The Legend of Bevis of Hampton, 1: The Anglo-Norman Boeve

The legend of Bevis of Hampton is extant in three great families of redactions: the Anglo-Norman, the Continental French, and the Italian. The Italian versions are the only ones to link Bevis with the legend of Charlemagne, but we will here treat of the Anglo-Norman version first, as it is generally believed to be the earliest, and it is the version best-known to English readers.

The Anglo-Norman family consists of the following versions:

Boeve de Hantone. The Anglo-Norman chanson de geste. Assonanced decasyllables. Sometimes attributed to Bertrand de Bar, though this is no longer a widely-held theory. Translated by Judith Weiss in Boeve De Haumtone and Gui De Warewic, 2008.

Bevers saga. The Norse prose translation, which exists in two major versions.

Bevusar Taettir. The Faerose ballads based on the preceding. See Corpus Carminum Faeroensium, volume 5.

Bown o Hamtwn.  The Welsh prose translation of the Anglo-Norman. Translated by Robert Williams in Selections from the Hengwrt Mss. Preserved in the Peniarth Library.

Sir Beves of Hampton, the English poem, which adds many incidents and rearranges others. All six MSS are printed in EETS Extra vol 46, 48, 65. An edition for the general reader is available from TEAMS in Four Romances of England.

Bibuis o Hamtuir.  The Irish prose translation of the English, c. 1452-1500. Copied, or possibly written, by Uilliam Mac an Leagha. Translated by Frederick Norris in The Irish Lives of Guy of Warwick and Bevis of Hampton.


Count Gui of Haumtone marries the King of Scotland’s daughter, who, however, loves the emperor of Alemaine [Germany]. He begets on her Boeve. Ten years later, in early May, the princess sends word to the Emperor, telling him how to ambush and kill Gui. He agrees. She pretends to be ill, and that only boar’s flesh will cure her. Luckily, she knows where a boar lives: the very spot the Emperor is hiding. And so Gui is killed. The Emperor brings his head to Hampton, and marries his widow. Boeve calls his mother a whore, and swears vengeance. She orders his tutor Sabot to kill him. Sabot kills a swine, bloodies Boeve’s clothes, and sets Boeve to tend his sheep while he plans to escape. But Boeve goes to the castle, kills the porter, and then knocks his stepfather unconscious. He is seized, and his mother sells him to English slavers. They sell the lad to Hermine, king of Egypt, who has a fair daughter, Josiane. The king is touched by his story, and impressed by his refusal to convert to Islam, even when offered Josiane and the kingdom. He decides to raise the steadfast youth at his court as a knight.

By the time Boeve is fifteen, he is the best knight at court. A wild boar savages the kingdom, and Josiane watches from the castle tower as Boeve slays it, alone. Foresters ambush him, seeking the credit for saving the kingdom. He kills them all, causing Josiane to fall hopelessly in love with him. Boeve presents the boar’s head to King Hermine.

Hermine, looking out the window one day, sees Brademond of Damascus and his army of a hundred thousand. He has come to wed Josiane. Josiane tells her father how Boeve killed the foresters, so Hermine dubs the lad a knight, giving him the sword Murgleie. Josiane gives him the horse Aroudel. Boeve leads the army to victory, and spares Brademond’s life on condition that he become Hermine’s vassal. After the victory feast, Josiane confesses her love. Boeve protests that he won’t have her. Angered, she calls him a churl. Angered in turn, he announces he will leave on the horse she gave him. He goes to take lodgings in the town. She sends a messenger after him. He sends back a present of silk. She goes to see him in person, and promises to convert to Christianity. They kiss.

Two courtiers whom Boeve saved from Brademond during the battle tell the king that Boeve has defiled Josiane. He sends Boeve with letters to Brademond, ordering his new vassal to kill the lad. He convinces Boeve to leave Murgleie and Arundel behind, for faster travel.

On the road, Boeve meets on the fourth day of travel a palmer, who turns out to be Sabot’s son, seeking Boeve. Boeve tells him that the lad he’s searching for has been hanged. The palmer weeps, and offers to read the letter Boeve is carrying. Boeve refuses, since he trusts Hermine. They kiss and part. In Damascus, Boeve kills a heathen priest and breaks his idols before delivering the letter. He is promptly seized, and thrown in a thirty toise deep dungeon, filled with snakes and other vermin, and is fed on a quarter-loaf of bread a day.

Josiane asks her father where Boeve is. He says he went home to avenge his father, and said he would never return. Now King Yvori of Munbrant comes wooing Josiane. He has conquered fifteen kingdoms. Hermine marries her off, but luckily she has a magic chastity-protecting girdle. Hermine delivers Josiane, Arundel, and Murgleie to Yvori, but when that king tries to ride Arundel, the gallops off and throws him, nearly killing him. He locks the horse in a stable, where he has to be fed through a door in the ceiling, because he kills anyone who comes near him. Yvori falls asleep beside Josiane every night and only dreams that he has her, thanks to her girdle.

Boeve is in prison seven years, with two guards by day and another two by night. Finally it occurs to him to pray, which so annoys his jailers, that they climb down a rope into his dungeon, whereupon he kills them. He escapes, steals a horse and armor, and rides out the gate, pretending to be a guard chasing Boeve. He travels for three days. But, Brademond sends his nephew Grounder to check the prison. Then, the news discovered, he beats his idols, and rides out with three thousand men to find Boeve, who cuts the top of Brademond’s head off, steals his horse, and flees. Cornered at the edge of a cliff, he rides the horse into the sea and swims away, at which the English give up and go home.

Coming to land, Boeve reaches the castle of a giant who kills English, who happens to be Brademund’s brother. The giant recognizes the horse, but Boeve kills him, takes food and a new horse from his widow, and rides to Jerusalem. Here he confesses his sins to the Patriarch, debates whether to go to England or Egypt, and settles on Egypt. He there learns of Josiane’s marriage, and travels to Monbrant via Carthage. He hears Josiane weeping for him, disguises himself as a palmer, and approaches her. She gives him food, and he tells her that Boeve has married an English lady. She swoons, but on awaking recognizes him. He tries to deny it, but her page Bonefey and Arundel recognize him, too. Josiane offers to flee with him, but he says the Patriarch has forbidden him to wed a woman who is not a maid. Josiane explains, but now Boeve is afraid that Yvori will be back from hunting [where he is] before they can make a clean getaway. They decide to tell him that his brother King Baligant of Abilent is besieged, and to flee while he’s away with his army. All goes as planned, and Yvori leaves the city in King Garcie’s care. Bonefey drugs the elderly Garcie, and they flee. They hide in the forest, where Boeve goes hunting. While he is gone, two lions kill Bonefey, but spare Josiane, as she is a virgin princess. Boeve returns and kills them, and they travel on. They next meet Escopart, a giant who was laughed out of his home for being so short, and now serves Yvori. He tries to reclaim Josiane, but Boeve fights him, until the princess reconciles them, and the giant becomes their squire. They come to the shore, Escopart kills the crew of a ship, and they sail away therein.

Anustrai, the uncle of Yvori, leads nine ships after them, but Escopart scares them back. Our heroes arrive at Cologne, where the bishop turns out to be Boeve’s uncle, and explains how everyone thinks Boeve is dead. Josiane is baptized. Escopart refuses, claiming he is too large for the font. The bishop advises Boeve to go to England, and gives him five hundred knights. He departs, leaving Josiane with Escopart. Arriving at Hampton, he meets Emperor Doon, gives his name as Gerard, and promises to help him fight Sabaoth, who has rebelled and is holding out on the Isle of Wight. The Emperor equips him with a boat and food, and Boeve sails, alone, to a joyful reunion.

Meanwhile, Josiane and Escopart are in Cologne. A count falls in love with her, whom she rejects. He lures Escpoart into a dungeon with a false message from Boeve, taunts him by telling him his plan, and leaves. Escopart escapes, steals a boat, and searches for Boeve. Meanwhile, Josiane has been forced to marry the count, has strangled him on their wedding night, and has been sentenced to burn therefore. Boeve and Escopart rescue her, and return to Wight, where they send a messenger to Emperor Doon announcing their true identity. The Emperor throws a knife at the messenger, but misses and kills his own brother. The messenger taunts him and leaves. After a great battle, Doon is captured and boiled in lead. Boeve’s mother jumps off a tower. Boeve and Josiane are wed.

Half a year later, Boeve goes to King  Edgar’s court to do homage and receive his fiefs. At court, they hold a horse race, which Boeve easily wins on Arundel. The King’s son offers to buy the horse, but is refused. He tries to steal him instead, during the feast that night, but Arundel kills him. The King wants to kill Boeve, but his barons convince him to settle for executing Arundel. Boeve flees with Arundel to Hampton, then flees Hampton with Josiane and his new squire Terri, Sabaoth’s son. Escopart, jealous at being left behind, offers his services to King Yvori in Mombraunt. Boeve and company are wandering in Egypt, when Josiane gives birth to twin sons. Her modesty forbids Boeve and Terri to be nearby while she is in labor, so it is easy for Yvori’s goons and Escopart to kidnap her, leaving the baby boys behind. Boeve and Terri find the boys, name them Guy and Miles, and each take one.

Meanwhile, Sabaoth has a dream that Boeve is attacked by lions en route to Compostella. His wife, Eneborc, explains that it means Josiane has been kidnapped. Sabaoth and his men sail to the rescue, find Escopart and his goons carrying of Josiane, and kill them all. They come to Abreford, where they rest for seven years and three months, while Josiane sustains them by learning the art of minstrelsy.

Meanwhile, Terri has left Miles with a fisher, and Boeve has left Guy with a forester. He comes to Civile [Seville?], where he fends off the besieging army, and is thus obliged to marry the lady of Cevile. He explains to her the awkward situation, and she grants him four years to seek his wife, and she will marry Terri if Josiane is found. The ceremony is held, but not consummated. After four years, there is no news of Josiane, and Boeve obtains another three years. Sabaoth finally recovers from his illness, and he and Josiane come to Cevile, where there is a joyful reunion. They send for Miles and Guy.

News comes that King Yvori is at war with King Hermine. Boeve captures Yvori, and send him to Hermine, who spares him for a ransom. Hermine dies, leaving Egypt to Guy. Miles is made a duke. Sabaoth goes home to his wife and his younger son Robant, who at first don’t recognize him. Yvori summons Gebitus, a wizard, to steal Arundel, and he does so. But Sabaoth dreams Boeve is wounded, and his wife says it means Arundel has been kidnapped. Sabaoth goes, disguised as a pilgrim, to Abreford, meets Boeve, goes to Yvori’s castle, and steals the horse back from a stable boy. He flees, with Yvori in hot pursuit. Boeve, Guy, and Miles ride out to meet him, and turn back Yvori, who returns with his army. He challenges Boeve to single combat, wherein he is killed. His fifteen vassal kings convert, and destroy their idols. Guy inherits Yvori’s land. The Pope comes to anoint Boeve and Josiane king and queen, and they return to their dominions.

At Pentecost, news comes that Edgar has disinherited Robant. Boeve, Josiane, Arundel, and Sabaoth go to England, and make peace. Edgar’s daughter weds Miles. Boeve and Josiane go home to Monbraunt, leaving Hampton to Sabaoth. After many years, Josiane falls ill. Boeve finds Arundel dead in the stable, and lays down beside Josiane. They say farewell to Guy, and die together. They are laid in the church of Saint Lawrence.

Let thus much suffice for the Anglo-Norman poem, and let us now speak of the versions descended therefrom.

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