Knight of the Red Shield
Chrétien de Troyes relates the story: As Arthur and his people are celebrating their victory over King Rion of the Isles (Ryons), the Red Knight rides into the king’s hall at Carlisle, seizes Arthur’s gold cup so roughly that he sluices some of its wine upon Guenevere, then rides off with it, challenging Arthur either to send a champion or else surrender his lands and become the Red Knight’s vassal.
Young Percivale, just arriving from his home in Wales, sees the Red Knight outside and notices his bright red mail suit, then goes in and finds Arthur in a deep funk. The king calls the Red Knight from the Forest of Quinqueroi his worst (remaining?) enemy; moreover, the wine-stained queen has retired to her room, and the king, apparently underestimating his wife, says he fears she will die of the disgrace. (Strangely, around him, his knights seem to be laughing and joking over their banquet as if oblivious to the trouble.)
Percivale is knighted and asks for the armor. Kay – seeking to cause trouble – told Percivale that he could go ahead and take it. Percivale rode out to meet the Red Knight and demanded the armor. When the Red Knight, expectedly, refused, Percivale threw a well-aimed spear into the Knight’s eye, killing him instantly. With the help of the servant Yvonet, he donned the red armor and rode away. Perceval himself was then called the Red Knight for a time.
One thing we might say in the Red Knight’s favor: though angered by the blunt demand of a fifteen-year-old country bumpkin for his arms and armor, he strikes the boy with the butt end of his lance instead of its iron part, intent rather on teaching him a lesson than on killing him.
Presented lightly in Chrétien’s version, this episode takes on a tragic air in later stories. In Perlesvaus, Perceval slays the Red Knight accidentally while the latter is fighting the White Knight. Perceval had believed that knights in armor were invincible, and he was therefore shocked and saddened when his javelin pierced the Red Knight’s visor. The Red Knight, who was the Lord of the Forest of Shadows, had a brother named Cahot the Red and a son named Clamadoz of the Shadows. Both tried to avenge the Red Knight’s death but failed. In Wolfram’s Parzival, Perceval similarly comes to regret the killing.
In the Fourth Continuation of Chrétien’s Perceval, the Red Knight has four sons: Evander, Marmadus, Leander, and Meliadas. Following their pardon to Perceval for their father’s death, the Red Knight’s body was buried by St. Brendan.
According to the Middle English Sir Perceval of Galles, Perceval killed the Red Knight in revenge for the murder of Perceval’s father at the Red Knight’s hands. His red armor gave him supernatural powers.
Wolfram von Eschenbach calls him Ither.
Red Knight of the Forest of Shadows | The Legend of King Arthur
Perceval, or Le Conte del Graal | Chrétien de Troyes, late 12th century
Parzival | Wolfram von Eschenbach, 1200–1210
Perlesvaus | Early 13th century
Fourth Continuation of Chrétien’s Perceval | Gerbert de Montreuil, c. 1230
Sir Perceval of Galles | Early 14th century