The Legend of Bevis of Hampton, 2: English, Norse, Welsh, and Irish

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 of the Anglo-Norman, which exists in two major versions.

Bevusar Taettir. The Faerose ballads based on the Norse saga. 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, translated from the Anglo-Norman, 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. The only manuscript ends in the middle of the episode of Josiane’s “marriage” in Cologne. 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.


Bever’s saga exists in two versions. One, the most common, follows the Anglo-Norman closely until the baptism of Escopart, and thereafter begins abridging freely. The second, found only in one manuscript, abridges throughout, and changes the order of many incidents. It is most likely derived from the first Norse version.


Bevers is summoned to King Edgar’s court instead of going himself to demand his rights. No wedding ceremony is held between Bevers and Aglantine [the lady of Cevile]. Bevers and Terri are the godparents of each other’s children. Yvori kidnaps not only Arundela, but also his foal. In the duel, Guy and Miles intervene, and Guy kills Yvori, to Bevers’ fury. When the fifteen kings convert and destroy their idols, a talking dog leaps out of one of them [a demon in disguise, most likely].


Bevers’ mother is named Oda, her page and confidant Spyrant. Yvori does not attempt to ride Arundel. Terri is Bevis’ son. Escopart, Beves, Josiane, and Terri are all banished from England. Escopart falls asleep while guarding Josiane while the men are out hunting, and at this  very moment, Ivorius’ goon Amonstrei arrives, through his magic knowledge. He kills Escopart, and kidnaps Josiane. Bevers and Terri take the newborn twins to Sinolle [Cevile], where they die. Bevers and Terri save Lady Susanna from the besiegers, but Yvori sends his men to steal Arundela. Sabaoth has a dream telling him to go to Jerusalem to free Josiane from Munkbrand. They meet there and form a plan. Josiane schemes to seduce Amonstrei, who at her instigation, kills his ten sons. As he is undressing in hopes of his reward, Sabaoth leaps out and kills him. They flee with Arundela, and meet Bevers in Sinolle.

King Edgar’s son is named Ranin, his daughter Gyridr. In the duel with Yvori, Bevers kills him fairly.


The Faeroese ballads based on Beverssaga cover only the beginning of the story, down to Bevers’ arrival at the heathen King’s court. As I can find no more information about them, and I cannot read Faeroese, I am unable to say how closely they follow the Saga.


The Welsh prose translation, from the French. A close translation, with no peculiarities.


Bevis is seven years old when his mother and Emperor Devoun of Germany kill his father. He is sold to King Ermonie of Armenia, whose deceased wife was named Morage. His first battle is fought at the age of fifteen, on Christmas Day, when a Saracen taunts him for not knowing what day it is. Bevis answers that, while he doesn’t know as much about his faith as he’d like to, he will defend it against all insults. A fight breaks out, and Bevis kills him and his friends. Josiane persuades the king to spare Bevis’ life, and nurses him back to health. Ermonie’s seneschal, not his foresters, tries to claim credit for killing the boar, and it is from the steward that Bevis wins his sword Morgley. Three years go by between the fight with the boar and the invasion of Bradimond. Boniface is given the role of go-between for Bevis and Josiane. The palmer Bevis meets en route to Damascus is Terri, who has been sent by Saber to search for him. No explanation is given for why Bevis conceals his identity, but we are told how Terri took the news home to Sabot [Saber], who wept. Brandimond clasps Bevis’ hand in “friendship”, but really to overpower and seize him. Josiane has a magic ring, not a girdle. Arondel is imprisoned for seven years. Bevis’ dungeon is filled with flying adders, which he kills with his club, and a dragon, which he kills,, but not without receiving a scar above his right eye that never heals. He can’t escape for seven years. When he finally does escape, he kills some stable boys. Grander is just a king, and his steed is named Trenchefis. Bevis kills Grander, and then rides Trenchefis off a cliff into the sea to escape the rest of Brandimond’s men. On the far shore, he makes the giant’s wife taste all the food she serves him, and the Patriarch of Jerusalem orders him to marry only a virgin. Seeking Josiane, he trades clothes with a palmer, and pretends to Josiane that he met Bevis in Rome and heard him boast of Arondel. Josiane and Boniface take the “palmer” to see the horse, who recognizes him immediately.

As they escape, Amustrai does not appear, and Ascopart is here Garcy’s servant. When they come to Cologne, there is a dragon there. Two kings, of Apulia and Calabria, were at war for twenty-four years, until they were turned into dragons. They fought for thirty-four more years, until a hermit rove them away. One flew to Rome, where he was enchanted by wise clerks to sleep under Saint Peter’s Bridge until Doomsday. But every seven years he turns in his sleep and causes fever [the famous Roman malaria]. The other lives in Cologne, under a cliff, and has eight tusks, each seventeen inches in diameter. He has a beard and a mane, and is twenty-four feet from shoulder to hindquarters. His tail is sixteen feet, and his wings are bright as glass, his scales as hard as brass. According to some manuscripts, Bevis uses the sword Alondite [or Arondite], which was once Sir Lancelot’s, and which some knights of England brought to Armenia, where Bevis got it.

Ascopard is too scared to fight, but Bevis sallies forth, is sorely wounded, but falls into a holy well, which a virgin once bathed in, and which cures him. As he fights again, the dragon spits venom which dissolves his armor, and he is again saved by the well. Bevis at last slays it, thanks to a timely prayer, and takes its tongue as a trophy.

When Ascopart kidnaps Josiane to sell her to Yvori, she asks for leave to go to the woods for privacy, but really she’s gathering herbs to make her look like a leper. Yvori is disgusted at her new appearance, and locks her in a castle with Ascopart as her guard, where she stays for six months. Bevis leaves Guy with a forester, and Miles with a fisher. Then comes the tourney at Aumbeforce [Cevile]. Then Sabot dreams that Bevis is wounded en route to Compostela and Saint Giles. His wife says it means Ascopart is a traitor. Sabot and twelve knights find Josiane, kill Ascopart, and resuce her. The two [the twelve vanish from the story] wander for seven years, till Sabot falls ill in Greece, and Josiane must support them by minstrelsy, for half a year. When he recovers, they go to Aumbeforce, where all are reunited, and Terri weds the Lady. Bevis sends for his children. After the first war of Yvori and Erimone, Armenia [lesser Armenia, in Anatolia] is converted. After the second war, with the single combat, Yvori’s men are slaughtered, not converted. When Bevis returns to England to recover Robart’s lands, King Edgar’s steward gathers his faction and rouses the London mob against Bevis. A very realistic account of medieval urban warfare follows, until Miles and Guy arrive to save the day, Miles on a dromedary, Guy on an Arabian. Josiane and Bevis and Arundel die after twenty years of peaceful reigning, and are buried in the monastery of Saint Lawrence, where the monks pray for their souls, if it be right to pray for the soul of a horse.


The Irish prose translation, copied, or possibly written, by Uillam Mac an Leagha. Written between 1452 and 1500. A close translation of the English, but flowery as all get out. Bevis’ mother loves the son of the Emperor. She sees her beauty reflected in her bathwater, convincing her to kill her husband. Bevis decides to avenge his father when his fellow swine-herds (not shepherds) accuse him of cowardice. He flees prison not to Jerusalem but to India, where the Patriarch shrives him. Coming home, he is shriven again at Rhodes. The fragment breaks off as Esgobard is hurrying to Bibius to tell him that Earl Milis is about to marry Sisian [Josian].

Let this much suffice for the Anglo-Norman family, and let us now speak of the Continental French family.

Or rather, let us go back and speak of the original Anglo-Norman poem.

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