Having identified the location of the Green Chapel as Lud’s Church in the Staffordshire Moorlands in Part 2, who was this Gawain who featured in the 14th Century poem Sir Gawain and the Green Knight who has his roots firmly in the earliest stratum of Arthurian legend as Gwalchmai, The Hawk of May.
The Beheading Game
The late 12th Century had seen an explosion of Grail literature, the most famous being the French poet Chrétien de Troyes Le Conte du Graal, or Perceval with pagan undertones which introduced what Chrétien calls simply a ‘graal’, which appears to be a serving dish. Robert de Boron, a late 12th - early 13th Century cleric from Burgundy, was the first author to give the grail a Christian aspect as the vessel used by Christ at the last supper. In his Joseph d’Arimathie the vessel is used to catch the blood from Christ at the crucifixion and is brought to the Vale of Avalon, Glastonbury. It could be tempting to think that the Gawain-poet was simply Christianising the pagan theme of the beheading game, as de Boron had done with the grail stories; after all we have speculated that he was possibly a monk from the nearby Dieulacres Abbey at Leek.
Sir Gawain and the Green Knight was produced in the late 14th Century, considered a classic of Middle English alliterative verse, found in one unique manuscript although the composition may have been earlier as the subject matter is certainly older, as we have seen in Part II, The Beheading Game, as featured in Bricriu’s Feast, has been dated to the 8th Century. The Gawain-poet puts it firmly in the Arthurian period but makes no attempt to Christianise the tale.
|Gawain and the Green Knight (John Howe)|
Bricriu’s Feast features the bravest of all Irish’s warriors; Cu Chulainn who is often compared to Gawain as they have many similarities. It contains two separate versions of the Beheading Game. The longer version is called The Champion’s Bargain, in which Curoi, the shapeshifter, judges a contest of heroism between three warriors, and awards the contest to Cu Chulainn, to which the other two warriors protest. Curoi, disuised as a gigantic churl (bachlach), appears at a feast and stages a similar challenge to that presented by the Green Knight in the court of Arthur.
In the shorter version, considered the more archaic tale, called the Yellow, or Terror, version or sometimes the Uath version. It differs from the Champion’s Bargain in that the warriors must travel to meet the challenger. They meet a man known as Yellow son of Fair, he sends them onto meet a man called Terror son of Great Fear who challenges them to the Beheading Contest beside a lake. The man called Yellow and Terror is considered to be Curoi in his many guises.
Other tales from this period which contain elements of the Beheading Contest are The Mule Without a Bridle, Hunbaut, The Turke and Gowin and The Carle off Carlile and the Perlesvaus. Gawain is the hero of all these tales except, as previously mentioned the Livre de Caradoc and the Old French tale Perlesvaus.
The anonymous Perlesvaus, also known as The High History of the Holy Grail, is an Arthurian romance dating to the early 13th century. It claims to be a continuation of Chrétien unfinished work Perceval, the Story of the Grail, but it has striking differences from other versions. It survives in three manuscripts and two fragments; oddly one of these fragments was found at Wells Cathedral in Somerset, leading to speculation that it had actually been written at Glastonbury. The Glastonbury link is added to by Katharine Maltwood, a fine artist living near Glastonbury, who was commissioned in the 1920’s to create a map to illustrate the High History of the Holy Grail. While studying maps of the area around Glastonbury she discovered what she believed to be a zodiac in the landscape.  Maltwood believed that the High History of the Holy Grail had been written by a Knight Templar to convey esoteric information about the Glastonbury Zodiac.
In the Perlesvaus, Lancelot replaces Gawain in the Beheading Contest. Lancelot enters the supernatural, ruined Waste City and is challenged to a Beheading Game. Lancleot arrives at a great palace in the Waste City where people are crying over a young knight, who is wearing red tunic with a gold girdle, and is about to go to his death. He charges Lancelot to cut off his head with the condition that in one year Lancelot return and submit himself to the same act. Lancelot reluctantly agrees and cuts off the knights head. True to his word, in exactly one year, Lancelot returns to the spot. The decapitated knight’s brother greets him, sharpening his axe and calling out that Lancelot's time has come. Lancelot stretches his neck on the chopping block, the knight strikes a blow but misses, and then two damsels rush forth and cry to the knight to spare Lancelot. Lancelot then learns he was the first knight yet to return and keep his word of the promise to the beheading game.
Lancelot had a supernatural upbringing by the Lady of the Lake, who vanished with him while he was an infant, disappearing into the Lake, her domain being the Celtic Otherworld. The Lady of the Lake appears in several of the Arthurian Romances as Niniane, Nimue, Elaine or Viviane, presenting King Arthur with his sword after it was forged in the Otherworld, escorting the dying king to Avalon after the Battle of Camlann, then claiming the sword back after it was cast back into the Lake and finally, she is accused with enchanting Merlin. The Lady of the Lake's origin is undoubtedly based upon an ancient, pagan motif, like Morgan le Fay, and their origins probably derived from the same tradition. She is faery.
|The Lady of the Lake gives Excalibur to King Arthur (Alfred Kappes 1880)|
Lancelot succumbs to temptation and is famous for his role as Guinevere’s lover and features in the Breton tale of her abduction depicted on the Archivolt of Modena Cathedral.
Alongside the beheading game in Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, the Gawain-poet adds the twist of the temptation theme, in which Bertilak’s wife attempts to bed him, he resists taking only kisses from her. Many versions of the temptation theme appear in the Arthurian Romances such as the chastity test.
Stories of Gawain were popular amongst Arthurian tales and Grail literature from the 12th to 15th Centuries; he appeared the most frequently as the first knight to symbolise the epitome of courage and chivalry. Chrétien de Troyes said that Gawain’s valour matched his courtesy. In Arthurian tales Gawain was the bravest of knights who would always see the task through, he is comparative to Cu Chulainn in the Ulster Cycle, so the inclusion of Gawain into the poem should be of no surprise to us.
Origins of Gawain
As in most Arthurian tales the influence of Geoffrey of Monmouth can be seen to have had an impact on the modern conception of Gawain the knight. Writing around 1136 Geoffrey produced the greatest story ever told in the "Historia Regum Britanniae" (History of the Kings of Britain) and changed the face of King Arthur forever. Although now considered by many to be little more than a work of fiction, at the time Geoffrey’s opus appeared it was met with approval by most and it was not until the 17th Century that its authenticity was doubted.
Geoffrey claimed that he obtained his source material from Walter, Archdeacon of Oxford, whoever he was, “a certain very ancient book written in the British language… which I have taken the trouble to translate into Latin",  may well have some truth in it as he did seem to have access to some early traditions. The debate of Geoffrey’s source is beyond the scope of this work but therein lays the problem; much core material was confused in the translation and what he didn’t understand he seemed to ‘correct’ (or amend) by constructing linking passages. The end product is a garbled account that although unreliable does seem to contain some genuine elements of ancient tradition which can be difficult to separate from Geoffrey’s fiction. In an attempt to rectify this a number of welsh texts known as the Bruts  were produced up to the end of the 13th Century and the debate goes on to which came first.
In Arthurian studies Geoffrey is used as a demarcation between the two types of Arthur; the Pre-Galfridian warlord of welsh tradition and the Post-Galfridian later medieval version we see as the knight in armour and emperor of Europe. 
Gawain appears in Geoffrey of Monmouth Latin work as Gualguanus, probably derived from the Breton, he was the son of Loth king of Lothian and Anna, Arthur’s sister, and had one brother, Mordred, making them Arthur’s nephews. According to Geoffrey, Gawain is killed by his brother Mordred, at the battle of Richborough.
In Geoffrey’s version of the Arthurian legend Loth (or Lot) is King Arthur's brother-in-law and ruler of Lothian, Orkney, and sometimes Norway. According to Geoffrey, Loth is the brother of Urien Rheged and Auguselus of Scotland. His name is probably derived from the kingdom of Lothian. Early in Arthur's reign Loth and other kings of the north rebel against him, though his sons object. Arthur hammers the dissenters decisively at the Battle of Bedegraine. Following Geoffrey of Monmouth's Historia Regum Britanniae, Loth (Lot) appears in most Arthurian romances as Gawain’s father and his story remains remarkably unchanged.
The later name of Lothian has its base in Goutodin (Gododdin), in itself a late British version of Votadini, the tribe which settled the area around Edinburgh (Din Eidyn). Loth, sometimes called Lot Luwddoc (of the Host) in later versions, is possibly based on the semi-legendary Leudonus, a late 5th century post-Roman ruler of the Gododdin based at Traprain Law and may have been the precursor of Geoffrey’s King Loth. His traditional burial site is said to be at Dunpender Law in East Lothian.
In the Brut y Brenhinedd - the Welsh translation of Geoffrey of Monmouth's History of the Kings of Britain – the redactor confuses Lot Luwddoc with Llew ap Cynfarch, the brother of Urien Rheged, the most powerful king in Northern Britain at that time. Llew ap Cynfarch is a historical character, mentioned in the Northern genealogies, one of six brothers of the dynasty of Cynfarch Oer "The Dismal" King of North Rheged but features about one hundred years after Lot Luwddoc (Leudonus).
At the Battle of Arfderydd  in AD 573, Gwenddolew ap Ceidio, the King of Caer-Guendoleu, dies fighting against the opposing forces led by Ebrauc and Dunoting. Having no heir, Caer-Guendoleu passes into the hands of his cousin, Urien Rheged and is ruled by his two brothers; Llew ap Cynfarch and Arawn ap Cynfarch.
In 1155 Robert Wace completes his Roman de Brut, a version of Geoffrey's "History" in French Norman, and calls Gawain by the name Walwein. Wace closely follows Geoffrey’s work keeping the same parentage although his father is now called Lot and has one brother Modret and introduces the “Round Table”. Wace’s Brut was dedicated to Eleanor of Aquitaine, the wife of Henry II, Glastonbury's generous patron.
Around the end of the 12th Century an English version of Geofffey’s History of the Kings of Britain was produced in one of the finest renderings of the chronicle, important in the development of the Arthurian legend, giving an excellent account of King Arthur as a national hero. Layamon described himself as a humble priest attached to the church at Ernley (Arley Regis), Worcestershire, published his "Brut", c. 1190 as an English translation of Wace into alliterative verse. Although the dating of Layamon’s "Brut" is uncertain, his work is very significant as the first appearance of the Arthurian story in English and accordingly the first appearance of the name Gawain. Layamon traces the history of Britain, from the fall of Troy to the arrival of Brutus in Britain and continues through to the death of Cadwaladr. Layamon freely adapted the Brut of Wace and added material from other sources but retains Gawain’s parentage of Lot and Anna and brother Modred.
Gawain was a prominent character in all five of Chretien de Troyes tales, yet his role was always secondary to the hero of each of the romances, his first major role was in Chretien's last work, The Conte du Graal (Story of the Grail or Perceval). In Eric and Enide Chretien introduced Gawain’s horse Gringolet,  who goes on to appear in many more of the romances, including Sir Gawain and the Green Knight:
"The bridle was embossed and bound with bright gold;
So were the furnishings of the fore-harness and the fine skirts.
The crupper and the caparison accorded with the saddle-bows,
And all was arrayed on red with nails of richest gold,
Which glittered and glanced like gleams of the sun."
In the earlier tales Gawain may have been the perfect knight, however, by the middle of the 13th Century the French writers of the medieval romances, his name had evolved to Gauvain and knights such as Lancelot, Tristan, Perceval and Galahad (now his brother) replace him as the hero.
By the time of the Post-Vulgate romances (such as the Suite du Merlin and the Prose Tristan c.1240-1250), Gawain/Gauvain was portrayed as a murderous villain, a ruthless and treacherous knight, the anti-hero.
By the time Sir Thomas Malory produced Le Morte d’Arthur, first printing in 1485, as the definitive English Arthurian romance which embraced many earlier French and Welsh tradtitions, Lot has joined a second rebellion in which he was killed at Listinoire by King Pellinore during the Battle of Terrabil and his son Gawain’s fall from grace was complete when he is struck down by his brother Sir Gareth of Orkney. And Lancleot has now achieved the status of ‘the best knight in the world'.
Origins of Gwalchmei
Whatever Geoffrey’s sources may have been we can be certain he did not invent Gualguanus/Gawain as he appears in early welsh literature as Gwalchmei. If Geoffrey did not invent the figure initially known as Gwalchmei, then were do we find his provenance?
In the Bruts, Geoffrey’s Gualguanus is rendered by the name Gwalchmai by the redactors but becomes two different characters; the 'boy' Gwalchmai who is Arthur’s nephew and distinct from another character 'Gwalchmai vab Gwyar' who is substituted for Gualguanus in his later appearances. As we have seen above this name appears in the early Triads which are independent of and pre-date Geoffrey. This clear division of the two characters by the redactors of the Bruts suggests the possibility that Gwalchmai vab Gwyar was a traditional Welsh heroic figure.  This may be the same figure referred to in the Stanzas of the Graves, and by William of Malmesbury.
Gwalchmai appears in four Arthurian tales in early welsh literature, pre-dating Geoffrey of Monmouth’s History of the Kings of Britain, as Arthur’s nephew in perhaps the earliest being Culhwch and Olwen, surviving in just two 14th Century manuscripts: a complete version in the Red Book of Hergest (Llyfr Coch Hergest) and a fragmented version in the White Book of Rhydderch (Llfyr Gwyn Rhydderch), linguistic evidence suggests it took its present form securely from the 11th century but it is possibly older and generally accepted as previous to Geoffrey of Monmouth's fable. Lady Charlotte Guest included the tale in her translation of the Mabinogion.
In the tale Arthur agrees to help Culhwch in his quest for Olwen and enlists six of his finest warriors to help. Most of the tale is taken up with the adventures of tasks that Arthur and his warriors must complete before Culhwch can win Olwen’s hand. The longest episode is the hunt for the boar Twrch Trwyth which certainly has antecedents in Celtic tradition and considered an archaic tale before its inclusion in Culhwch. Gwalchmai is mentioned as one of the six warriors and is given a brother, Gwalhauet mab Gwyar, the origin of the Galahad of the romances.
As stated above, Gwalchmai appears in the early Triads of the Island of Britain (Trioedd Ynys Prydein) , a collection of triadic sayings recounting people, events, or places. They were probably designed as mnemonic structures for recollection of stories by the bards. Bits and pieces appear in all of the early manuscripts including the Peniarth Manuscript, the White Book of Rhyderrch, the Red Book of Hergest and the Black Book of Caermarthen (Llyfr Ddu CaerFyrddin). Gwalchmai appears thus:
Three Well-Endowed Men of the Island of Britain:
Gwalchmai son of Gwyar,
and Llachau son of Arthur,
and Rhiwallawn Broom-Hair.
Three Sprightly Steeds of the Island of Britain:
Grey, horse of Alser son of Maelgwn,
And Long-Necked Chestnut, horse of Cai
and Roan Cloven-Hoof, horse of Iddon son of Ynyr Gwent 
Three Bestowed Horses of the Island of Britain:
Slender-Hard, horse of Gwalchmai,
and Thick-Mane, horse of Gweddw,
... horse of Drudwas son of Tryffin,
and Chestnut Long-Neck, horse of Cai.
Three Men of the Island of Britain who were most courteous to Guests and Strangers:
Gwalchmai son of Gwyar,
and Cadwy son of Gereint,
and Cadrieith (Fine Speech) (son of) Saidi.
Three Fearless Men of the Island of Britain:
The first was Gwalchmai son of Gwyar,
the second was Llachau son of Arthur,
and the third was Peredur son of Earl Efrog.
Although the Triads in their current form are dated to the last quarter of the 13th Century, Rachel Bromwich, whose study is the definitive standard on the subject, asserts that while none of the Triads in their current form is much older than the 9th century, it is evident that at least some of them contain characters and events of the British heroic age of the 6th and 7th centuries and independent of Geoffrey of Monmouth.
Gwalchmai also appears in the Stanzas of the Graves (Englynion y Beddau) from The Black Book of Carmarthen. Also known as The Graves of the Warriors of Britain, the earliest manuscript containing them dates to the 13th Century the stanzas themselves may well date to the ninth or tenth century. Some may even refer to older traditions:
The grave of Gwalchmai is in Peryddon,
Where the ninth wave flows  The grave of Cynon is in Llan Badarn.
Gwalchmai is also listed as one of the 24 Knights of Arthur’s Court. This is dated to the late 15th Century but some of the verses are fresh adaptions of older entries in the Triads. Browmich states that the extent to which this group of triads obviously draws on older material as out of the 24 names, two thirds belong exclusively to Welsh tradition prior to being used by the redactors of the Bruts to render names in Geoffrey’s work:
Three Golden-Tongued Knights were in Arthur’s Court:
Gwalchmai son of Llew son of Cynfarch, and Drudwas son of Tryffin, and Eliwlod son of Madog son of Uthur: and there was neither king nor lord to whom those came who did not listen to them; and whatever quest they sought, they wished for and obtained it, either willingly or unwillingly.
As we have seen, there is overwhelming evidence that 'Gualguanus/Walwen/Gauvin/Gawain' existed as 'Gwalchmai' in the Welsh tradition prior to Geoffrey of Monmouth and the medieval romances. Further, as we saw in Part II he is mentioned in 1125 by William of Malmesbuy in his De Rebus Gestis Anglorum, again prior to Geoffrey. Chrétien even maintained the name of his horse, Gringolet and the supernatural element attached to him persisted throughout the romances.
Whatever the reason for Gawain’s diminishing popularity with the later French romancers he seemed to maintain an element of supernatural mystery about him; in L'Âtre Périlleux (The Perilous Cemetary), the woman of the cemetery said that Gawain's mother was faery and in other tales he is said to have knowledge of healing and knew herbs, a reference usually reserved for enchanters and sorcerers.
|Morgan le Fay (Frederick Sandys 1864)|
Among all the Romances, Sir Gawain and the Green Knight is the only one with a completely green character, the Green Knight, and the only one tying Morgan le Fay to his transformation.
Geoffrey’s Breton name for him, 'Gualguanus' and the Norman French form 'Gwalchgwyn' are probably derived from the same root of the old Welsh name, meaning 'white hawk', composed of the elements gwalch = hawk and gwyn = white. White generally referring to ‘otherworldly’.
The Hawk of May
The etymology of Gwalchmai as an ancient Welsh personal name has been the source of considerable debate. Gwalchmai appears in Celtic myth as the name of a sun god, composed of the elements Gwalch = Hawk and Mai = May. However, the old translation of 'Hawk of May' is questionable, although it is generally accepted that the first syllable of the name Gwalch means 'hawk', the origin of the second element being more obscure, both mei and mai as May remains troubling, the second element may mean either "from the plain" or refer to the month of “May”. John Koch has suggested the name could be derived from a Brythonic original *Wolcos Magesos, "Wolf/Errant Warrior of the Plain" 
In Welsh tradition Gwalchmai, is the son of Gwyar. We cannot be certain whether Gwyar is his father or mother; in the Triads it is usual to use the patronymic, i.e. the father’s name but it is not unheard of to use the matronymic (the mother’s). Gwyar therefore seems a confused name; Geoffrey refers to Lot's wife as Anna. Gwyar has another child, a brother to Gwalchmai, who appears in Culhwch; Gwalhauet mab Gwyar, the precursor of Galahad. Galahad does not have an obvious parallel in Celtic literatures, a suggested etymology for his name could be ‘Battle Hawk’ from the elements: gwalch = hawk, and cad = battle. Galahad has also been depicted as a sun-god in Celtic mythology. 
As we have seen above, following Geoffrey’s account, Gawain’s father is retained as Lot throughout the romances. Geoffrey may have been following a northern tradition in identifying Gawain’s father as Lot, a Lothian king possibly based on Luwddoc (of the Host) based on the semi-legendary Leudonus and as we have seen in the Bruts this became confused with Llew ap Cynfarch. The redactor of the Bruts uses the Welsh names Arawn, Urien and Lleu to replace Geoffrey’s Anguselus, Urianus and Loth. 
Whatever we accept as the correct etymology of the name Gwalchmai we can be certain he was associated with a father who becomes confused with characters with names such as Luw/Leu/Llew.
Gwyar seems to have been some kind of heroic title meaning literally 'Blood', therefore if we accept Gwyar, as the mother of Gwalchmai, she may have originated a Celtic war goddess, perhaps like the Morrigan, meaning “war frenzy = blood shed”.
If Gwyar was Gwalchmai’s mother in welsh tradition why did Geoffrey substitute Anna?
* * *
1. It is debatable whether the Glastonbury Zodiac actually exists at all and amongst those that concede it might argue that Katherine Maltwood merely re-discovered it as in 1582 Queen Elizabeth’s magician John Dee had stated when describing the Glastonbury countryside; “the starres which agree with their reproductions on the ground do lye onlie on the celestial path of the Sonne, moon and planets, with the notable exception of Orion and Hercules….all the greater starres of Sagittarius fall in the hinde quarters of the horse, while Altair, Tarazed and Alschain from Aquilla do fall on its cheste…thus is astrologie and astronomie carefullie and exactly married and measured in a scientific reconstruction of the heavens which shews that the ancients understode all which today the lerned know to be factes.”
2. R S Loomis - Celtic Myth and Arthurian Romance, John Rhys – The Hibbert Lectures.
3. The Prologue to The Historia Regum Britanniae by Geoffrey of Monmouth
4. A Brut is a Welsh word for a history, or chronicle, of Britain starting with the legendary founder Brutus, who had given his name to the island, and then named the island for himself and ending with the death of King Arthur (following Geoffrey) - "Brut" becoming "Britannia" in Latin. It was used to describe the two chronicles of Wace and Layaman, the latter the first version of Geoffrey’s work in early Middle English, and the Welsh Bruts such as Brut y Brenhinedd (the Chronicle of the Kings) and Brut y Tywysogion (Chronicle of the Princes).
5. The term 'Galfridian' is from the Latin name of Geoffrey of Monmouth (Galfridus Monemutensis). Literature which is considered Galfridian, or post-Galfridian, written after Geoffrey's Historia Regum Britanniae, c.1136. Pre-Galfridian literature is pre-Geoffrey and therefore considered to be free of his influence.
6. 573 - Gwenddolew ap Ceidio, King of Caer-Guendoleu died at Battle of Arfderydd (Ann Cam). Arderydd / Armterid / Atterith = modern Arthuret, near Longtown in Cumbria.
7. D.D.R. Owen suggested that that the French name Gringolet derived from either the Welsh gwyn calet ("white-hardy"), or ceincaled ("handsome-hardy").
8. Rachel Bromwich, The Character of the Early Welsh Tradition, , p127 n 3, in Studies in Early British History, 1959, N K Chadwick et al.
9. Rachel Bromwich, Trioeddd Ynys Prydein, 3rd Edition, UWP, 2006
10. Bromwich states that there is confusion over the name of this horse and its owner which differs in various manuscripts. The Black Book of Carmarthen version gives it as Kein Caled march Gwalchmai = Hard Back(-ed) horse of Gwalchmai. This is the original of Gringolet, Gawain’s horse in the Romances as we have seen introduced by Chretein in his tale Eric and Enide.
11. "the ninth wave": in Celtic myth, particularly Irish myth, the ninth wave is a symbolic boundary between this world and the Otherworld.
12. John Koch - The Celtic Lands, p.267, 1996
13. John Rhys – Studies in the Arthurian Legend.
14. Rachel Bromwich, The Character of the Early Welsh Tradition, p127 n 3, in Studies in Early British History, 1959, N K Chadwick et al.
* * *