Chapter 1 Sir Tristram is the son of King Meliodas of Liones and Elizabeth, King Mark’s sister. Another lady had been in love with Meliodas, so one day she enchanted him to chase a hart until he came to a castle where she took him prisoner. Elizabeth, sick with worry, followed Meliodas into the forest. There Elizabeth gave birth, but died soon after. Before she died, she told her maid to christen her son Tristram.
Though Tristram’s name has come up in the context of various adventures of Arthur’s knights, only now do we hear the story of Tristram’s family (since one’s lineage and blood like are still considered highly significant). Tristram’s story seems like a large digression in the middle of the work (as he isn’t associated with Arthur until much later), but it also acts as a further exploration of Malory’s general themes of honor, love, jealousy, and knightly prowess.
Chapter 2 Merlin delivers Meliodas out of prison the morning after Elizabeth’s death. In mourning, the king prepares a lavish burial for her. After seven years Meliodas marries King Howell’s daughter, and has several children with her. She is jealous of Tristram, and one day decides to poison Tristram through a drink in the children’s room—but one of her children drinks the poison instead and falls down dead. The queen grieves but again puts poison into another silver chalice, which Meliodas finds. As he’s about to drink it, the queen suddenly seizes the chalice from him. Then the king recalls how his child died of poison, and he cries that his wife is a traitor. He pulls out his sword, but she cries that she’ll reveal everything. The king orders her to be burnt at the stake, but at the last minute Tristram asks that his father grant her mercy, as Tristram himself forgives her. Meliodas agrees to spare her, but he never again shares a room with his wife, and he sends Tristram from his court.
Merlin reappears briefly in this section, in a flashback to the time of Tristram’s death, when he used his limited powers to restore Meliodas to his proper place on the throne. Meliodas’s new queen is a classic example of the jealous, conniving woman—like Morgan le Fay—portrayed as so cold that she would even risk her children’s death more than once. Tristram’s character, in turn, is shown to be that of a true knight, since he follows the Arthurian order of chivalry in protecting women and granting mercy. Meliodas accepts, but at the price of having to send Tristram away. It’s unclear if Meliodas does this to keep Tristram safe, or if Meliodas is essentially choosing to be loyal to his wife instead of his son.
Chapter 3 Tristram is sent into Cornwall, France to be raised by a tutor named Gouvernail. Tristram stays there seven years and learns falconry, to play the harp, and to hunt, until he is 18 years old.
Raised in a foreign place by a man not his father, Tristram’s childhood bears remarkable similarity to Arthur’s, suggesting a similar nobility.
Chapter 4 Meanwhile King Mark of Cornwall has grown behind in his tribute to King Anguish of Ireland, so one year he declares he won’t pay. Angered, Anguish calls for Sir Marhaus, the queen of Ireland’s brother, and orders him to do battle in Cornwall. Marhaus rides to Cornwall and Mark, knowing of Marhaus’s prowess, is worried. His barons counsel him to seek Sir Launcelot du Lake to fight, though others say that no knights of the Round Table will fight against each other. Tristram hears of this, and he grows angry and ashamed that no knight in Cornwall will dare fight Marhaus.
As the nephew of King Mark, Tristram feels directly implicated in the sense of dishonor that stems from the refusal of any knights in the land to defend their king. Tristram is not one of Arthur’s knights at this point, and instead decides to give his loyalty entirely to his uncle.
Chapter 5 Tristram asks permission from Meliodas to fight, and though his father warns him of Marhaus’s skill, he agrees. Meanwhile a squire arrives with a letter and a little brachet from King Faramon of France’s daughter to Tristram, as she is in love with him, but Tristram has no interest in her, so she dies of sorrow. Meanwhile Tristram rides to Mark and asks him for a knighthood in exchange for fighting Marhaus. Mark agrees, despite Tristram’s youth. But Marhaus tells a messenger that he will only fight with a knight of royal blood. Tristram replies through the messenger that he is the son of King Meliodas and Elizabeth (Mark’s sister). Marhaus is glad to fight with such a gentleman, and they decide to fight at a nearby island.
The interlude with the daughter of King Faramon of France is meant to highlight Tristram’s commitment to a cause that he has promised to fulfill: he may find himself tempted by a woman’s love, but that he’ll let her die of sorrow rather than yield to her underlines his single-mindedness in pursuing glory and honor both for himself and for his family. Marhaus, as is usual for characters throughout these stories, puts a high premium on where someone comes from: an enemy’s royal blood will only increase the honor of fighting him.
Chapter 6 Tristram arrives at the island, where Marhaus is waiting, spear in hand, on a nearby ship. Tristram sends Gouvernail to greet Mark and tell him that he will neither flee nor yield, only win or die.
The two knights appear to be similarly honorable as they prepare to fight as proxies for the kings. They seemingly have nothing but respect for one another, but are about to fight to the death because of the complicated rules of honor, loyalty, and war.
Chapter 7 Marhaus meets Tristram and warns him that he has conquered the best knights of the land. Tristram declares that he is of noble blood and has promised to deliver Cornwall from the need for tribute. He is happy to fight against such a renowned knight. The two take their spears and fight, and soon Marhaus wounds Tristram in his side. But they continue fighting fiercely for over half a day. Finally Marhaus is more tired than Tristram, and with a great strike Tristram smites Marhaus down through his helmet, so that Marhaus falls on his knees. Marhaus then rises, slowly, throws his sword and shield from him, and flees to his ships.
As we’ve seen before, a general motif in a knight’s coming-of-age story seems to be that he must fight against a knight who is known to have conquered many worthy men. That Tristram continues fighting even after being wounded highlights his honor and commitment. Marhaus, in turn, has claimed to be illustrious, but by fleeing Tristram rather than refusing to yield he proves himself inferior. Arthur’s knights are usually portrayed as naturally braver and more skilled than others, but in Tristram’s story they are often the ones who come out looking bad.
Tristram calls after Marhaus, saying it is shameful for him to flee. Tristram yells that he will take Marhaus’s sword and shield for himself.
Tristram is frustrated by this behavior, which he seeks to punish by taking Marhaus’s armor.
Chapter 8 Marhaus departs to Ireland to tend to his wounds, but a piece of Tristram’s sword is lodged in his head, and it cannot be extracted, so he dies. His sister, keeping this sword piece, vows revenge. Meanwhile, Gouvernail arrives and he and Tristram return to the castle of Tintagil, where King Mark weeps over Tristram’s wounds. Marhaus’s spear had been poisoned, and they fear Tristram won’t recover. A wise lady arrives and says that Tristram can only be healed in the same country where the poison is from. Mark, Tristram, and Gouvernail sail to Ireland, where Tristram stays in bed playing the harp. King Anguish, hearing of the knight’s skill, sends for him. Tristram says his name is Tramtrist: he’s been wounded in a battle. Anguish agrees to help him, saying he recently lost the world’s best knight, Marhaus, in battle.
Marhaus’s death seems to be proper comeuppance for his apparent inability to either yield or face death once Tristram conquered him—the book often ties up such loose ends in this way, suggesting a kind of divine justice even when human beings are refused earthly justice. As this section of the book continues, we arrive at another, even more remarkable case of mistaken identity. Tristram fails even to modify his name that much, but Mark is not suspicious, and seems to accept Tristram as a proxy for his lost knight, tending to his wounds properly as a result.
Chapter 9 Anguish puts Tristram (now referred to as Tramtrist) in his daughter’s keeping, since she is a good surgeon. Her name is La Beale Isoud, and she is the fairest lady in the world. Tristram teaches her to play the harp and falls in love with her. But a Saracen (Muslim) named Sir Palomides is also in love with her and gives her many gifts, so Tramtrist is jealous.
The love story between Tristram and La Beale Isoud will come to structure the rest of the section, as—like the relationship between Guenever and Launcelot—it is made more difficult by competing interests, in this case Palomides and Tristram’s slaying of Marhaus.
Anguish announces a tournament for his cousin, the Lady of the Launds, whose winner will marry her. La Beale Isoud tells Tramtrist of the tournament, but he says he’s too weak to fight. Isoud says if he doesn’t go, then Palomides will surely win. Tramtrist agrees, but says he’ll go disguised. On the day of the tournament, Palomides strikes down many men. Then the same squire who had come from the king’s daughter of France (the lady who had died of love for Tristram) sees Tramtrist, and falls kneeling before him. Tramtrist races over to the squire and begs him to tell no one his name.
La Beale Isoud’s desire for Tristram to participate in the tournament is in some ways odd, since Palomides’ victory would mean that he would marry the Lady of the Launds and free her to be in love with Tristram. Perhaps she simply doesn’t want Palomides to gain the kind of glory that comes from triumphing in a tournament like this one. Tristram’s compromise is to do battle in disguise, a usual tactic.
Chapter 10 La Beale Isoud is impressed by this and loves Tramtrist more, seeing how the boy worships him. The next day she gives Tramtrist a white horse and harness to fight against Palomides with his black shield. Sir Gawaine and others watch and marvel as Tramtrist strikes down Palomides. Tramtrist then makes the squire a knight and equips him to fight as well. Palomides withdraws quietly, ashamed, but Tramtrist overtakes him and tells him to turn and fight. He then strikes down Palomides, and tells him to yield to his wishes or die. Tramtrist orders Palomides to abandon La Beale Isoud and to refrain from jousting for a year. Palomides swears.
For La Beale Isoud, Tristram’s decision not to reveal himself to others—as well as the noble way he’s considered by people like the young squire—make him a worthier candidate of love in her eyes. Tristram fulfills another one of the requirements of courtly prowess by insisting that his opponents fight him face-to-face, rather than withdraw quietly and seek to avoid shame. In this way, Tristram seeks to secure Isoud for himself.
Tramtrist turns back to the castle and meets a damsel who asks if he is Sir Launcelot, since no other man could have conquered Palomides so successfully, but Tramtrist convinces her that he is not. Shortly afterward the king and queen realize that Tramtrist had conquered Palomides, and they praise him.
It is essential to Tristram’s success at court that people eventually realize it was he who performed so well at the tournament, though it is also necessary that he not be the one to reveal his own identity.
Chapter 11 While Tramtrist is in the bath one day, the queen of Ireland comes across his sword, and sees a piece of the sword missing—the same that was lodged in Marhaus’s head. She cries to her daughter that he is a traitor, though Isoud is ashamed of this cruel cry. The queen rejoins the fragment to the sword and races with it to the bath. She would have killed Tramtrist had not the former squire caught her.
Directly after Tristram gains honor and glory at the tournament—and after one part of his identity is revealed—it appears that he cannot cherry-pick which aspects of his identity will become evident at court, as the queen pieces together clues to his past.
The queen races to King Anguish and reveals what she knows. The king is sorrowful that it is such a noble knight, and he says it would be shameful to kill Tramtrist. If Tramtrist tells him who his father was, what his name is, and if he killed Sir Marhaus, he will let him depart court safely.
Anguish is in a difficult position, strung between the his wife’s desire to avenge her brother Marhaus’s death, and his admiration for Tristram as a successful knight.
Chapter 12 Tristram then reveals the truth to King Anguish, who realizes that Tristram was only doing what was proper for a knight. But Anguish cannot allow Tristram to stay, given his wife’s grief. Tristram thanks him for his hospitality and pledges to do him service at some point—and to defend his daughter.
Even though Anguish recognizes Tristram’s noble character, the tragedy of this scene is that Tristram’s honor is not enough to discount the painful effects of his battle against Marhaus.
Tristram goes to La Beale Isoud (now usually just referred to as Isoud) and shares everything with her. She is devastated by his leaving, and promises not to marry for the next seven years without his consent. They give each other rings and Tristram departs.
It is difficult to see how Tristram and Isoud will be able to live together peacefully in love, but they reveal their noble characters in pledging loyalty.
Chapter 13 Tristram leaves for Cornwall and reunites with his parents. He stays at Mark’s court for a long time happily, until he and Mark both fall in love with one lady, the wife of Sir Segwarides. She prefers Tristram, and one day she sends a dwarf to Tristram to invite him to her chamber that night, but warns him to be armed. Mark, spying the dwarf, sends for him and orders him to reveal the plan. That night, as Tristram approaches the chamber, Mark and two knights race towards him. Tristram kills the two knights and strikes Mark down (not recognizing his uncle), though Mark wounds him first.
It doesn’t take long until Tristram seems to forget all about his vow of loyalty to La Beale Isoud. However, the book does not seem to pass judgment on this inability to remain loyal. Instead, we’re meant to see this woman’s love for Tristram as yet another piece of evidence in favor of his honor (women “can’t help” falling in love with him), and we also start to see the jealous nature of Mark in contrast to Tristram.
Chapter 14 Tristram continues to the lady, and they sleep together, but he hasn’t bandaged his wound from King Mark, and he bleeds over the sheets. Tristram quickly departs as Segwarides is returning. But Segwarides finds the bloody sheets and realizes that a wounded knight has been there, and that his wife has betrayed him. He orders her to tell him her lover’s name or else he’ll kill her, so she does.
Tristram’s attempt to sleep with Sir Segwarides’ wife is yet another example of how closely tied the worlds of love and battle are, especially when the prize he and Mark have fought over is a living, breathing human being. Now Segwarides’ own honor is at stake too.
Segwarides rides after Tristram and, when he finds him, orders him to fight. They draw their swords and Tristram strikes Segwarides down. Tristram then rides to Tintagil and enters secretly so that no one will know he is hurt. Segwarides recovers and never jousts with Tristram again, since Tristram is Mark’s nephew. But Mark never loves Tristram again.
After fighting on behalf of his own honor with Tristram, Segwarides is forced to admit that his opponent is of greater prowess than he, so there’s not much he can do to defend his wife. Mark’s changed opinions towards Tristram are ominous.
Chapter 15 One day Launcelot’s cousin, Bleoberis de Ganis, comes to King Mark to ask a gift: the fairest lady in his court. Mark tells him to choose, and Bleoberis chooses Sir Segwarides’ wife. When her husband hears, he rides after Bleoberis. The court ladies know Segwarides’ wife loves Tristram, and they say Tristram is a coward for letting her be taken away. But he says it’s for her husband to deal with.
Sir Segwarides’ wife seems to be in high demand among the knights of the land. Tristram’s responsibilities in terms of defending ladies are not entirely certain, since after all the lady is not his wife—but for the other ladies at court, his lover’s status reaches the status of a husband.
Then a squire returns, saying that Sir Segwarides is wounded to the point of death. Tristram, ashamed, rides out with Gouvernail. On the way he meets his cousin Sir Andred, who says he was sent by King Mark to fetch two knights of Arthur’s court, but they beat and wounded him. Tristram vows to revenge him if he meets these two knights: Sagramore le Desirous and Dodinas le Savage.
Tristram still owes no loyalty to Arthur, and he doesn’t hesitate to vow to fight against knights of Arthur’s court, especially when they seem to have shamed some of Tristram’s own allies.
Chapter 16 Tristram does encounter these two knights, and declares that he will do better than Sir Andred. Tristram strikes them both down, then tells them it was shameful to dishonor a knight of Cornwall. Sagramore asks Tristram to share his name, and he does, before leaving towards Bleoberis.
Tristram’s triumph over Sagramore le Desirous and Dodinas le Savage seems almost nonchalant, and is yet another reminder of how his prowess exceeds that of any knight except Launcelot.
Chapter 17 Tristram calls to Bleoberis to release the lady. Bleoberis says he fears no Cornish knights, but Tristram says he’s won against Sagramore and Dodinas, and this impresses Bleoberis. But he vows to fight, and they do so on foot for over two hours. As they rest, Bleoberis asks for his name, and Tristram shares it, so that Bleoberis realizes he is the killer of Marhaus and the conqueror of Palomides. When Bleoberis says he is Launcelot’s cousin, Tristram says that he will fight no more for Launcelot’s sake. Bleoberis suggests they have the lady choose between them, and Tristram agrees, saying she’ll choose him.
“Cornish” is the adjective form of “Cornwall,” and among the knights of the Round Table there are often unfavorable stereotypes associated with Cornish knights, as they are seen as somewhat lazy and unsuccessful fighters. Tristram, of course, does his part in undoing this stereotype. While he’s not of Arthur’s court, Tristram has great respect for Launcelot, causing him to refuse more battle.
Chapter 18 The lady says that she loved Tristram above all others, but he failed to rescue her when Bleoberis led her away, so now she’ll choose Bleoberis instead. Tristram is furious. The lady tells him to leave, and asks Bleoberis to return her to the abbey where Sir Segwarides is recovering. Tristram rides to Tintagil, while Bleoberis delivers the lady.
Now Tristram’s uncertainty about his duty towards a woman who isn’t his wife has unpleasant, even shocking ramifications, as Sir Segwarides’ wife seems to have no doubt about what Tristram should have done.
Chapter 19 King Mark now actively plots to destroy Tristram. He decides to send Tristram to fetch La Beale Isoud so that he, Mark, might marry her, thinking that Tristram might be slain that way. Tristram agrees and departs with many knights on a ship, but a storm drives them onto the coast by Camelot. That day two knights of Arthur’s come to their pavilion and ask Tristram to joust. He wins against them both, and they are ashamed.
Mark’s desire to marry La Beale Isoud (a decision he can make as king) seems largely one born of hatred for his nephew. We don’t learn why Tristram agrees to fetch Isoud, but the journey will at least give him the chance to see her again, and perhaps he will find a way to rescue her from Mark’s hand afterward.
Chapter 20 Bleoberis had summoned King Anguish to Arthur’s court for treason. Arthur was abroad at the time, so he assigned King Carados and the King of Scots as judges. Bleoberis’s brother Sir Blamore de Ganis accuses Anguish of killing a cousin of his. The judges give Anguish three days to respond.
While kings are usually due the greatest respect among knights, here the hierarchy seems to be challenged, as Anguish is on trial for killing a knight below him in the courtly hierarchy.
Meanwhile, a lady in great anguish comes by Tristram’s pavilion. She tells him that a great lady had given her the child of Launcelot to take care of, but a knight had thrown her from her horse and stolen the child. Tristram vows to ride after the knight. He finds him and orders him to give back the child.
On the way to fetch La Beale Isoud, Tristram is held up by a number of distractions and other adventures. This is another case in which he vows to defend Launcelot, though they belong to different courts.
Chapter 21 Tristram strikes the knight to the ground and he yields. Tristram leads him and the child back to the lady and Tristram lets him go. Then Gouvernail comes to tell Tristram of the charges brought against Anguish. Tristram rejoices at the chance to serve Anguish, and sends Gouvernail to bring the king to him. They embrace and Anguish says he is afraid to fight against such skilled knights. Tristram says he will fight in exchange for a reward, and Anguish agrees.
For the moment, we don’t hear any more about Launcelot’s supposed child, as Tristram has to turn to more pressing concerns. He had, as we remember, vowed to serve King Anguish in any way he could in return for Anguish’s kindness to him. Now Tristram seems to have the chance to gain what he wants in exchange for this service.
Chapter 22 King Anguish tells Carados that he has found a champion, and he brings Tristram. Bleoberis reminds his brother Blamore that none of their family has ever been shamed in battle, and that he should die rather than be shamed. Blamore and Tristram face each other. Tristram kills Blamore’s horse, and they fight marvelously on foot, as two knights never fought before. Finally, Tristram strikes Blamore so hard that he falls to the ground.
Bleoberis may have courted shame in stealing away Sir Segwarides’ wife, but on the battlefield the rules of courtly honor are of high significance both to him and to his brother. This is one of the many battle scenes that Malory seems to take great pleasure in describing, especially when two knights are almost evenly matched.
Chapter 23 Blamore cries to Tristram to slay him rather than make him yield, but Tristram is reluctant to kill him for Launcelot’s sake (Blamore is Launcelot’s cousin). Tristram kneels before the judges and asks them to take the matter into their hands. Anguish says he will give mercy to Blamore, but Bleoberis says that Tristram should slay him rather than shame him by granting mercy. The judges, however, tell the parties to reunite and be friends, and after that Launcelot’s family is always loyal to Tristram. Anguish and Tristram leave for Ireland, where the king shares what Tristram has done for him, and La Beale Isoud is wildly happy.
Tristram is once again strung between competing desires and competing duties as a proper knight. On the one hand, he respects Blamore’s wish to be killed rather than seek mercy, as this is what Tristram would do in his place, but on the other hand, Tristram always attempts to refrain from causing any kind of shame or dishonor that would affect Launcelot even indirectly. His choice will be important later on, as Launcelot’s family now admires Tristram’s loyalty.
Chapter 24 Tristram then asks King Anguish for his reward: that he might give him La Beale Isoud to wed his uncle Mark, as he has promised. Anguish is surprised that Tristram won’t wed her himself, but Tristram says it would be shameful to break his promise. The queen gives Gouvernail a drink for Isoud and Mark to drink on their wedding day so as to love each other forever. But as Isoud and Tristram return on the ship, they see the drink, think it’s wine, and drink it. This means their love will never fade.
We as readers are also meant to be surprised, and impressed, by Tristram’s commitment to keeping his promise to Mark, despite the risks he took in fighting for Anguish, and despite his own love for Isoud. The love potion they drink cements the tragic irony in this situation, ensuring that Tristram and Isoud are doomed to love each other despite all obstacles.
They sail by a castle called Pluere where they are taken prisoner. According to the castle’s custom, they will only be released once Tristram fights Breunor, the lord of the castle. If Breunor wins, the stranger and his lady are put to death, and if the strange knight wins, then Breunor and his lady will die.
Various foreign castles that the knights in these stories meet have strange and often cruel “customs,” traditions that seem to stand in for law, and which always require courage, honor, and skill to be overcome.
Chapter 25 In prison, a knight and lady come to cheer up Tristram and Isoud, and Tristram remarks at the incomprehensible custom of the place. The knight says that another custom in the castle is that the weaker knight between two must lose his head, and the less beautiful lady lose hers. Tristram says it’s a shameful custom, but his lady would never lose her head. He prepares to do battle the next day.
There often seems to be little purpose to such customs, other than that they give the castle inhabitants (and the prisoners) an opportunity to raise the stakes in judging which of the men is more powerful, and which of the women more beautiful—a custom that Tristram finds dishonorable.
Sir Breunor arrives with his lady, a muffle covering her head, and asks Tristram where his lady is. Tristram says his lady is fairer, and he will prove it by fighting. When Breunor sees Isoud, he realizes no lady is fairer, but fears his own lady’s head should be cut off. Tristram vows to kill them both in revenge for their shameful custom. Breunor says he repents, and will slay Tristram and take Isoud. Tristram strikes off Breunor’s lady’s head, saying he is only fulfilling their custom, and vows to fight Breunor to the death.
Breunor’s custom now backfires on him, as he finds himself unable to continue to insist that his own lady is the more beautiful. Now his “custom” seems more slippery, as Breunor is eager to change it so that he can take Isoud as his own wife rather than cut off her head: Tristram finds this inability to keep to one’s custom even more shameful than the custom itself.
Chapter 26 Tristram strikes Breunor from his horse, but then Breunor kills Tristram’s horse, and the two fight on foot for two hours until both are wounded. Tristram finally lunges at Breunor and strikes off his head. All in the castle pay homage to Tristram, but meanwhile one knight rides to Breunor’s son, Sir Galahad (not Galahad, Launcelot’s son), and tells him what happened to his parents.
Breunor and Tristram are clearly evenly matched, but ultimately Tristram proves his greater honor in that he is more powerful. However, just when he thinks he has established his success over this castle, the rules of revenge, especially for family, come into play.
Chapter 27 Galahad comes to fight with Tristram, and it lasts nearly half a day. Finally Tristram drives Galahad down, but then the King with the Hundred Knights comes upon Tristram. Tristram realizes he will not conquer them all, and he says to Galahad that it is shameful to fight so unequally. But Galahad says he must yield or die. Galahad tells the hundred knights to cease, as he admits his father’s custom was shameful. Galahad asks Tristram his name, and tells him to go to Launcelot du Lake and pledge allegiance to him: Tristram agrees to do so, saying he desires Launcelot’s fellowship.
Finally, Tristram seems to have met his match—only that for him, his match in battle is equaled by a hundred knights. Galahad’s choice to end the battle with Tristram shows that he, despite his loyalty to his father, also subscribes to the order of honor and chivalry more broadly. After remaining loyal to Launcelot from afar, Tristram now appreciates the possibility to spend time with him and pledge loyalty to him in person.
Chapter 28 Tristram departs over the sea. Meanwhile Launcelot, riding, encounters Gawaine bound up by Sir Carados. Gawaine says that only Launcelot or Tristram can rescue him. Launcelot tells Carados to fight with him, and they clash for an hour. Finally Lancelot conquers Carados and strikes off his head, and he unbinds Gawaine. Tristram is told this story, and says he must find Sir Launcelot himself.
Gawaine’s declaration that only Launcelot or Tristram can save him reflects the general belief at court that these two knights are the greatest in the kingdom. Tristram, indeed, is properly impressed by this story, which has reached him through the kinds of rumors that spread easily in the realm.
Chapter 29 Mark and Isoud are married, though she and Tristram still love each other. Two of Isoud’s ladies decide out of envy to destroy Isoud’s maid Dame Bragwaine. She is sent into the forest to fetch herbs, and then is bound to a tree for three days. Sir Palomides comes across her and saves her. Isoud meanwhile worries about Bragwaine. Walking through the forest, she meets Palomides, who says he will bring Bragwaine to her if she grants his wish. When she agrees, Palomides fetches Bragwaine, and then asks to state his wish before the king.
Though it appears that the love story between Tristram and Isoud has failed, in fact—especially thanks to the magic potion they both drank—Isoud’s marriage to Mark hasn’t changed anything. From this scene, it seems like Palomides is a proper knight, who like many other knights assumes he deserves a reward for noble behavior.
Chapter 30 Palomides goes before King Mark and asks to take his wife, Isoud, away with him. The king thinks that Tristram will surely rescue Isoud, so he agrees to let Palomides take her. Mark sends for Tristram, but cannot find him since he’s hunting in the forest. Mark is ashamed and furious. Then a knight of Tristram offers to go after Palomides. After a while he overtakes Palomides, but when they fight, Palomides strikes and wounds him.
Though Mark has never loved Tristram since they fought over Segwarides’ wife, he still has faith in Tristram’s ability as a knight, so he makes what soon turns out to be a terrible calculation. That Mark won’t go out himself to defend and bring back his wife suggests that he’s on a lower level of chivalry, and his cowardice makes him more of a clear-cut villain in the story.
Meanwhile Isoud has escaped: she reaches a forest well, and is about to drown herself when a knight from a nearby castle, Adtherp, comes to her. He takes her to his castle and vows to seek Palomides in revenge. But when they meet, Palomides wounds him and orders Adtherp to bring him to the castle. He does, but Isoud sees Palomides from a window and shuts the gates. Palomides sits down outside to wait.
Isoud seems to be so overcome with shame at being stolen away by a man not her husband (or lover) that suicide is the only answer. Luckily not all knights are as treacherous as Palomides, and Adtherp seems to align with the code of honor with which we’re familiar.
Chapter 31 When Tristram returns from hunting, he feels ashamed and immediately rides out after Palomides. He finds Adtherp wounded and learns what has happened. Adtherp points him to his castle, where Tristram sees Palomides asleep. Tristram sends Gouvernail to wake Palomides up and bring him back to fight. They battle for hours. Finally Isoud says that though she doesn’t love Palomides, she wants him, a Saracen, to be baptized before he dies. She goes down to ask Tristram to spare Palomides. Tristram agrees, and Isoud tells Palomides to go to Arthur and recommend Isoud to Guenever. Isoud says to tell Guenever that there are only four true lovers in this land: Launcelot and Guenever, and Tristram and Isoud.
Shame is a motif common to several characters in this anecdote: Isoud for being stolen away, Mark for being unable or unwilling to pursue her, and Tristram for being absent at the moment when his lover really needs him. Isoud’s decision to ask Tristram to spare Palomides is meant to underline her gracious, Christian behavior—revenge might be an ideal that this society embraces, but it is often not one that usually applied to women, for whom mercy and grace are considered more vital attributes.
Chapter 32 Tristram brings Isoud home to King Mark, and they all recover. But one day Sir Andred, Tristram’s cousin, sees Tristram and Isoud talking at a window, and he denounces Tristram to Mark. Mark calls Tristram a traitor in front of the court, and charges his men to slay him, but no one moves. Tristram takes his sword and chases after Mark, finally hitting him and making him fall down.
Sir Andred, unlike Isoud, is shown as petty and jealous, eager to stir up drama at court—even though objectively speaking, Tristram is going behind the king’s back in maintaining a relationship with Isoud. Nonetheless, the rest of the court, respecting Tristram, is on his side. Mark seems hated even by his own men, but he is still a king by birth, and so retains all his power.
Tristram takes his horse and squire to the forest. Soon he meets two brothers who are knights of Mark. Tristram kills one and wounds the other, and tells the wounded knight to take his brother’s head to the king. Mark convenes his council, and they suggest that he make amends with Tristram, for should he defect to Arthur’s court he will be strengthened even more. Mark agrees and welcomes Tristram back home.
Forced to face this terrifying symbol of Tristram’s might, as the conquered knight bears the head of his brother to court, Mark once again makes a pragmatic decision that has less to do with his forgiveness towards Tristram and more with the politics of knighthood and his desire to preserve his own power.
Chapter 33 The king and queen prepare a jousting, and Sir Lamorak de Galis proves himself to be a remarkable knight. Mark orders Tristram to joust with him. Tristram says it would be against the chivalric code to fight against Lamorak when the latter is much more exhausted than he, but he obeys. Tristram knocks Lamorak from his horse, but when Lamorak asks to continue on foot, Tristram refuses, saying it would be shameful to continue. Lamorak insists, but Tristram refuses again, frustrating him.
Having been brought back to court, Tristram at least temporarily seems to have adopted a more meek and docile attitude towards the king, agreeing to his orders even when he doesn’t agree with them. Lamorak asserts his own honor by continuing to fight Tristram, but Tristram’s honor is shown to be even greater in his showing of mercy.
Chapter 34 Lamorak departs with a companion, and on the way they meet a knight with a gold horn: if a woman is true to her husband she can drink it, but if she is false it will spill. Morgan le Fay, knowing of the affair between Guenever and Launcelot, is sending the horn to Arthur. Lamorak orders the knight to send it to King Mark instead, so as to test Isoud. Mark has Isoud and a hundred other ladies drink it: only four prove true. Mark orders them to all be burnt, but the barons gather and protest that the horn is made from false sorcery. Tristram is furious, knowing that Lamorak must have sent the horn.
Though Morgan le Fay has been absent from the story for a while, we learn that she has hardly been free from her usual scheming and plotting against her brother Arthur. But the interception of her gold horn underlines a parallel that was already pointed out—Launcelot’s affair with Guenever, and Tristram’s affair with Isoud. This somewhat comic scene suggests that the ideal of female purity does not exactly hold up in reality.
Tristram often spends the night with Isoud, and one night Sir Andred, who often spies on him, gathers twelve knights and comes upon him naked in bed, binding him until day. Mark orders Tristram to be led by barons to a chapel upon the sea. Tristram cries to the barons to remember what he has done for Cornwall, when all the barons refused to fight against Marhaus. But Andred cries that he is a false traitor and draws his sword. Suddenly Tristram manages to unbind his hands and he wrests Andred’s sword away. Tristram kills ten knights and locks himself in the chapel, still naked. As a hundred knights prepare to lay siege to the chapel, Tristram jumps out the window onto the rocks of the sea.
Despite the danger of continuing his relationship with Isoud—particularly after the event of the golden horn—Tristram seems unafraid of courting greater danger. As a result, he faces more shame than he ever has on the battlefield. For Tristram, his devout loyalty to Mark as a knight more than makes up for his disloyalty to the king in terms of love. The book doesn’t necessarily seek to excuse Tristram, but rather simply reports the marvel of his ability to escape even the knottiest of situations.
Chapter 35 Gouvernail seeks out his master and pulls him up from the rocks. Tristram asks after Isoud, who he says has been put in a lazar-cote (a leper’s house). Tristram fetches her from there and brings her to a manor in the forest. He tells his men, except Gouvernail, to leave. As Tristram is sleeping, a man whose brother Tristram had slain arrives and shoots Tristram with an arrow in the shoulder, so Tristram springs up and kills him. Meanwhile Mark learns where the couple is. He arrives but only finds Isoud, and he brings her home and locks her away.
Miraculously, Tristram has evaded death yet again. While he had been condemned to death, Isoud’s lot was to be shut away in a place considered unfit for the healthy and with connotations of great shame. Tristram’s enemies do not just include Mark and his men, we learn, but also many others who have been in some way slighted by Tristram or have lost family members to his sword.
Isoud sends a lady to Tristram to tell him that, since she cannot help him, he should go to King Howel in Brittany, where his daughter, Isoud la Blanche Mains, will nurse him back to health. Tristram and Gouvernail do so.
Names are often repeated in this story, and it will be important to keep in mind that there are now two Isouds in Tristram’s life (though they’re linked in several ways).
Chapter 36 An earl is laying siege against King Howel, and Howel asks Tristram to fight for him. Tristram kills the earl and over a hundred knights, and is received with great praise. With the encouragement of Howel and his son Kehydius, Tristram begins to fall in love with Isoud la Blanche Mains, such that he forgets La Beale Isoud. Finally they are married, but only once in bed with his new wife does Tristram remember La Beale Isoud, and he refuses to sleep with Isoud la Blanche Mains.
Once again Tristram proves himself to be a noble knight through his battlefield prowess. But he also proves again unable to restrain his wandering eye. It is a tragic irony that La Beale Isoud sent him here for safekeeping under Isoud la Blanche Mains, only for Tristram to forget about Isoud and marry this new love.
Meanwhile a knight from Brittany comes to Arthur’s court and tells of Tristram’s marriage. Launcelot cries that Tristram is untrue to his lady, and Launcelot sends the messenger to say that he once loved Tristram above all, but from now on they are enemies.
For Launcelot, whose loyalty to Guenever is unparalleled, there is little more shocking or unworthy of a true knight than an inability to stay true to one’s beloved.
Chapter 37 The knight reports back to Tristram, who is ashamed. La Beale Isoud writes to Guenever about Tristram’s falseness, but Guenever writes that he has surely been tricked by female sorcery, and will soon come to hate his wife and love Isoud again.
Isoud and Guenever are now friends as well as occupying similar love stories. Even Guenever seems to assume that Tristram’s infidelity somehow isn’t his fault, but must be the result of “female sorcery.”
Meanwhile, Sir Lamorak de Galis is traveling on a ship that sinks and kills all but him. He washes ashore on the Isle of Servage. Fishermen tend to him and tell him that the lord of the Isle, Nabon le Noire, hates Arthur’s knights, and recently killed Lamorak’s cousin. Lamorak decides to fight Nabon in revenge.
The narrative shifts briefly to Lamorak, who we last saw sending Morgan le Fay’s golden horn to Mark’s court out of spite for Tristram. Despite this, Lamorak is generally portrayed as one of the greatest knights in the kingdom, though he never achieves the popularity of figures like Launcelot or Tristram.
Chapter 38 Tristram meanwhile takes Isoud la Blanche Mains and Kehydius to go boating, and they are driven by wind to the Isle of Servage, where the barge is washed to the shore and Isoud is hurt. They go into the forest, where Tristram sees Segwarides with a damsel, and he agrees to forget their past conflicts. Segwarides brings Tristram to a lady nearby, who says that a knight of Arthur’s has been shipwrecked. The lady brings Lamorak, who doesn’t recognize Tristram. Lamorak reveals his name, as does Tristram, who says that his kindness in not fighting Lamorak was betrayed when Lamorak sent Morgan le Fay’s horn to Mark’s court. But Tristram proposes they lay aside their differences to figure out how to conquer Nabon.
We learn the reason for the brief digression that explained how Lamorak ended up on the Isle of Servage. This passage reveals how difficult it can be to keep all the alliances and enemies of each knight straight in the book, as they are constantly shifting, sometimes due to knights’ actions, but often simply for strategic reasons. Tristram, for instance, still believes that Lamorak was in the wrong, but since they both come from Mark’s court they are natural allies in fighting the lord of the island, Nabon.
Chapter 39 Nabon has ordered all his citizens to meet at his castle in five days for the knighting of his son and a joust. Nabon lends Lamorak a horse and armor and everyone marvels at his deeds. Nabon proposes they fight, but as Lamorak begins to win, Nabon tells him to stop, saying that he’ll show Lamorak great courtesy. Tristram steps forward and offers to fight Nabon on foot. He shares his name, and Nabon says he has long wished to fight with either him or Launcelot. They clash, and Tristram kills Nabon, and then cuts off his son’s head. The citizens clamor for Tristram to become their lord, but he proffers Lamorak, who demurs and says it should be Tristram. They agree to give the title to Segwarides, who agrees, frees all prisoners, and governs the land well.
At first, in an example of trickery more than mistaken identity, Lamorak pretends to be a friendly foreign knight simply eager to join in Nabon’s jousting, which is a celebratory affair. Tristram’s name has evidently spread even to this remote island. Among knights, the more renowned an opponent the more glory one can gain from conquering him—and such glory is appealing enough for someone like Nabon even to risk death in pursuit of it. Lamorak and Tristram cement their alliance by each proposing the other as ruler.
Chapter 40 Lamorak rides out to a hermitage, where the hermit marvels at the fact that he hasn’t seen a knight pass this way without being killed for 20 years: Lamorak says that the tyrant Nabon has been killed. The next day Lamorak departs and sees four knights fighting against one. He rebukes the four for this and says he’ll save the victim. Lamorak kills two and the others flee. The knight, Sir Frol of the Out Isles, thanks Lamorak and accompanies him on.
It appears that Tristram and Lamorak have made a noble decision in seeking to conquer Nabon, since he seems to have oppressed the island’s inhabitants for many decades. Lamorak, as a properly honorable knight, finds it dishonorable for many knights to fight an unequal battle against one.
They see a knight in white riding along, and Frol says that this knight recently won against him in jousting, so now Frol wants to joust with him again. The knight agrees but again wins. Lamorak rides after him and asks his name: he is Launcelot du Lake. Lamorak shares his name, and they embrace as fellow Round Table knights. Launcelot says he is on a quest that he must do alone, so he departs. Lamorak refuses to tell Frol who the knight was, so Frol, put off, leaves.
Somehow Launcelot has found his way to this remote island as well, where he has been busy proving himself not through his name—which is even more famous than Tristram’s—but rather by his prowess as a knight (in yet another incarnation of this trope). While Lamorak might have been able to guess Launcelot’s identity, the other knights often have trouble recognizing each other.
Chapter 41 After a few days Lamorak finds a knight sleeping next to a lady. Then Gawaine rides up and takes the lady with him. Lamorak calls after Gawaine, who says he is Arthur’s nephew, so Lamorak cannot do anything to him. Gawaine runs toward the sleeping knight, who awakens and mightily strikes down Gawaine. But Lamorak says to himself that he must defend Gawaine, who will otherwise speak ill of him at court. Lamorak fights with and kills the knight (who, it’s implied, is Sir Frol).
Gawaine shows himself to be proud and hasty as usual, this time using his family connections (his relationship to the king) to take advantage of a lady and to prevent being punished. While Lamorak doesn’t agree with this dishonorable behavior, in this case friendship as knights of the Round Table wins out over the protection of ladies.
The lady then tells the slain knight’s brother, Belliance le Orgulus, of the killing, and Belliance comes to fight Lamorak. They draw their swords, fighting for two hours. When Lamorak shares his name, Belliance says there is no one he hates more, since he killed his own sons to save Lamorak’s life, and now Lamorak has killed his brother Frol. Lamorak kneels down and asks for his grace and forgiveness. But Belliance orders him up or else he’ll kill him, so they fight again. Finally Belliance, faint from bleeding, withdraws, and Lamorak kneels again and grants him mercy. Lamorak tends to Belliance’s wounds, and they swear never to fight again.
It is unclear exactly what the back story is concerning Belliance’s murder of his sons to save Lamorak’s life—this may be part of a Round Table tale that did not make it into Malory’s collection. Lamorak will not yield to Belliance in fighting, and Belliance too is prepared to continue battling. They nearly reach a draw, though Lamorak refuses to fully claim his victory, probably because he knows he is in the wrong. This is yet another example of two characters switching from enemies to friends simply through the act of fighting each other honorably.