Le Chevalier Au Lion, Knight with the Lion, etc.
Ewain Le Blanchemains, Ewein the Grete, Ivain, Owain, Owein, Owen, Uwain, Uwaine, Yewains; Yvain the Great, Yvain the Tall; Yvains li Granz; Yvonet le Grand, Yvonet li Grans, Yvonet le Grant, Yvonet le Graunde, Yvonet le Graunte; Ywain Lionel, Ywain Loenel
Ywaine was the son of King Uriens and Queen Morgan of Gore (Morgan le Fay), half-brother to Yvonet li Avoutres, cousin and close friend to Gawaine. He may have come to Arthur’s court as early as the funeral of Lot and the other kings of the second rebellion, along with his parents, who attended that funeral.
At Camelot, Ywaine found his mother about to slay his sleeping father. He prevented her, exclaiming,
Ah... men saith that Merlin was begotten of a devil, but I may say an earthly devil bare me.
At her pleading, he agreed not to speak of her attempt on condition she did not try it again. She proceeded to leave court, steal the scabbard of Excalibur, and attempt to destroy Arthur by sending him the gift of a poisoned cloak. It would not be surprising if Ywaine felt himself freed of his promise not to reveal her attempt on Uriens’ life, but the tale seems to imply that he kept the secret, at least for the time.
After the poisoned cloak incident, both Morgan’s husband and son were suspected of being in her counsel. Arthur quickly dismissed his suspicion against Uriens, but banished Ywaine from court, which must have been hard on the young knight. Gawaine remarked,
Whoso banisheth my cousin-germain shall banish me,
I am the youngest and most weakest [of us three knights] ... therefore I will have the eldest damosel, for she hath seen much, and can best help me when I have need.
Traveling with her, he distinguished himself, winning a tournament near the Welsh marches and gaining back for the Lady of the Rock a barony that Sirs Edward of the Red Castle and Hue of the Red Castle had extorted from her. At the end of a twelvemonth, after meeting again with their damsels at the appointed place in Arroy, Ywaine, Gawaine, and Marhaus were found by a messenger of Arthur’s. The King must have realized his error in banishing Ywaine almost at once, for he had been seeking his nephews nearly a year. They returned to court, taking Marhaus with them. It may have been at this time that Ywaine was made a member of the Round Table, though Malory only mentions that Marhaus and Pelleas were so honored at the next feast.
Chrétien de Troyes devoted the best of his finished romances to Ywaine; its relationship to the Mabinogion tale Owen and Lunet – which is based on the other, or whether both spring from some lost original – remains, as far as I can tell, under dispute.
Chrétien recounts how, while the court was at Carlisle, Ywaine’s cousin Sir Calogrenant told a small group including Ywaine, Kay, Gawaine, Dodinel, Sagramore, and Guenevere about his adventures seven years earlier at a marvelous spring in Broceliande Forest: using a conveniently placed basin to dip water from this spring onto a nearby rock caused a terrific storm to arise and, after the storm, a knight to appear and chastise the impudent person who had poured the water.
Learning this story, Arthur decided to take his court and see the place for himself. Ywaine, however, secretly slipped away and got there well ahead of them, tried his own luck at storm-making, by pouring a basin of water on a stone, which causes a hailstorm to pelt the area. The lord of the fountain, Esclados the Red, arrives and challenges Ywaine, whom killed the spring’s champion in fair combat. This left Esclados the Red’s widow, Dame Laudine, without a protector for herself, her castle, or the spring. When Ywaine arrives at the fortress, he is trapped between two portcullises and is rescued by Lunete, a servant of Laudine. Lunette gives him good advice and an invisiblity ring which allows him to escape. Ywaine falls in love with Laudine, and Lunete convinces Laudine to marry him, pointing out that some knight must protect the fountain from Arthur’s forces, who are rumored to be on the march.
Ywaine and Laudine are wed, and he takes the place as the fountain’s guardian. When Arthur, arriving with his court, poured water on the rock, which called for the guardian.
Not recognizing the fully armored Ywaine, Kay took the fight for Arthur and was promptly defeated. There followed a happy reunion and welcome for Arthur and his people at Laudine’s castle. Unfortunately, Gawaine persuaded Ywaine that he should spend a year adventuring and torneying, lest folk say his marriage had made him soft. Laudine gave her husband a magic ring to keep him safe and let him go on the condition that he return in exactly a year. He let the months get away from him and stayed away too long, whereon Laudine sent a damsel (not Lunette) to demand the ring back and forbade him ever to see him again.
Ywaine promptly went mad with grief and ran amok in the wild forest, augmenting his diet of raw meat with bread from a hermit, until the Lady of Noroison and two of her damsels found him asleep; one of them recognized him by a scar on his face. They healed him with a salve that Morgan the Wise had given the lady, whose war against Count Alier Ywaine then won, defending her lands. Refusing her offer of marriage, he then makes hiw way back to his wife. Along the way, he rescues a lion from a serpent.
The lion became his faithful companion and guardian for life, refusing to leave his side. Under the name of the Knight with the Lion, Ywaine embarked on a series of adventures, always fighting for the good, in contrast to his earlier year’s adventures of tourneying for the mere glory of it. Among other deeds, he saved a sister of Gawaine and her family from the wicked giant Harpin of the Mountain, and rescued Lunette from an accusation of treachery by fighting for her in trial by combat.
With the damsel, whom Phyllis Ann Karr call, “Secunda“, he visited Pesme Avanture (Castel of the Hevy Sorrow) and righted the injustice there by slaying two demons with the assistance of his lion. Eventually, still incognito, he arrived at Arthur’s court to champion the younger daughter of the lord of Noire Espine in an inheritance dispute with her sister. Unknown to Ywaine, Gawaine was championing the elder sister, so there resulted one of those grand battles, so beloved of the romancers, between two great and evenly matched knights who are really dear friends or relatives that do not recognize each other in their armor.
Fortunately for Gawaine, this time the lion was successfully kept out of the fight, so it ended happily: on finally learning each other’s identity, each hero swore himself vanquished by the other, and Arthur settled the case between the two sisters with a Solomon-like judgment. After time in the infirmary to heal, Ywaine, with his lion, returned to Broceliande. He rescues the lady Lunete, who has been imprisoned by Laudine’s chamberlains as a punishment for Lunete’s suggestion that Laudine marry Yvain. Lunette effected a reconciliation between husband and wife.
Without attempting to summarize Ywaine’s adventures as recorded in the Vulgate, we return to Malory. While Tristram, Palomides, and Dinadan were languishing in Sir Darras’ (Damas) prison after the Castle of Maidens tournament, Ywaine le Blanchemains, seemingly having joined a general search for Tristram and quite possibly suspecting Mark of further treachery, appeared before Mark’s castle and issued a challenge to “all the knights of Cornwall“.
Only Andred was willing to encounter him, to Andred’s immediate unhorsing and wounding. At Mark’s insistence, Sir Dinas the Seneschal jousted with Ywaine and was overthrown. Then Sir Gaheris, who happened to be visiting Mark, rode out, but Ywaine recognized his shield and refused to have ado with a brother of the Round Table. As Ywaine rode away, Mark rode after and dealt him a treacherous and serious blow from behind. Fortunately, Sir Kay happened along in time to get Ywaine to the Abbey of the Black Cross to be healed.
Ywaine fades out of Malory’s account after this episode; he is mentioned with his half-brother and namesake, and after that, perplexingly, there is little or nothing. Possibly by XVI Malory himself had the Ywaines confused and considered this Ywaine – rather than his half-brother Les Avoutres – to have been the one who was killed during the Grail Quest and was therefore out of the story. In Vulgate VI we learn that the deaths of Gawaine, his brothers, and Kay, and the rift between Arthur and Lancelot with his supporters, have left Ywaine as Arthur’s remaining mainstay. Ywaine is one of the last knights killed by Mordred in the last battle.
In the Vulgate
In the Vulgate and Post-Vulgate Cycles, he is called ‘Yvain the Tall’ or ‘Yvain the Great’ to distinguish him from the other Yvains, one of whom is Yvain the Bastard, his brother. Descended from Joseph of Arimathea, Yvain is the son of King Urien of Gorre and Arthur’s sister, either Brimesent or Morgan Le Fay, though the earliest mention of Morgan as Yvain’s mother is in the French romance of Tyolet.
Even as his father participates in a rebellion against Arthur, Yvain follows his cousin Gawain’s example and leaves home with his brother to join Arthur’s service. On the way to Logres, they defeat armies of Saxons at the battles of Diana Bridge and Arundel. Yvain is knighted by Arthur and he joins Arthur’s wars against King Claudas, the Saxons, Rome, and Lord Galehaut.
In his many subsequent adventures, he stops Morgan from killing his father, saves the Lady of the Rock from two oppressors, witnesses the Grail marvels at the Rock of the Stag, slays a giant named Malduit, saves Lancelot from drowning, and, with Gawain, kills the seven evil brothers who rule the Castle of Maidens. Some of his adventures occur during a temporary banishment from Arthur’s court, brought on by his mother’s attempted murder of Arthur.
Yvain leads a battalion at the battle of Salisbury (the final battle between Arthur and Mordred), where he kills a Saxon lord named Arcan and the Saxon king who had allied with Mordred. Mordred eventually cleaves him through he brain. Witnessing this slaying, Arthur cries,
Ah! God, why did you allow me to see the worst traitor in the world kill one of the noblest of men?
Interspersed among the central Yvain romances are a number of tales that offer variations or additions to his story. In Claris et Laris, Yvain has a sister named Marine. In Sir Perceval of Galles, Yvain’s father is called Asoure. La Tavola Ritonda says that he died fighting Mordred’s army at the siege of Urbano. Malory makes him the father of Yder and equates him with Yvain of the White Hands, a separate character in the Vulgate Cycle.
Ywaine in other literature
Whether or not Arthur is an historical figure, Ywaine and his father Uriens seem to be based on men who actually lived in the sixth century in Rheged (northern England and southern Scotland). Owain probably succeeded his father as the King of Rheged. Although he certainly lived later than the traditional Arthurian period – he was said o have heavily defeated the British c. AD 593 – both he and his father have been drawn into Arthurian legend.
In The Book of Taliesin there are several poems which glorify his many victories and lameth his death, but they do not connect him to Arthur. In the Triads, his wife, Penarwan, was one of the Three Faithless Wifes of the Isle of Britain, he rode a horse named Cloven-Hoof, and his mother was Modron, a Celtic goddess – who probably became Morgan le Fay. Another poem mentions his square grave at Llanforfael. The Welsh tradition gives him another wife named Denw.
The early twelfth-century chronicles of Wace and Geoffrey of Monmouth are the first texts to mention Yvain as Arthur’s contemporary. According to Geoffrey of Monmouth, Yvain succeeded King Angusel of Scotland when the king died at the battle of Camlann, and that he won many battle afterwards. Wace, however, says Arthur personally appointed Yvain to the throne of Scotland. In the chronicles, then, he appears late in the Arthurian saga, even as Arthur is fighting his last battles. Contemporary to the chronicles, the Life of St. Kentigern names Ewen as the father of St. Kentigern, the patron saint of Glasgow.
The Mabinogion story of the Dream of Rhonabwy, a thirteenth-century Welsh text, however, shows no influence of the chronicles or the French romances and may suggest an earlier Welsh tradition of Owain as one of Arthur’s companions. In this satirical tale, Owain is not only “Emperor” Arthur’s contemporary, but seens to be his equal. It tells about Owain and Arthur playing Gwyddbwyll – a type of board game – during which Owain’s chained warrior ravens fought with Arthur’s men and were almost defeated. Arthur refuses to stop the murder and Owain ordered his flag to be raised and the ravens released and set about their opponents with renewed vigour. Owain in turn refuses to call off the ravens until they have killed a fair number of Arthur’s nobles and Arthur, infuriated, crushes the Gwyddbwyll figures to dust.
French romance gives us the most details about the Arthurian Owain, particularly the French romance Yvain, or Le Chevalier au lion, by Chrétien de Troyes. The Welsh Owain is almost identical, and either Owain derives from Yvain or they both derive from a common source. A Middle English author followed up with Ywain and Gawain. Each of these three romances tell essentially the same story. He is intrigued by Calogrenant’s, or Cynon’s, tale of an enchanted spring or fountain in the forest of Broceliande, Yvain, a member of Arthur’s court, decides to try the adventure himself. He defeats Esclados, the knight who protected it. He chased the knight back to his castle and there the latter died of his wounds. Owain tried to follow the knight into his castle, but became entangled in the portcullis. He was rescued by Lunette (Lunete), the sister of Laudine, who was the widow of the slain knight. Owain fell in love with Laudine, and her sister persuaded her that she should marry him.
The adventures of a knight named Owayne in Saint Patrick’s Purgatory, another very popular focus of romance from at least as early as the 12th century, make me wonder why Ywaine seems to have missed getting into the Grail cycle in any major way.
‘Alteria‘ | The Legend of King Arthur
Ywaine’s Hermit | The Legend of King Arthur
Ywaine’s Lion | The Legend of King Arthur
Ywaine’s Squire | The Legend of King Arthur
Yvonet li Avoutres | The Legend of King Arthur