The Marriage of Sir Gawain
Original Electronic Text at the Camelot Project web site.

Bibliographical information and introduction


Kinge Arthur lives in merry Carleile, Carlisle And seemely is to see, And there he hath with him Queene Genever, That bride soe bright of blee. woman; countenance 5 And there he hath with Queene Genever, has been That bride soe bright in bower, chamber And all his barons about him stoode That were both stiffe and stowre. brave The King kept a royall Christmasse 10 Of mirth and great honor, And when . . . [In a missing half page, Arthur arranges a hunt; he is accosted by a Baron - an armed warrior - who demands the King fulfill a quest.] "And bring me word what thing it is That a woman most desire. This shal be thy ransome, Arthur," he sayes, 15 "For Ile have noe other hier." I will; recompense King Arthur then held up his hand gave his hand (in agreement) According thene as was the law; custom He tooke his leave of the Baron there, And homward can he draw. did 20 And when he came to merry Carlile, To his chamber he is gone; And ther came to him his cozen Sir Gawaine kinsman As he did make his mone. lament And there came to him his cozen Sir Gawaine, 25 That was a curteous knight: Who "Why sigh you soe sore, uncle Arthur," he said, "Or who hath done thee unright?" wrong "O peace, O peace, thou gentle Gawaine, That faire may thee beffall, (see note) 30 For if thou knew my sighing soe deepe, knew [the cause of] Thou wold not mervaile att all. "For when I came to Tearne Wadling, Tarn Wathelene; (see note) A bold Barron there I fand encountered With a great club upon his backe, 35 Standing stiffe and strong. "And he asked me wether I wold fight, Or from him I shold begone - Or else I must him a ransome pay (In which case) And soe depart him from. 40 "To fight with him I saw noe cause, Methought it was not meet, suitable For he was stiffe and strong withall, indeed His strokes were nothing sweete. "Therefor this is my ransome, Gawaine, 45 I ought to him to pay: owe I must come againe, as I am sworne, Upon the New Yeers Day. "And I must bring him word what thing it is . . . [Here a half page is missing. Arthur and Gawain spend their time searching for an answer to the Baron's question, and collect a sheaf of answers, none satisfactory. Finally, Arthur sets out for his New Year's meeting.] Then King Arthur drest him for to ryde prepared himself 50 In one soe rich array Toward the foresaid Tearne Wadling, That he might keepe his day. And as he rode over a more, moor Hee see a lady where shee sate sat 55 Betwixt an oke and a greene hollen: holly She was cladd in red scarlett. Then there as shold have stood her mouth, where Then there was sett her eye; The other was in her forhead fast, 60 The way that she might see. Her nose was crooked and turnd outward, Her mouth stood foule awry; A worse formed lady than shee was, Never man saw with his eye. 65 To halch upon him, King Arthur, greet him This lady was full faine, eager But King Arthur had forgott his lesson, was at a loss for words What he shold say againe. again (i.e., in reply) "What knight art thou," the lady sayd, 70 "That will not speak to me? Of me be thou nothing dismayd Tho I be ugly to see. "For I have halched you curteouslye, greeted And you will not me againe; not [greet] me in turn 75 Yett I may happen, Sir Knight," shee said, turn out "To ease thee of thy paine." "Give thou ease me, lady," he said, If Or helpe me any thing, in any way Thou shalt have gentle Gawaine, my cozen, 80 And marry him with a ring." "Why, if I help thee not, thou noble King Arthur, Of thy owne hearts desiringe, Of gentle Gawaine . . . [The lady agrees to the marriage bargain, and tells Arthur what women most desire. The King proceeds to his appointed meeting.] And when he came to the Tearne Wadling 85 The Baron there cold he finde, could With a great weapon on his backe, Standing stiffe and stronge. (see note) And then he tooke King Arthurs letters in his hands written answers And away he cold them fling, did 90 And then he puld out a good browne sword, bright And cryd himselfe a king. declared And he sayd, "I have thee and thy land, Arthur, To doe as it pleaseth me, For this is not thy ransome sure: recompense 95 Therfore yeeld thee to me." And then bespoke him noble Arthur, And bad him hold his hand, bade "And give me leave to speake my mind In defence of all my land." 100 He said, "As I came over a more, I see a lady where shee sate Betweene an oke and a green hollen; Shee was clad in red scarlett. "And she says, `A woman will have her will, 105 And this is all her cheef desire.' Doe me right, as thou art a baron of sckill: by me; proper This is thy ransome and all thy hyer." He sayes, "An early vengeance light on her! (The Baron) She walkes on yonder more - 110 It was my sister that told thee this, And she is a misshappen hore! whore "But heer Ile make mine avow to God here I will; oath To doe her an evill turne, For an ever I may thate fowle theefe gett, if 115 In a fyer I will her burne." fire [Having satisfactorily answered the Baron's question, Arthur returns to court. He gathers his knights and returns to the lady in the forest, though he appears to have informed Gawain alone of his marriage pact.] The Second Part Sir Lancelott and Sir Steven bold (see note) They rode with them that day, And the formost of the company [among] There rode the steward Kay. 120 Soe did Sir Banier and Sir Bore, (see note) Sir Garrett with them soe gay, (see note) Soe did Sir Tristeram that gentle knight, (see note) To the forrest fresh and gay. And when he came to the greene forrest, 125 Underneath a greene holly tree Their sate that lady in red scarlet That unseemly was to see. Sir Kay beheld this ladys face, And looked uppon her swire: neck 130 "Whosoever kisses this lady," he sayes, "Of his kisse he stands in feare." kiss's outcome Sir Kay beheld the lady againe, And looked upon her snout: "Whosoever kisses this lady," he saies, 135 "Of his kisse he stands in doubt." fear "Peace cozen Kay," then said Sir Gawaine, "Amend thee of thy life. For there is a knight amongst us all That must marry her to his wife." 140 "What! Wedd her to wiffe!" then said Sir Kay. "In the divells name anon, Gett me a wiffe where ere I may, wherever For I had rather be slaine!" destroyed; (see note) Then some tooke up their hawkes in hast, 145 And some tooke up their hounds, And some sware they wold not marry her swore For citty nor for towne. And then bespake him noble King Arthur, spoke out And sware there by this day: 150 "For a litle foule sight and misliking . . . [After Arthur's speech, Gawain announces his intention to marry the lady. All return to the court, the marriage is celebrated, and the lady and Gawain retire to their marriage bed. Faced with Gawain's sexual reticence, the lady metamorphoses into a beautiful young woman, and then offers Gawain a choice.] Then she said, "Choose thee, gentle Gawaine, Truth as I doe say, Wether thou wilt have me in this liknesse appearance In the night or else in the day." 155 And then bespake him gentle Gawaine, With one soe mild of moode, With a demeanor ever so Sayes, "Well I know what I wold say - God grant it may be good! "To have thee fowle in the night [I choose] 160 When I with thee shold play; make love Yet I had rather, if I might, Have thee fowle in the day." "What! When lords goe with ther feires," shee said, 1 (see note) "Both to the ale and wine? 165 Alas! Then I must hyde my selfe, I must not goe withinne." into the hall (public space) And then bespake him gentle Gawaine, spoke out Said, "Lady, thats but a skill: trick (i.e., trial response) And because thou art my owne lady, 170 Thou shalt have all thy will." Then she said, "Blesed be thou gentle Gawain, This day that I thee see, For as thou see me att this time, From hencforth I wil be. remain; (see note) 175 "My father was an old knight. (see note) And yett it chanced soe That he marryed a younge lady That brought me to this woe. "Shee witched me, being a faire young lady, bewitched 180 To the greene forrest to dwell, And there I must walke in womans liknesse, Most like a feeind of hell. like a monstrous woman; (see note) "She witched my brother to a carlish B. . . . churlish B[aron?] [The lady continues her explanation, and then she and Gawain consummate the marriage. In the morning Kay comes to check on Gawain's welfare, and Gawain explains his wife's history.] "That looked soe foule, and that was wont accustomed 185 On the wild more to goe. moor "Come kisse her, brother Kay," then said Sir Gawaine, "And amend thé of thy liffe: thee I sweare this is the same lady That I marryed to my wiffe." 190 Sir Kay kissed that lady bright, Standing upon his feete; He swore, as he was trew knight, (see note) The spice was never soe sweete. "Well, cozen Gawaine," sayes Sir Kay, 195 "Thy chance is fallen arright, luck For thou hast gotten one of the fairest maids I ever saw with my sight." "It is my fortune," said Sir Gawaine. "For my uncle Arthurs sake, 200 I am glad as grasse wold be of raine, Great joy that I may take." Sir Gawaine tooke the lady by the one arme, Sir Kay tooke her by the tother; the other They led her straight to King Arthur 205 As they were brother and brother. King Arthur welcomed them there all, And soe did Lady Genever his Queene, With all the knights of the Round Table Most seemly to be seene. 210 King Arthur beheld that lady faire That was soe faire and bright. He thanked Christ in Trinity For Sir Gawaine that gentle knight. Soe did the knights, both more and lesse, 215 Rejoyced all that day, For the good chance that hapened was To Sir Gawaine and his lady gay. handsome Fins. The End


Abbreviations: P = Percy Folio Manuscript; M = Madden's edition; FH = Furnivall's and Hales' edition; C = Child's edition. See Select Bibliography for these editions.

29 beffall. M: befall; the stroke for the second f appears blurred.

32 Tearne Wadling. The Tarn Wathelene (a tarn is a small lake) is mentioned in Avowyng (lines 131, 338) and Awntyrs (line 2), and again in lines 51 and 84 of the present romance. Though Inglewood Forest, where this lake is located, is the setting of Ragnelle, the Tarn itself is not mentioned in that romance.

87 stronge. Though elsewhere rhymes are strained, this stanza seems clearly deficient.

116 Sir Steven. This is a knight otherwise unknown in Arthurian romance.

120 Sir Banier and Sir Bore. Madden suggests the first name is a misnomer for Beduer or Bedyvere (Bedevere), brother of Lucan the Butler and Arthur's constable, but perhaps this is Sir Ban (or Bayan), the father of Lancelot. The second is Bors de Gaynes, Lancelot's loyal companion.

121 Sir Garrett. This is Gareth, Gawain's brother and loyal supporter of Lancelot, by whom he is inadvertently killed in the rescue of Guenevere.

122 Sir Tristeram. A celebrated hero in many Arthurian tales, Sir Tristan is the son of Melyodas and nephew of King Mark of Cornwall.

143 slaine. FH: shaine, with the suggestion that the word may be a variant of shent, slaine, or shamed.

163 feires. The scribal forms are unclear; M, C read seires, and emend to feires, which I follow. FH give squires.

174 hencforth. M: henceforth.

175 ff. The plot of Marriage more closely resembles a traditional fairy tale in making the source of evil simply a wicked stepmother rather than the entanglements of an Arthurian court intrigue.

182 feeind. M reads the apparent extra minum as i, which seems right; FH, C: feend.

192 swore. M: sayes, without explanation, though swore seems clear in P.
Bibliographical Information and Introduction

The Marriage of Sir Gawain
Edited by Thomas Hahn
Originally Published in Sir Gawain: Eleven Romances and Tales
Kalamazoo, Michigan: Western Michigan University for TEAMS, 1995
Marriage follows Cornwall and Turke in the Percy Folio manuscript. It has suffered the same fate as those two poems: half of each page of the text had been torn out for use in starting fires sometime before Bishop Percy acquired the volume. In plot, Marriage closely resembles Ragnelle and the versions of the same story told in Gower's Confessio Amantis and Chaucer's Wife of Bath's Tale, so that despite the losses the main points of the narrative remain clear. In fact, Marriage presents a retelling bolder and balder than any of the others. The characters play exaggerated parts: Arthur's antagonist is not knightly, but a threatening thug "With a great club upon his backe"; the lady "in red scarlett" is simply monstrous; Kay at first is totally disgusted, and at the end filled with brotherly congratulation; Gawain is impeccably courteous. In the same way, motives and reactions are unhesitatingly named by the narrative: Arthur says he was afraid to fight, he offers Gawain in marriage before the lady even expresses an interest, and the crux of the story - what women most desire - turns out to be a tautology, for "a woman will have her will": she wants what she wants.

As a proper ballad, Marriage maintains the fundamental simplicity of the plot. There are none of the literary touches that Gower adds, or the learned allusions to Ovid, Dante, and Boethius of Chaucer's version. Likewise, Marriage forgoes the narrative replications and the thematic and verbal repetitions that mark Ragnelle as a popular romance and complicate its possible meanings. The interlocking sets of masculine social relations held in place through Ragnelle's plot do not surface in Marriage; indeed, the nameless antagonist calls his nameless sister "a misshappen hore" and promises to burn her "in a fyer" if he catches her. The lady's plight, whereby like a witch she "looked soe foule and . . . was wont / On the wild more to goe" (lines 184-85), comes about through a bad marriage: her father, an "old knight . . . marryed a younge lady" who in fairy-tale fashion proceeded to turn her competition (or her children's competition for inheritance) into a creature "most like a feend of hell" (line 182). The wicked stepmother appears also in Ragnelle and in Gower's version.

Like the majority of Gawain romances, Marriage places Arthur's court at Carlisle (line 1), and sets its action in Inglewood Forest, and specifically at the Tarn Wathelene (lines 32, 51). Arthur is presumably hunting when he encounters the "bold barron," as are the main characters in Ragnelle, Carlisle, Awntyrs, and several others in this group of romances. These linkages of plot and detail do not, however, demonstrate that Marriage is a popular refashioning of an earlier written or literary narrative. The Percy Folio poem may well be the record of one more retelling of a story that had been popular at least from the time of King Edward I, and that, in addition to giving rise to a group of literary renditions, must have circulated widely in oral performances throughout the Middle Ages and the Renaissance. As such, it bears witness to Gawain's huge celebrity with an astonishing variety of audiences, and across centuries of enormous cultural change. The social milieu and the precise nature of the performance represented by Marriage are vividly defined in the fictional portrayal that Howard Pyle inserts into his Merry Adventures of Robin Hood (1883); in this children's narrative, Robin's first adventure is a meeting in a tavern with a Tinker-minstrel, who sings "an ancient ballad of the time of good King Arthur, called the Marriage of Sir Gawaine, which you may some time read, yourself, in stout English of early times" (New York: Dover, 1968, p. 19). Pyle's portrayal of this impromptu performance before a tavern audience at the edge of Sherwood Forest likely corresponds to the sort of setting in which the compiler of the Percy Folio Manuscript heard the version of Marriage that he wrote down.

Like Cornwall, Marriage is composed in ballad meter, namely four-line stanzas rhyming xaxa. The lines tend not to fall into regular metrical feet; instead they alternate, with four-stress unrhymed lines followed by three-stress lines containing the rhyming final word. As the oral sources of the meter would suggest, the poetry is most effective when read aloud; lines that "sound" clumsy when not vocalized take on life in spoken form.


The Marriage of Sir Gawain survives, though mutilated, in the Percy Folio Manuscript, pp. 46-52 (described in the introductory material to The Greene Knight). In transcribing the cramped and fading hand, I have been aided by the editions of Madden, Furnivall and Hales, and Child, and I have sometimes followed their readings and reconstructions for letters and words that now appear indistinct or indecipherable. I have regularized orthography, so that "u"/"v" and "i"/"j" appear according to modern usage; abbreviations have been silently expanded, numerals spelled out, and modern punctuation and capitalization added.

Select Bibliography


British Library Additional MS 27879 (The Percy Folio). Pp. 46-52.

Editions (arranged chronologically)

Hales, John W., and Frederick J. Furnivall. 1868. See Bibliography of Editions and Works Cited.

Child, Francis James. 1884. See Bibliography of Editions and Works Cited.

Lupack, Alan. "The Marriage of Sir Gawaine." In Modern Arthurian Literature: An Anthology of English and American Arthuriana from the Renaissance to the Present, ed. Alan Lupack. New York and London: Garland, 1992, pp. 108-118. [A reprint of the reconstructed version by Bishop Percy (first published in his Reliques, 1765), in which Percy supplied from his own invention the missing portions of the surviving fragment in the Percy Folio Manuscript.]

Shepherd, Stephen H. A., ed. Middle English Romances. New York: Norton, 1995. Pp. 380-87. [I have not been able to examine a copy of this edition.]


Coomaraswamy, Amanda K. "On the Loathly Bride." Speculum 20 (1945), 391-404.

Garbáty, Thomas J. "Rhyme, Romance, Ballad, Burlesque, and the Confluence of Form." Fifteenth-Century Studies: Recent Essays, ed. Robert F. Yeager. Hamden, Connecticut: Archon Books, 1984. Pp. 283-301. [A discussion of the generic relation between ballad and romance in Wedding and Marriage.]

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