Medieval Arthurian Legend

Thomas Chestre: The Fair Unknown

14th century, Middle English, British Museum, Lambeth Palace Library London, Bodleian Library Oxford, Biblioteca Nazionale Naples.

The Fair Unknown, the maiden Elaine and her dwarf rode towards the city and caught sight of a giant on one of the bridges.

One morning in June, when the day is long and the birds sing merrily, a great city came into view before them, beside a river.

‘This is not a peaceful city,’ said the maiden Elaine. A gyaunt that heght Maugys – a giant called Maugys is hereabouts and nobody can match him for strength. He is thirty fote on leynthe - He is thirty feet high!’

The Fair Unknown, the maiden Elaine and her dwarf rode towards the city and caught sight of the giant on one of the bridges.

Sey, thou ffellave in white, tell me whate arte thowe! – I say, you fellow in white!’ cried the giant as they approached. ‘Tell me who you are. If you value your health I advise you to turn back.’

‘I am a knight of King Arthur’s and I have made a vow never to turn back,’ replied the Fair Unknown.

They readied their horses and charged towards one another. Lords and ladies leaned out of windows and towers and prayed that the knight might defeat this giant. Their shields broke thunderously as they met, pieces flew everywhere, and then they fought on foot like two mighty warriors; no man can describe the blows they each gave, such was their hatred of one another. From early morning to late evening they fought, and the Fair Unknown developed such a thirst that at last he cried out: ‘Maugys! Listen! If you let me go for a drink I will grant you any request that you care to name. It will bring you no honour if I die of thirst fighting you!’

Maugys had to agree, and he let him go to the river; but as the Fair Unknown lay on the bank drinking water from his helmet, the giant gave him a stroke that knocked him into the creek. The Fair Unknown dragged himself from the mud, his armour out of place, dirty and heavy with the water pouring from it.

Be Seint Michell, nowe an Y two so light! – by Saint Michael, now I am as light as you!’ he cried. ‘Did you think I was unchristened? I shall reward you well for this baptism, you friend of fiends, by the grace of God almighty!’

Story fragment recounted from: Mills, M, 1969. Lybeaus Desconus, from the Medieval manuscripts Lambeth Palace MS 306 and British Museum MS Cotton Caligula A.ii. Published for the Early English Text Society by Oxford University Press.

See for yourself

Lybeaus Desconus – Eve Salisbury and James Weldon (Eds), TEAMS Middle English text with an introduction

Gingalain – Wikipedia

Libeaus Desconus – Wikipedia

Complete text of two 15th century Middle English manuscript copies of Thomas Chestre's 14th century Lybeaus Desconus, edited by M Mills, 1969, available through the Early English Text Society (EETS)

…or direct from Oxford University Press


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