Celtic literature

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The Cathach of St. Columba, one of the earliest instances of written Celtic language CathachOfStColumba.jpg
The Cathach of St. Columba, one of the earliest instances of written Celtic language

In the strictly academic context of Celtic studies, the term Celtic literature is used by Celticists to denote any number of bodies of literature written in a Celtic language, encompassing the Irish, Welsh, Cornish, Manx, Scottish Gaelic and Breton languages in either their modern or earlier forms.

Celtic studies academic discipline

Celtic studies or Celtology is the academic discipline occupied with the study of any sort of cultural output relating to the Celtic people. This ranges from linguistics, literature and art history, archaeology and history, the focus lying on the study of the various Celtic languages, living and extinct. The primary areas of focus are the six Celtic languages currently in use: Irish, Scottish Gaelic, Manx, Welsh, Cornish, and Breton.

Irish language Goidelic (Gaelic) language spoken in Ireland and by Irish people

Irish is a Goidelic (Gaelic) language originating in Ireland and historically spoken by the Irish people. Irish is spoken as a first language in substantial areas of counties Galway, Kerry, Cork and Donegal, smaller areas of Waterford, Mayo and Meath, and a few other locations, and as a second language by a larger group of non-habitual speakers across the country.

Welsh language Brythonic language spoken natively in Wales

Welsh or y Gymraeg is a member of the Brittonic branch of the Celtic languages. It is spoken natively in Wales, by some in England, and in Y Wladfa. Historically, it has also been known in English as "Cambrian", "Cambric" and "Cymric".


Alternatively, the term is often used in a popular context to refer to literature which is written in a non-Celtic language, but originates nonetheless from the Celtic nations or else displays subjects or themes identified as "Celtic". Examples of these literatures include the medieval Arthurian romances written in the French language, which drew heavily from Celtic sources, or in a modern context literature in the English language by writers of Irish, Welsh, Cornish, Manx, Scottish or Breton extraction. Literature in Scots and Ulster Scots may also be included within the concept. In this broader sense, the applicability of the term "Celtic literature" can vary as widely as the use of the term "Celt" itself.

Celtic nations Territories in Northern and Western Europe in which Celtic cultural traits have survived

The Celtic nations are territories in western Europe where Celtic languages or cultural traits have survived. The term "nation" is used in its original sense to mean a people who share a common identity and culture and are identified with a traditional territory.

French language Romance language

French is a Romance language of the Indo-European family. It descended from the Vulgar Latin of the Roman Empire, as did all Romance languages. French evolved from Gallo-Romance, the spoken Latin in Gaul, and more specifically in Northern Gaul. Its closest relatives are the other langues d'oïl—languages historically spoken in northern France and in southern Belgium, which French (Francien) has largely supplanted. French was also influenced by native Celtic languages of Northern Roman Gaul like Gallia Belgica and by the (Germanic) Frankish language of the post-Roman Frankish invaders. Today, owing to France's past overseas expansion, there are numerous French-based creole languages, most notably Haitian Creole. A French-speaking person or nation may be referred to as Francophone in both English and French.

English language West Germanic language

English is a West Germanic language that was first spoken in early medieval England and eventually became a global lingua franca. It is named after the Angles, one of the Germanic tribes that migrated to the area of Great Britain that later took their name, as England. Both names derive from Anglia, a peninsula in the Baltic Sea. The language is closely related to Frisian and Low Saxon, and its vocabulary has been significantly influenced by other Germanic languages, particularly Norse, and to a greater extent by Latin and French.

For information on the development of particular national literatures, see: Irish literature, Scottish literature, Welsh literature, Cornish literature, Breton literature and Manx literature.

Irish literature Writings in the Irish, English (including UIster Scots) and Latin languages, primarily on the island of Ireland

Irish literature comprises writings in the Irish, Latin, and English languages on the island of Ireland. The earliest recorded Irish writing dates from the seventh century and was produced by monks writing in both Latin and Early Irish. In addition to scriptural writing, the monks of Ireland recorded both poetry and mythological tales. There is a large surviving body of Irish mythological writing, including tales such as The Táin and Mad King Sweeny.

Scottish literature

Scottish literature is literature written in Scotland or by Scottish writers. It includes works in English, Scottish Gaelic, Scots, Brythonic, French, Latin, Norn or other languages written within the modern boundaries of Scotland.

Welsh-language literature

Welsh-language literature has been produced continuously since the emergence of Welsh from Brythonic as a distinct language in around the 5th century AD. The earliest Welsh literature was poetry, which was extremely intricate in form from its earliest known examples, a tradition sustained today. Poetry was followed by the first British prose literature in the 11th century. Welsh-language literature has repeatedly played a major part in the self-assertion of Wales and its people. It continues to be held in the highest regard, as evidenced by the size and enthusiasm of the audiences attending the annual National Eisteddfod of Wales, probably the largest amateur arts festival in Europe, which crowns the literary prize winners in a dignified ceremony.

Early Celtic literature

Early Celtic literature

Gaelic language and literature from Ireland became established in the West of Scotland between the 4th and 6th centuries. Until the development of Scottish Gaelic literature with a distinct identity, there was a literary standard shared between Gaelic-speaking Ireland and Scotland, sometimes known as Classical Gaelic. The Hiberno-Scottish mission from the 6th century spread Christianity and established monasteries and centres of writing. Gaelic literature in Scotland includes a celebration, attributed to the Irish monk Adomnán, of the Pictish King Bridei's (671–93) victory over the Northumbrians at the Battle of Dun Nechtain (685). Pictish, the now extinct Brythonic language spoken in Scotland, has left no record of poetry, but poetry composed in Gaelic for Pictish kings is known. By the 9th century, Gaelic speakers controlled Pictish territory and Gaelic was spoken throughout Scotland and used as a literary language. However, there was great cultural exchange between Scotland and Ireland, with Irish poets composing for Scottish or Pictish patrons, and Scottish poets composing for Irish patrons. [1] The Book of Deer , a 10th-century Latin Gospel Book with early-12th-century additions in Latin, Old Irish and Scottish Gaelic, is noted for containing the earliest surviving Gaelic writing from Scotland.

Classical Gaelic was the shared literary form that was in use in Scotland and Ireland from the 13th century to the 18th century. The language may be thought of as a high-register version of Early Modern Irish.

Hiberno-Scottish mission

The Hiberno-Scottish mission was a series of missions and expeditions initiated by various Irish clerics and cleric-scholars who, for the most part, are not known to have acted in concert. There was no overall coordinated mission, but there were nevertheless sporadic missions initiated by Gaelic monks from Ireland and the western coast of modern-day Scotland, which contributed to the spread of Christianity and established monasteries in Britain and continental Europe during the Middle Ages. The earliest recorded Irish mission can be dated to 563 with the foundation of Iona by the Irish monk Saint Columba. Columba is said by Bede and Adamnán to have ministered to the Gaels of Dál Riada and converted the northern Pictish kingdoms. Over the next centuries more missions followed and spread through Anglo-Saxon England and the Frankish Empire. These early missions were, from the 18th and 19th centuries, so-called 'Celtic Christianity', though aside from some idiosyncratic cultural features, it was orthodox and maintained relationships with the Holy See.

Battle of Dun Nechtain

The Battle of Dun Nechtain or Battle of Nechtansmere was fought between the Picts, led by King Bridei Mac Bili, and the Northumbrians, led by King Ecgfrith, on 20 May 685.

A facsimile page of Y Gododdin c. 1275 Gododdin1.jpg
A facsimile page of Y Gododdin c. 1275

In Medieval Welsh literature the period before 1100 is known as the period of Y Cynfeirdd ("The earliest poets") or Yr Hengerdd ("The old poetry"). It roughly dates from the birth of the Welsh language until the arrival of the Normans in Wales towards the end of the 11th century. Y Gododdin is a medieval Welsh poem consisting of a series of elegies to the men of the Britonnic kingdom of Gododdin and its allies who, according to the conventional interpretation, died fighting the Angles of Deira and Bernicia at a place named Catraeth in c. AD 600. It is traditionally ascribed to the bard Aneirin, and survives only in one manuscript, known as the Book of Aneirin. The poem is recorded in a manuscript of the second half of the 13th century, and it has been dated to anywhere between the 7th and the early 11th centuries. The text is partly written in Middle Welsh orthography and partly in Old Welsh. The early date would place its oral composition to soon after the battle, presumably in the Hen Ogledd ("Old North") in what would have been the Cumbric variety of Brythonic. [2] [3] Others consider it the work of a poet in medieval Wales, composed in the 9th, 10th or 11th century. Even a 9th-century date would make it one of the oldest surviving Welsh works of poetry.

Medieval Welsh literature is the literature written in the Welsh language during the Middle Ages. This includes material starting from the 5th century AD, when Welsh was in the process of becoming distinct from Common Brittonic, and continuing to the works of the 16th century.

Normans European ethnic group emerging in the 10th and 11th century in France

The Normans are an ethnic group that arose in Normandy, a northern region of France, from contact between indigenous Franks and Gallo-Romans, and Norse Viking settlers. The settlements followed a series of raids on the French coast from Denmark, Norway, and Iceland, and they gained political legitimacy when the Viking leader Rollo agreed to swear fealty to King Charles III of West Francia. The distinct cultural and ethnic identity of the Normans emerged initially in the first half of the 10th century, and it continued to evolve over the succeeding centuries.

<i>Y Gododdin</i> literary work

Y Gododdin is a medieval Welsh poem consisting of a series of elegies to the men of the Brittonic kingdom of Gododdin and its allies who, according to the conventional interpretation, died fighting the Angles of Deira and Bernicia at a place named Catraeth in about AD 600. It is traditionally ascribed to the bard Aneirin and survives only in one manuscript, the Book of Aneirin.

The name Mabinogion is a convenient label for a collection eleven prose stories collated from two medieval Welsh manuscripts known as the White book of Rhydderch (Llyfr Gwyn Rhydderch) (c. 1350) and the Red Book of Hergest (Llyfr Coch Hergest) (1382–1410). They are written in Middle Welsh, the common literary language between the end of the eleventh century and the fourteenth century. They include the four tales that form Pedair Cainc y Mabinogi ("The Four Branches of the Mabinogi"). The tales draw on pre-Christian Celtic mythology, international folktale motifs, and early medieval historical traditions. While some details may hark back to older Iron Age traditions, each of these tales is the product of a highly developed medieval Welsh narrative tradition, both oral and written. Lady Charlotte Guest in the mid-19th century was the first to publish English translations of the collection, popularising the name "Mabinogion" at the same time.

<i>Mabinogion</i> Earliest prose stories of the literature of Britain

The Mabinogion are the earliest prose stories of the literature of Britain. The stories were compiled in Middle Welsh in the 12th–13th centuries from earlier oral traditions. The two main source manuscripts were created c. 1350–1410, as well as a few earlier fragments. These stories offer drama, philosophy, romance, tragedy, fantasy and humour, and were created by various narrators over time. The title covers a collection of eleven prose stories of widely different types. There is a classic hero quest, "Culhwch and Olwen"; historic legend in "Lludd and Llefelys," complete with glimpses of a far off age; and other tales portray a very different King Arthur from the later popular versions. The highly sophisticated complexity of the Four Branches of the Mabinogi defies categorisation. The stories are so diverse that it has been argued that they are not even a true collection.

Prose form of language which applies ordinary grammatical structure and natural flow of speech

Prose is a form of language that exhibits a natural flow of speech and grammatical structure rather than a regular rhythmic structure as in traditional poetry, where the common unit of verse is based on metre or rhyme. Though, as T. S. Eliot noted, while "the distinction between verse and prose is clear, the distinction between poetry and prose is obscure". Developments in modern literature, including free verse and prose poetry have tended to blur any differences.

Manuscript document written by hand

A manuscript was, traditionally, any document that is written by hand -- or, once practical typewriters became available, typewritten -- as opposed to being mechanically printed or reproduced in some indirect or automated way. More recently, the term has come to be understood to further include any written, typed, or word-processed copy of an author's work, as distinguished from its rendition as a printed version of the same. Before the arrival of printing, all documents and books were manuscripts. Manuscripts are not defined by their contents, which may combine writing with mathematical calculations, maps, explanatory figures or illustrations. Manuscripts may be in book form, scrolls or in codex format. Illuminated manuscripts are enriched with pictures, border decorations, elaborately embossed initial letters or full-page illustrations.

No Cornish literature survives from the Primitive Cornish period (c. 600–800 AD). The earliest written record of the Cornish language, dating from the 9th century, is a gloss in a Latin manuscript of the Consolation of Philosophy, which used the words ud rocashaas. The phrase means "it (the mind) hated the gloomy places". [4] [5]

Revival literature in non-Celtic languages

The Gaelic Revival reintroduced Celtic themes into modern literature. The concept of Celticity encouraged cross-fertilisation between Celtic cultures.

There have been modern texts based around Celtic literature. Bernard Cornwell writes about the Arthurian legends in his series The Warlord Chronicles . Other writers of Celtic literature in English include Dylan Thomas and Sian James.

Themes from Celtic Literature within Arthurian Romances

Within many Arthurian texts one can see the influence of Celtic literature and folklore. Examples of Arthurian legends with these components are Marie de France’s Lanval, the tale of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, and in Perceval De Troyes, The Story of the Grail. In his work “Celtic Elements in ‘Lanvnal ‘and Graelent’,” Cross claims that Lanval is a medieval narrative called a “Brenton Lay” which is a work that contains themes from Celtic tradition. [6] Sir Gawain and the Green Knight is said to contain traditions from early Irish Lore, such as the Beheading test. [7] In addition to Sir Gawain and the Green Knight and Lanval, Perceval, The Story of the Grail contains a combination of these two Celtic themes. While there are other tales whose Celtic elements can be examined, these three are most likely among the best examples.

A major aspect of Celtic literature within “Lanval” is the theme itself, the story that a fairy mistress falls in love with a mortal. In Lanval, an unpopular knight of the court becomes the lover of a mysterious and otherworldly woman. Though he breaks his promise to keep their love a secret, he is eventually reunited with her (Marie de France 154-167). Cross states that, “The influence of one medieval romance of Celtic stories involving both the fairy mistress and the Journey to the Otherworld has long since been recognized”. [8] While we are never told whether or not Lanval’s lover is a fairy, it is most certain that she is a woman of supernatural origin. There is a similar example to the story of “Lanval” in the Irish story, “Aidead Muirchertaig maic Erca”. [9] One of the only differences between the original Irish stories and that of “Lanval” is the fact that Marie de France’s story is more Christianized and erases any overtly Pagan elements. There are also many other examples of a fairy mistress bestowing favor upon a mortal man within Irish folklore. After providing many examples of this theme within early Celtic literature, Cross states that, “Those given (examples) above demonstrate beyond the possibility of doubt that stories of fee who hanker after mortal earth-born lovers and who visit mortal soil in search of their mates existed in early Celtic tradition…”. [10]

In “Sir Gaiwan and the Green Knight” the theme of the Beheading Test is prevalent. According to Alice Buchanan’s article: “The Irish Framework of Sir Gawin and the Green Knight,” Buchanan states: “the theme of Beheading texts, which occurs in Arthurian Romances, French, English, and German, from about 1180 – 1380, is derived from an Irish tradition actually existent in a MS. Written before 1106”. [11] In “Sir Gaiwan and the Green Knight,” it’s Gawain’s head which is at stake. This is where the “Beheading Game” comes into place. This is when a supernatural challenger offers to let his head be cut off in exchange for a return blow. [12] In the journal article, “The Medieval Mind in ‘Sir Gawain and the Green Knight’ author Dean Loganbill states that the first text in which the “Beheading Game” is shown is in the Middle Irish tale of Bricriu’s Feast. However, the Gawain poets put a spin on the simple beheading game by linking it with themes of truth. The article also notes that it is also frequently stated that the Gawin poet was the first to unite the beheading game with the themes of temptation. [13]

The Celtic motifs of the “Beheading Game” and temptation are also apparent in the first continuation of the French romance, Perceval Chretien de Troyes, The Story of the Grail—A story by Chretien which is believed to parallel Sir Gawain and the Green Knight in plot (Grant 7). The early French character known as Caradoc is thought to be one of the first Arthurian characters to use the beheading game as a means to figure out whom his birth father is. The theme of temptation falls into place as many characters fall into the trap of seduction by other people and also by wizards and other mythological creatures that are known to be of Celtic origin (Chrétien).

Celtic mythology also displays itself in “Sir Gaiwain and the Green Knight.” Looking at Gaiwan, we see him as the leading leader at the Primary Table in which he is tested by the rulers of the otherworld in terms of his fitness for fame in this world and the next. With this in mind, the “rulers of the otherworld” have a mythical nature to them; there are references to sun gods, and old and new gods. It might seem as though that would be taking the mythological concept and simplifying it, however in Celtic mythology, the traits of individual and groups of gods are not so distinct. [14]

See also


Buchanan, Alice. “The Irish Framework of Gawain and the Green Knight.” PMLA. 2nd ed. vol. 47. Modern Language Association, 1932. JSTOR. Web. 9 Oct. 2012.

Chrétien de Troyes; Bryant, Nigel (translator) (1996). Perceval, the Story of the Grail. Cambridge: D. S. Brewer.

Cross, Tom P. “The Celtic Elements in the Lays of ‘Lanval’ and ‘Graelent’.” Modern Philology. 10th ed. vol. 12. The University of Chicago Press, 1915. JSTOR. Web. 8 Oct. 2012.

France, Marie de. “Lanval.” The Norton Anthology of English Literature. Gen. ed. Stephen Greenblatt. 9th ed. Vol. 1. New York: Norton, 2012. 154-167. Print.

Grant, Marshal Severy. ""Sir Gawain and the Green Knight" and the Quest for the Grail: Chretien De Troyes' "Perceval", the First Continuation, "Diu Krone" and the "Perlesvaus"." Yale University, 1990. United States -- Connecticut: ProQuest Dissertations & Theses (PQDT). Web. 24 Oct. 2012.

Loganbill, Dean. “The Medieval Mind in ‘Sir Gawain and the Green Knight’.” The Bulletin of the Rocky Mountain Modern Language Association. 4th ed. vol. 26. Rocky Mountain Modern Language Association, 1972. JSTOR. Web. 8 Oct. 2012.

Related Research Articles

The Brittonic, Brythonic or British Celtic languages form one of the two branches of the Insular Celtic language family; the other is Goidelic. The name Brythonic was derived by Welsh Celticist John Rhys from the Welsh word Brython, meaning an indigenous Briton as opposed to an Anglo-Saxon or Gael. The name Brittonic derives ultimately from the name Πρεττανική, recorded by Greek authors for the British Isles.

<i>Sir Gawain and the Green Knight</i> late 14th-century Middle English chivalric romance

Sir Gawain and the Green Knight is a late 14th-century Middle English chivalric romance. It is one of the best known Arthurian stories, with its plot combining two types of folklore motifs, the beheading game and the exchange of winnings. Written in stanzas of alliterative verse, each of which ends in a rhyming bob and wheel, it draws on Welsh, Irish, and English stories, as well as the French chivalric tradition. It is an important example of a chivalric romance, which typically involves a hero who goes on a quest which tests his prowess, and it remains popular to this day in modern English renderings from J. R. R. Tolkien, Simon Armitage, and others, as well as through film and stage adaptations.

Guinevere Arthurian legend character

Guinevere, often written as Guenevere or Guenever, is the wife and queen of King Arthur in the Arthurian legend. Guinevere has been portrayed as everything from a villainous and opportunistic traitor to a fatally flawed but noble and virtuous lady. She has first appeared in Geoffrey of Monmouth's Historia Regum Britanniae, a pseudo-historical chronicle of British history written in the early 12th century, and continues to be a popular character in the modern adaptations of the legend.

Gawain King Arthurs nephew and a Knight of the Round Table in the Arthurian legend

Gawain, also known as Gawaine or Gauwaine, among various other forms and spellings, is King Arthur's nephew and a Knight of the Round Table in the Arthurian legend. Under the name Gwalchmei, he appears very early in the legend's development, being mentioned in some of the earliest Welsh Arthurian sources. As Gawain, he appears in Latin, French, English, Dutch, German and Italian literature, notably as the protagonist of the story of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight. Other tales of Gawain include Historia Regum Britanniae, Roman de Brut, De Ortu Waluuanii, Diu Crône, The Awntyrs off Arthure, Le Chevalier à l'épée, and The Weddynge of Syr Gawen and Dame Ragnell, as well as the works of Chrétien de Troyes and the prose cycle Lancelot-Grail.

Matter of Britain body of Medieval literature associated with Great Britain, and sometimes Brittany, and the legendary kings and heroes associated with it, particularly King Arthur

The Matter of Britain is the body of Medieval literature and legendary material associated with Great Britain, and sometimes Brittany, and the legendary kings and heroes associated with it, particularly King Arthur. It was one of the three great story cycles recalled repeatedly in medieval literature, together with the Matter of France, which concerned the legends of Charlemagne, and the Matter of Rome, which included material derived from or inspired by classical mythology.

Cumbric was a variety of the Common Brittonic language spoken during the Early Middle Ages in the Hen Ogledd or "Old North" in what is now Northern England and southern Lowland Scotland. It was closely related to Old Welsh and the other Brittonic languages. Place name evidence suggests Cumbric may also have been spoken as far south as Pendle and the Yorkshire Dales. The prevailing view is that it became extinct in the 12th century, after the incorporation of the semi-independent Kingdom of Strathclyde into the Kingdom of Scotland.

Morgause, also known as Morgawse and other spellings and names, is a character in later Arthurian traditions. In some versions of the legend, including Thomas Malory's 15th-century text Le Morte d'Arthur, she is the mother of Gawain and Mordred, both key players in the story of King Arthur and his downfall. Mordred is the offspring of Arthur's inadvertent incest with Morgause, the king's estranged half-sister. She is furthermore a sister of Morgan le Fay and the wife of King Lot of Orkney, as well as the mother of also Gareth, Agravain, and Gaheris, the last of whom murders her.

Celtic Revival

The Celtic Revival was a variety of movements and trends in the 19th and 20th centuries that saw a renewed interest in aspects of Celtic culture. Artists and writers drew on the traditions of Gaelic literature, Welsh-language literature, and so-called 'Celtic art'—what historians call Insular art. Although the revival was complex and multifaceted, occurring across many fields and in various countries in Northwest Europe, its best known incarnation is probably the Irish Literary Revival. Here, Irish writers including William Butler Yeats, Lady Gregory, "AE" Russell, Edward Martyn and Edward Plunkett stimulated a new appreciation of traditional Irish literature and Irish poetry in the late 19th and early 20th century.

Green Knight Arthurian legendary character

The Green Knight is a character of the 14th-century Arthurian poem Sir Gawain and the Green Knight and the related medieval work The Greene Knight. His true name is revealed to be Bertilak de Hautdesert in Sir Gawain, while The Greene Knight names him "Bredbeddle". The Green Knight later features as one of Arthur's greatest champions in the fragmentary ballad "King Arthur and King Cornwall", again with the name "Bredbeddle". In Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, Bercilak is transformed into the Green Knight by Morgan le Fay, a traditional adversary of King Arthur, in order to test his court. In The Green Knight he is transformed by a different woman for the same purpose. In both stories he sends his wife to seduce Gawain as a further test. "King Arthur and King Cornwall" portrays him as an exorcist and one of the most powerful knights of Arthur's court.


Pan-Celticism, also known as Celticism or Celtic nationalism is a political, social and cultural movement advocating solidarity and cooperation between Celtic nations and the modern Celts in North-Western Europe. Some pan-Celtic organisations advocate the Celtic nations seceding from the United Kingdom and France and forming their own separate federal state together, while others simply advocate very close cooperation between independent sovereign Celtic nations, in the form of Irish nationalism, Scottish nationalism, Welsh nationalism, Breton nationalism, Cornish nationalism and Manx nationalism.

Jessie Laidlay Weston was an English independent scholar, medievalist and folklorist, working mainly on mediaeval Arthurian texts.

Origins of the Kingdom of Alba History of the Kingdom of Scotland and the Kingdom of Alba

The origins of the Kingdom of Alba pertain to the origins of the Kingdom of Alba, or the Gaelic Kingdom of Scotland, either as a mythological event or a historical process, during the Early Middle Ages.

In Arthurian legend, Gringolet is Sir Gawain's horse. A sturdy charger, with distinctive ears, Gringolet was known far and wide for his ability in combat, and appears in very many romances in several different languages.

Lanval is one of The Lais of Marie de France. Written in Anglo-Norman, it tells the story of Lanval, a knight at King Arthur's court, who is overlooked by the king, wooed by a fairy lady, given all manner of gifts by her, and subsequently refuses the advances of Queen Guinevere. The plot is complicated by Lanval's promise not to reveal the identity of his mistress, which he breaks when Guinevere accuses him of having "no desire for women". Before Arthur, Guinevere accuses Lanval of shaming her, and Arthur, in an extended judicial scene, demands that he reveal his mistress. Despite the broken promise, the fairy lover eventually appears to justify Lanval, and to take him with her to Avalon. The tale was popular, and was adapted into English as Sir Landevale, Sir Launfal, and Sir Lambewell.

"King Arthur and King Cornwall" is an English ballad surviving in fragmentary form in the 17th-century Percy Folio manuscript. An Arthurian story, it was collected by Francis James Child as Child Ballad 30. Unlike other Child Ballads, but like the Arthurian "The Boy and the Mantle" and "The Marriage of Sir Gawain", it is not a folk ballad but a professional minstrel's song. It is notable for containing the Green Knight, a character known from the medieval poems The Greene Knight and the more famous Sir Gawain and the Green Knight; he appears as "Bredbeddle", the character's name in The Greene Knight.

Lady Bertilak

Lady Bertilak is a character in the medieval poem Sir Gawain and the Green Knight. She is ordered by her husband, the Green Knight, or Lord Bertilak, to test Sir Gawain's purity.

Sir Gawain and the Carle of Carlisle is a Middle English tail-rhyme romance of 660 lines, composed in about 1400. A similar story is told in a 17th-century minstrel piece found in the Percy Folio and known as The Carle of Carlisle. These are two of a number of early English poems that feature the Arthurian hero Sir Gawain, the nephew of King Arthur, in his English role as a knight of the Round Table renowned for his valour and, particularly, for his courtesy.


Graelent is an Old French Breton lai, named after its protagonist. It is one of the so-called anonymous lais and draws on Marie de France's Lanval.

Literature in the other languages of Britain

In addition to English, literature has been written in a wide variety of other languages in Britain, that is the United Kingdom, the Isle of Man and the Channel Islands. This includes literature in Scottish Gaelic, Welsh, Latin, Cornish, Anglo-Norman, Guernésiais, Jèrriais, Manx, and Irish. Literature in Anglo-Saxon is treated as English literature and literature in Scots as Scottish literature.


  1. Clancy, Thomas Owen (1998). The Triumph Tree: Scotland's Earliest Poetry AD 550–1350. Edinburgh: Canongate Books. ISBN   0862417872.
  2. Elliot (2005), p. 583.
  3. Jackson (1969)—the work is titled The Gododdin: the oldest Scottish poem.
  4. Oxford scholars detect earliest record of Cornish Archived 25 May 2015 at the Wayback Machine .
  5. Sims-Williams, P., 'A New Brittonic Gloss on Boethius: ud rocashaas', Cambrian Medieval Celtic Studies 50 (Winter 2005), 77–86.
  6. Cross, Tom P. “The Celtic Elements in the Lays of ‘Lanval’ and ‘Graelent’.” Modern Philology. 10th ed. vol. 12. The University of Chicago Press, 1915, p.5. JSTOR. Web. 8 Oct. 2012.
  7. Buchanan, Alice. “The Irish Framework of Gawain and the Green Knight.” PMLA. 2nd ed. vol. 47. Modern Language Association, 1932. JSTOR. Web. 9 Oct. 2012.
  8. Cross, Tom P. “The Celtic Elements in the Lays of ‘Lanval’ and ‘Graelent’.” Modern Philology. 10th ed. vol. 12. The University of Chicago Press, 1915, p.10. JSTOR. Web. 8 Oct. 2012.
  9. Cross, Tom P. “The Celtic Elements in the Lays of ‘Lanval’ and ‘Graelent’.” Modern Philology. 10th ed. vol. 12. The University of Chicago Press, 1915, p.11. JSTOR. Web. 8 Oct. 2012.
  10. Cross, Tom P. “The Celtic Elements in the Lays of ‘Lanval’ and ‘Graelent’.” Modern Philology. 10th ed. vol. 12. The University of Chicago Press, 1915, p.15. JSTOR. Web. 8 Oct. 2012.
  11. Buchanan, Alice. “The Irish Framework of Gawain and the Green Knight.” PMLA. 2nd ed. vol. 47. Modern Language Association, 1932, p. 315. JSTOR. Web. 9 Oct. 2012.
  12. France, Marie de. “Lanval.” The Norton Anthology of English Literature. Gen. ed. Stephen Greenblatt. 9th ed. Vol. 1. New York: Norton, 2012, p. 160. Print.
  13. Loganbill, Dean. “The Medieval Mind in ‘Sir Gawain and the Green Knight’.” The Bulletin of the Rocky Mountain Modern Language Association. 4th ed. vol. 26. Rocky Mountain Modern Language Association, 1972, p. 123. JSTOR. Web. 8 Oct. 2012.
  14. Loganbill, Dean. “The Medieval Mind in ‘Sir Gawain and the Green Knight’.” The Bulletin of the Rocky Mountain Modern Language Association. 4th ed. vol. 26. Rocky Mountain Modern Language Association, 1972, p. 124. JSTOR. Web. 8 Oct. 2012.