Medieval Arthurian Legend
The Knightly Tale of Gologras and Gawain
16th century, Middle English, National Library of Scotland
'You can deny that it is you who has defeated me but affirm that it is I who has defeated you. Let us each take on the mantle of the other.'
A printed version of The Knightly Tale of Gologras and Gawain was first given to the world from 'the south gate of Edinburgh from Walter Chapman and Andrew Miller, on this the eighth day of April, 1508.' Inspiration for this poem's concluding scene is very clearly drawn from an episode of single combat between Sir Gawain and the lord of a castle in the anonymous First Continuation of Chrétien de Troyes' twelfth century Conte del Graal. The only surviving copy of the sixteenth century printed edition of this Middle Scots poem now lies in the National Library of Scotland as Advocates Library H.30.a. No manuscript version has survived.
King Arthur, returning from the Holy Land, has laid siege to the castle of a knight who owes fealty to no king. In true Celtic fashion, a resolution to the conflict is sought in the form of a succession of trials by single combat. But with no clear winner emerging from these battles, King Arthur has been forced to let his nephew, Sir Gawain, fight with the recreant lord himself, whose name is Gologras. There are great cheers among King Arthur’s retinue as Sir Gawain looks to have overcome Gologras in combat. He has forced Gologras to the ground.
Ane daggar dayntely dight that doughty has drawne... Sir Gawain has drawn his dagger, but he is now in a quandary.
‘How may I offer you your life and maintain your honour in front of all your people?’ he asks the man whose life he could take at any moment.
‘I will tell you,’ replied Gologras, and repeats a deal offered to Sir Gawain by a knight in the First Continuation of Chrétien de Troyes' Conte del Graal: ‘Let us each take on the mantle of the other. Let me lead you off as though I have gained the victory. Then I swear I shall repay your kindness and save your own honour.’
‘This is a hard thing for me to do,’ replied Gawain. ‘I shall be relying upon your word without any witness to our agreement. I have never set eyes upon you until now. But I know from our combat that you are a true knight, and so we shall do as you say, by God!’
He stood up, allowed Gologras to stand also, and they started fighting afresh. Quickly they each drew a short sword and set upon each other. Nobody suspected anything other than that the fight was for real. Then, true to their agreement, they put up their naked swords and made their way to the castle of Sir Gologras, Gologras leading Sir Gawain as though he had won the combat and was taking Sir Gawain prisoner. King Arthur groaned in despair.
The king cried out in anger! – it was pitiful to hear. He strode off to his tent, the tears streaming down his face as though his world had been destroyed. His other warriors looked grief-stricken and as black as thunder.
'The flower of all knighthood has been captured!' they all cried. 'The Round Table is dishonoured - that noble Sir Gawain should be led to a prison. Fortune has deserted us!'
The king wept many a salt tear.