Gouvernail

Curvenal, Gorvenal, Gouvemal, Gouvernal, Governal, Governayl, Governayle, Govomar, Kurvenal


Born in Gaul. This educated man became the tutor of Tristan as a youth and then became his loyal squire (servant). The Prose Tristan tells us that Governal was appointed the post of Tristanís guardian by Merlin. He had been forced to flee his home in Gaul after he killed a knight. When Tristanís father died, Governal spirited him to France to protect him from his enemies.

And then [King Mediodas, Tristram's father] let ordain a gentleman that was well learned and taught, his name was Gouvernail; and then he sent young Tristram with Gouvernail into France to learn the language, and nurture, and deeds of arms.

Gouvernail apparently chose a permanent career as squire in preference to becoming a knight himself. After seven years of teaching Tristram in France, he returned as Tristram's servant. When Tristram commanded Gouvernail to leave him alone on the island where he would fight Sir Marhaus to the uttermost, "either departed from other sore weeping." Gouvernail is usually found at Tristram's side, serving him faithfully and well and advising him prudently.

On at least one occasion, Gouvernail was instrumental in saving his master's life, when he, with Sirs Lambegus and Sentraille (Sentrayle of Lushon), pulled Tristram up from the sea cliffs of Cornwall; when, immediately after this, Tristram escaped into the woods with La Beale Isoud, Gouvernail was the only man he kept with him.

It is tempting to pair Gouvernail with Isoud's favorite handmaiden, Bragwaine (Brangien). The only grounds for such a match that I find in Malory, however, are that Gouvernail is entrusted, along with Bragwaine, with the love potion intended for Isoud and Mark, and when Tristram and Isoud find it by mischance, Tristram jokingly remarsk that Bragwaine and Gouvernail have kept what he supposes is merely good wine for themselves.

Also, when Tristram, Sir Kehydius, Bragwaine, and Gouvernail are blown ashore near Castle Perilous, North Wales, Tristram takes Kehydius adventuring in the forest, saying apparently to Bragwaine,

Here shall ye abide me these ten days, and Gouvernail, my squire, with you.

Governal accompanied Tristan on most of his adventures, and, with Isoldeís maidservant Brangain, arranged in many instances to allow Tristan and Isolde to meet together. In the Prose Tristan, Tristan crowns him King of Lyonesse and he marries Brangain. Upon Tristanís death, Governal joined Arthur and Lancelot in a war against King Mark of Cornwall.


See also
Governal of Roberdic | The Legend of King Arthur