Courtesy and Service in The Tale of Sir Gareth

  • Ruth Lexton
Part of the Arthurian and Courtly Cultures book series (SACC)


Lancelot’s elegy for Gareth in the final books of the Morte Darthur portrays him as a knight of the court whose martial skill is turned to the service of others: “He was passyng noble and trew, curteyse and jan- till and well-condicionde” (Works, 1199.19–20). The two knights share the combination of gracious manners and prowess in battle that attests to their chivalry. At the end of the Morte, Ector’s threnody for Lancelot employs similar language:

And thou were the curtest knyght that ever bare shelde! And thou were the truest frende to thy lovar that ever bestrade hors … and thou were the kyndest man that ever strake wyth swerde. And thou were the godelyest persone that every came emonge press of knyghtes, and thou was the mek- est man and the jentyllest that ever ete in halle emonge ladyes.

(Works, 1259.12–19)


Courteous Behavior Round Table Domestic Service Table Manner Royal Court 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.


Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.


  1. 4.
    Felicity Riddy, Sir Thomas Malory (Leiden: E. J. Brill, 1987), 79–80.Google Scholar
  2. 5.
    Molly Martin, Vision and Gender in Malory’s “Morte Darthur” (Cambridge: D. S. Brewer, 2010), 27.Google Scholar
  3. 6.
    Imogen Baker, The King’s Household in the Arthurian Court from Geoffrey of Monmouth to Malory (Washington DC: Catholic University of America, 1937), 141. Tomomi Kato, Concordance to the Works of Sir Thomas Malory (Tokyo: University of Tokyo Press, 1974), 305–7 for references to “courte”; 582, 585 for references to “house/howse,” “household.”Google Scholar
  4. 7.
    John Watts, Henry VI and the Politics of Kingship (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1996), 86–87. David Starkey, “Introduction: Court History in Perspective,” The English Court: From the Wars of the Roses to the Civil War, ed. David Starkey (London: Longman, 1987), 4, 8–9. Fifteenth-century historians, in contrast to their early modern counterparts, have tended to prefer “household” to “court” to describe the political, administrative, and institutional structures about the king.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. 8.
    Malcolm Vale, The Princely Court: Medieval Courts and Culture in NorthWest Europe, 1270–1380 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2001), 15–31, 56–57. Watts, Henry VI, 87–88; Starkey, “Court History,” 4; David Starkey, “Age of the Household,” in The Later Middle Ages, ed. S. Medcalf (London, 1981), 261–63. Chris Given-Wilson, The Royal Household and the King’s Affinity: Service, Politics and Finance in England, 1360–1413 (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1986), 2. Given-Wilson makes the distinction between the “domus,” the permanent household that dealt with domestic and administrative needs and guarded the king and the “familia” that had an expansive and shifting membership. See also John Watts, “Was there a Lancastrian Court,” in The Lancastrian Court: Proceedings of the 2001 Harlaxton Symposium, Harlaxton Medieval Studies 13, ed. Jenny Stratford (Donnington: Shaun Tyas, 2003), 267–68.Google Scholar
  6. 9.
    Edward Peters, The Shadow King: “Rex Inutilis” in Medieval Law and Literature (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1970), 171. Sydney Anglo, Spectacle, Pageantry and Early Tudor Policy (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1969), 2, 11.Google Scholar
  7. 10.
    Vale, Princely Court, 16; Anglo, Spectacle, Pageantry and Policy, 21. Christine Carpenter, The Wars of the Roses: Politics and the Constitution in England, c. 1437–1509 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1997), 72–73, 158.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. 11.
    J. G. Bellamy, “Justice under the Yorkist Kings,” American Journal of Legal History 9, no. 2 (1965): 136–38; Watts, Henry VI, 337–40.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. 12.
    Jonathan Nicholls, The Matter of Courtesy: Medieval Courtesy Books and the Gawain-Poet (Cambridge: D. S. Brewer, 1985), 18; C. M. Woolgar, The Great Household in Late Medieval England (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1999), 21–25Google Scholar
  10. 14.
    Christopher Dean, “Sir Kay in Medieval Romances: An Alternative Tradition,” English Studies in Canada 9, no. 2 (1983): 126–27; Whetter, “Reassessing Kay,” 359. Alliterative Morte Arthure, 137.209. Malory knew “Sir Kayous the courtais” of the Alliterative Morte Arthure, which he drew on for the Roman War episode.Google Scholar
  11. 30.
    Rosemary Horrox, “Service,” in Fifteenth Century Attitudes: Perceptions of Society in Late Medieval England, ed. Rosemary Horrox (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1994), 61.Google Scholar
  12. 31.
    Rosemary Horrox, “Personalities and Politics,” in The Wars of the Roses, ed. A. J. Pollard (London: Macmillan Press, 1995), 89–90. Horrox, “Service,” 61–63. Christine Carpenter, “The Beauchamp Affinity: A Study of Bastard Feudalism at Work,” EHR 95, no. 376 (July 1980): 514.Google Scholar
  13. 34.
    Catherine Batt, “‘Hand for Hand’ and ‘Body for Body’: Aspects of Malory’s Vocabulary of Identity and Integrity with Regard to Gareth and Lancelot,” Modern Philology 91, no. 3 (1994): 274, 276.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. 35.
    Diane Bornstein, Mirrors of Courtesy (Hamdon, CT: Archon Books, 1975), 79.Google Scholar
  15. 41.
    Lin Yiu, “Richard Beauchamp and the Uses of Romance,” Medium Aevum 74, no. 2 (2005): 273–75 for discussion of the idea that Beauchamp was a model for Lynn S. Martin, “Was Richard Beauchamp, Earl of Warwick, the Model for Sir Gareth?,” Studies in Medieval Culture 4, no. 3 (1974): 517–23 is the most fervent promoter of this theory that was first mentioned by Dugdale and perpetuated by Kittredge and Vinaver, though the latter rejected it in 1947. William Matthews, The Ill-Framed Knight: A Skeptical Inquiry into the Identity of Sir Thomas Malory (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1966), 60–63 treats it with well-deserved skepticism. See also Joseph Ruff, “Malory’s Gareth and Fifteenth Century Chivalry,” in Benson and Leyerle, Chivalric Literature, 101–16.Google Scholar
  16. 42.
    G. A. Lester, Sir Paston’s “Grete Boke”: A Descriptive Catalogue with an Introduction of British Library MS Lansdowne 285 (Cambridge: D. S. Brewer, 1984), 98–102. Henry Noble MacCracken, “The Earl of Warwick’s Virelai, ” PMLA 22, no. 4 (1907): 601–3 prints the account of the Guines tournament from Lansdowne 285. Viscount Dillon and W. H. St. John Hope, eds., Pageant of the Birth Life and Death of Richard Beauchamp Earl of Warwick K.G. 1389–1439 (London: Longmans, Green, 1914), 57–62. C. E. Wright, “The Rous Roll: The English Version,” British Museum Quarterly 20, no. 4 (1956): 77–81.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Ruth Lexton 2014

Authors and Affiliations

  • Ruth Lexton

There are no affiliations available

Personalised recommendations