The Legend of Mabrien

The Bibliotheque Universelle des Romans mentions a MS of Mabrien in verse, but no trace of such a romance has been found. The surviving versions of the legend of Mabrien, grandson of Renaud of Montauban, are as follows:

The prose versions, in MSS. Am and Lf of the Grand Prose of Renaud of Montauban.

The printed versions, starting in 1525, under a variety of titles, but usually changing the spelling to Mabrian. Adapted from the MSS by Guy Bounay and Jehan le Cueur.

THE MANUSCRIPT VERSION

Renaud’s son Yon is now king of Jerusalem, and is married to Queen Aiglentine, daughter of Robastre (once King of Jerusalem, before Renaud killed him), and brother of Baptamur (called Durandal before his baptism). Yon’s brother Aymon is king of Angorie and is married to Sinamonde, daughter of Danemont who was previously killed by Renaud. Yon and Aiglentine have a son. Six fairies, four queens and two kings, come to his cradle that night. The Queens are Morgan le Fay, Gloriande, Ydain the Fair, and Gracienne. The kings are Arthur and Gloriant. Arthur gives him the gift to be a great conqueror and the strongest knight since the days of Priam, and to visit them in Fairyland. Morgan gives him the gifts of wisdom and honesty. Gloriande grants him to be loved by all women and to be the strongest of men. Gracienne grants him to never be overcome in battle. Soon afterward, the boy is baptized Doon. He is kidnapped, however, and sold to the pagan Queen Mabrienne, daughter of King Fortin and wife of the Amiral Barré. Her husband is at war, so she passes the child off as her own and calls him Mabrien. Yon’s vassal Gerard de Blaives is regent of Jerusalem, but loses the city to Barré. That Amiral installs Acaire as king, much to the anger of his ally, King Murgalas, who thereupon becomes his enemy. Gerard, Yon, and Aiglentine escape to Acre. By the advice of Baptamur, they retake Jerusalem and kill Acaire.

Meanwhile, King Murgalas has laid siege to Admiral Barré in his city of Ordanne. The newly-dubbed Mabrien defeats him and takes his magical armor. Admiral Barré, excited by his son’s abilities, decides to besiege the Sultan of Babylon [not named. Babylon seems to be Old Babylon, and not Cairo]. Mabrien conquers him, too, and his “father” becomes the new Sultan. They next conquer Angorie, and King Aymonnet flees to his brother in Jerusalem. Mabrien next lays siege to Jerusalem, and the two kings send to Charlemagne for help. Charlemagne (for once) comes to help the Aymonids, bringing Roland and Oliver with him. Mabrien repels them all, however, kills his uncle Aymonnet, and takes Jerusalem, chasing the Christians to Acre (again). Charlemagne and the Peers retreat to France, and all seems lost. Fortunately for Christendom, Mabrienne falls in love with her adopted son. Even though she reveals his true identity, he still repulses her, so she sends him to the Sultan of Mecca with a Bellerophon-letter. He is accompanied, as usual, by Fortin and Sarragot. The three are imprisoned by the Sultan. Luckily, this Sultan has a daughter, Gloriande, who is smitten with the handsome prisoners and escapes with them.

The author at this point assures us that, unlike the histories of Arthur, Lancelot du Lac, Perceval, Tristan, Huon of Bourdeaux, and others, his story is true. The foursome sail away, but are forced by a storm to land in Ludie [Lydia?], ruled by the Sultan of Mecca’s vassal, King Vast. So many of King Vast’s vassals attack them that Fortin, Sarragot, and Gloriande are captured and Mabrien is forced to retreat to sea in the boat. He is shipwrecked on the Island of Adamant, the same where Huon of Bordeaux landed. This island is magnetic, and thus irresistably attracts all ships that come near. It is also home to the Becqus, a race of humanoid monsters that swim like fishes, have heads like birds’, and eat sailors who are shipwrecked on the island. Mabrien repels them, and constructs from the flotsam and jetsam a ship made entirely of wood. He sails away, reaches the mainland, and wanders until he finds a tree planted by King Arthur which marks the border of Fairyland. The fairy Gracienne (the same who came to his cradle) has hung a shield thereon which is only for the best knight in the world. Mabrien takes it and journeys on, until he meets Sir Eubrom, a knight of Arthur’s. Arthur reigns over Fairyland with his sister Morgan, and they wish to test Mabrien. Mabrien overcomes the Red Knight, the White Knight, the Black Knight, the Green Knight, the Rainbow Knight, the Blue Knight, and ten others [they are not named] to win admission to Arthur’s castle. At this juncture, a damsel-errant comes, seeking a champion for her lady, the the fairy Gracienne. Mabrien goes to succor her, and defeats a lion, a serpent, a dragon, and a luiton named Gaudice. He thereby wins the fairy’s favors, and begets on her a bastard named Gracien. Travelling with her, his infant son, and his new servant/friend Gaudice, he comes to the Abbey Adventurous, where he overcomes the knights who attack any traveller who blows the horn. He next comes to the Terreastiral Paradise, where Enoch and Elijah show him the famous Trees, and then to the sea, where Cain is floating in a nail-studded barrel. Farther on is the land of Prester John, whose people are all fed by the fruits from the Tree of Life. Mabrien receives one of these fruits to take home with him.

Meanwhile, King Vast plans to kill Fortin and Saragot because Gloriande refuses to marry him. Luckily, Mabrien returns and kills him, conquers his city, and converts his people to Christianity. He now journeys eastward with his companions, and kills the fifteen giants who guard the passage to India with their fifteen castles. They have such names as Ardouffle, Gallafre, Bruyant, Danebus, and the like. (Not all are named). Gallafre wisely surrenders, and becomes Mabrien’s servant. Our hero now returns to France, leaving Gallafre to guard his lady Gloriande in the castle of Macedonia [not the real Macedonia]. In France, he introduces himself by dueling Ogier, and is met with rejoicing. Charlemagne is desperate for good knights, since this is shortly after Roncesvalles, and Roland, Oliver, Avin, Avoire, Engelier of Gascony, and twenty thousand knights are dead. Mabrien gives Charlemagne the Fruit of Life to eat, and the ancient emperor again becomes a sprightly young bachelor. Charlemagne kindly tells Mabrien that his parents are alive and well, and living in Tremoigne. Mabrien again introduces himself by dueling, and fights his father to a draw before revealing himself. They all return to Paris, Mabrien having summoned his wife and friends from Macedonia, amidst much rejoicing. Mabrien and Gloriande are baptized [the author seems to have forgotten Mabrien was baptized already] and wed by the Bishop of Paris [Turpin does not appear in this romance].

Mabrien now leads the French overseas, conquering Acre, Jerusalem, and Angorie. The French return home. Mabrien and his friends are shipwrecked again. King Solimant of Nadres imprisons Gloriande, Sarragot, and Fortin. Mabrien lays siege to Nadres, conquers it, and converts Solimant and his people. He arranges for Solimant’s sister Rose to marry the King of Persia, and then sails away. Passing the homeland of Job, the land of the Amazons, Ethiopia, and India, he finds the city of Rocq, in the port of Siet, and converts its king Sanguin by defeating the king in a duel. He next travels to Marrocq, where he kills King Polus and takes possession of the land. At this juncture, his wife Gloriane gives birth to a son, named Regnault, or Regnauldin. Now Mabrian wars on King Bruyant of Cana. He kills King Agoulafre of Hault Assis, rescues King Sanguin from invading infidels, but is imprisoned by Bruyant. At this juncture, however, Gracien, now grown to manhood, arrives, rescues his father, and kills Bruyant. Mabrien proceeds to kill King Tenebre of Simoubar and convert his kingdom, whereupon the [Christian] Great Khan sends him a beautifully wrought golden apple in tribute.

Mabrien is now beginning to tire of war, and so he crowns Regnauldin king and weds him to Eglantine, the daughter of Bruyant. He then retires to a hermitage. Twenty years later, King Barufle of Morinde makes war on Regnauldin, and Mabrien leaves his hermitage to help his son. He slays Barufle’s brother Escorfault, and is mortally wounded by Barufle in turn. Regnauldin kills Barufle, but Mabrien dies. Gracien and Regnauldin bury their father in a rich sepulchre in Cana, where he is venerated as a martyr. Regnauldin’s son Aymon, many years later, conquers the Morindians.

THE PRINTED VERSIONS

Guy and Jehan alternate between abridging the MS and showing off how many Latin synonyms they know. In their prologue, they plump for Renaud’s sons fighting the sons of Foulques of Morillon, and place the Conquest of Trebisond immediately after said duel. The printed version begins by summarizing the last adventures of Renaud, and proceeds to relate, at some length, the Death of Maugis, as we have given before.

ORIGINS

Very, very much an example of the late school of romances of chivalry. The wars are simply one thing after another, the love affairs and intrigues are mostly perfunctory, and the least uninteresting parts, the adventures with the Fairies, are mostly stolen from Ogier the Dane. For the curious, Jerusalem changes hands four times in this story. What more is there to say? A bad fanfic continuation is a bad fanfic continuation, no matter what century it was written in, and we may at least be grateful that no one ever wrote the adventures of Aymon III.

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Bevis of Hampton 8: Origins, Legacy, and Notes

THE ORIGINS OF THE BEVIS LEGEND

The origin of the story would seem to be a combination of the theme of the long-lost wife arriving just in time to prevent her husband’s wedding (as in Lord Bateman, Child 53), with the theme of the long-lost husband arriving just in time to prevent his wife’s wedding (as in Hind Horn, Child 17; the Noble Moringer; Count Dirlos, etc.) While the relationships within families are clear, it is uncertain whether the original form was the more compact Italian, which was expanded and loosened by the French, or whether the original form was the more sprawling French, which was tightened up by the Italians. Daurel et Beton is not a sequel to Bevis; although it does feature a Bevis of Antona, his story has nothing in common with our Bevis’.

From an structural standpoint, the Italian version clearly has the best plot of the three. But if one takes the view that a plot is of no use except to string pretty things on, I do not think it is mere prejudice that makes me plump for the English version, with little Sir Bevis striking down Sir Murdour, his defence of the Faith he barely knows against the mocking Pagans, his fight against the dragons in the dungeon, the comic baptism of Ascopart, the dreadful dragon of Cologne which Spencer thought good enough to copy in his Faerie Queene, the fighting in the streets of London, and the death and burial together of Bevis, Josiane, and Arundel, who was so like a human that the monks prayed for his soul.

LATER TREATMENTS OF THE BEVIS LEGEND

The Romanian version, O mie si una de zile, (A Thousand and One Days) sometimes mentioned, was a translation from the Yiddish made by M. Aziel in 1881, and thus falls outside our time period.

The English version of Bevis’ fight against the dragon was lifted by Spenser for his Fairie Queene, and by Richard Johnson for his Seven Champions of Christendom. Michael Drayton summarized the story as part of his Polyolbion, Song II lines 259-380. Drayton lamented in his notes that the monks had expanded the history of Bevis beyond all probability, so that his true deeds were lost. He also notes that Bevis’ sword [Murgley. Alondite is not mentioned by Drayton] is preserved in Arundel Castle, and that it is shorter than that of Edward III in Westminster.

Sir Bevis appears in Saint George for England, a catalogue of the heroes of chivalry, printed 1612, to be found in Percy’s Reliques, IX, 14.

“Bevis conquered Ascapart, and after slew the boare,
And then he crost beyond the seas to combat with the Moore;”

The reader will recall that Bevis actually conquered Ascopart well after the boar. This is not evidence of a divergent tradition; Saint George is merely a long list of names and half-remembered incidents.

Bevis of Hampton and Guy of Warwick were two of the most popular stories of chivalry in England, probably because the two of them were English. They are frequently mentioned together by poets and sermonizers, as typical romances of chivalry.

Bevis continued to be printed, in rhyme, ever more modernized, up to the 1660’s, and in prose until 1780. There was also an expanded prose version, perhaps by John Shurley, titled The Famous and Renowned History of Sir Bevis of Southampton, printed in 1689. This adds a further adventure of Bevis. Upon returning to Mambrant where the traditional version ends, he is not suffered to live in peace with Josiane, but must repel first Ambrant, the old king’s cousin, then Sultan Saracon of Babylon, whom he pursues to his city. As he besieges it, one of his knights, Sir Miles, slips in, wins the love of the Sultan’s daugher Rosalinda, and through her persuades the Sultan to convert and make peace. After this war, Bevis grows old and dies, and is buried with Josiane.

Shurley’s version was reprinted 1775, under the title of The history of the Famous and Extraordinary Sir Bevis of Southampton. This title is not on the internet, and I cannot say how closely it follows its source.

Nineteenth century retellers all went back to the manuscripts or the earliest printed editions, and so the chapbook tradition died out.

George Ellis included the story of Bevis in his Specimens of Early English Metrical Romances, in which he treated it with his usual snide remarks and insufferable Whiggish sense of superiority to all those who were foolish enough to live before the reign of Queen Anne or outside of London.

William Thoms, under the pen name of Ambrose Merton, retold Bevis and other tales in Gammer Gurton’s Famous Histories. Thoms’ Early Prose Romances, an accurate reprinting of chapbooks for non-scholarly adults, still makes good reading. His children’s retellings of them, however, leave something to be desired.

The version by John Ashton, in his Romances of Chivalry, is simply a summary of the English version, with a  few extracts, much like Ellis, only without the snide comments.

Bevis of Hampton, in Andrew Lang’s The Red Romance Book, was a much better retelling, though, like Thoms he cuts the story short with Bevis’ return to Southampton, and (unlike Thoms) inexplicably omits the famous fight against the dragon in Cologne.

BEVIS AND KING ARTHUR

In the Italian I Reali di Francia, Buovo d’Antona receives, while he is in Armenia, the sword Chiarenza (Clarence), which once belonged to Sir Lancelot of the Lake, but was brought to Armenia by English knights. In the Second Italian Redaction, it was the sword of Galasso [Galahad, Lancelot’s son]. The Version of 1480 calls it Chiarente, but gives no backstory. The English version usually follows the French in calling Bevis’ sword Murgleys, but one manuscript claims (only in his fight against the dragon in Cologne. Elsewhere it’s still Murgleys) that his sword was Alondite, which used to belong to Lancelot of the Lake. This is the only place Alondite is mentioned in any surviving medieval text. Now Malory ends his Le Morte d’Arthur as follows:

“Then Sir Bors de Ganis, Sir Ector de Maris, Sir Gahalantine, Sir Galihud, Sir Galihodin, Sir Blamore, Sir Bleoberis, Sir Villiars le Valiant, Sir Clarrus of Clermont, all these knights drew them to their countries. Howbeit King Constantine would have had them with him, but they would not abide in this realm. And there they all lived in their countries as holy men. And some English books make mention that they went never out of England after the death of Sir Launcelot, but that was but favour of makers. For the French book maketh mention, and is authorised, that Sir Bors, Sir Ector, Sir Blamore, and Sir Bleoberis, went into the Holy Land thereas Jesu Christ was quick and dead, and anon as they had stablished their lands. For the book saith, so Sir Launcelot commanded them for to do, or ever he passed out of this world. And these four knights did many battles upon the miscreants or Turks. And there they died upon a Good Friday for God’s sake.”

This passage corresponds to nothing in the Vulgate Morte le Roi Artu, which was Malory’s main source for this part of the story, or in the Middle English Alliterative Mort Arthur or Stanzaic Morte Arthur, which were his secondary ones. Thus most commentators have assumed Malory invented this passage, but the Reali, written a good century before Malory, would suggest otherwise. Perhaps we have here the only surviving witnesses to an otherwise lost tradition? The only other reference to Arthur in the Reali is a slighting one, blaming him for not converting any countries to Christianity, suggesting that Andrea was not likely to pick a knight of the Round Table to glorify his hero. The name “Clarence” also has an Arthurian connection: it is King Arthur’s battle cry in the Vulgate Cycle. Was there a tradition before Malory that some Knights of the Round Table went to the Holy Land with Lancelot’s sword? Or is this all just a bizarre coincidence? We may never know.

OTHER NOTES ON SWORDS

Alondite, never mentioned outside of one part of one manuscript Bevis of Hampton, nonetheless found its way into standard reference works as the sword of Lancelot, and hence its name is used frequently in fantasy games. Morglay, Bevis’ actual sword, is not quite as popular, though it does appear from time to time. Other swords named Morgleis are wielded by Ganelon in the Song of Roland and in Father Konrad’s Rolandslied, (where it was made by the smith Madelger of Regensburg) by Elias the Swan Knight Le Beatrix, and by King Cornumarant of Jerusalem in La Chanson de Jerusalem, who loses it to Baudouin of Sebourc, who hands it down to the Bastard of Bouillon, in Baudoin de Sebourc and Le Batard de Bouillon. It is not clear whether any of these swords are meant to be identical.

The Romance of Morien

My latest Kelmscott-style reprint from Rossignol Books is now available! The Romance of Morien, as translated by Jessie Weston. Morien is from Middle Dutch, written in verse around the 1200’s, as part of the massive Lancelot Compilation, a sprawling four-volume work which as it stands includes nine complete romances and the end of a tenth, and possibly used to have more in the now-lost first volume. Most of these are translations into Dutch from French, but some of them have no known source, and one of these is Morien. Chronologically, this romance is set between the end of the Prose Lancelot, and the beginning of the Quest for the Holy Grail. No one knows who wrote it, or when, or in what language it was originally. The prologue states that some versions exist in which Percival was Morien’s father, but no such versions survive.

Sir Aglovale, brother of Sir Perceval of Galles, fell in love with a Moorish woman beyond the sea, and left her, promising to return. He never kept his promise, and now his son, Sir Morien, has come to England in search of his father. Can Sir Gawain help the family reunite? Can Sir Lancelot slay a ferocious beast? Will the Saxons overrun the realm of Logris? Is Agloval Morien’s real father, or is it Perceval? Find out the answers to all of these in The Romance of Morien! For the light Morien sheds on the legend of the Holy Grail, and for its merits as a story in its own right, this romance is an excellent addition to the shelf of any lover of chivalry. For a mere US$7.50, plus shipping and handling, this beautiful reprint of a beautiful story can be yours!

Rossignol Books