Isolde of the White Hands
Tristan’s wife. He married her as a substitute for Isolde of Cornwall, Mark’s wife.
Her home country was Brittany, and her father – alternately Havelin, Jovelin, Gilierchino (Gilierchins), or Hoel – is usually said to have been embroiled in some kind of war or insurrection, from which he was rescued by Tristan. Tristan, despondent over his banishment from Mark’s court and his inability to possess the other Isolde, re-targeted his love to this Isolde, prompted by both her beauty and her name.
He came to his senses on their wedding night and declined to consummate their relationship, telling Isolde (in some versions) that he was castrated. Her brother Kahedins became a loyal companion of Tristan. Gottfried calls her mother Karsie. She had another brother named Ruvalen.
In the Prose Tristan, she accompanies her husband to an adventure on the Island of Servitude. In the legends, Tristan at best treats her indifferently, and often treats her cruelly.
In the traditional story, Isolde of the White Hands genuinely loves Tristan but she becomes enraged when she discovers his love for the other Isolde. When Tristan received a poisoned wound and sent for Mark’s wife Isolde to cure him, Isolde of the White Hands exacted her revenged by reporting to Tristan that the returning ship bore black sails – which signified the other Isolde was not on board – when it actually flew white sails – signifying that she was in fact on the ship. Tristan died in distress. In the Prose versions, however, this episode is excluded and Isolde of the White Hands simply disappears from the story, or perishes from sorrow, when Tristan leaves Brittany to return to Cornwall.
Tristan | Thomas of England, 1170-1175
Tristrant | Eilhart von Oberge, 1170–1190
Tristan | Gottfried von Strassburg, early 13th century
Prose Tristan | 1230-1240
La Tavola Ritonda | 1325–1350
Le Morte Darthur | Sir Thomas Malory, 1469-1470
Idylls of the King | Lord Alfred Tennyson, 1859-1886