- For Gawain, King Arthur’s nephew, see Gawain.
Gawain the Brown (Gauvain li Brun) is a knight in the existing fragments of the Enfances Gawain. Gawain the Brown christens the new-born boy, who is King Arthur’s nephew, and names Gawain after himself. A character who corresponds in part appears in the Perlesvaus. A hermit named Gawain appears in the Vulgate Mort Artu (and from there is barely mentioned in the English Stanzaic Morte Arthur and in Sir Thomas Malory’s Le Morte d’Arthur). The corresponding character in the Life of Saint Gregory is the “old knight”. There is only a hint of this character in De ortu Waluuanii.
In the Enfances GauvainEdit
Gawain the Brun is knight who lives between the sea and the forest near the castle where Morcades, Arthur’s sister, is dwelling almost in seclusion to prevent it being known that she is pregnant. Gawain the Brun often brings the results of his hunting to Morcades, for he is without wife, child, or heir, and is in love with her handmaid, whom he wishes to marry. But the handmaid has more than once refused him.
When Morcades gives birth to a son, she and her lover Loth (who is present at the birth) give the child to Morcades’s handmaid to dispose of, as they have agreed. The handmaid happens to meet with Gawain the Brown. Gawain the Brown knows that the child carried by the handmaid cannot be hers, and being childless, he asks for the child. The handmaid is moved by this plea, gives the child to Gawain the Brown, and promises that she will marry Gawain the Brown as soon as the child is baptized. So Gawain the Brown baptizes the infant and gives his own name to him. Gawain take special care of the rich, embroidered shawl of Thessalonian cloth in which the infant was wrapped.
Then Gawain the Brown, following Morcades’ and Loth’s wish that the child be exposed, does so in a manner which will increase the child’s chances of surviving. Gawain the Brown puts the young Gawain into a barrel and sets the barrel adrift in the sea. In the barrel he also places a letter in a draw-string bag which tells that the child is of noble birth, as well as including in the barrel a ring which had belonged to the child’z father Loth, a buckle which had belonged to the child’s mother Morcades, the rich cloth in which the infant had been wrapped, and a large sum of money. The barrel is eventually found by a childless fisherman who accepts the young Gawain as his son.
However the boy shows no interest whatsoever in learning fishermen’s skills or in helping his supposed father at his work. Eventually the fisherman becomes gravely ill, and vows to go on a pilgrimage to Rome if God will heal him. On recovering, the fisherman fulfills his vow, taking his supposed son with him. On their way the fisherman, for the first time, discovers the letter in the draw-string bag and has a clerk read it and so learns that his adopted son is illegitimately born but of high birth, that he should be brought up to be a knight and be given the ring and buckle. By the ring the child will recognize his father, and by the buckle the child will recognize his mother.
Once in Rome, the fisherman gains a private audience with the Pope and tells him the contents of the letter. The Pope adopts the boy as his nephew and has the boy trained to become a knight. The Pope plans to give the ring, buckle, cloth, and letter to his adopted nephew when it is time for him to become a knight.
Meanwhile, Morcades marries off her handmaid to Gawain the Brown.
In the PerlesvausEdit
Arthur and Gawain spend the night at a castle where there is a chapel splendidly painted in pictures. They ask the priest to explain the pictures.
The priest tells that Gawain was born and baptized in that castle. But his mother (here unnamed) did not wish his illegitimate birth to be known. She placed the infant in a beautiful vessel and gave it to the unnamed lord of the castle to take away and leave to die.
But the lord of the castle instead writes a letter declaring that the child is of royal descent on both sides, seals the letter into the child’s tunic, puts much gold and silver into the vessel, and wraps the child in a rich, silken cloth. Then the lord of the castle rides off with the vessel to a distant land where he finds a worthy man in a dwelling in a hedged field. He gives the child to the man and his wife.
When the child has grown up, his foster parents take him to Rome and show the sealed letters to the Pope. The Pope has pity on the boy, takes him on, and leads him to believe that he is of the Pope’s family.
In the De Ortu WaluuaniiEdit
Gawain’s mother, here named Anna, pretends to be ill when she becomes pregnant by Loth, and retires to a private bedchamber. She gives birth secretly to a beautiful male child. Anna makes a pact with some merchants that they will take the child away and bring it up. She gives them untold gold and silver, rich vestments, an embroidered pallium, a signet ring belonging to the king and a sealed letter which stated that the child is Gawain, the son of Loth, nephew of King Sichelm of Norway, by Anna, the sister of Arthur.
The merchants take the infant across the sea, and on the eighth day reach land two miles from the city of Narbonne. The crew takes off for Narbonne, leaving behind only the infant Gawain and a single serving boy to guard the ship. The serving boy falls asleep. A poor fisherman named Viamund, sees the ship, goes on board, and takes what he thinks will be of most use, including the infant and a chest which contains the pallium, ring, and letter. Viamund cares for the child as though he were his own son.
But, as a poor fisherman, Viamund is afraid to use or to display his new wealth, especially as the merchants have made the theft well known. After seven years, Viamund and his wife go to Rome to start a new life. In Rome the fisherman uses his wealth to pass himself off as a nobleman and becomes a close friend of the Roman Emperor. When Viamund’s supposed son is twelve years old, Viamund becomes mortally ill, but before his death, confesses the truth privately to the Emperor and Pope Sulpicius. Viamund reads out the letter, and asks that his supposed son continue to be brought up according to his high birth, but that the contents of the letter should be kept secret, even from the boy himself. Then Viamund dies. The Emperor adopts Viamund’s supposed son.
In the Life of Saint GregoryEdit
The Emperor has a love affair with his sister. When the sister becomes pregnant, they both repent of their sin. They seek council from an old knight, who advises that the Emperor go on a crusade to expiate his sin, and that his sister place herself in the old knight’s keeping, and that the old knight will keep the pregnancy secret. So it is done. When the child is born, it is a beautiful boy. The old knight wants a priest to christen the boy, but the boy's mother refuses, having vowed that she will have nothing to do with the child. She asks the old knight to provide a cask in which the child will be exposed. She writes on tablets that the child is a product of incest, requests that the child be baptized, and states that there is a quantity of gold under the child's head, as well as silver to pay for nurturing and education. The child is wrapped in a very rich cloth and placed in the casket with its cradle, the tablets, and the gold and silver. The old knight casts the casket into the sea, and watches it float away.
The casket floats for six holy festival days until it arrives near a monastery. The abbot, who is fishing with the monks, discovers the casket, takes the child, reads the letter, and baptizes the child with the name Gregory, which is his own name. The abbot gives the child to a fisherman to bring up, and also gives the gold and silver to the fisherman.
Young Gregory does well in his studies and surpasses all the monks. But one day, he is accused of being of unknown birth, and he learns from his supposed mother that he was a foundling who was given to her. Gregory tells the abbot that he will no longer remain there, since he is ignorant of his parents, but will become a soldier. The abbot shows young Gregory the letter, but Gregory is all the more determined to become a knight so that he may join in a crusade and help to expiate the sins of his parents. So the abbot makes Gregory a knight.
In the Vulgate Mort ArtuEdit
Gawain was born in Orcanie, in the city of Nordelone. His father King Loth is delighted and has his child taken to a nearby forest, to be baptized by a hermit named Gawain who was famous for performing miracles every day, such as healing the lame and making the blind see. The hermit baptizes the child around the hour of noon, and names him Gawain after himself.
A knight asks the holy man that through his prayers the child will be more gifted in arms than any other. The holy man, Gawain, agrees to pray for the child, and the following day announces that the child will be more endowed with prowess than his companions, and that every day, at noon, at the hour when he was baptized, his power and strength will increase.
In the English Stanzaic Morte Arthur, this is reduced to:
:Then had Sir Gawain such a grace—::An holy man had bodden that boon—Sir Thomas Malory in his Le Morte d’Arthur writes (spelling and punctuation modernized):
:When he were in any place::There he sholde batail don,
- His strength sholde wax in such a space,
- From the under-time til noon,
Then had Sir Gawain such a grace and gift that an holy man had given him, that every day in the year, from undern to high noon, his might increased those three hours as much as thrice his strength.
The holy hermit Gawain appears to be Gawain the Brown conflated with the Pope, or with the abbot of the Gregory story.