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Medieval Romance

The Romance of Sir Bevis of Hampton

13th century Anglo-Norman French | 14th century Middle English, various manuscripts, including National Library of Scotland MS Advocates 19.2.1, the Auchinleck Manuscript; Cambridge University Library MS Ff 2.38; Naples, Biblioteca Nazionale MS XIII.B.29.

When the dragon caught sight of Bevis, it began to roar and cry out so loudly that the sound was heard in hell itself.

Bevis now has a great battle to take on, with a dragon, a battle greater than any Christian man has ever undertaken before; with the exception of Sir Lancelot, who fought a firedrake, and Wade of course, but only these two – Oh, and Sir Guy, who killed a dragon in Northumberland. But Bevis must undertake a battle involving a dragon too, one that lives nearby.

Let me tell you how this dragon came to be there. There was a king in Calabria, in southern Italy, and one nearby in Apulia, and they fought together for more than forty-five years without stopping and they would accept no terms of peace. The land was destroyed by them everywhere. They took on many forms and therefore died in deadly sin and went straight to hell, where they soon became vile dragons. They fought on as dragons for more than twenty-four years and did great harm everywhere. But there was a man in that land who was full of God’s grace and he prayed to Christ that, for the love of his mother Mary, and through his providence, he might rid the country of these two dragons. And I can tell you, these dragons weren’t able to stay there any longer, but they flew into another land to wreak havoc there instead; they destroyed lands from Tuscany into Lombardy and did great harm in these places.

Then one of the dragons flew to the court of Rome and hid beneath Saint Peter’s bridge; and there he lies, I tell you. Within that city, truly, whenever that cursed beast raises his bones, then the country is terrified of being torn to pieces by him.

The other dragon flew to Cologne and lay under a hill beside that city. No one had since dared to leave its walls, for fear of this dragon. And when Sir Bevis arrived at that place, through the grace of the Son of God, on that first night he was taken to bed by the light of many torches, since darkness had fallen, and was awoken by the sound of a mournful groaning within the city:

‘Jesus Christ, have pity and mercy!’ the voice cried. ‘I am rotting, bone from bone. Jesus Christ, what shall I do?’

Bevis was very upset by it and had great pity, and in the morning he asked whose voice he had heard during the night. He was told that it was a valiant knight who had been very successful in battle, but he had met with this dragon and been poisoned by it. He was desperately ill, his flesh had swollen, his bones were rotting and he looked to be very close to death.

‘Jesus Christ!’ exclaimed Sir Bevis. ‘Can no one kill this creature?’

‘No,’ came the reply. ‘If every warrior in Christendom came to fight this dragon, he would kill them all.’

‘Ascopart, where are you?’ cried Bevis. ‘Shall we go to meet this dragon?’

‘Absolutely!’ cried the giant. ‘We shall go boldly, and by the grace of God we’ll slay this beast.’

Story fragment retold from: Fellows, Jennifer, 2017. Sir Bevis of Hampton. Edited from Naples, Biblioteca Nazionale MS XIII.B.29 and Cambridge University Library MS Ff 2.38. Published for the Early English Text Society by Oxford University Press. Fragment translated and retold from Naples, Biblioteca Nazionale MS XIII.B.29.

See for yourself

Bevis of Hampton – TEAMS Middle English text

Medieval Romance – Wikipedia

Bevis of Hampton – Wikipedia

Medieval Institute Publications – Herzman, Ronald B, Drake, Graham and Salisbury, Eve, 1999. Four Romances of England. Kalamazoo, Michigan: Medieval Institute Publications. TEAMS Middle English text series

The Middle English poem Sir Bevis of Hampton edited from Naples, Biblioteca Nazionale, MS XIII.B.29 and Cambridge, University Library, MS Ff.2.38 by Jennifer Fellows, 2017, 2 volumes, available through the Early English Text Society (EETS)

…or direct from Oxford University Press

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