Nightbringer | The Arthurian Online Encyclopedia

Haughty Maid of Logres

Haughty Damsel of Nogres, Haughty Woman of Nogres

Chrétien scholars Cline and Frappier call her Chretien’s “vamp”. She takes her name from the land where she was born, and from which she was taken as a child. Whether this land was Logres or Nogres apparently depends on the ms.; Cline prefers Nogres, but D.D.R. Owen claims to follow the majority opinion in preferring Logres.

Gawaine first meets her as he approaches the Galloway border, soon after leaving the wounded Greoreas. The Haughty Maid sits beneath a tree admiring her face in a looking glass. The beauty of her face and body are worth admiring; nevertheless, the mirror could well symbolize vanity to the medieval mind (as to the modern: I suspect that this image of the beauty admiring herself strikes us as much in the same way it struck Chrétien’s original readership).

Her every word dripping scorn, she challenges Gawaine to cross to the city (of Orquenseles?) and bring back her little piebald palfrey, threatening that if he does, she will ride with him to watch the shame and disaster he will suffer. When he successfully brings her mount, she refuses to let him help her into the saddle: she will not endure his touch. She follows him back to Greoreas and his lady and apparently sits quietly watching Greoreas steal Gringolet, whereupon she mocks Gawaine’s necessity of mounting the Ugly Squire’s ‘Sorry Nag’, saying she only wishes it were a mare, so that his shame would be even worse.

She accompanies him to the riverbank facing Canguin, where she leads her palfrey into a waiting barge, warns Gawaine that the knight approaching on Gringolet is Greoreas’ nephew come to kill him, and quietly slips away while Gawaine is engaged winning back his own steed.

Next day the Haughty Maid reappears, bringing the Haughty Knight of the Rock on the Narrow Way. Upon Gawaine issuing forth, defeating her champion, and sending him wounded back to Canguin, she informs Gawaine that it was a case of the weaker man winning and challenges him to prove his worthy by leaping his horse across the Perilous Ford, telling him that the man he just defeated has been doing this every day (a short passage of questioned authenticity adds that his purpose was to bring her flowers picked on the other side). After achieving this feat, thanks to Gringolet, Gawaine learns from Guiromelant that he is in fact the first to cross this ford.

Up until now, the Haughty Maid has made herself universally hated by her behavior. From Guiromelant, we learn some of the reason behind her actions: this worthy boasts of having slain her original sweetheart in order to take her himself. Of course, he scorns her now, for showing the inexplicable taste to escape from him with the Haughty Knight of the Rock at her first opportunity.

When Gawaine crosses the Perilous Ford a second time and returns to her she shows him quite a different side of herself, explaining that she has been behaving as she has because, in her grief for her slain love, she has hoped to anger some knight into ending her own life. Now she begs Gawaine to give her death that will serve for an example to prevent all maidens henceforth from insulting other knights. He naturally refuses, instead taking her back to Canguin, where she is welcomed for his sake.

For the symbolism of the mirror, which may mark the Haughty Maid on her first appearance as a vanitas or personification of vanity, see Susan Haskins, Mary Magdalen: Myth and Metaphor [1993]. The mirror also, however, came to serve as a symbol of truth, which is presumably its significance in works with the title “Mirror for…” or “Mirror of..,” and in the owl and looking-glass associated with Tyll Eulenspiegel. Whether it might have had this “truth” symbolism as early as Chrétien’s generation, I cannot as yet say.