Howard Pyle's The
Champions of the Round Table
The Book of Sir Tristram
There was a certain kingdom called Lyonesse, and the King of that country was
hight Meliadus, and the Queen thereof who was hight the Lady Elizabeth, was
sister to King Mark of Cornwall.
In the country of Lyonesse, there was a very beautiful lady, who was a
cunning and wicked sorceress. This lady took great love for King Meliadus, who
was of an exceedingly noble appearance, and she meditated continually how she
might bring him to her castle so as to have him near her.
Now King Meliadus was a very famous huntsman, and he loved the chase above
all things in the world, excepting the joy he took in the love of his Queen, the
Lady Elizabeth. So, upon a certain day, in the late autumn season he was
minded to go forth a-hunting, although the day was very cold and bleak.
About the prime of the day the hounds started, of a sudden, a very wonderful
stag. For it was white and its horns were gilded very bright, shining like pure
gold, so that the creature itself appeared like a living miracle in the forest.
When this stag broke cover, the hounds immediately set chase to it with a great
outcry of yelling, as though they were suddenly gone frantic, and when the King
beheld the creature, he also was immediately seized as with a great fury for
chasing it. For, beholding it, he shouted aloud and drove spurs into his horse,
and rushed away at such a pass that his court was, in a little while, left altogether behind him, and he and the
chase were entirely alone in the forest.
The stag, with the hounds close behind it, ran at a great rate through the
passes of the woodlands, and King Meliadus pursued it with might and main until
the chase burst out of the forest into an open plain beyond the woodland. Then King Meliadus beheld
that in the midst of the plain was a considerable lake of water; and that in the
midst of the water was an island; and that upon the island was a very tall and
stately castle. Toward this castle the stag ran with great speed, and so, coming
to the lake, it leaped into the water and swam across to the island--and there
was a thin sheet of clear ice upon the water close to either bank.
But when the hounds that pursued the stag came to that frozen water, they
stinted their pursuit and stood whimpering upon the brink, for the ice and the
water repelled them. But King Meliadus made no such pause, but immediately
leaped off from his horse, and plunged into the water and swam across in pursuit
of the stag. And when he reached the other side, he chased the stag afoot with
great speed, and therewith the stag ran to the castle and into the court-yard
thereof, and King Meliadus ran after it. Then, immediately he had entered in,
the gates of the castle were shut and King Meliadus was a prisoner.
(Now you are to know that that castle was the abode of the beautiful
enchantress afore spoken of, and you are to know that she had sent that enchanted stag to beguile
King Meliadus to her court, and so she made King Meliadus her captive. Further,
it is to be told that when she had him there within her castle, she wove a web
of enchantment all about him so that he forgot the Lady Elizabeth and his court
and his kingdom and thought of nothing but that beautiful sorceress who had thus
beguiled him into her power.)
Now, when those who were with the King returned to the castle of Lyonesse
without him, and when the King did not return that day nor the next day nor at any time, the
Lady Elizabeth grew more and more distracted in her anxiety because of him. And
when a fortnight had gone by and still there was no news of the King, her grief
and apprehension became so great that she turned distracted and they had to set
watch and ward upon her lest she do herself a harm in her madness.
So for a long time they kept her within the castle; but upon a certain day
she broke away from her keepers and ran out from the castle and into the forest
ere those in attendance upon her knew she had gone. Only one gentlewoman saw her,
and she called upon a young page to follow her, and
thereupon ran after the Queen whither she went, with intent to bring her back
But the Lady Elizabeth ran very deep into the forest, and the gentlewoman and
the page ran after her; and the Queen thought that she was going to find her
lord in the forest. So she ran very rapidly for a great distance, until by and
by she waxed faint with weariness from running and sank down upon the ground;
and there they that followed her found her lying. And they found that the Queen
was in a great passion of pain and sick to death. For the day was very wintry,
with a fine powder of snow all over the ground, so that the cold of the weather
pierced through the garments of the Lady Elizabeth and entered into her body and
chilled her to the heart.
Now the gentlewoman, seeing how it was with the Queen, called the page to her
and said: "Make haste! Go back to the castle of Lyonesse, and bring some of the
knights of the castle with all speed, else the Queen will die at this place."
And upon that the page ran off with great speed to do her bidding and the Queen
was left alone with her gentlewoman.
Then the gentlewoman said, "Lady, what cheer?" And the Queen said, "Alas, I
am sick to death." The gentlewoman said, "Lady, cannot you bear up a little
until help cometh?" Thereupon the Lady Elizabeth fell to weeping very piteously,
and said, "Nay, I cannot bear up any longer, for the cold hath entered into my
heart." (Yea, even at that time death was upon her because of the cold at her
Then by and by in the midst of her tears and in very sore travail a man-child
was born to the Queen, and when that came to pass a great peace fell suddenly
Then she said, speaking to the nurse like one in great weariness, "What child
is it that I have given unto the world?" The nurse said, "It is a man-child."
The Queen said to her, "Hold him up until I see him." Thereupon the nurse held the child
up and the Queen looked at him, though she could hardly see him because it was
as though a mist lay upon her eyes which she could not clear away from her
sight; for at that time she was drawing deep draughts of death. Then, when she
had seen the child and had beheld that he was very strong and lusty and
exceedingly comely, she said: "Behold, this is my child, born in the midst of
sore travail and great sorrow; wherefore his name shall be called Tristram
because he hath caused so many tears to be shed."
Then in a little while the Lady died, and the gentlewoman stood weeping
beside her, making great outcry in that cold and lonely forest.
Anon there came those knights who were sent from the castle to find the
Queen; and when they came to that place, they beheld that she lay upon the
ground all cold and white like to a statue of marble stone. So they lifted her
up and bare her away upon a litter, and the gentlewoman followed weeping and
wailing in great measure, and bearing the child wrapped in a mantle.
So Tristram was born in that wise, and so his name was given to him because
of the tears that were shed at his birth.
And now it is to be told how King Meliadus returned from that castle of
enchantment where he was held prisoner.
At this time Merlin was still living in the world, for Vivien had not yet
bewitched him, as hath been told in the Book of King Arthur. So by and by it came to pass that he
discovered where King Meliadus was imprisoned and how it fared with him in the
castle of that enchantress. So he made greater spells than those that enmeshed
King Meliadus, and he brought King Meliadus back into his memory of the Queen
and his kingdom. Then straightway the King broke out from the castle of the
enchantress and returned to his kingdom. But when he came there it was to find
everything in great sorrow and dole; for the Lady Elizabeth was no longer upon
this earth to bring joy to the heart of the King. So for a long while after his
return King Meliadus lay altogether stricken down with the grief of that
Here followeth the story of Tristram, how he passed his youth, and how he
became a knight of Cornwall of King Mark's making.
The Story of Sir Tristram and the Lady Belle Isoult
Here followeth the story of Sir Tristram of Lyonesse, who, with Sir Launcelot
of the Lake, was deemed to be one of the two most worthy and perfect knights
champion of his day.
Likewise herein shall be told the story Of the Lady Belle
Isoult, who next to
Queen Guinevere, was reckoned to be the most fair, gentle lady in all of the