Arthurian legend - a summary of Le Morte d'Arthur

Caxton's twenty-one books of Sir Thomas Malory's 'Le Morte d'Arthur'

Lugodoc's summary of Book 9 - Sir Breunor and Other Tales

Breunor le Noire arrived at Arthur's court wearing the bloody remains of the coat his father had been hacked to death in whilst sleeping by his old enemy. Sir Kay (who had learned nothing from the Gareth/Beaumains incident) nicknamed him "La Cote Male Taile" (the badly-shaped coat). After Sir Breunor saved Queen Guenevere by slaying a lion which had escaped from Camelot Zoo, he was knighted.

He was soon off on his first mission, with a damosel who had appeared at Arthur's court with a black shield that had a quest attached, and after a few humiliating joust-defeats from Sirs Bloeberis and Palomides, he went off with her and she gave him the same sort of continuous abuse over his sartorial appearance that Gareth used to get from Linet (in Book 7), so she became known as Maledisant.

They travelled with Sir Mordred for a while, and Breunor killed twelve knights at the Castle Orgulous. Then Launcelot turned up, so Mordred left. Launcelot rescued Breunor from Sir Brian de les Isles of the Castle of Pendragon, and Maledisant became more pleasant, so Launcelot began to call her "Damosel Bienpensant".

Breunor was captured by Sir Plenorius of the village of Surluse, who had taken offense at his black shield, and Launcelot rescued him - again - and all the other prisoners there, including King Carados of Scotland.

Launcelot consolidated Arthur's power base in the area by appointing several knights to various lands, including Sir Breunor to the Castle of Pendragon. Sir Breunor was made a Round Table knight and married Damosel Bienpensant, so she changed her name again to Beauvivant. The point of the black shield seems to have been lost.

Meanwhile, La Beale Isoud summoned her lover, Sir Tristram, his wife Isoud la Blanche Mains, Sir Kehydius, and Gouvernail and Dame Bragwaine to visit her in Cornwall, but sailing from Brittany they somehow became lost and ended up in North Wales. Sirs Tristram and Kehydius left the others at the ship and went off looking for adventure in The Forest Perilous (near the Castle Perilous). They soon had a fight with Sir Lamorak, who injured Kehydius (whom they left with a forester to recuperate).

Then Sir Palomides passed by in pursuit of The Questing Beast, which had the head of a serpent, the body of a leopard, the buttocks of a lion, and the feet of a hart, and he knocked Tristram and Lamorak off their horses and carried on.

Sirs Meliagaunce and Lamorak fought over who was the loveliest queen (Guenevere who Meliagaunce admired, or Margawse who Lamorak admired) until Sirs Launcelot and Bloebris talked them down.

Lamorak was unhorsed at joust by a knight he did not know was King Arthur, and who was there only because he had been tricked into following a sorceress called Annowre, who desired him. Later, at her turret, after Arthur had refused her advances, she tried to kill him with two of her knights, but Nimue knew what what going down because of her magic. She brought Sir Tristram there, who saved Arthur, who in turn chopped off Annowre's head. But Sir Tristram chose to remain anonymous.

After ten days, Tristram and Lamorak retrieved Kehydius and they returned to the ship and continued on to Cornwall, meeting La Beale Isoud at Tintagil Castle in secret. After chasing Kehydius out of a window for exchanging love letters with the queen he himself was supposed to be comitting adultery with, Tristram was forced to flee, knocking down Gawaine's son, Sir Gingalin, on the way. He went mad and ended up running around a forest naked for several months, while his cousin, Sir Andred, stole all his lands until King Mark found him and banished him from Cornwall for ten years.

Tristram landed incognito and jousted some knights, and dragging Sir Dinadan along with him under threat of death, had soon rescued Launcelot from an ambush by thirty of Queen Morgan le Fay's knights.

After a few violent episodes, Sir Gawaine appeared and saved Tristram himself from being led by a damosel into a similar Morganic trap. Then Tristram saved a lady from being ravished by the evil Sir Breuse Saunce Pite (or Pityless Bruce), who escaped on his horse. Eventually Tristram set off with Sirs Persides and Dinadan for a joust at the Castle of the Maidens, in disguise and bearing an anonymous black shield. On the way, Persides and Tristram were both unhorsed by Palomides, who was himself soon treated similarly by Launcelot. When they arrived, everybody was there, including King Arthur.

[Editor's note: early medieval jousts, or tourneys, were a little like modern football riots, but with the mounted riot police doing all the fighting amongst themselves. Dozens of fully armoured knights on horseback charged into a large field at once, singley or in gangs, and attacked anyone they felt like. It was done for individual status and so that lords could impress and intimidate one another. The melee would last all day, and there were plenty of injuries and even deaths. The winner was chosen by judges, or by asking the crowd for their favorite.]

The main players at this joyful slaughter were all the best knights of: King Arthur (who was also judging), the King of Northgalis (from North Wales), King Carados of Scotland, the King of Ireland, and the King of the Hundred Knights. It was a national event.

On the first day, Tristram and Persides sided with Carados, and Tristram savagely defeated his long-suffering friend, Dinadan. Gaheris beat Persides then Tristram beat Gaheris, Dinadan, and Bleoberis, and won the first day's prize, even though few knew who he was. In the evening, Tristram and Dinadan lodged secretly in an old castle nearby, belonging to an old knight called Sir Darras (whose five sons were also at the joust).

On the second day, Tristram joined the King of Northgalis' group so he could get revenge on Palomides, who was with Arthur. After saving Launcelot's twenty kin from the King with the Hundred Knights, he rode off with Gouvernail and Sir Dinadan, and in his absence Arthur gave the second day's prize to Northgalis. In the forest, Tristram found Palomides sobbing and complaining about how Tristram was better than he. Tristram stopped him from drowning himself in a well.

On the third day, Tristram unhorsed Palomides, then Arthur took to the field and unhorsed him, but then Tristram slew eleven of Launcelot's kin (the same bunch he had rescued the day before) so Launcelot seriously punctured him and he had to ride off into the forest with Dinadan. Though injured he fought off a revenge attack by Sir Palomides and buffeted Gaheris who just happened to be nearby for good measure, before returning to Sir Darras.

At the closing ceremony, the crowd voted Launcelot to be the best knight, but he gave the prize to the absent Tristram, and then set off with ten knights, swearing to find him even if it took a year.

Meanwhile, Palomides also ended up lodging with the old knight Sir Darras, who soon realised that it was Tristram who had just killed three of his sons and maimed the remaining two at the joust, so he threw them all in prison.

Back in Cornwall, King Mark and Sir Andred were using treachery against visiting Round Table knights such as Sirs Uwaine, Gaheris and Kay, with varying degrees of success, while Launcelot went around with Dame Bragwaine (whom he had just rescued from death at the hands of Pitiless Bruce) looking for Tristram.

Eventually Sir Arras became bored and released his three captive knights from their festering pit, and they each went their separate ways. Dinadan rescued yet another maiden from Pitiless Bruce, Palomides failed to save yet another one from him a little later - but was outnumbered and almost killed but for... (see later) - and Tristram managed to get himself immediately captured again, this time by Morgan le Fey, who only released him on a promise to bear a special shield to the next joust, subtly depicting Sir Launcelot's adultery with Guenevere.

Tristram bore the shield incognito and smote as magnificently as before. But Guenevere realised instantly who it was, and eventually so did Arthur, after a hint from one of Morgan's undercover damosels...

Back to brief summary of Sir Thomas Malory's Le Morte d'Arthur.

Expanded summaries of Caxton's printed version of Malory's Le Morte d'Arthur:
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