Le Morte Darthur Book 13

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Capitulum i

At Pentecoste, a gentlewoman arrives on horse and asks for Lancelot who immediately prepares to follow her, even the Gwenyvar does not like it much. He comes to an abbey of nuns where he meets two cousins, Sir Bors and Sir Lionel who were in their way to Camelot. [Here is a weird line-break with no obvious reason. Comparison with the electronic file suggests a printing error rather than Mallorian/Caxtorian intention]. Twelve nuns [=> apostles] bring in Galahad who looks fair and request Lancelot to make him a knight. Lancelot agrees after making sure that the desire comes from the boy himself [=> standing formula, apparently, cf. Book III] and at Prime the next morning, he is knighted.

Capitulum ii

Galahad declines to accompany Lancelot to Camelot and so he goes back with his cousins. Back at the Table Round, the ‘Sage Perilous’ is changed:

“the barons aſpyed in the ſyeges of the round table al aboute wryten with golden letters / here ouჳt to ſytte he / and he oughte to ſytte here / And thus they wente ſoo longe tylle |<[p.614] sig.N2v> that they came to the ſege perillous / where they fond letters newely wreton of gold whiche ſaid / iiij / C / wynters / & / liiij / accomplyſſhed after the paſſion of oure lord Iheſu Criſte ouჳte this ſege to be fulfylled / thenne alle they ſaid / this is a merueyllous thynge and an aduenturous / In the name of god ſaid ſyr launcelot / & thenne accompted the terme of the wrytynge from the byrthe of oure lord vnto that day / It ſemeth me ſaith ſyr launcelot this ſege oughte to be fulfylled this ſame day“ [NB the date given – 454 A.D.]

The seat is covered and Kay has to remind Arthur of his old custom to not eat until he has learned of some adventure. Immediately, a squire comes in bringin a marvel, a Stone that swam down the river, containing a sword [this is the (nameless) Sword of Balyn, cf. II.19 including the prophecy made by Merlin]. Letters inscribed say: “Neuer ſhalle man take me hens / but only he by whos ſyde I ought to hange / and he ſhalle be the beſt knyght of the world“. Artus asks Lancelot to pull it out but Lancelot declines without ever trying and makes a prophecy himself: “Alſo who that aſſayeth to take the ſwerd and fayleth of hit / he ſhalle receyue a wound by that ſwerd that he ſhalle not be hole longe after / ¶ And I wille that ye wete that this ſame day ſhall the aduentures of the Sancgreal that is called the hooly veſſel begynne“

Capitulum iii

Arthur commands Gawain to pull out the sword; Gawain declines a gentle request but finally follows the direct commandment, failing and explaining to Lancelot that he “myghte not withſay myn vnkels wyll and commaundement” after L. renews his prophecy. Arthur repends his commandment and orders Parcival to try the sword. He fails as well and Kay allows to go to meat. Every knight assumes his place. Suddenly “alle the dores & wyndowes of the palays ſhut by them ſelf” and there

“came in a good old man and an auncyent clothed al in whyte / and there was no knyჳt knewe from whens he came / And with hym he broughte a yong knyჳt bothe on foote in reed armes withoute ſwerd or ſheld / ſauf a ſcauberd hangynge by his ſyde / And theſe wordes he ſaid pees be with yow faire lordes / ¶ Thenne the old man ſayd vnto Arthur / ſyre I brynge here a yonge knyghte / the whiche is of kynges lygnage & of the kynrede of Ioſeph of Abarimathye“

Capitulum iv

Arthur welcomes the two knights. The old knight

“ledde hym [Galahad, the young knight]vnto the ſege peryllous / where beſyde ſat ſyr Laūcelot / and the good man lyfte vp the clothe / and fonde there letters that ſaid thus this is the ſege of Galahalt the haute prynce / Sir ſaid thold knyghte / wete ye wel that place is yours / And thenne he ſett hym doune ſurely in that ſyege“

And leaves afterwards, dismissed. The knights marvel about Galahad and previous prophecies. Lancelot beholds his son [! => Galahad] and delights. Bors prophecies a great future for Galahad and many remark his resemblance to Lancelot, also: “I may wel suppoſe ſaid the quene / that ſyr Launcelot begatte hym on kynge Pelles doughter / by the whiche he was made to lye by / by enchauntement / and his name is Galahalt“ Now the seat is unveiled [logical error – Galahad already sits on the unveiled seat] and Arthur proclaims that Galahad shall achieve the Grail. Galahad is taken to the stone

Capitulum v

The Queen comes as well, and Galahad takes on the adventure:

“Syre ſaid Galahad that is no merueil / for this aduenture is not theirs / but myne / and for the ſeurte of this ſwerd I brought none with me / For here by my ſyde hangeth the |<[p.618] sig.N4v> ſcauberd / And anone he layd his hand on the ſwerd / and lyghtly drewe it oute of the ſtone / and putte it in the ſhethe“

Arthur tells him of the sword’s origin (II.19), reminding him also of the Dolorous Stroke against King Pelles “the which is not yet hole” (II.15ff.). A lady on white palfrey comes and declares that Lancelot is no more the best knight of the world from this day. Lancelot accepts it: “As touchynge vnto that ſaid launcelot / I knowe wel I was neuer the beſt / yes ſayd the damoyſel that were ye and are yet of ony ſynful man of the world” [=>humility]. The lady leaves bringing hails from king Nacien and stating that the Sancgreal appeared in Arthur’s house this day

Capitulum vi

Arthur is sure that all his knights will depart in the quest for the grail, so he puts on jousts for the last time all are together. Arthur also wants to see Galahad proved. Galahad finally accepts a spear but declines to take a shield. [cf. Genesis 15:1, Psalms 28:7 and MANY other occurences – lord/faith as shield?, NZ] He surmounts all other knights except Lancelot and Parcival.

Capitulum vii

The queen wants to look at Galahad and remarks his resemblance to Lancelot and his descent. Gwenhyvar gives his family tree:

“he is of alle partyes come of the beſt knyghtes of the world and of the hyheſt lygnage / for ſir launcelot is come but of the / viij / degre from oure lord Iheſu Cryſt / and ſyre Galahalt is of the nynthe degree from oure lord Iheſu Cryſt / therfor I dar ſaye they be the greſteſt gentilmen of the world /“

While sitting after souper, a thunderstorm blasts and

“In the myddes of this blaſt entred a ſonne beaume more clerer by ſeuen tymes than euer they ſawe daye / And al they were alyghted of the grace of the holy ghooſt / thenne beganne euery knyghte to behold other / & eyther ſawe other by theire ſemynge fayrer than euer they ſawe afore[…]
Thenne ther entred in to the halle the holy graile couerd with whyte ſamyte / but ther was none myghte ſee hit / nor who bare hit / And there was al the halle fulfylled with good odoures / and euery knyჳt had ſuche metes and drynkes as he beſt loued in this world / And whan the holy grayle had be borne thurgh the halle / thenne the holy veſſel departed ſodenly that they wyſte not where hit becam / thenne had they alle brethe to ſpeke“

Gawain laments not having seen the Grail itself and gives an oath: “I ſhalle hold me oute a twelue moneth and a day or more yf nede be / & neuer ſhalle I retorne ageyne vnto the Courte / tyl I haue ſene hit more openly than hit hath ben ſene here”. Other knights make siilar vows, whereupon Arthur is greatly displeased, as this destroys the greatest order of knighthood (the Table Round).

Capitulum viii

Arthur’s eyes fill with tears upon these thoughs; L tries to comfort Arthur; The women of the court make great sorrow and plan to accompany their knights. Then an old knight in religious clothing comes in and forbids all women on this quest. Gwenhyvar again talks to Galahad about his descent. Arthur accuses Gawain of betrayal again [for the oath] but Lancelot notes that it is now impossible to not follow the oath on which Arthur concedes. The knights gather at the round table – full 150 – and depart. At her chamber [!], Gwenhyvar accuses Lancelot of having betrayed her; he promises to return. While the knights leave, people in the street, rich and poor, weep. The knights make camp at Castle Vagon and part the next morning.

Capitulum ix

Galahad comes to a white abbey and finds Sir Bagdemagus and Sir Uwain there. He learns of an enchanted shield (white with a red cross) and offers to takes on the quest, it being said that “within this place is a ſhelde that no man may bere aboute his neck but he be meſcheued outher dede within thre dayes or maymed for euer“. But first, Bagdemagus takes the shield. He gets beaten up by a white knight and is sent back via his squire to the abbey, the shield explicitly to Galahad:

“bere this ſhelde vnto the good knyghte ſir Galahad that thow lefte in the Abbay and grete hym wel by me […] Take thow none hede of my name ſaid the knyჳte / for it is not |<[p.625] sig.N8r> for the to knowe nor for none erthely man[…]this ſhelde behoueth vnto no man but vnto Galahad”.

Capitulum x

Galahad is given the shield and departs, declining Uwain’s offered copany. He meets with the white knight and asks him about the shield, learning that:

“hit befelle after the paſſion of our lord Iheſu Criſt xxxij yere that Ioſeph of Armathye the gentyl knyghte / the whiche took doune oure lord of the hooly Croſſe att that tyme he departed from Iheruſalem with a grete party of his kynred with hym”

[One could quote the full chapter here and more, giving the full legend (story-in-story), in short: the shield was crafted to assist Ioseph, son of Ioseph, in battle against sarazens and bore a picture of Jhesus on it, veiled [-> motiv]; I. wins and the result are many heathens baptised]

Capitulum xi

(contd. Legend) On his dying bed, Ioseph’s blood gets on the shield, forming a red cross. Ioseph prophecies:

ye ſhalle neuer ſee this ſhelde but ye ſhal thynke on me / and it ſhall be alweyes as freſſhe as it is now And neuer ſhalle man bere this ſheld aboute his neck but he ſhalle repente hit vnto the tyme that Galahad the good knyჳte bere hit / and the laſte of my lygnage ſhal leue hit aboute his neck that ſhall doo many merueyllous dedes“

He also gives directions on where to put the shield and that Galahad shall take it up 15 days after becoming knight [why 15? Numbers are generally weird here…, NZ]. The white kight “vanysshed away”. He returns to the abbey with his squire, is celebrated and shown a tomb with a fiend in it.

Capitulum xii

Galahad goes to the tomb and defeats the fiend within, the fiend trying to hold him back:

“Syr Galahad the ſeruaunt of Iheſu Cryſte come thou not nyghe me / For thow ſhalt make me goo ageyne ther where I haue ben ſoo longe / But Galahad was no thynge affrayed but lyfte vp the ſtone[…]

Thenne herd he a voyſe ſay / Galahad I ſee there enuyronne aboute the ſo many angels that my power may not dere the.”

They discover a corpse of a knight and a sword in the tomb. An old man appears and explains it allegorically. Galahad knights his squire (Sir Melias de Lile) and grants his customary first reasonable request to accompany him until adventure parts them. One Monday they come to a cross saying:

“Now ye knyghtes arraunt the whiche goth to ſeke knyghtes aduenturous / ſee here / ij / wayes þt one wey defendeth the that thow ne go þt way / for he ſhalle not go oute of the way ageyne / but yf he be a good man and a worthy knyghte / And yf thow goo on the lyfte hand / thow ſhalt not lyghtely there wynne proweſſe / for thow ſhalt in this way be ſoone aſſayed /“

Melias wants to go left and Galahad finally consents, himself going right. [note paths, NZ]

Capitulum xiii

Melias comes to a meadow in a forest and takes up a crown of gold. He gets assaulted by a knight and is fatally wounded. Galahad appears and the enemy knight reappears. Galahad defeats him and another one, then takes Melias to a nearby abbey where he wants to get last rites. A former knight and now monk offers to heal Melias within seven weeks. Galahad stays for 3 days.

Capitulum xiv

Galahad decides to depart and an old man comes in explaining the last adventure: the cross was a test, the right path the “hyghe way of our lord Ihesu Cryte”, the other the ones for sinners and misbelievers. Melias parted from Galahad out of pride; he took the crown out of greed. The two knights were embodiments of those sins; Galahad defeated them because he was out of these deadly sins. [pretty standard explanation, NZ]. Galahad departs after Melias assures him he will follow. Galahad distinctly lacks a mass; after he leaves Castle Abbalouse, he comes to a church chapel, pray, and is told to go to the chapel of maydens and do away with its wicked customs.

Capitulum xv

Galahad comes to the castle, and challenges the knights inside, his shield before him. The seven brothers attack him but get beaten out, flee through the castle. Gawlahad finds many people in the castle. A priest tells him the castle’s story: the seven brethren murdered their host, Duke Lionore and took his daughter and all that passed. The daughter – long dead – prophecied seven years ago that a knight would defeat them (=Galahad). As advised, G. calls all the knights belonging to the castle’s land with a horn of gold and ivory and makes them swear to use the old customs again. Galahad learns that the seven brethren were slain by Gawain, Gareth and Uwain and departs.

Capitulum xvi

Gawain, after departing from court, comes to the abbey of the white shield and the abbey in which Melias rests. He wants to seek and ride with Galahad but a monk calls this impossible as Gawain is wicked He meets with Gareth and Uwain and they continue together, encounter the seven brothers and kill them, then depart as they lose Galahad’s trail at the Castle of Maidens. Gawain meets a hermit who tells him that he is indeed wicked and has lived mischievously:

“For certes had ye not ben ſo wycked as ye ar / neuer had the ſeuen bretheren be ſlayne by yow and your two felawes / For ſyre Galahad hym ſelf alone bete hem alle ſeuen the day to forne / but his lyuyng is ſuche he ſhal ſlee no man lyghtely“

The seven knights are allegorically explained as the seven deadly sins and Galahad as Jesus. Gawain is asked to do penance but declines and departs, meets Sir Aglovale and sir Gryflet; they part 5 days after.

Capitulum xvii

Galahad comes into a waste forest and meets with Lancelot and Parcival, not recognising each other. Galahad defeats both, a recluce comes out of a hermitage and alludes that they would not have fought if they knew each other. Galahad flees, pursued by the two but escapes. They return to the hermitage; Lancelot continues onwards and comes to a tony cross with a block of marbel near a chapel. He puts his shield on a tree and looks into the chapel, findig the door broken. Inside is a fair altar with green silk and a silver candlestick. Lancelot cannot enter and lays down on his shield afore the cross.

Capitulum xviii

Lancelot is half asleep when a sick knight comes. He laments to the lord of his sickness and asks to be blessed. The candlestick and a piece of silver come out of the chapel, bearing the Sancgreal. The knight touches it and is healed. Lancelot is unable to fully awake and is afterwars blamed for this by many but takes repentance. The knight and his squire also marvel about him and decide that “he dwelleth in ſome dedely ſynne wherof he was neuer confeſſid”. The knight takes Lancelot’s (better) weapon, shield and horse and leaves.

Capitulum xix

Lancelot awakes and hears a voice saying:

“ſyr launcelot more harder than is the ſtone / and more bytter than is the wood / and more naked and barer than is the leef of the fygge tree / therfore goo thow from hens / and wythdrawe the from this hooly place“

L leaves, finding his things gone. He repents his doings, alays having fought for worldly adventures, in quarrels right or wrong, and decides to go upon holy adventure now. He comes through a wood to a hermitage on a hill and complains of his changed fortune. The hermit tells him that he is on the contrary most blessed by god for his strength etc.

Capitulum xx

Lancelot goes on to confess everything he has done, notably “hou he had loued a quene vnmeſurably and oute of meſure longe / & alle my grete dedes of armes that I haue done I dyd for the mooſt party for the quenes ſake” and “lytel or noghte I thanked god of hit”. The hermit counsels him upon L’s promise to never go near that queen as far as it can be avoided; Lancelot agrees. The hermit now explains the voice: L is hard as stone as he does not leave his sin for any goodness god has sent; he is like an old rotten tree (wood) as there may be little sweetness where is much duelled; and he is more naked than a fig tree since the Sancgreal did not find any fruit, no good will or thought, in Lancelot (-> similie of Jesus and a tree). The hermit provides Lancelot with a new horse and armour.


Prophecies/Prediction: 2-6 (resolves Seat Perilous; Balyn's Sword), some new prophecies by Lancelot (Ib.) 7 (Grail revelation), 10ff (Legend of Ioseph)

Christianity: whole episode. Focuses on the beginning of the Grail Quest. Esp noteworthy: 7 (relation to Christ), 9 (Galahad no earthly man), 10ff (Legend of Joseph of Armathy), 12 (fiend (devil) in tomb), 13-4,16 (allegory on sins), 18-20 (Lancelot's failing and repentence)

Family ties: 7 (relation to Christ), 4 (Launcelot and Galahad, repeated later -> likeness to father)

Concepts of honour and morality: 2 (Lancelot's decline to attempt the sword), 5 (Lancelot's humility), 16 contrast 18-20 (faithfulness, sinlessness)

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