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 child said: ‘I haven’t a clue who I am, Sir, isn’t that ridiculous! But while I was in the forest my mother called me Prettyface.’

Gyngelayne was fayre of sight, – Gingalain was handsome to look at, well-proportioned and strong, with bright, intelligent eyes, despite being a bastard. His mother kept him in seclusion, away from any threat of shame or dishonour because of his illegitimacy; and because of his handsome looks she lovingly called him Prettyface. And rather na├»vely in turn, he never thought to ask his father’s name.

One day, Prettyface went into a forest to hunt deer and came across a knight lying on the ground, lifeless in a shining cocoon of bright steel. A dead knight. That child disrobed the body and dressed himself in the sturdy and expensive armour, and when he was fully armed he rode to the city of Glas, that some take to mean Glastonbury, where King Arthur was holding court. He kneeled in the hall before all the knights, greeted them courteously and correctly and said: 'King Arthur, my lord, grant me permission to say a few words, for your love.' King Arthur acceded to his request without hesitation.

'But who are you?' he asked.

The child said: 'I haven’t a clue who I am, Sir, isn’t that ridiculous! But while I was in the forest my mother called me Prettyface.'

'It is indeed ridiculous,' replied the King, 'that he who would be a knight, and fully looks the part I must say, does not even know his own name!' Then King Arthur turned to the assembled nobles.

'Now shall I give this handsome young man a name before you all,' he cried, 'for he is so fair and noble-looking; a name, by God, that is unknown even to his mother, whoever she is. Everybody shall call him the Fair Unknown, for love of me. And now you know his name.'

Story fragment recounted from: Mills, M, 1969. Lybeaus Desconus, from the Medieval manuscripts Lambeth Palace MS 306 and British Library MS Cotton Caligula A.ii. Published for the Early English Text Society by Oxford University Press. British Library MS Cotton Caligula A.ii, lines 1–72.

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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