William Morris Archive


Peter Wright

Notes are organised according to the foliation of the translation in B.L Add. MS. 45329, and by catchwords within those folios. References to Malory here, as in the Introduction, are to the book and chapter of Caxton's edition.

f. 1 Lucius.....of Gast. See Tristan, tr. Curtis, pp. xvii--xv iii, 327.

Britain the Great: Great Britain, as distinct from Britain the Less, the later Brittany; see also Intro. 7th para. On ff. 47---8 it appears that characters in this romance can pass from Lyonesse to Britain the Great by sea, as Tristan also does when banished from Cornwall at the conclusion of his main adventures there: see Malory, Bk. IX, ch. xxii. The conversion of the larger country to Christianity was ascribed in legend sometimes to Joseph of Arimathea himself (cf. f. 74), sometimes in the Romance tradition to his successors in the Grail lineage.

Bron In the Estoire del Graal, following Robert de Boron (cf. Merlin and the Grail, pp. 39--42), Bron, the husband of Joseph's sister Enygeus, has twelve sons, most of whom marry also, but one, Alain, named later on this folio as Helain the Big, i. e. le Gros, chooses chastity, and is appointed as Joseph's successor as Grail guardian.

Sadoc: His name is presumably borrowed from that of Zadok, high priest of King David's time: 2 Samuel, ch. 15 and later. His character was probably an invention of 'Luce'.

f. 3 Babylon: In the Middle Ages the capitals of the Saracen rulers of Egypt, Fostat, and later Cairo, were often styled Babylon, after a Roman fortress near their sites, and those rulers as the Soldan or Amir of Babylon. The author presumably imagines the King's daughter being taken by ship through the Mediterranean on her way to marriage in Persia, which would not have been necessary for a journey from the now more famous Babylon in Mesopotamia.

Nabuzardan: The Semitic sounding name is taken from that of the commander sent by King Nebuchadnezzar to destroy Jerusalem: 2 Kings, ch. 25.

ff. 6--7 The selection by casting lots of one 'sinner' to throw overboard to appease the storm is presumably based on the story of Jonah, ch. 1.

f. 9 of the kin of Virgil: ln the Middle Ages Virgil was as famous as an enchanter as a poet: see D. Comparetti, Vergil in the Middle Ages (Eng. tr. 1895), pt. II. Philosophy was likewise then often reckoned akin to magic.

f. 10 The exposure in a wood of a child of which it has been foretold that its survival will endanger a king, but which that king cannot bring himself personally to kill, is a folktale motif which Morris also used in his "The Man Born to be King" in the Earthly Paradise. In this story, too, as in that of Perseus and his grandfather which Morris included in that collection, the exposure is as usual thwarted, and the king suffers his prophesied doom.

f. 11. Apollo Giving the child the name of this pagan god is a little strange, when, as 'Apollyon' that god often appears in romance as one of the 'Trinity' worshipped by Saracens. On f. 70 it is noted that the child, by then a king, was not required to alter his pagan name when his land was converted.

f. 12 Sarras In the Estoire the pagan king of Sarras has been converted by Joseph. In the Vulgate tradition Sarras is the city far in the East (usually reached by sea) where the knights seeking the Grail finally achieve their quest. In The Well at the World’s End (Bk. IV, ch. xxviii) Morris took its name as that of the distant eastern city where Ralph's godmother Dame Katherine obtained the enchanted beads which enable him to win his way to the Well.

Caught up by the hair in one of the Apocryphal parts of the Book of Daniel, "Bel and the Dragon," an angel carries the prophet Habakkuk by the hair to bring food to Daniel in the lions' den.

f. 19 a man of Galilee: i.e. a Christian

f. 20 King Maroneus ... King of Gaul: The king's name, so written by Morris, is presumably that used in the French text he was following for Meroveus, the legendary ancextor of the Merovingian dynasty which ruled the Franks from the 5th to the 8th century. For his vassalage to Rome, see Intro. 7th para.

f. 20 tribute of a hundred youths .... This tribute of youths, damsels, and horses is conceived by the author as a standard one for vassal kingdoms, and is repeated on f. 59 as that offered by Cornwall to the king of Ireland for aid against invaders, which continued until abolished by Sir Tristram's victory over Morholt.

ff. 20--1, St. Remy..... Clovis About 500 A D. Remigius bishop of Reims baptised as a Catholic Clovis, the first Frankish king who possessed most of Gaul.; cf. f. 83.

t: 28 thy lecher, i.e. your lover

r. 29 under a perron: A pcrron was a raised platform in front of a building.

f. 41 Logrcs A conventional name in romance for King Arthur 's realm in Britain.

St. Denis: The legendary apostle of Gaul, dated about 250 A.D., patron of the great abbey just north of Paris, and eventually patron saint of France.

f. 51 his meeney: A meinie is the band of followers escorting a king or lord.

f. 58 Childeric ... an evil king: The author may be recalling the story of how Childeric, in legend heir to Meroveus, and historically father of Clovis, was for a time expelled from his kingship over the Franks for seducing their women: see Gregory of Tours, History of the Franks,bk. II, c h. 11.

f. 59 isle of St. Samson's: The Welsh saint, St. Samson (fl. 500--50), founded churches and monasteries in Cornwall and Brittany. His isle is specified as the site of Tristan's combat with Morholt later in the romance: Tristan, tr. Curtis, pp. 36 seqq.

f. 60 Hercules slew a giant: Possibly a reminiscence of the combat in which Hercules killed the giant Cacus, a victory which Aeneas found those dwelling at the site of Rome celebrating: Aeneid, Bk. VIII, lines 184---279.

f. 64 all the dames and damsels .... were bidden: Perhaps inspired by the show of beautiful maidens summoned by King Ahasuerus from his whole kingdom so that he might choose a new bride from among them: Esther, chs. 1--2.

f. 65 Augustin[e]. The name of the imagined missionary to Lyonessse is probably derived from the monk sent by Pope Gregory I to convert the English in 597, rather than from the more famous African bishop and theologian (354--430).

ff. 68--9 a fire so great: Ordeals by fire were occasionally practised in the 11th century, for instance at Antioch during the First Crusade to test the authenticity of the 'Holy Lance', and were offered by St. Franc is to the Sultan of Egypt during the Fifth, and by Savonorola at Florence as late as 1498.

f. 70 a wise man .... born in Greece .... called Philosopher. This philosopher, rather than a magician like the imitator of Virgil mentioned on ff. 9--10, may be reckoned as one of the wise heathen, such as Plato, whom 12th-century scholars supposed to have approached close to Christian belief by the use of natural reason.

ff. 70--1· the Temple of Apollo .... altars ... in honour of Jupiter .... Mars ... Saturn

Medieval authors, knowing little, if anything, of the actual religion of the pre-Christian peoples of Gaul or Germany, assumed that they worshipped the pagan gods well known from Roman literature: cf. the frequent references to a temple of Venus, on e.g. ff. 28, 60, 63, 72, etc.

ff. 71--2 make him drink venom .... It did him no hurt. This episode is based on the miraculous survival after drinking poison (which had killed a criminal on whom it was tested) ascribed in legend to St. John the Evangelist.

f. 79 North Galloys: Probably meaning North Wales.

ff. 80--1 a woman taken in adultery ... doom[ed] to be burned up; cf. f. 84. Presumably the author is imagining a precedent for the punishment of burning for alleged infidelity with which Queen Guinevere is several times threatened in the Vulgate romances and their derivatives.

f. 84 a prince from Germany .... called Forles: This anti-Roman conqueror of France is based on the 'Roman tribune' called Flollo (later Frollo), governing Gaul on behalf of the Empire, whom King Arthur is said to have defeated in single combat, as on f. 85, so winning Gaul for himself: Geoffrey of Monmouth, Hist. of Kings of Britain, Bk. IX, ch. 11.

f. 85 gave it to Sir Lancelot: In the 'Vulgate' versions Lancelot's rights in Gaul are supposed to be inherited from his father King Ban of Benwick.

A son ... named Childeric: This fictitious son of Clovis has perhaps inherited his lustfulness from his grandfather and namesake. See note on f.25.

r. 88 a great line come from him: Here the author has allowed for a long gap of up to 200 years (see f. 59), without attempting to provide any further detailed descent of the kingdoms of Cornwall and Lyonesse, to move the narrative on from early Christian times to those of King Arthur.

f. 89 From this folio Morris has adopted a more formal hand for the remainder of his translation.

ff 90--92, 93--4 Merlin: The appearance of the great enchanter here, sometimes disguised, to protect the childhood of Tristan is copied from the assistance that in Geoffrey of Monmouth he gives with the begetting of Arthur by King Uther, an activity enlarged slightly in Robert de Boron, and extensively in the Vulgate Merlin and its Suite, to cover the early years of Arthur himself.

ff. 94--5 How King Mark slew his brother.... This episode begins in the Tristan romance the blackening of King Mark's character, turning him from an unlucky and suspicious deceived husband into a treacherous and murderous villain and enemy of all knighthood, thoroughly deserving his fate. For Mark' s murder of another brother for too vigorously defending Cornwall from Saracen invaders, see Malory, Bk. X, chs. xxxii---iii..

f. 95 King Howel of Nantes: Ho[w]el appears, in Geoffrey of Monmouth (Bk. IX, chs. 2--3, 11, 17) as a Breton king who is a nephew of King Arthur.