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King Arthur and King Cornwall


1 Would come back from the dead just to lay eyes on her


Abbreviations: P = Percy Folio MS; BP = Bishop Percy's marginal glosses in the MS; C = Child's edition; M = Madden's edition; HF = Hales' and Furnivall's edition. See Select Bibliography for these editions.

1 Saies. The first line of the surviving copy was cut off when Percy sent the manuscript to the binder; Percy restored this line to the text from memory. The opening section of the poem has been lost through the mutilation of the Percy Folio.

3 one of the fairest Round Tables. Arthur's founding of a round table in order to prevent squabbling among his knights about rank, about who "bygan the highe dese" (Ragnelle, line 601), is mentioned first in Geoffrey of Monmouth's His-tory. Guenevere's demur from Arthur's claim to Gawain here is peculiarly ironic, since it initiates the plot of Cornwall by starting a squabble over the ranking of round tables themselves.

18 sayd. HF, C: says. The scribal form is unclear; I agree with M in reading it as an oddly formed d.

26 Sir Marramiles. A knight apparently otherwise unknown in Arthurian legend. Sir Tristan, one of the most prominent of Arthurian knights, is the nephew of Mark, King of Cornwall.

29 Five palmers. Gawain and Bredbeddle make up the full complement of five knights.

32 they rived. P: thé. I emend this scribal spelling of they here and at lines 114, 122, and 284.

34 tranckled. BP: travelled with an asterisk in the margin.

51 The. P: they; I follow M's emendation.

66 A une ghesting of. M: A bue ghesting.

68 A une ghesting of. M reads as in line 66, emending of to and; C remarks "the first two words are hard to make out," and reads them as A une, but emends to modernized Of one. I leave the MS reading, since its meaning appears sufficiently plain.

69 borne. HF: boirne.

72 has. P: his; M, C emend to is; I follow the reading of HF.

79-80 I have made two lines of what is written as a single long line in P.

81 Cornwall. So C, HF; M reads Cornewall, but the MS is too faint to confirm this spelling.

92 Litle Brittaine. This is the usual English designation for Brittany (French Bretagne, the Roman territory of Armorica), across the English Channel from Cornwall. The Bretons preserved many Celtic traditions associated with Arthur; an English prose romance, Arthur of Little Britain (translated in the early sixteenth century from a fourteenth-century French source by John Bourchier, Lord Berners), sets Arthur's adventures in Brittany.

95 cockward. One of the problems that haunts Arthur's reign in romance and chronicle is that he produces no legitimate heir; the question of succession to the throne therefore produces open strife, usually involving Mordred, Arthur's son by his sister. In his novel The Lyre of Orpheus (New York: Viking, 1988), Robertson Davies describes the production of an opera, Arthur the Cuckold, whose Arthurian themes of sexual anxiety and rivalry are reproduced in the novel's central plot.

124 thrub chadler. P's reading here has become faint; though the spelling at line 173 - trubchandler - is more distinct, the meaning of this word is not at all clear in either case. M reads as a single word, and emends to thrubchandler, without comment; HF conjecture, "a kind of tub?" C emends to rub-chadler, commenting that he is "unable to make anything of thrub, thub"; he goes on to give elaborate philological arguments for the meaning "rubbish barrel" (p. 279). bunge (line 173) confirms that this is some sort of stoppered container; I assume from the context of the poem that this is used as a stand next to Arthur's bed, on which a candle is placed. Burlow Beanie has been enclosed within by Cornwall's men (lines 123 ff.) in order to spy upon Arthur's company.

147 ff. The Third Part. The division is noted in the left margin, apparently by the scribe rather than BP. Whatever other rubrics there may have been have been lost in the torn-out pages.

155 homly. M: hourly; C adopts this apparent misreading by M as an emendation.

165 the. P: they.

201 waken. M: watch (apparently misled by the descender from the line above that touches n).

206 ff. It is not clear whether Bredbeddle conveys to Arthur words of magical power (perhaps even the sprite's name), or, as seems more likely, somehow shows him an image of what the sprite looked like before its metamorphosis. In the lines that follow, Burlow Beanie upon request transforms back into its monstrous form, only to be domesticated for a final time by Bredbeddle.

214 the Greene Knight. The reference to Sir Bredbeddle by this title suggests that the composer and his audience were familiar with The Greene Knight, which makes Bredbeddle its hero.

228 towards. M: towarde.

237 Burlow Beanie: This alliterative title apparently names a combination monster-genie who serves Cornwall. The source and meaning of the name are obscure. It recalls formulaic phrases like "burlokest blonke" (applied to Gawain's horse, Grissell, in Awntyrs, line 548), "borelych bole" (Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, line 766), or especially "borly berne" (stout, burly warrior), which occurs in several alliterative poems. Child connects Burlow Beanie to the Billie Blin, a household demon who appears in several surviving ballads (see p. 279, and discussion at p. 67). As a figure of the comic grotesque, Burlow Beanie might be compared to a character in the repertoire of Victorian street players, "Billy Barlow"; Henry Mayhew records the carnivalesque dress and the semi-improvisatory performance of this figure in his lengthy conversation with a Billy Barlow impersonator from the "street business" (London Labour and the London Poor [1861; rpt. New York: Dover, 1968], vol. 3, pp. 138-39). The pageants, narratives, and performances Mayhew records in this section would seem to be the direct descendants of the popular recitations offered by Captain Cox and his troupe at Kenilworth (see General Introduction).

256 thorrow me. The scribe has abbreviated the form before me as a p with a stroke over it, usually indicating Latin pro ("for") or per ("through"). M expands to for; HF give pro me; C expands to for, following M. "Through" seems the most appropriate expansion, and I have followed scribal spelling from elsewhere in P.

295 King Arthur. As usual, King is abbreviated as K in P; in this case, Arthur is also abbreviated as a (standing apart from the end of the line). M omits Arthur.

302 The motif of impaling an opponent's head on a spear or sword occurs in Chrétien de Troyes' Erec, Le Bel Inconnu, and elsewhere; see Loomis' Arthurian Literature, p. 358.
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Saies, "Come here cuzen Gawaine so gay;
   My sisters sonne be yee;
For you shall see one of the fairest Round Tables
   That ever you see with your eye."
Then bespake Lady Queen Guenever,
   And these were the words said shee:
"I know where a Round Table is, thou noble King,
   Is worth thy Round Table and other such three.
"The trestle that stands under this Round Table," she said,
   "Lowe downe to the mould,
It is worth thy Round Table, thou worthy King,
   Thy halls, and all thy gold.
"The place where this Round Table stands in,
   It is worth thy castle, thy gold, thy fee;
And all good Litle Britaine."
"Where may that Table be, Lady?" quoth hee,
   "Or where may all that goodly building be?"
"You shall it seeke," shee sayd, "till you it find,
   For you shall never gett more of me."
Then bespake him noble King Arthur,
   These were the words said hee:
"Ile make mine avow to God,
   And alsoe to the Trinity,
"Ile never sleepe one night, there as I doe another,
   Till that Round Table I see!
Sir Marramiles and Sir Tristeram,
   Fellowes that ye shall bee;
"Weele be clad in palmers weede,
   Five palmers we will bee;
There is noe outlandish man will us abide,
   Nor will us come nye."
Then they rived east and they rived west,
   In many a strange country;
Then they tranckled a litle further,
   They saw a battle new sett;
"Now, by my faith," saies noble King Arthur,
    . . . well mett
[Half a page is missing. After martial adventures
and further travel, Arthur and his pilgrim-knights
come to the castle of King Cornwall]
But when he cam to this . . . C . . ,
   And to the palace gate,
Soe ready was ther a proud porter,
   And met him soone therat.
Shooes of gold the porter had on,
   And all his other rayment was unto the same.
"Now, by my faith," saies noble King Arthur,
   "Yonder is a minion swaine."
Then bespake noble King Arthur,
   These were the words says hee:
"Come hither, thou proud porter,
   I pray thee come hither to me.
"I have two poore rings of my finger,
   The better of them Ile give to thee:
Tell who may be Lord of this castle," he sayes,
   "Or who is Lord in this cuntry?"
"Cornewall King," the porter sayes;
   "There is none soe rich as hee;
Neither in Christendome, nor yet in heathennest,
   None hath soe much gold as he."
And then bespake him noble King Arthur,
   These were the words sayes hee:
"I have two poore rings of my finger,
   The better of them Ile give thee,
If thou wilt greete him well, Cornewall King,
   And greete him well from me.
"Pray him for one nights lodging, and two meales meate,
   For His love that dyed uppon a tree;
A une ghesting, and two meales meate,
   For His love that dyed uppon a tree,
"A une ghesting of two meales meate,
   For His love that was of Virgin borne,
And in the morning that we may scape away,
   Either without scath or scorne."
Then forth has gone this proud porter,
   As fast as he cold hye;
And when he came befor Cornewall King,
   He kneeled downe on his knee.
Sayes, "I have beene porterman at thy gate
   This thirty winter and three . . .
[Half a page is missing. The disguised Arthur and
his knights are brought into King Cornwall's presence
and a series of probing verbal exchanges takes place.]
   . . . our Lady was borne.
Then thought Cornewall King,
   These palmers had beene in Brittaine.
Then bespake him Cornwall King,
   These were the words he said there:
"Did you ever know a comely King,
   His name was King Arthur?"
And then bespake him noble King Arthur,
   These were the words said hee:
"I doe not know that comly King,
   But once my selfe I did him see."
Then bespake Cornwall King againe;
   These were the words said he:
Sayes, "Seven yeere I was clad and fed,
   In Litle Brittaine, in a bower.
I had a daughter by King Arthurs wife,
   That now is called my flower.
For King Arthur, that kindly cockward,
   Hath none such in his bower.
"For I durst sweare, and save my othe,
   That same lady soe bright,
That a man that were laid on his death bed
   Wold open his eyes on her to have sight."1
"Now, by my faith," sayes noble King Arthur,
   "And thats a full faire wight!"
And then bespake Cornewall againe,
   And these were the words he said:
"Come hither, five or three of my knights,
   And feitch me downe my steed;
King Arthur, that foule cockeward,
   Hath none such, if he had need.
"For I can ryde him as far on a day,
   As King Arthur can doe any of his on three.
And is it not a pleasure for a King
   When he shall ryde forth on his journey?
"For the eyes that beene in his head,
   They glister as doth the gleed."
"Now, by my faith," says noble King Arthur,
   That is a well faire steed."
[Half a page is missing. King Cornwall continues with
his insulting proofs of his superiority to Arthur, and then
all agree to retire to bed.]
"Nobody say . . .
   But one thats learned to speake."
Then King Arthur to his bed was brought,
   A greeived man was hee,
And soe were all his fellowes with him.
   From him they thought never to flee.
Then take they did that lodly boome,
   And under thrub chadler closed was hee.
And he was set by King Arthurs bedside,
   To heere theire talke and theire cumunye,
That he might come forth, and make proclamation,
   Long before it was day.
It was more for King Cornwalls pleasure,
   Then it was for King Arthurs pay.
And when King Arthur in his bed was laid,
   These were the words said hee:
"Ile make mine avow to God,
   And alsoe to the Trinity,
That Ile be the bane of Cornwall Kinge,
   Litle Brittaine or ever I see!"
"It is an unadvised vow," saies Gawaine the gay,
   "As ever King hard make I:
But wee that beene five Christian men,
   Of the Christen faith are wee -
And we shall fight against anoynted king
   And all his armorie."
And then bespake him noble Arthur,
   And these were the words said he:
"Why, if thou be afraid, Sir Gawaine the gay,
   Goe home, and drinke wine in thine owne country."
The Third Part
And then bespake Sir Gawaine the gay,
   And these were the words said hee:
"Nay, seeing you have made such a hearty vow,
   Heere another vow make will I.
"Ile make mine avow to God,
   And alsoe to the Trinity,
That I will have yonder faire lady
   To Litle Brittaine with mee.
"Ile hose her homly to my hurt,
   And with her Ile worke my will."
[Half a page is missing. Arthur and his companions
discover the sprite hidden in their chamber, and
prepare to try to subdue it.]
These were the words sayd he:
   "Befor I wold wrestle with yonder feend,
It is better be drowned in the sea."
And then bespake Sir Bredbeddle,
   And these were the words said he:
"Why, I will wrestle with yon lodly feend!
   God, my governor thou wilt bee."
Then bespake him noble Arthur,
   And these were the words said he:
"What weapons wilt thou have, thou gentle knight?
   I pray thee tell to me."
He sayes, "Collen brand Ile have in my hand,
   And a Millaine knife fast by me knee;
And a Danish axe fast in my hands -
   That a sure weapon I thinke wil be."
Then with his Collen brand that he had in his hand
   The bunge of the trubchandler he burst in three;
With that start out a lodly feend,
   With seven heads, and one body.
The fyer towards the element flew
   Out of his mouth, where was great plentie.
The knight stoode in the middle, and fought,
   That it was great joy to see,
Till his Collaine brand brake in his hand,
   And his Millaine knife burst on his knee;
And then the Danish axe burst in his hand first,
   That a sur weapon he thought shold be.
But now is the knight left without any weapons.
   And alacke! it was the more pitty.
But a surer weapon then had he one,
   Had never lord in Christentye:
And all was but one litle booke -
   He found it by the side of the sea.
He found it at the seaside,
   Wrucked upp in a floode;
Our Lord had written it with His hands,
   And sealed it with His bloode.
[In a missing section of a half page, Bredbeddle
exorcises the sprite through the power of the sacred
page. After requiring him to appear in a less
frightening aspect, he prepares to make the sprite
work for Arthur's benefit.]
"That thou doe not s . . .
   But ly still in that wall of stone
Till I have beene with noble King Arthur,
   And told him what I have done."
And when he came to the Kings chamber,
   He cold of his curtesie;
Says, "Sleepe you? Wake you, noble King Arthur?
   And ever Jesus waken yee!"
"Nay, I am not sleeping, I am waking" -
   These were the words said hee:
"For thee I have card. How hast thou fared?
   O gentle knight, let me see."
The knight wrought the King his booke,
   Bad him behold, reede, and see;
And ever he found it on the backside of the leafe,
   As noble Arthur wold wish it to be.
And then bespake him King Arthur:
   "Alas, thow gentle knight, how may this be -
That I might see him in the same licknesse
   That he stood unto thee?"
And then bespake him the Greene Knight,
   These were the words said hee:
"If youle stand stifly in the battell stronge,
   For I have won all the victory."
Then bespake him the King againe,
   And these were the words said hee:
"If wee stand not stifly in this battell strong,
   Wee are worthy to be hanged all on a tree."
Then bespake him the Greene Knight,
   These were the words said he:
Saies, "I doe conjure thee, thou fowle feend,
   In the same licknesse thou stood unto me."
With that start out a lodly feend,
   With seven heads, and one body;
The fier towards the element flaugh
   Out of his mouth, where was great plenty.
The knight stood in the middle p . . .
[Half a page is missing, in which Bredbeddle and
the sprite go several more rounds, with the knight
finally gaining complete mastery.]
. . . they stood the space of an houre,
   I know not what they did.
And then bespake him the Greene Knight,
   And these were the words said he:
Saith, "I conjure thee, thou fowle feend,
   That thou feitch downe the steed that we see."
And then forth is gone Burlow Beanie,
   As fast as he cold hie;
And feitch he did that faire steed,
   And came againe by and by.
Then bespake him Sir Marramiles,
   And these were the words said hee:
"Riding of this steed, brother Bredbeddle,
   The mastery belongs to me."
Marramiles tooke the steed to his hand,
   To ryd him he was full bold;
He cold noe more make him goe
   Then a child of three yeere old.
He laid uppon him with heele and hand,
   With yard that was soe fell;
"Helpe! Brother Bredbeddle!" says Marramile,
   "For I thinke he be the devill of hell.
"Helpe! Brother Bredbeddle!" says Marramile,
   "Helpe! for Christs pittye!
For without thy help, brother Bredbeddle,
   He will never be rydden thorrow me."
Then bespake him Sir Bredbeddle,
   These were the words said he:
"I conjure thee, thou Burlow Beane,
   Thou tell me how this steed was riddin in his country."
He saith, "There is a gold wand
   Stands in King Cornwalls study windowe.
"Let him take that wand in that window,
   And strike three strokes on that steed;
And then he will spring forth of his hand
   As sparke doth out of gleede."
And then bespake him the Greene Knight . . .
[Half a page is missing. With the help of the sprite,
Bredbeddle and his companions take possession of
the horse and Cornwall's other magical objects, and
learn the mysteries that enable their use.]
   A lowd blast he may blow then.
And then bespake Sir Bredebeddle,
   To the feend these words said hee:
Says, "I conjure thee, thou Burlow Beanie,
   The powder box thou feitch me."
Then forth is gone Burlow Beanie
   As fast as he cold hie;
And feich he did the powder box,
   And came againe by and by.
Then Sir Tristeram tooke powder forth of that box,
   And blent it with warme sweet milke;
And there put it unto that horne,
   And swilled it about in that ilke.
Then he tooke the horne in his hand,
   And a lowd blast he blew.
He rent the horne up to the midst -
   All his fellowes this they knew.
Then bespake him the Greene Knight,
   These were the words said he:
Saies, "I conjure thee, thou Burlow Beanie,
   That thou feitch me the sword that I see."
Then forth is gone Burlow Beanie,
   As fast as he cold hie,
And feitch he did that faire sword,
   And came againe by and by.
Then bespake him Sir Bredbeddle,
   To the King these words said he:
"Take this sword in thy hand, thou noble King Arthur!
   For the vowes sake that thou made Ile give it thee.
"And goe strike off King Cornewalls head,
   In bed were he doth lye."
Then forth is gone noble King Arthur,
   As fast as he cold hye;
And strucken he hath off King Cornwalls head,
   And came againe by and by.
He put the head upon a swords point . . .
[Another half page is missing. Having slain Cornwall,
the knights seize his possessions. Sir Gawain takes
Cornwall's daughter, and the companions return to
Arthur's court in Little Britain.]
Says; handsome; (see note)
(see note)
spoke out
near the earth
(see note)
I will
I will; two consecutive nights
(see note)
We will; pilgrims' dress
(see note)
stay among us
traveled; (see note)
wandered; (see note)
just arranged
of the same material
dainty boy
I will; (see note)
among pagans
(i.e., Jesus)
single [night's] hospitality; (see note)
(see note)
(see note)
harm or disgrace
(see note)
(see note)
(see note)
room; (see note)
cuckold; (see note)
keep my oath
[is] so splendid
she is; being
burning ember
(i.e., courteous)
(i.e., Cornwall's household); monstrous sprite
within a chest on which was a candle; (see note)
hear; conversation
I will
sworn enemy (killer)
before I see again
We are only
(see note)
clasp her close to my heart; (see note)
would; fiend
(see note)
A sword from Cologne
opening of the candle tub
(i.e., the Bible)
Left; tide
was mindful of
(see note)
cared (been concerned)
produced for; (see note)
likeness (appearance)
(see note)
you will
[To appear again]
flew; (see note)
fetch; saw
(the monster's name); (see note)
riding crop; violent
by; (see note)
burning ember
swished; same [horn]
(see note)
(see note)

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