|Art by Walter Crane. Public Domain.|
Today, two people with names starting with B - Bedwyr and Bertilak.
If you have any knowledge of the story of Arthur, you’ll know about that late scene in which the mortally wounded Arthur orders his knight Bedivere - or Bedwyr - to throw his sword Excalibur into the lake. Bedwyr lies to him twice; he can’t bring himself to throw away this amazing sword. Arthur knows he is fibbing and insists. The third time he does what he is told and a hand comes up, catches it and sinks below the waters. After that, Arthur is able to relax as three otherworldly women take him off to the isle of Avalon. In Rosemary Sutcliff’s novel Sword At Sunset, Arthur - known as Artos the Bear in that book - asks Bedwyr to do this, not for magical reasons but because his sword is too recognisable, and he doesn’t want the enemy to know he is dead.
Bedwyr is one of Arthur’s earliest companions, along with Gwalchmai and Cei(Gawain and Kay). Mentions of him in Welsh poems go back to at least the tenth century. He is one-handed, but doesn’t seem to have any problems as a fighter. In the poem Culhwch And Olwen he plays a major role. More of that poem in a later post.
He is also in Geoffrey of Monmouth’s History Of The Kings Of Britain, a twelfth century text.
Rosemary Sutcliff gives him the role later assigned to Lancelot, although he only sleeps with Artos’s wife once, and is sent away, but asks to be with Artos in the final battle.
I confess to having used him in my New Wales series, fan fiction spread across various media universes. New Wales, or Newydd Cymru(and yes, I know it should be Cymru Newydd!)is a planet in the constellation of the Unicorn. After the Battle of Camlann, Bedwyr leads his people through a portal to another world, where they settle comfortably and their descendants meet characters from the universes of Star Trek, Blake’s 7 and Robin Of Sherwood.
Monty Python And The Holy Grail shows him as the intellectual of the group of knights galloping through Britain on foot. Bedivere is the one who suggests weighing the accused witch against a duck.
So, on to the second B character for today, Sir Bertilak. Bertilak appears in the Middle English poem Sir Gawain And The Green Knight. There are several editions of this poem, but a recent one was translated by Tolkien. I read the original Middle English poem at university.
Gawain is on his way to the Green Chapel to meet the Green Knight, who is supposed to lop his head off. Near the end, he arrives at Bertilak’s castle. Jolly Bertilak invites him to stay till New Year’s Day, when he has that appointment, feasting Gawain each night and leaving him in the company of his pretty young wife, to go hunting. Each day there is a challenge to exchange whatever they have gained. Bertilak gives Gawain the animals he has hunted. The trouble is, Gawain’s only gain is a kiss from the wife. When he kisses Bertilak, his jolly host bursts out laughing.
I’m rather fond of Bertilak, though he is somewhat sneaky. He knows perfectly well what is happening - and he is not exactly who Gawain thinks he is. But he has a likeable cheekiness about him. More about him in my G post!