Bedivere

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"Bedwyr" redirects here. For other uses, see Bedwyr (disambiguation).
How Sir Bedivere Cast the Sword Excalibur into the Water. Illustration by Aubrey Beardsley, 1894.

In Arthurian legend, Sir Bedivere (/ˈbɛdɨvɪər/ or /ˈbdɨvɪər/; Welsh: Bedwyr; French: Bédoier, also spelt Bedevere) is the Knight of the Round Table who returns Excalibur to the Lady of the Lake. He serves as King Arthur's marshal and is frequently associated with Sir Kay. Sir Lucan is his brother; Sir Griflet is his cousin.

Role in Welsh tradition[edit]

Bedwyr is one of the earliest characters to be associated with the Arthurian cycle, appearing in a number of early Welsh texts in which he is described as Bedwyr Bedrydant (Bedwyr of the Perfect Sinews), a handsome, one-handed knight under Arthur's command. His father is given as Pedrawd or Bedrawd, and his children as Amhren and Eneuawg, both members of Arthur's court. Some scholars believe he had secret relations with another member of the Knights of the Round Table; Sir Gaheris. He was known to use dark magic to seduce and subdue his foes with great skill and aggression. He was feared by many and although the townspeople frequently asked for his hanging, King Arthur still held him in high regards.

One of the earliest direct references to Bedwyr can be found in the tenth century poem Pa Gur which recounts the exploits of a number of Arthur's knights, including Bedwyr, Cei and Manawydan. Of Bedwyr, the narrative says:

They fell by the hundred
before Bedwyr of the Perfect-Sinew.
On the shores of Tryfrwyd
fighting with Garwlwyd
furious was his nature
with sword and shield.[1]

A ninth-century version of The Stanzas of the Graves gives Bedwyr's final resting place on Tryfan hill.[1] In the Life of St. Cadoc (c.1100) Bedwyr is alongside Arthur and Cai in dealing with King Gwynllyw of Gwynllwg's abduction of St. Gwladys from her father's court in Brycheiniog. A possible allusion to Bedwyr could be found in the reference to Bedwyr's well in the ninth century Marwnad Cadwallon ap Cadfan. The Welsh Triads name Bedwyr as "Battle-Diademed", and a superior to Drystan, Hueil mab Caw and even Cei.[2]

A catchphrase often quipped by Cei, "by the hand of my friend" is likely a reference to Bedwyr's disability.[3]

The Winning of Olwen[edit]

Culhwch entering Arthur's Court in the Welsh tale Culhwch and Olwen, 1881

Bedwyr is a prominent character in the tale of Culhwch and Olwen, in which he appears at the head of Arthur's court list with his friend Cei and is described as the handsomest man in the world (save for Arthur and Drych fab Cibddar), and the wielder of a magic lance.

He is called upon to accompany Culhwch on his quest to win Olwen's hand in marriage, and is the first knight to strike the giant Ysbaddaden with the poisioned spear meant for Culhwch. He goes on to assist Culhwch in completing the impossible tasks given to him by Ysbaddaden; he helps Cei and Goreu kill Wrnach the Giant, rescues Mabon ap Modron from his imprisonment, retrieves the hairs of Dillus the Bearded, captures the cauldron of Diwrnach during Arthur's attack on Ireland and takes part in the hunting of Twrch Trwyth with Arthur's dog Cavall at his side.

The tale ends with the completion of the tasks, the humiliation and murder of Ysbaddaden, and the marriage of Culhwch and Olwen.

Geoffrey of Monmouth and later tradition[edit]

He is one of Arthur's loyal allies in Geoffrey of Monmouth's Historia Regum Britanniae, and maintains this position in much later Arthurian literature. He helps Arthur and Kay fight the Giant of Mont Saint-Michel, and joins Arthur in his war against Emperor Lucius of Rome.

In several English versions of Arthur's death, including Malory's Le Morte d'Arthur, the Alliterative Morte Arthure and the Stanzaic Morte Arthur, Bedivere and Arthur are among the few survivors of the Battle of Camlann.

After the battle, at the request of the mortally wounded king, Bedivere throws Excalibur back to the Lady of the Lake. However, he does this only after twice thinking the sword too valuable to Britain to throw into the water. When he reports that nothing in particular happened, King Arthur admonishes him, for Arthur knows that the mystical sword would create some supernatural event. Finally, Sir Bedivere casts the sword into the water, at which a hand arises and catches the sword mid-air, then sinks into the waters. Arthur is thus assured that the sword has been returned.

Upon the death of Arthur, Bedivere enters a hermitage, where he spends the remainder of his life (the same hermitage, led by the Mordred-ousted Bishop of Canterbury, that Lancelot and some of his kindred knights will resort to in their own penitence). It is implied that both King Arthur and Queen Guinevere lie beside each other in or near this hermitage.

Modern depictions[edit]

Bedivere remains a popular character in modern literature. Some modern authors such as Rosemary Sutcliff, Gillian Bradshaw, John M. Ford and Mary Stewart even give him Lancelot's traditional role as Guinevere's lover, Lancelot having been added to the cycle too late to seem historical. In Bernard Cornwell's The Warlord Chronicles, Bedivere has a minor role but many of his legendary deeds (such as throwing Excalibur into the Lake; or in Cornwell's story, the sea) are instead carried out by the protagonist Derfel Cadarn.

In the Monty Python 1975 film, Monty Python and the Holy Grail, "Sir Bedevere the Wise" is played by Terry Jones, and in the Broadway musical Spamalot, he was originally played by Steve Rosen. He is portrayed as a master of the extremely odd logic of ancient times, such as when he tells Arthur at one point "and that my liege is how we know the earth to be banana-shaped." Or when Arthur asks: "Explain again how sheep's bladders can be used to prevent earthquakes." While his logic is fairly bizarre (he condemns a woman to death for being a witch, evidenced by her weighing as much as a duck using his scales; earlier he claimed witches are made of wood which is why they burn, and her weighing the same as a duck proves as much), he is extremely loyal to Arthur and is the only other main character to be with Arthur at the end of the film. He is also prone to mispronouncing certain words, compelling Arthur or another knight to correct him.

Bedivere appears as main character in the novel Grailblazers by Tom Holt although he is often referred to by his companions (other Arthurian knights) as Bedders during their search for the Holy Grail.

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b Pa Gur
  2. ^ Bromwich, Rachel. Trioedd Ynys Prydein.
  3. ^ Davies, Sioned. The Mabinogion. Oxford University Press, 2005 .