The romance survives in two manuscript versions (Lincoln Cathedral Library MS 91 and Cambridge University Library MS Ff.1.6), and was composed c1440.
For a full-text version, see Erik Kooper's online edition from the Middle English Texts Series: Sir Degrevant
The romance begins with a long catalogue of Degrevant's virtues and heroic qualities—among them are his relation to Arthur and his battles with Perceval and Gawain, some which are fought in "heathen lands." Following this catalogue, the audience is told that the hero has to return from a crusade in Granada, Spain to protect and reclaim his territory from an earl who has wrongfully hunted on his preserves. Clashes between Degrevant's and the Earl's factions ensue because the latter refuses to admit his wrongdoing and make reparations. Degrevant challenges the earl to a joust and—in the midst of doing so—catches a glimpse of the earl's daughter Melidor. He falls in love with her and tries to woo her in her castle garden; she rejects his advances, particularly after he reveals his true identity. Undeterred, he hides in the castle with the help of a sympathetic maid. He is thus able to challenge a rival suitor—the Duke of Gerle—to a fight, and he wins. This act inspires Melidor to confess her love for Degrevant and to allow him to secretly (but chastely) visit her every night. The earl's steward discovers their affair, and they are eventually ambushed by the Earl's men. Degrevant successfully slays the attackers, and the Earl wisely consents to the lovers desire to be married. Melidor and Degrevant live happily together for roughly thirty years and have numerous children (seven or ten, manuscript depending). After Melidor's death, Degrevant returns to crusading and dies an honorable death in the Holy Land.
Admittedly, the majority of the romance deals with matters of domain and domesticity, of the need to protect (or reclaim) and populate territory that is originally one's own. Nevertheless, Degrevant contains several compelling references to crusading, ones that are implicitly intertwined with the more domestic concerns that dominate the text.
The romance, first and foremost, is bookended by crusades—Degrevant returns from a holy war in Granada, Spain to reclaim and settle territory at home and, after many years, leaves and dies on a crusade in the Holy Land. The romance, in essence, places great emphasis on the need to settle, pacify, protect, and populate one's own land—perhaps as a means of guaranteeing one's ability to safely wage wars of religious conquest outside of one's borders.
Additionally, Degrevant is both a nephew and a favored knight of King Arthur and has warred alongside Perceval and Gawain in a host of campaigns (both crusades and domestic wars). These details situate the romance as an Arthurian narrative, but of all of the episodic Arthurian romances it is perhaps the most dramatically centrifugal, as these Arthurian details occupy a mere fifteen lines of text—Arthur, Gawain, and Perceval are mentioned only once, and none of them make an actual appearance in the tale. While the lack of Arthurian presence after this introduction initially compromise it's consideration as an Arthurian text, the scant mentioning of Arthur is not altogether unique in the canon of Arthurian literature. There are many other such centrifugal romances in both English and French tradition, and the connection to Arthur in this romance should not necessarily be considered one of mere contextual convenience. In other words, the reference and its potential significance (given the pointed connection between Arthur and matters of crusading in later Insular literature) should not be overlooked due to the the brevity of either the references to Arthur or to crusading for that matter.
The romance, in essence, emphasizes the necessity of preserving and unifying the Christian "home front" so that wars of religious conquest can be successfully waged. Degrevant's only potential fault—one that he remedies and resolves throughout the course of the narrative—is that he is too hasty in waging wars of territorial expansion before properly tending to his own land—this is, in fact, a critique that might be made of Arthur in the Alliterative Morte D'Arthur, and is certainly a fault that Geoffrey of Monmouth explores in his account of Arthur's war with Lucius. Only after Degrevant has established and protected his own kingdom, and produced heirs who will inherit and sustain it, is he able to die successfully in the Holy Land. His ultimate death drive, in other words, leads him to Holy War, but the romance makes clear the importance of settling and pacifying one's own domain as well.
Lincoln, Cathedral Library MS Cathedral 91 (the Thornton MS).
Cason, L. F., ed. The Romance of Sir Degrevant: A Parallel-Text edition from MSS Lincoln Cathedral A.5.2 and Cambridge
Halliwell, James Orchard, ed. The Thornton Romance: The Early English Metrical Romances of Perceval, Isumbras, Eglamour,
Kooper, Erik, ed. Sentimental and Humorous Romances.