Quondam et Futurus

Prose Tristan

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The Prose Tristan as it survives is a product of the second and third quarters of the 13th century. In French it is known as Le roman de Tristan en prose.


Different VersionsEdit

Changes in Analyses of the Different VersionsEdit

Older critical comment often says quite firmly that the Prose Tristan exists in two versions, a shorter, first version which claims to be by one Luces de Gat and a longer, second version which claims to be by Helie de Boron. The Post-Vulgate Arthurian Cycle was written between the two, and references to events told more fully in the Post-Vulgate exist because the author of the Post-Vulgate expanded those references.

Examination of the manuscripts has shown this to be incorrect. See especially Baumgartner (1975). Almost all manuscripts which have an ending, claim that the work is by Luces de Gat and was continued (or filled out) by Helie de Boron. The short version contains references to events that are not told in it, but which are told in the long version. The long version contains references to events that are not told in it, but which are told in the short version. The version of the Prose Tristan mentioned in the Post-Vulgate Cycle would be this early version.

It now appears that the short version may not be older than the longer version (although it may be). It appears there was a now-lost early version of the Prose Tristan which claimed to be by Luces de Gat which was soon expanded to produce the versions which have survived. All the surviving versions owe much to the Post-Vulgate Cycle which had itself been influenced by the lost original version of the Prose Tristan.

The two surviving basic versions of the Prose Tristan are now known as V.I and V.II. Their text is mostly the same up to the point where Tristan, Palamedes, and Dinadan are set free from prison by Daras (Löseth, § 184). From that point the versions begin to differ widely although they seldom contradict one another and sometimes for a time have essentially the same text.

Version I (V.I)Edit


Version I, or V.I, is also known as the short version of the Prose Tristan and is found complete only in MS. fr. 757. It includes a long account of Tristan’s captivities by King Mark, full accounts of Gawain slaying Driant and Lamorat, of Tristan and Yseult’s voyage to Britain and various other passages not found in V.II. It also omits material found in V.II. In particular, the parts of it telling of the Grail quest mostly restrict themselves to relating only Tristan’s adventures.

See Prose Tristan (charts), Post-Vulgate (charts), and Quest of the Holy Grail (charts) for exact details.

See also Baumgartner (1975, pp. 53–62).


J. D. Bruce (1923, t.1, 485) claimed that V.I is “an earlier and better version, which is relatively short and simple.” Emmanuèle Baumgartner (1975, P.29) summarizes the early scholarship as:

Le texte de V.I. est, dans l’ensemble, plus bref, plus simple, plus cohérent que celui de V.II. [The text of V.I. is, on the whole, shorter, simpler, more coherent than that of V.II.]

In fact it is V.II which is more coherent. V.I contains many internal contradictions:

  • Gawain and Guerrehet are introduced in Löseth (1891, § 184) and PT.V.I I.4 as being of the kindred of King Ban and King Arthur. This seems to be a simple error as no other text in V.I or anywhere else includes Gawain and his brothers among King Ban’s kindred.
  • Version V.I tells a seemingly incomplete story in which a damsel who is under Tristan’s protection is beheaded when Tristan is captured. Tristan vows to exact vengeance on those responsible, but there is no further references to this tale and the damsel, seemingly, remain unavenged. Dinadan, in this story, acts very much out of character, falling totally in love with a beautiful maiden and for her seeking the head of the damsel whom Tristan is protecting. Later appearances of Dinadan have him play his normal role as Tristan’s mocking friend who has no interest in courtly love but who is also, in general, protective of damsels.
  • Lancelot has played a large role in the tournament at the Castle of Maidens near London and was the leader of the knights who set out in search of Tristan who had won such fame as the Knight of the Black Shield at the tournament. But following the adventures of some of the knights who are in questing for Tristan, including Lancelot, no further mention is made of the tournament. The glory won by Tristan at the tournament seems to be entirely forgotten. As to Lancelot, at PT.V.I I.37 a boy who is announcing a tournament to be held at the Hard Rock in eight days tells Tristan that Lancelot has been missing for two years or more and is believed to be imprisoned in some unknown place. Later, at PT.V.I I.61, the knight known as the Boy of the Ill-Cut Coat tells Tristan that it has been nearly two years since Lancelot was seen in court. Only the fact that Lancelot’s name still appears on his seat at the Round Table shows that Lancelot is still alive. It may be the author of these adventures imagines Lancelot to be imprisoned by Morgain the Fay as told in the Agravain section of the Prose Lancelot and that Tristan’s visit to Morgain’s castle must be imagined to occur very soon after Lancelot’s escape whereas the author of the material associated with the tournament of the Castle of Maidens near London imagines it to be some time after Lancelot has escaped from Morgain and returned to King Arthur’s court.
  • When meeting Tristan (in Löseth [1891, § 187] and in PT.V.I I.47), Lamorat reminds Tristan that it was Tristan who had made Lamorat a knight in Cornwall. No such account is found anywhere else. In surviving texts of the Prose Tristan Tristan and Lamorat first meet when Lamorat (already a knight) is visiting Cornwall with his brother Driant. Mention is made of an annoying message sent to Tristan by Lamorat, presumably referring to the magical horn sent to Tintagel by Lamorat and the text here seems to imply that the two knights have not been in touch since then, whereas the previous text has brought Tristan and Lamorat together on the Isle of Servage and again in the Forest of Darnantes.
  • Tristan tells Lamorat (in Löseth [1891, § 187] and in PT.V.I I.48) that he has something on him which will break any enchantments or illusions including the magic that makes the iron bridge invisible to anyone on the island. Using this “something”, they may escape from the island. In PT.V.I I.52 it is explained that the “something” is the stone of a small ring which Yesult has given to Tristan, although no mention has been made of this ring anywhere else in V.I. (The ring is mentioned in the Italian Tavola Rintoda as given to Tristan by Yseult just before they recently parted. According to this account Yseult had received the ring from Galehot.)
  • When Tristan is in Morgain’s keeping, V.I makes no mention of Tristan’s opposition to Morgain’s knights which was told earlier and has Tristan announce to Morgain that people believe Lancelot is lost. V.II has both Morgain and Tristan remember the earlier encounters and suppresses the information that Lancelot is lost. Tristan now merely remarks that he does not know whether Lancelot will be at the tournament of the Hard Rock or not. V.II also has Morgain require that Tristan peform even greater feats than he perforned at the tournament of the Castle of Maidens where V.I does not mention the previous tournament at all.
  • After relating how Mordred came to court and told how Tristan had spared Auguste’s life, V.I returns to Tristan who without explanation is at Merlin’s Block awaiting Palamedes with whom Tristan has made an appointment to fight (PT.V.I V.1. V.II tells essentially the same story at this point but also includes the events that lead up to Tristan being at Merlin’s Block to fight with Palamedes. The version of V.I which has come down to us is obviously faulty at this point.

Version II (V.II)Edit

Version II, or V.II, is also known as the long version of the Prose Tristan and is the version found most often. Generally speaking this version is fuller than V.I, including in particular a long account of the travels of King Mark to Arthur’s court, an account of how Tristan defeated Helyant the Saxon, and a full version of the Grail quest extracted from the Vulgate Quest and the Post-Vulgate Quest.

Again, see Prose Tristan (charts), Post-Vulgate (charts), and Quest of the Holy Grail (charts) for exact details.

See also Baumgartner (1975, pp. 53–62).

Version III (V.III)Edit

Version III, or V.III, combines V.I and V.II. It is found in the manuscripts PARIS, B.N. fr. 97, 100–101, 340, 349, and 772 and in CHANTILLY, 648. This version contains, as do some manuscripts of V.II, sections from the Prose Lancelot telling of the fathering of Galahad, [[Bohort of Gaunes|Bohort]’s adventures at the Corbenic and the madness of Lancelot as found in the Prose Lancelot despite previously including the version of Lancelot’s madness found in V.II.

The only substantial portion of V.III to be published is in Joël Blanchard’s Le roman de Tristan en prose: Les deux captivités de Tristan. In part, this is because the individual sections of V.III do not differ significantly from the corresponding versions of V.I and V.II from which they are taken.

See Baumgartner (1975, pp. 67–71).

Version IV (V.IV)Edit

Version IV, or V.IV, is mainly an expansion of V.III. V.IV is the version followed in PARIS, B.N. fr. 99, in CHANTILLY, 645-646-647, LENINGRAD, Fr. F. v. XII. 2, and in NEW -YORK, Pierpont Morgan 41. It dates to the late 14th or early 15th century

V.IV contains two additional episodes: the Tournament of Sorelois and the story of Alexandre the Orphan both taken from the Prophecies of Merlin, followed by a different account of how Tristan was imprisoned by King Mark and Tristan’s final escape. There are other less important insertions.

See Baumgartner (1975, pp. 71–76).

MS. PARIS, B.N. fr. 103Edit

PARIS, B.N. fr. 103 and Renaissance printed editions mainly provides V.II with Tristan’s dragon fight added from the verse versions of the Tristan story and the final adventures of Tristan replaced by a series of adventures similar to those found in the extent verse versions, but seemingly more primitive, possibly based directly on the lost Estoire which scholars speculate was the version of the Tristan tale which lies behind all the medieval verse romances about Tristan.

Other minor differences from other versions appear. See Baumgartner (1975, pp. 77–82).

The sections of this version which correspond more-or-less to the Tristan poems are edited in Bédier (Appendice I, pp. 321–95) which is translated into English in Norman B. Spector’s The Romance of Tristan and Isolt.

Other VersionsEdit

For the fragments of B.N. fr. 12,599, see Baumgartner (1975, pp. 63–67).

For PARIS, B.N. fr. 758, see Baumgartner (1975, p. 83).

For PARIS, B.N. fr. 24400, see Baumgartner (1975, p. 84).

For the fragments of B.N. fr. 12,599, see Baumgartner (1975, pp. 63–67).

Basic PlotEdit

The matter behind the Prose Lancelot was probably in part inspired by the more primitive stories of Tristan, takes of a hero who has a love affair with the wife of his king.

If this had proved so popular, why not try a similar long, prose, knightly romance based on the more popular hero, with Tristan as the hero?

The first part of the tale told by all version of the Prose Tristan roughly follows the verse versions. Tristan is the nephew of King Mark of Cornwall, defeats the Morholt in single combat, is healed of a poisoned wound by Yseult the Blond, and later wins Yseult as his uncle King Mark’s wife. Tristan and Yseult by misadventure drink a love potion and fall helplessly in love with one another. When they arrive in Cornwall, Yseult’s handmaiden Brangain is bedded with Mark to hide that Yseult has lost her virginity. But Tristan and Yseult’s secret love meetings arouse suspicion. Eventually they are caught. Tristan, as in the folk version of the verse romances, escapes by leaping from a chapel. Tristan rescues Yseult from the lepers to whom she has been given and the two lovers flee into the wilderness.

Whereas in extent verse versions, Tristan and Yseult eventually return to Mark’s court voluntarily, here Mark happens to come across their hideout when Tristan is off hunting and seizes Yseult. Tristan, in an unrelated incident, is wounded, and Yseult, through a messenger, suggests that Tristan seek to be healed by Yseult White-hands, daughter of King Howel of Little Britain. In Little Britain, Tristan is healed, aids King Howel in a war, gains the friendship of Howel’s son Kehedin and the hand in marriage of Howel’s daughter Yseult White-hands. But Tristan finds on his wedding night that his love for Yseult the Blond forbids him to consummate his marriage to Yseult White-hands. Eventually Tristan, accompanied by Kehedin, returns to Cornwall to reunite with his true love Yseult, King Mark’s wife.

Up to this point, this summary might suggest little difference from the verse version. But throughout this account Tristan has battles and adventures involving many Arthurian knights, none of which are part of any extent verse version of the tale.

Now, unlike the extent verse versions, Kehedin does not fall in love with Yseult’s handmaiden Brangain, but with Yseult herself. Yseult writes a letter to let Kehedin down gently, Tristan finds it and reads it, and begins to go insane. At this point in the extent verse romances, Tristan seems at the point of madness when Kehedin in the verse accounts, angry at not gaining Brangain, lies about the activities of himself and Tristan to falsely make it appear to Yseult that Tristan has not acted honorably. There is also a later story in which Tristan visits Cornwall disguised as a madman to secretly visit Yseult. But Tristan, in the Prose Tristan, becomes genuinely insane, like Yvain in Chrétien de Troyes’ Yvain, or like Lancelot in the Prose Lancelot.

Kehedin, unlike his verse counterpart, interminably sickens and dies of his love for Yseult. Tristan, as in the verse romances of his feigned madness, is eventually recognized by his dog. He is healed in court. From this point the verse romances are dropped almost completely. Tristan, banished from Cornwall, seeks to become a knight of great reputation in King Arthur’s Logres. Tristan is the victor at two tournaments and is for a time in the grasp of Morgain the Fay. When Tristan slays Morgain’s lover Huneson, Morgain enchants the lance with which Huneson is slain so that the lance will cause Tristan’s death, although this takes years to happen.

Tristan eventually becomes a Knight of the Round Table and through Arthur’s influence King Mark is forced to reconcile with Tristan and take him back. The V.II text mostly suppresses what occurs here, only mentioning in a few lines that Tristan was imprisoned by Mark but eventually escaped and fled Cornwall with Yseult. The V.I text has the story from the verse versions of the lovers fooling King Mark who is hiding in a tree. Then King Mark, as in Thomas’ version, happens by mischance to stumble upon Tristan and Yseult while the two of them are in bed together, which explains Tristan’s imprisonment.

Tristan is eventually rescued by Perceval (V.I, V.III) or by the people of Cornwall during a rebellion. Or both occur, one after the other (V.II, V.IV). In Logres Tristan and Yseult are secretly hidden away by Lancelot in his Castle of Joyous Gard. But their whereabouts gradually becomes known. Mark learns the secret, and during the Grail quest Mark invades Logres and seizes Yseult and carries her back to Cornwall. Tristan falls ill when he learns of this. All four versions of the Prose Tristan fall together again for some banal adventures of Tristan as he makes his way back to Cornwall to renew his love affair with Yseult. Andred learns that Tristan has returned to Cornwall and that Tristan and Yseult have renewed their love affair. Andred warns King Mark who finds the two together and stabs Tristan in the spine with the lance which Morgain has sent him, the lance with which Tristan had slain Morgain’s lover Huneson.

Tristan lingers on for some days. He orates that Death has defeated him and persuades the repentant Mark to allow Yseult to visit him in his last moments. Then, with Yseult’s agreement, Tristan uses his last strength to embrace Yseult so strongly that her heart is crushed, Tristan also dying from the effort of this final feat of strength.

Arthurization of the Prose TristanEdit

The Prose Tristan is even more strongly Arthurized then this summary indicates. On Tristan’s first journey to Ireland he takes part in a tournament in which Gawain, Yvain, and other Knights of the Round Table take part. Tristan’s killing of a giant serpent is not told. Instead Tristan wins Yseult by representing Yseult’s father in a duel with Blanor, a Knight of the Round Table, at Arthur’s court. The story has also previously told how Tristan defeated Sagremor and Dodinel in jousts and defeated Bliobleheris in full battle. On his way back to Cornwall with Yseult, Tristan was imprisoned in the Castle of Tears until the slew its lord Breunor, the father of Galeholt

Numerous other Arthurian events fill out the story. See Prose Tristan (charts) for full details.

The Death of TristanEdit

Gertrude Schoepperle Loomis in her Tristan and Isolt (pp. 439–46) suggests that the death story of Tristan in the Prose Tristan predates that in the verse versions of the tale. She points out that in similar Irish tales the hero is always killed by the injured husband.

Loomis also points out that in the Tavola Ritonda version of Tristan’s death, Andred learns that Tristan is with Yseult not only by hearing Tristan sing a lay, but by seeing Tristan and Yseult playing at chess through a window. Andred immediately warns King Mark, who comes with his lance as in the Prose Tristan.

In the Irish The Elopement of Deidre with Naisi, Trén-dor (who corresponds to Andred), looks through a window and sees Naisi (who corresponds to Tristan) and Deirdre (who corresponds to Yseult) at a game board. Deirdre spots Trén-dor at the window and silently indicates him to Naisi, who hurls a game piece at Trén-dor’s eye, knocking it out onto hid cheek. Trén-dor, his eye on his cheek, runs to tell King Conchobar (who corresponds to Mark).

In the last surviving section of Béroul’s Tristan, Gondoïne, one of the barons who have been hostile to Tristan, peers through a window of a chamber and sees Tristan and Yseult together. Yseult notices the head in the window and pretends to be interested in Tristan’s bow and how to work it. When Tristan has an arrow in place, Yseult silently indicates Gondoïne’s head with her eyes, and Tristan shoots an arrow into Gondoïne’s head.

Published EditionsEdit


Early Section, Common to V.I and V.IIEdit

Renée L. Curtis originally began to edit an edition of the Prose Tristan based on Carpentras, Bibl. Municipale 404. Three volumes only were published in over twenty years (currently available from D. S. Brewer):

This edition was continued in a series of 9 further volumes under the executive editorship of Philippe Ménard. The portion of this edition which covers the early portion common to V.I and V.II is Volumes I to III, The series begins where Curtis' series ended.

Prose Tristan V.I Edit

The only manuscript which contains V.I complete is MS. fr. 757 of the Bibliothèque Nationale. This is edited from the point where V.I and V.II separate in:

  • Le roman de Tristan en prose (version du manuscrit fr. 757 de la Bibliothèque nationale de Paris) (5 Vols.). Paris: H. Champion.

Prose Tristan V.IIEdit

The V.II version of the Prose Tristan begins in Vol. III, section XVIII.158 (p. 198) of Philippe Ménard’s edition:

Prose Tristan V.IIIEdit

The only selection published outside of short quotations is the following:

Prose Tristan, version of MS. PARIS, B.N. fr. 103Edit

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