Caledonian Road

Medieval Romance

Sir Eglamour of Artois

14th century, Middle English: 15th and 16th century manuscripts at Cambridge University Library, Lincoln Cathedral Library, British Library, Bodleian Library.

The lady sighed and climbed into the boat. Soon it was adrift upon the sea; the wind increased and carried her to a small island; it was no more than a rock.

The Erle gaf to God a vowe: 'Dowghtyr, into the see schalt thowe [thou] in a schyp alone...' – The earl vowed to God: ‘Daughter, you shall be thrown into a boat and set adrift upon the sea, alone, just you and your bastard child; and he shall have no christening.'

The lady sighed and climbed into the boat. Soon it was adrift upon the sea; the wind increased and carried her to a small island; it was no more than a rock. She went ashore, hoping that she might be able to find some habitation, but all she found were seagulls that perched and flew all around her. And as she sat with them, a griffin came and carried off her child to an unknown land.

She spent all night on the rock, amongst the seagulls, but in the morning she set sail once again. She had neither mast nor rudder and each storm was more ferocious than the last; and she went without food for six days, as the book of romance tells us. But on the sixth day she found herself carried onto a beach in Egypt. The king of Egypt stood in a tower and saw the ship come onto the sand. He commanded a squire to go and see what the wind had carried ashore.

The squire obeyed but could not understand her gestures and so returned to his king. Kneeling before him, he said: ‘Lord, there is nothing in that ship except for a lady, who stood up and looked at me.’

‘I would like to see her,’ replied the king, and made his way to the boat. There she was, and on being asked to explain how she came to be there, she rose but could not utter a word, for she was grieving so much over her child. So they led her to a chamber and fed her well. After the meal, the king asked: ‘Who are you, my little rosebud!’

She found herself able to reply: ‘I was born in Artois, and my father is lord of that country. I went one day with my maidens to the seashore; the weather was good and there was a boat there; I and my child climbed aboard.’

‘Be of good heart,’ replied the king, ‘You are my niece!’ And she laughed for joy. – The kyng sayde: ‘Make good chere, thow art my brodyr dowghtyr dere!’ For joye of hym sche lowgh.

Story fragment retold from: Hudson, Harriet, 1996, second edition 2006. Four Middle English Romances, Kalamazoo, Michigan: Western Michigan University for TEAMS. Medieval Institute Publications. The Middle English text of SIR EGLAMOUR OF ARTOIS from British Library MS Cotton Caligula A.ii.

'So where in the story before this does it say that the Earl of Artois has a brother who is the King of Egypt?' asked Quintin.

'Nowhere,' said Miranda.

'Don’t you think it should have been mentioned before, if it was important to the story? The King of Egypt would probably have been an Egyptian. I can’t really see his brother being content to live as an earl somewhere in Northern Europe.'

'A family relationship might have been mentioned somewhere in the original tale,' said Miranda. 'Perhaps it got cut out in the manuscript copies that have survived. The oldest dates to about fifty years after the original was written down, which was in about 1350. Or maybe the story was taken from one that was originally Roman or Egyptian and a principal character was changed into the Earl of Artois.'

'Do you feel as though you are clutching at straws?'

'Yes,' conceded Miranda. 'But I can't think of any other explanation.'

'I can,' replied Quintin. 'Because she is not his neice at all, it turns out. Very soon she becomes his daughter.' The prins [prince] ys comme with many a knyght, for to wynne your dowghtyr bryght, yyf your wyll be. So a voyage in an open boat is a euphamism for the journey after death, as we have guessed already, and Christabel is reborn in Egypt as the king's daughter. So perhaps, instead of being incompetent, the Medieval English author was actually brilliant and knew exactly what he was doing.'

'Or she,' said Miranda.

See for yourself

Sir Eglamour of Artois – TEAMS Middle English texts

Sir Eglamour of Artois – Wikipedia

Chivalric Romance – Wikipedia

Medieval Institute Publications – Harriet Hudson (Ed), Four Middle English Romances: Sir Isumbras, Octavian, Sir Eglamour of Artois, Sir Tryamour, Second Edition. TEAMS Middle English texts

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