Loathly Damsel

Ugly Maid

The third day after Percivale returned to Arthur’s court, avenged the maiden whom Kay had struck and been welcomed, a damsel of extreme ugliness rode a tawny mule into the rejoicings at Caerleon.

Her black hair was in two braids, her neck and hands were blacker than iron, her eyes like tiny holes, her nose like that of a cat or monkey, her lips like a donkey’s, her teeth yellow as egg yolks, her chin bearded like a billy-goat’s, her chest(!) had a hump, her back a lump, her spine was crooked, and her hips twisted. She carried a whip in her right hand.

Addressing herself first to Percivale, she excoriated him for failing to ask the crucial questions about the Grail when he visited the Fisher King. Turning then to the king and other knights, she informed them that she intended that evening to reach Castle Orgulous (the Proud Castle), where 566 eminent knights, each with his noble and beautiful lady, waited to give a joust or combat to anyone who came seeking it.

She added that anyone who wanted to sin the whole world’s esteem would be well advised to rescue a damsel under siege on the hill below Montesclaire: whoever raised this siege and saved the damsel would be able to gird on safely the Sword with the Strange Baldric. She then departed, leaving the knights in a flurry of questing fever.

Gawaine began by swearing to go to Montesclaire, while Griflet declaired in favor of Castle Orgulous, Kahedin chose Mount Dolorus, and Percivale vowed to repair his earlier omission. Gawaine, at least, was to be foiled – quickly on the heels of the Loathly Damsel came Guigambresil to give him even more pressing business.

In a footnote to this passage, Cline cites evidence connecting the ugly maids with the lovely grailbearer: Chrétien supplied no link, but two continuations Peredur and Perlesvaus) identified them as contrasting manifestations of the same individual; and Loomis suggests a connection with the Sovranty of Ireland. She also reminds me of Dame Ragnell.


See also
Loathly Damsel’s Tawny Mule | The Legend of King Arthur
Verrine | The Legend of King Arthur