Tag Archives: Guinevere

The Wedding of Sir Gawain and Dame Ragnell (563-629)

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So it happened after but a day

That that foul bird should be married

To sir Gawain.

The day had come that’d be the day;

Therefore the ladies felt great sorrow.

“Alas!” they said again.

The queen pleaded with dame Ragnell –

“To be married early in the morning,

As privately as you may.”

“No!” she said; “By Heavens’ King,

That I will never do, for nothing,

That you can say.

 

“I will be wedded publicly,

For I have made such a covenant with the king.

Doubt not,

I will not go to church until the time of High Mass

And in the open hall I will dine,

Amidst all the court.”

“I am grieved,” said dame Guinevere;

“For I think it would be more honour

And a pleasure to you.”

“Yes, as for that, lady, God save you.

This day my pleasure I shall have,

I tell you that without a boast.”

 

She was prepared to go to church

And all the nobles were there,

I do not lie,

She was dressed in the richest manner,

More finely than dame Guinevere;

Her clothes were worth three thousand marks

Good red gold at that,

So richly she was dressed.

But for all her appearance, she was still

The ugliest, that ever I have told of –

An uglier sow man has never seen.

 

For to be brief,

When she was wed, they hurried them home;

They all went to meet.

This bird-like lady sat at the high dais;

She was most foul and not courteous,

So said all that were present.

When the servants came before her,

She ate as much as six men;

Amazing everyone.

Her nails were three inches long,

With which she broke her meat hideously;

Therefore she ate alone.

 

She ate three roosters, and also three curlews,
And a great many meat pies she ate up, in truth.
All men therefore had marvelled.
There was no meat that came before her
But she ate it up,
That ugly, old damsel.
Everyone that ever saw her
Prayed the devil would gnaw her bones,
Both knight and squire.
So she ate until the meat was done,
Until they drew clothes and had washed,
As is the custom and manner.

Many men would speak of diverse foods;
I trust you may know enough of what there was,
Both of domestic and wild beasts.
In king Arthour’s court there was no want
For what might be captured by man’s hand,
Either in forest or in field.
There were minstrels from various countries.

[The manuscript is here missing one leaf, containing
about seventy lines; the narrative continues
at the moment of Ragnelle’s and Gawain’s wedding night.]

The Wedding of Sir Gawain and Dame Ragnell (444-562)

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In the evening he met there with Sir Gromer,

And he spoke to the king stern words:

“Come now, Sir King, now let’s see

Of thine answer, what it shall be,

For I am ready for thee.”

The King pulled out the two books:

“Sir, there is mine answer, I dare say;

For some will help at need.”

Sir Gromer looked on every one of them:

“No, no, Sir King, you are a dead man;

Therefore now you shall bleed.”

 

“Abide, Sire Gromer,” said King Arthur,

“I have one answer that shall make all certain.”

“Let’s see,” said then Sir Gromer,

“Or else, so God help me, as I say to thee,

Thy death thou shall have as recompense,

I tell thee now for sure.”

“Now,” said the King,  “I see, as I guessed,

In thee there is but little gentleness,

By God may I be aided.

Here is our answer, and that is all

That women desire most of all,

Both free and wed:

 

“I say no more, but above all else

Women desire sovereignty, for that is what they like.

And that is what they most desire,

To  have under their rule the manliest men,

And then they are well. Thus they taught me

To rule thee, Gromer, sire.”

“And she that revealed this to you, Sir Arthur,

I pray to God, I may see her burnt on a fire;

For that was my sister, Dame Ragnell,

That old hag, God give her shame.

Else I would have succeeded;

Now I have wasted all my work.

 

“Go where you will, King Arthur,

For of me you may always be sure.

Alas, that ever I saw this day!

Now, well I know, my enemy thou will be.

And such a predicament I shall never get thee;

My song may be ‘Well-away!’”

“No,” said the King, “that I guarantee:

Some weapon I will have to defend myself with,

That I swear to God!

In such a plight thou shall never find me;

And if thou do, let me be beat and bound,

As is for thy best proof.”

 

“Now have good day,” said Sir Gromer.

“Farewell,” said Sir Arthur; “so may I thrive,

I am glad to have beaten you.”

King Arthur turned his horse into the plain,

And soon he met with Dame Ragnell again,

In the same place and steed.

“Sir King, I am glad you have fared well.

I said how it would be, in every detail;

Now keep what you have promised:

Since I have saved your life, and none other,

Gawain must marry me, Sir Arthur,

Who is a very gentle knight.”

 

“No, Lady; what I have promised you I shall not deny.

If you follow my council, keeping quiet,

Your wish you shall have.”

“No, Sir King, I will not do so;

Either I shall be wed publicly, or I will leave

Or else I would be shamed.

Ride ahead, I will come following,

Unto your court, Sir King Arthur.

Of no man I will be the shame;

Remember how I have saved your life.

Therefore you shall not argue with me,

For if you do, you’ll be to blame.”

 

The King was very ashamed of her,

But she rode forth, though he was grieved;

Until they came to Carlisle.

Into the court she rode by his side;

For she would spare no man’s feelings-

The King did not like that at all.

All the country was full of wonder

From whence she came, that foul creature;

They had never seen so foul a thing.

Straight into the hall she went.

“Arthur, King, have Sir Gawain fetched for me,

Before the knights, all in presence,

 

That I may be secured.

In happiness and woe bind us together

Before all your knights.

This is your promise; let’s see, have done.

Bring forth Sir Gawain, my love, immediately,

For a longer wait I can stand no more.”

Then came forth the knight Sir Gawain:

“Sir, I am ready for what I have promised,

All oaths to fullfill.”

“God-a-mercy!” said Dame Ragnell then;

“For thy sake I wish I were a fair woman,

For thou art so good-willed.”

 

Then Sir Gawain pledged himself to her

In happiness and woe, as he was a true knight;

Then was Dame Ragnell happy.

“Allas!” then said Dame Guinevere;

So said all the ladies in her bower,

And wept for Sir Gawain.

“Allas!” then said both King and knight,

That ever should he wed such a creature,

She was so foul and horrid.

She had two teeth on either side

As a boar’s tusks, I will not hide,

A large handful in length.

 

The one tusk went up and the other down.

A mouth very wide and foully formed,

With many grey hair.

Her lips lay like lumps on her chin;

A neck, forsooth, on her could not be seen-

She was a loathly one!

She would not be wedded in no manner

But unless it was made known in all the land,

Both in town and in borrow.

All the ladies of the land,

She called to come to hand

To make the wedding properly done.

The Wedding of Sir Gawain and Dame Ragnell (360-443)

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In the evening he met there with Sir Gromer,

And he spoke to the king stern words:

“Come now, Sir King, now let’s see

Of thine answer, what it shall be,

For I am ready for thee.”

The King pulled out the two books:

“Sir, there is mine answer, I dare say;

For some will help at need.”

Sir Gromer looked on every one of them:

“No, no, Sir King, you are a dead man;

Therefore now you shall bleed.”

 

“Abide, Sire Gromer,” said King Arthur,

“I have one answer that shall make all certain.”

“Let’s see,” said then Sir Gromer,

“Or else, so God help me, as I say to thee,

Thy death thou shall have as recompense,

I tell thee now for sure.”

“Now,” said the King,  “I see, as I guessed,

In thee there is but little gentleness,

By God may I be aided.

Here is our answer, and that is all

That women desire most of all,

Both free and wed:

 

“I say no more, but above all else

Women desire sovereignty, for that is what they like.

And that is what they most desire,

To  have under their rule the manliest men,

And then they are well. Thus they taught me

To rule thee, Gromer, sire.”

“And she that revealed this to you, Sir Arthur,

I pray to God, I may see her burnt on a fire;

For that was my sister, Dame Ragnell,

That old hag, God give her shame.

Else I would have succeeded;

Now I have wasted all my work.

 

“Go where you will, King Arthur,

For of me you may always be sure.

Alas, that ever I saw this day!

Now, well I know, my enemy thou will be.

And such a predicament I shall never get thee;

My song may be ‘Well-away!’”

“No,” said the King, “that I guarantee:

Some weapon I will have to defend myself with,

That I swear to God!

In such a plight thou shall never find me;

And if thou do, let me be beat and bound,

As is for thy best proof.”

 

“Now have good day,” said Sir Gromer.

“Farewell,” said Sir Arthur; “so may I thrive,

I am glad to have beaten you.”

King Arthur turned his horse into the plain,

And soon he met with Dame Ragnell again,

In the same place and steed.

“Sir King, I am glad you have fared well.

I said how it would be, in every detail;

Now keep what you have promised:

Since I have saved your life, and none other,

Gawain must marry me, Sir Arthur,

Who is a very gentle knight.”

 

“No, Lady; what I have promised you I shall not deny.

If you follow my council, keeping quiet,

Your wish you shall have.”

“No, Sir King, I will not do so;

Either I shall be wed publicly, or I will leave

Or else I would be shamed.

Ride ahead, I will come following,

Unto your court, Sir King Arthur.

Of no man I will be the shame;

Remember how I have saved your life.

Therefore you shall not argue with me,

For if you do, you’ll be to blame.”

 

The King was very ashamed of her,

But she rode forth, though he was grieved;

Until they came to Carlisle.

Into the court she rode by his side;

For she would spare no man’s feelings-

The King did not like that at all.

All the country was full of wonder

From whence she came, that foul creature;

They had never seen so foul a thing.

Straight into the hall she went.

“Arthur, King, have Sir Gawain fetched for me,

Before the knights, all in presence,

 

That I may be secured.

In happiness and woe bind us together

Before all your knights.

This is your promise; let’s see, have done.

Bring forth Sir Gawain, my love, immediately,

For a longer wait I can stand no more.”

Then came forth the knight Sir Gawain:

“Sir, I am ready for what I have promised,

All oaths to fullfill.”

“God-a-mercy!” said Dame Ragnell then;

“For thy sake I wish I were a fair woman,

For thou art so good-willed.”

 

Then Sir Gawain pledged himself to her

In happiness and woe, as he was a true knight;

Then was Dame Ragnell happy.

“Allas!” then said Dame Guinevere;

So said all the ladies in her bower,

And wept for Sir Gawain.

“Allas!” then said both King and knight,

That ever should he wed such a creature,

She was so foul and horrid.

She had two teeth on either side

As a boar’s tusks, I will not hide,

A large handful in length.

 

The one tusk went up and the other down.

A mouth very wide and foully formed,

With many grey hair.

Her lips lay like lumps on her chin;

A neck, forsooth, on her could not be seen-

She was a loathly one!

She would not be wedded in no manner

But unless it was made known in all the land,

Both in town and in borrow.

All the ladies of the land,

She called to come to hand

To make the wedding properly done.

In which I share some of my favourite arthurian-themed songs

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Let it be known that my music knowledge extends to the refined level of “this sounds nice” vs. “this sucks”. As such, when I talk songs, I usually mean the lyrics as they are what I focus on. What does this mean for my poor tormented readers? Another list of course! I swear, I’m not making this up as I go. I actually listened to these songs parallel to my studies for the past few years and I think that they affected, to an extent at least, my understanding of some characters. (It’s what I call the Mr Darcy rule: the first one you come across will ALWAYS be your golden standard.) As such, here are my ten favourite Arthurian-themed songs:

 

The Lady of Shallot

Sung by Loreena McKennitt, it was the first song of this genre that I heard (movie songs do NOT count, coughSwordinStonecough). Other than the lady’s admittedly gorgeous voice, I was most struck by the lyrics. The song is actually a condensed version of Tennyson’s poem concerning the cursed maid of Astolat, Elaine, and her love for Lancelot. However, instead of focusing on the court and Lancelot (who, for being called loyal to a fault, had way too many sweethearts connected to him), the lyrics draw attention to Elaine and her Rapunzel-esque isolation to a tower. Initially I just liked “The Lady of Shallot” because, well, it sounded pretty (sue me, I was sixteen!). Now, having the story as delivered by Malory, and generally having read a lot more on the subject of Arthurian romance I’m more struck by smaller details, like the pathetic fallacy that permeates the poem, the sense of isolation that the Lady maintains even after her story is made known to Arthur’s court and the unresolved mysteries of the story. Why was Elaine cursed? By whom? Why did she have to weave? Who put her in the tower? Would she have still died if she had just “looked down to Camelot” instead of her gaze being amorous and mostly directed to Lancelot?

 

Lilly Maid

While we’re on the subject of Elaine of Astolat, this song, by Heather Dale, is also about her. This time however, instead of the song just focusing on the Lady, it is Elaine’s words that are heard. Drawing from Malory’s version of the story, here Elaine makes one last address to Lancelot, recounting their relationship before she goes to the lake to die. What has always struck me about this version is that, despite the soft words and sounds employed; there is an undercurrent of resentment that doesn’t exist in Tennyson’s poem. Here Elaine blames Lancelot for her death and with lines like “With trembling hands I held your life inside you/ But still failed to earn your favour for my own” it’s not exactly a mystery why (for further information read the “Fair Maid of Astolat” episode in Malory’s book. And be prepared to dislike Lancelot more and more with each line.)

 

The Captive

This was one of those songs I found after one too many clicks on YouTube. It is sung by Heather Alexander and, although not explicitly Arthurian in nature, would fit right in with the family…The titular captive is a lady forcibly married to a lord, whose main character trait is that he is an abusive jackass. One day, a magician visits the court and, after bedazzling them, manages to free the lady and run away with her. There’s a bit more on the story, but these are the bare bones of it. I loved how each character had a distinctive voice, figuratively and literally. The lack of a chorus also helped promote the sense that this is a short narrative instead of a song. Why do I call it Arthurian? I imagine this would be the sort of thing Merlin would get tangled in when he was young and before he started babysitting the Pendragon royal line…

 

Hawthorn Tree

Speaking of Merlin, here is another song about him, this one by Heather Dale. The focus here is Merlin’s relationship with his apprentice Viviane (who later became the Lady of the Lake. Or earlier was? Timelines are tricky like that….) I’ve always found it interesting that Merlin is aware of his fate, yet still agrees to teach her all he knows, heralding in a sense the beginning of the end for Arthur’s court. In this song, both the nature of their relationship (“love or enchantment”) and Viviane’s reasons for imprisoning Merlin are left to the audience’s imagination. Even Arthur remains in ignorance, being only able to speculate on the former and being informed about the later by an unnamed woodsman. I could go on and on about the symbolism on the song but that would be akin to spoilers so I’ll refrain.

 

The Trial of Lancelot

Again a song by Heather Dale and it’s about Lancelot. Shocker, I know. This one however is a guilty pleasure of mine since, a. it’s the trial that never happened in the Arthurian cycle (you know, when Lancelot actually has to answer for his actions instead of leaving Guinevere to deal with the fallout) and b. it’s one of the only two versions of him that I can actually stomach (the other being the BBC Merlin one). Ironically, this was also the song that began my dislike of Galahad, who up to this point I only had passing knowledge of. My running theory about the guy is that because his shtick is to live like a monk, he has to ruin life for everyone around him (but more on that on a later post).  I also like this song because it sheds light on the friendships between the knights, instead of just grouping them together and assuming that names are enough information.

 

For Guinevere

Like “The Captive” this is a song I surprised myself by adding to the list. Sung by Heather Dale, it is about Lancelot and Guinevere near the end of the Arthurian cycle, when they have fewer and fewer reasons to hide (aka, more and more people die…). Personally, I think their love story is overrated in a Romeo & Juliet kind of way. –shudder- That was one messed-up story… The lyrics are beautiful however, and so is the music and since I first heard it when I started watching Merlin –and was shipping Merlin/Morgana something fierce- I choose to imagine the song is for them. There are no names mentioned anyway, so it could also work for any other forbidden couple you ship. Personally,  I thought it was about Tristan and Isolt before I saw the title.

 

The Prydwen Sails Again

This is a pretty obscure one (by Heather Dale), referring to an early Welsh tale where Arthur and co. invade Ireland in search of a magical cauldron that brings the dead back to life (early version of the Grail story perhaps?). The song is sung by a lady bidding farewell to her knight as he joins Arthur’s band. What has always confused me about it though is that the way the lyrics are phrased it is implied that either this is Arthur’s second attempt or that the lady in question knows in advance what will happen. Seeing that this is the story of a group of semi-mythical knights invading one of the Celtic Underworlds (or Otherworlds, depending how you see it) in order to bring back a zombie-making magical cauldron, I’m more inclined to go with option b. By the way, if there is not a movie with the aforementioned plotline, somebody needs to make one! I would pay good money to see it!

 

Kingsword

While staying on the subject of mystical items, “Kingsword” by Heather Dale is –surprise, surprise”- about Excalibur, its story and the prophesies surrounding it. I actually really like this one, because the language is so full of symbolism and allusions that it could easily fit in nearly all versions of the tale, including the more modern ones. And…that’s all I can really say about it. You have to listen to it to get it.

 

Sir Gawain and the Green Knight

The original poem is one of my favourites in Middle English tradition. The song by Heather Dale is based on the poem but has different take on things, being more of an Oak King and Holly King type of struggle instead of the ambiguous quest the anonymous poet sends Gawain on, resulting to an even more open-ended conclusion. You can see why I like this one… The song also has a really joyful tune, making it sound like a carol (fitting for a story where the main action takes place during New Year’s Day…).

 

Mordred’s Lullaby

This was the first song by Heather Dale I ever heard (I think…it was part of a YouTube binge…). As it is painfully obvious by the title, the song is sung to an infant Mordred by his mother (Morgana or Morgause depending on the tradition), foretelling his fate and pretty much teaching him to hate his father and all he stands for. And before any of you start wondering what sort of messed up thing you stumbled on, I’d like to point out that this song provides something that most of the older versions of the story tend to leave out: a freaking reason for Mordred to basically cause the end of the (Arthurian) world. I also like the fact that, despite the almost single-minded focus of the lyrics, certain phrases betray uncertainty on his mother’s part as well. On the one hand she wants revenge, on the other she is reluctant to sacrifice her child for that cause.

 

Wow! This post ended up longer than I thought. And if anyone thinks there’s too much Heather Dale and not enough variety, a. I’m writing this with no internet access and can therefore only rely on my memory, b. She’s done a lot of AWESOME Arthurian songs and more people should hear them! (-fangirl moment over-)