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Sir Gareth [ˈɡarɛθ] (Old French: Guerrehet) was a Knight of the Round Table in Arthurian legend. He is nicknamed "Beaumains" in Sir Thomas Malory's Le Morte d'Arthur. He was the youngest son of Lot and of Morgause, King Arthur's half-sister, thus making him Arthur's nephew, as well as brother to Gawain, Agravain, Gaheris, and half-brother to Mordred.
Sir Gareth is mentioned in Chrétien de Troyes's Perceval, the Story of the Grail. Several of Sir Gareth's adventures are narrated in the Lancelot-Grail cycle, and his death at the hands of Sir Bors (during Lancelot's rescue of the queen from being burned at the stake) is related in the Death of Arthur, the final volume of the cycle. (The Lancelot and the Death of Arthur sections of the Lancelot-Grail cycle differ in their characterization of Gareth: in the Lancelot, he is portrayed as Gawain's most cherished brother; in the Death of Arthur, his older brother Gaheris is represented as the most cherished.) He is the subject of Book VII in Sir Thomas Malory's Le Morte d'Arthur, which tells how he became a knight.
Sir Gareth also appears in other media related to the Arthurian legend.
Gareth in Malory
According to Malory's tale, Gareth comes to Camelot in disguise as a kitchen boy and is set to work by Kay, who always gives him difficult work, teases him as a lowly kitchen boy and nicknames him "Beaumains" or "Good Hands" (alternatively "Beautiful Hands" or "Fair Hands"). Gareth goes to the aid of Lynette (sometimes Lyonet, Lyonette, or Linet), to save her sister Lyonesse (or Lyonorr) from the Red Knight of the Red Lands. He is accompanied by the dwarf Melot, who knows his true identity.
However, Lynette takes Gareth as a mere kitchen boy and constantly derides him. On the way, he defeats the impressive Sir Perarde, the Black Knight, and takes his armor and horse. He then meets Sir Pertolope, the Green Knight, who mistakes him for his brother, the Black Knight. Lynette tells the Green Knight that he is a kitchen boy and begs him to rid her of him. Gareth overcomes the Green Knight, but spares his life in return for the knight's swearing to serve him. He then in much the same fashion defeats Sir Perymones, the Puce Knight (sometimes the Red Knight, but not to be confused with the one of the Red Lands), and Sir Persaunte (Persant of Inde), the Indigo Knight, both of whom also swear to serve him.
Lynette finally sees that Gareth's calm acceptance of her abuse is very knightly and that he must be a very good knight indeed. He arrives at Lyonesse's castle, where she is besieged by Sir Ironside, the Red Knight of the Red Lands. He fights him all day and finally prevails, although the Red Knight has the strength of seven men. He intends to kill him as he himself had slaughtered all the other knights who came to save the lady Lyonesse, but the Red Knight explains that he did so because the lady he loved made him swear to kill Lancelot, and the only way to get his attention was to kill the knights. Gareth spares him, making him swear to serve him and also go to Arthur's castle and apologize to Lancelot. Afterwards, and despite some difficulties, Gareth marries Lyonesse.
Some years later, Gareth and his brother Gaheris are killed accidentally by Lancelot during the rescue of Guinevere. This leads to the final tragedy of Arthur's Round Table; Gawain refuses to allow King Arthur to accept Lancelot's sincere apology for the deaths of his two brothers. Lancelot genuinely mourns the death of Gareth, whom he loved closely like a son or younger brother. King Arthur is forced by Gawain and Mordred's insistence to go to war against Lancelot. Mordred's grief is largely faked, driven by his desire to become king. This leads to the splitting of the Round Table, Mordred's treachery in trying to seize Guinevere and the throne, Gawain's death from an old unhealed wound, and finally, Arthur and Mordred slaying each other in a last battle.
The legend of Gareth and Lynette has been reinterpreted by many writers and poets, the most renowned being Alfred Lord Tennyson in Idylls of the King. In this version the "colored" knights are replaced by knights associated with various times of day: the final knight is known as Night or Death and is the most feared of the three, though ultimately the weakest. Gareth marries Lynette.
In other versions, Gareth marries Lynette's sister, whom he rescues, and Gaheris marries Lynette. Theodore Goodridge Roberts authored the short story "For To Achieve Your Adventure", in which Lynette knows she is sending Gareth into an ambush in an attempt to make him give up for his own protection. Vera Chapman's novel The King's Damosel gives a complete version of Lynette's life.
In other media
- In the movie First Knight (1995), Gareth was portrayed by Jonathan Cake.
- Richard Thorp played him in the British film Lancelot and Guinevere (1963).
- In the film Knights of the Round Table (1953), he was played by Anthony Forwood.
- New Comics issue #3 is titled The Tale of Sir Gareth of Orkney.
- An enumeration of the four brothers (excluding Mordred) can be found in Chrétien de Troyes's Perceval, the Story of the Grail when Gawain tells the "white-haired queen" (his grandmother Igraine) the names of the four brothers ("Gawain is the oldest, the second Agravain the Proud [...], Gaheriet and Guerehet are the names of the following two." (verses 8139-8142 in the Dufournet edition; verses 8056-8060 in the Méla edition)); a brief portrait of the five brothers (including Mordred) can be found in the prose Lancelot (see: Norris J. Lacy, ed., Lancelot-Grail: Lancelot Parts III and IV, Volume 4 of Lancelot-Grail: The Old French Arthurian Vulgate and Post-Vulgate in Translation, Boydell & Brewer Ltd, 2010, pp. 392-4. ISBN 9781843842354.)
- See above.
- Norris J. Lacy, ed. and trans., Lancelot-Grail: The Death of Arthur, Volume 7 of Lancelot-Grail: The Old French Arthurian Vulgate and Post-Vulgate in Translation, Boydell & Brewer Ltd, 2010, p. 69. ISBN 9780859917704.
- Norris J. Lacy, ed., Lancelot-Grail: Lancelot Parts III and IV, pp. 393-4.
- "Sir Gareth". Retrieved 27 June 2011.