Nightbringer | The Arthurian Online Encyclopedia

Gareth of Orkney

Beaumains, Carahés, Charahes, Charehes, Charheries, Gaheret, Gahereth, Gaheriet, Gariet, Gariette, Garrett, Generez, Gerehes, Guerehes, Guerhees, Guerhes, Guerreet, Guerrehers, Guerrehes, Guerrehet, Guerrehiers, Guerrier, Karyet

The youngest true-born son of King Lot of Orkney and Arthur’s sister Margawse (or Belisent), and brother of Soredamors, ClarissantGawaineGaherisAgravaine, and their half-brother Mordred.

The earliest form of his name is so similar to the earliest form of Gaheris that the two brothers may have originally been the same character. He first appears in Chrétien de Troyes’s Perceval. His name may be an adaptation of the Welsh Gweir. His first significant adventure comes in the First Continuation of Perceval, in which he avenges a knight named Brangemuer by slaying the Little Knight. His story is expanded in the Vulgate Cycle, and Malory attaches to him a Fair Unknown story (which is particularly reminiscent of Renaut de Bâgé’s Guinglain).

The Vulgate Merlin and Malory offer two differing tales of his enfances. Merlin tells us that, with his brothers, he defected from Lot’s house and took service with Arthur. He came to court under unusual circumstances at a Pentecost feast, refusing to identify himself. He battled the early Saxon invasion and participated in the war against King Claudas. He was knighted either by Arthur or his brother Gaheris.

Gareth was one of the best knights of his arms of the world and probably remains today the best loved of the Orkney brothers, as well as one of the best loved members of Arthur’s Round Table. His story is quite familiar. The last of the brothers (except, presumably, Mordred) to come to court, he appeared anonymously and asked Arthur for three gifts.

The first was to be fed for a twelvemonth, at the end of which time he would ask another two. Kay took charge of feeding him, nicknamed him Beaumains (‘Fair-hands’ indicating that they were insullied by work) in mockery, and put him in the kitchen. Both Lancelot and Gawaine befriended him, the latter not recognizing him as brother, and even Kay seems to have taken pride in Beaumains’ strength in the sports of casting bars or stones.

At the end of the year, Lynette came to court requesting a champion for her sister Lyonors against Sir Ironside, alias The Red Knight of the Red Launds, who was besieging their castle. Beaumains made his remaining requests: that he be given Lynette’s adventure, and that Lancelot be sent after them to dub him knight on command. To Lynette’s chagrin, Arthur granted both gifts and Gareth went with her, accompanied by a dwarf who knew his real identity. Kay rode after them to give the kitchen boy his first test, and Beaumains promptly jousted him down; Lancelot came shortly thereafter and gave Beaumains a fall, but when they fought with swords, Gareth fought so well that Lancelot

dreaded himself to be shamed" and called a truce and knighted the young man.

Despite Lynette’s continued mockery, for she had no wish for her cause to be championed by a scullion, or kitchen drudge, Gareth completed the adventure, conquering and either converting or slaying numerous knights on the way – Gherard and Arnold le Breusse, the four brothers Percard, Pertolepe, Perimones, and Persant, and finally Ironside himself. He spared the latter’s life and sent him to Camelot. (Tennyson, who changes and simplifies the tale somewhat in one of his best idylls, Gareth and Lynette, ends it with Gareth’s victory at Lyonors’ castle and marries Gareth to the livelier sister, Lynette.)

Malory continues the story quite a bit further: Gareth begs to see the lady he has just saved from Ironside, but Lyonors tells him he must first labor for a year to win greater fame and her love. Already in love with him, however, she enlists her brother Sir Gringamore (Guingomar of Avalon) to bring him to her with a mock kidnaping of Gareth’s dwarf. Biding together in the castle after this practical joke, Gareth and Lyonors decide to consummate their love in advance of the wedding ceremony, but Lynette uses a bit of magical art to keep her sister an honest woman. Meanwhile, Pertolepe, Perimones, Persant, and Ironside arrive at Arthur’s court to describe their young conqueror’s exploits. Queen Morgawse also comes to visit her brother Arthur, and her older sons learn of their relationship with Beaumains.

At Gareth’s advice, Lyonors holds a great tournament at her castle on the feast of Assumption. Lyonors gives her lover a ring which enables him to fight in the tournament incognito, but he is recognized when his dwarf cunningly gets possession of the ring. Then Gareth slips away from the tournament and obtains lodging at the castle of the Duke de la Rowse by promising the Duchess to yield to the absent Duke whenever he meets him. Continuing, he kills a knight named Bendelaine in battle and defends himself successfully against twenty of Bendelaine’s men who attack him seeking revenge. Gareth marries Lyonors at Kynke Kenadonne after a series of adventures.

During Arthur’s war against the Roman Emperor Thereus, Gareth killed King Datis of Tuscany. In the Vulgate Lancelot, the Post-Vulgate, and Malory, Gareth has several other minor adventures which generally proved him a cut above his brothers. He prevented Gawain and Agravain from killing Gaheris in revenge for Morgause’s death, condemned his brothers for the murder of Lamorat, and attempted to dissuade Agravain and Mordred from exposing the affair between Lancelot and Guenevere.

In the Vulgate Mort Artu and in Malory, Gareth dies at the hand of Lancelot, who does not recognize him in the melee surrounding Guinevere’s rescue by her lover. His death, which saddens Lancelot and angers Gawaine, precipitates the final tragedy, or (as the Mort Artu calls it) the war that will have no end. It has been suggested that there may have been a French romance (now lost) concerning Beaumains; in any event, the striking resemblance of Malory’s tale to the situation of Fergus and perhaps to that of Chrétien de Troyes’s Laudine convinced R.S. Loomis (in Arthurian Tradition and Chrétien de Troyes) that those various narrative sequences shared a common and doubtless oral origin. His story, told by Malory, may have been based on a lost French romance.

Gareth, known for his strength and prowess, is sometimes associated with his own shield. The design of his shield varies, but it often features imagery related to his bravery, such as a lion or a dragon.

See also
Gareth’s Sword | The Legend of King Arthur

Perceval, or Le Conte del Graal | Chrétien de Troyes, late 12th century
Lanzelet | Ulrich von Zatzikhoven, c. 1200
Vulgate Lancelot | 1215-1230
Vulgate Mort Artu | 1215-1230
Post-Vulgate Suite du Merlin | 1230-1240
Post-Vulgate Queste del Saint Graal | 1230-1240
Post-Vulgate Mort Artu | 1230-1240
Le Morte Darthur | Sir Thomas Malory, 1469-1470