Medieval manuscripts blog

Bringing our medieval manuscripts to life

17 August 2012

Sir Gawain and the Green Knight Online

We are pleased to announce that one of the greatest medieval English books, containing the unique copies of Pearl and Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, is now available online. Colour images of the entire manuscript have been published by The Cotton Nero A. X Project, hosted by the University of Calgary.


The manuscript in question was written towards the end of the 14th century, and contains a series of full-page illustrations at the beginning and end of four Middle English poems -- Pearl (ff. 41r-59v); Cleanness (ff. 60r-86r); Patience (ff. 86r-94r); and Sir Gawain and the Green Knight (ff. 94v-130r). Regular readers of this blog may recall that the manuscript was featured in a BBC4 radio documentary in July 2011, and that it is currently on display in the British Library's Writing Britain exhibition (until 25 September 2012).

We are delighted to have collaborated with Murray McGillivray and the other members of his project team, who are also working on a commented transcription of the manuscript. Murray writes: "We are very grateful indeed for the helpful collaboration of the British Library in publishing these images. They will be a major boon to scholarship on the poems and their manuscript, and indeed will be of great benefit also to the international public, who now have intimate access to a precious artefact of major literary, artistic and historical importance."


Thank you So Very Much for this.

This is fabulous. I'm so very, very, happy.

A great story poem which was highly likely written in memory of Sir John Chandos of Radbourne, Derbyshire, a founding Knight of the Order of the Garter. What is significant and connects Chandos to the poem is that he died on January 1st 1370, after a skirmish in France, at Lussac Bridge. Chandos' death mirroring Gawain's anticipated death at the hands of the Green Knight on New Years Day.
He was Keeper and Surveyor of Wirral, Delamere and Macclesfield forests in Cheshire, for 20 years, until his death. He was also Keeper of Peckforton park and was made Chief forester of Peak Forest and constable of Peak castle in Derbyshire. He was also Keeper of Estyn in Hopedale just over the River Dee also the Chase at Longendale.
He was also a devotee of the virgin Mary and wore her emblem(as Gawain) on his shield and on his surcoat - see Froissart before Poitiers, and Benjamin West's painting of the capture of King John after Poitiers.
Chandos founded a Carmelite monastery in Poitiers, an order considered by the church to have the special protection of the Virgin Mary. Chandos was also a great huntsman who had hunted with the Black Prince at Shotwick Park, Wirral and Macclesfield Forest.
Gaston Febus, the greatest medieval huntsman of them all, knew of Chandos' prowess as a hunter and asked to see and hunt with his dogs if Chandos and the Black Prince visited him in Foix. Froissart says of Chandos and Febus that, "they loved each other for their great deeds". He also says Chandos had lost an eye to a stag on the chases of Bordeaux.
Froissart in his chronicles says of Sir John Chandos' death, “God have mercy on this soul! for never since a hundred years did there exist among the English one more courteous, nor fuller of every virtue and good quality than him”. A Perfect Knight it would seem, a Gawain of his day.

Further research seems to indicate that Bertilak is of the high forest, this is confirmed by the use of ‘holtwodez’, by the poet as Gawain enters Hautdesert, holts are high forest grown for timber and for the protection of deer, see, ‘Ancient Woodlands: There Archaeology and Ecology: A Coincidence of interest, Parsons, Beswick and Rotherham’. This is why hautdesert consisted ‘of huge hoar oaks, a hundred together’.
Haut desert is High forest, the Cistercians referred to the uncultivated areas under forest law as desert. Gaufridus, uses the terms desert and forest interchangeably…(Saunders). Wilderness also meant the closed forest, under forest law, uncultivated land, see ‘Grazing ecology and forest history’ by FWM Vera. The wilderness (forest) of Wirral was disafforested in 1376, after this date it would no longer be referred to as ‘wilderness’, it was then able to be cultivated by man. The poem therefore was written no later than 1376.
Bertilak is also a Purlieu-hunter who could hunt in his own woods, but only with his own servants, for three days a week but not at night. Bertilak of Hautdesert hunted for three days, with his own men, part of his castle garrison, (the guests had left before the first hunt, apart from Gawain who stayed in the castle) always returning home before nightfall, see 'Manwood's Treatise of the Forest laws' for info on purlieus.
Noel Brindley

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