Sir Gareth of Orkney

Thank you for visiting Caliburn's Gareth Page. Gareth may not be the most well-known knight of the Round Table, but as Gawaine's brother he is one of the key figures in the Death of Arthur. But there is a whole lot more to him than usually meets the eye.

Click here for brief look at connections between Gareth and other legendary heroes.

Gareth's story is the last manifestation of the truly idealistic Round Table. After it come inner and outer conflicts, adulteries, Grail-quests, murders, feuds, wars, betrayals, and ultimately, the downfall of Arthur's Camelot. In a very real way, with Gareth die the ideals of the Round Table.

Sir Gareth is one of the most gentle, good knights of the Round Table. Malory is very fond of him, and gives him one of the happiest, most complete and neatly ended tales in the Morte Darthur. He spends much time elaborating on how gentle, modest, and patient a knight he turns out to be, but also how valorous and strong.

Gareth represents the youthful ideals of the Round Table--strength, uprightness, devotedness, gentleness, courtesy. Everyone in the Arthurian legend loves Gareth (except, of course, Mordred and Kay). Gareth comes to Camelot pretending to be weak, leaning on two men, asking for food and work. His great white hands hint at a noble birth--"his disguise only renders his aristocratic qualities more shining," says Vida Scudder (219). Arthur's court is always amazed at Gareth's deeds and at the many strong knights that continuously show up at the Round Table with tales of their defeats by Gareth.

Gareth's gentle delineations make him a favorite of Malory's reader, and so when Lancelot kills him, the accident becomes all the more poignant. Gawain's loyalty to his family spurs him on to revenge, and the pathos of the Morte Darthur is magnified by Gawain's and Lancelot's grief.

Click here to go directly to the story of Gareth and Lynet.

Or check out the other references to Gareth in Malory's work.

But if you'd rather, scroll on and you'll get to them eventually.

Book Seven of Malory's work does not really connect to the Arthurian legend, but Vida Scudder thinks that its point was more to exhibit all the qualities of a knight, which had not been so explicitly stated before. Gareth is the young knight who lives according to the ideals of the Round Table. In the Idylls of the King, Gareth's purpose is to spread the ideals of Camelot about the country. Malory's Gareth is just the Fair Unknown who earns his fame through deeds and generosity, not just because he's a prince with a noble lineage. Somehow, Arthur and Lancelot can tell he has a noble background, even as he works in the kitchen. They humor his wishes and are kind to him. In Tennyson's poem, Lynnette cannot see Gareth's aura of nobility. She only sees him as a kitchen boy, but his prowess and patience win her over and she falls in love with him.

For a look at the poem "Gareth and Lynnette" and some commentaries, check out Camelot's Tennyson page.

For some pictures of Gareth and his lady Lynet, see Caliburn's Arthurian Art Gallery, or go directly to Camelot's page by clicking on:

  • "Gareth".
  • "Lynnette"
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  • "Gareth and Lynnette".

  • Since the story of Gareth is not often published in anthologies and stories about Arthur, I will summarize it here so as to show both Gareth's personality and the beginnings of his key role in the downfall of Camelot.

    Summary of the Story of Sir Gareth (Beaumains)
    from Book Seven of Malory's Morte Darthur

    A stranger came to King Arthur's court with two other men, a head and a half taller than them. He asked Arthur for three gifts, the first of which was that Arthur would give him food and lodging for a year, at the end of which he would ask for his other two gifts. Arthur agreed. The stranger wouldn't tell who he was, but because his hands were big and white, Sir Kay gave him the derogatory name of Beaumains. Kay made a big deal of the fact that he wouldn't give his name; it had to mean that he wasn't a gentleman born and was ashamed of that. Kay was almost malicious towards him; he sent him off to work as a kitchen page. But Lancelot took pity on him and stopped Kay's mockery. Kay made him miserable in the kitchen, but Lancelot was still kind, offering him food and wine.

    Beaumains would not take anything but what Kay offered him, though. He "never displeased man nor child, but always was meek and mild," says Malory (129). Lancelot and Gawaine liked him so much that they would give him gold and clothing. He had great physical prowess as well, able to throw bars and stones a full two yards beyond anyone else's. Even Sir Kay admired him somewhat.

    When it was time for Beaumains to ask for his second and third gifts, a damsel named Lynet came to Arthur's court to ask for a a champion who would come rescue her sister Lyones from a besieging tyrant. This tyrant was the Red Knight of the Red Laundes, and he had the strength of seven men. She did not tell her name or where she came from, and so Arthur was unwilling to send any of his knights with her. But Beaumains asked for his remaining two gifts; the first was that he be allowed to go on the adventure, and the second was that he be knighted by Sir Lancelot. Arthur again agreed. The damsel flew into a passion and left immediately, for she thought Arthur was mocking her by sending a mere kitchen page on her adventure.

    Beaumains put on his armor and rode out after Lynet. Sir Kay met them and they jousted for all Kay's past insults, and Beaumains knocked Kay out of his saddle. Lancelot came and he and Beaumains threw each other off their horses. They fought on the ground for a while, and Lancelot found his fighting "passing perilous," and asked to stop since they really had no great quarrel. He asked Lancelot to knight him, and Lancelot was willing--only he needed to know Beaumains' true name. Beaumains said his name was Gareth, and he was a brother of Sir Gawaine. So Lancelot knighted him. They then parted, and Malory adds Sir Kay had to be taken home on his shield, and he was mocked and scorned as much as he deserved.

    Beaumains finally overtook Lynet again, and instead of praising him, she began to chide him for shaming a noble knight with the cowardice of a kitchen page. He insisted on continuing the journey with her.

    Beaumains found it very difficult to please her. He defeated six thieves. and rescued a bound knight, yet she still thought he smelled of the kitchen. He killed two knights who attacked him, but she mourned the loss of such great knights, saying that he drowned one and "mishappily" killed the other. Sometimes she would go to his opponents and tell them he was nothing but a kitchen page and not worth fighting, but when he defeated them, she thought it his pity that the boy smelling of the kitchen should kill so many great knights. He had killed a black knight, and when he later encountered other knights, the damsel would tell them he was a mere kitchen knave, or she would try to rouse them to anger by saying he'd killed the black knight. These knights took such a liking to Beamains that he put them up for the knight. Despite his popularity and growing respect, the damsel was still disgusted with him and refused to even sit with him.

    After a while, however, of watching how well Beaumains performed, Lynet wondered at his patience with her. She begged his pardon, and his answer was that her rebukes made him perform better; for when he was angry at her, he wreaked his wrath upon his opponents. She soon afterwards found out his true name, Gareth, and that Lancelot had knighted him. He was truly noble, and his patience and prowess had proven it.

    When word reached Lyones, Lynet's sister, of her champion's skill and popularity, of his having killed the black knight and defeated all the black knight's noble brothers as well as many other knights, she ceased to mistrust his age. Beaumains and Lynet soon arrived at her palace. They found forty knights hung up in dishonor, for the Red Knight of the Red Laundes was truly great and terrible. He was like Gawaine, for his strength increased until noon, after which it would decrease. Lynet advised Sir Beaumains not to fight him until afternoon, but he insisted on challenging the Red Knight right away. When he saw the lady Lyones looking out from her castle, he fell in love immediately and gained hope to carry him through the battle.

    The fight was long and terrible, but Beaumains succeeded in making the Red Knight yield to him. The strange knight explained that the vengeance he had wreaked on all those knights was done for a lady whose brother had been killed by Lancelot, and who wanted the Red Knight to avenge him. Everyone pleaded for the Red Knight, and Beaumains gave him mercy, requiring that he make restitution for all the damages on the property of Lyones, and that he yield himself to Sir Lancelot and Sir Gawaine for the evils he had intended for them.

    When Arthur heard of the deeds of Beaumains, he wondered at the young knight's ancestry; he must come from some noble line, else he would not be capable of such feats. Lancelot, knowing that Beaumains was Gareth of Orkney, brother of Gawaine, assured him that Beaumains came from a very noble family.

    Beaumains wished to see the lady Lyones, but she would not let him yet. She insisted that he wander for another year, desiring him not to be hasty, even though she loved him and promised never to betray him. Beaumains was unhappy, but he obeyed. Lyones, however, sent her brother Sir Gringamore after him to capture his dwarf, for she planned to gain as much information about her errant knight as she could. Gringamore returned with the dwarf, who told her all she wanted to know, including the fact that he was Prince Gareth of Orkney. As they sat talking about him, Gareth (for so Malory begins to call him) stormed into the castle demanding his dwarf. Gringamore would have fought him, but Lyones prevented him, so they welcomed him into the castle. He did not know who the lady there was, never having seen Lyones up close, but he found himself falling in love with her, wishing the lady whom he had rescued were as fair as she. Click here to find out why he should have found out who Lyones really was before falling in love with her.

    When he went to sleep that night, he was attacked by a stranger bearing a battle-axe. Gareth was severely wounded in the thigh, but he managed to behead him before he fainted. Lyones found him and called for her brother Gringamore, and they helped Gareth and stopped the bleeding. But Lynet came and put the dead knight back together again with an ointment. The knight came back to life and went away to hide. The next night the same thing happened; Gareth was just getting ready to go to sleep when the same knight returned and wounded him in the same place. This time Gareth cut his head off and chopped it into many pieces, scattering them around the castle. But Lynet found all the pieces and put the knight together again. The strange knight never returns to bother Gareth, and Lyones comes up with another miraculous ointment that heals Gareth instantly. Click here for a quick look at some other occurrences of what Loomis calls the Beheading Test.

    When Gareth returned to Arthur's court for a tournament, he did not want to be recognized immediately. His renown grew, however, when the knights whom Gareth had defeated came to swear their fealty to Gareth and the Table Round.

    For the tournament, Lyones loaned Gareth a ring which made her more beautiful, but which would make him strong and unrecognizable. It would also change the color of his armor. At the tournament, no one knew who he was, and the color changing made it difficult to follow him. He defeated all his opponents and made all the spectators wonder who he was. They had their answer when Gareth's dwarf took the ring from him, thinking it was time he received the recognition he deserved; his color changed to yellow and his name was written in gold agross his helm. Everyone was overjoyed to see him, and he doubled his strokes when people knew him. He left the tournament when he got his ring back, and, sending word to Lyones through the dwarf, he set out on another wandering adventure. Click here to see other versions of the story of the Unknown Knight at the Tournament.

    After many deeds of valor and derring-do, he met with an unknown knight and began to fight him. They had been fighting for two hours when Lynet wandered by and told Gareth to stop fighting, for he was fighting his brother Gawaine. Gawaine thereupon threw down his arms and yielded to Gareth, and they made friends. Lynet went to fetch her sister, and the story ends with Gareth marrying Lyones, his brother Gaheris marrying Lynet, and his other brother Agravayne marrying another sister named Laurel.

    Other Appearances of Gareth in the Morte Darthur

    In the matter of his mother Morgause's adultery with Sir Lamorak, when his brothers Agravaine, Mordred, Gaheris and Gawaine murder them, he will have nothing to do with it; "well I understand the vengeance of my brethren Sir Gawaine, Sir Agravaine, Gaheris, and Mordred. But as for me, I meddle not of their matters, therefore is none of them that loveth me; and for I understand they be murderers of good knights I left their company, and God would I had been by, when the noble knight Sir Lamorak was slain" (293). Dinadan says that his brothers hate the noble knights of the Round Table, especially Lancelot. But because of his long friendship with Lancelot, Gareth cannot betray him and support his brothers.

    Gareth is frequently called the best knight of the five brothers for the very reason that he is not overcome by hatred. Even when Lancelot has to flee from the Round Table, Gareth supports him: "Also Arthur blamed Sir Gareth, because he left his fellowship and held with Sir Lancelot. My lord, said Sir Gareth, he made me a knight, and when I saw him so hard bestad, me thought it was my worship to help him, for I saw him do so much, and so many knights against him" (436). Arthur respects this faithfulness and allows Gareth to support Lancelot even against the Round Table.

    Gareth's good reputation has much to do, it seems, with his disregard for genealogy and feuds and his respect for actual prowess and courteousness. He has more of a balance than the other knights of the Round Table, and Malory paints him as a very sympathetic character. In a list of all the Orkney brothers, Gareth is described as "the very good knight Sir Gareth, which was of very knighthood worth all the brethren" (448). His trust in Lancelot is displayed when he goes without armor to stand by Guenevere at the stake, for he is sure Lancelot will recognize him and spare him. But no; Gareth is killed in an unknightly fashion by his dearest friend. The great feud between Lancelot and Gawaine starts. Gareth's death is of major importance in the fall of Camelot, for although both Gawain and Lancelot are crushed by Gareth's death, it is ultimately Gawaine's wreaking of revenge on Lancelot that destroys Camelot and the Arthurian dream.

    The pictures on this page are:
    Woodcut from Aubrey Beardsley, Le Morte D'Arthur (London, late 19th century), rpt. in Sir Thomas Malory, Le Morte D'Arthur (Avenel: Gramercy Books, 1995) 358.

    Rackham, Arthur. How Beaumains defeated the Red Knight and always the damosel spake many foul words unto him., from The Romance of Arthur, rpt. in David Day, The Search for King Arthur (Novara: Facts on File, 1995) 95.

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