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Sir Launfal

[ Roud - ; trad. / Fay Hield]

Sir Launfal is a 1045-line Middle English romance or Breton lay written by Thomas Chestre dating from the late 14th century. It is based primarily on the 538-line Middle English poem Sir Landevale, which in turn was based on Marie de France’s lai Lanval, written in a form of French understood in the courts of both England and France in the 12th century. Sir Launfal retains the basic story told by Marie and retold in Sir Landevale, augmented with material from an Old French lai Graelent and a lost romance that possibly featured a giant named Sir Valentyne.

Fay Hield condensed the story of Sir Launfal to “mere” 19 verses and sang it in 2020 on her Topic album Wrackline. She noted:

Exploring the values of love, loyalty and generosity over lust and vanity, this epic story is distilled from the 6.000 word original in Middle English. Honour should be valued more highly than wealth, beauty or reputation and it takes a fairy to bring justice to the human realm.


Fay Hield sings Sir Launfal

Sir Launfal he was a valiant knight
Gifts of silver glistening bright
To squires and lords he gave so free
When Launfal heard of his father’s demise
He rode straight home to help and advise
Sharing his wealth most generously

He gave so free in a year, no more
He drew into debt and grew wondrous poor
A noble man brought low in his pride
He rode away worn wretched and cried
In sorrow sore in the shade of a tree

He saw a tent deep in the holtes hore
Within he found Lady Tryamor
Pure as a lily in May she lay
Like fresh fallen snow on a cold winter’s day
Cheek rose red eyes glass shone grey

She said “Launfal, for thy kind-heartedness
Above all the lords it is you I do place
Over duke and earl squire or King”
Launfal replied “Whate’re should betide
I’ll always want to bide here by your side
Whatever fair or foul fortune shall bring”

“Oh gracious knight so kind and so bold
It’s rich you’ll become with a purse lined with gold
In secret I’ll call no one shall I see
But make not a boast for reward unto thee
Or my favour you’ll lose most entirely”

With his store he dined with fifty poor guests
Bought squires fifty new grey steeds, all of the best
Fifty poor prisoners were brought out of jail
Debts all repaid wealth for all to avail
Minstrels rewarded and clothed without fail

The King heard of Sir Launfal’s good deeds
A feast he has called and brought nobles with speed
To dance and drink upon Fiddlers’ Green
The Queen took hold of Sir Launfal’s right hand
Saying “Valiant Knight you’ll be at my command
No lady you bring so come lie with your Queen”

“Oh hold your tongue I bid you farewell
I’ll not turn to traitor by heaven or hell
I’ve loved these seven years long past and gone
A lady more fair than you cast eye upon
Her maid she would make a queen finer than thee”

The Queen stood amazed for to hear him withdraw
“To deny my advances you should be forlorn
Oh Cowardly knight it is hanged you shall be
No man he should make such false insult of me
Your name shall be ruined most barbarously”

Sir Launfal away to his chamber did ride
He called Lady Tryamor close to his side
But she came not and all that he’d won
Did melt away fast as the snow in the sun
His riches all gone just as rich he’d become

The King come home from hunting did ride
The Queen ran up to him and loudly she cried
“Launfal demanded my lover to be
Denied made boast of another so free
Claimed a lady more fair than you ever did see
Said her maid she would make a queen finer than me”

The King swore fast by his might and his main
Launfal be hanged drawn quartered and slain
“Vile filthy traitor you sin and you lie
To seduce then offend causing such an outcry
Demean your own queen you surely shall die”

“The Queen came up to me would lead me astray
I sought her not and I answered her “nay”
I’ve loved these seven years long past and gone
A lady more fair than you cast eye upon
Her maid she would make a queen finer than she”

The council knew of the Queen’s wanton ways
“She loves men not her lord” each of them they did say
So the first of the charges acquitted he’ll be
But to slight our Queen and claim fairer there be
“You must bring such a lady the court for to see
The King he shall judge your allegiance to he”

The court set their terms all agreed by the King
“Take my eyes” swore the Queen “if she proves fairer thing”
Launfal wrung his hands feared that she’d not appear
He’d broken his word his good name for to clear
And if she came not with his life he’d pay dear

Two greyhounds of silver walked into the hall
And a lady upon a white steed standing tall
So stately she rode so all could behold
Her dazzling splendour all glittered with gold
Dismounted she turned to the crowd for to scold

The lords turned to gaze on her each without fail
The ladies in splendour looked ghostly and pale
As the glimmering moon ’gainst the blazing bright sun
The court cried “Release him the case is unjust
The Queen he sought not for ne’r power nor lust
Of the wager you made, it is clear who has won”

She turned to the King “Tell me what do you see
Who is the fairest, thy lady or me?”
“To all” said the King “it is plain you appear
To shine brighter by far than all gathered in here
T’was the truth Launfal spoke and his name it runs dear”

She turned to the Queen and her bitter falsehood
She blew such a breath that her eyes turned to wood
She leapt on her horse pulled away for to ride
Launfal jumped behind wrapped his arms round her side
They hastened away to the holtes hore to bide