed that her knight was not there, she exclaimed: 'For God's pity! Where is Sir Eglamour?'
'He is unwell, near to death, and is asking for you,' replied his squire. 'Unless you go to him, he may not last until the evening.'
The earl spoke up: 'Damsel,' he said, 'for God's sake, go and see him straight after breakfast. He has served us all well, and is always willing to joust and fight in tournaments. No man is ever more likely to win the prize than he.'
Directly after the meal, the maiden took her leave and willingly did as her father had instructed.
'How fares my knight?' she asked when she arrived at his bedside.
'Damsel, I have made myself ill thinking of you.'
'This news makes my heart throb wonderfully,' she confessed in surprise.
'If I were to recover, I would marry you, if it was your desire,' confided Sir Eglamour.
Cristabel made her way to her father's room in the depths of the castle, very happy with the way things were developing.
'How is Sir Eglamour?' her father asked, when she arrived.
'He feels a lot better than he did and intends to go hawking tomorrow,' she declared.
'I shall accompany him,' announced her father.
The next day, the earl got himself ready and rode with Sir Eglamour. But tempers flared on the way home, if you will listen!
As they rode back, Sir Eglamour said: 'May I ask you something?'
'Speak on,' said the earl. 'Everything you say is of interest to me, since you are one of the best knights in the whole of Artois.'
'Does your daughter have any plans to marry yet?'
'I know of nobody at the moment. She is so beautiful that she has no need at all to rush into anything.'
'Sir, may I marry her?'
'You?' replied the earl, incredulously. 'Yes! – if you are able to fight three impossible battles; then you may win her, and all of Artois as well!'
'I would already be on my way if I knew where you wanted me to go!' announced Sir Eglamour, curtly. 1∩
'In a forest far to the west of here lives a giant,' replied the earl, angrily. 'He is the like of which you will never have seen before. Among the cypress trees of his woodland roam the most beautiful deer in existence. Bring me back one of these animals to prove that you have been there.' And he rode away.
After dinner, Sir Eglamour spoke to Cristabel. 'Damsel,' he said, 'I have agreed to undertake three trials of strength and courage for your sake.'
'Take good heart,' replied Cristabel, 'for you will never before have encountered such threats to your life as those you are about to face. You will be cursing me before you finish! But accept this gift of two greyhounds. No creature exists which they will not soon be able to overtake, they are so swift. And also I give you this sword; it was pulled up from beneath the waters of the Aegean Sea by Saint Paul himself.2∩ Its edge is sharper than any, and there is no helmet that can resist a well-aimed blow from it.'
'Thank you,' said Sir Eglamour, and he took his leave.
Sir Eglamour rode resolutely until he came to a forest far to the west.3∩ It was surrounded by a stone wall emblazoned with carvings. He found an entrance and went in. Blowing his hunting horn, immediately deer leapt away on every side and Sir Eglamour unleashed his greyhounds after one of them. But almost at once, the dogs became distracted and started to howl and bark; for the giant had woken up. 'I can hear hounds,' the giant murmured to himself. 'Some thief is trying to steal my deer!' The giant made his way to the only exit through the wall and leaned his back against it. Meanwhile, Sir Eglamour had brought down a great stag and taken its head as a trophy. He blew the hunting call signifying a kill. Then, returning to the entrance, he said to the giant: 'Good Sir, let me pass, if you please.'
'Thief!' roared the giant and strode towards Sir Eglamour with an iron club in his hand. Taking a swing at him, he buried the thing two feet into the earth. 'What are you doing stealing my deer?' he shouted. 'You have killed the chief stag of my herd!'
Sir Eglamour drew his sword and wounded the giant in the face.
Although blinded, the giant fought with Sir Eglamour all day, and all through the night, and it was only at dawn the next morning that Sir Eglamour managed to topple him to the ground. The knight thanked Christ for this victory, then measured the giant, and found him to be fifty feet in length! 4∩
'You see, I have been there!' cried Sir Eglamour, brandishing the giant's head in front of the earl when he arrived back. Everybody was able to bear witness to this fact.
'Do not think yourself so fortunate!' cried the earl, derisively. 'I have another journey for you to make, so you had better not get too comfortable. In Sidon there is a boar that terrorises the land; it kills everybody in sight, or injures them terribly. His tusks are a yard long and they will deal you a dreadful wound.'
The valiant Sir Eglamour took his leave the very next day and spent a fortnight travelling across the countryside, and another fortnight across the sea. And one evening, newly-arrived in the forest where this boar lived, he came across signs of the animal's presence; the bodies of dead men were strewn about the ground. It was a grim sight. Sir Eglamour rested beneath an oak, and as the next day dawned he set off deeper into the forest. Soon he heard the sound of the sea. Round about him were the helmets of knights, and bodies that had been torn to pieces by the boar. Coming to a cliff, he looked down and saw the beast returning from the water, where it had taken its morning drink. The animal saw Sir Eglamour and whetted its tusks ferociously. Sir Eglamour levelled his lance and galloped to meet it. But although he rode faster than he had ever ridden before, his spear shattered on impact and did not penetrate the boar's hide at all. But the boar wounded Sir Eglamour's horse so viciously that he killed it, and the knight found himself forced to continue the combat on foot.
They fought together for three days, Sir Eglamour and the boar, and on the fourth day, when the sun was at its highest, feeling himself to be close to defeat and making one last desperate effort to save himself, Sir Eglamour swung his sword, cut through the boar's tusks and on into its head. And he thanked Christ that he had gained victory over the boar at last, as the book of romance tell us.
It so happened that the King of Sidon was out hunting when he heard the animal's cries. 'Someone is fighting with the boar and needs our help!' he exclaimed, and he sent a squire off to see what was happening. 'Lord, the boar is slain!' shouted the squire, running back excitedly. 'A knight is standing on him! He has a shield of gold and azure and on his helmet he wears the image of a lady.'
They brought food for Sir Eglamour, and some fine wine, and a garment of clean white cloth to put on. 'We shall dine in celebration,' declared the king.
After the meal, the king asked Sir Eglamour which country he was from. But Sir Eglamour was in a playful mood. 'I am from Artois,' he replied, 'and my name is Sir Adventurous.'5∩ Some knights who were nearby brought it to the king's attention that this was the knight who had killed a giant in a forest that lay far to the west, and the king invited Sir Adventurous to spend a couple of days with him before continuing on his journey. 'There is a giant not far from here who has designs on my daughter,' the king confided.
Wagons were sent for, the boar was butchered and loaded onto them, and by noon they all approached the city of Sidon. Everyone was delighted that the boar had been slain, but the Queen cautioned: 'God shield us from harm, for when the giant returns, things will begin to happen!'
At dinner, the knight was seated next to the king's daughter. Her name was Organate, and she did everything in her power to put Sir Eglamour at his ease; but after the meal she told him how desperately they were harassed by this giant.'
The next morning, the ogre appeared before the castle walls.
'Sir Adventurous,' called the king, 'I suggest we arm everybody, for the fiend intends to fight!' Our knight replied: 'By the holy cross, I shall test his strength before you do this!' and taking his helmet, he rode out to meet the giant. Everybody prayed that he might be successful. He rode at the monster with his lance lowered, but the giant caught him a blow that knocked him from his horse and nearly killed him. Swinging his sword, he cut off the giant's arm at the shoulder. But despite this, the giant fought all day, until the sun had set. And only then, weary from loss of blood, did the giant start to weaken. When everybody in the city heard the giant's death cries, they rang all the bells for joy. The king exclaimed: 'Sir Adventurous, by Saint James! Now you shall be king! Tomorrow I will crown you, and you shall marry my daughter.'
'God give you joy,' replied Sir Adventurous. 'But I cannot stay.'
'Then I will give you the best horse that I have,' said the king. 'While on his back you will suffer no fatal injury, neither in joust nor in tournament. And Organate said: 'I shall give you a gold ring with a precious stone. And wherever you are, on water or on land, while it is on your finger you may not be killed for any blow that you may receive.'
'God keep you in his protection, my fair damsel!' replied Sir Eglamour.
'Sir, I shall wait for fifteen years, and then you shall marry me.' she said.
'In faith,' he replied, 'then I shall return in fifteen years time!' 6∩
So Sir Eglamour took his leave and with the giant's head, and with the head of the boar, he continued on the journey in which God guided him.
Fifteen weeks passed and Sir Eglamour arrived back in Artois. Everyone was pleased to see him. Cristabel heard that he had returned and went to see him straight away. 'Sir, how did you get on?' she asked.
'Not at all badly,' he replied. 'Although it was hard going. But I did it for both of us,' and he kissed her. Then he strode into the hall, where the earl sat at the high table. 'I have been to Sidon,' declared Sir Eglamour, laying down the two heads. The earl seemed less than pleased. 'You are very close to winning all of Artois and my daughter's hand in marriage,' he acknowledged. 'Is there no devil that can kill you? But wait! There is one who can redeem the failure of all these others.'
'Let me have twelve weeks to recover from my exertions,' Sir Eglamour asked, and all the noblemen supported him in his request. So he was given twelve weeks to recuperate.
After supper, he went with Cristabel to her room. The lamps were burning brightly and she allowed him to sit beside her. 'Welcome, my knight,' she said. 'I have been successful twice,' he replied, 'and by the grace of God I shall marry you.' And they gave each other assurances of their love, and Sir Eglamour remained in her room all night.
Twenty weeks later, Cristabel looks a little downcast and asks her maidens if they can keep a secret. The earl burns with indignation and anger. 'Sir knight!' he rages. 'Make yourself ready! It is time for you to be off!'
When Cristabel heard this, she was distraught.
'Sir!' continued the earl. 'At Rome, as I have heard, there lives a fierce dragon. The fiend is of such notoriety that nobody dares to come within seven miles of the place. Do you hear me! Arm yourself! Kill this monster or back out of everything now. And I mean everything!'
'I have completed two of the tasks that you have set me and I shall fulfil this third or die in the attempt,' replied Sir Eglamour.
After supper, he went to see Cristabel and took his leave. 'Damsel, your father has set me one more task that I must do; I will go, and return as soon as I can, with Mary's help. But take this ring, and keep it well, in case God sends you a child; for with it you cannot die.' 7∩
So off to Rome went Sir Eglamour, to seek the dragon. Soon he came across signs of its presence – dead bodies strewn across the ground, scattered by the hundreds! Had he not been such a valiant knight, his heart would have frozen with terror at the sight of it all. And it was not long before the dragon itself suddenly appeared and knocked Sir Eglamour off his horse. The knight got up and set his shield against the blows that rained down on him, and from the fire that came out of its mouth. The heat intensified as night began to fall. It was like standing at the very gates of hell! Sir Eglamour cut off part of the dragon's tail and in desperate pain, the beast managed to hit the knight on the head with its stump, giving him a deep wound. Sir Eglamour cried out in anguish, and in a final desperate effort, he cut off the creature's head.
The Emperor of Rome had all this time been watching from a tower, and at the sight of this victory he shouted to his men: 'Let the call go out that the dragon is slain! An unknown knight has excelled himself!' Then the Emperor made his way to the place where the knight lay beside the dragon. Everybody in the city hastened there and carried him back in triumph. They were so pleased that the dragon was dead that they rang all the cities' bells as they carried this knight through the streets.
The emperor had a daughter, and she was given charge of the knight. She saved him from death; she healed the wound in his head with her own hands and had the knight in her care for twelve months. Meanwhile, the emperor brought the body of the dragon into the city.
Word reaches Artois that a knight has killed the dragon of Rome. But Sir Eglamour has been away for so long now under the care of physicians that Cristabel has already given birth to a healthy little boy. The earl vows to God: 'Daughter! I shall cause you to be thrown into a boat and set adrift upon the sea, alone, just you and your bastard child; and he shall have no christening.' Her maidens wept for her.
The ship was quickly made. Cristabel looked tearfully at her child. 'My son,' she said, 'it seems that we must die.'
They led Cristabel and her son to the vessel. Her chambermaids fell down in a faint, and so did all who loved her. 'Father, I ask that you have a priest read from the Bible to ward off the perils of the deep,' she said. And to her maidens: 'Greet my lord for me when he returns.' They wept as though they were going mad. But the lady sighed and climbed into the boat.8∩
Soon the boat was adrift upon the sea; the wind increased and carried her to a small island, it was no more than a rock. She went ashore, hoping that she might be able to find some habitation, but all she found were seagulls that perched and flew all around her. And as she sat with them, a griffin came and carried off her child to an unknown land.
'Alas that I was ever born!' she cried. 'My child has been taken from me!'
The baby was taken to the land of Israel; and his departure causes the lady much grief.
The King of Israel went hunting one day and he saw the griffin land. Riding with his huntsmen towards the place where the bird had alighted, he watched the griffin slap the infant with its beak and then fly off. The king wrapped the child in a scarlet mantle and gave the baby into the safekeeping of a squire. The infant's eyes betrayed a lively character and because of the nature of his arrival, they named him Degarébel.
The king abandoned his hunt and took the child home. 'My dear, I have seen a wonderful thing,' he said to the queen when he returned. 'Look what God has sent me!' She was delighted and called for a nurse immediately. The baby was a very handsome little boy. But we must leave him for a while and learn what has happened to his mother.
Cristabel has spent all night on the rock, amongst the seagulls, but in the morning she set sail once again. 9∩ She had neither mast nor rudder and each storm was more ferocious than the last; she went without food for six days, as the book of romance tells us. But on the sixth day she found herself carried onto a beach in Egypt. The King of Egypt stood in a tower and saw the ship come onto the sand. He commanded a squire to go and see what the wind had brought ashore. The squire went to the boat and slapped it on the side. The lady immediately began to struggle, but through weakness she could not speak. All she could manage to do was to wave her hands about like a new-born infant.10∩ Make merry, for here begins the last part of the story!
The squire could not understand her gestures and returned to his king. Kneeling before him, he said: 'Lord, there is nothing in that ship except for a lady, who stood up and looked at me. She is more beautiful than any woman I have ever seen, but she signed to me with her hands as though she could not speak.'
'I would like to see her,' said the king, and they both made their way to the boat. She was still there, and on being asked to explain how she came to be where she was, she rose to her feet but could not utter a word, she had made herself so hoarse from grieving so much over her child. So they led her to a chamber and fed her well, and after the meal, the king asked: 'Who are you, my little rosebud?'
She found herself able to reply: 'I was born in Artois, and my father is lord of that country. I went one day with my maidens to the seashore; the weather was good and there was a boat there; I and my child climbed aboard. He is unchristened! I left my maidens on the shore. My child fell asleep and I drew a blanket over him. A wind blew up and drove us onto a rock, and then a griffin came and carried my child away!'
'Be of good heart,' replied the king, 'You are my niece!' And she laughed for joy.11∩ But we must leave this lady and speak now of Sir Eglamour, for he is heading for trouble.
When he had fully recovered from his wound he prepared to depart for home. He thanked the Emperor of Rome, his daughter and everybody else. And although Cristabel was constantly in his thoughts, he did not forget the dragon's head but stuck it onto the end of a spear, and after a journey of seven weeks he arrived back in Artois, where the bad news awaited him.
'Sir, know what the earl has done!' cried a squire. 'Cristabel is dead! She gave birth to a healthy little boy and they have both been killed. He was a little new-born baby, but they were both set adrift on the sea to go wherever the wind might take them.'
Sir Eglamour almost fell from his horse in shock. 'Where are the maidens who looked after her?' he asked. 'They all followed her into the sea,' replied the squire.
Sir Eglamour and the squire arrived at the hall where all the noblemen of Artois sat with their lord: 'I have here the dragon's head,' cried Sir Eglamour, angrily. 'This hall is mine now, and you, Sir,' he said, addressing the earl, 'are sitting in my place!'
But it was pitiful to hear him cry out for Cristabel. 'Are you in the sea?' he moaned. 'God have mercy upon your soul, and upon that of our young son.' The earl was now afraid of Sir Eglamour and fled to a distant tower. Sir Eglamour conferred honours upon thirty-five new knights that day and afterwards, he resolved to make his way to the Holy Land.
Sir Eglamour remained in the Holy Land for fifteen years, among heathen men, and wielded his might against all who violated the laws of God and man. And at the end of this time, the child which the mysterious griffin had carried all the way to Israel had grown to be a strong youth. No man remained in his saddle after receiving a blow from this young man's lance. Sir Degarébel was courageous and intelligent and the King of Israel knighted him as a prince and gave him superb arms. But the King of Israel was old, and one day he said to his son: 'Degarébel, I would like you to marry, for when I am dead and gone there will be none to equal you and you should not remain a bachelor.'
Now as it happened, a messenger was standing beside the king, and he said: 'Sir, there is a beautiful woman in Egypt, the fairest alive I believe! The king of that land has let it be known that no man shall have her unless he wins her in combat.'
'Then I shall win her!' declared the Prince, and he commanded knights to assemble in order that he might make the journey to Egypt. A ship was filled with armour and supplies and they all set sail, with the prince and his father at their head. After three weeks at sea, they landed in Egypt. The prince made clear his intentions straight away. A messenger ran with the news: 'Here comes the King of Israel with a handsome entourage. His son is accompanying him, with a host of knights, to win your fair daughter.'12∩
The King of Egypt replied: 'By God, I shall find good jousting for them all. They are welcome!'
Trumpets sounded from the highest deck and the King of Israel went ashore, with all his knights dressed in their finest robes. And the fifteen-year-old prince stood a foot above them all, I can tell you. The King of Egypt greeted him on the shore, took him by the hand and led him to his hall. As soon as they arrived, the prince asked: 'I would be very pleased to have a glimpse of your beautiful daughter.' The lady was brought into a living area, and she was as beautiful as a painting, or a sculpture. Her son stood before her and thought to himself: 'The man who marries you will be lucky indeed!'
The King of Israel asked the lady if she might be willing to marry his son. She gave to indicate that if he could survive a stroke or two with a lance and stay in his saddle, she would be more than happy to.
The next day at dawn, all the knights armed themselves, the trumpets sounded, and everywhere on the field a knight could be seen jousting with another. Sir Degarébel applied himself to the task, and it was a magnificent sight to see. All the combatants shouted in admiration, and asked: 'Who is the knight wearing the image of a griffin on his shield, holding a child in a cloth?'
'It is the Prince of Israel,' the heralds replied. 'Beware, for he is skilful and courageous.'
The King of Egypt took another lance; Sir Degarébel saw this, eagerly chose a still heavier one for himself and galloped ferociously towards the king, knocking him off his horse and onto the ground. 'By God, you are worthy to have my daughter's hand in marriage!' cried the king, and all his knights agreed. But the tournament continued, just for the hell of it! When it had finished, the two kings took Cristabel to the church, and as the book of romance tells us, there the Prince of Israel married his mother. Leaving the ceremony, however, Cristabel took notice of her husband's coat-of-arms and it caused her to remember her child who had been carried away from her and she became very sorrowful. She began to weep for her lost son and had to sit down.
'What is the matter, my sweet lady?' asked Sir Degarébel. 'Why are you so sad when you should be happy?'
'My lord,' she replied, 'I see on your coat-of-arms the bird that once carried my little baby boy away from me. A valiant knight paid dearly for that child.'
'Christ!' exclaimed the King of Israel. 'That griffin landed in my forest carrying a child,' and he commanded a squire to go to his chest and fetch the cloth in which the infant had been wrapped. The cloth was brought. It was finely embroidered. 'Oh God! This was taken from me in the boat!' exclaimed Cristabel.
'How long ago?' asked the King, urgently.
'Fifteen years ago,' replied Cristabel, and they all knew at once that she spoke the truth. 'We have made an incestuous marriage!' she wailed. 'Can I suggest that we hold another tournament immediately!'
'I agree! exclaimed Sir Degarébel. 'Father, I believe you, and I agree that we must hold another tournament, although I insist that the man who wins her must fight as valiantly for her as I have done.' The noblemen all agreed, and every knight from far and wide came to attend a new tournament. Even the King of Sidon came. All his retainers were arrayed in dazzling colours. The field was prepared. And it so happened that Sir Eglamour was travelling home and he altered his course to attend this tournament. On his coat-of-arms was a depiction of a ship and the image of a lady drowning with a new-born baby beside her. The ship was gold with silver masts and flame-red sails. Cristabel was brought to the wall, in full view of all the knights, in order to see the fighting.
The prince rode magnificently for a fifteen-year-old, determined not to give his mother away cheaply. He saw a knight who seemed inclined not to engage in the fighting. 'Will you not ride?' he asked this knight.
'I have just travelled from the Holy Land and I am a little weary,' the knight replied.
'Then why did you put on armour in the first place?' asked his son.
The knight smiled and laughed. 'Have you not jousted enough?'
'No, by Mary! I am indefatigable in battle.'
'By Jesus!' answered this knight. 'Then we shall truly see if you can joust!' And amidst the mêlée of knights with their galloping horses and long weapons, Sir Eglamour struck his son with the flat of his sword and knocked him clean off his horse. All the knights agreed: 'The knight that bears the golden ship is the best in the world and has won the prize! This new knight is the one most worthy to take the king's daughter in marriage.'
The knight who had won the tournament went off to disarm, and then they all went into the hall. Beside the two kings at the top table sat Cristabel and Sir Eglamour. She asked the knight why he bore a ship and a drowning lady on his shield. He replied that this was the way he had lost the woman he once loved more than any other, and their young son. The lady asked without hesitating: 'Sir, what is your name? Tell me!'
'Men once called me Sir Eglamour of Artois, who was wounded by a dragon.'
Cristabel called to the prince: 'Sir Degarébel, this is your father!' And what a wonderful sight it was to see the boy kneel before Sir Eglamour, the tears running down his cheeks. Sir Eglamour knelt at the feet of the King of Israel: 'Thank you for making my son the man he is!' he declared.
The King replied: 'I shall give him half of my country to rule over.'
The King of Sidon added: 'And he shall have my daughter Organate to take as his wife.'13∩
Sir Eglamour invited everyone to Artois to celebrate his marriage to Cristabel. With great joy they crossed the sea and arrived in Sir Eglamour's land. Their ships lay beached on the sand as each knight led another ashore, followed by the squires leading the horses. The old earl fell out of his tower in surprise and terror at the sight of them all and broke his neck. And the very next day, the weddings took place. The church was filled with noblemen as Cristabel walked down the aisle with a king on each side of her. A bishop conducted the ceremony and they all thanked God, and his mother Mary, that things had turned out so well.
Afterwards, Sir Degarébel and Organate were married, and the banquet afterwards was magnificent. They all went to a castle and minstrels attended from every corner of the land and were all very pleased with the gifts that they received for their playing – upwards of a thousand pounds, I believe! The feasting lasted for a fortnight. May Jesus bring us to the bliss that lasts without end.
Here ends the story of Sir Eglamour of Artois.