I am Sir Launcelot du Lake, King Ban's son of Benwick, N. C. Wyeth, 1922
Don't pity the horseman. His literature paints him too well. He's a marauder, a politician, a lord of land. He brings entrails to his mouth with his left hand. Just the word of him, the lais and prose, is a poison that felled Paolo and Francesca. A high-class thug half-saved by a faith half-sincere.
And a word for the faris, a southern equal to the northerly knight. He knows no French so his code is adab, the courtly refinement of a foreign land. His way is older but just bold as the upstart virtue of the Christian kind. Like cavalier he kills, like courtier he spies, engages in intrigue, and lies. No less an angel, no less a foe, he and the knight go toe to toe.
Galahad Discovers the Grail, Edwin Austin Abbey, 1895
Call a known rider from the list below, or bring a composite knight into existence.
1. Sir Gawain: A brilliant shield, Pentangle emblazoned. Armor as shiny as virtue.
Seeks: The Green Chapel, where he is to be decapitated, but he seems lost…
Wields: A green girdle that prevents dismemberment.
2. Sir Patrick Spens: Dripping wet, drowned. Admirably dressed as admiralty.
Seeks: Revenge on the king who ordered him out to sea in the season of storms.
Wields: Ghost sailor boy, climbs high in the sky to survey the land, sees bad weather and omens.
3. The Bacheler: Despondent, desperate, disheveled. He’s out of his depth.
Seeks: The answer to a question: What do women most desire?
Wields: A letter of high authority ordering execution, no victim’s name yet written.
4. The Knight with the Rowan Shield: Deeply wounded, rides with hawk and hound at heel.
Seeks: The lake of the witch who can clean and heal his wound.
Wields: A golden rod. When immersed in a river or lake, it summons the water spirits.
5. Herr Olof: Courtly garments, a beautiful saddle. Dripping and drowned from the mermaid’s lair. Seeks: His wedding. He got lost on the way there. Has it really been so long?
Wields: A fine goblet, a gift from a maiden. Drinking from it makes you forget yourself.
6. Herr Holger: Wealthy, thin, ghoulish in aspect. His head has been stitched back on.
Seeks: To warn mortals of the torments of hell, to make thieves and tax collectors repent.
Wields: A sack of gold coins from hell’s coffers. Each can pay a devil to do an evil deed.
7. Sir Tamlin: Misty in figure, too human to be fairy. Yearns to return to our world.
Seeks: To keep trespassers from the fey places, to punish them if they do pass.
Wields: A pure rose, eating it will purge the body of all curses, illness, pregnancies.
8. Redcrosse Knight: Heavily armed, the crimson cross on his breast. A dragon killer.
Seeks: The castle of Arthur, where his wedding will be held.
Wields: His wife-to-be, the maiden matchless in virtue, Una.
9. Sir Bedivere: Beyond distraught, weeping as he rides. He is lost without his liege. One handed. Seeks: The lake where he might let go the royal blade and fulfil his king’s last wish
Wields: Excalibur, the mighty brand of Arthur.
10. The Green Knight: Entirely Emerald Green from forehead to foot. Carries a heavy axe.
Seeks: To challenge the virtue of proud nobility by beating them in a beheading contest.
Wields: His own head. If deprived of it, he’d do a lot to get it back.
11. Sir Guiomar: Prefers talking to fighting, struggles with his lust.
Seeks: To protect a newborn child delivered to his care. It may have a great destiny.
Wields: A token of love from a fairy most high.
12. Sir Britomart: A lady-knight of perfect chastity. Fair and courteous and a lover of jousts.
Seeks: Her destiny, a man worthy of her hand in marriage.
Wields: An enchanted promise ring. The wearer must keep the bond their swear on it.
13. Sir Bors the Younger: A scar on his forehead marks him. Takes his chastity most seriously.
Seeks: The way home. He has fulfilled his quest and lived.
Wields: A communion wafer, consecrated at the mass of the holy Grail.
14. Sir Brunor: An upstart, his coat covered in ghastly gore. Very used to being laughed at.
Seeks: Revenge for his father’s death.
Wields: A heart shaped stone. Beats violently when a murderer is near.
15. Sir Satyrane: Strangely chivalrous for a hairy, lusty satyr. Prone to wildness.
Seeks: An instructor, preferably a fair maiden, to teach him better chivalry
Wields: The girdle of a notable lady, how did he get that?
16. Sir Marinell: A watery, slippery, amphibian fellow. Fears women because one is fated to kill him.
Seeks: He’s trying to drown himself, a wizard has convinced him to, but it doesn’t work.
Wields: A string of sea-pearls. Each can be turned into a large, rubbery, floating bubble.
17. Sir Artegall: A sore loser, a great champion. Dressed in the armor Achilles wore, how old school. Seeks: To resolve conflicts between arguing parties fairly and justly.
Wields: A blade that can cut through any material.
18. Sir Pelleas: A stammering, pathetic young knight. Gentle and undeceiving.
Seeks: Solace from his grief, his one true love has slept with another knight.
Wields: A beautiful gold arm ring. It is worth a lot. How hard would it be to take?
19. Sir Sagramore: Hot tempered and good. Prone to fits.
Seeks: To find a quest worthy of his knighthood, to prove himself.
Wields: A deed to land in a faraway kingdom.
20. Sir Galehaut: Gigantic heritage. Appears fierce at first but hides a most honorable soul.
Seeks: To rescue his dearest friend, captured nearby.
Wields: A turbid, passionate letter of love to an unnamed beloved.
21. Sir Dinadan: An extrovert of cynical humor. He smiles, he cajoles, he coaxes.
Seeks: A bard who is willing to play an insulting ballad in the king’s court.
Wields: A most slanderous tract, a fantastic insult written on parchment.
22. Sir Perceval: Ignorant of the world, he wants to fit in, he wants to do his best.
Seeks: The unicorn. He doesn’t know if he should kill it.
Wields: A witch’s token of affection. If people turn jealous of the wielder, they become frogs.
23. Sir Kay: A mocking, opportunistic, mean knight. He doesn’t realize the harm he does.
Seeks: A tournament worthy of his knightly prowess.
Wields: A sharp squire, the best one could hope for. Loyal and clever and perfect in measure.
24. Sir Lionel: A vengeful character, eager to resent. He’s constantly preening his mustache.
Seeks: A huge wild boar which killed the family of a noble lady.
Wields: A fine hunting hound, with a top-notch sense of smell and greater speed.
25. Sir Turquine: Obviously villainous, roughish, uncourtly and cruel.
Seeks: To delight his appetite for torture, to cause pain in others and pleasure in himself.
Wields: A whip of brairs. Does little damage but strings like no tomorrow.
8 Stages of the Chansom de Roland, Simon Marmion, 15th century
26. Sir Daniel: Determined beyond sense, unable to surrender.
Seeks: An enemy king, with an inventible army of giants and mechanical horrors, to slay.
Wields: An enchanted net that can be thrown far, a magic sword, a camel.
27. Sir Moriaen: A dark skinned knight in Moorish attire. Dispossessed, needing allies.
Seeks: To be reunited with his father and reclaim his mother’s lands.
Wields: A round shield, perfectly black. It absorbs light like nothing else.
28. Sir Palamedes: Not a knight but a faris, converted and comedic.
Seeks: A way to his homeland, to visit his family.
Wields: A finest raiment of foreign fashion, a trained singing bird that can talk like a child.
29. Sir Tor: Born as shepherd, revealed to have courtly blood. No manners but a good heart.
Seeks: A strange dog, a hound mysteriously, purely white.
Wields: A fine shepherd’s crook, it won’t let go what it latches.
30. Sir Calogrenant: Eloquent beyond measure, courtly as ever.
Seeks: To escape a rogue knight, who is chasing him down.
Wields: A bladder of water from an enchanted spring, pouring it out will summon a rainstorm.
31. Sir Roland: A haughty paladin. His head is very clearly exploded. Yet he continues on.
Seeks: The gate of heaven, which he so rightly deserves to enter.
Wields: A frightfully loud war horn. Its sound resounds across plains and valleys.
32. Sir Oliver: A calculating, wise paladin. How surprising.
Seeks: A true emperor who can unite the world.
Wields: A holy of holies, a relic most dear. Should he keep it for himself or return it?
33. Sir Fierabras: A gigantic faris. He seems imposing but weak willed, easily convinced.
Seeks: Temples to wreck, clergy to kill, reliquaries to pillage.
Wields: A huge riding horse. It could carry 4 riders in heavy arms, tons of baggage.
34. The Fause Knight: Armor forehead to foot, the Devil riding is dis-guise.
Seeks: To web fools in words. Turn your back and you’re done for. Stand and answer to survive. Wields: A satanic fiddle. Its sound drive mortals to mad dancing.
35. Sir Hoel: Virtuous and far seeing, a saint in the making.
Seeks: A cure to the poison coursing through his veins, a bane to his bane.
Wields: A bottle of fine wine that never empties.
36. Sir Launfal: A generous, jolly knight. He loves to host and adores a good boast.
Seeks: A new court to call home. He’s lost favor, been ejected, from his old castle.
Wields: An invisible butler. It serves its master perfectly but cannot commit violence.
37. Sir Astolfo: An experienced knight wielding sorcerous powers. A bit wooden due to a curse. Seeks: A chariot that can carry him to the moon, where the wits of his comrade are hidden
Wields: A magic lance which throws opponents with the slightest touch.
38. Sir Ruggiero: A conflicted soul, torn between two faiths, between two bloods in his veins.
Seeks: An oracle who will tell him his destiny. Surely he will find two conflicting fates.
Wields: A mighty hippogriff from far off lands.
39. Sir Lancelot: Handsome, high status, high stature, a heroic kind. A love like no other lurks inside. Seeks: A shoulder to cry on, he was tricked into sleeping with a maid who is not his true love. Wields: A stone from a holy grave, it repels the undead and devils from the holder.
40. Sir Ganelon: His pride leads easily to treachery, his worst crimes are committed already.
Seeks: To find a place to hide, to lay low for a time or forever, whichever comes first.
Wields: Thirty pieces of silver, which the devil can smell, track perfectly.
41. Sir Renaud: Haphazard and foolish. Beloved by his brothers, unfortunately separated.
Seeks: To avoid punishment for a murder he accidentally committed.
Wields: The last dregs of a love potion soaked into his kerchief, dripping til tis drunk.
42. Sir Galahad: Most perfect, most pure, as if a halo surrounds him. He fights, he wins, he spares. Seeks: The Holy Grail.
Wields: Nothing but what chivalry demands.
43. Sir Dagonet: A hilarious jester but an unrepentant coward. He’s a buffoon but he’s kept around. Seeks: To convince someone that he’s prevailed in a fight, he’s even battered his own shield.
Wields: A magic sword. It’s not actually magic, someone was just humoring this knight.
44. Sir Pellinore: An aged old man who rambles easily. Strokes his beard and gazes off into space. Seeks: The Questing Beast, which he is destined to chase but never catch.
Wields: A sword that will break any blade it crosses it with.
45. Sir Erec: He’s getting older, the hair turning grey. Yearns for domestic life, the little things.
Seeks: To court the maid he has fallen for, however he is neglecting an important quest.
Wields: A sack of infinite silver coins. If he tells of the sack’s magic, it will cease to work.
46. Herr Karl: A clever young man, he yearns badly to get his way.
Seeks: To free his true love from a covenant, he plans to fake his own death.
Wields: A most elegant burial shroud, a tray of fine funeral meats.
47. Sir Aldingar: A cagey character, histories of mistakes trial behind.
Seeks: A cure for the leprosy which has afflicted him as punishment for his sins.
Wields: A curative ointment, it eases pain incredibly but does nothing more.
48. Sir Cawline: Proud but he can back it up, boasts but he can prove it.
Seeks: To slay the Elven King, a deed to win his lady’s love.
Wields: A giant’s thigh bone, an unbreakable beater, a bludgeon bar-none.
49. Herr Peder: An expert evader, honest to none. He looks disheveled, unraveled.
Seeks: A soul to confess his sins to. He has done disgusting things, but can he admit it?
Wields: A charter from the highest authority, to force any captain to make any journey.
50. Sir Gornemant: He’s seen many a squire grow to a good knight, hopeful at heart.
Seeks: A squire with potential to tutor in proper chivalry.
Wields: Almace, a time-honored blade. Totally mundane, but its name is feared.
This table would not have been possible without the code written by Betty of Paper Elemental
The Arming and Departure of the Knights, Edward Burne-Jones, William Morris, and John Henry Dearle, 19th cent
Though all the figures on this list are drawn from real traditions of poetry, prose, and balladry I have not been completely faithful to my sources. This is some of the fun of the chivalric romance. All the authors writing in the genre love to tweak it and remold it. Familiar characters emerge, evolve, and merge. These are my knights, but consider reading the works below to learn what deviations I've made.
Gawain and the Green Knight (this is the best chivalric poem, read it.)
Orlando Innamorato by Matteo Maria Boiardo
The Faerie Queene by Edmund Spencer
The works of Chrétien de Troyes
The Canterbury Tales by Chaucer
Chanson de Roland
Don Quixote by Cervantes
The Child Ballads (particularly 3, 39, 58, and 61)
Swedish Ballads (particularly Herr Holger, Herr Olof, Herr Karl, and Herr Peder)
This post is dedicated to the Pearl Poet