Nightbringer | The Arthurian Online Encyclopedia

Magic Mantle

Ballad Number 29, also known as The Boy and the Mantle, is a traditional English ballad that dates back to the late medieval or early modern period. This ballad tells a moralistic and humorous story involving a magic mantle (a cloak or garment) and a group of courtiers.

The ballad revolves around a challenge set by King Arthur. The king proclaims that any knight who can wear a mysterious magical mantle without shame or disgrace will receive a great reward, while those who are unworthy will be publicly exposed. Many noble and gallant knights attempt to wear the mantle, but it refuses to fit or falls apart upon contact with those who are dishonest or unfaithful to their lovers.

Unexpectedly, a young boy (in some versions called a dwarf) enters the court and claims he can wear the mantle. The courtiers mock him, but when the boy puts on the mantle, it fits him perfectly. However, the mantle reveals the true nature of the courtiers’ secret sins and misdeeds. Each courtier is publicly humliated by the mantle, which exposes their dishonesty, infidility, and immoral behaviour.

The only woman at Arthur’s court who can wear it is Sir Craddock’s (Caradoc) wife, and even on her it begins to wrinkle at the toe, until she makes full confession: She had kissed Craddock’s mouth once before they were married.

In the ballad a boar’s head, that could only be carved by the knife of a man who was not a cuckold, and a horn of red gold from which no cuckold could drink without spilling, is mentioned.

This sounds almost like another attempt of Morgan le Fay’s to convince Arthur of Guenevere’s unfaithfulness, and perhaps the drinking horn of the ballad tradition is connected with Malory’s tale of the drinking horn Morgan made, from which no faithless wife could drink without spilling.

See also
Chastity Test | The Legend of King Arthur