The wife of Sir Bredbeddle, a West Country knight, is in love with Sir Gawain, despite never having seen him. When Arthur’s knights assemble at Carlisle for Christmas, her mother, a witch, sends Sir Bredbeddle to the court in order to test Gawain. Dressed in green and riding a green horse, he is brought before the king and issues his challenge: a knight must strike off his head, then allow him to return the blow in a year’s time at the Green Chapel. All of the knights, including Sir Kay, ask for the challenge, but Arthur grants it to Gawain, his nephew. Bredbeddle dines with the court, then allows Gawain to sever his neck with an axe. Using the enchantments taught him by his mother-in-law, he picks up his head and, reminding Gawain of his promise, sets it back on his shoulders before leaving the court. Although the whole court weeps, Gawain pledges to keep his word. They resume their celebrations, vowing to burn the West Country if he is harmed. Bredbeddle returns home but, aware that his wife loves Gawain, refuses to tell his people what has passed.
After a year Gawain sets out to seek the Chapel and, despite their misgivings, Arthur’s courtiers arm him richly. He rides past many marvels and eventually arrives at Bredbeddle’s castle, where he asks for lodging and dines with the lady. Unaware of his host’s identity, Gawain is relieved to discover that the Green Chapel is nearby. The next day he agrees to stay in the castle while Bredbeddle goes hunting, promising to divide whatever he has won with his host. As soon as Bredbeddle has left, his mother-in-law leads his wife into Gawain’s bedchamber. She wakes the knight and the lady kisses him three times, declaring her love. Gawain, however, refuses to reciprocate, unwilling to dishonour his host or become distracted from his quest. The lady offers him a white ‘lace’ with protective properties, which Gawain gratefully accepts. That evening, Bredbeddle returns to the castle laden with deer, boars and foxes, which he presents to Gawain. In return, Gawain gives the knight three kisses, but keeps the lace concealed.
The next day, Gawain sets off for the Chapel wearing the lace, while Bredbeddle dresses in green and takes another path. By the time Gawain arrives, he is sharpening his sword. Gawain bows and the Green Knight strikes him, making only a small cut in his neck. When he rebukes him for flinching, Gawain becomes angry and draws his sword. Bredbeddle, however, remarks that Gawain has failed to prove his courtesy: he was dishonest in concealing the lace. Nevertheless, he thanks Gawain for resisting his wife, and agrees to forgive him if he takes him to Arthur’s court. The courtiers are delighted with Gawain’s success, and the Knights of Bath adopt the white lace as their emblem.
From: Thomas Hahn, ed. Sir Gawain: Eleven Romances and Tales. Kalamazoo, Michigan: Medieval Institute Publications, 1995.
Manuscript: London, British Library, MS Additional 27879 (Percy Folio)
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