INTRODUCTION TO SIR BEVIS OF HAMPTOUN."CAMDEN," to use the words of Mr. Ritson, "with singular
puerility, says that, at the coming in of the Normans, one
Bogo, or Beavose, a Saxon, had this title (of Earl of Win-
chester : who, in the battle of Cardiff in Wales, fought
against the Normans. For this, however, in a way too usual
with him, he cites no authority; nor does any ancient or
veracious historian mention either Bogo, Beavose, or the
battle of Cardiff," &c. (Dissert. on Romance and Minstrelsy.
p. XCIII.) The critic then makes a violent attack on Mr.
Warton for representing Bevis as a Saxon chieftain; but
Warton probably derived his intelligence from Selden, who,
in his notes on the Poly-Olbion (canto 2, p. 702 of the 8vo
edit.) gives the following account:
title of Earl of Southampton; Duneton in Wiltshire known
for his residence.—His sword is kept as a relique in Arundel
Castle; not equalling in length (as it is now worn) that of
Edward. III. at Westminster."
cient authority for considering this romance to be founded on
Saxon tradition. It is a translation from the Anglo-Norman.
enjoyed a high degree of popularity. Three MS. copies of
this romance in English verse are still extant in our public
libraries; viz. in the Auchinleck MS. of the Advocates'
Library, Edinburgh; in the Public Library, Cambridge; and
in that of Caius College. A fourth (Dr. Monro's) was in the
possession of the late Dr. Farmer. Of the printed editions,
the earliest and most valuable was that of Pynson, of which a
copy is possessed by Mr. Douce; two were printed by Copland.
and one by East. Those of later date are more numerous.
Caius Coll. MS., the omissions in which have been generally
supplied by Pynson's printed copy.
which it was frequently necessary to defend against foreign
invasion, were always distinguished by superior valour and
intrepidity; but the most illustrious champion of this warlike
house was Sir Guy, father of Sir Bevis whose adventures we
are preparing to relate. Sir Guy, constantly occupied during
his youth in enterprises undertaken for the security or enlargement
of his dominions, had unfortunately never thought of
matrimony, till he was past the prime of life, when he chose
a wife many years younger than himself, distinguished by her
high birth and unrivalled beauty. Our author remarks that
such a choice was very imprudent; and as his remarks are
not always equally just, we take great pleasure in recording
this instance of his sagacity.
King of Scotland, had long since bestowed her affections on a
younger lover, Sir Murdour, brother to the Emperor of Almayne:
it was therefore with a very bad grace that she submitted
to the positive commands of her father, who preferred
to this illustrious son-in-law an alliance with the sturdy Earl
of Southampton. She submitted however: she became the
mother of Bevis, for whom she never felt a mother's affection;
and continued, during eight years, to share the bed of a husband
whom she hated, and whose confidence she studied to
acquire for the sole purpose of insuring his destruction.
a number of her husband's vassals, she selected a
trusty messenger whom she directed to salute her lover on
" And bid him, on the first day,
1 Army 2 Ready.
For to fight in that forest
gratitude, and joyfully undertook his share of this atrocious
project. He assembled a small troop of armed knights embarked
with them, landed near Southampton, and, taking his
station in the forest, patiently waited for his victim. In the
meantime the lady appeared to be suddenly indisposed; and
sending for her lord, informed him, that "an evil on her was
Me," and that she longed to eat of the flesh of a wild boar
from his forest, such food being a sovereign remedy for her
disease. Sir Guy, without hesitation, undertook to procure
the object of her wishes; and, riding into the forest with his
hounds, was soon encompassed by the troops of his treacherous|
rival, who after bidding him defiance, and avowing his purpose
of murder, magnanimously assaulted the defenceless veteran.
A few attendants, who had followed their master to the
chase, instantly fled in confusion; but the earl himself, though
provided only with a simple boar spear, evaded the lance of
his antagonist, threw him from his horse upon the ground,
and, drawing his trusty sword, defended himself with such
skill and courage that a hundred of his assailants successively
fell beneath his blows. The victory was long doubtful; but,
his horse being killed under him, the knight was at length
overpowered by numbers, and kneeling to Sir Murdour, who
was now replaced on his horse, earnestly prayed that he might
be permitted to seek a more glorious death, and not perish by
assassination. His base antagonist replied by a blow which
severed the head of the suppliant from his shoulders; and,
having fixed it on a spear, sent it to his mistress as the stipulated
price of her affection.
1 To ruin or destroy him. 2 Company.
3 That no delay take place.
mother considered herself and her lover as insecure during
the life of the infant hero. He had been fostered by his paternal
uncle, Saber, an honest but irresolute man, of whom she ferociously
demanded the murder of her child as the first proof of
his allegiance. Saber did not risk a direct refusal, but, having
killed a pig, sprinkled the garments of Sir Bevis with the
blood, and sent them to the countess as an evidence of his
submission ; while he disguised his foster son in the habit of
a peasant, and enjoined him to tend his flocks on the neighbouring
common. He however promised his pupil to retire
with him, as soon as possible, into Wales, to the court of an
earl to whom they were related, and by whose assistance he
might hope, when arrived at maturer age, to regain his patrimony,
and to revenge the death of Sir Guy on the adulterous
couple by whom his earldom was usurped.
dress, and quietly followed his sheep to the downs; from
whence he surveyed the palace so lately occupied by his noble
father, and vainly endeavoured to suppress the rage and
indignation which such an object excited. But when he
heard the sounds of minstrelsy, which proclaimed the indecent|
revelries of his mother and of her base paramour, he was
seized with a paroxysm of ungovernable fury, and, forgetting
the cautious advice of Saber, precipitately ran to the castle
and prepared to make his way into the hall. The porter,
calling him " whoreson harlot," attempted to turn him back
from the gate: but Bevis, after telling him that he accepted
the first epithet, but utterly disclaimed the second, knocked
him down, advanced into the hall, and, after a few opprobrious
exclamations against his mother and Sir Murdour, applied his
cudgel so successfully to the head of the latter, that at the
third blow he laid him sense-less on the floor. The countess
vainly ordered her attendants to seize the traitor; the knights
were all benumbed and motionless with astonishment, and
suffered the child to retire without opposition.
stout men in one day with his cudgel, was much better satisfied
with his adventure than was his uncle Saber, whom he
met on his return, and to whom he related thus laconically
what had passed:
his return, and to whom he related thus laconically what had passed:
" I wol thee telle altogedyr;
Scarcely had he reached his dwelling when the angry
countess was announced: and the only contrivance which his
ingenuity suggested was, to lock his nephew into an adjoining
closet. She reproached him with disobedience of orders;
and, having easily confuted all his evasions, ordered him
instantly to produce her son, on pain of incurring the most
terrible effects of her displeasure. Bevis, who overheard her
threats, hastened to show himself; when, calling two of her|
attendant knights, she ordered them to lead the child to the
port, and to sell him as a slave to the captain of any ship who
might be preparing to sail into Heathenness. These instructions
were punctually executed; and Bevis, after a long but
prosperous voyage, was carried to the court of Ermyn, a
Saracen king, of whose dominions our author has neglected to
ascertain the boundaries, though he has described, pretty
accurately, the state of his family.
His wife was dead that hight Marage;
1 Left. 2 Mischief. —At this place the author abandons the stanza measure,
and relates, the rest of the story in couplets. 3 Was called. 4 Shoes.
of young Bevis; and, having questioned him concerning his
country and parentage, was much delighted with the simplicity
and conciseness of his answers. He declared it as his
opinion, and even confirmed the declaration by an oath, that
a child who was so adroit with his cudgel could not fail of
possessing unusual prowess when of age to wield a sword,
for which reason he, at the instant, proposed to the boy the
Land of his daughter Josyan, together with the succession to
the crown, on condition of his renouncing Christianity.
Bevis, who had been inspired with a strong veneration for his
religion, and felt no immediate want of a wife, rejected the
offer without hesitation, at the same time expressing rather
freely his contempt for the Saracen deities. Fortunately,.
Ermyn was disposed to be pleased, and took this freedom in
And said, " Whiles thou art a swain,
seven years, to make a progress in the affections of the Saracen
monarch, as well as in those of the beautiful Josyan.
nature, He was now fifteen years old, and considered by all
Ermyn's subjects as a miracle of strength and beauty. On
Christmas day, he happened to be riding out in company with
sixty Saracen knights, one of whom asked him if he was aware
what day it was. Bevis replying that he did not know the
other assured him that it was the festival of Christ's nativity
and a second knight added, that it could not but scandalize
them, who were accustomed to treat their gods with due
reverence, to observe his inattention to his most sacred duties.
Bevis answered, that having been sold as a slave at seven
years old, and since that time surrounded by Heathens, he
had no means of information respecting the religious observances
attached to his faith; but that if he were then a knight
as his father had been, and properly armed, he would in
honour of the true God, readily undertake to just with the
whole company; and trusted that, in such a cause he could
incensed at this speech from a young page, instantly determined
to punish his insolence; and being all armed with
swords, wounded him very severely before he had the means
of making any defence. But at length, having wrested a
sword from the hand of one of his assailants, he exerted himself
so successfully as to kill them all. The horses ran home
to the stables, and excited a general curiosity respecting the
fate of their riders: while Bevis, fatigued with his exploit,
and smarting under his wounds, followed at his leisure, tied
up his horse, retired into his own room, and throwing himself
on the floor, prepared to wait as patiently as he could till it should
please Heaven to diminish the pain which he then suffered.
always been accustomed to dispense with the trouble of reflection.
He generally acted from the first impulse, and this
impulse was, at present, unfavourable to his young chamberlain.
It was observed to him, that there would be no end of
dubbing knights for the purpose of seeing them killed by
Bevis: it was evidently shorter to put him to death; and
therefore Ermyn resolved on ordering Bevis to immediate
execution. But Josyan having advised that he should exert|
his royal sagacity in examining the culprit, he came over to
this opinion; and the princess, who wished for some previous
conversation with her favourite, dispatched two of her knights
with orders that they should conduct Bevis into her presence.
much out of humour insomuch that, having barely raised his
head on the arrival of the two knights, he told them, that
were it not for the respect he bore to the sacred character of
messengers, he should have punished with instant death their
impertinent intrusion; and added
frightened knights, thinking that they saw around him the
ghosts of their sixty countrymen, hastened back with this very
uncourteous message to Josyan, who only smiled at their
terrors, and, promising to be their safeguard, returned with
them to Bevis.
Josyan cast her arms abouten his swere1;
she should conduct him to her father; in whose presence he
related, with his usual simplicity, the whole adventure; and
such was the effect of his eloquence, or rather of his pallid
countenance and almost numberless wounds, that Ermyn
burst into tears, and expressly commanded his daughter to
exert all her leech-craft in his behalf. Josyan very willingly
re-conducted her patient to his chamber,
There they kisseden hem full oft,
to attempt too rashly the narration of another equally
terrible, here interposes the following admonitory couplet—
For the time that God made,
been the terror of Ermyn's court. His size was enormous.
his hide so thick as to be invulnerable, and his tusks so sharp
that no common armour could withstand them; besides
which, he was distinguished from other boars by a contemptuous
disregard for beech-mast and acorns, and by an unnatural
predilection for human flesh, which he gratified at the
1 Neck. 2 Grace, favour.
finding his strength restored, began to consider of the best
modes of employing it; and, one night, whilst he lay in bed,
luckily bethought himself of the boar. In the morning he
saddled his horse; took a good shield and spear, together
with an excellent sword; spurred across the plain with a
grace which further captivated the fair Josyan, who beheld
him from her window; and, when arrived at the forest, dismounted,
tied his horse to a tree, and began to blow his horn.
The boar, whether from sleepiness, or from a natural indifference
to such music, took no notice of the defiance; and Sir
Bevis, constantly advancing, blowing his horn and searching
every thicket, began to despair of meeting his enemy, when
he was directed to the animal's den by the human bones with
which the road was almost wholly covered. He then thus
tauntingly addressed his antagonist:
" Rise," he said, " thou foul beast,
occasion, was of unusual strength, but it was shivered at the
very first onset. The sword was, fortunately, so well tempered
that it did not break in his hand; but he soon perceived
that it made no more impression on the boar than it would
have done on a rock of marble. But his ineffectual exertions
were very fatiguing; his situation became every moment
more discouraging; and in a short prayer, which he uttered
with great devotion, the fainting hero confessed that he had
no hopes of success but from the merciful interposition of
heaven. During this time his antagonist, whose temper was
naturally choleric, and perhaps rendered more so by the
inflammatory nature of his favourite food, began to be in his
turn much distressed by the effects of his own impetuosity;
and, being unable to reach his too nimble enemy, became
almost blind with fury, and breathless from exhaustion.
his jaws without risk of suffocation, instantly seized this advantage;
and, when the boar attempted to regain his den,
met him in his full career, and plunged the sword down his
throat. This blow was decisive. The hero, who from his
long education in a royal court was an adept in carving, now
severed the head from the body; and, placing it on the
truncheon of his spear, bore it off in triumph.
never ventured to go their rounds except in complete armour,
and in numerous companies. Twelve of these happening to
meet Bevis on his return, and perceiving that he was quite
unarmed (his sword having been accidentally left with the
body of the animal), resolved to wrest from him the fruits of
his victory. He had just emerged from the forest, and
arrived within sight of the tender Josyan, who from her
tower had been anxiously watching for his return, when he
was suddenly assailed by the company of twelve armed foresters.
But, though armed, they were not invulnerable; and|
the truncheon of a spear was by no means an inefficient
weapon in the hands of Bevis. At the first blow it came
into contact with the helmets of three of these assailants, and
scattered their brains to some distance. A second stroke and
a third were repeated with equal success; and the three survivors
having made a timely retreat, Bevis quietly resumed
the boar's head, and pursued his journey to the palace; where
Ermyn, who had already learned from his daughter the news
of this astonishing adventure, received him with open arms,
and recommended him to all his courtiers as a perfect model
of courtesy and valour.
king of Damascus, whereby that monarch signified his wish of
espousing the fair Josyan, at the same time announcing, that
a refusal of the princess's hand would excite great indignation
in the breast of the aforesaid Bradmond, and induce him to
waste with fire and sword the whole territory of Ermyn.
This mode of courtship, it must be confessed, was not conciliatory.
Ermyn was so furiously incensed, that, after having
summoned his barons, he was unable to explain very intelligibly
the cause of his indignation; but they took it for
granted, and collected their quotas of men, which, when
to her father, that he would do well to confer the
honour of knighthood on the invincible Bevis, whose single
person was worth at least half a dozen armies; and her
advice being implicitly followed, the young general prepared
for the battle.
Bevis did on his acquetoun,1
Bradmond trusted very much to the hitherto unrivalled|
strength of his standard-bearer, the giant Radyson, and not
less to the vast superiority of his numbers; insomuch that.
when he discovered Bevis advancing at the head of his small
troop, he thought it quite comical, and could not refrain from
an immoderate fit of laughter. The battle began by distinct
But when that they had broke the 'ray,Bevis began by driving his spear through the huge body
1 A wadded or quilted waistcoat worn under the coat of mail, but often
taken for the coat of mail itself. See Halliwell's Dictionary, p. 16.
2 Cost. 3 Impair, hurt, lessen in value. 4 Maid.
try the temper of his sword Morglay, and thinned the ranks
of the enemy with such astonishing expedition, that Bradmond,
quite cured of his mirth, thought only of securing his
retreat, and of carrying off two of Ermyn's knights, his
prisoners, whom he had "taken in the beginning of the action.
But in this also he failed. Bevis, borne with the rapidity of
lightning by the incomparable Arundel, quickly overtook the
fugitive, felled him together with his horse at one blow to the
ground, recovered the prisoners, and signified to his prostrate
enemy that he could only obtain permission to live, by taking
a solemn oath of allegiance and fealty to the once despised
Ermyn. Bradmond thought this condition very severe, but
frankly confessed that he thought the loss of life still more
disagreeable; and, having repeated the formula which constituted
him the vassal of King Ermyn, was suffered to
and modestly related his success, and the important consequences
which it secured, was received with transports of
gratitude by the king, who immediately ordered his daughter
to disarm the hero, to clothe him in a magnificent robe, and
to serve him while at table.
Then was Josyan right glad,
1 Tables. 2 Sweetheart; love.
Then said Bevis. " Josyan, be still ;