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Sir Tryamour: Introduction


1 Ramsey, Chivalric Romance, pp. 264–65.

2 Pearsall, "Development of Middle English Romance," p. 112.
In Sir Tryamour, as in Octavian, the story of the calumniated queen is developed to feature the career of her son. The poem was composed in the northeast Midlands toward the end of the fourteenth century. No immediate source is known — the romance seems to be of English origin. The first third of the story, concerning an exiled queen, old knight, and faithful dog, resembles the widely-known legend of Sibille, Charlemagne’s queen. Similar legends of canine fidelity are found in folktale and ballad (Sir Aldinger). Most of Sir Tryamour is devoted to the combats of the son as he wins his bride, and it is this attention to fighting that distinguishes the romance from other treatments of the formulaic separation and reunion plot.

The romance begins with the predicament of Ardus, king of Aragon, and his queen, Margaret. As they are childless, Ardus vows to journey to the Holy Land in hopes that God will send him an heir, and before he departs, Tryamour is conceived. The king appoints his steward, Marrok, to protect the queen and kingdom during his absence. Marrok, however, attempts to seduce Margaret and is rebuffed. When Ardus returns, happy to find his wife pregnant, Marrok takes revenge by telling him the child was fathered by a knight discovered sleeping with the queen. Without consulting Margaret, Ardus agrees to the steward’s plan to banish the queen and sends her forth under the escort of an old knight, Sir Roger.

Marrok secretly arranges to ambush the queen. Roger is killed in the attack and buried by his faithful dog, True-love; Margaret escapes to Hungary where she gives birth to Try­amour in a forest. She is discovered by Sir Barnard, who recognizes her noble bearing, brings her into his household, and fosters her son. True-love guards his master’s grave for seven years, then, to avenge his death, returns to Ardus’ court and kills Marrok, revealing the steward’s treachery. The repentant king attempts to find his queen.

Meanwhile, the king of Hungary has died, leaving a young daughter, Helen, as his sole heir. War breaks out in her kingdom and she is advised to marry someone who can rule, so a tournament for her hand is announced. Tryamour hears of it and, though he is young and inexperienced, hastens to attend. Barnard accompanies him; Ardus is there as well. On the first day of the tournament, Tryamour fights on the side of his father, jousting with James, son of the German emperor, among others. On the second day Tryamour overcomes Ardus and gains Helen’s attention. On the third day he defeats James and is recognized as victor. However, James does not accept the decision and attacks Tryamour after the tournament, when he is unarmed. Barnard and Ardus come to Tryamour’s aid; he is able to kill James, but not before being wounded. Tryamour returns home to recuperate while Helen, unable to find her champion, is granted a two-year delay of marriage.

The German emperor besieges Ardus to avenge his son’s death, sending his champion, the giant Moradas, to challenge the king. Tryamour, recovered from his wounds, sets out to claim Helen. As he journeys through Aragon, he is arrested for poaching and brought before Ardus, who recognizes him from their encounters in Hungary. Tryamour gladly fights as Ardus’ champion since he is responsible for James’ death. Ardus knights him and makes him his heir on the eve of the combat. Moradas is vanquished, the Emperor accepts defeat, and Tryamour continues on his journey to Helen.

Next, the knight encounters two giants, brothers of the slain Moradas, who seek to avenge his death. A fourth brother, Burlond, is laying claim to Helen. After killing the giants, Tryamour arrives at the Hungarian court on the very day of Burlond’s challenge. The knight defeats the usurper and for the second time is recognized as Helen’s fiancé. Tryamour has his mother brought to meet his bride; at this point Margaret reveals his father’s identity and Ardus is invited to the wedding. There recognition takes place and the son reunites his parents. All live happily ever after, Tryamour leaving two sons to succeed him.

Though the romance concerns the separation and reunion of a family, family relations are not as problematic as in some similar romances. Adultery, illegitimacy, and patricide are threatened, but there are no generational conflicts, and the villain is not a member of the family; indeed, he is an outsider who has been entrusted with familial responsibilities and has betrayed that confidence by usurping his lord’s place. Ardus, by trusting an outsider rather than his own spouse, temporarily loses the heir who can continue the family. The point seems to be family cohesiveness — Tryamour and his mother remain together, and he is in contact with his father during most of the romance, though they are unaware of their relationship.

The father-son relationship is particularly important. The hero is motivated in his adventures by a desire to learn his father’s identity. Margaret withholds this knowledge from her son until he has proven himself worthy. Tryamour encounters his father immediately upon entering the world of chivalry, fighting on Ardus’ side in the melee on the first day of the tournament. Two complementary episodes develop the relationship: Ardus’ rescue of Tryamour from James, and Tryamour’s rescue of Ardus from the Emperor. In Tryamour, father and son are not in competition, though Tryamour does defeat him in the tourna­ment; rather, their relationship is one of natural affinity and mutual help. Bernard, another father figure, aids Tryamour throughout the romance.

In contrast to the treatment of father and son, the romantic relationships are un­developed.1 There is a tender moment in the initial dialogue of Ardus and Helen, but Tryamour and Helen barely have an opportunity to exchange words. They hardly seem to fall in love — we are told Helen admires Tryamour’s performance in the jousts, but there are no courtship scenes like those of Eglamour and Octavian. The most deeply felt emotions seem to be those of Roger’s dog, True-love. Since the dog’s name is the English equivalent of the hero’s, they should in some sense be understood as parallels. The dog is important to the action, for his revelation of his master’s murder causes Ardus to realize his wife’s innocence and to expose the treachery of Marrok, bringing an end to the first action of the story and preparing the way for the next.

If Tryamour does not give much attention to matters of love, it includes many episodes of war and combat. There are seventeen in all. The three-day tournament is comprised of ten individual combats, followed by James’ ambush, the encounter with Ardus’ foresters, the battles with Moradas, with his two brothers, and, finally, with Burlond. The major combats are formal tournaments, judicial in nature. The basic episode consists of a sequence of charge/blows/unhorsing, which may require only three lines, but the three main combats — the tournament for Helen’s hand, the battle with Moradas, and Burlond’s challenge for Helen — are all fully developed. The combat with Moradas includes comments on the troops as they arrive on the field, the knighting of the hero, the drawing up of forces, the on­lookers’ reactions to the combat, boasts by the main combatants, mounted attacks with spears, un­horsings, attacks with swords on foot, and exchanges of wounding blows, culmin­ating in victory for the hero. Tryamour’s victories are often preceded by a mistake which puts him at a momentary disadvantage (a badly aimed blow kills Moradas’ horse, not the giant; the knight loses his sword to Burlond). But these are also occasions for displays of wits, as in Tryamour’s rejoinder to Moradas’ jibe about killing the horse (lines 1225–27), and his taunts to Burlond as he literally cuts him down to size (lines 1555–57). All this is related with relish; these scenes of combat are among the more impressive in tail-rhyme romance.

The presentation of the villain is also effective. While the treacherous steward is a favorite stock character of romance, Marrok’s characterization is elaborated in dialogues with the queen and king. Not only does Marrok try to seduce the queen; he lies to her about his intentions and pretends to be loyal, then lies to Ardus about her behavior, going to some lengths to invent a story putting himself in the best light and her in the worst. He finally incites the king to banish the queen while secretly planning to kill her and the innocent, elderly Sir Roger. His deceit and treachery do not go unpunished, for Ardus has his corpse publicly hanged, drawn, and quartered. This desecration is in contrast to Roger’s proper funeral.

The romance’s composer has not developed certain themes latent in the conventional material. Tryamour raises no questions about social class, as do other narratives of its type. No character changes his or her social status; all belong to some noble stratum. Sir Bernard is the only exception, but he lacks none of the accoutrements of status and easily provides arms and horses to equip young Tryamour for tournaments. Though the romance is cer­tainly moral, it is not particularly pious. Tryamour is conceived by divine intervention, and he and his mother prevail through divine providence, but none of the characters’ adven­tures show spiritual growth such as we see, for example, in Isumbras. Nor are there any of the supernatural motifs common in romances such as monstrous opponents or mythological child-snatching animals. Instead, we have the marvelous fidelity of True-love and Roger’s preserved corpse.

Sir Tryamour survives complete in a late fifteenth-century manuscript (Cambridge MS Ff. 2.38), two printed texts, and the seventeenth-century Percy Folio, as well as in several fragments. The present edition is based on the Cambridge text, as that is the only complete medieval copy to survive. The basic verse pattern is the twelve-line tail-rhyme stanza, though there is much variation, including many six- and some nine-line stanzas. Some features of the poem suggest loose transmission: variations in stanza length, a tendency to redundancy and repetition, paratactic style, and “variations and transpositions of the traditional tail-rhyme phraseology.”2 The dialect is predominantly East Midland, with some Northern forms, like the -r plural in the noun chylder. The inflected forms are those of early Modern English: the present participial ending is -yng; the third-person feminine singular nomi­native pronoun is s(c)he, though the Northern form scho is also present; the third-person plural pronouns take the th forms, they, them, etc.; no past participles begin w/y.


Indexed as item 1177 Boffey and Edwards, eds., New Index of Middle English Verse:
  • Cambridge, Cambridge University Library MS Ff. 2.38 (1450–70), fols. 79v–90r. [Base-text for this edition.]
  • Oxford, Bodleian (Rawlinson) MS (a sixteenth-century fragment, now missing).
  • Percy Folio MS (London, British Library MS Addit. 27879) (c. 1650), pp. 210–32.
  • Syr Tryamour. London: R. Pynson, n.d. [1503?]. [Only fragments of this print (STC 24302.5) survive.]
  • Syr Tryamour. London: Wynkyn de Worde, n.d. [c. 1530]. [Only fragments of this print (STC 24302) survive.]
  • Syr Tryamoure. London: Wyllyam Copland, n.d. [1561?]. [This print (STC 24303) contains the complete text of the poem.]

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