Tristan

Drust, Drustan of Lyonesse, Drustanus, Drystan, Thisterum, Thistronn, Thristrum, Tistram, Tristan, Tristano, Tristanos, Tristem, Tristrant, Tristrem, Tristen, Tristenz, Tristeram, Tristum, Tryschchane, Trystan


The story of Tristram/Tristan and Isolde has its own vast, rich body of material, and the Tristram cycle often seems independent of, though coexistent with, the Arthurian cycle. Although the Vulgate and other pre-Malory treatments sometimes refer to Arthur and Tristram as contemporaries, Malory’s is the earliest version yet found to attempt a true integration of the two cycles. Malory’s may also remain the best such integration, even though his books of Tristram are perhaps that portion of Le Morte D’Arthur where modern readers are likeliest to bog down.

The son of King Meliodas and Queen Elizabeth of Lyonesse, Tristram was born in an unhappy hour – his father had been kidnaped by an amourous enchantress and his mother, giving birth while out searching for her husband, died of exposure. When Tristram was a child, his stepmother tried to poison him so that her own sons would inherit Lyonesse; when she was caught, Tristram showed a forgiving and compassionate nature by pleading for her life. Meliodas granted his reuquest, but, apparently a bit annoyed with his son, sent the boy into France for seven years under the tutorship of Gouvernail, who later became Tristram’s loyal and competent squire.

It was probably during this period that Tristram attracted the affection of King Faramon’s daughter, who gave him a brachet and later died for love; the attachment may have been unsolicited, but I tend to suspect Tristram of some youthful trifling in the art of dalliance – he seems to have been of quite an amorous nature.

And there was Tristram more than seven years. And then when he well could speak the language, and had learned all that he might learn in that country, then he came home to his father, King Meliodas, again. And so Tristram learned to be an harper passing all other, that there was none such called in no country, and so on harping and on instruments of music he applied him in his youth for to learn.

And after, as he grew in might and strength, he laboured ever in hunting and in hawking, so that never gentleman more … And … he began good measures of blowing of beasts of venery, and beasts of chase, and all manner of vermin, and all these terms we have yet of hawking and hunting. And therefore the book of venery, of hawking, and hunting, is called the book of Sir Tristram.

All this in addition to becoming the only fighting man of the time (except Galahad) who could conceivably have been able to beat Lancelot in a fair passage of arms (except during the spiritual adventures of the Grail). Tristram sounds rather like what later centuries would call “Renaissance man”, and “every estate loved him, where that he went.” But he appears to rarely or ever returned home to see how his own inheritence of Lyonesse was getting along.

When Tristram was about eighteen, he fought and mortally wounded Sir Marhaus in a single combat to free his uncle, King Mark of Cornwall, from paying truage to King Anguish of Ireland. Since Marhaus had used a poisoned spear, however, Tristram sickened of his own wounds, until at least, by the advice of a wise woman, Mark sent him into Ireland to be healed.

Here, under the name Tramtrist (Tantrist), he met, was healed by, and probably began to fall in love with La Beale Isoud, whom he taught to harp. He also seems to have met Palomides for the first time – and not in the friendliest situation – and he developed a friendship with Isoud’s father Anguish that survived even Isoud’s mother’s discovery that Tristram was the man who had killed her brother Marhaus.

Tristram and Isoud exchanged rings before he fled Ireland, but, on arriving back in Cornwall, Tristram got his father’s permission to stay in Mark’s court (even though “largely King Melodias and his queen departed of their lands and goods to Sir Tristram”), where he eventually entered a rivalry with Mark for the love of Sir Segwarides’ wife.

Finally Mark, whose initial love of his nephew had turned to dislike, sent him into Ireland to bring back La Beale Isoud to be queen of Cornwall. On the return voyage, Tristram and Isoud accidentally shared a love potion meant for Isoud and Mark. The important details of the love of Tristram and La Beale Isoud are given under her name.

Eventually banished from Cornwall for ten years, Tristram went to Logres, where he fought at the Castle of Maidens tournament and was imprisoned for a time, along with Palomides and Dinadan, by one Sir Darras (Damas). On his release, he chanced to visit a castle of Morgan le Fay’s. She gave him a shield depicting Arthur, Guenevere, “and a knight who holdeth them both in bondage”, refused to tell him that knight’s name, and made him promise to bear the shield at the tournament at the Castle of the Hard Rock. Her lover Sir Hemison, jealous of her attentions to Tristram, pursued the departing champion of Cornwall and was killed.

Tristram distinguished himself at the Hard Rock tournament, smiting down Arthur himself in defense of Morgan’s shield. At the tournament, Tristram rode by the stronghold of Breuse Sans Pitie in time to save Palomides from Breuse and his men. Tristram and Palomides separated after setting a day to meet again and settle their old rivalry in a meadow near Camelot.

Palomides missed the appointment, but Lancelot happened to ride by Lanceor and Colombe’s tomb, clad all in white and bearing a covered shield; Tristram mistook Lancelot for Palomides, and the two greatest knights and “best lovers” of their generation battled each other as Merlin had prophesied years before that they would beside that tomb. The bout ended in a draw, each champion surrendering to the other on learning his identity, and Lancelot brought Tristram to court, where he was installed as a member of the Round Table, getting Sir Marhaus’ old chair.

The “Tristan who never laughed” listed by Chrétien de Troyes among Arthur’s knights is possibly identical with the famous Tristram, whose story Chrétien knew without, apparently, approving of its lovers.


Sir Tristram’s Family and Retainers

Father
King Meliodas of Lyonesse

Mother
Queen Elizabeth

Uncle (maternal)
King Mark

Stepmother’s father
Hoel

Father-in-law
Hoel

Wife
Isoud la Blanche Mains

Lover
La Beale Isoud

Early lover
Sir Segwarides’ Wife

Brother-in-law
Kehydius

Teacher and squire
Gouvernail

Mentor
Brother Ogrins

Ally
Dinas

Knights and Protégés
Fergus, Lambegus, Segwarides and Sentraille de Lushon (Sentrayle of Lushon)

Squire
Hebes le Renoumes

Would-be-lover
King Faramon’s Daughter


See also
Belide | The Legend of King Arthur
Giuriando | The Legend of King Arthur
Jemsetir | The Legend of King Arthur
Pro of Iernesetir | The Legend of King Arthur
Tristan’s Leap | The Legend of King Arthur
Tristan Stone | The Legend of King Arthur