I was browsing Pinterest a while back, and I came across someone lamenting the lack of reverse-gender Beauty and the Beast type fairy tales. There actually are a few, and it made me remember one of my very favorite stories, The Wedding of Sir Gawain and Dame Ragnelle. Anyway, I kept planning on making a post about the story, but I never got around to it, as usual. But here I am! With a post. Let us begin.
Arthur and his knights have gone on a hunting trip in Inglewood Forest. They see a large hart, and Arthur separates from his knights to chase it, going off alone. Arthur finally manages to kill it, but right after, a knight he does not know comes up to him. The knight tells him that Arthur has wronged him for many years, for Arthur has given his land to Sir Gawain. He also threatens to kill Arthur, which is nice. What better way of resolving your legal disputes than to throw the kingdom into peril, am I right? Arthur asks for his name, and the knight replies that his name is Sir Gromer-Somer Joure.
I have to ask how that’s pronounced. Like. Does it rhyme. It sounds hard to say.
Anyway, Arthur suggests that they settle this like normal people, but since no one in Arthuriana is normal, Sir Gromer refuses, claiming that if he does, the king will only “defy me another time,” or some nonsense like that. Arthur points out that it would be dishonourable to kill him while he’s without armor, and the knight replies that he doesn’t want land or gold. (Why are you making an issue of this, then.) Instead, because everyone in these stories is an idiot besides Guinevere, the knight says that King Arthur has to meet him at this place in twelve-months time and tell him what it is that all women love best. If King Arthur can’t answer, he’ll kill him.
You know. Because every woman thinks the exact same way. It makes sense.
Also, I don’t believe this guy actually had his land stolen. Call me skeptical.
Later that evening, Gawain asks him what is wrong, because Arthur isn’t exactly hiding it well. Arthur says that he vowed to keep it a secret, but Gawain says he would never tell anyone, so Arthur confides the issue to him. Gawain suggests that they both ride out over the country, both going separate ways, and ask every man and woman for their answer to the riddle, and they would record the answers in a book. So basically, a survey! Not a bad idea.
They get many different answers; some say that what women want most is pretty clothes, some say that they want to be courted, some say that what women love most is to make out. By the time Gawain gets back to court, his book has been almost filled up. He and Arthur pool their answers, and Gawain is confident that the right answer is in there somewhere. Arthur is not so sure, however, and he decides to go back out into Inglewood Forest.
There, he meets a very ugly lady.
I can’t really beat the description from the translation of the ballad that I found, so: ” Her face was red and covered with snot, her mouth huge, and all her teeth yellow, hanging over her lips. Her bleary eyes were greater than a ball, and her cheeks were as broad as women’s hips. She had a hump on her back, her neck was long and thick, and her hair clotted into a heap. She was made like a barrel, with shoulders a yard wide and hanging breasts that were large enough to be a horse’s load. No tongue can tell of the foulness and ugliness of that lady. “
I told you. I couldn’t beat that description.
She sits on a fine horse adorned with gold, and she rides up to Arthur, telling him that she knows his secret and how to save him–only if she saves him, she gets to marry Sir Gawain.
Arthur points out that he can’t force Gawain to marry her, which goes a long way towards getting Arthur on my good side. But he says that he will tell Sir Gawain. “He will be loath to refuse my request,” says the king, “but I would regret causing Gawain to wed the foulest lady I have ever seen. I don’t know what to do.” She replies that even an owl may choose its mate, and that her name is Dame Ragnelle, “who has never yet beguiled man.”
Gawain, when he hears of it, says that he would wed her if she looked like Beelzebub, as long as it saved his king. Aww.
When Arthur goes to give Sir Gromer-Somer Joure his answer, Dame Ragnelle meets him along the way. “Sir, you will now know, without digression, what women of all degrees want most,” Dame Ragnelle responds. “Some men say we desire to be beautiful and that we want to consort with diverse strange men; also we love lust in bed and often wish to wed. Thus men misunderstand women. Another idea they have is that we want to be seen as young and fresh, not old, and that women can be won through flattery and clever ploys. In truth, you act foolishly. The one thing that we desire of men above all else is to have complete sovereignty, so that all is ours. We use our skill to gain mastery over the most fierce, victorious and manly of knights. So go on your way and tell this to the knight, who will be angry and curse the one who taught it to you, for his labour is lost. I assure you that your life is now safe, and remember your promise.”
So King Arthur goes to the knight and gives him the book to look through. I just caught that he is stalling for Gawain’s sake. Aww. Is this the most functional this family has ever been?
Anyway, the answers in the book do not satisfy Sir Gromer, and he makes ready to kill him. Arthur finally tells him that the answer is sovereignty. Sir Gromer literally says that he wants Ragnelle to die in a fire. And he also says that Ragnelle is his sister. I see that they’re functional. He laments that he’ll never have Arthur at such a point again, and Arthur assures him that he’ll make sure of that. Arthur turns his horse and leaves, and on his way back, he meets Dame Ragnelle at the same place she was before.
Ragnelle tells Arthur that she fulfilled her end of the bargain, and now it’s Arthur’s turn. He says he will and asks her to follow his advice, but she knows what he’s about to say and cuts him off.
“No, Sir King, I will not do so,” she says. “I will be married openly before I part from you, or you will be shamed! You ride ahead of me and I will follow you to your court. Remember how I have saved your life; therefore you should cause me no strife, which would be blameworthy.”
They go to Arthur’s court at Carlisle (a city, not to be confused with Carlisle, the vampire). Ragnelle insists on a large wedding. Guinevere asks her to have a private ceremony, for the sake of Sir Gawain, but Ragnelle tells her that she will be married publicly. And she is, in a red gown even more beautiful than the queen’s. At the feast after the wedding, she eats enough for six men, tearing apart the food with her three-inch long nails. I like the visual very much.
After the feast, Gawain and Ragnelle go to their bedchamber. She asks him to kiss her. “I will do more than kiss you, and before God!” Gawain says. When he turns to her, instead of a hag, he sees a beautiful woman.
Ragnelle explains that he has a choice; he can either choose that she look beautiful in the day and ugly at night, or beautiful at night and ugly during the day.* Gawain says he doesn’t know which would be better, and tells her that the choice is up to her, because Gawain is a wonderful person who understands that it really is Ragnelle’s choice, anyway.
*I had to proofread this sentence so many times. You didn’t ask to know this, but now you know.
It turns out that this is the right thing to do to break the curse, and now Ragnelle will be beautiful both day and night. She explains that her stepmother laid a curse on her, and Gawain broke it by giving her her sovereignty.
And they were very happy till morning. 😉
Arthur and Guinevere were grateful to Ragnelle after they found out about the curse. King Arthur forgave Ragnelle’s brother, even though Arthur and her brother still didn’t get along very well after that, and Ragnelle lived happily with Gawain for the rest of her life–although, unfortunately, her life wasn’t very long. She lived with him five years before dying of an illness, because this story is determined to rip out my heart.
Anyway, this is a wonderful story with an amazing message. Happy (late) Valentine’s day, and may you find a partner like Gawain or Ragnelle. Or, if you plan on being single (*high-fives you*), may you live it up like Dinadan did. Courtly love kills people and is overrated anyway.
Also, I have over fifty followers now! Thank you so much! I can’t believe over fifty people wanted to listen to me ramble about different things here. 🙂
Also, I found the story here, if you want to give it a read.