Success and Succession in Sir Tryamour
Sir Tryamour has received little modern attention and therefore has not been explored as deeply as it deserves. This is an exploratory essay intended to suggest some new perspectives on the poem and encourage further scholarly interest. There are few editions or critical studies, yet the poem was apparently popular, with versions printed into the sixteenth century.1 The extant manuscript generally used for editions (Cambridge) is considered corrupt based on its irregular verse form and textual obscurities2 with which editors struggle and may account in part for the neglect. Critics may also feel that the poem lacks the resonance in the current culture it had in past centuries.
Another reason may be the author's use of stock themes and motifs seen in other romances, which might be construed as rendering the work unremarkable and inferring a lack of poetic imagination and power. But blending a number of diverse elements into an entertaining and instructive work requires skill, and Sir Tryamour is a story well told, a compendium of themes framed within the separation and reunion topos.
Two are at the core of Sir Tryamour: success and succession. Tryamour's chivalric success is related to his ultimate reunion with his father, which ensures rightful succession. The interweaving of the two themes opens and closes the poem. The king and queen are childless, so in hope of gaining an heir as reward, he
Hath made a vowe to go in to the Holy Londe
To fyght and not to flee,
That God almyghty schulde helpe them so
A chylde to gete betwene them two
That ther heyre myght bee. (Sir Tryamour 32-36)
In the final narrative stanza, Tryamour, now king and after his father's death,
Hys yongyst sone then ordeygned hee
Aftur hys fadur kynge to bee,
God grawnt hym wele to rejoyse!
Here endyth Syr Tryamowre,
That was doghty in every stowre,
And evyr wanne the gree, as the boke seys. (1711-16)3
The linking of the themes, both of which had social significance, reflects the poet's skill at narrative complexity, controlled prosodic expression, and sense of irony, which are unrecognized and underrated by some critics. Pearsall considers the poem a "skillful rehash of conventional motifs with a quite intricate plot," and that "there may not be much interest in what is going on, but at least there is always something going on."4 Schmidt says that though the romance "may not be one of the finest specimens of Middle English poetry, it certainly has its qualities and the text is not without interest."5 Judging from her extensive phonology section (longer than the poem by four pages), her chief interest is philological/linguistic. In Fellows' opinion, "stylistically Syr Tryamowre leaves much to be desired." It shares the "usual faults of the tail-rhyme romance,"6 and the stanza is "handled with monotonous irregularity."7 Bliss sees the audience for tail rhyme romance as those with "no more than average intelligence"8 and the "inarticulate lower classes"9 based on his evaluation of the form as a type of "popular" romance that contains "peculiarities of style and convention" caused by minstrel composition that require adaptation by modern readers who are accustomed to "aristocratic" works.10
It is time to reevaluate those assessments, and the study of succession and chivalric success is an excellent starting point. Tracking the bonding of the themes, which runs throughout the poem, involves examination of the issue of succession, the criteria for chivalric success, the poet's treatment of combat scenes, the development of the relationship between father and son, and their final fusion as king and heir.
That study leads to a deeper level of themes with didactic and cultural relevance, particularly one of the bedrocks of medieval society, trouthe. As Hudson notes, Sir Tryamour is "certainly moral,"11 but critical concentration on stock themes and motifs precludes examination of how that morality is expressed, and how it reflects the culture in which the poem was created and its shared concerns voiced in other romances. Through the study of characters and actions involved in the achievement of success and succession, values are revealed and society observed in what appears to be a simple tale of chivalric adventures.
The appearance of succession as a theme in fourteenth-century literature is not surprising, considering that the century began and ended with deposed kings of continuous lineage which was ended by the usurpation of the throne. Sir Tryamour begins with the king's desire for an heir, reflecting a perennial issue not only for royalty but for aristocracy and those down the social scale. Succession operates on several levels. Economically, it is a matter of protecting rightful inheritance and the retention of lands and their income. It is a double legacy: it also maintains the continuance of lineage, especially important for the monarchy and upper nobility on which sociopolitical stability rests, and extends to lower classes for familial preservation and thus transcendence over mortality.
But succession does not always guarantee security. At the upper levels, land was held from the king "in honour," and could be reclaimed. Bothwell describes how Edward III, upon taking the throne, undertook building a "new nobility" through a "conscious process of promotion"12 after the disastrous reign of Edward II. Since not all the new nobles had sufficient lands to support their elevated status, the king used a variety of methods to bring them income such as reclaiming land after existing tenancies expired, granting annuities and wardships, and arranging marriages.
The majority of lands came from forfeitures resulting from domestic politics, internal civil conflicts, war, and criminal law transgressions. A major source of grants resulted from war, particularly with France, when lands held by the enemy both overseas and in England were forfeited, and with Scotland. Literary examples are found in The Awntyrs off Arthure at the Terne Wathelyne, which criticizes the pride and greed of King Arthur's court, which frequently served as a reflection of the contemporary monarchy. The ghost of Guenevere's mother appears to her daughter and counsels her to save her soul through meekness, mercy and pity for the poor. The ghost warns Sir Gawain, who accompanies Guenevere, that "your king is to covetous," (265) and the knight, in what Shepherd sees as "self-censure,"13 asks "How shal we fare . . . that fonden to fight / And thus defoulen the folke on fele kinges londes, / And riches over reymes withouten eny right, / Wynnen worshipp in werre thorgh wightness of hondes?" (261-64).14 Later in the poem, a knight, Sir Galeron, claims Arthur has unrightfully seized his lands in Scotland "in were with a wrange wile" (421) and given them to Sir Gawain, which is settled in judicial combat in response to Galeron's challenge. After a savage battle between the equally matched knights, the king divides the lands, which are released by the knights to each other in agreement.
As with Arthur and Gawain, kings gave lands to their favorites, but resolution was not always so simple or conciliatory. Often called "evil counselors" because of the influence they wielded over the king in their own interests at the cost of monarchical stability, the favorites were embroiled in complex political situations. Factions formed and resistance created violent civil conflicts, and power shifted between king, magnates and parliament. During Edward II's reign, his favorite Gaveston was executed without trial, and the Despensers were sentenced to the same fate by a group of magnates, who charged Hugh Despenser the Elder that "By force and against the law of the land and accroaching to yourself royal power you counselled the king to disinherit and undo his lieges. . . . You are a robber and by your cruelty you have robbed this land, wherefore all the people cry vengeance upon you."15
The land given to the Despensers was repossessed and eventually distributed to Edward III's "new men." Edward's granting of lands and income to his promoted nobles met with some disapproval, as his favoring individuals continued patronage practices of former kings that were seen as going against the interests of the people. Bothwell points out that negative reaction usually came from "those who had lost out in the process,"16 but that criticism was remarkably low and Edward's "new men" were accepted as part of a program to "help maintain the household of the King's wars." The main objection was that the grants strained the nation's funds during a time of economic need.17
Perhaps the most dramatic consequence of the seizure of lands by the king occurred between Richard II and his cousin Henry Bolingbroke and their respective supporters. Although part of a more complex political battle, Richard's exile of Henry and the seizure of his ancestral lands precipitated Henry's usurpation of the throne. When Henry returned to England to reclaim his lands, Richard was first advised to "appease your enemies if possible . . . and then punish them in your own time" when he had gathered forces.18 But Henry had sufficient power and military support to besiege Richard and force him into surrender and resignation. According to Froissart, when captured, Richard "quite saw that neither force nor argument could help him, but only meekness, friendliness and plain dealing"19 might save his life, but McKisack finds that "Lancastrian propaganda overreached itself with tales of a voluntary offer to resign."20 Following Richard's resignation, articles outlining his misrule were read before an assembly of the estates to validate the deposition. Henry supplanted the young potential heir apparent, Edmund Mortimer, and became the first king from the Lancastrian branch of the House of Plantaganet.
In most romances that deal with succession, the focus is on the lack of an heir. As expressed in Chaucer's Clerk's Tale, should a lord die without an heir and his lands be given to a stranger of the king's choice, the lives of the folk would be disrupted. Walter, marquis of Lombardy, is unmarried, and a representative of the people who "wisest was of loore" (ClT 87) pleads on their behalf that Walter marry to ensure succession:
For if it so bifelle, as God forbede,
That thurgh youre deeth youre lyne sholde slake,
And that a straunge successour sholde take
Youre heritage, O wo were us alyve! (136-39).21
They also ask that he choose a wife "Born of the gentilleste and of the meeste / Of al this land, so that it oghte seme / Honor to God and yow, as we kan deeme" (131-33).
Historically, the selection of a proper wife to produce a socially appropriate heir and to cement political alliances was important, as evidenced in the many arranged marriages, like that of Richard II to Isabella, daughter of French king Charles VI, which brought about a twenty-eight year truce between the warring countries. Chaucer may be commenting on that tradition in the Clerk's Tale, when Walter submits to the people's pressure but goes against expectations and chooses a poor bride. Although Griselda proves herself worthy, it is only after perverse, tortuous testing by Walter. In Lai le Freine, the tale of a foundling raised by an abbess and seduced by a rich lord, the beloved heroine of noble character but seemingly lowly status is good enough to be the lord's mistress but not wife until her high lineage is discovered.22
Noble ladies were no less selective than lords in choosing a mate. Helen, the maiden Tryamour wins in his first joust, is just seven years old, the only heir of the king of Hungary. Upon his death, civil war breaks out in the land and Helen follows her counselors' advice to hold a tournament, the winner of which will be her lord and rule the land, though she specifies that he must be "prynce or prynceys pere, / Or ellys chefe of chyvalry" (ST 644-45).
In Ywain and Gawain, Alundyne is left defenseless against impending attack by Arthur when her husband is killed by Sir Gawain who, ironically, replaces him as lord, although not without machinations. And, like Helen, Alundyne needs to be assured of Ywain's noble status. She asks whether "he be cumen of gentil kyn" (1048) and is told "so gentil knight have ye noght sene— / He es the Kings son Uryene" (1055-56).23 This knowledge, along with her desperate need for a lord and protector, helps overcome her resistance to marrying her husband's killer.
In Havelok, both the hero and wife are fatherless heirs who have been disinherited by malevolent guardians and forced into marriage with each other. Goldeboru is miserable over being wedded to an apparent pauper far beneath her station and falls in love with him only after she learns of his royal lineage and future reign. Havelok restores their respective kingdoms, and he and Goldeboru produce many heirs (fifteen!), all of whom become kings and queens.24
Succession becomes complicated when there is only a female heir. Some have fathers and others are parentless, but sooner or later all need a husband to rule their people, protect their lands and ensure succession. Husbands for female heirs are often obtained through combat arranged by their father. After winning his own mother in a joust called by her father (his grandfather) and marrying her, Sir Degaré meets and falls in love with the beautiful daughter and only heir of a deceased rich baron. He defeats an unwanted suitor who has been attacking the maiden's court until all her male retainers are dead and she is attended only by women, and he wins the lady and her lands.25
Sir Amadace, impoverished by excessive largesse, also wins his wife, the daughter of a king, in a joust called by her father. But Amadace has been helped by the spirit of a corpse he buried with his last coins. They agree to divide equally whatever Amadace wins, and the ghost eventually appears and demands not a share of the knight's wealth but half of his wife and infant son. Reprieve comes when the lady offers herself and child so that Amadace will keep his oath and thus preserve his honor. When her father dies soon thereafter, Amadace becomes lord of all his lands, towns and people and is crowned king, his own succession assured by his son.26
Problems can arise even after inheritance or succession. In Ywain and Gawain, a great lord dies with two unmarried daughters as heirs. The elder sister immediately goes to the king's court to claim all her father's lands, and the younger sister sees that her only chance to gain the lands is through judicial combat. The king and court know that the elder sister is wrong to refuse any land to her sister and to wish that "als a wreche ay sal sho lyf" (3440). The younger sister, who the king feels is in the right, offers to compromise in order to save bloodshed in battle, but her sister insists on the judicial combat. After a savage and indecisive battle it is settled by the king, who divides the land in half, with the younger sister holding her land as tenant in fealty to her sister to assuage the elder girl's anger at this decision. The king tells the younger to love her sister as her lady, and the other to love the younger as is befitting and honorable. The poet claims that this is the first instance of partible inheritance in England, and institutes the division of lands between sisters (3767-72).27
Of the literary solutions to childlessness and subsequent lack of an heir, one of the most realistic is found in Sir Orfeo. When his wife is abducted by the king of Faërie, Orfeo gives up his crown in grief and goes into the wilderness. He tells his peers that should they hear of his death, "Make you than a parlement, / And chese you a newe king" (Sir Orfeo 216-17).28 In the end, Orfeo returns and names his faithful steward as his successor. Falk suggests that at the time of Edward II's deposition, the idea that parliament had the right to depose and appoint kings had "been in the air for a long time."29 The legality of the deposition procedure is cloudy, but ultimately Edward resigned, reportedly under the threat of the disinheritance of his children.30 Nevertheless, Edward II's deposition provided precedent when Richard II was deposed. However, Edward was succeeded by his son, while Richard's crown was ultimately usurped by Henry based on his ambiguous claim through distant lineage. Thus Orfeo's instructions to his peers echoes political ideas at the time of the poem's composition, estimated to be in the early fourteenth century, and foresees parliament's ability to select a successor out of direct lineage.
In Sir Gowther, unlike Orfeo's devotion to Heurodis despite their childlessness, the duke suspects that his wife is barren and plans to replace her in order to produce an heir. In desperation over losing her marriage and status, the wife prays for a child, but her prayer is reckless and results in the birth of a demon son sired by a devil.31 King Ardus in Sir Tryamour fares somewhat better, as he prays for a child and pledges to go crusading in the hope that his plea will be answered. And it is, as his heir is conceived unknown to the queen and king before he leaves for the Holy Land. But the fulfillment of succession is held in suspense until the denouement, despite the interaction between father and son throughout the tale, neither aware of their relationship, and is interwoven with Tryamour's betrothal to the young heiress he wins in combat.
Despite happy endings, in all these tales there are many painful tribulations, abandonments, fractured relationships, and moral tests. These literary examples are representative of romances that intend to entertain and instruct through the examination of moral and cultural concerns, which may include social matters such as status; marital and family relations; chivalric values, especially the proper use of prowess; political issues such as counsel and right rule; and didactic elements, many of which are aspects of the overarching concept of trouthe that encompasses fidelity, loyalty, sincerity and veracity, integrity, oathkeeping, fairness, justness and innocence, moral soundness and nobility of character, and honor. All of these are addressed in Sir Tryamour, some directly and others more subtly, seen through the thematic lens of success and succession that drives the plot.
The criteria for Tryamour's success is set forth clearly by Helen, the king's young daughter whose land breaks out in civil unrest immediately upon her father's death and subsequently needs a strong leader. He must be a "nobull knyght" (637) "that men myght drede and dowte" (639) through military might in order to rule Helen's land "wyth gode ryght" (638). In addition, he should be a "prynce or prynceys pere, / Or ellys chefe of chyvalry" (644-45). He must be a just and mighty ruler, a leader feared and respected by men, and of noble lineage or superlative prowess. All this is to be proven through combat.
Sir Tryamour appears to be dominated by battle scenes, including tournaments and jousts, challenges and judicial combat, and sieges and attacks. Hudson finds that the attention to fighting in Sir Tryamour distinguishes it from other treatments of separation and reunion plots,"32 but the poet's handling of the combat scenes is equally distinguishing. Tryamour's joust for the lady Helen is notable for the lengthy catalog of the hero's opponents, ten in all according to Hudson.33 They are named and characterized which personalizes the scene, and the roster of mighty knights enhances Tryamour's prowess by defeating so many doughty men, but the individual encounters are briefly described with little or no graphic detail.
The lack of bloodshed in depicting jousts is not unusual. Tournaments were spectacular events, games for the elite, and by the fourteenth century included the tournament à plaisance, which was fought with blunted weapons rather than the more dangerous tournament à outrance that developed out of the twelfth- and thirteenth-century mêlée.34 Since the purpose of tournaments was to hone military skill for wartime, the goal was not to kill but defeat the opponent and perhaps take him and/or his horse for ransom.35 When Amadace jousts with the king for his daughter, "ther he wanne full mecul honure, / Fild and frithe, toune and towre" (Sir Amadace 535-36), though this may be something of a romance exaggeration.
The romances reflect the pageantry of the tournament; the cry is called, gaily dressed knights eager to prove their strength arrive, spectators gather, and the jousts begin. The action is energetic and violent: shields and spears break, swords clash, helms are dented, and knights knocked off their horses, usually with little or no bloody detail. There is the occasional spot of gore, as when Launfal strikes Sir Valentyne in their challenge joust so that "hors and man bothe deed were, / Gronyng wyth grysly wounde (599-600)."36 The Tryamour-poet depicts the joust for Helen without graphic detail except for one encounter, when Tryamour gives Sir Asseryn such a stroke that "The blode braste owt at hys eerys / And hys stede to grownde he berys" (790-91), although this is rather restrained considering the length of the episode and number of combats. Instead, he uses phrases (that delight the lover of Middle English) to paint memorable pictures, like the knight who receives "soche a chopp / That he wyste not, be my toppe, / Whethur hyt were day or nyght" (763-64), or the duke who falls with his horse "toppe ovyr tayle!" (822). So the absence of bloody jousting scenes in Sir Tryamour is unremarkable, but it becomes meaningful in other types of battles, such as attacks on protagonists, and challenge and judicial combats.
When Sir James and his men attack Tryamour, who has removed his armor after the joust, despite aid from Ardus and Sir Barnard, Sir James gives him a "wyckyd wounde / Thorowowt the flanke" (887-88). Tryamour avenges himself by casting Sir James to the ground with a deadly blow to the head, but he bleeds so "byttyrly" (897) that he quickly leaves and returns home to his mother. She "sorowed in hur wede / When sche sawe hur sone blede" (904-05) and sends for the doctor to "stawnche the chyldys blode" (912). This profuse bleeding compared to its absence in the others despite their severe wounds is intended to evoke sympathy for the hero, a victim of a vengeful assault, unarmed and outnumbered (until help arrives).
The same method of intensifying sympathy is seen in the ambush of Margaret and Sir Roger by Marrok and his men, which is arguably the most heinous (and to many) interesting episode in the poem. The sense of danger and fear, bravery, and unjust death are palpable, and sympathy and outrage are evoked within a few swift stanzas. Lacking armor and badly outnumbered with only his dog to aid him, Sir Roger holds his own against the attackers, smiting them "on the hede / That to the gyrdyll the swerde yede" (307-08), while they "hewe on hym full boldely" (304) as if "they were wode" ("mad"; 310). When Marrok thrusts his spear through Sir Roger's body from behind, "Faste then can he blede" (336), and Sir Roger falls to the ground and dies. Those in the battle receive fatal wounds, forty slain by Sir Roger, but the only vision of blood is his; the group slashes him so that "on eche syde then sprong the blode / So sore on hym they dud smyte" (311-12), which enhances the brutality of the treacherous attack on an innocent victim who gives his life to protect the pregnant queen. She sorrowfully bids him farewell: "Roger, Y see the blede. / Allas who may me wys and lede?" (379-80). True-Love tries to heal his master by licking the wounds "tyll he stanke" (388), the aroma of blood drifting into the air around the audience.
Compare, for example, the attack in Havelok on the hero and his family who are dining at the home of Bernard, the "beste man of al the toun" (1750) for protection overnight, especially of Goldeboru. The episode is 164 lines filled with narrative flourishes and details of each combat, such as the twenty villains Havelok dispatches before help arrives, during which he is wounded so that "the blod ran of his sides / So water that fro the welle glides" (1850-51). Nevertheless,
He broken armes, he broken knes,
He broken shankes, he broken thes;
He dide the blod there renne dune
To the fet, rith fro the crune—
For was ther spared heved non;
He leyden on hevedes ful god won,
And made croune breke and crake
Of the broune and of the blake. (1902-09)
In the morning, the corpses
Ilc on other wirwed lay
Als it were dogges that weren henged;
And summe leye in dikes slenget;
And summe in gripes bi the her
Drawen ware, and laten ther. (1921-25)
Contempt for the attackers is justified, though the prosody is extreme in its gory details, perhaps intended to thrill the audience. By comparison, the wrathful degradation of Sir Roger's body by Marrok needs only a few simple lines to present one of the most memorable actions in the poem: "Thryes he styked hym thorowowt, / Of hys dede he had no dowte. / Allas that ylke day!" (355-57). The poet trusts his audience to respond with indignation and pity, and allows them to form their own visuals.
The savage depictions in Havelok are consistent throughout the poem and set its tone. In the end, when Godard, who murdered Havelok's young sisters and seized Denmark is tried and sentenced to be flayed before hanging, the process is described in gruesome detail:
Sket cam a ladde with a knif
And bigan rith at the to
For-to ritte and for-to flo,
And he bigan for-to rore
So it were grim or gore,
That men mithe thethen a mile
Here him rore—that fule file! (2493-99)
Similarly, the reserved treatment of combat is continuous in Sir Tryamour, with one surprising and pivotal exception: Tryamour's battle with Burlond. Throughout the poem, violence and brutality have been conveyed effectively but with restraint, so that the savagery with which Tryamour kills Burlond is a shocking contrast. Burlond is a formidable opponent, but as acknowledged by the crowd, Tryamour is his match in prowess. Burlond's advantage is his size: he is a giant, although this is only apparent when Tryamour cuts him down to his own level.37
The fighting is fierce between the two, who are of equal strength but not honor. When Tryamour drops his sword and asks for its return, Burlond replies, "Telle trewly what thou hyght, / And why thou chalangyst that lady bryght, / And take thy swerde the too" (1522-24). Tryamour considers it a "covenaund" (1525) which, as an element of trouthe, must be kept. But when Tryamour reveals himself as the killer of Burlond's three brothers, Burlond breaks the agreement and refuses to return Tryamour's sword. However, Burlond slips as he is about to attack the defenseless knight, which gives Tryamour the chance to grab his sword and literally hack the giant to bits:
He smote Burlond of be the kneys
And hewe hys leggys all in pecys
Ryght as he schulde ryse.
"A lytull lower, syr," seyde hee,
"And let us small go wyth thee;
Now are we bothe at oon assyse!" (1552-57)
Burlond continues to fight on his stumps, but Tryamour cuts off his head and feet, killing him. Though bloodless, the imagery is a grisly departure from previous comparatively subtle depictions, and the poet has shown too much control to attribute the deviation to ineptness. A close analysis suggests a deliberate purpose for the sudden contrast, which may have been constructed to heighten the impact of the final combat scene.
The motives for Tryamour's ambitious adventure seeking are clear: primarily to win renown and become the knight who can rule Helen's land, which has been beset by civil war and hostile siege. The portrayal of the combat is consistent with the restrained treatment of similar scenes, until Burlond's breach of trouthe. Then the carnage begins, demonstrating that Tryamour can "rewle hur londe wyth gode ryght" (638) and deliver justice, albeit harshly. Defeating Burlond proves that he is "mekyll of mayne" (1574) and can inspire "drede and dowte" (639) in front of the people whom he has been chosen to lead, and the barons acknowledge him as their liege lord "be the comyns assent" (1584). He thus fulfills all the criteria originally set by Helen and her advisors; although Tryamour is unaware of those conditions, the audience is not and watches Tryamour succeed in meeting them.
Burlond deserves punishment and death, but could that not have been accomplished in a more chivalric manner? Another key to Tryamour's ferocity may be his desire to protect his "ryght" (1475) to the prize he has won. He has not previously displayed battle fury but has maintained control. Here, however, threatened with having the rights seized, he passes into frenzy beyond concern over rescuing the land from siege and a barbaric ruler, and the lady from a monstrous husband.
Fellows sees the episode as "savage humour,"38 but it must be wondered whether the audience, like Helen, laughed at seeing Burlond cut off at the knees, and whether the author intended it as humor or savagery. In his study of the Chester plays, Diller notes that the derision of peasants, which is considered comic by critics, may be more humorous to modern audiences than to medieval,39 which is applicable to many scenes in Middle English works, such as the dismemberment of Burlond. Such mockery may be the poet's commentary on the perpetrators as well as on the victims. Helen, like Tryamour, may have the capacity to be as savage as Burlond, so the sudden appearance of such brutality reflects another side of both combat and character.
When Burlond slips in the mud, Tryamour "wylyly (1548) grabs his sword, goes to Burlond and "servyd hym on the newe gyse" (1551). The word "gyse" might easily slip by as a glib taunt if glossed "manner (i.e., with sword)" as does Hudson, so that the line would read "and served him in the new manner" and be taken as inconsequential. However, Fellows' proposed gloss, "and tricked him out in the latest fashion," adds another interpretive dimension. If, as she suggests, this is intended as a "grim joke,"40 it adds to the cruelty of Tryamour's behavior, which is not in keeping with the knightly honor associated with trouthe.
Being tricked out in the new fashion of knightly and civilian dress met with disapprobation. Extravagant styles for both men and women were satirized in complaint verse, and Robbins reports "there is a considerable body of literature on these overdressed braggarts."41 The Simonie-poet reports that knights are "disgysed, so diverselych idight, / That no man may knowe a mynstrel from a knyght" (C 297-98).42 And "Huff! A Galaunt" tells that "Butt galauntt bachelers ther be fele, / Theyre gownys be sett with plytys fele; / To schortt yt ys theyre kneys to hele" (17-19),43 recalling Chaucer's fashionable Squire's garb: "Short was his gowne, with sleeves longe and wyde" (GP 93).
Styles of knightly arms and every piece of armor and protective gear were under seemingly constant innovation and change. Though some designs improved function, they also became more ornate, with decorations such as costly silk coverings. New styles were generally for wealthier knights who could flaunt their display of finery and "conspicuous consumption."44 Not everyone kept up. Sir Robert de Bures is seen in a monumental brass (c. 1331) "equipped in a somewhat old fashioned style."45 Effigies became more opulent as the fourteenth century progressed and along with costly stained glass windows in churches and religious houses and other means of heraldic display, all were seen as "worldly vanity" by disapproving moralists.46 The lack of a specific date for Sir Tryamour makes it nearly impossible to identify "the new style" Tryamour plans for Burlond, though remodeling the giant's body with a sword to keep up with fashion is indeed a grim joke.
Tryamour's secondary motive for chivalric errantry is a wish to find his father, which can only be done after he has accomplished his primary goal. The sequence is plainly stated. When Tryamour asks his mother about his father, she tells him "wele schalt thou wytt / When thou haste done that thou hett" ("promised"; 1043-44). He agrees and sets off to speak with his "lemman" (1047) but travels to Aragon (while Helen is presumably in Hungary) to seek and see adventures, which is the starting point of his quest for renown.
As has been noted, there is no mention in the text of Tryamour making a promise, but it is reasonable to suppose that by winning the joust Tryamour is implicitly committed to fulfilling its purpose of finding a "lorde to rewle and to lede" (635) Helen's land. Tryamour is young and inexperienced when he wins, referred to frequently as "chylde" ("youth"), so honing his prowess and gaining fame through adventures would prepare him for the military function of lordship.
Tryamour's second round of errantry occurs after he saves King Ardus from the attack by the emperor of Germany who seeks revenge for the death of his son, Sir James. When Tryamour defeats Moradas, the emperor's champion, both he and the king are treated with honor, and Tryamour wins great renown. The king offers to make Tryamour his heir "of londe and of lede" (1269), but Tryamour refuses, saying that they may talk about it at a later time, and asks only for a steed so that he may travel to other lands, "More of awnturs for to here / And who dothe beste yn dede" (1274-75). His actions are essential to the tightly woven plot, since they eventually lead him to Hungary, Helen, and finally success and succession. At this point in the tale the audience might think that Tryamour has earned enough skill and fame. Nevertheless, he goes to "every londe, ferre and nere, / Where he myght of awnturs here" (1291-92). He wins the victory at every tournament, is considered the best of all, and earns a great name wherever he goes.
Seeking adventures for self-aggrandizement is criticized in some contemporary literature, like Ywain and Gawain. The hero becomes so absorbed in traveling the circuit and winning glory and renown that he forgets to return to his wife on the appointed day and loses her love and his lordship. He spends the rest of the poem learning through a series of adventures and combats how to use his prowess for the good of others. He sheds his old identity to do so, and emerges morally and socially enlightened so that he can regain his place and status. He must also learn to keep trouthe by honoring oaths, a recurring didactic element in many romances and an issue of great cultural concern as the basis of feudal relationships shifted from word as bond to economic contracts and agreements. The importance of keeping promises is seen in Sir Tryamour, when Burlond breaks his covenant with Tryamour to return his sword if he identifies himself, similar to the promise he makes to the brothers in order to pass into Hungary. Revealing his name is risky, as it identifies him as an enemy; but it also allows him to take pride in his victories and flaunt his renown. His most crucial commitment is known to the brothers, who try to stop him from saving Helen: "He hath hur socowre hett" (1378).
Tryamour keeps his promises, but does he pass the self-aggrandizement test? The answer is cloudy, since he appears to use his prowess in service to others at times, and out of self-interest at others. His first joust is clearly for personal gain: to measure his strength against the "sage" (693) and to win the lady if "hyt wolde gayne" (673). His encounter with the foresters results from his poaching, and several incidents arise from situations connected with his use of prowess, like the attack by Sir James, jealous of Tryamour's victory at the joust, and the battle with the brothers who seek revenge for Moradas' death and attempt to keep him from challenging their other brother, while his adventure-seeking travels are strictly to build his reputation. But he defends King Ardus from the emperor's siege, which he takes on since he killed Sir James. His final combat, to save Helen from Burlond, may be seen as chivalric or selfish, and perhaps both.
Pragmatically, all of Tryamour's chivalric actions and resultant success achieve one goal: to qualify him as the king of Hungary. Although he would be ultimately serving the people as a just and powerful ruler (compared to Burlond), that motivation must be supposed since it is not articulated in the text, so it is possible to read the poem as justifying the gaining of glory through prowess, unlike the criticism found in Ywain and Gawain. That is, until the battle with Burlond.
In Ywain and Gawain, Ywain also battles a giant, under circumstances similar to Tryamour's. Harpin of the Mountain desires the daughter of Gawain's sister, as Burlond does Helen. Having been rejected as a suitor, Harpin plans to give the girl to his foulest servant to take her maidenhead, then "Thar sal none other lig hir by / Bot naked herlotes and lowsy!" (2403-04). Both giants have besieged their victims' lands and killed their retainers. Harpin has slain two of Gawain's sister's sons and holds the other four in torture and under threat of death. Out of loyalty and love for his close friend Gawain, Ywain agrees to meet the giant in combat.
The battle between Ywain and Harpin, who is clad only in a bull's hide and armed with the iron bar with which he beats the captive sons (his dwarf helpers use whips), starts with Ywain holding his own but succumbing to repeated blows so that he falls over his saddlebow. His loyal lion (reminiscent of Sir Roger's True-Love) rips the flesh from Harpin's body so that "al was bare unto bane" (2470). When Ywain regains his strength, he cuts off Harpin's cheek and cleaves off his shoulder so that "both his levore and his hand / Fel doun law open the land" (2479-80). When Ywain spears him through the heart, Harpin falls "als it had bene a hevy tre" (2484). Although Ywain partially dismembers Harpin, he does not mock him as Tryamour does Burlond, although Harpin's atrocities are far worse. Nor do Gawain's sister, her family and company; they express joy and mirth at Ywain's victory but do not laugh at his opponent's humiliation.
Both Ywain and Tryamour have the same goal: to prove themselves worthy knights and lords. Ywain fights Harpin to save his friend's family with no thought of personal gain; he rejects the lands and wealth they offer him to undertake the battle. During his transformation, Ywain becomes renowned as one who "helpes al, in word and dede, / That unto him has any nede" (2805-06). Tryamour's battle with Burlond benefits others, although there is reward with victory: the retention of the prize he won at his first joust. Tryamour is remembered in the final narrative lines of the poem as one who "was doghty in every stowre, / And evyr wanne the gree, as the boke seys" ("combat"; "victory"; 1715-16).
As Hudson notes, in Sir Tryamour there is little change in social status of the characters47 and, it can be added, development of moral character. All remain static: some exemplary, like Sir Roger and Sir Barnard, and others negative, like Marrok and Burlond. Those who are somewhat complex with strengths and weaknesses, like Tryamour and Ardus, are not forced to recognize, confront or correct their flaws. Perhaps their failure to do so, which prevents growth, is part of the poet's didacticism. If the poem is considered the story of Tryamour's maturation, the only value he develops is prowess, which forces reconsideration of his attitude that may have initially seemed insignificant or routine.
His mockery of Burlond is foreshadowed in his hubristic laughter at the brothers for guarding the pass in hope of finding him and avenging Moradas' death. His obsession with renown overshadows concern for others; though he may be doing a good deed, it may be for the wrong reason. Prior to fighting Moradas, he is knighted by Ardus which vies with his original intent of rescuing the king from the emperor's siege. During the battle he fights fiercely, "But evyr in hys hert he thoght, / Today was Y maked knyght!" (1235-36) and how if he kills his opponent he will "wynne my schone" ("spurs"; 1238), an idiom signifying that a newly made knight has performed a gallant deed.48 Though he expresses fear for Helen as he sets out to meet Burlond in combat, his priorities shift when the giant asks him "Why thou chalangyst that lady bryght" (1523); Tryamour replies, "Y wanne thys lady in a stowre, / Wyth tonge as I the telle!" (1529-30), commodifying the lady, her lands and his lordship.
With that in mind, the ghoulish slaying of Burlond may be viewed as a commentary on glory seeking and by extension the acquisitiveness that motivates Tryamour's need for renown, the desire for lordship. The thirst for status, property and wealth was a common target of moralists who characterized the period as a "wicked age," the abuses of which were grounded in greed, a time when "pride is clepud honeste, / and coueityse wisdom. / richesse is clepud worthynes" ("Abuses of the Age II" 5-7).49 Once hints of criticism are suspected in Sir Tryamour, other peculiarities add to the possibility of social critique, beginning with Tryamour and his father.
Father and Son
The relationship between Tryamour and King Ardus is intensely ironic as they cross paths throughout the tale without knowing each other's identity. In the three-day tournament for Helen, they first fight on the same side and then oppose each other, with Tryamour the victor. In the last joust, Tryamour avenges the attack on Ardus by Sir James, then the king comes to Tryamour's aid when Sir James ambushes him after the jousting has ended and is slain by the hero. Tryamour defends the king when he is besieged by Sir James' father, the emperor of Germany, who believes the king and Tryamour have killed his son. Tryamour defeats the emperor's champion, Moradas, and the king is not heard of again before the denouement.
Until the end of the tale, the two men are strangers and all their encounters are in combat situations, yet they form a friendship that will enable a father/son bond, based on a seemingly instant and instinctive connection. The first sign is Tryamour's displeasure at seeing the king unhorsed by Sir James during the joust, though no reason is given for Tryamour's reaction.50 Again inexplicably, the king feels "mekyll grefe" (874) when he sees Sir James fighting with the youth "that was hym leve and dere" (876).
When King Ardus is besieged by the emperor, he "trystyd on Tryamowre" (1026) for defense but couldn't find him. More irony: Tryamour has wandered into Aragon in his search for adventure. He is caught poaching the king's deer which, had his identity had been known, would have entitled him to hunt legally. His prowess in killing the foresters who demand his right hand as penalty leads him to the king, so they are brought together in a Dickensian coincidence. The king is so happy to see Tryamour that he kisses him and cries (perhaps from relief rather than affection). Tryamour undertakes the challenge, apparently out of gratitude for Ardus' previous aid, guilt for the "grete blame" (1154) the king says he has suffered on his account, and Tryamour's acceptance of the responsibility for Sir James' death. During the respite between the siege and the combat with Moradas, Tryamour and the king enjoy time together, hunting and hawking, and presumably getting to know each other.
King Ardus' desire for an heir is infused with irony from the beginning when he takes Marrok's advice that it would be unjust to accept a bastard as an heir "but he ware of yowre kynne" (225) and the king exiles his own unborn son. Fellows reports that noblemen often acknowledged their illegitimate sons, who might also have inheritance rights.51 Since the king is unable to find his wife and unborn child after he realizes Marrok's treachery, he thinks he has no heir and unknowingly names his own son as his heir for defending him against the emperor's attack. Tryamour's postponement of the offer ironically foreshadows their eventual reunion when the king accepts Tryamour's invitation to his wedding as a guest.
Perhaps the greatest irony is King Ardus' questionable suitability as a father figure. He is introduced as a "nobull man and of grete renown" (14). The latter is true, but how noble is the king? His first act, going on crusade, seems admirable, since one of a knight's duties was to protect the church. It may also appear self-serving since he hopes to receive an heir in return, but from its inception the crusade was based on reward, first spiritual in the form of indulgences. And realistically, crusading knights also could gain wealth by plundering. According to DiMarco, by Chaucer's time crusading to the Holy Land was no longer essential for exemplary knighthood. However, the ideal persisted,52 so the king's crusading would have seemed natural to the audience.
They would also have been aware that his next action, allowing himself to be deceived by Marrok, shows a grave character flaw. There is a blast of irony in Ardus' distrust of Margaret, whom he loves because she is "trewe as stele" (27). What Ramsey sees as "gullibility"53 is a breach of trouthe in Ardus' lack of faith in his wife and his fidelity to their marriage commitment. It also runs counter to one of the primary criteria of the good ruler: "cheesith eek good men, and away shove / The wikkid whos conseil is deceyvable" (Regiment of Princes 4940-41).54 The warning is persistent in complaint and other literature of the period, not surprisingly considering the "evil counselors" that plagued the monarchy.
In other romances, good rulers are often extolled not only for their renown and prowess, but for making and keeping "gode lawes" (Havelok 28), maintaining peace, and protecting their people. Nothing similar is said about Ardus. Instead, he disrupts the royal equilibrium by exiling the queen without explanation, an act that meets with sorrow and confusion by the people and shows his weakness as chief justiciar, one of a monarch's primary roles.
Marrok's accusation and testimony rests on his own word with no witnesses or physical proof. A very similar situation occurs in The Erle of Tolous when two knights assigned by the emperor to protect his wife fall in love with her, each unsuccessfully trying to seduce her. Like Marrok, they escape discovery and punishment as traitors through remorseful plaints to their intended victim. They then set up a scenario in which it appears that a young boy has slept with her; they call the household as witnesses and kill the hapless youth before he can speak. With such witnesses and evidence, the lady is imprisoned as a traitor despite her denial and is vindicated only in judicial combat.55
To his credit, Ardus punishes Marrok (albeit posthumously) with public humiliation and hanging, and honors Sir Roger with a noble burial. However, he blames Marrok's "false tales" (576) for causing Sir Roger's death and Margaret's wrongful exile, not his own lack of judgment in readily believing them. He should have followed the advice offered in "Treuth, Reste, and Pes":
Yif suche a tale-tellere were,
To a kyng apayre a mannys name,
The kyng shulde bothe partyes here,
And punysche the fals for defame. (17-20)56
But the king does not hear Margaret's side; "No lenger he wolde gyf hur respyte / Nor no word he wolde speke hur wyth" (232-33), which the poem's narrator considers "grete synne" (234).57
Ardus acts honorably by defending Tryamour against Sir James; then later, when under siege, he claims to the emperor's emissary that he did not slay Sir James, which is true, but also that he "was not in present, / Nor wyth hys wylle, nor wyth hys assent" (997-98), which is not true, and arranges a combat to settle the matter. Perhaps having given up hope of finding Tryamour to act as his champion, when Ardus hears that a poacher has slain nine of his foresters who were attempting to administer the king's law, he expresses no concern over their deaths or the need to punish their killer. Rather, he admires the miscreant's prowess, and since he has "mystur of soche a man" ("need"; 1109) sends knights to lure him to the court, unaware it is Tryamour. Although his need to attract a strong defender of his land outweighs pursuing a poacher, justice should have first been considered and then waived for the ultimate good.
Ardus' motives for knighting Tryamour prior to the combat are ambiguous. Fellows offers the pragmatic explanation that an unknighted man technically could not lead troops in battle.58 Ardus may also have hoped that knighthood would appeal to Tryamour's passion for renown and motivate him to prove his knighthood through victory. And it does, as it is paramount in Tryamour's mind during the battle.
Ardus also names Tryamour his heir: "Tryamowre, Y make the myn heyre, / And for me thou schalt fyght!" (1193-94). Tryamour assures Ardus to "have thou no drede," (1195) as he trusts God will stand with the right. Two interpretations of Ardus' motives are possible, depending on one word: "And." If taken as a conjunction, the king makes Tryamour his heir and thereby expects the youth to defend him in return. Or, if "And" is read as "If," the offer is conditional; Tryamour will be the king's heir if he fights for him. This would explain the more formal pronouncement after Tryamour defeats Moradas: "Tryamowre, Y make the myn heyre / Of londe and of lede" (1268-69), which is irrevocable and will be held for Tryamour until he wishes to accept. Thus the irony is completed at the denouement; when Ardus acknowledges Tryamour as his son, he validates the inheritance and succession he has already conferred.
In Ramsey's opinion, Ardus "looks good" compared to characters like Burlond and Marrok.59 He supports this faint praise by minimizing the king's faults which he perceives as "gullibility" in believing his wife has been unfaithful, his inability to defeat Tryamour in the tournament, and his "impotence" in facing the emperor's siege. These are offset by questionably apt virtues: faithfulness, humility, "a certain amount of intelligence" and "a sense of justice."60 Ramsey's portrait hardly recommends Ardus as a father figure.
He suggests other potential role models including the emperor of Germany and Moradas and his two brothers, though he points out their limitations as well as their strengths, and eliminates Burlond and Marrok. He sees Sir Roger as "symbolically a father to Tryamour" (164), which is true only in his protection of the unborn child. It is unfortunate that he did not survive, for he would have been an excellent role model. Ramsey fails to consider Sir Barnard, to whom Hudson gives brief recognition as a father figure. A similar situation is seen in Sir Gowther. The hero's biological father is a devil and his nominal father dies from grief over Gowther's heinous acts. During his penitential phase, Gowther is fostered by an emperor, whom critics seldom mention as the hero's father figure; they see Gowther trading his biological father for God. However, Gowther considers the emperor, whose daughter he weds, as his lord and "fadur" (705). Tryamour's foster father, a generous and noble man, gave him and his mother shelter and support in a loving environment, and it may be the final irony that he would have been a more positive figure for Tryamour than Ardus.
Union and Reunion
The composition of the separation and reunion topos that frames Sir Tryamour is threefold: the king and queen, Tryamour and his father, and Tryamour's marriage to Helen, upon which the other two depend. Together and in sequence they lead to the denouement of succession through success, but each has aspects that continue to cast shadows on the characters and relationships.
Although the poem is ostensibly about Sir Tryamour and the plot turns on his martial exploits, the major separation and reunion is between Ardus and Margaret. They are apart so long that when they sit together at the wedding feast of Tryamour and Helen, he has only a vague memory of her appearance and must be given a clue by Margaret: "Some tyme was ye cowde me kenne" (1646), and there is still no immediate recognition or reunion until she tells him her tale.
Their reunion is joyous but baffling. When Margaret tells Ardus about her life since she had been banished, the king does not do the same. He gives no explanation for her exile and takes no responsibility for the separation caused by his acceptance of Marrok's treacherous advice. Nor does he comfort her with the knowledge of his discovery of Marrok's foul deed and of her innocence, or that she had been avenged by the death and ignominious burial of the traitor. She would also have been touched by the story of True-Love and Sir Roger's honored burial.
These stories may have been related later, but their absence during the reunion affects the assessment of Margaret's reaction. The king apparently either lacks sufficient faith in his wife to tell her the truth and ask for forgiveness, or considers himself above explanations or apologies. Stranger still, at least to modern sensibilities, Margaret does not ask why she had been treated in a manner that caused her such confusion and grief. Instead, she is joyful to be reunited with her husband, and they "togedur kysse / Full ofte or they cowde cese" (1682-83), then return in splendor to Aragon and live happily ever after. When they arrive home, "All hys londe was full fayne / That the qwene was come ageyn" (1699-1700), and the royal household is once again in balance.
In Ramsey's view, with the exception of the requisite happy marriage and children at the end, "the only male-female love affairs are unpleasant or unemotional."61 Despite the break in their relationship, perhaps caused by Ardus' blind jealousy, it is clear that there is great love between Ardus and Margaret that remains alive during their years of separation. Starting with the desire for an heir which leads to Ardus' prayer, the begetting of Tryamour, Ardus' crusading and Margaret's accused adultery, Ramsey concludes that the romance has "admitted to the necessity of sexual intercourse" and "reacts by separating (and purging) the participants."62 But the king and queen "ofte tyme togedur can they meene / For no chylde come them betwene" (23-24), lamenting and sighing with each other over their lack of a child.
The poem opens with the king's love for the queen because of her beauty and loyalty. Although the latter is forgotten when challenged, the couple is devoted. They rejoice when reunited upon his return from the Holy Land; he affectionately "toke hur be the hande" (162). Unable to understand why his wife would be unfaithful (according to Marrok), Ardus is heartbroken "for Y have loste my comely quene / That Y was wonte to kysse" (203-04), the woman who was his "blysse" (207). He is grief-stricken over the exile of his wife when he discovers Marrok's treachery, searches for her and feels "for sorowe Y wyll now dye!" (597) and remains so for years. The relationship between Ardus and Margaret is the strongest male-female bond in the poem, which may account for its prominence over the other unions and reunions. The reunion of Tryamour with his father is comparatively anticlimactic; considering their interaction throughout the poem, more than three lines might be expected, even taking into account the author's skill at meaningful prosodic compression. However, its brevity is consistent with Tryamour's goals.
Fellows sees the poem integrated by its "concern with Tryamour's maturation and his need to prove himself and to define himself in relation to his father."63 Hudson states that Tryamour is "motivated by a desire to learn his father's identity,"64 and Ramsey believes that Tryamour is "determined to find his father."65 But these are overstatements not supported by the text, perhaps developed from expectations based on the topos in other poems like Sir Degaré, to which Ramsey compares Sir Tryamour. Tryamour does not follow the Oedipal pattern that drives Sir Degaré.66 Nor does he seek identity through his father, but through martial renown; "gate he grete name" (1297) by winning jousts in many lands. Ardus and Tryamour are "ledd home wyth honowre" (1256) together after the emperor is defeated, but Tryamour is the star, winning great renown in his father's kingdom based on his own "feyre dede" (1266), not as Ardus' son.
He asks about his father once, after having won the joust for Helen and Hungary and then defending Ardus against the emperor's attack. He is anxious but not desperate: "'Moder,' he seyde, wyth mylde chere, / 'Wyste Y who my fadur were, / The lasse were my care!'" (1039-41). When she places the condition on him to do "that thou hett" (1043) presumably to defend Helen, he agrees but heads in the opposite direction with no awareness of his destination or intention of finding his father, only "awnturs to seke and see" (1050).
Tryamour asks his mother again after they have "well spedd" (1593) through his marriage to Helen. As discussed earlier, finding his father depends on his successful union with Helen, but the lordship that comes with the lady is of primary importance. Their union is not a love match or even a relationship, since Tryamour and Helen do not meet or speak to each other before, during or after the joust. It is more in the nature of a trade; she gets a protector and he gets a kingdom.
Their situation is similar to that of Ywain and Alundyne, whose marriage is a business transaction. She needs a lord and defender of her lands and frankly sets the conditions on her acceptance of the knight: "Dar thou wele undertake / In my land pese for-to make / And for-to maintene al mi rightes / Ogayns King Arthure and his knyghtes?" (1169-72), to which he agrees to perform "ogaynes ilka lyfand man" (Ywain and Gawain 1174), which would include his own lord, Arthur, and his court.
This is parallel to Helen and Tryamour's union. The only difference is that Ywain is in love with Alundyne, which she uses as a bargaining lever and expresses love for him only after their wedding and his defense of her land against Arthur and reconciliation with the king's court. When Arthur visits them, Ywain is as proud of the lands, castles and towers he "with his wife had tane" (1448) as he is of the lady through whom he gained them.
Helen and Tryamour are both portrayed as romance figures. She is "whyte os blossom on flowre, / Mery and comely of colowre, / And semely for to kysse" (628-30), and he is "a moche man and a longe, / In every lym styff and stronge, / And semely of colowre" (16-18). But the tale immediately turns to existential matters that guide their relationship: her political problems and his desire for renown and lordship, which precludes romantic love. Helen's desire for Tryamour is based on his prowess; her love is "on hym lente" (795) as she watches him defeat the other challengers in the joust. She chooses him as her "governowre" (849) and will have no one else: "He that me wan, he schall me have" (935), little knowing it will take the rest of the poem to get her wish. At the denouement, as soon as Ardus has acknowledged Tryamour as his son, Helen says "Y have well spedd / That soche a lorde hath me wedd / That beryth the pryce in prees" (1690-92), confirming that her love is based on her initial criteria for a husband: he is a "prynce or prynceys pere, / Or ellys chefe of chyvalry" (644-45). In Tryamour she gets both.
Signs of Tryamour's feelings for Helen are elusive. Helen believes that Tryamour "loveth me wele" (1459), but he refers to her only once as his "lemman" (1047), when his mother tells him to keep his "hett" in order to find out his father's identity. The brothers have been told that Tryamour "loveth that lady peramowre" (1370), which Tryamour does not confirm. He will fight Burlond "for hur love that ye sayne" (1401), indicating that Tryamour is meeting the challenge to win Helen's love, not out of his love for her. They finally meet after he defeats Burlond, and she welcomes him and tells him "Ye have boght my love full sowre! / My love ys on you lente!" (1580-81). The barons accept him and set the wedding day, but no word is heard from Tryamour. The wedding is full of pomp, and "mekyll joye was them betwene" (1706) in their married life, though once more their story is upstaged (and secondary) to the lengthy description of Ardus and Margaret's "joye and blys" (1703).
Hudson's observation that "romantic relationships are undeveloped"67 is apt concerning Tryamour and Helen, but less so regarding Ardus and Margaret despite their fractured and repaired relationship. These are the only romantic relationships in the poem, which is not uncommon in romance, and both are entwined with thematic complexity and moral concerns. However, there are other kinds of loving relationships, and Ramsey's cynical comment that the "best image of 'true love' in Sir Tryamour is the love of a dog for its dead master"68 misses much of the spirit of the poem, which does not downplay love but examines the forces that form and impact relationships.
The strongest refutation of Ramsey's statement is the love of Margaret for Tryamour from the moment he is born. Exhausted after fleeing from Marrok's ambush, she gives birth "hyrselfe allon, wythowtyn moo" (408), and as soon as she could move "sche toke up hur sone to hur / And lapped hyt full lythe" (416-17). With Sir Barnard's help, she raises Tryamour well, and they remain close. Because Margaret is not seen after Tryamour goes on his adventures until the denouement, Ramsey sees her as "waiting only to be reconciled with her husband at the end of the romance," as though she is aware of her function in the plot, which Ramsey sees mainly at this point "to withhold from Tryamour the identity of his father."69 This detached critical stance was probably not shared by the audience engaged with the characters, and certainly not by Tryamour. For him, his mother is ever-present in the background of his life.
The relationship between Margaret and Barnard is not romantic; rather, there is a strong familial bond. They share the raising of Tryamour from his infancy: "They crystenyd the chylde wyth grete honowre / And callyd hyt Tryamowre; / Of hyt they were full gladd" (4451-53). He gives them a home, where both are well tended and liked. Barnard supports Tryamour's martial experience. He lends him armor and gear and accompanies him to the joust in which Tryamour wins Helen, then comes to his aid when attacked by Sir James. After the joust and Tryamour's departure, Margaret remains in Barnard's home until Tryamour's wedding and coronation as king of Hungary, to which Barnard escorts her, and her reunion with Ardus and return to her own home.
Critics see the separation and reunion centering on family. Hudson says "the point seems to be family cohesiveness—Tryamour and his mother remain together, and he is in contact with his father through most of the romance, though they are unaware of their relationship."70 Ramsey includes his brief discussion of Sir Tryamour in the "Family Affairs" section of his book, although he does not expand on his statement that "Sir Tryamour is a testament of family even when sexual attachments are almost totally rejected."71 The problem with this focus is the fact that Ardus, Margaret and Tryamour never form a family unit as do Barnard, Margaret and Tryamour. Father and son assist each other and form mutual affection but unlike selfless Barnard, Ardus has an agenda. After he accepts Tryamour as his son and heir, Ardus returns to Aragon with Margaret, while Tryamour stays in Hungary with Helen. When his father dies, he feels grief and "cowde no nothur redd," (1709), but he solves the problem and brings the poem full circle by making his son his father's successor.
The poem thus ends with success and succession for Tryamour and Helen, and for Ardus and Margaret who are announced as the subjects of the tale; their "bale and blys" (8) will present "a gode ensaumpull" (12) to those who listen. And while that dominates the first part of the story and propels the plot, knighthood is the underlying measure of success. For Marrok, Sir James, Moradas, Burlond and their brothers, the degree of fidelity to the ideal of knighthood reflects their moral character. While somewhat true for Tryamour, his success as a knight is more material than moral, a commentary on the state of chivalric knighthood itself.
Chivalry and knighthood were not always synonymous. Chivalry, the code for knightly behavior, was born of church and romance as a means of refining a knight's combative energies. In his call for crusaders in 1095, Urban II appealed to knights to cease oppressing orphans, robbing widows, blaspheming, plundering, and to "restrain your murdering hands from slaughtering your brothers."72 Their salvation was to claim their right to Jerusalem.
At the same time, Latin clerics wrote treatises on the morals and manners befitting scholars and monks, and that vision of courtesy entered the secular world through the storytelling and poetry related by monks, bishops and traveling scholars. Pre-chivalric courtly narratives drew knights to the courts, and by the twelfth century chivalric knighthood was blossoming in the romances of authors like Marie de France and Chrétien de Troyes, and the introduction of the idea inherited from the troubadours that "man could become more noble through love."73
Drawing on romances, treatises, biographies, handbooks and other literature stretching over the eleventh to the fifteenth century, a compendium of chivalric virtues common to many can be outlined: prowess; courage; loyalty; nobility; honor; courtesy; largesse, generosity and charity; moderation; sobriety; endurance; and diligence, determination and perseverance.
Although the reigns of the Edwards are seen as the "high water mark of chivalric knighthood in Europe,"74 by the fourteenth century it was perceived to be deteriorating. Moralists complained about knights' vainglory, extravagance, mistreatment of the people, and lack of practice at arms as tournaments became festive social occasions. According to Barber, the "decline of chivalry became the stock theme with writers" into the fifteenth century.75
An anonymous fourteenth-century writer bemoans the loss of the days when knights were akin to those of the Round Table, which Barber relates to the familiar topos of "nostalgia for a lost (but imaginary) golden age."76 But many others upheld the original vision of chivalry. In Sir Tryamour, chivalric values are represented by exemplary, ambiguous and negative characters through their honoring or breaching of the ideal.
Compared to the other characters and the values they represent, Tryamour seems to meet expectations, although his virtues other than prowess are marginally displayed. From his youth he is well liked, naturally disposed to treat those around him with respect, and when seeking adventure "every man ys hys frende" (1290). He takes responsibility (and sometimes prideful credit) for his actions such as killing Sir James and Moradas, is faithful to friends and family, keeps his promises, is charitable, and expresses gratitude.
As has been discussed, Tryamour's chivalric conduct is both admirable and suspect. His success at tournaments, which were ideally and practically intended to provide practice at arms in preparation for military services, is aimed at gaining renown, perhaps to an immoderate degree that passes into hubris rather than providing a model for other knights to emulate. And his treatment of opponents who threaten his rights borders on the behavior that the earliest and continuing efforts to refine knighthood sought to tame.
Critics note the absence of conventional topoi that would be expected by the audience. Hudson observes the lack of change in social status of the characters in Sir Tryamour, though it is not uncommon for social rank to be preserved in the romances, with the exception of the hero's elevation through marriage. Those who do rise from poverty or lower class are usually from noble lineage and their status reinstated. This is a strong reflection of the cultural climate in the fourteenth century, when social strata were becoming blurred, particularly after the plague. Peasants took advantage of the depopulation, demanding high wages, mobility, and gaining lands, which placed pressure on the classes above them. The aristocracy was adversely impacted by the economic changes and struggled to maintain their estates and position. This is reflected in the literature that adheres to the outmoded three-estate social system, which included the ideal of knighthood.
Therefore it is not surprising that Sir Tryamour presents no changes in social status, but personal development is another matter. Hudson sees morality in the poem but looks for piety and finds that "none of the characters' adventures show spiritual growth."77 Unlike socioeconomics, morality was not flexible; it needed to be maintained, and its decline was blamed for many of the cultural changes that were perceived as decay. Many, if not most, romances contain a strain of didacticism, addressing one or more moral and ethical issues. While Sir Tryamour follows the tradition of presenting values, as has been seen it is somewhat unusual in its absence of instruction through character edification. All characters remain static: some exemplary, like Sir Roger and Sir Barnard, and others negative, like Marrok and Burlond. Those who are somewhat complex with strengths and weaknesses, like Tryamour and Ardus, are not forced to recognize, confront or correct their flaws. Perhaps their failure to do so, which prevents growth, is part of the poem's didacticism, related through the use of chivalric knighthood as an edifying topos.
In assessing the chivalric ideal according to romancers and moralists, there is a notable intersection with the values of trouthe, particularly loyalty, fidelity and knightly honor. Additional aspects of trouthe such as genuine friendship; faithfulness; fidelity in love; devotion; marital fidelity; betrothal; fidelity to king; promises, oaths, pledges of loyalty; adherence to one's plighted word; honor, integrity; truth; trust; nobility of character; and moral soundness are found in Sir Tryamour. These values do not apply only to knights. The poet's audience, which might consist of the aristocracy like the lord of the Castle of Heavy Sorrow and his lady who, lying on a gold cloth under a tree in an orchard, listen to a courtly romance being read to them by a fifteen-year old maiden, their heir (Ywain and Gawain 3054-59). It may also have been heard by the audiences imagined by Bliss for Sir Launfal: mixed groups in village pubs and peasantry on village greens, listening to minstrel recitation.78 The Tryamour-poet's "ensaumpull" would apply to the morality that guided daily living at every social level, through a story well told.
There is another possible interpretation: that Sir Tryamour comments on contemporary culture through its satirization in and of the romance genre.79 One method would be omitting conventional topoi that the poet may consider overworked or inflated such as supernatural motifs, and extravagant clothing, food and opulent trappings (which met with disapprobation by moralists), as well as passionate romance and bloody violence as discussed earlier. Though expected by the audience, these elements may be absent to demonstrate that they are not always necessary and are sometimes detrimental to creating an enjoyable and instructive work, which is proven by the popularity of Sir Tryamour.
In addition to omitting conventions, the poet may be satirizing some through exaggeration, such as taking a swipe at knighthood through the seemingly excessive number of opponents defeated by Tryamour and the amount of battle scenes noted by critics. The murder of Sir Roger and the devotion of True-Love are heart-wrenching, but perhaps too much so. And Margaret's subsequent plights and the birth of Tryamour could also be seen as hyperbolic pathos.
At the other extreme, there is the use of humor. The giant Burlond's pratfall during combat and his grisly fate may indeed be a "grim joke" as suggested by Fellows.80 As noted earlier, moderns may see humor where medievals did not, but the reverse may also be true, with humor missed by moderns if it is not obvious as in Sir Thopas or Farmer Giles of Ham. The Tryamour-poet is no Chaucer or Tolkien (at least by our standards), but the medieval audience may have been sensitive to absurdities that we do not see.
Other spots of parody may be detected in the extreme irony of the relationship between Tryamour and his father, as well as the Dickensian coincidences involved. The audience may have been amused by youthful Helen's dual personality, a peevish child who wants a prince or chivalric übermensch and will have no one but the knight she has chosen, but capable of maturely consulting her advisors and negotiating their guidance. And would seeing a seven-year old girl as "semely for to kysse" (630) have raised a few eyebrows? Perhaps the "love affair" between the two extremely young people who never meet until their wedding may have seemed somewhat ludicrous, mirroring royal marriages arranged for political reasons, sometimes at an early age and seldom involving passionate love or even acquaintance.
There are a few odd bits that could be blamed on the poet's lack of skill, like his poor mathematics in calculating casualties, and the irregularities in stanzaic form, but they could also be attributed to deliberate parodic ineptitude. This may also include the amalgam of stock themes treated with apathy as routine by critics but which may have been perceived as satiric overuse by medievals.
Should the audience have had long enough memory and attention span, they would have noticed Ardus' difficulty in recognition. While he knows Tryamour immediately when he sees him at court in Aragon, he has trouble with Sir Roger's dog and Margaret. The satire rests on his similar reaction in both situations. When he sees True-Love in the hall, Ardus "thoght he schulde hym kenne" (506) but "wyste not when nor whare" (503) he had seen him, so he says nothing but sits "in a thoght" (507). Sitting next to Margaret at Tryamour's wedding feast, "Hym thoght that he schulde hur have seene" (1640), and again he "spake not oon worde" (1648) and "stylle he satt in thoght" (1650). He finally recognizes the dog but not his wife even with a clue. She must identify herself which, even allowing for their long separation, takes a poke at romanticism. The textual consistency of these two scenes argues against the poet's lack of control over his work.
These hints of satire do not negate the serious concern expressed over moral values that permeate the poem, and if allowed do not suggest that the entire work is satiric in nature. However, it is an intriguing demonstration of possible alternative and creative readings of Sir Tryamour.
Illustration by Marsha Mello
For more on Middle English literature, see Medieval Forum
1 Manuscripts: Cambridge University Library Ff. 2.38 is dated to the mid fifteenth century; Percy Folio MS British Library Add. 27879, c. 1642-50; and Bodleian MS (Rawlinson), sixteenth century fragment. Editions: The Romance of Syr Tryamoure, ed. James Orchard Halliwell (London: Percy Society, 1846); Syr Tryamowre: A Metrical Romance, ed. Anna Johanna Erdman Schmidt (Utrecht: Broekhoff, 1937); Syr Tryamowre, Of Love and Chivalry: An Anthology of Middle English Romance, ed. Jennifer Fellows (London: J.M. Dent, 1993); Sir Tryamour, Four Middle English Romances, ed. Harriet Hudson, TEAMS Middle English Texts Series (Kalamazoo: Medieval Institute Publications, 1996). All citations are from the Hudson edition unless otherwise noted.
2 Fellows xvii.
3 For those unfamiliar with the tale or Middle English, see Sir Tryamour: A Modern English Translation and Commentary.
4 Derek Pearsall, "The Development of Middle English Romance," Mediaeval Studies 27 (1965): 112.
5 Schmidt ix.
6 Fellows xvii.
7 Ibid. xvii.
8 A. J. Bliss, ed., Sir Launfal (New York: Thomas Nelson and Sons, 1960) 42.
9 Ibid. 32.
10 Ibid. 31. For a discussion of divided opinion over the assessment of "courtly" and "popular" Middle English romances, see Ad Putter and Jane Gilbert, "Preface," and Ad Putter, "Introduction," The Spirit of Medieval English Popular Romance (Harlow: Pearson Education Limited, 2000).
11 Hudson 176.
12 James Bothwell, "Edward III and the 'New Nobility,' Largesse and Limitation in Fourteenth-Century England," English Historical Review 449 (1997): 1113.
13 Stephen H. A. Shepherd, ed., Middle English Romance (New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 1995) 28n.
14 The Awntyrs off Arthure at the Terne Wathelyne, Middle English Romances, ed. Stephen H. A. Shepherd (New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 1995).
15 May McKisack, The Fourteenth Century 1307-1399 (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1959) 85.
16 Bothwell 1123.
17 Ibid. 1125-26.
18 Jean Froissart, Chronicles (Hammondsworth: Penguin Books Ltd., 1968) 449.
19 Ibid. 461.
20 McKisack 494.
21 Geoffrey Chaucer, The Canterbury Tales, The Riverside Chaucer, 3rd ed., ed. Larry D. Benson (Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1987).
22 Lay le Freine, The Middle English Breton Lays, ed. Anne Laskaya and Eve Salisbury (Kalamazoo: Medieval Institute Publications, 1995).
23 Ywain and Gawain, Middle English Romances, ed. Stephen H. A. Shepherd (New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 1995).
24 Havelok, Middle English Romances, ed. Stephen H. A. Shepherd (New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 1995).
25 Sir Degaré, The Middle English Breton Lays, ed. Anne Laskaya and Eve Salisbury (Kalamazoo: Medieval Institute Publications, 1995).
26 Sir Amadace, Amis and Amiloun, Robert of Cisyle, and Sir Amadace, ed. Edward E. Foster (Kalamazoo: Medieval Institute Publications, 1997).
27 Shepherd explains that this reference is to "the practice known as partitioning; feudal custom sanctioned the inheritance of estates in their entirety by the eldest son, but in cases where only female heirs survived the property was, in principle, divided ('parted') evenly." Shepherd 167n.
28 Sir Orfeo, Middle English Romances, ed. Stephen H. A. Shepherd (New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 1995).
29 Oren Falk, "The Son of Orfeo: Kingship and Compromise in a Middle English Romance," Journal of Medieval and Early Modern Studies 30.2 (2000): 269.
30 McKisack 91. For a discussion of the debate over Edward's abdication and deposition, see Claire Valente, "The Deposition and Abdication of Edward II," English Historical Review 453 (1998): 852-81.
31 Sir Gowther, Six Middle English Romances, ed. and introd. Maldwyn Mills (London: J. M. Dent & Sons Ltd, 1973).
32 Hudson 173.
33 Ibid. 175. Hudson counts seventeen episodes of war and combat, although there are only three main combats.
34 Peter Coss, The Knight in Medieval England 1000-1400. (Conshohocken, PA: Combined Books, 1993) 120.
35 According to Coss, knights being dragged by their horse was a common cause of death in jousts (58).
36 Thomas Chestre, Sir Launfal, Middle English Romances, ed. Stephen H. A. Shepherd (New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 1995).
37 Until Tryamour cuts off Burlond's legs so the two men are "oon assyse," there is no indication that Burlond is a giant. Judging by her reference to Moradas and his brothers as "giants" (174), Hudson perhaps assumes that if one is a giant the others are as well.
38 Fellows 308n.
39 Hans-Jürgen Diller, "The Composition of the Chester Adoration of the Shepherds," The Chester Mystery Cycle: A Casebook, ed. Kevin J. Harty (New York: Garland Publishing, Inc., 1993).
40 Fellows 308n.
41 Rossell Hope Robbins ed., Historical Poems of the XIVth and XVth Centuries (New York: Columbia UP, 1959) 322.
42 The Simonie: A Parallel-text Edition, ed. Dan Embree and Elizabeth Urquhart (Heidelberg: Carl Winter Universitäetsverlag, 1991).
43 "Huff! A Galaunt," Historical Poems of the XIVth and XVth Centuries, ed. Rossell Hope Robbins (New York: Columbia UP, 1959).
44 David Edge and John Miles Paddock, Arms and Armor of the Medieval Knight (London: Bison Books, 1988) 85.
45 Ibid. 84.
46 Coss 94.
47 Hudson 176.
48 Schmidt 94. Rather than send troops to aid the Black Prince at the battle of Crécy, Edward III reportedly said "let the boy win his spurs" (Edge and Paddock 85).
49 "Abuses of the Age, II," Historical Poems of the XIVth and XVth Centuries, ed. Rossell Hope Robbins (New York: Columbia UP, 1959).
50 The text reads "Then Tryamowre was fayne" (832) to see the king wounded. Hudson suggests that the somewhat puzzling line may mean that Tryamour is happy to have a reason to attack Sir James (231n), although Tryamour has already defeated Sir James earlier. Hudson's conjecture is based on the usual gloss of "fayne" as "glad" rather than the alternative definition "(not) pleased" (MED 1c).
51 Fellows 303n.
52 Vincent J. DiMarco, "The Knight," The Canterbury Tales, The Riverside Chaucer, 3rd ed., ed. Larry D. Benson (Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1987).
53 Lee C. Ramsey, Chivalric Romances: Popular Literature in Medieval England (Bloomington: Indiana UP, 1983) 164.
54 Thomas Hoccleve, The Regiment of Princes, ed. Charles R. Blyth (Kalamazoo: Medieval Institute Publications, 1999).
55 The Erle of Tolous, Of Love and Chivalry: An Anthology of Middle English Romance, ed. Jennifer Fellows (London: J. M. Dent, 1993).
56 Treuth, Reste, and Pes, Twenty-Six Political and Other Poems from the Oxford MSS Digby 102 and Douce 322, ed. J. Kail, EETS (OS 124) (London: Kegan Paul, Trench, Trübner & Co., Limited, 1904).
57 A similar rash judgment is seen in reverse in Sir Launfal. Arthur unquestioningly believes Guenevere's false accusation against Launfal, who has been the king's faithful steward for ten years, and condemns him without a trial. Unlike Margaret, Launfal does eventually get a trial, led by the biased king and a partially corrupt jury, and is exonerated by the evidence of his fairy mistress. Also unlike Margaret, Launfal does not return to the court but rejects it for the corruption-free land of Faërie.
58 Fellows 308n.
59 Ramsey 163-64.
60 Ibid. 164.
61 Ramsey 164.
62 Ibid. 165.
63 Fellows xvii.
64 Hudson 174.
65 Ramsey 163.
66 Ibid. 162.
67 Hudson 175.
68 Ramsey 165. This comment is picked up by Hudson in her "Introduction" to the TEAMS edition (175), but neither takes note of Tryamour's "full woo" (1086) over the loss of his hounds when poaching and his rescue of the one surviving dog from the deer that had slain the other two.
69 Ibid. 163.
70 Hudson 174.
71 Ramsey 164.
72 Richard Barber, The Knight and Chivalry (Woodbridge: Boydell Press, 1974) 254-55.
73 Ibid. 87.
74 Coss 100.
75 Barber 379.
76 Ibid. 377.
77 Hudson 176.
78 Bliss 42, 32.
79 This interpretation was suggested by George W. Tuma, Professor Emeritus of English, San Francisco State University.
80 Fellows 308n.
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