Damsel Savage, The Damosel Savage
When Sir Ironside laid siege to Lynette’s sister Lyonors in Castle Dangerous, Lynette came to Arthur’s court to find a champion. At first reluctant for some reason to tell her sister’s name, she seemed about to reveal it in order to gain a worthy knight when Beaumains, hot from his year in the kitchen and not yet knighted, asked for the adventure.
Since this was serious business – Gawaine himself had just called the Red Knight of the Red Lands (Ironside) “one of the perilloust knights of the world” – we may understand Lynette’s annoyance at being given an unproven kitchen page for her sister’s champion, especially when Lancelot and Gawaine, the two knights Ironside most sought to fight, were both at court. She industriously rebuked Gareth all the way from Arthur’s court to the city of Sir Persant of Inde. It is possible that, like Beauvivante, she hoped to discourage her youthful knight from risking his life, but during his battle with Perimones, it was Perimones whom she cheered on.
The triumphant Gareth threatened to kill Pertolepe, Perimones, and Persant, each in turn, unless “his lady” told him to spare them; she always did, though couching the instruction in scornful terms the first few times. By the time they came to Persant’s city, though, she had relented, begged Gareth’s pardon, and warned him sincerely against taking on Persant and later Ironside.
In Ironside’s case, she also craftily counseled Gareth to wait until after noon, when Ironside’s strength would be on the decline, before issuing his challenge. (He scorned the suggestion, of course.) At one point in the battle with Ironside, when Gareth was temporarily on the bottom, Lynette cheered on her former kitchen knave, reminding him that Lyonors was looking on and thus stirring him to victory. Like the Isouds and other ladies, Lynette had surgical skill, tending the wounds of both Gareth and Ironside after the fight.
Not long thereafter, when Gareth and Lyonors “were accorded to abate their lusts secretly”, Lynette used her craft and a magic salve to keep them honest before marriage. Although this is Malory’s only instance of Lynette in the apparent role of sorceress, and although she could simply have gotten hold of Sir Priamus’ restorative balm or some similar unguent, the evidence suggests some sorcerous, rather than merely surgical, knowledge on her part. For instance, when the leeches examined the wounds Lynette’s knight inflicted on Gareth, they
said that there was no man ... should heal him throughout of his wound but if they healed him that caused that stroke by enchantment.
laid an ointment and a salve to him as it pleased to her, that he was never so fresh nor so lusty.
Lynette’s brother was Sir Gringamore (Guingomar); her niece was Dame Laurel. When Lyonors was wedded to Gareth, the quick-tounged, crafty, and lively though somewhat puritanical Lynette was wedded to Gaheris.
Perhaps she is best remembered today for Tennyson’s graceful version in Gareth and Lynette, one of the most enjoyable of his idylls. Tennyson has Gareth fall in love with and marry Lynette rather than Lyonors, which perhams seems more satisfying to the modern mind. Because the Tennysonian names seem to me more musical than the Malorian, and because Malory names the other sister Lionesse, which sounds confusingly like the country of Lyonesse, Tennyson’s names is used here instead.
The King’s Damosel, a charming modern romance by Vera Chapman, which catches the medieval spirit with a good admixture of modern taste, uses Lynette for its heroine. Chapman (who does take considerable liberties with Malory) has Lynette leaving Gaheris almost at once to become a carrier of messages for Arthur. In Chapman’s version, Lynette, although not a virgin, achieves the Grail. She reappears in Chapman’s other romances, The Green Knight and King Arthur’s Daughter, which show her surviving the downfall of Arthur’s kingdom to help plant the seeds of Arthur’s spirit in future generations.
Laurel | The Legend of King Arthur
Le Morte Darthur | Sir Thomas Malory, 1469-1470
Idylls of the King | Lord Alfred Tennyson, 1859-1886