Avowing of King Arthur

General Information

(N)IMEV: 1161
Form: 16-line tail-rhyme stanzas, rhyming aaabcccbdddbeeeb
Date of Composition: c. 1375-1425
Place of Composition: Northwest England
Keywords: Animal, Bedchamber, Conquest, Forest, Friendship, Hunting, Marriage, Military Combat, Monster, Quest, Religious Figures, Sacrament, Saracen, Secular Spaces, Sexual Encounters, Siege, The Orient, Tournament

Plot Summary

Plot summary image

While staying at Carlisle, King Arthur hears of a ferocious boar in Inglewood forest and sets out with Kay, Gawain and Baldwin. When they find the beast, Arthur pledges to slay it himself and challenges his knights to make their own vows. Gawain promises to keep a vigil at the Tarne Wathelan, and Kay to ride through the forest, fighting anyone who tries to stop him. Baldwin makes three vows: not to be jealous of his wife, to deny no one food and not to fear death. Each knight rides off: the first three into the forest, and Baldwin home to his wife.

Arthur follows the boar to its lair, which is surrounded by corpses. After a bitter skirmish he ambushes the beast and slays it, butchering it expertly. Meanwhile, Kay challenges Menealfe, a knight who has abducted a maiden. Kay loses the fight and is captured, but promises that Gawain will pay his ransom. They travel to the Tarne and Menealfe requests a joust with Gawain as his payment. Gawain defeats him and, rebuking Kay for gloating, instructs Menealfe to take the maiden to Guinevere and let her decide his ransom. They rejoin Arthur and return to Carlisle together, discussing their adventures. When they arrive, Menealfe presents himself to the queen, and, after Gawain has vouched for his skill in battle, is made a knight of the Round Table.

Kay reminds Arthur of Baldwin’s vows and the king sends six knights to bar his way to the court. He defeats them all, but tells the amazed Arthur that he met no difficulties, thereby proving that he does not fear death. To test Baldwin’s second vow, Arthur sends a minstrel to his house. True to his word, Baldwin’s wife shares their food generously, welcoming all-comers into their hall. When Baldwin invites Arthur to a feast, the king tests his third vow by concealing a knight in his wife’s bed. Despite Arthur’s best efforts, Baldwin refuses to be jealous, observing that infidelity would be his wife’s choice.

A curious Arthur asks Baldwin about his vows and he relates the story behind them. While fighting in Spain, his three female servants became sexually promiscuous and killed one another out of envy: this caused all the knights to renounce jealousy. During the same campaign, his castle was besieged and one terrified knight hid in a barrel. When he was killed by a missile, the other unharmed knights vowed not to fear death. Thirdly, Baldwin tells Arthur how he broke the siege by serving all their food to an enemy messenger, convincing him that they had plenty of provisions. Thereafter, the knights vowed to deny no one food. Satisfied with these answers, the king and his knights celebrate, praising Baldwin and his wife.

From: Thomas Hahn, ed. Sir Gawain: Eleven Romances and Tales. Kalamazoo, Michigan: Medieval Institute Publications, 2000.
Manuscript: Princeton, Robert H. Taylor Collection, MS 9 (olim. Ireland Blackburn)


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Princeton University Library, MS Taylor 9 (Ireland Blackburn MS) (folio: 35r-59r)1450-60, Lancashire. Unique copy. 1152 lines.

Modern Editions

Christopher Brookhouse, ed., Sir Amadace and The Avowing of Arthur: Two Romances from the Ireland MS, Anglistica 15 (Copenhagen: Rosenkilde and Bagger, 1968)Pp. 60-96. Edited from Ireland Blackburn MS.
James A. Smith, ed., "The Avowynge of King Arthur, Sir Gawan, Sir Kaye and Sir Bawdewyn of Bretan": A Middle English Romance from the Ireland MS. (MA Thesis; Leeds University, 1938)Edited from Ireland Blackburn MS.
John Robson, ed., Three Early English Metrical Romances, Camden Society 18 (London, 1842)Pp. 57-93. Edited from Ireland Blackburn MS.
Nirmal Dass, The Avowing of King Arthur: A Modern Verse Translation (New York: University Press of America, 1987)Edited from Ireland Blackburn MS.
Roger Dahood, ed., The Avowing of King Arthur (New York: Garland, 1984)Edited from Ireland Blackburn MS.
Thomas Hahn, ed., Eleven Gawain Romances and Tales (Kalamazoo, Michigan: Medieval Institute Publications, 1995)Pp. 119-168. Edited from Ireland Blackburn MS.Available online at: http://www.lib.rochester.edu/camelot/teams/avowfrm.htm
Walter Hoyt French and Charles Brockway Hale, eds., The Middle English Metrical Romances, 2 vols (New York: Prentice-Hall, 1930; rpt. New York: Russell & Russell, 1964)Vol. 2. Pp. 605-46. Edited from Ireland Blackburn MS.